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

Fri, 02/05/2016 - 18:50

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 5, 2016

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TRANSCRIPT:

3:32 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Good evening. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I should have known. 3:30 is getting near your bedtime, isn’t it? (Laughter.) I know you got to --

QUESTION: It’s not near my bedtime. It’s getting near happy hour.

MR KIRBY: No, no, no. I know you got to get – I know you got to get to the early bird special. The price of prime rib goes up to $3 here in about an hour. You don’t want to miss that. Goodness gracious.

QUESTION: You’re the one who’s (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: I will try to get through this quickly --

QUESTION: You’re the one who --

MR KIRBY: -- so that you can get to your supper. (Laughter.)

I think you may have seen the Secretary’s statement on the fifth anniversary of New START. As he noted, today marks that anniversary of that treaty entering into force. The treaty’s value has been proven over the last five years, and we still believe it’s a source of continued dialogue, cooperation, and progress between the United States and Russia. New START furthers our goal to promote trust, transparency, predictability, and stability with the other largest nuclear power in the world, shows the world that the United States is serious about its leadership role on nuclear arms reduction. So I just wanted to draw your attention to that statement by the Secretary on this important anniversary.

And as you know and I think you may have seen, another important anniversary was the 15th anniversary of Plan Colombia, marked by President Santos’s visit to the White House yesterday and here to the State Department today. The Secretary, I think as you know, just wrapped up his press conference with the president. It was a good, fruitful discussion, and all of us are looking forward to the future years here under the new plan, which is now known as Peace Colombia, or Paz Colombia. So again, I’d point you back to what the Secretary had to say when he finished that meeting with President Santos. But we were glad to have them here, very honored and proud, certainly proud of the accomplishments that together we’ve made there in Colombia.

Matt.

QUESTION: Let’s start with Syria. The Secretary made some strong comments upstairs echoing kind of what his message – that has been his message over the course of the past couple days when he was in London. I’m just wondering, how concerned are you about the situation in Aleppo? It’s almost completely surrounded now. There’s all sorts of fear that it’s going to end up in a – basically a bombing and starvation campaign, a siege of the city. How concerned are you that that’s going to happen, and is there anything you can do to prevent it from happening? Or is it just – have you just – is it just inevitable it’s going to happen?

MR KIRBY: I’d almost hasten to say, Matt, that in many respects a siege of Aleppo has, in fact, happened. You’re absolutely right the way you describe it. It is a city under siege. We know that certainly more than 10,000 at some estimates – and even higher by others – residents have fled. We know that humanitarian aid routes have been cut off, certainly the most significant ones, and there continues to be bombardment from the air – obviously, by Russian military aircraft. And of course, the regime ground forces continue to squeeze the city. So I think we would consider that it’s very much being besieged.

And we’re deeply concerned about that. You’re right; the Secretary was very strong this afternoon. I think that adequately and fully represents his concerns about where this is going particularly there in Aleppo but in other places in Syria as well. And all I can tell you is that we have made our objections and our concerns known very directly to the Russians. There’s no doubt in their minds where we are on this, and frankly, where the international community is on this. And the Secretary, again, was clear today it’s got to stop. He also said that the next few days, as we lead up to Munich, are going to be very telling in terms of what the prospects are for a real peace there.

QUESTION: Five years ago, the mere hint or threat of this kind of – of what’s happening to Aleppo now, the mere hint of that or threat of it in another country – the city was Benghazi, the leader was Qadhafi – prompted a bombing campaign. Now, I realize that it’s apples and oranges, that there’s – that Qadhafi didn’t have support from a UN Security Council member at the time. But why is it that the United States and its allies – but primarily the United States, which you speak for – aren’t doing more than kind of thumping your fist and – the Secretary said it himself, it’s got to stop, but it’s not going to stop by whining about it. So why aren’t you doing more, prepared to do more?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t characterize our approach as whining. It’s diplomacy and it’s assertive diplomacy. And the Secretary talked about that just a few minutes ago, that the very active diplomacy is trying to avert further bloodshed and not escalate the tensions and not make it worse. We – believe me, we’re very keenly focused on the suffering of the Syrian people in and around Aleppo and other places of the nation. And that’s – and we also believe that the way forward is through a political solution, through a diplomatic resolution to the civil war, not a military solution. And that’s why our focus, certainly here at the State Department, continues to be on trying to get at that political resolution to get to a ceasefire. And so we are working very hard on that outcome, on trying to get to a ceasefire.

I’ll get it for you.

QUESTION: Thanks, John. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: We’re working very hard to try to get to a ceasefire so that not only can dialogue continue, but suffering can stop. I recognize that people can argue it’s not going fast enough or we’re not going far enough, and I think the Secretary recognizes that. We’re all frustrated by the situation there. But we also need to be mindful of the ultimate goal here, which is an end to the conflict and not an exacerbation of it. So all I would tell you is, again, from the United States State Department, we’re doing everything we can, working very, very hard to try to get at the – to try to get all the people who signed up to 2254 to meet their obligations to 2254, and that includes Russia.

QUESTION: But --

QUESTION: But in the meantime – but in the meantime, until it’s actually enacted, I mean, there’s tens of – as you said, 10,000 more people have fled, a lot more people are going to die because of this, and in horrific conditions. So just getting people – I mean, there’s got to be some kind of interim step, doesn’t there, that you can take to prevent that from happening? You may have seen one of your – Nick Burns, one of your predecessors here at the podium, along with Jim Jeffrey wrote a piece in The Washington Post talking about resurrecting the idea of a safe zone 25 to 30 miles south of the Turkish border. Why not finally consider that? It’s been batted around for a long time, especially by the Turks.

MR KIRBY: There has been conversations about various options in that regard, and I can tell you that discussions continue about what options may be most viable. But what is obviously the simplest thing to do and to put into effect is the very ceasefire that the Russians signed up to.

QUESTION: But --

MR KIRBY: And that’s all we want. Hang on a second, Elise. That’s all we want. We want them to meet their own obligations and commitments. I won’t get up here and speculate about options going forward or ruling anything in or out. What we’re focused on is having everybody who signed up to those commitments to meet those commitments and to stop the suffering.

QUESTION: But I mean, I want to go back to something the Secretary said the first day or the first press avail that he gave, which is he wanted to change Assad’s calculus, because until you changed the battlefield situation or the reality on the battlefield you’re never going to give anybody the kind of incentive to negotiate.

Now, what the Russians are doing – it seems as if they’re trying to create a new situation on the ground, a new battlefield reality, as if it wasn’t bad enough, to strengthen their hand and Assad’s hand at the negotiating table. So is there anything that you’re considering doing, or don’t you think it’s time to do something to stop – to not fight back, but to create the battlefield situation that you wanted from the beginning? I mean, they’re trying to completely flip the script and they’re using the talks as a diplomatic cover to do that.

MR KIRBY: Well, the Secretary again talked about – you said isn’t it time, and he said in his statement the other night --

QUESTION: No, I said isn’t it time to --

MR KIRBY: -- it is exactly time --

QUESTION: -- do something on the battlefield to get them to the table?

MR KIRBY: It’s time – it’s time for everybody to meet their commitments under 2254 and to enact the ceasefire that they signed up to and everybody else did.

QUESTION: That wasn’t what I asked, though.

MR KIRBY: No, I know that’s not what you asked. This is my answer to what you asked. There is a – the time is now for them to meet their commitments. And --

QUESTION: Yes, it is time, but what are you going to do to get them to honor their commitments?

MR KIRBY: Clearly, as we’ve said, that their actions to date indicate that they continue to believe – even though they’ve said otherwise – that they continue to believe that there’s a military solution to what must be solved politically. And nothing’s changed about our view that that’s still the right answer here in the long term for Syria – a political solution to this conflict, not a military one. The Russians themselves have signed up to that. They signed both Vienna communiques and they signed 2254. But it --

QUESTION: No, I’m not – I’ll stipulate to all of that. But what I’m saying is: How are you going to get them to honor their commitments? Not that they should honor their commitments. Everybody knows that they should. But what are you going to do – and I mean, one of the things of this idea of the safe haven that has been discussed before is to change the leverage that the Russians have on the ground. I mean, what – what can you do practically to get the Russians to say what you want them to – do what you say you want them to do?

MR KIRBY: I certainly won’t speculate or talk about options in or out or options that are or are not on the table going forward. I won’t do that. What needs to happen is the Russians need to meet their own commitments. And frankly, these questions you’re asking, they’re good questions; they should be asked in Moscow. What’s it going to take for the Russians to do what they said they would do? What’s it going to take for them to stop the bombing so that the peace talks can resume and so that we can get to this actual political transition that they themselves signed up to?

Now, as the Secretary said, the next few days, going into next week, are going to be telling. And I can assure you that he has already made his objections and deep concerns about the situation known to Foreign Minister Lavrov. He will continue to do so, and I fully expect, as I said yesterday, that this is all going to be very sharply in focus in Munich on the 11th.

QUESTION: John?

QUESTION: Just one more. One more. But where is the incentive? Where is the – I mean, just saying, “You should live up to your obligations,” I just don’t --

MR KIRBY: I understand and appreciate that you want me to say this is how we’re going to twist their arm. It’s not about arm twisting. It’s about meeting --

QUESTION: Yeah, it is about arm twisting, John.

MR KIRBY: It’s about meeting their – they’ve already said that they would support a ceasefire.

QUESTION: And they’re not.

MR KIRBY: Exactly. And so they need to meet their obligations. It’s not about arm twisting. It’s about doing what you said you were going to do. And the question to what if – well, what if they don’t? Well, there’s going to be tens of thousands of more --

QUESTION: Well, there is no question – I’m sorry. I’m sorry, there’s no --

MR KIRBY: -- people injured or maimed or displaced, more civilian infrastructure destroyed, and no end to the war. A war, by the way, that the Russians have said they too want to see an end to.

QUESTION: But John, a few minutes ago the Secretary said he’s in talks now on two legs: there’s the ceasefire and then humanitarian issues.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: Does he believe that those two can bring the opposition back to the talks? That – is that enough to bring the opposition back to the talks?

MR KIRBY: Well, I won’t speak for the opposition and what will or won’t bring them back to the table. We’ve long said that we want the discussions to go on without preconditions. That said, we also recognized – and we recognize – we recognized and we recognize today, now, that it was difficult to have those talks be successful in Geneva when the very people that the opposition was representing were being bombed and could not get access to food, water, and medical supplies. Again, I know it’s not popular, but I’ll point you back to Resolution 2254, which said all parties need to provide access – unfettered and sustained – to humanitarian aid and assistance to all those besieged areas. And we believe that that should happen in its own right, not tied to the resumption of talks or not. It needs to happen now. It should have happened yesterday. It should have happened back in December when everybody signed up to it.

Now, clearly, one would think, given the fact that the continued bombing and the lack of humanitarian access certainly played a role in pausing the talks in Geneva, one would – one would naturally assume that if we could get a ceasefire in place, or we could get some humanitarian access, that it would certainly help encourage a resumption of those talks. I mean, that’s just obvious. And – but we’re not pursuing it – we don’t want to pursue it just to that end. Obviously, we want the talks to continue. The reason that the Secretary wants to pursue those two tracks, as he talked about a little bit ago, is because the international community signed up to them, and the fighting and the dying have to stop. And those are two ways that you can have an immediate practical effect on the fighting and the dying.

QUESTION: So when he goes to Munich, he wants to have one or the other in place? Because he said, “the next few days.” Or is he talking about something that he will then finalize in Munich?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think he was at all saying that he’s not going to go to Munich unless we have one or the other in place. Look, if we could get one or the other or both of them in place today or tomorrow, that’s great. That’s not going to stop the meeting in Munich from happening. That still needs to occur. But I don’t think he was tying Munich in any way to getting these done.

QUESTION: John, a follow-up on the ceasefire. When the Secretary said a few minutes ago that, “Russia has indicated to me very directly that they are prepared to do a ceasefire,” was he referring to a new commitment from Russia and – within the past few days, and if so, what kind of timeframe did Russia indicate it was looking at?

MR KIRBY: I think what he was talking to, or talking about, was a series of discussions that he’s had with Foreign Minister Lavrov, including the last conversation where they talked about – in fact, it was in the readout that they talked about the importance of trying to get at a ceasefire. But this is something that he and Foreign Minister Lavrov have talked about a long time. And again, back in December, the Russians signed up to a resolution that said there needs to be and will be a ceasefire. So it’s not a new topic.

QUESTION: But when he said --

MR KIRBY: But it is something, certainly, that in the last call they had, what, two nights ago --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- that it certainly came up.

QUESTION: They talked about it before, but when he says they indicated to me very directly they are prepared to do a ceasefire – so, I mean, is there a time factor in there that’s new or --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have – I don’t have any more detail.

QUESTION: Next day, next week?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any more detail beyond that.

QUESTION: John?

MR KIRBY: It needs to happen today, Pam. Today.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR KIRBY: I mean, it was signed up to in December. We want it to happen now. I don’t know that the – that in their conversations, Foreign Minister Lavrov ascribed a certain timeline or a date to it. But they did indicate – he did indicate, as the Secretary said, their willingness to pursue a ceasefire, and that’s what we want to see happen.

Samir.

QUESTION: Yes. A spokesman for the Kremlin was quoted today saying that the Russians want to do both – support the peace process and continue to support the Assad regime militarily. What do you say to that?

MR KIRBY: I’d say they’re completely discordant thoughts and discordant actions.

QUESTION: So --

MR KIRBY: I mean, you can’t prop up the Assad regime and make it easier for him to kill his own people --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: -- and say out of the other side of your mouth that you want to pursue this political transition and a peace process that you yourself signed up to in Vienna twice.

QUESTION: You can do it; you shouldn’t do it.

QUESTION: But how long --

MR KIRBY: It can’t be done. You can’t say that you’re going to continue to bolster Assad and his regime, which has killed untold numbers of Syrian people and displaced millions from his own country – you can’t say that that is your goal, that that’s what you’re doing, and still say that you want to see a peaceful resolution to this conflict. Because the more Assad feels emboldened, the more he is reassured of his power and influence, the less likely – in fact, there’s no likelihood of peace in Syria.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: So they are bluffing then?

MR KIRBY: Who?

QUESTION: The Russians.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know if I’d call it bluffing, but I certainly would say that – I certainly would say that it’s – that the messages are absolutely at odds with one another and doesn’t, as I said yesterday, doesn’t – everything we’ve seen them do certainly would indicate or signal that they believe, despite what they’ve said, that there’s a military solution to this conflict. And we continue to believe that there isn’t one.

QUESTION: John, when was the last time the Secretary and Lavrov spoke? Was it not yesterday?

MR KIRBY: I thought it was the night before last, yeah. It was the one I talked about yesterday, so it would have been the night before last.

QUESTION: All right. So in that, the Russians say – in that, they also talked about humanitarian – flying humanitarian aid in on military planes. Do you --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I saw that readout. Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have anything that you can add about – add to that?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is – and I think I said this yesterday. Certainly, the foreign minister and the Secretary talked about the need for humanitarian aid and access to besieged areas and discussed various ways in which that might be achieved. I don’t have any specifics to offer beyond that.

QUESTION: I mean, were they talking about Russian planes or U.S. planes or Jordanian planes or Turkish?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I don’t have any more specifics to offer than that, but they did recognize in the conversation that humanitarian aid and assistance is important, and certainly, we believe that. We also continue to make the point that it’s difficult to make that a goal when, through the bombing campaign and the regime operations on the ground, you continue to cut off the various supply routes on the ground to these cities.

QUESTION: All right. And in terms of the Russians and what Samir described as bluffing, which – I mean, it seems to me the Russians, rather than bluffing themselves, are calling your bluff here, because they have determined that you’re not going to do anything really to stop – to stop them, which gets to Elise’s first question on the whole idea of when the Secretary came in talking about changing the calculus of Assad on the ground. Is it not the case that what the United States did to try and change Assad’s calculus on the ground failed and that, in fact, the country that was able to change the calculus on the ground has been Russia?

MR KIRBY: I would agree with half of your statement. I wouldn’t say that it failed, because if you remember, the reason why Russia flew aircraft in was because the calculus of Assad was changing. He was under more pressure. Damascus was under threat. He was losing a grip. And as we said at the time, when the Russians were getting this great credit for some sort of grand Middle East strategy, what it really was was them making a calculated decision, seeing that the regime was under threat, not wanting to have their – what they believe their military interests are, particularly military interests in Syria, damaged; decided to react. And it was reactive, and that’s all it was, was reactive.

QUESTION: Okay. But the --

MR KIRBY: And that – and that – there’s no question that their intervention has, in fact, had an impact on the calculus of Assad in the opposite direction. He has felt more emboldened, he has felt more reassured. And our message has been the same, that that is – that reassurance to him is doing nothing to try to bring peace in Syria, and it absolutely, fundamentally is at odds with what the Russians themselves have signed up to in two communiques and a UN Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: Right, but I don’t understand why you’re surprised at that.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say I was surprised by that.

QUESTION: Oh. So you took the Russian – you didn’t think the Russians were being honest?

MR KIRBY: Surprised by what?

QUESTION: When they voted in favor of the resolution?

MR KIRBY: They signed up to it, they voted for it. They have been leaders at the table throughout the Vienna process. So I don’t see how it would be beyond us to have the expectation that they would honor their word and that they would – that they would do what they said they would do in the presence of the rest of the international community. But this isn’t about --

QUESTION: Well, it’s a Chapter VII resolution, though, right?

MR KIRBY: But this isn’t about – but this isn’t about trust. And we’ve been nothing but candid and open and forthright about what we’ve been seeing them do. And as I said even yesterday, when I got asked about coordination, it’s difficult to say you can coordinate with somebody when clearly the outcome they seek is so different than the outcome we seek and the rest of the international community seems to – they seek.

QUESTION: So I’m still confused about two things. First of all, if this is a Chapter VII resolution, right, and they’re in violation of it, then why don’t you bring them – not that you would be able to pass it through the UN Security Council, but why don’t you bring them in violation of the UN Security Council?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speculate about future actions one way or the other. I can appreciate why --

QUESTION: Do you see future action at the UN on this?

MR KIRBY: I can appreciate why you would want me to be able to say, “If this, then that.”

QUESTION: No, they already did. It’s not “if this, then that.”

MR KIRBY: We’re not in that – we are not – we are not in a position to speak to that right now. As the Secretary said, the next few days are going to be very telling in terms of how much progress we can continue to make on the political front, and then --

QUESTION: But --

MR KIRBY: -- and we’ll get to Geneva and then we’ll see.

QUESTION: If they – okay, so if they --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, we’ll get to Munich and then we’ll --

QUESTION: If they have several times said that they’re committed to a political transition and have – their actions on the ground have shown otherwise and now they’re in violation of a UN Security Council resolution, now you’re talking to them again and they’re saying that they’re, in theory, kind of signing up – ready to sign up to a ceasefire, like, at what point do you not trust anything they say and their words, like, mean nothing? I just --

MR KIRBY: This has never been – has never been just about trust, Elise. It’s never been about that. It’s about commitments that the international community has made and about our desire – certainly, we’re meeting our commitments. We want everybody else to meet theirs. It’s never been about trust with Russia. But we didn’t make them sign that resolution. We didn’t make them --

QUESTION: How – I guess maybe a better question --

MR KIRBY: -- sign up to the communique.

QUESTION: I guess a better question is: How many more times are you going to take their assurances that they’re willing to sign on to a ceasefire or hold talks and continue to drag out the diplomatic process without taking more action on the ground to change the battlefield situation?

MR KIRBY: The question presupposes that we’re simply just sitting back and taking them at their word, and we’re not. This has been a very iterative, very constant communication with them, particularly on the Secretary’s part with Foreign Minister Lavrov. They have had some pretty tough conversations about this. And the Secretary’s been nothing but very forthright about his concerns and we’re going to continue to press those concerns. Again, the next few days will be telling, and it’s important that we move towards --

QUESTION: And what are they going to tell? Like, what if it --

MR KIRBY: It’ll tell us how committed all the parties are to seeing enacted exactly what everybody said they would want to see enacted, which is a ceasefire and humanitarian access and a real, tangible move to get the political process going. And the next few days, again, will be very telling of that. And I wouldn’t speculate right now one way or the other conditionally what the international community might do if we can’t get there.

Yeah.

QUESTION: John, as a follow-up to Matt’s question, you don’t want to speculate, I know, but just to understand the perspective of U.S.’s --

MR KIRBY: But you want me to.

QUESTION: -- you talk about this issue --

MR KIRBY: Everything comes after the word “but” is what you’re really going after.

QUESTION: Okay. At this point – you talk about this issue yesterday as well, about the Russians’ suggestion that the Turks are preparing for a ground operation in Syria. And you didn’t comment on this, but do you believe that after these ceasefire attempts fail, at this point, a ground operation will be productive in Syria? Not by – not necessarily by U.S., but the Turks, or for example, Saudis?

MR KIRBY: The short answer to your question is no. We continue to believe that there’s no military solution to the civil war in Syria. Nothing has changed about that, about our calculus with respect to that; that the answer needs to be a political one; that that’s the real way to achieve some sort of long-lasting, sustainable peace, not escalating the tensions, not more bloodshed.

QUESTION: And the second one. I know that you are discussing this border security issue with the Turks, and Secretary of Homeland Security also – he’s heading to Turkey soon in the upcoming days. There is another border security problem right now after this situation in Aleppo – not only the 98 kilometers between (inaudible) Jarabulus – between Marea and Jarabulus, but also the Azaz corridor is another border security problem maybe, because after this push by the Syrian Government and the Russian forces, some radical elements also are about to retreat to Turkey, including Nusrah and other radical groups in the area. Are you discussing this issue with the Turks?

MR KIRBY: We have routinely been discussing issues of border security with the Turks. As you know, Brett McGurk has been very active on that front, and they have taken steps – meaningful steps – to try to get at dealing with their security issues, issues that they admit and that they know that they’re facing. So there have been a range of discussions about that. I wouldn’t get into the details one way or another. Certainly not – I’m not going to talk about specific geography. I think you can understand that we don’t exactly want to communicate to groups like Daesh everything that’s being done, and I wouldn’t talk to operations one way or the other. But on the whole, yes, we continue to have discussions about border security with the Turks.

QUESTION: Are you concerned specifically about the retreat of Nusrah?

MR KIRBY: We are concerned about all the border issues that are affecting Turkey with respect to the flow of foreign fighters, the materiel assistance, and other means of sustenance to Daesh inside Syria.

QUESTION: Not Daesh, Nusrah. I’m talking about Nusrah and other anti-regime forces.

MR KIRBY: Absolutely, we’re concerned about that. I mean, Nusrah is a terrorist group. We continue to discuss all these issues with the Turks.

QUESTION: Just on that point on ground troops, with the Saudi statement saying that they’d be willing to dedicate ground troops as part of a U.S.-backed coalition – with your remark saying that there’s no military solution, is that basically you saying “thanks, but no thanks” to an offer to use ground troops?

MR KIRBY: We’ve just seen this proposal. We’re – I think it’s safe to say that we’re – that we obviously have some questions about it and are going to continue to talk to the Saudis about exactly what the parameters are here. But when we talk about no military solution, we’re talking about no military solution to the civil war, to the fight by the opposition against the regime. We’re not talking about the efforts to go after Daesh. I mean, clearly, the coalition is involved in military operations in Syria against Daesh, and that’s going to continue. We still have to degrade and destroy their capabilities. But I think we just need to know a little bit more about what this proposal is. That’s why I wasn’t able to comment in any detail yesterday on it, and I’m really not going to be able to offer a judgment on it today. But we are certainly talking to the Saudis about what the parameters of this is, what their intentions are.

QUESTION: If you’re still talking to them about it, is there, though, U.S. concern that the fact that the Saudis made this proposal is an indication of Saudi frustration that basically the status quo isn’t working and it’s time to try something new?

MR KIRBY: Again, we’re going to talk to the Saudis about exactly what the parameters are here and what the intentions are. I’m not going to get ahead of that. The – again, and I won’t speak for a foreign government. But certainly, I think it’s safe to say that everybody in the international community is frustrated by what’s going on in Syria and everybody wants to see that war stop, everybody wants to see a group like Daesh defeated. And we’re going to continue to work at that.

So again, I won’t – I can’t say whether they’re frustrated or not. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me. Everybody’s frustrated about what’s going on in Syria. That’s why it’s important to have this next meeting of the ISSG in Munich, and that’s why it’s important before the end of the month to get those talks – the Geneva talks – resumed.

QUESTION: But John, there is a report on Reuters quoting the White House spokesman, saying the Saudis are responding to a request by the Secretary of Defense to increase their support to the fight against ISIL.

MR KIRBY: I said this – Samir, I said this yesterday. I mean, when we --

QUESTION: Yeah. But it’s not like --

MR KIRBY: -- when I first got this question yesterday. We have intensified our efforts against Daesh – the United States has – and I’m not just talking about militarily, although that’s the most tangible representation of that intensification. And we have urged every other member of the coalition to intensify their efforts against Daesh to the degree that they can. As I said before, it’s a coalition of the willing. Every nation in that coalition has to be willing to participate in whatever way they deem fit. These are sovereign decisions. We recognize and respect that.

But we want – we want everybody to increase the pressure. And to the degree that Saudi Arabia is willing and able to participate more intensely against Daesh, well, that’s a welcome thing. As Secretary Carter said, that would be a welcome thing. But we have to study this proposal a little bit more, I think, and learn a little bit more about what the intentions are. But yes, I mean, in general, we have long said we want other nations to contribute more against Daesh, as we are. We’ve got skin in the game and we’re adding – we’re putting more skin in the game. We certainly would like to see other nations do the same thing.

QUESTION: Other subject?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: India. India on Thursday ratified the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damages, which will come into force in May. What’s your reaction?

MR KIRBY: The United States welcomes the action by India to join the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, otherwise known as CSC and that’s how I’ll refer to it now since I don’t have – won’t say that again. Indian membership in the CSC marks another important step towards creating the global nuclear liability regime called for by the IAEA Nuclear Safety Action Plan. We’ll also facilitate participation by companies from the United States in the construction of nuclear reactors in India, which will mean more reliable electricity for Indians, will reduce its reliance – India’s reliance on carbon-intensive sources, that will benefit the environment, and will offer India greater energy security for its large and growing economy.

QUESTION: So you mean to say that it’s going to help the civil nuclear deal implementation?

MR KIRBY: As I said, we believe it’s an important step toward creating a global nuclear liability regime and it’ll facilitate international cooperation in expanding the use of nuclear power in India.

QUESTION: So what is the next step?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would refer you to the Department of Energy for next steps. I don’t have with me what the next steps would be. This is really something for the Energy Department to speak to.

QUESTION: John?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay, I have a couple questions. First on the Somali airplane mystery, this is looking to become more of a terror probe. The FBI is over there looking at it. Is the U.S. Government willing at this point to characterize this as a terror investigation, or ready to characterize it that way?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I don’t have an update for you on causation. Clearly, we’ve seen the reports that it was an explosion caused by a bomb. But again, this is being investigated predominantly by the Federal Government of Somalia, and I just don’t have anything more on that.

QUESTION: Nothing?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything to confirm one way or the other. But they’re obviously – it’s being investigated as a possibility of that, but we need to let investigators do their work and make their conclusions before we jump to our own.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Wait a second.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: You’re going jump to a conclusion after the investigation?

MR KIRBY: Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.

QUESTION: You could come to another conclusion?

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, the – there’s a big hole in the side of the plane, and the guy is missing. So --

MR KIRBY: I think Justin knows what I meant.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: We’re not going to jump to conclusions, but we’re obviously going to let the investigators do their job.

QUESTION: The Pentagon released 198 previously classified photos that document abuse or mistreatment of some detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001 to 2009. Are you concerned that putting these – I know that there has been some concern with the government. They’ve been trying to withhold them. So now that they’re finally out, what are you – is the State Department issuing any warnings to Americans overseas to be cautious or to watch out essentially for any --

MR KIRBY: Well, look, any citizen traveling can go to our website and read whatever our travel warnings and alerts are. I’m not aware of any specific alerts with respect to this release. That said, we have made sure that our posts and our embassies, particularly in the Middle East, were aware of this release and were aware of the essential content of it and reinforced what they already know, which is they have to do what they need to do based on the temperature there – the security temperature – to look after the safety and security not only of our facilities, but providing information – the appropriate information – to American citizens there.

QUESTION: And do you think these photos could lead to retaliatory-type attacks or --

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t speculate one way or the other. I wouldn’t want to do that. I certainly wouldn’t say – want to say anything that could in any way have an effect on that.

QUESTION: And the final question I have is about Zika. I was wondering if you have any update on travel warnings there or any – Puerto Rico, I guess, has now declared a public health emergency. I’m just wondering if you have anything else to share about Zika and travel warnings for Americans.

MR KIRBY: First of all, I’d say – there’s actually quite a bit, if you’ll bear with me, that I do want to talk about with respect to Zika.

The State Department is closely monitoring the situation and we’re in contact closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC. We’re also working directly with the Government of Brazil – which, as you know, has been most impacted by Zika and other neurological conditions – as well as other countries in the region. We are pleased to see that the World Health Organization and the regional office for the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization, are taking a strong leadership role and are directing critical research efforts and other response activities. As you know, the CDC issued updated guidance on Zika on the 3rd of February just a couple of days ago and I would refer you to them for additional information on that.

The U.S. Government is combatting the Zika virus through multiple lines of effort. Obviously, the CDC has got the lead in terms of providing expertise, working with health officials. The President met with the national security team and the health team in late January to discuss the spread of this and emphasized the need to accelerate research efforts to make better diagnostic tests available, to develop vaccines and medicines, to improve mosquito control measures, and to ensure that all U.S. citizens have the information they need about the Zika virus. We’ve posted some of that on our website. I know it’s on the White House’s website as well. And again, all the federal – all federal agencies are working together on this and collaborating it – with it.

At the State Department, we lead on several critical efforts in close coordination with the White House and Health and Human Services, CDC. We lead on the diplomatic front engaging with foreign governments, including coordination with affected countries and those ready to assist in response. We also lead on getting timely and accurate information to U.S. citizens traveling or living in affected areas – again, we’ve got quite a bit of information on our website – and in supporting all U.S. Government employees and their families at our overseas posts.

Under the leadership of the deputy secretary for management and resources and the assistant secretary for oceans, environment, and science, in coordination with the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, we have established here at the State Department a Zika coordination team and a broader working group to ensure a robust and coordinated department response. In our response to Ebola last year, we learned important lessons about how best to put this kind of coordination mechanism in place, and we’re taking lessons learned from Ebola to do exactly that.

As for guidance to give American travelers, we obviously defer first and foremost to CDC on public health guidance. They’ve issued a travel alert, Level 2, which says – it’s called “practice enhanced precaution” for countries where there is active Zika transmission. They further recommend that travelers take measures to protect themselves from mosquito bites. They also recommend that until we know more about the connection between Zika and birth defects, that pregnant women in particular consider postponing their travel to Zika-affected areas, and women trying to get pregnant strictly adhere to steps to prevent mosquito bites.

We have, as I said, links to all this information on our website for Americans traveling abroad at travel.state.gov, and this site will be updated as further information becomes available.

QUESTION: What about your own embassy staff and employees? Are you urging pregnant women to come home?

MR KIRBY: At this time, I’m not aware of any warning to pregnant U.S. Government employees overseas in terms of coming home. These are obviously decisions that they have to make. But we are, however, just like we would for American citizens, certainly making sure that we’re providing our posts and our employees all the information that they need and that they have – that is available so that they can make these informed decisions. But I’m – I’m not aware of any order or requirement here at the State Department to order them back home.

But there’s a lot going on. And I can tell you Secretary Kerry is very focused on this. We were – he was talking about this just yesterday morning in a – I’m sorry, just this morning in a staff meeting, in a morning staff meeting. So it’s very much on his mind, and we’re going to continue to work with the interagency to do as much as we can. And obviously, it’s an evolving situation. As information becomes available or needs to change, we’ll change that.

But again, and I really want to take a – I appreciate the question because I do want to put a plug in for our website, travel.state.gov. There’s information on there. It is dynamic. We’ll keep it updated as need be, but thank you for that.

QUESTION: I got one more.

MR KIRBY: Okay, we’ll do – okay, a couple more. I know we’ve got to get to the early bird special, so we don’t want to – (laughter) --

QUESTION: It is not the early bird special, John.

QUESTION: Yeah, it’s --

QUESTION: Happy hour.

QUESTION: The early bird special is almost over.

QUESTION: It’s happy hour. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Well, in Matt’s case, they’re one and the same. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, no.

MR KIRBY: All right, go ahead.

QUESTION: All right, John. So last night at the Democratic debate, Secretary Clinton said that she was 100 percent confident that the – that nothing will come out of the FBI investigation into her email server. Does the State Department share that confidence?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t speak one way or another to the outcome of reviews and investigations that are ongoing in terms of these past email practices. I’ve been very scrupulous about not commenting on those and I’m going to stay right there.

QUESTION: And a follow-up. Can you tell us about the differences between what was uncovered in the State Department Inspector General’s report into past practices by former Secretary of State Secretary Powell and Secretary Rice? Apparently, there was a few – a handful of classified emails on – that they were exchanging. How is that different from what was found on Secretary Clinton’s emails that – about 1,600 of them are deemed classified now?

MR KIRBY: Well, let me tell you what I can say, and there’s a lot that I can’t say. But this is what I can say regarding the emails that you’re speaking to of prior secretaries.

At the request of the State Department Inspector General, the State Department conducted a classification review of 19 emails and decided to classify some of them during this review – a review, which, I might add, is still ongoing. These emails originated from State Department officials using their unclassified State Department email accounts during the tenures of Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. I’m not going to speak to the content of these documents. They were – these documents were not marked classified at the time that they were sent. And as to whether they were classified at the time they were sent, the State Department review process right now is actually focused on whether they need to be protected today with respect to these documents.

As you guys know from covering this, it’s not unusual to upgrade a document following a classification review. That happens routinely. And any further questions about this I’m going to refer you to the State Department Inspector General.

QUESTION: I might have misheard you.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Weren’t they the private – weren’t they coming from private email accounts --

QUESTION: They weren’t coming from unclassified.

QUESTION: -- not from unclassified state.gov accounts?

MR KIRBY: I can confirm that the 19 emails reflect emails sent from unclassified State Department accounts to, in some cases, personal email accounts. Okay?

QUESTION: So wait a second. So the ones that – let’s just take Secretary Powell. These emails were sent to his private non-state.gov account?

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

QUESTION: Well, hold on.

MR KIRBY: I said that – I said that --

QUESTION: Then the Inspector General’s letter from yesterday seems to mean absolutely nothing. If, in fact, these were all on state.gov accounts – unclassified state.gov accounts – it’s completely different, entirely different, than the Secretary Clinton situation.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make comparisons between the two. This – the State Department Inspector General is, as requested by the Secretary – and we’ve talked about this – the Secretary asked the IG to look at our procedures and processes with respect to administrative handling of documents. In the course of that work, they identified these 19 emails. I’m not going to speak with any more detail about this traffic except to say what I’ve said before – that the 19 emails reflect emails that were sent from unclassified State Department accounts to personal email accounts. Exactly whose account and all that, I’m not going to get into it.

QUESTION: All right. But in every case, these 19 were sent to a personal account, not another state.gov unclassified account?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go into any more detail than I just did. I can’t say any more than I just did.

QUESTION: Actually, just to be clear, Powell said in a statement that his executive assistant thought he should see some information that this person sent him to his personal account. He doesn’t call it an unclassified state.gov account; he calls it his personal account. For clarity.

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. If you remember the last year, we hosted this – at the press club, on the email, and there it came out that Secretary Kerry is the first secretary who is using state.gov. Somebody has used before that AOL; somebody has used something else. And so do you – so where does this official or unofficial thing comes? Because they were not even using state.gov, the previous secretaries.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to past email practices. I haven’t done that from the beginning of this and I’m not going to start now. I can only tell you what I’ve told you with respect to these 19 documents. I am not going to speak to past email practices of former secretaries of state. Just not going to do it.

QUESTION: But you can confirm that Secretary Kerry is the first secretary who is using state.gov?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that the Secretary uses a state.gov unclassified email account for his unclassified email traffic and --

QUESTION: How – what was the --

MR KIRBY: -- for business-related traffic.

QUESTION: The 19 – all of the 19 that you’re talking about had some redaction for class – or contained some kind of classified information. Is that what you’re trying to say?

MR KIRBY: The 19 --

QUESTION: Or did they only look at 19 emails? I mean, what’s the universe of the – what they looked at? And, I mean, 19 doesn’t seem to be a very representative sample, so, I mean --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know what the body was. I simply don’t know, and I’d refer you to the IG for that. And as I said, that we conducted a classification review of 19, decided to classify some of them, and the review is still ongoing. So what I didn’t say was --

QUESTION: Well, how did they pick these 19?

MR KIRBY: -- what I didn’t say was all 19 have been upgraded in some way. I said we’ve upgraded some of them.

QUESTION: Right. But they only looked at 19 emails?

MR KIRBY: The Inspector General asked us to do a classification review of 19.

QUESTION: That they picked, for some reason?

MR KIRBY: They – again, I’d refer you to the IG to determine --

QUESTION: I mean, it seems to me 19 is a --

MR KIRBY: -- to determine how they got to the 19. I don’t know that.

QUESTION: Nineteen is a minuscule number to start out with, isn’t it?

MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t --

QUESTION: I mean, there’s hundreds of thousands of these messages that --

MR KIRBY: I couldn’t possibly answer that question.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: The IG referred 19 for us to take a look at for a classification review. That’s what we’re doing.

Thanks, everybody. Have a great weekend.

QUESTION: One last question. How’s that investigation into the 22 emails going, and when they were --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update for you.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: Go Broncos.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Yes, go Broncos.

(The briefing was concluded at 4:21 p.m.)

DPB # 20


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - February 4, 2016

Thu, 02/04/2016 - 18:19

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 4, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:12 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR KIRBY: Okay, just a couple of things at the top. On the funding announcement that the Secretary announced in London, I do want to reiterate some key points. As all of you know, the crisis in Syria has shaken our conscience with the images of men, women, and children suffering daily bombardment and hunger inside Syria and then being forced in many cases to embark on a dangerous journey in search of a safer, more prosperous future. Earlier today, as you probably saw, the Secretary announced that the United States is providing nearly $600 million in additional lifesaving assistance for those affected by the war in Syria. This new funding will bring the total U.S. humanitarian assistance in response to this conflict to over $5.1 billion since the start of it. This funding will provide shelter, water, medical care, food, protection, and other necessities to help millions of people suffering inside Syria and 4.6 million refugees from Syria in the region.

The United States will also provide more than $290 million in development assistance to support the Jordanian and Lebanese ministries of education to increase access to high-quality education and support learning for all students, including Syrian refugees. These efforts will build on USAID’s development support to governments and communities throughout the region that have generously hosted the massive influx of refugees from Syria.

Of course, increased assistance meant to aid Syrians inside the country means nothing if parties to the conflict block that aid from reaching the Syrian people. So again, we call on all parties, in particular the regime, to immediately allow immediate, unconditional, and unfettered – sustained and unfettered – access to humanitarian assistance by all those in need.

Indeed, humanitarian crises around the world have proven that despite our best efforts, all nations can do more. As Secretary Kerry announced in Davos, the United States is seeking commitments to expand the humanitarian safety net and create more long-term, durable opportunities for refugees worldwide. The pledges made at today’s conference will count towards the commitment the United States is seeking for the summit on refugees that President Obama will host in September at the UN. This event will be the culmination of a vigorous, sustained diplomatic effort undertaken by the United States over coming months to increase humanitarian assistance, access to resettlement, and other legal forms of admission, and refugee self-reliance and inclusion through employment and education.

Finally, as previously announced, the United States plans to admit 85,000 refugees from around the world this fiscal year, with at least 10,000 being from Syria. This step is also in keeping with America’s best tradition as a land of second chances and a beacon of hope. In accordance with these same traditions, we will continue to lead the way on supporting humanitarian efforts in the region on behalf of the American people. The needs are enormous, but we remain committed and determined to answer that call.

Quickly, a travel note: Secretary Kerry will travel to Munich, Germany from the 10th to the 14th of February to participate in the 52nd Munich Security Conference. While in Munich, he will also attend an International Syria Support Group meeting to discuss how to accelerate an end to the Syrian conflict and to continue to pursue a political – a political solution there. He’ll also have a series, as you probably can guess, of bilateral and multilateral meetings on the sides of these conferences.

He will then travel to Tirana, Albania on the 14th of February to meet with senior government leaders to discuss Albania’s further Euro-Atlantic integration and strong bilateral cooperation with the United States.

He’ll then travel to Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California to join President Obama at the U.S.-ASEAN summit from 15 to 16 February. This summit will further strengthen U.S.-ASEAN cooperation within the framework of our new strategic partnership and our common vision of a peaceful and prosperous Asia Pacific region.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. Yesterday you opened with a – some pretty harsh criticism of Russia and what it was doing – what it is doing in Syria. Today the Russians are saying that they see evidence that Turkey may be preparing to invade Syria.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: They’re talking about a buildup of transportation infrastructure on the border that while in peacetime might be a normal infrastructure project, it certainly looks like they’re – to them it looks like they’re preparing to invade.

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you see the same thing? Do you have the same concern?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ve seen the Russian comments about their views here of what they consider Turkish military movements. I won’t speak to Turkish military operations one way or the other, and so I’m not prepared in any way to reaffirm Russian interpretation of this. What I will say is that Turkey remains a key partner in this fight against ISIL and they continue to participate in coalition military operations, and we appreciate that cooperation. As to the specifics of what they’re doing on any given day or what they will do on any given day in the future, I would certainly refer to Turkish authorities to speak to that.

QUESTION: So you see the same thing that the Russians do, or you don’t?

MR KIRBY: I said I’m not going to characterize it one way or the other. I’ve seen --

QUESTION: What? Either you agree or you don’t, or you don’t have – or you’re still studying it.

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: No?

MR KIRBY: Neither.

QUESTION: So you don’t care what the Turks are doing on the border – you’re not even going to look into it.

MR KIRBY: Now, come on now, Matt. I didn’t say we don’t care.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just surprised that – the Russians came out --

MR KIRBY: I mean, I appreciate the sense of outrage that you’re proffering here with my answer. Let me --

QUESTION: It’s not outrage. I just want to know what my government – what the U.S. Government thinks that the Turkey --

MR KIRBY: We continue to work with Turkey, who’s an important partner in this coalition, to try to go after ISIL inside Syria. We also know that the Turks are working hard to close down that – still working on that --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- 98-kilometer stretch.

QUESTION: Because --

MR KIRBY: Now, I’m not – no, I’m not saying that Turkish military activity on the border is designed for that or any other particular operation. I won’t speak even to U.S. military operations; I’m certainly not going to get up here and speak to what the Turks are doing on that border on any given day. We do know that writ large they continue to work to close down that stretch of the border, and they are an important partner in going after ISIL and Syria. I’m not in a position to reaffirm, confirm, deny, argue, or debate the Russian interpretation of Turkish military movements on the border right now. I’ve seen their statements; I’m not in a position to say that they’re right or wrong.

QUESTION: By pointing out the fact that the Turks are trying to close down this 98-kilometer stretch, you seem to be suggesting that what the Russians are seeing could be related to that. And if you’re not trying to suggest that, then why did you raise it in the first place?

MR KIRBY: I’m not trying to suggest anything one way or the other. What I’m saying is we do know that they are taking actions along that border to try to secure the 98 kilometers, which remains an issue – an issue that they have said so themselves. I’m not saying that recent military activity is designed for that or any other specific purpose. It is a matter of fact that they are working to secure that stretch of border. But I’m not going to comment on specific military activities --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- of another nation inside their borders right now. I just don’t – I don’t have anything additional to say on that.

QUESTION: Well, your predecessors did all the time, particularly with Russia and movements in – near the Ukrainian border. So you’re very selective about when you’re going to talk or not talk about other countries’ military operations inside their own borders. But I just want to know, are you saying that what the Russians are seeing and claiming to be a possible – could be related to the Turks’ attempts to seal off this stretch?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I don’t have any additional comment on Turkish military activities at this particular time. Stop. It is a fact that they continue to support counter-ISIL efforts inside Syria. It is a fact that they continue to work to try to secure that 98 kilometers of border through military means. But I’m not going to speculate about what the Russians are seeing as and claiming are a future invasion of Syria by Turkish forces. That is – so the Russians can claim whatever they want, and I’m not saying it’s true or not, but the Turks ought to be speaking for their military activities and their intentions. I won’t do that.

QUESTION: Does NATO have any role?

MR KIRBY: Does NATO have any role in what?

QUESTION: Well, in what the Turks are or are not doing.

MR KIRBY: The --

QUESTION: I mean, as a NATO ally, you would expect that they would – if they were doing something that was preparatory for a military action, that they would let their allies know. Correct?

MR KIRBY: They – two things there. One, the coalition to go after ISIL is not a NATO mission. They are part of the --

QUESTION: I never said it was.

MR KIRBY: You just got to let me finish. I got two thoughts. You only – you didn’t even let me get through the first one.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MR KIRBY: It’s not a NATO mission. It’s a coalition mission to go after ISIL. Again, I am not going to speak for potential future military operations of the Turkish military. Number two, that obviously there are commitments inside the NATO alliance in terms of coordination of military activities. I would let NATO speak to whether they’d been so informed or if there’s any – if there was any communication between Ankara and NATO leaders. I don’t have anything specific to read out on that.

QUESTION: John, given Ankara’s --

QUESTION: Can we go to --

QUESTION: Wait. Just one more.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Yeah. Given Ankara’s antipathy to Assad, has the U.S. warned the government to not do anything aggressively towards Syria?

MR KIRBY: Has the U.S. Government --

QUESTION: Warned.

MR KIRBY: -- warned the Turks not to do anything aggressive in Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah, against the Assad government.

MR KIRBY: The fight inside Syria, the fight that the Turks are a part of, is about going after ISIL, going after Daesh.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: And that is what the Turks continue to contribute to. That’s the effort that they’re contributing to. And again, as to any specific military activity on any specific day by the Turkish military, you should talk to folks in Ankara about what their intentions. Obviously, just so it doesn’t – it’s not misconstrued that I’m somehow ducking your question, we continue to believe that there’s no military solution to the conflict in Syria. I’m not talking about terrorism and counter-Daesh efforts.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: I’m talking about the civil war in Syria.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: We continue to believe that that has to be solved through political solutions, through political dialogue, through getting the parties together and working through this transition. And nothing’s changed about our view that that’s the ultimate answer there. Okay?

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: John, can I follow up on this? Given the breakdown of the talks yesterday, do you still believe that the Russians are serious about a diplomatic channel here?

MR KIRBY: First, we wouldn’t call it a breakdown. Special Envoy de Mistura referred to it as a pause. And as a pause, it’s our expectation that it will be temporary. He also said that he expects to be able to get the parties back together before the end of the month. And as I said yesterday, we fully support that, as we do his decision to pause. So it’s not a breakdown.

And for your second – the second part of your question, about whether we think the Russians are serious about it, I can only point you to what Foreign Minister Lavrov told the Secretary just last night in a phone conversation, where he reaffirmed the importance of finding a political solution to the conflict and to working towards a ceasefire. So his own words, representing his government, would indicate that, yes, they – that they still are serious about trying to get to a political solution there. And we hope that’s – we obviously hope that that’s the outcome, that’s that what comes about.

QUESTION: There was a tweet by a Syrian activist about half an hour ago, who met with Kerry in a civilian meeting in London, who said that Kerry had told the meeting he expected the Russians’ assault to increase in Syria.

MR KIRBY: The Russian assault?

QUESTION: Assault, the Russian bombings.

MR KIRBY: Russian military activities?

QUESTION: Yeah, Russian military activities. Is that the general view from this Administration?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m certainly not going to speak to specifics of a conversation that the Secretary had while in London. It’s our view that Russian military activity in Syria continues to bolster and support the Assad regime; certainly indicates or signals an indication that the regime, supported by Russia, continues to try to find a military solution to problems that really require political solutions; and number three, do not contribute in any meaningful way to the fight against Daesh inside Syria. I’m not – no more than I was able to predict for Matt what the Turkish military may or may not be doing on their border, nor am I able to predict what the Russian military may or may not do in future days in Syria.

What I can tell you is what we’d like to see. We’d like to see Russian military activity be used to support the delivery and aid of humanitarian assistance of people in need, and military capabilities can lend to that. We’d like to see Russian military activity in Syria be dedicated, focused exclusively on Daesh and not on opposition groups. And I think if we could get to that end in the future, then as we’ve said, there might be room for better communication, if not coordination, with the Russian military in Syria.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: But today – hang on. Today, it’s not clear that our – that we share the same outcomes from a military perspective in Syria. And without a common understanding of a shared military outcome, it’s difficult to get to a point where you can have any sense of coordination.

QUESTION: But I mean --

QUESTION: But can I just – can I just – one more.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: When we traveled to Moscow with the Secretary and he told us at a news conference that he had made giant progress with Putin and Lavrov and that they – there was a kind of a meeting of the minds of how these things were, it sounded like there was more progress. It sounds like now that there is some kind of withdrawal or a change of mind from the Russians on how they are going to tackle this. So from the point in Moscow to where it is now, it seems like a backtracking.

MR KIRBY: I think what I would – what I would say is we’re certainly seeing, at least in the very recent past, discordant messages. On the one hand, they assert that they want to see the political process move forward, that they want to get to a ceasefire, that they want to keep supporting the Vienna process. And on the other hand, we continue to see, as recently as yesterday, bombings in places like Aleppo that are not targeted against Daesh and that are having, intended or unintended, a dramatic effect on the civilians and civilian infrastructure there. So the actions to date have certainly not matched the words to date.

What we would like to see is that gap close. And as I said, when the Secretary spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov as recently as late last night, he received assurances that the Russians were committed to that end. So we’ll have to see.

QUESTION: So --

MR KIRBY: It is important – I’ll get right to you. One of the reasons why – and I talked about this in my topper, in terms of his travel schedule – one of the reason’s why it’s important to get to this Munich meeting, get the ISSG back together – they haven’t been together now since December, since the UN – or when they met in New York. So the Secretary is convinced that now is a very propitious time to get the group back together and to discuss exactly the challenges that are represented by these recent actions and by the further displacement of civilians inside Syria and the need expressed by de Mistura to pause those talks.

QUESTION: A couple of things. First of all, just on that last point that – I mean, the need to get the ISSG back together – if it’s – based on what – on Lesley’s question, that certainly the promises that Russia made in Moscow are not being implemented now, what is another meeting going to do? I mean, are you hoping to shame the Russians at this meeting of X many countries for them to give more promises or guarantees that they’re going to stop the airstrikes?

MR KIRBY: No, I mean, the ISSG is not about shaming, Elise. But it is about --

QUESTION: Okay. So what is another – like what is – specifically at this meeting, I mean, beyond discussing what you’d like to see, I mean, are there any potential deliverables that you’re hoping to come out of this meeting, agreement on something, an agreement by Russia to stop the airstrikes? I’m just – I fail to see, like, specifically what this meeting is going to do in terms of stopping this escalation over the last week or so.

MR KIRBY: Sure. It’s going to give us a couple of opportunities, first of all to meet again with everybody who haven’t – they haven’t met together since December. There’s been a lot of developments since then, I think, so to review progress or lack of progress towards a political solution. So I think you’re going to see them sort of take a look at the last couple of months and see where we have been and what missed opportunities we may have experienced.

Number two, they’re going to talk about – they’re going to talk to Special Envoy de Mistura and get his readout of how things went in Geneva and where he thinks the next best opportunity lays in getting the talks resumed by the end of the month, before the end of the month. I think there’s a target date out there that he himself listed as the 25th of February. Obviously, we’d like to see that resumption of talks happen sooner if possible. So I think they’re going to talk about the prospect for the next round of talks.

And number three – and this is not insignificant – is really trying to drive towards the accomplishment of a ceasefire. We got into this a little bit yesterday, but the UN resolution on its face calls for a ceasefire, all by itself, not as any condition to talks. And we still don’t have one, and that’s obviously concerning for everybody, not least of which the Syrian people. So I think you’re going to see them really try to get at the issue of a ceasefire here at the next opportunity.

QUESTION: But how do you – give me a sec, please. How do you expect to get a ceasefire if the Russians will not agree to stop their airstrikes? I don’t know how – I mean, who’s adhering to the ceasefire? You can’t have a regime and an opposition --

MR KIRBY: Right now – right now there hasn’t been any adherence to a ceasefire, and we want all parties to --

QUESTION: Including Russia?

MR KIRBY: Absolutely. I mean, unless – as I said at the outset, unless Russian military activity can be directed only against Daesh, in support of coalition efforts against Daesh, then yes, we would like to see that Russian military activity cease.

QUESTION: It’s --

MR KIRBY: Because right now, almost exclusively it’s being dedicated to opposition groups, and it – whether intended or unintended – is causing civilian casualties. So yes, we want to see that Russian support to the Assad regime stopped. When we talked about Aleppo yesterday, it was Russian airstrikes, but they were in support in regime forces on the ground.

QUESTION: Does it matter?

MR KIRBY: It matters because --

QUESTION: I mean, if it’s against opposition --

MR KIRBY: It matters because it’s just further evidence that they continue to support the regime.

QUESTION: Right. I mean, without getting into your – Secretary Kerry’s discussion with the opposition, I mean, it sounds as if you’re bracing for more Russian airstrikes, which would kind of bely the idea that this meeting is going to lead to anything in terms of a ceasefire.

MR KIRBY: I’m not as certain as you that the meeting isn’t worthwhile to have or that it won’t have --

QUESTION: I’m not saying it’s not worthwhile to have.

MR KIRBY: -- or that it won’t have productive results. I mean, obviously, the Secretary will be going to Munich with the expectation that we can actually come out of there with some progress.

As for bracing for more airstrikes, it’s not about whether we’re bracing. We haven’t seen an end to them and we want to see an end to them, at least those that are not dedicated to going after Daesh. So it’s not about bracing for more. They simply haven’t stopped and we’d like to see them stop.

QUESTION: A couple of months ago you were talking about trying to find – even Secretary Kerry was talking about trying to find some leverage on the Russians to get them to stop their airstrikes. Now, as the talks – as talks about the Syria talks progressed and the kind of process progressed and you had this UN resolution and the process going, those – talk about kind of leverage on the Russians have stopped. But given the fact that Russia is escalating its airstrikes in Aleppo and other areas, is there renewed talk about how you’re going to apply leverage or pressure on Russia, particularly any kind of safe zones or anything like that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any additional discussion about the safe zones. You know what our position has been on that.

QUESTION: So where is your leverage with the Russians to get them to stop this? Just telling them that they should stop doesn’t seem to be working.

MR KIRBY: It’s not about – it’s not about the United States applying leverage on Russia.

QUESTION: Of course it is.

MR KIRBY: It is about the international community applying the requisite pressure for them to meet their own commitments, commitments they signed up to when they signed on to that – to 2254.

QUESTION: But where’s the – like, how do they apply – I’m sorry. How do they apply that pressure?

MR KIRBY: The pressure should be on them intrinsically if they believe what they signed up to on 2254; to a unified, whole, pluralistic Syria; to a government that’s responsible for the Syrian people; to a ceasefire, as it’s stated in 2254, a resolution they signed. If they believe everything they signed up to, then the lever should be on them to simply meet their own commitments, and that’s what we want to see them do. And the Secretary, I think, has been more than candid and more than upfront with Foreign Minister Lavrov, as recently as their conversation, about what our expectations are for Russian conduct here.

But it is – let’s be clear, it is the Assad regime – their support, obviously, to the Assad regime which is allowing them to continue to propagate this violence on their own people and to make a ceasefire all the more harder to achieve. But it is an important aspect of 2254, and that’s why I think you’re – again, going back to my answer before, why you’re going to see that, I’m sure, prominently on the agenda in Munich at the end of next week.

QUESTION: John, I just want to follow up very quickly on this point, because Minister Lavrov told journalists, I think yesterday, that these strikes will continue. Does that, in your mind – or is it your interpretation that maybe the Russians are pulling back from their commitment, that there is no political solution, that there may be a military solution, that they see some changes on the ground that sort of leads them to believe that?

MR KIRBY: Well, I said as much yesterday and so did the Secretary in the statement that he released last night --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- that the actions that are being taken by the regime and its supporters, which include Russia, indicate or at least signal that there is a view that – by the regime and by Russia that there is, in fact, a military solution to the civil war in Syria because of who they’re going after. And we obviously don’t sign up to that. We don’t believe in that.

As I said at the outset, we still continue to believe that only a political solution will solve this crisis. And we want everybody else in the international community to support that same outcome, and, oh by the way, Russia themselves. If you look at signing on to 2254, which they did, and if you look at the communiques coming out of Vienna, which they signed up to, have said themselves, at least in writing, that they agree that a political solution is the way forward.

And again, I’d point you back to the conversation that happened just last night – I know the Russians read it out the same way – that Foreign Minister Lavrov concurred that progress needs to be made towards a political solution. We’d like to see their military activities back that claim up. And thus far, as you and I are sitting here talking about 1:35 in the afternoon, we haven’t seen that happen.

QUESTION: And so a very quick follow-up. So it is your conviction that the Russians are backing away from a political-only solution?

MR KIRBY: I don’t --

QUESTION: I mean, that’s what I get from what you’re saying.

MR KIRBY: We haven’t seen their military activity support their political statements. That’s how I’d put it.

QUESTION: At what point does the U.S. not trust the Russians’ word on this?

MR KIRBY: It’s not about trust. It’s about meeting commitments and obligations that as a nation-state they’ve signed up to – not just them, but, what, 19 – 18, 19 other members of the ISSG. The international community, spoken through the UN and the resolution, has voiced its consensus view that a political solution is the way forward. And all we want – all we want – is for every nation that signed up to that resolution to meet its obligations – every nation – and Russia’s one of them.

QUESTION: But what if they don’t? But what if they don’t? I mean, you said, yes, they haven’t – they’ve intrinsically signed on to this, that they should feel inside that they’re going to --

MR KIRBY: Well, what if they don’t?

QUESTION: What if they don’t? What is the U.S. prepared --

MR KIRBY: What if they don’t? Syria – the war continues, peace becomes ever more elusive, hundreds of thousands of more people will be displaced, killed, maimed, and the drastic refugee crisis that Europe faces will get worse. That’s what if they don’t.

QUESTION: You can answer hypothetical questions.

QUESTION: At least the ones you want.

MR KIRBY: Well, when I want to. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Can I just clarify one thing?

QUESTION: John, do you think the U.S. would just let this all play out though?

MR KIRBY: What?

QUESTION: But would the U.S. just let all of that play out though? Just allow the civil war to continue and the refugee flows to continue and for people to continue starve?

MR KIRBY: We have no intention of seeking that outcome, Ros. That’s why the United States has been such a leader in this effort. That’s why Secretary Kerry has spent so much time and will continue to spend so much time on this effort. It’s why we’re going to Munich next week and why I think you’re going to continue to see him very heavily engaged in this process. He is – we are all committed to bringing an end to the violence and the war in Syria. So if your question is, are we simply going to accept that outcome, no, we’re not. We’re going to do everything we can to prevent that from being the outcome.

But in order to do that, Ros, everybody who signs up – everybody who signed up to the Vienna communiques and to 2254 has to meet their obligations and commitments too. And that’s all we’re asking – is for everybody who signed up to it to meet their commitments.

QUESTION: But what happens --

MR KIRBY: Those commitments are crystal clear. You can go online and look at it.

QUESTION: But what happens to Russia if it doesn’t keep its commitments? I think that’s --

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to – now, I’m not going to speculate on what would happen to Russia necessarily or any other member here in terms of repudiation. I won’t get into that. We don’t want it to get to that point. All we want is for those who have signed up for these commitments to meet these commitments.

QUESTION: Can I ask you to clarify one thing in response to – well, first of all, this “Going to Munich” line to get a compromise is perhaps a historically unfortunate way of talking about this, but the --

MR KIRBY: This is in reference to World War II? Is that – well, I mean, look, it’s --

QUESTION: Let’s – but wait, but that’s – that’s just an aside.

MR KIRBY: No, no, wait. It is Munich. That’s where the meeting’s happening. And we are trying to get to a political solution --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: -- and that’s where the meeting’s happening, so I mean, I don't know how I could state it in any other way.

QUESTION: So you’re going to give away Czechoslovakia? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I don't know how I could have stated it any way in --

QUESTION: That’s – all right.

MR KIRBY: Well, I was a history major too, but I --

QUESTION: Could I – no, what – my serious point here is that in response to Elise, you said the UN resolution in Vienna just called for a ceasefire, it doesn’t have to be tied for – to the negotiations. Are you saying that a desired outcome of this next meeting is a ceasefire? Would – I mean, are you --

MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: So what --

MR KIRBY: I said that it would clearly be high on the agenda because it is --

QUESTION: Yeah, but is your hope --

MR KIRBY: -- obviously the most immediate need.

QUESTION: -- that this meeting could produce ceasefire?

MR KIRBY: We’d like to see a ceasefire today.

QUESTION: I understand that, but you’re not going to get it today, right? I mean, you realize that?

MR KIRBY: I see little prospect for it coming today.

QUESTION: Or --

QUESTION: Or do you see anything --

MR KIRBY: But we are going to certainly try --

QUESTION: In between now and the meeting, it looks unlikely as well, so --

MR KIRBY: I am not saying that – I’m not predicting that as a result of the meeting in Munich on the 11th that there’ll necessarily – that there will be a ceasefire achieved. But I am saying, quite clearly, that working towards a ceasefire today, tomorrow, over the weekend, and into the Munich meeting is going to remain a focus for Secretary Kerry, and if we can get that ceasefire tomorrow, then so much the better. We’re not going to stop. It is – it’s called for specifically in the resolution. It should have happened when the – the day the resolution was signed.

QUESTION: John, can I just ask you about something that’s coming out of Riyadh? Apparently --

MR KIRBY: Wait, wait, wait. Before we go to Riyadh, is there more on this?

QUESTION: It’s still doing Syria.

QUESTION: No, it’s about Syria.

QUESTION: It still has to do with Syria.

MR KIRBY: It has to do with Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: The military spokesperson just told reporters that the Saudis are ready to participate with ground troops in any operation by the U.S.-led coalition inside Syria against ISIL. Do you have a reaction to that?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments, so I’m – again, I’m not at liberty to speak to the sovereign military decisions of another nation. I haven’t seen those comments.

QUESTION: Would that be a welcome contribution from the Saudis? I mean, they’ve done some airstrikes in the past, but would this be a welcome part – addition to the fight against ISIL?

MR KIRBY: Obviously, in general, we want – we certainly – as we’ve said, we want members of the coalition against Daesh to look for ways to do more and to contribute more. So in general, additional capabilities lent to the coalition to go after Daesh is a welcome thing, but I haven’t seen this specific proposal. You’ve seen it before me, and I would not want to comment specifically on this until we’ve had a chance to look at it and review it.

QUESTION: And I know – yeah.

MR KIRBY: In general, we do want to see all the nations of the coalition continue to do more. And not just militarily, Ros, but --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- there’s many lines of effort here, and not every nation has troops committed to this effort or is conducting airstrikes, but they contribute nonetheless. We want to see all those contributions increase.

QUESTION: And given that there hasn’t been a ground effort inside Syria before now by regular troops from a given nation or any nation, could that further complicate the efforts to deal --

MR KIRBY: I would need to – I would need to take a look at the Saudi proposal before I commented, Ros. I haven’t seen it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: So I’m not going to speculate about it until we’ve had a chance to take a look at it and review it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I change topics or are we still on Syria?

MR KIRBY: Did you have a Syria thing?

QUESTION: No.

MR KIRBY: You want to go somewhere else?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: All right. Go ahead.

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

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: I wonder if you have any comment. Today, the – an Israeli court sentenced two settlers to – one to life imprisonment and one to 21 years. I wonder if you have any comment on that for --

MR KIRBY: Sentenced to --

QUESTION: -- the burning alive of Muhammad Abu Khdeir back in the summer of 2014.

MR KIRBY: Oh, right. Yeah, we are aware that the Jerusalem district court has sentenced two of the defendants in the case of the murder of Palestinian teen Muhammad Abu Khdeir.

QUESTION: Abu Khdeir, yes.

MR KIRBY: We are glad to see that the Israeli justice system has pursued this matter and reached a conclusion for two of the defendants, and we’re going to continue to monitor the proceedings of this case. As we said at the time, we condemned in the strongest possible terms the despicable and senseless abduction and murder.

QUESTION: Now the Israelis have had the practice in the past where they go to the home – they had a long tradition and practice in the past of going to the homes of convicted terrorists and demolishing their homes. And their lawyer – their lawyer was saying that he is going to ask that the Israelis demolish the homes or the family homes of these terrorists. Would that be fair in your judgment, I mean, considering that the American ambassador a couple weeks back said that Israel has different standards, different in terms of dealing with violence committed by Palestinians versus committed by settlers and so on? Would be something fair that you would encourage the Israelis to do?

MR KIRBY: To?

QUESTION: To go ahead and demolish the homes of these convicted terrorists, the settler terrorists?

MR KIRBY:

QUESTION: You’re not familiar that they – the practice of the Well, look, I’m not familiar with those reports or that as a practice. Israelis going after homes, family homes of Palestinian terrorists?

MR KIRBY: In general, without speaking to that specific practice, we certainly closely follow the demolitions and evictions undertaken by Israeli authorities in several locations throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, leaving many Palestinians homeless. These actions are indicative of the damaging trend of demolition, displacement, and land confiscation; and alongside settlement-related activity and continued construction, they work against, we believe, the possibility of a two-state solution and they call into question the Israeli Government’s commitment to that two-state solution.

QUESTION: Hold on, John. I think you’re conflating two different things here. What he’s – what Said is talking about is punitive action against the families of Palestinians who were --

MR KIRBY: I know that. I said I’m only going to --

QUESTION: And you’re --

MR KIRBY: I wasn’t --

QUESTION: So --

MR KIRBY: I wasn’t familiar with that specific tactic, as I called it. But I did want to get at the larger issue of demolition and deconstruction, which he asked about yesterday.

QUESTION: Well, but wait a second. So I’m confused. So you look at the – you look at them the same way?

MR KIRBY: We would be concerned – no. You’re right; I gave an answer to a separate question, one that he asked yesterday --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- that I didn’t answer. Okay?

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: But I’m not conflating it. I knew what I was doing.

QUESTION: Okay. I just wanted – because it confused me, because I – so --

MR KIRBY: Well, we don’t want to ever confuse you.

QUESTION: No.

MR KIRBY: So I was answering your question from yesterday about demolition, which I know you didn’t ask but --

QUESTION: I got it. I was going to ask you --

MR KIRBY: -- I was ready for it.

QUESTION: Thank you for --

MR KIRBY: As for this, obviously we would certainly be concerned by it. If this was a punitive tactic, we’d certainly be concerned by that. But I’d have to go back and take a look at this deeper. I’m not familiar with that particular tactic.

QUESTION: Let me rephrase the question this way: Would you counsel the Israelis that these punitive tactics are counterproductive, that they should refrain from demolishing any homes, be it a terrorist settler or a terrorist Palestinian? Would you --

MR KIRBY: Look, so a couple of things. We’ve long said and I’m going to say it here again the Israeli Government has the right to protect its people, to national defense, to protect its citizenry from terrorist attacks, just like the United States Government does. And obviously, we’ve said before, we want to see in the act of doing that – like we would for any nation-state, not just Israel but any nation-state – we want to see a proper process here and due course being observed and international obligations being observed.

On the destruction and demolition, I’ve given you what our position is on that writ large, okay. As for your specific question about it being a punitive tactic, again, I’d have to look at this more deeply. But certainly, if that were the tactic being applied, that would certainly concern us.

Now, as for the degree to which we have or will communicate that specific concern to the Israeli Government, I wouldn’t speak to the details of diplomatic discussions. But I can assure you that we’ve long made our concerns known about demolition in a broad sense to Israeli authorities.

QUESTION: Do you – can I just, as a related matter, do you have any comment or view of President Abbas visiting the families of some of the Palestinians who were killed after attacking Israelis and calling them martyrs?

MR KIRBY: We are aware of the reports of him having this meeting. As we understand it, the families sought the meeting to argue – or for him to advocate or ask him to advocate for the return of the remains of their families.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: So I mean, we’re aware that he had this meeting and that’s the basis under which we understand the meeting was had.

QUESTION: And you’ve long called for an end to incitement.

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: And you view this as what – not the fact that he just went to hear them make their appeal for the remains, but the fact that he called them martyrs. Do you view that as incitement or is this – is it --

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, I’m --

QUESTION: How do you see it?

MR KIRBY: I’ve been scrupulous about not characterizing each and every sentence uttered and each and every act. That said, let me be clear, we continue to stress the importance of the Palestinian leadership to strongly opposing violence in all forms. That’s what we want them to do.

QUESTION: You don’t consider these people martyrs? Is that what you’re saying?

MR KIRBY: We strongly urge the Palestinian leadership to continue to oppose violence in all forms, and as we’ve said, affirmative steps are needed to calm the tensions and reduce the violence.

QUESTION: So just to make it perfectly clear, you have no particular objection to Abbas going to meet these families. What your --

MR KIRBY: If --

QUESTION: -- problem – the problem is that you would have liked him to say, your family member should – shouldn’t have attacked people? That’s --

MR KIRBY: We want – in short, yes. We want to see Palestinian leadership use every opportunity they can --

QUESTION: Okay. And you don’t --

MR KIRBY: -- to strongly oppose the use of violence as a tactic here.

QUESTION: Right. And do you think that this visit did that, or did it do the opposite?

MR KIRBY: If – I’ve seen – all I’ve seen is press reports about what he said, Matt. But if he said what he said, then yes, that would be deeply concerning to us.

QUESTION: John, just to follow up on this point very quickly. Now, aside from the visit and so on, the Israelis have used holding the bodies as Palestinians killed as a form of punishment and to agonize and sometimes for weeks and so on. Do you call on them, maybe once someone is killed, to release that body so the family can bury him and sort of move on, so to speak?

MR KIRBY: I think we’ve talked about this before, Said. I mean, look, we – what we want to see is the violence end. We don’t want to see – there shouldn’t be a need for a discussion about the return of remains for families that want them or for a government to dispute that if nobody’s falling victim to this kind of violence. So what we want to see more than anything is for the violence to stop so that there isn’t this discussion about the return of remains.

Yes.

QUESTION: Libya?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: I know the focus is on getting a national unity government before opening up a new front against ISIS in Libya by the international community so there’s political engagement, but given the problems that national unity government is having and they’re not getting it sorted and the growing pressure because of ISIS growth in Libya, are there any other scenarios or plan Bs being discussed? And I’m asking this because of the meeting last week that President Obama had talking about the options for an intervention or military --

MR KIRBY: Well, you’re right that we still believe that the best way forward in Libya is movement towards the unity government and to political solutions to the problems there. It’s not all that different than what we’ve said before about the rise of Daesh elsewhere, that the best antidote to a group like that, to terrorism in general, is good governance, where people have a government that is responsible for them and responsive to their needs, a government that can establish a sense of security and stability, where borders can be protected and maintained, and where people can go about having a normal life earning a living, educating their children, putting food on the table.

So good governance is really the long-term sustainable answer to a group like Daesh. That said, the – there are – as the fight against Daesh elsewhere in Iraq and Syria, there’s multiple lines of effort on a group like that. And I wouldn’t get ahead of any specific decisions that national security leaders have made with respect to Daesh’s growth in Syria. It is something that we have watched for many, many months, continue to watch. And I can assure you that – again, without speaking to specific scenarios – that national security decision-makers here in the United States will do what they have to do to protect the American people and to protect our interests overseas. And we’ve proven capable of doing that against this group in places outside Iraq and Syria.

So again, I won’t – I won’t get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made – certainly not military decisions. But I do want to stress that moving towards a political process and political solutions in Libya still remains a very important goal, because we continue to believe that sustainable defeat of a group like this is best done through good governance. And so that’s why we’re still going to stay – here at the State Department we’re very focused on that goal and seeing that effort conclude positively. And that’s where our heads are right now.

QUESTION: I understood. But would you – would you say that there is a growing sense of urgency about the ISIS threat in Libya that might possibly outpace progress on the (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: There has been – there has been, I think, a sustained sense of urgency about the growing threat of Daesh outside Iraq and Syria – to include Libya, to include Afghanistan – for many, many months now. I don’t know that I would just put a time peg on it and say just in recent weeks. It’s been a sustained concern that we’ve had for, again, almost a year now as we’ve watched this group try to spread, whether through aspirational efforts or actual development of functional capabilities outside Iraq and Syria. So it’s something we’re very focused on.

And again, our role here at the State Department is to pursue those kinds of political solutions. But broadly speaking, I can tell you that the national security leaders in this country are not going to take options away from the commander-in-chief as he has to make decisions of his own to counter new threats.

QUESTION: Yeah. But I mean, these discussions, I think I remember General Allen talking about them before he left about discussions about what – whether there should be another front on Libya. And I mean, as these discussions have gone on over the past year ISIS has nearly doubled there, so I mean, at what point do you – while you focus on this political solution and all, shouldn’t the coalition be considering more robust measures to deal with this swelling presence? Because the political solution in Syria is --

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- in Libya, sorry – is not only fragile but not guaranteed?

MR KIRBY: I think, again, this is something we’ve watched for a long time. I know that --

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR KIRBY: I know that coalition leaders have watched it for a long time. And I’m not going to – any more than I would on any given day, I’m not going to speak to military options and potential. What I can tell you is that it is not their – their efforts to grow elsewhere is not going unnoticed by anybody in the national security decision-making establishment, and that we’re going to do what we have to do to protect our interests and protect the American people. Here at the State Department our focus is on the political process moving forward, and the Secretary has spoken to the need for moving forward on a unity government there in Libya. And we’re going to stay at that work. I mean, he was just in Rome, as you know, discussing this very – this very issue. But I can assure you that everybody is focused on this. And it’s not just Libya. We know that they’re trying to gain a foothold in Afghanistan as well. Again, the long-term antidote to a group like this is good governance.

QUESTION: Related to that, the Italian newspaper La Stampa is reporting today that the U.S. Government has put a lot of pressure for a month on Italy to lead the military intervention in Libya. Is there any truth in this report, and do you want to see European powers leading a military intervention in Libya?

MR KIRBY: Well, first I’d say Italy, as you know, is a very close friend and ally. And again, the Secretary was just in Rome having discussions with other international leaders about the crisis in Libya and where that’s going. I wouldn’t speak for Italian Government intentions one way or the other with respect to the use of their military. That is really for them to speak to. Those are sovereign decisions. But we appreciate the leadership they’ve shown. We appreciate their contributions to the coalition to go after Daesh. And again, what they might do with their military assets is really for them to speak to.

QUESTION: John, on Libya, on this point, I mean, there are reports that Daesh is preparing to attack the oil facilities. So would that be like an urgent situation and alarming situation that would call --

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: -- for some sort of a military response?

MR KIRBY: I think you heard the Secretary talk about this, that having them with access to those kinds of revenues and that kind of financing is a dangerous thing that nobody wants to see. But if you’re asking for me to predict or to get ahead of decisions that may or may not have been made in terms of what coalition activities might occur, I can’t do that; I wouldn’t do that.

What I can tell you is that the international community through the coalition, which now includes 66 members with Afghanistan joining the effort, is very committed to shutting this group down, to destroying and degrading their capabilities. We’ve said all along it’s going to take a long time. It’s going to be a long fight, difficult fight. We’ve said all along from the very beginning that we know this group has aspirations outside Iraq and Syria. They certainly have proven that true. And we’ve said all along that it’s going to take more than just military efforts to defeat them, and that is also proving true. But I – obviously, nobody wants to see them get access to more sources of revenue to continue to finance their terrorist activity. And what I can say, without getting into specifics or predicting, that leadership across the coalition is dedicated to stopping that movement – to not allowing them access to additional revenue.

Yeah.

QUESTION: New topic. Do you have anything on this State Department inspector general memo to Pat Kennedy and the State Department that the inspector general investigation into five prior secretaries’ use of private email, which we’ve talked about before, but that it has found some classified information on other former secretaries – Secretary Powell and Secretary Rice?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that we’re in receipt of a letter from the IG regarding sensitive information, and I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to comment more than that. We’re in receipt of it. We’ll respond accordingly, but beyond that, I can’t comment.

QUESTION: Are you also in receipt of Congressman Cummings’ letter to the Secretary which asked for additional information about this memo?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I’m going to have to check. I’m not aware that we’re in receipt of that correspondence.

Catherine, you’ve got your hand up right there.

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah, I have some related questions. Did the IG find any evidence that previous secretaries of state used private servers for government business?

MR KIRBY: I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to comment further on this issue. As I said, we’re in receipt of the letter. We’ll respond accordingly.

QUESTION: Friday you announced the withholding of the 22 top secret emails. Are there additional top secret emails that have been identified?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any.

QUESTION: Okay. Final question: Did Mrs. Clinton, Cheryl Mills, or Huma Abedin take the required classification training?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that State Department employees are trained in how to handle sensitive information. That training can take place in numerous ways. In some cases – for instance, in the case of the secretary – that training process does include in-person briefings.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Is – was this documented?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go into any more than I just gave you. We know that State Department employees are trained in how to handle sensitive information. It takes place in many ways.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: And in the case of the secretaries, one of the ways is in-person --

QUESTION: When you say “the secretary” --

QUESTION: But I’m just --

QUESTION: -- do you mean Secretary Clinton or all secretaries?

MR KIRBY: All secretaries.

QUESTION: Okay. I just – because there is a lawsuit seeking records on this, and the State Department has responded by saying that there are no responsive records. So I’m trying to understand whether this training was documented.

MR KIRBY: Again, everybody here is trained on how to handle sensitive information. Sometimes that takes place in in-person briefings, and I can’t comment any further.

QUESTION: So the three of them did have training is what you’re saying.

MR KIRBY: State Department employees here are all trained in how to handle sensitive information.

QUESTION: So they would not be an exception.

MR KIRBY: Everybody that works at the State Department gets trained in how to handle sensitive information. Sometimes that’s done in-person briefings.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: And again, I can’t comment any – additionally.

QUESTION: John, when you – in response to the earlier question about are there more than 20 – are you aware of more than 22 being classified top secret, you said, “Not that I’m aware of.” Does that mean that the review has been completed for the outstanding – the emails that have not yet been released and you are able to say that with certainty, or is it possible that there could be more?

MR KIRBY: I am not aware of any additional email traffic that has been or will be upgraded to the TS level. If in the additional review that’s ongoing – and as you know, we still have emails that we have not released, and we’re working through that – if in that review upgrades need to be made, then we’re going to make those upgrades. We’ll make them appropriately, and then when I stand up here and talk about it, I’ll tell you what they are.

QUESTION: Right. But when you say that you’re not aware of any that will be, that suggests that at least some kind of preliminary review has been done of the ones that have not yet – of emails that have not yet been released and it’s been determined by someone that there isn’t anything top secret. Is that correct?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of exactly where we are in the process. I can just tell you that I am – as I stand here today with you, I’m not aware of any additional traffic that will be upgraded to top secret. But the review is ongoing, and we need to let that process go. And if there needs to be upgrades, we’ll upgrade appropriately. But I’m not aware of any additional traffic that needed to be or will be upgraded to TS at this time.

QUESTION: So there was a – you were asked about this yesterday or the day before, about this congressman who said that there were seven additional top secret ones. That is just wrong, according to you, right?

MR KIRBY: As I said, we’re not aware of any additional.

QUESTION: Same topic?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Taking aside this specific instance, just looking at who has access to the State Department archive system, is there any concern, if there were classified material on there, about who would have access to that system?

MR KIRBY: Is there any – say that again? Is there --

QUESTION: Were it to be determined that there were classified emails that were being stored on the State Department archive system, is there any concern about who would have access to that system? Is it a protected system as far as classified information?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, we just got this letter and we’re going through it right now. We’ll respond appropriately to the IG, and I’m just not going to be able to comment further at this time. In general, obviously, we take the protection of sensitive information very seriously here. I’ve also said, in general, the Secretary has said we know that we can do a better job both in terms of how we handle information as well as the public release of that – transparency – and that’s why he hired a transparency coordinator, that’s why he asked the IG to go take a look at this stuff.

But look, we just got the letter. We’re going to work our way through it, and we’ll respond appropriately to the IG in that regard. I’m not going to be able to comment further.

QUESTION: But just as far as the public having access to that, it would still go through a FOIA request in order for an email or something stored in the State archive system to be released. Is that --

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on the State archive system or how that’s managed. What I can tell you is that when we get Freedom of Information Act requests, we try very hard to accommodate them to the maximum extent possible, but in so doing, you have to balance speed with the protection of sensitive information, and we try to do that very carefully. I don’t have any additional comment with respect to the contents of a letter that was sent from the IG to the Department. And again, we’re in receipt of it, we’re going to review, and we’ll respond to the IG in the appropriate fashion as quickly as we can.

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: He can go ahead, then I --

MR KIRBY: I didn’t think there was another one.

QUESTION: No? Okay. But I just want to be clear, the IG at the State Department has never seen another instance where a secretary used a private independent system for government business?

MR KIRBY: Are you asking me if they have?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: But you’re saying that’s a possibility?

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying, Catherine, is I can’t speak for the IG. You’re asking me to speak for what the IG has seen or hasn’t seen in the past.

QUESTION: So what do you know?

MR KIRBY: I know that we’ve got the letter, I know that we’re going to respond accordingly, and beyond that, I’m just not going to comment right now.

QUESTION: Okay. One final thing: You keep using the term “upgraded” for the emails, but in terms of the special access program intelligence, there are two sworn declarations from the CIA that they were top secret at the moment they were transmitted to the server. So why do you use the term “upgraded?”

MR KIRBY: When we talk about upgrade, Catherine, it’s a process issue. Our job here at the State Department with respect to these emails – and this is not an unimportant fact that I hope you’ll appreciate – 55,000 pages were turned over by former Secretary Clinton. These are 55,000 pages encompassing a little bit more than 30,000 emails that her team decided were professional in nature and met the requirements. And so we’re going through them and we’re going through them methodically.

We are not – in doing that, our job is not to make an assessment of – hasn’t been to make an assessment of the content of it – I shouldn’t say the content of it – to make an assessment of the degree to which it was classified at the time, but to make sure that in its release through the Freedom of Information Act, we’re appropriately protecting information. That’s been – the largest part of the effort is – so when I talk about an upgrade, it’s taking email traffic that clearly was sent on an unclassified network and saying, “We need to classify either it in whole or in part to protect it for public release.” That’s when we – that’s what we call an upgrade.

Now, there’s a caveat to what I just said, because when – you know when we put the tranche out last – like, it was last week, right at the end of the month, and we acknowledged that some of the traffic was top secret, I said at the time that the State Department will undertake – because we feel obligated to – will undertake a review to deal with the issue of classification at the time it was sent. But by and large, when we talk about upgrades, the way we’re using that phrase is to describe the act of properly classifying and securing sensitive information for public release that obviously was – and we haven’t seen a case yet where it was marked classified at the time it was sent, but that we have to deal with it appropriately now.

QUESTION: Right. So are you challenging sworn declarations from the CIA that they were top secret at the time of transmission?

MR KIRBY: As I said last week, it was at the request of the intelligence community that we specifically upgraded that traffic to top secret.

QUESTION: Okay, so you don’t dispute that.

MR KIRBY: If we had disputed it, we wouldn’t have upgraded it --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- to TS at the request of the intel community.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: And I would say we’ve had a strong partnership with the intel community throughout this process, and we look forward to that continuing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody. I gotta go.

QUESTION: Wait, wait. I got one more. Just – it’s very brief, but for the second --

MR KIRBY: You always say that.

QUESTION: For the second day in a row, Senator Leahy, acting at the behest --

MR KIRBY: Senator Leahy?

QUESTION: Yes, Senator Leahy.

MR KIRBY: You’re not referring to yourself.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) No, no, no. Referring to an elected senator of the United States. On the – at the behest of Senator Cruz has blocked the confirmation of several State Department nominees. I’m just wondering – this is Groundhog Day week, and it’s – in order to prevent this, I mean, is this – are you guys going to push for this to keep happening, or is someone going to reach out --

MR KIRBY: Are we going to push for continued holds?

QUESTION: No. For – I mean, Senator Shaheen and others keep bringing these nominations up and they keep getting shot down or blocked by Senator Cruz. And I’m just wondering, is anyone going to reach out to Senator Cruz to try and deal with this, or are you just going to keep throwing this stuff and having him bat it down?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, the question presupposes that that’s all we’re doing, that we’re not actually trying to engage members of Congress to get to resolution.

QUESTION: Well, is anyone trying to engage Senator Cruz?

MR KIRBY: We are engaging with members of Congress. I won’t talk about the specifics of who and what and when, but we are engaging members of Congress to try to get these holds lifted. The Secretary has been very actively engaged in communication with congressional leaders on this. And as I said yesterday, the work of foreign policy and advancing American foreign policy is too important for us to continue to deal with these vacancies and without these confirmed positions.

QUESTION: Right. But you don’t know if he is planning to get in touch with the senator --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to the specifics of our communications with members of Congress, either past or future. What I can tell you is that the Secretary is very engaged with congressional leaders on this and will continue to be so.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:14 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - February 3, 2016

Wed, 02/03/2016 - 17:52

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 3, 2016

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TRANSCRIPT:

2:40 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. Just a short comment at the top and I’ll get right after it.

Today, we continue to see more Russian airstrikes in and around Aleppo – strikes not aimed at Daesh, but rather almost exclusively on the opposition; strikes which, again, have led to reports of civilian casualties, increased displacement of Syrian citizens, and the possible obstruction of humanitarian assistance routes. And so again we call on Russia to focus their military energy in Syria on Daesh, a common enemy to the entire international community, and not on the opposition or on innocent civilians.

It’s worth restating that UN Security Council Resolution 2254, for which the Russians voted, calls on the regime and all parties to cease bombings and other attacks on civilians, not eventually but immediately, not soon but now. It’s difficult in the extreme to see how strikes against civilian targets contribute in any way to the peace process now being explored.

Indeed, as you may have seen, UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura today paused the talks in Geneva in part because of the difficulty of seeking political solutions while humanitarian aid is continually disrupted and innocent lives are taken. These attacks run counter not only to the desires of the Syrian people who want to see this political process succeed, but also to the stated intentions of the Russians themselves, who have publicly committed to the Vienna process and to seeking a unified, whole, and nonsectarian Syria that has at its head a government responsible for and responsive to the needs of the Syrian people.

The Syrian people want an end to the violence and destruction that has plagued their country for five years. So do we. So does the international community. It’s time for everyone in that community to honor their commitments and help move the political process forward. As we’ve long said, there can be no military solution to the conflict in Syria, and efforts to seek one are only making peace more elusive. They are only drawing us further backward.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, let’s start with that. So basically the breakdown or suspension in the Geneva talks is Russia’s fault; is that what you’re saying?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. I said it was in part.

QUESTION: Well --

MR KIRBY: Go back to what I said, Matt.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: I said in part because of the disruptions to humanitarian aid and the continual attacks on civilian targets. But I would let Mr. de Mistura speak for himself, and he made comments about this, that he did not call the suspension a failure, it was simply a pause, that while there were – talks had started, there was more work to be done by the stakeholders going forward, and he was going to pause the talks to allow that work to be done. One way in which that work will be done is, of course, the meeting next week with the ISSG in Munich on the 11th. The Secretary will be there. And we’ll see where we are after that.

QUESTION: Right. Well, okay, let’s – in part, what else is it due to?

MR KIRBY: Well, I wasn’t privy to the discussions over there. I’d point you to what Mr. de Mistura said. He said he wasn’t going to have talks just for talks’ sake. He did cite the difficulties that the military activities by Russia and the regime are having in terms of demonstrating a good faith effort by the regime to have negotiations and talks, but I’m not privy to every issue that they’ve raised – the opposition has raised with Mr. de Mistura.

QUESTION: The Vienna agreement that was reached in November or December, whatever – whenever it was, the Vienna agreement --

MR KIRBY: In November. November.

QUESTION: -- called for a ceasefire but didn’t say exactly when it was supposed to start. It was supposed to begin roughly around the same time as the talks. Are you saying that now a ceasefire, an end to the bombing is a requirement?

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: A condition?

MR KIRBY: A condition to what?

QUESTION: To having the talks. I mean, I thought that --

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: -- it was the point – everyone’s point going into this was there have to be talks without preconditions, right?

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: Now that these talks which – let’s be honest; they never really started, so this is not a pause so much as just a not ever beginning. Is it now the opinion of you guys as well as others who are brokering this arrangement and supporting the UN that a ceasefire and this humanitarian access have to happen as – for the talks to begin?

MR KIRBY: No, Matt. They have to happen because they have to happen. They’re important. And in the Vienna process, the ISSG, every member signed up to that – that a ceasefire needs to begin. It’s stated in the UN resolution, which codifies the Vienna communique’s --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: Just doesn’t change it.

QUESTION: But it doesn’t say that they have to be – that the ceasefire has to be – has to start immediately at the same – exactly the same time as the talks, right?

MR KIRBY: No, that’s right, it doesn’t, and we’re not saying that it should either. We --

QUESTION: Well, I thought it was --

MR KIRBY: I stood up here – I stood up here last week and said, when we were having a discussion about whether the opposition was going to show up in Geneva or not, and I reiterated that the Secretary, in all his conversations – publicly, privately – has said that the talks should begin without precondition. It’s still our – it’s still our policy that there should be no preconditions to the beginning of discussions and that includes now.

QUESTION: And that includes the ceasefire?

MR KIRBY: And so nobody’s saying that a ceasefire has to happen now in order for the suspension to get lifted and talks to resume. That’s going to be – that’s Mr. de Mistura’s decision to make.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: A ceasefire is important because it’s important on its own right, not because it needs to be tied to the commencement of talks.

QUESTION: Well, all right. Then I’m confused. The opposition has been saying all along that it doesn’t think that – that they won’t join the talks until there is a ceasefire, until humanitarian aid is – gets there, and until prisoners are released.

MR KIRBY: They did join. They were there in Geneva. They were represented.

QUESTION: They joined what?

MR KIRBY: They were --

QUESTION: They got on a plane and flew to a city in Switzerland, but then that’s it.

MR KIRBY: They were represented in – they were represented in Geneva and there was no ceasefire in place when they got on that plane and landed there in Geneva. They were there. Now, again, we could dither back and forth about the degree to which talks happened or didn’t happen. Mr. de Mistura talked about the talks being suspended, which would lead one to believe that he believed they actually got off to at least a start. So let’s see where it goes. But there – the main point is that we agree with his decision to go ahead and suspend and pause, and we agree with him that more work needs to be done by the stakeholders to try to move the political process forward, which is why the Secretary’s looking forward to Munich next week.

QUESTION: Like what?

MR KIRBY: Like what?

QUESTION: What more can the stakeholders do to prepare?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think I mentioned that in my top. Only one really important thing that stakeholders could do would be to stop the bombing of innocent civilian targets --

QUESTION: All right. Well, the --

MR KIRBY: -- stop going after the opposition --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: -- and allow for humanitarian aid and assistance to go in. But that’s not – I’m not saying that that’s a precondition. I’m answering your question. What more can be done? Those things can be done. They should be done --

QUESTION: That’s --

MR KIRBY: -- because the international community signed up to them, they’re in the Security Council resolution, it’s all laid out there. I mean, those are things that everybody should be doing, should be focusing on Daesh and the terrorists inside Syria, not on the opposition and not on innocent civilians. But – so there’s going to be more work to be done.

QUESTION: All right. Well, I just don’t see how you can say that it’s not now a precondition. I mean --

MR KIRBY: It’s not now a precondition.

QUESTION: For you to flip-flop back and forth on this --

MR KIRBY: No, sir, I did not flip-flop.

QUESTION: Not – well, not you personally, but the Administration seems to have and the international community seems to have. First, it’s not – first, there can’t be any preconditions and now they’re being paused because those non-preconditions that you’re talking about haven’t been met.

MR KIRBY: I said in part because of the obstruction of humanitarian aid and in part because of the continued violence that’s being wrought by the regime --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- supported by the Russian military activity. I did not say it was in total. Again, Mr. de Mistura should speak to all the complexities and factors that led to his decision. We support it. We agree with him that more work needs to be done, and again, the Secretary’s looking forward to going to Munich next week --

QUESTION: This --

MR KIRBY: -- and to pursuing that.

QUESTION: All right, this is very confusing for me to figure out and I can only imagine that it’s confusing for the opposition and the people that you say that – the people that you’re supporting on the ground there because --

MR KIRBY: We also – we also have been very honest about the fact that this was never going to be easy. And nobody here at the State Department went into the talks in Geneva feeling that it was going to be the end-all/be-all of all the issues, that it was going to solve all the problems, that it was going to – that they were going to come out of Geneva with the tablets that say, “Here’s the plan and here’s what we’re going to do.”

QUESTION: All right. Well --

MR KIRBY: But – so we knew it was going to be hard; it’s proven to be hard. What’s important is that it did get to – it did get off to a start, however brief that start may have been, and just as importantly, what’s really critical is that the process continue to move forward. It would be immensely easier and, frankly, better for the Syrian people if that could be accompanied by a ceasefire, an end to these bombings, an end to strikes against the opposition, and the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Is – does it have to happen before we meet in Munich next week? No. But it sure would be better for the Syrian people and the process if it could.

QUESTION: Well, then why not make it a precondition? I don’t get it. I mean, why not put your foot down and say, “Look, Russia, look, Assad, stop your bombing”?

MR KIRBY: We have said that. We have said that. I just spent two minutes at the outset saying that.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you’re also saying at the same time that – you’re also sending a signal to the opposition that they don’t have to do that for there to be talks to – for the --

MR KIRBY: We – because we have --

QUESTION: -- for the talks to start again, if they ever started.

MR KIRBY: -- we have believed – not just us, but other members of the ISSG and the UN believe that it was important to get the political discussions going and to not try to hamstring them with preconditions, so that there could be a dialogue. Because we believe that should there be productive dialogue, it could lead to those outcomes as well. Why cut off that avenue to potentially getting to those outcomes?

QUESTION: Yeah, but they’re – hamstrung – they’re – they’ve been worse than hamstrung by the --

MR KIRBY: I think you could make the counterargument, Matt, that if they – if we had laid that precondition on there with the firing – with the bombing still going on, nobody would’ve gone to Geneva and nobody would’ve even attempted to have the talks.

QUESTION: Okay. But I just don’t see the value of the last two years --

MR KIRBY: I can understand that you don’t agree with --

QUESTION: I can’t. I just don’t see what it is, and I don’t see why it is that you insist on clinging to the charade that there were actually ever talks in the first place to be suspended.

MR KIRBY: Because it’s not a charade, because they were there, and because it was the beginning.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: So sort of beginning with – taking off on that point, were there real talks, or were there preparations for talks – let’s say Monday, Tuesday, and today?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I wasn’t in Geneva. I can only point to what Special Envoy de Mistura has said. He has said that he’s suspending them --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- and that there was a beginning. Now, how deep did it go, how much dialogue there was, I don’t know. But they were there, and they got a start. And we all knew – and if you go back and listen to what the Secretary said last week, that it was going to – that it was going to be tough and it was going to be difficult, and that it needed to start in the nature of sort of proximity talks, where they weren’t exactly at the same table, where there was just some initial dialogue.

QUESTION: On the issue of access of humanitarian aid and so on, the regime source says – whether you believe them or not, they say that they allowed some humanitarian aid to go into certain besieged areas and so on. But on the other hand, the bombing continued to target militant groups that they deem as terrorists in the area of Aleppo. And that’s what they are complaining about. They’re saying that the opposition, they want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to continue with their flow of supplies, military supplies to continue their – whatever offensive they have, and basically the regime and the Russians will not stop. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I think I would refer you to my opening statement.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that --

MR KIRBY: I said exactly that.

QUESTION: Okay. So you’re saying that the Russians and the regime forces are targeting humanitarian supplies?

MR KIRBY: No. What I said was they are hitting almost exclusively opposition targets --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- and we have continued to see reports of civilian casualties caused as a result of these strikes, which are not in the main – anywhere near the main – going after Daesh.

QUESTION: Are these groups --

MR KIRBY: I did not say they were deliberately targeting humanitarian aid and assistance, but --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- but some of the strikes have caused the potential – as I said in my opening statement – the potential obstruction of humanitarian routes. So while it may not have been hitting a convoy of trucks with medical supplies and food, if you’re hitting the routes by which that aid can reach the civilian population, you are in effect preventing that aid from reaching there.

QUESTION: I understand. But you’re also saying that this offensive is targeting opposition groups. Are the opposition groups that you deem moderate – are the ones that are designated as moderate opposition – are they the ones that are being targeted?

MR KIRBY: We’ve had this discussion – we’ve had this discussion before, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know. But today. I mean --

MR KIRBY: These are opposition groups that, yes, we believe are legitimate opposition groups.

QUESTION: Who are they? Is – are, let’s say, Ahrar al-Sham members of this opposition? Or is (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: Said, I don’t have a list of every single group that’s operating in and around Aleppo. I would point you to DOD; we can get that information for you. I don’t have it. But by and large, the strikes are not being conducted against Daesh.

QUESTION: My last question: Should there be a determination on who is a terrorist and who is not among you all – among the Russians, you, the regional powers and so on – to say that these groups are terrorist groups and they are fair game, and these groups are not, they’re moderate opposition? Shouldn’t that determination be made?

MR KIRBY: We have continually tried to work towards that end. We recognize that there’s not unanimity of opinion about who can be worked with in this process and who cannot. We’re still working at that. But it is clear that nobody – nobody – disputes the fact that ISIL, Daesh, is a terrorist organization and is and should be a legitimate target of military activity in Syria. The Russians themselves have acknowledged that. The Russians themselves have said that they were interested in pursuing Daesh as a target. And yet, again, as we’ve said repeatedly from this podium, we continue to see the vast majority of their airstrikes not go against Daesh.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, this --

MR KIRBY: I had a feeling you’d want to ask a few questions today.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, did the – did these moderate opposition groups reach out to the U.S. and say that they were under attack by Russia?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that they reached out and said that they were under attack. We have lots of streams of information that would confirm that fact for us. Clearly, they spoke – I think you probably have seen, they’ve been speaking quite publicly in Geneva about the military activities that the regime is undertaking supported by the Russian military. So they have spoken quite publicly about their concerns. And as you well know, we have lots of streams of information, other information, that comes from operational sources that would confirm what I just said.

QUESTION: And just maybe you could specify, which groups were under attack in the case --

MR KIRBY: As I said to Said, I don’t have the list of every group, but it has been widely known that they have – that the Russians have not targeted Daesh to a great extent --

QUESTION: But in this case that you described --

MR KIRBY: -- and that there are many opposition groups represented in Syria, several in and around Aleppo, and again, we don’t see the strikes going against Daesh, but rather much more against opposition groups.

Yeah.

QUESTION: John, on the reason why the talks have been suspended: What do you make of the accusations by the Syrian regime, who said that Saudi Arabia and Turkey put a lot of pressure on the opposition to leave the Geneva and the preparatory – proximity – sorry – talks?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such pressure that was applied by third parties. As a matter of fact, I mean, we’ve long said that we know Saudi Arabia and other Arab states have influence over some of those opposition groups, and we wanted to continue them to use – to see them continue to use that influence to get them to participate, to help them participate in this political process. And that there were 116 participants that showed up in Riyadh under Saudi’s leadership and convening authority of that initial meeting, and that they did go to Geneva, was a positive, encouraging sign that we think indicates that those Arab states did use their influence in a productive way. I’m not seeing anything to confirm reports that there was pressure on them to then leave. I haven’t seen that.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on this issue? I mean, what is plan B? If the talks – if these talks fail, then what next, from your point of view? What does --

MR KIRBY: It’s important to not let them fail, Said. It’s important --

QUESTION: I understand, but --

MR KIRBY: -- to have the political process go forward.

QUESTION: Yeah. But you said that they are difficult, and we understand --

MR KIRBY: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: -- that they are very difficult to get going and so on. But in the event that the positions are so far apart that they could never take off the ground, and they remain in this state of --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- limbo meeting, or not meeting and so on, what is your next step? What – I mean, whether diplomatically or otherwise, what is the United States prepared to do to get the process moving?

MR KIRBY: The next step is to meet in Munich next week with the International Syria Support Group. The Secretary is looking forward to that discussion, to having Mr. de Mistura provide his sense and his perspective of what happened this week in Geneva, and to try to find ways forward. Nobody is under any illusion that this is going to be difficult, it’s going to be messy, and it’s going to be complicated, as it already has been. But that doesn’t mean the effort itself isn’t worth the energy that’s being expended towards it. It is. Because we continue to believe, as does the members of the International Syria Support Group, that there isn’t and can’t be a military solution to the conflict in Syria. And we want to see everybody who signed up to that idea live up to that idea.

So you’re asking me about plan B. What I can tell you is everybody is focused, as they should be, on plan A, which is to get the political process moving forward. Now, yes, it’s continuing to prove difficult and challenging, as we expected it would. Again, all the more reason why we need to stay focused at it, and all the more reason why the Secretary is continuing to have conversations with his counterparts inside the ISSG and will very much look forward to having discussions in Geneva next week.

Yeah, Goyal.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: No – well, Syria – just staying with Syria.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

About two weeks ago, our correspondent in Syria reported that the Rmeilan airfield in Syria’s Hasakah province was under construction, was being expanded, and today we saw a report on CNN showing the construction and showing how the runway was being extended to accommodate larger planes. It’s going to be for U.S. planes, isn’t it?

MR KIRBY: I would point you to the Department of Defense to speak to coalition military activities and preparations. I don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: So we did actually reach out, and the Defense Department spokesman said that the U.S. has not taken control of any airfield in Syria. But then back in January, on January 20th, the Syrian Democratic Forces – the opposition group – said that the U.S. had taken control of the Rmeilan airstrip. So it’s a bit confusing. Why the confusing statements, you think?

MR KIRBY: I think I’d point you to DOD for that question. They are much better prepared to speak to that. I’ve said repeatedly from this podium that I’m not going to speak to tactical military issues or developments.

Goyal.

QUESTION: For my couple questions on South Asia, let me first ask about Mr. Trump’s remarks. Today President also spoke about religious freedom in America. He said that attacking one religion is attacking all the religions, which is not acceptable under U.S. law in the U.S. or – how much Mr. Trump’s comments impacted as far as diplomacy is concerned? Any reaction from any country, especially Muslim country? Because when you talk to the Muslims, they are reacting, of course, that this is not America that ever they expected or can happen and will never happen.

MR KIRBY: Well, as you know, Goyal, I’m not going to engage in debates or discussions about campaign rhetoric from this podium. We’re not involved in the political campaign in the United States and I’m not going to get involved in it now. What I have said, what Secretary Kerry has said, is that one of the great strengths of the United States of America is our espousal, deep and abiding that it is, to freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and that one of the great things – one of the things that makes us the great country we are is that we are welcoming and open to all views and a diversity not just of the origins of people but the things that they believe in. And I can – you mentioned the President’s speech today. I think that’s a fine iteration of exactly those ideals, and we think it’s important to continue to live up to those ideals. And, as I also said, that regardless of who’s saying it – again, I’m not going to get into debating rhetoric one way or the other, but public officials always should be mindful of the impact and the interpretations that their comments might leave with people. But who we are as Americans is open – open to other ideas, open to the expression of faith – and again, I think the President iterated that quite well today.

QUESTION: A question on Bangladesh.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that? State Department is also involved in this building U.S. image overseas. Do you think that kind of rhetoric that is coming out from various individuals, organizations is damaging or hurting U.S. image overseas?

MR KIRBY: I would – you’d have to talk to audiences overseas about their impression of the comments that are being made on the campaign trail. Again, I’m not going to get into --

QUESTION: I’m not asking about the campaign trail and its – otherwise also it’s not from campaign. Other sources, other organizations, institutions have been calling --

MR KIRBY: I suspect that people around the world form their opinions about the United States through a variety of means and through a variety of ways, and I couldn’t begin to tell you what’s dominant in their thinking when they think about the United States. What we try to do here at the State Department is professionally and deliberately represent the foreign policies of this country and American values around the world. And we have literally thousands of people stationed all over the place that are doing just that, and they’re not just doing it through rhetoric. They’re doing it through real actions, out there helping teach young kids how to read and write, or helping build hospitals, helping connect local economies to regional economies and global economies. There’s a lot of great what we call public diplomacy going on out there that doesn’t get the attention that it deserves, and all that represents the United States very, very well, and all that, we hope, is what is helping shape opinions of people globally about America’s commitment to them and to security and stability around the world.

As to what commentary and analysis and opinion here that’s expressed in the United States, what effect that has on them I couldn’t begin to guess. But what we do here is try to make sure that not only what we say but what we do reinforces all the things that American foreign policy represents.

QUESTION: But do you think, like, attack on a Sikh or gurdwara or Sikh Americans is giving a wrong impression overseas globally that --

MR KIRBY: An attack on who?

QUESTION: Sikh.

QUESTION: On a Sikh. Sikh gurdwara.

MR KIRBY: Sikhs.

QUESTION: Yeah, on the Sikhs minority – Indian Sikhs – sometimes who are being considered similar to the Muslims. President mentioned in his speech today.

MR KIRBY: Attacks here in the United States?

QUESTION: Yes, yes – is sending a message or sending a wrong image about U.S. overseas?

MR KIRBY: Certainly. I mean, attacks on anybody in the United States – whether they’re verbal attacks or physical attacks – by virtue or due to a faith that they proclaim is abhorrent and not in keeping at all with American values or who we are as a country. And it would – obviously, we wouldn’t want people to take away from that a wrong impression about who we are as America, because it doesn’t represent American values any more than the abhorrent activity of groups like Daesh represents the peaceful faith of Islam.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up on this issue? There was a report today, I think in the Christian Science Monitor, about how the office to counter extremism in the State Department has tripled its staff and, like, tripled its budget and so on, basically to do exactly what you’re doing, to get that message across and to counter the terrible ideology of ISIS, Daesh. So can you elaborate on this? I mean, what is the – what does the office do? How expanded it has become and so on?

MR KIRBY: The Global Engagement Center, as it is now known, is going through some structural organizational changes to increase our ability as a government to deal with the messaging component specifically of groups like Daesh and other violent extremists. We’ve been very candid about the fact that we know that this is one of the lines of effort that we haven’t made as much progress on as we know we need to. The military line of effort has been very effective against Daesh in Iraq and in Syria. We know we’re hitting their financing and getting at their resources, that they’re having trouble paying their own fighters, but they still have an ability to recruit. They still have an ability to propagate this hateful message of theirs, and there’s still a very real problem with foreign fighters, which are themselves either attracted to the fight or inspired by the fight, and that they have this – they still have an ability to, again, to propagate this hateful ideology.

And so the Global Engagement Center, as it’s now called, has new leadership. They will be going through some organizational changes to become more robust in this effort. I don’t have a lot more detail for you now. These changes are just getting going and I suspect we’ll have more to say about it in the near future. But absolutely, it’s – it underscores and I think it’s representative of the fact that we know two things. One, we need to do a better job in that line of effort; and two, that it’s a significant line of effort for a group like Daesh. This is – that they have been able to see success on the messaging front and we’ve got to work harder to shut that down.

QUESTION: Going back to Bangladesh and Nepal --

MR KIRBY: We didn’t start with Bangladesh. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: As far as --

MR KIRBY: How can we be going back to Bangladesh?

QUESTION: Kind of like the Syria talks. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: As far as Bangladesh is concerned --

MR KIRBY: I’ll bet you, you’re going to get me on this one, Goyal. Because I don’t think I prepped for Bangladesh today.

QUESTION: Journalists and writers are in trouble in – or press in Bangladesh for writing their comments and articles and stories about – under the blasphemy law. And several of them have been already executed, and many are now on the road to be executed. U.S., India – U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – they have written a letter to Secretary Kerry on humanitarian basis to save them, those who are in the line of to be executed because of their writings – this is under the blasphemy law. And there is no freedom of religion and freedom of the press. Any comments on this?

MR KIRBY: Well, I am not aware of this correspondence. You’re going to have to let me take that and go back and look. I’m not familiar with these particular cases or that correspondence. But look, more broadly, we’ve talked many times from the podium about freedom of the press and freedom of expression. I would point you back to the Secretary’s speech last week at The Washington Post, where he spent a lot of time, obviously, welcoming back Jason Rezaian, but talking about the importance of the press and freedom of expression around the world. So we’ve made our positions on that very, very well known. Obviously, we don’t want to see any journalist imprisoned, harassed, or otherwise prevented from doing their job, which is to cover the decisions of leaders around the world and to explain the complexity of current events to audiences all around the world. We want to see that work continue. We’re dedicated to that here. But as for the specifics, you’re going to have to let me take that and see if I can get back to you.

QUESTION: And finally, just one: Nepal.

MR KIRBY: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Under the new government, Nepal is still not politically stable, and – but the new government and the new prime minister are trying to rebuild Nepal after the nine-months-old earthquake. And they are trying to rebuild one – at least one – over one million homes. What do you think, U.S. is now playing role? Because several of them, they were here at the – in D.C., the Nepali delegations.

MR KIRBY: In terms of earthquake rebuilding? Again, you’re – let me take that, let me take that. I don’t want to just guess here. Obviously, we expressed our support to the people of Nepal in the wake of the earthquake – I remember talking about that specifically – and we made offers of assistance. I don’t know – I’m just going to have to get back to you on the degree to which those offers were accepted and what was fulfilled. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: And finally, if they’re asking also any U.S. help as far as politically in connection with the still – the constitution? They are still – they are working on that.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Let me – again, let me get back to you, Goyal. I’m sorry, I wasn’t prepared for that.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR KIRBY: Abbie.

QUESTION: A Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee is claiming that there are 29 top secret emails instead of 22 that are being withheld. Is there any veracity to that statement, or are additional emails – will additional emails be withheld from Hillary Clinton’s --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional emails to talk about from – in addition to the ones we’ve already very publicly talked about. As you know, there’s more emails that we still need to release through the Freedom of Information Act. The work of reviewing and preparing those emails, those remaining emails, is ongoing. It’s just the third of the month, so we still have work ahead of us to do that. I’m not aware of any additional specific classification issues, so when we have more and we’re in a position that we can talk about the next tranche, we will. I just don’t have any updates for you today.

QUESTION: On this, but also on other – this congressman, as well as some others who are involved in looking at these emails, have said that the information that was in the 22 – that some of the information that was deemed to be top secret compromised lives, sources, and methods of the intel community. Do you accept that or is that something that you would reject?

MR KIRBY: I would say a couple of things. First of all, nobody takes safety and security of not only the American people but protection of sensitive information and the means to acquire that sensitive information more seriously than we do here at the State Department. That’s why the Secretary has been very clear in his direction to the department that as we work through this process, we do so as expeditiously as we can, but also not sacrificing the proper protection of sensitive information. So we’re very mindful of that.

I’ve seen some – I haven’t seen the specific comments you’re referring to. I’ve certainly seen some anonymous sources speaking to risk – the risk exposed by the information that was transmitted in some of these emails. What I can tell you is that, without qualifying what that risk is or is not, we obviously take seriously our obligation to protect that sensitive information so that the risk can be mitigated in its public disclosure. And we’re going to continue to do that moving forward. But again, without getting into the content, which I’m loath to do, I would just tell you that we – having looked at that traffic, I think the claims at least by some of the anonymous sources I’ve seen, we – the claims about the significant risk, we would not ascribe to that same claim.

QUESTION: Okay. So you disagree with this. Now, let me just say this is Representative Chris Stewart. This is not an anonymous official.

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments.

QUESTION: Well, I’m going to read them to you right now. “They do reveal classified methods, they do reveal classified sources, and they do reveal human assets.” I just want to make sure that you’re saying that you do not agree to – that you don’t agree with that.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get to the – I’m not going to get into the content of the specific traffic. So I can’t reaffirm that quote. What I can tell you is we take the protection of sensitive information seriously. That’s why they were redacted the way they were. That’s why classifications have been put on them through this review process. And we’re going to continue to work with the intelligence community going forward. We certainly share everybody’s concern about the proper protection of information that shouldn’t be revealed in a level of classification lower than what it was supposed to be.

QUESTION: I get that.

MR KIRBY: But some of the claims, we’ve – some of the claims about risk, I would say, we don’t subscribe to.

QUESTION: You don’t share, so – but you don’t want to – you don’t want to speak directly to what this congressman said?

MR KIRBY: I’m simply not because I don’t want to speak to the specific content --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- on these emails.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I switch topic? A different – a couple of different issues. First, on Ukraine, do you have anything on the resignation of the minister of economic development? Because he was seen as a figure that implemented real reforms, and ambassadors from nine countries, including the American ambassador, has expressed disappointment. I wonder if – what is your stand on this? And how would this development affect the decision and the status of a U.S. loan guarantee? Thanks.

MR KIRBY: Well, we have seen the reports of his resignation, and I think it’s important to note he delivered real reform results for Ukraine. He and his team made strides implementing tough but necessary economic reforms to help stabilize Ukraine’s economy, root out corruption, and help bring Ukraine into compliance with its IMF program obligations, as well as promoting more openness and transparency. So we note that with this – with his resignation that we hope that those efforts will be able to continue, because he did make a difference in Ukraine on many fronts.

Ukraine’s stable, secure, and prosperous future is going to require the sustained efforts of a broad and inclusive team going forward of dedicated professionals like him who put the Ukrainian people’s interests above their own. We believe it’s important that Ukraine’s leaders set aside their differences, put the vested interests that have hindered the country’s progress for decades – put that all in the past, and press forward on these same vital reforms. And in doing that, they will continue to find a friend in the United States of America.

QUESTION: One of reason he said for his resignation is the pressure from president’s office. How would this affect the status or the decision from the U.S. Government to loan guarantee to Ukraine Government?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any specific and I wouldn’t speculate right now on any specific impacts that this would have. Again, he was a leader, he was one of those leaders who put Ukraine’s interests above any personal interests of his own, he did implement some important reforms. We want to see those reforms continue, but I wouldn’t speculate about hypotheticals going forward with respect to decisions that we haven’t even – haven’t even discussed making, okay?

QUESTION: Thank you. And then could I please ask another question on the Philippines? The U.S. ambassador to Philippines, he’s saying that he would not discard the possibility of a joint military patrolling with the U.S. military in the South China Sea. I wonder if you could confirm the --

MR KIRBY: Oh, I would point you to his comments. I read them. I didn’t take them quite the same way you did. I think he didn’t move anything in or out. He didn’t speculate. In fact, he said he wasn’t going to speculate about future military – potential military operations with the Philippines and their naval forces. What he did say was, as I’ve said, the United States military has the right to operate in international airspace and maritime space in accordance with international law, and we’re going to continue to do that. But I didn’t take it the way you phrased it in your question. He – in fact, he was very clear that he wasn’t going to speculate about the future. Now, do we operate with Philippine naval forces? All the time we do. But as for the future of that, again, we wouldn’t speak to future military operations one way or the other here.

QUESTION: You mentioned you operate with the Philippines military, the navy, all the time. Are you excluding the possibility of a joint military patrol in the South China Sea?

MR KIRBY: I think I just answered that. I said I’m not going to speculate one way or the other. I think you guys know I’m very judicious about not speaking to U.S. military operations here, certainly not speculating about the potential for future military operations one way or the other. And I don’t think the ambassador was alluding to that either. He made it very clear he wasn’t going to hypothesize, that we value our – the military-to-military cooperation that we have with the Philippines and we’re going to continue to look for ways to keep that relationship strong going forward. And I think that’s where he – that’s pretty much where he left it.

Said.

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

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday the Israeli army when into a village south of Hebron and demolished 24 structures, leaving about 80 people homeless. It is part of a – really a very old village resided by maybe 1,300 people. They’re farmers and so on. They’re saying they did not have proper permits. I wonder if you have – if you are aware of this and if you have a comment.

MR KIRBY: I’m not. No, I wasn’t tracking that particular issue, so let me get back to you on that. But in general, you know where we’ve been in terms of construction or deconstruction in the West Bank. But let me – without – I don’t want to speculate, so let me get that – let me take that for you.

QUESTION: You are aware, though, perhaps, of the attack at Damascus Gate --

MR KIRBY: I am.

QUESTION: -- this morning? So I’m presuming that you’re going to condemn it, as you do with all these attacks. But it leads me to my – what is becoming the perennial question, even though it’s less than a year old, but it’s many months old. This is in the Old City. What happened to the cameras that were supposed to go up?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update for you, Matt. I would point you to Israeli and Jordanian technical authorities who, as we understand, are still discussing the parameters of that. But you’re right, we do strongly condemn the attack in Jerusalem today in which two female border police officers were attacked with automatic weapons. One of the police officers was killed and the other left severely wounded. As before, sadly, once again, we have to extend our deepest condolences to a mourning family and to friends and the community of the victim, and we wish the injured officer a full and complete recovery. As we’ve said before, there’s no justification for these terrorist attacks. These tragic incidents only underscore again the importance of affirmative steps to restore calm, reduce tensions, and bring an immediate end to the violence.

QUESTION: But you’re not – let me just follow up on this in general. These border police units, they are part of an occupying force. Correct? You agree with that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- the – they – this was border police officers that were on duty doing their job.

QUESTION: No, I mean, I understand you want to condemn this and that’s your prerogative, but, I mean, the flipside of that – I mean, I don’t want to – I followed the discussion yesterday on the issue of the right to self-defense and so on. But how should the Palestinians respond to an overwhelming military presence that basically suffocates their lives? How – what they should do, in your opinion?

MR KIRBY: I addressed this yesterday with Matt, Said.

QUESTION: Okay, all right.

MR KIRBY: The – let me tell you what is not the way to do it, okay? The way to not do it is through attacks like today. The way to not do it is to incite those attacks with rhetoric that inflames these tensions. The way to do it – the way to move forward here – is through peaceful dialogue and conversation, and to take affirmative steps in both word and in action to walk people away from this kind of violence. That’s the way to do this.

QUESTION: I have one last question. There was a member of Knesset that – Ahmad Tibi was – I think he had some meetings in the State Department. Are you aware of that? He’s an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset.

MR KIRBY: I’m not. I’m sorry. I’ll have to check on that. I wasn’t tracking that. I got time for two more.

QUESTION: Japan announced that it would likely shoot down the North Korean missile if it flew over its territory. And likewise, South Korea warned of searing consequences in light of a North Korean missile launch. Do you have any response or --

MR KIRBY: These are – I mean, these are decisions that sovereign nations have to make. I’m not going to – I would refer you to South Korean and Japanese authorities to comment on whatever reaction they might have to this announced ballistic missile launch.

Yeah.

QUESTION: John, this is Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV Pakistan. Sir, 13 years ago, a Pakistani taxi driver was arrested in Karachi and sent to Guantanamo Bay for the --

MR KIRBY: Sent where?

QUESTION: Guantanamo Bay.

QUESTION: A Pakistani taxi driver --

MR KIRBY: Guantanamo Bay, thank you.

QUESTION: -- yeah, Ahmed Rabbani. But after 13 years, the Periodic Review Board, the PRB, said that it was a mistake and he was not the one they were looking for, like Mustafa al-Aziz al-Shamiri. So can you update us about that taxi driver? I mean, is he going to be freed or he – is there any contact with the Pakistani authorities on that?

MR KIRBY: I’m afraid I can’t. First of all, we don’t talk about pending transfers. We talk about transfers from Guantanamo Bay when they’re occurring, and that’s done by the Department of Defense. And so secondly, with any specific case, I would refer you to DOD who leads and manages the detention facility. But I suspect that there won’t be much that they can say about individual cases.

QUESTION: Sir, I have one more question about the Saudi coalition. There is a --

MR KIRBY: About what?

QUESTION: About the new coalition to fight extremism, like the Saudi – the 34 member-countries made a coalition to fight the terrorism. The Saudis are leading them – Saudi Arabia. But the interesting thing about this coalition is that all the member-countries are Sunni states. None of the Shia state is a member of this coalition. As you know that in Middle East, they already have sectarian violence there. So don’t you think that such type of actions make things even worse?

MR KIRBY: Well, first, the – as I said at the time, the Saudi Government is the right place to go for discussion and your question about their efforts internal to the region to form a coalition of nations to fight, counter extremism. As we said at the time also, we welcome all international efforts to go after violent extremism, but ultimately, this is for the Saudis to speak to. And again, we said the – we were – we would certainly not pass judgment until more information came to light or more – or there was more on this, and I don’t have anything additional to say with respect to that.

Secondarily to that in a related way, when there – when the tensions erupted over the mass executions in Saudi Arabia, we were very quick to say that we thought it was important for Saudi Arabia and Iran to work through dialogue to resolve the tensions peacefully, diplomatically; that we thought it was important to keep diplomatic relations actually in place rather than tear them down so that there wouldn’t be a larger sectarian issue ripped open in an already tense region. I mean --

QUESTION: But we haven’t seen any intervention about – I mean, the Saudis are – they are bombarding on the Yemeni civilians. I mean, they are – they’re killing the civilians in Yemen, but we haven’t – don’t you think the U.S. should intervene in this matter? I mean, there’s a lot of civilians --

MR KIRBY: In what matter?

QUESTION: -- killed on a daily basis.

MR KIRBY: You’re jumping around all over the place. What – exactly what matter do you want us to intervene in?

QUESTION: I mean, do you condemn the Saudis’ bombardment on those Yemenis?

MR KIRBY: We – I’ve dealt with this as well. I mean, we’ve long made clear our concerns about the reports of civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure as a result of the coalition campaign in Yemen. And as I said earlier in respect to some recent reports, the Saudis have launched an investigation of their own. They’ve said themselves it’s going to be an independent investigation into these allegations of civilian casualties and collateral damage. We look forward to seeing them pursue that investigation, and look forward to seeing the results of it. As we’ve said throughout the conflict in Yemen, all parties have an obligation to abide by international law and to do everything they can to limit an impact on innocent civilians who are caught up in this deadly conflict.

QUESTION: Hey John, one --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I’ll just take this last one.

QUESTION: Over – one of the Secretary’s priorities for this year has been getting through – the stalled nominations, stalled nominees through confirmation in the Senate. Over the course of the last 90 minutes or so, Senator Shaheen and I think maybe some others tried to get unanimous consent on at least four nominations: the ambassadors – ambassador nominees to Sweden, to Norway; Tom Shannon’s nomination as under secretary, and the legal adviser secretary.

In response to each of these requests, Senator Lee, speaking on behalf of Senator Cruz, has objected. In other words, he has kept – the unanimous consent has not gone through. The holds remain. One, I’m wondering if you have any response to that; and secondly, I’m wondering if you believe that this is the responsible use of senatorial privilege by someone who wants to set and run the foreign policy of the United States.

MR KIRBY: I’m – I appreciate where you’d like me to go on that last one. I’m – look, I’m not going to, again, cast us into the middle of an active campaign season here.

That said – and I’m – I can only point you back to what the Secretary himself said when he came to this podium a few weeks ago. There is important work being done all around the world by our diplomatic corps, and we’ve talked about a lot of it here today. I mean, just look at the spate of issues that we’ve dealt with. And to the question about the way we’re viewed around the world, there’s important work to be done, lots of challenges on our plate. The Secretary is in London right now getting ready for a major donor conference – the fourth one – for Syria. And it hampers our ability, as he said himself, to do that good work to represent American values around the world and to further our foreign policy objectives when we can’t get key positions filled. And so I would only echo what the Secretary has said, was that the time is not just now, it’s long past now, to confirm these individuals, let them get at their jobs, and let them do the work of furthering foreign policy objectives.

QUESTION: All right. Let’s leave the campaign or specific candidates out of it. Is this a – by any senator, is it a responsible use of their privilege to hold up nominees and to do what --

MR KIRBY: It is not – it’s not a matter of holds. I mean, even Secretary Kerry, as a former senator, understands that there’s a value to that technical application – the idea of a hold. It’s not that. It’s the holding for such a prolonged activity, and in some cases not even tied to concerns about the State Department, but tied to other concerns that an individual may have with this or that policy of the Administration. And that, I think, again, the Secretary has spoken to very clearly – that that isn’t helpful, that isn’t constructive, and that isn’t a wise use of that tactic to hold up positions for that long for no reason tied necessarily to that individual’s fitness for the job or the foreign policy objectives of the United States State Department.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3.35 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Wed, 02/03/2016 - 13:14

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 1, 2016

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TRANSCRIPT:

2:10 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. Okay, I’ve got several things at the top, so I’m going to ask you to bear with me, and we’ll get through these as quickly as I can and we’ll get right to it.

I’m sure you all saw the Secretary’s recorded video yesterday where he talked about the fact that we’ve entered a pivotal phase in the diplomatic effort to reduce the violence of Syria, to isolate terrorist groups such as Daesh, and to create the basis for an inclusive, peaceful, and pluralistic Syria, the kind of Syria that we all seek. He urged all parties to seize this opportunity and to go forward with the best interests of their country in mind. He also made an urgent call for humanitarian access, decrying the regime’s refusal so far to grant such access, and urging all parties to facilitate such access and to cease bombings and other attacks against civilians.

Today in Geneva, as I think you all have been following, UN Special Envoy de Mistura has met with the High Negotiating Committee, and I believe he’s just concluded some statements to the media where he read those out. I’ll refer you to him, but obviously, we’re glad to see those meetings occur. For our part, as you probably know, there are two representatives of the United States there in Geneva, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson and the Special Envoy for Syria, Michael Ratney. They, too, met with officials from the UN, the HNC, a woman’s advisory group to the opposition, and various International Syria Support Group member delegations, including a member of the Russian delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Gatilov. As I said, as the process goes forward I suspect you will continue to be updated by the UN appropriately.

On Syria, I also saw some press reporting about Brett McGurk. I can tell you that Special Presidential Envoy McGurk completed a two-day visit to northern Syria this weekend to assess progress in the campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy Daesh. Mr. McGurk, together with officials from the Department of Defense, met with a coalition of Arab and Kurdish commanders to review recent operations against Daesh. He also visited Kobani in northern Syria to meet with civilian administration officials and representatives from the Syrian Democratic Council. This was predominantly to sort of mark the anniversary of the operations there in Kobani. He praised the courage and resilience of the people of Kobani, affirmed the need for international support in helping to rebuild the city, which continues to stand as a symbol of defiance against Daesh. He then traveled to Baghdad to meet with Prime Minister Abadi and other Iraqi leaders to assess progress there in Iraq, and he will join Secretary Kerry in Rome for a ministerial meeting on the 3rd of February – two days from now – with a small group of coalition partners contributing in significant ways to the campaign across multiple lines of effort.

Switching to Nigeria. The United States condemns the terrorist attacks on the 29th and 30th of last month in Gombe and Dalori, Nigeria, where Boko Haram extremists bombed a market, attacked a village, fire-bombed huts burning to death dozens of innocent victims, including children, and wounding many more. We extend, of course, our deepest condolences to the families of the victims, and we remain committed to supporting Nigeria and its Lake Chad Basin partners in the fight against terrorism.

On to China and to Hong Kong. We remain deeply concerned by the disappearance of five Hong Kong residents associated with Mighty Current Media and the Causeway Bay bookstore. We continue to follow closely the developments of these cases. They – these cases, including two involving individuals holding European passports, raise serious questions about China’s commitment to Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework as well as its respect for the protection of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. We urge China to clarify the current status of all five individuals and the circumstances surrounding their disappearances and to allow them to return to their homes.

Finally, on Burma. We congratulate all the newly-elected members of parliament as they take their seats on the first day of Burma’s new union parliament. Millions of people around the country, including many voting for the first time, elected their representatives on the 8th of November of last year. This outcome is a testament to the courage and sacrifice shown by the people of Burma over many years, including more than 100 former political prisoners who will now take their seats in Burma’s parliament. The seating of this parliament is a very important step forward in Burma’s democratic transition, although of course there remain important impediments to the realization of full democratic and civilian government. We are encouraged by the commitment of Burma’s political leaders to work together in the spirit of national unity and reform and are hopeful that this will continue throughout the transition period and beyond. And of course, we stand ready to support the new government and remain committed to assisting the people of Burma in their pursuit of democracy, development, and national reconciliation. We look forward to providing support for these new parliamentarians as well as all the people in this country seeking to promote democratic practices in the coming years.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right, thanks. Can we start – I wanted to see if you’re able to clear up some confusion about reports that there are numerous or multiple American citizens being detained in Saudi Arabia right now --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- on terrorism-related charges. Have you guys been told by the – informed by the Saudis that they are holding American citizens, as would be their obligation?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that we’ve seen these reports and are working hard to ascertain more details about them and about the veracity of them. And we are in touch with the Saudi authorities, but I don’t have anything definitive with respect to the actual truth of the – of these reports.

QUESTION: Okay, I understand. But the Saudis have not gotten in – I mean, some of these people alleged – have been allegedly held for more than a couple months, and one since years.

MR KIRBY: Sure, if you look at the website where it has --

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR KIRBY: -- the list of names, yeah. No, I’m aware of that. I just don’t know at this time how true that posting is. What I can tell you is that we’re working closely with Saudi authorities to try to figure this out and to iron it out.

QUESTION: I get it, but can you say – is it correct that the Saudis have not notified you of arrests of Americans?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any specific notification through official channels other than this web posting, Matt.

QUESTION: Got you.

MR KIRBY: But as I said, we’re in touch with Saudi authorities directly on this to try to get to ground truth.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: But shouldn’t that be a simple thing? I mean, you ask the Saudis whether you hold American citizens, and then you – they respond to you yes or no?

MR KIRBY: We’re working closely with Saudi authorities, Said, right now to try to figure it out, to see exactly what the situation is, and I’m just not at liberty to say more until we know more. And when we do and I have something more specifically I can speak to, I certainly will.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the McGurk visit? Is it true that Deputy Secretary Blinken spoke to members of the PYD?

MR KIRBY: He did. He spoke to – I can – hang on a second, I’ll get you the exact – I thought I had it in here. Maybe I don’t.

QUESTION: Was he trying to encourage them to be part of the talks? Or --

MR KIRBY: He did speak over the phone with one of the leaders of the PYD – I have the name – I thought I did, but I’m not sure – to – obviously to reinforce the same message that Secretary Kerry had, which was that the – the importance of moving the political process forward. I don’t have more of a detailed readout than that.

QUESTION: And on McGurk, though, can you give us some kind of detail on how this – how far ahead this trip was planned, kind of how he got in there, some kind of just details on the trip?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have his entire – I’m still looking for that thing. I don’t have his entire itinerary for you, Lesley. The trip to Kobani was, in fact, timed to go with the anniversary of the operation there, the successful conclusion of the retaking of Kobani. And as you know, he routinely meets with all different members and representatives of the various parts of the coalition. So obviously, a trip like this is not something you throw together at the last minute. I just don’t know how long he’d been planning it, but I think it’s safe to say that it’d been in the planning for some manner of days, if not weeks. And again, it was a – he believed it was important right now, as we are so tied to the anniversary, obviously, of Kobani, but also because there has been a sense of momentum here in both Iraq and Syria against Daesh, and a sense of momentum on the ground militarily, but also a sense on the political front with the diplomatic talks going on in Geneva. So he believed that the time was ripe to have these discussions, and I fully expect that he’ll continue to have discussions going forward. I mean, he’s been very, very active and spends quite a bit of time in the region.

QUESTION: Was there any pushback against him going into Syria?

QUESTION: As you probably know --

QUESTION: -- going into Syria?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Was there any pushback in this building against Ambassador McGurk’s decision to go into Syria?

MR KIRBY: If there was pushback about Mr. McGurk going into Syria, he wouldn’t have gone.

QUESTION: Or you’d be first to tell us, right?

MR KIRBY: Absolutely I would be, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.) On the Blinken discussion, whether or not you can find the points on that, as you know, or should know --

MR KIRBY: Can you look that up on --

QUESTION: -- or probably know, there was a bunch of – there was a group of Kurds, a Kurdish delegation that went to Geneva for the talks, and they left. And there are some allegations that the reason that they left is because you guys told them to stay away. Is that correct?

MR KIRBY: No. I know that there’s been some comment about this in the media. The UN, as you know, has not announced its list of invitees or those that were invited in an advisory role. However, we do understand that Kurdish figures are included among those additional invitations to non-HNC delegates to attend in an advisory role. So we’re aware that there are some Kurdish representatives there in an advisory role, but ultimately, who’s invited and at what capacity is up to Mr. de Mistura to determine, not the United States. It’s also important to remember that the Kurds were included in the Riyadh meeting back in December, of that 116 participants. So I know of no --

QUESTION: John, the --

MR KIRBY: -- blanket order by the United States. First of all, it wouldn’t be our role to do that. But even if it were, I know of no such order for us to tell them to stay away. As a matter of fact, as I said, there are some Kurdish representatives there.

QUESTION: The United States often does things that are outside of its formal role in things. But so you – there was no request or demand or any type of encouragement for them to leave or not to show up; is that what you’re saying?

MR KIRBY: We have not – the decision about who is going to be there and in what capacity are made by --

QUESTION: I’m not asking you that. I’m not asking you that.

MR KIRBY: -- Staffan de Mistura. I’m not going to get into private conversations that we have with him or anybody else at the UN with respect to this. But to characterize the United States as declaring or decreeing that there shall be no Kurdish representation there would be inaccurate.

QUESTION: Well, but have you told them that it would be – “Hey, look, guys, we think it wouldn’t be – it would not be good for you to be here. Why don’t you just make yourself scarce?”

MR KIRBY: There are Kurdish representatives there in an advisory role, so again, that – what’s most important is that the people that are there are there at the invitation of the UN and in – and participating in a form and a fashion that Mr. de Mistura finds appropriate at this level of the discussions. And I won’t go into more detail than that.

QUESTION: John, just a follow-up on the McGurk trip. In this case, when a high-level American diplomat goes into virtually Syrian territory, what kind of arrangements are made? I mean, does he get a visa? Does he go from Turkey into Kobani? I mean, how is his security and safety guaranteed? What happens if there is a collapse?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t in any case speak to force protection measures or what might be done to protect security. Obviously, we would always be mindful of the appropriate security precautions for this kind of travel to that sort of environment. I won’t go into the details of that. And as for his actual trip logistics, I just don’t have that level of detail.

QUESTION: So there are no visa requirements whatsoever --

MR KIRBY: We didn’t --

QUESTION: -- for any American diplomat to go into Syrian territory?

MR KIRBY: There’s no diplomatic relations with the Government of Syria. I’m not aware of any other specifics with respect to his logistics as far as how he got in and that matter. I just don’t have that detail.

QUESTION: Certain Syrian opposition groups are saying that Kurdish fighters are equipped with American vehicles and tanks and so on, that they are fighting along – or fighting against them, basically. Is that in any way credible?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to DOD. I’m not sure about what materiel or equipment that they might be using. But as we’ve said along – for a long time, we have been providing materiel assistance to Kurdish fighters, and we’ve also said that that support will continue. But exactly what they’re getting and on what schedule they’re getting it on and what they’ve got, I’d refer you to DOD for that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Just a couple more questions on the McGurk visit.

MR KIRBY: Really? I’m surprised. I’m shocked that you’re not asking me about Cuba and the restoration of diplomatic relations there.

QUESTION: Well, that’s not my beat. So is McGurk the highest-ranking State Department official or U.S. Government official to have met the PYD in person?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay. And you said he talked about plans to rebuild Kobani. Any specific plans?

MR KIRBY: Well, he spoke with civilian administration officials about their plans to help rebuild Kobani. I don’t have anything specifically to read out with respect to what those plans are. Obviously, the United States is interested in this and will assist in the way most appropriate, but I don’t have anything specific on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And about the visit to Baghdad, he has met also the Kurdish Prime Minister Barzani, who was there to resolve some of the disputes with Baghdad.

MR KIRBY: No, no. His job was not to help resolve disputes between --

QUESTION: No, not him, no, no. But Barzani is in Baghdad the same time as McGurk is there.

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: Barzani went there for that. But can you tell us about that too, that --

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, he did go to Iraq to meet with leaders there about progress against ISIL. I don’t have anything specific to read out with respect to those discussions. And as for what Mr. Barzani was doing there, you’d have to talk to him and his staff about that.

QUESTION: So they are just coincidence? They weren’t – he didn’t go there because Barzani is also there to meet Abadi? He wanted to meet all of them in Baghdad at the same time?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know how synchronized the – Mr. McGurk’s travel was with Barzani’s. Again, you’d have to talk to their staff about that. There’s clearly enough to do and to talk about in Baghdad with the Government of Iraq about the progress against Daesh inside Iraq, and I know that that was the focus of it.

QUESTION: Just one more question, John. When – about a couple of weeks ago, the KRG sent a delegation here to ask for financial assistance. I just want to know whether the United States has made any decision on the request they brought.

MR KIRBY: I have no decisions to read out with respect to that.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR KIRBY: Yes ma’am.

QUESTION: Thank you. The Russian defense ministry showed video of Turkish military shelling Syrian territory using heavy artillery. Two weeks ago, Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu openly spoke about Turkey shelling the positions in Syria, saying those were Daesh positions. Do you think Turkey’s cross-border artillery strikes are a violation of Syria’s sovereignty?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any detail on their artillery strikes. That’s – I’d have to point you to DOD and to the military coalition to speak to that. I’m not aware of the specifics of those operations, so I’m not in a position to comment one way or the other.

QUESTION: Well, Ahmet Davutoglu said two weeks ago close to 500 artillery and tank shells were fired on Daesh positions in Syria and Iraq, so cross-border. Are you aware of cross-border strikes carried out by Turkey in Syria?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have specifics to read out with respect to Turkish military operations. That said, they are a member of the coalition to counter Daesh, and they have been participating in that effort, not only on their own but – using their own military assets – but supporting coalition aircraft on certain of their airbases. So strikes against Daesh inside Syria by members of the coalition is a good thing. That’s what we want. We want to go after this group. But I can’t speak with great specificity on this particular incident that you’re talking about. I just don’t have an operational laydown and I’m not tracking the tactics of any one member, not even the U.S. military.

QUESTION: In the view of the U.S., is there such a thing as Syria’s sovereignty at this point?

MR KIRBY: What we want is for Syria to be whole and pluralistic and free and to have a government that can protect its own people and to eventually, yes, continue to care for its sovereignty. But --

QUESTION: But do you recognize its sovereignty now?

MR KIRBY: Syria is a nation. There’s no question about that. But it’s led by a man who’s lost all legitimacy to govern. And we’ve made no bones about the fact that regardless of the borders that Syria has and that are internationally recognized borders, there is an international coalition that has the authority to go in and to deal with a group like Daesh, and that’s going to continue.

QUESTION: I just want to find out what the boundaries are for what the U.S. thinks Turkey can and cannot do in Syria. What are those boundaries?

MR KIRBY: Your question presupposes that we are dictating to Turkey what they can and cannot do. This is a coalition of the willing. Every member of the coalition brings to it what they can, where they can, when they can. And operations against Daesh inside Syria or inside Iraq, obviously with the Iraqi Government’s coordination, can and will be encouraged. I mean, we’re going after a group, a very dangerous group, that represents not just a regional threat but a global threat. And Turkey’s participation in those operations is welcome and encouraged.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: You’re saying – excuse me.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that (inaudible)?

QUESTION: Sure.

QUESTION: I’m (inaudible) follow on that. I just want to follow – was it Mr. Salih Muslim, the official that --

MR KIRBY: I just want to make sure I don’t mess this up. Yes, he called PYD’s Salih Muslim to discuss the Syria talks in Geneva and to talk about our continued cooperation in the fight against Daesh in northern Syria.

QUESTION: And you don’t – you couldn’t tell us specifically what they discussed other than --

MR KIRBY: That’s as far as I’m going to go.

QUESTION: -- Assistant Secretary Blinken telling – do you know if the Kurd issue is specifically going to be discussed in Geneva?

MR KIRBY: The Kurd issue?

QUESTION: I think – yeah. I think that there, from what I understand, is that there might be a specific meeting about dealings with the Kurds around February 11. Do you know anything about that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t, and I would point you to Special Envoy de Mistura to speak with more detail. Again, I think it’s really important for people to remember that this is a UN-led, UN-administered process between the regime and the opposition. So I wouldn’t speak to specifics about what they discussed today and what they plan on discussing tomorrow. I think Mr. de Mistura has already spoken a little bit today about his conversations.

As you know, and the Secretary talked about this, it is the intention of the International Syria Support Group to meet on the 11th in Munich on the back end of these talks in Geneva. And I don’t have a specific agenda for that meeting to read out to you now, but obviously, the progress in Geneva will be front and center in the conversation.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: John, could you comment on the fact that the Syrians have opened up some of the areas that were besieging and allowed some humanitarian aid to go in, and basically that helped restart the talks, and whether the Secretary’s statement had something to do with that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I wouldn’t – I think the HNC should speak to what --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- their motivations and their intentions to go to Geneva and to begin conversations. I wouldn’t speak for them. Obviously, we think it’s welcome and we’re glad to see that they’re there and certainly encouraged that they spent so much time with Mr. de Mistura today. That’s a good thing. So I wouldn’t speak to motivations there. That wouldn’t be appropriate.

On humanitarian access, I mean, there has been some limited humanitarian access permitted to some besieged areas. We talked about Madaya as one of the key ones there. And I’ve seen some spurious – I shouldn’t say “spurious,” that’s my bad. I’ve seen some reporting – press reporting that the regime has agreed to allow additional access. I can’t confirm that they actually have. And as I said a week or so ago, actions are going to speak louder than words. What has to happen is this access needs to be provided not just occasionally or sporadically but on a continued, sustained level. And the Secretary was adamantly clear about that yesterday in his statement.

QUESTION: John?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary offer any assurances regarding humanitarian access, regarding efforts to end the airstrikes, to the Syrian opposition, to opposition leader Riyad Hijab, over the past couple of days as part of an effort to spur the opposition to engage in talks?

MR KIRBY: I won’t speak to the details of his conversation with Dr. Hijab, and he’s had several. Obviously, as was reinforced by his message yesterday, he wanted all sides to take advantage of the opportunity before them there in Geneva, and that has been his consistent message across the board. So he has certainly talked to Dr. Hijab about the importance of moving the political process forward and to having the High Negotiating Committee or their representatives, who they’ve selected, to be there to have these discussions. But I’m not going to talk about specifics.

QUESTION: You can’t go into details. Can you say in general if he offered the opposition anything concrete to encourage them to negotiate?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not going to go into any more detail than that. He obviously has had continued conversations with Syrian opposition leaders, Dr. Hijab specifically. And as I said, he made it very clear yesterday that this is an opportunity that should be seized. He was also very clear in reinforcing his commitment to their very real concerns about humanitarian access and about the violence and the bloodshed that’s – that continues in Syria. But I won’t go into more detail than that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish armed group YPG’s International Brigade last week released a video on YouTube called its foreign recruits to attack Turkey. Two pro-YPG news agencies on the scene confirmed the authenticity of the video which released in three languages, including Spanish and German. Would you condemn this statement?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. We’ve seen the video and we strongly condemn its call for violence against Turkey. Such behavior is unacceptable, and we urge all sides to remain focused on what is and should be the common enemy, which is Daesh.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Hi. How closely do you monitor civilian casualties caused by Russian bombing, and what is your reaction to that?

MR KIRBY: We’ve talked about this before. We’re not in a position to analyze or try to collect specific information about their targeting. You should talk to Russian military authorities about what they think they are or they are not hitting. We have seen claims about collateral damage and civilian casualties by many credible organizations, and we’ve said publicly from this podium that that’s of deep concern to us, as it is when we believe we might cause civilian casualties and collateral damage. And when we get claims from credible organizations that the coalition has caused, that we take it seriously. So we take those claims seriously, and we urge Russia to look into those and to investigate them appropriately and, obviously, to exercise the proper amount of caution and precision that’s required so that that doesn’t occur.

QUESTION: Well, what do you say to those who argue that the U.S. should be more forceful in condemning the casualties and to – not just to so because of – for diplomatic reasons, not wanting to upset the Russians, but actually --

MR KIRBY: I would completely refute that notion, and we’ve been nothing but clear about our concerns about these things. And no other military in the world takes civilian casualties and collateral damage more seriously than we do, and we’re not bashful about saying it when we have concerns about somebody else and what they’re doing. So I completely refute the allegation that we aren’t taking it seriously, or for another – that we’re not in some way – we’re not more strenuously publicly calling for an end to it.

QUESTION: Can I ask you what your understanding of the current – your current understanding is of the situation around – in and around Fallujah? The reason I ask is that there’s been a lot of concern, or growing concern, expressed in recent days about it being under siege – granted it is held by ISIS, but calls for air drops of food and other supplies in for the civilian population. Is this something the U.S. would consider, and how high is your concern, level of concern, about the situation?

MR KIRBY: We’re very concerned about these reports of – I think what you’re getting at is starvation deaths in Fallujah, and we’re very much in close coordination with Iraqi Security Forces to ensure that their campaign and the conduct of it is conducted in a way that also limits civilian costs to the fullest extent possible. So we’re going to – we continue to support Iraq with nearly – more than $600 million to address the needs of vulnerable Iraqis affected by the violence. And we’re encouraged, quite frankly, by Government of Iraq efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to the city, and we’re going to encourage – we’re going to keep working with them and encourage them to keep finding a way to get basic supplies in, noting and recognizing that it’s difficult to do because Fallujah is much more densely populated than, say, Ramadi – that it certainly appears that Daesh fighters are not letting – not only not letting aid get in, but not letting civilian residents get out. And so we’re mindful of the difficulties here, and we’re going to continue to work very closely with the Iraqi Government to see what can be done to try to get aid in there. But it’s tough.

QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that it isn’t tough. There’s also a problem with stuff that does get in, and whether it gets to the civilians --

MR KIRBY: Whether it gets to the right hands, or even if it gets in the right hands, if it gets to stay in the right hands.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: I mean, this is very complex and very dangerous.

QUESTION: So when you talk about continuing to work with the Iraqi Government about trying to get – can you be more specific? Or what does that mean? Are you ramping up supplies --

MR KIRBY: I don’t --

QUESTION: -- specifically for Fallujah, or --

MR KIRBY: Well, I wouldn’t speak – in any event, I wouldn’t speak to potential – any potential military decisions --

QUESTION: No, no.

MR KIRBY: -- that would come up. No, no, I know where you’re going here, but just let me finish. Let me finish. So I wouldn’t speak to anything specifically, just because it wouldn’t be my place. But even still, noting that Daesh fighters are still so prevalent in Fallujah and that it’s still so dangerous, I think it’s – it should be easy for people to understand why we wouldn’t want to telegraph whatever kinds of efforts there might be in the future to try to get humanitarian aid in so that we can preserve a little bit of operational security so that aid can hopefully get to the right people.

It’s – look, this is tricky; it’s very difficult. And frankly, in a situation like – with Fallujah, it can be dangerous to all sides to try to get humanitarian aid in, as much as it is needed – and it is. But I can tell you we’re focused on that very closely.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Can I ask one on Turkey please?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you. After Turkey claimed that a Russian jet violated its airspace last week, the Pentagon confirmed this on Saturday. Russia denies having crossed Turkish airspace and demands proof. Will the U.S. provide evidence?

MR KIRBY: One of – you – you’re so good at asking these questions that it’s the United States responsibility to provide proof of what Russia’s doing, which I find incredibly comical. It’s not our job to confirm for the Russians what they’re doing.

QUESTION: I did not say that. But the Pentagon --

MR KIRBY: But what I can say is --

QUESTION: -- confirmed it, so it must have some something that bases its --

MR KIRBY: What I can say is --

QUESTION: -- conclusion, right?

MR KIRBY: You go ahead and finish, and then when you’re done, I’ll talk. Go ahead. More?

QUESTION: Please, sir.

MR KIRBY: We are aware of reports, and we can confirm that on the 29th of January another Russian combat aircraft violated Turkish and NATO airspace. As we’ve stated after past incidents, the United States joins NATO in standing in solidarity with Turkey, and we call on Russia to respect Turkish airspace and cease activities that risk further heightening instability in the region. It’s important that the Russians and the Turks talk to each other and to take measures to prevent escalation.

QUESTION: Russia denies having done that and asks for proof. Will the U.S. provide proof?

MR KIRBY: It’s not – it’s not for – it’s not our responsibility to provide proof to the Russians for something they did wrong. And this is --

QUESTION: But if --

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second, now.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR KIRBY: What I said in my last comment there, we want the Russians and the Turks to talk about this and to share the appropriate amount of information so that incidents like this won’t’ happen again. But for our part, there’s no doubt that they entered Turkish and therefore NATO airspace. No doubt at all.

QUESTION: Is that all right, to make an accusation and not provide evidence?

MR KIRBY: It’s not an accusation; it’s a fact. It’s a simple fact. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Based on what? Can you provide pictures of that, anything?

MR KIRBY: I’ve answered your question.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On regard to Turkey. The – there’s a Kurdish delegation from Turkey that’s here in the United States to address the – what they would call the Turkish aggression against the Kurds in Kurdistan – in Turkey. My first question is: What is your position on that, and what is your response to the Kurdish delegation here?

The second question: There has been seven political activists been arrested in Erbil for their political differences in comparison with the current KRG policy. Basically, when they spoke out with this economical crisis and the failure the KRG providing their civil salary money – what is your position on that, please?

MR KIRBY: Okay, can you ask me the first one again? Because I did not get it.

QUESTION: There’s a Kurdish delegation here in the U.S. from Turkey. They’re scheduled actually to address the Turkish aggression against the Kurds in Turkey. I was curious about your position on --

MR KIRBY: A Turkish delegation that’s here to address --

QUESTION: A Kurdish delegation from Turkey --

MR KIRBY: Kurdish delegation --

QUESTION: -- from HDP.

MR KIRBY: -- from Turkey.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MR KIRBY: And they’re here to --

QUESTION: To address the aggression the Turkish Government is perpetrating against the civilians in Turkey. I was curious about your position on that.

MR KIRBY: Actually, I’m going to have to take that question, because I’m not aware of this delegation being here. So I wouldn’t be able to speak to it. As for your second question, I don’t – I’ve not seen these reports from Erbil. So again, we’re going to have to take that question and get back to you. I wouldn’t want to speculate about something I really don’t have any knowledge of.

Okay? Yeah.

QUESTION: Turkey? One more, I promise.

QUESTION: Okay, appreciate it.

QUESTION: A couple of Turkish journalists are facing life in prison because they reported that the MIT, the Turkish version of the CIA, apparently was transporting weapons to members of the Syrian opposition. Does the U.S. have a comment on what these reporters say was factual reporting, and does this raise more concerns about the Turkish Government’s support or intolerance for freedom of press?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything to speak to the veracity of those press reports, what those reporters wrote. I don’t have anything specific with respect to that. But in general, as I’ve said before, we call on Turkish authorities to ensure that all individuals and organizations, including but not limited to the media, are free to voice a full range of opinions and criticism in accordance with Turkey’s own constitutional guarantees of media freedom and freedom of expression.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, even today there was a terrorist attack in Kabul.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: At least 20 people died.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: In the view that there has been several such attacks in the recent past, least few weeks, do you think your efforts for peace talks with Taliban by including Pakistan and China is not yielding any result?

MR KIRBY: Well, they’re not our efforts. They’re Afghan-led efforts at reconciliation, and we continue to encourage that process to move forward. And it’s absolutely true that Afghanistan remains a dangerous place; there’s no question about that. And today’s attack underscores that. It actually underscores all the more the importance of getting reconciliation talks going and getting – and getting to a useful conclusion there, a productive conclusion to that.

The third thing that I would say that it underscores is the importance of the continued international mission there in Afghanistan to continue to improve the capability and the confidence, the competence, of Afghan National Security Forces which continue to do an admirable job inside the country, and even when an attack like today happens, responding effectively and efficiently as best they can.

So there’s still a lot of work to be done in Afghanistan. We recognize that. But again, all of this is a reminder of how important it is for everybody to see these reconciliation talks continue.

QUESTION: But why do you – why are you encouraging the Afghanistan Government – you said Afghan-led peace process when you very well know that other party, the Talibans, have no interest in this peace process? They are hell-bent upon killing people over there. Why do you want to encourage that?

MR KIRBY: We have long said that the way forward here is reconciliation talks that are Afghan-led. It’s an Afghan-owned process. And I would challenge your assertion that the Taliban has expressed no interest in this. That is – that’s just not the case. And they’re not a monolithic organization the way that some people want to paint them as. So we still think that that’s the way forward. We still think that there’s room to make that happen. And again, today’s attack is just that much more of a reminder that that’s really the answer here, and we’re going to continue to encourage that progress.

QUESTION: But why do you want to challenge when there’s no sign at all from the Taliban that they are interested in any kind of peace process?

MR KIRBY: I won’t speak for the Taliban. I can’t do that. We still believe it’s the right way forward. There has been interest in the recent past, and we would want to encourage that interest to continue.

QUESTION: I also wanted to ask you about the SRAP office, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Is the Secretary considering wrapping up this office and merging with the SCA Bureau?

MR KIRBY: I know of no such plans to do so.

Said.

QUESTION: Can you take that question?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Can you take that question?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not going to take the question. I know of no such plans to do so.

QUESTION: There’s no plan to merge SCA?

MR KIRBY: That’s what I just said.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I change topics?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Palestinian-Israeli issue. On Friday, French Foreign Minister Fabius, Laurent, said that if the talks remain or the process remains stalled, then France will recognize the state of Palestine. I wonder if you have any comment on that.

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re certainly aware of this French initiative. I’m not in a position to speculate which way this is going to go. Actually, we don’t have very much information on this, Said.

For our part, we continue to engage with our partners to find a constructive way forward in terms of advancing our shared goal of a two-state solution, and we’re going to continue to do that.

QUESTION: But in the absence of any process, shouldn’t you encourage maybe other countries, the European Union, France – your ally, France – to come up with initiatives to get the ball rolling again, or would you do something similar that might get the ball rolling?

MR KIRBY: We continue to believe that what’s important here is that the two sides begin to have those discussions and to try to move forward to getting to a two-state solution. That’s what we’ve been saying all along and what we continue to believe.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. But you – the last time you did this, you oversaw talks that went on for nine months, and in the end, they hit a dead end. Why not explore other areas or other ways to get this process going?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you without hypothesizing about specifics – I mean, the Secretary remains focused on this issue very, very keenly and he continues to talk to leaders on all sides of it, and will continue to do so. Spoke with President Abbas over the weekend, as I think you might have heard, to talk about this very thing – that it’s important. We want to see progress made towards a two-state solution, but we want to see that progress made through them and their efforts, to take affirmative steps and actions on their own to try to make it – to create the conditions and to allow us to get to a position where we can have a meaningful discussion about a two-state solution moving forward.

But I won’t speak for what other nations might or might not do or – we don’t have a whole lot of information on this French initiative. For our part, our policy is the same. Our – the path that we want to see move forward has not changed.

QUESTION: And finally, there’s a Palestinian journalist administratively held by the Israelis and he’s on, I think, 67 – his 67th day of hunger strike and about to die. I raised this issue last week with Mark. He didn’t really know much about it. I wonder if you found out anything about this issue or --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional detail, Said. I can take that question and get back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we stay on this for just a second?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Last week the UN secretary-general had some pretty critical comments about – of – or comments – made some comments critical – highly critical of Israeli settlements. He’s again repeated them today in an op-ed in The New York Times. His initial comments were met with a lot of criticism from the – from within Israel and the pro-Israel community elsewhere, and the same thing has happened with his comments today.

I’m just wondering – the Secretary has made comments critical of Israel and similar criticisms of Israel in the past, and I’m wondering if the Secretary or this building more broadly agrees with the points that Secretary-General Ban was making.

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen the – his opinion piece, of course. And he’s free to express whatever opinions he wants to express and we certainly respect his right to do that.

From our perspective, and I can only speak from our perspective, as we’ve said many times, there’s no justification for terrorism. We strongly condemn the attacks against innocents. We’ve also repeatedly said how important it is that all sides work to combat incitement to violence.

And at the same time, as we said last week, the situation right now is not sustainable. We’ve repeatedly called for steps on the ground to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, and of course, our position on settlement activity is well known and clear.

QUESTION: Right. One of his points that he made last week and then reiterated again today was that while condemning the violence and incitement, one of his points was that the occupation – it is understandable, so to speak, for people to be frustrated and upset with occupation that goes – has been going on for decades now. Is that something the United States agrees with?

MR KIRBY: We – I think you’ve heard us talk about this in the past, that there’s no justification for violence or terrorism and attacks against innocents. There’s no justification for that, and the Secretary’s been very clear about it.

QUESTION: So I’m not saying that you’re not – I’m not saying or suggesting that you’re not condemning violence or incitement. What I’m asking you is if you agree with the secretary-general that years on years and years of occupation without any kind of horizon at the end of it or – it is – because of that, the secretary-general said that it is understandable for there to be frustrations. Is that something that --

MR KIRBY: He’s certainly free to express his opinions. What I’ll say is we – what we --

QUESTION: Well, I know. But I’m asking whether you guys agree with his opinion, not --

MR KIRBY: What we – what we continue to maintain is there’s no – no justification for attacks against innocents.

QUESTION: All right, okay. And then there’s the other thing on – related to this is that last week, there was a little bit of a kerfuffle when this Customs department announcement came out about labeling products from the West Bank and Gaza saying that they cannot be labeled “Made in Israel.” It was addressed at the time, but since then Senator Cotton has introduced legislation that would rescind this rule. And I’m guessing, but I would like to know – I’m guessing that the Administration would oppose this legislation, but I’m wondering if that is, in fact, correct. And I’m also wondering if the United States regards labeling rules like this, like – and the one that the EU did as a geographical issue rather than a political issue?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I --

QUESTION: Or is it both?

MR KIRBY: I – there’s certainly been no change to our policy around the approach or enforcement of marking requirements. We’re going to have to study the senator’s proposed language before I can make any comment one way or the other about it. But there’s been no change to our view, and as you said, we did talk about this Customs and Border Patrol issue last week. I just don’t have anything additional to add to – certainly there’s no change in our policy about it, but again, we’d have to look at the proposed language before we could comment on it.

QUESTION: Well, when you do, please let me know.

MR KIRBY: You’ll be the first, Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, absolutely.

QUESTION: I have a –

MR KIRBY: No, I already got you. Go ahead, Nike.

QUESTION: John, could you please take a question on Rwanda?

MR KIRBY: Take it or answer it?

QUESTION: I – take it. You can take it because --

MR KIRBY: I can take anything you want. You just – you – just fire ‘em away, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- it’s a local holiday today, so I don’t expect I will hear a statement but it’s --

MR KIRBY: You don’t expect you’re going to get an answer?

QUESTION: Well, I --

MR KIRBY: I wish everybody felt that way. It would make these things so much easier to get through.

QUESTION: I’m very understanding.

MR KIRBY: What’s your question?

QUESTION: Okay. So, Rwanda. Several thousand supporters of a Muslim cleric, Mr. Muhammad, was arrested followed by his execution last week. And I wonder if the State Department can weigh in on this case? Is the state’s – is the U.S. concerned of religious freedom is abused in the name of antiterrorism because he is a Muslim and he was charged of --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- recruiting fighters for Islamic --

MR KIRBY: Right. We’re aware of the case, and we are looking into it. I don’t think we’re at a point now where we’re able to speak to specific motivation. Obviously, and I’m not stating specifically to this case, but we have seen elsewhere around the world where the excuse of terrorism is used to stifle dissenting voices whether they’re politically or religiously inclined. So we’re going to watch this real closely. And if we’re in a position to make more specific comment about it, we’ll certainly let you know, but as you well know, this just happened and we’re still trying to gather more facts about it. Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any comments on the preliminary report released last week by the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent?

MR KIRBY: Nope.

QUESTION: They recommended that the U.S. take reparations, criminal justice reform, and they said that the U.S. is not acting with due diligence to the protect the rights of African American communities.

MR KIRBY: I got – I don’t have anything on that.

QUESTION: You haven’t seen the report?

MR KIRBY: I have not. You’re going to have to let me take that one. I’m not even sure that that’s one that the State Department would speak to. So --

QUESTION: It’s a UN-led initiative.

MR KIRBY: No, I get that, but I just don’t have anything for you on that. Sorry.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR KIRBY: Catherine?

QUESTION: Yeah, I have a follow-up from Friday. You said 18 emails between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama were being withheld and not subject to a classification review. Whose call was it not to subject them to that review?

MR KIRBY: What I – we said was we were denying them in full.

QUESTION: Correct. But I’ve also --

MR KIRBY: We didn’t say that they were not subject to – I don’t remember saying they were not subject to a review.

QUESTION: Yeah, I seem to – my recollection is that they were not subject to a classification review.

MR KIRBY: They are not classified.

QUESTION: Not --

QUESTION: So that means they were reviewed, right, and determined to be not classified?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I never said that they weren’t subject to review, Catherine.

QUESTION: Okay. Okay.

MR KIRBY: So just to be clear, they – and I think I said this. If I didn’t, then it’s bad on me, but I was supposed to say, and I thought I did at the time, that none of that email traffic was deemed classified in any way whatsoever, but it’s being withhold – it’s being withheld to allow the President to continue to receive unvarnished advice and counsel. And, as I also said, that we have every expectation that they’ll eventually be made public through the Presidential Records Act.

QUESTION: Right. She’s called for her emails to be released, and this group is clearly within your authority to release. So will you release them on an expedited timeline?

MR KIRBY: No, ma’am.

QUESTION: Okay. One other follow-up. In the emails that were released Friday, there’s an email from then-Senator Kerry using a personal account writing to Mrs. Clinton. It’s been judged to contain classified information with a foreign government source. Is he still using personal accounts for business?

MR KIRBY: He uses a state.gov account for business. He obviously still has a personal email account, as does so many other people, but he uses state.gov.

QUESTION: Okay. Does --

QUESTION: On the email from then-Senator Kerry, is it actually clear – and I have to go back and look – that it was sent from a personal account or that it was sent from an iPod, a personal device, perhaps using a Senate account?

QUESTION: I believe the email is redacted for – citing privacy protections.

QUESTION: So we don’t know whether it was a personal account or --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know whether it was from a personal account. I know it was sent from an iPad. I don’t know about the account, so I can’t verify whether he sent it from a personal account or not. Does he still have a personal email? Of course he does, but he uses state.gov --

QUESTION: But my question, if it was a Hill account, it would have been – it would not have been redacted.

MR KIRBY: That’s not true. That’s not true at all. I mean, you – under the Freedom of Information Act, it doesn’t matter what email account you use to send or receive information.

QUESTION: There’s no protection for government accounts under FOIA.

MR KIRBY: Sure there is. Under Freedom of Information, you bet there is.

QUESTION: I don’t think so.

MR KIRBY: There is certainly protection for the content. You have to protect sensitive information.

QUESTION: But he’s referring to the email account itself. That’s fine. We can move on from that. I just wondered whether he had any regrets about sending classified information in that manner to her account.

MR KIRBY: The Secretary has been very clear throughout this entire process that he wants to be as transparent as possible, get these out as expeditiously as possible, but more importantly, that we protect sensitive information regardless of where it comes from, and he’s comfortable that the staff has his direction to do so.

QUESTION: And you may not have seen this email, and I’m happy to send it to you, but there was another production by the courts and it’s produced an email between Patrick Kennedy and Cheryl Mills from January of 2009 in which Patrick Kennedy says that he thinks it’s a great idea to set up a standalone PC for her to check her email. So based on the email traffic, Patrick Kennedy knew about this separate email arrangement from the get-go. Is that correct?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t speak to past practices one way or another. As you know, Catherine, those are under review and investigation right now, and I simply won’t prejudge or speak to that stuff. But --

QUESTION: Well, I think it’s important to know because he is presiding over all of these reviews, so he may have a very significant conflict.

MR KIRBY: I won’t speak to past email practices. Those are under review and investigation. I’m not going to get ahead of that. She did not have a standalone computer.

QUESTION: So it was never set up?

MR KIRBY: There was no standalone computer ever set up.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: And I think in response to what you said on Friday about the – some emails will never be declassified. The Clinton campaign said that you are overclassifying. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is, again, I’m not going to – I’m going to scrupulously avoid getting into commenting on things said on the campaign trail. That would be inappropriate. But, that said, we take the protection of sensitive information very seriously here. And throughout this entire process, which has been an exhaustive process – I mean, 55,000 pages of documents; we still have more to go – there has been a very careful scrutiny being applied to protecting sensitive information. Most of it has been – most of the redactions have been, as you know, at the confidential level. There’s been some at the secret level. And now, last week, we very publicly and very openly talked about the fact that some was classified at an ever higher level. That’s a fundamental obligation that we have under the law, the Freedom of Information Act, and the Secretary is comfortable that we’re going to continue to meet those responsibilities very, very assiduously.

QUESTION: John, I do note former officials often – actually, almost always, but I suppose not 100 percent – retain clearance once they leave office. Do you have a – do you know if secretary – former Secretary Clinton still has her clearance?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know, and it’s not --

QUESTION: From the State Department?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Is there any way to find out, or is that covered by some kind of --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that we’re permitted to speak to individual clearances. I don’t believe we are.

QUESTION: Well, can you check?

MR KIRBY: I will check to see, but I‘m pretty sure that even if she does have one, we’re not permitted to speak to it.

Yeah.

QUESTION: John, do you have any better idea now of when you might complete the review of determining whether or not these seven email chains were classified at the time? It seems that --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a deadline for you.

QUESTION: Yeah, because it just doesn’t seem like a whole lot of email to go through, and maybe a phone call or two --

MR KIRBY: When would you like to see it done?

QUESTION: Well, look --

QUESTION: Sometime before November.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, it just – (laughter) – I get that 55,000 is a heavy lift. I don’t see how 22 is a heavy lift. So --

MR KIRBY: Right. Well, listen --

QUESTION: -- we’ll be asking about it is all I’m saying. So --

MR KIRBY: I fully expected that you would continue to ask about it, Justin.

QUESTION: Because it’s sort of critical to this whole controversy.

MR KIRBY: And I promise you that I will pass your feedback on to those that are looking into it so that they know that you have a sense of urgency too. Look --

QUESTION: And I speak for the public. Keep in mind, we’re all interested.

MR KIRBY: No, I know you do. I fully respect your representation of the public.

QUESTION: It’s not just me. Don’t look at it as just me, because that could tarnish your opinion of the whole process.

MR KIRBY: I’m sure that all your colleagues share your curiosity and sense of urgency about this. I can tell you – I mean, all kidding aside – we do as well and the Secretary’s been very clear that he wants this review to be conducted as expeditiously as possible, but not so fast that it’s not right and it’s not thorough. And when we have more to say about it, we certainly will.

Okay.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you, which email chain are you referring to here that needs – not the 22 documents from Friday. Is this a separate email --

MR KIRBY: No, that’s what he’s talking about. He’s talking about the ones that were – that we talked about on Friday at the --

QUESTION: Top secret?

MR KIRBY: -- at the top secret level. And I said that --

QUESTION: But wait a second. Wait, wait – go ahead.

MR KIRBY: I said that issues of classification at the time are being reviewed separately by the State Department.

QUESTION: Well, but – no. No, that’s not the case. The agencies that own the intelligence have say on classification. I know you know that. So unless --

MR KIRBY: We – I think – I think --

QUESTION: Unless all 22 were State Department documents, which they were not, the agencies have already weighed in.

MR KIRBY: I can appreciate that you maybe don’t want us to review them separately, Catherine, but we’re going to. And so as I said – as I said --

QUESTION: But what – but what – wait, no. It’s not that at all. But I don’t understand what regulation you’re pointing back to that allows the State Department to challenge a classification from the agency that generated the information, because that’s the rule of thumb. I don’t understand that.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Well, first, your question is implying that we’re setting up this review to challenge it. We’re not. What I said was issues of the classification at the time it was sent – first of all, none of those documents were marked classified at the time.

QUESTION: But that doesn’t matter.

MR KIRBY: Catherine, please let me finish.

QUESTION: The nondisclosure right here --

MR KIRBY: Please.

QUESTION: -- says – I can read it to you. I believe you signed one.

MR KIRBY: You don’t need to read it to me. I appreciate that you’re willing to, but you don’t need to. And if you just let me finish --

QUESTION: But it says classification is marked or unmarked in oral communication.

MR KIRBY: Okay, all right.

QUESTION: So the marking is irrelevant, correct?

MR KIRBY: I disagree. I disagree and so does the State Department, and that’s why the classification at the time these emails were sent are going to be reviewed separately by the State Department.

QUESTION: The NDA says something very different.

MR KIRBY: I know you don’t like the answer and I can appreciate that you don’t like it, but that’s the answer.

QUESTION: No, it doesn’t – it’s not a question of not liking the answer. I’m looking at the government form that it’s the nondisclosure agreement that’s signed by everyone who receives classified information.

MR KIRBY: I can also --

QUESTION: I mean, that’s what it says.

MR KIRBY: I can also assure you that as we conduct the review, we’ll be doing it in concert with the interagency as we have throughout this entire process.

QUESTION: So which emails is the INR challenging?

MR KIRBY: Your question keeps referring to a challenge. This isn’t about challenging it, Catherine. This is about doing a proper review here at the State Department of the degree of classification at the time it was sent.

QUESTION: I just don’t understand it because the --

MR KIRBY: I know you don’t understand it because I can’t seem to be able to get through to you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) two that I need get – I got two on policy that I need to get done.

MR KIRBY: Oh, well.

QUESTION: One is on Yemen. The Saudis have just set up this commission to look into civilian – reports of civilian casualties or actually --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- civilian casualties. I’m wondering if you think that that’s – that’s going to be a credible body. And also the – there’s this case of a VOA stringer, a journalist who was killed in a Saudi coalition airstrike two weeks ago yesterday. And I’m just wondering if you’ve had anything to say about that considering he was working for an outlet that is funded by Congress.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any specifics with respect to that strike. Obviously, any death or injury to a reporter in the field doing the important work of journalism is obviously something we don’t want to see, and our condolences, of course, go out to the family. But I don’t have specifics with respect to that strike or what the Saudis are doing about it.

I do – we do welcome reports, though, that the Saudi-led coalition is going to set up an independent investigative commission to evaluate military targeting, to ensure the protection of civilians, and investigate incidents of civilian harm during the conflict in Yemen. As we’ve said, the protection of civilians is very important.

Our expectation is that it will be exactly what the Saudis said it will be. It will be independent, and that’s – their expectations are the same as ours.

QUESTION: You don’t have any concerns that it won’t be as independent as they say it will be and that its findings will be credible?

MR KIRBY: Well, let’s see --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Let’s see the work they do. They’ve said it’s going to be independent. That’s certainly our expectation too.

QUESTION: All right. And then the last one is about Iran. You probably or you may have seen these reports that the Iranian Government has decorated the IRGC sailors who detained the Americans in the Gulf, given them medals. People like Senator McCain say that this is disgusting and abhorrent and that they’re being rewarded or being honored for mistreating soldiers. Is it still the Administration’s contention that these sailors, the Americans, were not mistreated? And do you agree with Senator McCain and the others who have expressed anger at the fact that the Iranian sailors were honored?

MR KIRBY: Well, what we said was that as they were being held we were given assurances by the Iranian Government that they were not being mistreated. We – the Secretary spoke very plainly about his anger and frustration at the way they were treated when they were taken into custody and then having that videotape photographed and blasted out there for propaganda purposes. And the Secretary was very honest about how abhorrent he found that.

And I would tell you that if it’s – I don’t know if it’s true. I’ve seen the comments that the supreme leader intends to or has rewarded them. And if it true, it’s not only unwarranted, it’s unconscionable.

QUESTION: So subsequent to the initial pronouncements that these Americans were being treated professionally and in an okay way --

MR KIRBY: Well, the Navy is looking into the details of the time in which --

QUESTION: Right. But you believe that what has come to light since they were taken, since they were detained and released, shows that they were not, in fact, treated professionally; is that correct?

MR KIRBY: I would – I’m going to point you to the Navy to speak to the details of what they experienced there. Clearly, the manner in which they were taken and the guns drawn in the video, we’ve talked about that.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know. But --

MR KIRBY: We got indications that while they were being held that they were – that they were given food and water and not mistreated. The Navy is still looking into this and speaking to the sailors, and I won’t get ahead of or prejudge any conclusions that they might come back with after having a chance to fully debrief the sailors. That wouldn’t be for us to speak to. But obviously, if it turns out that there was additional mistreatment, that’s obviously something, serious and we’ll take it seriously and we’ll take it up appropriately.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:13 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 02/02/2016 - 16:08

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 2, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:37 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Hi guys.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR KIRBY: Okay. I just – right at the top, I do want to – did you move it? You did. (Laughter.) I thought it was elsewhere in the book.

I do want to lead with some comments about some reporting we’ve seen out there about North Korea and their intentions to conduct a satellite launch.

Like many of you, we understand that they have notified several UN agencies that they intend to launch a satellite in the coming days. This act would violate numerous Security Council resolutions by utilizing proscribed ballistic missile technology. It also comes on the heels, as you know, of the January 6th nuclear test, which is itself an egregious violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

As Ambassador Power said in the hours following that test, “The international community must impose real consequences for the regime’s destabilizing actions and respond with steadily increasing pressure.” The Security Council has a key role to play in holding North Korea accountable by imposing a tough, comprehensive, and credible package of new sanctions and by ensuring rigorous enforcement of the resolutions it has already adopted. This latest announcement further underscores the need for the international community to send the North Koreans a swift, firm message that its disregard – that their disregard for UN Security Council obligations will not be tolerated.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, I had – let me – let’s start with that. I wanted to go – about two bits of housekeeping, but let’s start with North Korea. When you say it must impose – the Security Council must impose real consequences and respond with steadily increasing pressure, how is that going? They don’t seem to have done anything yet in response to the previous – to the nuclear test.

MR KIRBY: Well, what I can tell you is that deliberations are ongoing with respect to the response to the January 6th nuclear test. I don’t have an update for you or I can’t provide necessarily a status, but I do know that those talks are ongoing. And then, as you know, the Secretary --

QUESTION: Well, that was almost a month ago that it happened. Today is February 2nd.

MR KIRBY: And they continue to deliberate and discuss options.

QUESTION: But that doesn’t sound very swift, right?

MR KIRBY: It’s as swift as the international community can make it. I think there’s a lot of effort going on here. Now, look – and then I’d point you back to the Secretary’s trip to Beijing last week, where he had very frank and candid discussions with Chinese leaders about their leadership and their influence in the region. And even they acknowledged that more concerted action has to be taken to deal with the North’s provocative actions.

QUESTION: Well, I know. I mean, I was there too. But I don’t remember them agreeing on new sanctions or anything like that. They --

MR KIRBY: Well, they didn’t agree to specifics. That’s right. But they did agree in principle to the need that more needed to be done.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, so you would like the Security Council to act before or ahead of the missile launch?

MR KIRBY: No, I was --

QUESTION: If it happens?

MR KIRBY: No, no, no. I was speaking to – the swift action we were talking about is the action in relation to the January 6th launch – I’m sorry – the January 6th nuclear test. All we know today is that they’ve announced that they’re going to do this sometime later this month.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: They’ve announced this to two international bodies that they intend to conduct this launch.

QUESTION: Right. I understand that. But you said there needs to be a swift and firm something that their – message that their violations of Security Council resolutions won’t go unnoticed or something like – anyway, whatever it was, you want that to happen --

MR KIRBY: This latest announcement underscores the need for the international community to send them a swift, firm message that its disregard for obligations under the UN Security Council will not be tolerated.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: So --

QUESTION: So you would like the council to act before they shoot up this missile, if they do, in fact --

MR KIRBY: We are not --

QUESTION: -- to prevent them --

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is --

QUESTION: -- or to dissuade them from firing it?

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is this latest announcement just underscores the need for more concerted action against them and their violation of obligations under the UN. It’s not – we’re not – I’m not asking – we’re not asking for some sort of preemptive resolution here to a launch that hasn’t occurred. But the announcement of it itself is just all the more indication that the international community needs to get behind tougher action against them.

QUESTION: All right, and then just the last one on this. So has the Secretary made a call to the Chinese or their --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any calls to his counterparts in the region to read out with respect to this announcement. It just came today.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment, given that the Chinese nuclear envoy is in North Korea currently?

MR KIRBY: I would refer you to Chinese authorities to speak to those travel plans. I’m not in a position to confirm that travel. That would be up to them to speak to.

QUESTION: But the Secretary is not speaking with his counterparts about that either?

MR KIRBY: I said I don’t have any calls to read out at this time. This announcement, as you know, just came today. I’m not going to get ahead of conversations that he hasn’t had. But I would remind you again that he had very good, very candid discussions with Chinese leaders last week in Beijing about – not this – not this satellite launch that they’ve just said they’re gong to do today, but about the January 6th nuclear test and about the need for the international community to hold them to account.

If he should speak to counterparts in the region about this particular announcement, I will certainly be able to acknowledge that. But as you and I are speaking right now, I don’t have any conversations to read out.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just following off this news that the Chinese have sent a nuclear delegation to Pyongyang in the last 48 hours. I mean, we were there a week ago talking about this at length. Is there any connection between the Chinese move – I know you’re not confirming that they’ve done this, but it’s pretty widely accepted that they’ve got a delegation in Pyongyang. They also called for multilateral talks rejuvenating with the North Koreans. Is there any connection between this Chinese trip and where we stand in the aftermath of Kerry’s failed attempt to get the Chinese to sign on to sanctions in a UN resolution?

MR KIRBY: Well, there’s a loaded question. First of all, it wasn’t a failed attempt, and I’ll talk about that in a second.

Secondly, I can’t speak to Chinese travel plans and their intentions, so you would have to speak to authorities in Beijing for what this delegation, as you call it, is going to Pyongyang to do.

Clearly, the Chinese – and they’ve said this for themselves – share the concerns about the North’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapon capability. Now, that’s not news. They’ve talked to that quite frankly and candidly. And as I said to Matt, in the discussions that we had in Beijing, Foreign Minister Wang Yi acknowledged that China did have a role to play, that they do have a measure of influence over Kim Jong-un and the North, and that they agreed that the international community should do more to hold the North to account, and that they would be willing to explore options about doing more.

Now, they didn’t specify exactly what that would be. There wasn’t a laundry list of things that they were willing to do. But to come away from the trip to Beijing and call it a failed attempt to get the Chinese to acknowledge a responsibility that they have to do more is just completely inaccurate and not in keeping with the discussions that I know I sat in on when I was there.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to load a question. I was building off the last time I saw the Secretary here at this very podium, and he used some of the harshest language he ever has about the Chinese, saying that on his first trip there, I think in – was it 2014 – where he said we had all these talks and I agreed to allow the Chinese to do it their way and it just hasn’t worked. That’s not an exact quote for what he said, but he suggested that he would be going with a much more muscular posture on this last trip. So that’s where --

MR KIRBY: And I think, again, I’d point you to his comments after the meetings in Beijing. But he acknowledged there publicly and he certainly made the case privately the same point, that the current approach towards the North hasn’t been working, clearly, because they continue to pursue this program and they had a test on the 6th, and here we have an announcement today that they’re planning a space launch which would, by design and by default, violate other UN Security Council resolutions. So clearly, something’s going to have to change in the international community in the approach to the North, and the Secretary made that case to Chinese leaders while he was there privately, and he certainly reiterated that publicly to all of you before we left Beijing.

Again, the Chinese acknowledged that a different approach would need to be taken towards the North. I wouldn’t speak for them, but I think it was clear that they have frustrations too over where the North is going. Again, they just didn’t specify exactly what was in their mind in terms of moving forward, but I can assure you that it’s very much on their minds as well. And so again, I think from the Secretary’s perspective the trip to Beijing was well worth it, and he came away assured that they also recognize the status quo approach needs to be changed and something tougher needs to be enacted, a set of measures to try to bring the North to account.

QUESTION: Just a final small clarification on this. Other than getting the Security Council to pass a resolution that would impose new sanctions, is there anything else that you’re willing to say about what this new post-status-quo approach should involve? Is that it?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think we’ve talked about this. It’s – we believe, again, that it should be an international response. Clearly, the United States isn’t going to take any options off our unilateral table, obviously. But the Secretary firmly believes that it should be – that this approach should be international in scope and should be focused through the UN and processes there. And as you recall, when we first talked about this in the wake of the January 6th test, we talked about additional measures and we acknowledged that some of those measures – maybe all of them, I don’t know – would probably be in the form of economic sanctions. And again, to my answer to Matt, those discussions and deliberations are still ongoing. I don’t have anything specific to read out. I wouldn’t hypothesize beyond that, though, in terms of what options may be available to the international community or --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t. I don’t have any additional detail to provide to that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: But to come back to a couple of your points, first, you just said that the reaction should be international in scope. Does that mean that the Administration is ruling out unilateral sanctions against Pyongyang?

MR KIRBY: No. I think I just said we’re not going to rule out or take off the table any unilateral options at our disposal.

QUESTION: Okay. And then going back to something you said about we’re not asking for a preemptive resolution against Pyongyang, can we talk a little more about that? Is that the kind of thing that could possibly even spur more negative action on Pyongyang’s part if the UN were, for some reason, able to get its act together and pass a resolution quickly in the Security Council? Is that an appropriate way, I guess, of getting North Korea to do what the international community wants it to do?

MR KIRBY: I think the job of trying to predict what Kim Jong-un is going to be would be a very short-lived job indeed, and I don’t think anybody’s willing to try to attempt that.

What I meant was just trying to clear up what apparently I wasn’t clear in my opening remarks, that what we’re not looking at here – with respect to this announcement today, nobody’s talking about some – enacting, trying to get a new resolution enacted preemptively on this. There are existing – and that’s what I was really trying to focus on at the outset – there are existing UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit exactly this kind of behavior and conduct. There’s no need for a preemptive resolution or action by the UN here.

And as to if we – again, this is hypothetical. If we were to do that, how would they react? I couldn’t begin to tell you. I don’t think anybody knows exactly how the mind of that young man works.

QUESTION: Is there any sense, based on the Secretary’s conversations with his Chinese counterparts or with the South Koreans, on what might be happening internally in North Korea that would be leading to this step-up in military activity – the nuclear test, the announcement of this launch, ships sailing off the northeastern coast of the peninsula, making South Korea very nervous? Is there any sense of what’s going on inside North Korea politically that might be leading to these sorts of actions?

MR KIRBY: The North, as you know, is a very opaque environment and it’s exceedingly difficult to know with any great detail the motivation and the intention behind decisions that they make, particularly the decisions of Kim Jong-un. So I don’t know, and I dare say that the North Korean people don’t know for themselves what’s in the mind of their leader and why he’s doing what he’s doing. So I couldn’t tell you.

That – what has been constant though – again, I can’t speak to motivation or trend, but certainly what has been constant is a series of provocative and destabilizing activities on the peninsula that continue to raise the concerns of everybody in the region, to include the Chinese. And it’s that behavior we want to see stop. And as I said before with respect to the nuclear test, we believe, and Ambassador Power said it too, that the best approach, the approach that we want to pursue the most aggressively, is through the UN and through an international consensus about tougher actions.

QUESTION: Has there been any intimation from Pyongyang that perhaps it’s looking for any sort of economic aid, any sort of food aid or medical aid? We saw this in the past few years where they did these sorts of things and that created an opening for more international humanitarian assistance. Has there been any intimation on their part that something of this might be wanted or desired?

MR KIRBY: None that I’m aware of, and I would say that if – if – they’re interested in food aid or assistance or a greater ability to feed their own people, they could do that for themselves by ceasing these destabilizing activities and devoting precious resources to military capabilities that, again, do nothing to help put food on the table of the North Korean people and to stabilize the peninsula. They have it within their power to do a better job to feed their own people and to look after the concerns of their own citizens, rather than spending resources, money, and time on the development of a nuclear weapons capability or, in this case, ballistic missile technology.

QUESTION: Just to put a fine point on this, it is the vehicle with which they are going to launch – they say they’re going to launch this satellite on that you object to, not the satellite itself, right? The United States does not oppose North Korea having satellites in orbit, presuming someone else launches them for them – launches the satellite for them?

MR KIRBY: It is the – yeah, whether --

QUESTION: So if --

MR KIRBY: First of all, they claim it’s a satellite and --

QUESTION: I know, but --

MR KIRBY: If they were to – this isn’t about having satellites, Matt. It’s about having the ballistic missile technology --

QUESTION: Well, they say it is.

MR KIRBY: It’s about having the ballistic missile technology that can propel a satellite.

QUESTION: But if someone else, say the Chinese or someone, were to launch it for them, you would not object, correct?

MR KIRBY: The objections by the international community and the UN are about the ballistic missile technology.

QUESTION: I’m asking you specifically about the United States. Does the United States think that North Korea has the right to have a satellite in orbit around the Earth?

MR KIRBY: What we – this is about objecting to the ballistic missile technology.

QUESTION: So you don’t have an issue with the satellite?

MR KIRBY: It’s not about satellites. In fact, I can’t even tell you --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: I can’t even tell you with any certainty – and you know this very well – that that’s exactly what they intend to do.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I don’t know. This --

MR KIRBY: I mean, they claim they’re launching a satellite.

QUESTION: Well, exactly.

MR KIRBY: This is about the ballistic missile technology that you have to have to put it up, to put something in orbit, and it’s about the ballistic missile technology that we object.

QUESTION: John, one more on China. As you said, China has acknowledged that a different approach is needed with North Korea without specifying what that should be. But as one of the North’s strongest trading partners – if not the – what would the United States ultimately like to see from China in terms of using its leverage on North Korea?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go into great detail here about options that are before the Chinese in terms of using economic leverage. You’re right; they get almost all economic material or assistance or benefits through China, and so there are things that the Chinese could do using that economic leverage. Again, I won’t speculate about any specific measures that the Chinese could employ, but I can assure you that it was that sort of pressure, it was that sort of influence, that the Secretary discussed with Chinese leaders in general while we were there.

We have seen sanctions, obviously, applied in the past against the North. We have also seen an uneven application or enforcement of those sanctions in the past. And so what we want to see going forward is holding them to account with tougher measures, but we also need to see, want to see, an even and full-throated application and enforcement of whatever sanctions are put in place.

Yeah.

QUESTION: While we’re in the region, do you have any update on the case of the American student, Otto Warmbier, who was detained in North Korea? Have the Swedes had access to him?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates on the reports of that particular case. I’m afraid I don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: One more on North Korea?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: There have been some reports that the launch could include a booster developed with Iran. How would that change your response?

MR KIRBY: Nothing’s going to change about the response here. This is about the potential use here – assuming they go forward with this – of ballistic missile technology, which it’s quite clear is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions. So nothing’s going to change about the way we react to this should it occur. It’s still a violation of Security Council resolutions and it still must be dealt with.

They have obligations. They have international obligations and commitments that once again, clearly, they are showing a willingness to ignore. And the international community is going to have to keep dealing with that.

Okay? This could be the shortest briefing ever.

QUESTION: No, no, no. No, no, I’ve got two --

MR KIRBY: No, I’m fine. Up and down in 30 minutes.

QUESTION: I’ve got like two little housekeeping – well, housekeeping items to get through. Yesterday, we were talking about the – in the email issue, emails that then-Senator Kerry sent to former Secretary Clinton.

I don’t know if this is complete, but I did a – I just did a search on the last tranche that were released, and found three that Secretary – Senator Kerry had sent to the Secretary or to her aides. And the question yesterday was whether or not he had sent these from a private email account or just from – two of them were sent from his iPad – or they say at the bottom, “sent from my iPad.” But the email – his email address on these is blacked out. And so I’m – do – have you come to a conclusion about whether the two that were sent by iPad or the third were sent from a private account, or were they sent from his Senate account?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know about all three. I can tell you that the one that we talked about being upgraded to secret was sent from a nonofficial account. And the account from which it was sent is no longer active.

QUESTION: Okay. But there’s – there is another one that was classified as confidential which does not say “sent by my iPad,” but the address is also – that’s from February 4th, 2012 --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- at 6:35 a.m.

MR KIRBY: Oh, that one.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, you have it memorized, the whole – the headers? Anyway, this one is redacted in its – in full, except for the --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- heading, the subject, which is “Oman.” And I just --

MR KIRBY: I can’t say definitively.-

QUESTION: Do you know, did that one also come from the iPad?

MR KIRBY: I can’t say definitively. I’ll try to see if I can get you an answer to that. But I do know the one we talked about yesterday was sent from a nonofficial account --

QUESTION: This is the one --

MR KIRBY: -- that is no longer active.

QUESTION: This is the one from May 19th, 2011, about “Omitted thoughts in Memo”?

MR KIRBY: The one that we upgraded.

QUESTION: The one that is upgraded to secret, not confidential.

MR KIRBY: That one was sent from a nonofficial account. I can’t speak for the others.

QUESTION: All right. And that doesn’t exist anymore, that account?

MR KIRBY: That account does not exist anymore.

QUESTION: Do you know – I mean, was it – has the Secretary said anything about whether this was a mistake to do this, or was the – did he not consider or not think that the information that he was sending was classified --

MR KIRBY: I have not --

QUESTION: -- at the time or should have been or --

MR KIRBY: I have not spoken to the Secretary about his reaction to that email being out there.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And then the second little bit is – there was some reporting yesterday, it started with comments from the Iranians, saying that $100 billion in formerly frozen assets were now freed up, which led to some reporting saying, well, this means that the White House was or the Administration was not telling the truth when it pushed back on that 100 billion figure by saying it would only be 50 billion. Can you explain this discrepancy and tell us why your, the Administration’s calculation is correct and the Iranians’ calculation is incorrect?

MR KIRBY: In general – well, we still believe – and Secretary Lew has said this, Secretary Kerry said this – that in actuality, the amount of money – which is their money – that they would now have access to is just a little bit more than 50 billion. Because the rest of it – more – nearly half of the entire freed-up assets – so this is where the 100 comes in, because that’s the total – but it – but we believe that half of that – so roughly 50 billion – is already tied up in debts to the Chinese or in other international commitments, not to mention will be consumed by their own infrastructure requirements that lay before them. So while the number total may be that their assets that has been unfrozen, it is not – it is – that is not the number that they will have access to. They will have access to, as we’ve said all along, just more than $50 billion.

QUESTION: Okay, but that – I mean, if they’re going to use half of this money to pay back existing debt, I don’t understand how that doesn’t – I mean, they still have access to it. This is like if I owe you $50, you give me $100, and I give you 50 back, my net benefit is still $100; it’s not 50. I’ve managed to pay off a debt, an obligation that I owed to you. So I don’t understand why you can say that they are only going to get $50 billion when they get the benefit of the full 100, even if it is that they – that the benefit is they’re getting out of debt or paying down debt.

MR KIRBY: Again --

QUESTION: I mean, the money – they are getting – and granted, it is their money, as you said, but they have access now to $100 billion. What they choose to do with it is up to them. So if they decide that they want to pay back the Chinese, then they can, but that’s still a benefit, right? So they still get the benefit of that other 50 billion.

MR KIRBY: It’s their money that’s now been unfrozen. It’s our assessment – and not just our assessment, but the Treasury Department assessment – that much of that is already spoken for, that they’ll never get to see it because of --

QUESTION: But they’ll never get to see it because they’re paying down a debt that they owe and they would’ve owed otherwise, so they still get the benefit of the money. So I don’t get why – how --

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s their money. I’m not – nobody’s arguing that they won’t get it returned to them. What we’re – what the argument has been – the argument has been that this is a cash windfall --

QUESTION: Well, $50 billion --

MR KIRBY: -- that they’re going to just use to fund terrorism. We’ve said we cannot rule out the fact that some of the money may be used to fund their support for terrorism, but the idea that there are going to – that they are going to be able to spend $100 billion right off the bat just simply isn’t – doesn’t comport with the facts. They’ve got roughly half of it already tied up and committed to.

QUESTION: Yeah, but they can spend $50 billion off the bat, and they wouldn’t be able to spend any of it if the assets weren’t unfrozen. So --

MR KIRBY: And they’d still be – and if they weren’t unfrozen, we wouldn’t have a nuke deal and they’d still be pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.

QUESTION: Right, right, right. No, I understand that, but it’s an interesting calculation that – I mean, if you claim that the people – the critics of the deal who say that, oh, the White House, the Administration was lying about this or being disingenuous – willfully misrepresenting it – that the same argument can be made to the Administration by saying that Iran isn’t going to get the benefit of the full 100 billion, because it is. It’s getting rid of $50 billion – so you say – getting rid of $50 billion in debt that it otherwise would not have been able to get rid of, and then it gets a – on top of paying off the Chinese, they’ve got $50 billion to do whatever they want with.

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: Which is a windfall – still a pretty big windfall, right?

MR KIRBY: I just – I wouldn’t characterize it as a windfall.

QUESTION: $50 billion?

MR KIRBY: It is their money that – and it was the sanctions that led them to the table. I mean, let’s not forget the big picture here, that what they’re not going to be able to do is pursue a nuclear weapons capability, and that was the whole purpose for the deal itself. We estimate that roughly half of that $100 billion or so is tied up and will not be able – they won’t be able to freely access it and use it because of prior obligations. Around 50-55 billion, yes --

QUESTION: Right. I get it, but --

MR KIRBY: -- they will have – they will be able to use – they will get to choose. Let me put it that way. They will get to choose what they do with that, and obviously we don’t want to see them choose to use it for nefarious or malevolent actions in the region. But as the Secretary said, we can’t rule that out. And we have, just to remind – we have tools at our disposal unilaterally and multilaterally to deal with any violations and continued state sponsorship of terrorism.

QUESTION: I understand. But they’re still being able to get rid of the – they’re still being able to pay off $50 billion in debt that they otherwise would still have had to owe. So that’s why I don’t --

MR KIRBY: No question, but that money is not – it’s not – it’s already obligated.

QUESTION: But is there some binding parameter of the nuclear accord that says that it’s already obligated? How are you so certain that that’s what it’s going to be spent on?

MR KIRBY: I would --

QUESTION: Is our release of it contingent upon their agreement to --

MR KIRBY: Our Treasury Department has done the analysis and has determined that --

QUESTION: So it’s just an analysis that we did. I mean --

MR KIRBY: It’s an analysis that the Treasury Department has put together that they’ve done that basically makes clear that --

QUESTION: But there’s nothing binding.

MR KIRBY: -- that roughly half of the unfrozen assets are already spoken for and will be unavailable to them to use in manners in which they would choose in a discretionary way.

QUESTION: Their treasury department may have done an analysis of their own and determined that they’re going to spend the money however they want. And who’s to say that ours is more legitimate?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for their treasury department. I don’t even speak for our Treasury Department. I’m telling you what the analysis is. But you’re missing the larger point here. I think --

QUESTION: No, I see the larger point. I’m just pointing out to you that there’s nothing contingent. There’s nothing that says they have to spend that money that way.

MR KIRBY: We believe it’s already obligated. The point is --

QUESTION: But there’s no legal – there’s no binding part of the nuclear accord that says we will not release this money unless you agree --

MR KIRBY: The Iran deal wasn’t about apportioning the unfrozen assets.

QUESTION: So there you go. That’s all --

MR KIRBY: It wasn’t about apportioning the unfrozen assets. But you’re missing the larger point. What they won’t be able to do is develop a nuclear bomb, and if they continue to be a state sponsor of terrorism, there are and will remain unilateral capabilities of the United States to deal with that.

QUESTION: I’m not – not trying to go there. I’m thinking about arguments that the Iranian president and his immediate circle can make heading into parliamentary elections in Iran next month about what they’re going to --

MR KIRBY: They --

QUESTION: -- be able to do with this windfall of cash.

MR KIRBY: They can say what they --

QUESTION: It has nothing to do with developing a nuclear weapon.

MR KIRBY: They can say what they want for domestic purposes. Our Treasury Department has already made an analysis of what will be available to them and what won’t be.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Did the Chinese put a lien on the money to make sure that they got their share?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. You’d have to talk to Beijing.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Switch the topic? Let me go to the refugee issue. We are now about a third of the way through the fiscal year. The U.S. has resettled about 800 refugees out of the 10,000 that they’re hoping to. I know you’ve spoken in the past about efforts that the U.S. is undertaking to increase the rate of refugee resettlement, but it doesn’t look at this point like the pace is picking up. Are you concerned at all that the U.S. isn’t going to be able to meet its commitment?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re just into the year. And I can tell you we’re looking at this very, very hard. I’m not going to prognosticate now on the 2nd of February about success or failure with respect to the number. The President’s been very clear about what his objective and goal is, and we’re going to work very, very hard to meet it.

That said, we have a concomitant responsibility to make sure that, as we do, that we take the safety and security of the American people foremost in mind, and we are. That is why refugees from Syria in particular are put to more scrutiny than refugees from other parts in the world, and it’s why – and we’ve talked about this before – that it takes between 18 and 24 months for an individual who is referred to us by the UN and fully vetted to actually work their way through that process. So it does take a while. But I can tell you in general we’re very committed to the goal and we’re going to work very hard to meet it.

You’ll hear more from the Secretary about this in the next day or so. He’s going to London for a donors conference on Syria, and I suspect he’ll have more to say about that.

QUESTION: I recognize that it’s only early February, but the fiscal year started in October. So we are a third of the way through. I mean, at what point are we going to start to see some of that pick up?

MR KIRBY: I can appreciate that you want a report card right now; I’m not able to give you one, except to say that we’re working on this very hard. We very clearly understand the President’s objective and goal, and we’re going to work hard to achieve it. And it’s not just the State Department. I mean, it’s an interagency effort, as you understand, so it’s not something that only we can speak to. But for our piece of it, we’re very committed to meeting that goal, and we’re going to keep working at it.

QUESTION: But given some of the obstacles you, yourself, cited a minute ago, is it even a realistic goal?

MR KIRBY: We believe it is. We believe it is. Yeah.

Abby.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Russia’s decision to add five Americans to their travel ban list in retaliation for the recent U.S. decision under the Magnitsky Act?

MR KIRBY: No. I’ve seen the reports on that. I’d refer you to the Russians to speak to that.

QUESTION: What if you were one of them?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) I would hope that if I was one of them, I’d know. Nobody has told me that I’m one of them. But I would point you to the Russians to speak to what they did and why.

Pam.

QUESTION: The Secretary, earlier today in his remarks with the Italian prime minister, indicated that he discussed a ceasefire with Foreign Minister Lavrov within the past few days --

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and he said that Lavrov said Russia is prepared to do so. What kind of a timeframe did Kerry receive from Lavrov in terms of implementing a ceasefire?

MR KIRBY: It’s not about getting a timeframe from the Russians. It’s in the Security Council resolution. And the Secretary said this – I counted at least three times as I read his remarks; it may have been more – that the resolution’s clear that it has to happen immediately and that we want – that, obviously, we want a ceasefire in place now. We want one in place yesterday, if we could’ve gotten it. So it’s not about Lavrov negotiating with the Secretary over “Well, here’s when I’m going to stop.” And the UNSCR makes it clear that a ceasefire should be pursued immediately as talks are pursued. And the Secretary said that many times today, that that’s our expectation, that we can get to a ceasefire immediately, and certainly if not right now, very, very soon. That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s one of the reasons why it’s important to continue the political track.

QUESTION: That’s the U.S. expectation, but with Russia being one of Syria’s strongest supporters, what is Russia saying about meeting that timeframe?

MR KIRBY: Well, you’d have to talk to authorities in Moscow for what their intentions are. We’ve been very clear about what our expectations are. The international community has been clear about what the expectations should be. And I would remind you that the Russians signed up to this. They voted for that resolution; they were in Vienna; they signed up to the two communiques that came out of Vienna. And they’re very much part and parcel of the International Syria Support Group. So they have just as much invested in trying to get to a ceasefire as anybody else in the international community.

Yeah.

QUESTION: It’s on Japan. On Sunday, the Government of Japan submitted a report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, stating that there were no documents supporting a claim that comfort women were forcibly recruited by the Japanese Government. This, in turn, drew criticism from the South Korean Government. Given the U.S. support for the agreement between the two countries on this issue last month, do you think this statement by the Japanese Government goes against that agreement?

MR KIRBY: I don’t believe that I’ve seen that statement. You’re going to have to let me get back to you on that. I mean, all I would say is we welcome the language that was adopted by both sides some time ago and we were glad to see that they were able to work through that issue and to put it in its proper perspective and, of course, promise to move forward in a positive and constructive way. I don’t have anything specific on this language.

Okay.

QUESTION: No, no. I just want to revisit one more thing from yesterday. And that is: Have you guys decided whether or not you’re in favor of Senator Cotton’s bill that would rescind the Commerce Department rules on labeling of goods for --

MR KIRBY: No, as I said yesterday, we’re not going to comment on proposed legislation. But I can assure you that we will, obviously, continue to consult with members of Congress, including Senator Cotton, about going forward.

QUESTION: All right. And then just the other thing – because this is related, but it has to do with the discussion with Ban Ki-moon, his criticism of Israel and the settlements – and I just want to get something clear. What is the U.S. position on whether or not the Palestinians have the right to resist Israeli occupation? While you condemn attacks and terrorism – I understand that – does the U.S. have a view as to whether or not the Palestinians should be allowed to protest or to contest the Israeli policy?

MR KIRBY: Well, a couple of thoughts. What – there are and always should be the ability for groups, whoever they are, to have an avenue to express their concerns or to peacefully protest. We talk about this all the time and the Palestinians are no different. I mean, that’s why the Secretary’s made so many trips out there, to try to help foster the kind of dialogue – the peaceful, diplomatic dialogue – between both sides to try to work through these issues. So if you’re asking me, do we think that they have a right to protest whatever action they find either offensive or dangerous or counterproductive to moving towards a two-state solution, absolutely they have that right and that ability to offer their views.

What we have also said, though, in the same breath, is that it’s not okay for innocent people to be hurt in the process and for rhetoric to be spewed by any side that would inflame those passions and encourage that kind of violence. And so what we’ve said all along is we actually – we want there to be a dialogue and a chance to peacefully discuss this. That’s difficult to do when there’s still so much violence. And so what we want to see is the rhetoric to come down, we want to see the violence obviously stop, so that there are vehicles through which a peaceful dialogue can be had.

QUESTION: Right. So that applies to civilians, innocent civilians. What – does that also apply to Israeli security forces as well?

MR KIRBY: We’ve said equally we want --

QUESTION: I guess this question has been asked here by some of my colleagues before. It is a question of whether or not the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves or to – in the face of whatever it is that the Israelis are doing. And I think that what you’re saying is that they have a right to peacefully protest, but they don’t necessarily have a right to go after – or they don’t have a right to attack Israeli forces.

MR KIRBY: It’s not about – a question – it’s not a question of right. It’s a question of – or privilege. It’s a question of – that the violence that’s being visited is not – on both sides – is not contributing to what we want to see, which is positive, affirmative steps to get to a two-state solution, to get to some sort of peaceful dialogue. That’s where we want to see this track go.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:19 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Fri, 01/29/2016 - 18:35

John Kirby
Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 29, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

3:18 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Happy Friday.

MR KIRBY: Indeed. Okay, I got --

QUESTION: You could be in Quebec.

MR KIRBY: We all could be. Much colder. Okay, I’ve got quite a bit here at the top, so I’m going to ask your forbearance because there’s a lot of issues out there. And I also appreciate your flexibility and patience today. I know we’re starting a little bit later, but there is a lot going on so let me get right at it.

At approximately 7:00 p.m. tonight, the State Department will make publicly available online approximately 1,000 additional pages from former Secretary Clinton’s email account. As we’ve explained previously, tonight’s release will not meet the court’s due date for producing all of the remaining emails, but we are still striving to produce as many documents as possible today. All documents posted today will be fully searchable, but in an effort to process and post as many as possible, the documents in today’s release will not have fully completed data fields on the FOIA website. We’re going to be adding this data next month and expect to be done by the end of February.

I also want to address some information that, I think, some of you have seen in the news just in the last few minutes or so. I can confirm that as part of this monthly FOIA production of former Secretary Clinton’s emails, the State Department will be denying in full seven email chains found in 22 documents, representing 37 pages. The documents are being upgraded at the request of the Intelligence Community because they contain a category of top secret information. These documents were not marked classified at the time that they were sent. We have worked closely with our interagency partners on this matter, and this dialogue with the interagency is exactly how the process is supposed to work. As to whether they were classified at the time they were sent, the State Department, in the FOIA process, is focusing on whether they need to be classified today. Questions about classification at the time they were sent are being and will be handled separately by the State Department.

These emails will be denied in full, meaning that they will not be produced online on our FOIA website. And I don’t need to remind many of you that in response to a FOIA request it’s not unusual to deny or withhold a document in full. I’m not going to speak to the content of these documents. I understand there’s great curiosity. I’m just going to put that right out at the top – I am not going to speak to the content of this email traffic.

We are aware that there’s intense interest, and we’re announcing this decision now because the FOIA process regarding these emails has been completed. While we have requested a month’s extension to complete the entire review, we did not need the extension for these particular documents.

These emails denied in full are among the emails discussed recently by the Intelligence Community inspector general in a letter to Congress. We will not, however, be confirming or speaking, as I said, to every detail provided in the documents or in the ICIG’s letter. One of these emails was also among those identified by the ICIG last summer as possibly containing top secret information. And then to remind, we are focused, as the Secretary wants us to remain focused, on producing former Secretary Clinton’s emails through the FOIA process. Producing these approximately 55,000 pages is a major undertaking, and our staff is working extremely hard to get this done in a manner that both protects sensitive information and reflects our commitment to transparency and disclosure.

I’d like now to shift direction to a different aspect of today’s release, an entirely different aspect, which relates to emails exchanged between President Obama and then Secretary Clinton. As the White House has previously stated, Secretary Clinton and the President did on occasion exchange emails. As they have also said previously, such presidential records shall remain confidential to protect the President’s ability to receive unvarnished advice and counsel but will ultimately be released in accordance with the Presidential Records Act. I can confirm that 18 emails comprised of eight distinct email chains between former Secretary Clinton and President Obama are being withheld in full from the State Department’s FOIA production today of these emails of Secretary – former Secretary Clinton’s emails.

The decision to withhold presidential correspondence from State’s Freedom of Information Act production of former Secretary Clinton’s emails was widely covered months ago. In response to a FOIA request, again, it is not unusual to deny or withhold a document in full. To be clear, the emails between then Secretary Clinton and President Obama have not been determined to be classified. They are entirely separate and distinct from the emails in today’s release that were upgraded to top secret, secret, or confidential, and I’m not going to speak again to the content of that email traffic.

On Syria, UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura had a preparatory discussion today in Geneva with the Syrian Government. I think some of you have been tracking that. The Syrian opposition’s High Negotiating Committee, the HNC otherwise known, has not yet sent a delegation, and we continue to encourage them to respond positively to Mr. de Mistura’s invitation. We’re going to continue to strongly support this UN-led process, and we’re going to remain focused on the need for a political transition in Syria, a ceasefire, and the need to implement confidence-building measures, including immediate humanitarian access to all besieged and hard-to-reach areas in Syria. As we’ve said before, the Assad regime must provide full humanitarian access to the many places – 15 out of 18 besieged areas, according to the UN – in which it is blocking access now. This behavior is obviously unacceptable. And we also look to the Russian Government to help make such access happen as it committed to doing as a member of the ISSG.

We encourage the regime and the HNC to attend Geneva because it is an opportunity to test the regime’s intentions and proposed – and propose, I’m sorry, serious practical ways to implement a ceasefire and these other confidence-building measures. Even as we address issues such as humanitarian access and an end to airstrikes by the regime and its international backers on civilians on an urgent basis, we believe the opposition should attend the Geneva negotiations without preconditions. There’s no change to our policy on that.

Switching to Saudi Arabia. The United States condemns in the strongest terms today’s attack on the mosque in Mahasen, Saudi Arabia, which killed at least two people and wounded others who had peacefully gathered in Friday prayer. We express our condolences, of course, to the families and the victims, and we applaud the rapid apprehension of the attackers, which prevented further violence from unfolding. As Secretary Kerry emphasized last week during his stop in Riyadh, our relationship with Saudi Arabia remains strong and enduring. We’re working together both bilaterally and as partners in the global coalition to defeat Daesh and counter the ongoing threat of violent extremism. We stand with Saudi Arabia at this time of mourning and against these brutal extremists.

On Burundi. We underscore our deep alarm over recent reports of alleged mass graves in Burundi, including Amnesty International’s report yesterday that identified these possible graves using witness interviews and overhead imagery. As the African Union holds its 26th summit in Addis Ababa, we call on the Government of Burundi to commit publicly to allow the immediate deployment and unimpeded access of the AU human rights monitors to investigate these allegations and other reports of serious human rights abuses, and to hold perpetrators accountable. We’re also deeply concerned by today’s reports of arrest of independent journalists. While the journalists have now apparently been released without charge, we understand that Burundian authorities have stripped their credentials and continue to retain their equipment. The government continues to restrict media freedoms in Burundi. These restrictions, coupled with the government’s refusal to allow independent human rights investigations, raise deep concerns about the Government of Burundi’s commitment to transparency and accountability for human rights violations and abuses.

Finally, a travel note. I think you may have seen we put this out earlier. The Secretary will travel on the 2nd of February to Rome, Italy to lead the U.S. delegation to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL Small Group Ministerial. Coalition partners will review progress to date and discuss ways to further intensify commitments across all lines of efforts to degrade and defeat this terrorist group. Other nation countries to be represented – excuse me – include Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, the European Union, France, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and of course, the United Nations as observers.

The next day, on the 3rd, the Secretary will travel to London. And while there, he will lead the U.S. delegation to the Fourth Syria Donors’ Conference, which will include 25 world leaders from other donor nations impacted by the crisis. This conference is going to be hosted jointly by the UK, Germany, Norway, Kuwait, and the United Nations.

With that.

QUESTION: Right. Let’s start with emails – surprise, surprise. You said the documents are being upgraded at the request of the intel community because they contain a category of top secret information. Can you – I know you don’t want – won’t get into the actual content of them, but can you say what category of top secret?

MR KIRBY: No, I cannot.

QUESTION: Secondly, does this mean that the State Department has lost the argument with the IC over whether or not the – this information should be classified as top secret or not?

MR KIRBY: I never spoke that – to an argument that was had. I said that we were in constant consultations with the Intelligence Community about classification concerns on some of those emails. Again, we’ve worked closely with the Intelligence Community. At their request we’re making this upgrade.

QUESTION: Right, but the Clinton campaign – a spokesman for the campaign says that this is a case of rampant over-classification, and that they object to withholding – to you guys withholding these emails from public release. What’s your response to that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into debating or discussing candidates one way or the other on the campaign trail. What I will tell you is that we worked closely with the Intelligence Community on this as we have throughout this process, and at their request we are upgrading this particular traffic.

QUESTION: So it was not – so it was not your determination necessarily that this stuff – that this information was top secret? This was the – in fact, you guys were prepared to release it until the intel community came in and said hey, wait a second, you can’t do that?

MR KIRBY: No, I wouldn’t say – I wouldn’t say that, Matt. As I said, we had an ongoing discussion about this traffic with them. At their request we’ve decided to make this upgrade. It is a State Department decision. We’re doing it, but we’re doing it at the request of the Intelligence Community. And we’re going to continue to coordinate and consult with them going forward.

QUESTION: Lastly, for the time being at least, you said that the separate category, these – the exchanges between the President and Secretary Clinton, there are 18 emails that --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, eight – I think I said --

QUESTION: Does that mean that they only emailed each other 18 times for the four years that she was his Secretary of State?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak to --

QUESTION: That’s 48 months. I mean, is that – have you gone through all of them and she only communicated with the President 18 times by email?

MR KIRBY: Of the 55,000 pages of traffic that was handed over by former Secretary Clinton to us to go through for release through FOIA, we have found these 18.

QUESTION: And no --

MR KIRBY: And I do not expect that there will be more.

QUESTION: Well, that’s – does that strike you as being a bit unusual? I mean, my boss – I have 18 emails an hour with her sometimes.

MR KIRBY: Well, but --

QUESTION: She’s not president, clearly, although maybe sometimes --

MR KIRBY: But you need to be – but you need to be micromanaged, I think. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. So this would speak to the fact that Secretary Clinton did not need to be micromanaged, that she --

MR KIRBY: Well, maybe. I mean, look, I can’t speak to that.

QUESTION: -- only emailed the President 18 times in 48 months?

MR KIRBY: I cannot speak to – and I won’t, haven’t, not gonna start speaking to – former Secretary Clinton’s email practices and who she emailed and how often. What I can tell you is we know of these 18, and I’m not expecting any more. As you know, we’re getting very near the end here of the entire 55,000.

Justin.

QUESTION: Actually, I have a couple questions on this. Why withhold them altogether rather than redact in full as you have done with other classified emails, emails that you have deemed classified?

MR KIRBY: Each bit of traffic has to be taken case by case. And as I said, I’m not going to talk about the content. And again, Justin, it’s not unusual to withhold in full a document from the FOIA process.

QUESTION: It is so far in this process. It’s the first time you’ve done that, correct?

MR KIRBY: I am not aware of a previous instance where we have done it in this --

QUESTION: And you’re not going to say why you’re doing that? I mean, why can’t you just say --

MR KIRBY: We’re doing it – we’re doing it to protect sensitive information as we are required to by the law.

QUESTION: Okay. You also put in this statement --

MR KIRBY: Catherine, I’ll get you. Just hang --

QUESTION: In the statement you also say as to whether they were classified at the time they were sent, the State Department basically isn’t focusing on that; questions about classification at the time the emails were sent are being handled separately by the State Department. So the State Department is still handling that, whether they were classified at the time they were sent?

MR KIRBY: What I said was none of this traffic was marked classified at the time it was sent. Classification at the time is an issue that is and will be handled separately by the State Department.

QUESTION: Okay. When is that determination going to be made?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a --

QUESTION: Or is it ever?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I can assure you that we will work through this as thoroughly as possible and as expeditiously as we can, but there’s not a deadline on that – on that determination.

QUESTION: Don’t you think it’s hard for the public to believe that you could be talking about emails that are suddenly classified in nature today but not at the time they were sent? I mean, we’re sort of racking our brains to try to figure out a scenario in which that is possible or plausible.

MR KIRBY: Well, as we’ve said before, even before today, there are reviews and investigations going on about the past email traffic and the degree to which things were classified at the time. What we’ve said consistently is nothing was marked classified at the time it was sent, and that still remains true today and for the tranche that will be released later. But as I said, issues of classification at the time it was sent are now and will be handled in a separate process here at the State Department.

QUESTION: And knowing this now – last one for me. Knowing this now that you’ve got top secret emails or information that is top secret, are you willing to say whether any rules, any State Department rules, were therefore broken in this by --

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said – as I said, the State Department is going to take a look here at that. I’m not in a position today to say definitively one way or the other.

QUESTION: Anything else?

MR KIRBY: I thought – I thought I answered it pretty well. But no, I think I’ve answered it pretty well.

Catherine.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Okay, so I just want to be clear because the ICIG’s letter from January 14th, we’ve confirmed that it was the finding of the agencies who own the intelligence that they were top secret, evening containing SAP information, when they hit the server. So this is a settled matter. This is not something that is still being pursued. Do you accept that?

MR KIRBY: The emails that have been upgraded at the request of the Intelligence Community not --

QUESTION: But no, wait a second. I don’t want to – I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I don’t want to get into this upgrading conversation because the finding of the agencies who controlled the information is that it was top secret SAP when it hit the server. That is the finding that was communicated in this letter. Does the State Department now accept that finding?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak specifically to that letter or the ICIG’s findings. You’d have to talk to them about that.

QUESTION: Well, I --

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you, Catherine, is that in consultation with the Intelligence Community we are making this upgrade, and we believe it’s the prudent, responsible thing to do. I’m not going to speak to the ICIG’s findings or their traffic – email – I’m sorry – correspondence with Congress.

QUESTION: Right. All right. Well, the finding is that they were top secret SAP when they hit that server. So I want to also clarify, you mentioned one of the top secret emails from last summer. That email has also been adjudicated. That’s – those two are settled matters as well. Is that not known to the State Department?

MR KIRBY: I already mentioned the fact that one of the emails --

QUESTION: Right, right.

MR KIRBY: -- that is being upgraded in this tranche to TS is one of those emails that we talked about last summer.

QUESTION: But it’s – and that’s a settled matter, right?

MR KIRBY: And the other one was returned to the State Department as not possessing any Intelligence Community equities.

QUESTION: Well, there’s so many top secret. I guess we can’t all keep them straight. But our understanding is that the two top secret --

MR KIRBY: We’re doing our best to keep it straight right here at the State Department, Catherine.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, so are we. Just as a final question, we made a query to the State Department, Lauren Hickey, at 9:25 this morning because we had confirmed that emails were being withheld in their entirety, and we were told that the State Department had no comment. Then this afternoon, once we posted our story, we saw a comment was provided to the Associated Press. So I’m just wondering what happened here.

MR KIRBY: We were working this – as you might expect, we’ve been working this very hard all month as we do every month. And as of this morning, the process was still ongoing. So we weren’t in a position one way or the other this morning to speak with great specificity. I can assure you – and you don’t come to these briefings every day or every month when we do these tranches.

QUESTION: I wish I could.

MR KIRBY: I wish you could too --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: -- because you’d see how hard we work to get these done as fast as we can. And oftentimes we’re right up to the end, right up to the limit. And today, Friday, the 29th of January, unfortunately, is no different. We’ve got a lot of people in this building still working hard to get these documents prepared tonight, and that was the case this morning. There was no effort – if your question is trying to imply that there was an effort to obfuscate or make it harder for Fox News to report this, I can assure you that that’s not the case.

QUESTION: Okay. And just one final question. Given the classification that’s involved here, has the State Department been advised that there will be additional security required for the storage of those emails?

MR KIRBY: For the storage of?

QUESTION: The top secret emails.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything to speak to specifically with storage in terms of outside the building. What I can assure you is that here at the State Department anything so classified is going to be appropriately stored.

QUESTION: And I’m sorry, just – I want to follow up one more time because I – are you saying that you are not accepting the sworn declarations of an intelligence agency that the information was top secret when it was transmitted?

MR KIRBY: What I’m telling you is issue of classification at the time it was sent is going to be handled separately by the State Department. It is the State Department’s responsibility to make the final adjudication on classification and we --

QUESTION: No, it’s – no, that’s not correct.

MR KIRBY: -- and we – and we are doing it --

QUESTION: The agency that owns the information has final say over the classification, not the State Department. And these declarations relate to intelligence that was not State Department intelligence.

MR KIRBY: That had equities outside the building --

QUESTION: That’s correct.

MR KIRBY: -- which is why we work with the Intelligence Community. But we did this at the request of the Intelligence Community. We’re owning the decision to upgrade it to top secret – to upgrade them to top secret. We’re owning that decision. That’s what I meant by that. But obviously, we work closely with the interagency and the Intelligence Community to make that determination.

QUESTION: John, over, over, over, and over again you’re saying that nothing was marked classified at the time it was sent. But that doesn’t necessarily mean – and correct me if I’m wrong – that it shouldn’t have been or wasn’t actually. Isn’t that right?

MR KIRBY: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Just because something doesn’t have a label on it doesn’t mean that it isn’t what it is.

MR KIRBY: That’s correct.

QUESTION: So in fact, it could be that this stuff, in addition to being retroactively upgraded or – to top secret was in fact top secret at the time it was sent?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speculate and hypothesize.

QUESTION: I know. But it is – but it is possible, right?

MR KIRBY: But as I said – as I said, questions about classification at the time these emails were sent --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: -- are going to be, will be, and are being handled separately by the State Department.

QUESTION: Right. And you are the State Department spokesman, so your --

MR KIRBY: I am, yes.

QUESTION: So --

MR KIRBY: Last time I looked.

QUESTION: So where is that? So where do we stand in that process?

MR KIRBY: That process is ongoing.

QUESTION: And who’s doing it?

MR KIRBY: The – I can get you specific information. But I mean, there’s --

QUESTION: Well, I don’t need a name. What bureau? Is it INR? Is it DS?

MR KIRBY: It’ll be Diplomatic Security and INR.

QUESTION: All right. And then --

QUESTION: But there’s a fundamental confusion here, because the rules are that the agency that generated the intelligence gets final say on the classification. So for the lion’s share of the intelligence in the emails, this was not generated by the State Department, so this is --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the content of this particular traffic, Catherine. I understand where you’re trying to go with this, and I appreciate it. I really do. I’m not going to speak to the content of the email traffic. What I can tell you is that in consultation with the Intelligence Community and at their request, we’ve upgraded these – this particular traffic to top secret. It’s – we believe it’s the responsible, prudent thing to do. And the Secretary has remained steadfastly committed --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- to making sure that we protect sensitive information as appropriate, and certainly in keeping with the law – the Freedom of Information Act.

QUESTION: But you do accept that the group that has final say on the classification when it hit that server is the agency who got that information, not the State Department?

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is we have worked closely with the Intelligence Community, and at their request, we have upgraded this information.

QUESTION: That’s just not answering the question. I mean, you don’t have final say on CIA information.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say we did.

QUESTION: So if --

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say we did.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I’m just trying to ask – make sure we all understand what the system is, because the system is final say is for the generating agency, not for the State Department, unless you generated it.

MR KIRBY: Again, we are upgrading this information to top secret at the request of the Intelligence Community, and we’re going to keep working with the Intelligence Community going forward.

QUESTION: So following on to Justin’s question from earlier about whether or not this is – whether or not there’s actionable – if anything was done, was transmitted, would be actionable as a violation. Is there – is the State Department looking at whether or not there were violations of the classification regulations? Or is that something that gets done by just the Justice Department?

MR KIRBY: No, we’re going to look – obviously we’re going to review this at the State Department to see if there is any appropriate action that needs to be taken.

QUESTION: Okay. And what could – what would – in a case where – in a case that isn’t publicly known about, like this one, because I know you don’t want to talk specifically about this one – but if an employee is found to have violated the classification regulations, what could happen to them? And once an employee has left the building, is there anything that the State Department can do (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not a legal expert in terms of what can happen to some – an employee who’s left specifically, but if warranted, the Department could take appropriate action, which could include – and this is just an inclusive list; it doesn’t – I’m not by any means saying that a particular path here is going to be pursued – but it could include counseling, it could include issuing warnings, security infractions or security violations, or other action. I’m not going to prejudge the outcomes of any of this.

QUESTION: Okay. But when you say more issuing warnings or – what was the other thing? Violations? Are any of those --

MR KIRBY: Counseling, warning, security infractions or security violations, or other action.

QUESTION: So conceivably, one could lose one’s job for violating this?

MR KIRBY: Conceivably.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: But again, I’m not going to prejudge.

QUESTION: And what does counseling mean? What does that mean?

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: Send them to a shrink or something? I mean, what – why counseling?

MR KIRBY: Counseling refers to either written or oral discussions to correct behavior or conduct. And again, it can be in a written or oral form.

QUESTION: So it’s --

MR KIRBY: And some of those counselings can stay with one as you work through your career.

QUESTION: So it’s like a reprimand?

MR KIRBY: Or they may not.

QUESTION: Permanent record-type stuff.

MR KIRBY: Could be, possibly.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Maybe not.

QUESTION: And who exactly is looking at that?

MR KIRBY: As I said --

QUESTION: Is that the same people who --

MR KIRBY: -- this review is being done by the Diplomatic – Diplomatic Security and INR.

QUESTION: So that’s the same – it’s the same review as to whether this stuff should have been or was, in fact, actually classified at the time it was sent, even though it wasn’t marked it? The same people who are looking at that --

MR KIRBY: Questions about the classification --

QUESTION: -- are looking into whether there was a violation of the classification?

MR KIRBY: Questions about classification at the time they were sent --

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: -- is being handled separately by the State Department. The people at the State Department handling that review are Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

QUESTION: Does that mean that the State Department does not believe that another agency should also be looking into this?

MR KIRBY: Another agency?

QUESTION: I mean, is it the State Department’s position that your own investigation into this, into both of these issues --

MR KIRBY: There are, as you know --

QUESTION: I know.

MR KIRBY: -- other reviews and investigations going on.

QUESTION: Exactly. But do you believe that those are appropriate, or that they’re –

MR KIRBY: That’s not for me to speak to.

QUESTION: Or do you think that the State Department should just handle this all in-house, as it were?

MR KIRBY: That’s not for me to speak to. We’re going to do the review that we believe we need to do. We obviously have, since the beginning of this, been in very close communication and consultation with the interagency, and I don’t expect that that’s going to stop. There are – in addition to what we have to do, there are, as you know, ongoing reviews and investigations into these practices as well.

QUESTION: All right. This will be my last one. On the 18 emails with the President, it just strikes me as being a very small amount of exchanges between the President and a Secretary of State. Are you – do you understand that any – that the 55,000 work-related, that – do you know if any of the ones that weren’t turned over could be like personal communication back and forth between the President, that would not come under this presidential privilege?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know the answer to that.

QUESTION: Do you know?

MR KIRBY: Again, Matt, it’s important to remember this traffic came from the 55,000 pages that former Secretary Clinton turned over to the State Department after she and her team went through all of her traffic and determined which were professional-related and which were not. So we can only deal with what we’ve been given.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: And out of the 55,000 pages thus far – and I don’t expect this is going to change – there are these 18 emails.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that the presidential privilege would apply to innocuously – if she sent an email saying happy birthday or something like that, that that would still apply? It still gets withheld entirely because – just because it was with the President?

MR KIRBY: The decision about withholding – first of all, it’s not – nobody’s invoking executive privilege on this. And as I said, they’re being withheld to remain confidential, to protect the President’s ability to receive unvarnished advice and counsel. And they ultimately will be released in accordance with the Presidential Records Act. I don’t know what the content is of them.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: And we’re not going to speak to the content of them.

QUESTION: So it’s possible, though, that these emails that you’re withholding from presidential chains do not contain unvarnished advice and counsel – you don’t know.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to the content of them. They’re being withheld and they’re going to remain confidential to protect the President’s ability to get unvarnished advice and counsel. But your question goes to content, and I simply don’t have that information.

Yeah, Laura.

QUESTION: So not to belabor this point, but I notice you’ve been changing up your verb tense when talking about this review of whether these emails were classified at the time they were sent – “are being reviewed” and “will be reviewed.” Is that review going on right now?

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: And do you know how long it’s been going on?

MR KIRBY: I wasn’t trying to be cute.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: It is going on; it will continue to go on.

QUESTION: Okay. And then also on the emails that are being released today, given that this batch is now so much smaller than it was expected to be, why the decision to release them so late in the day? Wouldn’t they be done by now?

MR KIRBY: Look, nobody would like to get them out earlier in the day more than I would. But the – as I said to Catherine, I mean, we’ve been running up to the last day of every month for the last six months, right, and it’s because there’s just so much volume to go through.

QUESTION: But this is a much smaller batch than any of the previous batches.

MR KIRBY: It is a much smaller batch, but you can’t just look at the numbers. You’ve got to look at the amount of interagency review that some of these emails require, and some just require more interagency review than others. Some need more time to look at than others, and I think that the – I think that that’s really what’s driving this more than anything else in this particular batch.

Look, we take it seriously. We’d like to have more out tonight than the approximately 1,000 we think we’re going to, and by 7 o’clock tonight, maybe we will have. I don’t know. They’re working on it literally as you and I are talking right now. We don’t like the fact that we had to ask for an extension, but we did because we take it so seriously. It is – while it is very important, obviously, to meet the judge’s requirements every month – we have a deadline, and like you, we respect deadlines – it is --

QUESTION: Apparently not.

MR KIRBY: I’m getting there.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: See, this is why you get so many emails from your boss. (Laughter.)

It is equally if not more important that we do this responsibly and prudently and that we take the necessary steps to protect sensitive information. The act of protecting sensitive information can be more complicated on some traffic than others, so there’s nothing more behind a 7 o’clock Friday release than that – than that there’s a lot of people working really hard to get it done.

QUESTION: So from what you’re saying, does that mean that this batch contained a particularly high number that were sent to the interagency for further review (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get to the – I’m not going to speak to the content specifically of each email. What I can tell you is that as a matter of fact, some of these emails, some of the traffic, requires more interagency review than others. That tends to slow the process down.

QUESTION: Well, given that more than 7,000 emails have been just recently sent to the interagency for review, are you confident that the rest of these emails are going to be out in a month, that – I mean, what’s going to be quicker then?

MR KIRBY: I can tell you we’re going to work really, really hard to make that happen.

QUESTION: Do you know if these emails – either the 37 pages that you’re saying are top secret now and/or the 18 – would they have been among the emails to be released today?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that. I don’t know that I can say that definitively. That is a separate – that process of working with the Intelligence Community to upgrade them was sort of done separately in tandem.

QUESTION: All right. And then --

MR KIRBY: I can’t say that definitively, that they would’ve been otherwise, because as you know, there hasn’t been a perfect chronological path to these releases because some have required less interagency review than others.

QUESTION: Is it possible, then, that in the next – that there may be more that are classified as top secret and are withheld in their entirety?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate about future classification.

QUESTION: So it is – so you – so it is possible.

MR KIRBY: As we have with every tranche, we’ve been very open and honest about the upgrades and what they’ve been. I’m not in a position right now to --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- rule in or out additional upgrades.

QUESTION: Okay, but – but it is possible because they haven’t all been looked at by the interagency.

MR KIRBY: There are still reviews going on and I’m not going to get ahead of that review.

QUESTION: How many upgrades, then, are in this batch?

MR KIRBY: How many upgrades?

QUESTION: Not just including the top secret upgrades.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a final number for you on the other upgrades. I think you can expect that there will be other upgrades other than the top secret, which, again, has not been --

QUESTION: Including at the secret level?

MR KIRBY: -- which has not been – I’m not going to get into specifics – which is not atypical for past tranches. I don’t have a final breakdown for you right now. As I said – and I meant it earnestly – there are people, as you and I are speaking, that are still working this very hard right now. And so when we get a little closer, we’ll be able to have more fidelity for you. I just don’t have it right now.

QUESTION: The – Mrs. Clinton’s campaign put out a statement which said that – that these emails likely originated on the State Department’s unclassified system before they were ever shared with her and remained on the unclassified system for years. Can you confirm that?

MR KIRBY: No, I cannot.

QUESTION: Can you look into that?

MR KIRBY: There are – as I said, the State Department is going to review the issue of classification at the time that the emails were sent, and I’m not going to get ahead of that process.

QUESTION: Oh, so that – what she’s asked about has to do with that process?

MR KIRBY: It does. The issue of classification at the time very much has to do with --

QUESTION: With --

MR KIRBY: -- the review that we are doing here at the State Department, the Diplomatic Security branch as well as INR, and I’m not going to get ahead of that process.

QUESTION: But doesn’t it seem like – I was asking this earlier. Doesn’t it seem kind of silly that it would – I mean, are you leaving open the possibility that it was not top secret at the time?

MR KIRBY: I am not going to speak to the issue of classification at the time. All I can tell you definitively is that none of this traffic was marked classified at the time. There’s a review ongoing here at the State Department to examine the issue of classification at the time it was sent. Point three: At the request of the Intelligence Community, we are upgrading some of this traffic to the top secret level. Again, this gets to prudence and responsibility and following the law, and we’re going to do that.

QUESTION: You said the reviewers are the Diplomatic Security and the Department of – what was it – Intelligence --

MR KIRBY: And Research.

QUESTION: -- and Research?

QUESTION: Bureau.

QUESTION: Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

MR KIRBY: Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

QUESTION: So then does that review of how they originated and whether they were classified at the time they were originated – does that not involve the Intelligence Community as well?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Or is it solely a State Department investigation?

MR KIRBY: I am sure, as we have stayed in touch with the Intelligence Community throughout this entire process, we will continue to do so. I am not going to speak specifically to how Diplomatic Security and INR are going to conduct their review, but we have remained in very close contact with the Intelligence Community throughout this, and that’s not going to change.

QUESTION: So just a quick – I want to make sure – just because something is not marked classified does not mean that it isn’t classified, correct?

MR KIRBY: I think that it is – it’s certainly possible that, for any number of reasons, traffic can be sent that’s not marked appropriately for its classification. That is certainly possible. But Matt, I am not making any judgments about this. That’s why we’re going to do a review here at the State Department to look at the classification at the time this traffic was sent. All I can tell you definitively is it wasn’t marked classified at the time it was sent. But obviously, in consult with the Intelligence Community, we’re going to do a review to make that determination.

But it’s – is it possible that something is classified at the time it is sent and not marked so, or maybe not marked appropriately, marked at a level that it --

QUESTION: Shouldn’t.

MR KIRBY: -- that it shouldn’t have been? That is certainly possible.

QUESTION: But this wasn’t marked at all is what you’re saying.

MR KIRBY: None of the traffic that we are upgrading to top secret was marked classified in any way at the time it was sent.

QUESTION: And is there an expectation that someone sending or receiving – someone with top secret classification – is there an expectation that if they received an email containing information that was not marked but which they believe to be classified – there is an expectation that that person would do something about it, right?

MR KIRBY: Sure, sure. If you have a sense that – and we’re all trained – anybody that works in the government is trained to treat classified and sensitive information appropriately. And if you have a sense that you’re dealing with information that is sensitive and should be protected, you have an obligation to do that.

QUESTION: In terms of the FOIA standard as differentiated between stuff that could go to the Hill, would these emails be sent un-redacted, be turned over to Congress without redactions?

MR KIRBY: Will they be? All I can tell you is that --

QUESTION: Will they or would they be?

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: Or would they also get redacted versions?

MR KIRBY: Without getting into specifics, what I could tell you is that we have kept Congress informed throughout this process and we’re going to continue to do that, but I’m not going to speak to the specifics of that.

QUESTION: No, but you know that FOIA redactions are more stringent than --

MR KIRBY: FOIA – right.

QUESTION: But (inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: FOIA redactions are more stringent because it’s being made public. And so, obviously – again, not speaking to this traffic, please – but obviously, we consult and communicate with Congress on a wide range of matters. And certainly, it’s our responsibility to share with them information that – at times that may not and would not be released to the public under FOIA.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a not-so-hypothetical question? If you were sent an email today that contained a New York Times article that discussed a highly secretive intelligence program, but an article that was published in The New York Times, would that throw up red flags for you? Would you say, “I can’t be forwarding this along or talking about this” or “This needs to be put somewhere else or maintained in a different area?” Would that be a problem for you if you got that kind of an email.

MR KIRBY: Well, it is a hypothetical. Any question that begins with the word “if” is hypothetical.

QUESTION: Have you ever? I can start it that way.

MR KIRBY: No, it’s too late. You already said it, and I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. Look, what --

QUESTION: But you know what I’m driving at.

MR KIRBY: I do, and I’m not going to speak to the content of this traffic one way or the other. But as I said to Matt, any government employee has a responsibility – and they’re trained, and you go through periodic training throughout one’s career, whether you’re in the military or Civil Service or the Foreign Service or whatever – to properly handle sensitive information and to use your judgment as best you can when sensitive information crosses your desk. And you have an obligation to protect that regardless, and that never changes. That obligation never changes. And as somebody who has been in government service now for 30 years, I can tell you that that is something that you take seriously. Regardless of where it comes from and how you got it and what you’re seeing, you have an obligation.

QUESTION: Sounds like you would treat it carefully.

MR KIRBY: I know what my personal obligations are with respect to sensitive information, and I can assure you that everybody here at the State Department understands those obligations.

QUESTION: You weren’t here at the time, so maybe this is unfair to ask you, but maybe you could look. Would emails that include news – that included news reporting of either the WikiLeaks cables or the Snowden revelations, would those be considered classified even though they’re – everybody – they’re all over the place, everybody knows the contents of them?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I don’t know. I – I don’t know.

QUESTION: Look, it got to the point during the WikiLeaks thing that people were – in this building and elsewhere were not allowed to look at the WikiLeaks website.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. That’s the way --

QUESTION: Right. And so --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- if someone was emailed a news report about the contents of WikiLeaks or the Snowden revelations, then my question is: Would that have been something that should have been subject to classification?

MR KIRBY: Again, I think I would just fall back on one’s training and understanding – having the judgment to understand what is sensitive information and to treat it appropriately, regardless of the source of it. We all have that obligation. I can’t speak specifically to what guidance or policies were in place here at the State Department. When I was at the Pentagon for WikiLeaks, there was a – there was very stringent policy with respect to the treatment of not only the WikiLeaks website but traffic, whether it was email or news articles, about the contents of that because so much of it was classified in nature. So everybody has that obligation.

QUESTION: Yeah, but it’s also then in the public domain. So I guess the question would be --

MR KIRBY: That doesn’t change --

QUESTION: -- if you get a --

MR KIRBY: That doesn’t – but Mark – but Matt --

QUESTION: Right, but if you got an email – but during the WikiLeaks --

MR KIRBY: -- that doesn’t change the fact. Just because something’s in the public domain doesn’t mean --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- that it still isn’t classified.

QUESTION: No, no, I understand that. But so what did you do then as spokesman over at the Pentagon when a reporter – and I’m sure they did – emailed you a story based on the WikiLeaks cables (inaudible), what do you do?

MR KIRBY: I treated – I – without getting into the details – and certainly that was a different federal agency than this one, but there were steps that we had to take to treat that information appropriately. And I did.

QUESTION: But even though – even if it was just a news article? What did you do, just delete it? Not respond?

MR KIRBY: There’s – there were steps and policies in places that we followed to try to deal with that information as best we could. You have to be on the lookout for sensitive information and treat it appropriately.

QUESTION: Can we switch to Syria?

QUESTION: I just have one more on this.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to put a fine point on what you said earlier, are you ruling out the possibility or are you leaving it open that the State Department could be seeking an extension beyond February 29th for the release of these emails?

MR KIRBY: I’m not prepared to say one way or the other --

QUESTION: So it’s possible.

MR KIRBY: -- about any additional extensions. We’ve asked for the extension into February, and I can assure you that we are going to work very, very hard to meet our obligations under that extension.

QUESTION: John, Syria? HNC has announced a while ago that they will send a delegation tomorrow to Geneva after they have received the guarantees from the UN, United States, and their allies – especially Saudi Arabia – regarding the implementation of UN Security Council 2254. Are you aware of these guarantees?

MR KIRBY: I would refer you to Special Envoy de Mistura to speak to conversations that he’s had with the HNC. As I said at the opening, the Secretary has been very clear that it’s important for these talks to continue, to continue without preconditions, to get people to begin this – the process of negotiating an end to the civil war in Syria. But I would refer you to Mr. de Mistura for more details about his particular conversations with the HNC.

QUESTION: In a statement they have released a while ago too, they said that Secretary Kerry has called Riyad Hijab and he promised to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2254, especially Articles 12 and 13, and he said that the U.S. – the statement said that the U.S. will guarantee the formation of the transition body too, and Secretary Kerry told Hijab that he is ready to go to Geneva to support the opposition delegation. Can you confirm that?

MR KIRBY: I can confirm that he had a conversation today with Dr. Hijab. He’s had a conversation with Special Envoy de Mistura. He’s had a conversation today with Foreign Minister Lavrov. So even while he’s up in Quebec City today, he has been very much engaged in following this process and monitoring it and talking to all the relevant parties. And the implementation of paragraphs 12 and 13 of UNSCR 2254 are necessary by all parties, Michel. All parties. And so the Secretary has made that clear as well. But I’m not privy to every detail of the conversation as you lay it out there.

QUESTION: Did he promise that he would be going to Geneva?

MR KIRBY: Did who promise?

QUESTION: The Secretary.

MR KIRBY: I have nothing additional on the Secretary’s travel schedule to announce, other than what I did today.

QUESTION: And one more please. The HNC has said too that they will send a delegation to Geneva, but they won’t participate in the talks or the negotiations before the implementation of the guarantees.

MR KIRBY: Is there a question there?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: What’s your question?

QUESTION: Do you – if they went to Geneva without participation – without the participation --

MR KIRBY: I can’t – I know as much as you’d like to me to, I cannot speak to the HNC and what they will or won’t do. The Secretary has been clear that it’s important for these talks to happen and it’s important for the HNC to attend and to do so without preconditions. That’s – we’ve said that from – for weeks now, and we continue to say that. It’s also important – and we understand their concerns. And as I said at my – at the outset, it’s also very important to us that humanitarian access be had in some of these besieged areas; that we can get to a ceasefire as quickly as possible. I mean, nobody wants to see any more bloodshed there. But the Secretary firmly believes that one of the ways to get to a point where there’s no bloodshed is to sit down and to start to have these discussions, and so that’s been his point.

QUESTION: And do you view that they sent a delegation, or they will send a delegation tomorrow, as a positive step?

MR KIRBY: Their participation in these talks obviously is crucial and certainly would be positive. I mean, the whole idea of these discussions is to get the regime and the High Negotiating Committee, or the negotiators that they choose, to begin to talk so that we can start to lay out a process here for a political transition. So yes, it would be positive. Yes, it would be welcome. But I can’t speak to their individual travel plans. They have to speak to that. We have been consistently clear that it’s important to get these talks going, to get this process moving forward – again, to get these talks going without precondition.

QUESTION: But since these are proximity talks and not face-to-face negotiations at all, at least this first one --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: Why is it important for them to go to Geneva? Why can’t they just sit in Riyadh and – I mean, there’s – I don’t understand. If they’re not going to be sitting down together --

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: -- with the government, what’s the difference if they’re in the next room --

MR KIRBY: -- proximity means close.

QUESTION: -- the next city, the next continent?

MR KIRBY: Proximity means close, Matt. It doesn’t mean thousands of miles away.

QUESTION: Well, what’s the difference?

MR KIRBY: And it’s a whole lot better to facilitate some sort of dialogue if you’re in the same city. And we believe it’s important for them to be present for these talks.

QUESTION: It just seems that if they’re not going to get what they’re asking for and they’re not going to participate --

MR KIRBY: Well, these are ultimately --

QUESTION: -- it seems like a waste of time and money to send them all the way there. And do we – who’s paying for them? Is it --

MR KIRBY: Well, you’re prejudging the outcome. You said they’re not going to get – we don’t --

QUESTION: No, they’re saying that they won’t --

MR KIRBY: In order to have – in order to know whether you get to an outcome, you have to have a discussion, and we want them to be there to have these discussions. We believe it’s important.

QUESTION: But the discussion right now is the government talking to itself and the government talking to de Mistura; and when they show up, if their conditions aren’t met, they’re not going to join it, so the discussion will just be with themselves. I don’t see how you – how that accomplishes anything.

MR KIRBY: We believe it’s important for them to be present, to have these discussions, because we believe that’s the way to move forward and to actually have an outcome.

Yeah.

QUESTION: The State Department and Mr. Kerry have been in direct contact with the opposition, of course, over these talks. Are there any efforts or perhaps plans to be – to have direct contacts with the other side, with the regime side, with regards to these talks as well?

MR KIRBY: By the United States? No.

Yes.

QUESTION: There are reports suggesting that Secretary Kerry told the Syrian opposition groups they are risking their funding if they will not attend the meeting. Would you confirm that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the specifics of discussions that the Secretary has had, but the notion that he has threatened them or put some sort of overt pressure on them or anybody else in this process is not true.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Yes. Do you have a readout of the phone call between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think I can give you a little something. Give me a second. Can’t wait for me to have all of this on an iPad.

QUESTION: Good luck with that.

MR KIRBY: We’re going to get there.

The Secretary stressed in his conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov today the need for all International Syria Support Group members to push for progress on the political track, and he encouraged Russia to press the Syrian Government to implement critical steps to address the needs of the Syrian people now and to promote progress in peace talks in Geneva. He emphasized the importance of ensuring humanitarian access immediately to those hard-to-reach areas, and he called on Russia to avoid strikes that hit civilians.

QUESTION: Do you know, is there any plan to talk with Russia about North Korea? I mean, was it any part in that conversation? Is there --

MR KIRBY: I just gave you the readout from the conversation today with Foreign Minister Lavrov. He speaks routinely and frequently to Foreign Minister Lavrov. Obviously issues in Northeast Asia, particularly the danger and the threat posed by the North Korean regime, remains a topic that is of global concern, and it’s something that he has spoken to and will continue to speak to various world leaders.

QUESTION: Do you have – also have a – do you have – sorry – of the discussion between Secretary Kerry and the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea?

MR KIRBY: He spoke to them both by phone last night, and again, the conversation was very much about the continued threat posed by the North Korean regime and the need for strong international consensus through the UN to put into place measures, which could possibly include stronger sanctions, to hold the North accountable for its provocative acts.

QUESTION: Was there --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Sorry, another follow-up on that. Was there a sense of concern that China is not being cooperative on pushing (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to – I’ll – I think what I’ll do is I’ll point you to Secretary Kerry’s press conference in Beijing, where he and Foreign Minister Wang spoke at length about the discussions that they had and the tensions in Northeast Asia and the discussions that he had with Chinese leaders there. He spoke to that at length and I’d point you to that transcript.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Japan, though, has prepared – has begun preparing for potential missile tests by North Korea. Is there any support that the State Department is giving as a clear indication of support to Japan?

MR KIRBY: I’d let Japan speak to their decision. If they have – if they are making preparations, that’s for them to speak to, and I’d refer you to DOD on any preparations. I’m not aware of any, and that wouldn’t be for – something for us to speak to.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: A question very close to that: Have you come back from China with a higher hope that China will be more helpful in --

MR KIRBY: As the Secretary said in Beijing, the – and as Foreign Minister Wang said, the Chinese are prepared to do more here to hold the North accountable. But they have to speak to what that would look like and what that would be like. They didn’t go into great detail in Beijing in terms of what that means and what they’d be willing to do, but they did agree to do more. And I’ve seen some coverage that would indicate otherwise, and that’s simply not true. They did agree to more affirmative actions to hold the North to account.

QUESTION: The second issue, the Chinese foreign minister said what China is doing in South China Sea does not amount to militarization of the region, and Secretary’s response to that was not exactly taking on that point. So do you – does the U.S. agree with that view that what Chinese construction activities and other things in South China Sea do not necessarily constitute militarization of the region?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary, again, spoke to this. Again, I highly encourage you to go look at his – the press conference that he just held in Beijing, where we spoke – where he spoke about tensions in the South China Sea and the need for all parties to take steps to de-escalate the tensions. And nothing has changed about our view that militarization of these reclaimed features does nothing toward that end. And we continue to be concerned about Chinese activities with respect to militarization on these reclaimed features.

QUESTION: John.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: On the phone call between Secretary Kerry and Mr. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign ministry has said today that Mr. Lavrov expressed his indignation to Secretary Kerry over made-up accusations against President Putin made by a U.S. Administration official. Do you have anything on this?

MR KIRBY: I believe my colleague Mark addressed this yesterday in terms of those comments made by the under secretary of the Treasury. I don’t have anything to add to it today.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Have a great weekend.

QUESTION: Oh, yes.

(The briefing was concluded at 4:14 p.m.)

DPB # 15


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Thu, 01/28/2016 - 17:55

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 28, 2016

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TRANSCRIPT:

2:15 p.m. EST

MR TONER: Hey, everybody. I apologize; I’m a little late. Welcome to the State Department. Just something to – one thing at the top, and then I’ll take your questions. As we seek a solution to the Syrian conflict via political transition, in accordance with the Geneva communique of 2012, and a nationwide ceasefire, the United States continues to emphasize an independent and immediate need for access for humanitarian relief to all UN-designated besieged areas. The UN reaffirmed the urgency of this situation yesterday when it announced the number of besieged areas in Syria had risen from 15 to 18, the overwhelming majority of which are being besieged by the Assad regime.

The three additional besieged areas – first is Moadamiya, the second Madaya, and the third is Bqin – are home to an estimated 93,000 people who desperately need food and medical attention and who continue to suffer from the government’s abhorrent use of starvation as a weapon of war. The UN estimates that over 486,000 people in Syria are living in besieged areas, and over 274,000 people are besieged by the Assad regime, roughly 200,000 people by I-S-I-L – ISIL or Daesh – and over 12,000 by non-state armed groups and the Nusrah Front.

All parties must allow for immediate, unconditional, and unfettered humanitarian assistance to reach those in need in all of the besieged areas, including these three. The Assad regime must comply with its obligations under the international humanitarian law, and we’ve been clear that UN members states, particularly Russia, must also unite to pressure the regime to grant access now, as all members of the International Syria Support Group committed to doing so last November in Vienna.

That’s it at the top. Brad, over to you.

QUESTION: On this – in the same vein --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- what is your update on the Syrian talks? It sounds like the opposition is saying they won’t happen tomorrow. I see de Mistura is now pushing it off to the next few days. Are these in serious jeopardy already?

MR TONER: Well, Brad, we’ve also been, to be quite honest, following the reports out of Geneva. Obviously we’ve got some folks – a team on the ground – helping to support the talks. We would note the HNC’s announcement that it – announcement earlier today, but would continue to urge and encourage its leadership to respond positively to de Mistura’s invitation. As I said yesterday, this is really an historic opportunity for them to go to Geneva to propose serious, practical ways to implement a ceasefire and other confidence-building measures. And we still believe they should do so without preconditions.

QUESTION: Yesterday you described the talks as a test for the Assad government. After five years of war and, I don’t know, 300,000 dead, of which you say the majority were caused by the Assad regime, what further tests should they be permitted? Isn’t time up on them?

MR TONER: Well – so we’ve talked a lot about this over the past months, and indeed, as you say, years. First of all, it’s pretty clear, and all the stakeholder members of the ISSG agree, and all of the parties at least say they agree – in Syria – that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria, that there’s only a political transition – a peaceful political process – that can lead to a peaceful end to the conflict and a peaceful transition – political transition. And so that’s what we mean by putting the Assad regime to the test. We won’t know until it sends representatives to Geneva and participates in talks to judge whether it is, in fact, serious. So we’re looking for actions, not words.

And as I said yesterday, we’ve talked about Russia’s role. Russia has been a part of the ISSG and has also said they believe in a political solution to the conflict in Syria. So again, this is an opportunity for them to exert the influence that they do have on the Assad regime to convince Assad – to convince his regime to come to the table in Geneva.

QUESTION: And then my --

MR TONER: So, I mean, that’s what I mean by a test.

QUESTION: And my last question on this: In your conversations with the HNC, what sweeteners are you either offering or they asking for in exchange for their participation?

MR TONER: Well, I don't want to necessarily describe anything, any support we give, as sweeteners. We recognize and we’ve been supportive of the Syrian opposition for many years now. We’ve certainly given, as we’ve mentioned many times – more than any other country, we’ve given humanitarian assistance to Syria, to Syrians who are affected by the conflict. But we’ve also provided support for many of these opposition groups in their struggle. And that support, as this process moves forward, will continue.

QUESTION: Regardless of whether they come or not?

MR TONER: There’s been some misreporting about that. But right now, regardless of sweeteners, we believe that the opportunity that’s presented by these talks should be sweetener enough for the HNC to come to the table and talk.

QUESTION: So just to --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- your support for the agency will continue, regardless of whether or not they come to the talks or not?

MR TONER: We’ve said our support will continue. And that was misreported or mischaracterized a little bit in some circles.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: But as things stand, the regime seems content to go ahead with these talks, and it’s the HNC which is delaying its confirmation of participation.

MR TONER: And again, this is coming down to the final hours as we approach Friday morning, and obviously we’re six hours later in Geneva. So it’s not over till it’s over, in terms of meeting this deadline to start tomorrow.

QUESTION: Is there a risk, then, that this becomes a political coup for the regime, that they appear to be the reasonable party that are prepared to --

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to speak to hypotheticals or what may or may not happen. Let’s let this play out. It’s still not Friday morning in Geneva, so let’s give this a little bit more time.

QUESTION: So a spokeswoman for de Mistura, Khawla Mattar --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- actually said that they are – that the meeting is going on.

MR TONER: I saw that.

QUESTION: Yeah. I want to go back to something that you said.

MR TONER: Thank you.

QUESTION: You said that the incentive or the disincentive for the opposition – what is a disincentive if you already making it available to them, all this aid, whether they go or not? What is the disincentive? Or let me rephrase that.

MR TONER: Said, yeah, sure.

QUESTION: What is an encouraging thing to push them towards these talks if they feel they are going to get this aid no matter what?

MR TONER: So we talked about this. It’s not – I mean --

QUESTION: I’m trying to follow it.

MR TONER: No, no, no. That’s okay. So the aid is extremely important. The humanitarian assistance, all of that, is vitally important, believe me, to the besieged population of Syria. That goes without saying. And that support will continue. But what is presented, the possibility of these talks, is that we establish a serious political process that leads to peace in Syria. The Syrian people need hope. They need to see that a process is in place that will lead to a peaceful outcome, a political transition that they’ve been struggling for for many years now, going on five, six years now. And so as much as this process offers the prospect of a political resolution, that should be incentive enough.

QUESTION: But you seem to be putting the onus on the regime – you and the European allies and so on – while on the other hand, it seems that no matter what they do, they are taking a strong and entrenched rejectionist position in terms of attending these talks. What do they want, in your view?

MR TONER: You’re talking about the HNC now?

QUESTION: The opposition, the HNC, yes. I’m talking about --

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, obviously – and we talked about this a fair amount yesterday. They have their demands. And in fact, what I spoke about at the beginning of the briefing is among their demands, which is humanitarian assistance and access to some of the besieged cities. And their demands are, quite honestly and frankly, legitimate. We’re just saying they shouldn’t be preconditions to getting these talks going.

QUESTION: Okay. So you still sort of stick to the point that these should not be preconditions?

MR TONER: Exactly, that we believe these demands, while legitimate, shouldn’t keep the talks from moving forward.

QUESTION: Libya?

MR TONER: Sure. Go in the back and then move up. Yeah. Thanks. Sorry.

QUESTION: It’s not Syria, it’s actually Russia.

MR TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: The Acting Under Secretary Mr. Adam Szubin told to his comments to BBC that the Russian president is corrupted and the U.S. Government has known about this for many, many years. So based on this statement, should we wait for opening the U.S. criminal investigation against Russian president? And could this statement lead to increased sanctions or extended sanctions against Russia or against Russian president?

MR TONER: So first of all, I’m aware of the interview you’re talking about on the BBC show, Panorama, as you mentioned. I’d refer you to the Department of Treasury. Under Secretary Szubin is an official at the Department of Treasury, so I’d refer you to them for details on that specific interview. Broadly speaking, our concerns about corruption within the Russian Government are well known. We do remain concerned about corruption in Russia at all levels of the government, and we remain concerned about corruption as a malevolent force, if you will, in many countries around the world. I mean, this is something that we’re very seized with. It is a corrosive – it does have a corrosive influence on democratic institutions and the democratic process writ large. It affects the economies, it affects investment climate.

So corruption is a huge problem. And as I said, we are concerned about corruption and its influence in Russia. We have urged and continue to urge the Russian Government to support efforts, including by non – by civil society, rather, and nongovernmental actors, to promote increased transparency and to – and other efforts to counter corruption.

QUESTION: What about the personal wellness of Mr. Putin? And is – what about the personal wellness of Mr. Putin, and is there any chance of opening against him a criminal investigation in the U.S.?

MR TONER: I have no estimate in front of me of President Putin’s personal wealth – or worth, rather. But – and I wouldn’t wager to guess. In terms of a criminal investigation, I don’t have anything on that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Particularly on the issue of corruption, Minister for Economic Revitalization Akira Amari of Japan, he resigned under accusations of receiving money from construction companies. Do you think – he was a key player in the TPP negotiations. Do you think that this will have an effect on the implementation of TPP or the ratification --

MR TONER: I haven’t seen those reports, and so I don’t – I can’t speak to the exact allegations or the reasons for his resignation. As I said, obviously, corruption’s a serious threat in many governments around the world, in many countries around the world. I just don’t have the specifics in front of me on this. Sorry.

QUESTION: But I mean, but it’s expected that he’s not going to be attending now, obviously, for the signing ceremony in New Zealand. Do you think – I mean, I guess – well, you haven’t seen the reports, I guess, but is there any concern at all that this will have an effect?

MR TONER: No. I mean, look, I mean, the TPP is broader than one person. And as we’ve said many times from this podium and from elsewhere, that it represents a significant step forward in terms of trade relations and economic prosperity for the region, sets in place standards that will – environmental standards and other standards that will change the playing field for economic growth in Asia, in the Pacific region. And it’s broader than one individual and we don’t expect any delay in the signing moving forward with it.

Please.

QUESTION: Libya.

MR TONER: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Libya --

MR TONER: Libya.

QUESTION: -- it’s going to be about. Pentagon officials say the U.S. is preparing for, quote-unquote, “decisive military action” against ISIL in Libya. What is happening in Libya that would warrant a decisive military action?

MR TONER: You’re referring to what comments, exactly?

QUESTION: General Dunford’s comments last week.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, we’ve talked a little bit about Libya as a place where ISIL and ISIL-aligned groups have gained a foothold. And in fact, as we’ve said before, this highlights the need in Libya for a unified national government that can partner with the international community to address this threat. And so our focus, frankly, is on moving that political process forward, getting a government in place, and then seeking ways to cooperate more decisively with the Libyan – this new Libyan Government to take the fight against ISIL, but we certainly view it as a threat there.

In terms of what – rather, General Dunford said, we’ve noted our concern about ISIL in Libya before and we’ve expressed a willingness to take action against them. I know on November 15th, I think it was, the Pentagon did carry out a strike against an ISIL leader in Libya, and we said very clearly we’re going to go after ISIL wherever they operate, and that remains true. And so we’re – additionally, we’re working with the international community, working with and want to work, frankly, and partner with a new Libyan Government to promote stability and strengthen government – governance in Libya.

Again, I think the very fluid situation in terms of the political climate in Libya, frankly, we believe allows groups like ISIL to have a foothold. And so our – we would urge the Libyan Government, the Libyan – various Libyan political groups to come together and form a unified national government as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Did the Obama Administration have any idea back in 2011, as it helped bomb Qadhafi out of power, that before long the U.S. would be back to Libya bombing terrorists?

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, what you’ve got in many of these, frankly, fluid or ungoverned spaces – this is nothing new, we’ve seen it with al-Qaida as well – where these terrorist groups seek to establish a foothold. Again, it’s what speaks to the importance of establishing good governance, establishing a government that can create stability through military, though police, also through good governance and --

QUESTION: Yeah, but Libya is not --

MR TONER: Excuse me, let me finish. Let me finish. And that’s absolutely vital and that’s certainly the case in Libya. We’ve seen it elsewhere. We’ve seen ISIL establish a foothold in Iraq, given some of the instability there, and we’ve seen it establish a foothold in Syria, obviously given the tremendous instability caused by the Assad regime there.

So I just acknowledged that we are concerned about ISIL being a threat, establishing – seeking to reach out and establish a presence in Libya, and as such, we’re going to look at ways we can attack it there.

QUESTION: My question was: Did the Obama Administration see it coming as it helped topple Qadhafi back in 2011?

MR TONER: I mean, I don’t think ISIL existed back in 2011, but --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: Not in its present form, but you can argue with that, Brad. I’ll give the question over to you next.

That said, what we would like to see in Libya post Qadhafi is the establishment of a Libyan Government that can, again, establish good governance and look at some of these security challenges, and we’re absolutely ready to partner with them.

As for foreseeing what the threats were on the horizon back in 2011, let’s remember in 2011 we had Qadhafi on the ground threatening to massacre huge amounts of the Libyan population at the time. And we stepped in with our NATO partners to prevent that threat and massacre of the people.

QUESTION: To what extent did the proliferation of terrorists in Libya catch the Obama Administration by surprise?

MR TONER: To what extent did the – well, I mean, look, I mean, we understood that Libya was a very ungoverned space in the wake of Qadhafi’s downfall. We worked very hard --

QUESTION: But it wasn’t ungoverned when Qadhafi was still in power.

MR TONER: Again, let’s be very clear about the situation that you say when we intervened in Libya. And I – if you need me to walk you through it, I’m happy to do that, but we had the Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi threatening to wipe out cities. I think, and again, I’m paraphrasing now, but to hunt people down like animals or dogs and kill them – he threatened to do that to his own population, so we intervened.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up very quickly on this?

MR TONER: Sure, Said.

QUESTION: Now, there is a – everybody speaks of a report of hundreds, maybe even thousands of ISIS members going to Libya from Syria and Iraq and so on. Now, they are – they must be transiting through places like Egypt and so on. Are you working with the Egyptians to sort of catch these guys before they get to Libya?

MR TONER: I mean, it’s a fair question, and obviously, that kind of foreign fighter flow is clearly a priority for us and how to prevent it and stem it. I mean, we’ve seen the same – we have foreign fighters flowing over the border to – from Turkey. And so yes, it is a challenge, yes we are taking steps with Turkey, with other – with Egypt as well to stem that flow. We’re not there yet, so --

QUESTION: But I mean, if these guys go over land, then they have – they are going through countries that are allied with the United States like Jordan, the Sinai, Egypt, and so on, and things of that nature.

MR TONER: Sure, I mean, it’s a fair question, Said. I just don’t have the details on how these guys transit some of these countries, except to recognize that it’s one of our major areas or efforts – areas of effort, rather, in combatting ISIL.

Sure, Abby.

QUESTION: Staying in Egypt?

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Going back to something that was talked about --

MR TONER: That’s right. We did land in Egypt after that.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: Thanks to you, Said.

QUESTION: Going back to something that was talked about yesterday, there was discussion about the deterioration of the human rights situation there under al-Sisi.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: And since the ban was lifted in March of military aid, I believe that the al-Sisi government is expected to receive $1.3 billion, second to only Israel in military aid from the U.S. Given this deterioration in human rights, is there any discussion of changing that policy?

MR TONER: So I would just say our relationship with Egypt is defined by both concerns about human rights as well as, I would say, our shared concern to fight terrorism and to fight ISIL. I don’t have any changes to announce in our bilateral security relationship. In March, the President did announce changes to U.S. military assistance to allow for or designed to channel more funds to meet some of these primary threats to Egypt’s security, and that includes terrorism and threats to its borders.

We believe countries that protect freedom of speech and assembly and encourage development of civil society are, frankly, best equipped to combat and defeat ISIL, and we regularly convey this message both publicly and privately to the Egyptian authorities. And any suppression of freedoms and certainly any human rights abuses certainly don’t make any country safer. So it’s a – it is a matter of concern. But as I said, the President made the decision, given our shared concerns about threats to Europe – Egypt’s security overall, to channel more funds to meet those threats.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MR TONER: Iraq. Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Some significant amount of corruption remains a predominant drain on the Iraqi Kurdistan’s economy, and there was a KRG delegation here in the U.S. about a week ago requesting for U.S. support as they tackle this economical crisis. My question is: What specific aids the KRG is now receiving in terms of providing their salary for their civil services? Has there been any promise given through the KRG officials here in the U.S. that the U.S. somehow would actually send them – send some financial support to actually come up with a solution for this economical crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan?

MR TONER: I don’t have any significant new assistance to announce in terms of the Kurdish region of Iraq. We are aware of some of these concerns. I mean, obviously, all of Iraq but certainly that region is under tremendous threat right now from ISIL. We would encourage greater focus on that fight, but obviously, we stand ready to look at offering what assistance we can in terms of support for Kurdish – for the Kurdish region.

QUESTION: Can we go to Israel?

QUESTION: Palestine-Israel?

MR TONER: Let’s do Israel and then I’ll get to you, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. Last week, Customs and Border Protection issued a reminder notice that products coming from the West Bank should be labeled as such. This has been reported widely in the Israeli media this evening as a new policy and as some kind of rebuke to Israeli settlement policy, and they specifically said that in some of the reports that it came from the State Department, though I understand the order itself came from Customs and Borders Protection. Obviously, I’ve asked them --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- but I’d like to give you an opportunity to respond to these reports.

MR TONER: Thanks. Thanks, David. Yeah. No, we – absolutely right that it was U.S. Customs and Border Protection who reissued guidance on their marking requirements. So this guidance was simply a restatement of previous requirements that the Customs and Border Protection has made clear that it in no way supersedes prior rulings or regulations, nor does it impose additional requirements with respect to merchandise imported from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or Israel. So there’s nothing new. This is simply a reissuance of guidance.

So why did they do this? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That was my follow-up question. Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. I’m guessing.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: Our understanding is that this is simply because of – there were allegations of mislabeling, but I’d have to refer you to the CPB for more information on that.

QUESTION: So let me just --

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this specifically?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: This law has generally been enforced very poorly or not at all for the last 20-odd years. Does this mean you’re going to actually enforce it, or are you continuing by restating it to restate your intention that this law exists but you’re not going to enforce it?

MR TONER: Again, I’d have to refer you to the CBP to talk about enforcement issues of the law.

QUESTION: So – and you said this was because of – who – I didn’t see these – who made these allegations? What did they – what did – what was the mislabeling? That Palestinians were mislabeling things, was Israeli – Israeli mislabeling things, is Palestinians? Explain it to me.

MR TONER: Sure. So I believe it was issued in response. I think there were a number of complaints – by a number, I mean around 9 or 10 complaints. I don’t know who the complainant – complainants were alleging mislabeling of products originating in the West Bank. As you know, U.S. guidelines don’t differentiate between products produced in settlements or anywhere else in the West Bank.

QUESTION: So --

QUESTION: Go on.

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just want to follow up because I still don’t understand. What is your position on, let’s say, what the Europeans have done last week and so on, that they – they’re saying that products made in West Bank settlements cannot be labeled as made in Israel. You are fine with that, because I think at the time, you spoke to it, correct?

MR TONER: Yeah, we did, yeah.

QUESTION: That position still remains?

MR TONER: And our position has not changed.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: All this simply is, is a restatement of existing requirements regarding labeling from the West Bank. And again, we don’t differentiate between settlements and the West Bank. We do differentiate between the West Bank – or, rather, settlements or anywhere else in the West Bank. We do differentiate. And again, this is something we talked about with respect to the EU labeling as well. This is – many countries around the world do this kind of labeling. It in no way represents a boycott or anything like that.

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: And we’ve said as much about the EU labeling as well.

QUESTION: I just don’t --

MR TONER: Yeah, I’m sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So these allegations – it’s unclear who did them --

MR TONER: I don’t – I can get more detail. That’s – my understanding is that there were allegations that it was mislabeling. I can --

QUESTION: Is this general – so if I say today, “I think Transnistrian products are going to the U.S. as made in Russia,” you’ll put out a notice from CBP on this now?

MR TONER: No, I don’t think it’s saying that at all.

QUESTION: Who – I mean --

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have the details on the complaints, so it’s hard for me and I don't know how much, frankly, I can share with you. I’d go to Customs and Border Protection to – for a little bit more granularity on what these complaints were, but obviously, they felt there was enough confusion that they needed to reissue the – rather, the requirements.

QUESTION: Okay. I just wanted to --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I have a couple more questions on the Palestinian issue --

MR TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- if I may. Today, there is a Palestinian journalist in prison held under administrative detention by the Israelis. No charge has been leveled against him in any way. He’s on a hunger strike. He’s about to die, basically. And I wonder if you have – if you are concerned, if you would caution the Israelis to either bring charges against him or release him, and that they cannot continue to hold him. Do you have a position on that?

MR TONER: You’re talking about --

QUESTION: His name is Mohammed Qiq.

MR TONER: He’s a Palestinian journalist?

QUESTION: A Palestinian journalist, yeah. In fact, he was working for a Saudi outfit, I think --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- a Saudi media outfit and has been held – he was in prison many times before but they keep putting him back in prison.

MR TONER: Sure. Said, I don’t have the details of his case in front of me, I apologize. I mean, certainly, we call for the humane treatment of any prisoner, and for due process in any kind of criminal case or charges brought against anyone. And we believe that the Israeli justice system is more than capable of doing so, but I don’t have the details in front of me. Sorry.

QUESTION: But in the name of freedom of press, you would urge the Israelis to release this reporter?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have the details. I don’t know what the specific charges are, so I’m hesitant to respond to whatever his situation is. I just don’t know. I mean, more – other than broadly saying that he should be treated humanely, and that obviously, anyone has the right to due process.

QUESTION: And finally, I wonder if you have a comment on this exchange between the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon and the Israeli prime minister over the – Ban’s statement on this continued occupation creates feelings of oppression and hopelessness and so on.

MR TONER: Well, I’m not going to wade into that exchange, as you can guess. We’ve stated many times there is no justification for terrorist attacks, and we strongly condemn any and all attacks on civilians. And – I’ll stop there.

QUESTION: Well, let me ask you about what he said.

MR TONER: Go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, do you agree with the secretary-general when he says that this occupation that has gone on for almost 50 years creates feelings of frustrations and hopelessness that maybe – may push some people to commit acts of violence and so forth?

MR TONER: Well, again, I said there’s – we believe there’s no justification for violence against civilians. What we’ve said before and what I’ll say again is that the status quo is not sustainable.

Please.

QUESTION: About the authorization for the use of military force against ISIL that Mitch McConnell put forward, do you have any concerns about it being effectively an international martial law declaration where the U.S. could take action anywhere with any number of troops and for any duration of time? Do you find anything concerning about this kind of authorization?

MR TONER: I haven’t looked at the draft legislation. I’m sure that we’re working with Congress. I’d also refer you to the White House on some of these issues, so I don’t have any particular comment to that. What we want to see, as in any case like this, is a robust debate within Congress, and we’re ready to look at any legislation once it passes.

QUESTION: It offers sweeping powers to the President. Do you think – would you like the next President of the U.S. to have such an authorization?

MR TONER: Again, without having it in front of me, without having studied it, I’m not going to offer a judgment on it.

Please.

QUESTION: Do you feel that this is a step to sort of augment the President’s strategy in the fight against ISIS, Mitch McConnell’s --

MR TONER: Look, again, this is something we’ve been back and forth with on Congress many times. It’s an ongoing discussion. What I think we want to see is, as I said, is a robust debate within Congress on the AUMF going forward. We would welcome that.

QUESTION: And in the absence of a different kind of authorization, is the Administration – would the Administration be inclined to accept this sweeping one?

MR TONER: Again, we’re looking into the legislation, working with Congress, but nothing to announce on that.

Please.

QUESTION: But the point is you still don’t think you need this anyways, right? You’re – you have a legal war as far as you’re concerned.

MR TONER: We believe we have legal justification, yes.

Please.

QUESTION: On North Korea. I know we talked about this a little bit yesterday, but the South Korean Government has essentially basically confirmed that the North Koreans are preparing for some type of missile test or the launching of a rocket. Do you have any update or comment on that?

MR TONER: I don’t. I mean, I can’t really speak to what we would regard as intelligence matters, so I don’t really have any other comment on that.

QUESTION: Do you have any concern that such provocative actions, as you call them, will continue to drive a wedge between the U.S. and China?

MR TONER: So I mean, I spoke about this yesterday, and the Secretary was just there, Deputy Secretary Blinken was just there. In both visits, we talked extensively about how we need to – or approaches we can take to get North Korea back to – into talks and to stop its provocative actions. We continue those discussions. We don’t agree on every point or every possibility or every step of the way, but we’re going to continue having those conversations. I don’t know if I’d call it a wedge. It’s among – we have a lot of issues in our relationship with China, and this is among them. It’s one, obviously, that affects the stability and the security of the region and of the Korean peninsula, so we obviously take it very seriously. But we’re going to continue those discussions.

QUESTION: Have you come up to any conclusion that – the nature of the test a few weeks ago? Is that a hydro bomb test or is it just a nuclear test?

MR TONER: No. I mean, we’ve said we do not believe it was a hydrogen bomb test, and our judgment at the time still stands.

Please.

QUESTION: And then --

MR TONER: Oh, go ahead. I’m sorry. Thank you.

QUESTION: -- there was some talk that today a Senate panel may vote on a legislation that was passed in the House regarding a tougher sanction against the DPRK. Would you support that – such legislation?

MR TONER: Well, I don’t – we don’t usually comment on proposed legislation. Certainly, we’ll look forward to working with Congress on a more vigorous response to North Korea’s actions.

Please, Michael.

QUESTION: I have a quick question on Sudan.

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead. I’m sorry, Michael.

QUESTION: Yeah. Very, very quickly. I don’t know if you saw this, but the Sudanese president today ordered the opening of the border with South Sudan. Is that something that you’re aware of, something that you --

MR TONER: I am aware of it. Obviously --

QUESTION: For the first time in five years.

MR TONER: I didn’t hear the last --

QUESTION: For the first time in five years they are opening the borders with the south.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: I mean, look – I mean, it’s a tentative step in the right direction. I don’t have any further comment other than we’ve seen this before. We hope that it marks, as I said, a step in – or a more positive direction.

Please, Michael.

QUESTION: Mark, yesterday you discussed the issue of Turkey buying oil from the terrorists.

MR TONER: Yep.

QUESTION: And I think there is a misunderstanding, because the – actually, the defense minister of Israel was the one who accused Turkey of buying oil from the so-called Islamic State. And it seems to me that the Israelis, they don’t believe you at all on this issue. And he used strong language – I guess Turkey. And if you allow me, I will read his quote from BBC here. Can I do that?

MR TONER: Sure thing.

QUESTION: Please. He said that Islamic State had “enjoyed Turkish money for oil for a very, very long period of time.” “It’s up to Turkey, it’s up to the Turkish Government, the Turkish leadership, to decide whether they want to be part of any kind of cooperation to fight terrorism. This is not the case so far. As you know, Islamic State enjoyed Turkish money for oil for a very, very long period of time. I hope that it will be ended.”

And my question is this: Can you show to the world the evidence you have that Turkey and the family of the Turkish president are clean on this matter? Do you have evidence on this?

MR TONER: Michael, I’d ask you the same question. Show me the evidence that they are in league with ISIL.

QUESTION: You can ask your allies, the Israelis.

MR TONER: We don’t agree with --

QUESTION: They accused the --

MR TONER: With all due respect to --

QUESTION: Yes, I understand.

MR TONER: With all due respect to our very strong alliance with Israel, we disagree on this.

QUESTION: But this is what their reaction is, that they --

MR TONER: Michael, I said this yesterday. I’ll say it again. We reject the premise that the Turkish Government is in league with ISIL to smuggle oil. We did a very extensive background briefing, and I’d refer you to that. I don’t have the date in front of me. We can get that for you.

QUESTION: I have that here.

MR TONER: In which a high-ranking State Department official spelled out, frankly, in very pragmatic and businesslike terms, why it made no sense, why we saw no evidence of this kind of allegiance. And I’ve said very clearly that doesn’t say that smuggling writ large doesn’t exist. But frankly, in terms of oil smuggling, what we’ve seen, what our intelligence shows us, is that ISIL, when it does refine oil, it sells it at the pump to various entities within Syria. It’s not – it doesn’t have a huge smuggling operation with Turkey or any other countries that we can see, and it doesn’t make good business sense, frankly.

QUESTION: But what you are saying is that the Israelis are lying, correct?

MR TONER: And what – I’m not saying that at all. They’re entitled to their opinion. I’m entitled to give you our opinion.

Please.

QUESTION: I previously asked you to what extent did the proliferation of terrorists in Libya surprise the Obama Administration. And from your response, I’ve got a sense that maybe it did not surprise U.S. officials. Correct me if I’m wrong. Looking --

MR TONER: No, I mean, look, it’s an odd question because, to be perfectly honest, terrorist groups are constantly morphing, changing. Terrorism is a – and terrorism in that region of the world is very difficult, but it is possible to do – to destroy it and to degrade it and to disrupt those networks. Frankly, we, the United States, with our allies and partners, have done a pretty good job doing that against al-Qaida, and we continue to degrade and we will ultimately destroy ISIL.

But when you’re asking whether we were surprised at the time, I think when you look at post-conflict Libya, anyone at the time would have said that you need to establish – and it’s not just post-conflict Libya. It’s any place where there is a transition after an autocratic regime, where you need to put in place some degree of governance, maintain security, all those things that need to happen and continue to need to happen in Libya. And that remains, on our part, within the State Department, a vital focus of our efforts in Libya – establish that central government so that we can partner with it on areas like security, on rooting out ISIL, on confronting some of these other terrorist groups that have taken root there – because that’s what they do. They seek out these ungoverned spaces. We’ve seen this time and time again in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Syria, and to establish footholds. So I mean, I --

QUESTION: Looking --

MR TONER: While no one can predict the future, I think it’s hard to say whether we were surprised or not. Terrorism and these terrorist groups are very good at doing that.

QUESTION: Looking back at 2011, did the Administration see it as a possibility that Libya could become a terrorist haven?

MR TONER: I feel like I answered your question – I’m sorry – to the best of my ability at least.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: Is that it, guys?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:56 p.m.)

DPB # 14


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Wed, 01/27/2016 - 18:57

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 27, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

2:12 p.m. EST

MR TONER: Hi, guys. Happy first day of the week – work week. (Laughter.) Hope everybody survived Snowzilla okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) for some people.

MR TONER: That’s right. Oh, very, very well put, Brad.

QUESTION: I assume the government folk were working. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: I can assure you I was logged in the entire time ready for action. Anyway, welcome back, everyone, including Lesley. And it is Wednesday, and welcome to the State Department. And I don’t have anything at the top, believe it or not, so I’ll take your questions.

Brad.

QUESTION: I had some follow-up questions on last week’s discussion about the Visa Waiver Program.

MR TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: But I’m thinking there may be more pressing global concerns than the travel plans --

QUESTION: Okay, then let’s start with – shall we start with Syria?

QUESTION: Please.

MR TONER: Sure, please.

QUESTION: As you, I’m sure, will have seen, the Syrian High Negotiations Committee has said that they’ve written to the UN and that they have a series of answers that they want before deciding whether or not to go to the UN-sponsored peace talks, and in particular, the things that they’ve talked about at least publicly include an end to the violence, release of prisoners. Are these, in your view, reasonable things for them to seek before going?

MR TONER: Sure. Not “Sure,” answer to your question, but let me answer that question.

So we’ve encouraged the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee to respond positively to Special Envoy de Mistura’s invitation. And as you know, Secretary Kerry met last weekend in Riyadh with the HNC to express our focus on the need for a political transition, a ceasefire, and a need to implement confidence-building measures including immediate humanitarian access to many of these hard-to-reach areas in Syria.

So we believe that the HNC delegation and the various factions of the Syrian opposition have an historic opportunity to go to Geneva and propose serious, practical ways to implement a ceasefire, humanitarian access, and other confidence-building measures and that they should do so without preconditions. We believe it should seize this opportunity to test the regime’s willingness and intentions, and expose before the entire world which parties are serious about a potential peaceful political transition in Syria and which are not.

QUESTION: Why --

MR TONER: Now – sorry, just a quick follow-up. But I don’t want to necessarily say that we don’t take the Syrian opposition’s call for humanitarian access and a ceasefire not seriously – that we don’t take them seriously. We do, in fact, take them seriously. Our only – my only point here, and our only point here is that the Syrian people are looking to this process and they need signs of hope that they’re not destined to live in conflict indefinitely. And frankly, Secretary Kerry had raised this very point when he spoke to the HNC last Saturday. The world is outraged by the dire situation in Madaya and elsewhere by the continued barrel bombing and airstrikes that destroy homes and hospitals and kill countless civilians. But there is an urgency to getting these talks started.

Go ahead, Arshad. I’m sorry for the long answer.

QUESTION: Why is it – why should they go without preconditions? I mean, if they are purporting to represent a group of people that are being shelled, bombed, barrel-bombed, starved, does it not seem to you that if they show up, they just lose credibility with all the people on the ground because they’re sitting in a hotel or somewhere in Geneva talking indirectly to the very people who are crushing the people they represent? Why do you think it is not reasonable for them to just – to hold out for something rather --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- than sit down with the people who have been – whom they’ve been fighting for five years?

MR TONER: Well, as I said, we do understand. We share the opposition’s belief that Assad must – and his regime must stop blocking food and humanitarian assistance and stop barrel bombing the Syrian people and attacking civilians. That goes without saying.

But we, the UN, the other members of the ISSG have set in place a process here that we believe can lead to a political transition, and we don’t want to delay the start of that transition. That’s not to say that any of these demands should be taken off the table, that they should be somehow put aside and not addressed. The pressure needs to be kept on the regime to, in fact, adopt some of these, as we said, confidence-building measures to take steps. But this is going to be a long process, and everyone – everyone – fully recognizes that it’s going to be a long and challenging process. We feel that it’s important to get that process going.

QUESTION: If you --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- can’t even – if the United States and the Russians cannot even get the Syrian Government to reduce the violence, to engage in talks, what on Earth makes you think that once the talks have begun, it will be possible to convince the government to reduce the violence?

MR TONER: Well, again – and just to talk a little bit about the process, I mean, these are – we’re talking about proximity talks. These are going to take some time. No one is expecting some kind of 180-degree turnaround on the part of anyone in a matter of days or even weeks. But when you get people talking back and forth, you can create some measure of negotiations and some measure of dialogue that we believe could – and no one’s predicting that it will – but could lead to some concrete steps on the part of the regime.

Look, I think also it’s very important to recognize that – and the regime needs to recognize this, and frankly, it’s up to Russia – and we’ve talked about this before – to convince the regime of this fact that there is no military solution to what’s going on in Syria right now. So they need a political process here. And I know there’s been reports of recent gains on the battlefield by the Syrian regime. They need to be disabused of the idea that there’s some kind of political or some kind of military way out for them.

Yeah, sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Why don’t you – if you – you said that you share the opposition demands. If so, why don’t you press the Syrian regime and Russia to implement some of these demands instead of pressing the opposition to go to Geneva?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, we’ve been doing both. I mean, to be perfectly honest, we have been. I mean, we don’t directly speak to the regime, but through the Russians. And the Secretary’s been on the phone multiple times over the long weekend – not long weekend for him, he was actually working the entire time – but he’s been on the phone multiple times with other members of the ISSG, but also with Foreign Minister Lavrov talking about the need for the regime to take these steps and – sorry.

QUESTION: Do you expect something to happen on the ground before Friday?

MR TONER: I can’t predict – I mean, obviously, we would welcome any kind of confidence-building measure going into the talks. Given that they’re two days away, I can’t predict anything at this point.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: One question on the Geneva II conference. The leader of the main Kurdish party in Syria, PYD, has said that he has not – or any member of his party has not been invited for that Geneva II. What is the U.S. take on that?

MR TONER: I apologize. The main?

QUESTION: The main Kurdish party in Syria, why hasn’t – why haven’t they been invited? What is your take on that?

MR TONER: So these were invitations that were issued by Staffan de Mistura. I’d refer you to him and to his party – or his group that – to the UN for the rationale behind who they invited. Obviously, there was a vetting, there was a meeting in Saudi Arabia for choosing the members of the HNC. I can say that in general, Kurds have been included in this entire process. They were represented in last month’s opposition conference in Riyadh, in fact, where some 115, 116 participants did establish the HNC. So I’m not sure – are you speaking specifically about --

QUESTION: PYD. I mean, the Kurds in general, but they are the largest party --

MR TONER: PYD. No, I understand. So the UN hasn’t announced its list of invitees or those extended in an advisory role, but our understanding is that the PYD will not be participating in the – in this week’s talks.

QUESTION: Your position as the U.S. Government, do --

MR TONER: It’s not our position. It’s – I’m just saying it’s our understanding.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR TONER: That’s my understanding at this point.

QUESTION: Do you believe they should have been invited? The Russians say they should be invited. Lavrov himself said that without the PYD, there will not be a, quote-un-quote, definitive resolution for the conflict in Syria.

MR TONER: Yeah, and I’ll just say that I understand there’s differing views and differing opinions on their inclusion or exclusion from the process. I’d just say we stand by the HNC, its current composition, and the choice by Staffan de Mistura to invite additional representatives also to participate in this process. We stand by the process thus far, how it’s chosen who represents the Syrian opposition.

QUESTION: Mark.

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: A couple of things. You said “no preconditions.” When did this become a guiding principle? I mean, I thought you had a meeting in Riyadh where you wanted all the opposition to accept the Vienna statement, then you wanted everyone to accept the UN Security Council – that’s a lot of preconditions so far. When did this new “no preconditions” start?

MR TONER: Well, again, what the Vienna statement did was codify a process in which we want both, or all, sides to participate in as a way to reach a political transition in Syria. And this week’s meeting is really the start of that between the two different sides – the regime and the Syrian opposition. So I guess what I’m saying is by saying we don’t want – and I’m – we don’t want these demands or preconditions – the ceasefire, end to barrel bombing, and also humanitarian access to some of these areas – to stand in the way of getting that process going. We understand that these are valid concerns, urgent concerns on the part of the Syrian opposition. We want to see movement on them as well, but we don’t want to see them stop this process from starting.

QUESTION: So talk for peace; don’t expect peace to happen before you even start talking, essentially?

MR TONER: Essentially.

QUESTION: And then you said you don’t expect anyone to change their position in days or weeks. Wasn’t it the goal of the U.S. to get a – what was it at the time? – a security committee and a transitional governing body by April, as part of its kind of vision of how this process would happen?

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: It’s not two or three weeks.

MR TONER: No, I agree. I agree.

QUESTION: It’s 12 weeks or 10 weeks.

MR TONER: No, I think – and de Mistura has spoken to this himself. This is the beginning of a process that’s going to span the course of – I mean, he put it several months, so that would put it on that timeframe. Of course, given the challenges, given the issues, that’s I think an optimistic assessment, but we need to get the process started. That’s why there’s an urgency here. There could be any number of things that will happen along the way in these talks that delay them further, so we need to keep the momentum up, and I think that’s the point here.

QUESTION: And then my question is very similar to Arshad’s. How important is it that something very quickly, even if it’s not a definitive agreement, some of these major things, these demands that were cited, are realized? I mean, you’re talking about opposition people who are going to be traveling for several months if this happens, and any day their kids, fighters, wives, whatever, could be killed.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: How important to you is it to get something very quickly to build confidence that --

MR TONER: Without defining “very quickly,” and just because these are negotiations and they’re starting as proximity talks, not direct talks – and this – again, I don’t mean to overstate it, but this, in and of itself, is a significant step forward if we get them to Geneva on Friday. But absolutely, I agree with you, it is important, and we’ve said this, that there are confidence-building measures, that there’s a need for a ceasefire, immediate humanitarian access. There’s any number of steps that can be taken that would help build on the momentum.

QUESTION: Mark?

MR TONER: Richard.

QUESTION: The British home office sent out a --

MR TONER: (Sneezes.) Excuse me.

QUESTION: -- statement criticizing the Syrian Government and Russia’s support around this area of al-Sheikh Miskeen, this town, and they’re saying that it would damage – it’s going to damage these peace talks, these – and you mentioned this too, these military advances, gains that the Syrian Government has made. Does – do these advances damage the peace talks? And what impact do they have?

MR TONER: Well, I did mention that, and I guess my answer would be we hope not. And we don’t want there to be this kind of – as I said to Arshad, this kind of belief among those in the regime that enough progress has been made or that they’re somehow winning on the battlefield that they feel that they don’t have to pursue peace talks. And again, just to disabuse them of the idea that there’s some kind of military solution to what’s happening in Syria.

And that’s something – again, these talks going forward is a little bit of a forcing mechanism. Russian officials have said, publicly and privately, that they agree that the only solution in Syria is a political transition. So we need to keep the momentum up. They need to exert what influence they have on the Assad regime to convince them that these talks need to continue.

QUESTION: So about the Russian role in this, they’re supporting these gains that the Syrian Government is making, and they’re specifically attacking opposition groups that they have said themselves are members of the opposition and not terrorists or ISIS or al-Qaida.

MR TONER: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: So is their role – how do you characterize their role? Or is the United States and Russia working towards the same goals here, or not?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think – to use a pretty hackneyed expression, but the proof is in the pudding. I mean, they have said publicly and privately that they support a political transition. That said, Russia’s invested years in keeping Assad and keeping his regime in power. It’s stepped up that investment, if you will, in the past months. And I would say its recent activities show once again that it’s more interested in bolstering Assad than fighting ISIL. But that said, they have been supportive of this process. They’ve been a vocal member of the ISSG, and so I think at this point, given that they are a significant stakeholder in this process, we need to take them at their word, we need to move this process forward and see what comes of it.

QUESTION: Mark --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: I have one more question. That no precondition advice that you gave to the Syrian opposition – that doesn’t seem to apply to Turkey, because it’s Turkey which has very openly said that if the PYD is included in the talks, we will not participate. Would that include – would that – would your advice go for the Turks as well?

MR TONER: Turkey is, as we’ve said, a member of the ISSG and a stakeholder in this process. They obviously have their concerns – very real and almost existential concerns about peace and stability in Syria because it threatens them directly. It’s on their border. They have their concerns. They’ve been very vocal about their concerns with this process as it moves forward. But the exclusion of the PYD, at least in this initial round of talks, was a decision taken by de Mistura and his people and it was – and it was partly a reflection of, again, these meetings to define the Syrian opposition and to basically choose who among the Syrian opposition would represent them going forward into these talks, and we respect that process.

QUESTION: Do you tell the Turks as well to have no preconditions?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to reveal or talk about what our conversations with the Turks – with the Turkish authorities are. I can say that we have very frank exchanges as befitting a NATO ally and a strong partner in this process.

QUESTION: So Mark --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: You described this process as – these negotiations as a test of the Syrian Government and the Russian support for this transition process, and I guess other parties involved also.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: And the – and at the same time, the Russians and the Syrians are providing additional support to the fight, or to their side of the fight. At what point does the United States decide that this test may be – that they failed the test and decide to increase – to increase pressure or change the balance of power on the ground in support of the people that the Americans are supporting?

MR TONER: Sure. I think that’s a very valid but also very difficult question to answer. I would say we’re still committed – strongly committed – to seeing this process move forward. We feel like, since really this process began and has taken shape throughout the autumn, that we have gathered a little momentum here, that we have moved the parties together in the sense of having these talks, and that we’ve got to keep that momentum going.

QUESTION: Mark, there’s been reports in the German press that German intelligence fears that the number of radicals heading into Syria has increased rather than decreased in recent months. How are we progressing with the Turks in sealing that border?

MR TONER: Sure --

QUESTION: And do you share this assessment that the inflows are continuing to rise?

MR TONER: Well, so I haven’t seen those particular reports, but we continue to work on the very complex and very difficult issue of foreign fighter flow. It’s clearly a matter of concern when you look at the terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere in December. And we’re working with Turkey on a variety of ways to increase the security along its border and to close off or seal that remaining 98 kilometers to ensure that ISIL can no longer use it to gain access to Syria, and vice versa. That was a key focus of Joint Chief of Staff’s Chairman Dunford’s visit to Turkey, and was obviously also a key part of – the Vice President was just there, and a key part of his trip as well.

We think it’s become harder. We think it’s gotten – they’ve strengthened the border, but clearly there’s still more work to be done. I just don’t have – if I get a response to that specific number, I’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: Okay. But it seems to have taken quite a lot of heavy lifting with very senior officials repeatedly going to Turkey to talk to them. They’re a NATO ally and they’re part of the coalition. Why does it take so much diplomatic effort to --

MR TONER: Well, I don’t know that it takes so much diplomatic effort. I think that – I mean, in some respects, yes, it’s only 98 kilometers, it’s a persistent problem, but we are absolutely convinced that Turkey understands the magnitude of the problem. Again, this affects – as they’ve seen with countless terrorist attacks on their own soil, this affects them as much as the rest of Europe and the rest of the world. So we’re absolutely convinced that they want to stop that flow of foreign fighters, that they need to seal off their borders. It’s a challenge, and we’re working with it. And I think it just reflects how seriously we both take the challenge.

Please.

QUESTION: Mark.

MR TONER: Michael.

QUESTION: Related to that, the Greek and Israeli defense ministers, they called on – yesterday they called on the Turkish Government to stop supporting terrorism. The Greek defense minister said the bulk of Islamic State oil and terrorist financing flows through Turkey. How does this square with your previous statements that the Turkish Government is not involved in these areas, terrorist financing activities or the oil trade?

MR TONER: Sure. Thanks for the question, Michael. We’ve addressed this on multiple occasions. And I would also point – I don’t have the document in front of me, but we actually did a background briefing with a senior State Department official who really walked through why this wasn’t a valid allegation or accusation to say that Turkey was actually smuggling ISIL or Daesh oil. It didn’t make, first of all, economic sense at all, but secondly, there was just no evidence to those allegations that there was some kind of high-level Turkish Government involvement in some oil smuggling. That just – we just have not seen any inclination to that, any kind of sign of that.

QUESTION: The Greek --

MR TONER: So we --

QUESTION: Well, they have it wrong? Sorry, go ahead.

MR TONER: So we disagree with that assessment.

QUESTION: Even if there’s no hard evidence, are you concerned about neglect facilitating this process? Do they need to crack down on extremists more and --

MR TONER: I mean, I think – look. First of all, as we all know, smuggling along that area or in that area is frankly centuries old. There’s established smuggling routes, and those are persistent and they’re difficult to squelch altogether. I just – and we, the United States, reject the premise that the Turkish Government is somehow in league with ISIL to smuggle oil. We just see no evidence to support that accusation.

QUESTION: But is it more they’re looking the other way, though, not necessarily in league?

MR TONER: I can’t – look, I can’t say that there’s no type of smuggling going – taking place along the border. There may well be. But it doesn’t make economic sense. It’s not how ISIL moves its commodity. And frankly, we’ve seen that ISIL has – the more prevalent practice is for ISIL to sell its oil at the wellhead, the point of production, in Syria and in Iraq, frankly. And the oil is sold directly to smugglers and middlemen and truckers rather than ISIL kind of engaging in some broad distribution network. It’s quite the opposite.

Please.

QUESTION: Follow-up. You talk about Vice President Biden’s visit, Mark.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Since the Vice President did not take any questions in Turkey, we are curious what exact – what kind of progress made regarding the 98 kilometers, but on the other side of the border is there some kind of agreement? Do you know who are going to do the work in that particular area?

MR TONER: When you say the other side of the border, you mean --

QUESTION: Oh, Syria. On Syrian part, where the ISIS is present.

MR TONER: So, first of all, on the Vice President’s – not to get too interagency here, but I would refer you to the Vice President’s office to talk in detail about his trip there. He did have, though, very good talks and spoke about the work that the U.S., that Turkey, and indeed the whole anti-ISIL coalition needs to do to destroy and degrade ISIL in Syria – that there’s been progress made, but there’s a heck of a lot more work that needs to be done, and we need to work more closely together to meet – to reach that goal.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Another question, the question many Turkish journalists are asking: Why the American officials, when they are together with the Turkish officials, for a number of years now, are not taking questions from the press?

MR TONER: Oh, gosh, I’m sorry. I don’t really know that – what decisions were made or – in terms of his press availability. A lot of that comes down to simple logistics, whether he’s – whether he or any official has the time to do a press availability when they’re on the ground in any given country. So I can’t speak to the details of the Vice President’s trip. I know with Secretary Kerry, we always try to carve out some time to do media availabilities. Sometimes those are shorter than other times, but we always try to work that in in some respect.

QUESTION: A number of European countries, but particularly Denmark, just passed a law which allows Danish authorities to seize valuables from migrants. I think there are similar laws not as rigid as this one. Do you have any position on this kind of laws?

MR TONER: I mean, really – you’re talking about the Danish law?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: I mean, I would refer you to the Danish authorities. I mean, there’s a number of things that countries in Europe – number of steps that these European countries are taking to deal with the influx of refugees and the impact that that’s having on the economy, on other aspects of life in these countries. It’s been an enormous – extraordinary, if you will – surge of refugees coming into Europe. I think what we’ve said all along is in dealing with this surge of – influx of – immigrants, rather, or migrants – refugees, rather; excuse me – refugees into Europe, that there needs to be a comprehensive approach to dealing with it, that all the countries that are dealing with this influx need to agree on how they’re going to deal with that and come up with a way to treat these refugees, many of whom are fleeing violence, fleeing persecution, in a way that is systematic but also humane and takes into consideration the dire circumstances that they’re both fleeing and then oftentimes landing into in these countries.

Please.

QUESTION: I have a couple different topics --

MR TONER: Go for it.

QUESTION: -- if we’re ready to move on.

MR TONER: Well, I – okay.

QUESTION: Well, first of all, the Clinton emails. Have you heard back from the judge on your request for more time for publication or are you planning to publish on Friday as (inaudible)?

MR TONER: So we have not heard back. You’re referring – sorry, just to set the context here – you’re referring to the court extension request that we submitted last Friday. We filed a motion in a Freedom of Information Act case and litigation, Leopold v. State, and that’s the case involving our monthly release for – of former Secretary Clinton’s emails. And we did, as you noted, ask for an extension – a one-month extension – to February 29th to finish our production of these emails.

To the – at this point in time, we’ve not received a decision on whether this extension would be granted. What I can say is that it’s our intention to move forward with another production of emails – former Secretary Clinton’s emails – on January 29th as planned, recognizing that we’ll – as we put forth in this motion, will not meet the deadline or the goal of producing the remaining emails. But we’re going to strive to produce as many documents as we possibly can, and I can assure you that the team working on this has worked long hours – they even came in this past weekend during the snowstorm to continue working on meeting the production goals. But we also recognize, for a number of reasons, that we’re probably not going to get there this month. We need an additional month.

QUESTION: Okay. And --

QUESTION: So (inaudible) will have some kind of release on Friday?

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Mark?

QUESTION: Just not complete?

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Mark?

MR TONER: Okay, this --

QUESTION: Change – I had a different one too unless there’s more follow-up on this question.

MR TONER: Anything on --

QUESTION: Yeah, on China.

MR TONER: Okay. Let’s finish your question --

QUESTION: Okay. My other --

MR TONER: -- and then I promise I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Sorry, my other question --

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: -- was also a technical one on the visa waiver issue.

MR TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: One of the things you said last week was that journalists and others were – could be waived by a case-by-case basis. You might have seen that, for instance, The New York Times bureau chief in Tehran had his – got word back that he now has to apply for a visa. So I’m wondering how this is really going to work with these waivers, and are you guys staffed up in London and Paris and elsewhere for lots of people requiring visas now?

MR TONER: Sure. So it’s a totally fair question. So a couple of thoughts to give you. One is that as the U.S. Government is working to implement this new law, travelers that may fall into any one of the waiver categories – as you mentioned, journalism is one of them – should apply for a visa at this time until implementation is complete.

And so where we’re working or what direction we’re working in now is we’re going to – the Department of Homeland Security, in fact, is working on updating the ESTA form that will be available in February. And once available, we do encourage travelers seeking an ESTA to use the enhanced system which will assist in making individual determinations on the potential granting of these waivers. And we’ve said before these are made on – these will be made on a case-by-case basis. But any travelers who believe they may fall into these waiver categories but who do have an immediate need to travel, we would encourage them to request an expedited visa appointment with their nearest embassy or consulate.

In terms of stepping up our support, we are in fact doing that in many if not all of our consulates and embassies throughout the Visa Waiver Program countries. And we’re obviously going to look at what the demand is and adjust accordingly, but we’re certainly looking at surging some of our capacity to deal with increased demand for visa appointments. And again --

QUESTION: You haven’t seen that yet, then?

MR TONER: Not yet, frankly. And again, what we’re – and what I tried to explain last week is it is – if you – there are advantages and disadvantages to visa waiver travel versus a visa. I mean, a visa is valid for 10 years versus a ESTA or – rather, a visa waiver travel, which I think is only good for a couple years, if that – 20 months.

If you’ve got – if you have a need to travel, urgent, and you think you fall into these categories, or you’ve received an email that you’re no longer eligible to travel via Visa Waiver Program, then please, we encourage these people to make nonimmigrant visa appointments. And again, we’re staffed up and ready to go to accommodate any influx that’s going to mean in our embassies throughout Europe mostly.

QUESTION: And have you heard anything about reciprocity from other countries or do you have any messages to Iranian Americans or Sudanese Americans or Syrian Americans about --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- whether they may face this kind of restriction?

MR TONER: On the question – first of all, on the question of reciprocity, we have not seen anything yet from any of the countries affected by the Visa Waiver Program or affected by this new legislation on – that indicates one way or another that there’s going to be any kind of reciprocity.

In terms of our message to so-called dual nationality citizens who may be affected by these changes, I think it’s recognizing that this may be an inconvenience – and I fully recognize that, we fully recognize that. But it’s important, I think, to keep focused on the big picture, and that is that this legislation in no way prohibits the travel to the United States of anyone, and what it does do is it makes an eligible certain – ineligible, rather, certain categories of travelers to come here via the Visa Waiver Program. But they are simply required to follow the normal visa application process. We’re staffed up and ready to accommodate these people, and we would encourage them to simply follow through with that process.

QUESTION: But just on a technical point, my visa is only valid for five years. (Laughter.) I think that’s how I visas work for journalists.

MR TONER: It’s because you’re a troublemaker (inaudible). (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That’s probably what it is. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Question: Why --

MR TONER: I have no idea, actually. It’s because of your --

QUESTION: It’s an --

MR TONER: -- journalists, and what category is it?

QUESTION: It’s a – I’m an I visa. I’m a visiting foreign correspondent.

MR TONER: See, that’s why.

QUESTION: Right.

QUESTION: So I have a follow-up on this. You announced last week that you were starting the implementation of the new law.

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: And you have said all along that it would be phased implementation.

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: And today you’ve just explained that you don’t actually have ready yet, and it won’t be ready until sometime in February, the new form that would allow people who have been informed that they – their ability to travel under the Visa Waiver Program using ESTA has been revoked, that if they need a visa, they should apply for one now because that form won’t be ready until next month sometime. Why didn’t you – just as a matter of efficiency and clarity, why didn’t the State Department implement all of this on a specific date certain so that everything would go into effect at the same time and you wouldn’t have had the BBC reporter who was told that they couldn’t travel and so forth? Why not, just as a matter of practicality, just say, okay, we’re going to do this starting April 15th? Or --

MR TONER: Right. So a couple of thoughts on that. One is that this was enacted mid-December and we were bound by law to begin implementing it. It was enacted by Congress. As – and it is – you mentioned the State Department, but this actually is an interagency effort, and a lot of the responsibility, frankly, for implementing it does lie with the Department of Homeland Security, which I did mention. And they’re the ones looking at how to recreate or revamp the ESTA form so that it reflects – and better reflects – the changes that this new legislation enacts. At the same time, I think in an effort to deal with the inevitable strain that this is going to cause on people, they – we set about – we, working with DHS, set about identifying those who would be affected by this right away, who fell into those categories of ineligibility. And we have taken steps to identify them through emails. That’s the idea of a phased approach.

I do agree that it can be somewhat confusing, and certainly we stand ready to answer questions and also provide as clearly as possible information to would-be travelers or those affected by this. And frankly, I do want to put on record – I can put on record the fact that there is a website now that does have all of this information available, and let me just give that on the record. I apologize, but it’s important, because you said there – as you put it, there is a lot of confusion about this. If you all visit – or anyone can visit travel.state.gov for detailed information about these changes as well as about the visa application process.

Arshad, I think we’re trying to the best of our ability to implement these changes to the legislation as quickly and efficiently as possible, as we are mandated by Congress to do; at the same time, make systemic changes that it requires to the ESTA form and other aspects of it. Is it causing inconveniences? Probably, but we’re working hard to address them.

QUESTION: When the new form is available in April, is it just a matter for us of ticking the box marked “journalist,” or will that then be --

MR TONER: You’re very concerned about – I’m joking with you.

QUESTION: Well, that – I have a number of colleagues who are going to be inconvenienced by this.

MR TONER: It is – so I don’t want to preview what it’s going to look like, and frankly, I don’t know what it – it’s going try to --

QUESTION: But is it just our declaration that we’re journalists, or do you then have to go and check that we’re not lying?

MR TONER: I’d have to refer you to DHS on what this thing’s going to look like.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: My sense is that it will try to, in a very user-friendly way, try to clarify what might apply to you or how you may apply for these exemptions or whether you apply – these exemptions apply to you, rather.

Please.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MR TONER: Can we move from visa waiver? Thank you. I know I have to get back to you. I promise, I haven’t forgotten.

QUESTION: This is a follow-up to something from last week. Now that the CDC has issued interim travel guidance for countries in the area that is affected by the Zika virus --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- do you have any guidance to issue to Americans about their travel there or Americans who live in the affected area?

MR TONER: Sure. And apologies – correct me, is it Zika or Zika? I don’t --

QUESTION: Zika, sorry.

MR TONER: Zika. It’s okay, I just didn’t know. I didn’t want to mispronounce it. That’s okay. I can say that the department is monitoring the evolving situation very closely. We are obviously in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We’re also in contact with the Government of Brazil, which has been probably the most impacted country, as well as others throughout the region. The CDC did issue updated guidance on Zika on January 26th, and we refer you to the CDC for additional technical information on the guidance.

Obviously, the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas is top priority for the State Department. And through our consular information program, we’re – we’ll provide U.S. citizens with up-to-date information about security abroad and other aspects of their travel abroad so they can make well-informed decisions. And we’re also, in terms of – we’ve also reviewed, rather, the Center for Disease Control’s information regarding the Zika virus and we’re going to provide links to the updated information in our country-specific information pages.

There’s a lot of, obviously, concern about the impact of this virus not just in Latin America or south – southern – South America, rather, but frankly, throughout the Western Hemisphere. I think we all need to do our best to provide as quickly and as easily as possible good, solid, credible information so that travelers can make good decisions about their travel.

QUESTION: Mark – Turkey --

MR TONER: Sorry. Please.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Mark.

MR TONER: This is – but I’ll get back to you, I promise.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mark. On Secretary visit to China --

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: -- and he had meeting with Xi Jinping – President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

MR TONER: It was quite a day, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And the Secretary Kerry mentions that he has not successfully reached agreement for more strong sanctions on North Korea. Can you tell us more about what is the difference view of – difference of views between U.S. and China for the sanctions against North Korea?

MR TONER: Well, and I would refer you to the press availability he did after his – I guess it was his meeting with Foreign Secretary Yi earlier today. He – the Secretary was very clear, saying it was probably the issue that topped their agenda was North Korea and the issue that they spent the most time talking about. We do, obviously, agree that North Korea’s behavior, most recently through its attempted test of a hydrogen bomb last month, is reckless, is dangerous for the security and stability of the Korean Peninsula and, frankly, the region. And so it’s – there’s an urgency there to convince the government to change its current course of action.

And I think that they – they being the Secretary and the – his Chinese counterparts – had a good, thorough, substantive discussion about the ways that we can do that. I think that there was agreement on the need for meaningful steps to get to the goal of North Korea returning to talks. And there was a lot – a little back-and-forth about sanctions being a means to an end, and that end should always be a return to Six-Party Talks. But sanctions are, frankly, one of our most effective tools to convince them of that.

QUESTION: Did you say “attempted test of a hydrogen bomb last month”?

MR TONER: We never, I think, verified that --

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: -- that it was. In fact, we --

QUESTION: Right. I thought you just used the word “attempted.” Did you or did I mishear?

MR TONER: I did. Was that – did I misstate? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: No, no. I thought you said “attempted.” And the reason I’m asking about it is that my understanding was the Administration has always said that it wasn’t a – that your understanding was it was a conventional atomic bomb, not a hydrogen bomb.

MR TONER: Right. That’s why I said – they, in fact, came out and said – if I mischaracterized that or – it was unintentional.

QUESTION: No, no --

MR TONER: I was just trying to simply say that they claimed it was the test of a hydrogen bomb.

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: We said otherwise, yes.

QUESTION: Yes. But you’re not – I guess my question is whether you believe that they were in fact attempting to test a hydrogen bomb, or not; if you believe they were just doing an ordinary non-hydrogen bomb.

MR TONER: I mean, unclear to us. They stated afterwards that they thought it was – or that they – it was a hydrogen bomb test. We said otherwise. We were unconvinced --

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: -- that it was that for a variety of scientific reasons. But in any case, it was a reckless and dangerous action.

QUESTION: But by saying --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- “their attempted test,” are you conveying that you believe that that was indeed what they were trying to do? Or are you just saying that that’s what they claimed they were trying to do.

MR TONER: That’s what they claimed.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

QUESTION: Mark, the --

QUESTION: On South China Sea?

QUESTION: On this issue --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) even finished yet.

MR TONER: Sorry, sorry. Just really quickly. So just to finish, so – sorry, we – and so I think we both agree that one of the key ways forward, key path forward is through the UN Security Council. And we’re going to continue to work with China in that process.

Sorry --

QUESTION: So the Chinese have said that they might be – I think they’ve said that they’re open to the idea of a resolution, but not sanctions at the Security Council. And you’re saying that there need to be some ways to pressure North Korea to change its behavior and to return to the Six-Party Talks. Other than sanctions, what are the options?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, there’s – I don’t want to necessarily lay out all the tools, but sanctions are frankly a very potent tool, as we’ve seen with Iran. And we believe that, if necessary, sanctions can be strengthened. But again, I think the important point here is that there is agreement between us and China that North Korea needs to change its ways.

QUESTION: Yeah, follow-up. Last week, the South Korean President Park Geun-hye recommend the five-party talks instead of Six-Party Talks. How do you – U.S. think about this suggestion?

MR TONER: We’ve seen those comments. I mean, five-party talks are a chance for the – those of us who agree on North Korea’s behavior and the need to persuade it or to get it to change its ways. Occasionally do need to get together and talk about this. We do this all the time. We consult bilaterally, multilaterally with the other members of that mechanism on ways to confront and to get North Korea to change its ways. So we would support that dialogue going forward.

Please.

QUESTION: Taiwan?

QUESTION: It’s on North Korea.

QUESTION: Taiwan?

MR TONER: Let’s get Taiwan and South China Sea.

QUESTION: Yeah. The president of Taiwan, the President Ma, is going to travel to Taiping Island. And what’s the U.S. comment on it?

MR TONER: Sure. Hold on one second, please.

QUESTION: Sure.

MR TONER: You’re talking about – yeah, President Ma Ying-jeou’s plans to travel to Taiping Island, I think. Frankly, we’re disappointed. We view such an action as unhelpful, and it does not contribute to the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea. We urge Taiwan and all claimants to lower tensions and de-escalate tensions rather than taking actions that could possibly raise them.

QUESTION: Follow-up.

QUESTION: But even during the China build the rock, the U.S. don’t even use the wording like “disappointed” and “unhelpful.” Why this time the U.S. pick up these two wording on Taiwan? Is it fair enough for all the claimant?

MR TONER: Well, look. I’m not going to – we’ve been very clear that we disagree with China’s actions in terms of manmade structures on the islands. We view them also as unhelpful and that they don’t lead to a peaceful resolution of the disputes over the South China Sea. We want to see a halt among all claimants to further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, militarization of outposts. All of that would help lower tensions and create space for a peaceful resolution.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Will it further U.S.-Taiwan’s relation?

MR TONER: I’m not aware that we had a conversation with them. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: Will it affect the U.S. and Taiwan’s relation?

MR TONER: Will affect our --

QUESTION: Yeah. How will it affect --

QUESTION: We have very strong relations with Taiwan. Sometimes we disagree on their actions. We’re committed to a “one China” policy. We look forward to the incoming president and building stronger relations with Taiwan. But we disagree on this particular act.

Please.

QUESTION: Yeah, Mark, the – you used some of the harsh words on President Ma’s trip to the Taiping Island. But Taiping is the largest natural island in the South China Sea the Republican of China has claimed since 1946 and has occupied since 1956. Why can’t he do that? Taiwan is probably the last party to want to raise tension in the South China Sea. But it has a voice that it wants the international community to hear. When you have – when you consult on the South China Sea, when you discuss the disputes in the South China Sea, Taiwan is never a party to be invited to the table. For instance, Secretary Kerry talked about a diplomatic approach to the disputes in the South China Sea in Beijing today. Would the United States make sure that Taiwan would be invited to the table as a party to the diplomatic approach? Thank you.

MR TONER: So – sure. I can’t speak to whether we would invite Taiwan to take part in any diplomatic conversations, except to say that – and to address your first part of your question, which is why not have its voice be heard by traveling to Taiping Island. Taiwan is – or rather, President Ma Ying-jeou has every right to make his position clear on the South China Sea. We just disagree with this particular action. We view it as – frankly, as raising tensions rather than what we want to see, which is de-escalation. We do want to see dialogue. We welcome all voices in the region weighing in in that dialogue. And it’s only through, as we’ve said many times, a diplomatic mechanism that we can successfully resolve the South China Sea.

Taiwan is a valued partner. We do have a strong dialogue with them and we’re going to continue to listen to their concerns and reflect their concerns in the various fora that address this issue.

QUESTION: Follow-up?

MR TONER: Please, follow up. Let’s finish this and then --

QUESTION: Last one.

MR TONER: Are you on this too?

QUESTION: In the region.

MR TONER: Okay. Cool.

QUESTION: Thanks. I mean, the point is Taiwan has long been excluded from the dialogue among the claimant of the South China Sea, and since the United States discourage President Ma from visiting the island, what would you encourage the Government of Taiwan to do as a claimant of the South China Sea?

MR TONER: Well again, I mean, I’m not going to list the steps that Taiwan or the Taiwanese Government should take and dictate to it in any way, shape, or form. I’m just saying that this particular action, we view as unhelpful.

Please.

QUESTION: I was wondering if there’s any update on the case of an American woman from Texas who’s being held in China – Sandy Phan-Gillis. I believe we heard about her last in September, and I was wondering if the Secretary brought up her case during his recent trip to China.

MR TONER: I’m not sure. I don’t believe I have an update on that particular case. I’m aware of the case, obviously. I can take the question. We – on her particular case, as to whether the Secretary raised it – I mean, we raise human rights. We raise the welfare of our American citizens detained abroad, and with multiple governments and multiple occasions, and certainly we have those kinds of frank discussions with China all the time about human rights. I’ll check on that as well.

QUESTION: Back on North Korea?

QUESTION: Turkey?

MR TONER: Back on North Korea. Okay. Let’s finish North Korea straight up, and then we’ll go to Turkey again.

QUESTION: Thank you. There are reports that North Korea is preparing a new missile test. Do you have any update or report on that? Do you know if --

MR TONER: No, I don’t. I mean, it’s a very opaque regime there, so obviously there are some indicators, but I can’t speak to those.

QUESTION: (Inaudible)?

QUESTION: Do you know if that has at all been – has influenced the discussion in Beijing between Secretary Kerry and his counterparts?

MR TONER: Oh, whether there’s – I mean, look, there’s always – as we saw with the test last month, there’s always the threat that they’re going to take these kinds of provocative actions. So I think there’s always a sense of urgency because of that.

Please.

QUESTION: I have one on North Korea.

MR TONER: And then I --

QUESTION: It’s quick. North Korea announced North Korea seized a U.S. citizens, one student. Do you have any information on that?

MR TONER: You’re talking – I’m sorry, you said the American --

QUESTION: U.S. citizens.

MR TONER: The American citizen?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: Hold on one second. I don’t have much new to say. I know we are aware of media reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea. I don’t have any particular information about that. We obviously don’t have a Privacy Act waiver which would allow us to reveal more details. In cases where U.S. citizens are detained in North Korea, we rely heavily on our Swedish embassy, which is our protecting – the Swedish embassy, which is our protecting power in North Korea, and try to reach out through them for consular access.

Thanks.

QUESTION: Can I have some quick ones?

MR TONER: Sure. Can I just do Nike --

QUESTION: Please.

MR TONER: -- who had her hand up and then I promise I’ll (inaudible).

QUESTION: Sure, please. Sure, sure.

QUESTION: I have a couple of different topic if it’s okay. First on Russia, near the U.S. embassy in Moscow, there is a poster hanging very – kind of hostile to President Obama. I would like to get your stand on that.

MR TONER: You said a poster hanging near the embassy that’s hostile to --

QUESTION: It said – report say President – calling President Obama a killer, it’s a laser projection, and there is a poster hanging across the street from the U.S. embassy in Moscow. I wonder if you have any stand.

MR TONER: I mean, I guess freedom of speech is freedom of speech no matter where, but we obviously would object strongly to any characterization of our President in such a way.

QUESTION: And another topic about freedom of speech and human rights in Egypt. I wonder if you have anything on the fifth anniversary of the uprising, and also reports that hundreds of Egyptians were forced to disappear as a new security crackdown widens.

MR TONER: The second part of your question I’ll answer first. We are aware of these reports. We would note with concern the stark deterioration in respect for freedom of expression, association, and press in Egypt over the past weeks and months, including the arrests of journalists and civil society activists and the intimidation of social media users, and we continue to have very frank discussions with the Government of Egypt about our human rights concerns.

More broadly on the anniversary – the upcoming fifth anniversary of the Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt, the U.S.-Egyptian relationship is in many ways built on common interests such as combatting terrorism. And as we’ve learned ourselves and learned in many countries, to eradicate violent extremism, it’s critical to strengthen the ties of trust between the state and the public and enable those who are critical of official policies to find means of voicing their dissents – their dissent peacefully. And so in this sense, realizing the desires, the aspirations, the ideals for which Egyptians spoke out five years ago would be not only the right thing to do; it’s absolutely vital to our shared interests.

So, as I said with regard to your previous question, we’re concerned about what we’ve seen as a deterioration in respect for freedom of expression in Egypt.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Same subject, different country: Turkey, freedom of speech --

MR TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: -- and freedom of the press. Just today, an indictment against the Turkish journalists – editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyetnewspaper --

MR TONER: Yeah, I’m aware of it.

QUESTION: -- Can Dundar and the Ankara rep Erdem Gul revealed. And the indictment is asking two times the prison – in prison and plus 30 years in prison. What’s your take on this indictment?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, we’re obviously very troubled by the reports. You’re talking about Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dundar – Can Dundar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul, as you said, seeking life imprisonment. We said before the extraordinarily harsh criminal charges, pretrial arrest, and now the prosecution’s call for life sentences raise serious concerns about Turkey’s commitment to fundamental principles of freedom of expression, of democracy, of due process, and judicial independence. So we call on Turkish authorities to ensure that all individuals, all organizations, including but not limited to the media, are free to voice a full range of opinions and criticism in accordance with Turkey’s constitutional guarantees of media freedom.

QUESTION: Just one more on that.

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Apparently, those journalists – everybody can’t be certain, including journalists, it’s obvious, but these journalists are in jail while they are asking for life imprisonment. And also Vice President Biden seen one of Can Dundar’s family when he was here and he said that your father is a courageous man. So right after Vice President left Turkey this indictment and asking for imprisonment, is there another additional angle you see right after Vice President left Turkey and meeting with the family and same people are rotting in jail?

MR TONER: Yeah. I would hope not. We obviously have very – as I said, Turkey’s a NATO ally. It’s a democracy. It’s a friend. It’s a partner. We have these kinds of conversations with Turkey about the quality of its democracy and we’re going to continue to raise these kinds of issues as we move forward. We’re not going to shy away from that – those kinds of discussions. So I would hope there’s no link.

Please, Arshad, yeah. Yeah, no worries.

QUESTION: There’s a UN panel of experts that has issued, I think, a 51-page report about Saudi – the Saudi-led coalition’s activities in Yemen. It says, as I understand it, that it believes that the Saudi-led coalition has been targeting civilians and civilian facilities, and it cites 119 sorties that it regards as having violated international law. Do you have any comment on the panel of experts’ report in particular and in general on the now multiplying allegations that the Saudi-led coalition has done a lot of violence to a lot of civilians in that country?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, with regards to the UN panels of experts’ report, we’ve seen media reports. Apparently, this is a leaked UN panel or UN report, so it hasn’t been published yet. It hasn’t been released to the public. I’m going to wait till it’s released publicly to comment on its contents except to say that, clearly, we’re always concerned about serious allegations of abuse. We take these kinds of accounts very seriously, and the loss of civilian life in any conflict is tragic, and we call on all sides in the – of the conflict in Yemen to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the obligation to distinguish between military objectives and civilian objects, and to take all feasible actions to minimize harm to civilians.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that one?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Have you taken, has the Administration taken any legal advice as to whether, given your support for the Saudi-led coalition, whether you might be accomplices in these alleged crimes?

MR TONER: I couldn’t speak to any implications for us. I just don’t have that legal analysis in front of me. And I would also just say --

QUESTION: Would you support a Security Council --

MR TONER: Sure --

QUESTION: -- investigation into these allegations?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think we would call on all parties to uphold their international obligations, and that includes Saudi Arabia. I can’t speak to any UN Security Council investigation at this point. Let’s wait for the UN panel report to be released.

QUESTION: And last one for me: Do you have any updates on the fate of Siamak Namazi, the U.S. citizen reported to be in prison in Iran who is not among the prisoners who were recently released?

MR TONER: I do not. I’ll check on that. I’ll get back to you. I’ll take that question.

Is that it, guys?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:19 p.m.)

   


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 21, 2016

Thu, 01/21/2016 - 18:46

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 21, 2016

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TRANSCRIPT:

2:08 p.m. EST

MR TONER: There’s an odd void in this part of the room. But I’m sure this side of the room will make up for it. Welcome to the State Department, everyone. Happy Thursday, as we’re less than – I guess not less than 24 hours before the – this epic blizzard that’s supposed to hit. My kids, at least, are excited about it.

Very good. Just a few things to read at the top, and then I’ll take your questions. First of all, upcoming travel. Secretary of State Kerry will travel to Canada, to Quebec City, Canada in fact, on January 29th for the North American Foreign Ministerial Meeting. Secretary Kerry will meet with Foreign Minister Stephane Dion of Canada and Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu of Mexico in a trilateral setting to advance our shared economic security and political agenda regionally as well as globally. And Secretary Kerry will also, of course, while he’s there conduct separate bilateral meetings with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts.

QUESTION: Is that just a day trip?

MR TONER: It is a day trip, in my understanding. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: A long day trip, but a day trip, and probably a cold one as well.

Turning to China, the United States is concerned about the growing number of people in China recently – also including European citizens – who appear to have been coerced to confess to alleged crimes on state media, often before the commencement of any trial or the announcement of any charges. Some of these people have not been afforded legal or consular representation, and there are also instances in which foreign nationals appear to have been brought to mainland China against their will and by extra-legal means. These actions undermine China’s claim to be a rule of law society and run contrary China’s human rights commitments and hinder its attempts to build a more transparent and effective justice system.

And on that, I will take a – take your questions.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can we start with – can we start with Syria?

MR TONER: Sure. Of course. Syria? Okay. Sorry.

QUESTION: To start with, yesterday you held out the possibility that the talks might slip by a day or two. The Secretary now has also held out that possibility. When do you think these talks will actually begin?

MR TONER: Well, I think – and I at least tried to convey this yesterday. We don’t think this is going to be a significant delay, if there is one. I think the Secretary said, “no fundamental delay in the process.” And I think that’s our expectation, that if this slides a couple of days, certainly that’s acceptable. But we want to see the talks continue.

QUESTION: We have a diplomat saying that the outside deadline now for holding the talks is January the 29th. Is that correct? Friday, at the end of the week?

MR TONER: I don’t know if there’s a new date certain. Again, I think our expectation – and the Secretary said as much – is a couple of days here and there doesn’t matter. But we want to see, obviously, the talks continue. But I don’t want to pick a new date.

QUESTION: And then there are – there was a report in Al-Watan newspaper suggesting that the Russians have proposed that they name half the Syrian opposition delegation. Is that an accurate representation of their position? And regardless of whether it is or not, is it remotely acceptable to the United States that Russia could pick half of the Syrian opposition delegates?

MR TONER: So in answer to the first part of your question, I’d have to refer you to the Russians to characterize what they may – or may have raised in terms of the Syrian opposition representation. I would just say that the Secretary did discuss generally the composition of the Syrian opposition with Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday. We feel that last month’s conference in Riyadh brought together a broad, representative group of the opposition. And the results of this conference, including the creation of the High Negotiating Committee, should be respected as the opposition prepares for the political transition negotiations under UN auspices.

QUESTION: Should the Russians or the United States or any one country get to pick any of the delegates here?

MR TONER: Again, I just – I think that what we’ve had so far is a process by which the Syrian opposition has chosen, by its own accord, a very broad and representative body to go into these negotiations, and we should respect that.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on statements by Staffan de Mistura. He said that the Saudis are basically obstructing his efforts. And I mean, I know de Mistura is a very reserved diplomat, not – sort of does not have propensity for hyperbole. So when he says that, he must be quite frustrated. Do you get that feeling? Are you talking to the Saudis about their effort to obfuscate his efforts?

MR TONER: So first of all, I’m – I’ve seen reports of his comments that came out of a closed session of the UN Security Council, so I can’t speak to their veracity or even the content. I can say that we have worked, obviously, closely with the Saudis. In fact, the Secretary met with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir last week in London and talked a lot about this process and this meeting, this upcoming – these upcoming talks, rather, with him and about the composition of the Syrian opposition, as we continue to, obviously, talk to other members of the ISSG, this Syrian support group. But we recognize that all these various stakeholders are going to have different criteria, different priorities in terms of how this opposition group is represented. But as I just said to Arshad, we feel that the process, the Saudi-led process that led to the creation of this HNC, this High Negotiating Council, is legitimate, it’s broad, it’s representative, and we think it should move forward.

QUESTION: But do you feel – I mean, independent of that article in Foreign Policy, I can assure you that there’s a great deal of talk that the Saudis are being quite difficult, to say the least. Are they allowed too much latitude, perhaps, to how these negotiations must go or should go and so on, and in the process – and basically hold back any chances to move forward with any kind of resolution?

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, a couple thoughts on that, Said. One is, again, we can shine a light on the Saudis, on the Russians, on whoever within this group of stakeholders. But the fact is is that we’ve been very candid from the beginning of this process that there are a lot of different viewpoints contained by – in this group of stakeholders. And that’s part of this process. We need to reach consensus. We can’t let the opinions of one or another of these stakeholders hold back the process. It’s not identifying one or the other as an impediment moving forward, not at all. But we need to work together within this group in order to keep this process on track.

The second part of your question – I’m sorry, I forgot.

QUESTION: The second part of my question – maybe they are given a great deal of latitude to basically have a “yay” or “nay” sort of speak on how these things move forward.

MR TONER: Well, again, the Saudis have been a strong partner in this process. The Secretary’s consulting with them regularly moving forward, as he is with Russia, as he is with other members of this group.

QUESTION: But their insistence – that’s my last question --

MR TONER: No, no. That’s okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- their insistence on, let’s say on including, Jaysh al-Islam, for instance, as – to be represented in these talks, a group that, except for you guys, everybody else considers to be a dangerous terrorist organization.

MR TONER: Right. But again, the Syrian opposition, the High Negotiating Council – or Committee, rather – they’ve chosen their representatives for these talks. It’s our belief or our conviction that these talks should move forward with that broadly representative group.

Please, Barbara.

QUESTION: If the Syrian opposition decides to boycott, as some have said they would, would that be in the U.S. view – would that mean that the talks wouldn’t go ahead? Because the Russians have been quoted as saying if the Syrian opposition boycotts, there’s a second group that would be – that they’ve chosen or that they’ve agreed on that would come and sit there.

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, look, there’s been a lot of – as you say, a lot of conjecture in the press, some comments made about preconditions for talks. I don’t want to get ahead of these talks. It’s all hypothetical right now. What we really want to do is to see these – see the Syrian opposition, as well as representatives of the Syrian regime, get together in Geneva so that this process can begin. We believe there’s an urgency here. I know some of the comments that have been made about delaying the talks or preconditions for the talks based on humanitarian access or access for humanitarian assistance. All of those are clearly priorities. Secretary Kerry has made this point multiple times in his conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov, that humanitarian assistance access must be given for some of these communities within Syria that have been basically cordoned off by the regime.

But that said, there is an urgency to this process going forward, to put a political process in place, to put a ceasefire in place. That will, frankly, give hope to the Syrian people and give momentum to what is a long-term solution to the problem there.

QUESTION: And is – Mr. Kerry seems to have just mentioned that the parties wouldn’t meet face to face. Can you give us any more details about that? He said proximity talks.

MR TONER: Yeah, I think he said at the beginning that they might be, and I frankly don’t know whether he said definitively or not. That’s really Staffan de Mistura’s call, if you will, working the – because he’s really leading this process, this UN-led process – but that they could be proximity talks, which is somewhat understandable given the grievances between the two sides.

Please.

QUESTION: You --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) shuttle between them?

QUESTION: Can you --

MR TONER: I don’t know what the physical – how this would work or the physical process. Again, I’d refer you to de Mistura.

Please.

QUESTION: That’s what I was going to ask, for some clarification on proximity, like would there be representatives of the representatives, kind of?

MR TONER: I mean, traditionally, proximity talks would be, yes, when there would be someone – a neutral third party, if you will – who went between the two groups. But again, I don’t want to lay that out because I don’t know, frankly.

We’re done?

QUESTION: Different subject?

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: I would like to go to the very popular email subject just for a little bit here.

MR TONER: Ever popular, evergreen.

QUESTION: Right. I was hoping that you could give us an update on the status of the interagency FOIA review, if you have a number of how many instances of classification have been flagged by the intelligence community thus far, how’s that process of kind of reconciling those differences going, just kind of in general terms. And then I have some more specific questions.

MR TONER: Sure. Well, in terms of specific numbers, I mean, I think you know the global numbers that we’ve talked about in terms of documents released overall. I think we’ve talked about a large amount of material, obviously, some 55,000 pages that have been released or will be released ultimately. And we’re focused on that process. We continue to work closely within – or with, rather, our interagency partners and – and on this process of clearing these – this mass amount of documents and through the FOIA process. But – and that work continues. I mean, we’ve done – made enormous strides over the past several months, but there’s obviously still a good number of documents, although we’re in the final tranche, I think, of them. But we’re committed to meeting those commitments.

QUESTION: As these instances of, I guess, potentially classified information are found, though, and flagged and kind of gone through further review in the process, are – is the State Department getting to where those have mostly been resolved, and will they be settled in time for everything to be released by the 29th?

MR TONER: Well, I don’t want to definitively say today, because as you know, given the enormous amount of work to be done in clearing these emails for release, for public release through the FOIA process, we have had to push deadlines out a little bit. So I can’t say definitively today that we’ll meet the next deadline for the release of the next tranche of emails. But I can assure you that the team working on this is working nonstop, full stop – 24/7, if you will – on trying to get through these documents.

In terms of classified documents, I mean, we continue to work with the interagency. And I spoke a little bit about this yesterday. The intelligence community has always been a part of this review process. And in fact, last July we directly brought them in, brought a team from the IC into our review process in order to review the full collection of Secretary Clinton’s emails. So this is a natural dialogue that takes place in this review process, not particular to this set of emails. Obviously, this is a high-profile FOIA case, but it’s not unusual for – when we’re looking at processing these FOIA requests that there’s going to be disagreement or discussion, I guess, rather, between various agencies over what might or might not need to be classified. And we’re working through that. We’ve worked through it already in a number of cases and we’re going to continue to work through that as we get through this final tranche of emails.

QUESTION: But can you characterize those emails that have been flagged for further review? Is it a large batch? Is it – I mean, how would you characterize the numbers if you can’t give a specific number?

MR TONER: I don’t want to necessarily say it’s a large batch. I don’t have numbers certain. All I can say is that we take, obviously, this review process very clear – or very seriously, rather, and as well as our obligation, our responsibility, as needed, to classify any material that is deemed eligible for classification. And we’ve done this already, upgraded a number of emails in that regard. But I don’t – I just don’t have a number or a specific number, an accurate number I can give you today on what might still be out there.

QUESTION: But if you can’t come to terms with the intelligence community or with any particular agencies on a specific email, what happens to that email? Is it – I mean, is it just not released? Is it redacted in full? What happens if those are irresolvable?

MR TONER: It’s a good question and a fair one. I think our expectation is that we’ll resolve all these discussions. And again, I don’t want to necessarily couch this in terms that there’s some kind of conflict. We’re just working with our colleagues in the intelligence community to address their concerns, as we do with other members of the interagency, as we review these emails. There’s also other emails that touch on other equities within the interagency. That’s a part of the review process. We’ve gotten through this before with this particular FOIA process and with other FOIA processes, and we’ll get through it this time.

QUESTION: Aside from this particular case, is it common for agencies to disagree so fundamentally on whether something is or isn’t classified?

MR TONER: I think so, and we’ve talked a little bit about this throughout this particular process, that classification is not an exact science. It’s not a black and white kind of thing. There are differing viewpoints over what should be classified and how the same information can be obtained in different ways and through different modes. And that’s always, again, a discussion we welcome. We want to have that, because as I said before, ultimately our responsibility here is not to put out anything that should be upgraded or should be deemed classified. And we take that responsibility very seriously at the same time as we comply with the FOIA request to make these documents public.

QUESTION: Yesterday you were asked – it was still the State Department’s assertion that none of the documents that have been released contained information that was classified at the time it was sent or received. You said of the documents that have been released, “Yes, that’s the case.” Do you mean when you say that, just to point a really fine point on this, that none of that information was marked classified, or has the State Department made a definitive assertion that none of those documents contained classified information?

MR TONER: No, we – and a fine point is fine. But we’ve said none of the emails released to this point in our monthly productions were marked classified at the time that they were sent. They were upgraded at the time of release.

QUESTION: But you can’t say definitively that they didn’t contain classified information at the time they were sent, just that they weren’t marked as classified?

MR TONER: Correct. And we’ve also said that – acknowledged that there are other reviews and investigations into some of these broader questions.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just a few things on specific statements that Secretary Clinton and her spokespeople have been saying in recent days. What’s the protocol for State Department employees sending articles that contain information that, while in the public domain, is considered by the government to be classified?

MR TONER: What is the protocol for that?

QUESTION: Is it allowed?

MR TONER: If you’re talking about, like, for example --

QUESTION: Forwarding an article.

MR TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: Forwarding an article.

MR TONER: Forwarding an article. I’d have to get the specific language for you, but it’s strongly discouraged to, for example, access WikiLeaks material and other material that is allegedly classified. It’s --

QUESTION: Not prohibited, though?

MR TONER: I don’t know. Again, I don’t have the exact language in front of me.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: I’ll have to get back to you on that.

QUESTION: And then I promise this is my last one on this.

MR TONER: That’s okay. No worries.

QUESTION: The – Secretary Clinton’s campaign spokesperson has also said that there are political motives at play with the intelligence community inspector general. Has this review process been politicized?

MR TONER: From our viewpoint, not at all. We’ve approached this in a very pragmatic way in terms of we have a FOIA request, we need to fulfill that request, we need to make these rather significant number of emails public, but we have to do so in a way that protects any classified information that may be contained in them and upgrade them as necessary and redact them as necessary. I’d just refer to you – if there’s specific comments about the motivation for the ICIG, I’d have to refer you to them.

QUESTION: Staying with the emails --

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

QUESTION: The Daily Caller reported earlier this week that a group of emails that they obtained under a lawsuit showed that then-State Department Executive Secretary Stephen Mull, after being informed that Secretary Clinton’s private BlackBerry had failed a number of times, proposed providing her with a State Department-issued BlackBerry and – that would have various kinds of protection so that it would continue working and so on. And it – in his note he said that the official BlackBerry or the – would mask her identity but would be subject to FOIA requests. And the emails that they say they have obtained show Huma Abedin, the former Secretary’s deputy chief of staff, as saying that giving the Secretary a State-issued BlackBerry equipped with a state.gov email address, “doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

My question is: Why, from an institutional point of view, would it not make sense for the Secretary of State to have an official BlackBerry from the State Department with an email address – with a state.gov email address that was believed to be more reliable than the personal email address and device that former Secretary Clinton was using. Why doesn’t that make sense from an institutional point of view?

MR TONER: Sure. And you’re probably not going to be very satisfied with my answer, but I hope you can respect the fact that I’m aware of the article, I’m aware of these emails. I can’t speak to the content of them or make a judgment or offer, really, an opinion – even an institutional one – over what was said or not said in them, given that, as I said, there’s other investigations, reviews, looking at some of these questions.

So we obviously take our responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act very seriously. We’re looking at getting these emails out. I can’t – if I – I can’t address your questions because of these reviews, because of these investigations and inquiries underway. I don’t want to get ahead of them. I would just simply note that Secretary Kerry himself has asked the inspector general to look at some of these matters last March, and we’ve worked closely with the OIG, and it’s – on this review, and we welcome its findings once it comes out with them. But I just don’t want to get ahead of those investigations.

QUESTION: Well, can we go on to Russia?

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Today, the British public inquiry concluded that the 2006 murder of Mr. Litvinenko was probably approved by President Vladimir Putin and was – and has been described since by Prime Minister David Cameron as a state-sponsored action. Obviously, these are two countries you have relations with. Does the United States have a stance on alleged Russian assassinations abroad?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, I think it’s safe to say that we’re deeply troubled by this – the findings of this UK Government inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko. His murder was a terrible crime, and as we’ve said before, we believe the perpetrators of the crime should be brought to justice.

QUESTION: Do you know if Mr. Putin is one of the perpetrators of the crime?

MR TONER: Again, I’m aware of the findings. It’s – obviously, it’s a public report. You’ve seen them as well. Of course, we’re evaluating. These are pretty serious charges, obviously. I think it’s up to the British legal system to continue to investigate and prosecute this criminal case, and I’m just not going to comment beyond that.

QUESTION: Can I just --

MR TONER: Please, Barbara. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- just to return to the – to follow up on the visa waiver? It’s official now the --

MR TONER: Yeah. I got it. It’s official.

QUESTION: -- the Visa Waiver Program being implemented. Can you – do you have any more information about why it was already being implemented before it was officially announced, and how long that was going on? Because there’s some suggestion that it had been going on for a while.

MR TONER: Well, it was only this – it was only signed – sorry, the new Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 was only signed on December 18th, 2015. And I think I spoke a little bit yesterday about this phased approach, but let’s just widen the lens here. So we all know what the Visa Waiver Program is, it’s established in 1986, enables nationals of 38 participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism, for business, stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. And this program from the outset was – the objective – had the objective, rather, of maintaining high standards of security while facilitating legitimate travel to the U.S.

Over the past few years – and obviously, in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris – the Administration has taken a series of steps to enhance significant security measures of the Visa Waiver Program. So under this act, travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, and that’s nationals of Visa Waiver Program countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1st, 2011 – and there’s exceptions to that – as well as nationals of Visa Waiver Program countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.

And it’s important, I think, to note that these new travel restrictions don’t bar travel to the United States. They just would require a traveler covered by the restrictions – these restrictions to obtain a U.S. visa. So beginning on January 21st – obviously today – travelers who currently had valid ESTAs, which are Electronic System for Travel Authorization – acronym is ESTA – who have previously indicated holding dual nationality with one of the four countries will have their current Visa Waiver Program travel authorizations revoked. And that process, like I said, is going on now, that there’s – there are, starting on today, that these new ESTA applicants and current ESTA holders who fall under the act’s restrictions will have their ESTAs denied or revoked and those travelers will be directed to apply for a U.S. visa. And this is already happening. This – I’m getting around to your question; I apologize.

But this is already happening today, so these people are being notified by email. And so some of the process, when you talked about – and we talked a little bit about the phased approach yesterday – was actually going through all the current holders of ESTAs and determining who among them, that small subset, frankly, among current ESTA holders this new law or these new restrictions applied to. And again, they will be notified – I’ll get to you – but they will be notified going forward starting today via email and then – and part of that notification will include instructions on how to go about applying for a nonimmigrant visa.

QUESTION: Okay.

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

QUESTION: I have several questions about this so --

MR TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: I was really struck by something you said about this yesterday. You said that this – and you sort of said it today – that this affects a, quote, “subset of people” and you also said that the – applying for a U.S. visa is, quote, “not that arduous a process.” So I guess, referring to the dual nationality provision in particular of these new visa waiver restrictions, a lot of the people who are going to be affected in the thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands actually – probably more – are --

MR TONER: I’m sorry. What did you say? Hundreds of thousands?

QUESTION: Yeah. There’s at least 200,000 --

MR TONER: I don’t think that’s correct.

QUESTION: There’s at least 200,000 Germans alone of Iranian descent who could be affected by these rules. Okay.

MR TONER: Well, I just don’t – I don’t think it’s an accurate number, sorry.

QUESTION: No. I – that’s from the German ambassador. I mean, we’re talking about people in the Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, and Sudanese diaspora who are going to be affected by these provisions. So whatever the number is, I mean --

MR TONER: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: One of the – the question I want to ask is – there are several questions. Like, how is this not racial and ethnic profiling when it comes to – we’re talking European citizens, citizens of Japan, South Korea, some other countries who have some sort of ancestry or whatever, and some of them have never been to Iran, Iraq, Syria, or Sudan. So how is this not ethnic or racial profiling when it comes to letting these people in the U.S.?

MR TONER: Well, again, this is – look, I mean, first of all, to answer your – first part of your question, I stand by the comments I made yesterday. This is an inconvenience, but the vast majority of current ESTA holders are not going to be affected by this change and can continue to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. But requiring travelers to have a valid visa is not saying they can’t travel to the United States. They simply have to go apply for a visa at their embassy or consulate. And I just – we issued over 10 million nonimmigrant visas to qualified travelers last year.

QUESTION: But you’re treating one set of citizens differently --

MR TONER: Sorry, just let me – let me just --

QUESTION: -- than another because of their ethnic background.

MR TONER: Again – well, there’s a number of – and I went through them and I’m happy to go through them again – there’s a number of qualifications that they apply to. It is nationals of Visa Waiver Programs who traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1st, 2011. And there are exceptions to that, but that’s clearly not labeling somebody for their racial or ethnic background.

QUESTION: No, no. I’m talking about the dual nationality provisions.

MR TONER: Let me finish. There are also nationals of Visa Waiver Program countries who are nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria. And look, the reasons that these new restrictions have been enacted is in the national security interest of the United States. We’re all aware, given recent attacks in Europe, terrorist attacks in Europe, that there is a concern about foreign fighters coming back from Syria, European citizens returning from Syria or Iraq or elsewhere, and then trying to apply for visa or come to the United States via visa-free travel, or Visa Waiver Program travel. It’s a recognition that that threat exists and it’s an attempt to add another layer of security. Nobody’s talking about denying anyone entry for legitimate travel to the United States.

QUESTION: Well, let’s talk about that, okay? Like, say somebody in this group that’s now been branded with, like, potential T for terrorists or whatever is going to get extra scrutiny, and this – we could be talking about, like, a German kid who grew up in Germany, has an Iranian father, but who himself has never been to Iran, okay? Or the non-Iranian wife of an Iranian man who Iran considers as an Iranian national because Iran’s definition of citizenship and nationality is so broad.

So let’s say this person is going to be given additional scrutiny for getting a visa from the U.S. Will they be given a reason if they are rejected and what that reason is? Like, will they be told, “We think you’re a terrorist,” or whatever?

MR TONER: I mean, they will be given a reason why, and I talked about that. They’re going to be sent – all of the people who are affected by this change will be notified via email.

QUESTION: No, no. I’m talking about in the future. In the future, if somebody applies because they have to apply for a visa --

MR TONER: Well, no, absolutely – no, absolutely. Well, look, what we are – no --

QUESTION: I mean, will they be told, “We think you are – we’re rejecting you because we think you’re a terrorist,” or whatever?

MR TONER: No, but what – listen, let me answer. So for those travelers who are affected by this provision, who don’t have imminent travel planned to the United States, they don’t need to rush to the embassy, they don’t need to do anything other than – if they plan to travel to the United States in the near future or even in the long-term future, they need to do what any prudent traveler does, which is go to the embassy – we recommend three months before – and apply for a nonimmigrant travel visa. That’s done around the world for many, many, many millions of people every year. As I said, there’s no – the big picture here is that there’s no prohibition on travel to the United States on any of these individuals. It’s another layer of security.

QUESTION: Okay, but what you said is not an arduous process actually can be a very arduous process. I mean, getting a visa to the United States is not a simple process. It can be expensive. It can take time. If you’re a businessman who happens to have Syrian roots and needs to get to the U.S. very quickly to get business done, suddenly – I mean, did you say three months in advance or whatever? I mean, there’s a lot of reasons, but my question, again, is --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- if they apply for a visa because they’re told they have to, okay, and then they’re rejected, will they be told exactly and on what grounds they are rejected? And will they be given a chance to appeal that rejection?

MR TONER: Yes. So the – quickly, so first of all, on your first question about visas being arduous, et cetera, look, visas have some advantages over ESTA travel authorization. They’re valid for up to 10 years; that’s not true with ESTAs or visa-free travel – Visa Waiver Program travel, which is a general two years, I think, under ESTA. And also, the option to stay in the United States for up to – is up to six months at a time as opposed to – I think there’s a 90-day window under the Visa Waiver Program. So I mean, there are advantages, if you’re that businessman, to have a 10-year visa to travel back and forth to the United States.

As to whether they’ll be notified as to why they were disqualified, again, they will be notified because they fit into one of those categories that I already – and I don’t know why you’re looking at me like I’m --

QUESTION: Because I’m asking, if your visa gets rejected, that if --

MR TONER: They’re going to be notified that they don’t qualify for visa-free travel.

QUESTION: But if you don’t qualify for visa travel --

MR TONER: But – let me finish – let me finish --

QUESTION: -- and then you apply for a visa and you get rejected --

MR TONER: Let me finish. But they can – but they can – there are – and we’ve talked about this and this has been out there – there are waivers that apply and exemptions, and they can put in – and these will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

QUESTION: Okay. But if you’re told, look, you have to apply for a visa, and then you go in and you apply for a visa and you get rejected, are you going to be told why you’re rejected? That’s the question.

MR TONER: You’re always told when you’re rejected from --

QUESTION: Exactly why you’re rejected?

MR TONER: I mean, I can’t – I don’t remember the exact legal framework or how the language looks, but yeah, you are.

QUESTION: And then can you appeal that? I have a few more questions.

MR TONER: Yes, of course.

QUESTION: Okay. So you can appeal that and you could possibly --

MR TONER: Yeah. I’m not sure what the window is. Again, you’re talking about a regular B-1, B-2 visa application. Yes, I mean, there’s gradations of this, but you can ask – be either told you have to come back with more information or you can simply be refused. And I think there’s a time window before you can reapply.

QUESTION: Why is this rule not being applied to people who are also of Saudi Arabian dual nationality or have visited Saudi Arabia, or Pakistani or other countries who have, frankly, produced a lot more terrorists than, like, Sudan?

MR TONER: Sure. Specifically – it specifically relates to concerns about ISIL and foreign fighters returning from those battlefields, and also state sponsors of terror.

QUESTION: But there are lots of Saudis who --

MR TONER: Sudan (inaudible) --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) in Somalia and not AQAP in Yemen?

MR TONER: Again --

QUESTION: And there’s ISIS in Libya now. It just seems an arbitrary list.

MR TONER: I mean, I’m just laying out the --

QUESTION: And what is the U.S. Government going to do --

MR TONER: -- parameters that was put forward in this legislation that Congress enacted.

QUESTION: And what is the U.S. Government going to do if and when Europe makes this reciprocal and, like, Iranian Americans, Syrian Americans, Iraqi Americans, Sudanese Americans – people who are Americans, American citizens – will now have to face visa restrictions whenever they want to go anywhere in Europe? What is the U.S. Government going to do? Are you going to stand up for people, American citizens who are facing these restrictions, or not?

MR TONER: Look, I’m not going to speak to what Europe writ large may or may not do or individual governments may or may not do.

QUESTION: They said they’re going to do this. I mean --

MR TONER: All I am saying is this law was passed December 15th with the intention of increasing the level of security for people coming on visa-free travel to the United States. And we are, in conjunction with, and frankly, Department of Homeland Security has the lead on this, enacting that law.

QUESTION: Will the ESTA form ask you to declare whether you’re a dual-national, and if you just write British even though you’ve got Iranian parents, are you then in --

MR TONER: So sure, so that’s a fair question and I don’t have a complete answer for you. They’re actually modifying the form now, and somewhere I have a date certain on when that new form will be rolled out. But my understanding is that, yes, it will obviously include questions that identify the (inaudible) --

QUESTION: And it would be illegal for you to fill out the form dishonestly and just say I’m just German?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, that’s already illegal.

QUESTION: Right. But they don’t --

QUESTION: Well, a lot of people don’t realize they’re dual nationals.

QUESTION: The people who control Iranian nationality, whether you have Iranian nationality or not, are the Iranian Government. So you’ve effectively subcontracted part of your visa process to Tehran.

MR TONER: I’m sorry, do you have a question? I’m not sure. Was that a question, sir?

QUESTION: There was a question. Have you outsourced part of your visa process to Tehran?

MR TONER: No, we don’t think so.

QUESTION: Is it – can I follow up on that, though? Actually, I mean, just because the Iranians regard someone, an American citizen of Iranian descent, as an Iranian citizen, does that automatically mean that the U.S. Government regards such a person as a dual national?

MR TONER: Because Iran claims them as a citizen?

QUESTION: Yeah. Or let’s take a simpler example.

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Let’s take a British citizen or subject of Iranian descent – does the U.S. – who is regarded by the Government of Iran as an Iranian citizen, okay, or as having Iranian nationality. Let’s suppose this British citizen of Iranian descent has never sought Iranian nationality, has never traveled as an Iranian, has never made any claims to be an Iranian national; they regard themselves as a British citizen. Does the U.S. Government regard that person as a dual national?

MR TONER: So – and I guess it gets back to your question --

QUESTION: For the purposes of this law.

QUESTION: My question (inaudible). Yes.

MR TONER: Yeah, yeah. And I’m not aware that we are relying on Iran to identify its citizens that it believes are dual nationals. I can get more clarity on this and whether --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: -- how it actually will determine --

QUESTION: The British citizen repudiates he’s Iranian. Is that on him?

MR TONER: Yeah, I just don’t have that in front of me here, but it’s a fair question.

QUESTION: Can you take that one?

MR TONER: Yeah, we can.

QUESTION: Okay. And then second related question, which is kind of more of a political question, but members of Congress who were involved in drafting at least the House version of this law are accusing the Administration of abusing its waiver authority. The waiver authority that is granted to the Secretary of Homeland Security, I think gives you a national security waiver. There’s another term that I’m blanking on right now. But your Media Note states – for example, it states businesspeople as potentially being entitled to such a waiver.

So two questions here. One, how do you justify business as being – as falling under a national security waiver? Second, they – Republican members of Congress also claim that specifically in the negotiations leading up to this law they made clear that the waiver authority was meant to be exercised on an individual basis and not to apply to whole classes of people, like businesspeople. So how do you counter their argument that you are interpreting your waiver authority too broadly in both instances – the national security and suggesting that it’s available to entire classes of people – when it’s not; it’s a case-by-case basis?

MR TONER: Sure. So under the new law, the Secretary of Homeland Security actually would – is – has the authority to waive restrictions if he determines that such a waiver is in the national security interest of the United States. So whether these ESTA applicants will receive a waiver will be determined – and this speaks to your question – there are certain categories, and I can go through those categories, but they’ll be determined on a case-by-case basis.

So as a general matter, the Secretary of Homeland of Security concurs with the judgment of the Secretary of State that it is in the national security interests of the United States to administer waivers for certain applicants in the following categories – again, with the understanding that everything would be on a case-by-case basis, and that says – just to clarify, that’s individuals who travel to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on behalf of an international organization or regional organizations and subnational governments on official duty – some examples, obviously, are the UN and other international organizations or regional organizations; individuals who travel to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on behalf of a humanitarian NGO on official duty; individuals who travel to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria as a journalist for reporting purposes; and then individuals who travel to these countries for legitimate business-related purposes following the conclusion of the JCPOA.

And I would have to get more clarity. I think they’re still determining – one of your questions, Arshad, was what is legitimate business purposes.

QUESTION: And why does that necessarily fall under a national security waiver? I mean, why do you care if a German businessperson is selling – why is it in your national security interest for a German businessperson to be selling widgets to Iran? Why would that --

MR TONER: Well, it’s not, but we also don’t want to impede that same businessman from doing business in the United States.

QUESTION: Right. But why is that in your --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, why is it in the – it’s – their argument is, I think, is that it’s an inappropriate exercise of a national security waiver, that you’re essentially doing things that are good for business but aren’t necessarily intrinsically good for national security, and that the waiver authority is for national security.

MR TONER: Well, again, with all due respect, legitimate business, business that promotes the U.S. economy, is good for American business, we believe is a category worthy to qualify for exemption but with the caveat that any of these individuals would have to be vetted on a case-by-case basis.

QUESTION: Got it. Okay.

MR TONER: Anyway.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

QUESTION: Why was Sudan --

QUESTION: Can we move on?

QUESTION: Why was Sudan not given a business exception? I mean, I can understand Syria not being given one, but why was Sudan not given a business exception?

MR TONER: Was not given a what?

QUESTION: A business exception.

MR TONER: I’m not sure that that’s the case, but I’ll check in on that. I don’t know.

QUESTION: I mean, it just says to Iran and to Iraq.

MR TONER: I’d have to look into it. Sorry.

QUESTION: And just one last thing from me – I’m sorry.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Yeah, that’s okay.

QUESTION: But I don’t understand why – I still don’t understand the case – the theory of the case for this. Like, people who go to fight for ISIL in Syria and Iraq, they’re not getting their, like, passports stamped in Damascus. I mean, why do you guys think this is going to work? Like --

MR TONER: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: -- won’t they just lie? I mean, I’m just confused as to why – how is this going to keep terrorists out?

MR TONER: Sure. Again, I would defer to others who are much more expert in the flow of foreign fighters than I am. But I think it’s a recognition that this is a possible conduit or way for these foreign fighters to come back from Syria, Iraq, other places, land in Europe, and then move to the United States where they can carry out terrorist acts. It’s not denying anyone the right to travel to the United States. It’s simply putting in more precautions or more security procedures in place that we can hopefully filter out these few bad eggs. And we recognize that this – I said as much – this is going to be an inconvenience. We’re ramping up our support. There are consulates and embassies all throughout Europe so that we can meet legitimate travelers’ needs for visa --

QUESTION: It’s just – it’s not just an inconvenience for a lot of people. If somebody gets rejected for a U.S. visa – let’s say they’re completely innocent; it’s a mistake, okay, and they get rejected for a U.S. visa. That screws up their travel for the rest of their life because everywhere they want to go asks you if you’ve ever been rejected for a travel visa. And if you say that the U.S. has rejected me, that just – I mean, you’re messed up. You can’t go anywhere. I mean, all I’m saying is like – I’m pointing out that you guys have this huge responsibility, people who often – these consular officials are often young State Department employees, not a lot of experience, with a tremendous power who are issuing these visas. And now this whole group that’s been kind of branded as potential terrorists – if there’s – if you just decide one day, well, we don’t know but we’re not sure, so we’re going to reject this person’s visa, that just screws up their travel forever. So I mean – and again, these are European citizens who in the past have been able to come here without a visa, and now they’re ethnic ancestry is being held against them. So I just want to get, again, like, how do they know they’re going to be treated fairly? And I really am going to stop asking questions. Thank you.

MR TONER: No, no, it’s okay. It’s okay. I take exception to your saying that the fate of these individuals is being judged by inexperienced or young officers overseas. Frankly, our consular officers on the line do an exceptional job at adjudicating visas. And aware that in some of these posts they face an enormous workload, but they receive extensive training in how to adjudicate visas. They become experts on consular law, and they are very good and very professional in how they carry out their duties overseas.

More broadly to your question, nobody’s trying to make these people who are ineligible for Visa Waiver Program travel or visa-free travel to the United States some kind of scapegoat. To the contrary, this is something that’s being done in the interest of increasing security of Americans, and we’re going to make every effort to accommodate these individuals who are affected by this change through other means to meet their needs to travel to the United States if they choose to.

Said, please.

QUESTION: Can I just have one more quick question?

QUESTION: Please.

QUESTION: Sorry, but I just – one last thing. Of course, as you said, you’re implementing legislation passed by Congress, but is there any attempt from the Administration to try and soften the dual nationality part of this visa waiver or change it or look again? Because it’s – it is a kind of different thing than somebody who’s actually come directly from the area or been traveling to the area.

MR TONER: Well, I think defining that – and I’m – I’ll try to get Arshad’s – I took the question from Arshad, is how that’s being defined. I think we’ll get back to you on the criteria for that. But I’m not aware of any move underway to redefine that or soften that, as you say.

Please, Said.

QUESTION: Can we go into the Palestinian-Israeli issue very quickly?

MR TONER: Sure. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Okay. Today, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, met with Israeli reporters and told them that he has been trying for the past few months to reach out to the office of Prime Minister Netanyahu to arrange for a meeting. I have two questions on this. First of all, are you aware of that? Are you facilitating that, or did he come out to you and say please arrange a meeting between us?

MR TONER: I haven’t --

QUESTION: Because he’s saying that he’s been rejected.

MR TONER: No, that’s okay. I haven’t seen the remarks. I apologize; I just haven’t seen them.

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: We’ve said all along – and we obviously maintain contacts with both sides, but we’ve said all along we want to see both sides take affirmative steps, de-escalate tensions, de-escalate the violence, and put – put them on a track towards eventually some sort of two-state solution. I’m not aware specifically of these requests. I just don’t have that in front me.

QUESTION: Would you facilitate such a meeting if they came out – if the Palestinians came out to you and say we want to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu?

MR TONER: I think we would be receptive to any attempt by Mahmoud Abbas to meet in good faith with the Israeli Government. I can’t say that we’d facilitate it or whatever, but I think we would be receptive.

QUESTION: And a very quick follow-up on the – it seems that the fallout from Ambassador Shapiro’s comments are still happening . According to Reuters, he’s been subject to a lot of insults and so on. In fact, everybody is – a fellow by the name Aviv Bushinsky, a former advisor to Netanyahu, according to Reuters basically called him – “To put it bluntly, it was a statement typical of a little Jew boy.” And then he called him a very derogatory name in Yiddish and so on. And I’m wondering whether you categorize this under incitement and whether you fear for the safety of Ambassador Shapiro or anything like this.

MR TONER: Ambassador Shapiro’s remarks stand. We talked about this yesterday.

QUESTION: And the day before. Yeah.

MR TONER: I think John Kirby spoke about it the day before yesterday. The issue he spoke to is not new. We have consistently made clear, as I did yesterday, about our concerns about violence on both sides. We’ve strongly condemned terrorist attacks perpetrated by Palestinians but also remain deeply concerned about Israeli settler violence against Palestinians and their property in the West Bank. And that’s what Ambassador Shapiro was speaking to in his address.

As to insults that have been leveled against him – and I’ve seen the same reports – that’s free speech in a democratic society. Obviously, we disagree and would encourage that if there is discourse on this issue that it be held at a higher level than hurling insults, but he’s free to speak freely in a democratic society.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you don’t consider such statements to be incitement against the ambassador, do you?

MR TONER: I mean, if you’re saying whether we’re concerned about his safety --

QUESTION: Right. I mean, okay, do you consider that to be part of incitement, which also may drive some people to do certain types of action?

MR TONER: I think in general, as we’ve said many times before, we would encourage everyone to tone down the rhetoric.

QUESTION: Now, my last question – now, you’ve said that --

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: -- you condemn Palestinian terrorism. I assume you are referring to the young men and women that allegedly attack with knives and so on. But on the other hand, you’re deeply concerned about settler violence which has the same impact, does the same thing – in fact, far more scary. Why wouldn’t you call that terrorism? Why wouldn’t you condemn that as terrorism that also endangers civilians?

MR TONER: Well, again, Said, I’m not going to – and frankly – and what Ambassador Shapiro raised the other day was stressing the need for fair judicial processes for both Palestinians and Israelis, and to bring justice to all perpetrators of violence. We said many times we’re not going to get into adjudicating every act, every crime, every act of violence as terrorism or not terrorism. In general, we condemn all acts of violence, all acts of terrorism, and we call on both sides to de-escalate.

QUESTION: John --

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mark. Deputy Secretary Blinken trip to China today and also Secretary Kerry will visit to China next week again. What purpose of those people’s visits to China in second times? Can you tell us?

MR TONER: What purpose are the trips for?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, it’s China. I mean, it’s – we have a very important, very strategic relationship with China that – as you know better than most, that spans every global issue from Iran to – frankly, to Syria, to other issues around the world, a strong economic interest in the region with China, and obviously, that relationship spans to other concerns, as you heard me at the top of the briefing talk about human rights. So our relationship with China is something that we need to build on and work at constantly, and it’s a very high-level relationship. So the Deputy Secretary and the Secretary both going there is emblematic of that.

QUESTION: Regarding sanctions against North Korea, were – Secretary Kerry, when he visit to China, so he will pressure the Chinese Government for cooperating with the (inaudible) on North Korea’s influence?

MR TONER: I don’t know “pressure.” I mean, look, both the United States and China agree on the importance of a denuclearized North Korea. And we’ve been very clear in saying that we encourage China to urge North Korea to refrain from provocations like we saw last month and abide by its international obligations and commitments, particularly given China’s unique relationship with North Korea.

So this is a conversation, a dialogue we’re going to continue to have with China. We look forward to working with them as well as other international partners to respond appropriately to the latest provocations from North Korea.

QUESTION: Have you seen the --

QUESTION: Follow-up on that remark?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Follow-up on that?

MR TONER: Yeah, let’s finish (inaudible).

QUESTION: Sorry, on North Korea --

QUESTION: Chinese state media (inaudible) yesterday that the People’s Liberation Army carried out a live drill – a live fire drill off the southeastern coast recently. Can you confirm this drill has taken place?

MR TONER: I don’t have any confirmation of that. I don’t have any information on that. I just don’t. You said where? In the --

QUESTION: In China off the southeastern coast.

MR TONER: No, I don’t have any – I’m sorry, I just don’t have any information about it. I can take the question, but --

QUESTION: And a follow-up about China?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met with Taiwanese President-elect Ms. Tsai Ing-wen this week. Do you have any information to share about the message he’s conveyed?

MR TONER: I don’t. I mean, obviously, he’s a former deputy secretary, so he’s a private citizen. So I’d refer to you him to comment on his trip there.

Please.

QUESTION: Yes, so a follow-up on the China-North Korea issue.

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any more details specifically about Deputy Secretary Blinken’s discussions with China on the North Korea issue? I mean, I’ve seen the readout, but --

MR TONER: I mean, I don’t. I mean, I don’t have a full readout. He gave an interview while he was there, I think, to The New York Times, where he spoke a little bit about what I just said, which was that we’re looking to China to – if you will, to leverage or to use its relationship with North Korea to urge them to change the path that they’re on.

QUESTION: Does it seem like, I mean, the Chinese are receptive to what Secretary Kerry called it’s no longer business as usual?

MR TONER: Sure. I would just say that China obviously recognizes that these kinds of ongoing provocations by North Korea are troubling, to say the least, and understand the importance of a denuclearized North Korea. And we’re continuing to have discussions about how we can best get to that endgame.

Please, and then I’ll get to you. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yes. Mark, I was wondering if you have any update on the three Americans missing in Baghdad.

MR TONER: I don’t.

QUESTION: And there are some conflicting reports that some says – like giving reference to U.S. officials, some Shia-backed militias are responsible for the kidnapping Americans.

MR TONER: Sure. And I’ve seen that, and I spoke a little bit about this yesterday. I mean, look, there’s a lot of information circulating out there about who or – might be behind their disappearance. We don’t have – I don’t have any further information that I can provide right now.

QUESTION: Considering Iran’s influence on the region, I was wondering if Secretary Kerry spoke to Mr. Zarif by any chance about this case.

MR TONER: He did, and I would refer you to – I think the transcript – he mentioned that he did speak to him and he did raise his concerns about these individuals with Foreign Minister Zarif, if I’m not mistaken. I think he did a roundtable earlier today. I don't know if the transcript’s come out yet.

QUESTION: The transcript is not out yet.

QUESTION: Just clarification on that. Prime Minister Abadi is still saying it’s not completely clear that they were actually kidnapped. Is that the U.S. position is well?

MR TONER: Which is what I – no, but I – look, I mean --

QUESTION: I mean, you said “disappearance.” You didn’t say “kidnapping.”

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, this is an ongoing investigation, so I can’t give you a play-by-play and I’m not going to give you a play-by-play. We continue to cooperate and work with the Iraqi authorities. There are a number of possibilities as to what happened to these individuals. We’re obviously pursuing all of them diligently, but I don’t have anything and I can’t, frankly, share any information about what may have happened to them.

QUESTION: But you can --

QUESTION: Why did he speak – why did he speak to Foreign Minister Zarif?

MR TONER: Well, he acknowledged one of these – that one of the possibilities is that they were kidnapped by an Iraqi – or Iranian-affiliated, and he said he had raised it with them.

QUESTION: An Iranian-affiliated militia?

MR TONER: A militia.

QUESTION: And one other thing: You just used the word – he acknowledged the possibility that they were kidnapped. You’re not saying that they were kidnapped?

MR TONER: No.

QUESTION: Just that that is a possibility that he acknowledged.

MR TONER: No, exactly, exactly.

QUESTION: Can you get that transcript out as soon as --

MR TONER: Sure thing.

QUESTION: Mark, there’s been no demands made?

MR TONER: Sorry, I’ll get to you --

QUESTION: No demands were made?

MR TONER: There’s been no --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: I don’t think there’s been any acknowledgement – public acknowledgement of who’s behind this.

QUESTION: Can I just ask a quick question on Gitmo, if you had any updates on the current status of the special category residents? And then as a follow to that --

MR TONER: I’m sorry, with what?

QUESTION: The special category residents there, and if their status will be changed given the new relations between us and Cuba. Do you have any readout on that or update?

MR TONER: I don’t. I’ll have to take that question. I promise I’ll get back to you on that.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah. No worries.

QUESTION: Can I have one last one on --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Haiti election’s on Sunday. Obviously there was – there’s been concerns raised by the Organization --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- of American States and also by lawmakers in the Haitian senate. But President Martelly today said they’re going to go ahead on Sunday. How is America’s position on this?

MR TONER: I – it’s our belief too that the electoral process should conclude in order to inaugurate a Haitian president, elected by the Haitian people, and according to Haitian law. We support all efforts to dialogue among Haitian actors to enhance the credibility and transparency of the electoral process in Haiti.

Thank you, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 3.11 p.m.)

   


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 20, 2016

Wed, 01/20/2016 - 18:51

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 20, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

2:13 p.m. EST

MR TONER: Hey, guys. How are you?

QUESTION: Good.

MR TONER: Happy Wednesday. I was there, I was there. Just give me a second as we all – we’re not quite slipped into blizzard mode yet, but we may get there. Anyway, welcome to the State Department, everyone. Michel, welcome. Let me just – a few things at the top and then I’ll get, obviously, to your questions.

So as all of you have probably seen, the Secretary is today in Zurich and Davos, Switzerland. He met in Zurich with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, where they discussed Syria, Ukraine, as well as other issues of mutual concern.

Secondly, and I just wanted – that we’re getting details – a little bit more details about, in Afghanistan, a suicide attack on a bus in Kabul. We strongly condemn the suicide attack on a bus carrying media professionals and journalists in Kabul, Afghanistan and express our condolences to the families of those killed or wounded. Freedom of the press is a cornerstone to democracy, and despite such attacks, a vibrant media – the vibrant media landscape that has developed in Afghanistan over the past 14 years will endure. The international community’s commitment to the Afghan people and our goal of a lasting peace in Afghanistan will not be shaken by such attacks.

PAKISTAN1">And obviously, I wanted to just speak briefly – you saw the statement we put out earlier on the horrific attack in Bacha Khan University in Charsadda in Pakistan. We offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their families during this time of grief. This was, again, a particularly appalling attack that the terrorists carried out yet again on an educational institution, clearly targeting Pakistan’s future generations. The United States stands with the Government of Pakistan and their efforts to create a secure, stable, and prosperous country, and we will stand side by side with Pakistan in its ongoing fight against terrorism.

That’s all I have for you at the top, guys. Over to you, Brad.

QUESTION: First, on the meeting in Zurich --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- have – was there any understanding reached on whether the talks can go forward on the 25th as planned – the Syria talks – or are they going to be delayed?

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, obviously, they talked about plans for the UN-led negotiations between Syrian parties on January 25th and stressed the importance of maintaining progress towards a diplomatic and political resolution to the crisis in Syria. John spoke a little bit about this yesterday as well. I mean, our expectation is that the talks will take place on January 25th. Those are UN-led talks. It’s really for the parties involved to reach agreement on who will participate in those talks, but we still want to see them take place on January 25th, and I think it’s the Russians’ sentiment as well. You’ll, of course, have to ask them, but clearly, that’s the date we’re still looking toward.

QUESTION: So the Syrian opposition appears to have picked a delegation. I don’t know if you saw that. Do you have any comment on the delegation that was announced?

MR TONER: I don’t. I haven’t seen the makeup of the delegation, but I mean, look, we’ve been very clear, Brad, that this is something for the Syrians to determine themselves – the makeup, the composition of the Syrian opposition. And if they’ve reached agreement, then that’s something we would welcome.

QUESTION: One of the names that was mentioned was, I think, Mohamed Alloush from Jaysh, and this is a group that Russia and Syria’s government has considered a terrorist group, but I guess you guys don’t, and obviously, the Syrian opposition doesn’t. Did the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov speak about his inclusion or, more broadly, the makeup of this delegation?

MR TONER: I don’t know today whether they spoke about it. I do know when the Secretary was in Moscow before the holidays that they did talk about this – not specifically this group, but they did talk about reaching general consensus on the groups that are involved on either side of the equation, on either side of the talks going forward. That’s something that needs to be worked out, obviously, within the ISSG, and acknowledging, frankly, that there’s going to be clear differences of opinion on who should be involved in the discussions.

QUESTION: And then I just have one last one.

MR TONER: Please go ahead, Brad.

QUESTION: The delegation, it’s for the Syrian opposition to decide, but does this delegation, now that they’ve picked it, have to be approved by either the UN, the UN special envoy, or the ISSG?

MR TONER: That’s a good question. Frankly, I’ll take that question whether – for the purposes of these specific talks, whether that needs to be done or not.

QUESTION: There’s been talk of de Mistura issuing invitations --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- but – so that would imply that he gets to choose who he invites.

MR TONER: Right, and I would refer you to – right, I would refer you to de Mistura. I mean, this is, as we’ve said many times, a UN-led process. But obviously, the ISSG will have opinions. Again, these are all stakeholders from both sides of the conflict, and all of these parties bring their own concerns to the table in picking these groups or in deciding who’s acceptable or not.

QUESTION: So Mark, what gives you that optimism that you can go ahead on the 25th if there is this – I mean, are you – do you have any information that the opposition and the government are ready to go to the table?

MR TONER: No. I mean, I think – obviously, I don’t want to convey any sunshiny optimism, but I think we believe that the talks need to happen on schedule, September 25th. We still think – and again, for a lot of obvious reasons we want to keep momentum going. Once these talks take place, that obviously sets in place a timetable for an ultimately – an ultimate political resolution to the conflict. So these things matter. These dates matter. So we want to see every effort made to adhere to them.

QUESTION: And is Iran in that part of those talks or don’t you know?

MR TONER: In part of what talks? In terms of --

QUESTION: On the – for January 25th. I mean, is this --

MR TONER: No, the – I mean, the January 25th is de Mistura, UN-led process, the regime as well as the Syrian opposition. Now, the broader context, and that was – speaks to Brad’s question --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: -- is the ISSG and Iran is obviously a part of that.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Would you --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Just to follow-up on the delegation and on Mr. Alloush in particular, he is someone that the Saudis are insisting on, isn’t he? I mean, isn’t that really the --

MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to speak to – I’m not going to parse or speak to who the Saudis brought on board or not.

QUESTION: No, I’m not – I’m not asking you to parse or speak.

MR TONER: No, no, of course.

QUESTION: But isn’t that what – if the talks are going to be postponed or pushed for another day, isn’t that one of the reasons that the Saudis are insisting on who is – who will represent the opposition?

MR TONER: Again, Said, I’m not going to speak to --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: -- who wants who in there, I mean, other than our own beliefs on this, but what’s important is that they reach consensus – all of the members of the ISSG.

QUESTION: Do you have any kind of – I mean, are you classifying Jaysh al-Islam as any – does it fall under the terror – terrorist groups or the terrorist list as far as the United States is concerned?

MR TONER: It’s not, as far as I know, an FTO. It’s not a foreign designated terrorist organization.

QUESTION: And how do you determine this? How do you determine it? What kind of criteria --

MR TONER: An FTO? It’s --

QUESTION: -- to say that this al-Nusrah is, or Jaysh al-Islam, that basically --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- does the same thing is not?

MR TONER: It’s a – sure. I mean, I can get you a detailed answer to that, but ultimately, it’s a long process, involves many, many months of research and evidence. It’s a – again, it’s not something we can do certainly from one day to the next on --

QUESTION: This is about the Jordanian terror list, not the FTO, the --

MR TONER: Oh, I apologize. I’m so sorry, I thought you were talking about – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: Sorry. Thanks, Brad, for clarifying. I thought you were talking about foreign terrorist organizations, that designation. Again, I think that’s all a matter of discussion ongoing. The Jordanians have taken the lead on that particular aspect of these – of this process. I’ll let them speak to how that’s being determined. All stakeholders within the ISSG have their own lists, if you will, or their own considerations in determining who these groups are, and that’s all, of course, being weighed and with the goal of reaching some kind of consensus.

Please.

QUESTION: My name is Nazira Azim Karimi. I’m a correspondent for Ariana Television Network from Afghanistan.

MR TONER: Thank you. Welcome.

QUESTION: Originally, I’m from Afghanistan. I feel very sorry for the journalist that has been killed today. What --

QUESTION: Can we stay in – on Syria?

MR TONER: I’m so sorry, can we just finish – I promise I’ll get to you right away.

QUESTION: Oh, sure, no problem.

MR TONER: We just want to finish – we usually finish with one issue and then move to the next.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: I apologize. Go ahead, Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah, Mark, the Syrian opposition has said that they won’t attend Geneva talks on the 25th if the opposition will be represented by a third party. Who will solve this problem? Has the Secretary talked to Minister Lavrov about this, and they solved this issue to make the opposition attend the talks or the negotiations?

MR TONER: You’re talking about – I’m sorry, specifically --

QUESTION: The third party – that means the list that Russia represented.

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have any specific response to that. I mean, again, this is something that is being worked in several different channels. Clearly within the UN processes they’re trying to reach consensus. They’re working with the Syrian opposition. I’d refer you to the Syrian opposition to talk about their own requirements for participating in the Geneva talks. Again, our expectation is that we can move forward for the 25th.

QUESTION: But who will decide, at the end of the day, who will represent the opposition?

MR TONER: Who will decide? Again, that’s part of the process that’s taking place in the run-up to the talks in Geneva. Determining who represents the – and that’s the high council, the Syrian council of the opposition that is determining – making those determinations who is on that list.

QUESTION: And did the Secretary solve this point with Lavrov, because they have a list and the opposition is against this list of representatives?

MR TONER: Well, I’m not going to get into that level of detail of their conversation today. I mean, they obviously spoke in detail about Syria and about the process, and about the UN-led negotiations between the Syrian parties and the importance of keeping that process on track. But I don’t have any more – any more granularity to share with you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR TONER: Can we go to Afghanistan? Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. As you mentioned about Afghanistan and officially to this attack, in currently time, the peace talk process going on, and people – expert and we all are very hopeful and we are very optimistic about it. On the other side, this kind of activity from the Taliban or any other insurgency increase. What do you think? You’re still optimistic about the peace process, which is now continue in Afghanistan between Taliban --

MR TONER: Well, I mean, what do we think? We have long said that we believe in an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process. Ultimately, we think that that’s the way forward for Afghanistan, so we support any efforts in that regard. And it cannot be deterred by ongoing violence by those who seek to continue the conflict or to even increase the conflict there. We stand by with our support for the Afghan Government in its efforts to initiate or keep these talks ongoing.

QUESTION: Not that violence anywhere in the country is acceptable, but does the U.S. consider it worrisome that the Taliban was able to carry out such an attack in the heart of Kabul?

MR TONER: Ros – I mean, it’s a fair question. As we’ve seen elsewhere in the capitals of Western Europe and elsewhere in the world, I mean, terrorists can carry out horrible, terrible attacks on civilians, on innocent citizens really anywhere if they’re so committed. Everyone exercises – all governments exercise vigilance against these kinds of attacks, but if it can happen in Paris, if it can happen in New York, it can happen in Kabul.

QUESTION: But consider the fact that the U.S. has spent billions upon billions of dollars in training Afghan Security Forces, basically standing up new institutions to prevent this kind of violence, and is also providing training to try to help them retake provinces, particularly in the south and in the far east. What is the U.S., to put it crassly, getting in return for its investment if something like this, in a place that people would assume they could have some relative level of safety, aren’t even safe?

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, look, my response to that is we continue to have confidence in Afghan Security Forces, that they are continuing to develop the capabilities and the capacity to secure the country against this persistent insurgent threat. But returning to this young – this woman’s question about the peace process, that’s where we feel going forward is where efforts also need to be exerted. We agree that the best way to ensure a lasting peace and security in Afghanistan is through such an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Iran?

MR TONER: Iran’s fine.

QUESTION: Yeah, just some questions around this visa – Visa Waiver Program.

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: As you probably know, a BBC journalist from BBC Persian was turned back at the airport in London, saying that she couldn’t fly to America because she didn’t have a visa. So --

MR TONER: Right. I’m aware of the reports.

QUESTION: Yeah, well, it’s true. Just a question about Mr. Kerry’s letter to the Iranian foreign minister. He said that the new visa requirements wouldn’t interfere with Iran’s business interests. Does that mean anything for dual nationalities in Europe, like people who are not specifically related to a business deal with the U.S.?

MR TONER: Well, speaking specifically to the case that you just raised, we are, as you mentioned, conducting a phased implementation of the new Visa Waiver Program legislation. Certain ESTA applications have been referred to a review process based on the enactment of the new law. But the U.S. Government has not yet begun denying any of these applications. So we’ll have more to say on the implementation of the new Visa Waiver Program changes soon, but with regard to this case, I don’t know.

QUESTION: But she --

MR TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: But she was denied.

MR TONER: Yeah, I mean, we – I can’t speak specifically in great detail to this case, as these kinds of records are confidential. I just --

QUESTION: When you say it’s a phased – was she unlucky? Did she hit the first phase?

MR TONER: We don’t believe so. It hasn’t been – these changes haven’t been implemented yet. I’m aware that the embassy in London is looking into the case, but I can’t really speak to it in any greater detail than that.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, there’s an issue of Iranians in third countries that don’t consider them – don’t want to necessarily consider themselves Iranian anymore because they’ve left long ago, they’d revoke their citizenship if they could but it’s too complicated illegally – I mean legally, sorry. So how does that apply? How does the U.S. see these types of citizens? They’re still dual nationals, or they’re still going to get hit by these visa problems?

MR TONER: I don’t want to get out in front of these new changes that haven’t been publicly rolled out, frankly, yet. I can say the Department of Homeland Security is working with the Department of State, obviously, on – to assess implementation of the new provisions of the Visa Waiver Program under the law that Congress recently passed – I think it was December, mid-December – and we’re going to announce how these changes affect travelers to the United States from Visa Waiver Program countries as soon as that information is available. So we’re still – I don’t want to get out ahead of that.

QUESTION: And just to clarify, did you say that she hadn’t been hit by the phased implementation? This wasn’t related to the implementation?

MR TONER: No. Our understanding is that those have not yet begun.

QUESTION: So it was a confusion, maybe?

MR TONER: I’m not – I said the embassy in London is looking into the case, as far as I’m aware, so I don’t have any more details to share.

QUESTION: So --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- to hammer it home, if she was denied entry to the United – travel to the United States, it was not because of the new visa waiver law?

MR TONER: Again, restricted as I am about speaking to specific cases --

QUESTION: I’m not asking --

MR TONER: -- it’s my understanding, broadly speaking, that no, none of those – of the new provisions to the Visa Waiver Program have been – have gone – been enacted yet or been implemented yet.

QUESTION: Should travelers – British travelers or European travelers with family ties or dual citizenship to countries that are currently under suspicion – contact U.S. authorities before traveling even though they were traditionally --

MR TONER: So it’s – that’s a good question.

QUESTION: She did do that.

MR TONER: Yeah, it’s a good question. So again, without getting ahead of what’s going to be a public rollout very soon, of course we’ll make every effort to provide accurate information to those travelers who might be affected by these changes to the Visa Waiver Program.

QUESTION: And who might be affected?

MR TONER: What?

QUESTION: Which one – travelers --

MR TONER: Again, I can speak to – there are certain categories; as you mentioned, dual citizens --

QUESTION: But these are categories of the new law, which you say hasn’t been implemented yet.

MR TONER: Correct. I said once we do – sorry, was I unclear – yeah, right.

QUESTION: Right. No, but I’m saying you’re going to roll out publicly what the new system is.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: In the meantime, there’s at least one person being turned back already.

MR TONER: Again, I’m unclear – again, I’m restricted in what I can tell you.

QUESTION: Would it be worthwhile in the interim awaiting the public announcement of this law for these travelers to take precautions, to find out if --

MR TONER: We would always encourage any traveler with questions about their eligibility for visa waiver travel, Visa Waiver Program travel, certainly to call their embassy in their respective countries to get details on how their travel might or might not be affected, as a general rule.

QUESTION: Iranians.

MR TONER: And that would affect – yes, anybody who might be affected by these changes.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran for --

MR TONER: Michelle in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just want to --

MR TONER: I’m sorry, Michelle. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Because the – online it says that the Department of Homeland Security has begun implementing changes to the traveler eligibility, but then it says this Department of Homeland Security is going to announce those changes. And then it goes to the link, and then it doesn’t give those changes. So who should be calling up their embassies? I mean, what are you advising people to do?

MR TONER: So normally, Michelle, what – how this would work – and again, speaking hypothetically, because this has not been rolled out – but any initiative to this scale that affects overseas travelers to the United States, even if it’s a Department of Homeland Security lead on it, we would work through our embassies. They would be provided with detailed instructions and as well as make themselves available to accommodate any changes or any aspects of the new law that would affect travelers. So if people are affected, if they cannot participate in the Visa Waiver Program, our embassies, our consulates in those countries affected by this will certainly make themselves available to provide them with regular visa processes.

QUESTION: And have you seen people – I mean, have people already applied for this, this special visa?

MR TONER: Again, there’s no special visa. So we have --

QUESTION: I know, but you have --

MR TONER: No, no, no, that’s okay, Michelle. It’s okay. It’s – so I can speak broadly about – so there is the Visa Waiver Program.

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: That is applied to – I don’t have a specific number of countries around the world – certainly Europe, many countries in South America, Asia, where people can simply travel without a visa to the United States. They’re enrolled in the ESTA program. Their details are known to us in the – within the U.S. Government. It’s not they’re – it’s not that they aren’t vetted at all; they certainly are. Any traveler to the United States is. But it’s a simplified process by which they can get on a plane and travel to the United States.

What we’re talking about is a subset of people who would have to apply for a regular visa to travel to the United States – which, frankly, is not that arduous a process. It involves a bit more background checking, a bit more procedural details. But it’s something that can be turned around in a matter of days. And so my point is there’s no new special visa. There would be --

QUESTION: But they have to apply for a visa --

MR TONER: They might have to – certain categories of travelers – sorry, Michelle, I’m not trying to – certain categories of travelers may have to apply – who were affected by these changes may have to apply for a regular visa. And our consulates and embassies will be at the ready to accommodate them.

QUESTION: So have you seen an uptick since your announcement went out saying that you’ve begun implementing this?

MR TONER: I don’t – no, I don’t have – I mean, we haven’t publicly rolled out the announcement. Certainly it was – there was a – when the law was passed in December 15th, there was some media coverage of that – I think it was December 15th. But we haven’t actually enacted the new law yet. That’s what we’re looking at doing in the near term, in the short term.

QUESTION: What does phased implementation mean?

MR TONER: Well, I mean – what do you – I mean, it just means we’re not going to do --

QUESTION: I mean, because this is – it’s not --

MR TONER: -- from day one to day two. We’re not going to just suddenly – we’re going to – I mean, I’d actually refer you to the Department of Homeland Security to speak about what that means in terms of these aspects of the law.

QUESTION: But the first phase hasn’t begun yet.

MR TONER: My understanding is it has not begun or they have begun reviewing some of the different categories. But no determination’s been made yet.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: But this journalist --

MR TONER: Let me just check on that.

QUESTION: -- was stopped anyway.

QUESTION: The website says it has begun. Your --

MR TONER: That’s what I’m saying. But no – again, what I said at the start was certain ESTA applications have been referred to a review process based on the enactment of the new law. That would be part of the phased implementation.

QUESTION: So some (inaudible) have been referred.

MR TONER: But the U.S. Government has not yet begun denying any of those applications.

QUESTION: So it was a mistake? She was a mistake?

MR TONER: I don’t know what – honestly, I don’t – Barbara, I don’t have the specifics of her case, and if I had them, I couldn’t speak to it. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: We’ll move on.

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: Still on Iran.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: So Foreign Minister Zarif did the Davos version of the full Ginsburg today, telling everyone that the ballistic missile sanctions represented America’s addiction to coercion. Do you have a response to that?

MR TONER: Well, my response would be something we’ve said all along, which is regardless of the progress we’ve been able to achieve in reaching and implementing the JCPOA, we still have a long list of concerns about Iran’s behavior, about – beginning with its dismal human rights record, but it also remains a designated state sponsor of terror. And it has a missile program that we consider a threat to the region, to our allies and partners in the region. And so we’ve said all along that regardless of the sanctions relief they get under the JCPOA, we’re going to retain the right and the ability to sanction them on their ballistic missile program.

QUESTION: Given that you negotiated over their nuclear program and you turned away from coercion in that effort, might you be willing to negotiate on their ballistic missile activity and turn away from coercion – the coercive effort of sanctions?

MR TONER: Well, look – I mean, broadly speaking, the JCPOA was a significant accomplishment in the fact that it was – it achieved diplomatically what many considered an impossible goal of getting them to – or turning off all the four pathways they would have to acquire a nuclear weapon. So I don’t want to exclude any possibilities for those kinds of discussions going forward. I think we need to see – we need to be very cautious, though, in predicting some kind of broader sea change in Iran’s behavior. So we’ll wait and see how they conduct themselves.

QUESTION: Does Iran have to abandon its ballistic --

MR TONER: Go ahead, Brad.

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MR TONER: No, no worries. Brad, you’ve got a follow-up, or no?

QUESTION: Go on.

MR TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Go ahead – he’s here, he’s not leaving.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: No, no. Go ahead. Go ahead.

MR TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: I’ve got some Iran questions as well.

QUESTION: Today the commander of the Basij force spoke about a $1.7 billion bribe to get these American spies, as he put it, out of a Iranian prison. Do you consider that the 1.7 billion that was paid under this Hague settlement was a bribe?

MR TONER: No. There was no bribe, there was no ransom, there was nothing paid to secure the return of these Americans who were, by the way, not spies. We’ve spoken to this in the days after their release on Sunday morning in great detail about how this process worked. There was this consular channel that was opened up to secure their release. What took place in The Hague, the funds that were transferred to Iraq were part of a separate arrangement we agreed to with – did I say Iraq? I apologize. Thanks – Iran related to – agreed to with Iran related to the U.S.-Iran Claims Tribunal at The Hague.

QUESTION: But why did it come out then on the Sunday within hours of the release of the five of the --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- five – four of the five Americans?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, I mean, look, again, even though it was concurrent, and I acknowledge that, it was done on its own merits. This was a good deal for the American people. This is a longstanding mechanism that was put in place, I think, pursuant to the Algiers Accords on January 19th, 1981 and was set up specifically to resolve claims between the two countries and their nationals against each other. And so a large number of claims still remain to be resolved, but this settlement is one of a series of claims that we’ve been discussing over the last couple of years. And these kind of discussions on other settlements are going to continue into the future, so I can’t --

QUESTION: So it’s a coincidence?

MR TONER: Again, it was – so the issue of settling these claims has been raised a number of times in a number of different channels over the years, including --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) any time in the previous 20 years?

MR TONER: No, no, including – right. But including most recently --

QUESTION: Any time in the next 20 years?

MR TONER: No, David. But including most recently in the consular dialogue, it was raised.

QUESTION: So it was raised in the consular dialogue?

MR TONER: That’s what I just said.

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: But the timing was not tied to the release of our detainees, our citizens, in Iran. And again, it’s worth --

QUESTION: So --

MR TONER: So it’s – sorry, Brad. Just to say, I mean, it’s also worth mentioning that, and the Secretary’s said this many times since Sunday, that this is – and including in his statement – this was a very good deal for the American people that we believe saved us – saved the American taxpayer a lot of money.

QUESTION: So my question – my question was why --

QUESTION: Do you think you would have gotten these guys back without the payment?

QUESTION: My question was why was it on Sunday?

QUESTION: Do you think you would have gotten these guys back without the payment?

MR TONER: Okay, guys.

QUESTION: Hold on, hold on.

MR TONER: Okay, let him finish, Justin.

QUESTION: I just want to – I just --

MR TONER: Let him finish, Justin. I swear I’ll go to you next.

QUESTION: No, I should be quiet, yeah. I’ll wait another 45 minutes to speak.

MR TONER: Okay. Brad quickly, and then let’s go.

QUESTION: Why was it announced Sunday? Why Sunday? You said it was concurrent but that doesn’t explain why it was concurrent.

MR TONER: Well, no. I said – sorry. You’re saying why was it announced on Sunday? Because that’s when we had time to – the announcement on Sunday. I mean, it was – there’s a different process here, Brad. I don’t know what you’re pointing to. I mean, it was --

QUESTION: The court wasn’t open on Sunday.

QUESTION: The court wasn’t open on Sunday.

MR TONER: I understand that, but we timed the announcement to take place on the day after implementation day. We did so, but this process was not part of any grand deal or strategy to get our citizens free. That’s all.

QUESTION: Which side raised it during the talks over the swap?

MR TONER: I’m going to go to --

QUESTION: Oh. Yeah, hi. So I guess my question was: Do you feel you would have gotten them back without this payment? I mean, do you really – you expect us to believe that the exchange would have happened without this payment?

MR TONER: Again, this settlement and The Hague trust fund or tribunal, rather – not tribunal. The – yeah, the U.S.-Iran Claims Tribunal, rather, is a separate process, a separate institution altogether that is specifically set up to resolve these claims. That there was progress made and a deal to be had on this track was, as I just acknowledged, linked to some of the discussions we had in the consular channel, but it was in no way a give-and-take or a – rather, a compensation for them to get the release of these Americans.

QUESTION: So why was it discussed at all in the consular channel if these were two separate issues that the two countries were trying to resolve?

MR TONER: Again, they’ve been raised – these kinds of issues have been raised over the years outside of regular channels. That’s what happens in some of these negotiations. That’s part of the process that takes place, and when we – again, when our lawyers looked at the deal, we found that it was in the interest of the American taxpayers to take it.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

QUESTION: No, I’ve got one more.

QUESTION: Can you provide any context to the other claims or settlements or what their worth might be that are – remain?

MR TONER: Sure. Hold on, let me dig through this. I apologize; I have it somewhere here. I apologize. I will get you more.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one more on this?

MR TONER: Yeah, yeah, sure. Sorry, I’m just trying to say – just trying to figure this out. There are a lot of them. Apologize. I know I have it somewhere in here. So there remain some large claims pending before the tribunal, which include Iran’s contract claims arising under the former military sales program. And that, in and of itself, that program included – or that case or claim included 1,000 – over 1,000 separate contracts between Iran and the United States. And so this partial settlement regarding the trust fund was part of that case. Iran also has claims for the alleged U.S. failure to transfer property that was blocked following the 1979 hostage crisis, the return of the former Shah’s assets, and return of Iran’s diplomatic property, and the U.S. is – mounted aggressive defenses to these claims. And we also have counterclaims against Iran arising out of the FMS program, this foreign military sales program, and are seeking damages against Iran.

So all of this is still being adjudicated. But that’s just a taste of some of the – I mean, there’s a lot of them, I mean, frankly – and a lot of them that have been resolved over the years since 1979 --

QUESTION: So since --

MR TONER: -- or since 1981, I guess.

QUESTION: -- there are two – two parallel, entirely separate processes, was it a mistake to announce to the weekend and allow this Iranian general to mis-portray it as a ransom – a presentational mistake?

MR TONER: Well, again, although it was concurrent, the settlement of The Hague trust fund --

QUESTION: I’m not disputing that anymore.

MR TONER: -- was done on its own merits. I’m not going to speak to whether the timing was a mistake.

QUESTION: Because the Iranians now say that you’ve bought your prisoners back – they’ve been given the opportunity to say that by your transfer of $1.7 billion.

MR TONER: No, but I mean, look, there’s no question, frankly, that the settlement was in our U.S. interests, national interests. And the timing was critical because – given that there’s hearings on these claims ongoing and that are being considered by the tribunal that we move as quickly as possible to settle them.

Said.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: One more?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday you were asked if the Secretary had spoken to Foreign Minister Zarif at all about the missing America’s – it wasn’t you, your --

MR TONER: No, no, it was Kirby.

QUESTION: -- in Iraq --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and he seemed a little confused by the notion. But I was wondering if you were able to check on that and whether he has indeed raised the issue with Foreign Minister Zarif.

MR TONER: No, Brad. Thanks for asking the question. I – all I can say about this case – and again, I’m restricted in what I can say under the Privacy Act waiver, which we do not have for any of these individuals – but obviously, their safety, their security is our highest priority. We’re working closely with the Iraqi authorities on this case, on this matter, to try to locate and recover these individuals.

QUESTION: The Security Act does not prevent you from saying whether the case of unnamed Americans was raised. You said it time and time again with individuals who just were released for whom you did not have Privacy Act waivers and who you identified by name. So I’m just asking, yes or no --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- has Kerry raised this with Zarif?

MR TONER: I’m just not going to answer that question right now. We’re looking at – we’re pursuing every possible lead in this case, working in conjunction with the Iraqi authorities.

Please, Said.

ISRAELPALESTINIANS">QUESTION: Can we go on to Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MR TONER: Yep, sure. I think so, yeah.

QUESTION: I know John responded at length to the comments made by Ambassador Shapiro yesterday, and he also commented on the report by – a human rights report – but – and your position on the settlement. But the Israelis today announced the expansion of settlements, about 1,000 dunams or 300 acres and so on. And my question to you – not pertaining to your stance on your settlements, which is quite clear – but it seems that the Israelis, every time there is a report or there is any – or there’s criticism by you, by the Europeans, they go ahead and they just, like, poke you in the eye and just take more land and expand the settlement. Is that a pattern that you see?

MR TONER: I don’t know if it’s a pattern, Said. I mean, we’re obviously aware of the reports --

QUESTION: You can almost --

MR TONER: No, I know, we’re --

QUESTION: You look at it and you can see it every time.

MR TONER: We’re – yeah, you’re referring to the decision, the defense ministry’s decision for – to declare some 400 acres in the Jordan Valley as --

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: -- yeah, as state land, and that obviously appears to be, as we’ve seen before, a step towards building settlements in that area. I don’t know if it’s a pattern. I feel as though I sound like a broken record, but we strongly oppose any steps that could accelerate settlement expansion, and we believe they’re fundamentally incompatible with a two-state solution and call into question, frankly, the Israeli Government’s commitment to a two-state solution.

QUESTION: I understand. But – and you said yourself that you may sound like a broken record and so on. How can you break that pattern? That you move from just saying statements from behind a podium, or by the Secretary himself, into some sort of action that can really bring some results, that can pressure the Israelis to stop or to end this rampant settlement expansion?

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, ultimate – sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off. I mean, ultimately, I mean, the Secretary, as we’ve said, remains engaged, speaks to Prime Minister Netanyahu frequently. But ultimately this is up for the – it’s up to the two sides, or both sides, rather, to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. So we want to see a de-escalation. We want to see affirmative actions on either side that, as we’ve said, can create an environment where we can talk about moving forward in the peace process. Up to now, we’ve not seen it.

QUESTION: But surely you agree that only one side takes land for settlements and expansions and so on. The Palestinians don’t do that, right? You can’t blame both sides for the expansion of settlements, can you?

MR TONER: Well, but we’ve seen the violence carried out by Palestinian --

QUESTION: Okay, but that is an independent – an issue that is independent of the settlements. I’m talking about the settlements. What can you do to basically exert some sort of real, tangible pressure on the Israelis to at least slow down the settlement process?

MR TONER: Sure. Said, this is something we’ve talked about many times in the past, and I agree, it’s a difficult challenge. Obviously, we make clear our disagreement publicly, and the fact that we believe that this is counter to any effort to achieve a two-state solution. It’s detrimental to that process, and we say the same thing privately in our discussions with the Israelis.

Please. Hey.

QUESTION: There is a high-level meeting today at State regarding religious freedom – the Saudis. Do you have any readout? Is that a routine meeting?

MR TONER: I think you’re talking about there was a meeting with Ambassador Saperstein.

QUESTION: Yeah, Saperstein.

MR TONER: Yeah, with a delegation of Saudis. So yes, so Ambassador Saperstein and other State Department officials met with a delegation of Saudi officials this morning to discuss a variety of issues related to religious freedom, and these discussions addressed – again, they’re ongoing or they just concluded – but my understanding is that they addressed the importance of freedom of religion, including the freedom to worship, the value of religious diversity for all individuals in Saudi Arabia and the role of Saudi Arabia’s human rights commission.

QUESTION: Is the meeting with Ambassador Saperstein part of the preparation for the annual report on religious freedom?

MR TONER: No, those processes are separate, and same with our human rights report. Those are done for a lot of reasons, partly for the sanctity of the process or sanctity of the material or content that they report – those processes are done separate and apart from any discussions we might have. But certainly, this is part of our relations with Saudi Arabia. We’re able to – obviously they’re a close partner in the region and we consult with them on a lot of regional issues, from Yemen to Syria. But we also talk to them about difficult issues like religious freedom and human rights.

Please, sir, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. This is Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV Pakistan.

MR TONER: Hey.

QUESTION: Sir, one of the university in Peshawar, in Charsadda, in Pakistan, have been attacked in the morning.

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: And more than 20 students have been killed. One of the assistant professor have been killed.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: While our ARY News bureau office in Islamabad also attacked by the terrorists. They claim that they were the member of the ISIS Afghan chapter. So first, I request you for your comments on these incidents. And secondly, how much you are concerned about the presence and establishment of ISIS in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

MR TONER: So I did – at the top of the briefing I did speak – you’re talking about the attack on Bacha Khan University, yes. So we’ve issued a statement about this, and I also spoke to it briefly at the top, just offering our deepest condolences to the victims and their families of this horrible tragedy. The fact that it’s yet another attack – a terrorist attack on an educational institution is particularly appalling, as though they were targeting the future generations of Pakistan.

You spoke about – I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the – you said --

QUESTION: Our ARY News bureau office in Islamabad was attacked by the terrorists. They claimed that they were the member of the ISIS Afghan chapter.

MR TONER: Of – I apologize. Sorry, Leslie sneezed at – (laughter) – an inopportune moment.

QUESTION: Should I repeat?

MR TONER: No, you said ISS?

QUESTION: Yes, ISIS.

MR TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: ISIS Afghan chapter claimed the responsibility for attacking our news office bureau in Islamabad.

And secondly, how much you are concerned about the presence of ISIS in Afghanistan and in Pakistan?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, we’re concerned about, obviously, the ongoing threat of terrorist organizations in Pakistan. We’ve said many, many times that no one suffers more from terrorism than the people of Pakistan, the Government of Pakistan, and we’re committed to working with them to address how we can combat these terrorist threat, whether it’s ISS or other groups that are active still in – in Pakistan, rather, going forward. And we remain committed to helping the government address these threats.

QUESTION: And so there’s a special group working for the peace process in Afghanistan. U.S. is a member of that special group. But we have seen recently the Taliban intensified their attacks against civilians and including the security personnel. And you know about it that White House staff is calling Taliban as terrorist. So, I mean, how much you are optimistic about this peace process? I mean, Taliban are not stopping their barbaric attacks against civilians, so how much you are optimistic about this peace process?

MR TONER: I mean, I think we’re clear-eyed in our assessment of the challenges that continue to threaten peace and stability in Afghanistan. That said, these are challenges that we believe Afghan Security Forces are developing the capacity and capability to confront. And ultimately we feel that the best way forward is for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process. We welcome Pakistan’s involvement and support for this process, but that’s ultimately what’s going to, we believe, end this ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.

Go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION: Mark, what – do you have any update on the three missing Americans in Iraq? Can you tell us --

MR TONER: I just spoke to this earlier. I don’t have – no, I’m sorry, it was asked earlier. I – so a) we don’t have --

QUESTION: Can you tell --

MR TONER: -- Privacy Act waivers on these individuals. All I can say is we continue to work diligently with Iraqi authorities to locate their whereabouts. Obviously we take their security and safety very seriously, but I don’t have a lot more to add to it. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what specifically is being done to look for them?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, we’re working on the ground with Afghan – excuse me, I apologize – with Iraqi authorities. I don’t have details to lay out as far as the investigation into their disappearance. Again, I’m restricted – none of these individuals have Privacy Act waivers, so I’m somewhat restricted in what I can say. But I can try to get more detail in how that investigation is going.

QUESTION: If you can, can you confirm that they were kidnapped by --

MR TONER: I cannot.

QUESTION: -- by a certain militia that is close to Iran?

MR TONER: I cannot. I cannot.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me just ask you a couple of other things on Iraq, if I may.

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. ISIS, or Daesh, destroyed the oldest church in Iraq. It was St. Elijah’s church in Mosul. And my question to you is: The longer you wait or the Iraqis wait to liberate Mosul, the more likely that we will see destruction as we have seen in Ramadi, in Mosul.

MR TONER: Well, look, I mean, first of all, I’m aware of these reports. We are aware of these reports. You mentioned it’s one of Iraq’s greatest historical religious sites. It’s very disturbing. It’s unfortunately not new; they’ve done this elsewhere. They continue to carry out these kind of depraved acts, and it really symbolizes or exemplifies their bankrupt ideology. And as we work to confront, destroy, degrade ISIL in Iraq and in Syria, we – obviously our concern is for the people who are under their rule or their threat, but we also recognize the need to preserve Iraq’s cultural and religious heritage. It’s a critical step, really, to preserving civil society and enabling reconstruction and reconciliation. So it’s important. This stuff matters deeply. And so we, obviously, condemn in the strongest possible terms the destruction of this monastery.

As to next steps in confronting ISIL, that’s really a question I would just refer to you – I mean, we’re working in conjunction with the Iraqi military, but it’s ultimately – this is a fight that they are in charge of, they’re leading. And they’re having success – we’ve seen that in recent months – in degrading ISIL. But as to next steps and the urgency of that, of course there’s an urgency in taking back all the territory seized by ISIL.

QUESTION: But you are leading the training and equipping and --

MR TONER: Sure, of course.

QUESTION: -- the Iraqis, the Iraqi military. So --

MR TONER: I mean, we’re doing a number of things in Iraq, yeah.

QUESTION: And in fact, today – I think it was today – Secretary Ashton said – Carter said that they are also looking for Arab countries to participate in the training and equipping and so on. But you talked about the urgency of the situation – we remember as far back as last spring when they were talking about --

MR TONER: Right, Said, but I mean --

QUESTION: -- liberating Mosul and so on.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: But the longer you wait, it seems that the longer that ISIS can also establish roots in the ground.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, I would argue the opposite. I mean, with the systematic and steady approach that the Iraqi forces – again, with our assistance and with other members of the coalition’s assistance – have been making against ISIL, they’ve been losing ground. They’ve been losing territory. And we’re going to keep applying pressure. That’s something we’ve talked about. But you can’t let – I mean, there’s just an urgency overall. Certainly, cultural preservation is part of it, the preservation of historical sites is part of it. But it’s also, as I said, the constant threat that these innocent civilians under their rule or under their brutal dictatorship are suffering that also lends urgency to our mission.

QUESTION: A mirror image of that story around Mosul, overnight Amnesty International announced a report saying that the KRG Peshmerga – your allies in this fight against ISIS – have begun cleansing Sunni Arab villages that they’ve recaptured from ISIS, but now they’re driving out civilians and destroy – and there’s satellite imagery in the report showing destroyed buildings and large areas – maybe thousands of houses destroyed by your allies.

MR TONER: Yeah, no, we’re aware of the report, David, and obviously take it very seriously. We’re looking at its allegations and contents. And I can’t comment at this point on any of the particular claims except to say that as government forces liberate territory from ISIL throughout Iraq, there must be security for all civilians to prevent the actions of those who would take advantage of the conflict to commit crimes or engage in any way in vendettas.

Please.

QUESTION: A Pentagon spokesman said on the same incident this morning that any questions about whether this would affect the U.S.’s relationship with the government in Kurdistan, that’s a question for you guys. Could you anticipate that there will be questions – that there will be conversations with President Talabani about what KRG forces have been doing?

MR TONER: I mean, I can anticipate that – we have a relationship with the government of Kurdistan that we can talk about these issues, and these are ongoing concerns and issues that we’ve talked about not just with respect to Kurdish forces but throughout Iraq. And frankly, the new government in Iraq has, we believe, made an effort in – as these new territories are liberated from ISIL to bring back stability, reconstruction; to rebuild hospitals, schools, et cetera so that people can return and feel safe in returning to these liberated areas. That’s absolutely a key component of our strategy.

I’m sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Real quick. Do you have any reaction to Vice President Biden’s remarks this morning at the World Economic Forum in Davos in support of LGBT rights overseas? He made some pretty strong statements in support of that issue. Have you (a) seen those comments; and (b) any reaction to them if you have?

MR TONER: I mean, I’ve seen the – his comments. And certainly, as we say many times, we believe that LGBTI rights are human rights. It’s a fundamental, core part of our overall human rights program or initiatives around the world. And it’s important to us as we move forward that we protect the rights of all people around the world and advocate for those rights, and wherever they’re threatened, speak out against it.

QUESTION: Could --

MR TONER: Sure, go ahead (inaudible).

QUESTION: Biden – Vice President Biden specifically said that every time he and President Obama meet a leader of a country that doesn’t respect rights, that’s part of the agenda. Is it safe to say that when Secretary Kerry meets Foreign Minister Lavrov or Foreign Minister Zarif, that their own countries’ LGBT records come up?

QUESTION: Or King Salman?

MR TONER: I don’t know in every specific case, but certainly, in --

QUESTION: They say every time.

MR TONER: Okay. I just can’t categorically – because I’m not Secretary Kerry, I’m not in every meeting, but I can say that certainly he raises human rights, LGBTI rights, as needed with leaders around the world.

QUESTION: Is it needed with King Salman?

MR TONER: I think it’s needed in a lot of countries.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on Syria?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: The – de Mistura, the UN envoy, has just been reported as saying that it’s likely – it’s possible that talks will not happen on the 25th, and he’ll only know on the 24th if it’s possible to hold them. I appreciate you probably haven’t seen those comments, but how much of a concern would that be given what you were saying earlier about the importance of the timetable and getting the whole process (inaudible) kick-started?

MR TONER: I mean – and certainly, as we’ve said many times about many different issues, deadlines matter. But that said, if it slips one or two days, that’s not the end of the world either. We recognize – let me put it this way. We recognize that this is a difficult process, it has been a difficult process, it will continue to be a difficult process going forward. But we have to keep the pressure on and we have to keep moving forward.

QUESTION: A quick one on Thailand?

MR TONER: Sure. Thailand?

QUESTION: Yeah. In Bangkok, a student activist named Ja New was picked up on the streets by people dressed at least as soldiers. Do you have any reaction to this?

MR TONER: I’ve seen reports. I just can’t – I don’t have enough details to comment on the specific case --

QUESTION: Can you look at the --

MR TONER: -- other than to say – I’ll just say other than we remain concerned by continued limitations on human rights and fundamental freedoms in Thailand, including undue restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and would urge the Thai Government to ensure full respect for freedom of expression and other human rights and fundamental freedoms. As to this specific case, as we get more details, we’ll comment.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Yeah, Mark. I’ll go back to Amnesty. Last October, Amnesty again --

MR TONER: Yeah, okay. Thanks.

QUESTION: -- released a statement on Syrian Kurdish PYD. Amnesty was saying that PYD forcing Arabs to leave their villages that liberated from Daesh or from ISIL. And that time, I remember State Department was – said that they are looking into the case. I was wondering if you came on any conclusion, as you just mentioned for the recent Amnesty report --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- that you are very concerned on the issue.

MR TONER: I mean, look, Amnesty International is a respected human rights organization. Any report that they issue is obviously taken seriously by the Department of State. I do remember the report. I don’t know if we ever commented on the contents of it other than to say we are always concerned by allegations of human rights abuses or allegations that the security and safety of individuals who want to either return to liberated lands or who are there when these places are liberated is of the utmost concern to us, if only that it’s part of a successful liberation either of Syria or of Iraq. You’ve got to have – and we’ve talked about this many times. We have a refugee crisis from that region. What’s the ultimate solution to that refugee crisis? That these families can return to Syria and Iraq and elsewhere, where they fled. So you’ve got to create the environment to which they can return to. It’s a key part of any long-term resolution.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Yeah. Last week, Inspector – the Intelligence Community Inspector General Charles McCullough sent an unclassified letter to the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman. He also sent a carbon copy to the inspector general of the State Department. And the letter dealt with the classification determination for former Secretary Clinton’s emails. I just want to read you part of what the inspector general wrote because it deals with the State Department.

He said, quote, “To date, I have received two sworn declarations from one IC element. These declarations cover several dozen emails containing classified information – ” by the way, this letter was posted as a PDF by The New York Times – “classified information determined by the IC element to be at the confidential, secret, and top-secret SAP levels. According to the declarant, these documents contained information derived from classified IC element sources. Due to the presence of top-secret SAP information, I provided these declarations under separate cover to the intelligence oversight committees in the Senate and House leadership. The IC element is coordinating with State to determine how these documents should be properly treated in the FOIA litigation,” unquote.

Does the State Department in any way contest the accuracy of Inspector General McCullough’s letter?

MR TONER: So you’re talking about the ICIG, that --

QUESTION: Right, this is Inspector General Charles McCullough. He sent this letter to, among others, the inspector general of the State Department.

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: This letter was posted as a PDF by The New York Times.

MR TONER: Sure, sure, sure, okay. Yeah, no, I just wanted to make sure I was – I had the specifics right. Look, a couple points to make. We here at the State Department are focused on – and we’ve said this many times – we’re focused on and committed to releasing former Secretary Clinton’s emails in a manner that protects sensitive information. We take this very seriously. We’ve said repeatedly that we anticipate more upgrades on these emails throughout our release process, but that process is still ongoing. That FOIA review process is still ongoing. Once that process is complete, if it is determined that information should be classified as top secret, we will do so.

QUESTION: Well, do you contest the declared statement, the sworn statement by this officer of an intelligence community element who says there not only were classified information, there was top-secret SAP information in Hillary Clinton’s emails. Does the State Department contest that sworn declaration?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to speak to allegations that the ICIG are making.

QUESTION: You think they’re allegations, not facts.

MR TONER: No, no, no – look, I’m not saying that. All I’m saying is it’s not for me from a public podium to question the findings that they may have. We’ve also said for some time now that while our role is going through these emails for ultimately for public release, redacting or upgrading or classifying them as necessary for public release – sorry, let me finish – that there are concurrently investigations looking into other aspects of these emails. And I’m not going to speak to those investigations or those processes. I just can’t. The review process is --

QUESTION: The State Department does not contest the accuracy of the inspector general’s letter? The State Department is saying there isn’t something in there they disagree with?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, I can’t speak specifically to what he’s referring to. I don’t know specifically what the emails are referring to. What we’ve said in the past – and we’ve talked about the difficulty in determining classification that it is – and we, in fact, invited the IC into this process, so we have people working it as we review these emails from the IC integrated into our overall team. But these are going to be discussions that we’re going to have within this group, within the interagency, determine ultimately the classification of these emails.

QUESTION: Ultimately. So I just want to clarify something.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: According to the inspector general’s letter, he said – he said, quote, “I received two sworn declarations from one IC element.” So someone under oath in a U.S. intelligence community element said the information that he got, which included that some of the material was confidential, secret, and top secret/SAP. It then says that, according to the declarant, these documents contain information derived from classified IC element sources.

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Is the State Department simply saying that this person’s sworn declaration about the classification of these materials may not be correct?

MR TONER: No. I’m not going to speak to the specific allegations from this podium. What I can say is that as we continue to go through these emails, we’re going to look at what among these emails must be upgraded or classified going forward.

QUESTION: He said – but the letter says, “derived from classified IC element sources.” Is the State Department contending that this information, which came from a person who is sworn --

MR TONER: I understand what you’re saying.

QUESTION: -- that it may in fact not be correct?

MR TONER: No. I’m just saying that we’re going – we’re looking at this. We’re still clearing – going through these emails, preparing them for public release through the FOIA process. If it’s determined that any information needs to be classified --

QUESTION: It is determined. So right now, the State Department does not agree with this IC element --

MR TONER: I’m just saying --

QUESTION: -- that these in fact were derived from intelligence community sources.

MR TONER: All I’m saying is we’re continuing the process. We’re looking at these emails. I’m not going to speak to what they’ve found one way or the other. So that’s all I can say on it.

QUESTION: Okay. Because it says that this IC element is coordinating with State to determine how these documents should be properly treated. So this element – they’re coordinating with you.

MR TONER: No, I spoke to that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: I just spoke to that, the fact that there are --

QUESTION: That you --

MR TONER: -- IC elements working within our FOIA processing unit.

QUESTION: It says, “the IC element.”

MR TONER: Yeah, there is. I mean, we --

QUESTION: So the State Department may not agree with the sworn, under-oath declaration of this element of the U.S. intelligence community that this information was classified and derived from IC sources?

MR TONER: Again, I’m just going to leave it where I left it before, okay?

QUESTION: On Iraq?

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR TONER: Sure, Justin.

QUESTION: So when you do eventually release these emails in question, under your FOIA release standards you will be required to make some sort of final assessment, whether it be based on the intelligence community or wherever, of what the classification ultimately is?

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: So how do you mark – how do you handle a top secret email in a FOIA release? Do you – you just – I assume you redact the whole thing and then you --

MR TONER: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: -- and then you tell us that it is what?

MR TONER: No, no. That’s not necessarily --

QUESTION: -- that it is top secret? How do you mark that?

MR TONER: Yeah, I mean – no, I – I mean, I don’t --

QUESTION: Right, what’s --

MR TONER: So you’ve seen thus far in some of the emails that have been upgraded, they’re just – the portions that we believe are sensitive are redacted. I don’t know specifically – I can’t speak to the specific emails and say --

QUESTION: Or the --

MR TONER: -- whether it’s going to be – the entire thing would be redacted or whether we would just withhold the entire --

QUESTION: But does it say --

QUESTION: But we’re right to --

QUESTION: -- because this is classified, or because it’s top secret? Or does it just say it’s redactable?

MR TONER: I think we always acknowledge --

QUESTION: But the level that it’s moved to --

MR TONER: -- in the release the level that it’s moved to, yeah.

QUESTION: And thus far, nothing of --

MR TONER: If that’s incorrect, I’ll let you know, but I think we have.

QUESTION: Thus far, nothing of that level has been released in any of the public --

MR TONER: Tranches, no.

QUESTION: -- tranches, right?

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION: Saving those for last? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: All right, guys.

QUESTION: Can I get one more clarification on that?

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: But you still maintain that none of the emails that have been released so far were – had – contained classified material at the time that they were sent? They were all upgraded after the fact?

MR TONER: Of the ones that have been released, that’s correct, yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah, thanks guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 3.18 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 19, 2016

Tue, 01/19/2016 - 18:28

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 19, 2016

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TRANSCRIPT:

2:11 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Just a couple of things at the top. On Libya, the United States welcomes the Libyan Presidency Council’s announcement of the composition of the new Libyan Government of National Accord. This is a significant step forward on the path towards Libya’s peace and stability. We urge all Libyans to continue moving forward with the implementation of the Libyan Political Agreement. We note that the agreement calls on the Libyan House of Representatives to convene and endorse the Government of National Accord within 10 days, and we encourage the house to proceed without delay.

The international community stands ready to partner with the Government of National Accord to address the country’s critical humanitarian, economic, and security challenges. The United States will continue to support the implementation of the Libyan political agreement, and we are committed to providing the unified government full political backing and technical, economic, security, and counterterrorism assistance as requested.

On Honduras, the United States welcomes the signing today of an agreement between the Government of Honduras and the Organization of American States establishing the Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras. The establishment of this support mission responds to the legitimate demands of the Honduran people for vigorous and meaningful action against corruption, including criminal investigations and prosecutions of those who offer or receive illegal inducements. Its terms of reference provide for a team of international investigators and prosecutors to collaborate with specially selected Honduran counterparts to pursue – I’m sorry – to pursue specific cases of corruption and advance fundamental systemic reforms to the judicial sector. We welcome as well the announcement of Juan Jimenez to lead the special mission, a proven leader on anticorruption.

We also congratulate the Government of Honduras and the OAS Secretariat on reaching this agreement and urge them, in collaboration with other member and observer states, to ensure that the mission has the resources and independence necessary to achieve its mission. We look forward to seeing effective implementation of the special mission and their mandate in coming months.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. So let’s start with the trip that the Secretary’s going to be making and specifically about his meeting tomorrow with Foreign Minister Lavrov and the status of the Syria negotiations, which are supposed to get underway a week from yesterday.

MR KIRBY: Yep.

QUESTION: There’s a lot of chatter about the fact that there’s still no agreement on, one, which groups should be called – should be identified as terrorist groups, and two, what that – and that and its effect on the composition of the opposition delegation that’s supposed to be sitting down at the talks. Is this the main focus of the conversation the Secretary will have with Lavrov tomorrow and then again with Foreign Minister Jubeir in Riyadh on – over the weekend? And how – what is the current state of play as it relates to whether these talks are going to get going on time?

MR KIRBY: Yes, you can expect that the Secretary will certainly talk about Syria and our ongoing efforts to get a political transition in place with Foreign Minister Lavrov when they meet tomorrow in Zurich. They will also, of course, as they always do, talk about Ukraine and our strong desire to see Minsk fully implemented. But yes, of course, they will talk about the Syria political process.

And as for the status of it, it is still our desire to see this meeting occur on the 25th. And the Secretary is in close touch with Mr. de Mistura, the UN special envoy, and, of course, has been in touch with Foreign Minister Lavrov about this in just the last days. He will stay in close touch with him, but is – certainly, what we want to see is we want to see it move forward. We’re not unmindful of the fact that there still remains differences of opinion and that this is a complicated process and that there’s still quite a bit of work that needs to be done to get the meeting to occur.

So we’re still tracking towards that. That’s what we want to see, and we’ll just have to see how things go.

QUESTION: As you may be well aware --

QUESTION: What do you think about Lavrov’s decision to --

QUESTION: Hold on. Wait a second, wait a second, Arshad.

QUESTION: What do you think about Lavrov’s suggestion that it happen in Damascus? Is that a nonstarter to you completely?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen Mr. Lavrov’s suggestion that it would happen in Damascus. I --

QUESTION: Really? He was quoted as saying it yesterday.

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. I just didn’t see the comments. The venue and the mechanics and the logistics, that’s for the UN and for Staffan de Mistura to decide. I’ve seen no plans to have it in Damascus.

QUESTION: As to your desire to have this meeting, I mean, I’m looking to – everyone knows that’s what you want, but everyone also knows that not all desires are requited, right? This may be unrequited.

MR KIRBY: You sound like you speak from experience, Matt.

QUESTION: Of course. Doesn’t everyone? But anyway, the point is – my point is – my question is: What is the status of it? While it may be your desire, your hope, your wish that it’s going to go ahead, how realistic is that right now given the fact that you say there’s still quite a bit of work to do and we’re talking less than a week?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. No, there is still a lot of work to be done. We would still like to – our hope, as it’s been, is that this would continue to move forward for the 25th. That’s what the Secretary would very much like to see. But he is – he’s certainly aware that there remain – there remains some work to be done and some things to iron out, some issues to resolve before the meeting can take place. I simply am not in a position to predict with great certainty for you what the outcome of all that’s going to be, but it’s our hope that this can continue to move forward and that we can have this meeting on the 25th.

QUESTION: Well, is it or is it not the case that there are still, despite the November agreement for the Jordanians to draw up this list, is it still not the case that there are only two groups, the same two that were identified back in Vienna, that are on this list of ineligibles?

MR KIRBY: Certainly, those two groups have always been on the group as ineligible --

QUESTION: But what progress has been made on this since --

MR KIRBY: Well, I’d point you to Jordanian authorities. They’re continuing to work this. This is an iterative process.

QUESTION: Well, isn’t – right.

MR KIRBY: And there’s – I don’t disagree that or I don’t refute the notion that there’s still not a final resolution to the, quote/unquote, “list.” But the work is still ongoing, and I think you’re going to continue to see the ISSG, the members of the ISSG, work with the Jordanian authorities to get that done. But again, there’s, again, more work to be done here with respect to the January 25th meeting, and we’ll just – we’ll have to see how it goes over the next few days.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Do you expect Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov to specifically discuss the question of which opposition groups might be acceptable interlocutors in these talks if they happen?

MR KIRBY: I don’t want to get too much in the weeds and detail of a meeting that hasn’t happened yet, and they’re going to meet tomorrow. We’ll make sure that we provide you a sense of how the meeting went after it was over and what was discussed. I’m not going to get ahead of their specific agenda. Broadly speaking, as I said before, they’re certainly going to discuss the Syrian political process – where we are, what needs to be done, how best we can move forward – as well as Ukraine.

QUESTION: Do you believe that the Russians share your desire to have this meeting go forward on the 25th?

MR KIRBY: I won’t speak for the Russians or what they view in terms of the 25th of January meeting. What I can tell you is that they have privately and publicly endorsed the Vienna process and supported the effort to get the opposition together with the Assad regime. But in terms of their exact feelings about the date of this meeting on the 25th and their prognostication about it, I’d point you to the Russian authorities for that.

QUESTION: Have you – are you aware of reports suggesting that they, the Russians, would like to have members of the opposition that are apparently not so opposed to the Assad government take part in those talks if they happen?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of specific reports of what – if they have an idea of a certain group or not. Look – and they should speak to that, not us. What I can tell you is that Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Russian Government have been not only supportive but very cooperative in the process that we have now engendered through the Vienna meetings and the effort to get at a political solution in Syria. It should come as a shock to no one that we don’t see eye-to-eye with Russia on every component of what the political future of Syria should look like. But that’s why it’s so important to keep having these discussions and these meetings. That’s why it’s significant that the two are going to meet again tomorrow in Zurich. And I suspect that they’ll have a – as they always do – a pretty wide-ranging discussion about how we’re going to move forward.

What’s important is that there is – that there is a movement inside the international community embodied by the ISSG to move forward with a political solution in Syria. Now, again, there are plenty of differences of opinion about what that looks like and how we’re going to get there, to include differences of opinion that are manifesting themselves in the lead-up to the 25th of January meeting. I mean, there’s obviously some – still some issues to be worked out. But that we are able to have those discussions and that dialogue, that we have the ability through the ISSG and bilaterally to work through issues, I think is encouraging, and the Secretary believes that it’s important to keep moving forward.

QUESTION: Well, let’s --

QUESTION: And do you think – can I ask one last one on this?

QUESTION: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you think that the Syrian opposition, were they to attend such a meeting, whoever they might be at such a meeting if it were to happen, risk losing credibility, to the extent that they have credibility on the ground in Syria, if such a meeting takes place amid continued extreme violence, starvation, et cetera? Do you think that there is a risk for them in coming to a meeting while the violence rages?

MR KIRBY: I won’t speak for what they determine the risks may be. But I will tell you that we believe that there is opportunity in trying to stop that cycle of violence, that there is great opportunity in trying to get at a better Syria for the Syrian people by moving forward with this meeting and with the process, again, laid out in Vienna to get us to a political transition in Syria away from Assad and towards a government that can be responsive to the Syrian people. So they have much to gain by sitting down right now. In fact, now is the time to do this, when things are as they are, to try to get at a political solution that can stop this violence and lead to a better future for the Syrian people. The time is now.

QUESTION: Does it really matter whether the U.S. and Russia agree on which members of the Syrian opposition should be taking part in the talks?

MR KIRBY: What matters most – what --

QUESTION: Shouldn’t that be up to the Syrian people, ultimately?

MR KIRBY: What matters most is the High Negotiating Committee to select the participants that will be in the negotiating process. That’s the way the system was laid out. It – there are – to your answer, does it matter – I mean, obviously, we need to continue to work with Russia as we try to get through this political process. And I think it’s – the Secretary still believes it’s important to continue to work through some of the differences that we continue to have with Russia. There’s nothing wrong with having those discussions. There’s nothing wrong with laying it out plainly for one another sort of how we see the future shaping up. But as we’ve said all along, this has to be a Syrian-led political process with the Assad regime, Syrian-led. And so what matters most is who the High Negotiating Committee, chosen from among the participants in Riyadh, the 116 or some odd participants – what matters most is who they select, who they decide is going to sit across that table from the regime and move forward.

QUESTION: Or simply, does it matter whether there’s an agreement tomorrow, does next Monday’s meeting still go ahead? Or does that – or is that just --

MR KIRBY: You mean --

QUESTION: Or does the ISSG --

MR KIRBY: -- is one of the stumbling blocks to the Monday meeting something between the U.S. and Russia?

QUESTION: Yeah. Yeah. Is this --

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: -- enough to scuttle next Monday’s meeting?

MR KIRBY: No. What – no. This is a UN-led meeting. The ISSG is not going to be present at this. It’s not intended to be present. This is between – this is under the auspices of the UN, between the opposition and the regime. And what matters most is that the High Negotiating Committee have the people there that they believe needs to be there; that obviously Special Envoy de Mistura is there, because it is under UN auspices, and the regime is properly represented.

But look, we’re not unmindful of the fact that Russia has influence over the regime. And as we’ve said before, we want to see them use that influence on the Assad regime to keep the process moving forward, as per Vienna.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that the High Negotiating Committee will have the exclusive right to determine opposition or presented as opposition candidates? Could third parties, who are neither regime nor High Negotiating Committee, be invited?

MR KIRBY: The purpose of the – if you’re talking about the 25th of January meeting, that – the – as we said after Riyadh, the opposition will be represented at that meeting by delegates chosen from the High Negotiating Committee and only from the High Negotiating Committee.

QUESTION: Because as Arshad’s question suggested, there may be other factions who don’t see themselves as really represented by that group or maybe, as I think your phrase was, less opposition-y opposition.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, this is – the delegations – the delegates are going to be set by the High Negotiating Committee, which the opposition itself selected and chose the High Negotiating Committee at the meeting in Riyadh. And that’s one of the ways we’re trying to demonstrate that this is, in fact, a Syrian-led, Syrian-run process.

Pam.

QUESTION: One more on Syria. As you stated, this is a UN-led process. But in terms of the deadline for the 25th, has there been talk in this building on what the U.S. would consider an acceptable plan B, for lack of another phrase, if the 25th deadline is not met? For example, a week, two weeks, what would the U.S. consider acceptable, especially considering that there are plans to implement a ceasefire that are tied in with all of this?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, it’s a UN-led process. It’s not for the U.S. to dictate the terms of the meeting or the date of the meeting. But secondly, as I said at the outset, it’s still our hope and expectation that this meeting will happen on the 25th. Now, we are – recognize there’s still work to be done, but the Secretary is focused on keeping it moving towards having it on that date.

Yes.

QUESTION: I want – my question is about Syrian refugees. I wanted to see if you had numbers for how many came in in 2015 and how many are expected in 2016.

MR KIRBY: I don’t. Let me take the question and get back to you. I don’t have those exact figures right now. But the year 2016 just started, so I don’t know that we’ll have much in terms of additional data for you, but we can get you a breakdown of what it was in ’15. And as you know, the President required an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees for this year, so I know --

QUESTION: Any implement on the legislation that the Senate is looking at this week in terms of changing the vetting process?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about pending legislation. I’ll just tell you that we continue to work with members of Congress to try to address their concerns and their questions. I will tell you that, again, nothing is more important to the State Department and to Secretary Kerry than the safety and security of the American people. That’s why the Syrian refugees are vetted additionally with more scrutiny than any other refugee that comes into the United States. The process, as it stands now, takes between 18 and 24 months. It takes a long time for an individual Syrian refugee to be admitted into the United States.

It’s also why we’re working so hard on a political process in Syria, because ultimately, you don’t want to have to worry about a refugee problem. You want a home for these people to stay in or to return to, and that’s why this political process is so important. But as for your specific question, you’re going to have to let me take it. I just wasn’t armed with numbers when I came up here today.

QUESTION: No worries.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Iraq. So just one question about the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan: There have been some protests in the region over the lack of payments for a few months, and this month, the KRG was able only to pay the salaries of the public servants in half, and that’s caused some protest in the region. Are you worried that this might escalate and this might potentially even impact the war against ISIS? The deputy prime minister of the region describes this as an economic tsunami.

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, we’re certainly watching developments and monitoring them. I don’t have any announcements or decisions to read out today. We want to see a successful, whole, inclusive Iraq that is capable of maintaining the pressure that they have been maintaining against ISIL, but I don’t have anything specifically to address with respect to these economic issues.

QUESTION: Can we stay in Iraq?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering if there is any update on the three Americans who were apparently kidnapped in Baghdad, and whether or not Secretary Kerry has decided that it would be worthwhile or already has made a call to Foreign Minister Zarif about this issue.

MR KIRBY: Zarif? These are in Iraq, you’re talking about?

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: There are reports that they were kidnapped by Shiite militias in Iraq.

QUESTION: They’re more than reports. I mean, the Iraqis are saying that the Shiite – that Shiite militias --

MR KIRBY: Now, you --

QUESTION: -- that basically – that have links – strong links to Iran were responsible.

MR KIRBY: So what I would tell you is I don’t have an update for you. Obviously, we’re working very closely with Iraqi authorities to try to get more information about these three individuals to determine their whereabouts. And without getting into details, I mean, I can tell you that the picture is becoming a little bit more clear in terms of what might have happened here. And we’re working – again, work very hard to try to resolve this. I’m just not able to go into any more detail than that. And I don’t have any communications with Foreign Minister Zarif to read out with – related to this.

QUESTION: Well, how about this: Are you talking to anybody other than the Iraqi authorities about this incident?

MR KIRBY: As I said, we’re working very closely with Iraqi authorities to try to get as much information as we can and to try to resolve this.

QUESTION: So you have not made a determination yet that you might need to bring in – or you might need to expand your communications beyond just Iraqi authorities?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any – I’m not aware of any decision to expand our communications here. And I would remind everybody that first reports, even second reports are often wrong here in terms of what might have happened. So I think we need to – what we’re focused on at the State Department is working closely with local authorities to try to get as much information as we can so that we can make the – or at least help make the right decisions moving forward. So we’re --

QUESTION: Right. But don’t you cast the widest net possible in trying to determine what happened? And wouldn’t that, given the fact that there are – whether or not the first or second reports are correct or not, there are Shiite militia that operate in this area, and there are indications that they were taken to Shia area --

MR KIRBY: There may be indications of that.

QUESTION: -- and that --

MR KIRBY: I mean, yes, there are Shia militia that operate in Iraq, and yes --

QUESTION: Right, and they have --

MR KIRBY: -- there are some Shia militia that are influenced by Tehran.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: Not all of them are, Matt; you know that.

QUESTION: Well, no. Exactly.

MR KIRBY: And I don’t want to get ahead of what is a very active, energetic effort to try to determine the facts and to determine the whereabouts of these individuals and see if we can’t get them home. So I think we just need to – we just need to keep working it as we are. And we’re working closely with not only the Iraqi authorities, but obviously military – our U.S. military officials there in Iraq.

QUESTION: Are you saying that U.S. military advisors are helping the Iraqi authorities in trying to find these three Americans?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. I said we’re working – we’re in close contact with the military command there, U.S. military, as well as Iraqi authorities.

QUESTION: How confident is the U.S. that the Iraqi Government can find these three U.S. citizens and bring them back safely?

MR KIRBY: If we – what I’m confident of is that we’re going to work very hard at this, and we’re going to do everything we can to try to get more information and to try to resolve this. But it is very fluid; it just happened. And we’re doing the best we can to try to gather more information. I’m just not able to go into any more than that.

QUESTION: Some Iraqi officials have been telling reporters in Baghdad the names of the people they believe were kidnapped, for whom they worked, what they think the circumstances were. Are you able to confirm any of these reports?

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: Why not?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, there’s privacy considerations that we have to acknowledge when it comes to identifying. And number two, it’s a fluid situation. We are gaining a better – a better picture through information that we’ve been able to glean in the last day or so. But I would – I can easily say that the picture’s not complete. And so I don’t know that it would help the situation and help us resolve it any quicker by having me detail what is changing information as we continue to get it here from the podium.

Yeah.

QUESTION: My name is Nazira. I work for Afghan TV. Could you please share your opinion about the peace talks discussion, four parties discussion, which had happened yesterday in Kabul? Are you optimistic? Although there is so many things, negative things going on. The school get fire by the insurgency and also so many people killed in Jalalabad in Afghanistan. So are you optimistic about this peace process?

MR KIRBY: We’ve been – a couple of thoughts. We’ve been very pragmatic, and I think clear-eyed about the challenges which still remain in trying to get at an Afghan-led reconciliation process. Nobody’s more mindful of the challenges with respect to that than we are. And we – obviously, we know that President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah are also aware of those challenges. But we applaud the continued efforts that they have put into this to trying to get it – to try to get it going. And as we’ve said before, we stand willing to support that process as appropriate, but it must be Afghan-led. That’s the only way this is going to be successful. And we still want to see it move forward.

Ma’am.

QUESTION: China. Do you have a update on your reaction to the opening ceremony and official inauguration of – the bank, AIIB?

MR KIRBY: I don’t, no. I’m afraid I don’t have an update for you on that. I’ll have to get that back to you.

QUESTION: One more?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Emails. Fox has a report out citing a letter from the inspector general to the intelligence community responding to a – it’s an unclassified letter responding to a member of Congress. And the letter, as has been described to me, says that intelligence community elements, whatever that means, have told the inspector general that some of the emails that were found on former Secretary Clinton’s home email server had so-called SAP classified information on them – Special Access Program. Do you have any comment on this, and do you have any reason to believe that there was any such highly classified information on her email server?

MR KIRBY: Well, I wouldn’t speak to a letter written by the intel community. I think that would be for them to speak to. What I’ll tell you is that we are focused on and remain focused on releasing the rest, the remainder, of former Secretary Clinton’s emails in a manner that protects sensitive information. And as you know, nobody’s going to take that more seriously than we are.

We’ve said repeatedly that we do anticipate more upgrades throughout our release process, and we’ve been very open and honest about that – those upgrades when they’ve occurred. Our FOIA process – I’m sorry, our FOIA review process is still ongoing. And once that process is complete, if it is determined that information should be classified as top secret, then we’ll do so, as we have consistently done throughout the process.

QUESTION: I understand you don’t want to comment on a letter written by a different set of agencies or by the inspector general to a different set of agencies. But it makes an allegation that concerns a former secretary, and therefore I think it’s a reasonable thing to ask you about. Are you in a position to say anything about whether you believe there may have been information classified at that level, which I gather is beyond top secret, on her home email server, or deny it?

MR KIRBY: I’m not in a position to comment any more than what I’ve already done here. I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave it at how I left it.

QUESTION: Do you have in your book there the number of redactions made because of top secret information?

MR KIRBY: I do not. You mean total from --

QUESTION: Total top secret. You said, “as we have consistently done throughout the process.” And I’m just – I don’t remember off the top of my head. Do you remember how many were redacted because of top secret, not confidential or – I mean, if you don’t have it there, it’s okay. I can get it afterwards.

MR KIRBY: I’ll see if I can dig up the redactions. I mean, as you know, every time we’ve done this we’ve kind of laid out how many redactions there were. Most of them – in fact, the vast majority of them – have been at the confidential level. I don’t have the accumulated number, but we’ll see if we can get it for you.

QUESTION: Are you still on track to wrap up by the 29th of this month, which I think is the final deadline?

MR KIRBY: We’re still working very hard to be able to meet that deadline.

QUESTION: Do you think you will?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to predict right now. We’re working --

QUESTION: It’s like the Syria talks.

MR KIRBY: We’re working very hard to meet that deadline. And look, if we’re not going to meet it, just like last month, we’re going to be open and honest about it, not just to the court but to the public and to all of you. But that’s what we’re still working towards.

QUESTION: If you won’t comment specifically on the IG’s report, can you – I mean, wouldn’t you consider this a pretty serious matter, if this is true? I mean, the IG report was released and then sent to members of Congress.

MR KIRBY: As I understand it, it’s a letter, right?

QUESTION: Right, letter, sorry.

MR KIRBY: It’s not an IG report. And I won’t speak to a letter we didn’t write. And I’m not going to – because I haven’t seen the letter, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment about it either. I’m not going to – I mean, I’m not going to try to characterize what it says or what’s in it.

What I can tell you is serious is the manner in which the Secretary wants this building to do two things: one, to be responsive to Freedom of Information Act reports, and we’re trying very hard to do that. We’ve upped the number of staff, we’ve put more resources into it, we’ve made some process changes, and I suspect you’ll see us continue to do more. And the other thing that we take very seriously is the handling of sensitive information, which is why we’re working so hard as we release all these that we take a look very carefully to make sure that we redact sensitive information appropriately. Those two things I can tell you we take very, very seriously.

There are reviews and investigations going on about past email practices here at the department, and I am simply not at liberty to discuss the content or the things that may or may not be being investigated. I think you can understand why I wouldn’t want to get ahead of that.

QUESTION: Can we come back to Iraq? A couple of UN agencies put out a report on the number of civilians who have been injured and killed in the conflict since the beginning of 2014 but with a focus on May to October of last year.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: At least 3,855 people killed, another 7,056 injured. Is there a building comment about – about the deaths, about the injuries, who’s responsible?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve seen the report. We’re reviewing it. We strongly support the work of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq and the Special Representative to the Secretary-General Jan Kubis. I don’t think it – we’ve said it before, but it certainly bears repeating that the depth of ISIL’s depravity has already been well documented, and this report continues to show the horrendous methods that ISIL has used to run its campaign of terror.

We obviously condemn in the strongest possible terms their atrocities and extend our deepest condolences to all the victims’ families and to the people of Iraq. That’s why we’re there. That’s why we’re part of this coalition. We’re leading it, and we’re going to stay at the job. The --

QUESTION: The report – sorry.

MR KIRBY: We cannot independently confirm the numbers that are stated in the report. We’re certainly not in a position to dispute them either. But look, again, their slave trade in Iraq and Syria is well-documented, as well as their atrocities and the violence and the – just the brutal, murderous activities that they continue to conduct. It – so again, while we’re reviewing the report, it reinforces things we already know and believe about this group. And it underscores for us the importance to stay at the job and to continue to contribute to the coalition against ISIL.

QUESTION: The report also does have some criticism of ISF and local militias for some of their misdeeds, some verging, the report alleges, on war crimes. Is that a particular concern for this building?

MR KIRBY: That is always a concern for this building and, as I said, we’re going through the report, we’re reviewing it now. I don’t have any independent assessments by the State Department about those particular findings. But issues of proper conduct and behavior and the fair treatment of innocent civilians in a conflict like this is something that we routinely discuss with our Iraqi counterparts, and I think you’ll continue to see us routinely bring that up. But again, we’re just – we just got this, we’re just going through it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: One more question about Iraq. There are reports of a meeting between the – the coalition to discuss the operation to liberate Mosul. Do you see any role for the Peshmerga to play in Mosul?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make military assessments here.

QUESTION: Politically, like – (laughter) – do you think it’s problematic for the Kurds to participate in the liberation of an Arab-dominated city?

MR KIRBY: The – everybody understands the importance of Mosul and getting it back, and everybody in the coalition is focused on that, and working to support the Iraqi campaign plan to do it – and it is an Iraqi campaign plan. But I won’t talk about operational details of that. That is for the Iraqi Government, for the coalition to speak to.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, back to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. If you can answer the question – can you take these two question first? Is the U.S. going to consider to join AIIB in the near future?

MR KIRBY: I’ll get back to you. I don’t have anything on this today.

QUESTION: And secondly, are those initial concern about the high standard – environment standards has been relieved in the past year?

MR KIRBY: We’ve said in the past with respect to the bank that should it come to pass, should it be formed, that we would want to see the same high international standards towards accountability and transparency that exist in other such banks. But as for a particular comment about its establishment, you’re going to have to just let me get back to you.

Okay.

QUESTION: Oh --

MR KIRBY: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: I’ve got a couple quick ones about the events over the course of the last three days. Yeah? Yeah?

MR KIRBY: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: You’re game?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Whatever you want.

QUESTION: This is about the Hague claims --

MR KIRBY: I assume you not talking about the playoffs.

QUESTION: No. The Hague claims commission settlement.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any more information than what was in – what’s already been put out? What I’m curious about is how much the Iranians were actually seeking. You said you got out of this with a pretty good settlement, avoided having to pay billions and billions of dollars more. How much did they – were they asking for in the first place? Secondly, are you – do you know – and these are all questions that can be taken if you don’t or – how many outstanding claims there still are before this commission; whether or not you are actively pursuing settlements of any of those that might still be outstanding; and what prospects are for quick closure of those claims, if you can say? And if you don’t have the answers to any of them, I can wait. It’s not --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I don’t have that level of detail on claims outstanding. You’re going to have to let me --

QUESTION: Can you copy me into your response to that question?

MR KIRBY: Huh?

QUESTION: Can you copy me into that question – response --

MR KIRBY: Sure. You’re going to have to let me get back to you on that, Matt. I don’t have additional – I don’t have any additional information about specific claims.

QUESTION: But that – generally, that probably interests most people.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. But – and you had – but you had an original – your first question was --

QUESTION: Well, how much they were asking for. What did the Iranians say that they were owed? Because the way it was presented here, you’re giving them far less than what they had sought.

MR KIRBY: Well, they’re receiving the balance of $400 million in the trust fund --

QUESTION: Yeah. I know that, but how much did they want?

MR KIRBY: -- as well as roughly 1.3 billion on the interest, which was a compromise figure arrived at. I don’t know what – as we were working through the compromise on the interest what their original going-in position was. I don’t know. But the 1.3 billion in interest was a compromise figure that both sides agreed to. I don’t – again --

QUESTION: What I’m looking – what I’m – I mean, it was presented by the State Department, by the White House as this great kind of victory – or maybe not victory, but you got out of this – because you settled this claim at terms that were beneficial for the U.S. Government/taxpayer.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: So I want – what my question is, is: How much money did you save the taxpayer --

MR KIRBY: I’ll see if I can --

QUESTION: -- in settling for 1.3 billion in interest? Because it seems like a lot.

MR KIRBY: I will see if I can get you --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: I will see if I can get you more fidelity on that. But we do know, because of reaching the compromise on the interest – remember, the 400 million was their money --

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. I know.

MR KIRBY: -- tied up in defense sales that was busted at the – during the ’79 revolution, and the 1.3 billion in interest was a compromise. I don’t know what they came in at. I’ll see if we can get more fidelity on that. But that it was a compromise, as we said over the weekend, means that it was certainly a lower figure than was originally sought.

QUESTION: Well, right. But you get what I’m saying, that if they came in saying, “Well, we want 1.4 billion,” and you only got it down to 1.3 billion, it’s not exactly a huge – I mean, it’s a lot of money still. I wouldn’t mind having it.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: But still, it’s not as if you saved 5 – if they came in saying we want 7 billion in interest and you got it down to 1.3, it’s – then that’s something that’s --

MR KIRBY: I’ll see what I can find out.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks. And then the other things that occurred over the last three days, but not Iran related – this is Israel related. One, in – you read, I presume, and seen the response to Ambassador Shapiro’s speech that he gave yesterday?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Why – in a particularly difficult moment or a sensitive moment like yesterday was in the wake of the Iran deals, the sanctions on Iran getting lifted, something that clearly was opposed by Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government, was it – in retrospect, was it wise to send Ambassador Shapiro out to give a speech castigating the Israeli Government on issues, and not making really any new points about your opposition to their activities in the West Bank?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, there’s really nothing new there.

QUESTION: Well, exactly. But why --

MR KIRBY: Well, this was --

QUESTION: You’re trying to heal the relationship with – that – with Israel, not exacerbate it. Not exacerbate the problems, I assume, right? So why have your ambassador go out and basically trash the Israelis for stuff that they already know you don’t like?

MR KIRBY: Okay, a couple of things there. This was a --

QUESTION: The timing of it.

MR KIRBY: He spoke at a conference --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: -- the INSS conference that he had long been invited to attend and was on the agenda to speak and felt it was important, especially in light of events that were going on in the world and in the region, to continue to meet his obligation to speak there. It wasn’t like he chose that day as a “Well, here’s the day I’m going to go out there just because I want to.” It was a long-scheduled appearance at a conference that he had obligated himself and his time to, and he took it very seriously.

As you rightly pointed out, there’s really nothing new here in what he said. We’ve consistently made clear our concerns about violence on both sides, and we obviously have strongly condemned terrorist attacks perpetrated by Palestinians, including the attacks over the weekend. We also remain concerned and – deeply concerned, and we’ve not been bashful about saying this and neither was he, about Israeli settler violence against Palestinians and their property in the West Bank.

And as for the relationship, it’s because we value the relationship with Israel so much that we feel it’s important to continue to have an honest, open, candid, forthright discussion about our concerns. And that he said these things in his speech shouldn’t be misconstrued as not – as us not saying them in private to Israeli leaders as well – and have over many, many, many months. So this wasn’t a new – this wasn’t a new set of remarks. He didn’t say anything that we haven’t said, again, privately and publicly.

And to your point about the relationship, we understand that there’s still concern over the Iran deal. It is – this is the time to be having these frank and candid discussions with Israeli leaders. This is the time to try to move the relationship forward and to see a real prospect for a two-state solution there.

QUESTION: I suppose that my question doesn’t relate so much to what he actually said as when he said it. I mean, it wasn’t imperative that he go out and deliver a highly critical speech on – yeah, he could have made a speech and not been as critical as he was. But your position is – I’m assuming from what you said – is that the Administration thinks that now, despite the fact that this was a – this weekend was a point of big tension, not only because of the Iran deal but because of the attacks that you said – that you mentioned and condemned, that it was important and in the – and to the benefit of the relationship to say what he said at that particular time.

MR KIRBY: What I said – what I mean is in the – that because things are tense, this is a time for having an open, honest dialogue with Israel. But let’s go back to the speech – long planned.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know.

MR KIRBY: He was on the agenda. It was an obligation that he made.

QUESTION: Yes. Fair enough.

MR KIRBY: And he – it wasn’t like he sat down and scribbled on a piece of paper, “Well, today I’m going to say stuff that’s going to cause concern and angst with Israeli leaders.” He was simply stating again longstanding, public policy by the United States with respect to the violence that’s going on there, to the settlement activity which is going on there, and to what we believe needs to happen to get to a two-state solution.

QUESTION: Well, all right. But – okay. But I don’t see – people make changes to their prepared remarks all the time. And so it seems, to me, clear that this was – that he did it intentionally, that this was the message that you guys wanted to send to them, and you were going to do it, regardless of whether the timing might have been bad or misunderstood by the prime minister’s office, which came out pretty hard, saying it was inappropriate.

MR KIRBY: Well, I saw the reaction.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR KIRBY: I think it would be wrong to conclude that he sort of chose this moment, necessarily, to tweak noses. This was a longstanding --

QUESTION: Well, he chose the moment not to change his speech.

MR KIRBY: -- speech. And again, he restated – he restated --

QUESTION: But it is a requirement that he make – I understand that. But is it a longstanding requirement for him to say exactly what he said? I mean, number of times that we look at as-prepared remarks that officials make, and they take stuff out, depending on whether or not they – whether or not it’s appropriate to say at the time. The prime minister said it was inappropriate. Clearly, you disagree. Is that correct? You think it was entirely appropriate, what he said?

MR KIRBY: He was simply reiterating our longstanding policies --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- that we believe are important to continue to stand by.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: I got --

QUESTION: Secondly, the Human Rights Watch Report – maybe you saw – about the – about activities in the West Bank and Gaza and occupied territories – have you seen this – that invest – they’ve come out, Human Rights Watch, and said that if people invest in those areas, they’re investing in oppression, essentially.

MR KIRBY: I’ve not seen --

QUESTION: You haven’t seen that report? Okay. Could you take that?

MR KIRBY: I have not seen that report.

QUESTION: And then the last one is on the EU decision --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- to – you know what I’m talking about, right? Them to make --

MR KIRBY: The foreign affairs inclusions?

QUESTION: Right. All agreements with Israel have to make it clear that the West Bank and Gaza are not affected.

MR KIRBY: Well, as you know, our longstanding position on settlements is clear. We view Israeli settlement activity as illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace. We remain deeply concerned about Israel’s current policy on settlements, including construction, planning, and retroactive legalizations. The U.S. Government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements, because administrations from both parties have long recognized that settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines and efforts to change the facts on the ground undermine prospects for a two-state solution. We are no different.

QUESTION: And does that mean – so that means that you have no issue with this EU decision? You support it?

MR KIRBY: Well, you’re talking about this – the specific reaction to --

QUESTION: Correct. Yeah.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Although I would refer you to the EU for an official response to their policies, they’ve made clear that this is not a boycott in any way and that the EU also made clear that they oppose boycotts against Israel.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: We do not view labeling the origin of products as being from the settlements a boycott of Israel. We also do not believe that labeling the origin of products is equivalent to a boycott.

QUESTION: Okay. But in terms of the issue with the agreements and omitting from them the West Bank and Gaza, you also – you think that that – you think that’s okay? In other words, you agree with the EU that this does not indicate a boycott or isn’t a boycott or won’t --

MR KIRBY: That’s right. And we --

QUESTION: -- lead to a – okay.

MR KIRBY: And our position on boycotts have not changed.

QUESTION: Gotcha. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Okay, I’ve got one more, and then I’ve really got to go.

QUESTION: There are reports that the Assad regime is blocking some of the humanitarian aid convoys to enter some of the besieged cities in Syria --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. We’ve seen reports that a third convoy now has made it through.

QUESTION: So I was wondering if you any – have any updates. What’s the latest situation in Syria?

MR KIRBY: So yesterday a third joint UN-ICRC-Syrian Arab Red Crescent humanitarian convoy reached the towns of Madaya, Foah, Kefraya, as well as al-Zabadani with additional food and relief supplies. We remain deeply concerned about the widespread suffering inside those areas that are under siege, but as we’ve said before, there must be sustained, unimpeded humanitarian access to all besieged areas inside Syria that the UN has so designated. So we’re obviously glad to see that a third convoy made it to these towns. We want to – we want to see that continue unimpeded, and there are many others that need the help and the access to humanitarian supplies, which obviously we want to continue to see happen.

Okay, thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:59 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 15, 2016

Fri, 01/15/2016 - 17:21

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 15, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

2:05 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Okay, everybody. Happy Friday to you all. I’ve got a few things at the top. First, on scheduling – a scheduling matter, and you’ll see us – we’ll put out a note here shortly, but I can announce that the Secretary will be traveling to Zurich, Switzerland, on the 20th of January where he’ll meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss Syria and Ukraine. I think we talked about this the other day. Right on the heels of that, he will travel to Davos, Switzerland, from the 21st to the 22nd to attend the World Economic Forum, and then from there to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where he will meet with senior Saudi Arabian leaders as well as foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council states to discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues.

After that stop, he will go to the Asia Pacific region where he will visit leaders in Laos, Cambodia, and China, again, to reaffirm our firm and strong commitment to the Asia Pacific rebalance, to our interests in the region, and to discuss, as you might imagine, a whole host of bilateral and regional issues with those leaders. He very much looks forward to that trip.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, where is that one? I missed it.

MR KIRBY: Right after Riyadh.

QUESTION: Did you specify the countries?

MR KIRBY: Laos, Cambodia, and then China.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: On Russia, as a follow-up Secretary Kerry’s December 15th meetings in Moscow with President Putin and with Foreign Minister Lavrov, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland met today with Russian Presidential Advisor Vladislav Surkov in Kaliningrad, Russia, and there they discussed the situation in eastern Ukraine and the need for full implementation of the Minsk agreements. The talks were constructive and designed to support the ongoing work of the Normandy countries and the Trilateral Contact Group.

On Somalia, the United States strongly condemns the al-Shabaab terrorist attack today against Kenyan troops that were operating under the African Union Mission in Somalia – AMISOM as you guys know it – and Somali national army troops that were stationed in el-Ade, the Gedo region of Somalia. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of all the soldiers killed. And of course, we wish a speedy and quick recovery to those who were injured.

The United States remains fully committed to providing assistance to the Government of Kenya, the Government of Somalia, and our AMISOM – and AMISOM partners to combat terrorism, violent extremism, and to enhance security within Somalia, Kenya, and the region.

And finally, on Turkey – if I can keep this page from falling off. We’ve seen reports of Turkish academics being investigated and detained for expressing their opinions about the conflict in southeast Turkey. We see this action as part of a troubling trend in Turkey, whereby official bodies, law enforcement, and judicial authorities are being used to discourage legitimate political discourse. As our ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, has already stated in a statement today, “Expressions of concern about violence do not equal support for terrorism. Criticism of the government does not equal treason. Turkish democracy is strong enough and resilient enough to embrace free expression of uncomfortable ideas.” As Turkey’s friend and NATO ally, we urge Turkish authorities to ensure that their actions uphold the universal democratic values that are enshrined in their constitution including freedom of expression.

With that, we’ll go to questions. Arshad.

QUESTION: Can we start with the Secretary’s current travel? Where is he now, and where might he be going next?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) He remains in London, Arshad. I don’t have any updates on his follow-on travel. As soon as we do, we’ll certainly let you know.

QUESTION: Is he staying the night in London, or is it possible that he might fly home or go elsewhere today?

MR KIRBY: Again, I don’t have any updates for his travel. I can tell you that he remains in London right now, and as soon as we know what his follow-on travel plans are, we’ll certainly keep you apprised.

QUESTION: Okay. And then I’m sure you’ve seen that there are reports that the IAEA’s JCPOA compliance report on – or verification report on Iran is expected to be released tomorrow; that is, Saturday in Vienna. Can you confirm that?

MR KIRBY: I cannot. I’d have to refer you to the IAEA. I’ve seen the same press reports, but I’m in no position to confirm how – the status of the report and where it is and how far along it is.

QUESTION: Okay. So but to your knowledge – and I’m sure you saw what your colleague at the White House said, which made it sound like Iran has done much, if not all, of what it needed to do. To your knowledge, has Iran taken – even if it has yet to be verified by the IAEA, has Iran take all the steps that it needs to under the JCPOA for implementation to occur?

MR KIRBY: As I understand it, they have worked very, very hard at completing all their steps. I do not know, as you and I talk here right now, whether they have completed everything. And I do not know the status of the verification of the steps that they might have completed. Again, that’s all for the IAEA to determine and then to issue their report, and I just don’t have an update on the timing or status of that.

QUESTION: Could we stay on the Secretary’s travel some?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Now he is in London. Would you say that the focus remains Syria for his presence in London? Is that what be – would that be the case?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, the primary reason for going to London was to meet with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir, and there’s lots – I mean, there’s lots of topics that they discussed, but obviously, Syria was right at the top of that list in terms of the political process moving forward. But there’s other issues. I mean, one of the reasons he wanted to meet with the foreign minister was also to discuss the recent tensions with Iran that you and I have all – we’ve all been talking about for the past week or so.

QUESTION: Yeah, I understand. But the meeting is done. I mean, the meeting was yesterday, and I’m sure they discussed the situation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. But what is the reason for his continued presence in London? Is it basically to – maybe to organize the process forward for Syria?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary has been very busy in London, even after completion of his meeting with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir, speaking numerous times with various leaders around the world about lots of topics going on around the world, not the least of which is his continued progress towards implementation of the Iran deal. So I mean, there’s been plenty of work for him to do in London, and I just don’t have anything to report in terms of any follow-on travel.

QUESTION: Iran?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Sorry, Said. You weren’t done?

QUESTION: I’ll follow up on Syria later.

QUESTION: Okay, I just wanted – you said yesterday that the administration would be ready to go with sanctions relief once the announcement was made. But can you tell us – of implementation day, I mean. But what does – what’s going to happen when implementation day happens? The sanctions – there’ll be an announcement that they’re lifted? And will there be some kind of guidance issued to businesses right away? Or how – what’s going to – what can we expect to happen?

MR KIRBY: I’m not entirely clear what the mechanics of it is, but clearly, once we get to implementation there’ll be an official announcement about that and we’ll do what we need to do here in the United States to make the proper notifications. I don’t know what the mechanics of that look like. I mean, we can try to get you one of our experts to kind of walk you through that. I just don’t have that level of detail. But yes, our major requirement on implementation day is sanctions relief.

QUESTION: John, is there a concern that the efforts to get to implementation day might be rushed, that the IAEA may not have enough time to do all the double-checking that it needs to do in order to make certain that Iran is complying with the terms of the JCPOA?

MR KIRBY: No, there’s no rush here. There’s no rush. And the IAEA is an independent agency, as you know, and they can’t be rushed and they shouldn’t be rushed. The reason why we believe we’re very close to implementation day is because Iran has put a great deal of effort in trying to meet all their commitments, and that’s the only thing driving the schedule. We’ve said all along that there will be no implementation day, there will be no sanctions relief until they’ve met all their requirements, their commitments, under the JCPOA and the IAEA can verify that they have done so. We’re not there right now, and I can tell you that the process continues. But that’s the only thing driving any sense of timing. There’s no artificial pressure being applied. There’s no rush afoot here.

QUESTION: And in terms of the domestic political climate here in the United States, what is this Administration prepared to do to try to quiet the naysayers once the IAEA comes out and says Iran has complied with the terms of the JCPOA?

MR KIRBY: That question would presuppose that you can quiet critics. And look, we’ve said all along that we know that there have been and there are and there will continue to be critics of this deal, whether they’re in the halls of Congress or elsewhere, even around the world. And what we’ve said all along is that we’re going to continue to engage in dialogue and discussion and talk about this and answer whatever questions that we can. We’ve been very open and transparent about that in multiple discussions with members of Congress, even in open testimony.

So I can’t speak for the critics and what they’ll say when we get to implementation or how they’ll react. That’s for them to speak to. What I can tell you is that we’re going to continue to work towards making sure that we’re all ready to meet our commitments. Iran has continued to take the steps that it needs to take to implementation. Again, we’re not there yet. But once we get there – and we will, toward – to implementation day – then we’ll – the deal will be in effect. And let’s not forget that upon implementation, we will have, through the deal, as long – and through a very rigorous verification and inspection regime going forward – been able to make sure that Iran does not possess or acquire nuclear arms. And again, I’d say it again that a Middle East which is already under great tension without a nuclear-armed Iran is better than one with it.

QUESTION: But it’s not just quieting the critics. The critics in large part belong to a co-equal branch of the U.S. Government, and they can try to pass legislation to basically undermine the terms of the JCPOA, especially the sanctions relief.

MR KIRBY: It’s not about --

QUESTION: What is the – what is the Administration prepared to do to essentially prevent them from doing something that we can all pretty much assume they’re going to do, or try to do?

MR KIRBY: It’s not about quieting critics. We’ve – there have been critics all along, there will continue to be, and that’s okay. Everybody is entitled to a different view. It’s about continuing to address the concerns. But once the deal is implemented, the deal is implemented.

Now, I can’t speak hypothetically to what measures members of Congress might pursue after that. We’ll have to – they can speak to that, and we’ll have to address it if and when that happens. But upon implementation day, sanctions relief occurs and the deal is in effect. And again, most importantly, Iran is prevented from ever acquiring nuclear arms and those capabilities.

QUESTION: On that point, John – now, what Iran needs to do is – are measurable, tangible things, right? Would you say that they covered 50 percent, 70 percent of what they needed to do? For instance, turn over their enriched uranium, pouring cement in the core and so on, and all these things which they have done? So how many more steps, or what are the remaining steps? This is not something abstract.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – that – I’m not going to get ahead of the work the IAEA is doing. But as you heard the Secretary say, they are shipping out all that low-enriched uranium. We – that was a key component, one of the things they needed to do, and obviously it advanced the breakout time from a matter of months to more than a year just in that one – in that one movement. But in general, I can walk you through what their steps are.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: I won’t talk to you about progress on that. That is not my responsibility; that’s the IAEA. But they have to modify and redesign the Arak plutonium reactor so that it cannot be used again to produce weapons-grade plutonium. They have to disconnect and remove two-thirds of their installed centrifuge capacity, going from over 19,000 to just over 5,000. They have to reduce their stockpile of up to 5 percent low-enriched uranium from the current stockpile down to 300 kilograms or less. We’ve talked about that. They have to disconnect all uranium-enriching centrifuges at Fordow and turn the facility into a research facility that will no longer be enriching uranium. They have to put in place all the transparency measures with the IAEA specified in the JCPOA, including 24/7 monitoring of all Iran’s declared nuclear facilities. And they have to provisionally apply the IAEA Additional Protocol and implement Modified Code 3.1, which if you look in the deal, it’ll have more detail on that.

So all that’s very public. That’s all in the documents which you can find online. I won’t, again, give them a report card on all those things. That’s not our job. That’s for the agency to do.

QUESTION: You said yesterday that there had to be some other, I guess, paperwork that needed to be done, once the IAEA comes out with its report, on the part of the P5+1. Can you spell out exactly what documents need to be signed, how they can be done? Are you --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have that level of detail. As I said to Arshad’s question, there’s sort of two things here. They have to complete all their steps, and then those steps have to be verified by the IAEA. That’s what I’m talking about when I’m talking about documentation. I just simply don’t have a status report for you on all that.

QUESTION: Are you worried that U.S. relations with Iran may get a whole lot more challenging after they have taken nuclear steps and you and the European Union and the United Nations have taken the sanctions-easing steps?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, to be clear, the Iran deal was never about defining or improving our – a relationship with Iran. It was about cutting off their pathways to a nuclear bomb, and it will do that. So nobody is looking at this from a relationship perspective. That’s not the purpose of it. What we’ve always said, that if, as a byproduct of the deal and the dialogue that the deal engendered, Iran were to be willing to change its behavior in the region and its conduct and become a responsible member of the international community, well, that would be a – that would be welcomed. But that onus is on Iran and only Iran. We don’t have diplomatic relations with that country. I see no prospect for that anytime in the near future. I’m not trying to predict one way or the other, but there are no diplomatic relations with Iran. And we’re not talking about that at this time. We’re talking about making sure they can’t become a nuclear-armed state.

QUESTION: Well, I guess the reason I’m asking the question is that up until implementation day, all of your sanctions remain in place. On implementation day, some of your sanctions go away. And they’re quite significant, the ones that go away, notably on those that had previously barred non-U.S. actors from buying other than constrained amounts of Iranian oil. And so the thing I wonder is whether the Administration thinks that as a result of this deal, it’s going to end up with a kind of cooperative Iran, like the one that released the sailors within 24 hours of taking them into custody, or to the contrary, whether it thinks it’s going to face an Iran that is more pugnacious and engages in more of the kinds of behaviors that you don’t like, because they will have gotten much of what they wanted out of you, which is sanctions relief, right. So are you bracing for a tougher Iran, or are you hoping or thinking that it’s actually going to get better?

MR KIRBY: We’re pretty clear-eyed, I think, about Iran and their capacity for misbehavior. Nobody’s making any predictions one way or another how – what the future will hold in terms of that behavior. But I could tell you that, again, this was solely focused on removing nuclear arms from their capabilities and not about changing their behavior, which is why we will still have at our disposable – at our disposal, sorry – unilateral, and the international community will have multilateral mechanisms and tools, including sanctions, to deal with the fact that they will still on implementation day be a state sponsor of terror; that on implementation day, they still will remain a threat to others in the region, to include Israel; that on implementation day, they will still – we have to assume will still be supporting groups like Hizballah.

So nobody’s – again, I’ve said this before – nobody’s turning a blind eye to the fact that this is still a regime that bears significant watching. And this isn’t about trust. It’s not about trying to forge a new friendship here. It’s about taking a very big step to try to reduce, in the realm of nuclear arms, their ability to do that much more harm to people in the region.

QUESTION: And just one other – one for me on this: Did you get an answer to the question that I – I think you had said you would take on whether L regards the Geneva Conventions and – as applying to the U.S. soldiers that were in – the U.S. sailors, excuse me, that were in Iranian custody?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I – my – what – my comments yesterday still stand.

QUESTION: So in other words, you’re not at war, therefore they’re not prisoners of war, therefore Geneva Conventions don’t apply?

MR KIRBY: We’re not in armed conflict with Iran, and there’s been no legal determination to that effect. So my comments still stand.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Change of topic?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Sorry, no, same topic. Two questions. One technical question regarding the implantation day: Who will be giving the green light? Who will be saying in the coming days, “This is it, the deal is implemented”?

MR KIRBY: Well, the IAEA has to make the certification, the validation. And then the P5+1 will come on top of that and so state. And then it will – for – as a member of that group, we’ll make our own official announcement and statement that from the United States perspective, we’re in effect. So there’ll be a series of statements, but it all has to start with the IAEA and their certification.

QUESTION: Who would make the statement from the U.S. Government that it is in effect? Would it be the State Department? Would it be the White House? Would it be the Treasury Department?

MR KIRBY: I don’t want to get ahead of the specifics of the process. I just would tell you that the U.S. would – as you would expect we would, as we did in the past – would issue the appropriate statements at the appropriate time to indicate that it’s in effect for us as well.

QUESTION: Do you expect the IAEA to say publicly, “We have a certification ready,” or does that happen when the P5+1 have seen it?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have that level of detail, Dave. I don’t – I’d have to refer you to the IAEA. I mean, I can only really speak for our piece of this.

QUESTION: And a broader question regarding your policy with Iran: What do you respond to your historic ally, Saudi Arabia, and Israel that are scared that the U.S. is moving towards Iran, is doing – this is – that this nuclear deal is only the start of a rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran, and that there will be a major shift in the region?

MR KIRBY: I’d ask them to read the transcript of my answer to Arshad just a few minutes ago. And this deal was about one thing and one thing only – removing Iran’s ability to possess nuclear weapons. And it will do that. And one of the reasons why we pushed so hard for the deal, why it matters so much to us, is because it is so good for our allies and partners and friends in the region. It makes them all safer. An Iran without that capability is not just good for our interest; it’s good for their interests. That’s what we would say.

Yes.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: India. Two questions, please. One starting with – as far as failure of the talks between the two countries, India and Pakistan, always innocent people are the victims, so – in both sides. And whenever they want to start people-to-people talks, the people can benefit and development can go on between – in two countries, but there are some always elements at the last minute, all these bombings and – that happens.

My question is here that people are asking now from both sides that whenever bombing happens in India or Pakistan, only the innocent people are the victims there. So where – what is the message now? Because this is the history now whenever they come very close to have talks, dialogue, and meeting at the highest level, and then these things happen, so – bombings and all that, then – because some elements, as I said, they want to – or they are against the talks and two countries to come closer.

MR KIRBY: Well, we want – as I said before, we want them to continue to have a dialogue and to continue to look for ways to cooperate against a common threat. And we talked about this not long ago at a recent conversation between both Prime Ministers Sharif and Modi. We – that was a welcome sign, both condemning the terrorist attack on the air station and expressing their shared commitment to fighting terrorism. That was not an insignificant discussion that they had, nor was it an insignificant commitment that they made, and it’s exactly the kind of commitment that we want them to continue to make.

It should come as a shock to no one that terrorist groups will try to undermine those sorts of efforts by conducting spectacular attacks – to do exactly that, to sow fear, and to hopefully sow doubt in the minds of national leaders towards a level of cooperation that can have a real – a practical effect. And obviously, we don’t want to see that happen and we’re – we are encouraged by the dialogue that has recently taken place between India and Pakistan, and we’d like to see that continue.

QUESTION: And second, as far as the U.S.-India relations are concerned, Ambassador Richard Verma – I believe that he’s having a fun and wonderful time in India as U.S. ambassador. He started his new year with a long year-end message to the people of India from the people of the U.S. – of course, you must have seen – where he laid down all the U.S.-India relations took place between Prime Minister Modi and, of course, President Obama and Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Sushma among other leaders and talks and visits and all that when he said that progress has been done in this year of 2015 and we have a long way to go and much has been done and – but much to be done.

So where do we go from here now? And now railway minister of India is here in town and meeting and greeting all the high-level U.S. officials as far as infrastructure and railways and transportation in India, including today meeting the transportation secretary, and yesterday he was at the Carnegie. So where do we go now? What – there’s much to be done.

MR KIRBY: Well, you’ve said it yourself. There is – there’s still much to be done, and again, this is an important relationship that we want to continue to improve. And we have excellent relations with the Government of India. We want to make them even better. And I think you can – again, I would point you to the ambassador’s end-of-year statement, which I think was pretty complete, pretty comprehensive. We know how important this relationship is, and I can assure you and the Indian people that the United States remains committed to it.

QUESTION: But John, one thing is there that for the last 10 years, people of India and the U.S. industries are waiting for this civil nuclear agreement which is already done, everything is done, but where are we now where the people of India are asking when they will get all these trucks moving to India for this electricity and all the developments that they are waiting for?

MR KIRBY: I just don’t have an update for you on that specifically.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR KIRBY: Tolga.

QUESTION: I want to, back to Turkey, the statement that you --

MR KIRBY: I’m shocked. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah – you read at the top. Have you raised this concern with the Turkish Government, first of all?

MR KIRBY: I think you saw Ambassador Bass’ statement --

QUESTION: Ambassador Bass tweeted about this, but it was a public statement.

MR KIRBY: -- which was pretty clear, pretty concise, and pretty public. Yes, of course, we always raise these issues with Turkish authorities, publicly and privately.

QUESTION: What was – because he was blamed to be kind of enemy of the Turkish-U.S. relations. When he tweeted on this, mayor of Ankara said that he is hurting the relations between the two. So I’m wondering – of course, he’s not a part of the government, but I’m wondering if you with the same reaction for the government as well.

MR KIRBY: Do I have the same reaction --

QUESTION: Like the Ankara mayor said. Do you believe that --

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that Turkey has no better friend than the United States, and they certainly – and that’s certainly represented in Ambassador Bass. Nobody is more committed to seeing Turkey succeed and to live up to its own constitution and democratic values. Nobody is more committed to that than Ambassador Bass. And it’s because he deeply cares about the Turkish people and the health of the Turkish democracy that he spoke the way he did, that he issued the statement of concern that he did.

It wasn’t a – it wasn’t picking sides on the academics’ arguments or not. That wasn’t the issue. In fact, you can look at his statement and he makes that clear. It was the idea of being able to express opinions freely and openly and to challenge – to challenge government in a peaceful, democratic way, which is enshrined in the Turkish constitution itself. So to the mayor of Ankara – and I’ve seen those comments – I would say that Turkey has no better friend than Ambassador Bass, and that’s very much represented in his statement.

QUESTION: Did you see the same reaction from the government?

MR KIRBY: I’ve only seen the press reports from – the same ones that you’re alluding to.

QUESTION: And have you discussed this issue with the government on the reaction?

MR KIRBY: I’ve answered that question already. Of course, we raise these issues all the time with Turkish authorities.

QUESTION: No, the reaction of the mayor. I mean, because --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update for you. The article just appeared a little bit ago. I’ve seen it same time as you have.

QUESTION: Okay. And can I finish – and you said “a troubling trend.” Are you concerned about the direction of Turkey in general?

MR KIRBY: I think I’m going to leave it at my opening statement. It’s a troubling trend that we’re concerned about.

QUESTION: And the last one: I know that you’re cautious about not to interfere with the domestic policy issue with other countries, and the government circles and pro-government circles, they say – criticize the Ambassador Bass comments to interfere with the domestic policy of Turkey. Why you think that this is not an internal issue for Turkey, and why you made the statement at the top?

MR KIRBY: We are uniformly and always expressly concerned about freedom of expression around the world, and I can’t tell you how many times in just the eight months I’ve been at the State Department that I’ve stood up here and I’ve talked about our concerns with respect to freedom of expression and freedom of the press from this very podium about places all over the world. It’s one of our core values and it’s one of our key principles here in the United States. It matters deeply to us.

And we know that it matters deeply to the Turkish people because it’s in their constitution. And so when we see express examples where those values are not being lived up to – values that, again, is enshrined in their own constitution – we believe we have an obligation to speak up about it. And we’re going to continue to do that.

QUESTION: Do you believe that these detentions are hurting the U.S.-Turkish relations?

MR KIRBY: Turkey’s a NATO ally, a strong partner, and a friend. And I’ve said this before: Even allies and friends aren’t always going to see eye-to-eye on everything. And good friends and allies – if you are a good friend and ally – should be able to discuss freely the concerns that you have with one another, and we do that with Turkey. We’re not always going to see everything the same way that they do, but it doesn’t mean that the partnership is weaker. It doesn’t mean that we’re not as strong an ally. It means that it’s a healthy relationship, that you can speak freely and express – and express those same concerns, and we’re going to continue to do that when and where we see it’s appropriate.

Okay.

QUESTION: Same subject?

QUESTION: The fight against ISIS?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: On the same subject?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: While you are talking about these concerns, right now dozens of academicians who signed that petition detained, some of them already fired and suspended. So when we report about your concerns, usually the echo comes from Turkey is that these concerns have been displayed for a long time, but the trend is continuous. Do you think these concerns that you have been expressing make any difference? If no, then what is it good for, this expressing concerns, as long as this witch hunt is going on in Turkey?

MR KIRBY: Are you suggesting that we shouldn’t speak up and express the concerns when we have them?

QUESTION: I think many people think that U.S. should make necessary policy changes as many think this building has enough able diplomats to propose such policy recommendations.

MR KIRBY: We want to see Turkey, as I’ve said before, live up to its own democratic values. Ultimately, these are decisions that Turkish leaders have to make. These are sovereign decisions that they have to make. That’s what we want to see, and that’s why we express our concerns in real time when they happen. We do that privately and we do it publicly, and we’re going to continue to do that. But ultimately, we want to see Turkish leaders make the right decisions here and move in the right direction. I won’t go beyond my opening statement in terms of characterizing a trend or not. I said we call it a troubling trend, and that’s where I’ll leave it. But we want to see those principles enshrined in the Turkish constitution to be valued and to be implemented.

QUESTION: You, in the same opening statement, you said that Turkish democracy is strong enough to embrace this freedom of expression. Can you tell us what aspect of Turkish democracy you see strong nowadays?

MR KIRBY: It was a broad statement that I stand by. We believe that it is a strong enough, resilient enough democracy. We believe the Turkish people are strong enough and resilient enough to live up to these values, and that’s what we want to see them do.

QUESTION: And finally, today one of the oldest mainstream newspaper, Cumhuriyet newspaper, it’s reported by the censorship watchdog that has been selectively blocked by some of the country’s largest service providers the day after President Erdogan fiercely attacked the newspaper. Headline came yesterday. Do you have any comment on this particular --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that report, but obviously, if it’s true, everything that I mentioned in the last few minutes and in my opening statement would still stand, that we want to see Turkey live up to its democratic values, and that includes freedom of expression and freedom of the press. And we’ve been nothing but consistent about that particular matter over these many months, but I haven’t seen that report.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yes. When Secretary Kerry goes to China, will he – besides DPRK, will he be discussing Taiwan’s presidential election with the Chinese counterpart?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think there will – he will be discussing a wide range of bilateral issues that we routinely discuss with China. I’m not going to get ahead of specific agenda items.

QUESTION: I do note that Deputy Secretary Blinken will be meeting with the Zhang Zhijun, who is the official in charge of the Taiwanese affairs in the Chinese Government. Is that a nuance that – for Secretary Kerry not to discuss Taiwan issue with his counterpart? Because --

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that he wasn’t going to discuss Taiwan. I said I’m not going to get ahead of specific agenda items. Cross-strait relations is obviously something that we routinely discuss with Chinese leaders. There’s a lot of other things as well on the agenda. There’s – I mean, that you would expect that they would discuss. But again, I’m not going to get into specific items right now or – and when the meetings are over and when we can read them out to you, then we’ll have those discussions.

QUESTION: Also on China?

QUESTION: If indeed he meet with – discuss the Taiwan issue, can we read that this is not a discussion of sovereignty or is that any nuance?

MR KIRBY: I can appreciate your strong desire for nuance before we’ve even left Andrews Air Force Base. I’m just simply not going to get ahead of the specific discussions that we’re going to have. You can imagine that because the U.S.-China relationship is so important – to them and to us – because there’s so much change in the region and tension, that there are a lot of issues that he will be raising with his Chinese counterparts. And I mean, again, I don’t want to go through a list of them. I think you can imagine what they would be – everything from security challenges to economic opportunity. Okay?

QUESTION: Can we move on to Macedonia? Macedonia --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Taiwan?

MR KIRBY: You’re going all the way from China to Macedonia, okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Taiwan?

MR KIRBY: Huh?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Taiwan?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: So with the death of former comfort woman Cheng-Chen Tao earlier this week, President Ma of Taiwan, he said that he would continue to work on achieving justice for Taiwanese women. Would you support such efforts of reconciliation on this issue between Taiwan and Japan?

MR KIRBY: I’m afraid I don’t have a comment for you on that. I haven’t seen those comments.

QUESTION: A quick related question about the Secretary’s trip to Asia. Is he going to Japan or South Korea?

MR KIRBY: No. As I told you, he’s stopping in Laos, Cambodia, and Beijing.

QUESTION: That’s it? No other?

MR KIRBY: There’s not a stop in Japan on this trip.

QUESTION: On Macedonia?

QUESTION: Can we go to the fight against ISIS?

MR KIRBY: Huh?

QUESTION: ISIS?

MR KIRBY: What about ISIS?

QUESTION: I have a couple questions on the fight --

QUESTION: Macedonia.

MR KIRBY: Oh, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah, can we stick to Asia?

MR KIRBY: I’m just – I’m just trying to – I am --

QUESTION: No, we’re going to Macedonia. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I am just trying to keep up with you guys today. (Laughter.) When I first took this job, it was, “No, no, Kirby, we’re going to stay on topic and we’re going to exhaust the topic before we go to the next one.”

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR KIRBY: Which is not the way we did it at the Pentagon, and this is actually more like what I’m used to. But it just – you guys are flipping on me here. All right, what – let’s go to Macedonia so that --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Can I have Asia?

QUESTION: You can go to Asia.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any comment on the newest announcement from the prime minister that he’s planning to resign? Do you think this is a sign of implementation of the Przino agreement?

MR KIRBY: It’s part of the – it’s part – his resignation is part of that agreement.

QUESTION: So you welcome that?

MR KIRBY: It’s an intrinsic part of it. We continue to support Macedonian efforts towards deepening their Euro-Atlantic integration. We support the Przino agreement as an essential next step towards that goal. And we’re working with the EU to assist Macedonia’s leaders to build on the progress and implementation they’ve made so far. The prime minister’s resignation was a part of the agreement. And I’d refer you to the Government of Macedonia for any further information about it.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. playing any role as a facilitator? Because a few days ago, I remember the prime minister met with Vice President Joe Biden in Washington.

MR KIRBY: You’re right. The Vice President met on the 11th. They agreed on the importance of continued implementation of the agreement and taking the actions necessary to ensure credible elections. And the Vice President emphasized the United States continued support, again, for Macedonia’s EU – I’m sorry, Euro-Atlantic integration.

QUESTION: So would you call the U.S. as a facilitator to that process?

MR KIRBY: I did not say that. I told you we support their integration, their Euro-Atlantic integration.

QUESTION: And can I have one quick question on Ukraine, on the – following up? Sorry. Final one. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: You guys have got to police yourselves.

QUESTION: The Ukraine – the meeting take place in Russia. Why is that? Is that because of the – Putin’s aide is under the Western sanction not to travel to --

MR KIRBY: The location for the meeting was established by the Russian Government. We didn’t – that was their choice to meet in Kaliningrad.

QUESTION: And then the U.S. did not ask him to come over here, or --

MR KIRBY: The decision to meet there was a Russian decision.

QUESTION: But the fact – because he’s under sanction not to travel, does that in any way undermine the Western sanction for his travel due to the undermining the sovereignty of Ukraine?

MR KIRBY: Not at all. There’s no prohibition on meeting with an individual who’s under sanctions. He is the appropriate person in their government to have these discussions about Minsk implementation, and he was chosen by the Russian Government to head these meetings. And so we attended the meetings and we had good discussions today.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yes, can we go to the fight against ISIS? Yesterday, Steve Warren from Baghdad talked about the way in which the United States or the coalition is fighting ISIS. But he also mentioned that there are 6,000 troops – 3,500 are Americans, and 2,500 others from other countries. What other countries have troops or soldiers in the fight against ISIS in Iraq?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to go to the Defense Department, Said. I don’t have the breakdown. There’s some 65 nations in the coalition. Not all of them, of course, have troops inside --

QUESTION: Yeah. Well they’re --

MR KIRBY: -- Afghanistan.[i] But I’d point you back to Steve for a breakdown if he’s got one. I don’t have that.

QUESTION: Well, do they include any troops, let’s say, from the Arab countries – Jordan, Saudi Arabia?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a breakdown, Said. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Okay. And I have one other question on the same issue. There are also – well, I mean, it’s been reported by the Pentagon that about 100 Special Forces units will be deployed in Syria and in Iraq to conduct special operations and so on. Will they be, like, separate units working on their own sort of against high-value targets, or will they be working with the current, present American force?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about military matters. The only thing I’d say is that I think the Pentagon’s been clear that the primary focus of this is an advise and assist, and that if there’s a need for them to be directly involved in a raid, that they can do that. But beyond that, I simply am not qualified to speak to it. You really should go to the Defense Department for that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Iran for (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Just about the political climate around the implementation. Technically, obviously the requirements for the U.S. are clear, but there’s political opposition and Mr. Obama’s going to keep vetoing legislation that he feels is not helpful till he leaves, but he’s only here for another year. And I’m just wondering if that political uncertainty could affect the perception of success, because bankers might be very cautious and so on. Is there any concern that even though technically you’ll do what you need to do, politically it will look like you’re – or practically it will look like things aren’t happening --

MR KIRBY: Well, those are – those are --

QUESTION: -- and this might affect the success of the implementation?

MR KIRBY: Those are decisions that business leaders will have to make. I mean, our concern is getting the deal in effect and making sure that we do our part, which is the sanctions relief that is part of that deal. But these are ultimately corporate decisions that need to be made, and they’ll have to speak to the calculus with which they make those decisions.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Just a couple of quick ones. One, Syria. The Russian defense ministry has said that it has a new objective in Syria, and that is to deliver humanitarian aid to people in need. Did you see that report? To your knowledge, have the Russians been delivering such aid? Do you welcome it? And if they are delivering such aid, are they delivering it to non-government-controlled areas?

MR KIRBY: Okay, let me see if I remember all those. I have not seen the report. I can tell you, though, that – if you just give me a second to find it in this mammoth beast of a book I have here. So let me talk a little bit about humanitarian aid, Arshad, and then remind me about what I’m missing here for you.

But yesterday, a second joint UN-ICRC-Syrian Arab Red Crescent humanitarian convoy of over 60 aid trucks reached the towns of Madaya, Foah, and Kefraya, where staff immediately distributed flour, winter clothes, blankets, and specialized health and nutrition supplies. Medical personnel and nutritionists are accompanying the convoy to Madaya to examine patients, determine the criticality of health conditions, and provide on-site medical treatment as needed. UNICEF has now publicly confirmed cases of severe malnutrition were found among children in Madaya, and tragically announced that their staff was there to witness the death of a severely malnourished 16-year-old boy who passed away right in front of their eyes. The UN is working to get medical teams and mobile clinics to enter besieged areas immediately, but it is still waiting on the Assad regime.

So while we’re relieved about the arrival of additional assistance, this suffering, this obstruction of humanitarian access, should never have happened in the first place. And the overdue aid that’s finally reached places like Madaya is still not going to be enough. What the Syrians need is immediate unimpeded humanitarian access, consistent and recurring. I have not seen anything that would – I have seen no indications that the Russian defense forces are involved in this delivery. As I read at the top, it’s UN and it’s nongovernmental agencies that are doing it, the ICRC.

That’s not to say that they have – they might have plans; they could. I don’t think that we would – we would certainly take a dim view if the Russian defense ministry was more focused on providing humanitarian aid and assistance and less focused on bombing opposition groups and innocent civilians. So if it were true --

QUESTION: You would take a dim view of that?

MR KIRBY: Huh? I said we wouldn’t take a dim view if they were more focused on --

QUESTION: Oh, you wouldn’t take a dim view. Yes, got it.

MR KIRBY: I hope I – hopefully I said that right. We’ll have to look at the transcript. (Laughter.) We would not take a dim view if they focused more on humanitarian assistance and less on bombing opposition groups, but I have not seen anything to confirm that (a) they’ve made that policy decision or (b) that they’ve begun to implement it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Good --

QUESTION: I’ve got one more.

MR KIRBY: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: You may not have seen this in time to get an answer for the briefing, but it – the former chairman of Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party has been arrested in Spain. Do you know if the U.S. Government played any role whatsoever in his arrest?

MR KIRBY: You’re right, I don’t have anything on that. I’m going to have to take that one for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: I did not get any updates like that before I came out here today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we just go to Nigeria, then?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: There have been reports, including by my own agency, of large-scale killings by Nigerian security forces in the town of Zaria in the north. They’re conducting a security operation against a Shiite group led by Sheikh Zakzaky, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, I believe. We – our own sources are talking about a death toll of maybe 300, and there have been reports of up to 700 dead. This is not Boko Haram, but this is another action by the Nigerian security forces. Is the United States aware of this, and do you have any comment?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, we are. We continue to be very concerned by these violent clashes between members of the Nigerian army and a Shiite group in the Kaduna state. In the days after these incidents in both public and private statements, we called on the Government of Nigeria to transparently investigate these reports and to hold accountable any individuals found to have committed abuses. We’re aware of at least four separate investigations that are being carried out by the Nigerian senate, house of representatives, the national human rights commission, and the judicial commission of inquiry established by Kaduna state – by the Kaduna state governor. We urge the individuals carrying out these investigations to carry them out swiftly, thoroughly, and with impartiality.

Got time for just a couple more. Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: A question --

MR KIRBY: Where?

QUESTION: Question on the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, the AIIB.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: So the AIIB will be officially launched tomorrow. Can I have your reaction to that? Does the United States welcome it?

MR KIRBY: Why don’t you let me get a – get something back to you on that, okay?

QUESTION: When the Chinese President Xi was here – he visited United States last September – he invited United – to join the AIIB. Does the two sides discuss this issue onwards?

MR KIRBY: I’ll get – let me get you a comment back on that, okay?

QUESTION: Or can you share your current status?

MR KIRBY: I will get you an answer to your question later, okay?

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR KIRBY: Last one.

QUESTION: North Korea. This may be better directed to the Pentagon, but there were reports today saying that North Korea would stop nuclear tests if the U.S. suspends joint military drills with South Korea and other countries. Do you have a response?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments, but look, we have a – we have significant alliance commitments with the Republic of Korea that we take very, very seriously, and we’re going to continue to make sure that the alliance is ready in all respects to act in defense of the South Korean people and the security of the peninsula.

Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:56 p.m.)

[i] Iraq


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 14, 2016

Thu, 01/14/2016 - 18:44

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 14, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

2:07 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Hello.

QUESTION: I assume you’re here only because you didn’t win the lottery last night.

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) Yes, that is exactly right.

QUESTION: That goes for the rest of us.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t even come close. I assume that’s the same – yeah, could say the same for all of you.

I do have a quite a bit to start with, so I just ask your forbearance that there’s quite a bit I want to get to at the top, and then obviously we’ll get right at it. I think you’ve seen – or I hope you’ve seen – the statement that I put out about the terrorist attack in Jakarta. I just would like to reiterate here that the United States strongly condemns today’s terrorist attack in Jakarta, and again, we extend our condolences to all those who were affected by it. We stand firmly with the Indonesian people against terrorism and extremist ideologies that fuel and give rise to this kind of violence. And as you may have seen, as Secretary Kerry said this morning in London, we join international condemnation of this attack. And as he also said, acts of terror are not going to intimidate nation-states; we’re going to stand together, all of us united in our efforts to eliminate those who choose terror as a tactic. We’re going to continue to, obviously, work with our Indonesian partners and others around the world to combat these shared threats.

In addition to the attacks in Indonesia, I do want to note that we also strongly condemn yesterday’s terrorist bombings in Diyarbakir in Turkey and extend our condolences again to all those who were affected, killed, and wounded, as well as their family and friends. Turkey is a friend and a NATO ally, and we will continue to stand with the Turkish people as they continue to deal with very real terrorist threats on their soil.

You probably saw that the Defense Department announced today the transfer of 10 Yemeni nationals from Guantanamo to Oman. This transfer marks an important milestone: For the first time since 2002, the detainee population now at the facility at Guantanamo Bay is under 100. In fact, with this transfer, takes it down to 93. This is – reaching this milestone is in large part due to the sustained diplomatic engagement here at the State Department led by our Special Envoy Lee Wolosky and his team.

We’re especially grateful to our friends and allies for their continued support of our efforts to close the detention facility. Since 2009, two dozen different countries, most recently Ghana and, of course, today Oman, have resettled 92 detainees who are not their nationals and who could not return to their home countries, and more than a dozen other countries who have received nationals – their nationals from Guantanamo. So we’re going to continue to engage with friends and allies around the world as we work to close the detention facility. Their assistance is critical to achieving our shared goal of doing just that.

I do want to note also that today, following President Obama’s phone call with Russian President Putin yesterday, the Secretary did speak today over the phone with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. They mostly talked about Syria and Ukraine. The Secretary and the foreign minister agreed that UN-led negotiations between the Syrian parties must move forward as scheduled on January 25th in Geneva and without preconditions. They also agreed that steps must be taken to foster a productive discussion between all the Syrian parties in advance of the meeting. The Secretary again expressed his concern – deep concern – over attacks on civilians by Russian regime military forces and encouraged Russia to use its influence with the regime to permit the unfettered access of organizations delivering vital humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, particularly in besieged and hard-to-reach places. I would note today, as I think you probably have seen, we are aware of another convoy reaching Madaya and a couple of other towns as well, so that’s encouraging. But we’ve got to see it continue, and they did talk about that today.

On Ukraine, the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov both underscored the importance of full implementation of the Minsk agreement by all parties, and they agreed to continue this dialogue that they have had and to meet more specifically in Zurich on the 20th of this month.

On – I do want to also talk – speaking about meetings, a U.S. delegation led by Assistant Secretary of State of Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson was in Geneva, Switzerland yesterday to discuss with the UN and with members of the Permanent Five of the UN Security Council how we can facilitate implementation of UNSCR 2254 – this is the one that was signed right before the holidays, as you know, which codified the Vienna process at the UN. In both meetings, the U.S. delegation focused particularly on the need to gain sustained, unimpeded access for the delivery of humanitarian relief supplies. All areas under siege should have access to relief, as we talked about. And also as we talked about, we believe – and it was stressed in this meeting – that the ISSG members, all of them have an obligation to continue to press all parties to grant that access immediately. The U.S. delegation also pressed on the need for constructive talks to begin on the 25th of January between the Syrian parties on a genuine political transition in accordance with the Geneva communique.

I’m almost done. I know you probably have seen our media note, but I do want to reiterate it here from the podium that Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel later this week to Japan, to Burma, to South Korea, and to China to consult with U.S. allies in the region and our partners, to see firsthand progress in Burma’s post-election democratic transition. He will conduct the Interim Strategic Security Dialogue with the Chinese Government and discuss a range of other regional and global issues. This is the deputy secretary’s third visit to Northeast Asia in the last 11 months and his second trip to Burma. Again, we put more detail out in our media note, so I’ll spare you those details right now.

Matt, over to you.

QUESTION: Oh. I thought you had more.

MR KIRBY: Well, just that one more.

QUESTION: Let’s start with Iran. And before going into the implementation day guessing game, I want to talk about the sailors incident again and to ask you whether or not the U.S. Government writ large coming from the Pentagon has made a determination about whether these sailors were mistreated in any way, and if the – if it has made that determination, if – how you’re – what you’re going to do about it.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that such a determination has been made. I know that the Navy in particular is doing an inquiry on this, as they should, and we need to let that process go forward. I’m not aware that any final determinations about causation or about the ultimate manner of interaction with the IRGC or the Iranian navy has been made.

QUESTION: All right. Do you know if there’s been any further contact between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional communication to read out to you. I don’t believe that there’s been anything additional with respect to this incident.

QUESTION: Okay. And then to implementation day. What is going on here? The Iranians say that they have almost finished, that the calandria is out, that the core has been filled with concrete, and that the IAEA is looking at it right now to verify it. I mean, is it possible that this is going to happen tomorrow, or is that not – or is that now out of the question and we’re looking at either the weekend or sometime next week?

MR KIRBY: I honestly can’t tell you exactly when implementation day will occur. What I can tell you is that we believe it will occur and that it will occur very soon. And as soon as we have a better sense of what that is, when it is, we’ll certainly tell you. But I don’t have additional detail today.

QUESTION: Can you confirm – I mean, as you saw yesterday, the Secretary said that the calandria was out and he expected it to be filled with concrete in the coming hours. And you saw what Matt said about the Iranian comments. Has – from your knowledge, has the concrete been poured?

MR KIRBY: I know that they have taken those steps with respect to shutting it down, and that includes the pouring of concrete. So yes, we believe that concrete has been poured and applied. I don’t know what the status of that process is. And what I can tell you definitively as you and I speak here today that we’re not at implementation right now, but that everybody is working towards it. And again, to Matt’s question, I believe that we will get there and that we’ll get there very soon.

QUESTION: And when you say we’re not at implementation day yet, is that because the Iranians have, to your knowledge, yet to take every step that they need to take that then needs to be verified, or have they done all their steps and --

MR KIRBY: Well, that’s for the – that’s for the IAEA to determine. What’s – what kicks off implementation is their certification that Iran has met all its steps as required. And as you and I speak here right now, I can’t say that they have. And neither is the IAEA saying that. I think we are very close. I would prefer not to get into any more detail than that. But I do think we’re very close, and as soon as we know something definitively, we’ll let you know. I suspect the first word will come from – as appropriately, come from the IAEA.

QUESTION: Can I ask about the U.S. Government getting ready? You’re talking about the – what Iran has to do to get to implementation day, but the U.S. has some things to do too, and that is offer guidance to U.S. companies and businesses and – about which sanctions are being lifted and which ones are not and how the U.S. Government is preparing to move ahead with this. Is that done?

MR KIRBY: We are moving ahead to meet our – all our commitments as well. And without getting into great, specific detail, what I can tell you is that we will be ready as well on implementation day to fully implement our side and all our commitments. But I don’t have more information right now.

QUESTION: Does there have to be a configuration of officials in one city to receive the IAEA report, or could they just announce it out of Vienna?

MR KIRBY: I think – well, that’s a little bit cart before the horse right now. There’s still some work that has to be done. I don’t have additional detail right now with respect to the physical look of it and how it’s going to be – when we get there, what it’s going to look like. The key piece of it – in fact, the most critical piece of it – is the IAEA certifying that Iran has met all of its requirements, but there are --

QUESTION: But if they receive the report in Vienna, can they just (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: There are a number of documents that have to be signed and approved by all parties, and as far as I know, that is not – that process has not been completed. So we’re just not there yet. I do think we’re very close – excuse me – and when we can talk more about it, we certainly will.

QUESTION: But you’re not prepared to say whether he’s coming back tomorrow or anything like that?

MR KIRBY: I have nothing additional on the Secretary’s schedule to announce or to speak to today.

QUESTION: If I could, I wanted to go to Iran, where Matt started with the Navy and the sailors, and ask you, Admiral, what these sailors should have done. We understand that they were picked up in Iranian territory, so they were already sort of where they won’t – weren’t supposed to be. Secretary Carter said as much today, that they know that they shouldn’t have been there. So when approached by Iranian forces, guns drawn, what are these sailors trained to do? Are they supposed to allow themselves to be boarded or are they supposed to defend themselves before they allow that to happen?

MR KIRBY: Those kinds of decisions are made in the moment, and there’s really only one individual that can explain the decisions that he made, and that – in this case, I believe it’s the young officer who was in charge. And I know the Navy is talking to him, as well as the other sailors, and I’m not going to get ahead of any judgments that the Navy might make or try to get in the head of that young man.

Every tactical situation is different, and it would be foolhardy and inappropriate for me to try to second-guess or armchair quarterback what could have happened, should have happened, what he should have done. I just wouldn’t – I wouldn’t get into that level of detail. I have sailed those waters myself a long time ago, but even then, it was tense, specifically with Iran, and everybody’s mindful of the tensions up there in the North Arabian Gulf. And you could see just from looking at the videos that the tension comes right through. But I would really not want to try to second-guess this. That’s for the Navy and – to determine, and we need to let them do that.

QUESTION: Has anybody expressed any dismay directly to the Iranians about the video, which is largely seen at this point as propaganda? Secretary Carter said the U.S. would have never done anything like that had the roles been reversed.

MR KIRBY: I’m --

QUESTION: In producing that video with the sailors with their hands up, sort of --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- a propaganda --

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, obviously, it’s – the video on the face of it is – it’s difficult to watch. I mean, there’s no question about that. And nobody likes to see our sailors in that position. I can’t speak for the motivations for why they did it, why they put it out there. If they did it for propaganda purposes, I certainly – we would certainly join in those that are expressing concerns about that. I mean, that’s – that’s less than helpful.

I do know it’s not uncommon for them – just from past experience, it’s not uncommon for them to document events and incidents like this. You might remember when the British sailors were captured a few years ago they did the same thing, so it’s not uncommon. But to put it out there and use it as propaganda – obviously, we wouldn’t condone that.

So what’s most important here, though – and I don’t want it to get lost, and I understand there’s questions about what happened and who’s accountable and what we think about their behavior. But we got our sailors back with – in less than 24 hours, and nobody got hurt and not a shot got fired and they’re all safe. And we got our boats back too. And I don’t want that to get lost in the discussion over this incident. The Navy’s going to do an inquiry. They’ll figure out, as they always do, what happened. And if something didn’t happen that should have, if somebody made a mistake, I can guarantee you the Navy will do what they need to do to hold people accountable if it comes to that. And I’m not prejudging.

But let’s not lose the bigger picture here, because the last time something like this happened, it took months to get those sailors freed from – the British sailors. Whether you agree with the Iran deal or not – and I know there’s people that don’t – whether you agree with Iran sitting at the table at the ISSG as we work through a political process in Syria or not, there’s no denying that the dialogue that’s been opened up with Iran. And the relationship that Secretary Kerry has been able to forge with Foreign Minister Zarif as a result of those issues helped open up a channel, direct channel, to get United States Navy sailors home in less – not home home but back to their unit in less than 24 hours. And I really, really think it’s important for us to remember that.

QUESTION: I don’t think anyone’s lost sight of that or anyone is saying that that’s fundamentally wrong. The question is that, as you noted, this has happened before and this is a pattern that the Iranians have shown. They’ve stormed embassies, including very recently, just on New Year’s Eve.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: They took these British – the sailors. They fired these ballistic missiles. They fired missiles near U.S. ships in the Gulf – in the Strait of Hormuz.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And then this latest incident. So the issue is not whether or not there is this dialogue or this channel of communication has opened up and whether that that’s potentially or good or played a very helpful role in securing these guys’ release. The question is the pattern of behavior by the Israelis. And when you say that --

MR KIRBY: You mean the Iranians.

QUESTION: I mean – sorry. Sorry, the Iranians, yes.

MR KIRBY: If I had said that – (laughter).

QUESTION: Yes, if you had said that, there would have been – there would have been – (laughter).

MR KIRBY: Oh, boy, the flags have been flying.

QUESTION: There would have been hell to pay, yes. There might even be hell to pay for me for saying that. So, sorry, let me just make it clear. The question is --

MR KIRBY: I’m glad that I can help bail you out of trouble today.

QUESTION: Yes. Well, I try. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The question is the behavior of the Iranians and the pattern of behavior of the Iranians. So when you say that producing this video is less than helpful, I mean, or that it – to put it out there --

MR KIRBY: To be used for propaganda purposes --

QUESTION: Propaganda, right, right.

MR KIRBY: -- is certainly less than helpful.

QUESTION: We wouldn’t condone that. But isn’t it much more than that? Can’t you say much – can’t you go further? I mean, isn’t this a – kind of a violation of the rules of engagement?

QUESTION: This is something I wanted to ask you about, which is under the Geneva Conventions I believe it is not permissible to video or produce for propaganda purposes or display prisoners of war. And I guess my question was: Do you regard the 10 – and I’ve got to assume you don’t – the 10 sailors as having been prisoners of war to whom the Geneva Conventions are applicable, or not because you’re not actually at war with Iran and therefore they didn’t actually violate any international agreements by videoing them and displaying that?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, and look, the Geneva Convention applies for wartime. We’re not at war with Iran, so it’s a moot question. But I do want to challenge just a little bit --

QUESTION: But --

MR KIRBY: I do want to challenge a little bit your preamble – you’re really lengthy, eloquent preamble that --

QUESTION: Well, not so eloquent because I got the name of the country wrong.

MR KIRBY: Well, I was trying to save you again, Matt. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I’m not suggesting that – when I talked about we need to keep in mind that we got our sailors back so quickly, I’m not suggesting that people are criticizing that. What I am suggesting is that that element of this is being forgotten. It’s being largely overlooked. And if we --

QUESTION: It’s front page in The New York Times today and The Washington Post.

MR KIRBY: It’s being overlooked by many, and I can but think and imagine that if they – here we were two or three days afterward, if they were still in custody, what kind of criticism and questions we’d be getting. So I just think it’s an important element not to forget that we got them home safe and sound, 10 fingers, 10 toes, no shots fired, and we got our boats back too. Not insignificant. So I just wanted to make that point. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t other valid questions being asked such as those you did over Iranian behavior. And what I would say to that, Matt, is – and I’ve said it a hundred times – we’re not turning a blind eye to Iran and its provocative behavior. We’re not forgetting that they fired rockets near an aircraft carrier not long ago, that they still are a state sponsor of terrorism. I mean, this isn’t about some rapprochement with Iran. This is about getting sailors back.

QUESTION: Right. But when you say it’s not insignificant, I mean, aren’t you – you’re praising the Iranians for doing what they should have done anyway regardless of whether there was this open channel of communication. I mean, a responsible state with a responsible navy and military force such as, say, the United States --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- if this had been – would Foreign Minister Zarif in the opposite situation – would foreign – do you see a situation where Foreign Minister Zarif would have had to urgently get on the phone with Secretary Kerry and say, “Oh my God, help. We – please get our – please release our sailors.” I mean, I’m just not sure that that would ever happen.

So you’re saying that this channel of communication has led to a point where you can call the Iranians to ask them, appeal to them to do what they should do even without that channel of communication, no?

MR KIRBY: Well, this is – but this is a – fair. But this is a regime that has had a history of not doing many things that it should do, right? I mean, this --

QUESTION: Exactly. Which is what a lot of people point out when they --

MR KIRBY: And we’re not denying that. And this isn’t about praise. The Secretary did not praise Iran. He thanked Iranian authorities for their ability to work a diplomatic release here. There’s a difference between expressing gratitude for the cooperation to get our guys back and lauding and praising. There was no lauding or praising. And again, nobody, certainly not the Secretary, isn’t – is unmindful of the continued tensions that exist between the United States and Iran.

QUESTION: Can I ask a more technical question?

QUESTION: You could argue that you guys are now in a position of maximal leverage, vis-a-vis Iran. You are, in your own words, very close to implementation day when, if the IAEA certifies it, you then remove a huge raft of sanctions on the Iranians. Do you think that you’re going to have the same kind of cooperation from the Iranians if this happens after implementation day?

MR KIRBY: I couldn’t possibly answer that. It’s a hypothetical. What the Iranians --

QUESTION: Do you think implementation day had anything to do with their eagerness to give your sailors back when they haven’t done it in the past because they’re desperate to get access to billions of dollars in frozen assets?

MR KIRBY: I think – I won’t – I can’t speak for the Iranian Government and what ultimately was behind their motivation to acquiesce to our very urgent request. They did, and that’s all that matters. They can speak to that. But I think it’s beyond dispute that as a result of working through the Iran deal and now on Syria that we have a – that we had a dialogue and we’re able to have a dialogue on issues sometimes of mutual concern. And there has been sort of a building of momentum of this ability to have a dialogue. But where it goes after implementation, I think that’s on the Iranians. And it’s up to them to determine how much they want to make use of this historic moment to become more responsible and productive members not only of the region but of the global community. That’s on them. Were it to have that effect, not that that was the intention of the Iran deal – the intention was to cut off their pathways, right? But would it have that effect, I think that would be a positive outcome, and the Secretary has spoken to that.

QUESTION: My question is you keep praising the importance of the channel, and I understand that it is useful to have foreign-minister-to-foreign-minister contacts with a country with which you have been estranged for so many decades. But why do you ascribe causality to the fact that you have this channel, as opposed to, for example, the fact that you are about to hand them huge economic benefits in exchange for their nuclear actions?

MR KIRBY: I’m not quite sure I understand the question, but we’re not handing them --

QUESTION: The question is: Why do you think – you keep talking about how important the channel is. But my question is: Well, gee, isn’t it perfectly conceivable that what was really important here is the fact that they’re about to --

MR KIRBY: Oh, I see. I see.

QUESTION: -- a whole bunch of economic benefits --

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- for actions you wanted them to take, and that maybe that that’s why they did it?

MR KIRBY: Maybe that could have been – that could have been behind their motivation. I don’t know. I don’t know. Only they can speak to that. But I also think on a technical issue, if you don’t mind, nobody is handing them some sort of windfall of cash. This is their money that comes in sanctions relief if and only if they meet all their requirements under the JCPOA, and that was – and again, the sanctions were in place to get them to do exactly that. So it’s a technical point. It’s not your question. But I do think it’s important to state it because that narrative keeps coming back now as we get closer to implementation day. As for their motivation, again, I think they should speak to that. Here at the State Department, we’re just glad that diplomacy worked in this case and that we were able to get our sailors back safe and sound.

QUESTION: John, speaking of diplomacy, the fact that the Secretary of State had to get involved in something that was technically a military-to-military issue – in the debrief that the sailors are undergoing, would there be any reason for anyone from the embassy in Kuwait, if that’s where they are being debriefed, or anyone from the political-military bureau, to be involved in the debrief to find out exactly who was holding them and what kind of contact they had? Or is this something that the military can handle by itself?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know who’s involved in debriefing the sailors. Obviously, the Navy is clearly running this, as they should. Who else is in the room, I couldn’t begin to tell you. It’s not a State Department function.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t it be important, though, given that the – that the people that were holding them belong to a state with which the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t know what the debriefing – that’s a – really, that’s a question for the Navy and the Defense Department. I don’t know who’s in the room. The State Department is not in charge of that process. I can’t say definitively that – who’s in or who’s not in the room. What’s more important is that the Navy gets the information they need to do the inquiry and to figure out what happened and how to keep it from happening again. That’s the most important thing.

You talked about mil-to-mil. There is no mil-to-mil relationship with Iran. There are no – as you rightly pointed out, there is no diplomatic relations with Iran. All – the only channel that exists right now is between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif. So in terms of --

QUESTION: No, no. (Inaudible) contacts at the UN that didn’t involve Secretary Kerry --

MR KIRBY: Well, direct – direct bilateral contacts and communications are through – primarily through the two foreign ministers. There’s no official diplomatic relations and there is no mil-to-mil relationship with them.

So to your other question, is it – was it somehow askew that the State Department had to get involved in here, I mean, not at all – not at all. In fact, it was the most effective channel to use, and it worked.

QUESTION: And then in – and then --

QUESTION: So they’ve been working very closely in a very – well, not closely together, but very – in a very close geographical proximity to each other --

MR KIRBY: Who is?

QUESTION: The Americans and the Iranians in that region.

MR KIRBY: For a very long time.

QUESTION: For a very long time. Is there – should there be a mil-to-mil contact and relations where they can actually talk to each other directly to defuse these kind of situations?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to the Defense Department about the military relationships. Typically, they mirror diplomatic relationships. It’s not typically common for us to not have diplomatic relations and yet for the military to be able to have their own relations. That’s just not the way it’s done. But specifically with respect to the military relationship, you’d have to talk to the Defense Department.

What I can tell you – I mean, it’s not a relationship, but obviously, we communicate with Iranian naval forces almost every day in the Gulf. We did when I was a young ensign out there in 1988 and I’m sure they’re doing it still today, just over radio just to de-conflict and to make sure that intentions are known. Most of those interactions are professional and some are unprofessional, such as what we saw with the rocket attacks near – rocket attacks, that’s not – I’m sorry, them firing rockets or – by – off of small boats near an aircraft carrier, and we called it like we saw it. We saw – we said – we stated our concerns about it. But it’s not a – that’s not a relationship thing. That’s mariner-to-mariner communications.

QUESTION: John --

QUESTION: Well, what’s preventing these – the – I guess, I mean, you’re saying that the military – military-to-military relationship follow a diplomatic relationship.

MR KIRBY: Typically, yeah.

QUESTION: What’s preventing that from happening?

MR KIRBY: There’s no diplomatic relations with Iran. There’s – there are no diplomatic relations with Iran. But I won’t speak to decisions that the Pentagon may or may not make. I’m not aware that they’re anticipating or predicting or hoping for; that’s up to them to speak to.

QUESTION: John, how will these footages, do you think, affect the U.S. image in the Middle East, especially in the eyes of its friends and enemies? The U.S. is fighting ISIS in the Middle East and supporting its allies.

MR KIRBY: So is the question that because we had sailors on their knees on boats with guns pointed at them, that somehow we need to be worried that there’s an image of weakness? Is that the question?

QUESTION: Don’t you think that it will affect the U.S. image?

MR KIRBY: Name another country in the world that has as many forces in the Middle East than the United States. None. Who has had naval presence there since the end of World War II? None.

QUESTION: Iran.

MR KIRBY: The United States – I’m talking about another nation outside the region – and they don’t have as big a military as the United States. We are – we have remained perennially there. We will. There’s a robust military presence that’s not going to go away. We are deeply engaged in the fight against ISIL and the coalition. Nobody can say that the United States isn’t – not only not contributing – isn’t – is not contributing to that effort, but also leading in the coalition and put that 65-member coalition together.

So yeah, I’ve heard – I’ve heard the snarking about this. I think it’s really important, unless you’ve been on one of those boats and you’ve sailed in those waters and you’ve been faced with that danger, not to second guess what those sailors did in the moment that they did it. That’s for the Navy to figure out, and they’ll do that. As I said, nobody likes to see that video. We don’t enjoy watching it here either and I’m sure the Navy’s not enjoying watching it. But let them work through this and figure out what happened, and then we’ll go from there.

Our focus here at the State Department is on reinforcing strong diplomacy in the region on a spate of so many issues, and there’s a lot to tackle, and the Secretary is very focused on that. And we’re glad that through diplomatic means, we were able to get this resolved as quickly and as safely as we did.

QUESTION: John --

QUESTION: In one of your answers to Arshad on – this is a purely legal kind of question – you said --

MR KIRBY: Oh, then I’m sure I’m going to be a master at this.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just wondering if – you said that since we’re not, quote/unquote, “at war with Iran,” that the Geneva Conventions are moot, and is that --

MR KIRBY: The question is moot. I didn’t say the conventions are moot.

QUESTION: No – well, that the question is moot --

MR KIRBY: Doesn’t apply.

QUESTION: -- whether they apply. Okay. Has that determination actually been made as far as you know, that – have you – has there been a determination that --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that it – I don’t know that it needs to be applied. I’m not a lawyer, but it’s very clear, if you read the conventions, they are for wartime, and we’re not at war with Iran. So as far as I know, the question is moot.

QUESTION: At least in the technical sense, but you have proxies fighting in numerous places.

MR KIRBY: We’re not at war with Iran.

QUESTION: Fair enough. When the British sailors were taken – and you mentioned this incident several times – the former prime minister of your oldest – or not oldest, but your special relationship ally, Prime Minister Blair, said that the release of the video of them, which you also mentioned, was a violation of the Geneva Convention.

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for what Prime Minister Blair said back then. I can just tell you what our sense is.

QUESTION: Okay. So the Administration does not believe that the rules of the – the rules and the code of conduct laid out in the conventions is applicable in this case, but --

MR KIRBY: If – we’re not at war with Iran, so it’s hard to see how the Geneva Convention could apply to that. That --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: If we were or if it did apply, then we would certainly have – we would be able to apply the concerns about it under that means. But we’re not at war with Iran.

QUESTION: Well, okay, fair enough. But I mean, don’t you think that the broadcasting of this – of this video and these photographs, if not violating an international convention, is at least a breach of what should be kind of a professional military code of conduct that should have some kind of a consequence?

MR KIRBY: Well, I certainly would agree that it’s unhelpful and we wouldn’t consider it appropriate to do. It’s not going to do anything to de-escalate tensions and its use for propaganda purposes is inappropriate. So I would – I think we can safely say that. Nobody wants to see that.

QUESTION: John, there’s going to be elections in Iran and in the United States over the next 12 months. There won’t be Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif after a while. At the moment, it’s a one-to-one relationship.

QUESTION: How do you know that?

QUESTION: Has there been any thought given to – hmm?

QUESTION: How do you know that?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: I don’t know.

MR KIRBY: You – but --

QUESTION: All right, it’s possible that there will not be. Has there been any thought given to --

MR KIRBY: Now I know why you didn’t win the Powerball.

QUESTION: -- to institutionalize the relationship? Obviously I’m not asking to – if you can restore diplomatic relations, but what’s the procedure to keep this kind of, as you’ve said, useful, in this case, contact open in the event that one or other of these men is no longer in the job in 12 months’ time?

MR KIRBY: I can’t possibly predict what the future is going to look like.

QUESTION: Well, exactly. So shouldn’t there be an institutional structure or at least a post-it note with a mobile number on it – hand on this relationship, such as it is, to – institutionally between the foreign ministry of Iran and the Secretary?

MR KIRBY: Well, that gets to the whole – that gets to a whole issue of official institutionalized diplomatic relations, and we’ve – we have none and I’m not aware of any plan to restore --

QUESTION: But you’ve described the relationship as it exists now as useful in this case.

MR KIRBY: It certainly was.

QUESTION: That’s a useful thing you have that you could lose.

MR KIRBY: I can’t deny that that might be the case. But absent a U.S. Government decision to restore diplomatic relations, I don’t know how else to answer that question. It has been a useful channel, in this particular case certainly very useful. Decisions about elections here and decisions about elections there are up to the people of those countries, and they get to make those decisions. And the impact that those decisions have on whatever relationship there is with Iran going forward is I think yet to be determined, and it would be foolhardy to try to – to try to predict that.

QUESTION: John, so --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Said.

QUESTION: -- could I – yeah. Very quickly, did you say that the Geneva Convention applies to this incident or it doesn’t because there is no state of war? I’m trying to understand.

MR KIRBY: The Geneva Convention applies for a time of war --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- between nations --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- and we’re not at war with Iran --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- so it’s difficult to see how the provisions of the Geneva Convention can be applied here or us citing them as violations of it when we’re not at war with Iran. Now, if we were at war with Iran or you pick the country, then yes, I think you could look at what happened as a breach of the protocols in there. But they don’t apply.

QUESTION: Okay. And very quickly, the incident itself, some people say that it reflects some sort of conflict or maybe between, let’s say, the Revolutionary Guard on the one hand and then President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif on the other. Do you also have the same feeling that there is actually some sort of a conflict or power struggle between the Revolutionary Guard and the executive in this case, President Rouhani and --

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on internal Iranian politics. I mean, it’s a simple fact that not all arms of the government agree with one another and not all of them act in unanimity or consensus and not all of them, as far as we know, keep each other informed of everything they’re doing. That shouldn’t come as a shock to anybody. We have our own struggles in the United States with that. But I – with respect to this particular incident, I have no knowledge of the internal communications over it in Tehran and how they dealt with it or prepared for or ultimately got to resolution.

QUESTION: And --

MR KIRBY: What I do know is that Foreign Minister Zarif, he certainly worked on the diplomatic end of it.

QUESTION: Was Zarif aware of the incident when Secretary Kerry called him?

QUESTION: And finally, you know it’s always the JCPOA --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Was Zarif already aware of the incident, or did Kerry inform him that it happened?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t know.

QUESTION: So the --

QUESTION: On the Iran deal itself, it is always stated that it is independent of everything else. Yet it was cited by the Secretary of State himself that because of the JCPOA, the agreement, there were lines of communications that basically helped to bring this incident to an end.

MR KIRBY: Sure. Yeah, there’s no question about that.

QUESTION: So it is related to other issues, isn’t it?

MR KIRBY: No. There’s no question about it that it provided a channel now that we could take advantage of, but that was never the intent. I mean, there’s ancillary benefits. Nobody’s – I’m not arguing that. And as we’ve said before, if the Iran deal itself were to lead to a change in behavior and conduct by Iran to make them more productive, more responsible in the region, then that’s a good thing, and we wouldn’t walk away from that if that’s the outcome. I don’t think we’re there yet. We certainly haven’t seen a change in their behavior in the region at all. But if it happens and it happens because of the channel opened up or the cooperation that is represented in the Iran deal, that’s a benefit not just to the Iranian people but to the region.

As for the – there’s no question that the deal allowed for a channel of discussion and dialogue to exist between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif, but it would be wrong to conclude that we entered into the Iran deal with the intention of doing that, of having that. The whole purpose of entering into the deal was to do one thing and one thing only, and that is to cut off the pathways to a nuclear weapons program in Iran. And when we get to implementation day, which we will, we will have achieved that goal.

QUESTION: Let me just raise one more point.

QUESTION: So you have this issue with the Geneva Convention. If the Geneva Convention doesn’t apply because we’re not at war with Iran, then what – are there any international conventions that do apply in this situation (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I’m not an international law expert. I don’t know. And I’m just – I would refer you to the Navy and the Defense Department for how – for what applies here. We don’t have, like, a naval treaty or an incidents at sea agreement like we had with the Soviet navy many years ago that would sort of govern behavior in these instance – incidents. We don’t have that with Iran, so I’m not aware of any other legal framework.

QUESTION: Going back to David’s question about some sort of institution, the whole notion of a possible rapprochement with Tehran, Syria is a state sponsor of terror. And even though the U.S. and Syria don’t have ambassadors in either country at the moment, they’re still technically – they still have a technically open diplomatic relationship. How does the U.S. talk to Syria about issues even though you don’t have ambassadors in the same place? And what – why couldn’t whatever’s being done to communicate with Damascus – why couldn’t that be replicated with Syria – with Iran? Excuse me.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know what the framework is, and it’s not uncommon for us to have protecting powers that can represent our interests. And I just don’t know what the framework is with respect to Iran. You got me on that one. All I know is that Secretary Kerry had a channel with Foreign Minister Zarif and he used it and it worked. I’m just not an expert on how that exists in every other nation that – with which we don’t have diplomatic relations. As I understand it, it varies from country to country.

Yeah.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up on the phone call between Secretary Kerry and Lavrov. Do they meet – agree to meet next weekend in Zurich as reported by the Russian foreign ministry?

MR KIRBY: I reported it myself just when I started the press conference. Were you not here for the beginning?

QUESTION: I’m glad to clarify.

QUESTION: That was like an hour ago. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: It only feels like an hour ago.

QUESTION: No, no, no, no, no. It feels quite different from an hour.

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: Forty-three minutes --

MR KIRBY: As I said at the opening – I’ll save you from having to go look at the transcript – they’re going to meet on the 20th in Zurich.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. So a Kurdish Government delegation is in Washington, D.C. and they have reportedly met with officials here at this building. Can you tell us what officials did they meet? And is it true that they have sought financial assistance and debt from the United States?

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. I don’t know that I have a readout on this for you. You’re going to have to let me take that question. I don’t have – I don’t have any readouts to offer today on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can you just find out, though, when you do that whether or not you’re – even if a decision hasn’t been made on helping them financially for – to overcome their deficit --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- whether or not this is even being considered as an option, some kind of direct assistance to the Kurdish authority.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, let me take that question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, I should have been prepared for that one and I wasn’t.

QUESTION: Just one more question. There was an editorial today in the New York Times warning of the possible ramifications of this dispute – budget dispute between Baghdad and Erbil if they are allowed to drag on. I remember Brett McGurk was very active at some point in 2014 and ’15 helping mediate the dispute. But we don’t see that kind of mediation anymore from the United States, at least in public. Why is that?

MR KIRBY: We’ve been – I’m not sure I understand the question. I --

QUESTION: I mean, we don’t – the problem is still there and we don’t see a U.S. Government representative.

MR KIRBY: What problem? The government issue?

QUESTION: The dispute over budget and oil between KRG and Baghdad.

MR KIRBY: We’re – we are in constant touch with Kurdish and Iraqi authorities about those issues. I mean, it – though we may not talk about it every day and you’re not seeing press releases about it doesn’t mean that we’re not engaged and continue to engage with the leadership over there. And Brett McGurk obviously continues to be involved as appropriate. I don’t have anything new to announce or to – additional context to provide you, but to surmise that we’ve somehow disengaged from it I think would be wholly inaccurate.

QUESTION: But can we say the fact that it’s dragged on for about three years, that show the United States – it has not used its leverage on both parties that – to solve that issue?

MR KIRBY: These are internal political issues that those – that we want those leaders to resolve and to work through. We’ve said that time and time again. And I’ve answered this question from you before. It’s not about using American leverage and influence and putting a thumb on it. It’s about constant – encouraging constant engagement and dialogue, and for – and to help them get to solutions that they arrive at and that they agree to. And nothing’s changed about our desire to see them – to do exactly that. And that you may not be hearing about it every day or we may not be talking about it every day doesn’t mean that it’s not happening.

QUESTION: On Iraq?

QUESTION: North Korea?

MR KIRBY: Oh, Said, I already got you a bunch of times. Let me go to these guys.

QUESTION: I want to go to – on Iraq.

QUESTION: On North Korea --

QUESTION: Turkey.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: On Iraq, there are --

MR KIRBY: Okay, we’ll stay on Iraq.

QUESTION: No, very quickly, there are reports that the Shia militia al-Hashd al-Shabi is besieging Sunni villages and so on, and in some instances they are committing some horrific acts and so on. Are you aware that the Sunni villages in the Diyala area have been besieged by --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those specific reports. We’ve long made known our concerns, though, about the proper treatment of innocent civilians by all parties in Iraq. We’ve been very clear about that, working hard – it’s one of the reasons why we’re working so hard to support the Abadi government in their efforts to be inclusive and to help improve the competence and capability not just of – primarily the Iraqi Security Forces, but also the various militias that are out there. I think you guys got a briefing on this or talked to – had a chance to talk to Colonel Warren about some of those efforts. And so, I mean, we’re very, very committed to that. I’m not aware of those particular reports. That’s really more of a question for the Defense Department to speak to.

Yeah.

QUESTION: So ahead of Deputy Secretary Blinken’s travel to Asia, and earlier this week, Japan – the Japanese foreign minister talked to Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia, and Russia seemed to be forthcoming in terms of support for sanctions against North Korea and working with the international community. Is there any concern that Beijing would not be as forthcoming with such support?

MR KIRBY: We – what I would say is we’ve been very consistent in our message to Beijing that we want them to continue to use their influence and exert their leadership in the region to hold the North accountable for their provocative behavior. We’ve also said that at least in light of this most recent test, we – nuclear test by the North – we continue to believe that the international community has got to be in unanimity about moving forward with tougher measures, to include tougher sanctions. And as Secretary Kerry said to you himself, that the past approach that China has employed hasn’t been working, and that we’re going to look for – to China to exert its influence and its leadership in a more positive way with respect to holding the North accountable.

I can’t predict where that’s going to go. Those discussions are ongoing, and we’ll have to see where we end up. Okay?

QUESTION: You designated a ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan (inaudible) this morning.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry and I guess others at the Pentagon have long raised concerns about ISIL affiliates. Why – is there anything you could say about the timing? Why now? I would presume they would’ve been on your – the announcement says they were formed in January, 2015. So I presume they had been on your radar for a while.

MR KIRBY: Certainly. We’ve been watching them for a while. The “why now” is we have conducted enough analysis to make this determination and to make it public. I wouldn’t read anything into the timing with respect to current events there or here or even events here in Washington. This was a fairly standard, routine, deliberate process that we go through in terms of designating FTOs, and this was the time to announce this one, and so we did. There’s nothing more behind it than that.

QUESTION: And you’re sticking with ISIL-K. Do you not think there’s enough acronyms in this war? ISIL-K, ISIS-K, Daesh-K --

MR KIRBY: It’s nice and concise, isn’t it? It’s clear – ISIL-K.

QUESTION: ISIL-K

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: ISILK?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Are we good? We got --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) more.

MR KIRBY: Oh. Yeah, there’s more.

QUESTION: Oh.

MR KIRBY: Okay, we’ll go to these three, and then --

QUESTION: I have one.

MR KIRBY: No, I already got you, man.

QUESTION: Two – I have two. (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: You – you’re killing me. Go ahead.

QUESTION: There are reports out that the CDC may issue a warning about people traveling to the Caribbean and Latin American countries because of the spreading of the Zika virus. Has there been any consideration in this department about a travel warning based on --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any travel warnings to speak to right now. I mean, obviously we’re in close touch with the CDC on this. We’re very mindful of this particular virus and the danger posed by it, but we’re – what I can tell you is we’re going to stay in close touch with the CDC. I won’t get ahead of any announcements they may or may not make; that’s for them to speak to. But we’re in close touch with authorities there, and obviously, if we feel the need that we need to make such notifications here at the State Department, we’ll do that. But I don’t have any that I can speak to right now. But we are watching this very, very closely.

QUESTION: Taiwan?

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: What are your expectations for the Taiwanese elections on Saturday? And there have been concerns that – of cross-strait relations being affected and thereby how would this affect U.S. policy.

MR KIRBY: Well, you know we don’t get – we’re not going to talk about the internal politics in a country. We would expect, like we expect other elections, that the Taiwanese people are able to express their views through the ballot box and that they’re fair and transparent. But that’s about all we would say about that. And --

QUESTION: Okay. And can I also follow up on --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: I know what you’re going to say; you don’t talk about the internal politics of other countries. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: I know you were going to get me on that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) regard Taiwan --

MR KIRBY: I could see your face when I said it.

QUESTION: Taiwan is not a country.

MR KIRBY: I could – as soon as I say something like that and he looks up from his scribbling, then I know I’m going to get it.

QUESTION: Taiwan is not a country.

QUESTION: Taiwan is a country?

MR KIRBY: No, no, and I didn’t – yes, I said --

QUESTION: You said --

MR KIRBY: Nothing has changed about our “one-China” policy.

QUESTION: So --

MR KIRBY: And that’s the country I was talking about.

QUESTION: China.

MR KIRBY: But these elections are for the Taiwanese people to speak to.

QUESTION: Right. But in other countries --

QUESTION: When you say that’s the country you were talking about, do you mean you regard Taiwan as part of China?

MR KIRBY: One China. One China. One China.

QUESTION: Turkey?

MR KIRBY: There is no change to our policy.

QUESTION: Sorry, can I also ask about Assistant Secretary Blinken’s travel? He is traveling to Northeast Asia. What do you expect out of these meetings?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think we put a lot of that in the media note that we put out. He’s looking – and I said it at the top. We – he’s going to discuss a wide range of bilateral regional issues, to include the tensions, obviously, that continue to exist in the region in the South China Sea and Northeast Asia with North Korea and their provocative actions. So – I mean, there’s a lot to talk about out there, obviously, as there always is. And it’s a reinforcement of our commitment to the region and our commitment to the Asia Pacific rebalance. As I said, this is – it’s not unusual for him to travel out there, and I suspect you’ll continue to see us engage very directly with leaders in the region.

QUESTION: And Secretary Kerry didn’t mention Asia in his 2016 foreign policy goals. What does this mean for the rebalance?

MR KIRBY: That he didn’t mention it?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: It means nothing to the rebalance. The rebalance is still a vital part of our foreign policy agenda going into this year, as it has been in past years. And I wouldn’t read anything into what is or is not on a list that the Secretary puts out. Are you talking about the top 10 list that he put out after the --

QUESTION: No, it’s his remarks at the National Defense University.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, look – I mean, that --

QUESTION: He mentioned the TPP.

MR KIRBY: He mentioned – he did --

QUESTION: Well, outside of TPP.

MR KIRBY: He did mention the Asia Pacific in that --

QUESTION: Well, that’s pretty Asia.

MR KIRBY: He did mention the Asia Pacific in that speech, and he did mention specifically the TPP. It was mentioned, and – but regardless of how many words were applied to it, absolutely doesn’t change one bit our full and total commitment to the – to realizing the rebalance and to focusing on that region. And as I just said at the top, the deputy secretary himself is making yet another trip out to the region to reinforce that. And I suspect you’ll see in the near future the Secretary himself travel to the region. And when we get to a point where we can talk with more specificity about that, we will.

Yeah, last one today.

QUESTION: Okay. On this PKK bomb attack in Diyarbakir, you said U.S. stands with Turkey against the terror. I think there are some (inaudible) that might contradict with this statement. For example, two weeks ago Syrian Kurdish group PYD leader Salih Muslim told al-Quds newspaper that hundreds of PKK militants fighting in YPG ranks against ISIS. Currently, U.S. special advisors are assisting YPG-led Syrian opposition forces. So basically, U.S. Special Forces seem assisting these PKK fighters, too. Are you aware that there are PKK fighters in YPG ranks?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have the identification cards of everybody in the YPG. We – there are Kurdish fighters that are proving effective against ISIL. We’re going to continue to support them as best we can. That’s not new.

QUESTION: But these leaders say that PKK --

MR KIRBY: That’s not new. And the PKK is a designated foreign terrorist organization. We’ve made clear about – we’ve made clear our concerns about this group. That’s not new. So there’s nothing new here, nothing at all.

QUESTION: But his leader confesses for the first time that there are PKK fighters in YPG ranks. The --

MR KIRBY: Who is confessing? I haven’t seen that.

QUESTION: Salih Muslim, the PYD leader.

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that. PKK is a foreign terrorist organization. We – nothing’s changed about our position on that. And yes, there are Kurdish fighters who are proving effective against ISIL and nothing’s changed about our commitment to helping them continue to press the fight against a group which I think all of us can agree is generally a bad thing for the region, certainly for the people of Iraq and for Syria.

Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Have a great day.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:04 p.m.)

DPB # 8


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 13, 2016

Wed, 01/13/2016 - 16:09

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 13, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:41 p.m. EST

MR TONER: Hey everybody.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR TONER: Hello. I left my glasses on. Excuse me.

QUESTION: That’s okay. They give you an air of erudition. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: Wouldn’t want that.

QUESTION: No, no, you do want that.

MR TONER: No, I’m just kidding. So let me get started here, folks. And I do have to step down in about a half hour or so, I apologize. A couple of things at the top, and then I’ll get to your questions.

I can announce that Secretary Kerry will be traveling to London. He’ll be leaving later this afternoon. He’ll be there January 13th through 15th and he’ll meet with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, where they’ll discuss a range of issues, bilateral and global issues, including, obviously, Iran, and the ongoing crisis in Syria.

Also wanted to touch on a readout of yesterday’s meetings with the Philippine foreign minister and minister of defense. Yesterday, as you all know, Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter met with Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario as well as the Secretary of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin on January 12th for the U.S.-Philippines 2+2 ministerial dialogue. That was here at the Department of State.

Secretary Kerry welcomed the recent Philippine Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which will further strengthen the U.S.-Philippine relationship, and the two sides also reaffirmed their commitment to the U.S.-Philippines alliance and mutual defense. They discussed strategic and security issues of concern, including maritime and territorial issues in the South China Sea as well as ways to enhance defense and security cooperation. They noted ways to build a stronger and more robust economic partnership to increase bilateral trade and investment, and the secretaries also previewed the upcoming special U.S.-ASEAN summit which will take place in Sunnylands, California, and expressed their commitment to implement the Paris agreement to combat climate change.

Just a side note, Secretary Kerry and Secretary del Rosario continued their discussions on these same themes during a follow-up meeting held on Wednesday morning here at the State Department.

I do want to note some concerns about ongoing crackdown against lawyers in China. After holding them for six months, Chinese authorities are now reportedly charging lawyers from the Beijing Fengrui law firm with now state subversion. These lawyers, such as Zhou Shifeng and Wang Yu, as well as Li Heping, now face sentences ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment for their efforts to represent clients, including a number of prominent human rights activists. The United States urges China to drop these charges and immediately release these lawyers and others like them detained for seeking to protect the rights of Chinese civilians – or citizens, rather.

And with that, I will hand it over to you, Matt, for your first question.

QUESTION: Right. So before we get to this potentially intriguing travel announcement, I want to start with Iran and --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- the sailors and the ships. I realize a senior official just said that it was up to the Pentagon to determine whether the treatment of the sailors while they were being detained was in violation of any kind of international agreement, but my question is: Is this being investigated by the Pentagon or the State Department? And if – and please don’t say this is hypothetical, so you won’t answer it. But if it was found --

MR TONER: I would never say that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Really? Well, let’s bet. Let’s see what happens here. If it is found or if it is determined by who – the competent authorities here in the States, whether that’s the Pentagon or here or wherever, that they were in fact mistreated or treated in violation of some kind of – any kind of international agreement per what we’ve seen on the video and the pictures, will the Administration make the appropriate complaint to Iranian authorities or to international authorities?

MR TONER: Sure. So starting with your first question, look, we’ve seen no indications thus far that they were mistreated during their period of detention. In fact, it was our understanding that they were given blankets, a place to sleep, as well as fed. That said – and it speaks to your second question – of course, there’s going to be a period of debriefing of these sailors. That’s ongoing and that’s really a matter for the Pentagon to speak to. But in answer to your question, will there be some kind of follow-up or assessment, well, of course. They’re always going to talk to these sailors, get firsthand knowledge of how they were treated, and modify our assessment of their treatment based on their input. Clearly, that’s going to be a part of how we assess the – their overall treatment.

In answer to your third question, it is speculative or hypothetical. Let’s wait and see what we hear back as we assess the situation. Again, our initial assessment is that they were treated humanely. I know there’s some videos out there circulating. We’ll obviously have to validate their veracity and their authentication – or authenticity, rather. As we look at this, we’ll continue to assess and, if appropriate, comment further on how we viewed them – how we view their treatment.

QUESTION: Okay. So you failed the test, because I had --

MR TONER: Not true.

QUESTION: You said it’s a hypothetical and --

MR TONER: I did say it was a hypothetical, but what I --

QUESTION: But why can’t you say --

MR TONER: No.

QUESTION: -- that the Administration will complain or take the appropriate action if it is --

MR TONER: I said – if I --

QUESTION: -- determined that they had been treated in violation of the law?

MR TONER: If I was not direct enough in my response, what I’m trying to say is we’re going to assess, we’re going to continue, we’re going to talk to the sailors. Obviously, their firsthand impressions and – obviously are the most important here. We’re going to look at the videos. We’re going to assess all of that. And if we need to adjust what we said publicly and privately, we’ll adjust.

QUESTION: But right now --

QUESTION: So does that mean that you will take whatever action is appropriate if there was a violation – if you determine there was a violation? You’re saying that you’ll adjust your assessment of how they were treated. I’m saying that if you do adjust your assessment of how they were treated and find – based on the interviews with them as well as the video and the photographs that have appeared – and find that that they were not treated in compliance with international rules, why won’t you say that you will make – that you’ll take appropriate action against the Iranians?

MR TONER: I think we would take appropriate action but – if our assessment changed.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: But at this point we have not – we have made an --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: -- initial assessment. We’re still in the process of gathering that information.

QUESTION: And might you say that right now so far you’re generally happy with how this all --

MR TONER: I did say that. I said our initial impression was that they were well treated.

QUESTION: And that includes what you’ve seen in the video of the sailor --

MR TONER: Again, we’re – the videos actually just broke and – or just came across. I’ve seen them but --

QUESTION: Yeah, but people have seen it?

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: But on the – at first glance, that doesn’t equate to a violation?

MR TONER: Again, I think that’ll be part of our overall assessment.

QUESTION: If it was found that these sailors did venture into Iranian territory, would it be appropriate to apologize for that?

MR TONER: Well, first of all – and I know that a senior State Department official just spoke to this – there was no official U.S. apology given to the Iranians. I think that’s been a little bit of a canard or whatever out there in the press this morning that there was the impression given that there was some kind of apology. Categorically, there was not.

QUESTION: Well, for one thing, the sailor did apologize on camera. Whether that was coerced or not, we don’t know, but --

MR TONER: Exactly.

QUESTION: -- there was certainly --

MR TONER: Precisely.

QUESTION: -- an apology issued by the party involved.

MR TONER: Precisely. But that was not an official – but not an official U.S. Government apology.

QUESTION: Right. And – but again, my question is if you did venture into those waters, would there be reason – would an apology, therefore, be appropriate?

MR TONER: Justin, how I’d put it is – and again, this is really for the Department of Defense to speak to – but that said, just speaking broadly about the incident, Secretary Kerry was, as many of you know, very quick to respond to Iran, to his counterpart, give the details of what we knew the situation to be, and I think it was simply – again, according to what we know about this – an accident, a mechanical malfunction. I think it was handled diplomatically, which is always the ideal way. Certainly, we here at the State Department believe that. But I don’t think there’s necessarily a need for any kind of apology here. This was --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: -- handled professionally, at least – and again, in our initial assessments, professionally by both sides.

QUESTION: But since the apparently successful denouement, people including Secretary Kerry have been quick to link this to – the success of this to the closer ties that the United States and Tehran have built up since the Iran nuclear program. You’re not worried there’ll be a perception that you’re exploiting what could have been a very dangerous incident, and that there’s been a very quick political recuperation of what happened there?

MR TONER: So --

QUESTION: What happened yesterday was an accident, but today --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- we’re being told the successful resolution of this is a tribute to Secretary Kerry’s excellent work in Vienna last year.

MR TONER: Well, I think what it is is it’s a testament to the lines of communication that were opened through those negotiations. The fact that Secretary Kerry had a relationship with Foreign Minister Zarif, that he could pick up the phone and explain to him what our assessment was of what had happened and ask for his help and assistance in resolving the situation diplomatically and professionally – I think it does speak to that kind of relationship that they’re able to discuss matters now beyond the nuclear talks.

QUESTION: But Americans are watching their sailors with their hands on their head on television, and Secretary Kerry is saying that what happened shows how friendly we are with Iran now.

MR TONER: Well, look, I mean – and Secretary Kerry was very clear in his statement this morning. I mean, he’s a former naval officer himself. He knows the vital work that these sailors do. He – his – first and foremost in his mind, certainly yesterday and obviously today, is the safety and well-being of these sailors. And that was always his – foremost in his mind as he sought to resolve this situation.

QUESTION: Mark --

QUESTION: Can I ask if you accept the premise of Dave’s question, which was that this was an accident – not on your part, not on the part of the Navy – but do you – have you come to the assessment – has the Administration come to the assessment that what the Iranians did was accidental in taking them, or was somehow wrong?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Again, I can only speak to what is the official --

QUESTION: The question is premised on this --

MR TONER: -- chronology of events --

QUESTION: -- being an accident.

QUESTION: Although my premise was that it was an accident that you strayed into their waters (inaudible).

MR TONER: Correct, that’s right, and that is my understanding as well – is they had mechanical problems. Again, I --

QUESTION: You are sure that this was not --

MR TONER: I would refer you to Department of Defense.

QUESTION: I’m not talking about the U.S. part of it. I’m talking about the Iranian part of it. Are you satisfied that the Iranian intention here in taking these – detaining these people was --

MR TONER: I don’t know if they would characterize it – I would refer you to the Iranians, but I don’t know that they ever characterized this as an accidental – a detention of the sailors.

QUESTION: No, I know. It was – it was – it was intentional --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Oh, I understand what you’re saying. Okay, sorry. I apologize. Yeah. I mean, I think – yes, I mean, I think that we’re --

QUESTION: So the question, then, is that – don’t you think it’s a bit unusual, given the fact that you’re hailing these warmer ties, that they would have detained them in the first place and subjected them to this treatment --

MR TONER: Well, again --

QUESTION: -- where their hands are over their heads and being photographed --

MR TONER: Again, really --

QUESTION: -- which is a violation of the Geneva convention, which I assume applies --

MR TONER: I’m going to refer you to the Department of Defense to talk about the chronology and the events that led up to their detention. It’s not – what I can speak to is Secretary Kerry’s role in reaching out to his counterpart and trying to resolve the situation.

QUESTION: Mark --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Didn’t you say that taking them with their hands over their --

MR TONER: Said, then you.

QUESTION: -- yeah, yeah – over their heads, that is a violation of the Geneva convention?

MR TONER: I’m not --

QUESTION: Is that a violation?

MR TONER: -- able to give that kind of legal adjudication at this point, no.

QUESTION: Okay. But the Secretary of State would --

MR TONER: I mean, in – generally speaking, you’re not supposed to show images of detained or prisoners of war, but again --

QUESTION: Right. So that part – showing them – showing --

MR TONER: -- we’ve got some videos out there circulating.

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: We don’t know if they’re authentic, we don’t know much about them other than they’re out there circulating right now. We’re going to assess.

QUESTION: Do you think that the Secretary was too quick to say that they were treated well, they were given food and blankets and so on? Was he quick to say that?

MR TONER: No. I think – again, the Secretary is a former naval officer. He has – he understands more than anyone, as I said, the role that these sailors play, the – and the risks that they take. But certainly, I think he was just providing his assessment that the Iranians – at least from our initial assessment – appear to have handled this professionally.

QUESTION: My last one is really a quick one.

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Now, there are a lot of reports that, basically, this illustrates a conflict within Iran itself between the Revolutionary Guard and the government. Do you agree with that assessment?

MR TONER: Well, I’m not going to – no, I’m not going to agree or disagree with that assessment. That’s really something for the Iranians to speak to.

QUESTION: If you say, as you just did --

MR TONER: Sorry, Pam.

QUESTION: -- sorry, Pam, this will be really quick. If you say, as you just did, that it is a violation of the Geneva convention for the photographs and the films to be taken, how can you say that you don’t know or you don’t think that they were mistreated?

MR TONER: Again, Matt --

QUESTION: But generally speaking, if what we have seen on Twitter and on TV is a violation of the Geneva conventions, I don’t understand how you can say that your initial indications are that they were not mistreated.

MR TONER: I’m going to let legal professionals make any kind of evaluation or assessment as to (a) the authenticity of these videos, and (b) whether there are any kinds of violations of the Geneva conventions.

QUESTION: So is it your understanding that the Geneva convention would apply in this kind of a case?

MR TONER: That’s also unclear to me.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: Please, Pam.

QUESTION: Mark, I want to circle back to the apology for just a moment.

MR TONER: Sure. Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: You mentioned that efforts are still underway to authenticate some of these videos, but you also seem pretty clear in saying the portion in which a sailor appears to apologize for the incident did take place, and that was something that was broadcast by Iranian TV. Are you confirming that that is authentic?

And then secondly, what is your response – even if the U.S. did not issue an official apology, what is your response to this apology coming from the sailor?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, no, I’m not trying to say that that was authenticated, that we stood behind that actual piece of video in any way, shape, or form. Again, we’re still assessing whether these videos are authentic or not. And certainly, as I said, the Department of Defense, the Pentagon will be debriefing these sailors about the conditions under which they were detained. So frankly, it’s premature for me to really get into much detail about how they were treated as well, other than, as I said, our initial assessment was that they were treated humanely – provided with blankets, food, et cetera.

Thirdly – I forget the last part of your question. Sorry. (Laughter.) I apologize.

QUESTION: What is your reaction on the --

MR TONER: Oh, okay, on the apology.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: Again, I think we’re going to wait for these sailors to be debriefed, to speak to the appropriate authorities within the Department of Defense. I’m not going to in any – make any effort to evaluate from here what he may or may not have said and whether he was under duress when he said it.

QUESTION: If only we could speak to a former Navy admiral.

MR TONER: Exactly.

QUESTION: Maybe we --

MR TONER: Too bad. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR TONER: I’m a former Peace Corps volunteer. Does that help? (Laughter.)

Please.

QUESTION: Turkey.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is --

MR TONER: Sorry, are we done with Iran? One more on Iran. Thanks, I’ll get to you.

Please.

QUESTION: I just wanted to check: Will this incident in any way affect the upcoming implementation day of the Iran nuclear deal? Is there any concern --

MR TONER: Fair question. I mean, honestly, and it was in the background call that we just completed. I think one of the things that the Secretary was very mindful of yesterday, and spoke about it candidly with Foreign Minister Zarif, was not just on implementation day, but that this could really become a very – very quickly escalate into a very sensitive and risky situation. So the fact that we were able to de-escalate, were able to resolve this situation diplomatically, again, speaks to the fact that we have this dialogue now with the Iranians.

So to answer your question more directly, no, we don’t see this as being any impediment.

QUESTION: Sorry, if we’re going to talk about implementation day, then let’s stay there.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: The Secretary in his comments this morning suggested that it was coming imminently. How imminent does the U.S. see it? And when it happens, what should we expect in terms of announcements from the U.S. Government about sanctions relief?

MR TONER: In terms of sanctions relief?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: Okay. I mean, all that is spelled out in the – under the JCPOA, and all of that, as we’ve said, will be part of the immediate days after the – sorry, the implementation day. I apologize. I don’t have an exact date on implementation day. The Secretary said it was imminent. His words obviously stand. I think we’re still waiting. We’ve seen progress in the last couple of weeks. There’s still steps that need to be taken.

In terms of sanctions relief, I don’t have a direct – I’d have to check on that and find out.

QUESTION: Right, but what I’m asking is more – I guess this is kind of a logistical question.

MR TONER: Sure thing.

QUESTION: Which is once it – once it is announced --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- that the deal has been implemented, should we expect to see from the U.S. immediately thereafter statements or notices from the Treasury Department or whoever --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- outlining what the immediate steps are in terms of sanctions relief?

MR TONER: I think you can expect kind of a next-steps – first of all, an acknowledgment of the event. I’m not sure which shape or form that’s going to take, whether it’ll be a statement or something else, and we’ll obviously keep you informed as we get closer to implementation day and as we have a fixed date of when that date is going to be. And then in terms of sanctions relief or what’s going to follow, certainly we’ll keep you guys informed about that as well.

QUESTION: Iran says this weekend. Is that something you can rule out or in?

MR TONER: I would rule it neither out nor in.

QUESTION: So Mr. Kerry could always go from London to Geneva quite quickly?

MR TONER: When we have something to announce, we’ll announce it.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

MR TONER: Sure, but he asked Turkey, so --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: -- we’ll talk Turkey. Sorry.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yesterday there was a apparent attack in Istanbul, Sultanahmet square, and you issued statement. So far ISIS has not claimed attack. Do you have any further comment? What’s your understanding, whether is this ISIS? And have you reached the Turkish Government? Today Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu said secret actors are behind Istanbul attack; we are trying to reveal who used Daesh in this particular instance.

MR TONER: Well, in terms of investigation into the attack, I’d have to refer you to Turkish authorities, who are best positioned to speak to who – likely culprits and who is behind it. We obviously issued a statement yesterday strongly condemning this attack and we extended our condolences and continue to extend them to those who were killed, to the victims and those who were injured, and wishing them a speedy recovery. And we stand in solidarity with the Turkish people and reaffirm our determination to continue to work with Turkey to combat our shared threat of terrorism.

QUESTION: And there is – are --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: There is this particular area by the Syria border, it’s this 98 kilometers. Do you have any update on that? It’s supposed to be some kind of movement or campaign was supposed to be launched against ISIS on the other side of the border as well.

MR TONER: Sure. I don’t have any update specific to that region. It’s something – and Brett McGurk has spoken to this in his briefings here – it’s something we continue to work at with the Turkish Government and with other groups who are active in northern Syria fighting ISIL. We’ve got to close it. We’ve got to secure that space. We all realize that and we’re making steady progress in doing so.

That’s it, and then why don’t you – yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. So this was after the U.S. dropped bombs in central Mosul and destroyed a building full of ISIL’s cash – CNN reported that U.S. commanders had been willing to consider up to 50 civilian casualties from the airstrike due to the importance of the target. Do you agree with the Pentagon when they say 50 civilian casualties could be tolerated for this kind of a target?

MR TONER: I’ve not seen any statement, so I have no idea what you’re referring to. Look, we always say that – and we both say it and through our actions, I think, live up to it – is the fact that we seek to minimize civilian casualties in any kind of military action or airstrike that we undertake.

QUESTION: Previously, you called reports about civilian casualties in Russian strikes disturbing. What does that number – what does the number of civilian deaths have to be for you to call it disturbing?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t think – again – so when we’re talking about civilian casualties, what we always say and I think live up to is the fact that we always seek to minimize civilian casualties in any kind of operation, military operation, airstrike that we carry out. What we have also said about what we’ve seen as a result of Russian airstrikes that have been carried out in Syria thus far are what appear to be excessive civilian casualties in some of these airstrikes. We base that on, as you know, a number of NGO reports, as well as information that we’re able to gather from our own sources, that we’ve seen excessive numbers. I’m not going to give you a number certain that over five civilians – really, any civilian death is a matter of concern. And we have been very candid about that. But we also recognize – and I think what’s important here is when we do cause civilian casualties, we recognize that. And in the case of Afghanistan, certainly we conducted a thorough investigation into that incident in Kunduz where a Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital was struck by ordnance from the U.S. military.

QUESTION: But --

MR TONER: So I think – a couple points here. One, there’s accountability when and if civilian casualties are caused by U.S. forces. And then secondly, always an effort at the root of all of our military operations to minimize civilian casualties, if not avoid them altogether.

QUESTION: Just to clarify --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- what is the standard by which you judge – when deciding to criticize civilian casualties? Is it a number or is it --

MR TONER: No, I wouldn’t say it’s a number. But it’s – I would say that it’s – again, and I would preface my remarks by you should really speak to the Pentagon, who are much better at assessing these types of incidents. But I think clearly we want to see any use of force seek to minimize civilian casualties. If we see a pattern of excessive civilian casualties or if we see airstrikes that seem to be carried out --

QUESTION: What is excessive civilian casualties? Do you have a number – numbers for such an assessment?

MR TONER: I just said I don’t have a specific number, but I think if we see a pattern emerge where it appears that civilian casualties are the result of continued airstrikes – and again, that’s not just what’s happening in Syria; it’s elsewhere in the world as well – then we would be – we express concern about that.

Please.

QUESTION: Do you think --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Isn’t one civilian casualty really too many?

MR TONER: I said that. I said we seek to minimize and obviously avoid civilian casualties altogether.

QUESTION: But if your overriding concern was to minimize the number, you’d never drop a single bomb. So the value of the target is a relevant calculation.

MR TONER: Yes, but I would also say, again – and I’m speaking as someone who is a non-military, so – but from our vantage point and what I think we’ve said publicly about this is that we always consider in the calculus the possible effects on the civilian populations of any military operation we carry out.

QUESTION: But there is a calculus. So a particularly important target you’d be prepared to tolerate a great number of civilian casualties.

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to give you a formula for that. I think --

QUESTION: No, but --

MR TONER: I mean, obviously – but I think --

QUESTION: -- you used the word calculus. I’m just trying to --

MR TONER: No, no, I understand, David. I’m not trying to be facetious at all. I’m just trying to say that these are very difficult processes and very difficult decisions to make, and obviously we’re dealing with high-value targets. But I just would say that that’s always part of our calculus when we’re looking at this.

QUESTION: But isn’t that – do you find it disturbing that the U.S. was willing to accept 50 civilian deaths for this target initially?

MR TONER: Again, you – your initial comment was that that was somehow accepted as a part of it. I don’t know that that’s the case.

Please, Said.

QUESTION: Go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and talk about the excessive use of force there. I asked John last Friday, but since then, more than 15 Palestinians have been killed since last Friday and hundreds have been wounded. At what point would you consider Israel’s response to be the excessive use of force?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, I would put it this way: Again, we’ve – we would say it’s critical that every possible effort be taken to show restraint and guard against unnecessary loss of life and de-escalate tensions, recognizing that that’s a part of the problem as well. And we’re – with regards to – and – I would clarify this. With regards to reports of protesters being killed – and we said this before – we’re concerned over instances of death and injuries due to live fire from security forces. That’s different from terrorist attacks, and obviously we’re very strongly in support of Israel’s right to defend its citizens.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Well, as more and more reports come out that Israel is actually using live ammunition in quelling these demonstrations and so on – and, in fact, to the point where countries like Sweden, possibly other European countries are beginning to look into these allegations of summary executions and so on – will you consider the same? Will you look into these incidents to see where Israel has used these methods, basically, to eliminate protesters rather than neutralize them?

MR TONER: Sure. Said, with respect to the Swedish Government’s remarks or the Swedish foreign minister’s remarks, I’m not going to – I would refer you to him to clarify his remarks. I’m also not going to adjudicate these kinds of things from the podium other than to say, as we’ve said before, we strongly condemn all unlawful violence. And we remain concerned about the situation and continue to urge affirmative steps to restore calm and prevent further escalation. So again, back to my original point about excessive force against protesters, it’s critical that every possible effort be taken to show restraint and to de-escalate tensions.

QUESTION: And my last question --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- on the Palestinian-Israeli issue: I mean, lately in high-profile speeches such as the State of the Union, other speeches --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- by the Secretary of State and so on, there is no mention whatsoever of the Palestinian-Israeli issue or the pursuit of peace or a peace process of some sort. Is it completely off the radar or off the – sort of the attention focus by the Administration?

MR TONER: It’s never off our radar, and certainly not this Secretary’s radar. As you know, he’s worked tirelessly on – in the pursuit of Middle East peace in the past. He continues to remain engaged, speaking with both sides. Again, we want to see affirmative actions and steps taken to de-escalate tensions and would lead to the possibility of beginning such a process in the future. That’s never off our diplomatic radar.

Please. Sorry, go ahead, Arshad. I apologize.

QUESTION: I know this was addressed --

MR TONER: You said go back to Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah. I know this was addressed at great length in the background call, but I want to ask a question that I don’t think was quite touched on there.

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: There have been a whole series of events in the last few weeks, months, where the United States could have found itself directly at odds, or has found itself at odds with things that the Iranians have done: the ballistic missile tests; the firing of missiles in the vicinity of U.S. naval vessels; and then, of course, the – their taking into custody of these two ships, although that was obviously resolved very quickly. Can you give us a sense of what, if anything, the Secretary has tried to do to preserve a cooperative working relationship on issues not related to the nuclear deal? Has he made any kind of a concerted effort to make sure – I mean, many people have said, well, you have a line of communication. I get that. But has he made any other kind of – any kind of a concerted effort to make sure that even where you do have differences, they don’t get out of hand?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, a couple of thoughts on this. And we shouldn’t undersell the value of that, just having that line of communication. Like I said yesterday when we received our initial reports about this incident, the Secretary was able to, once he collected information from our side, from various interagency folks, he was able to reach out to his counterpart and have a very frank and honest exchange, and specifically, make the point that this was either an opportunity for both countries or a possible situation that could escalate. And just having the value of that, or having the ability to reach out like that, frankly, at a moment’s notice is invaluable and is, frankly, essential to this kind of real-time diplomacy.

So that’s a direct result of these Iran nuclear negotiations. Now, we’ve also been very cautions to say that none of us have rose-colored glasses on. None of us believe that suddenly, once we reach implementation day, that a whole new world is going to open up and we’re suddenly going to cooperate with Iran. And we retain the ability through sanctions, both unilateral and through the UN Security Council, to penalize them for bad behavior writ large. And we know that they’re still playing a role that’s, shall we say, less than productive in many countries, including Syria. But there is at least the beginnings of an ability to at least talk to Iran about issues like Syria and get a process, a political process in play that they buy into.

So that’s, again, significant. I don’t want to oversell it by saying that we’re – that all is forgotten or forgiven and we’re ready to move on and make progress by leaps and bounds. But this is a long game and I think that these kinds of lines of communication and ability to talk beyond the scope of the nuclear agreement are promising.

QUESTION: And just one other one for me on this --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and I apologize if this was in the briefing, parts of which I did not hear. Did the Secretary ever say that, or suggest, or hint, or – that implementation day could be jeopardized if the sailors were not returned promptly?

MR TONER: I think he made the point that – and I was not on these conversations. I think he did make the point that this was an opportunity for both countries to show that they could rise above a situation like this and resolve it peacefully and diplomatically. I don’t think he necessarily spoke specifically about how this might threaten implementation day, but I can’t confirm that.

QUESTION: Mark, just right back on this, can I ask you a question?

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: What does it say to you that in a relatively short period of time, the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif managed to get – managed to resolve this situation and – over the course of five or so phone calls, and yet over the course of three years and far many, many, many more face-to-face and telephone – face-to-face meetings and telephone calls at which you guys say he raises the cases of the detained American civilians in Iran on every occasion, that that has not yet been resolved? What does that say to you?

I mean, Zarif apparently delivered here, and on these other cases he either hasn’t delivered or you haven’t made as forceful an argument, and I think you would reject that.

MR TONER: Well, yeah. I was about to say, on the second point I know the Secretary at every occasion raises --

QUESTION: Exactly, so – so what gives?

MR TONER: I mean, you know our side of this equation, or our side of this story. We believe they should be home yesterday. We continue to make that case. We continue to call on the Iranians to release these individuals. I can’t speak to the inner workings of the Iranian judicial system or even the political system that they can’t resolve this issue and return these individuals home. We – it’s our strong belief that they should be released immediately and be home with their families.

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: But I’m not going to draw a comparison between the two.

QUESTION: Okay. But you say you shouldn’t undersell the value of this line of communication, and shouldn’t you also not oversell it when --

MR TONER: And if I didn’t make that clear, I said that. I said nobody’s under any illusions that all is forgiven, we can move forward into a bright, sunshiny future.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, you’re not at all concerned --

MR TONER: And I think we’re – no. And I think we – sorry, Matt, I’m not trying to over – or speak over you. But I think we’re clear-eyed about the challenges that remain in the relationship, and that’s one of them.

QUESTION: Okay. But you’re not at all concerned that the hailing of this diplomatic triumph by Administration officials in – all over town, not just here, but the Pentagon and the White House as well, is not overselling the value of this line of communication, when on issues such as the detainees, the civilian detainees, the bad acts in the region, the missile tests, this line of communication hasn’t produced anything?

MR TONER: It’s a legitimate point and Arshad raised it as well and you have as well, is to say we still have issues of serious concern with Iran and we need to work at resolving those issues.

QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t think you’re – you’re not – no one’s concerned that you’re overselling the value of the line of communication? That’s my question. No?

MR TONER: Right, no.

QUESTION: Okay, then one very brief one on the trip.

MR TONER: Guys, I got to – I’m sorry, I can take a --

QUESTION: On Saudi Arabia.

MR TONER: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: Do you expect – you’ve seen perhaps that the sister of the imprisoned blogger has been released on bail. I’m wondering if you have any comment on that and whether or not you know if it will be raised or this whole issue of human rights in London with Foreign Minister Jubeir.

MR TONER: So you’re talking about --

QUESTION: Samar Badawi.

MR TONER: -- Samar Badawi, right --

QUESTION: Samar Badawi.

MR TONER: -- who was the 2012 recipient of the International Women of Courage Award. Yes, we are aware of reports that she was detained yesterday for questioning and has subsequently been released. We’re in the process of trying to get more information about the incident and the case. We’re aware of reports that she was detained related to questions about postings on her husband’s social media account, but frankly, at this point we can’t confirm those details.

Look, we have an ongoing dialogue with Saudi Arabia, obviously. The Secretary’s going there to meet with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir tomorrow.

QUESTION: Really? He’s not going to Saudi. He’s going to London, right?

MR TONER: Right, of course. I apologize. Yeah, right, in London, of course. And it’s on an array of issues. One of those issues is human rights, reflecting the concerns that we raise consistently in our human rights – our annual Human Rights Report. As a matter of general policy, we certainly oppose laws that restrict the exercise of freedom of expression and we would urge all countries, including Saudi Arabia, to protect those rights.

QUESTION: And that – does it go without saying that he’ll also raise the concerns that you had about the mass executions that sparked the whole Iran --

MR TONER: I think we’ve raised those concerns and we’ll continue to.

QUESTION: Would you --

MR TONER: Please – last question, guys. I apologize. Please.

QUESTION: Would you consider 50 civilian casualties to be an excessive number?

MR TONER: Again, I’ve – I’m not going to put a number on it. I’m just not going to do that, and for not reasons specific to this case. We look at patters. We look at actions on a whole where we see kind of blatant disregard for civilians on the ground. And again, we hold ourselves accountable to the same standards that we project onto other countries as well.

That’s it, guys.

QUESTION: On the same subject, American NGO reportedly bombed in Idlib over the weekend by the Russian forces. Do you have any confirmation of that?

MR TONER: I don’t have any comment, and I apologize. Sorry, guys. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:22 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 11, 2016

Mon, 01/11/2016 - 17:27

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 11, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

2:13 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MR KIRBY: Happy Monday to you. I’ve just got a couple of things at the top, one of which I think you’ve seen. We put out a notice today following the Secretary’s meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan. It was a good discussion of bilateral issues facing both the United States and Jordan as well as our regional partners. As you can imagine, high on the list was, of course, the coalition campaign against ISIL, the need for the continued progress on a political solution in Syria and, of course, counterterrorism concerns writ large.

But also, following the meeting, the Secretary and Foreign Minister Judeh signed a Joint Action Plan to combat nuclear terrorism and improve efforts against nuclear and radiological smuggling. This Joint Action Plan expresses the intention of the two governments to work together to enhance Jordan’s capabilities to prevent, detect, and respond to nuclear smuggling incidents.

Today’s signing reflects the common conviction of the United States and of Jordan that nuclear smuggling is a critical and ongoing threat that requires a coordinated global response. And this Joint Action Plan, which is not dissimilar to those that we have with other countries around the world, strengthens an already excellent partnership that will make the United States, Jordan, and the region more secure. I think we put out a media note about that, too, that gave you a little bit more detail on what’s in there. But so – it’s all in our media note, the details of it.

Also, I want to note that the Secretary did speak over the phone this morning with Foreign Minister Lavrov – Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. They discussed a range of issues including the Syria political process, the fight against ISIL, of course, Middle East regional issues, Ukraine, North Korea’s recent nuclear test as well as, of course, the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship. They agreed to stay in close touch and to look for an opportunity to meet in the days ahead – meet face-to-face in the days ahead. I don’t have any particular travel or schedule to announce today, but they did talk about trying to get together sometime soon.

Matt.

QUESTION: Right. So in his meeting with the king – this will be brief.

MR KIRBY: Really?

QUESTION: Yes. Did they discuss the --

MR KIRBY: We’re all going to hold you to it.

QUESTION: -- the plan to – last year’s plan to install cameras on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif or is that no longer an option? Is that no longer going to happen because we don’t seem to hear about it anymore. The only time I seem to hear about now is when I ask you about it.

QUESTION: That’s true.

MR KIRBY: And you do ask about it a lot.

QUESTION: And – yeah, and I never get --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that we could beat your frequency of talking about it, Matt. They talked about – certainly they talked about continued tensions between some Israelis and some Palestinians and a shared conviction that the violence needs to stop. As I said the other day, we know that technical experts on both sides are having discussions. I don’t have an update on what those discussions are. And there was no resolution of the matter in today’s meeting. But broadly speaking, they spoke certainly to the tensions that remain there on the Temple Mount.

QUESTION: But you don’t know if they specifically talked about this plan which was hailed by the Secretary as King Abdullah’s idea and the – was the main feature of the agreement that the Secretary said he got to reduce the tension?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a particular bit to read out on that issue. As I said, they spoke in broad terms about the continued violence and the instability and both their shared conviction that it needs to stop.

QUESTION: If no one has a – I just want to ask --

QUESTION: I have one on this.

QUESTION: I have a follow-on?

QUESTION: Can you please take the question as to – and the reason I’m asking you and not just the Israelis and the Jordanians is that the Secretary himself announced this idea. Can you check on when was the last time the technical committee or technical experts met?

MR KIRBY: I will take the question, Arshad, but it is really not a question for us. It’s a question for them to speak to. But if we have visibility – I’m not – and we have information that we’re comfortable sharing, I’ll certainly do that – or that we believe is accurate enough. But this is really – so I’ll do that, I will. But I do also urge you to reach out to authorities there.

QUESTION: You don’t have visibility. You also don’t have live video.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not disputing that there isn’t live video right now, Matt. But it doesn’t mean that it isn’t still worth pursuing.

QUESTION: On a directly related note, there’s a report in the Jordanian newspaper Al Ra’i, which I can’t read but I’ve read it through translations that appeared in the Israeli press, suggesting that Jordan is setting up a committee to mount a – a judicial committee to mount a criminal prosecution of Israel for alleged violations of the sovereignty of the Temple Mount. Are you aware of those reports? And did that come up in the meeting today?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of those reports. And I do not recall that being discussed in today’s meeting, no.

QUESTION: John.

MR KIRBY: Said.

QUESTION: I just want a quick follow-up. Back in October this seemed to be the issue, the most volatile issue, the flashpoint, the Temple Mount --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and Masjid al-Aqsa. So does that mean that it’s ceased to be so, that it is no longer the flashpoint, the conflict is not really based on that anymore?

MR KIRBY: What’s the flashpoint, the – Temple Mount or --

QUESTION: Well, everybody was saying that the confrontation was sparked basically by the contention over the Temple Mount and the al-Aqsa Mosque. So is that no longer the case? I mean, the conflict has evolved beyond that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not in a position to be able to characterize the evolution of it. I mean, Said, you know better than most people in this room that the violence still continues.

QUESTION: That’s --

MR KIRBY: So nobody’s taking a look at this and saying, okay, we’re done, it’s over. And there’s still innocent people being injured and being killed. There’s still violence happening. So it is true – I think it’s a matter of fact that violence at the mosque on Temple Mount has decreased on the site. But that doesn’t mean taken that for granted, and certainly, nobody is looking away at the continued violence which still – which is still occurring.

So I mean, it’s still very much on everybody’s mind.

QUESTION: Can we go real brief, because I’m sure this --

QUESTION: Can we stay with Jordan for a second?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is there anything significant about the timing of today’s signing with Jordan on the Joint Plan of Action with the nuclear smuggling? For example, was there an effort to get this in place before implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement takes place?

MR KIRBY: No, I wouldn’t link today’s signing to the JCPOA in any way. Remember, the – first of all, we have a similar – similar agreements with some 13 other countries. This was in – long in the works with Jordan, and we were just able to get it signed today with the king’s visit. It just was a great opportunity to do this. But it’s something that our teams on both sides have been working for quite some time. It has absolutely nothing to do with the looming implementation of the Iran deal. And again, this was really about smuggling and proliferation, not tied to a nuclear weapons program by a state.

QUESTION: What would take so long, and why do you only have such agreements with 13 or now 14 countries? I mean, the President has held two not just meetings, but summits on nuclear security. One was here; one was in South Korea. It’s kind of surprising to me that you would only have reached agreements with 14 countries.

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know how many more countries are in the works. I can check on that. These are not issues that you want to take lightly, and you want to take the time that you need to get it right and to work out all the permutations of it. That’s what we do. You want to be thorough about it. I don’t – but I don’t have the – I don’t have the forensics on when it started and when we got to completion. So I don’t know that – when you say why it took so long, I don’t know that it took any longer than any other agreement with any other country. So let me get a little bit more data on that and get back to you. But it doesn’t mean that it’s not an important agreement to have signed, nor does it mean that there aren’t potentially others in the works.

QUESTION: All right, I expect this is going to be a very short answer. I’m wondering --

QUESTION: Sorry, Matt. One more on Jordan, please. Is there any update on the terrorist groups list that Jordan has been working on after this meeting?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything to update you. I would point you to Jordanian authorities.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what, if anything, you know about reports of this alleged American being held by the North Koreans. Have you heard anything from the Swedes about whether or not this person is in fact who the North Koreans claim he is?

MR KIRBY: You’re right, it’s going to be a short answer.

QUESTION: That’s what I thought.

MR KIRBY: I have nothing to confirm those reports, and I’m just not in a position to do so right now.

QUESTION: Yeah, but do you know – have you heard from the Swedes at all?

MR KIRBY: I’m not in a position to confirm the reports or discuss the issue further.

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to – I’m asking you have you been in touch with the Swedes? It seems to me that if the United States Government is aware of information from whatever source that an American might be being held by North Korea, it would be – the first thing that you would do would be to get in touch with the people that protect your interests in North Korea and that there is no reason that that should be covered by any kind of privacy issue ever.

MR KIRBY: Oh, you’re right, Matt. I did not mean to imply that discussions with Sweden were covered by the Privacy Act. What I did mean to say is that I’m not going to comment any further on these reports. I understand the interest in them. I can appreciate that. I can tell you that we are looking into the matter, and when we have more that we can say – if we have more that we can say – we will.

QUESTION: So you’re --

MR KIRBY: But I’m not going to talk about --

QUESTION: You’re – when you say you’re looking into the matter, considering you don’t have anyone on the ground in North Korea to look into it, have you asked your diplomatic partner there for any information that they can find out from the North Koreans about what’s going on?

MR KIRBY: We’re looking into the matter.

Janne.

QUESTION: John, this morning, Pentagon said that Pentagon consider strategic weapons into South Korea such as a B-52 bomb and aircraft carriers. What diplomatic actions does State Department take – immediately take to the North Korea? Do you have anything in your mind or next scheduled?

MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I understand the question. I certainly can’t speak to military matters. I think we all saw the --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) background (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I know. I know. Thank you for once again reminding me of my background. But I’m not really at liberty to talk about that stuff from here. Obviously, from a diplomatic perspective, our ambassador to Seoul, Mark Lippert, has obviously been in constant communication with South Korean leaders throughout all this. Our assistant secretary, Danny Russel, has also been in touch with counterparts. And of course, as I read out last week, the Secretary himself made some calls on this.

So from a diplomatic perspective, we’ve been engaged. I think it’s safe to say that we will stay engaged. Do I have any new diplomatic initiatives or actions to announce today? I don’t. Nothing’s changed about what we said last week. We want to continue to work with the international community through the UN to try to get at a robust set of measures to continue to hold the North accountable for its provocative actions.

QUESTION: So you don’t have – immediately take any actions to North Korea? So you don’t have anything on --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything to announce here today, Janne, in terms of diplomatic movement. We’re going to continue to work with the international community and with the UN to look at what the appropriate response is going to be.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Iraq?

QUESTION: Can I have one more on North Korea, actually? Sorry, just before we move on – if there was any update on the efforts to determine exactly the nature of the testing last week. I know that there were some initial conclusions, but if U.S. intelligence had revealed anything additional.

MR KIRBY: As far as I know, the analysis is continuing and there hasn’t been any definitive conclusions reached. But nothing that we’ve – no additional information that we’ve gained since last week have led us to a different conclusion than we had last week, which is that there’s no evidence that this was the hydrogen bomb test that the North claimed it was. But we’re still doing a lot of spadework on this, and I don’t know how much longer that’s going to take. But nothing’s changed about our initial sense of it after it happened.

QUESTION: Your initial – if I’m correct, the initial report was that there – you didn’t – there was nothing consistent or was inconsistent with the reports. You just said there was --

MR KIRBY: Nothing – we didn’t say there’s --

QUESTION: There was no evidence.

QUESTION: You just said there was --

QUESTION: You just said --

QUESTION: You said there’s no evidence, which is different from what the initial report was. The initial report --

QUESTION: The initial comment --

MR KIRBY: So --

QUESTION: -- as you’ll remember, was that the --

MR KIRBY: Nothing we saw at the early stages would lead us to conclude that the North Korean claims were accurate. That still stands – I didn’t mean to be confusing with the phrasing “no evidence.”

QUESTION: No, no, I was just wondering if there --

MR KIRBY: But we are – but, well, we are through the analysis obviously collecting additional evidence. I mean, that’s what analysis does. It’s just that none of that – none of the analysis that we’ve done since then has led us to a different conclusion. Does that make sense?

QUESTION: Yep.

MR KIRBY: Okay, sorry.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MR KIRBY: Sorry if I was not --

QUESTION: No, no, no.

QUESTION: Iraq.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. So there have been some media reports about Mosul Dam being – facing the imminent risk of collapse. Do you have anything on that? Is the State Department involved in helping prevent that from happening?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that we continue to support Iraqi-led efforts to help take measures to repair the dam to prevent a potential humanitarian crisis and educate the Iraqi people about the potential damages of a dam breach. Sorry. We have provided some equipment to monitor the stability of the dam and we’ve sent some technical experts to assess the dam’s structural integrity, and we’re going to continue to work with Iraqi leaders on that.

I’m not at liberty to make any predictions about the fate of the dam right now. Obviously, we all have a shared interest in making sure that its integrity is preserved.

QUESTION: But since you provided some equipment, does that suggest you are – your assessment is that the dam is in danger of collapsing anytime soon?

MR KIRBY: The data that we have from the dam indicates that it has experienced additional stress since ISIL captured it in the summer of ’14. Since Iraqi and Kurdish forces have liberated the dam – since they liberated the dam in August of ’14, we’ve been working closely with Iraqi partners to help them monitor the integrity and make necessary repairs. It’s just – it’s impossible right now for us to make a prediction about if or even when the dam might break.

QUESTION: Has Iraq sought financial assistance from the U.S.? Because its economy apparently is struggling because of the drop in oil prices.

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any financial assistance that they asked for. Obviously, as I said, we provided some equipment and some technical expertise.

QUESTION: John, could I ask a question about the aid to Ramadi?

QUESTION: Sorry, could I ask just one more on the dam, then? The expertise – does that involve U.S. engineers at the site, or of the dam itself?

MR KIRBY: Well, we sent technical experts to assess the dam’s structural integrity.

QUESTION: But they are not based at the dam? They were visiting recently?

MR KIRBY: I believe whatever access they had to the dam was temporary, I mean, just in order to do their job.

Yeah.

QUESTION: The governorate council of Anbar say that Ramadi was left in ruins after its liberation and they say it needs billions of dollars. But they also say that the United States pledged $50 million for the repair of the city of Ramadi. Could you confirm that you guys put about $50 million to aid Ramadi?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know if I have – I don’t know if I have that. I don’t know if I have that, Said. Hang on a second. So, yeah. So the UN established a funding facility for immediate stabilization in June of last year, so this past summer, to provide assistance for immediate needs in areas liberated from ISIL. Over a dozen coalition partners have contributed or pledged more than 50 million. That’s where the number comes from. This included an initial U.S. contribution of $8.3 million followed recently by an additional pledge of another $7 million for a total of, obviously, 15.3. This money will support four categories: public works and light infrastructure rehabilitation, livelihoods support to jumpstart the local economy, capacity building of local governments, and community reconciliation.

So our share of the 50 million pledged by the coalition was 15.

QUESTION: Do you have any sort of independent assessment of what kind of damage was inflicted on Ramadi during the occupation of ISIS?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have – I simply don’t have that level of detail, but we absolutely would not dispute the reports that there was damage. And we know very specifically even through just the use of overhead imagery that lots of infrastructure and buildings were destroyed during ISIL’s occupation of Ramadi. I’m not able to give you sort of a number figure, metrics on that. But I tell you what, I’m going to – I think that’s a fair question. I’d like to take that and see if we can get you back a little bit more fidelity on it because it’s a very fair question. We know that there was damage, some of it significant. I’m just not at liberty to sort of give you a more specific metric of that.

QUESTION: John, on Iraq. Two news reports said that 20 ISIS fighters have stormed a shopping center in Baghdad and killed 17 people and injured others. Do you have anything on this?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. We certainly condemn the attack on the mall in Baghdad in the strongest possible terms, and as well, we express our deep condolences to all those that were affected, including the family and friends. I’d refer you to the Government of Iraq right now for further details. Information is still coming in and I’m – I just don’t have much more on that. We obviously know what happened. As I said, we certainly condemn it. But in terms of responsibility or a further scope and a motivation behind it, we’re just not able to say right now.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Go ahead. You.

QUESTION: Oh, yeah.

MR KIRBY: You’re the one who had your hand up, right? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you. There are some reports that Russian airplanes today targeted a school in Aleppo and killed tens of children. I was wondering if you have any comment on that. And Russia’s targeting civilians have by any chance came on conversation between Lavrov and Kerry?

MR KIRBY: Say that last one again.

QUESTION: The Russians targeting civilians in Syria has came to conversation between Kerry and Lavrov on today’s phone?

MR KIRBY: Oh, I see. Okay. Well, we’ve certainly seen the reports. I – they’re deeply concerning to us. I think it’s – obviously, you should talk to Russian authorities about what they’re hitting and what they’re not hitting and the degree of precision with which they think they’re going after them. But we continue to remain concerned about reports of civilian casualties caused by Russian airstrikes and collateral damage, damage done to facilities that are used or – primarily for innocent civilians, whether it’s schools, hospitals, or homes. This is not a new concern and it’s a concern that I can assure you we routinely raise with Russian counterparts all up and down the chain of command here at the State Department.

I don’t have additional detail to read out from the call this morning with Foreign Minister Lavrov, but it is not a topic that we – that the Secretary has shied away from mentioning to Foreign Minister Lavrov. But this remains a concern – what they’re hitting, and just as importantly, what they’re not hitting. And we still maintain that some 70 percent of their strikes are being conducted against either opposition groups or innocent targets, civilian targets. But I just don’t have more detail on this particular strike. Again, we’ve seen the reports. And if they’re true, they’re certainly deeply, deeply concerning, and they’re not – those reports are not inconsistent with other credible reports we’ve received about hitting or – and striking innocent civilian targets.

QUESTION: Do you --

QUESTION: One more question on Madaya, actually. I was wondering if you have any update on --

QUESTION: So sorry, on this one.

QUESTION: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: You condemn these attacks, and why don’t you raise them in the UN Security Council?

MR KIRBY: We raise them all the time with the Russians, and not unlike other issues that we’ve talked about from here. I mean, we believe that it’s one of the reasons why you have bilateral discussions and dialogue, is to raise these kinds of concerns. And I’m sure that we’re not the only nation that is raising those concerns with the Russians. So we believe that we’re – the right forum right now, the right approach, is to raise them directly with the Russians, and we’ll continue to do that.

Look, I mean, this – we’re just getting these reports same as you. So I’m not in a position to independently confirm its accuracy. What I’d say is, if it’s true, it’s obviously deeply concerning. And if it was deliberate, hitting an innocent civilian target, well yes, that would be worthy of condemnation. But we are just getting the reports and we’re looking into them. And again, this is not something that we haven’t been willing to address with Russian counterparts, and we’ve not shied away from talking about it and we’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: So – but you said at the – you said in part of your answer to the previous question you should talk to the Russians about what they’re hitting and – or – and not hitting.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: But you accuse the Russians of lying all the time about what they’re hitting and not hitting. Why would you refer us to them?

MR KIRBY: You’re asking me for a --

QUESTION: Well, that doesn’t make any sense.

MR KIRBY: No, no, no. Wait a second. Now, come on now. You’re asking me to assess the accuracy of their strikes. Nobody is asking them to assess the accuracy of their own strikes.

QUESTION: That – okay, so that’s what you would like --

MR KIRBY: I won’t even speak to U.S. military strikes from this podium --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- as much as I know you guys would like me to. And I’m not going to get into a blow-by-blow tactical discussion of every bomb that Russia drops. They should speak to that. They should be asked those questions. They should be held to account for the progress and the success or failure of their military targeting in Syria. It’s their responsibility to answer for what they’re hitting, what they’re not hitting. That said, we’re not going to shy away from discussing our concerns. We’re not going to be bashful about expressing it, certainly when we see them come from credible reports. Now, this one’s fresh. We’re looking into this, and we’ll see where it goes.

QUESTION: On Madaya, I was wondering if you have any update. There are reports that humanitarian aid convoys started to enter the town in Syria.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And I’m also wondering if – what can be done to ensure a regular humanitarian access to towns like Madaya, which is – was blocked by the Syrian regime, in future, in order to not to see any children starving?

MR KIRBY: What needs to be done is – what needs to be done, quite simply, is the Assad regime has to continue to allow this access. So we’ve seen the reports of this convoy that was able to get to Madaya, and I think a couple of other towns today. That’s good. It needs to continue, unfettered, every day, so that these people can stop starving. What needs to be done is the Assad regime needs to continue to allow this access.

QUESTION: John?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: New subject? India.

QUESTION: Can we stay in Syria?

MR KIRBY: They want to stay in Syria. We’ll get to you, Goyal, I promise.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, Syria’s foreign minister confirmed that his government would be participating in the Geneva talks later this month, but he also again made a call for this list of opposition groups. You mentioned from the earlier question that the U.S. is not aware if Jordan has completed this list yet, but is there U.S. concern that possible objections on this list when it does come out – Syrian objections – could stall the process? And then if so, how is the U.S. addressing those concerns?

MR KIRBY: So a couple of things. It’s not – the initial work on, as you call it, the list was discussed at the UN before the holidays, and it was discussed in the meeting of the ISSG, more specifically in the morning before the session in the UN. It’s not as if Jordan hasn’t done anything. It’s not as if they’ve put no thought in this. They have. But we said at the outset that it’s going to be an iterative process and it’s going to require more discussions and, frankly, more debate, because not everybody still agrees on every group. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody. So their work continues. We’re grateful to Jordan for the leadership and for making the effort.

Your second question, are we concerned that a lack of unanimity might derail the process: Obviously, we don’t want anything to derail the process. We don’t think right now that that’s going to happen, that we’re going to be able to – we believe we’re going to be able to continue to work through this problem and that the initial meeting between the opposition and the Assad regime that is scheduled for later this month will happen. Now, that’s certainly our hope. It’s certainly our expectation. We’ve seen no indication that it isn’t going to happen. And I’d point you back to what the Secretary said last week: Leaders in Saudi Arabia and in Iran have both pledged that they want to see the process move forward.

So I can’t be perfectly predictive about what tensions may arise over the constant and continuous development of that list, but I can tell you everybody is focused on it, everybody realizes its importance, and everybody wants to continue to see the process move forward.

QUESTION: How many groups are on the list now?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t have a number for you.

QUESTION: Has it grown beyond the two that were originally set to be the – everyone agreed on, ISIS and al-Nusrah? Is there any indication that there are more than those two groups that are actually on the list?

MR KIRBY: I do not have the latest drumbeat on this. It’s an iterative process. They’ve been working on it – worked on it before the holidays. They’ve been working on it since the holidays. I don’t have an updated status for you.

QUESTION: I know, but you said – you gave the Jordanians credit. You said it’s not as if they haven’t been doing any work on it and that they may have been doing work on it. But if you could find out how many groups are on the list – who have people agreed to put on this list other than ISIS and al-Nusrah?

MR KIRBY: I’ll take the question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up on Saudi-Iranian tensions and their impact on these talks toward the end of the month. I wonder if you saw the op-ed piece by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif today.

MR KIRBY: I did. Yeah, I saw that.

QUESTION: And I mean, he says that their prudence is not sustainable. I mean, he’s calling – he calls Saudi Arabia as reckless extremism and so on – very, very strong words. So my question really is: What are you doing in terms of sort of to calm down the Saudis so this does not snowball out of control?

MR KIRBY: It’s not about calming down the Saudis, Said. It’s about making it clear that the United States view is that this is the time for both sides to participate in a meaningful dialogue and a conversation about how to ratchet down these tensions and to work on constructive ways to move the process forward, the peace process in Syria forward, to not let these tensions get in the way of that or any other larger issues in the region. And the Secretary has been nothing but consistent, I can assure you, in his conversations with leaders across the region, Sunni and Shia alike, about our expectations in that regard. And as he told you himself last week, at least as regards Syria, he got assurances from both sides that they weren’t going to let the current tensions derail that process.

Does that mean that they assured him that the tensions were fixed and solved and all the problems gone away? No, of course not, and we recognize that. But our view is the same and it’s about – it’s about encouraging both sides here to maintain some level of diplomatic engagement and dialogue so that they can work through this.

QUESTION: Since you brought up the column and that one, the one line --

MR KIRBY: Said brought it up.

QUESTION: Yeah, he brought up Zarif’s column. I was going to wait until later to ask about this. But Zarif makes the claim, as Said said, that Iran has been showing or demonstrating unilateral prudence toward Saudi Arabia and that that unilateral prudence is not sustainable. Does the United States believe that Iran has in fact been showing – demonstrating unilateral prudence in its dealings with Saudi Arabia?

MR KIRBY: I’ll let Foreign Minister Zarif talk to or characterize what they view as their approach to this. I’m not going to characterize it any more than that, except to say, again, that we believe since the tensions exist on both sides, both sides need to do what they can to ratchet down those tensions.

More broadly speaking, we – I would note that Iran has moved forward to try to get at implementation day of the Iran deal. They continue to take the appropriate steps to get implementation of the deal. But they have not halted or stopped some of the other provocative activities in the region. And they’re not just provocative activities to the United States. They’re provocative to other regional players and other countries. The – firing the rockets near the aircraft carrier not long ago, the continued work on a ballistic missile program, the continued support to terrorist networks – all of that is still happening. So as – from the United States perspective, we certainly believe there are lots of things that Iran can do to continue to try to contribute to regional stability when they have not proven willing to do that.

QUESTION: Does that mean that you would agree with the sentiments expressed by the Arab League foreign ministers over the weekend, who condemned Iranian “meddling,” quote-unquote, in Arab countries?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I saw the press reports. I mean, I’ll let the GCC countries speak for – again, for how they want to characterize this. It’s --

QUESTION: Not only the – not only the GCC – I’m sorry – but all the Arab League, all 22 countries.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I don’t – you’re right, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Except for Lebanon.

QUESTION: Except for Lebanon, yes.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, you’re right. You asked about the Arab League, but my mind went right to the GCC meeting that happened over the weekend. I’ll let those nations in the Arab League speak for itself.

I would just again reiterate what we’ve said here. We – as I said last week, nobody’s understating the depth of the tension caused by the executions. And we understand the source of the tension here. We understand the source of the – and in some ways it’s historical, the source of the conflict between particularly Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is why – all the more why the Secretary has been urging those two countries, as well as every other country in the region, to continue to try to find ways diplomatically through this. Okay?

QUESTION: So you – but you said that – you said before that Iran, although they’re making progress on the implementation of the nuclear deal, they are continuing to do the other – this other bad stuff. So what is it – back during the negotiations for the nuclear deal, the Administration was very firm in the fact that it was going to double down – it was going to do more to stop the other bad actions by or negative actions that Iran was doing in the region. What is the Administration doing to encourage or discourage – to encourage Iran to stop or to discourage them from doing what they are doing? I mean, can you point to anything?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve talked about this quite a bit. I mean, we have at our disposal unilateral sanctions that we continue to --

QUESTION: But you haven’t used them yet.

MR KIRBY: There are sanctions in place, unilateral sanctions in place, and we’re going to continue to hold Iran to account, and that is one tool we can do it. We have a very robust military presence in the region – air, maritime, and land – and I think if you just look at the past couple of years, you can see where that presence has continued and in some cases increased. So there’s obviously plenty of military capabilities at our disposal for deterrence or defense if required.

And I think the Iran deal itself, by being able to cut off the pathways to a nuclear bomb by Iran – I think we can all agree an Iran without nuclear capabilities – nuclear weapons capabilities – is safer and better for the region, everybody in the region, than one with it. So I don’t think anybody can take a look at the past couple years and say that we’re turning a blind eye or not doing anything or not proving willing to ratchet up the pressure. And I think you’re going to continue to see that over time.

Yeah, Goyal.

QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you, sir. Quick question: Going back to this Pathankot, India attack, so much has gone up now. It’s been over a week. The victims of Pathankot are still asking that – if they will ever get justice or it will go like Mumbai, victims are still waiting for justice. My question here is that Prime Minister Modi gave Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif seven days, which has already gone past. But Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that no, I need only 72 hours and result will be there and we will go after those who are attacking India from my soil, which will not be in the future; I will not allow any terrorist to use Pakistan soil to attack India. But now my question is that problem is after talking to so many Pakistanis and commentators and also the community, that the civilian government in Pakistan always want peace. They’re always for peace between the two countries.

But problem is Nawaz Sharif was prime minister in ’93 and his government was overthrown by the military when he partnered for peace with India. And now the same problem is there, that he wants peace. But the military and ISI is there, which some elements are there who doesn’t want peace between the two countries because they have opened the shops and they are making money in the name of conflict between the two countries. Where do we stand? What’s the future? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Boy, if I knew the answer to that question, I would not be here.

QUESTION: Sorry to interrupt you --

QUESTION: Or what numbers to take on Wednesday’s drawing. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Would you like predictions about the NFL playoffs as well? I mean, I’m --

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: But even Secretary spoke – of course, he called, he made a phone call. I saw that, everything there. People want peace between both countries. People are there for peace. But people in both countries are asking, “When will we have peace?”

MR KIRBY: I honestly wish I knew the answer to that. I couldn’t – I don’t. But I can tell you that we’re committed to that end, to that goal, and we have been for a long time. These are tough issues, and these are some very complicated relationships. You noted the Secretary’s call on the 9th of January, Saturday, with Prime Minister Sharif. He was grateful for that time they had to talk. They talked a lot about this issue of the pressing need to stay focused on terrorism not just in Pakistan but in the region. And then he stressed that it – it’s obviously United States interest that India and Pakistan continue to look for ways to work better together to reduce the tensions – to obviously to work better together on terrorism concerns but to reduce the tensions between the two countries.

We’re mindful of the stress that this has on local populations. We’re mindful of the insecurity that many people are faced with and dealing with every day, not just in that region but elsewhere around the world, which is why we here at the State Department remain so focused and committed to working bilaterally and multilaterally on counterterrorism challenges. I don’t know how better to answer the question than that.

QUESTION: And quickly, as far as the talks are concerned, which are supposed to happen on the 16th of January between – in Islamabad between India’s national security – foreign secretary level. So what do you think now? If Secretary has spoken when he made a phone call that these talks should continue despite all these terrorism activities going on?

MR KIRBY: He certainly, as I said, encouraged India and Pakistan to work bilaterally to continue discussions and to try to work through these problems. I don’t think they spoke with any great detail or specificity about the next round of talks and what’s on the calendar. But writ large, yes, this was a topic of discussion with the prime minister.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: A follow-up.

MR KIRBY: And it’s one we’re having --

QUESTION: A follow-up on Pakistan.

MR KIRBY: And it’s one we’re having at multiple levels here, as you might imagine, at the State Department diplomatically, not just at the Secretary’s level.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Pakistan. When Secretary spoke to Pakistani prime minister or subsequently, have you got any feedback from Pakistan on the state of investigation or where Pakistan wants to take it?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional detail to read out from the call. As I said last week, we note and we’re encouraged by the fact that the Pakistani Government condemned the attack and said that they would investigate. And as I said again on Friday, our expectation is that investigation will be thorough and complete and as transparent as possible. But in terms of its progress and where they are, you’d have to talk to Pakistani authorities on it.

QUESTION: Mexican Government has already --

MR KIRBY: Who?

QUESTION: Mexican Government has already informed the legal team of Joaquin Guzman, also known as El Chapo, that the extradition process has been started. Do you have any comment about that, and do you expect the extradition to be soon?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything to speak to with respect to extradition. That’s really a matter for the Justice Department to speak to, not for the State Department. I’d point you to them.

QUESTION: In the previous process of extradition that was not started, the Government of the United States was very angry with the Mexican Government. And now it seems that Enrique Pena Nieto is willing to expedite this process. The relation between Mexico and the U.S. has changed between then and now in order to allow the president to expedite this process.

MR KIRBY: Are you asking me if it’s changed?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: Look, we value our relationship with Mexico very, very much, and we want to continue to deepen that relationship. It’s been complicated in the past. You’re right about that. But more and more we’re finding common ground and common cause to continue to try to deepen the cooperation, the communication, and the bilateral relationship across a host of issues. Law enforcement, and certainly law enforcement and it’s related to the drug trade, is just but one of them. So without speaking to this case, which is – would be inappropriate for me to do from this podium, I can tell you we’re constantly looking for ways, again, to make this – to make this relationship broader and deeper and more cooperative. It would be easier if we had an ambassador to Mexico confirmed by the Senate. Assistant Secretary Jacobson is supremely qualified for this job and is still waiting because of a hold on her confirmation. So working towards getting this relationship in even better shape would be easier if we had a Senate-confirmed ambassador in Mexico City.

Yeah.

QUESTION: If we can go back to Pakistan for a second. Ambassador Olson traveled there to Islamabad today to participate in the quadrilateral meeting. How important is that for the United States to do, to talk with other countries regarding that?

MR KIRBY: Very. Very important. We’re glad that Ambassador Olson is there for the meeting. He expressed U.S. support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process as the surest way to end the violence and to ensure long and lasting stability in Afghanistan. He also met with senior Pakistani Government officials to discuss bilateral and regional issues as well.

So yeah, very important for us to be a part of that and, as I said to Goyal’s question, remains important for us to have bilateral dialogue and for these nations to have bilateral dialogue and cooperation going forward.

I got you guys. Yeah. Barbara, yeah.

QUESTION: Just to go back to Iran, the White House has said it needs more time to prepare sanctions on ballistic missiles. Is that related in any way to the timetable for implementation day; in other words, you want to get implementation of the nuclear deal done before opening another file, let’s say, on sanctions with Iran?

MR KIRBY: As we’ve said, there’s still some technical issues that we’re working through right now, and I’m not at liberty to go into additional greater detail. But when we have things that we can talk about with respect to holding them to account for a ballistic missile program, we’ll do that. And as I said separately and distinct from that, the Iranians continue to make progress on implementation. And you heard the Secretary himself last week talk about the fact that we believe that it could happen very soon. But with respect to these sanctions, the issues are of a technical nature, and when we’re at liberty to discuss more about it, we will.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the report today that Iran has sealed off the core of Arak?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’ve seen the reports, Matt. We’re not able to confirm them right now. I mean, we just saw these reports roughly around the same time you did. This is really also for the IAEA to confirm, and I note that they have not confirmed that on their own.

QUESTION: So the Iranians have also responded to the closing of the – to the final report, the final IAEA report on the PMD issue, saying that basically it’s all wrong, they were never working on nuclear weapons stuff prior to 2003, and they certainly – and they say they certainly didn’t continue any of it or didn’t have any up to 2009, which is also what the IAEA said. Just doesn’t seem to have closed the book on this whole thing. They are still rejecting your allegation and the IAEA’s questions about it. So I’m not sure I understand that this is a closed book. You – I mean, how is it? I mean, are – is your – are you disappointed in the fact that they’re not willing to accept the findings of the IAEA report?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak – I mean, all I can tell you is what we believe, and I can’t speak for their views about the report and why they’re articulating what they are. I mean, we have been exceedingly clear that from our perspective – from the United States perspective, we knew that they were pursuing a nuclear weapons program. But under the deal, the IAEA had to have their issues and questions addressed. They submitted the report that said that they had enough to confirm what we already knew in the United States. But as for the Iranian reaction to it, I wouldn’t say that we’re particularly surprised by that reaction. But I wouldn’t be able to speak to why they maintain that.

QUESTION: For years and years and years the demand had been for the Iranians to come clean – using those words, come clean – on its past nuclear work, weapons or otherwise. They – have they done that in your estimation?

MR KIRBY: Have they what? Come --

QUESTION: Have they come clean on their past work?

MR KIRBY: We just – we would point you to what the IAEA found, which --

QUESTION: The IAEA is not Iran. I mean, the whole point of – one of the main points of the negotiations and the reason the sanctions were imposed in the first place was because Iran was refusing to come clean or admit what it had done before. Now you’ve got a situation where the IAEA has come out and said okay, they were doing this and this, and Iran says no. And I don’t see how that amounts to coming clean about their past work.

MR KIRBY: We --

QUESTION: Maybe it does somehow and I just don’t see it.

MR KIRBY: We didn’t need them to come clean for our sake. We --

QUESTION: Well, you did for years and years and years.

MR KIRBY: We made our assessment. We knew what they were doing. That hasn’t changed. But as part of the deal – so that’s separate and distinct. The United States didn’t need them to quote/unquote “come clean,” because we’d already made our judgment.

QUESTION: But that was the demand of the UN Security Council.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Well, I’m talking for the United States Government right now.

QUESTION: All right. So what – okay.

MR KIRBY: Secondly – secondly, in the Iran deal, in order to get through the process of the deal itself, the IAEA, as we said before, needed to be able to address the international concerns about prior potential military components of the program, and that a key milestone in getting to implementation was having those questions addressed. The IAEA submitted a report. You’re right; they had their questions addressed enough to know – enough to say that – to confirm what we already knew about --

QUESTION: I don’t see how that resolves the international concerns, though.

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: I guess I just --

MR KIRBY: -- the IAEA – I mean, we’ve been around and around on this.

QUESTION: I know.

MR KIRBY: The IAEA submitted their report. It reinforced what we had long believed about PMD in Iran. We’re satisfied that the process of implementation can and should move forward. It is and we’re going through there.

Barbara, on your question, I just want to make it clear, because I don’t think I did, that any timeline for applications of sanctions against Iran related to ballistic missiles would have nothing to do with the ongoing process of implementation. My answer to Matt got me thinking about my answer to you, and I don’t think I was as complete as I should have been. There’s no connection. It’s not – there’s – any timeline on holding them accountable for a ballistic missile program would have nothing to do with the process of implementation of the Iran deal, okay? I just want to make sure I was succinct on that.

QUESTION: John, on this point that you – on implementation, what does it look like? What does implementation look like? I mean, they shipped enriched uranium, so what comes next? What do you need --

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, to Matt’s question, I mean, a key part of their steps in implementation is to cement over the Arak reactor. I can’t confirm those reports. There’s other steps. I can get you the list of things they need to do to get to implementation, but – I thought I actually had that here. Maybe I don’t have it anymore. But we can get you a list of the things that they’re supposed to do to get to implementation, but obviously, the key factor is the IAEA’s being satisfied and reporting as being satisfied that they have taken all those steps. And then and only then will sanctions relief occur.

QUESTION: So what would be an official statement from the IAEA?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to ask them. I would assume so, but I mean, I can’t speak for them. I don’t know. Obviously – though look, I mean, if we get to implementation, clearly that’s a significant enough milestone here that you won’t have to go looking for it. I mean, you’ll be – it’ll be made very apparent and it’ll be announced. But at what level and by whom, I just don’t have that level of detail.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Mexico and the Guzman case? I recognize that DOJ is handling the lead on the extradition process.

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm, yeah.

QUESTION: But given the sensitivity surrounding this particular individual and his tendency to escape Mexican jails, I mean is there a concern in this building that the Mexicans can’t be trusted to hold on to him for the – potentially up to a year that it might take for him to get to extradition?

MR KIRBY: I think certainly given what happened with him, I think it’s safe to assume that Mexican authorities know what they need to do to make sure he stays behind bars, and we want to see him behind bars. But I think – I’m not an expert on Mexican prisons, but again, I think it’s safe to assume they understand what this gentleman is capable of and will do what they need to do to keep him behind bars.

QUESTION: Well, how can you say that now? The guy’s escaped twice. They know what not do, that’s for sure. Do they know – how do you know they know what to do to keep him in?

MR KIRBY: It’s certainly our hope and our expectation that he will remain behind bars. And I won’t speak for Mexican authorities and what – and how they’re going to ensure that that remains the case.

QUESTION: But are there diplomatic conversations to reinforce – to emphasize this to them?

MR KIRBY: Is there what?

QUESTION: Are there diplomatic conversations going on that are emphasizing to them the importance of this person making it to extradition?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s – certainly we’ve made our concerns known to Mexican authorities about the dangers posed by this particular individual. And I think it’s safe to assume, and for me to tell you, that they understand that the world is watching how this case moves forward and that this individual needs to stay behind bars.

QUESTION: And then last one on this: Does the State Department have any concerns about American citizens who are in the public arena meeting in secret with felons or escapees of the justice system in Mexico?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m just – I think I’m going to let the Justice Department speak to that. Where our concern here is that, again, that he stays behind bars, that he’s not able to wreak the havoc that’s he’s been able to wreak in terms of the drug trade. And we’re going to continue to work closely with our Mexican counterparts and colleagues to that end. I won’t get into specifics. I just can’t get ahead of the judicial process and on any potential American citizen involvement of it. That’s really something for the Justice Department to speak to.

Pam. Pam.

QUESTION: Can I ask you one on Macedonia? There are reports that Macedonia’s prime minister in addition to meeting with Vice President Biden today also either has met or is meeting with Assistant Secretary Nuland. First of all, can you confirm? And then secondly, if he did indeed meet with Nuland, what was the purpose of that meeting, especially it’s coming at a time when he’s due to step down?

MR KIRBY: As far as I know, the Government of Macedonia requested the prime minister’s meeting with Vice President Biden predominantly to discuss the implementation of the Przino agreement, security issues, and other matters of mutual interest. I don’t have any specifics on Assistant Secretary Nuland’s schedule to announce, but if we can or if I get more detail on that, I’ll pass it on to you.

Yeah. I’ve got time for just a couple more.

QUESTION: John, I’d like to know if any country contacted the State Department regarding the anti-Muslim rhetoric on U.S. Presidential election campaign that’s going on?

MR KIRBY: If who has contacted?

QUESTION: Any country contacted State Department or if you have any concern that the rhetoric – anti-Muslim rhetoric somehow affects U.S. influence on the Muslim countries.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any – I don’t have the call logs here. I mean --

QUESTION: Sure.

MR KIRBY: -- I couldn’t begin to tell you who might have called here in terms of concern of the – over rhetoric, and we’re not getting ourselves involved in campaign rhetoric. We have enough on our plate here at the State Department than to bother ourselves with – hang on a second, now let me just finish – to bother ourselves or be overly concerned. Now, that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been occasions where we felt it was important to articulate a view or position, but we’re not getting overly concerned with that.

That said, broadly speaking, I won’t talk about specific rhetoric by specific candidates. But the Secretary’s been clear that there’s not a religious test here in the United States, nor should there be when it comes to bringing in immigrants or refugees – those seeking asylum here in the United States – and that all of us need to be mindful of how what we say is perceived around the world. It doesn’t mean that you back away from being honest or candid. And every day I’m up here and I talk very candidly about our concerns all around the world, in all manner of different places, on all manner of different issues. But we’re mindful of the effect that those comments have, and that saying things or doing things that embolden one’s enemies or reinforce for that enemy their warped and twisted narrative is clearly not going to be helpful to eventually defeating, in this case, terrorist organizations that crave that kind of attention and use that kind of focus on religion to generate recruits and to generate propaganda value.

So I think it’s important for everybody to be mindful of that. It is not – it’s not who we are as a country, and I think it’s – again, I think it’s important to be mindful of the effect of what’s being said and how it’s being perceived around the world.

QUESTION: What exactly does that mean? Are you saying that political candidates should not say anything that might be found --

MR KIRBY: No. I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: Well, what do you – “be mindful of” means what?

MR KIRBY: I said --

QUESTION: What does that mean to you?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think I can say it any better than I did, Matt. I mean, we’ve not been bashful about making it known that there’s not a religious test here in the United States nor should there be.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: And that comments to the contrary can be perceived by those extremists themselves as fodder for why their narrative is correct and why people should join their group, and I just think I’m not – look, it’s obviously a free country and people can say whatever they want, but they should be mindful of how those comments are perceived.

Now, if they choose to ignore that perception, that’s certainly their right. We’re not going to get into debating and discussing each and every bit of campaign rhetoric.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, one more.

QUESTION: Well, do you believe that campaign rhetoric to date from some candidate, without naming names, has caused this problem that you just – you say they should be mindful of?

MR KIRBY: I think simply by virtue of the fact that at least one such candidate’s comments were used in a recruiting video for an extremist group proves my point exactly.

Yeah.

QUESTION: John, a Philippine official is saying that a possible topic for tomorrow’s meeting is a joint freedom of navigation operation by the United States and its Asia allies in the South China Sea. Do you – what is the position of U.S. regarding such proposal?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that – you’re saying that there’s a meeting tomorrow to discuss --

QUESTION: On 2+2, the ministerial between the United States and Philippines.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: The 2+2 meeting, and that one of the focal point might be discussed is South China Sea.

MR KIRBY: We’re looking forward to the meeting tomorrow and I’ll have more to talk about that tomorrow afternoon.

QUESTION: Do you --

MR KIRBY: I won’t get ahead of the agenda. Clearly, though, you can safely assume that security issues in the South China Sea will come up. There’s no question about that. But I won’t talk about – certainly I won’t talk about specific military operations, especially ones that haven’t occurred. But I can assure you that tensions in the Asia Pacific region, particularly the South China Sea, will be on the agenda. It’s a concern that we and our Philippine friends and allies share, and I suspect they’ll have a pretty robust discussion about it tomorrow.

QUESTION: Are you --

QUESTION: What’s your position of a joint operation to ensure --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to --

QUESTION: -- freedom of navigation? Because in the past, the U.S. has conducted unilateral FO – freedom of navigation operation in the past, but never been done jointly with other allies. What’s your position on that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of discussions tomorrow, and I am certainly not going to get ahead of any military operations, whether they’re proposed or planned or about to be implemented. That simply wouldn’t be appropriate for me. Okay?

QUESTION: I got one more really brief one. Last week, last Thursday, the Secretary put out a statement on the anniversary of the Paris attacks.

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm. The Charlie Hebdo attacks, yeah.

QUESTION: Well, it was inclusive of both the attack on the 7th on Charlie Hebdo and the attack on the 9th, which was on the kosher supermarket. But it has come to the attention of people who pay particularly close attention to the Secretary’s comments on terrorism and terrorist attacks that this statement, which covered both the 7th and the 9th, mentioned only the Charlie Hebdo attack specifically and did not mention or take – did not discuss specifically the attack on the kosher deli. And I’m wondering – kosher supermarket, which was on the 9th, two days later. I mean, I can understand – anyway, what was the --

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: Why was – do you know why there was no specific reference to the kosher – the attack on the kosher supermarket?

MR KIRBY: Well, but you rightly pointed out the purpose of the statement was to observe the anniversary of both attacks. Here --

QUESTION: Right, but it mentions only the Charlie Hebdo. And so --

MR KIRBY: But you’re asking specifically why it was not --

QUESTION: Well, I – other people have raised this point, and I think it’s worth asking. Was it intentionally left out or --

MR KIRBY: Of course – no. Look, the purpose of the statement was to observe the anniversary of a series of terrible attacks that the Secretary spoke very powerfully and forcefully to when it happened, and he felt it was important to note the anniversary of both, and that’s what he did in his statement. That that – the deli itself wasn’t mentioned specifically or by name doesn’t take away from the fact that the statement itself was referring to both the attacks on the 7th and the 9th of January.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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

DPB # 6

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 8, 2016

Fri, 01/08/2016 - 17:56

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 8, 2016

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TRANSCRIPT:

2:14 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Happy Friday, everybody. Just one thing at the top here. I just want to make mention of the town of Madaya. We’ve talked about it a couple – the last couple of days. But we continue to track closely the developments there in Madaya where nearly 42,000 residents remain at risk of hunger and starvation. The UN said yesterday, and I think we talked about this as well, that it had received credible reports of people dying from starvation and being killed while trying to leave.

Madaya is emblematic of regime behavior throughout Syria. And we urge the Assad regime to fulfill immediately its stated pledge, which you may have seen this morning, to lift its siege and to allow humanitarian access not just to Madaya but to a town called Foah and another town called Kefraya as well as many other towns throughout Syria that are suffering at the hands of the Assad regime. We’re looking for actions not words. The regime’s record of broken promises on humanitarian access must stop now.

We also urge Russia to use its influence with the Assad regime to get the regime to allow immediate and unfettered humanitarian assistance to reach those in need on an ongoing basis. It can’t be a one-off. Relief organizations should not have to argue over every little bit of access to help saves people’s lives. And of course, it’s unacceptable that these conditions are created in the first place.

To bring an end to this and to other daily horrors imposed on Syrians, we remain committed – and this underscores the need – to keep advancing a negotiated political transition in Syria that stops the violence and ends the conflict. And so while we certainly have – there’s an immediate need of humanitarian access to people in need, there’s also an urgent need for the conditions that create that to stop. It’s not just enough that humanitarian organizations get to these places. The kind of abuse that they’re being – that they have – that they’re being forced to endure needs to stop. And then thirdly, again, it’s all the more reason why the political process, the Vienna process, getting a political transition in Syria, needs to continue and needs to go – and needs to continue unabated.

So with that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. Can we start with the latest email release? And before getting into the substance of it, I want to – this – I don’t want you to take this as a complaint, although I know you probably will.

MR KIRBY: I --

QUESTION: It’s more of a --

MR KIRBY: I very rarely take your observations as complaints, Matt. I --

QUESTION: It’s more of an --

MR KIRBY: I view them as constructive criticism.

QUESTION: -- as an observatory question which is, I think everybody in this rooms understands the concept of a deadline except maybe – at least everyone on this side.

MR KIRBY: Except maybe the State Department?

QUESTION: Everyone on this side of the podium probably does. (Laughter.) But the deadline for these emails to be released was New Year’s Eve, and I --

QUESTION: The court-ordered deadline.

QUESTION: The court-ordered deadline, right, was New Year’s Eve. And you had missed it, and the court said okay, just come up whenever – you had an agreement with the court that it was okay that you had missed the deadline. But it was supposed to be yesterday. First it was 4 o’clock, then it was 4:00 to 6:00, then it was 6:00 to 10:00, then it was 11:45, and then finally 2:00 a.m.

MR KIRBY: Forcing deadline.

QUESTION: Forcing – well, yeah, not much of one. But anyway, what was going on? And --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure. Look, it’s a fair question. I can – first of all, let me apologize for the inconvenience caused by the continued delays last night. That was certainly not something we wanted to see happen. First of all, I mean, we would have preferred, obviously, to meet the court-ordered deadline by the 31st, obviously. And when we couldn’t --

QUESTION: If you missed it by that much, why not just wait until like 8:00 a.m? I mean, is the judge involved sitting up like I was hitting refresh constantly from 6:00 to 10:00?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t – I mean, what – but if he was, wouldn’t --

QUESTION: Was he?

MR KIRBY: Wouldn’t you want him to --

QUESTION: I mean, did he – did he --

QUESTION: You don’t look refreshed, Matt. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I know. That’s why, because I was hitting refresh all night. I just want to know. I mean --

MR KIRBY: Even if he is up all night, he doesn’t look refreshed.

QUESTION: Was it an agreement with the judge that you were gonna – you had to do this by 2:00 a.m.? I mean, why couldn’t it have waited until 7:00 or 8:00 a.m.? If you’re that late – a week already late and then hours and hours late – why do it at 2:00?

MR KIRBY: Well, so let me --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: Let me –

QUESTION: I’ll let you (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: Let me start again. (Laughter.) We do apologize for the inconvenience of the sliding deadlines. That was not intentional. Certainly when we put out the original estimates, they were done in good faith and we wanted to make sure you were kept informed which is why, when they changed over a period of time, we kept updating you so that you could make a decision about whether to go to bed or not. Obviously, you didn’t.

QUESTION: Well, I did make the decision and it wasn’t to go to bed.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Obviously, you didn’t go to bed. What I can tell you is as we worked through these, there were – we found cases where doing the quality control check that there were some duplicates in there. And we wanted to continue to search the entire batch to make sure that we got all those duplicates out. So it took some time because this is all being done on paper, the original searches. So it just took a lot – it took a lot longer than we wanted it to. And again, we regret the inconvenience for that.

It was important for us – the reason why last night mattered was because last night was also the deadline to the court for our filing. So you have a court-ordered deadline to get the documents out. We also every month have to submit a report to the court. That deadline was yesterday. And we wanted to, when we submitted that report, we wanted to be able to say in that report we know we missed the 31st --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: -- but by the time of us giving you this report, we completed our task, we got it out. And so that’s why we were working so diligently to get it out and why we didn’t want to delay it any further. It was not at all – and I know, I understand the perceptions here. It was not at all an effort to make it harder for you to cover the story or for – to go through the documents. It was really to try to meet as best we could in good faith the requirements set forth by the court.

QUESTION: That was an unintended bonus for you though, right? It may have not been the intention --

MR KIRBY: Well, I can neither confirm or deny whether I enjoy the fact that you get --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: -- sometimes inconvenienced or grumpy. (Laughter.) But it was not --

QUESTION: Okay, all right. Well, let’s go to the substance of this.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more thing about that? Did you get from the court any kind of an agreement to release it today rather than by midnight?

MR KIRBY: No. No, as Matt said, I mean, we made – we were very honest and upfront with the court in December that we weren’t going to get to the 82 percent. Now, we did with last night’s tranche. But no, there was not a separate understanding that it had to – that the bulk, that the remainder had to go with the filing of our report. That was an internal deadline we gave ourselves to say hey, we know we have to file this report on Thursday, we’d like to be able to in the process of doing it say we caught up.

QUESTION: Okay, got it.

MR KIRBY: So it was all – it was all on us. It was all on us.

QUESTION: Can we go to the substance now of some of these emails? And particularly one that’s attracted a lot of attention is this exchange between former Secretary Clinton and Jake Sullivan on June 16th through the 17th of 2011 in which one of them, she, tells Jake to – that if they – if she can’t get a secure fax through or if there’s a problem with a secure fax going through, she asks him would he remove the header, make it a non-paper, and email it to her on her private server.

Do you know what this is about? They appear to be – appear to have been talking points for a telephone conversation she was going to have with Senator Cardin. But I’m looking to you to see if you can confirm that and also to ask whether or not this is an issue, a problematic – a problem for the State Department.

MR KIRBY: So on the first part of your question, I do not know. I don’t know anything more about the document in question or the email traffic than what you do, having seen it. So I don’t have additional context on it. And as I’ve said many times, I’m not – I am going to continue to refrain from speaking to specific content here or former Secretary Clinton’s email practices. That’s not – that’s not our role right now.

The second part of your question, it was about whether it’s a problem. Can you – can you be more specific about what you mean by that?

QUESTION: Well, I mean, yeah. It would – some, including Senator Grassley, say that this suggests that former Secretary Clinton was asking her deputy chief of staff to remove potentially classified information from what was to be a secure fax and put it into an email that was – that would be sent unclassified into her private server. Would that be a violation of State Department rules if that was the case? I mean, first of all, is that the case? Is that what was happening here?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that it’s the case. And as you know, I’m not going to talk about former Secretary Clinton’s email practices. That’s not our role here, not least of which also those practices are under review and investigation, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to talk about that. And as for the intention, the motivation, I simply wouldn’t have that information.

QUESTION: Well --

QUESTION: Can I ask just some really simple things about this?

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that the document in question, the talking points, was classified?

MR KIRBY: I have no way of knowing that. I have absolutely no way of knowing that. Two – but two points I’d like to make on this. First is we actually did search the entire collection – 55,000 pages that we’ve talked about – and could find no evidence and no indication that the talking points, the documents in question in that email was emailed to Secretary Clinton. So we did do some forensics on that and found no evidence that it was actually emailed to her.

The second point that I would make – and again, I am not making a judgment on this case, because I’m not going to speak to her practices and I’m not going to speak to content – but it is not uncommon, it’s not atypical for documents – unclassified documents to be created, crafted, edited, shared on a classified system. It’s perfectly okay. You just – to write something unclassified on a classified system and share it around for editing and distribution. So there’s just no way of knowing, but – in this particular case, but it is not – just because something is on – a document is on a classified system doesn’t necessarily make the document, the content necessarily classified.

QUESTION: Right. So the mere fact that there was an effort to send the document via secure fax does not imply that it was necessarily a classified document?

MR KIRBY: There’s no way to know that. The short answer to your question is no, it does not necessarily convey conviction that the document was classified. But if something exists on a classified system, unless you convert it over to an unclassified system, you have to keep transmitting it on classified networks.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: Does that make sense?

QUESTION: Yeah, I get that. And then one other question. Does the Secretary of State have the authority themselves – and I think this goes to where the information originates – but doesn’t the Secretary of State have the authority to declassify something if the information in the document is entirely generated within the State Department, it’s within their purview, there are no other government equities involved? Can’t the State – the Secretary of State simply decide to declassify something if they wish? If it had been --

MR KIRBY: The agency has the ability, as we’ve talked about before, if it’s something internal, it doesn’t need – there’s no interagency equities. It can certainly do that. It’s not done lightly, and it’s usually not done unilaterally by any individual. It’s usually – there is a process as well inside the – inside an agency there’s a process that is followed to declassify material. But is it possible? Yes. But there’s usually a process associated with it, and it’s not something that we’ve – that anybody takes lightly.

QUESTION: I don’t understand why – how you can say that there is no way to tell whether this information was classified. Can’t you just find the talking points?

MR KIRBY: There’s – as I said to Arshad, there’s no evidence that --

QUESTION: In the email.

MR KIRBY: -- there’s no evidence that the document was sent to former Secretary Clinton over email.

QUESTION: I know.

MR KIRBY: And we don’t have a record of the actual document.

QUESTION: And in fact it’s – so the hard copy that was faxed to her is just gone?

MR KIRBY: I can’t – I can’t tell you that the hard copy was faxed to her. I – we simply don’t – we don’t have --

QUESTION: Did you --

QUESTION: Are you looking into this? I mean, this is the question that Senator Grassley’s asking.

MR KIRBY: As I said – as I said, we searched everything, couldn’t find any indication that it was --

QUESTION: I – you couldn’t find that it --

QUESTION: You searched the email.

QUESTION: Right.

QUESTION: You didn’t say you searched the archives or anywhere else for the actual document.

MR KIRBY: Well, obviously we’ll continue to do whatever searches are necessary. What I can tell you at this point in time on this particular day, we have found no indication that the document was emailed to former Secretary Clinton. Now, if it – there are other ways it could have found its way to her for her use. We’ve found no evidence that over email, unclassified email, that it was sent to her.

Yeah.

QUESTION: John, by telling us that you have made a diligent effort to determine whether or not this document was sent to Secretary Clinton and you have found no evidence that it was, aren’t you in effect discussing the substance of her email archive?

MR KIRBY: No. First of all --

QUESTION: Or you’re only discussing the absence of certain substance from the archive?

MR KIRBY: First of all, I said we found no evidence – indication that it was emailed to her, not sent to her.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: And I don’t know anything more about the content of the attachment, if you will, or of the email traffic, than you do. And that’s not our role here, James. Our role here is very specifically to make these documents public and to do so in a responsible way.

QUESTION: You are aware that some of your predecessors at the podium have indeed addressed the substance of the emails and defended Secretary Clinton’s email practices. Am I correct about that?

MR KIRBY: I’ll leave that to your judgment in terms of --

QUESTION: Are you aware of that or not?

MR KIRBY: I’m not, actually. I was at a different podium then and focused on other issues. I can only speak for what --

QUESTION: Okay. But I just want to get to your ground rules here for a moment, because when you tell us “we have found no evidence that this was emailed to her,” then you’re telling us that there’s no evidence that this is contained in the body of the – of her archive, right, of emails? Is that correct?

MR KIRBY: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. So if you’re telling us what’s not in the body of archives of the emails, then you are getting to the substance of the archive, aren’t you?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not talking about – I’m talking --

QUESTION: You’re only willing to discuss things that are absent from the archive?

MR KIRBY: No, James, what I’m saying is knowing that this was going to be an issue of discussion today, we did – we prudently looked to see, in the entire collection of 55,000 pages, if that document was in fact emailed, and we found no indication that it was. Now, that’s the 55,000 documents that we are going through. So look, if it were to turn up somewhere else in some other form, in some other cache that we don’t know about, well, then we’ll have to deal with it. But right now we are – all we have to go on is the 55,000 pages of email traffic that former Secretary Clinton handed over. That’s our task. We have a very specific role here – court-ordered – to go through those and make those public. I am not – in saying that, I’m trying to show that we’re trying to be as diligent as possible. I am not talking about the physical content of what was in that document.

QUESTION: Right. If I can make a rough analogy here, John, if there were a painting of a set of fire hydrants, and you were telling us that you refuse to discuss the content of the painting, but you are assuredly telling us we know for a fact there is no depiction of a cat in that fire – in that painting of a fire – of several fire hydrants, aren’t you in effect discussing the contents of the painting?

MR KIRBY: No. I’m telling you what’s not in the painting.

QUESTION: Do you --

QUESTION: What else isn’t in the emails, John?

QUESTION: Yeah, tell us what else isn’t in the emails?

QUESTION: What else isn’t there?

MR KIRBY: So the next – so the lesson for me is the next time I come up here is to --

QUESTION: Script for the new Star Wars movie?

MR KIRBY: Huh?

QUESTION: Anything?

MR KIRBY: So the lesson for me then is to not be as forthcoming as I possibly can without getting into specific content. So that’s what you’d like to see the next time we do this?

QUESTION: Can I --

QUESTION: No, I’d like to see you follow your own rules, and if you’re telling us what’s not in the archive, you should be prepared to tell us what is.

MR KIRBY: I have consistently --

QUESTION: They’re the flip side of the coin.

QUESTION: I have consistently, James, refrained, as I will continue to refrain, from discussing former Secretary Clinton’s email practices or the specific content in the actual traffic. You can see for yourself what is or what isn’t there, and frankly, I don’t know anything more about that traffic than you do. I didn’t see that email until – well, actually I didn’t stay up until 2 o’clock.

QUESTION: Did you – two more and I’ll --

QUESTION: You didn’t?

MR KIRBY: But I didn’t see them until you did.

QUESTION: -- I’ll wrap up here. Do you know whether anyone in this building has referred the matter of this particular email to the Department of Justice for further investigation?

MR KIRBY: I do not know that. You’d have to refer --

QUESTION: Are you concerned that there is a violation of law here?

MR KIRBY: That is not our role. Our role is to work through the process to make these public and to do so in a responsible way, obeying the Freedom of Information Act, and that law. As I said at the outset, the practices themselves are matters of review and investigation, not by the State Department, and so it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it.

QUESTION: And lastly, when you took this job, did you undertake no effort to familiarize yourself with the postures of your predecessors on various pressing issues, such as Secretary Clinton’s email practices?

MR KIRBY: I made as much of an effort as I could to try to learn the State Department, and I --

QUESTION: So you’re familiar with what your predecessor said?

MR KIRBY: I did a lot of reading, sure. But look, I didn’t study every single press conference transcript, and I can’t speak for what my predecessors did or didn’t do, as talented and as capable as they are and they were. I can only do it the way I know how to do it and the way I believe it should be done, and that’s what I’m doing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: So in some respects, though, it doesn’t really matter how she ended up getting these talking points. I mean, it could have been faxed to her. You could have had some guy bring it over in a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist, or a carrier pigeon for that matter. The point that I think that Senator Grassley and others are asking about or trying to make is that in this email, she asked her aide to strip off the heading of a – something that was going to be sent on a secure fax, and turn it into a non-paper, and then their implication – the critics’ implication – is that that is to disguise it, what might have been classified information, and then send it to her on her email. So is that a concern of the Department, that this is – this might have been an attempt to skirt the rules of classification?

MR KIRBY: Once again, our role is to make these documents public, not to make judgments about the content of them or the practices. That’s not our role. There are --

QUESTION: But you’re making judgments about the content of them all the time. That’s what you do when you redact them; when you go through and review them, you judge whether --

MR KIRBY: That’s appropriate security-related work that has to be done because of the law. The law makes that so. It’s not because we’re making some subjective decision that, well, we don’t want Matt Lee to know about this, so let’s just redact it. There’s a law that says that certain information --

QUESTION: Well, sometimes it feels that way.

MR KIRBY: Well, if I had my way. (Laughter.) But no, there’s a law that governs these redactions, Matt.

QUESTION: I know, but there’s also a law that governs classification.

MR KIRBY: We don’t make that stuff up.

QUESTION: I know you don’t.

MR KIRBY: And we’re not making subjective judgments about the practices that the former secretary used in how she communicated with her staff. That’s not our job. It’s not our role here. And we’re not making subjective judgments about the content of the traffic, except to say that we have a very, very – as you guys know better than me, a very rigorous, thorough --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- and sometimes slow process to redact them appropriately for public consumption. That’s our job.

QUESTION: “Sometimes slow” is an understatement, but --

MR KIRBY: These practices – this issue is under several reviews and investigations. You guys know that.

QUESTION: Right, okay. But whose job is it, then, to determine whether the rules or the laws governing classification --

MR KIRBY: It would be those who are investigating this. They have to make those determinations. That’s not for the State Department to do.

QUESTION: So the State Department never makes any judgments about whether the rules of classification have been broken?

MR KIRBY: Of course. We make judgments about classification every day on any number of documents and traffic that we communicate with now, right now. But in terms of former Secretary Clinton’s practices and the content of that traffic, those are issues under review and investigation and wouldn’t be appropriate for us to speak to it.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: John, did you decide to check the information in this one email was not sent by email because it was a red flag to you yourselves, or just because you thought we’d ask about it today?

MR KIRBY: I think it certainly – we noticed this particular traffic and --

QUESTION: But during the process of preparing them or after people started saying “Ooh, this one looks a bit dodgy”?

MR KIRBY: No, during the process. It wasn’t the “whoo” watching your coverage, no.

QUESTION: No.

MR KIRBY: I mean, it was, it was something that we had already done.

QUESTION: No, because you seemed to imply before it was because you were going to get questions about it today.

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, we carefully --

QUESTION: So what I’m going – getting to is when you saw that email, someone must have thought, “Oh, I hope you didn’t send that by email.”

MR KIRBY: Sure, sure. There was appropriate staff work done to see. That’s what diligence is all about. That’s what we’re – that’s why we’re working so hard. And that kind of thoroughness and completeness is one reason why it sometimes can be a slower process than you or I would like.

QUESTION: So just to clarify one last point, you don’t necessarily vouch for the accuracy of all the statements made from this podium by your predecessors about Secretary Clinton’s email practices?

MR KIRBY: James, I can appreciate why you’d like me to comment specifically on remarks made by previous spokesmen at the State Department. I can’t do that. I simply have not read every word that was uttered --

QUESTION: So the answer to my question is no, you cannot vouch for the accuracy of your predecessors’ statements on this issue.

MR KIRBY: I can only and ever will only vouch for the veracity of what I try to communicate from this podium. I simply haven’t read every word. I wouldn’t do that. We have --

QUESTION: So it’s possible that some of those statements are now inoperative.

MR KIRBY: James, I don’t know, because I don’t know what comments you’re talking about. And I’m not doing a judgment on – not only am I not doing a judgment on the email traffic itself, I’m in no position and nor would I do a judgment on what’s been said from this podium prior to me getting here. All I know is my job, and my job is to communicate to you how seriously Secretary Kerry is taking the court-ordered process of making these documents public. And that’s what our focus is on.

QUESTION: So because it’s under investigation and because you make no judgments about the substance of the archive, you yourself are not in a position to discount the possibility that Secretary Clinton violated the law here?

MR KIRBY: That is not our role. That is not our role, James. Our role is to make these public so that you and the American people can see them.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Could I --

MR KIRBY: Samir.

QUESTION: New topic?

QUESTION: Can we – no, can we go to the IG report?

MR KIRBY: Is that a new – that’s not – it’s kind of related.

QUESTION: It’s – well, it relates to your FOIA practices --

MR KIRBY: Sure, yeah.

QUESTION: -- and it specifically says, “These procedural weaknesses, coupled by” – “with a lack of oversight by leadership and failure to routinely search emails, appear to contribute to inaccurate and incomplete responses to FOIA requests.” Do you have – and we have your – the on-the-record comment that you provided earlier.

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have anything else to say about how you plan going forward to ensure that you get the resources necessary and that you oversee the processes in a sufficiently rigorous manner that your efforts won’t be judged incomplete and inaccurate?

MR KIRBY: Well, I thought my statement was pretty eloquent. It’s hard to improve on that, I think. But look, we – as I said yesterday, we appreciate the work that the IG did. Secretary Kerry specifically asked for that. We have accepted unilaterally every recommendation that the IG made because we believe they’re right. We know we don’t get it – we know we have a lot of work to improve, and we’re committed to doing that. So we’re already implementing all the recommendations. And as you probably saw in the report, the IG considers them “resolved” because they have seen that we are already taking steps to implement these improvements.

And yes, to your other question, we are taking active steps, mainly in the sense of resourcing, and we are in the midst of hiring. Now, we haven’t met our whole goal of 50-some-odd-plus additional employees for the FOIA office, but we’re getting there – about halfway through that – and we’re going to continue to hire additional resources and manpower.

Because, look, bottom line is aside from the fact that qualitatively we know we can do better in terms of FOIA response, quantitatively, we’ve got a challenge. I mean, I – and we’ve talked about this before: a threefold increase in several years over FOIA requests in general. There’s just more of them. And because we want to take them seriously, because we want to be thorough, the more you have, the harder it is to get them out on time.

So it’s a long answer to a very good question, but the bottom line is, yes, we know we have more to do, and we are applying extra resources to get it done.

QUESTION: One other follow-up on the 50: Is that the 50 that we’ve talked about before --

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: -- from last year?

MR KIRBY: No, it’s the same.

QUESTION: So those are retransferred – those are – those were – that was an effort, as I recall, to transfer people from elsewhere within State to the FOIA office, correct?

MR KIRBY: Some are – some are --

QUESTION: It wasn’t new hires?

MR KIRBY: Some are details from other places --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- and some could be outside hires.

QUESTION: Okay. But it’s the --

MR KIRBY: We’re working --

QUESTION: But it’s the same 50? It’s not – we’re not talking about an additional 50 or --

MR KIRBY: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: It’s the same exact manpower plus-up that we’ve discussed before.

QUESTION: Thank you, yeah.

MR KIRBY: But we’re not there yet.

QUESTION: I get it.

MR KIRBY: I mean, we’re still working on the original --

QUESTION: You said you’re halfway.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Samir. I’m sorry, Samir.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. reaction to reports that the Israel minister of defense on Wednesday approved the creation of a 10-acre settlement in the West Bank?

MR KIRBY: We are deeply concerned about the minister of defense’s decision to expand the existing settlement boundary of the Gush Etzion Regional Council to include a former church compound, which effectively creates a new settlement on 10 acres in the West Bank. It’s important to note that some 70 percent of the West Bank’s Area C has already been unilaterally designated as Israeli state land, or within the boundaries of these regional settlement councils.

The new decision only expands this significant majority of the West Bank that has already been claimed for exclusive Israeli use. Along with the regular retroactive legalization of unauthorized outposts and construction of infrastructure in remote settlements, actions such as this decision clearly undermine the possibility of a two-state solution.

And Samir, as you know, our longstanding position on settlement activity is clear and has not changed. We view it as illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace. Continued settlement activity and expansion raises honest questions about Israel’s long-term intentions and will only make achieving a two-state solution that much more difficult. As we’ve previously made clear, we continue to look at both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution, and actions such as yesterday’s decision, we believe, does just the opposite.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Wait, yesterday’s or Wednesday’s?

QUESTION: Wednesday.

MR KIRBY: My point – Wednesday.

QUESTION: But can I just follow up very quickly on this issue? What about the – those who are purchasing these lands? There are – there seems to be American groups and American citizens that are buying this land or establish some sort of schemes through which they can buy land and so on. There is a lot of wealthy Americans who are buying some of this land and financing the settlements. Do you have a position on that? I mean, do you have – do you call on, let’s say, United States citizens who live in the United States that the purchase of land for the purpose of settlement expansion is a hindrance to peace or to the efforts or to would-be talks?

MR KIRBY: I would just say – I would just say two things, Said – that these donors are private citizens --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- but this Administration, like every one before it since 1967, views settlement activity as illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace. And the U.S. Government does not support any activity that would indicate otherwise, okay?

QUESTION: Okay. If I also may follow on a couple issues on the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation, I know I asked you on Wednesday about the excessive use of force, possible excessive use of force. I mean, just today, the Israelis shot with live ammunition 14 Palestinians throughout the West Bank, they attacked demonstrators, including Western demonstrators, including Americans, who were in support of the Palestinians with tear gas, many of them were injured, and so on. But you will not say that Israel is using an excessive use of force in quelling these demonstrations and these confrontations, despite the fact that you are aware that there are things that are very close – if you don’t want to call them that way, but they look like so many executions and so on. So when will you at call – at what level will you say that this is really an excessive use of force that we will not accept?

MR KIRBY: I have been nothing but consistent, Said, that I’m not going to characterize every single act or every single word that’s uttered. We’ve made clear to all sides what we want to see, which is tensions to go down, violence to stop, and innocent people allowed to continue their lives. Now, look, in general, without speaking to any one act, of course we never want to see security forces in any country overreact to activities. But I’m not going to get into a situation where every act there we are making judgments about or characterizing. We’ve made it very clear to leaders on all sides what we want to see happen here. People need to be able to go about their lives on all sides of this and to live peacefully, and that’s what we want to see. And the violence that continues is doing nothing to get us there. It’s certainly not doing anything to get us to a point where you can legitimately begin to talk about pursuing a two-state solution.

QUESTION: John.

QUESTION: Including easing up on the checkpoints? I mean --

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to --

QUESTION: -- I’m sorry to bring in a personal issue, but I was talking to my newspaper editors, and they were held up for like three, four hours today at the checkpoints. They couldn’t get to the paper because of just at whim they hold them up for hours on end. I mean, what needs to be done? In your view, what needs to be done to ease the situation? You constantly speak of things that the Israelis can do to ease up the situation and make life somewhat more tolerable for the Palestinians.

MR KIRBY: We’ve said that leaders on all sides have a lot to do here, which is to take proactive steps to restore calm and to cease the violence, to allow innocent people to continue to live their lives, and to try to get us to a point where we can begin to work towards a two-state solution. That’s a requirement for leaders on all sides of this, Said, and we’ve been very consistent and very clear about that.

QUESTION: John.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Syria?

QUESTION: Oh, wait. I just have two very brief ones on this. One, have you spoken to or been asked about the reports that an American citizen was one of the people who was indicted for the arson fire that killed a Palestinian family? And if you haven’t been asked about it, could you --

MR KIRBY: I have not been asked about it, but now that I have, I cannot --

QUESTION: You’re not going to say anything.

MR KIRBY: I cannot comment due to privacy considerations.

QUESTION: Oh, my favorite. Okay. All right, well, that’s out of the way.

And then secondly, is there any update on the cameras --

MR KIRBY: I’m guessing I’m not going to get a Christmas card from you next year, right?

QUESTION: Did you get one this year?

MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t get one. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Just candy.

MR KIRBY: Now I know why.

QUESTION: Any update on the cameras – Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif?

MR KIRBY: I have no updates for you.

QUESTION: So --

MR KIRBY: But I do know that – I – technical discussions, as we understand them, are ongoing.

QUESTION: How long do you think those technical discussions are going to take?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Do you know when the last round of the technical discussions --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. You’d have to talk to --

QUESTION: It was like two weeks after --

MR KIRBY: -- to both parties.

QUESTION: I remember.

QUESTION: They were months ago. All right.

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to both parties.

QUESTION: Syria?

MR KIRBY: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Based on Vienna process and UN Security Council resolution, in your understanding, what role should or would President Assad play by the end of the six months and after the formation of the transitional body by both sides?

MR KIRBY: We’ve talked about this, Michel. I don’t – the exact role for Assad in the transition process has not been hammered out. It’s one of the reasons why we want to see the talks go forward at the end of this month between the opposition and the regime, because we want the opposition to have a voice in this process and in these types of decisions. It’s also why it’s important for the Vienna process under the ISSG to continue to discuss this as a body and to move forward. But the bottom line is there’s been no final decisions about the length of time that Assad would remain in power or what his role in a transition would be.

Clearly – and this is the most important point, as we’ve said before – he cannot be part of the long-term future of Syria, and that we’re looking for a government that can be responsive to and responsible for the Syrian people. And clearly that’s not his government.

QUESTION: But when the document published by AP talking about President Assad and his inner circle leaving by March 2017.

MR KIRBY: We’ve – I’ve addressed this before.

QUESTION: Yeah, but how can we say that he won’t play any role after the six months and after the formation of the transitional body and at the same time talking about him leaving in 2017?

MR KIRBY: We’ve talked about this before. Two things. It’s a working-level staff document. It’s not an official U.S. policy document. And there is a – there is – and I wouldn’t talk about specific milestones inside the process, but you don’t have to look any further than the last communique coming out of Vienna as for sort of the rough outlines about what this would look like. So six months after the beginning of negotiations, a target would be – six months after – to begin to work on the process of drafting a constitution which would take targeted – targeted, okay, not definite – about a year, after which another six months or so to get to some kind of national elections. Targeted. Everybody recognizes that it’s hard to be perfectly predictive in a specific way about this.

What Assad does inside that timeframe we don’t know right now, and what role he plays we don’t know right now. That’s why it’s important for the political process – going back to my opening statement on humanitarian access – that’s another reason why this process is so important. It’s why the UN codified it in that Security Council resolution before Christmas, and it’s why the Secretary continues to believe that the ISSG must play a role in moving through these issues and trying to get at some sort of sense of consensus of exactly what Assad’s future is going to be in terms of the political process. I mean, obviously the transition – obviously, we don’t believe he could be part of the future of Syria. But the short answer is that the international community has not resolved that issue yet. And the Secretary, I can assure you, is going to stay committed to working on that this year.

QUESTION: A follow-on on Syria?

QUESTION: Do you have any definition of what is the inner circle of – when they say Assad and the inner circle, what does that mean in your view or in – in your understanding?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an organization chart that would --

QUESTION: Is it members of his family, his brothers, his cabinet, heads of agencies and so on?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s generally referring to those who are deemed his closest and most trusted advisors. But who they are, I don’t have a list of that, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. And let me just ask you a follow-up question on the meeting on the 25th in Geneva. What is the role of the United States in that meeting? Could you --

MR KIRBY: This is a – this meeting is not an ISSG meeting.

QUESTION: I understand.

MR KIRBY: This is a meeting between the opposition groups and the regime, and it is being facilitated by the UN Special Envoy de Mistura. It is not intended for the nations or the organizations of the ISSG to be participants or to be in attendance. It’s not the purpose of it.

QUESTION: So let me just rephrase the question. Will you give any kind of advisory role or will you be called on or will you be on standby to see how things evolve and so on?

MR KIRBY: No. Look, I can’t rule out that we may – may not have a presence, but it’s not to be – if – and I’m not saying that there will be. But it wouldn’t be in any way to participate in that process or steer it or guide it. That is not the purpose of it.

Again, in keeping with the Vienna communique, we want a Syrian-led, Syrian-run transition process. And we want, and now we’re grateful for, UN auspices over that process. And that’s what needs to happen here on the 25th – the opposition meeting with the regime under UN auspices, not with interference or steering by the ISSG. That’s not how it’s been constructed.

QUESTION: And finally on Syria, on the Madaya siege, do you have any like late information on the number of killed and starvation and (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: No. As I said, the estimates are 42,000 people there --

QUESTION: Under siege?

MR KIRBY: -- that are being – yeah, that are falling victim to hunger and starvation, but I don’t have an exact figure as to how many have died from that. I mean, we’ve all seen the images, and I understand they’re difficult to look at, and I don’t – I can’t tell you exactly from where the photos were taken, but we have no reason to suspect that they aren’t of Syrian people that are literally dying for lack of sustenance and nutrition. And to use that, to use starvation as a tool of war, as I said the other day, is utterly despicable and it needs to stop. And we are looking for actions, not words. So while it’s nice to hear that access will be granted, what really matters is that it is granted and that that aid and assistance can get there unfettered, and as I said in my opening statement, over a sustained period of time.

Kim.

QUESTION: John, following up on the Secretary’s comments yesterday again on Syria, he said that Iran and Saudi Arabia had said they wouldn’t stand in the way or interfere with the January 25th talks in Geneva. Do they need to be any part of it? Do you need them behind the scenes?

MR KIRBY: No. As I said to Said’s question, this is – this is an issue between the opposition groups and the regime. That’s the way it’s been set up from the beginning – again, in keeping with the Vienna communique. Now, we want, obviously, Minister – Special Envoy de Mistura, Staffan de Mistura, to be there because this is all under UN auspices, as it should be. But this is not a meeting. It’s not a foreign – it’s not a ministerial meeting of the ISSG. Secretary Kerry won’t be there, and we don’t expect that foreign ministers of any other nation in the ISSG will be there.

What was reassuring for the Secretary to hear from leaders in Saudi and Iran is that they would not let the tensions now between them get in the way of making sure that meeting happens.

QUESTION: And has Iraq made any headway in its efforts to mediate between the two that it said it would carry out?

MR KIRBY: I think you should ask Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: I was hoping they’d kept you in the loop.

MR KIRBY: But I mean, look, I – we’ve made clear our view that mediation is not what’s required here; bilateral discussions and conversation and dialogue is what needs to happen, and we want these nations to work this out together. I won’t speak for what another nation, third-party nation, might attempt to do or try to do or how successfully they might be at it. I know of no – let me put it this way. I know of no mediation progress that’s been made.

QUESTION: Can I pivot to another issue? The HPSCI and SSCI, the House Homeland and Intelligence Committee chairmen have both come out again and attacked the refugee program because two refugees were detained, were arrested by the FBI, allegedly for wanting to join ISIS or being part of ISIS. Has this caused you to relook the program again or add anything to your evaluation process that’s going on right now?

MR KIRBY: We’re always looking at the program, as I said. We’ve talked – we’re always looking for ways to improve it. If – I can’t speak to – for very good reason I can’t speak to specific cases and I won’t, but I can tell you that we’re always looking for ways to improve the process. Nothing is more important to the Secretary than making sure that the – that we here at the State Department do our part to ensure the safety and security of the American people. And we take that very seriously, and he has made it clear here in the building that