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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - October 25, 2016

Tue, 10/25/2016 - 20:36

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 25, 2016

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2:14 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.


MR KIRBY: A couple things to start off with here. First, on Vietnam, I think you know the Secretary today met with Executive Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam Dinh The Huynh to discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues of mutual interest. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to deepening the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral relationship. The Secretary and the executive secretary also discussed key bilateral priorities, including enhancing security cooperation, continuing our longstanding cooperation on war legacy issues, and deepening people-to-people ties. It was a good, fairly comprehensive set of discussions.

On Quetta, the United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the horrific terrorist attack on the police training center in Quetta that claimed the lives of over 60 people. We extend our condolences, of course, to the victims and their families, including the police cadets who were embarking on careers of public service. We stand with the people of Pakistan and the Government of Pakistan in this very difficult hour, and we will continue to work with our partners in Pakistan and across the region to combat the threat of terrorism.


QUESTION: Okay. Let’s start with Syria. You may have seen, or probably have seen, that the Russians say that they’re extending this non – this pause in bombing of eastern Aleppo. Have you?


QUESTION: And if you have, do you --

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the reports of it, yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any response, reaction?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I think --

QUESTION: Is it still too little, too late, or not enough, doesn’t go far enough? What’s the --

MR KIRBY: Well, as we’ve said repeatedly, that we obviously welcome any reduction in the violence, but it has to be met with a commitment and an actual delivery of humanitarian assistance, which was the purpose in the first place, and that still hasn’t occurred. So of course, we welcome the stated intention to extend this pause and we hope that this extension, for however long it may be, will be more successful in terms of the intent and purpose than it has been thus far. I would add that we have continued to see violence in Aleppo despite the announced pauses, the humanitarian pauses in the past. There’s still been violence.

QUESTION: Okay. So in the absence of knowing for sure whether or not it’s going to work, whether or not the airstrikes actually do continue to be paused, and knowing – and an inability to know whether or not the humanitarian aid is going to get in, what is the Administration’s plan? I realize the Secretary spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday, but it seems – it seems like there’s some kind of an inertia here that you guys don’t know what to do.

MR KIRBY: I think I’d challenge the premise of that. I think we know what to do. I think – in fact, I think what needs --

QUESTION: Well, what is it?

MR KIRBY: Well, what needs to be done is what we’ve said for a long time needs to be done: a sustainable, supportable cessation of hostilities that meets --

QUESTION: Well, yeah, that’s the – but that’s the goal, though. It’s the getting there that --

MR KIRBY: Which is why our teams are in Geneva still talking multilaterally to try to get at exactly that solution. Look, what we’ve been seeing, or seeing announced, in the last few days has been these humanitarian pauses, and they kind of come in fits and starts, 48 hours here, 48 hours there. And even with the announced pauses, we still continue to see violence in Aleppo, and we’ve seen no aid getting in, and very few civilians leaving.

So I agree that we’re in a bit of a static situation there in Aleppo, very much the same as it has been, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a plan going forward. And the Secretary has done little else but try to work on getting a plan in place that will give us a meaningful cessation of hostilities that will actually allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid, and that’s why we’re participating in these multilateral talks in Geneva.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the thing is, is that it’s been almost a month, if not a month, since the last – since the September 9th agreement fell apart, while we were only – when we were in New York. And if there is a plan, it doesn’t seem to be very clear what that plan is because nothing has happened and the situation, as you said, remains static, which “static” is bad, right?

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm.


MR KIRBY: Well, that’s what the – that’s what the teams in Geneva are trying to do, is develop the plans, the framework for a cessation of hostilities that can actually take hold and allow for the – allow for the situation in Aleppo to improve, to change. That’s why we’re still engaged diplomatically on this.

But look, I mean, Matt, I’m not going to – I’m not going to dispute the fact that this has been extraordinarily difficult and that we haven’t reached success in terms of a cessation of hostilities. And the Secretary would be the first to admit that he’s frustrated about the lack of progress and about the fact that too many people in Aleppo are still being deprived food, water, medicine; too many are still being attacked by the regime and by their Russian backers. I mean, believe me, nobody wants to see the static situation change more than Secretary Kerry, which is why he’s been staying in touch with our folks in Geneva and why he’s very interested in seeing those talks bear some fruit with respect to a plan, a framework for a cessation of hostilities.

QUESTION: All right. So when was the last time that he was in touch with the people in Geneva?

MR KIRBY: I think he got an update today.

QUESTION: Well, can I follow up? I mean, as you know, there’s these – there are these Russian warships kind of steaming towards the area and there’s this supposition that Russia is trying to make – going to try to kind of end this and completely have Aleppo fall pretty soon. And are you concerned at all that Russian – the Russians are playing for time here in order to gain even more of an advantage on the ground while these negotiations are prolonged, as they – you’ve said that they have done before?

MR KIRBY: That’s certainly a concern, Elise. I mean, it’s difficult to know exactly what is in the mind of the Russian defense ministry and the Russian navy as this deployment continues into the Mediterranean. I can tell you what --

QUESTION: One of the largest deployments in decades, right?

MR KIRBY: I can tell you – well, I’d leave it to naval experts and the Russian navy specifically to quantify it.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I know you have your State Department hat on now, but that doesn’t mean that you weren’t and aren’t still a naval expert.

MR KIRBY: It is a sizeable deployment, but I am not an expert enough to be able to characterize it in terms of history. The point is – and the Secretary talked about this, this exact issue, when he said that while we don’t know with great specificity what their plans are, if the plans are to just further complete the siege of Aleppo and the fall of Aleppo, then that’s (a) counterproductive to the overall effort, diplomatic effort, which the Russians have said they supported; (b) it’s going to be – it’s going to just cause more war, attract more terrorists, deepen the civil war; and then (c) run absolutely against what should be the interest of Russia, which is to see an end to this war and a political solution, and that it’s just going to embolden the opposition all the more to fight. So I can’t speak for what the Russians are doing, but I think as I would echo back what the Secretary said, if that’s their intention, then it’s going to – in our view, if that’s the intention, it will have the opposite effect.

QUESTION: I mean, has any progress been made in Geneva other than – I mean, as Matt pointed out, they’ve been meeting for a while now. And would you say, could you actually say, that there’s been progress?

MR KIRBY: I would tell you I think by virtue of the fact that they’re still meeting and talking in Geneva, I think you can derive from that that there are still gaps and seams, that there are still issues that remain to be resolved, that they are still areas of disagreement in this multilateral format. I don’t want to get into the details of what they are. I mean, obviously we want to see these discussions succeed. I don’t think getting up and publicly detailing all the areas of disagreement is very conducive to helping those talks go, so I’m going to refrain from doing that.

But I think by virtue of the fact that we don’t have agreement here after so many days that it’s safe to assume that there hasn’t been significant progress. Now, I’ve been informed that there has been some progress on some issues, so I don’t want to couch this as nothing but failure. There has been – on certain issues there have been – there has been some progress made, but there’s obviously still more work to be done.

QUESTION: Is most of the – can you just give us some kind of idea? Is most of the negotiation taking place between the U.S. and Russia, or are all – is everyone in the same room trying to figure this out?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know if everybody is in, like, one room or not. I don’t have the optics there for you. But it is a multilateral discussion. This is not a bilateral negotiation between the United States and Russia. This is – as I said yesterday, this is a true multilateral format. And sometimes that makes these kinds of discussions a little bit more difficult because now you have more voices at the table, more perspectives to be weighed. But in the end, if you can get agreement, it also, because you have multiple perspectives there and more parties involved, if you get an agreement, our hope is that that would mean that the agreement will be more enforceable going forward.

QUESTION: How much does the U.S. --

QUESTION: Well, it’s not that had that – you had a giant group, the whole ISSG with all the members, not that small – smaller group, the ISSG-minus that met in Lausanne. And that still didn’t work.

MR KIRBY: No, I disagree, Matt. The purpose of the meeting in Lausanne was --


MR KIRBY: The purpose of the meeting in Lausanne, and the Secretary said it himself --

QUESTION: Well, you can’t disagree and admit that you haven’t achieved, you haven’t gotten to the goal that you want to yet.

MR KIRBY: Yes, I can. I actually can.

QUESTION: You had a group of more than 20 countries come together and agree on something that failed. So I don’t see how when you’re talking about multilateral it might make it harder to get an agreement, but once they do get an agreement, if that happens, that it’s going to be stronger and much more effective, when you had a much larger group already agree to something that didn’t happen.

MR KIRBY: I can --

QUESTION: Is that incorrect?

MR KIRBY: So I can still disagree with you. I think – because you’re talking about Lausanne, and Lausanne – we got what we wanted out of Lausanne, which was to get a multilateral format together and agree on a path forward, and that path forward included discussions which are now going on in Geneva.

I agree with you in terms of the – in whatever format, whether it was U.S.-Russia bilateral, or multilateral through the ISSG, or even through subcomponents of the ISSG, I agree that we haven’t reached our goal, which is a sustainable cessation of hostilities, and the delivery of humanitarian aid, and a resumption of political talks. No question. Not disputing that at all.

But what we’re hoping, since we weren’t able to get anything bilaterally going with the Russians that was of any success, because the Russians wouldn’t meet their commitments – what we are hoping is in this new multilateral format – which is smaller than the ISSG – we’re hoping that because it’s multilateral, because it will encompass the views and perspectives of key partner nations involved in what’s going on in Syria, that we can get something that you can sink your teeth into. But we’re going to have to see. We’re just going to have to see.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: But are the negotiations – may I? Are the negotiations progressing, though? It seems like you’re having these negotiations and they don’t even seem to be kind of inching closer to your goal, which, as you say, is a multilateral ceasefire. I mean, how much of this is a – like a Potemkin process where it’s better to have no process than nothing at all?

MR KIRBY: I think we believe it’s very much important to have a process of dialogue and discussion going forward.

QUESTION: Well, okay. So it’s good to have a process of dialogue and discussion, but is that actually a negotiation that is leading to an outcome of a unilateral ceasefire, or is this just, as you say, a process of dialogue and being able to discuss these issues?

MR KIRBY: No, they are – they are discussing the very issue of reaching --

QUESTION: Are they negotiating?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think there’s obviously some negotiation going on, and that’s what they’re doing right now. They’re trying to negotiate a cessation of hostilities that can be enduring and sustainable throughout the country. Obviously, key – a key part of that’s Aleppo, but they want to go even broader than that and we’ve said that for many months now.

So as I said to Lesley, there has been some progress. I don’t want to paint the discussions as a complete failure. There have been – there has been some progress made towards those goals, but there has obviously not been complete progress made. We haven’t reached agreement. And in any negotiation, until everything’s agreed upon, nothing’s agreed upon. So there’s still a lot of work to be done.

QUESTION: John, let me just follow up on – what is it exactly that you object to? I mean, I understand all the humanitarian and bloodshed that is ongoing and so on. But why do you object to the regime retaking eastern Aleppo? I mean, western Aleppo or the larger part of Aleppo lives in, I mean, relative peace and so on. The other towns that the regime has regained, life goes on, relatively so. What is it that you object to? Considering that a sizable number of Nusrah and other terrorist groups that you consider terrorist are actually in eastern Aleppo, so why do you object to the regime regaining Aleppo? Why is the --

MR KIRBY: What we object to, Said, is the violence – the violence against the Syrian people.


MR KIRBY: And infrastructure in Aleppo and hospitals, first responders. What we object to is the violence. We want to see the violence end so that humanitarian aid can come in, and we want to see the resumption of political talks between the opposition and the regime. And we’ve long said – and yes, I recognize that back in February, when we achieved an ISSG agreement on the cessation of hostilities, and what we saw for a couple of months after that was a dramatic reduction in violence, something on the order of 70 to 80 percent, based on how you measure it. So it’s possible to get there, and what we said back then was that we didn’t want to see the regime taking or retaking additional territory. We wanted a freeze on the hostilities.

So that’s what we’re after here. And I think – you don’t have to take my word for it; you can look at media coverage of what’s going on in Aleppo – that efforts by the regime to retake a block, a street, a building – a part of the city, east, west, it doesn’t matter – any effort is obviously going to lead to more violence and more death for the Syrian people.

QUESTION: So just to be clear, you believe that the regime, not by – not taking eastern Aleppo, they will be placed in a more, let’s say, flexible negotiating position for the future? Is that it?

MR KIRBY: Who will be put in a more flexible --

QUESTION: The regime. Do you think that they are – they will be more flexible in terms of negotiating a transition, so --

MR KIRBY: I can’t get inside the head of Bashar al-Assad. I’ve seen, obviously, that there are those who think that the continued siege of Aleppo is intended to provide more leverage at the negotiating table. Our view is that that’s a false narrative, that all the siege of Aleppo is going to continue to do is inspire the opposition to fight back even harder and make it that much more difficult for anybody to agree to a cessation of hostilities and to get us to political talks.

QUESTION: Okay, so there’s – I just want to understand. The sharing, let’s say, of power in Aleppo – the eastern side being controlled by the opposition and the western side being controlled by the regime – is more conducive to a negotiated settlement? Is that what you think?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that and we’re not – I’m not parsing east Aleppo or west Aleppo. We’re talking about the entire city of Aleppo here. That’s our focus. We’re not drawing a line on the map and saying, “You can have this,” and, “You can have that.” What we want to see is the siege of Aleppo stopped, we want to see the violence stopped, and we want to see the aid get in for everybody in Aleppo regardless of where they live.

QUESTION: And maintaining the status quo, maintaining the current status quo with forces on either side being entrenched where they are?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not an expert on what you call the status quo. What we want to see is the siege of Aleppo stopped, Said, and we want to see aid trucks move in. We don’t want to have to see civilians make a difficult choice about whether they should leave or go or choose between Daesh and the Assad regime. They should be able to live peaceably and in their own town, in their own city, and shouldn’t have to worry about the barrel bombs dropping from the sky. That’s what we want to see.

This isn’t about – again, I don’t know what you mean by “status quo.” If you mean, like, as of today, the situation of today, if we’re going to start from today, that we would absolutely not consider that a great starting point here. I mean, look at what’s going on in the city.


QUESTION: Can we go to a new subject?

QUESTION: There – could I do one more on Syria? There are reports of leaflets being dropped by the Syrian armed forces that read, “This is the last hope. Rescue yourself. If you don’t withdraw from this area urgently, we will finish you. We left a secure passage for your exit. Hurry up to take the decision and save yourselves. You know that everybody let you down and left you alone to face your fate. Nobody will help you.”

Does this sound like someone who’s open to negotiations in the context of what’s going on in Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the – seen that, but let’s for a second just assume that it’s accurate, and I have no reason to doubt that it is. It’s indicative of the brutality that we have continued to see out of the Assad regime and its backers, and it’s indicative of what many people believe they’re trying to do, which is to take Aleppo by force, by siege. Now, whether that’s to buy space at a negotiating table or whether it’s to make it clear evidence that they have no intention to negotiate at all, I don’t know. But it’s – it is that mentality that is driving us forward with a sense of urgency to try to get a cessation of hostilities that can be enforced and sustained, particularly in Aleppo. We obviously want to see it throughout the country, but particularly in Aleppo.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

QUESTION: This is extremely – I just want to – you used the phrase, when you’re talking about the Lausanne format or the Lausanne group, you used the phrase “key partner nations.”


QUESTION: So that’s Iran and Russia? Does the Administration really regard them as partner nations in Syria?

MR KIRBY: They have been – they’re members of the ISSG, Matt.


MR KIRBY: So I mean, in terms of the Syria --

QUESTION: Even though your goals – you say your goals are diametrically opposed to those of Iran and Russia, you consider them to be partners?

MR KIRBY: They’re partner nations in terms of the discussions on Syria, but obviously we have major differences with Iran and with Russia on a number of matters. I don’t think you should read more into that --


MR KIRBY: -- than I meant. What I meant was in the context of trying to get a cessation of hostilities in Syria.



QUESTION: On Syria, you addressed yesterday as well – and you sent some tweets on the Turkish-backed FSA forces clashing with the Syrian Kurds on the Afrin side. My question is the fundamental question, is that the both sides are trying to get to al-Bab. Do you have a position on that, whether you have a position the Turkish-backed forces or the Syrian Kurds should take it from ISIS?

MR KIRBY: I dealt with this a few days ago and the exact question, and I said what our position is: We want all members of the coalition to focus on our common enemy, which is Daesh. And I’m not going to make a battlefield assessment here from this podium about al-Bab or any other city. What we want to see is that all the members of the coalition, including Syrian fighters as well as Turkey and any other nation, to focus less on uncoordinated military activity, which is not part of the coalition plan, and focus, in fact, on a coalition plan, which is to degrade and defeat Daesh.

QUESTION: How do you think these Turkey-backed forces clashing with the Kurds – both of them anti-ISIL forces – affecting coalition work against ISIS so far?

MR KIRBY: As I’ve said many times, that we want to see the focus put on Daesh and that efforts that are uncoordinated and are not focused on Daesh are, by definition, going to be counterproductive to that goal.

QUESTION: Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu today said that U.S. partnering with Syrian YPG forces and ask you directly, the U.S. Government, are you trying to create a terrorist state, then we see you as terror-sponsoring state, as – addressing you. Do you have a comment?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the foreign minister’s comments, so I think I’m going to refrain from a reaction until I see it. But I think that it’s evident and clear that the United States, as a leader of this coalition against Daesh, has been investing a lot of time, talent, resources and energy towards degrading and defeating this group. And we have a longstanding record of counterterrorism efforts and success to back us up on that.

QUESTION: And the Turkish prime minister said that half of the ammunition and weapons that they’ve been seizing from PKK inside Turkey turn out to be those ammunition and weapons given by U.S. to YPG.

MR KIRBY: As I’ve said many times from this podium, we don’t provide weapons and arms and materiel to the YPG. And the PKK is a terrorist group.

QUESTION: Can we move to Venezuela, please?


QUESTION: So you might not know, because it just happened as the briefing was started, but Venezuela’s opposition legislature has voted to begin the political trial against Maduro. This has been going on all day, but they obviously just voted. The government has said the move is meaningless. What is your general view about the fact that they’re now going to put – they’re going to impeach Maduro, if they can. And at the same time as yesterday, when they – the sides announced peace talks. Where – how do you see it? Do you think that the political trial should continue alongside the peace talks? Do you think it’s even possible?

MR KIRBY: Lesley, I haven’t seen that report, so I’m going to refrain from a reaction here from the podium until I – we can have a chance to consult with the bureau on that. We’ll take that question and get back to you. But in general, as I said yesterday, we want to continue to see dialogue between the government and the opposition to move the country forward. And there’s nothing changed about our overall position with respect to that. But you’re going to have to let me take that question, because I just haven’t seen that report.

QUESTION: At the same time – there’s another link to this – is that the Swiss has given the U.S. 51 million in frozen assets from PDVSA, the petroleum company of Venezuela, because of an investigation that the U.S. is doing. Is any of this – or all of it tied? I mean, would you see this investigation as a means of pushing these sides together?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have – I’m afraid I just don’t have anything on that either.

QUESTION: You do not --

MR KIRBY: Let me take the question and get back to you.


MR KIRBY: I just don’t have details on that.

QUESTION: One on North Korea.


QUESTION: The DNI James Clapper just recently said, I think in – just minutes ago, that the notion of getting the North Koreans to denuclearize is a lost cause, because that’s their ticket to survival. Is that an Administration-wide assessment, and – I mean, I would think that would factor into the diplomacy that you’re working on with South Korea and Japan and others.

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the comments. What I can tell you is --

QUESTION: I’m quoting him.

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: I’m quoting him.

MR KIRBY: I have no doubt that you are. But I haven’t seen them, so – and you have the benefit of your smartphone and I don’t. But --

QUESTION: No, but I mean, it doesn’t – I mean --

MR KIRBY: But Elise, nothing has changed about our policy with respect to the North and that we want to continue to see a verifiable denuclearization of the peninsula. We want to see a return to the Six-Party Talk process, and that means we need to see the North show a willingness and an ability to return to that process, which they haven’t done yet. So I can’t speak to that. What I can tell you is our policy, with respect to North Korea’s provocations and the resolve of the United States and the international community to try to put adequate pressure on them to change their behavior, has not changed and remains the same.

QUESTION: So you haven’t given up on the idea that North Korea might denuclearize or there’s something that you could do --

MR KIRBY: We haven’t given up on the --

QUESTION: No, I know that you want to see that. Like I’m – put aside your – what you’d like to see and talk about what you’re trying to effect.

MR KIRBY: They’re the same.

QUESTION: And have you given up on the idea that you will be able to get North Korea to denuclearize.

MR KIRBY: They’re the same. What we’d like to see is what we want to get.

QUESTION: No, it’s not. No, it’s not. No, it’s absolutely not the same.

MR KIRBY: The answer is – it is the same.

QUESTION: What I would like to see is a lot different than what I think I’m going to get a lot of times.

MR KIRBY: What you’d – (laughter) --

QUESTION: Or what you actually get.

QUESTION: Or what I actually get. Especially at this --

QUESTION: You can’t always get what you want.

QUESTION: Especially at this briefing. (Laughter.) Especially in this briefing room. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: The short answer to your question is no.

QUESTION: Yeah, (inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: No. Nothing’s changed about --

QUESTION: So it is not an Administration – well, I’m just saying, like, it is not an Administration-wide conclusion that it is a losing proposition to try and get North Korea – a lost cause.

MR KIRBY: It is – that is not our position. No. We continue to want – we continue – our policy objective is to seek – to obtain a verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That is the policy.

QUESTION: Because giving --

MR KIRBY: That is both the goal and what we want to see, and there’s a way to do that, right? There’s a way to do that, through them stopping their provocative activities and a return to the Six-Party talks process, and we’re still committed to that process. So I can’t speak for the director’s comments – haven’t seen them. But if you’re asking me as a result of that – of the quote you read, if our policy has changed with respect to the DPRK, the answer is no.


QUESTION: Go to Iraq.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Blinken is now in Asia for talks related to North Korea and --

MR KIRBY: I think he’s on his way.

QUESTION: On his way --

MR KIRBY: He left this morning; I don’t think he’s there yet.

QUESTION: On his way to Asia this week for talks. Can you tell us a little bit more about what the focus of his meetings will be, both in the trilateral consultations in Tokyo and also in the meetings in Seoul?

MR KIRBY: I actually talked about this yesterday in quite some detail, so I think I’d just refer you back to what we said yesterday in terms of his trip and his objectives. We laid that out yesterday.

QUESTION: So a little bit more specifically on the trilateral consultations in Tokyo?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of specific discussions. I think the trilateral discussions are something that – we had trilateral discussions that the UN General Assembly up in New York. There’s obviously a full agenda of issues to talk about in that format, and again, I’m not going to get ahead of the deputy secretary’s meetings. But obviously issues of peninsular security and improved defense and security cooperation, as well as a whole host of economic issues are at play. And I think you can expect that those same kinds of discussions will ensue when he gets into the region. But I just – again, I went through it with – in pretty good detail yesterday of who he was meeting with and what he was doing, so I’d refer you back to that.

QUESTION: Okay. And then one more. Ambassador Joseph Yun was recently appointed as the special representative of North Korea policy and replacing Ambassador Sung Kim. Can you tell us whether he’ll be participating in meetings in – related to North Korea this week?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you on that. I just have – we’ll have to get an answer for you – don’t have it.


PARTICIPANT: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So then will his --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry. And then will his priorities --

QUESTION: Can we stay in Asia?

MR KIRBY: Yep. I’m sorry. You had another one?

QUESTION: Sorry. Just one more. (Laughter.) And will his priorities be shifting at all from Ambassador Kim?

MR KIRBY: I think that you can safely assume that he’s going to continue the great work that Ambassador Kim did with the same energy, the same effort, the same focus. I don’t think that there’s anything that – there’s not going to be a policy shift as a result, but I’m not going to speak for his – how he’s going to go about doing his job. I know he’s excited to get started, but I can – I think you can safely assume that he’ll continue the strong legacy of hard work and dedication to that effort as the ambassador – as Ambassador Kim did.


QUESTION: Yes. Can we stay in Asia and go to the Philippines?


QUESTION: Because apparently, the president – President Duterte is not listening to you, is not calming down, reacting to Assistant Secretary’s Russel visit to the Philippines, and reacting to your own statement. He said – I’m quoting him, “Americans are really crazy,” and reacting to Danny Russel’s comments about the – about foreign investors being worried. He said they have to pack up and leave. So I’d like to know, what’s your options now? Are you going to continue to be insulted by your closest ally in Southeast Asia or are you going to take some actions against the Philippines?

MR KIRBY: Again, nothing has changed from our view, in terms of the close relationship that we have and expect to continue to have with both the government in the Philippines and the Filipino people. As I’ve said over the last several days, we’ve seen these comments. They are at odds – inexplicably at odds – with this relationship that we continue to enjoy. And you’ve already seen cases where the president himself and even some of his cabinet officials have walked back some of these statements. In fact, just today I’d point you to comments made by the president’s spokesman himself about the issue of businesses, where the president’s spokesman himself walked that back just today, that there’s no intention to harm the U.S.-Philippines economic relationship or the presence of American businesses there. So even just in the wake of him saying it, his own spokesman walked that back.

So – and this is a pattern we’ve seen, so we’re not going to react and respond to every bit of rhetoric. We’re going to continue to work at this relationship. We’re going to continue to meet our obligations under the defense treaty. And as I said yesterday and I think I’ve said for several days now, that despite the rhetoric, we haven’t seen any policy traction behind it; in other words, there hasn’t been any change, tangible changes, to the policies and to the programs that both our nations are implementing and executing on a daily basis.

QUESTION: And even the context of the entire drugs war and the context of the rhetoric, there is no discussion, conversation within this building or between the White House and the State Department and the Pentagon to put on hold some part of the security cooperation between the two countries?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such discussions. And I’d obviously encourage you to talk to my colleagues at the Pentagon, but I’m not aware of any such discussions to change the nature of the military-to-military relationship or the security assistance that is being provided to the Philippines right now.


QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that with the Philippines. So I know that you said yesterday as far as Assistant Secretary Russel’s discussions that – that we’re going to be able to work through this period and continue to be able to meet our mutual requirements to one another. But Duterte is going to be in power for six years, so how does the State Department – like, how are they going to be able to keep going like this back and forth between what he says, and then oh no, he didn’t really mean that, and --

MR KIRBY: I never said oh no, he didn’t really mean that. What I’ve said is --

QUESTION: Oh no, I mean his – his counterparts.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I can’t – I can’t speak for President Duterte and I can’t speak for his cabinet officials. All I can, again, restate is that we’ve seen this rhetoric and then we’ve seen it walked back. And just today, just the one that Nic read to me, shortly thereafter his spokesman walked that exact statement back. So rather than – I guess the way I’d answer this question is we’re going to take the long view, okay? And the long view, in our mind, is a sustained, healthy, vibrant bilateral relationship with the people and the government of the Philippines. That’s what we’ve had for 70-some-odd years, and that’s what we expect to have for 70-plus more years in the future. And so that’s where our focus is on. We’re looking at the horizon. We’re looking long-term here. And --

QUESTION: It sounds like you’re saying you’re going to work around him for the next six years.

MR KIRBY: No, not at all. Not at all. What I’m saying is that he is – he’s the elected head of state, and we’ve got a treaty alliance with his nation, and we’re going to meet those requirements. And we’re going to continue to work at this bilateral relationship, and we’re going to respect that he’s the head of state; of course we are. And we’re going to work just as hard through his administration as we would – as we have in the past through previous ones. So that’s – that’s where our head space is right now, is on the – is on the – not just the long history in this relationship but what we expect will be a long future. Does that make sense?


QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?


QUESTION: Okay. So President Duterte is in Japan. Do you have any hopes or expectations that the discussions there will sort of bring him back into the fold of the alliance sort of temporarily?

MR KIRBY: He’s not outside the fold of the alliance.

QUESTION: That perhaps, like, the discussions there would sort of clarify that relationship and maybe temper his rhetoric?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – we don’t have any special expectations for his visit to Tokyo, and I would let the president and his staff speak for his trip and his agenda and what he intends to accomplish there. We didn’t lay expectations on that. As I just said, our expectations are that we’re going to continue to abide by this treaty alliance and by our relationship going forward. We are taking a long view here. And obviously, as the head of state, we would expect that he would travel in the region or throughout the world to meet – to meet with his neighbors or other nations. That’s certainly his right as president. So we obviously welcome these discussions, as we did when he went to Beijing, and we’ll see what comes out of it. But we didn’t lay expectations in advance of it. That wasn’t our goal at all.


QUESTION: If I could ask about Ethiopia. The communications minister has called the State Department’s Travel Advisory absolutely ridiculous, says everything is coming back to normal, and that the state of emergency there is comparable to the U.S. Patriot Act. I’m wondering if you could respond to his assessment of the Travel Advisory and the – whether you think the current conditions in Ethiopia perhaps need to be looked at again.

MR KIRBY: Well, we don’t – look, we don’t issue travel warnings lightly. And when we update them, we do so with great care, because we know people pay attention to them. We want people to pay attention to them. The whole reason we do that is to help inform American citizens about their presence or their travel in various parts of the world, and Ethiopia is no exception.

We have – you may have seen my statement on their declared state of emergency. We continue to be troubled by the impact of the government’s decision to authorize detention without warrant and to further limit freedom of expression, including by blocking internet access, prohibiting public gatherings, and imposing curfews. And this declaration, as I said in my statement, if implemented in these ways, would further enshrine the type of response that has failed to ameliorate the recent political crisis.

So again, this was an updated Travel Warning, but we felt in light of what their own state of emergency declared it was the prudent thing to do. And we do that with nations all over the world.

Yeah, Said.


MR KIRBY: Where?


MR KIRBY: Okay, sure.


MR KIRBY: Said is being a gentleman.

QUESTION: I appreciate that. Thank you. So the Turkish foreign minister said today that they could launch a ground operation in Iraq. You’ve talked a lot about how Turkey is a key NATO ally. How does the U.S. feel about that?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m a little reticent to talk about military operations here, but in this case what I’ll – what I would say is that, as we have made clear from the beginning of this fight against Daesh, that all military activity should be coordinated as part of the larger Iraqi effort to expel Daesh from their cities, their towns, their communities. And any nation’s participation in that effort we want to be done by, through, and with the Iraqi Government’s express permission and coordination.

QUESTION: So Turkey’s involvement without their express permission and coordination would complicate that effort?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to, again, speculate for what Turkey will or won’t do. But as I’ve again said many times, that any – we would – we believe that any effort outside, done in an uncoordinated fashion, is ultimately counterproductive to the overarching goal of defeating and degrading Daesh inside Iraq. We want all military activities to be coordinated and with the permission and approval of the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: All right. Just one more quick one on Iraq. Has State begun any discussions about the presence of U.S. forces after ISIS is pushed out of Mosul?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of such discussions. Again, we – our forces are there in a limited number and for a very express purpose; that is, to train, advise, and assist Iraqi Security Forces. And I’m not aware that there has been any discussion or decision made post the defeat of ISIS. Obviously, we’ll continue to consult and coordinate with the Iraqi Government going forward. We are there at their invitation and with their permission, and every decision that the President has made with respect to force levels has been done in very close consultation with Prime Minister Abadi before that decision has been reached, and certainly before it has been announced. I think that that’ll be the case going forward, whether the number goes up or goes down.

But the other thing I’d say to your question is there’s still a healthy, long fight ahead of us in terms of defeating Daesh inside Iraq. Mosul is obviously a key objective, and when it is taken – and it will be taken – it will be a major blow to the organization. But it doesn’t mean that they are – at that point the fight’s over and that – and it’s done. There’s still going to be work to be done in Iraq. And again, what the shape of that looks like going forward is really up to Prime Minister Abadi.


MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Just on the same Turkey-Iraq tensions, so it seems you’re saying that if any – any work by any outside country such as Turkey in Iraq is not coordinated with the Iraqi Government, it’s counterproductive to your fight against ISIS. I just wonder why isn’t the United State making – voicing a more forceful concern against Turkey to reverse what it has done. Because it seems that you just voice your concern and Turkey keeps doing and keeps staying in Iraq without the invitation or the consent of the Iraqi Government, and while you are explicitly saying that this is counterproductive to your fight against ISIS.

MR KIRBY: I said any uncoordinated military activity would be counterproductive. Your question assumes that they’ve taken this activity. And I don’t know that they have.

QUESTION: Well, the Iraqi Government says that they have.

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen what they’ve said. And as I’ve said I don’t know how many times before, we want Turkey and Iraq to work this out bilaterally and to have a discussion and a dialogue. And they have. And as I – we understand it, they continue to have that dialogue. Now, the degree to which they agree or disagree, I don’t know. That’s for officials in both countries to speak to. We’ve been very clear – we’ve been clear here publicly, right here in this briefing room, and we’ve been clear privately in discussions with many governments involved in this fight against Daesh about what the best way forward, from a military effectiveness perspective, is, and that is to work by, through, and with the Iraqi Government, to have things coordinated with the government in Baghdad. We’ve been nothing but clear about that.

And then you’re asking me to, again, speculate about Turkey’s intentions here, and I just can’t do that. I can tell you we’ve made it very clear what our position is directly to Turkish officials. We’ve certainly made it clear publicly many, many times. I don’t know how better to articulate that. But Turkish officials and Iraqi officials should, we continue to believe, should sit down and discuss this and have a meaningful dialogue towards the best and most effective way forward.

QUESTION: Well, it seems that Turkey’s paying no attention. But on another issue, the IDPs in Iraq. Now some cities, including Kirkuk, are apparently refusing to accept IDPs from Mosul. Are you concerned that these IDPs might have nowhere to go?

MR KIRBY: We have long been concerned about the issue of internally displaced persons in Iraq as a result of military operations, and well before the campaign to take back Mosul started, because we’ve seen internally displaced people throughout Iraq over the last couple of years. So it’s something that we have been in routine discussion with the Iraqi Government on. It’s something, as I said yesterday, USAID has been very, very focused on, in terms of additional assistance that we have provided to the Government of Iraq to deal with this. And we’ll continue to monitor that situation, and if there’s a need for additional assistance, even beyond what we’ve given, I’m sure we’ll consider that. But we are very focused on this. And we’re not the only ones. The international community is as well, and I can assure you Prime Minister Abadi is.

I can’t speak for individual communities and whether they’ve decided to or not to accept people that are trying to flee the danger. But I think, look, every Iraqi citizen has a stake in the future of their country, and the future of their country right now is very much dependent on the effort to degrade and defeat Daesh inside Iraq. And so this is something that, at least from the U.S. perspective, we’re going to continue to stay lashed up with Prime Minister Abadi on.

Okay. Said’s been very patient. Go ahead.

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


QUESTION: Okay. The Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman gave an interview to a Palestinian newspaper in which he reiterated his positions that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace, that they should not be dismantled in any way, none of them, that he wants to maintain a military presence all over the West Bank, especially in the Jordan Valley, that he wants to have Hamas completely disarmed before lifting the siege and so on. And I wonder if you have any comments on that, because it was quite belligerent and, in fact, paints a very bleak road ahead for any kind of negotiated settlement.

MR KIRBY: Well, there’s an awful lot there. And as I’ve said --

QUESTION: Well, he said a great deal.

MR KIRBY: I know. I understand that. And I’m loath to react to every comment made, as I’ve said before. But look, our position on settlements hasn’t changed. It’s not just our position – look at the Quartet report – that the further pursuit of settlements is not at all a productive way forward to getting to a two-state solution. The Quartet report lays that out very clearly.

On Hamas, we consider them to be a foreign terrorist organization. We --

QUESTION: A foreign terrorist organization? Hamas is a foreign terrorist --

MR KIRBY: We consider Hamas to be a foreign terrorist organization.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, all right. Have they --

MR KIRBY: So I mean, our position hasn’t changed --

QUESTION: -- ever conducted attacks on the United States of America in any way?

MR KIRBY: Look, we consider them to be --

QUESTION: Hamas operates within Gaza.

MR KIRBY: We consider them to be a foreign terror organization, Said. And so I’m not going to respond to every bit of rhetoric, but on our position on these issues hasn’t changed. And what we continue to want to see is leadership on all sides there in the region to take the affirmative steps that are needed to get to a two-state solution, which we believe is still possible.

QUESTION: Now, speaking to the leadership on both sides, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator, has an op-ed piece today in The Washington Post in which he’s saying that your position – I mean, he gives a phrase, when you condemn the settlements. But he basically called it recycled positions lacking any genuine action on the ground. Do you have any response to that?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the op-ed piece. Again, our position on settlements, as you know, is longstanding and clear. And with regard to the future, at this point – and I think we’ve said this before too – we continue to work with the international community to try and advance our shared goal of achieving a negotiated two-state solution, which we believe is the only way to a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace.

QUESTION: Can you point to the Palestinian negotiator that, in fact, your position on settlement did have an effect on the – on Israeli actions and activities?

MR KIRBY: Can I – I’m sorry, can I point --

QUESTION: Can you show the Palestinian negotiator that, in fact, he’s wrong, and that your positions on the settlement did have an impact on Israel’s behavior?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think what matters is that our position has been steady and that it hasn’t changed. And what really is going to matter in terms of changes in behavior is the leadership there. And that’s what we need to see, is leadership there. And that’s why the Secretary’s going to continue to work at this for the remainder of the time that he’s in office.

QUESTION: Speaking of settlements – this happened last week, I don’t – I’m not sure if you’re aware of it, but there was an incident in which four Palestinians were invited to a settlement, a religious celebration in a settlement. They met with some of the leaders of this community and then when they left, they were then arrested by the Palestinians for consorting with the enemy or some such kind of thing. Do you – were you aware of that? And if you are, do you have anything to say about it?

MR KIRBY: We are aware of it. I think we’re still looking into the exact details of it. But in general, we certainly encourage any efforts to promote people-to-people dialogue and understanding, and we’re deeply concerned by any efforts to intimidate individuals who participate in those kinds of activities.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV. Sir, yesterday we have seen your statement about the terrorist attack at the police cadet training center in Quetta, Pakistan. Sir, whenever this happens, the accusations go towards India; whenever such thing happens in India, accusations are on Pakistan; something happens in Pakistan, accusations go to Afghanistan. So we have seen this blame game since long. Sir, every country claimed that it bring the peace to their region, but so far nothing is working out. So what are your suggestions, sir, to the countries of that region? What should they do? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: What are my suggestions for the region? Look, first of all, as I said at the top, our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who were affected by this. And remember that many of the victims were police cadets, young people who were training and learning to defend their fellow citizens. So obviously this is a cowardly, lethal, horrific attack. And sadly, it’s not the first time that the people of Pakistan have fallen victim to terrorism. Many soldiers have died, many civilians have died. This isn’t some theoretical exercise for the Pakistani people; it’s right there. Not in their backyard, in their front yard.

And so we remain committing – committed, I’m sorry, to supporting the Government of Pakistan in its efforts to end the scourge of terrorism and violent extremism and to promote peace and stability. And it is a regional issue. So the shortest way to answer your question is we’re going to continue to work with regional countries, regional partners, to deal with this because it is a common threat to everybody. And it requires common, comprehensive, collaborative solutions. And that’s what we’re going to continue to seek.

QUESTION: Sir, secondly it’s about a Pakistani family in Islamabad awaiting a U.S. visa for their ailing little girl, Maria, six years old, running out of time to get her to treatment. She has some rare disease and a U.S. hospital has offered free surgery that could help her, but the American embassy in Islamabad has so far twice – they refused to give the family visas. Sir, have you any idea about what’s really going on about this? And can she get the visa? Because the surgery date is November 2.

MR KIRBY: Look, I’ve seen reports that the visas have been approved for the family, but visa – but to be clear, visa records are confidential by U.S. law and so I’m unable to comment on the specifics of any individual visa case.


MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) a planned sit-in Pakistan – sit-in protests by Pakistani political party Tehreek-e-Insaf in front of Parliament House Islamabad. The protests seek the resignation of Prime Minister Sharif resignation, and U.S. has always, always supported democratic system in anywhere. So how much concerns U.S. has if something happens, like a military interaction and like General Musharraf did – General Musharraf did in 1999?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speculate here and hypothesize about those sorts of outcomes. We support the democratically elected Government of Pakistan. We also support the peaceful right of protest. But this is an internal matter for the Pakistani Government and Pakistani authorities to speak to.

QUESTION: So final question is regarding Afghanistan. There is three leaders from Taliban Qatar office arrived in Pakistan to discuss the arrest of several Taliban leaders in Pakistan, including Mullah Nanai, who served as intelligence chief under Mullah Mansour.

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I mean, we – hang on a second. So on this one I’d refer you to the Government of Pakistan specifically for this issue. We’ve seen some press reporting on it, but look, our view on this hasn’t changed. We believe that Pakistan can directly contribute to regional stability by acting against militants on Pakistani soil who seek to attack its neighbors.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: I’ve got time for just a couple more. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a quick question related to some of the WikiLeaks fallout over the last week. Just specifically, can you tell us during Secretary Clinton’s tenure here at State that the Government of Morocco was not provided with any special treatment or gifts, monetary or otherwise, any kind of special aid?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for every action or decision made during that time frame. What I can tell you is that you can go on our budget, and the aid and assistance that we give countries is all a matter of public record. You can go on and look at the budget and the – and what sort of aid and assistance Morocco gets. It’s all there for the public. But I don’t have – with respect to these documents, I’m not going to speak to the veracity of leaked documents, number one. And two, I just don’t think that that would be a productive discussion to have.

So, kay.

QUESTION: Oh wait. No, no. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Wait, before you go into your final two or three, we’ll go to Abbie.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on reports of a U.S. citizen, Robin Shahini, being sentenced to 18 years in Iran?

QUESTION: That was mine.

MR KIRBY: Oh, all right.

QUESTION: So there you go. Number one.

MR KIRBY: We are troubled by reports that Robin or Reza Shahini, a person reported to be a U.S. citizen, may have been convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison. We reaffirm our calls on Iran to respect and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, cease arbitrary and politically motivated detentions, and ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings in all criminal prosecutions consistent with its laws and its international obligations.

QUESTION: So can I follow up on that?


QUESTION: This keeps happening over and over and over – over again. I’m presuming that the Secretary is still taking the opportunity, whenever he speaks to Foreign Minister Zarif, to raise cases of detained and missing Americans in Iran. Is that true? Is my presumption correct?


QUESTION: So has it crossed any – has it – excuse me. Has it yet – I realize that you guys are insistent and make a case, make an argument, that the sequencing of what happened in terms – in January and the release of the U.S. prisoners and the return of the money to Iran, that that money was not a ransom. But given the fact that this keeps happening – American or Iranian Americans keep being arrested and keep being convicted in Iran, has it occurred to anyone here that despite your best efforts to convince the Iranians and the rest of the world that these payments weren’t ransom, that in fact, they regard them as ransom, and they have had the effect – or the payments have had the effect of this kind of thing continuing to happen?

MR KIRBY: Matt, I can’t possibly get into the head – heads of Iranian officials. I can’t speak to their motivations on this. What I can say, again, is that we do not pay ransom. We don’t pay ransom. We didn’t then, we don’t now, we’re not going to change that policy going forward. And we’re going to continue to raise our concerns with Iranian officials about the detained citizens there. That’s not going to stop. We’re also going to continue to call on Iran to respect and protect human rights and to ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings. I would remind you that we continue to maintain sanctions related to Iran’s human rights abuses. We continue to support the annual UN General Assembly resolution and the mandate for the UN special rapporteur --


MR KIRBY: -- on human rights in Iran – let me finish. And we address human rights violations and abuses in the international religious freedom, human rights, and trafficking in persons reports.

So nobody’s turning a blind eye here, but what may be behind this, I don’t think any of us know with certainty.

QUESTION: Right, but are you at least able to conceive of the idea that an Iranian perception – if in fact, there is one, but that – a perception in Iran that they successfully took and held Americans, then released them, and at the same time received millions and millions and millions of dollars in cash – that the perception – their perception of that being perhaps ransom is contributing to what is the continued arrest and conviction of American citizens in their country?

MR KIRBY: I would say, again, I can’t speak to the motivation behind these detentions, but if there’s a perception out there if one of the motivations were to secure ransom, it is a false perception. It is wrong. It is – we are not going to – we haven’t changed our policy, we’re not going to change it forward. So if somebody in Iran thinks that that’s what’s behind this or that that’s what makes for good decisions, they are patently wrong.

QUESTION: Well, John, there’s also a report that Iran wants a $4 million ransom in exchange for Nazar Zaka. This is the Lebanese citizen and permanent resident of the United States that, by the way, was on a job as a U.S. contractor when he was taken.

MR KIRBY: I think we’ve already spoken to his – to this particular case, but --

QUESTION: No, I know you’ve spoken about the case, but the Iranians now want $4 million for his release.

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that.

QUESTION: So it just goes to Matt’s point that --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that report.

QUESTION: -- they see these Americans as cash cows and it’s only likely to continue.

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that report, but again, I go back to what I said: If there is – if the motivation is driven by, quote/unquote, “ransom,” it’s a false motivation.

QUESTION: Are you looking to strengthen your travel warnings? I mean, I know that there’s already travel warnings out for Americans traveling.

MR KIRBY: The travel warnings are already pretty starkly written with respect to Iran.

QUESTION: Well, is there anything – do you have any – they keep seizing these Americans. Is there anything you can do --

MR KIRBY: I think we’ve been nothing but honest with the American people about the risks of travel to Iran.

Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: You say, though, that this is false motivation, but anyone – whatever the motivation is, it’s their motivation. It’s not yours to say that it’s incorrect.

MR KIRBY: Which is why I said I couldn’t speak to their motivation, Matt, but that doesn’t mean that --

QUESTION: I know, but you only say that if someone --

MR KIRBY: But I’m – let me disabuse anybody in Iran that thinks that if the reason for --

QUESTION: Yes, please do.

MR KIRBY: -- detaining American citizens is to achieve a ransom; I want to disabuse them of that notion – that that is not --

QUESTION: So they’re not going to get any more – there are no more prisoner swaps that are going to involve money?

MR KIRBY: We’re – we are always working to obtain the release of Americans detained unjustly in Iran. I’m not going to speak to our efforts in that regard, but we do not pay ransom, and that policy’s not going to change.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thank you.

QUESTION: How many Americans are there? Do you know?

MR KIRBY: I am not at liberty to discuss that. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:16 p.m.)

DPB # 182

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Mon, 10/24/2016 - 18:23

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

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:19 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody.


MR KIRBY: What’s so funny? (Laughter.)

Just a couple things at the top related to the Philippines. I want to let you know that the Secretary did call Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Perfecto Yasay, on the 23rd to consult on bilateral and regional matters of mutual concern as we do regularly with our Philippine allies. The two foreign ministers discussed recent challenges affecting the relationship and noted that the strong and stable relations that we have enjoyed are important for sustaining our rich people-to-people ties and our enduring security and economic interests. The Secretary also discussed the benefits of increased cooperation between our two governments to improve mutual security, promote prosperity, and to uphold our shared democratic values.

I think as you also know, Assistant Secretary Russel arrived in Manila on Saturday on the 22nd, and he will depart Manila tomorrow – tomorrow morning their time. Yesterday, he had lunch with young Southeast Asian leaders in – that are part of the Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative and a productive dinner with the secretary of finance, Carlos Dominguez. Today, he held a constructive set of meetings with government officials, including Secretary of Foreign Affairs Yasay and the Secretary of National Defense Lorenzana. Secretary Kerry also called – as I said, he also called the foreign secretary.

In all of these engagements, which I’ll emphasize were part of our regular interactions with our Philippine allies, officials discussed again recent challenges affecting the relationship. These discussions noted that strong and stable relations are important for sustaining this – the strong ties that we have and our enduring shared security, economic, political, and social ties.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, let’s start there, then, with the Philippines. When you talk about recent challenges to the relationship, what are you talking about?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s self-evident, Matt, that some of the --

QUESTION: It is? Well, why didn’t you say what they were?

MR KIRBY: Because I thought they were self-evident.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR KIRBY: I mean – look, I mean, obviously – and Danny was very, I think, candid about this, about the uncomfortable rhetoric that we continue to hear coming out of leaders in the Philippines and the confusion that that is causing. In fact, I think the word Danny used was “consternation.” I think that’s – again, I think that was self-evident.

QUESTION: Okay. So the recent challenges, then, are entire – what you’re referring to is Duterte’s statements and nothing else?

MR KIRBY: The change in tone in rhetoric coming out of the Philippines, not to mention, I mean, the normal, everyday challenges that we face in that part of the world and the tensions in particular in the East Asia Pacific region, but I think I was specifically referring to the rhetoric.

QUESTION: Right. So did – and did either the Secretary or Assistant Secretary Russel come away from their conversations with any sense that the recent challenges can be overcome?

MR KIRBY: I think they both came away from the discussions realizing that the relationship remains stable and solid, and that we obviously are both going to have to work to sustain it and to keep it going. But they both came away from their discussions feeling that we were going to be able to work through this period and to continue to be able to meet our mutual requirements to one another. Certainly, from a U.S. perspective, both Assistant Secretary Russel and the Secretary made it very clear that we have every intention of continuing to meet all our security commitments in the Mutual Defense Treaty.

QUESTION: Can you be specific in any way at all as to why they came away thinking that this would – you’d be able to work through these? I mean, were they told oh, don’t listen to him, that’s not the thrust of this thing?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to characterize their side of the conversation --

QUESTION: I understand that you don’t – yeah, but can --

MR KIRBY: -- but I can tell you that --

QUESTION: But what backs up your or their understanding coming away from these meetings that things aren’t as bad as they look to everybody else?

MR KIRBY: I think the tone and tenor of the discussions that they had and the assurances that the Philippine side gave to their commitment to keeping the relationship going was enough to lead the Secretary and the assistant secretary to believe that we’re going to be able to work through this. But make no mistakes – make no mistake that both the assistant secretary and Secretary Kerry made it clear that we’re concerned about this, about the rhetoric, that it is causing confusion and consternation, and that we did not find it necessarily helpful to the relationship writ large. But again, without speaking to what was said on the other end of the phone or at the other side of the table, I can just tell you that both of them came away feeling that these were useful discussions.

QUESTION: The reason I’m pushing so hard on this is that because when we were there shortly after his election, both the Secretary and Assistant Secretary Russel were – had sit-down meetings in Manila with these officials, to include the president --


QUESTION: -- and came away thinking that everything was running on course and that there wouldn't be any problems, and then kind of blew up in their faces. So what are they hearing now that convinces them that --

MR KIRBY: Well, I think I just – I don’t know that I can say it any better than I just did. I mean, there was a – again, a sense that we’re going to be able to work through this. But I also – I’m not – I don’t want you to come away from my answer thinking that I’m sugarcoating this in any way. Again, both Secretary Kerry and Assistant Secretary Russel made clear that we’re confused and concerned about the shift in tone and some of the things that have been said, that we do need to try to continue to work to get a better explanation of what’s behind all this and where it’s really going. But both of them also made clear that our commitment to the Philippines and to the people of the Philippines remains rock-solid and we’re going to move forward with that expectation in mind.

QUESTION: Did they request to meet with the president at all? Are you aware of that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such request. You mean President Obama?

QUESTION: No, with Duterte.

MR KIRBY: Did who request?


QUESTION: Russel and --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t if that was part of his agenda or not, but he didn’t.


QUESTION: Are you satisfied that there is not going to be a separation? I mean, because I think the intent was to go and clarify those specific comments (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, Danny’s still there. I’m not going to get ahead of final readouts of his meetings. I can tell you, as I said, we expressed our very strong commitment to the relationship and to moving it forward, and I would remind, as I said last week, there’s been no practical applications of those comments felt in the actual relationship. And I think you saw that President Duterte himself after saying that there would be a separation walked that back later on. So as you and I discuss here today, we still have a very strong relationship with the Philippines. We have every intention of working to keep it strong.

QUESTION: Was there any indication – sorry – that this rhetoric will be sort of curtailed in the future?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t know if they had a specific discussion about that. And again, I’d – I would point you to the Philippine side to talk about and to characterize their tone and tenor going forward. That’s really not for us to speak to, it’s for them to speak to.

QUESTION: Kirby, was it necessary for the Secretary and for Danny Russel to talk and to go there because they were afraid that – I mean, can you spell out what the concerns were about this rhetoric? That it would actually be made – that they would move from just rhetoric into action? You wanted to prevent that?

MR KIRBY: Well, so – couple of things. First of all, Danny – this trip was long scheduled, months in planning. It was not a reaction to recent events and recent comments by leaders in the Philippine Government. This was a trip that he’d been long been planning to make. Obviously, recent events certainly shaped the context of the discussions. But the Secretary’s call was very much timed to – because of recent events and recent comments.

QUESTION: Well, has there been any application made by – has the Philippines actually made an application to start withdrawing those military ties?

MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Not that you’re aware of.

MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of. As I said I think just a few minutes ago, I mean, we’ve not seen any practical application of these comments actually bearing fruit in terms of physical, tangible changes in the relationship.

QUESTION: But you figured that it had gone on long enough to really be concerned? Because initially you were – you just kept repeating that you were allies, and you seemed to kind of think that this was something that might blow over, but it hasn’t.

MR KIRBY: Well, I tried to address that on Friday, I mean, at the briefing. In fact, I led the briefing with this because the comments about separation obviously were significant comments and we paid attention to that. And so I spoke to this on Friday, that they – that those kinds of comments were certainly giving us pause for concern and some measure of confusion about where things were going and that Danny was going to take advantage of this preplanned trip to try to get a better understanding of what it meant.

Now, since the comments were made about separation, as you saw, President Duterte sort of clarified. But that doesn’t that it wasn’t still incumbent upon Danny in his conversations to raise our concerns, and he did, as did Secretary Kerry. But the relationship remains strong and close. It’s our intention across the board as a government, not just here at the State Department, to keep that alliance strong and that relationship strong whether it’s through people-to-people ties or military-to-military ties, and we’re going to – and government-to-government communications, and we’re going to do that. And we’ve seen nothing on their side that would tell us that – other than the comments – we’ve seen no practical application of the comments that would tell us that the Philippine Government is moving away from that right now. But we’re going to stay in close touch, obviously, going forward.


QUESTION: Can we stay in Asia?


QUESTION: North Korea. What could you tell us about this so-called track two, unofficial talks who were held in Malaysia over the weekend between North Korean officials and former U.S. officials?

MR KIRBY: The track two meetings, I think you know, are routinely held on a variety of topics. They’re held around the world. They occur independent of the United States Government and the government’s involvement, and we don’t speak about the details of these private conversations. They’re not government-sponsored and there’s no government representation at them, so I’m really not at liberty to discuss the conversations in any more detail.

QUESTION: So you just said that it happens independent of U.S. Government. Does it mean that the two former U.S. officials who led the talks will not report to the U.S. Government?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of a readout. I can check on that. Whether we – how and to what degree we’re informed, I’ll check on that. That doesn’t – but being informed of the discussions doesn’t speak to U.S. Government involvement in them. So I’ll check on that. I’m not aware that we have any readouts, and even if we did, I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that we would share publicly. But these are – this is not – these are not – this isn’t a new idea. These track two discussions do happen on a fairly routine basis.


QUESTION: Follow-up. Why didn’t informal dialogue in confidence?

MR KIRBY: Because, as I said, there’s no U.S. Government involvement here. This is done by private citizens, and it’s – typically they discuss a range of issues. But the United States Government isn’t sponsoring them. We’re not – there’s no government involvement in it. So it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to get up here and read them out.

QUESTION: Yesterday Chinese Government remarked that there was progress in talks. Has there been any progress in detail?

MR KIRBY: Any progress in what?

QUESTION: Details.

MR KIRBY: In what?


MR KIRBY: In detail? I’m not – again, if the comment made by the Chinese is about track two discussions, I’m not going to get into that. What I can tell you is – and what we said before – is that we remain open to dialogue with the DPRK with the aim of returning to credible and authentic negotiations about the denuclearization of the peninsula. But as we’ve also said, the onus is on the North to prove that they’re able, willing, and ready to join in those discussions through the Six-Party process, and they have not.

QUESTION: Why – how Chinese Government knew that, but this is informal talks between U.S. and North Korea? But why Chinese involve this that they knew the details about?

MR KIRBY: Your question assumes that that’s what they’re referring to, that they’re reading out these discussions. I don’t know that that’s true. And even if it is true, you’d have to talk to the Chinese about that, not me.

QUESTION: What will be the official dialogue in the new – the administration’s progress for going forward?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: If a new president in United States --

MR KIRBY: Well, there will be a new president.

QUESTION: Yeah, will be.


QUESTION: Yes, will be. Is going forward, this issue? I mean --

MR KIRBY: Will the new president move forward with --


MR KIRBY: I have no idea. I --

QUESTION: Well, because --

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

QUESTION: This is unofficial dialogue, but --

MR KIRBY: The track two stuff is unofficial.


MR KIRBY: It’s private citizens, and they talk about a range of issues, and there – as I said, there’s – they do this independent of any U.S. Government involvement. That’s why I’m not going to talk about the discussions. If your question is will track two kinds of discussions continue under a new administration, that’s for the new administration to speak to. I simply couldn’t answer that.

QUESTION: But the North Korean representative is official members their government, as I know, but this is civilian, but the Gallucci, former in the embassy, the Gallucci, those are civilian. But looks like, seems like that North Korea is planning to next step to going to officials.

MR KIRBY: I think you have to call Pyongyang about that. I can’t possibly know the answer to that question and I can’t speak to DPRK representation at these discussions. I can only tell you what they are from our perspective.



MR KIRBY: Syria? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry has talked to Foreign Minister Lavrov today. Any details?

MR KIRBY: He did speak to the foreign minister today, and they did talk about the situation in Aleppo. And the Secretary expressed his concern about the renewal of airstrikes and ground attacks on Aleppo by the regime and by Russia. They talked about the importance of the continued multilateral discussions in Geneva and how to try to continue to find a way to get a meaningful cessation of hostilities.

QUESTION: And any update from the --

MR KIRBY: And the delivery of humanitarian aid and assistance to the desperate people of Aleppo, which by the way, even throughout these temporary pauses over the last several days, has yet to happen.

QUESTION: Any update on the talks in Geneva? Any progress?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything additional to read out to you. They are ongoing.

QUESTION: And the Security Council, will discuss this afternoon a new resolution on the situation in Aleppo. Are you aware of that, and do you expect any resolution?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have – I’d have to point you to the UN to speak to that. I don’t have an update or additional information about any discussions up there in New York.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: On Syria? Your tweet yesterday --

MR KIRBY: So you noticed? Somebody’s reading them.

QUESTION: It was very widely reported in the Kurdish press, so people really did see it.

MR KIRBY: I’m glad. I’m glad. I don’t think Matt looked at it, though.


MR KIRBY: See? “Huh?” (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I was watching a football game yesterday, not --

MR KIRBY: I can tweet and watch football at the same time.


QUESTION: So you tweeted about the civilian casualties and air – and our – civilian casualties and air and artillery strikes in northern Syria causing concern. And could you provide further details on that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that I have additional tactical details if that’s what you mean. I mean, obviously we’re always concerned about reports of civilian casualties and the damage to civilian infrastructure as a result of military activity, particularly if that military activity is uncoordinated with other military – coalition efforts to go after Daesh.

QUESTION: These were Turkish air and artillery strikes that caused the casualties you’re talking about?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen reports of it being from Turkey. I’d let the Turkish military speak to their operations. What I was referring to was the reports of civilian casualties and damage, and that was obviously of concern to us.

QUESTION: Have you seen more today or you think you --

MR KIRBY: I would just – anyway, I just did this last night. I would say we’re continuing to watch it as closely as we can and we continue to be concerned about it – particularly, as I said last week several times, uncoordinated activity in this particular area is counterproductive to what should be our joint efforts, and that’s to go after Daesh. And that’s what we want to see everybody as part of the coalition effort do.

QUESTION: Yeah, on that subject, going after Daesh, could you – on the Kurds in Iraq – could you give us a readout on Brett McGurk’s meetings with President Barzani and other KRG officials that he’s had over the weekend?

MR KIRBY: So Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk arrived in Erbil on Friday for a series of meetings with senior officials from the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and Nineveh provincial leadership, and to receive a firsthand update on the Mosul operation and to discuss next steps. He met with IKR President Barzani on Saturday in a bilateral meeting and then he joined Secretary Carter’s meeting on Sunday. In his meeting with President Barzani, Brett noted that the progress in the campaign to date – he – I’m sorry, he noted the progress in the campaign to date and he praised the extensive cooperation between Iraqi Security Forces and the Peshmerga in liberating numerous villages since the operation began. And they obviously discussed the way ahead for the Mosul campaign.

On Sunday, Special Envoy McGurk met with the Nineveh Governor Agoob, where they focused heavily on the humanitarian and the stabilization aspects of the campaign, especially returning life back to the streets of Mosul once that city is liberated. He emphasized that the coalition will support the governor and the provincial council of Nineveh Province as they work together to stabilize and rebuild Nineveh going forward. He also highlighted that working with the local authorities, the Government of Iraq, and the UN, the training that is ongoing to clear landmines left by Daesh in homes and streets, and also to ensure that equipment and supplies are prepositioned to return electricity and water to the city as soon as possible.

So again, pretty constructive and extensive meetings over the last couple of days over the weekend. In every one of those meetings he emphasized that there’s still a lot of work to do to defeat Daesh in Iraq. These have – the progress is notable, and it’s important, but it’s not enough until we actually kick them out of Mosul and then make sure we have in place proper humanitarian and stabilization efforts. He did reiterate that the United States and the coalition will continue to provide support to Iraq as we work together to defeat this common enemy, and to the Iraqi people as they work to rebuild the communities once they’re liberated.

QUESTION: Both Kurdish and UN officials have said there’s a problem with humanitarian aid. Is that an issue that came up and that the U.S. is --

MR KIRBY: I just mentioned the fact that they did, in fact, talk about the need for proper humanitarian assistance. And I think you’ve probably seen information that we’ve put out about USAID and the contributions that we’re making on behalf of the United States Government to provide for humanitarian assistance. This was – as I said I think a week ago, this is not something that we weren’t already thinking of well in advance of the Mosul campaign, that there would be internally displaced people – people in need of humanitarian assistance, and that we continue to work with the Iraqi Government to make sure that those types of facilities and that kind of assistance is available to them.

But absolutely, Brett spoke about that with Iraqi leaders, yeah. And again, this is not something that we hadn’t already been talking to them for quite some time.

QUESTION: A Turkish delegation is coming to town this week to discuss the extradition of Mr. Gulen. Do you expect any breakthrough in this regard?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any update for you on that and that’s not a matter for the State Department in any event, so I don’t have anything for you on that.


QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria and Syrian talks? So do you feel like there is – I mean, you’ve said that they continue to talk, but has there been any progress, do you feel, or do you think it’s kind of still stuck?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s safe to say that there’s still work to be done in Geneva to close some of the gaps and seams. It is a multilateral discussion. It’s not just the U.S. and Russia.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) U.S. talks at the moment.

MR KIRBY: Well, other regional players are represented. I think I’ll let them speak for their participation. Obviously, the Russians are represented and so are we, but there are other regional partners and powers represented in Geneva. But I think it’s safe to say that we’re not there yet. I mean, if we were, we would have – we’d have an agreement coming out of there in terms of a cessation of hostilities, and we don’t here on Monday the 24th of October. So we’re going to keep at it.

QUESTION: Is Iran there?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m going to let individual nations speak to their participation.


QUESTION: China? So last Friday, a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed near Xisha Island, and also U.S. authority recently said they supported direct dialogue and negotiation between the Philippines and China. So – and the other saying is they will love to see the improvement of the relationship between the Philippines and China. So was the saying from U.S. Government contradicted with what they have done in Xisha Island?

MR KIRBY: The Paracel Islands, is that what you’re referring to?


MR KIRBY: And is your question that the ship --

QUESTION: The question? So --

MR KIRBY: -- sailing near the Paracels is somehow --


MR KIRBY: -- contradictory to what we said last week about China and the Philippines having a bilateral relationship?

QUESTION: So – yes, because recently, including Daniel Russel, he said he supported the improvement of relationship between the Philippines and China --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- and support their direct dialogue and negotiation between those two countries. However, last Friday, we saw the U.S. Navy destroyer sail into Xisha Island. I mean, was the saying this contradicted with what the U.S. have done in Xisha Island?

MR KIRBY: No, absolutely not, absolutely not. As I said last week, we welcome an improved bilateral relationship between the Philippines and China. And we’ve said all along that we’re not going to take a position on these disputed maritime claims. We want them resolved through peaceful dialogue, international law, and of course, bilateral discussions. So we welcome that – those kinds of discussions.

And I won’t speak for naval operations, but I think my Pentagon colleagues did talk about this last week, that they did have a U.S. Navy destroyer conduct what we call freedom of navigation operations in international waters, which is exactly one of the reasons you have a navy. And I think, as Secretary Carter has said eloquently and many times, that the United States military will fly, sail, and operate in international waters as appropriate, and that that particular passage of that particular ship was totally in keeping with that not just mandate, but requirement.

QUESTION: The second one: Deputy Secretary of State Blinken will travel to Beijing on October 29th to meet with Executive Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui on continuing discussion, including maritime issues. Could you share more information about that discussion? Will South China Sea issue will be discussed?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of a meeting that hasn’t happened yet, but you’re right, the deputy secretary is heading over and he’s very much looking forward to his stop in Beijing. And I think as has been the case in virtually every discussion that we’ve had with Chinese leaders of late, of course tensions in the South China Sea will come up. I have no question at all that that will be discussed, but it won’t be the only thing discussed. I mean, there is – our bilateral relationship with China is deep and it’s expansive and there are plenty of issues to speak about. But yes, I can assure you that that will be one of the topics discussed.


QUESTION: Can I move to Venezuela? The opposition-controlled congress yesterday declared that President Maduro’s actions are – recent actions – tantamount to a coup and they plan to put him on trial. Does the United States agree with that assessment that the president has effectively been – has carried out a coup and --

MR KIRBY: Well, I think I’m going to refrain from reacting to, again, every bit of rhetoric. What I can tell you is – and we talked about this, I think, a little bit last week, although not this specific issue – that we remain, obviously, very concerned by the political, economic, and humanitarian situation in Venezuela. We joined with countries in the region on the 21st of this month to call on the Venezuelan Government to engage in actions – I’m sorry, in serious dialogue that leads to peaceful solutions to the challenges facing the Venezuelan people.

And now is the time, in our view, to listen to all Venezuelan voices and to work together to find solutions, and that’s what we’re focused on. We’ve seen the comments, but again, our larger concerns are ones we’re going to continue to voice.


QUESTION: The rise in tensions between Turkey and Iraq. After --

MR KIRBY: Between Turkey and?



QUESTION: After Secretary Carter’s visit both Iraq and Syria, what’s the status of the – with tensions? Do you see a potential ultimate agreement?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’d let – I think I’d let each side speak for themselves in terms of where they see the tensions. What’s been important is that there has been dialogue and we’ve said all along, many months ago when tensions over a Turkish military footprint came up, that we wanted to see Turkey and Iraq talk through this and work through this bilaterally.

QUESTION: But did Secretary Carter ease any rise in tensions between them in this visit in particular?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to Secretary Carter and his staff. I don’t do a good job speaking for the Defense Department anymore, so you’d have to talk to them about that.

All right?

QUESTION: Oh, no. I got – they’re very brief.


QUESTION: But there’s three – there are three different subjects. (Laughter.) I guarantee they’ll be brief. One, on Yemen, the Secretary seemed to hint last week in one of his events that there might be another kind of broad meeting coming up soon to talk about the situation in Yemen? Is anything happening with that, or did I mishear or misunderstand something that you said?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that – I don’t know that you misunderstood. I can go back and look and see what he said. Obviously, we continue to watch the situation there very closely. I don’t have any additional meetings to read out or to announce.

QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, on Iran, two things. One, I don’t know if you saw the comments that President Rouhani made about the election here.

MR KIRBY: I did not.

QUESTION: He said that it was a choice between bad and worse, and asked Iranians if they wanted the kind of democracy that the United States has that has produced this current election. Do you have anything to say about that?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t. But back on – if I could, on Yemen, I do want to make a point. I know this wasn’t your question, but I do want to make a point that, again, we’re watching the situation very, very closely. We want to – we continue to urge all sides to abide by and extend the renewable 72-hour cessation of hostilities and to refrain from acts that will further escalate the situation in Yemen. This extension, we believe, will create the space necessary for progress toward a political settlement in Yemen. And we call upon all parties to renew and adhere to their publicly stated commitments. This cessation, if it’s given time to hold, will allow urgently needed humanitarian aid to be delivered to all Yemenis, including in difficult places like Taiz and Sa’dah. So I know that wasn’t what you asked, but I thought it was important to lay out there that we are watching this closely and want to see this cessation of hostilities renewed.

I’m sorry. And you had a third?

QUESTION: No, this is still part of my second. It also has to do with Iran.

MR KIRBY: So it’s question two, part c or part d?

QUESTION: Yeah. You got an issue with that?

MR KIRBY: No, no, no.

QUESTION: Yeah. I just wondered if you had seen --

MR KIRBY: They’re not quick, though. You said they were quick.

QUESTION: I’m going quickly. You’re the one who keeps making them longer.

Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif have been awarded the Chatham House Prize for concluding the Iran nuclear deal.


QUESTION: Do you have any comment about that?

MR KIRBY: Well , the – yes, they have been. And as you know, after almost two years of negotiation we were able to conclude this Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran. The Secretary is grateful for being selected to – for this prize, and I think he’d be the first to tell you that it was very much a team effort, a team effort internationally with the other members of the P5+1 as well as the EU – the EU is one of the five – and then inside the interagency a real team effort, particularly with the Secretary of Energy. So lots of hard work all the way around. And again, I think the Secretary would be the first to say that it absolutely was a team approach.

QUESTION: Right. But I was getting more to the – my question is more about whether it’s – does the Secretary think that it is appropriate now at this stage, where the deal is still being implemented, where there’s still complaints that from the Iranian side that it hasn’t been implemented, and still criticism in the United States that you guys – that you gave away so – too much for too little, that whether that it’s – the timing of such an – this award is appropriate.

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, neither the Secretary nor Foreign Minister Zarif had any control over the timing of it. And --

QUESTION: No, I know. I’m not saying that they did.

MR KIRBY: And I think --

QUESTION: I’m just wondering if he’s – if he’s comfortable accepting this award given where we are with the --

MR KIRBY: I think he’s comfortable accepting it on behalf of the whole team that was involved in it, and I think the Secretary would take issue with the continued criticism about the fact – about the degree to which the deal makes the region and the United States safer – he believes it does; about the degree to which Iran is complying with their commitments – thus far they have been and so have we; and that while the relationship with Iran is far from perfect and they still continue to be a state sponsor of terrorism and conduct provocative and destabilizing activities in the region, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the deal itself removes one significant destabilizer in the region, which would be an Iran with nuclear weapons. So look, the Secretary wasn’t seeking this award. He’s grateful and thankful that he’s been selected for it.

More critically, he will accept it on behalf of everybody who worked on this in the United States Government. And number two, he’s much more focused on making sure that we continue to meet our commitments to the deal going forward because he earnestly believes that the JCPOA does make the region safer and does make the American people safer.

QUESTION: And then the third issue is Egypt, and I had asked last week when Mark was up there about this American citizen, Aya Hijazi, who’s been held now for 900 days, I believe. Mark, when he spoke to my question, called for due process and a speedy trial, but – and my response to him was that it’s been 900 days, it doesn’t seem so speedy; why aren’t you calling for her immediate release? Is that something that you would care to revisit?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would say, one, we certainly remain very, very concerned about Aya Hijazi’s continued detention in Egypt. As you rightly pointed out, more than two years after she was first arrested she has neither been convicted nor set free. And while we have repeatedly called, I think as Mark alluded to, an appropriate judicial process, we believe the case has been delayed way too long, and so we join in others – we join others in calling for a prompt resolution to her case and for her immediate release. I’d also note that we’re providing all consular – all possible consular assistance to Ms. Hijazi. We meet with her frequently. The most recent visit was on the 11th of October, where we attended her last court hearing, and we have every intention of attending upcoming hearings as well.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, so can you – do you know – how long have you been telling the Egyptians that she should be released immediately and that they should stop the – what you seem to say is a pretense of – you seem to say the – you say the delay in her legal hearings are – is not good and it’s --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- unacceptable. So when did that – when did you reach the determination that --

MR KIRBY: I think we’ve been from the outset conveying our concerns about the appropriate judicial process in her case. And I don’t have a date certain to tell you when on the calendar we said okay, well, the delay now has gone on too long. We – from the very beginning we’ve expressed concern to Egyptian authorities about her case and continue to do that as the delays have continued to mount up.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:56 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - October 21, 2016

Fri, 10/21/2016 - 17:25

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 21, 2016

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2:13 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.


MR KIRBY: Just a real quick note at the top here, a scheduling item. The Secretary is going to be traveling next week to Chicago on the 26th. He’ll deliver remarks at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics. At the Chicago Council, the Secretary will discuss the United States’ current international objectives and role in the world moving forward. At the University of Chicago, the Secretary will sit down with some students for a conversation to reflect on his time as Secretary of State, his long career in public service, the role of the United States in an increasingly complicated world, and obviously, what comes next for the rest of this Administration and beyond.

So we look forward to that. Some of those events are open press. We’ll give you all the details if you need it as we get a little closer.


QUESTION: Right. Let’s start with some comments the Secretary made this morning which have attracted some interest, unusually brought up during a meeting with the Kuwaiti foreign minister, but they’re about North Korea. And I wanted to know what the Secretary meant when he spoke of the illegal and illegitimate Government of North Korea. Is this some kind of hint or signal that the U.S. position towards North Korea is getting harder, sharper?

MR KIRBY: I think our position on North Korea has been sufficiently tough for a long, long time. I don’t think I would read into what he said as signaling any kind of a change. We’ve been pretty clear and pretty specific about the unlawful activities of the regime on many different levels. So I wouldn’t read more into it than that. But I also wouldn’t read less into it either. I mean, we have obviously been very concerned about regime provocative activities and the destabilizing influence that they have on the peninsula.

QUESTION: Well, but that’s not what – quite what he said. He didn’t say the acts – the illegal and illegitimate acts of the North Korean Government. He said the illegal and illegitimate Government of North Korea. Does the U.S. believe that the Government of North Korea is illegal?

MR KIRBY: Doesn’t one become illegal by your acts? I mean, I don’t think – I think you’re reading way too much into this, Matt. I mean, I think by any measure – just look at what this regime is doing, starving their own people, trying to develop nuclear weapons capabilities, threatening to use weapons of mass destructions on the peninsula. I mean, we could go on and on and on. I think he was simply stating the obvious, and I – again, I wouldn’t read more into it than that.

QUESTION: So he was – are you saying that he was referring to the actions of the North Korean Government and not --

MR KIRBY: The actions of the North Korean regime are what give the international community such concern, and he was speaking to the fact that those actions, those – that – the provocative behavior that the regime continues to display, are absolutely in violations of international – or are violations of international law.

QUESTION: Okay. But when you refer to a government as an illegal government, that could suggest some kind of regime change policy.

MR KIRBY: Nothing’s changed about our policy with respect to what we want to see on the peninsula, which is complete, verifiable denuclearization and a return to the Six-Party Talk process.

QUESTION: Can you – just one follow-up on that?

QUESTION: John, one follow?

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, yeah, sorry. Just to – do you believe that Kim Jong-un has lost the legitimacy to lead North Korea?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to leave the Secretary’s statements as stated.

QUESTION: Could you just more specifically go into what he was talking about with Kuwait’s role? What are you expecting? I mean, we don’t hear too much Kuwait and North Korea in the same sentence.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Look, I think he was referring to a longstanding concern we’ve had about how to curtail the DPRK’s nuclear ballistic missile proliferation programs through a effort of comprehensive and sustained pressure by the international community. And we’ve also been very, very open about the fact that North Korea’s export of labor generates significant revenue for the government, and it enables, in fact, the development of those very programs. So we’ve raised our concerns and we’ll continue to do so with governments about the use of laborers, workers, from North Korea in their countries. And that’s what he’s referring to.



QUESTION: On the same statement but different topic, the Secretary talked – asked by Samir on Lebanon in the morning, and he said that: “We obviously hope that Lebanon will move, but I’m not certain what the outcomes will be from the support that Saad Hariri is offering… We hope they can move forward.” What does he mean by that? Did he mean that he hopes that the Lebanese parliament move forward with the election of General Aoun as the president?

MR KIRBY: He was saying that what we hope will happen is that they’ll be able to install a – have an election and install a president, that – I mean, this is a country that hasn’t had a president for what now, two years? And it’s important that the people of Lebanon, their voices be heard. And that’s what he’s referring to, the process moving forward.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. support the election of General Aoun as the president?

MR KIRBY: We support the Lebanese people having the chance to have a vote and have a voice in who is their president. That’s what we support.

QUESTION: General Aoun is supported too by Hizballah, who you consider as a terrorist organization. Do you have any issue on this?

MR KIRBY: Nothing’s changed about our designation of Hizballah or their activities, and they are a terrorist organization. But again, who ultimately becomes president of Lebanon is up to the Lebanese people, and we’re going to respect that process.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?


QUESTION: Okay. First of all --

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Last thing. Do you expect that the elections will happen in the upcoming 10 days?

MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary was clear about that today too. I mean, I couldn’t possibly predict that. But we think it’s important for the elections to move forward and to do so as soon as possible. Even the Secretary wasn’t going to speculate this morning about when that might be and certainly not going to speculate about what the result might be.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, we’ll go to Syria. The status of the ceasefire and the humanitarian aid – (cell phone rings).

MR KIRBY: Wait a second. Wait.

QUESTION: Sorry about that.

MR KIRBY: That’s all right. No, if you have to get it. I just want to make sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: We’ll wait. Okay.

MR KIRBY: No, no, no, that’s all right. Go ahead. I think he’s – I think he turned it off.

QUESTION: Take it from the top.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you because it seems that the militias in eastern Aleppo are disallowing aid from coming in, they’re disallowing people from going out, and so on. These are the claims. I wonder if you have anything to clarify what is going on.

MR KIRBY: I’ve said I don’t, Said. I’ve seen some reporting on that as well. If it’s true, it’s obviously of deep concern to us. I mean, one of the reasons why this humanitarian pause was put in place – and that’s what it’s being referred to, temporary, as we talked about yesterday – was to allow for that exact thing to happen, for aid to get in. And so reports that we’ve seen that aid is being obstructed obviously is of deep concern. But I can’t confirm (a) that that’s happening and exactly where or who might be holding it up.

QUESTION: Because also reports say that the Syrian army pulled away from the Castello Road to allow for aid to go in, but for some reason it’s not going on – it’s not going in, people are not taking advantage to leave through the opening that the Syrian Government offered and so on. Are you in touch with the Russians on these issues?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I think the Secretary mentioned yesterday, he did have a conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday. They did talk about the situation in Aleppo in general. But if you’re asking me are we in touch with the Russians specifically about these reports of aid convoys being obstructed, I’m not aware of any specific discussions about that today. It is something that we have been in touch with our other partners in the region on in terms of allowing that aid to get through. So again, I can’t confirm that it’s not happening. Obviously, it’s of concern if it’s true. And you can expect that we’ll continue to have the kinds of conversations we need to have with our partners to make sure that it isn’t opposition groups who might be holding that up.

QUESTION: And my last question is regarding the extension of the ceasefire until Monday. The Russians said that they will extend it to Monday or through Monday.


QUESTION: But on the other hand, if no aid is going in, what would be – I mean, of course, the cessation of bombardments and so on give a breather to the people, but it is not – it is not meeting the requirements in terms of medical aid, food, and so on.

MR KIRBY: Right, right.


MR KIRBY: I mean, look, it’s – you have to have both. I mean, you’re not going to get humanitarian aid in if the bombing is continued, right? So they’re connected. So we want both. And like I said at the beginning of the week, we welcome the humanitarian pause that was announced. Thus far, it does seem to be holding. We aren’t seeing the aid in general the way we’d want to see. I can’t confirm, again, the specific reports you cited, but obviously, we want to see more aid getting in. And I’ve also seen the reports of this extension which, of course, we welcome if, in fact, it can lead to the delivery of much needed food, water, and medicine to the people of Aleppo. So we’re going to be watching this very, very closely. I can’t rule out that the Secretary wouldn’t have additional conversations heading into the weekend on this. We’ll have to see where it goes.

At the same time, and separately, the multilateral discussions in Geneva continue to try to get to something that’s more enduring, more sustainable, even beyond Aleppo, so that we can take the steps necessary to get the political talks back on track.

So what – just to clarify, what we’re talking about here is a very temporary, discrete humanitarian pause in Aleppo to allow for aid to get in, and that is important. And as I said, we welcome reports that it – that the pause has largely held and may be extended. It has to be married up with humanitarian assistance getting in, but even that isn’t enough and it’s not what we’re focused on in Geneva, which is getting something much more sustainable.


QUESTION: On Geneva, yesterday the Secretary said that there was perhaps – and he said he underscored the word “perhaps” – some progress in the talks in Geneva yesterday. Do you now believe there has been progress? And if so, of what sort?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I don’t want to get ahead of the discussions, but – and I would – again, wouldn’t want to extrapolate much from the Secretary’s comments. He – I think he was giving you a fair and honest appraisal of how the talks are going, and there has been some progress. There are still issues to be ironed out, there are still gaps, there’s still areas where we are all not in agreement, and I think the teams are going to continue to work through those. But there has been some progress, and we hope that in the coming days – obviously we hope – that we can get there, that we can get a meaningful ceasefire in place that can not only get humanitarian aid much more firmly established but get the political talks back on track. So we’ll see. I just wouldn’t want to speculate one way or another.

QUESTION: Can you --

QUESTION: John, can I follow up – can I follow up on that?

MR KIRBY: I think Arshad’s got a quick one and then I’ll go back to you.

QUESTION: Just a small one: If you could shed any light at all beyond your hopes to eventually get a ceasefire in place on kind of what progress there may have been, where things have gone forward a little bit.

MR KIRBY: Without getting into the specifics, as I really don’t want to litigate this here from the podium, the teams are hashing out the specifics of what a meaningful – to be read “successful” – ceasefire can look like. And you know, Arshad – you’ve covered this – I mean, it is exactly that issue. When’s it start, how long does it last, where does it apply, who’s got to do what – all those – the guts of what a ceasefire or a cessation of hostilities can look like have been thorny issues to work through. And to be fair, we haven’t been all that successful at doing this in the past, which is why the Secretary I think took a very cautious tone about this. And he remains cautious about it. But it is those logistics, the mechanics, the how do you actually do it that the teams are talking about now. And as I said very honestly, there’s still not universal agreement by everybody on what this can look like and how it would be implemented, and certainly not even when.

So they’re still at it, and the Secretary’s going to stay plugged in. He’s going to stay informed by the team on how things are going, and we hope in coming days that we can get there. But that’s really as far as I’m able to go right now since the talks are very much a live action.

QUESTION: I’m wondering if you can just kind of flesh out a little bit about the discrepancy – not discrepancy, but like how much of this is a U.S.-Russia kind of negotiation versus a multilateral. I mean, as you know, you broke off kind of bilateral talks with the Russians in terms of trying to get a ceasefire, and I know that you say that this is a more multilateral ceasefire. I’m just – where are things in terms of U.S. and Russia working together on this? Even though you have cut off talks on this – bilateral talks on the ceasefire, the Secretary is still talking to Foreign Minister Lavrov --


QUESTION: -- frequently.


QUESTION: So if you could just kind of paint a picture of what’s really going on.

MR KIRBY: Sure, I appreciate the question. It is very much a multilateral effort, and the meetings in Geneva follow directly from the conversation that they had at the ministerial level in Lausanne last weekend.

QUESTION: These are meeting – these are teams from all of the countries that were there?

MR KIRBY: I – pretty much all of them. I can’t --

QUESTION: It’s not just the U.S. and Russia?

MR KIRBY: It’s – no, no, absolutely not. The meetings in Geneva are not U.S.-Russia bilateral engagements on the ceasefire – sorry, the cessation of hostilities – in Syria. They are multilateral, and so the representatives are from most if not all – and I can check on that – most if not all the --

QUESTION: Is that including Iran?

MR KIRBY: Again, I can check on representation, but I can tell you for sure that it’s not just U.S. and Russia. The suspension of U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement on the cessation of hostilities in Syria remains in effect. That doesn’t mean, as I’ve said --

QUESTION: It’s not really a suspension, though. It’s more like an expansion into a multilateral forum.

MR KIRBY: No, I disagree, Elise.

QUESTION: Well, I mean --

MR KIRBY: It is a suspension. The Secretary is not having bilateral engagement with Foreign Minister Lavrov on this specific issue, and more importantly, our teams --

QUESTION: You just spoke to him this morning.

MR KIRBY: Of course. They’re going to have a dialogue. What I’m saying is they aren’t sitting across the table as they were in Geneva in September, actually trying to negotiate the particulars.

QUESTION: Well, they’re not trying to --

MR KIRBY: That is now being done by a multilateral team in Geneva, and that’s what they’re doing. But I want to be clear – and I said it at the time – it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to talk to Foreign Minister Lavrov. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to talk to the Russians about what’s going on in Syria. It would be foolhardy to do that since they are – they have such a huge influence on the Assad regime and they’re huge stakeholders in the process.

What it means is, with respect to the cessation of hostilities, we are now moving towards a more multilateral format, which obviously does include Russia. So there’s, of course, going to be conversations with them inside of that.

QUESTION: But, I mean, even when he’s talking to Foreign Minister Lavrov in these conversations, they’re still talking about this multilateral ceasefire.

MR KIRBY: Sure. Sure. But they aren’t doing --

QUESTION: So just saying --

MR KIRBY: They aren’t doing individual bilateral negotiations over the particulars the way they were before.

QUESTION: Over the phone?

QUESTION: Well, isn’t --

QUESTION: They’re doing this over the phone instead of sitting --

MR KIRBY: No, that’s not what I said, Michel.

QUESTION: But is this – is this – I mean, I know you did it in the beginning because the Russians were not being cooperative and you felt that – do you know what I mean? I don’t want to say it was a punishment to Russia, but it was more of a kind of acknowledgment that it wasn’t productive. But I mean --

MR KIRBY: The suspension?

QUESTION: Suspension.

MR KIRBY: Correct.

QUESTION: But I mean, isn’t this more of a productive way of doing it, considering the U.S. and Russia are not the only parties in there --

MR KIRBY: I think that remains to be seen how productive it’s going to be. I think that’s what we got to figure out in Geneva right now, if this is, can be more productive. Clearly, we felt that U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement was a good vehicle to try to get a cessation of hostilities, and it didn’t work. And it didn’t work because Russia didn’t meet their commitments, and so, yes, we suspended it.

QUESTION: So what makes you think that Russia’s going to meet its commitments now that there are other countries involved?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that they will. I can’t predict that. I think that’s a better question put to people in Moscow. What I can tell you is the Secretary’s not going to give up on the effort. And since we have suspended U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement on this particular issue, we are left – we always had multilateral vehicles at the same time, but now we’re left with that as the only process to pursue, and we’ll see where it goes. As I mentioned to Arshad, I mean, we’ll know in coming days how successful that’s going to be. I couldn't possibly predict the result, and I wouldn’t be able to predict Russia’s willingness and ability to meet whatever new commitments might fall on them as a result of this discussion.


QUESTION: Could you update us on the situation regarding Turkish attacks on Syrian Kurds? There are reports today from the news media and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that say that SDF-held areas, including Kurdish villages, were pounded with missile, artillery, and airstrikes. I know yesterday you said all parties should focus on fighting ISIS and called for no uncoordinated movements.


QUESTION: But it doesn’t seem that Turkey’s paying much attention.

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen reports on – about this. I’m not in a position to confirm their accuracy. But I would like to reiterate what I said yesterday because it’s still germane today, that we’ve called on all parties to refrain from uncoordinated movements. We – as I said last night, I think, on Twitter, we didn’t have any role in any way nor did we coordinate any reported airstrikes by Turkey or any movements in the area by Kurdish or Arab forces, contrary – I think there was some reporting out there that we had. That’s just not true. We believe that all military activities in this very crowded area must closely be coordinated, and uncoordinated military activity by any party or any group carries risks of escalation with innocent civilians caught in the middle.

So again, I’ve seen the reports. I’m not in a position to confirm them. I – as I – I try to stay away from operational day-to-day assessments, but our message yesterday is the same message that – our message today is the same one we had yesterday.


QUESTION: If they were true, what would your response be?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to speculate about hypotheticals. I think we’ve been very clear about what our hopes and expectations are for everybody involved in the coalition to counter Daesh, and that’s to focus on that common enemy, and that uncoordinated activity is counterproductive to that effort.

QUESTION: Can I have one more on Russia and Syria?


QUESTION: I mean, I know we’ve talked about this before, but this Russia flotilla that’s on its way to Syria is really – it’s one of the biggest naval kind of – air force – naval force deployment since the end of the Cold War and only signifies that maybe Russia’s going to intensify its strikes against the targets that it’s been targeting already, such as opposition members. I mean, how – what – how does that jive with the conversations that you’re having in terms of a cessation of hostilities?

MR KIRBY: Well, precisely, Elise. I mean, you asked me – your last question was what makes you think that there’s going to be a change? And I said I couldn’t predict that.

QUESTION: Well, there is going to be a change, and it’s going to be --

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: It looks like based on the deployment that Russia’s having, they’re only looking to intensify their involvement.

MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t speak for the Russian defense ministry and what they’re doing with their ships.

QUESTION: But isn’t – could you acknowledge that that’s what that signifies?

MR KIRBY: We’ve certainly seen reports of this naval deployment, and the Secretary spoke about this himself just the other day when asked about it. And what he said was that if it’s true that they’re moving more naval and air power into the Mediterranean with the intent on furthering or completing or however you want to phrase it the siege of Aleppo, that that is counterproductive to the larger effort of a peaceful solution in Syria. It’s only going to exacerbate more conflict, it’s only going to create more terrorists, and it’s only going to make much more elusive any kind of political talks and diplomatic solution to the conflict there. But I can’t predict where Russian navy ships are going to go and what they’re going to do. I’ve seen the reports of this, and again, I think the Secretary responded to that already.

QUESTION: Well, how much – I mean, given what you’ve – what many of the government agencies have said about Russia’s involvement in some of the hacking and the leaking of information and some of their other activities, how much of this do you think that Russia is trying to take advantage of this election period and the period before a new president takes office to try and increase its activity because it feels like there won’t be any consequences?

MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t predict their ultimate conclusions, but the intelligence community has talked about the fact that we do assess that they want to at the very least sow doubt about the solidity, the firm establishment of our electoral process. That appears to at least be one goal, but what their end result that they might be seeking as a result of this, I couldn’t speak to.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering to what extent do you think any of this is related, that this election period, which is obviously a very chaotic period in any time, but serious – obviously this particular election season is very chaotic. Then there will be a period between when a new president is elected and a new president takes office. Do you fear that the Russians are trying to exploit this kind of chaotic election period and period until the inauguration for further action inside Syria?

MR KIRBY: It’s hard to know with any great specificity what their aims might be from a geopolitical perspective pre-election, post-election. And I think only they can speak to that. All I can say is that we do believe that at least through the cyber intrusions we’ve seen that they’re at the very least trying to sow doubt and discord amongst the American people about our electoral process and on Syria. And I can’t – I honestly don’t know to the degree their activities in Syria are related to that obviously – that obvious intention to sow doubt. But clearly what we’re seeing in Syria is not a concerted effort to try to contribute to a peaceful solution, so we’ll – again, we’ll have to see where things go in Geneva.

Our hope is that in this new multilateral format, the Russians can make commitments and then follow through on those commitments. Equally so, we would like to see everybody meet whatever commitments that they make with respect to trying to get a cessation of hostilities. It’s incumbent upon everybody, not least of which, of course, Russia and the regime. But I think your question is better posed to officials in Moscow (inaudible) what they’re – if there are some sort of penultimate objection – objectives here, what they are. All I can tell you is that we’re focused on making sure that we move the political process forward in Syria and that we prepare for a smooth transition here in Washington to the new administration, whichever one that may be.

QUESTION: Could I ask a technical question on election, Russia, and so on?

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Because there was a report that the Russian consulate, either in Houston – in Texas and in Louisiana, so on – they asked to observe the elections and they were denied that. Do they do this through the State Department or they do it with the state? How does this happen?

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: And do you have any comment on --

MR KIRBY: I think Mark commented on this.

QUESTION: This is just today. I mean, they were turned down today.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Apparently they put in a request and they were turned down today from observing. Is that --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. So a couple – let me go through this and then I think I’ll – individual parties, foreign governments, NGOs are all welcome to apply to our state governments to observe elections. The individual states maintain the authority to approve or deny a request from parties to observe elections. They do that on their own. We understand that the Russian embassy intended to approach local authorities for assistance observing elections.

Russian officials also have – I’m sorry, had an opportunity to join the OSCE observation mission. In September, U.S. officials participated in the OSCE observation mission to the Russian parliamentary elections. That’s a process by which this can be done as well. The fact that they have chosen to not join the OSCE observation mission makes clear – again, I think as Mark said – that this issue is nothing more than a PR stunt.

Now, I can’t speak to the individual states and whatever their consulates have asked for or not. That is for the states to speak to and for the Russian Government, the Russian embassy here in Washington to speak to. But we’ve made very clear that they’re welcome to do that in accordance with established procedures.

QUESTION: Do you know what – when you say, “We understand that they were going to approach various localities,” do you know which ones? And how do you understand that?

MR KIRBY: We’ve been given that understanding from the embassy here, but I don’t have the list of who they have approached, and that’s – really, that’s for the states to speak to, not us.

QUESTION: Right, right. Well, regardless, I mean, yes, it is a state-by-state decision about who they want to have observing their elections. But has the department given guidance as to – in terms of whether or not they should accept observers from certain countries?

MR KIRBY: We have not – to my knowledge, we have not dictated any kind of guidance to the states with respect to any one particular observer.

QUESTION: Country.

QUESTION: Have any states approached you to ask?

MR KIRBY: To the states.

QUESTION: I’m asking country.

MR KIRBY: You’re asking if we had given any guidance to the states --

QUESTION: So let’s say – let’s make this incredibly hypothetical. Country --

MR KIRBY: I love those kinds of questions.

QUESTION: Country X, which is a horrible dictatorship and is – that you disagree with, it’s on your state sponsors of terrorism list, it does all sorts of bad things – they want to send an observer to State Y for the election. Are you saying that the State Department would not suggest to that U.S. state that they not accept an observer?

MR KIRBY: I am not an expert on the process, so I’ll tell you what I’ll do: I’ll take that question to see if we do that.

QUESTION: Okay. I just want to know if you guys give --

QUESTION: Why (inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: I certainly think that if we’re asked for advice and counsel from states that we would provide it, but we’re not in the business of dictating to them who they will have observe or not.

QUESTION: No, no, okay. Well, so – okay, so then can you take the question, did you give any advice to states that got – that are getting these requests as to who might be appropriate – what countries might be appropriate or – I don’t know – or inappropriate, the case may be.

MR KIRBY: I’ll take the question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t understand why it has to be hypothetical. I mean, you’ve just – just from this podium 10 minutes ago, you talked about how U.S. intelligence agencies have said and you yourself said that you believe that Russia wants to interfere with this election. And now it’s calling to send monitors to the United States. And why can’t you – yesterday or the other day, Mark called it a stunt. I mean, I don’t understand why you could – why you can’t say that you would be not encouraging something like this.

MR KIRBY: Because it would – with respect to Russia, we didn’t. We didn’t discourage. As I said, I’m not aware of any guidance that we gave to the states with respect to Russia specifically. As I said – and I also said and Mark said that they were advised that they were welcome to consult directly with the states on this, and they were also advised that they were welcome to join the OSCE monitoring – I’m sorry, observation mission --

QUESTION: I don’t understand why they would be. I mean, I understand that it’s a state-by-state – I understand elections are a state issue, but I also understand that the federal government is accusing Russia of being involved in trying to meddle in the election. So why would you not come down firmly on the side --

MR KIRBY: Because we’ve also said that --

QUESTION: -- of saying that they’re not welcomed?

MR KIRBY: Because we’ve also said that we’re very confident in the stability, the security, and the strength of our electoral process. There’s no reason to hide from that.

QUESTION: John, can you --

QUESTION: I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have – I’m not saying that you’re not welcoming monitors, but do you really think that any Russian monitor that would come here, already having tried to meddle in the election according to you, would have a fair and unbiased view of whether the election was rigged or not?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for what every observer – and there are observers, not monitors that – I can’t speak for whatever – what views they might have of it. What I’m saying is we’re not – we don’t run away from observers coming to our country --

QUESTION: I’m not saying that you do, but would you want --

MR KIRBY: Well, you’re suggesting that we should have discouraged Russia.

QUESTION: No, I’m just specifically talking about Russian observers.

MR KIRBY: And I think I’ve answered it. We told the Russian Government that they were welcome to observe our election. There’s a --

QUESTION: That they meddled in?

MR KIRBY: There are two processes to do that. You can go to the states directly or you can join the OSCE observation mission. We made it very clear that they were welcome to do that and there was no admonition – and I will double-check on this, but I’m not aware of any advice or guidance that was given from the State Department to the states with respect to their own decisions about accepting Russian observers. That’s for them to decide. But we made it very clear to Russian officials that they had the opportunity, just like other nation-states have the opportunity, to observe our election.

And to your – I think to your question, “Well, why wouldn’t you advise against it,” given --


MR KIRBY: -- that they have shown a proclivity, at least through cyber space, to try to sow discord and the lack of confidence in our system – it’s because we are so confident in it. And we – and there’s nothing to hide from it. We don’t – we’re not worried about that because we’re confident the electoral process is secure and it’s safe and these will be free and fair elections.

QUESTION: Yeah, but generally you’re confident also in the monitors that come over here and that they’re acting in good faith.

MR KIRBY: There is a --

QUESTION: Would you --

MR KIRBY: -- state --

QUESTION: Are you confident that Russian monitors coming here would act in good faith?

MR KIRBY: They are observers, again, not monitors. And the – it – the states run this – when it’s done through the states, the states run that process and each state can speak to their procedures for how they handle observers and what observers are allowed to do. They are observers. They can watch. They’re not participants in the process and the OSCE runs the same protocol – again, they can speak more specifically to how it’s done, but we – there’s nothing for us to fear from having Russian observers observing our election. But those requests that go to the states are for the states to decide. We’ve got nothing to fear and nothing to hide from that.

QUESTION: So is it unfortunate that some states at least have refused Russian observers?

MR KIRBY: We’re not characterizing those decisions. Those are decisions that the states make and we respect that. That’s the way it’s always been; it’s the way it will continue to be.

QUESTION: Your advice is to welcome them and that you’ve got nothing to fear.


QUESTION: I thought you were going to look into whether you’ve given advice or not.

MR KIRBY: Your question was are we giving advice --


MR KIRBY: -- and I don’t think we are. I will check on that. This isn’t about advice, Dave. You’re – the question was why wouldn’t you try to discourage. Because – my answer is we don’t have anything to hide.


MR KIRBY: And the elections – and we’re confident in the electoral system.

QUESTION: But that’s your advice to us today, but is that also your advice to the states?

MR KIRBY: No, it’s not – it’s not advice. I ask – I was asked a question about why wouldn’t we be concerned about Russian observers and that was my answer. It – these are decisions that the states have to make on their own. Okay?



QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria and Russia?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Russian foreign minister has said today that the West is using al-Nusrah to topple Assad. Are you doing that?

MR KIRBY: I’m – I don’t think that a rebuttal to that is required. It’s completely false. I can’t even – I don’t think the charge even merits a response.


QUESTION: On Philippines, following up on the opening discussion yesterday. President Duterte returned home from Beijing after signing tens of billions of dollars of deals with the Chinese and explained that his separation comment doesn’t mean a cutting of diplomatic ties with the United States, and as far as the mutual defense treaties, he’ll consult with his military and police. Does that give you any sense of relief after the initial comments?

MR KIRBY: I think I would just fall back to what I said yesterday. This is an alliance that means a lot to us. We are going to stay committed to it. We’re focused on meeting our commitments, not only under that mutual defense treaty, but on so many other sectors – throughout so many other sectors to the Filipino people, and that’s what we’re focused on.

And I’ll let President Duterte speak for his comments. As I said yesterday, when we heard what he initially said in Beijing, it was confusing and we would be interested in hearing a deeper explanation of what it meant. Now he’s said what he said today and we’ll see where the conversations go this weekend when Assistant Secretary Russel gets over there.

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


QUESTION: Yeah. The Israeli press is reporting that you and Egypt have warned the Palestinians not to push Security Council on settlements before U.S. elections. Have you done that or do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Our position on the – on action at the UN, as you know, remains the same. There’s been no change. At this point, we continue to work with the international community to try to advance our shared goal of achieving a negotiated two-state solution, which is the only way to achieve a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace.

QUESTION: But you have not warned the Palestinians directly or indirectly that they should not do this at the present time or until after the elections, have you?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to comment on every press report. Our position --

QUESTION: Do you have like any time --

MR KIRBY: Our position with respect to action at the UN remains the same.

QUESTION: Do you have any timetable as to what time should the Palestinians should submit anything on the settlements?

MR KIRBY: I’ve got nothing more to say on that.

QUESTION: Okay. One more question: Yesterday, the Israelis shot up a boy, 15 years old. He – they said that he was throwing stones, but they shot him in the back. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen --

QUESTION: Is that excessive use of force?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Is that an excessive use of force?

MR KIRBY: So obviously we’ve seen the report. I don’t have the full details of everything that happened, Said. We continue to urge all sides to reject the violence, to take affirmative steps to reduce the tensions, to improve the situation on the ground. As for excessive force in general, as we’ve said many times, we’re always concerned about any credible reports of excessive use of force against civilians. I’m not going to characterize this in particular since the reports are still coming in about what happened here and I’m not in a position to be able to verify the details of it, but as always, we believe it’s critical that every possible measure be taken to protect civilians and to de-escalate tensions.

QUESTION: But the Israelis are not doing that. I mean, it happened the day before. There was a woman that’s shot at the checkpoint. In fact, there was a meeting at the UN a couple of days ago by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch where they said that Israel does all these things with impunity and so on. And you don’t think that Israel has regularly used excessive force to neutralize – as they call it, to neutralize Palestinian teenagers and rock-throwers or demonstrators?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, we’ve spoken to this many times, Said. We’re concerned about any credible allegations of excessive use of force, and we don’t believe that additional violence of any kind is getting us any closer to a two-state solution. We want leadership on both sides here.

QUESTION: Sticking with reports of excessive use of force, the United Nations today said that Congolese security services had shot, burned, beat, and hacked to death at least 48 civilians during last month’s protests against the extension of President Kabila’s mandate. So this is about the violence last month, not the last couple of days. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, if it’s true, obviously, it’s deeply disturbing, but I’m not in a position to verify those reports. I can tell you that we are and will stay in close touch with officials there and try to learn more about these allegations, but I just don’t have anything more than that. But if it is true, obviously, the United States considers that deeply disturbing.

QUESTION: John, yesterday Secretary Kerry said that after his meeting with Mr. al-Jubeir that the JASTA law is – presents a danger to U.S. interests and that he’s working to fix it. Obviously, we know the Administration’s position on the law before it was passed, but it has been passed now. What can be done?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think what the Secretary was referring to was that we’re going to continue to speak with members of Congress about our concerns over the law. Look, you’re right; it’s the law of the land, and we understand that and we obey the law and we will obey this law. There’s no dispute about that. But we still have concerns about it and many of our partners, some of whom are even in places like Europe, some of our closest allies, have lingering concerns about this. And so we’re going to continue to engage and discuss the law and its implementation going forward with members of Congress. But other than that, I don’t have any more specifics to offer.

QUESTION: But the only way it could be changed if – would be if Congress were to re-legislate.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speculate about outcomes. It is the law of the land. It has been passed and we will obey the law. But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to shut off communication or dialogue with members of Congress about our concerns about the law itself and about implementation.

QUESTION: Well, isn’t it the case that the Administration is pushing for revisions to be made?

MR KIRBY: We are going to continue to try to address our concerns about the law and how the law is going to be implemented.

QUESTION: Right, yeah, but how --

MR KIRBY: And that was the Secretary – that was what the Secretary was referring to.

QUESTION: But the only way you can – I understand that. The only way you can do that is if you convince them to revise it, right?

MR KIRBY: I’m --

QUESTION: I mean, there – either you’re – either you’re seeking a change, a legislative fix, using the Secretary’s word “fix,” or you’re not, and you’re going to enforce it as is.

QUESTION: But there’s a legal remedy you could take. You could argue that it’s unconstitutional or something – I mean, presumably you could try using the courts against it. But --

MR KIRBY: As I said, I’m not going to talk about specific vehicles or approaches. The Secretary – we have long made clear our concerns about this law.


MR KIRBY: It is the law.


MR KIRBY: So we’re going to have to obey the law. That doesn’t mean that our concerns have gone away or that we’re not going to continue to try to work with members of Congress to have our concerns addressed. Now, how that gets done, there are many ways if you were going to pursue changes to it, and I think the Secretary wants to have open, honest discussions with members of Congress about how to do that.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on a Kerry-Jubeir meeting yesterday? Because what is the status of their view? Did the Secretary talk with the Saudi foreign minister about the Yemen review that you guys were – I guess you took up a couple weeks ago and so on?

MR KIRBY: The review that we announced in the wake of that strike is ongoing --

QUESTION: On the bombing of the mourners.


QUESTION: On the bombing that took place a couple weeks ago.

MR KIRBY: Right. That review’s ongoing. I would remind you though that we always review, just as a matter of practice, aid and assistance that go to foreign countries. So we’re still in the process of working our way through that. Clearly, they talked about what’s going on in Yemen. I don’t know that they specifically addressed issues of the review of aid and assistance, but I don’t know that they would really need to discuss our review of aid and assistance since it’s obvious to the Saudis and to the U.S. side that we’re doing that.

QUESTION: So are the Saudis doing the investigation, and have they given you any result as to what is the status of the investigation?

MR KIRBY: So I understand that the investigation’s ongoing, and I wouldn’t speak to the details of that.

QUESTION: How about when it’s finished? They put out a statement over the weekend saying that it was concluded and they admitted that it was a mistake because --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: But they said it was mistake due to bad information by the --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, you’re right.

QUESTION: Is it your – is that correct? Or is there --

MR KIRBY: Nope, you’re right. I was wrong. You’re right.


MR KIRBY: It was initial results that we welcomed. We considered it an important first step towards better understanding the events of that day.


MR KIRBY: So this was an initial results investigation.

QUESTION: Okay. So you – but, so the broader --

MR KIRBY: So as far as I know, they’re still --

QUESTION: -- broader investigation into is still ongoing?

MR KIRBY: That’s my understanding.

QUESTION: And is it your understanding that that includes some kind of accountability formula, method?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I don’t know. That’s a question better put to the Saudis.

QUESTION: All right, okay. But in terms of the U.S. review that you said you were undertaking in the wake of this – the hit – the attack on the funeral, is that still ongoing or --



MR KIRBY: Yes. I’ve got time for a couple more.

QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Blinken was at the Paris conference on Mosul that was just held. Could you give us a readout on what happened there, his meetings, and the general conclusion?

MR KIRBY: Yep, hang on a second. I have it here somewhere.

So his meeting focused on the Mosul campaign and ensuring that we are prepared for what comes after the liberation of Mosul, to include humanitarian assistance and stabilization support. He discussed the need for the global coalition to continue to coordinate closely in support of this Iraqi-led effort.

The Deputy Secretary commended the Iraqi Security Forces and their initial progress in Mosul and the brave sacrifices of both the ISF and the Peshmerga, and he had good bilateral meetings on the side with French and other officials, including Iraqi Foreign Minister Jaafari.

Yep, this will be the last one. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Go ahead. I’ve got some really brief ones.

QUESTION: John, thank you. Oh – oops.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, on Venezuela. Regarding the latest events there, especially because their government canceled any possibility of a recall referendum to revoke President Maduro’s mandate, do you have any position? And second one, I believe that the U.S. is supporting a dialogue in Venezuela, and most of the Venezuelans are asking what for? So if you can – if you can answer these two questions.

MR KIRBY: Well, the answer to the second one is to help see a better future for the Venezuelan people.


MR KIRBY: And the fact that we’ve been calling for dialogue is nothing new. We’ve been saying that for many, many months. And the answer to “what for” is to try to see that the Venezuelan people have a better future in front of them, a more prosperous, a more secure future.

QUESTION: The dialogue is between the government and who?

MR KIRBY: And opposition leaders.

QUESTION: Well, but taking into account the current developments, or what’s your position?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean look, I detect a note of skepticism in your question. I – all I can --

QUESTION: It’s not mine – not only mine. I am not alone, I promise.

MR KIRBY: But that doesn’t mean that we don’t still want to see dialogue moving to a better future for the Venezuelan people.

On your question about the recall referendum, we are deeply concerned by the decision of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council to halt the recall referendum process. By doing so, we believe that the CNE, the National Electoral Council, prevents the Venezuelan people from exercising their important constitutional right. The Venezuelan people face increasingly severe humanitarian, political, and economic challenges. Regrettably, we believe this decision is indicative of the council’s polarization and the extent to which it is being used to block the Venezuelan people’s ability to exercise their constitutional democratic right – democratic right, excuse me – to determine the direction of their country.

So we’re --

QUESTION: Do you see any actions in the frame of the Organization of American States?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything specific in terms of next steps here with respect to OAS. I mean, obviously, the OAS has spoken to this. They’ve made clear where they are. But I won’t speak for them or what the next steps might be in that – inside that.

QUESTION: So but the U.S. considers Venezuela still a democracy?

MR KIRBY: Again, we’ve made clear our concerns about the democratic process in Venezuela and how important it is that the Venezuelan people have a right to choose their future. And they have a right to a more prosperous and a safer future, and that’s what we’re focused on. And that’s why, back to your second question, we’re continuing to push for dialogue there.

QUESTION: Can you go for India?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Goyal, I’ll go to you, and then we’ll finish up with Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: I’ll go once Goyal --

MR KIRBY: No, you’re done. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I have concern – what kind of service --

MR KIRBY: You’ve had how many today?

QUESTION: I’ve just had two, really.

MR KIRBY: All right.

QUESTION: And one was an interjection. I’ve got South Africa.

QUESTION: Interjection?

MR KIRBY: Well, because you interjected, I’m going to dock you.

QUESTION: You’re penalized.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: Thank you. Two questions. One: Mr. Trump was speaking to Indian American groups in New Jersey where he said that if he’s elected president, then he will have a great relations with India and he will fight off terrorism in the – from the region along with India. So where do we stand today as far as U.S.-India relations are concerned when he’s talking about he will have a great relations?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to, as you know, speak to the campaign rhetoric or promises or policies that either candidate is making. That’s for them and their staffs to speak to. All I can point you to is what we’ve said before, Goyal, about how this Administration and particularly Secretary Kerry is approaching our bilateral relationship with India, which is very strong, and it’s very diverse. We had terrific discussions with the Indians down in Kigali, and we got a very aggressive amendment now. And Indian leadership and participation, active participation in those negotiations, really got us there.

So there’s a very robust bilateral relationship that – for as long as Secretary Kerry is in office, I can assure you he’s going to continue to pursue.

QUESTION: And finally, as far as BRIC nations meeting – met in Goa, India. And this is the first time that they’re all united with India as far as fighting against terrorism in the – from the region, and also including Russia, China; they were all – among other BRIC nations. And what they are saying this time, first time, in China especially, that there is no distinction between good and bad terrorism; terrorism is bad always, because killing innocent peoples and those who support them will pay the price. What – where do you stand on this?

MR KIRBY: Where do we stand on whether terrorism is bad?

QUESTION: No, I mean, what is – what are the U.S. views on this BRICS, on their united --

MR KIRBY: I mean, first of all, I think our position on terrorism and pursuing collaborative, cooperative approaches around the world to combating terrorism are well known and well established. That would be my first point. The second point on the BRICS nation, speaking about that – we welcome both bilateral and multilateral discussions about effective counter-terrorism procedures, processes, tactics, policies, the expenditure of resources; all that’s to the good if it can be done in a truly collaborative way that has results. So we certainly welcome that kind of multilateral discussion.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR KIRBY: Dave, and then --

QUESTION: No, Matt says the White House has addressed my thing.

MR KIRBY: No – what’s that?

QUESTION: The ICC right?


QUESTION: I think they had. Do you have something on the South Africa wanting to withdraw from the ICC?

MR KIRBY: I can if you want me to, but if you already --

QUESTION: Go ahead, and then you can take my question, which is very brief. Oh, don’t look so annoyed; it’s Friday.

MR KIRBY: I’m not annoyed. I’m delighted; delighted, Matt. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: So yeah, South Africa wants to – I said – indicated an intention to pull out of the ICC. Obviously, you’re yourselves not members of the ICC, but what does it say about South Africa’s leadership and impunity for leaders on the continent?

MR KIRBY: Yep. Let me find it here. I got so many here. Where is it, Elizabeth?

QUESTION: It’s at the southern tip of Africa. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: No, I know where it is. I can’t find it in here.

QUESTION: The ICC is in The Hague.

QUESTION: Yeah, so it might be --

MR KIRBY: All right, I got it. I got it.

QUESTION: -- be in The Hague.

MR KIRBY: I found it. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That’s in the Netherlands.

MR KIRBY: I just want it for the record that there’s no little tab on this, so there was no way that I was going to find it.

We’ve seen the announcement that the South African Government has taken steps to initiate its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court. And we’re concerned about this decision. The United States greatly values the role that South Africa has played in regard to establishing the ICC, including as a member of the Assembly of States Parties, which rushed – I’m sorry, which pushed the Rome Statute through to ratification and as the first African country to incorporate the ICC statute into its domestic law. So we’re concerned about it.

QUESTION: All right. Well, just building on that, I mean, are you – this is the second African country this week to pull out. Burundi did earlier and then there’s lots of speculation that Uganda might also go. Are you concerned even – with the caveat that you’re not a member, are you concerned that there seems to be this rush to leave?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I think – I don’t want to get ahead of events, and I don’t think we’re at a point now where we can call it a trend. So I don’t want to speculate about what other countries may or may not do. These are obviously sovereign decisions. We do think that the ICC has made valuable contributions in the service of accountability in a number of situations, and we hope that other governments would share that analysis.

QUESTION: My question is on Honduras. Last week, it was announced that you guys had certified that they were making enough progress on anti-corruption and human rights reforms to warrant the release of aid. And I don’t know if you’re aware, but their police – security forces of Honduras just this week essentially attacked a protest rally, and I’m just wondering if you have any reaction – response to that or if it makes you have second thoughts about the certification.

MR KIRBY: I don’t – so obviously we’re concerned about those reports, Matt. There’s no question about that. And we note that the situation there in Honduras is extremely complex with high rates of impunity, crime, and corruption. There’s plenty of work to be done. We’re going to continue to press the Honduran Government to conduct prompt, thorough, and transparent investigation into cases like this and to homicide cases and to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. But I’m not aware that these recent activities will in any way change our certification of September 30th.

QUESTION: Why not? Because it’s --

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, because that certification --

QUESTION: -- a done deal and you can’t go back to it?

MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t – I mean, you can always – you can always revisit --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: I’m saying I’m not aware that these recent actions are going to have any effect on that --


MR KIRBY: -- and they – and that certification was done to acknowledge that they have in fact taken effective steps to meet the criteria that was specified in the legislation. It doesn’t mean, and we said this I think at the time, that they have resolved all their problems. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t still corruption and crime, and as I said, impunity. In fact, there are very serious challenges that remain that are going to require sustained effort and political will.

QUESTION: Yeah, but this happened after the certification. Is there no concern that --

MR KIRBY: I understand that, Matt.

QUESTION: -- the government may have gotten the certification and said, “Oh, okay, well, that’s all right now; we can go do whatever we want?”

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for --

QUESTION: I’m not --

MR KIRBY: -- calculus that the government (inaudible) make after getting the certification, but --

QUESTION: Oh no, I know. Yeah, but is there concern here that they might have – that that might be what’s going on?

MR KIRBY: We are deeply concerned about the continued problems in Honduras from crime, corruption, and impunity. There’s absolutely no question about that. And we always review our programs as a result of it. As we stand here today, we are comfortable in the certification that we made at the end of last month, but it doesn’t mean that we turn a blind eye as we go forward. We always review and assess going forward.

Okay, thanks everybody. Have a great weekend.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:09 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - October 20, 2016

Thu, 10/20/2016 - 16:32

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 20, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:27 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hello guys. Sorry I’m late. Nothing like calling an early briefing then being like a half-hour late for it, right? (Laughter.) You’re welcome.

QUESTION: It’s that military precision that we’ve come to know and expect.

MR KIRBY: I have long since given up military precision. I am a civilian now. (Laughter.)

Just a couple things at the top. Tonight – and I think you know this – the Secretary is going to travel to New York City, where he’s going to be joining Oscar winners Leonardo DiCaprio and Fisher Stevens for a screening of their film, which is entitled “Before the Flood.” The screening will take place at the United Nations. “Before the Flood,” I think you know, is a film about the effort to combat climate change.

Following that film, the Secretary will participate in a panel discussion with Mr. DiCaprio and Mr. Stevens, as well as the deputy director of NASA, the deputy director of the Sciences and Exploration Directorate of NASA, Piers Sellers. That Q&A, that panel discussion, will be an open press event. So there’s that.

I also just want to – because I’m imagining it’s going to be foremost on somebody’s mind – comments that we keep – that we have heard again coming out of the Philippines, in this case comments that President Duterte made in Beijing. And I just want to say that obviously we’re aware of this rhetoric, of course, and we still hold that it is inexplicably at odds with the very close relationship that we have with the Filipino people as well as the government there on many different levels – not just from a security perspective.

We are going to be seeking an explanation of exactly what the president meant when he talked about separation from the U.S. It’s not clear to us exactly what that means in all its ramifications, so we’re going to be seeking a clarification on that.

I would add that Assistant Secretary Russel will be in the Philippines, in Manila this weekend. This trip was long-scheduled; I don’t want to give any impression that it was thrown on as a result of recent comments or activities. It was something he’s been planning for months, but it does give us an opportunity in the context of these comments to try to get a better explanation of what was meant by “separation” and where that’s going.

The last thing I’ll say on this – well, two more things. One, it isn’t just the United States who is baffled by this rhetoric. We have heard from many of our friends and partners in the region who are likewise confused about where this is going, and also we believe are trying to learn more on their own about what it portends.

And then finally, as I have said before, I will say again today: We remain rock-solid in our commitment in the mutual defense treaty that we have with the Philippines. That hasn’t changed. There has been – for all the rhetoric we’ve heard, there has been no tangible application of the intent behind, or at least the stated intent behind, some of the things that were made. And we’re going to move – we’re continuing to move forward and have every interest in seeing this 70-year alliance continue to grow and to develop and to deepen. That’s our commitment. We have a close relationship not only with the government but with the people of the Philippines, and it is our hope and our expectation that that will continue.

So I just wanted to lay that out there. I figured that that might be on your minds today, so I just wanted to put that out there.

QUESTION: Well, you may have a close relationship with the government and the people of the Philippines, but you don’t seem to have a very close relationship with the president, who is the head of the government. I’m just wondering if this – how could this possibly come as a surprise to you, given the – his increasingly nasty rhetoric over the course of the last several months – not just directed at the alliance or the military relationship, but also directed at your ambassador first, then the President of the United States. Why are you surprised now that he would say something like this?

And secondly, doesn’t – he was semi-specific in what he meant by separation. He talked about economic and military ties, perhaps – I think, if I’m not – if I’m not mistaken, he said perhaps not the cultural side or the --

MR KIRBY: Well, that’s just the point, Matt. I mean, whether he was semi-specific or not, I mean, I don’t want to quibble over percentages here. But obviously we believe that there’s certainly room for – well, we have an interest in trying to gain a little bit more clarity on what he meant. And I think even in your question, you hit on exactly why we would seek greater clarity on this.

The second thing I’d say though is – and I don’t think I said it at the outset, and if I did, I was mistaken. I don’t mean to – I wasn’t trying to say we were surprised by these comments. As I said, we have continued to --

QUESTION: Well, you seemed to be taken unaware. You --

MR KIRBY: No, I said we were aware of the reports.

QUESTION: No, I know that. But I mean, it’s not something that you expected. I mean, what I’m saying is that this came as a surprise to you when he said this in China, correct?

MR KIRBY: The specific line about separation?


MR KIRBY: Did we know that was coming? No, we didn’t know that was coming.


MR KIRBY: But this is yet another string in some pretty strong rhetoric that we think, we believe, is at odds with the kind of relationship that we have had and continue to have with the Filipino people.

QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that anyone in the government below the president has similar feelings or intent?

MR KIRBY: That’s difficult to know, Matt. I don’t know that we have particular insight into people below his level and what they might – how they might view his comments. What I will say though is that we in the past, in recent weeks, we’ve seen some – some of this bombastic rhetoric clarified or walked back after the fact. So again, all of that gives us reason to think that there’s – there’s a purpose in trying to get a better, deeper explanation on this.

QUESTION: All right. Last – and last thing very quickly. Who, other than Assistant Secretary Russel, is anyone approaching the Philippines Government in the immediate --

MR KIRBY: Well, our --

QUESTION: -- immediate term?

MR KIRBY: Our ambassador has been, obviously, in touch with officials there, of course.


MR KIRBY: Well, not – I mean, today no. I mean in general.

QUESTION: On this --

MR KIRBY: On this particular line.

QUESTION: On this separation thing?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any other communication on this particular line. Look, it just happened. Our ambassador has, as you would expect, has stayed in close touch with his counterparts in Manila, and I suspect that he’s – that that will continue, and that there are conversations about this going on. But I can’t confirm that as we stand here today. It wouldn’t surprise me at all though if the ambassador was having those kinds of conversations. And as I said, Assistant Secretary Russel will be heading over in a few days, and he fully expects to be able to have those kinds of conversations as well and try to figure out exactly what this means.

QUESTION: All right. Because I know I --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I know I said it was the last one but this --

MR KIRBY: Hang on, Ros. Hang on.

QUESTION: I promise this is the last one. More broadly --

MR KIRBY: You – it was two questions ago you promised.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know, I know, I know.


QUESTION: All right --

MR KIRBY: No, go ahead. I’m kidding. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just want to – more broadly, in terms of the whole rebalance to Asia, or pivot, it seems as though instead of gaining or increasing your influence, you’re losing it. Would you – well, I’m sure you would disagree. Why would you disagree with that?

MR KIRBY: Yes, of course, we would disagree with that. Look, the rebalance is – so there are a couple aspects to it. It’s – it is advancing. We are seriously committed to it, and you can see it across, again, many different sectors of government and even nongovernment activity. The second thing I would say is that relationships in that part of the world or in any part of the world are not zero-sum games, and we’re not looking at it like – or looking at it like that. And we’ve long said that we would welcome a closer relationship between the Philippines and China, between other nations and China. This is not – this doesn’t have to be binary and it’s not zero-sum.

And for our part, the rebalance was never about any one country in the region. It was about putting more of our efforts as a government, as an administration, in the Pacific theater because so much of the future is going to be tied up there economically, from a security perspective, politically, socially. And so that commitment, our commitment to the rebalance, continues and will continue.

And as I said, again, more specifically on the Philippines, we still have a mutual defense treaty that we take very seriously our commitments to that, and that hasn’t changed. We still have a strong military-to-military relationship. That hasn’t changed. And in many aspects, aside from the rhetoric, the relationship with the Philippines remains very, very strong.

QUESTION: Is the --

QUESTION: Just a couple of quick ones. When do you expect – when exactly do you expect Assistant Secretary Russel to be there?

MR KIRBY: It’s this weekend, Arshad. I believe he gets there on Sunday. We can have the EAP Bureau confirm that for you. But I talked to him just a little bit ago, and he told me he’d be there – Sunday and Monday, I think is what he said.

QUESTION: Second, do you think the Philippine President Duterte hopes to have his cake and eat it too; in other words, to assert closer ties with China, to assert separation from the United States, but to – because as you’ve repeatedly said you have not had any formal notification or change in any of the underlying relationships, the mil-mil cooperation, et cetera, et cetera, but to maintain the existing ties with the United States, his rhetoric notwithstanding?

MR KIRBY: It’s difficult for me and I’d be a fool to try to get in the head of another leader in the world. I wouldn’t do that. So I can’t – I couldn’t speculate about what might be behind some of the rhetoric and where the president is taking it or where he wants to take his administration. I think that’s for him to speak to.

But I would like to just foot-stomp what I said a few minutes ago, that we don’t believe that relationships in that, or any other part of the world have to be zero-sum or binary choices. We have a very strong relationship with the Philippines that goes way, way back, like I said, a 70-some-odd-year alliance, and that – and we fully intend to continue that.

We also welcome improved relations between China and the Philippines. If that is, in fact, what President Duterte is seeking, that – we don’t see that as a threat, we don’t see that as unwelcome, we don’t see that as counterproductive. Actually quite the opposite; we think that improved relations between him and his neighbors, be that China or other countries, are all to the good, all to the good for stability in the region.

QUESTION: The U.S. Government had, for many years, a dramatically reduced particularly military relationship with the Philippines, even though the treaty, of course, the alliance continued. But Subic Bay was closed. The other --


QUESTION: Why – to ask a simple question, why is it, from your point of view, so vital to maintain a mil-mil cooperation in particular, given the U.S. forward projection in Japan, in South Korea, in Guam? Why do you – why is it so essential to have a better military or to maintain the existing mil-mil cooperation with the Philippines?

MR KIRBY: Well, one, there is the issue of the treaty itself, which binds us to a security relationship with the Philippines. And --

QUESTION: But that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to have the rotating deployments that you’ve agreed this year.

MR KIRBY: No, no, no, no.


MR KIRBY: So – but I’m just trying to frame it.


MR KIRBY: I mean, the first foundational reason is we have a treaty that we are obligated to meet the requirements of, and we do. Every defense treaty is different; every one is defined differently. And in executing the obligations under a defense treaty – and I don’t want to stray into my former life here too much – but as you meet those commitments it varies based on the foundational components of the treaty and the needs of both parties.

And I’m not an expert on exactly how we meet every obligation in that treaty. My Pentagon colleagues could probably help you out with that. But it does involve a certain level of routine training and exercising and advising and assisting. And there’s even a defense relationship there in terms of foreign military sales. So it – there – it exists on many different levels, and we believe that it’s important to continue to – in order to make the treaty real, to give it the teeth that it needs, you’ve got to have those other activities persist. And so, again, we’re very committed to doing that. I’m not sure I completely answered your question though.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, basically my question is you lived without the super-close mil-mil relationship for a long time. I mean, there was a – Subic Bay closed.

MR KIRBY: So it’s --

QUESTION: The airbase got hit by a typhoon, I think. I mean, it – there was that tremendous withdrawal from the Philippines in the early 1990s.

MR KIRBY: Our presence does vary over time. Yes.


MR KIRBY: Thank you for reminding me of that. I knew there was something I was missing in your question.

QUESTION: So why is it so vital now, I guess is my point. Is it because China is so much more assertive in this – about its claims in the South China Sea, and therefore you think it’s vital to be in the Philippines on a rotating basis? Is that what has changed here? Or could you live without them, as you did for 20-odd years?

MR KIRBY: So a couple of thoughts there. First of all, you’re right that our overseas footprint and the number of exercises we do or the scope of defense sales, that changes over time. Some of that’s driven by bilateral sovereign decisions that either party makes. Some of it’s driven on our behalf on budgetary constraints, and that was a factor in some of the drawing down of – as well as local desires. And then you rightly pointed out natural disasters kind of get in the way and do force the United States military to rethink its presence. That happens in virtually any bilateral military relationship. You’re going to see things ebb and flow. Some of it’s not based on threat at all; some of it is.

So let’s go back to this presence in that part of the Asia Pacific region. It is – it remains a vital region, aside from the growing assertiveness of China, which obviously has our attention. There’s no question about that. So aside from the tensions in the South China Sea, there are and have been already good, solid reasons why we would want to continue a strong defense relationship with the Philippines, just because of the economic lifeblood of the region that – the amount of commerce that just simply flows through those waters. So, I mean, there’s plenty of good reasons to do that, and it is in keeping – this continued rotation or I’d – maybe not even continued, to your question – I mean, renewed interest in rotational activity from a military perspective in the Philippines is really borne out of my answer to Matt on the seriousness with which we take the rebalance and how we’re trying to advance that.

QUESTION: I have one other one on this, which is since President Duterte came to power, which is not so long ago, there have been several thousand, as you well know, killings of alleged drug dealers and others. The human rights community describes these as extrajudicial killings, and as you well know, the Leahy law limits the assistance that you can provide.


QUESTION: Is this, despite the attractions of its geography and despite the treaty – which, as you pointed out, doesn’t oblige you to have a specific amount of military presence there, and it’s varied from decade to decade.

MR KIRBY: Correct.

QUESTION: Why is this an ally you want to have given your, A, human rights concerns and, B, this angry rhetoric often directed at you? Why is this an ally you want? Is geography destiny here and you just have to have it?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think the alliance – as I said, some 70 years old now – has weathered all kinds of different storms, be they actual storms or political storms. And again, we’re focused on keeping it solid going forward. It’s based on a very rich history, people-to-people ties that, again, go back even before, obviously, World War II. And it includes a very vibrant Filipino American diaspora of Filipino Americans here who enrich our culture, enrich our society, enrich our armed forces, and a very long list of shared security concerns. So it is a country in the crossroads of a very important region, a region that is undergoing enormous strain and change. It is a commitment, an alliance that we have – that we not only entered into honorably but we intend to continue to honor going forward.

And that – to your question on human rights, we’ve been very open and honest about our concerns over human rights activities there, and you can go on our report online and see that. We’re not bashful about expressing those. You’re right about the Leahy law. I mean, obviously, that applies there and anywhere else around the world. We have restrictions on what kind of aid and assistance can go to specific units that, if we have credible information that they – that they’re violating human rights, that that aid cannot go forward. We always look at that on a unit-to-unit basis. It’s always under review. But to your larger question, it is – that we have human rights concerns, even with a treaty ally, doesn’t mean that that renders moot or invalid or undesirable the treaty itself and the larger foundation of the relationship.

QUESTION: John, is the Philippines ambassador being summoned to explain President Duterte’s comments?

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

QUESTION: Is that something that you anticipate will happen?

MR KIRBY: If we have something to report on that, I’ll let you know, but I’m not aware that any kind of summons like that’s coming.

QUESTION: And then one other --

MR KIRBY: As I said --


MR KIRBY: -- Assistant Secretary Russel is going to be heading to the region in just a few days.

QUESTION: Right. Right.

MR KIRBY: And I think his conversations will hopefully suffice for the kind of explanation and more detail that we’re seeking.

QUESTION: But there will be a lag of at least three days, and certainly the ambassador is here. Why not just have him come in and say, well --

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t think we believe there’s a need to do that. But if that changes, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: And then, going back to something that you just talked about, the overall relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines, the economic relationship. Could that be imperiled, given that Philippine workers are hired to work at naval installations around the world? I’ve seen them with my own eyes at PXs and cleaning facilities and doing maintenance. Schoolteachers, registered nurses routinely get visas to come work here in the United States, sending home money to a country that I don’t think is considered an economic superpower. Does the U.S. believe that President Duterte believes or understands that he could be imperiling a real economic support for his country by making these sorts of comments and making these sorts of overtures to other countries in the region?

MR KIRBY: I have no idea what he thinks or believes about where he’s going with these comments. Again, as I told Arshad, I wouldn’t put myself in a foreign leader’s head; I can’t do that. All I can tell you – but you’re right, there is a – there are many – the ties that bind us are many different areas of our – sectors of our culture, society, and our government. And there is strong economic ties and the United States does provide many billions of dollars to – for aid and assistance to Philippines. And when the Philippines have had natural disasters in the past, the United States was first into the fray to help. We very much want to see that close – those ties that – we want to see those continue and we want to see them deepen and strengthen, and there’s really no reason why they shouldn’t. And again, that’s why these comments are baffling to us, and not just to us – as I said, to other of our friends and partners in the region. And that’s why we’d like to get a little bit better sense of exactly what he meant when he said “separation.” What does that entail?

QUESTION: Is it reasonable to assume that if President Duterte insists upon a change in the mil-to-mil relationship, that the U.S. in turn would reconsider its economic relationships, its visa policies, its immigration policies regarding the Philippines?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t. I don’t think it would be helpful to hypothesize or speculate about that kind of stuff right now. Obviously that’s not a future that we are interested in seeing.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: John, (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Syria?


QUESTION: Philippines.

MR KIRBY: Philippines?

QUESTION: Philippines.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: So you mentioned that there were friends in the region that were also concerned about these comments. Can you be a little bit more specific on who those countries – or what those countries might be and what the exact concerns they’ve expressed?

MR KIRBY: No, next question.

QUESTION: Okay. And then also, do you have any specific comment on the fact that the Philippines has agreed with China to discuss on a bilateral basis the South China Sea issue?

MR KIRBY: Can I confirm that the Philippines and China are discussing --

QUESTION: Or do you have a response that they’ve agreed to bilateral talks?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen press reports that they have. I don’t know that I can confirm that they’ve agreed to have bilateral talks on the South China Sea specifically, but as I said, we would welcome a closer bilateral relationship between the Philippines and China. And I would have every expectation that such a bilateral discussion and relationship would include what’s going on in the South China Sea. That wouldn’t shock or surprise us one bit, but we – again, we welcome China and the Philippines being able to have a closer dialogue and discussion and, in fact, a closer relationship.

QUESTION: Do you think that’s a positive --

MR KIRBY: That doesn’t – that doesn’t bother us.

QUESTION: You think that’s a positive step in terms of resolving their dispute?

MR KIRBY: I think any dialogue between two nations involved in the tensions there, any dialogue that can lead to peaceful diplomatic solutions to some of the claims disputes, obviously we’re in favor of that – obviously we would see that as a positive, productive thing. And we’ve been saying that for years now, that we want these things to be resolved peacefully, bilaterally, in accordance with international law and norms. And if President Xi and President Duterte have that kind of conversation and they can arrive at some solutions and reduce the tensions there, that’s all to the good.


QUESTION: So last week, Toner said that the working-level relationship between the Philippines and the United States is still strong and rock-solid. Have you seen any shift in the working-level relationship?



QUESTION: So recently, outside of the U.S. embassy in the Philippines, there’s been a lot of activity as far as protests and such.


QUESTION: And in fact, some pretty horrible video came out the other day --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, say --

QUESTION: Some pretty horrible video came out the other day with a police van. I’m wondering, with Russel going this weekend, do you think that him being there at the same time during these protests would heighten tensions at all?

MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly don’t want to see tensions heightened regardless and I don’t think that Danny would go if he felt that him going would exacerbate any tensions. I think he’s going – again, long scheduled, long planned. He still believes that it’s important to make this trip, particularly in the context of recent events, and believe me, I don’t – he would not go if he felt that he was going to make the situation worse in any way and I don’t believe that he will.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: No, no, no, no. I – three, but they’re extremely brief. One, when you didn’t want to be specific about what other countries have – are baffled by this, is it more than – can you say it’s more than just other ASEAN members?

MR KIRBY: I think I’m – I would let --

QUESTION: When we talk about the region --

MR KIRBY: I would let --

QUESTION: When you say “the region,” that’s Southeast Asia, but I mean, are there – does it extend beyond Southeast Asia?

MR KIRBY: I think there are many – yes, it does.


MR KIRBY: There are many nations in the region that are concerned and baffled. I’ll let them speak for themselves.

QUESTION: All right, secondly --

MR KIRBY: Does it go beyond ASEAN? Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. So, I mean, one could presume – assume, then, it’s Japan --

MR KIRBY: I’ll just leave it at that.

QUESTION: It’s the Korea --

MR KIRBY: I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: -- or South Korea. Secondly, have you heard anything through the embassy there about concerns among American expats living in the Philippines? Because you mentioned the Filipino-American community here, the diaspora, which is quite large, but there’s also quite a big --


QUESTION: -- number of American expatriates there. Do you know, have you heard any reports of a concern --

MR KIRBY: We have not. I’m not aware of any specific concerns expressed by Americans that are living overseas.

QUESTION: All right. And then lastly on this, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but today is the 72nd anniversary of General MacArthur returning to the Philippines after his --

MR KIRBY: I only know because I saw your tweet.

QUESTION: Yes, exactly. (Laughter.) And I’m just wondering – I’m just wondering if this – if you see any connection, if it makes the sting a little bit worse that this, whether it’s a coincidence or not, happened on an historically – on a historically important day, particularly for the Philippines-U.S. relationship?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to, again, the president about his --

QUESTION: No, no, no, I’m – from this – from this end.

MR KIRBY: -- motivations. No, I know. You’d have to talk to him about the timing of his particular statement and what it meant and whether it was timed to coincide with General MacArthur’s famous proclamation about returning to the Philippines. We are not focused on history here. We’re proud of the history of the relationship, obviously – I’ve talked about the 70 years of an alliance. We are very much focused on the future. And that’s where our heads are – on the future of this very important alliance, very important relationship.


QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?


QUESTION: Okay. But in that context – of course I want to ask about the ceasefire, but in that context, in the meeting between the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and the Secretary of State, I’m sure they will be discussing the current ceasefire and perhaps a proposal to extend it.

MR KIRBY: I have no doubt that they will be discussing the situation on the ground in Syria, to include trying to get a meaningful cessation of hostilities in place.

QUESTION: Would you say that their meeting is dedicated to the Syria situation or it is – their meeting --

MR KIRBY: Would I say is the Secretary dedicated --

QUESTION: No, I mean this meeting, because there were some reports saying that it is going to focus on the ceasefire – the current ceasefire in Syria and the role of the U.S. and the role of its allies, regional allies and so on, and bringing – or making the ceasefire that is currently in – I guess in effect, has been in effect for the past few hours – to make it sort of go longer. That’s --

MR KIRBY: Well, obviously, we would like to see it persist --


MR KIRBY: -- and sustain itself and be renewed. I mean --


MR KIRBY: -- clearly and absolutely, he will be discussing with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir this afternoon the situation on the ground, our continued efforts in a multilateral way to try to get at a meaningful cessation of hostilities that goes beyond just Aleppo. Obviously, Aleppo is the focus --


MR KIRBY: -- but goes beyond Aleppo.

QUESTION: Because there were statements attributed to Mr. al-Jubeir just a couple days, two days ago about arming the rebels or the – what he called the moderate rebels with lethal weapons and so on. So are you on the same page on this thing? Would you be willing to arm the moderate rebels with more lethal weapons and maybe supply them with surface-to-air missiles and so on that can bring Russian and Syrian airplanes down?

MR KIRBY: What we want to see is a meaningful cessation of hostilities that can --


MR KIRBY: -- get us back to political discussions --


MR KIRBY: -- because we still believe – hang on, guys – we still believe in a political solution to this. And as a government – I’m not going to speak for other governments, but I can speak for ours – we continue to examine a range of options at our – that are available to us going forward in Syria.

But as you and I speak here today, Said, nothing has changed about the fact that we continue to believe the best option is a political one, a diplomatic solution. And that is what Secretary Kerry’s focus is on. That will be a major topic of discussion when he meets with the foreign minister this afternoon and that is what we’re continuing to work towards.

QUESTION: A couple more on this one. On the ceasefire itself, I mean, seeing that there was actually a lowering down of hostility and bombardments in the last couple days and so on and now the ceasefire to be – seems to be holding and it’s quiet all over. So are you optimistic that this can go on or that Lausanne was not a total failure, as has been suggested?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know who suggested Lausanne was a total failure.

QUESTION: No, I mean, like --

MR KIRBY: Maybe you did. We didn’t.

QUESTION: Well, okay. My article did, okay.

MR KIRBY: I mean, your article said it was.

QUESTION: No, I mean --

MR KIRBY: Well, there you go --

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) probation, so --

MR KIRBY: -- so it’s definitive. No, look, I mean, the Secretary said coming out of the meeting in Lausanne that we got exactly what we expected to get out of it, which was having a good multilateral discussion about ways forward. Did it solve everything? No. And yesterday you heard him say publicly that he has no special expectations, no high sense of expectations right now in these discussions. And so would he like to see this temporary ceasefire take hold and last longer? Absolutely. Would he like to see it extend to beyond Aleppo and other places of Syria? You bet. Does he have great, high expectations and hopes that it will? No. He’s pretty pragmatic about this, and we’ve seen time and time again where the regime or their Russian backers have said, well, we’re going to do this, we’re going to stop firing, we’re going to put people – put airplanes on the ground, and then they don’t meet it.

So we – as he said yesterday, there still has to be a cessation of bombing in Aleppo, or you’re never going to get not only peace in Aleppo but an end to this civil war. You’re never going to get the opposition to stop fighting and be willing to come to any kind of negotiated settlement or political talks as long as they continue to see bombs dropping out of the sky.

So again, last few hours, good sign. But it needs to be deeper and broader and needs to last a longer period of time. And again, we just – we’re going to have to see how it goes.

QUESTION: Sorry, just one more. The Russian foreign minister said that the only thing that is standing between a permanent ceasefire in Syria and – is the fact that al-Nusrah remains in Aleppo. So if they leave Aleppo, we will have a permanent ceasefire. You have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I would say the only thing that stands between where we are now and a permanent, enduring ceasefire in Syria is Bashar al-Assad and his supporters. Now, we recognize al-Nusrah is a spoiler. We recognize the concerns about commingling. I have talked about this ad nauseam. But it is within the regime’s power to put their airplanes on the ground and keep them there, and to keep their forces out of Aleppo and from killing innocent civilians and destroying infrastructure. It is totally within the Russian Government’s power and authority to do that with their own aircraft. That’s what’s the problem has been. Look, you and I just got into a back and forth over the last few hours, where I agree with you, where we’ve seen a reduction in the violence. Why is that, Said? Why? Because the Russians --

QUESTION: Stopped the bombing.

MR KIRBY: -- and Assad have decided that they’re not going to fly as much. So it’s absolutely within their power, and we’ve said that from the very beginning.

QUESTION: John, the Turkish forces that are just north of Aleppo now and getting a bit closer there, Turkish-backed FSA and they’ve also got U.S. Special Forces with them. Are they part of the coalition against ISIS as is broadly understood, the FSA forces north of Aleppo now?

MR KIRBY: I’m wary to talk about specific military matters that there are – and I don’t have perfect granularity on every group that’s fighting. But the groups that – I think it’s safe to assume that groups that we are supporting, whether it’s through air support or advising and assisting on the ground – and again, I don’t want to get into my colleagues’ knickers on this – but it’s safe to assume that if we’re supporting those groups, that they are considered to be part of the coalition against Daesh.

QUESTION: What did you just say?

QUESTION: Let’s just leave it in the transcript.

MR KIRBY: What’d I say?

QUESTION: Get into --

MR KIRBY: Into their business about that.

QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Come on.

QUESTION: So without wanting to get into the Pentagon’s knickers right away --

MR KIRBY: I think you know what I meant.

QUESTION: -- the FSA forces are getting closer to al-Bab; they’re getting closer to northern Aleppo. At some point they’re going to bump up against regime forces and/or Russian forces backing them. It would be inappropriate for them to clash.

MR KIRBY: But you’re – I don’t want you to mix here the fight against Daesh, and the support that we’re giving to some forces on the ground are to fight Daesh.

QUESTION: But that was in the premise of my question, that they’re there fighting ISIS, and you’ve welcomed the advances they’ve made, but those advances are bringing them to closer to other forces with which they are not friendly but which are – well, would be if the ceasefire was reinstalled – would be party to a ceasefire. You don’t have any concerns that these forces that you’re backing now against ISIS are going to wind up with the front line (inaudible) Assad?

MR KIRBY: We’re backing forces to fight ISIS, to fight Daesh. That’s the goal, not – we’re not doing that activity to get involved and embroiled in the civil war. And what we want and what we’ve said over and over again is we want every member of the coalition, be it a state or not a state – if you’re fighting in the coalition against Daesh just to focus on that common enemy, because we all face that common enemy. But I really don’t want to get into hypotheticals and speculating about the dynamics of the battlefield in and around Aleppo. Our focus militarily in Syria remains focused on the fight against Daesh and only on the fight against Daesh.

QUESTION: But you would give advice to forces that you were backing that their task remains --

MR KIRBY: The advice that we give is in keeping with the fight against Daesh and only Daesh.

QUESTION: Ukraine?


MR KIRBY: I think we’re going to stay on Syria. You got Syria?

QUESTION: No, on the meeting between the Secretary and the Saudi foreign minister.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Let me come to you after I go over here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I actually have a short question, and then I’ll explain what prompted the question.


QUESTION: Is the U.S. fighting al-Nusrah in Syria at this time?

MR KIRBY: Now you were going to explain why you were going to ask the question.

QUESTION: No, that is actually a very simple – I mean, not – probably not simple, but short.

MR KIRBY: I thought you were going to ask the question and then tell me – (laughter) – why you were asking me the question.

QUESTION: The question is: Is the U.S. fighting al-Nusrah in Syria at this time?

MR KIRBY: Our efforts militarily in Syria, as I said today, is against ISIS, against Daesh.

Now, there has been I think at least one and maybe more – I don’t know; you’d have to check with my Pentagon colleagues, but we know al-Nusrah – they’re outside the cessation of hostilities, they’re also a designated – UN-designated terrorist group. They’re – al-Qaida in Syria is what – how we refer to them. And I know that from a unilateral U.S. perspective, when we have had information that led us to take action, because of plotting we knew they were doing, we did that. But the primary effort militarily in Syria is against Daesh.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. --

MR KIRBY: You said you only had one question.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Actually, you confirmed that, basically – my other – the one that prompted the question, so it’s redundant right now and not necessary to ask.

Does the U.S. have – a more broad question: So in Mosul, the U.S. has a strategy to fight ISIL there, which is to support, to train, and equip Iraqi forces. In Aleppo, let’s say with Russia out of the picture – and I’m assuming, and I’m actually certain, that the U.S. wouldn’t do the same for Syrian forces. And I’m wondering, does the U.S. have a strategy of its own to defeat al-Nusrah in Syria that does not involve Russia?

MR KIRBY: We did have a strategy, if you might remember. If you go back to September 9th in Geneva, when Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry talked and we struck a deal, right? An arrangement where if we got seven days of reduced violence, we would stand up what was called a Joint Implementation Center, by which we would share information with the Russian military designed specifically to cooperate against al-Nusrah – specifically al-Nusrah – I mean, and Daesh. Daesh was mentioned in there, but al-Nusrah was specifically named as a target of those kinds of activities that we would be willing to cooperate and share information with the Russians on. We didn’t get there. So there was a strategy and it was implemented – it was written down on September 9th, and you can go back and look at the agreement and see that. We just couldn’t get there, because the Russians weren’t willing to meet their commitments.



QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: One more --

QUESTION: I have a Syria question now too – breaking news.

MR KIRBY: You’re killing Samir over here. (Laughter.) I’ll go to you and then you and then, Samir, I promise I’ll get to you. You’re being very patient.

QUESTION: Thank you. Just more specific question about the Turkey – Turkish air force bombing the Kurds in Afrin. It looks like the Syria Kurdish forces – also Turkey-backed Free Syrian forces – both of them are racing to take over or reach to al-Bab. It’s near Aleppo. Do you have a position to which groups to take over the al-Bab?

MR KIRBY: I – do I have a position on what groups should take over al-Bab?

QUESTION: Because they are clashing with each other right now. They are trying to block each other right now.

MR KIRBY: I mean, I’m aware of the clashes. We’re monitoring it, as I think Mark said, closely. We’ve called on all parties to refrain from uncoordinated movements and to focus, as I said earlier, on the common enemy, and the common enemy is Daesh. Both these Syrian forces and Turkey can and should operate inside the coalition, which is to, again, to focus on Daesh and not one another, and that’s what we want to see. But as I said, we also don’t want to see any uncoordinated movements, and these strikes would qualify as uncoordinated movements.

QUESTION: So on that al-Bab question, do you have a position, because both – each of the groups trying to reach to al-Bab. That is the main --

MR KIRBY: My – I said our position is we want them to focus on the fight against Daesh.


QUESTION: Can you confirm there was a Kerry-Lavrov phone call on Aleppo today?

MR KIRBY: I cannot. I’ll have to get back to you. I don’t have a call or readout to you.

QUESTION: Okay. Come back to me on Ukraine, please. I’ll defer.

QUESTION: The – my turn?

MR KIRBY: Yes, it’s finally your turn, sir. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The Secretary’s meeting with the Saudi foreign minister today comes at a time where reports published today that Iran is increasing its supplies of missiles to the Houthis via the border of Oman. Are you unhappy that the Saudis – that Oman is not taking strong measures to prevent these smugglings?

MR KIRBY: So let me back this up. I mean, we’re aware that Iran provides lethal support to the Houthis. We have regularly and routinely called on regional actors to de-escalate the tensions in Yemen and the region, including abiding by the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, as well as the ceasefire, which both the – all parties have said they would support.

We’ve also repeatedly raised our concerns that Iran is providing lethal aid to the Houthis in Yemen, including at the UN, when dhows smuggling Iranian weapons to the Houthis were interdicted at sea.

So we have been, I think, very clear – again, without getting into specifics of diplomatic discussions, we’ve been very clear about our concerns with all of the partners in the region, including Oman, regarding the risks that these weapons used in these kinds of attack pose to maritime traffic in the Red Sea, and also the risks that future incidents could inadvertently expand the conflict in Yemen. And particularly at this very delicate time, when we have a ceasefire budding here and a real chance to get the political talks back on track.

QUESTION: Thank you.




QUESTION: So some – a question about Mosul. Some local Sunni leaders there are blaming both the Iraqi Government and the U.S. Government that they started the Mosul operation before reaching a political agreement about the aftermath of the operation, and that you and Iraqi Government disregarded their calls, calls from the Sunni leaders and also from President Barzani, for reaching a political agreement. What is your take on that?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments or those critiques. All I can tell you is that we have been in very close contact with leaders in Erbil as well as in Baghdad about the Mosul offensive, which is an Iraqi offensive. It’s an Iraqi campaign plan, an Iraqi strategy. And we have been nothing but supportive of Prime Minister Abadi’s efforts to provide the command and control infrastructure he needs in order to conduct this successfully. It’s ongoing. It’s going to be, we believe, still a tough fight, although some progress is being made. So again, I can’t rebut specific comments I haven’t seen except to reaffirm for you that we have been in very close touch with leaders both in Erbil and Baghdad about this.

And I might add that we have had active discussions with them as an – as a U.S. Government interagency, but also with our Iraqi partners, about what Mosul looks like after it’s taken back, both from a political perspective and from a humanitarian assistance perspective. I mean, this is – it’s not like we haven’t – and I don’t – when I say “we,” I don’t just mean the United States; I mean all of us – haven’t thought this about this and aren’t actively planning and trying to coordinate for what it looks like when Daesh is finally evicted from Mosul. And obviously the immediate focus is the actual task of taking Mosul back. But even as we are supporting that effort, we’re having, continuing to having those active conversations – again, with leaders both in Erbil and in Baghdad. And I think that that will continue throughout.

QUESTION: Okay. One more question about Mosul?

MR KIRBY: I’ve got time for just a couple more.

QUESTION: One more question?

MR KIRBY: I’ll come back to you, Catherine; I promise.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Go ahead. We’ll go to you – you got --

QUESTION: One more question about Mosul?

MR KIRBY: You got to be – it’s got to be quick, though.

QUESTION: Very quick.

MR KIRBY: I’m running out of time.

QUESTION: Sorry. So today some local Peshmerga leaders, they are saying that they’re not getting enough air support from the coalition, and because of that they’re – they lost some troops in the fighting today. Do you have any say about – anything to say about that?

MR KIRBY: I really try to avoid getting into operational assessments, particularly in an operation that’s ongoing. I would really point you to my Pentagon colleagues to speak to that. Obviously, our role from the United States is to support Iraqi efforts with – primarily through training, advising, and assisting. I’ll let my Pentagon colleagues speak to things as they unfold on the battlefield. I really don’t want to get into doing that.

QUESTION: The Ukrainian Government says they were in close contact with U.S. officials before this Normandy Four meeting in Berlin, and that the U.S. supports Kyiv’s position. Do you have anything on the U.S. role and position with regards to the roadmap for the Minsk agreement’s implementation?

MR KIRBY: Well, as you know, we continue to support the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. We’ve stated that on numerous occasions. We are not part of the Normandy group. I won’t speak to things that the members of that group have decided on. I think your question about a roadmap is really better put to them, not to us. We support the process and we support their ongoing work, but I would refer you to our French and German colleagues for more on the roadmap. I’m just not – it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to speak to that.

Catherine, you’re going to have to be the last one today.

QUESTION: All right. It’s on the Pat Kennedy matter. Is it the State Department’s position that the FBI interviews contain significant errors?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think we would say that, Catherine. I think – look, those were interviews with officials. They were – those 302s are just that; they’re notes – actually, they’re notes from interviews. They’re not facts, they’re not conclusions, they’re not investigative work. I can’t speak for the recollections of the individuals who were interviewed or their – no, no, no, no. Hang on a second.

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah. I’ll let you finish.

MR KIRBY: But – I know you’re going to interrupt me here, but let me finish --

QUESTION: All right. Mm-hmm.

MR KIRBY: -- I can’t speak for those recollections. What I can speak for and what Pat Kennedy has already spoken for is his recollections of those conversations and his very firm belief – a belief that was backed up, oh, by the way, by the institution of the FBI itself, that there was no bargain sought or even suggestion – suggested.

QUESTION: Well, then you do agree with me. The State Department’s position is that the FBI records contain errors.

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is that there was no bargain sought by Under Secretary Kennedy, there was no bargain suggested, and there was certainly no bargain enacted. I cannot speak for the recollections of the individual who was interviewed.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up. I have a specific on the November 2012, which is the email that was the subject of discussion. Why was Patrick Kennedy working so hard to bury this email?

MR KIRBY: There – again, I’m not going to – I can’t speak for recollections here in an interview. There was absolutely no intent or desire to bury anything. And you can go on our website, as you know, and see that very email. Our focus and Pat Kennedy’s focus over the course of many, many months was to screen 55,000 pages of documents for release through the Freedom of Information Act, which took time --

QUESTION: Well, the --

MR KIRBY: -- and effort and painstaking --

QUESTION: -- the language of it – the --

MR KIRBY: -- painstaking professionalism.

QUESTION: Okay, I --

MR KIRBY: There was no effort.

QUESTION: I respect that, but the language in the document is to archive it in the basement of this building. That’s, I think, burying it.

MR KIRBY: There was no intent to bury that or any other document, and you can go on our website and see it for yourself. It’s not – don’t take my word for it – it’s all out there. There was a very concerted effort to properly redact information in those documents, because we have to under the law, but there was no intent to bury or try to hide anything. And again, I think our actions speak much louder than my words when you just go to our website and look at it.

Okay, thanks everybody. I really do have to go, I appreciate it.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:17 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - October 18, 2016

Tue, 10/18/2016 - 18:42

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 18, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:55 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hi, everybody. Happy Tuesday. Just a couple things at the top and then I’ll take your questions.

Today, Secretary Kerry is hosting a lunch with Vice President Biden, Italian Prime Minister Renzi, and of course, Italian Foreign Minister Gentiloni as part of Prime Minister Renzi’s state visit to Washington. The White House also released a fact sheet on U.S.-Italy cooperation that explores the depth and breadth of our countries’ longstanding friendship and partnership.

You’ve probably seen the statement we released shortly or a little while ago, but we join recent calls by international organizations and UN human rights experts for the immediate release of all U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iraq – or, rather, Iran, excuse me, including Siamak and Baquer Namazi, so that they can return to their families.

We also respectfully underscore the importance of Iran cooperating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of Mr. Robert Levinson, who went missing on Iran’s Kish Island in March 2007. And as President Obama stated last January, we will not rest until the Levinson family is whole again.

That’s all I have at the top. Matt.

QUESTION: We’ll get back to the Iran thing --


QUESTION: -- along with some other stuff. I just want to begin with this WikiLeaks stuff.


QUESTION: This comment, statement that was put out in Kirby’s name earlier --

MR TONER: Yeah, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- which I’m going to read because it’s very short: “While our concerns about WikiLeaks are longstanding, any suggestion that Secretary Kerry or the State Department were involved in shutting down WikiLeaks is false. Reports that Secretary Kerry had conversations with Ecuadorian officials about this are simply untrue. Period.” That’s not what WikiLeaks has alleged, because as everyone with an internet connection knows, they haven’t been shut down. They’re still publishing these documents.

What they said, what they claimed, was that the Secretary asked Ecuador to stop Assange from publishing Clinton docs when he was in Colombia, so – and that he had a private meeting with – it says Ecuador – presuming that means Ecuadorian officials of some type. So the denial that you guys have denies something that wasn’t alleged, so can you be – can you --

MR TONER: I think we were responding to some tweets that we saw from WikiLeaks.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, these are the tweets that I’m reading.

MR TONER: But let me --

QUESTION: So can you --


QUESTION: -- be specific? Or are you able --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- to be specific?

MR TONER: I can be specific – I can be --

QUESTION: Because this is kind of a non-denial denial of --

MR TONER: I can – not at all. I’m not – and there’s not – this is not some kind of wordplay or we’re trying to be coy in any way, shape, or form.

There were some rumors circulating out there that many of us saw today about the – whether Secretary Kerry had leaned on or had engaged with President Correa in Ecuador – or I think when he was in Colombia, frankly, about our concerns about WikiLeaks and meddling with regards to emails regarding the presidential campaign. That’s just not true. He didn’t raise that. He didn’t even engage with President Correa when he was on the ground in Colombia; they had no meeting. Neither – no bilat, no – nothing on the margins, so that – there was no – there just was no meeting. They didn’t discuss any of this stuff.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, speaking from the – all right, that’s more specific.


QUESTION: But you understand, maybe, why the initial denial raises more question than it answers, because it does – did not address the primary allegation. Did – even if it wasn’t Secretary Kerry, has the United States leaned on, in your words, the Ecuadorians through President Correa or through anyone else to get – to try to stop the publication of these documents?

MR TONER: I can only speak to – about the State Department.

QUESTION: Okay, just --

MR TONER: And they have not – no one in the State Department has attempted to engage with the Ecuadorian Government on this particular matter. On this matter. Sorry. I’m not trying to be coy again.

QUESTION: All right, and then to the – the other allegation was that the U.S. was somehow involved in getting the Ecuadorians to shut down Mr. Assange’s internet access in the Ecuadorian embassy. One, is that true?


QUESTION: And secondly, does that – does the Administration, whether it’s true or not – and you say it’s not – does the Administration believe that shutting down Mr. Assange’s access to the internet would have the effect of preventing WikiLeaks from publishing these documents?

MR TONER: Probably not.

QUESTION: So it would be – so it wouldn’t be worth your while? Is that why you --

MR TONER: It’s just not something – I mean, I’m not going to speak to – I mean, we weren’t involved in this. It wasn’t our – it was – we had no involvement in any way, shape, or form in trying to shut down Mr. Assange’s access to the internet. Your further question about whether – why not – I don’t know what you’re – where you’re driving at with that. You’re saying why wouldn’t we? Or would this not affect him? You had a follow-up question.

QUESTION: No, do you think that shutting down – that if, for whatever reason, the Ecuadorians took away his internet access, that that would stop WikiLeaks from publishing?

MR TONER: I mean, probably not. I mean, he would have --

QUESTION: Probably – I mean --

MR TONER: No, I mean, he would have --

QUESTION: -- certainly not, because this happened and WikiLeaks continues to publish.

MR TONER: -- he would have contact. Exactly, exactly, yes.

QUESTION: So it is not, then, an Administration goal to try to get – to try to stop WikiLeaks from publishing these emails. Is that correct?

MR TONER: Again, we’ve – our concerns about WikiLeaks and in particular Mr. Assange are well known, but we did not have any involvement in either shutting down his internet or any involvement with the Ecuadorian Government in trying to take action against WikiLeaks or Assange.

QUESTION: Okay, but you – if I understand that --


QUESTION: -- when – if – do you believe that the publishing of these – of this material by WikiLeaks is interference in the election process?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, yes. I mean, we do consider what WikiLeaks does, which is illegally obtain email correspondence and then publicize it or release it publicly – this didn’t begin this past month or so. I mean, we’re well aware back in 2010 when WikiLeaks published a large amount of State Department email.

QUESTION: Okay. Right. So --

MR TONER: Or rather cables.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that the Administration’s concern about WikiLeaks and what it’s doing is the same as --

MR TONER: Exactly.

QUESTION: It is the same now as it was back then when they --

MR TONER: Exactly, exactly.

QUESTION: -- back when they first started.


QUESTION: So if that it’s – it is a concern, why is it wrong for WikiLeaks to think that you are trying to shut them down?

MR TONER: Again, I can’t speak on behalf of WikiLeaks, but certainly --

QUESTION: Well, no, speak on behalf of the Administration. Why – if you are concerned and think that what they’re doing is – I think what you said was “illegal” --

MR TONER: We think what they’re – what they’re doing is illegal. They are stealing information and – previously, government information, and we’ve made that very clear in our public denunciation before prior to that --

QUESTION: Well, okay.

MR TONER: -- when they released the cables.

QUESTION: I understand that that’s your position, but that’s not --

MR TONER: But you’re asking me why --

QUESTION: That’s actually not what has happened here. They didn’t actually steal anything. They were given this stuff, like in the case of the original – the State Department documents. Those weren’t taken by WikiLeaks. They were --

MR TONER: They were.

QUESTION: They were given – and the act of giving --

MR TONER: They were releasing confidential government information. But you’re asking me – your particular question was with regard to why shouldn’t WikiLeaks believe we were behind this? Ask WikiLeaks. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay, I – and I will --

MR TONER: We weren’t.

QUESTION: I mean, I think --

MR TONER: We weren’t. They may believe other – they may believe otherwise and that’s --

QUESTION: Right, but I --

MR TONER: I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Can we get to --


QUESTION: And I’ll stop after this.

MR TONER: Of course, yeah.

QUESTION: But I mean, why is it that you think what they’re doing is illegal when they haven’t actually stolen this information? They have received it from a third party, ostensibly, and are publishing it in what they say is the same manner that a news organization would put out leaked information that they had received.

MR TONER: We view any unauthorized disclosure of classified information by WikiLeaks as harmful. It has harmful implications to the lives of identified individuals in some of those cables and other documents that they’ve released. We’ve talked about this many times over, that they put lives at risk by releasing that information.

QUESTION: Yeah, but – you’re – so you’re making the argument that these new emails, these Podesta emails are classified in some way?

MR TONER: Not in any way. I’m not trying to say that. I’m – you’re – so I’m not trying to – I’m talking about WikiLeaks’ initial --

QUESTION: You’re saying – you said – correct me if I’m wrong. You said that your concern is the same now as it was back then, back when they were publishing the State Department cables, and you’re talking about that that was – there was classified information. But you’re not making – are you making the – trying to make the case that the campaign emails are classified?

MR TONER: I’m only making the case that – I’m only making – I’m only making the case that this is confidential correspondence in confidence. I won’t use the State Department term for classified information, but this is information like medical records, like legal documents, I mean, like financial documents that is information exchanged in confidence between two parties or between a party and a business or a medical professional or a lawyer. And we believe that that information should be held in confidence. There’s a reason why it is in confidence.


MR TONER: So for WikiLeaks – certainly what they did in terms of releasing State Department cables back in 2010 did put lives at risk. We’ve talked about this length at the time.

QUESTION: Yeah, but it’s difficult to make that argument --

MR TONER: But I’m saying that --

QUESTION: -- with this latest stuff, is it not?

MR TONER: I understand that, but I’m just – but I’m – my point is that this is still private information between individuals or a campaign or whatever that wasn’t meant to be released publicly. So for them to release it publicly we believe is a breach.

QUESTION: Would that hold true for any campaign or for any correspondence between any two people?

MR TONER: Of course. There’s no – I’m not trying to politicize this in any way, shape, or form.


MR TONER: And let me be very clear about that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

QUESTION: If you could just clarify something on this.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Is there a belief that this last batch that was leaked was provided by the Russian Government to WikiLeaks?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to that.

QUESTION: Because those accusations are being made.

MR TONER: I’m aware of those allegations, yeah.

QUESTION: They are saying that there was a good period where there were no leaks, so you believe that they were provided by the Russians?

MR TONER: I just can’t speak to that. I’m aware of the allegations out there. I know others have spoken to that.

QUESTION: But you’re not making that accusation?

MR TONER: I’m not making that accusation here today about that.

QUESTION: Can we change the subject to Iran? The Iran – the U.S. citizens.


QUESTION: So I saw your statement on – expressing deep concern about the jailing of the father, son – the Namazis.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Has there been any kind of contact between John Kerry and the foreign minister from Iran on this issue? What kind --

MR TONER: You’re talking about within – sorry. You’re talking about – I mean, since we just found out that this – you’re talking about post-sentencing, just to clarify.

QUESTION: Correct, yeah. Since the sentencing, has there been contact --

MR TONER: No. We just found out about the sentencing or reports of the sentencing earlier today, so no, I’m not aware of any correspondence between the Secretary and --

QUESTION: Is he planning on talking to him?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t know that a call is imminent. What I can say is that whenever he speaks to his Iranian counterpart, he raises our concerns about detained American citizens in Iran, and that includes the Namazis.

QUESTION: So this move by the Iranians to go ahead and sentence the father and son, it also comes at a time when the U.S. is trying to lobby on behalf of Iran in west – in European countries on banks easing


QUESTION: -- sanctions and – or banks doing more business. I mean, do you think a move like this is --

MR TONER: Helpful?

QUESTION: -- helpful or gives confidence that if you are doing business in Iran --

MR TONER: I mean, President Obama spoke to this much more eloquently and powerfully than I could ever attempt to, but he said the same thing, is that Iran by its behavior and some of its actions needs to be aware that they are affecting the confidence that outside investors, companies, corporations have in investing in Iran. And that’s just a reality. It’s not – I mean – and that’s not – that doesn’t just extend to the treatment of certainly American citizens, but other dual nationals as well, but it extends beyond that in some of their continued behavior in the region that is less than constructive.

QUESTION: Was there any effort made by the U.S. before this – the sentencing to get the Namazis released? Namazi – the son was detained before – about the time of the release of the other prisoners.


QUESTION: Was any attempt – what attempts were made to try to get him released? And if I remember that he was not included in that deal.

MR TONER: No, I don’t believe so. I would, frankly, have to check and get more granularity on all along what our efforts have been – excuse me – to engage on his release. I can only say that we have continually raised the plight of all U.S. citizens who we believe are unjustly detained by the Iranian authorities, and the Namazis are no exception. And as I said in the statement, but we’re especially concerned about his father, who has had some health issues and we believe should be released immediately.

Yeah. Hey, Barbara.

QUESTION: Hi. Can I ask --

QUESTION: Staying on Iran?

QUESTION: No, it’s Afghanistan again.

QUESTION: I was wondering, just briefly on this --

MR TONER: Of course. Yeah.

QUESTION: So the last line, or the last paragraph of the statement, you respect – quote-unquote, “respectfully underscore the importance” – I’m just curious about the use of the word, repeatedly in these statements like this, “respectfully.” Why? Do you think that Iran is treating you guys with respect, the respect that the United States of America deserves? Why is it that – I mean, they are taking your sailors prisoner, their allies in Yemen are firing missiles at U.S. naval ships, and you guys keep saying you respectfully ask the Iranian Government for assistance in finding Mr. Levinson. What – can you explain why you think that they’re deserving of your respect?

MR TONER: Well, look, adverbs aside, what we’re trying to underscore here is that Iran made a commitment that it would help us get to the bottom of either Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts or what happened to him. And thus far they haven’t lived up to that. And so I recognize your point, but we continue to make that point to the Iranian authorities that they did pledge to help us determine his whereabouts. And so we always make that point in any statement or in any exchange that we have with the Iranian Government.

QUESTION: Yeah, I get that.


QUESTION: But do you think that they’re treating you with – that the Iranian Government, the judiciary system, its military, its executive, its top leader, are treating the United States with the respect that it deserves?

MR TONER: I’m – I’ll refrain from giving a comprehensive response to that. But I think you’re correct in stating that parts of the Iranian Government are not necessarily acting in a respectful way towards the United States.

QUESTION: Well, Matt, can I pick up on that?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: I mean, aside from the kind of qualitative judgments on respect, do you think that the Iranians have been true to their promise to reopen the file and try and give you information about his whereabouts? Have you found any productivity of that pledge?

MR TONER: Elise, I’ll just say that it wouldn’t have been in the statement if we didn’t believe that we --

QUESTION: So I take that as a --

MR TONER: -- were still owed more information about his whereabouts.

QUESTION: So I take that as a no?

MR TONER: Yes. (Laughter.) Take it as a no.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Do you feel that there is – that the U.S. has lost leverage on the issue of U.S. and dual citizens jailed by Iran since the Iran nuclear talks finished and since your deal on the other prisoners – I mean, what leverage do you have over these citizens that have been jailed?

MR TONER: Well, look, I want to challenge the assertion that we were ever using the Iran nuclear deal as a form of leverage to release our citizens.

QUESTION: Well, they were an opportunity in which you could raise the issue.

MR TONER: It was an opportunity, and we talked about that. It allowed us to have regular engagement with senior members of the Iraqi Government; most importantly Foreign Minister Zarif. But --

QUESTION: Iranian Government.

MR TONER: Did I – what did I say?


MR TONER: Do I keep – I apologize. Thank you, Matt.

QUESTION: There is something going on in Iraq. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: The Iranian Government. It allowed us to have contacts with the Iranian Government that helped us move this process forward. That said, we’re going to keep, as we have ongoing engagement with the Iranian Government, we’re going to continue to push for the release of these detainees. It’s something that’s always, as I said, something that Secretary Kerry always raises emphatically when he has meetings with his counterpart.

QUESTION: Did he raise it on Saturday?

MR TONER: I apologize, I wasn’t there. So I don’t know. I assume he did.


QUESTION: Just a couple of questions about Afghanistan. Your response to the resumption of the peace talks – or at least early feelers at it anyway between the Afghans and the Taliban in Qatar – is there new possibilities for some progress on that? Is that how you set it?

MR TONER: You’re talking about, of course, the stories that emerged overnight about renewed peace talks. So I’m not going to speak about what our role may or may not be with regard to this new initiative. But as we made clear before, we believe that a peace accord is really the primary or the only pathway to ensuring peace and stability long term in Afghanistan. So we have supported and continue to support an Afghan-led, an Afghan-owned process for negotiated resolution to the conflict there. And we’re committed to promoting that as much as we can.

QUESTION: And I mean – but the talks broke off after the killing of – or after the information that Mullah Omar was dead, and divisions within the Taliban. Is there any indication recently that the Taliban are interested in a negotiated solution or returning to the talks?

MR TONER: Given the sensitivity of the issue, I’m just not going to speak to where we might be in the process. I just can’t offer any more details, I apologize. Please.

QUESTION: Thanks. Mosul.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Afghanistan?

MR TONER: Sure. We can stay on Afghanistan if that’s okay. Why don’t we do these two and I’ll get to you?


MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: You don’t support – do you support these kinds of peace talks, in which U.S. is not --

MR TONER: I think I just said that we support Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process to resolve the issues – the remaining issues – that will end this conflict in Afghanistan. So yes, we do. We support --

QUESTION: My question was: Do you support the peace talks in which U.S. is not part of it?

QUESTION: Apparently the U.S. is part of it.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) Again, I want to be very careful about how I describe our role, except to say that we are supportive of a process. But we’ve always been clear that fundamentally this needs to be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned, so we’re not looking to engineer this, we’re not looking to supervise this in any way, shape, or form. This is something the Afghan Government and the Taliban would have to take on their own.

QUESTION: And today President Ghani in Kabul said that the situation in Afghanistan is determined by the U.S. interest in the region.

MR TONER: Is – is what by the --

QUESTION: U.S. interest --

MR TONER: No, no – is determined?

QUESTION: Yeah, determined --

MR TONER: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: -- by U.S. interest in South Asia, Pakistan’s interest in Afghanistan, and also U.S. and Pakistan’s relationship with India, which he says is very unfortunate. What do you have to say on that?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, as much as regional dynamics play into any country’s domestic situation, there’s an element of truth to that, which is why we’re always working hard to push Pakistan to go after those terrorist groups that seek safe haven on their soil and territory, rather. And we’re pushing for more dialogue between Pakistan and India, which we believe will help reduce tensions in the region. And we’ve seen India play a more supportive role with regard to Afghanistan and support for the Afghan Government. But whenever you look at any situation like you have, any conflict like you have, in Afghanistan, certainly there’s a range of different regional dynamics that play into it. It’s just a matter of fact. But our goal is to continue to support the Afghan military as it steps up its fight against the Taliban and to support the Afghan Government as it pushes much-needed reforms in the economy and the democratic system. And then ultimately, as we’ve said, we do support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have a --

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- India-related question.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: You must have seen news reports that India has partially removed restrictions from some of the U.S. NGOs, and I think Secretary Kerry had raised this issue with his Indian counterpart. What is your reaction to that?

MR TONER: Well, we would certainly welcome and do welcome any actions by government that support and strengthen civil society. I’d refer you to the Government of India with respect to any specific actions that have been taken regarding the NGOs in India. But as we – as you know, we want to see a strong, healthy, civil society throughout the world, and that certainly extends to India, which is a strong democracy. We believe that a strong and vibrant civil society only strengthens that democracy, so --

QUESTION: I agree, but there have been news reports coming out the – that some of these NGOs don’t follow the rule of – rules and regulations in India itself, including the tax laws. What is your – about – saying about these NGOs that should they follow or shouldn’t they follow the rules of the land?

MR TONER: Well, again, I --

QUESTION: Because they are issued --


QUESTION: -- just simple notices about following these tax laws – where the money is coming from, where the money is going to.

MR TONER: I think that in general, as I said, we support the work, the very good work of many of these NGOs that they play in strengthening civil society, but certainly that’s a matter for the Government of India to work with these NGOs on with regard to taxes and other regulations that they need to comply with on the ground.

QUESTION: Yeah, but no one disagrees with the good – great work that these NGOs have been doing, but isn’t it an interference in India’s internal affairs when you ask Indian Government to – or question to lift restrictions or don’t take any actions and don’t follow the laws there?

MR TONER: Again, we’re very clear, not just with respect to India, but with many countries around the world, about our support for NGOs and the important role that they play in any democratic society. And insofar as we push for a more welcoming environment for these NGOs to work in – that’s just the way we work. Please.

QUESTION: I have one final one.


QUESTION: Okay. India’s Essar Oil has been taken over by Russia’s Rosneft, in the U.S. dollar $12.9 billion deal. Does this deal don’t follow the U.S. sanctions on the Russian firm?

MR TONER: I don’t think we see any violation of any U.S.-EU sanctions stemming from this deal. We’ve seen the reports in general about this oil deal. I’d refer you to the governments of India and Russia.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Please. You had a question and then I swear I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: I would like to ask a question about Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Islamist leaders, that he has traveled to United State. First of all, do you think that still his name will be moved from the UN blacklist?

MR TONER: He did – I’m sorry. What did he do? He traveled to United States?

QUESTION: To United State for discussion, something about the peace process. Is that true? If it’s true, which topic you will discuss and when he will arrive to United State?

MR TONER: Yeah, my apologies. I don’t have any details. I’ll have to take the question.


MR TONER: Thanks. Please.


QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait. Did he come or not?

MR TONER: I don’t know. I can’t confirm it.

QUESTION: That would be --

MR TONER: It would be a big deal, I know.


QUESTION: But are you considering --

MR TONER: I don’t know --

QUESTION: -- lifting travel restrictions on him?

MR TONER: I don’t believe so. That’s why I took the question. I’m not aware of anything about his visit --


MR TONER: -- or his travel or anything. Let me be very clear.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.


QUESTION: About the battle to retake Mosul, Josh Earnest has said, “They – meaning ISIL – are killing civilians all the time, so the idea that somehow the Iraqi Security Forces should delay this operation because of their concern about the humanitarian situation in Mosul, that doesn’t make sense,” end quote. The U.S. view for eastern Aleppo, as I understand it, is that going after terrorists there is not worth --

MR TONER: I apologize.

QUESTION: Should I start over?

MR TONER: No, no, no. That’s okay. I was distracted by that. But you’re talking about Mosul, or are you talking about Aleppo?

QUESTION: Mosul. Mosul and I also have a question about --

MR TONER: Okay. That’s why I was confused. You seem to be referring --

QUESTION: Yes. Sorry.

MR TONER: Okay. Go ahead. Start again. I apologize.

QUESTION: So – and Josh Earnest said this --

MR TONER: Yes. About --

QUESTION: – that they --

MR TONER: Aleppo?

QUESTION: About Mosul.

MR TONER: About Mosul. Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: About Mosul, yes. He said this: “They, ISIL, are killing civilians all the time, so the idea that somehow the Iraqi Security Forces should delay this operation because of their concern about the humanitarian situation in Mosul, that doesn’t make sense,” end quote. The U.S. view for eastern Aleppo, as I understand it, is that going after terrorists there is not worth the suffering of civilians. Why the difference in U.S. reaction or approach, please?

MR TONER: Well, I’m not going to certainly reinterpret or parse Josh’s words about Mosul. I think with respect to Mosul, as with Aleppo, there’s an urgency to the situation on the ground there. I think what he may have been talking about with regard to an offensive to retake Mosul is that, as with any military offensive, it requires a lot of prudent planning and coordination to make sure that it’s a success. And insofar as we’re aware that civilians’ lives are at risk in Mosul – and that’s been well documented with, for example, with respect to Tikrit and Ramadi and other places that have been liberated – that ISIL shows no hesitation to use civilians as shields to booby-trap houses, to place mines. You name it, they’re willing to do it, and with no regard for the safety of civilians.

But I think what we’re talking about is a military operation the size and scale and scope of the effort to liberate Mosul requires a good deal of prudent planning to make sure it’s a success. And one of the aspects of that – and I talked at length about it yesterday, so I don’t want to necessarily go over it again – is how do we deal with and how do we prepare ourselves to deal with the inevitable humanitarian effects of this operation. And I talked a lot yesterday about working with local governments, and how the Iraqi Government is coordinating with regional governments on the ground and with police forces and other security forces to ensure that there’s a system in place to deal with those civilians who might be – might have to flee the violence in Mosul.

Now with regard to your question about Aleppo, you’re saying that why is there --

QUESTION: The difference of --


QUESTION: -- in U.S. reaction between these two cases (inaudible).

MR TONER: I think our serious concern about the regime’s conduct in Aleppo – and certainly Russia is aiding the regime in its actions around Aleppo – is what we view as continued bombardment and airstrikes against civilian populations and civilian centers and civilian infrastructure. We don’t see them going after Nusrah or Daesh. They seem to be targeting – at least arguably, they’re targeting moderate Syrian opposition, but the fact of the matter is we’ve seen too many – far too many – civilian deaths as a result.

QUESTION: Is that correct to say one of the differences in U.S. reaction is that in eastern Aleppo terrorists are mixed with rebels whom the U.S. supports? Is that the difference?

MR TONER: Sorry. One more time. That in Aleppo --

QUESTION: Is that correct to say the difference in U.S. reaction in – toward what’s happening in one city and the other is the fact that in eastern Aleppo terrorists are mixed with rebels whom the U.S. supports?

MR TONER: Well, not really. Again, we’ve talked about the complex situation in Aleppo. It’s a fact that in some areas of Aleppo there was intermingling with – between members of the opposition and al-Nusrah. And frankly, one of the goals that would have been achievable, had we been able to implement fully the agreement that we reached in Geneva on September 9th, would have been a way to separate these groups and then to focus on going after Nusrah.

Please. Last question.

QUESTION: Yes. The U.S. Government wants Russia and Syria to stop operations in eastern Aleppo.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Yeah, we can. I promise, I – yeah.

QUESTION: Can we --

QUESTION: The U.S. Government wants --

MR TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. The U.S. Government wants Russia and Syria to stop operations in eastern Aleppo because of the humanitarian catastrophe there. Where is that line in civilian suffering in Mosul, where you would say it – you need to stop operations?

MR TONER: Okay. I mean, I --

QUESTION: Is there --

MR TONER: I mean, I see you’re trying to conflate the two. Look, I mean, first of all, we are working in a supporting capacity, supportive capacity. It’s the Iraqi Government and it’s Iraqi Security Forces that are carrying out the operation in Mosul, and that is to go after and destroy Daesh, drive it out of Mosul. It’s been very successful in doing so throughout the other regions of the country and cities in the country.

Frankly, we haven’t seen that in – with respect to Syria. What we’ve seen is the regime carry out continued fighting against moderate Syrian opposition forces and not really target, in any meaningful way, Daesh or Nusrah. And that’s our focus. That’s what we are supporting in our efforts. But we haven’t seen it.


QUESTION: Can you just give us a quick update of what is going on in the battle of Mosul? I also asked some figures yesterday. There were figures that were being thrown around that – about the size of a U.S. force and the brigade size --

MR TONER: Yeah. I’m sorry we didn’t get those to you.

QUESTION: -- to 5,000. I think there were some troops added yesterday by the Pentagon. If you could update us on what’s going on.

MR TONER: Sure. I apologize that we don’t have the numbers for you. I mean, I don’t have – and – I don’t have a kind of blow-by-blow description of the current battlefield.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I don’t need blow by blow --

MR TONER: And that’s not really my role to give an assessment.

QUESTION: -- but about your role.


QUESTION: It is an advisory role.


QUESTION: You’re saying that command and control is the Iraqis, owned by the Iraqis. I want to know --

MR TONER: Right. And I talked a lot yesterday about some of the things that we’re doing in terms of planning on all aspects of this campaign – military, diplomatic, humanitarian, governance – that’s been going on for some six months now in order to have a plan in place that allows us to deal with inevitably what is going to be a number of citizen civilians who are fleeing the violence, who are fleeing the fighting, and how we best – working with, obviously, the Iraqi Government, who has taken the lead on this – to absorb and to ensure that these people are secure and safe.

At the same time – and we talked about this yesterday – and we’ve set up screening facilities, if you will, that we can do security screenings. So not only so that we can ensure that the civilians, the legitimate civilians fleeing the violence are taken care of, but also that if any efforts are made by ISIL or Daesh fighters to mix in or intermingle, we’ll be able to – hopefully to find them out.

QUESTION: And my final question on that.

MR TONER: Yes, please.

QUESTION: There’s a conference in Paris --


QUESTION: -- to which Mr. Blinken and Mr. McGurk are attending to discuss at a ministerial level the future of Mosul. Could you --

MR TONER: Well, you’re right. He’s going to – Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken is going to be in Paris October 20th to 21st. There’s a ministerial meeting there, hosted by the French ministry of foreign affairs, and the purpose is to discuss post-ISIL or post-Daesh stabilization efforts, humanitarian relief for those affected by the Mosul liberation. And he’ll be joined by Brett McGurk, who is the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. And I think on the margins, he’ll have various meetings with French and other officials.

QUESTION: I have another Mosul question.


QUESTION: Can you say how many Iranians are taking part in this operation that the U.S. is advising?

MR TONER: I cannot.

QUESTION: And then can you make a distinction between Iranian-backed Shiite militias and Soleimani IRGC?

MR TONER: That would be a question I think better directed to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: Can we have a question in the back?

MR TONER: Oh yeah. I’m sorry, Catherine. Are we – guys, I can only – I apologize for this, but I can only take a couple more questions.

QUESTION: Question from the back, please?

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I just need some help with some timing issues. Based on the FBI summaries, Patrick Kennedy was trying to negotiate changes to the classified emails in May of 2015. Is that your understanding?

MR TONER: I believe that --

QUESTION: So my question --

MR TONER: No, no. Hold on, hold on.

QUESTION: Okay. All right.

MR TONER: So I believe that we released the document that was upgraded in May of 2015. So while I don’t have a date, specific date, of when this phone call took place – I just don’t have it --

QUESTION: So the --

MR TONER: Sorry. Let me finish.

QUESTION: All right. Go ahead.

MR TONER: It was before that, obviously.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Why was Patrick Kennedy trying to make changes to the classification of the emails after Congress issued a subpoena and a retention order on March 4th of 2015?

MR TONER: I’m not sure I understand the connection.

QUESTION: Trying to change the emails after March 4th 2015 would, in effect, change or alter the evidence that had been requested by Congress.

MR TONER: So first of all, these were documents for public release through the FOIA process, not necessarily what we shared with Congress. Secondly --

QUESTION: But wouldn’t – but isn’t the same classification applied for the public document versus what is supplied to Congress?

MR TONER: But secondly – let me finish. Secondly – secondly, with respect to all of the emails that we cleared for publication – not just this one – we went through all of them to make sure that they didn’t require some kind of upgrade in classification. And as we’ve said repeatedly, that was a discussion that we had with many elements of the interagency, and sometimes there were disagreements on the level of classification.

QUESTION: Okay, okay. Just so I’m clear, you are not disputing that Patrick Kennedy was trying to renegotiate the classification of the Clinton emails after Congress issued a subpoena and a retention order?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not sure what – that a subpoena and a retention order would have changed our responsibility in releasing these documents publicly, which we were under court order to do, to ensure that where they needed to be redacted, they were redacted. That’s just a --

QUESTION: But is the – it’s a --

MR TONER: I don’t see the connection. I apologize, I --

QUESTION: It’s – yeah.

MR TONER: Maybe I’m --

QUESTION: It’s the classification – it’s --

MR TONER: My – I --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Just – could I just finish, please?

MR TONER: I never went to law school, so --

QUESTION: Neither did I, fortunately.

MR TONER: -- maybe that’s the problem here.

QUESTION: So it’s a classification issue, though? Of course, there’s a big difference between marking a hundred documents classified versus determining that they’re unclassified. That’s the issue. The issue is that Kennedy was trying to renegotiate the classification of the emails after a preservation order --

MR TONER: Look --

QUESTION: -- and after a Congressional subpoena --

MR TONER: The issue is that --

QUESTION: -- which in effect alters the evidence.

MR TONER: -- Pat Kennedy, as did others, but Pat who has – Pat Kennedy, who has responsibility for classification authority within the State Department, reached out to a colleague counterpart in the FBI to talk about the rationale behind their decision, their request to upgrade an email classification.


QUESTION: And the way it was represented, actually – anyway, in these transcripts --


QUESTION: -- was not that he called to clarify, was that specifically – I mean, not even getting into the idea of a quid pro quo or any of that stuff – that specifically he was looking to get the classification changed as opposed to just questioning the – the rationale behind it. I think there is a --

MR TONER: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: There – it’s – there’s a big distinction there, Mark. Come on.

MR TONER: I’m not sure I understand that distinction. I mean, he --

QUESTION: Yeah, of course there is.

MR TONER: He had his own --

QUESTION: There’s a difference between --

MR TONER: He had his own --

QUESTION: -- me asking you why you did it --

MR TONER: He had his own --

QUESTION: -- and asking you not to do that.

MR TONER: He had his own belief on what level this should be classified at. And that wasn’t just his own belief; it was our own considered, as a department, opinion about the classification level of that document. So for him to call or reach out to another agency and ask them what their reasoning was, and yes, indeed, maybe even question it, is not out of line. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: But why did he want it to be unclassified? That’s the main question that she was asking before. What was the purpose of it – what was his main desire to have it be unclassified?

MR TONER: Well, again, it’s whether you upgrade or not the classification level of these emails before you make them public. We always operated under the assumption or the – not the assumption, but we always operated under the mindset that we wanted to make as much possible public as we could. I think that was the intent behind the FOIA request. So when we looked at these, we did look at what areas or what parts or portions of these emails should be redacted, and we wanted to make certain that there was a solid rationale, legally and otherwise, behind these upgrades.

QUESTION: So when – so when people --

QUESTION: So you could have --

QUESTION: -- accuse Kennedy of trying to minimize the amount of classified content that was in the Clinton email servers through this action, your response is that his actual desire was to make sure that the public has as much information as it’s owed through Freedom of Information Act request?

MR TONER: It’s not – so there’s two responses to that, and one was: We – we’ve certainly looked at all of these emails because we wanted to ensure that information that should be upgraded didn’t get out publicly. So, I mean, it’s just – it’s not a simple – I’m not trying to say that we’re all – we would have just released them all publicly without any kind of upgrade; we did look at them very closely. We have a process, we devoted resources to looking at each one of these emails and every one of these 55,000 pages to ensure that --

QUESTION: But could you – could we go back to Iraq --

QUESTION: To – no --

QUESTION: -- because we didn’t have any --

QUESTION: Actually, no we can’t.

QUESTION: Could he just finish one question on the emails --

QUESTION: I got --

QUESTION: -- since this is about the special employees (inaudible)?

MR TONER: I’ll take about two more questions, okay, guys?

QUESTION: Okay, I have (inaudible) about this.

MR TONER: Because I have some place to be.

QUESTION: If I could, I wrote you earlier about this in the --

MR TONER: I appreciate that.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Thank you very much.

MR TONER: I’m glad that you write to us. Please, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay, in it – in --

MR TONER: Why don’t you go? Matt.

QUESTION: These are very, very brief. One, are you saying that even if Pat Kennedy had won this dispute, that this information would still have been redacted, but just not because it was classified? It would’ve been --

MR TONER: I honestly can’t speak to --


MR TONER: -- whether it would have been redacted at all or whether it would have been released publicly. I’m suspecting that it would have been redacted in some form --


MR TONER: -- but just not to the level --

QUESTION: But so you disagree --

MR TONER: -- or upgraded to the level.

QUESTION: -- or you reject the characterization in the 302 – 302 --

MR TONER: 302, yeah.

QUESTION: -- that if he had won his fight with the FBI on this – on behalf of the department, this email never would have seen the light of day; it would have been thrown into the basement?

MR TONER: And that’s an assertion --

QUESTION: You just – you disagree? You’re saying that.

MR TONER: Absolutely disagree with that.

QUESTION: All right. And then the second thing is: Do you still disagree? Do you still think – does the department still think that this was wrongly classified?

MR TONER: I think at the end of the day we accepted the FBI’s --

QUESTION: Okay, so you don’t. You agree with the FBI?

MR TONER: I mean, it’s redacted according to the FBI’s upgrade.


MR TONER: Please, in the back, Catherine. I’ll answer your question.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you very much. The Intelligence Community inspector general said in his interview that a number of special employees were hired to work in the FOIA office and this raised significant concerns among the career people in the State Department. That’s what the document says. At least one of the special employees worked for Williams & Connolly. Who approved the hires? Was it Kennedy? Who got them clearances? And is it a conflict of interest to have a lawyer working in the FOIA office handling Hillary Clinton’s emails, while the same firm ultimately represents her in this case?

MR TONER: Sure. Let me to try to quickly answer your questions. So the department did hire additional personnel, and that included attorneys, to assist it with a broad range of oversight matters related to this FOIA process.

QUESTION: Did Kennedy approve those hires?

MR TONER: So let me finish. These attorneys are appointed under either a Schedule A or the federal personnel system – of rather, the Schedule A of the federal personnel system, or a limited term appointee, neither of which would require any kind of advertisement. I don’t – I can’t speak to whether Pat Kennedy himself would have hired these individuals. I don’t believe that’s necessarily the case. But we have the utmost confidence that these attorneys performed to the highest professional and ethical standards, and that includes --

QUESTION: So the state --

MR TONER: -- in connection with the review and release of Secretary Clinton’s emails. And your question was about some kind of conflict of interest.

QUESTION: That’s correct, with Kate Duval in particular.

MR TONER: So – right, of Williams & Connolly. So – and we’ve talked about this before. The mere fact of previously working at a – what is a very large law firm does not in and of itself constitute a conflict of interest. Williams & Connolly, as I said, is a very large firm and we are not aware of any counsel working on Clinton-related oversight matters at the department that they did so prior to joining the department.

QUESTION: All I want is --

MR TONER: So there’s no conflict of interest there.

QUESTION: All I – the Inspector General told the FBI that these hires, quote, “created a conflict of interest,” – “appeared to create a conflict of interest. Particularly Kate Duvall who was possibly involved in the lowest” – pardon me – “possibly involved in the Lois Lerner Internal Revenue Service situation.” But the State Department’s position is there was no conflict?

MR TONER: There was no conflict of interest.

QUESTION: Keep driving; nothing to see here.

MR TONER: They – again – and let me just say, since you’ve named her: Kate Duvall is an exceptional professional, and the department and the Secretary of State had full trust and have full trust and confidence in her work at the department.

QUESTION: She’s still working here? I thought she left.

MR TONER: No, I said “had” --

QUESTION: Yeah, I thought so.

MR TONER: -- sorry – full trust and confidence.

QUESTION: She’s gone.

MR TONER: We also – and again, I’ll just state it one more time that Williams & Connolly is a large law firm. There’s no conflict of interest if lawyers working for Williams & Connolly, but were not working on issues related to Secretary Clinton’s --

QUESTION: But it says here she was working in the FOIA office reviewing the emails.

MR TONER: No, but I’m saying she was --


MR TONER: -- when she was here, she was specifically hired, as were other lawyers, on oversight matters related to these emails. And there was a legal component to these emails and their release. And certainly we wanted legal oversight.

QUESTION: Well, just saying – just stating the obvious fact that Williams & Connolly is a large law firm does not necessarily mean that there’s absolutely no way there was a conflict of interest.

MR TONER: I said we’re not aware that any – that either of these individuals --

QUESTION: You’re not aware of --

MR TONER: Well, we certainly vetted them.

QUESTION: But I mean, you’re --

MR TONER: Do you – it’s not like we just, like --

QUESTION: No, I know. But the question is --

MR TONER: -- drove down the street and said, “Hey” --

QUESTION: -- the question is at least it gives an appearance – it could give the appearance – at least an appearance of a conflict of interest and your response is Williams and Connolly is a large law firm?

MR TONER: All I’m saying, Matt, is that it is possible to work at Williams & Connolly --


MR TONER: -- and not have a conflict of interest --


MR TONER: -- but then, if you then go and work on Clinton --

QUESTION: But it’s also – but it’s not --

QUESTION: Actually, is it really possible? I mean, this isn’t an indictment on her specifically, but isn’t any – wouldn’t you say that any employee that is – any person that’s working is – that’s also an employee of the law firm that Hillary Clinton’s – was representing her --

MR TONER: Well, wait a second. They weren’t at the same time. I mean, let’s be very clear here.

QUESTION: David Kendall’s been her lawyer for a thousand years.

MR TONER: They weren’t – I mean, they were --

QUESTION: Did she leave Williams & Connolly to come to the State Department?

MR TONER: Yes. Yes, okay.

QUESTION: Okay, well --

MR TONER: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: So that doesn’t --

MR TONER: So it wasn’t like they were working --

QUESTION: I mean, can’t you just at least acknowledge the appearance of impropriety? You don’t think that there is any reason that anybody should question that there’s a conflict of interest there?

MR TONER: Let’s put it this way – let’s put it this way. I think with respect to Pat Kennedy, with respect to this, I think there’s enough politicization, if I could put it that way --

QUESTION: Actually, actually --

MR TONER: -- politicizing the role of these individuals, given the current campaign season here that --


MR TONER: -- you don’t need me to lend one way or the other --

QUESTION: Actually, that’s – respectfully --

MR TONER: -- my opinion.

QUESTION: Well, Mark --

QUESTION: Respectfully, I think to dismiss --

MR TONER: All I’m trying to do here is say that we don’t believe there was any conflict of interest with these individuals, that it’s possible to work for a law firm and then come to work for the State Department on a different issue, and not have a conflict of interest.

QUESTION: Okay, but respectfully, to dismiss questions about potential conflict of interest and reduce them to just mere politicization I think disrespects the people in this room that are following the State Department day-in, day-out, and are asking questions about the employees in this building.

QUESTION: Yeah, I would just say, Mark, that --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: -- while Williams & Connolly, yes, is a large law firm, one would think that if one was in the position of hiring outside people to come in and look at this, you might – it’s – in addition to it being a large firm, it’s not the only law firm in town.

MR TONER: It’s true.

QUESTION: This is place is lousy with lawyers. Didn’t anyone think that it might be less – give less of an appearance of a potential problem if you found someone from a law firm that didn’t represent Secretary Clinton?

MR TONER: Again, we did not see a conflict of interest. We vetted these individuals before they came to work here.

QUESTION: I’m – you may well have, and I’m not suggesting that you didn’t.

MR TONER: I know. You’re saying --

QUESTION: But this town has got a billion law firms – all right, maybe not a billion. It’s got a lot of them.

MR TONER: I understand your point.

QUESTION: And a lot of lawyers in town have expertise in this. It just seems that you could have avoided, or someone could have – would have – this would have raised a potential red flag. Unless these people were the absolute only two – or whatever, how many lawyers in town that have – which is impossible, because there’s too many of them.


QUESTION: Not – maybe not too many. There are many, many of them, right?

MR TONER: I don’t know how you want me to answer that. Thank you, guys.

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

DPB # 178


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - October 14, 2016

Fri, 10/14/2016 - 17:08

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 14, 2016

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1:47 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Happy Friday, everyone. A couple of things at the top and then I’ll get to your questions, answer them to the best of my ability. Let’s start off with just an update on the Secretary’s travel. He’s on the ground in Kigali, Rwanda working with our international partners to secure an ambitious amendment to the Montreal Protocol that would phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are potent greenhouse gases. Negotiations are ongoing, and we’re optimistic of achieving an agreement.

These talks, as you know, are part of a wave of momentum to address climate issues. Just last week, for example, we crossed the final threshold into the entry – into entry into force of the Paris Agreement, and we also saw the International Civil Aviation Organization adopt a measure based on carbon-neutral growth in the aviation – international aviation sector. An ambition – ambitious amendment to the Montreal Protocol would be another major step forward in our ongoing efforts to work with the international community to tackle the shared challenge of climate change.

In Kigali, the Secretary also met with President Kagame, and he also visited Rwanda’s national genocide memorial.

Today, Ambassador Nancy Stetson, the U.S. special representative for Habitat III and global food security, is traveling to Quito, Ecuador to serve as deputy head of delegation for the United States to the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, which is also referred to as Habitat III. Habitat III will be the first time in 20 years that the international community has come together to reflect on and plan for the megatrend of rapid urbanization. UN member-states will adopt the New Urban Agenda, a vision for sustainable urbanization, as well as a new set of agreed voluntary standards of achievement. This agenda reinforces the crucial linkages between urbanization and sustainable development goals as well as the Paris Agreement on climate change, among other important shared global aspirations.


QUESTION: Yeah. Let’s start with Syria. There have been some suggestions – actually, I think a report, actually, from a state – or state-affiliated news agency that the Iranians are not going to attend this meeting in Lausanne. What’s your understanding of who is going to be there now?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’ve been pretty consistent in saying that we’re going to leave it up to the countries themselves to confirm their attendance. I have not seen that report out of Iran.

QUESTION: Have you – well – I mean, do you expect there be – to be a representative of Iran there?

MR TONER: I don’t think we were certain, to be honest.

QUESTION: As a key player? I mean --

MR TONER: We would like Iran to be there, but I’m not sure that they’ve confirmed yet.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just more broadly on the meeting, is there any hope or expectation that it will produce the desired result, which I presume – but correct me if I’m wrong – is some kind of truce – a temporary one at least – that could then be extended? And is there any expectation that that might actually happen?

MR TONER: I certainly don’t want to overplay or underplay our expectations for Lausanne. I think that you’re right, that the urgent need right now in front of us is some kind of cessation of hostilities, at least a significant reduction in the level of violence certainly in and around Aleppo, and that’s going to be a primary focus. But more broadly, you know the framework we’re working within, which is to try to get a cessation. And once you get that cessation, then we can talk about next steps, which include getting negotiations back up and running in Geneva as well as access for humanitarian assistance throughout Syria.

So, I mean, the essential challenges are the same. That’s going to be the topic of discussion in Lausanne. I think this – if I had to frame it, I don’t know that I would expect any breakthroughs. I would just say that we’re looking to get this multilateral effort and approach to Syria up and running.


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Yeah. Are we ready to walk away from Syria? Are you on Syria or we done with Syria? Great. Let’s go.

Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: This is Iraq.

MR TONER: Oh. Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. The British foreign ministry just hosted a delegation from the Iraqi foreign ministry that – I should say the British foreign office – my apologies --

MR TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: -- just hosted a --

MR TONER: I understood.

QUESTION: -- a delegation from the Iraqi foreign ministry headed by the Iraqi foreign minister, but it included the head of the Kurdistan region’s foreign relations office. Is that a format for discussions that you might consider in the future so that the concerns of the Kurdistan region are properly heard?

MR TONER: Look, I think we’ve already been coordinating pretty closely with both the Kurdistan Regional Government as well as the Government of Iraq. We’ve been in close and constant communication with them through a variety of different means, obviously in person but also via telephone, via email, all with the aim of coordinating upcoming efforts to liberate Mosul. And obviously, that’s a very complex operation and we need to be coordinated, and we understand that the more we can discuss and coordinate with the various fighting forces, the better off the overall effort will be. Obviously, always – any operation on Mosul will be under the command and control of the Iraqi Government, but as much as, again, all these different fighting forces can be coordinated, it’s to the overall betterment of the effort.

QUESTION: Beyond Mosul, would you consider this a format just so that the people in the Kurdistan region – that their views are also represented in their discussions with the – in the discussion that the United States has with Iraqis?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of the immediate challenge, which is Mosul. But I think in general we’re in very close contact and in frequent contact with President Barzani, with other senior regional government officials to talk about not only the efforts to defeat and destroy and degrade Daesh but also the response to the humanitarian needs, and also the IDP, the internally displaced people. That’s a real crisis as well in Iraq. So we’re talking about all these issues all the time. We’re already closely coordinated; we’re already talking to these various groups as well as the Iraqi Government closely already.


QUESTION: Philippines?

MR TONER: Philippines. Go.

QUESTION: Filipino President Duterte is going to pay a state visit to China prior to any visit to U.S. ally countries. First of all, does it bother you?

MR TONER: Not at all. Obviously, the Filipino or the Philippines relations – relationship with China is an important one. It’s important to the region, and strong relations between China and the Philippines, frankly, we believe is important to regional security. So we don’t view it as any type of slight or any – in any way overlooking the importance of our own relations – our own bilateral relationship with the Philippines. We view it as a positive thing.

QUESTION: Yesterday, President Duterte had interview with my colleague in Manila in which he said he wanted to resume the friendship between Philippine and China, and he also – he said he was grateful for China not to interfere how he run the country, how he fight for the drug war. My question is: Do you think the tension between United States and Philippine may further force Philippine to pivot to China?

MR TONER: Look, I can’t speak to President Duterte’s vision of his foreign policy. That’s for his own foreign minister to speak to, as well as President Duterte. Our focus is obviously on maintaining our close relations with the Philippines, and we’ve been trying to do that. We want to cooperate and continue to cooperate with the Philippines on the range of areas that we cooperate in, and that includes counternarcotics as well as security.

That said – and this is not specific to the Philippines – we’re always going to be clear when we see credible allegations of human rights abuses or of any kind of actions by the government or by security forces – and again, I’m not being specific to the Philippines. We’re going to be frank and candid about our concerns. That’s part of a – we believe – a strong bilateral relationship with any country.

As to whether he’s pivoting east or west, I can’t speak to that. Certainly it’s in the Philippines’ interest to have strong relations in the region, and as much as this is an effort in that direction, we would support it.

QUESTION: What’s your view of the arm sale – potential arm sales between Philippine and China? Because right now, the Chinese Government and Filipino Government, they are negotiating a 25-year military agreement. What’s your view on it and could you please update us on what’s the current status of the United States arm sales to Philippine? I think Matt raised the question two days ago.

MR TONER: With regard to potential arms sales or arms agreements with China, again, we wouldn’t necessarily have a comment on that. It’s the Philippines’ prerogative to make its own choices in terms of who it engages in these kinds of deals with. I don’t know if I have an update on our own – status of our own – sorry, I’m just looking through my book quickly here. Let me see if I can get you something on that. I didn’t realize you had asked the other day. I apologize.

QUESTION: Go back to the Middle East?


QUESTION: Follow-up on Philippines?

MR TONER: Let’s finish – you said on Philippines?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Let’s finish with that.

QUESTION: Earlier this week, the Philippine senate ended its hearings on state involvement on the violence in the drug war. I was wondering if you had a comment.

MR TONER: Well, again, I think I would just say what I just said previously, was – is that where – we support, broadly speaking, efforts by the Philippines – the Government of the Philippines to take on the challenge of narcotrafficking and drug trafficking, and frankly the terrible effects that that can have on a society. It’s obviously of great concern to the president, as he’s spoken about it many times. But certainly in any effort to attack that kind of problem, I think that you have to be mindful of the approach and how you approach it. And certainly we would be concerned by any reports of extrajudicial killings by or at the behest of government authorities in the Philippines and would encourage, where there are credible allegations, for the Government of the Philippines to conduct thorough and transparent investigations into those reports.

And more broadly, again, just urge that the Philippines ensures that its law enforcement officers are consistent with their international human rights obligations.

QUESTION: It looks like – I mean, the ending of the hearings is an indication that they’ve ended, sort of, the investigation. The chairman of the hearings said that the hearings have failed to prove that the president is involved and that the state is involved in the violence.

MR TONER: I’ve not seen the specific results of those hearings. I’m just saying broadly what our concerns are and how we’d like to see the Philippine Government address them. If there’s – if we have comment on the actual findings of the hearings, we’ll certainly add those.


QUESTION: Last one on the Philippines. So is the United States getting mixed messages from the Philippines Government?

MR TONER: I’m sorry, I was coughing.


MR TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: Is the United States getting mixed messages from the Philippine Government? Because it seems Duterte says one thing; his defense minister comes out and says the alliance is strong. Who is the United States supposed to listen to in this?

MR TONER: Fair question. I think we’ve been pretty consistent in our approach, which is while certainly we don’t want to discount some of the rhetoric and some of the things said by the leadership in the Philippines, what we look at most closely is at a working level whether the cooperation and the receptivity of the Philippine Government is still there. And we have not seen any indication at that working level, that bilateral level, of a turning away from the United States. So we’re going to continue to, obviously, pursue those bilateral relations. As I said, we have a very strong, very long, historic relationship with the Philippines, and we’re going to continue to pursue that.

QUESTION: To the Middle East?

MR TONER: Yeah. Yeah, Ros.

QUESTION: First a housekeeping question.


QUESTION: Apparently the President’s having a meeting a little bit later this afternoon to talk about possible military actions in Syria. Is there any representation from State at this meeting?

MR TONER: I wouldn’t be able to speak to those meetings. I’d refer you to the White House.

QUESTION: Okay. And then --

MR TONER: But I can say broadly speaking that we continue to look at a range of options with regard to next steps on Syria.

QUESTION: Well, the meeting’s public. It’s on the President and the Vice President’s schedule.

MR TONER: I said that, but I wouldn’t – I’m not going to speak to it from here.

QUESTION: I know, but who from State is going to go?

MR TONER: I don’t know.

QUESTION: And then regarding Israel’s decision to suspend its working relationship with UNESCO over the draft resolution about the Temple Mount or al-Aqsa Mosque, does the U.S. have a reaction to Israel’s decision? Does it endorse Israel’s decision? What can be done to persuade UNESCO to change this resolution or withdraw it?

MR TONER: Well, as you know, we actively opposed the resolution, and we did work in partnership with Israel and likeminded member states really to discourage other UNESCO members from pursuing this resolution. I’ll let the Israelis speak to their decisions with regard to the relations with – relationship with UNESCO and their role in UNESCO. It’s their prerogative, obviously, to have serious concerns in the wake of these, as we talked about yesterday, these continual resolutions that we believe, at the very least, cast Israel in a very unfair light. They’re very politicized and anti-Israel.

With regard to – I forget the second part of your question – with regard to our own role or our own approach to UNESCO?

QUESTION: Is there any way of persuading the body to either change the language in the resolution or persuade them to withdraw it altogether? I mean, the chief of UNESCO has condemned the resolution herself, but she doesn’t have the power, it seems, to do anything about it.

MR TONER: Right. Look, I mean, if those avenues are open to us, we’ll certainly pursue them. Unfortunately, the resolution passed. But more broadly, we feel it’s an important – and we talked a little bit about this yesterday – that the U.S. was still a member of the executive board and able to have a voice, able to express its dissent with this resolution. And going forward, we believe it’s important that the United States remain engaged with UNESCO, not only to block or discourage these kinds of anti-Israeli resolutions, but also to, frankly, pursue a very affirmative agenda of what UNESCO can accomplish. It’s doing important work in CDE, on climate change, World Heritage sites, and other educational programs.

So there are important roles for and important programs that UNESCO’s pursuing, and so we’re going to keep trying to put forth a positive agenda.

QUESTION: And finally, President Abbas welcomed the passage of the resolution. Is that regrettable on his part?

MR TONER: I think in the sense that these kinds of resolutions are counterproductive to what our overall goal is here, which is creating a climate that is conducive to the two parties getting back to some kind of settlement process with regard to peace in the Middle East – and so as much as any of these kinds of resolutions cast a negative shadow on those efforts, then we would find them counterproductive.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Please. Yes, sir. Are you --

QUESTION: Just two things.


QUESTION: One, the White House says its National Security Council meeting – the National Security Council is defined by the White House itself as including the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, Defense, and so on. Even if there won’t be a State representative physically at the meeting, can you not say whether or not someone from the State Department will take part in the meeting somehow?

MR TONER: Certainly, if there is a meeting and an interagency discussion on Syria, then of course the State Department will be represented in some way, shape, or form. I just don’t know the details.

QUESTION: Great. And then one second thing: I imagine you’ve seen the quotes from Syrian President Assad saying that taking eastern Aleppo will be a good springboard to then push the terrorists back to Turkey. Does the U.S. Government – what is the U.S. Government’s policy to try to prevent that from happening?

MR TONER: Well, President Assad has a very different definition, I think, of terrorists than we do. Obviously, our goal is to pursue Daesh, defeat and destroy them in the battlefield, working with some of the groups that we’ve been working with, certainly, in northern Syria. And frankly, one of the goals, the missed opportunities from this failed September 9th agreement from Geneva was the opportunity to jointly work with Russia on going after Nusrah. And Nusrah – or, rather, and Russia has said that’s one of their objectives as well.

But that said, we view as – Nusrah and al-Qaida as the major threats, certainly to our national security but also threats to the region’s security, and we’re going to continue to pursue our efforts to defeat them.

QUESTION: Do you oppose the notion of Assad’s forces pushing all the way to the Turkish border?

MR TONER: I mean, we oppose what Assad’s forces are currently doing in leveling the city of Aleppo in what they claim is a pursuit to go after these terrorists, when, in fact, they’re going at – much of their airstrikes and much of the assault is after – is aiming at the moderate opposition. So I would even go – I’d even take a step back and say not only would we not support them going further; we want them to stop right now where they’re at so that we can get a political track back up and running in Geneva. If we get there – and it’s a big if – then as we’ve talked about before, all other options – all other opportunities are on the table, which is going after Nusrah and going after Daesh more constructively, more productively – not with the regime, but with Russia; but we didn’t get there, so.

QUESTION: Beyond trying to get a – back to the diplomatic track, do you have any other policies to stop Assad’s forces from pushing on further?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, I think we’re looking – and I don’t want to get ahead of discussions, meetings that have yet to take place, but we’ve been very clear in the wake of our suspension of bilateral engagement with Russia on Syria, we’ve been looking at a range of options – economic, ways to put military pressure, ways to put economic pressure, other ways to put pressure and gain leverage given the situation in Syria. We’re trying to be thoughtful about it. We’re soliciting the views, obviously, of everyone involved in the interagency before we move forward. And again, what Secretary Kerry has been focused on is how do we go back to the multilateral setting and harness the ideas and the leverage that other countries may have with regard to Syria, and use that to put forward a new diplomatic process. Please.

QUESTION: On the Wikileaks dump today, there was one email in particular between John Podesta and Cheryl Mills asking about holding emails from President Obama and Secretary Clinton back. Why weren’t those turned over? Would they not fall under work-related?

MR TONER: You’re talking about emails between John Podesta --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, there was an email that suggested there were emails between President Obama and Secretary Clinton, and in Podesta’s email he’s saying we should try and have these held back, have the President use executive privilege to hold those back.

MR TONER: I believe there are, yeah – I believe – and I’d have to double check on that, but I believe with the correspondence with President there was – I don’t know if it was executive privilege, but there was a concern that those emails not be made public.

QUESTION: Is there a reason why?

MR TONER: I think – and again, I don’t have the chapter and verse in front of me, but it’s – I think it’s some form of executive privilege. I’d have to get back to you on what the exact wording is.


MR TONER: I just don’t know what the – the rationale is that the correspondence of the President is – has certain privileges and privacies, but I don’t have the exact chapter and verse in front of me.


MR TONER: Yes, Goyal.

QUESTION: Couple questions, thanks, sir. Couple questions on South Asia. One: What is U.S. stand at the UN Security Council resolution as far as declaring some of the terrorists wanted by the U.S. and India, but China has twice again last week supported Pakistan and saying that they are not terrorists. So innocent people have been killed in the name of terrorism, but China is supporting Pakistan and the United Nations.

MR TONER: Which --

QUESTION: Some of those include, sir, like, Hafiz Saeed, Ibrahim Dawood, and also Masood Azhar, among others.

MR TONER: I’m not 100 percent sure I know which resolution you’re talking about, but I would just say that we continue to urge Pakistan to take actions to combat and delegitimize all terrorist groups operating on its soil. Obviously, Pakistan has suffered greatly at the hands of terrorists and violent extremists. We want to help Pakistan confront this terrorist threat, but we also want Pakistan also to go after those terrorists who seek and sometimes find safe haven on Pakistan territory.

QUESTION: This resolution came twice in the United Nations Security Council that these people should be declared terrorists by the United Nations Security Council, but China vetoed or said that they are not terrorists and supported Pakistan. So where does U.S. stand there?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not aware of this specific resolution. I apologize, Goyal. I’d refer you to our team up at USUN who can probably speak with more depth than I have on this particular issue.

QUESTION: And second, in the name of terrorism innocent peoples have been killed in the thousands in Pakistan. And now the Pakistanis are asking that time has come to put this end and this rather in the name of this Mr. Altaf Hussain in London who is the MQM founder and chairman, and he was head there, or allegation that money launder, in the name of money laundering or cases against him in London. Thousands of people were rounded up in Karachi and hundreds were killed, and that’s what he said that – and now the British court freed him and said they are not – they are all allegations and there is no truth in the case.

MR TONER: Well, I would refer you to the British Government to speak to that particular case. I think we’ve spoken out about this individual before, so I’ll leave it there.

Please, Matt.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: Sorry, just one question about Iraq.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: There were reports today that some of the Iraqi army units which were sent to participate in the upcoming operation in Mosul, they are raising sectarian flags – Shia flags. Would that alarm you? And – because, as you know, Mosul is a predominantly Sunni city, which could be problematic.

MR TONER: Well, we all know the reality of the effort in Iraq involves local tribal forces and so-called PMF, Popular Mobilization Forces. They’ve been instrumental, frankly, in much of the success that the Iraqi Government and Security Forces have had against Daesh. I don’t know about this particular incident, but we’ve said before that these groups need to be mindful, need not to create more tensions as they operate among the local populations, and need to be respectful of the local populations in terms of respectful of their religion, and respectful of their human rights.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I got two different subjects.


QUESTION: First, Yemen. What’s the status of the review into the assistance that you’re providing to Saudis?

MR TONER: No update on that, Matt. I know we’re going to do a background call shortly, but I don’t have anything to add on --

QUESTION: Yeah, but – I mean, is this review just going to go on and on and on and on, and so that --

MR TONER: No, I wouldn’t say that either.

QUESTION: You can say with certainty that there will be an end to this review with a conclusion about --

MR TONER: Where we go?

QUESTION: -- whether or not to continue or to modify the assistance you’re giving to the Saudis?

MR TONER: I mean, honestly, I can say when we say we’re going to conduct a review, we conduct the review. I can’t speak to what – where it will land, what its conclusions will be. But as we’ve said, and said quite forcefully the last week, last weekend after the strike on the – that hit the funeral procession, or gathering, that we have very serious concerns about civilian casualties. And we’re reviewing our assistance.

QUESTION: I understand. I’m not asking you for what the results of the review is going to be.


QUESTION: I’m just – there – it will come to an end at some point. Is that right?

MR TONER: I believe so, yes. Yes.

QUESTION: And in the near future?

MR TONER: I hope so, yes.

QUESTION: I mean – all right. And then secondly --

MR TONER: Because you’ll make sure – (laughter) – I hear about it if – otherwise.

QUESTION: Uh, yeah. Yes. And then the second one is on Honduras.

MR TONER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Have you guys certified that they have met their human rights obligations? I think I asked about this a couple weeks ago and then it slipped my --

MR TONER: Sure. So we – yes. We certified that Honduras is taking effective steps to meet the criteria specified in the Fiscal Year 2016 appropriations – appropriation legislation. So that’s not to say that all is well and good. Obviously, corruption, crime, impunity are real problems, continue to be real problems in Honduras. But we have seen, I think, a demonstration of political will by the Honduran Government that has taken on and made progress against some of the country’s security and developmental challenges. So we want to see that progress continue.

QUESTION: When was that certification done?

MR TONER: My understanding is it was – oh, September 30th, 2016.

QUESTION: Any reason why it’s taken so long to --

MR TONER: Publicly announce it?


MR TONER: I don’t know. Honestly, I mean, I don’t --

QUESTION: I mean --

MR TONER: I don’t know how we generally make --

QUESTION: Was it published in the Federal Register?

MR TONER: I don’t know. I’ll ask.

QUESTION: All right. And then can you be more specific about what effective steps they have taken? Because as you are aware, there have been numerous reports over the course of – well, over a while, but certainly this – over the course of the last couple months about new abuses and about new --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- committed by the police and by the – by security forces there.

MR TONER: I mean, I can speak a little bit about what our assistance programs do in Honduras, but I don’t have specific --

QUESTION: No, no, no. I want to know what --

MR TONER: Yeah, I don’t have a specific – I’ll get that for you.

QUESTION: So when you made the certification, there wasn’t any attempt to define what it was that you think they’re doing --

MR TONER: I’m sure there was. I just don’t have it in front of me. And I’m not following as closely as I probably should --

QUESTION: All right. What’s the --

MR TONER: -- Honduran human rights situation.

QUESTION: What’s the total assistance that this frees up?

MR TONER: I will get that for you as well. I don’t have it in front of me. I apologize.

QUESTION: All right. I – and please, if you could get the actual – the --

MR TONER: Yeah. So what I propose, we’ll do --

QUESTION: -- because these reports have been --

MR TONER: -- we’ll do this as a formally – we’ll do this as a formal taken question. Okay?

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, because there have been persistent --

MR TONER: You have my pledge.

QUESTION: -- reports of violations.

MR TONER: I understand that. No, I understand that, Matt. And I understand – again, I’m not trying to create the appearance that all is well, that --

QUESTION: Well, I know. But if all is not well and all is not good, why did they get certified?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think we look for progress. And we’ve seen significant enough progress in their efforts – and I should have more detail to provide to you --


MR TONER: -- on that; I apologize for it – but to give them a passing grade.

That it, guys? Thank so much.

QUESTION: Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 2:21 p.m.)

DPB # 176

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - October 13, 2016

Thu, 10/13/2016 - 18:18

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 13, 2016

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2:11 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Greetings, everyone. Happy Thursday.


MR TONER: Just a couple things at the top. One is an update on the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. So the U.S. Agency for International Development today announced more than $12 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help communities that have been affected by Hurricane Matthew. This additional funding brings total U.S. Government support to nearly $14 million for immediate Hurricane Matthew relief efforts in Haiti, Jamaica, and the Bahamas. Now, this funding is going to provide critical food assistance and relief supplies to hard-hit areas and includes nearly $7 million in UN World Food – for the UN World Food Program, and we continue to increase delivery of urgently needed supplies to Haiti’s southwestern peninsula.

And the top priority always is to provide food and safe drinking water to the communities that have been cut off by Hurricane Matthew. And on Wednesday, USAID and the Department of Defense flew 13 missions into the Grand’Anse – or Grand’Anse and the Sud regions of Haiti. To date, USAID has delivered 159 metric tons of emergency relief supplies to these regions with additional deliveries planned for today. We obviously remain very committed to helping the people of Haiti, the Bahamas and Jamaica as they recover and deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, and we’re conducting an ongoing needs assessment and going to continue to increase our support as needed.

Just also wanted to talk about an event that’s being held here today, the Mega-Sporting Events forum. Today and tomorrow, the U.S. Department of State’s convening the, quote, “Sporting Chance Forum on Mega-Sporting Events and Human Rights,” end quote. It’s a big title, but this is an important event. This brings together international partners from government, civil society, private sector, international organizations, and global sports communities to address human rights challenges and the opportunities associated with hosting major global sporting events. And we’re pleased to be working with the Swiss federal department of foreign affairs as well as the Institute for Human Rights and Business in co-hosting this conference.

Then lastly, a bit of a personnel announcement here that I wanted to note: President Obama has designated Assistant Secretary Tom, or Thomas, Countryman as acting under secretary of state for arms control and international security effective October 9th. As acting under secretary, Mr. Countryman advises the Secretary on arms control, nonproliferation, disarmament, and political-military affairs. And previously, Mr. Countryman served as the assistant secretary for international security and nonproliferation, I think, since 2011.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Today is the 13th.

MR TONER: Yeah, no, I’m sorry, we’re a little bit behind the times. Is that what you’re saying, he’s already – yeah, he’s already in the role.

QUESTION: So he’s been in there since Monday?

MR TONER: Yeah, so – did I say --

QUESTION: You said the 9th.

MR TONER: -- “he will advise the Secretary?” Yes, I said --

QUESTION: No, no, I’m not – I’m just --

MR TONER: It’s been effective on October 9th --

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR TONER: -- as I said.

QUESTION: All right, let’s start with Yemen.


QUESTION: How – what’s the status of the review that you guys are doing into the – your support for the Saudi coalition?

MR TONER: Well, you’re talking about the – as a result or in the aftermath of the --

QUESTION: Of the funeral, yeah.

MR TONER: -- right, of the airstrike that occurred over the weekend. And obviously, in the aftermath of that event, we expressed our deep concern over this attack – or this airstrike, rather, that killed 140 people, injured over 600 this past weekend. Look, we’re still looking to the Saudis to conduct or finish conducting an investigation of the strike. They’ve pledged to do so and they’ve pledged to do it in a transparent manner, and as quickly as possible. I think broadly – and we stated this over the weekend – that even as we assist Saudi Arabia with regard to its territorial integrity, we’re going to continue to express and convey our serious concern about the conflict in Yemen and about these attacks on – or these strikes when they involve civilian casualties. And that’s not just involving Saudi Arabia; there have been, obviously, allegations, credible allegations on the other side of this as well, among the Houthis.

I don’t have much of an update to give you on that investigation. We are still conducting our own internal review into whether – internal review of our position. We continue to have policy discussions, so I can’t really get ahead of those discussions at this time, except to say that we’re always reviewing and monitoring how any arms that we sell to the Saudis or provide to the Saudis are used.

QUESTION: But, well – so I want to be as specific as possible. It’s – yours is an internal review of your position – in other words, whether to support or whether to – whether to support in any way the Saudi – or are you reviewing whether or not you’re – even if you take action in terms of what you’re supplying them in terms of assistance, that you’re going to change and somehow drop any kind of even encouragement or moral support from the Saudis?

MR TONER: So a couple of things. One is --

QUESTION: That’s not the issue, is it?

MR TONER: So to --

QUESTION: When you say your position, it means the support, your support?

MR TONER: Right, right. So just two kind of concurrent – obviously, we called immediately in the aftermath of Saturday’s – I think it was Saturday’s or this weekend’s attack, or airstrike, rather, that resulted in the deaths of these civilians, we called for an immediate investigation.


MR TONER: We’re still awaiting the results of that investigation. I don’t know if that was what you were asking about or not. But internally, as we called – and I think the NSC and also our own statement spoke to this – is that in light of this most recent as well as other incidents, we’re also conducting a review of our support --

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

MR TONER: -- for the Saudi-led coalition.

QUESTION: Not your position --


QUESTION: -- but your support for the coalition?

MR TONER: No, exactly, thank you.

QUESTION: Okay. That’s what I wanted to know.


QUESTION: But – so does that internal review – is that contingent on the Saudi investigation and what it finds?

MR TONER: I wouldn’t say completely so, but it matters to what comes out of that investigation.

QUESTION: In other words, we should not expect a conclusion to your internal review until after you see the results of the Saudi investigation into what happened, is that right?

MR TONER: I would say that we would certainly want to evaluate ongoing support in the context of whatever that investigation results in, so yes, in short answer.

QUESTION: All right. I mean, how much of a – how much weight is going to be given to the Saudis on – if they come back and say, well, it was just an accident and we didn’t mean to and we’re sorry, does that mean that you guys will take – in your internal review, you’ll say, oh, okay, well, then, we’re not going to --

MR TONER: No, I think it’s one --

QUESTION: Or you’ll make your own judgment?

MR TONER: It’s one piece of the evaluation. We’ll obviously make our own judgment.

QUESTION: So you’re doing – so does that mean that you’re – you are also doing an investigation into what happened at – with the funeral strike?

MR TONER: I think, again, what – no, I think what was – what we said publicly this weekend was we’re conducting our own review.

QUESTION: No, no. Well, yeah --

MR TONER: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: -- but you just went to great pains to explain that your review is into your support, it’s not into --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- the actual incident.

MR TONER: You’re asking if we’re conducting --

QUESTION: So you’re --

MR TONER: -- a separate investigation into the incident, is what you’re asking.

QUESTION: Well, you’re saying that you’re not going to take the results of the Saudi investigation into the incident at face value and you’re not going to – that won’t be the only criteria by which you judge – you make judgments in your internal review. So I don’t know, it would seem to me, then, that you would have some kind of independent way of checking out whether the Saudi investigation is complete or is accurate. Is that correct?

MR TONER: I mean, we always have, without speaking to intelligence assets and other ways that we are able to assess these kinds of events, of course, we’re always going to assess.

QUESTION: All right, okay. So as you – as we – as you noted, the attack happened – this airstrike happened over the weekend, so you should already presumably have a very good idea of actually what --

MR TONER: And I just don’t have any more information about where we stand on that.

QUESTION: All right. The last little bit on Yemen --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- is that you know that the Pentagon – or that the U.S. military launched some cruise missile --


QUESTION: -- strikes against radar sites in – along the coast, the territory that’s held by the Houthi. The Pentagon has been going to great lengths – your colleague over there – to say that they don’t know who actually fired these missiles that landed in the water near the two U.S. ships. But – and – but they’re also at the same time saying that if there are further such launches from Yemen that they will respond as well. And my question to you is whether or not you are concerned that more provocation from them and more response or retaliation from you will open the door to further – further U.S. military involvement.

MR TONER: I don’t think so. I think we’ve – I think the Pentagon spoke to this last night in a statement, was very clear in stating that we responded in self-defense in accordance with international law, and last night’s strikes don’t represent in any way the opening of any kind of new front or new effort in Yemen’s civil war. I mean, it’s – this is simply our ships came under attack.


MR TONER: We responded.


MR TONER: So what’s your – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: I understand that this response does not open a new front necessarily.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: But if this kind of thing keeps happening – in other words, your ships get fired upon and you respond – is that not a concern that it would lead to an escalation?

MR TONER: Again, I think – first of all, that’s a hypothetical. But in response, I would just say that we’re always going to take action when we feel that our service men or women or our assets are under threat. And that’s always going to be an option that we’re going to have to take into consideration, which is limited strikes to take out that threat.

QUESTION: Right. But until now, you had not – you had avoided direct military action in Yemen as it related to the war between the Houthis and the government.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: You had only been doing strikes against AQAP. So the seal has been broken on that now.

MR TONER: Again, very limited, in self-defense, to protect our ships who are in that area and are going to continue to operate in that area. I think what I would say is that our emphasis going forward, and indeed over the past days since the incident last weekend on the funeral party, has been on how we get back to a cessation of hostilities and then get political negotiations back on track. And the Secretary has been engaged with many of our partners in the region to try to instill new vigor to that process.

QUESTION: That seems – he seems to be spending a lot of time on trying to instill new vigor into failed cessation of hostilities all over the place.

MR TONER: Well, that’s his job and he’s going to keep at it.

QUESTION: Can you be more – can you be more specific about who he has spoken to? And has there been any contact with – either directly or through a third party with the Houthis themselves?

MR TONER: Yeah. So I know he’s spoken to a number of governments and counterparts in the region – including, obviously, the Saudis. He’s spoken to obviously the UN special envoy. He’s spoken to the Omanis. He – he has spoken to – I’m trying to think of who else he’s spoken to in – since – what’s that?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Let me go to my call list.

QUESTION: And then I’ll just give you the last one while you’re looking at the call list.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The Secretary’s going to be in Lausanne this weekend. There’s going to be people from the region there, senior officials, we think. I mean, do you expect Yemen will come up at a meeting that’s mainly being called to talk about Syria since so many of the players are --

MR TONER: Sure. Without ever being able to accurately 100 percent predict what the agenda would be for his meetings, I would say it’s somewhat safe to assume that in a pull-aside or in a bilat with the appropriate people he’s going to raise the situation in Yemen because we’re very concerned about what’s happening there as well as what’s happening in Syria.

He spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister al-Jubeir several times. He’s spoken with Crown Prince bin Salman. He has spoken with UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson about this. He’s spoken with the Omani Foreign Minister bin Alawi. He has spoken, as I just said, with the UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. I think that is – I think he also spoke last week with the Emirati FM – foreign minister, rather.

QUESTION: And the time frame for these calls, as well?

MR TONER: Since really last Saturday.

QUESTION: Since the funeral strike. Is that correct? Or are you talking about the Saturday before?

MR TONER: No, no, no, Saturday, October 8th. So this past Saturday.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: Mark, can I just follow up on --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- there’s – the cruise missile strike of the radar sites. Who was manning those sites, to the best of your knowledge?

MR TONER: You’re talking about the --

QUESTION: Yeah, in Yemen.

MR TONER: In Yemen. No, you’re talking about the actual – the radar sites that were --

QUESTION: Right, right.

MR TONER: -- struck by – well, I’d refer you to the Pentagon to speak about the specifics of the airstrike. My understanding is that they were directed against radar sites run by the Houthis.

QUESTION: So – okay. And are you – do you have reports that they have been destroyed or rendered completely effective? And what was their role in this fight that’s going on?

MR TONER: Well, again, I – as we assessed in the aftermath of these attacks on our two warships, we came to the conclusion that these radar sites had played a role in targeting. So that’s why they were specifically targeted, in order to take out or in some way limit the ability for the Houthis to carry out these strikes.

QUESTION: And on the review itself, I mean, are you confident in the veracity of this investigation? Because I remember a few months back, I think last June, when the UN attempted to blacklist Saudi Arabia for similar incidents, the Saudis were – managed to undo that with – I think with your support probably at the time. So are you certain that this review is done in a fashion that can be effective and steps can be taken forward?

MR TONER: I mean, I think we’re – we’re obviously very seized with the need for a thorough and transparent investigation into this incident that is conducted by the Saudi Government. And indeed, Secretary – we’re talking about calls – and I think we did a readout of this, but he did speak – he being Secretary Kerry spoke with Deputy Crown Prince bin Salman and Foreign Minister al-Jubeir specifically this weekend – or this weekend specifically, to express our concern about the incident and to urge an investigation into it.

I mean, the other piece of this, and what the Secretary’s been pushing hard for, is to get back, as I said, a cessation of hostilities – a 72-hour cessation of hostilities that can at least, again, create some kind of climate where political dialogue or a dialogue can begin again among the various parties under the auspices of the UN special envoy. We know we need to de-escalate, obviously, given the events of the past week. And that’s where the priority is right now.

So he’s working with – he being Secretary Kerry – is working with a number of counterparts in the region, talking to them about how we can all collectively de-escalate tensions in Yemen and get back to a point where we can begin negotiations.

QUESTION: So your – that whole spiel was all about Yemen? Because it’s sounding incredibly similar to – it could have been said about Syria, as well, no?

MR TONER: It could – I mean, look. I mean, I’m not going to – they’re obviously apples and oranges. But in essence you’re talking about a similar situation where --


MR TONER: -- you’ve got a conflict --

QUESTION: I know, but you could --

MR TONER: -- you’re trying to end the violence in that conflict, so you can --

QUESTION: -- have replaced “Yemen” with “Syria” and it would’ve been the same --

MR TONER: -- I understand that. I’m fully – you don’t think I’m aware that the ingredients to a political resolution are similar to what we’re pursuing in Syria? I mean, it’s hard. And I agree that it does sound similar, but the formula is, what we believe, the right one.



QUESTION: Since you mentioned Syria, can we have the list of the attendees of the international partners who will be in London on Sunday?

MR TONER: I don’t have a list for you of the attendees. I think John spoke to this at length yesterday, about the fact that we’re going to leave it to the attendees themselves to speak to their involvement or their participation, rather, in the meeting. We’ve invited a number of, as we call it, regional powers, not --

QUESTION: He’s talking about London.

QUESTION: London, not --

MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: -- not Lausanne.

MR TONER: Nicolas, I’m sorry. I didn’t even hear – I apologize. I assumed you were talking about – London I believe is – well, so obviously, the UK. I’m not sure whether France will be there or not and at what level they’ll be there.

QUESTION: So, yeah, following on that, there is no official complaint? There is no press report of – about that, but it’s pretty obvious that your European friends and partners feel a bit frustrated by – because they are not invited in Lausanne. Can you explain exactly why there are two separate meetings and why the Europeans are not part of the Lausanne talks?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, I hope that’s not the case where they feel excluded. In fact, the Secretary obviously, met with Foreign Minister Ayrault last week on Friday where they talked extensively about Syria. I know he was in touch with Foreign Minister Steinmeier over the past several days, and indeed there was the meeting in Berlin last week where Tom Shannon attended. Obviously we consider both sets of meetings to be important, and they’re important in their own right. I wouldn’t say one’s more important than the other, but we’re just trying to garner the best grouping, if you will, of nations and governments in the most efficient way, and these are smaller group settings, in part to allow for, I think, a better exchange of views.

This breakdown made the most sense, in part – the Secretary will be able to talk to his European counterparts about what was accomplished or what needs – or what was – what came out of Lausanne and again to talk about next steps. We’ve been in very close touch all along with our European counterparts, and Secretary Kerry will obviously continue that, because we value both their leadership and their opinion on this issue.

QUESTION: Does it mean that the ISSG format is not relevant or efficient anymore?

MR TONER: I wouldn’t say that. The ISSG is a large group of – obviously of all the stakeholders, and as such, at the appropriate time, in the appropriate setting, can collectively play an important role. For example, although it was during a very difficult time at the UN General Assembly, there were two ISSG meetings and although the --

QUESTION: (Sneezes.)

MR TONER: God bless you.


MR TONER: And although the --

QUESTION: (Sneezes.)

MR TONER: Bless you. Although the content or the discussions in those meetings were at times heated, and we talked about that, but what came out, again, was a commitment and a consensus that this is an important format and we should continue and a political process is the only way to resolve the fighting in Syria. So I don’t want to say that we’re moving beyond ISSG – not at all, but I think what we’re looking at now is just some small group meetings in order to get going or get started on a multilateral approach.

QUESTION: So the meeting in Lausanne is in – I mean the meeting in London is separate and independent of the meeting in Lausanne. It is not contingent upon what happened the day before?


QUESTION: In any way?


QUESTION: Okay, so it will have – it has its own agenda --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- and it will come up with its own result. So what if you agree, let’s say, the day before in Lausanne – what if there is an agreement to reinstate the ceasefire, the cessation of hostilities, and everybody agrees to it and they are friends again and so on, and it can be implemented?

MR TONER: That’s a huge hypothetical. We’d love to see it happen --

QUESTION: Well, it – but it – well, it happened before, I mean --

MR TONER: No, I mean, we – look, we’d love to see it happen. I mean, obviously --

QUESTION: -- on the 9th of September, it happened in February, so --

MR TONER: No, I think your point is --

QUESTION: My point --

MR TONER: -- is would we take that without or in the absence of --


MR TONER: -- our other ISSG members?

QUESTION: Exactly, right.

QUESTION: Thank you. That’s exactly --

MR TONER: Yeah. Finishing your questions now.


MR TONER: No, but I think – look, I mean, whatever happens in Lausanne, whatever comes out of Lausanne will obviously be in close coordination and contact with other members of the ISSG as we move forward, if indeed there is some significant sea change or progress made. We have the ways and means to be in contact quickly with our allies and partners and other members of the ISSG to get their buy-in and support. It’s a modern world we live in. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So I may have missed this. Why do you --

MR TONER: But I --

QUESTION: Why do you remain reluctant on saying who’s going to participate in this meeting?

MR TONER: Oh, I just think, for one thing, we’re still finalizing the list of attendees and we don’t want to speak to who is coming or who – and then who might not be coming. It’s just a – it’s up to them to say – I mean, the – obviously, Lavrov – Foreign Minister Lavrov said Russia will be there. I think other governments have spoken to their participation, but --

QUESTION: Right. Qatar and Saudi Arabia and Turkey, they have been – they’re saying that they are participating, and even some in Iran saying that they are participating.

MR TONER: Correct. So we’ll see.

QUESTION: So you do expect Iran --

MR TONER: I mean, we just don’t want to speak on behalf of another --

QUESTION: You do expect Iran to be part of it?

MR TONER: We just don’t want to speak on behalf of another government.

QUESTION: Because the way it was expressed in the invitation – the way it was expressed is that those regional countries that have interests in the Syria conflict are invited to talk about this, which really includes all the regional countries – I mean the Iranians, the – definitely the others.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: The – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and so on --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- and all these things. So one would expect that Iran would attend, right?

MR TONER: Again, I just – I’m going to hold a hard line here and I’m not going to speak in any way, shape, or form to what another country who may be invited to this event is going to do. It’s really for them to say what their decision is.

QUESTION: One last question.

MR TONER: I mean, obviously, Iran is a member of the ISSG, and as such has an opinion about and is a stakeholder in what happens in Syria, but I can’t speak to their attendance at Lausanne.

QUESTION: One last question. There are claims – claims were made yesterday that – led by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, there was a letter signed on to by 62 countries submitted to the UN and so on calling for such a meeting. Were you influenced by that or could you confirm that that actually happened?

MR TONER: I’m unclear about what you’re referring to exactly.

QUESTION: I’m referring to a claim made in the Gulf press that there was a letter that was taken or written at the initiative of Saudi Arabia and collected like 60 different countries --

MR TONER: This was in the context of the UN or – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, it was submitted to the UN, but – and you have become sort of a – you have taken interest in that and that’s what led to the invitation. Is that true? To the meeting.

MR TONER: The Lausanne meeting you’re talking about.

QUESTION: Right, yes. Absolutely.

MR TONER: Look, my understanding is – and we’ve been, I think, pretty forward – pretty forthcoming, rather, about the fact that once the decision was made to suspend the bilateral track with Russia on Syria, we were going to pursue a multilateral effort. And almost immediately, the Secretary began working with and convening this next meeting to talk about a multilateral approach to resolving Syria. I, frankly, am not aware of the letter. I apologize.

Please. Are we done with Syria? Let’s just --


MR TONER: Syria, and then I’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: Five children were killed in government-controlled western Aleppo this Thursday as mortars – mortar shells hit a school bus stop. Our correspondent reported from the hospital where they were taken. Do you condemn this shelling?

MR TONER: We condemn any attack – certainly any attack specifically targeting civilians. We want to discourage any attack that may cause civilian casualties. I mean, there’s a difference between the two. You understand what the point I’m trying to make here is – is if you believe you’re targeting Nusrah, for example, and you – but you know there’s a school nearby, then you make decisions to – based on that knowledge to avoid civilian casualties as a result of any strike you carry out. I don’t know the specifics of this incident, but certainly any loss of life, any loss of civilian life and certainly the loss of life among children – but indeed any human life – is one too many.

QUESTION: Just some specifics on that particular incident which my colleague reported. So this is a screenshot from my colleague’s report. These are two girls, Maria and Lama, who were killed in that – in the shelling of that bus stop. And I want to ask: Civilian suffering in eastern Aleppo has been the focus of everybody’s attention, rightly so. Does the U.S. Government pay attention to civilian – to what’s happening to civilians in western Aleppo? Anything you can say specifically in that regard?

MR TONER: I think I just answered that, but if I haven’t, I’ll be clear that we consider any civilian loss of life as a result of the conflict in Syria to be one too many. And it’s the reason why we were trying so hard to get a cessation of hostilities in place so that we could get back to a political negotiation. What you have now in Aleppo is full-on conflict, and in that kind of climate and environment you’re going to have civilians pay the price. And so obviously we’re concerned about the loss of life of civilians on either side of this. It’s not a one or the other. And again, I don’t know the details or who is responsible for this attack, but obviously it’s of concern.

QUESTION: Just one more?

MR TONER: Yeah, one more. Sure, and then that’s it. Everyone can --

QUESTION: Do you think that the shelling of this school bus, the killing of these kids, was something that was to be expected in light of what’s going on?

MR TONER: Again, I think I – as I said before, any intentional targeting of civilians we would strongly condemn. I just don’t have the details in this particular case. So two points here to make. Intentional targeting of civilians is against international law, against humanitarian standards and law, and we would condemn it. But any time you even have any kind of airstrikes or assault that results in civilian casualties, they need to be avoided.

QUESTION: I’m just curious: How do you monitor what’s going on in western Aleppo? Because I know in eastern Aleppo you have the white helmets, you have all kinds of groups and so on that right there they can do this work immediately. But who – how do you gather what’s going on --

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, it’s hard and --

QUESTION: -- in government-controlled areas?

MR TONER: I mean, I don’t have a ready answer for you. I mean, it’s difficult. We rely on – partly on reports from those on the ground. We have other ways and means that I’m not going to get into, but certainly we try as best we can to monitor the situation in all of Aleppo.

QUESTION: And Jabhat al-Nusrah, in its new incarnation, they vowed they will not abide by any cessation of hostilities if there is an agreement in Lausanne. And if that happens and they refuse to cease or to withdraw, will you target them? Will there be targeting of Nusrah concentrations even in (inaudible)?

MR TONER: Well, again, that’s a hypothetical. What I just would say is that the one area of common ground that we have with all the members of the ISSG, including Russia, including Iran, is that al-Nusrah is a foreign terrorist or a terrorist organization and would never be a part of any cessation of hostilities. I would expect that would remain the policy certainly of the United States but of all the members of the ISSG.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I go to one last Syrian --

MR TONER: One more Syria, and I promise, I haven’t forgotten.

QUESTION: Just to get back to what Nicolas was saying, Lavrov yesterday made some comments where he said the Lausanne meeting is going to be a businesslike discussion and not another General Assembly debate. And recognizing the, you guys were behind the invitation list, is this sort of an acknowledgment that when it comes down to brass tacks, this mechanism that’s already in place that exists to resolve the conflict – the ISSG – is not the most efficient way to get that done?

MR TONER: Again, I think it just – it’s how you apply it, when you use it. I was in the listening room and I would not say it was – it was in – I’m talking about in New York when the ISSG met. And every country in the room had a chance to express their views and offer their opinions, but it was in no way – how did he put it?

QUESTION: Not another General Assembly-style debate. I mean, that’s what it sounds like --

MR TONER: Was it – right. I mean --

QUESTION: -- when you’re describing it.

MR TONER: But it’s important that you do have the opportunity, as I said, to express your views on what’s happening. And I’m not sure whether he liked what he heard, but it was an opportunity for all the members of the ISSG to comment on what they were seeing right now in Syria. But again, what came out of that, at the end of the day, at the end of that discussion, was a sense that we need to keep this process going because the military one is not an option.


QUESTION: My question involves the Iraqi position toward Turkey.


QUESTION: Both that of the government and the biggest Shia militia, and would appreciate your comment on both.

First, the foreign ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador to protest the presence of Turkish troops in Iraq and, quote, “recent abusive statements,” unquote. Do you think that this is appropriate now with the offensive on Mosul so imminent? That’s the first part of it.

And the second part: Then the Badr Organization, the biggest militia, issued a statement, quote, “We advise the Turkish president that if he does not withdraw Turkish troops alive, we will send them back dead.” Do you have – what is your comment on that?

MR TONER: So the first part of your question --

QUESTION: Is the foreign minister summoning the Turkish --

MR TONER: No, no, I was just going to say I was --

QUESTION: Oh, sorry.

MR TONER: Sorry, I meant to say I was going to respond to that. (Laughter.) Didn’t mean to repeat it. I apologize.

Our response would be that we call on both governments – Turkish Government as well as the Iraqi Government – to focus on the common enemy here, which is Daesh. And we certainly support common – or rather, continued constructive dialogue between the Turkish Governments and the – the Government of Turkey and the Government of Iraq that will help deescalate any tensions and resolve any disagreements. But again, to be clear, operations to go after, destroy, degrade Daesh in Iraq should be under the command and control of the Iraqi Government. And we’ve made that clear all along and our position on that has not changed – it’s how we have worked in Iraq. We have worked with a variety of groups, as you know, some of them local groups and who are very effective fighters, but all of that has been coordinated closely with the Government of Iraq. I think this is sovereign Iraq territory, so that is what needs to be done. Sorry, your – the second the part of your question, I forgot now --

QUESTION: Oh, that was a --

MR TONER: -- in my windy answer.

QUESTION: That was the Badr Organization’s statement that if the Turkish President doesn’t withdraw Turkish troops alive, we’ll send them back dead.

MR TONER: Well, look, that’s a – that’s certainly not the kind of comment that leads to a de-escalation in tensions. So we believe that moving forward, Turkey can play a productive role in the anti-Daesh efforts, but it needs to be done in coordination with the Iraqi Government, and as we move forward towards eventually operations on Mosul, there’s – it needs to be a coordinated effort, there needs to be communications among all the different entities working on the ground, under the command and control of the Iraqi leadership to be successful. And the common enemy, once again, is Daesh.

QUESTION: Given that Iran is a major support of the Badr Organization, do you think making some statements to Iran about this? Because there seems to be a competition in Baghdad among these Shia groups to see who can be more anti-Turkish.

MR TONER: Look, I’m not going to speak to this group’s or any group’s intentions on the ground or who might be directing them, except to say that as we’ve talked about before, many of these different groups’ fighting forces, local fighting forces have been very effective against Daesh and have been really a pivotal part of the overall effort to drive Daesh out of Iraq. And I think the Iraqi Government appreciates that. We certainly appreciate their efforts. But it speaks to the importance, as I said, of having some kind of chain of command, of having some kind of leadership and that’s why I make the point time and again that the Iraqi Government needs to own and be responsible for security operations within its own country.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR TONER: Please, sir. Yeah.

QUESTION: A member of Iraqi parliament, Awatif Naima, told PKK terrorist organization to open an office in Baghdad. And I was wondering what’s your position on that. PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by U.S. as well.

MR TONER: I’m sorry, what’s the name of the group again? I apologize.


MR TONER: Oh, the PKK.


MR TONER: Well, obviously, we view – sorry, I didn’t understand. The PKK is, as you know, a foreign terrorist organization designated by the U.S. I’m not aware of these reports or this call for them to open an office in Baghdad. Is that what you’re reporting?

QUESTION: Yes, I just referenced a statement.

MR TONER: Obviously, we would not support that.

QUESTION: And Turkey’s concern that the PKK might take a role in the Mosul operation. I was wondering if you are – what’s your position on that? Would you be okay if PKK to take a position on the Mosul operation against Daesh?

MR TONER: No and we’ve clearly drawn a line between – certainly within – in northern Syria between some of the Kurdish groups, such as the YPD, who are fighting Daesh on the ground, but made a clear delineation between them and the PKK. I mean, simply put, we view the PKK as a foreign terrorist organization and we support Turkey’s efforts to protect its citizenry against PKK attacks ongoing. Ultimately, we’d love to see some kind of dialogue and end to the violence, but Turkey has every right to protect its citizens against PKK terrorism.

That said, again, drawing a clear line between the PKK’s operations and activities and the regional Kurdish forces, who, as we’ve all recognized, have been extremely effective in fighting against Daesh, and we want to see those efforts both in Iraq and in Syria continue. With some of the concerns that we’ve expressed before, certainly with regard to the Turkish border and west of the Euphrates versus east of the Euphrates, we want to see those commitments honored.

QUESTION: But would you oppose PKK’s participation in Mosul campaign?

MR TONER: I think I just said we would – we would not --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: We clearly view the PKK as a terrorist organization, so we would not be supportive --

QUESTION: But if the Iraqi Government decides to include PKK in the Mosul campaign, what would be your position?

MR TONER: That’s a hypothetical. I’m not going to answer.


QUESTION: North Korea?

MR TONER: Are we done with – I’m happy to go to North Korea. North Korea, and then we’ll get to --

QUESTION: So it’s been a few weeks since Treasury slapped sanctions on Chinese companies that had been laundering and working with North Korea. Have you seen any change in Chinese sanction enforcement behavior since then?

MR TONER: With regard to Chinese enforcement of the new sanctions, right?

QUESTION: Yeah. Have they been enforcing it better?

MR TONER: I don’t have really an assessment for you at this point in time. We’ll be watching closely. I’ll see if I can get you something.


QUESTION: South Asia?

MR TONER: South Asia.

QUESTION: A couple questions. One, as far as Mr. Cyril Almeida is concerned or his ban to travel or to stay out of the news, Committee to Protect Journalists, what they are calling is immediate freedom for him. What his writings and his crime, what I have been saying for the last 20 years that in Pakistan there are two governments, military government and civilian government. That’s what he wrote, what I have been saying, and also at the same time I had been saying that but Usama bin Ladin is in Pakistan, and they kept denying all this. So my --

MR TONER: I’m sorry. Just to make sure I heard you correctly --

QUESTION: What I’m asking you --

MR TONER: -- you’re talking about Hafiz Saeed?

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR TONER: Yeah, okay, sorry. Well, look, I’m not going to respond to comments that may have been attributed to him. He’s listed by the UN Security Council or – yes, the UN Security Council 1267 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee for targeted sanctions due to his affiliation with the terrorist group Lashkar-e Tayyiba. And both the LeT and Saeed are designated by the U.S. Government. The LeT is obviously responsible for the death of hundreds of innocent civilians in terrorist attacks, including a number of American citizens.

QUESTION: But what I’m asking you is when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is really for peace, he wants peace and stability in the region, and what his meeting was about that he wants – his government wants peace with India or in the region, but the military government doesn’t want the peace with India or they are the obstacle in his government. What is your comment? That’s what Mr. Cyril Almeida, the Dawn reporter, wrote in the column, and that’s why they banned him or military banned him.

MR TONER: Your question is about the two strains within the Pakistani Government?

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, look, our general position on this is that we want to see greater cooperation and greater dialogue between Pakistan and India. It’s frankly to the benefit of both countries. That includes, certainly, security issues. We want to see tensions go down, and we want to see, as I said, a greater cooperation between the two countries. Now, we’re not there right now, but that’s certainly our inclination.

I can’t speak – looking at the – or give you an analysis of the Pakistani Government and who supports that line of effort and who doesn’t, except to say that it’s a line of effort we want to see pursued.

QUESTION: And Mark, another question is on the region – that there was a special envoys or special advisers from the Government of Pakistan or the military in Washington for the last one whole week and going through different think tanks and so forth. I don’t know if they met anybody at the State Department or not. What they are saying is or they said right now you must look or should look at China, not at the U.S.; the U.S. is a declining power, China is a rising power; and President Obama is now the guest of the United States of America. Any comments on that?

MR TONER: I’m sorry? That President Obama is now the?

QUESTION: Guest of the United States of America.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: He has no power.

MR TONER: That’s – I don’t know, that’s a ridiculous comment.

QUESTION: And finally, one more, sir. As far as Afghanistan – peace in Afghanistan is concerned, or U.S. and India’s role in Afghanistan is concerned, what this group said, that Pakistan will not let have peace in Afghanistan, unless U.S. solve the Kashmir issue. So what the Kashmir issue has to do with peace in Afghanistan? That’s what the people of Afghanistan are asking for the last 30 years.

MR TONER: Look, you know where we stand on Kashmir. Our position hasn’t changed. With regard to Afghanistan, it’s in the interests of both India and Pakistan to see a stable, secure Afghanistan emerge from the years of fighting. And certainly, in the interest of regional security as well, there’s a lot of contentious issues, as you note, between India and Pakistan, but the two countries we would encourage to take a more conciliatory approach to each other and to work through some of these issues for the greater good of the region.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Sir, the United States and other countries are trying to get Taliban on the table for the talks for – since long. Sir, but the recent situation in Afghanistan is very worse and the Taliban is rising again. So are you still hopeful for the peace process for the talks with the Taliban?

MR TONER: Well, it’s been a difficult fighting season, and certainly, we’ve seen a situation – a security situation in Helmand over the past week or so, which is a particular concern. Look, the Taliban remain a very resilient insurgency and to date, they’ve continued to challenge the Afghan Government forces, and the latest attack in Helmand is just another example and another effort by the Taliban to create and sow instability and to – frankly, to undermine the progress that the country has made over the past 15 years. Thus far, while the Afghan Security Forces have certainly been challenged, they’ve held the line and they’ve performed remarkably well.

But your larger question is: what next or what do we want to see come next? And that is – and we’ve long held this – an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process. And that still remains, in our belief, the best way to bring about a stable and prosperous future for Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Sir, as he just – my friend has just said about the Pakistani envoys on Kashmir who were in Washington last week – sir, they told the media here that they handed over evidence or some kind of dossier to the SRAP, Richard Olson, about the human rights violations in Kashmir. And they demanded to the State Department to include these reports in the annual report of human rights which State Department release every year. So will you going to include these reports in the annual one which State Department release every year?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to whether we will or we won’t. Excuse me. We obviously, in compiling our Human Rights Report – our annual Human Rights Report, we get information and seek out information from a variety of sources, and we judge that information, the credibility of those – that information in compiling the report. We certainly will look into any credible allegations of human rights abuses wherever they occur. I can’t speak to whether these particular abuses will find their way into the report or not. That’s part of the process for compiling the report.

QUESTION: Can I have one more on Syria, please? Sir, you just spoke much about Syria, but for the last several months, we have – witnessing – we have been witnessing horrific videos about the situation in Syria. Sir, one – another big challenge is the settlement of Syrian refugees. We have seen America, Canada, some countries in Europe and some other countries accepting Syrian refugees. But in the Muslim countries, except Turkey, like other countries – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates – they are not accepting Syrian refugees. I mean, the – their – their actions for this (inaudible) is pathetic. Sir, will – what are your comments on that?

MR TONER: A couple of thoughts on that. One is I can only speak to the U.S’s efforts, and we have welcomed over 12,000 refugees from Syria in this past fiscal year of 2016, which is how we measure here – not calendar year, but fiscal year. We’re going to continue to work to admit more qualified, screened refugees who are fleeing the violence in Syria. We feel it’s incumbent on us to do so. It speaks to who we are as a nation, to our values, and so we’re going to continue to work hard to help these people find a new life away from the violence that they fled.

With regard to what other nations are doing, I would simply state that many of the, indeed, Muslim nations or majority Muslim nations on the periphery or on the borders of Syria have accepted a tremendous number of refugees fleeing the violence in Syria – Turkey, for instance, Lebanon, for instance, Jordan, as well – and have had to cope with, for years now, this influx of refugees. And certainly we’ve seen Europe also, in the past year or longer, have this influx of refugees fleeing the violence. We always want to see every country, every government do what they can, because this is a global crisis and we want to see all of these refugees be treated in a humane and dignified fashion, whether they’re accepted in a country’s borders or not. That’s our primary goal. And then ultimately, the resolution to all of this is to find some kind of peaceful settlement to the conflict in Syria so that they can return home.


MR TONER: Please, sir.


QUESTION: A new topic?

MR TONER: Of course. I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: The State Department is hosting a delegation of Palestinian educators headed by the minister of education for a two days higher dialogue of education. What do you expect to come out from this dialogue?

MR TONER: I’m not sure I have any information on that. I apologize. I’ll just quickly check here. I’ll have to look into it. I mean, I don’t want to presume, but it sounds like it’s – what is it? An educational exchange or some kind of --

QUESTION: Higher – a U.S.-Palestinian education for two days – today and tomorrow.

MR TONER: Sure. Let me get back to you on that.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, you guys issued a statement. You’re going to be --

MR TONER: Yeah, but I don’t have a --

QUESTION: -- meeting with Anne Patterson and --

MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: -- and others and so on. Okay.

MR TONER: Thanks, though.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on the Palestinian-Israeli thing?

MR TONER: We’ll finish with – yeah, with that, and then --

QUESTION: Yeah. Very quickly, first of all, are you aware of the UNESCO resolution that just passed within the – a couple hours ago in Paris, stipulating that there is no connection between al-Aqsa Mosque and Haram Sharif and Jewish heritage? You have – are you aware of that? And if you are, do you have any comment?

MR TONER: So we are aware of the UNESCO resolution that was voted on today in Paris. The United States strongly opposed these resolutions. We issued a very strong statement, an explanation of vote, along with our vote, and as we made clear, we are deeply concerned about these kinds of recurring, politicized resolutions that do nothing to advance constructive results on the ground. And we don’t believe they should be adopted.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me just follow up with --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- a couple more really quickly. Yesterday, I asked about this Palestinian policeman that was arrested because he posted something on Facebook. Well, apparently today or yesterday, late yesterday, the president of the Palestinian Authority gave him amnesty, but they still fired him. I mean, this is – this group of policemen, they’re trained, financed, led or were led for a while by American or American advisors and so on. Do you have any comment on that? First of all, is that something that --

MR TONER: Can you – sorry, just give me – what was he – he was fired because of his --

QUESTION: He was fired because he posted on Facebook something that was critical of Abbas’s --

MR TONER: Right, I know the case well.

QUESTION: -- participation in the – yeah.

MR TONER: Look, I mean, I don’t have any specific comments on the --


MR TONER: -- actual – on the issue itself, except to say that we strongly believe in freedom of expression and protection of that right.

QUESTION: Yeah, but, I mean, you are hosting, let’s say, a Palestinian education delegation, you’re always calling on them to be inclusive and to be tolerant and so on, but --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- then you have acts like this.

MR TONER: Look, I mean, broadly speaking, we need to promote tolerance, certainly, in that part of the world, and where there is escalatory rhetoric, that’s not helpful to that overarching goal. But we also respect the right to freedom of expression.

Now, that said, I have not seen myself the comments that this individual made, so it’s hard for me to speak to it. That’s why I’m not --


MR TONER: Please, sir.

QUESTION: So other than opposing it and voting against this resolution, does the Administration plan to do anything to stop such resolutions from coming forward in the future?

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: Is there anything you can do?

MR TONER: You’re speaking about specifically – I mean, look, certainly we’re going to use our --

QUESTION: The UNESCO resolution.

MR TONER: No, no, I know. But we’re going to use our vote. We’re still a member of the – or on the board, the executive board. We have opposed and will continue to oppose and use our vote as part of that executive board to oppose these resolutions.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just curious. There was a – you’re lucky that you’re on the executive board. Is that not correct? Because you haven’t paid your dues for many, many years.

MR TONER: That’s why I was – well, that’s why I said – what are you alluding to?

QUESTION: So – but if you’re unable – you made a big case. I mean, I remember Secretary Kerry went to Paris and went to --

MR TONER: Yep, he did.

QUESTION: -- he went to lobby for their --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- for the U.S. to remain on. But if you --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: If your vote and your membership on the executive board can’t stop things that you say you are deeply opposed to and very concerned about that keep coming up, what’s the point of being on the executive board?

MR TONER: Well, on the contrary, we were able to oppose these resolutions, because of our position on the executive board.

QUESTION: Yeah, but they passed, didn’t they? Or am I completely wrong here?

QUESTION: It was 24 votes towards (inaudible).

MR TONER: Yeah, they did pass. But it’s still important to have a U.S. voice in that process. And --

QUESTION: But that U.S. voice managed to do what to this – on these resolutions?

MR TONER: Well, to stand up against these kind of --

QUESTION: No, no, no. Fine, I get that you voted against.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And you’d issued a strong statement saying you were opposed to it and why. But can you point to anything that your intervention, for lack of a better word, or your membership on the board, did to water down or stop --

MR TONER: But look --

QUESTION: -- this resolution that you’re so opposed to from going through?

MR TONER: So a couple of responses. One is you are correct that one side of the anti-Israel resolutions have been a recurring challenge at UNESCO in recent years, and we’ve obviously strongly opposed all of them at the executive board. And as I said, we won’t hesitate in the future to use our veto power – or not our veto power, our vote, rather – at these board meetings to oppose these resolutions; that, in and of itself, it’s important, as I said, to have a voice in that discussion that basically calls these resolutions for what they are. And I think your broader point here is that the recurring --

QUESTION: I’m not trying to make a point. I’m just asking you --

MR TONER: Well, I – yeah.

QUESTION: I’m asking you to make the point --

MR TONER: I’m just saying that it does --

QUESTION: -- to explain to me what the point of being on the board is if --

MR TONER: So my broader point to make here, Matt --


MR TONER: -- is that this kind of politicized – recurring, politicized use of the UNESCO executive board underscores the need for the U.S. to reassert leadership within UNESCO. And that has, as you note, been undercut since 2011, since we were legislatively mandated not to – yeah, not to pay our dues.

QUESTION: Right. But – I mean, the --

MR TONER: So we’re going to work – continue to work with Congress --


MR TONER: -- in order to amend that and to look at options on ways we can resume payment of those dues so that we can, once again, become a fully functioning member of UNESCO. Because it’s important – I guess my over – my bottom-line answer to you, Matt, is it’s important that the U.S. be a fully paying or full – fully paying, full member of UNESCO so that we can work to put forward a positive agenda.

QUESTION: Right. I understand your point, but don’t you find it a bit unusual that the reason that you’re not allowed to pay dues is because UNESCO recognized Palestine? You want to change that so that you can – so that you get your full vote, or your full – so your membership on the board is cemented, solidified. And it’s a board which continually votes in favor of Palestinian and Arab motions that you say are completely biased against Israel. The entire point of the legislation from Congress was to stop that.

MR TONER: Was to stop what? Our ability to --

QUESTION: Was – no, was to – was in support of Israel.

MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry – was to stop – yeah, that was to stop these kinds of --

QUESTION: And you’re unable to – but yes. But so – but you, as a member of the board by virtue of essentially begging to stay on, were not able to do what – your no vote didn’t have any effect and your opposition to it didn’t have any effect, because the language in it was not changed.

MR TONER: Well, look --


MR TONER: So I mean, recognizing the limitations under which we are currently active or acting within UNESCO, it does have an effect on our overall influence within that organization. So I guess that was my point, which is we need to – if we can find --

QUESTION: Do you think that – sorry. So then – sorry to interrupt you. But you --

MR TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: So you think that if you were fully paying your dues to UNESCO, your opposition to these resolutions that passed today would have been more effective and you could have prevented them from happening?

MR TONER: I’m just saying our influence has been damaged by the fact that we are not able to be a fully functioning member of UNESCO. I can’t speak to whether we could have stopped this or these kinds of resolutions every time. As I said, as I acknowledged, there have been a recurrence of them in the past several years. We find them, obviously, to be not constructive.

QUESTION: Right. But at the same time, you also oppose Palestinian membership in UNESCO --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- until there is --

QUESTION: Mark, can I just really quickly follow up on – on this? You say you want to call it what they are. I mean, this resolution was voted on by major countries – Russia, Brazil, China, Malaysia, I mean, South Africa – representing a large population – portion of the world’s population. And it was apparently based on all the excavatory or – if there is such a word – all the excavations and the evidence presented by that that’s gone on for a long, long time without producing any evidence. I mean, they did not just take the resolution because they stand against Israel. I mean, they are – they claim, they allege, that there is some evidence. So were you – you’re not satisfied with – by whatever evidence that was presented to sort of justify this resolution?

MR TONER: No, simply put.

QUESTION: Mark, can I have a couple of different questions?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: First, on the Thai – on the passing of the --


QUESTION: -- king of Thai, I understand Secretary Kerry has a statement earlier. My question for you is: Looking ahead, could you give us a assessment on the next step? Are you worried about the potential instability especially caused by, from the military after this? And --



MR TONER: Go ahead. I’m sorry, do you want to – well, why don’t we start with that and then I’ll get to your next question.

As you mentioned, Secretary Kerry as well as President Obama did issue statements. I just want to reiterate our heartfelt condolences to Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, the entire royal family, and to the people of Thailand on the death of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. His majesty the king led his people with compassion, integrity, and grace for over 70 years. He worked tirelessly to care for and improve the lives of the Thai people, and he was a champion of his country’s development. He was, in fact, the only monarch ever born in the United States, and he will long be remembered as a valued and trusted friend to the United States.

Your question specifically was with regard to what next or what’s the impact of this. Well, all I can say is the people of the United States and Thailand have been close friends for more than two century – ten centuries. We’re going to continue to work together with them to advance our prosperity and security. Our friendship and our partnership has weathered many challenges, and we expect it to continue to grow stronger, and we’re going to continue to support Thailand in every way possible during this period of mourning.

QUESTION: How many centuries did you say?

MR TONER: Two centuries.

QUESTION: Would you be prepared – are you ready to provide support for the would-be successor?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think, so just to finish, I know the prime minister has announced that the Thai Government and its personnel will observe a mourning period of one year. But just in answer to your question, I would say that we continue to support or will continue to support the Government of Thailand during this period of national mourning and beyond, and that speaks to our continued commitment to Thailand as it, as I said, goes through this period of change.

QUESTION: And do you continue to support also the return of the democracy? You have been calling for – for the resumption of the democratic process for two years. Is it a new opportunity to renew your calls?

MR TONER: Well, obviously we always support democratic – or rather, a return to democracy. I think it’s probably premature for us to – as the nation enters this period of mourning – to lay out our expectations for the near term, but – and we stand ready to support the people and the Government of Thailand as they make this transition.

QUESTION: Did you support his son to be the successor, the next king?

MR TONER: Well, honestly that’s a decision for the people of Thailand or for the Thai monarchy to decide.

QUESTION: And if I may, I would like to ask a different question on Iran. Media report is saying that Iran is sending two warships to the Gulf of Aden in response to the strikes against the radar facilities in Yemen. I wonder if you have anything on that. Thank you.

MR TONER: No, I’d defer you – I think the Iranians announced this – I’d defer to the Iranians to speak to how they’re deploying their ships in the area. I’d just say that we operate in those waters all the time with ships from many different countries.

QUESTION: This will be really quick. It also has to do with Iran. But yesterday the Protocol Office published the annual list of --

MR TONER: Gifts.

QUESTION: -- gifts that were given to U.S. officials by foreign leaders. And there were three – I think there may have been more, but there were – I guess there were at least three: one to Secretary Kerry, a book from Foreign Minister Zarif; and then two rugs that were given to Wendy Sherman, which she then purchased, as she is allowed to do. And I am just wondering if the department is aware of any previous gifts given by Iranians to U.S. officials post-19 – post shah.

MR TONER: Post-shah. I’d have to --

QUESTION: Or if this is a --

MR TONER: I’ll have to --

QUESTION: -- if this is a --

MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll have to look into that. I think we can get you an answer for that. Yeah.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MR TONER: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:19 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - October 12, 2016

Wed, 10/12/2016 - 17:44

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 12, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:17 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.


MR KIRBY: Just a quick update on travel. Hopefully you’ve seen our announcement, our update already. But after departing Kigali – and the Secretary leaves this evening, I think you know, for Kigali for the Montreal Protocol conference. After that he will travel to Lausanne, Switzerland on the 15th of October and then on to London on the 16th. In Lausanne, he’ll meet with the foreign ministers from key regional partners, and then in London with key regional and international partners to discuss a multilateral approach to resolving the crisis in Syria, including a sustained cessation of violence and the resumption of humanitarian aid deliveries.

And I think just as a programming note, just make sure that you have the update there on the schedule. We’ll open it up to questions.

QUESTION: Thanks. So in Lausanne, who is he going to see?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think you’ve already seen that the Russians have said they will be there. I’m going to leave it to the other nations that will be participating in the meeting to speak to their participation. But what I can tell you is that it will be a multilateral meeting that the Secretary has called for and has issued the invitations for, and it will be attended by, as I said, some other key regional countries that are dealing with the crisis in Syria and have had influence over actors in Syria.

QUESTION: Well, the Russians didn’t just say that they were going to be there. They said other countries would be there as well.

MR KIRBY: I saw that, and – but I’m going to let those other nations --

QUESTION: Key regional partners? So Lichtenstein will be there, people that are neighbors of Switzerland?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to – I’m going to let --

QUESTION: Which region are you talking about?

MR KIRBY: The region around which the Syrian --

QUESTION: The region around, Syria not the region around Lausanne?

MR KIRBY: -- conflict is occurring. Correct.


MR KIRBY: I think – I thought that was self-evident in the way we articulated it.

QUESTION: Well, you’re being so coy about it, but --

MR KIRBY: No, no, no, no, no. It’s not about being coy. I just don’t want to speak for other nations and their participation. I saw what the Russians put out. I totally see that.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, do you have any reason to doubt the list of invitees that the Russians said --

MR KIRBY: I’m going to let the nations that are participating speak for their participation.

QUESTION: All right. The reason --

QUESTION: If you’ve invited them, why not just say who you invited?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to let those who are going to participate speak for their participation.

QUESTION: Well, do you have – did the people that were invited or did the countries that were invited all agree to attend?

MR KIRBY: The vast majority, and I’m going to leave it at that.

QUESTION: So you want to stress that this is a multilateral meeting; it is not a continuation of the bilateral that had been U.S.-Russia going on. If you’re going to try to make that case, I don’t think that – it doesn’t make much sense not to be able to say who the other – who the other participants are.

MR KIRBY: I guess we just have a difference of agreement on a --

QUESTION: A difference of agreement?

MR KIRBY: -- on the – a difference. I guess we just have a different view of --

QUESTION: Well, if you can only say that –

MR KIRBY: -- of how to couch this.

QUESTION: If you can only say that the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov are going other be there and you can’t say who else it is, then it sounds like a bilateral meeting to me.

MR KIRBY: There will be – there will be others there and it’s not going to be bilateral.

QUESTION: What makes you think this is going to work?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that it will, Arshad.

QUESTION: Well, what makes you think there’s even a chance that it will work given the recent failure to work of the last set of diplomatic efforts on this?

MR KIRBY: What I would tell you is the Secretary – he said at the time when we suspended U.S. bilateral – U.S. and Russia bilateral engagement on the cessation of hostilities, he said at the time that we would continue to pursue multilateral efforts. I said it at the time.


MR KIRBY: This is that pursuit of that effort. I can’t sit here and promise you that it’s going to result in a new approach, a new option, a new framework, a new program. I can’t tell you that it’s going to – we’re going to be able to come out of this meeting certain that a cessation of hostilities can be had. But I can promise you and I can assure that the Secretary is going into this meeting with that as his objective, to try to get to a better framework, a successful framework of achieving a cessation of hostilities and – just as importantly – the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: So the main patrons of the Syrian Government are the Russians, and presumably after that, the Iranians. Why do you think the Russians, whom you have repeatedly accused of bombing civilians in Aleppo and whom the Pentagon has held responsible for the bombing of the aid convoy, why do you think in a matter of 10 days or two weeks they will suddenly be any more open to a diplomatic solution than they were before? Has anything changed from your point of view?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that they will be. I know that they are willing to sit down in this multilateral format and to have this discussion. I can tell you the Secretary certainly wants to sit down in that format and have that discussion and pursue – continue to pursue a diplomatic approach. We continue to believe that there has to be a political solution to the civil war in Syria. And as he said, he’s going to – he’s not going to exhaust opportunities that are available to him as long as he’s Secretary of State.

How the Russians react, what they come to the meeting with, what they will prove willing to do or not, is really up to them. The Secretary’s expectations are that all attendees will come purposefully and genuinely interested in pursuing a cessation of hostilities.

QUESTION: Why do you think the Russians are genuinely interested in pursuing – you said that’s his expectation. Why do you think the Russians are genuinely interested in pursuing a cessation of hostilities?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that they are. I said our expectation is --

QUESTION: You said that’s his expectation.

MR KIRBY: Our expectation is that they’ll come to this meeting with that in mind.


MR KIRBY: And Foreign Minister Lavrov in an interview that he gave to a network this morning indicated that he was going to be coming to the meeting with those same expectations. Whether they actually do or not, whether they put something on the table that we can wrap our arms around and move forward, I just don’t know.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Does the Secretary have something new to put on the table, or is it just a continuation of the discussion hoping that people will change their minds or approach?

MR KIRBY: I think he wants to have a robust discussion with all the attendees about trying to move this forward. And I’m not going to get ahead of what’s on his mind or what thoughts he might bring to the table in Lausanne. Let’s get there and have the discussion.

QUESTION: But it seems as if the focus is going to be about – sorry, Said – about humanitarian access. I don’t see anything about political options on the – on your readout.

MR KIRBY: The main focus right now, and I thought I stressed this at the top, is getting a cessation of hostilities in place particularly in and around Aleppo and to get humanitarian aid delivered, which has not happened. That’s the main focus of the discussion in Lausanne. But it’s important to remember that one of the reasons those two things are important – they’re important in and of themselves; I don’t mean to minimize that – but another big reason they’re important is so that you can create the kinds of conditions where political talks can resume.

QUESTION: And what is going to be the main focus of discussion in the U.K.? Is it just Syria or other topics as well?

MR KIRBY: I think it’ll be, as I think we put in our update, predominantly Syria, but I certainly wouldn’t rule out that they’ll have discussions of other issues of mutual concern that we have.

QUESTION: And on the UK – I’m very sorry – Jeremy Corbyn, the Labor Leader’s spokesman, has suggested that protesters against atrocities in Aleppo have as much reason to demonstrate outside the American embassy as the Russian one. He said the focus on Russia is distracting from other civilian casualties. What’s your response to that? And are you surprised that a leader of a U.S. ally is calling for protests against the American embassy?

MR KIRBY: Well, having American views and policies criticized and debated in public is not something new to us. I’m not going to respond to every bit of rhetoric from every leader around the world about what they perceive our motives will be. What I can say is this: No one has proven more dedicated to trying to find a peaceful solution to the civil war in Syria than the United States of America, and in particular Secretary Kerry.

Number two, no other military in the world – now, the only military component for the United States in Syria, to remind, is the fight against Daesh. We’re not involved militarily in the civil war in Syria. And I can say this from hefty experience of my own, having worn the uniform of the United States Navy, no other military in the world takes as much care to be as precise as possible than the United States military.

That doesn’t mean that we’re perfect, but here’s the difference: When the United States military has reason to suspect that it made a mistake and caused collateral damage or civilian casualties, we own up to it. We put a press release out about it. We don’t wait for you to ask. We tell you, hey, we think we might have made a mistake, we’re going to investigate it. And here’s the other thing. When we finish the investigation, we put a press release out about that and we’ll have a press conference and we answer questions from you in the media about the mistakes we made and the lessons we learned. There’s a big difference there.

QUESTION: So it would be wrong to say that there’s an equivalence in civilian casualties between Russian airstrikes and American airstrikes?

MR KIRBY: First of all, any civilian casualty is a tragedy. One is too many. I’m not minimizing that at all. Nobody should want to see or cause civilian casualties. And every time we do it, we own up to it and we’re honest about it and we work that much harder the next time around not to cause it. The difference is when we’re talking about – let’s just talk about operations inside Syria. Again, to remind, our military operations are against Daesh, not against – not against the regime. The difference is when we cause them, it’s unintentional or there was a mistake involved. It’s not a deliberate attempt to put innocent civilians in harm’s way. Again, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. When it does, we own up to it, we investigate it.

What we’ve seen in and around Aleppo specifically with respect to the Syrian regime and Russian military aircraft is a wanton disregard for the safety and security of civilians and an indiscriminate approach to the bombing, which is absolutely not at all in concert with the way we conduct our military air operations.

QUESTION: So I just want to – I wanted to follow up on the meeting, but I want to ask you about the civilian casualties. Do you have any way of determining the number of civilian casualties as a result of coalition bombing? Do you have any --

MR KIRBY: I think I would point you to my – the Defense Department colleagues, who I know have spoken to this issue. It is difficult to get exact numbers --


MR KIRBY: -- because we don’t have our own --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: You don’t have people on the ground to actually do that kind of forensic analysis. We do consider a wide range of reporting that comes – oftentimes it comes from humanitarian groups on the ground. And as I think the Pentagon has spoken to and U.S. Central Command in Tampa, when they get credible allegations, allegations that they find are worth looking into, they do that. They conduct a preliminary investigation, and if that preliminary investigation leads them to believe that something more comprehensive and more deliberate is required in terms of a full-on investigation, they’ll do that. But I don’t know what the – I don’t know what the estimate might be. Again, I’d point you to DOD for that.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me just follow up on the meeting, the multilateral. In your view, why is a multilateral format more conducive than a bilateral format? Is it because the other one has failed? Now you’re resorting to such a second safety valve?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, we didn’t want to see an end to the U.S.-Russia bilateral channel on this. I mean, I think if the Secretary was here, he would tell you that he would prefer to be able to keep that channel open. Both are important.


MR KIRBY: A bilateral with Russia because they have the most influence on Assad, and multilateral because there are other countries who have, likewise, influence on other units. And we’ve always been on a two-track approach to this. It hasn’t been that we only wanted to do bilateral. But the – we took the bilateral approach as far as we could, and Russia wasn’t meeting their commitments, and so the Secretary suspended it. He’s also said it’s a suspension; it’s not dead.

QUESTION: I understand.

MR KIRBY: And if Russia can prove that it’s capable, willing of taking extraordinary steps, significant steps to meet its obligations, the same obligations that they agreed to in Geneva, then we would be open to considering renewing that bilateral channel. But for right now it’s not available to us. That was a decision that we made – didn’t take it lightly, didn’t want to have to make it.

So now what is available to us is a multilateral approach, and that’s what we’re going to Lausanne to explore.

QUESTION: But you agree that --

MR KIRBY: To further explore.

QUESTION: -- unless a sustained or sustainable cessation of hostilities can only work only if the United States and Russia really agree to it, almost independently of all the other members?

MR KIRBY: I think – no argument here. We’ve long said that U.S. and Russian leadership is vital here in terms of trying to move the ball forward with the cessation of hostilities – for good reason, that Russia’s the nation that has the most influence over the regime.

QUESTION: Now I have just a couple more. Are there any plans to meet with the Qataris and the Saudis independently of the others?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to, again, talk to specific attendants. I think in any multilateral setting it’s not unusual for the Secretary to have pull-asides with one or another individual foreign minister. I would expect that he’ll look for opportunities to have those kinds of conversations in Lausanne.

QUESTION: Would you comment on the --

QUESTION: Even with – hold on – even with Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR KIRBY: Could possibly.

QUESTION: So in other words, there might be bilateral engagement?

MR KIRBY: That’s not the same thing, Matt. We’ve talked about this. I – we never said that he wasn’t going to talk bilaterally with Foreign Minister Lavrov. There’s plenty of other things that they can talk about. What they won’t talk about is advancing the cessation of hostilities in Syria on a bilateral basis. They will talk about that in a multilateral forum, but he won’t pursue that in a bilateral forum.

QUESTION: Doesn’t that sound awfully like splitting hairs to you? I mean --


QUESTION: No? Really? So if they run into each other in the – well, let’s see, Lausanne is not a very big place, right?

MR KIRBY: I’ve never been there.

QUESTION: They run into each – well, there’s a great pub right around the corner from Beau Rivage.

MR KIRBY: I’ll write that down.

QUESTION: It’s the White Horse. Right? If they run into each other on the street – I mean, when we were there for the Iran talks for extended periods of time, they would go out, they would see each other all the time. You’re saying that if they see each other, the Secretary, and if Lavrov tries to bring up the cessation of hostilities, the Secretary’s going to say, “No, sorry, Sergey, I can’t talk about that – not going to happen”?

MR KIRBY: I find it highly unlikely that they’re going to bump into each other on the streets of Lausanne.

QUESTION: Or in the hotel. I don’t know, wherever.

MR KIRBY: But look, the purpose of this meeting is to approach the cessation of hostilities --


MR KIRBY: -- from a multilateral angle. That’s the angle that the Secretary is most interested in pursuing right now since we aren’t doing this bilaterally with the Russians. It is a – am I going to rule out the potential for the two of them to have a conversation on the side of this meeting? Absolutely not.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: Of course that will happen. But that doesn’t mean that U.S.-Russia, writ large, bilateral engagement on the cessation of hostilities in Syria is some – that that suspension is lifted.

QUESTION: But you – go ahead.

QUESTION: No, I just wanted – if you saw that leak, the cable that former secretary of state apparently said in a speech, that the Saudis and the Qataris are involved directly in aiding ISIS. Did you see that?

MR KIRBY: I addressed this yesterday from the podium.

QUESTION: Oh, you did? Okay.


QUESTION: Would you --

QUESTION: I missed that.

QUESTION: You would agree, though, that the countries who have the – play the biggest role in – outside of Syria but in – like, the non-Syrian countries that play the most important role or critical role in this whole – in this situation are the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, right? And it would make sense for them to be at a meeting like this.

MR KIRBY: It is also a fact that Qatar plays a significant --

QUESTION: And Qatar.

MR KIRBY: -- role with opposition groups.

QUESTION: Okay. So while a lot of people are focused, including me, on the U.S.-Russia part of this, the Iran-Saudi Arabia relationship right now is pretty low. Are you – the reason that you don’t want to talk about the other attendees because of the sensitivity of that situation? I mean, you had a senior Iranian commander calling for regicide not so long ago in Saudi Arabia.

MR KIRBY: No, you’re reading way too much into this.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: The reason I’m not going to talk to other attendees’ participation is because we’re going to leave that to them to speak to.


MR KIRBY: It’s not because of some other sensitivity.

QUESTION: And does --

MR KIRBY: And I would remind that in previous meetings of the International Syria Support Group, including two meetings that the – in New York City, during the UN General Assembly, both Saudi Arabia and Iran were represented at the table.

QUESTION: Yeah. I remember one of those meetings in Vienna where there was a screaming match between the two foreign ministers that could be heard outside the room. So this will be very interesting in Lausanne. It’s a quiet Swiss town, so just be careful.

And on the other meeting in London, do you want to talk about who’s going to be there?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think obviously Foreign Minister Boris Johnson will be there. I believe the French foreign ministry will be represented. And there could be others but I just don’t have an update right now.

QUESTION: Did you say French foreign ministry or minister?

MR KIRBY: Ministry. I’m not sure if Foreign Minister Ayrault will be there or not. I’d have his staff speak to that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: John, has the time for the meeting been set in Lausanne? That’s one thing. The second thing is --

MR KIRBY: I believe the meeting is going to be in the afternoon. I don’t have the exact time.

QUESTION: Yeah. You just answered a question about a possible bilateral meeting between Secretary Kerry and representatives from Qatar and Saudi Arabia by saying you didn’t rule it out, basically, which means they’re attending.


QUESTION: You just confirmed it.

MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t.


MR KIRBY: No. Hey, no, no, no, no.

QUESTION: I mean, that’s what – that’s what you said.

MR KIRBY: Before you --

QUESTION: So as --

MR KIRBY: Listen, before you go one more step --

QUESTION: Yes, I’m staying here. I’m not going anywhere.

MR KIRBY: -- I did not – I did not do that.

QUESTION: You just said, “I’m not ruling out any meetings with” --

MR KIRBY: That’s right, but I did not – I did not say what other people were attending.

QUESTION: So is Iran attending or --

MR KIRBY: You can talk to Iranian officials.

QUESTION: Okay. Were they invited? If it’s up to them to --

MR KIRBY: Sir, I’m not going to go any further. I have answered this question the best I can at this time. If you would like to query officials in other countries about their plans to attend the meeting in Lausanne, you’re free to do that.

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m not asking about their plans to attend. I was asking about – because you said Secretary Kerry sent invitations.

MR KIRBY: I’ll try this one more time and then I’m not going to do it again. There – it’s a multilateral meeting. The Russians have already confirmed they’re attending. Other nations were invited – nations which have influence in and interest in the situation in Syria. The Secretary is the one who called for this meeting. The Secretary is the one who issued invites. I’m going to let, as we’ve done in the past, other nations speak to their attendance or not. But since it’s a multilateral effort, I think it’s common sense that there’s more than two countries involved. It’s also not uncommon, when the Secretary attends multilateral events, for him to seek opportunities to speak on the sidelines with some of those foreign ministers about unique issues between the United States and that country. I’m not confirming that that’s going to happen. I said I’m not going to rule that out because it is common practice for the Secretary when he has an opportunity to take advantage of it, and he very well may do that, but I’m not confirming individual bilateral discussions. Okay?



QUESTION: Why you are not calling this meeting as a ISSG meeting?

MR KIRBY: Because it’s not the full ISSG.

QUESTION: It’s not? Oh.

QUESTION: Could I ask --

MR KIRBY: It’s --

QUESTION: So it’s not an ISSG meeting?

MR KIRBY: It is not an ISSG meeting but it is – you could describe it as a sub-ISSG level. In other words, the nations invited are members of the ISSG, but it’s not the full ISSG.

QUESTION: With the intensity of the rhetoric from both the United States and Russia, would you say this is the lowest point in U.S.-Russian relations since the Cold War?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I’m not enough of a historian to --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, how would you – if you were to – I mean, where does it stand? Is it --

MR KIRBY: I couldn’t – I don’t know, Said. Look, I came in the Navy in 1986. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that things were tense between the United States and --

QUESTION: Right, but since the end of the Cold War, (inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: -- the Soviet Union back then. But I just – I’m not enough of a historian to quantify or qualify that for you. Obviously, we continue to have major differences with Russia on a variety of issues, and that’s – whether that’s cyber, whether it’s Ukraine, and certainly of late, in Syria. And we’re not bashful about saying that. But that doesn’t mean that trying to forge ahead, try to find areas of common ground and move – and move progress forward isn’t still important to us as well. But I just – I’m the wrong guy to ask whether this is the lowest point.

QUESTION: Well, because --

MR KIRBY: I just don’t have that kind of sense of history.

QUESTION: -- describing Russia as a dictatorship and describing Vladimir Putin as a dictator around town is quite common, and I think one could wait probably not too long before the Russians start calling America imperialists and “look at their record” and so on. So that is not exactly --

MR KIRBY: As I said to an earlier question, we’re not – we’re not surprised when other nations or other leaders criticize the United States or our policies. That happens all the time. But I’m just not smart enough to qualify where this is since the Cold War.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

MR KIRBY: You’re – are you on Syria or Russia?


MR KIRBY: Okay, go ahead. I’ll come back to you, but go to Arshad.

QUESTION: John, just a quick one. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has fairly harshly criticized Donald Trump, saying that if he were elected, he believes that Trump would be dangerous from an international point of view. He pointed to his – to Trump’s statements about the possible use of waterboarding and worse interrogation techniques, potentially torture, and so on. I know you don’t normally comment on political matters, but do you think it’s appropriate for a UN official to be commenting on the U.S. election?

MR KIRBY: I think that the high commissioner should speak for his comments and speak to the appropriateness that he believes merit that. I’m not going to weigh in one way or the other on that.


QUESTION: The head of a major Iranian-backed Shia militia, Qais al-Khazali, said yesterday, quote, “The battle of Mosul is revenge for the killing of Hussein,” i.e. Imam Hussein. The spokesman for the group has said they will take part in the battle for Mosul, quote, “a national and religious duty.”

Does this give you the pause about the role that some of the Shia militias are going to play in the battle for Mosul, and do you have a way of dealing with this?

MR KIRBY: I’d say a couple of things, and we’ve kind of talked about this before, but Iraqis of all religious beliefs, I think, are rightly focused on the fight to liberate Mosul from Daesh. As I said yesterday, the Iraqi Government is leading and planning that campaign, and they will determine, Prime Minister Abadi will determine the composition of the forces on the battlefield. He’s also recently said that following the Mosul operation, Mosul will be returned to all the people of Nineveh, everybody, without discrimination against any religious or ethnic groups.

We remain confident that the Iraqi Government is working hard to ensure that areas liberated from Daesh experience lasting security and that all citizens’ rights are protected. And we’ve started to see in some areas where families are coming back, even into Fallujah – not in maybe as great a number as we’d love to see, but they are. People are starting to flow back and the Iraqi Security Forces have proven capable of a comprehensive approach to liberate areas from Daesh and then to help with post-liberation stabilization. And that’s going to be a key focus going into the Mosul campaign.

QUESTION: You know that the British foreign office has spoken more strongly than you just did about this problem? They said that they would not support military units that have generated human rights concerns and they’ve made clear to the U.S. and other coalition members, quote, that “forces taking Mosul need to respect human rights and the laws of armed conflict.” Would you agree with that?

MR KIRBY: We’ve said that all along. That is not a new idea. I’ve said that from this podium many, many times that we want all forces involved in operations against Daesh to be there and to be coordinated with the Iraqi Government. And --

QUESTION: But what --

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not done.


MR KIRBY: And that as they conduct their operations, to do so in a professional manner and to observe the human rights of all Iraqi citizens – all Iraqi citizens. And as we’ve talked about before, when there have been – and there have been – allegations of that kind of behavior not being observed, we have called openly, publicly on the Iraqi Government to investigate, and Prime Minister Abadi is doing that.

QUESTION: But what if, say, with this Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq miltia, Abadi is not strong enough, not in a strong enough position to resist its involvement in the Mosul campaign? Are you – is the U.S. prepared, the coalition prepared to step in and say no way, this is not going to happen?

MR KIRBY: That’s a terrific hypothetical that I’m not going to engage in.

QUESTION: Another question on Mosul. So it seems not only Mr. Abadi will decide which forces will take part in the Mosul – the battle for Mosul, as President Erdogan as well is insisting on his forces playing a role in the liberation of Mosul. Are you in talks with Mr. Erdogan about a possible Turkish role? And is the U.S. welcoming Turkey’s role or you think it’s going to complicate the situation on the ground?

MR KIRBY: We’re not in direct talks with the Turkish Government about their participation in Mosul. The campaign – again, I’ll say it – to liberate Mosul is an Iraqi campaign plan. And the composition of the forces that will be involved in that operation is for the Iraqi Government to make, not the United States Government. And we’re not litigating this and we’re not legislating who is or who isn’t going to participate. This is up to Prime Minister Abadi.

QUESTION: But he expressed opposition to any Turkish role and you know – familiar with the tension between Baghdad and Ankara.

MR KIRBY: This is an issue that we encourage the Iraqi Government and the Turkish Government to talk about amongst themselves.

QUESTION: But do you think that Turkey’s role could be helpful in liberating Mosul or --

MR KIRBY: I’m not – look, I’m not going to speculate about military matters. What we’re all focused on – and I can only speak for the United States and I can’t even really speak for the United States military – what we’re all focused on is doing our part to support the Iraqi Government as the Iraqi Government liberates Mosul. Again, the composition of forces, the execution of that campaign plan, those are – that’s – those are Iraqi decisions to make, to own, and to explain. And we’re going to continue to support Prime Minister Abadi as he works through the decision-making process.

We’ve talked about the tensions between Iraq and Turkey in the past, and again, I would say our view is that those two nations need to continue to have a dialogue and talk about this going forward. But ultimately, how Mosul gets liberated – and it will be – is an Iraqi campaign to speak to.

QUESTION: John, you spoke in the past about how ready you are, how you will handle the humanitarian crisis if it – when it happens and so on, but also, what about the hydraulic effect? I mean, the fighters seem to be going from one place to another. They could be moving to Raqqa or other places in Syria or to other places in Iraq and so on.

MR KIRBY: You mean as a result of pressure put on Mosul?

QUESTION: As a result of the fighting. I mean, they leave Mosul; they will end up elsewhere.

MR KIRBY: It’s not – I mean, that’s not an unusual phenomenon, Said, and we’ve seen that elsewhere in places in Anbar province. Where territory has been taken back, the fighters don’t – not all of them will stay and fight to the very end. Many of them do run and they do try to find safe haven elsewhere. And where and when we can from a military perspective, we target them and try to reduce their numbers. But I think everybody would expect that not all of Mosul’s defenders will stay under the pressure that will be put under them throughout that campaign plan. Where they go is, I mean, difficult to predict, but I can assure you that the coalition will stay committed to using all our lines of effort, not just military, to continue to degrade and defeat them and to reduce their numbers.

And they are struggling. And they are struggling to recruit and they are struggling to retain and they are losing leaders, and that pressure’s not going to ease up post-Mosul.

QUESTION: Can we move to something else?

MR KIRBY: Are we still on Iraq, Samir?

QUESTION: No, Egypt/Russia.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Tomorrow Russia will have military exercises in Egypt with the Egyptian military. Any reaction to this?

MR KIRBY: I think we’ve talked about this before. I mean, sovereign nations are allowed to exercise their militaries, and they’re allowed to do that whether it’s bilateral exercises or multilateral exercises, and I would leave it to the military leaders in Egypt and Russia to describe the parameters of this exercise.

QUESTION: Isn’t Egypt a U.S. ally?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that we have an alliance, necessarily, but certainly they’re – we have a good bilateral relationship with Egypt not just diplomatically but from a defense relationship perspective, sure. But that doesn’t mean that they’re precluded from exploring training opportunities with other sovereign states.

QUESTION: So it’s the same as the Philippines, even though you do have an alliance --

MR KIRBY: We do have an alliance.

QUESTION: -- you don’t care if they start – if they start doing training exercises with the Chinese, you don’t have an issue with that.

MR KIRBY: Even throughout the history of the alliance with the Philippines, their military services have exercised with other nations.

QUESTION: I wanted to go to Yemen, and I wanted to ask first if there was any progress or anything that you could tell us in terms of your review of aid and assistance to the Saudis in light of the weekend bombing.

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

QUESTION: Okay. So your colleague at the White House was asked about this – was asked this similar question just a few minutes ago, and what he said was that the review continues. And then he said the assistance that we provide, and which is presumably the assistance that’s under review, is primarily logistical support. We do share some intelligence with them, but the United States does not do targeting for them. That’s correct?


QUESTION: So if, as you said in your response to the first – in the first series of answers to questions here, that the U.S. military takes – makes every effort and is second to none in the world in trying to avoid – okay – has it crossed anyone’s mind that maybe you should do targeting or help the Saudis with targeting? Because they clearly seem to be seen – and I appreciate that it’s under investigation, but an investigation by them – to be doing the same kind of indiscriminate approach to bombing that you accuse the Syrians of doing.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, the support to the Saudi-led coalition – and I don’t – I’m aware you’re speaking specifically to military equities. Certainly I would encourage you to reach out to the Defense Department about the aid and assistance that they provide militarily and why they do it the way they do it, but it’s specifically because we have concerns about the manner in which some of these operations have been conducted that we are going through this review. And we’re doing it carefully, with an eye towards the reality that our support – absent our support, their effectiveness militarily could be diminished. We’re mindful of that. But the specific reason why we don’t provide targeting information, I think I would refer you to my colleagues at the Pentagon to discuss.

QUESTION: Okay, but absent of our support the efficiency of their military could be diminished?

MR KIRBY: Absent some measures of U.S. support, certainly you’d have to – you have to consider the fact --

QUESTION: Well, you see how that could be --

MR KIRBY: -- that some of their effectiveness could be diminished.

QUESTION: But effectiveness in what, in hitting civilians? I don’t – I’m not trying to be --

MR KIRBY: It’s not --

QUESTION: I’m not trying to be obnoxious here. I’m just trying to – absent our support, the --

MR KIRBY: Not every strike that they take --

QUESTION: In other words, it would be even worse?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s important to remember, Matt, that not every strike they take hits civilian targets.

QUESTION: I know. So you’re saying that mistakes like this would happen or would probably happen more often?

MR KIRBY: One of the things that we’re going to do as we look through that review is examine that exact question, the degree to which the aid and assistance actually helps try to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, it would seem, though, given your – what you said about the U.S. military and the attention it pays to trying to avoid this, that in fact – instead of reducing assistance as a consequence, that this review might end up increasing assistance to them to help them better avoid things like this from happening.

MR KIRBY: I won’t get ahead of – I won’t – I’m not going to get ahead of the review. I don’t know that I would extrapolate that outcome from what I said.

QUESTION: All right. And then last thing on Yemen was that the Houthis fired again today two – and I realize this is more of a Pentagon thing, but they fired two more missiles at a naval ship, U.S. ship today. Between the incident that happened the other day and today, do you know, has the UN envoy gotten through to them to tell them to knock it off?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ve seen press reports of a second attack. I’m not in a position to confirm that. I mean, I’ve seen some media reporting on it. I don’t know. I can try to get an answer for you on the degree to which the UN special envoy has engaged. I don’t know. But just as we said yesterday, we’re going to continue to encourage and urge all parties, and we’re going to do this by and through the UN special envoy, to cease hostilities, stop the violence, reduce the tensions, and return to political talks.

QUESTION: Okay. Because I’m interested to know whether or not whoever it is that you’re using as a liaison with the people who are firing these missiles, if you have actually been able to make contact with that liaison and if they have been able to make contact with the Houthis. And then clearly, if they have, it seems that the message didn’t get through because they fired another two off.


QUESTION: So from the – not the military side, but just the – from the --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update --

QUESTION: -- quasi-diplomatic side here, I’m trying to find out what’s --

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

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.


MR KIRBY: Abbie. Let me go back to Abbie.

QUESTION: I don’t know if this is something that is on your radar at the moment, but there are some reports saying that Russia has ordered all people living abroad to return home in preparation for --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that.

QUESTION: -- growing tensions in (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that, Abbie. And even if I had, I would refer you to Russian authorities and the Russian Government to speak to that.

QUESTION: I just didn’t know if you had any comment.


QUESTION: I want to go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue for a second.


QUESTION: The Israeli press reported that over the weekend when, during a phone call between Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Netanyahu, Mr. Netanyahu asked the Secretary not to submit or not to support the French proposal at this juncture. And allegedly, the Secretary said that they have not decided on this issue yet. Could you confirm that? Could you confirm --

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not going to get into the details of conversations between the Secretary and the prime minister. What I will tell you is that the – what the Secretary has always said is that he welcomes all good ideas and proposals about how to get us into a two-state solution and how to advance that solution. He’s been very open-minded about views and proposals.

QUESTION: Okay. Because apparently, the prime minister is worried that you guys might support an effort at the United Nations.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’d let the prime minister speak for his worries. Again, I’m not going to read out the details of the conversations that we’re having with the prime minister. We are still committed to trying to advance a two-state solution. We still believe that leadership on both sides can help us get there, and the Secretary is going to stay focused on that.

QUESTION: I want to ask you, the Palestinian Authority imprisoned a police officer for criticizing or for posting a Facebook post being critical of Abbas participating in the Peres funeral. I mean, these police officers, Palestinians, have been trained by the Americans and so on. Do you have any comment on that? Is that the kind of law or whatever --

MR KIRBY: I mean, I’ve seen it --

QUESTION: -- judicial process --

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the press reporting of it. I’m not going to – I don’t really have anything more to say on the issue itself except that our position on the importance of freedom of expression is longstanding, and we continue to want to see people able to freely express their views.

QUESTION: If these allegations are true and he was sent to prison for a year for just making a post, that would be quite disturbing, wouldn’t it? Because you train, equip, and finance the PA and definitely its police force.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to speak with any more detail on this particular case. We obviously have a strong belief in the protection of freedom of expression, and we want to see that freedom exercised.

QUESTION: And my last. The Israeli authorities are really imposing all kinds of closures in Hebron and many other areas because of Yom Kippur. I wonder if you have any comment on that.

MR KIRBY: We’re aware that the military has closed off access to the West Bank and Gaza during Yom Kippur due to security concerns. As I think I’ve said many times before, that our expectation is that any measures that Israel takes, to minimize the impact on Palestinian civilians going about their daily lives would be minimized and temporary.

QUESTION: Thank you.


PAKISTANINDIA">QUESTION: You must have seen the reports from Pakistan about this Hafiz Saeed recently designated terrorist, and he’s mocking, basically saying that millions of dollars on his head from the U.S. bounty, and since five years nobody has got anything, U.S. has nothing. He’s advising Pakistan to concentrate against U.S. instead of against India. Do you have any comments on that, that he’s – like, it’s eight years since Mumbai attacks, six Americans lost their lives, and he’s moving around freely and we are just talking to the Pakistani Government? What is the latest on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I’m not going to dignify the comments of an avowed terrorist one way or the other. And we continue to work with Pakistan and continue to urge Pakistan to take steps to shut down access to areas inside their borders to terrorists, to terrorist individuals and to terrorist groups.

QUESTION: So do we have anything concrete on the Mumbai attack? People who are there identified to be --

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I would refer you to the Pakistani authorities on that. Obviously, as I’ve said before, we continue to want to see the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack brought to justice.

Okay, thanks every --

QUESTION: Wait, wait, I’ve got just two and they’re brief. Do you have any comment on the decision of the – of Burundi to withdraw from the ICC?

MR KIRBY: Oops, there goes my glasses, so if I did, I don’t know how it’s going to come out when I try to read this.

QUESTION: Well, do you want to borrow mine? You don’t want to – (laughter).

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t.

We’re concerned by recent developments with regard to Burundi’s human rights situation, including the government’s announced decision to proceed with legislation that would lead to withdrawal from the International Criminal Court. Such a move, which must still be ratified by a Burundi senate and president, would isolate Burundi from its neighbors and the international community at a time when accountability, transparency, and engaged dialogue are most needed.

QUESTION: Okay. Just apropos of that and the Secretary’s appearance – or, sorry, not his appearance but his call for there to be war crimes investigations into Russia in Syria, do you expect that that’s going to be a big topic of conversation in Lausanne between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR KIRBY: I think what certainly will be a major topic of conversation in Lausanne is the continued siege of Aleppo, a siege which has continued to this hour in its brutality and with specific intentional strikes by the Russian military and the Syrian regime.

QUESTION: But I get that. That’s obviously to be expected. I’m asking about the war crimes element. (Inaudible) that’s the issue.

MR KIRBY: I think I’m going to leave my answer the way it is.

QUESTION: All right, and then last one, which is a totally different subject – Philippines. The – there were – there have been for some time a bunch of permits in process for commercial arms sales to the Philippines that go through the PM Bureau here to both – both for the Philippines’ police, who as you know have been accused of numerous abuses, and also to private dealers. And I am wondering if – what the – if you can tell us what the status is on those. Have they been denied? Are they still being considered? And if they are still being considered, when do you think a decision might be made?

MR KIRBY: So as a matter of policy, you know we don’t talk about potential future arms sales. That said --

QUESTION: Well, you can talk about --

MR KIRBY: I will take the question to the PM Bureau to see if there’s any detail that can be provided. I don’t think that there will be. We don’t talk about future sales.

More broadly, we continue to still be focused on our security commitments to the Philippines and to our treaty alliance with them, and we’re going to continue to honor those commitments and treaty obligations, and of course, we expect the Philippines to do the same. But I will take the specific question back.


MR KIRBY: Again, I can’t promise you an answer because you understand --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, if they’re still in train, they’re still being considered, I understand why you wouldn’t talk about it. But if they’ve been denied for some reason, then perhaps the situation is different and you would be able to say, well, no, that they’re not going ahead because of X, Y, Z. But --

MR KIRBY: Again, I’ll take the question, but I do want to stress we remain committed to our treaty commitments to the Philippines.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Thanks, everybody. See you next week.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:03 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - October 11, 2016

Tue, 10/11/2016 - 17:16

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 11, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:15 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon. I have nothing at the top.


MR KIRBY: Really. Happy Tuesday.

QUESTION: No big announcements, huh?

MR KIRBY: No big announcements.

QUESTION: All right. Let’s start where we started pretty much every day for the last couple of years, I think, it must be now: Can you give us an update on any contacts you’ve had in the suspended communications channel between the United States and Russia on Syria?

MR KIRBY: I have nothing additional to read out.

QUESTION: So there’s no – there’s been some suggestion of an ISSG meeting of some type in – this week. Is that something that’s in the cards?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on the Secretary’s schedule to speak to.

QUESTION: Okay. Then this is Syria-related, but it also has to do with Yemen. Over the weekend you saw there was this airstrike on a funeral by the Saudi-led coalition, and I’m just wondering: Does the Administration see any difference between this kind of thing and what you accuse the Russians and the Syrians and the Iranians of doing in Syria, particularly Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: Well, yeah, I think there are some differences.

QUESTION: Other than that you support the Saudi coalition and don’t support the Syrians and Russians, what are the other differences?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, there’s a couple of things, Matt. The strike over the weekend is being investigated, and the Saudis publicly said that they were going to investigate this as – for the potential of it being, in fact, wrongly implemented and wrongly executed. I haven’t seen a single case in Syria where the regime or the Russian military, after bombing civilian targets deliberately and indiscriminately, said, “Yeah, we’re going to look into that. We’re not sure that we did that right. We’re going to take a look at it.” Not once. Not once. But the Saudis are and they’re willing to admit that this could have been a mistake and that they’re going to – and they’re going to investigate that. And they’ve done that in the past.

So it is different. I think it’s also important to remember that in the Saudis’ case, they have – they are – their cities, their citizens are under very real, darn-near daily threat from missiles being launched on the Yemeni side of their border, missiles that are provided by Iran to the Houthi rebels. So there is a – there is this pressing requirement for self-defense to them right across the border that certainly has driven much of their military activity in Yemen in the past.

Now, I do want to say – and you saw our statement over the weekend – we take this very seriously, and we have been nothing but candid and forthright with the Saudis about our concerns over civilian casualties and collateral damage, and our concerns about lack of precision in the conduct of some of these strikes. So I don’t want to wave it off and say that the United States isn’t taking this very, very seriously, what happened in Yemen. Again, as you saw from the statement that the NSC issued, that we’re going to review the aid and assistance that you pointed to in your question that go to Saudi Arabia, particularly – well, we always do in every case. We constantly review that aid and assistance, but in particular light of this strike over the weekend.

So yeah, there are some key differences.

QUESTION: So this – so you don’t think that – despite the fact that no investigation has been completed yet, you’re sure that this was not deliberate?

MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: Oh, well, you – but you said that the Russian and Syrian attacks are deliberate.

MR KIRBY: They are.


MR KIRBY: They are. I’m --

QUESTION: But didn’t --

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is --

QUESTION: Maybe I’m wrong on this, but didn’t – do you not regard the Russian call for an investigation into the attack on the aid convoy as a real thing?

MR KIRBY: Well, they can point to how real it is. I’ve also seen ­­ they flip-flopped, right? First they said they wanted an investigation, and then they pulled back from it. So it’s not exactly been a clarion call for an investigation. And what we’re seeing in Aleppo is nothing but a concerted effort over recent days to take that city by force, to subdue it by force. This isn’t indiscriminate, haphazard, accidental bombing of infrastructure. It’s very deliberate.

QUESTION: All right. This may – I think this is probably my last one on this. But you pointed to the fact that the Saudis are doing this in self-defense. Is that the – not this one --

MR KIRBY: They were – look, so they were --

QUESTION: -- the specific thing, but the whole – in its entirety.

MR KIRBY: They were invited in by the Yemeni Government. The Saudi-led coalition was invited in by the Yemeni Government. Now, I know what you’re going to say: Well, the Russians were invited by Syria, by Assad to --

QUESTION: No, no. No, no, no, no, no.

MR KIRBY: I get this. I’m not trying to make too much of a historical analogy here.

QUESTION: I wasn’t going to – I wasn’t going to – that’s

MR KIRBY: But they – yes, they were – yes, they were invited in by the Yemeni Government and they are under real threat on their side – on the Yemeni side of their border.

QUESTION: So you – that wasn’t where I was going with this. But you said that they’re under threat, that the Saudis are under threat from missiles provided by Iran. And yet, at the same time, surely you must understand that Yemeni civilians are increasingly at risk and being killed by weapons that the United States has furnished to the Saudis and their coalition partners on this. So you don’t find that there’s any kind of an issue with this? Because a lot of people do including --

MR KIRBY: Of course we care.

QUESTION: -- including on the Hill. So just because --

MR KIRBY: No, no, no, no, no.

QUESTION: -- these missiles were made in Iran, I mean, they can – people on the ground in Yemen are looking at what’s coming, raining down on them from the sky, and it says Made in USA on it. Is that not a problem?

MR KIRBY: Of course, it’s a problem. And that’s way in our statement over the weekend issued by the National Security Council that we’re going to undertake a review --

QUESTION: All right. So how --

MR KIRBY: -- of aid and assistance. Of course, it’s a problem. And I don’t – I’m not – I’m not saying that – look, it is a fact that they are under threat from the Yemen side of the border with missiles from Iran. That is just a fact. I am not saying that that justifies --

QUESTION: Well, it’s also a fact that civilians are being killed.

MR KIRBY: No, no, no, and I’m not saying that that fact justifies civilian casualties. I’m simply trying to put your answer into some context here. But obviously, we’re very concerned about what happened over the weekend. We wouldn’t have issued that very strong statement --


MR KIRBY: -- if we didn’t feel that way.

QUESTION: Do you know if there’s been any interagency discussion on the – about the – about this review?

MR KIRBY: Yes, there has been.

QUESTION: There has been already. So it’s started. The review has begun?

MR KIRBY: Well, yes, but it is --

QUESTION: Or is this --

MR KIRBY: -- something we always – first of all, we always --

QUESTION: So this is one of these things --

MR KIRBY: -- continuously review our aid and assistance --

QUESTION: So this isn’t a special review?

MR KIRBY: No, no, no, no, I’m not saying that.


MR KIRBY: Again, I’m trying to put this in context. Aid and assistance to foreign countries is something we always review constantly. That is – that has been the case. It has been the case specifically with Saudi Arabia in recent months, and I’ve talked about that from the podium. In light of the attack over the weekend, with the scrutiny that that attack legitimately calls for, we are going to undertake additional reviews of aid and assistance that goes to Saudi Arabia. And your question, “Has it started yet?” Yes, it has started.

QUESTION: Okay. Last – this is definitely the last one. The Pentagon earlier just said that the U.S. is weighing its response to – the Administration is weighing its response to these missiles that were fired and landed near this naval ship, a U.S. Naval ship. That’s obviously a military response that they’re considering. I’m just wondering: Is there any kind of a diplomatic response that’s been – being considered? And if there is, who exactly do you bring that presumably complaint to?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, it’s a little bit more porous situation in terms of diplomacy there in Yemen. What I can tell you – and you saw this I think in the statement that was put out after the strike – that here at the State Department particularly we continue to call on all parties to get to a ceasefire, stop the violence, de-escalate the tensions, and let’s start moving towards a political track. And we’re going to continue to work as best we can with and through the UN special envoy to that end. So yeah, there’s diplomatic efforts here, but it’s not without its challenges, obviously, in a place like Yemen.

QUESTION: Well, I’m talking specifically about the missiles being --

MR KIRBY: That’s what I’m talking about. In context --


MR KIRBY: In context of everything else going on.

QUESTION: But you have – I mean, do you go to the – you mean you go to the UN to have them go to the people that fired the missile?

MR KIRBY: Well, we made a very public call for all parties --


MR KIRBY: -- to de-escalate the tensions and stop – stop the violence, obviously to cease this kind of an attack. And we’re going to continue to work by and through the UN special envoy as he tries to get a cessation of hostilities in place and to get political talks back on track.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.


QUESTION: Do you have a timeframe on the review of ties with the Saudis?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t.

QUESTION: Okay. And is it a review purely of their recent actions, or will you also be examining whether U.S. Forces are legally liable as a supporter of the coalition?

MR KIRBY: No, as I think the statement said over the weekend, it was a review of our aid and assistance to Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: So whether that is appropriate to continue?

MR KIRBY: I think in light of the attack over the weekend, it’s the prudent thing to take a look at the appropriateness of the aid and assistance going to Saudi Arabia. But again, I want to stress that this is something we always do. I think that’s an important point for people to understand that in every case all around the world we constantly review aid and assistance programs to countries. But again, in light of this attack over the weekend, we felt it was important to state publicly that we were going to do additional reviews here of aid and assistance. But I don’t have a timeline on it.

QUESTION: And we saw the readout of the call to the Saudis, but were there any calls to the Iranians since they are supplying weapons to the Houthis?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any specific calls to Iran on that.


QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Sorry for being late, so I may have missed something right up there.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t even notice because of the --

QUESTION: Okay, that’s okay. I’m --

MR KIRBY: -- the harangue with Matt. I was looking this way. I didn’t see anything.

QUESTION: I thought I was very polite. That’s not a harangue.

QUESTION: Okay. I wanted to ask you --

QUESTION: Do you want a harangue? (Laughter.) I’ll give you a harangue.

MR KIRBY: Oh, I’m sure you could. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: On the review, could you just explain again how – how is it going to be conducted? How do you conduct this review?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the specific parameters here about how a review like this is done. I think what is important – and again, I want to go back and make a point – this is something we always do, constantly do it. Yes, obviously, in light of the weekend’s events we’re going to conduct some additional review, but it will be done in the same interagency collaborative fashion that all such reviews of aid and assistance is done. I’m not an expert on that process. It is a – it’s a very inclusive process and it does involve all the requisite agencies involved in managing aid and assistance of a military nature to foreign countries.

QUESTION: Okay. So it is a routine interview – I mean review, sorry.

MR KIRBY: It – we will follow the same routine process.

QUESTION: Can you just --

MR KIRBY: It is not routine in the fact that in light of the weekend’s strike, we’re obviously going to take a harder look.

QUESTION: I was going to say that it’s a routine review that you would conduct anytime that U.S. weapons are used the way they were used, correct?

MR KIRBY: The process that we’re going to use is going to be the same routine review process we do in other countries.

QUESTION: So it is independent of the investigation that is being called by Ismail Ould (inaudible) – Ould Cheikh – the envoy, Ould Cheikh Ahmed. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed called on the Saudis to investigate.


QUESTION: So you don’t want to wait for that investigation to be completed? You’re doing your own --

MR KIRBY: No, I think I answered the question to Matt.

QUESTION: That’s why I said I came in a bit --

MR KIRBY: I mean, that review is ongoing now.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. So what do you – how do you expect that whatever outcome this investigation or – because it is being led by Saudi Arabia and the coalition, right? They are investigating themselves, correct?


QUESTION: Okay. How will that likely to impact your review?

MR KIRBY: I think it – we would certainly hope that it informs the review process that we’re doing. But I don’t want to make the review in any way, either in timing or result, contingent upon that. What we’ve said is that we expect a fair, thorough, and transparent investigation, as we have said in the past when there have been incidents of civilian casualties in Yemen as a result of Saudi-led operations. We expect the same thing here.

Well, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, my last question on this. So this review is just related to the incidents last – where the funeral was struck, was hit, independent of other incidents like schools or clinics and so on?

MR KIRBY: No. No, Said. Again, in light of what happened over the weekend, we believe that a review of aid and assistance to Saudi Arabia – additional review, if you like – is warranted in light of what happened over the weekend. But as I also said earlier, it’s not like we haven’t done this in the past when there have been similar instances; we’ve taken a look. And it’s not atypical for us to do that.

So we believe that, given these events, taking a fresh look at the aid and assistance that Saudi Arabia gets, in keeping with their operations as the lead of this coalition with Yemen, is warranted. Okay?


MR KIRBY: Syria. Are we ready to move on to Syria?


QUESTION: I have a question tangentially related to that.

MR KIRBY: Tangentially related to Syria or --

QUESTION: To Saudi Arabia.

MR KIRBY: Okay. How tangentially is it? Mozambique, right?

QUESTION: Well, we’ll find out. An email exchange recently made public of Secretary – former Secretary Clinton’s emails, she speaks in August 2014 of the need in Syria and Iraq to use diplomatic and traditional intelligence assets to put “pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” So that’s soon after her being secretary of state; it seems like she would be informed about what’s happening. Do you – does the U.S. believe that Qatar, the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIS and other radical Sunni groups?

MR KIRBY: I can’t – I’m sure this will shock you, but I’m not going to speak about the veracity of leaked documents and whether they’re authentic or not. I just won’t do that. What I can tell you is that Qatar and Saudi Arabia are members of the counter-ISIL coalition and have been contributing members of that coalition pretty much since its founding. And we rely a great deal on their efforts to help us counter terrorism in the region, particularly counter this particular group, Daesh. And we look forward to that – those relationships continuing, and their participation as active members of the coalition continuing as well.

Okay, Syria.

QUESTION: Syria, yeah. Our correspondent, reporting from western Aleppo, interviewed locals who say fighters in the rebel-held east deliberately fire at civilians who are trying to leave. Are these people effectively held in Aleppo, in eastern Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: I can’t confirm that report. You know I don’t get into battlefield reports; I’m not going to do that. What is without dispute is that the siege of Aleppo continues, as I was mentioning earlier. And your question about being held hostage, there should be – and I’ve seen reports that they’re allowed to leave. They shouldn’t have to leave, and they shouldn’t be being bombed by their own government and by the Russian military. And that’s what needs to stop.

QUESTION: That place, eastern Aleppo, is run by al-Qaida militarily. How do you imagine people living peacefully under al-Qaida?

MR KIRBY: I think – first of all, I’m not going to get into a debate about who runs what neighborhood in Aleppo with you. We’ve been clear, and so has – 65 other nations have been clear, that the threat of terrorism in Syria is significant, predominantly from Daesh and from al-Nusrah, which is in – which is – we consider al-Qaida in Syria. And that’s why the coalition will continue operations across multiple lines of effort, not just military, to degrade and defeat, particularly, Daesh inside Syria. So if your question is how can people live under the jackboot of terrorism, I would agree that that’s not something we want them – a choice that we want them to have to make. They shouldn’t have to do that, which is why the coalition is so focused on that group.

QUESTION: Well, isn’t the way to really protect civilians is to get them out of there? Because al-Nusrah is not leaving, apparently; neither are the rebels who are intertwined with them.

MR KIRBY: And they’re not likely to want to leave while they’re continuing to be bombed. What needs to happen is a cessation of hostility and the bombing needs to stop. And who’s doing the bombing? It’s the regime and it’s Russia.

QUESTION: Is it the U.S. strategy just to let al-Qaida run that place, eastern Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: I’m not even going to dignify that question with an answer. I’m just not even going to dignify it.

QUESTION: You said --

QUESTION: What is --

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you: Is it conceivable that elements of al-Nusrah could be holding members of the population hostage, or at gunpoint, preventing them from moving about?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any information on that, Said.

QUESTION: But it could conceivably be that?

MR KIRBY: Again, you’re asking me to speculate on a hypothetical here.


MR KIRBY: Look, we’ve been very clear about the threat that al-Nusrah poses and that they are outside the cessation of hostilities, clearly. And what we’ve long said, that if Russia wanted to contribute to counter-ISIL efforts in a meaningful way, that that was a conversation that we’d be willing to have and continue to be willing to have, but what they have proven to want to do is rather support Asaad, bolster his regime, and bolster his efforts in this siege of Aleppo.

QUESTION: So what you want is a complete cessation of hostility or complete cessation of bombing by the Syrians and the Russians and then what? And then what would be the next step?

MR KIRBY: Well, you’re right. What we want is a cessation of hostilities, and I’d go back to February of this year when even the Russians signed up to exactly that thing around the --

QUESTION: I mean, as far as eastern Aleppo is concerned.

MR KIRBY: No, no, no. Yes, obviously we want to see the bombing and the siege of Aleppo stop. But more critically, we want to see a nationwide cessation of hostilities that can be sustained over time, so that we can get the political discussions back on track. Now look, we had in September 9, just earlier – well, about a month ago, we had struck an agreement in Geneva with the Russians that after seven days of reduced violence and the return of humanitarian assistance to particularly besieged places like Aleppo, that we could then begin to have a – to establish a Joint Implementation Center by which the United States and Russia would cooperate and share information to go after groups like al-Nusrah. In fact, it was specifically designed to help us together go after al-Nusrah. But we didn’t get those seven days of reduced violence and we didn’t get any humanitarian assistance in any significant way and you know the rest of the story. We regrettably, because of Russia’s actions, because of their intransigence and unwillingness to meet their commitments under that agreement, we had to suspend the bilateral cooperation in that regard.

QUESTION: Is that agreement revivable? Is it revivable, that agreement? Could it be revived?

MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary has said that it is – absolutely. We suspended; that doesn’t mean that it’s forever off. And what we continue to need to see are significant steps by the Russians that they’re serious about their commitments, and they have thus far proven quite the opposite.


QUESTION: Turkey’s president today affirmed that Turkey will take part in the military operation to recapture Mosul and that Turkey would not follow the direction of Iraq’s prime minister. In fact, Erdogan was insulting. He said to Abadi, quote, “Know your own place. Your clamoring is not important.” What is your view of this?

MR KIRBY: I think as we’ve long said, and I think you heard Brett McGurk say this himself on Friday when he was up here: all of Iraq’s neighbors need to respect Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Turkish forces that are deployed in Iraq are not there as part of the international coalition. The situation in Bashiqa is a matter for the governments of Iraq and Turkey to resolve. What we support is continued dialogue between them that can lead to a speedy resolution of the matter. We call on both governments to focus on their common enemy – our common enemy, which is Daesh. Over the coming days and weeks, we believe it is imperative for all the parties to closely coordinate next steps to ensure unity of effort in that counter-Daesh fight.

QUESTION: The Turks today played a clip from a press conference, in which Abadi states in this press conference with the Turkish prime Minister that he has demanded, quote, “military intelligence, arms, and training support from Turkey.” And it does seem like the Turks have a case that they were invited in.

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not aware of those comments. I haven’t seen that clip. Prime Minister Abadi has made it clear publicly that they weren’t. We don’t believe – we don’t hold them as they’re there as part of the coalition, the international coalition, and we want Iraq and Turkey to work this out together through dialogue. Okay?

QUESTION: Same topic, but a follow-up please. Some local officials, Iraqi officials, such as former Governor Nujaifi, also says – who was coordinating with Turkey – that the Mosul operation will be starting in a day or two. And another timetable given by the Turkish president also is saying that sometime between next week Mosul operation will start. Is this your understanding that the timetable will be in a day or two or the next week?

MR KIRBY: The campaign to retake Mosul is an Iraqi campaign. It’s an Iraqi plan and an Iraqi strategy. The United States forces will support that as we have in the past, other military operations conducted by the Iraqi Security Forces inside Iraq. And like they have done in the past, they will do it at a time of their choosing when they believe they’re ready. And I wouldn’t begin to speak to future operations one way or another from the podium.

QUESTION: So when Iraqi prime minister talks about Mosul operation, he is the most authoritative voice. Is this the understanding you wish --

MR KIRBY: He – it’s – the Iraqi Security Forces report to the Government of Iraq; Prime Minister Abadi makes – ultimately makes these decisions. And we leave it to him to both make those decisions and then speak to them when he is willing to do so. And I’m not going to get ahead of him on that.


QUESTION: On North Korea? So the 10th anniversary of the first nuclear test came and passed. But I was wondering if there is any sense of relief. Are you still on heightened alert for possible missile firings or nuclear tests this month?

MR KIRBY: I think we’re always vigilant to potential North Korean provocations.

QUESTION: And Danny Russel earlier this morning mentioned that there may be further progress in sanctions. I was wondering if you had any further details on that.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything additional to add. I mean – but I think you may have seen comments by Ambassador Power to a similar point, to a similar degree, talking about the work that we continue to do inside the UN to pursue additional sanctions. I just don’t have anything to update you on.

QUESTION: And then do you have any further detail about next week’s 2+2 meeting other than what you had sent out?

MR KIRBY: Other than what?

QUESTION: What you had sent out.

MR KIRBY: No. I mean, we’re looking forward to the discussion. I don’t have anything additional to lay out for you. We’ll obviously keep you posted if there’s any schedule changes or anything. The Secretary is looking forward to the dialogue.


QUESTION: Follow-up, Korea. Ambassador Power emphasized that U.S. use all tools for the sanctions against North Korea. Specifically what other tools U.S. can use for the pressure to North Korea?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve talked about this many times. And sanctions are one tool. And as we’ve made clear, their recent activities have galvanized the international community to seek potential additional sanctions. And sanctions take time. It doesn’t mean that they’re not a valuable tool and they can’t be effective, but they do take time to work. I’m not going to speculate about additional measures that the international community may or may not want to pursue; certainly not going to speak unilaterally for the U.S. in this regard. We believe it’s important to continue to work through the UN and with the international community because pressure applied from everybody, we still believe, is going to be more effective. But we’ll see where these discussions take us.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. sanctions included humanitarian aid to --

MR KIRBY: Does the --

QUESTION: Humanitarian --

MR KIRBY: Does what include humanitarian --

QUESTION: Your – I mean, U.S. individual sanctions included North Korean humanitarian assistance?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, so far the sanctions that have been applied really are against members of the regime and about their – the resources that they have. And I’m not going to get ahead of the specifics of future sanctions; that discussion’s ongoing right now, and I don’t think it would be helpful for me to get into speculation about what they’re going to look like and how we’re going to try to implement them should they be passed.

QUESTION: But the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, he didn’t take care of their peoples, peoples starving death. He always think about the nuclear programs, they are develop nuclear weapons. Why the international country should take care of humanitarian aids to North Korea? Because their leader didn’t take care of their peoples. So what is your comment?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) Again, we’re going to continue to apply pressure on the North, and we’re going to continue to work with international partners to do that just as effectively as possible. I’m not going to speculate about what a future sanctions regime might look like. Obviously, we’re working through that right now.

But stepping back from North Korea – just try to address your question as best I can, humanitarian assistance in a non-permissive environment – and I think we’d all agree that the North is a non-permissive environment – comes with a lot of risks and consequences that any nation-state needs to think through before you try to implement that.

QUESTION: But he using that. I mean, Kim Jong-un using that humanitarian assistance – like food. South Korea sent 100 cows to North Korea; it’s gone, but where has the beef gone? So why you consider about humanitarian assistance to North Korea? That’s what I’m --

MR KIRBY: I can appreciate the re-attack on the question. I really think I’ve addressed this as far as I can go, Janne. We’re going to continue to look for ways to apply more pressure to the regime through the international community, and I’m really not going to speculate about what those tools are going to look like going forward. We’re having those active discussions right now.


QUESTION: John, can I have a quick follow-up? I just want to make sure I understand. So you are saying that – you were saying that you were looking at the future potential sanctions, but then you are not going to specify the detail. Is that correct?


QUESTION: Okay. So my question for you is: Given the timing of all these related events, like Ambassador Samantha Power was visiting Seoul and then the next week, we got U.S.-Korea 2+2 meeting. Is there a UN Security Council resolution in the cooking?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know the status of a specific resolution, but as the ambassador said, I think just over the weekend, that we continue to work through the UN and with other members of the Security Council on trying to develop a new package of sanctions. Now, where that is in the process, I just don’t know. I would refer you to my colleagues up at the UN mission in New York City. I just don’t have an update on where they are on that, but we are actively having those conversations.

QUESTION: Would that sanction involving the loophole – to close the loophole of the coal transaction?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to get ahead of the discussions that are still ongoing. I just – I can’t do that.

QUESTION: If I may, can I ask one quick one on Ethiopia?


QUESTION: I wonder if you have anything on Ethiopia. The country has announced a state of emergency. And how concerned are you regarding the escalation of tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re obviously very concerned and we take note of President Mulatu’s October 10th address to parliament committing the government to address some of the grievances raised by protesters, such as land rights and electoral reform. I encourage the government to act decisively on those proposals. We encourage the Ethiopian Government to clarify how it intends to implement the state of emergency that was declared this weekend, particularly regarding the emergency measures that authorized detention without a warrant, limitations on free speech, prohibitions on public gatherings, and impositions of curfews.

Even if these measures are intended to restore order, silencing independent voices and interfering with the rights of Ethiopians is a self-defeating tactic that exacerbates rather than addresses their grievances.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan?


QUESTION: So there’s been some renewed fighting, the fighting season is underway, and Taliban have made some significant gains. Is this causing you to reassess your evaluation of the government’s ability to exercise control in Afghanistan and reassess any of the pledges that the U.S. made, maybe re-evaluate the need to increase assistance security-wise for Afghanistan? And how under threat do you see the government right now in the wake of these latest attacks?

MR KIRBY: Well, we still have confidence in the Afghan Government to continue to move political and economic reforms forward. The Secretary met with both President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah just last week in Brussels, good discussions. So we’re confident that they know the challenges before them and that they can work through those and can continue to enact reforms that can make a meaningful difference in the lives of Afghans every day.

That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy and it’s certainly not made any easier by the fact that the Taliban has been more active from a military perspective than just the last few weeks. I would say that that is a surprise to no one, not least of which President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah. They’re well aware of the threat that members of the Taliban continue to pose inside the country.

And so, I mean, this is obviously something we’ve been monitoring and watching. It’s not altogether unexpected that the Taliban would act this way. It is ultimately, we believe, to their detriment in the long term because what the real answer here is is political reconciliation, which we would continue to support.

I would also note that Afghan National Security Forces continue to respond assertively and effectively. That doesn’t mean they win every fight, obviously, but they are engaged and their battlefield competency and capability continues to improve. One of the reasons it does so is because of the NATO mission there in Afghanistan, which, as you know, the United States continues to support with talent and with resources. And I can assure you that our support to the NATO mission in Afghanistan will continue. I don’t have any changes or modifications to speak to today.


QUESTION: Can I go back to emails?


QUESTION: There’s a report that just came out a little while ago, an ABC report based on the – some emails. And I haven’t had a chance to read it closely enough yet to know if it actually makes the allegation or just suggests that there might have been – there might be some impropriety. So let me just ask the question that I think it hints at: What’s – in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, did the department give preference to people or companies that donated – that had donated to the Clinton Foundation in terms of contracts to help Haiti recover from the earthquake?

MR KIRBY: No, we looked into this with this – when ABC was working this story. We found no evidence that preferential treatment was given to any particular entity or organization with respect to contracts.

QUESTION: So in other words, you’re saying that although these emails show that people were flagged as being friends of the former president or their companies were – they – your – you looked – your review found that that didn’t actually translate into any favoritism?

MR KIRBY: Right, right. In preparing our response for that story, we looked into that and didn’t find any evidence that preferential treatment or – in a – for contracts was given.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: But I don’t think it should – with President Clinton being the – designated by the United Nations as a special envoy for Haiti, I don’t think it would come as a shock to anybody that the people associated with or friends of him or the Clinton Foundation would also in a time of great need want to contribute. But I see no evidence of any preferential or special treatment.

QUESTION: Okay, that’s not – but that’s not the question. I mean, these people were identified or --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: -- as friends of the former president.


QUESTION: Or not. And so you’re saying there’s no issue here with the people who were identified as friends being --

MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t speak to staff --

QUESTION: -- being --

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak to staff emails at the time.

QUESTION: -- people who weren’t identified as friends being sent to other places?

MR KIRBY: No, what I – again, what I’d say is we’ve seen no evidence that preferential treatment was given to anybody based on their association with the Clinton Foundation or with the former president himself.

QUESTION: And then the other thing, which is unrelated to Haiti, but still has to do with emails, and that is reports that say that – or that the State Department cooperated in more than just a – absolutely essential way with the Clinton campaign to let them know what emails of her emails, the FOIA’d emails, were going to be coming out and when. Is that – is that true? I mean, I understand that there clearly was contact – I mean there had to be – for you guys to even get the emails in the first place. But as the FOIA – as the review process continued, was there – did the State Department give the campaign information about which ones were coming and when?

MR KIRBY: So let me just back up a little bit. I recognize that this is being asked – the story is being asked in the context of allegedly leaked documents, and as I mentioned --

QUESTION: Yeah, forget about that. I’m not asking --

MR KIRBY: No, I know that. But I --

QUESTION: I’m just asking --

MR KIRBY: But I have to say it. I’m not going to speak to veracity of leaked documents. Generally speaking, when processing documents for release through the Freedom of Information Act, it is standard practice for the State Department to refer documents to private companies and other outside organizations, including the Clinton Foundation, if the department believes propriety information may be contained in the documents. Outside entities are often given the chance to review the documents and provide input to the department about proprietary information that may need to be protected from public release. So --

QUESTION: I understand that. I read that response in one of these reports. I’m asking something that’s slightly different. That is, as these tranches were released – remember?


QUESTION: Once every month or whatever it was.


QUESTION: Did the State Department give the campaign notice of which ones were coming?


QUESTION: Okay. So once the review that you just talked about was done, once the campaign had seen or – yeah, once the campaign had gone through them and done – are we talking about the same thing, or are you talking about Clinton Foundation? I’m talking about the Clinton campaign.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I gathered that.

QUESTION: So they – they reviewed – the Clinton campaign reviewed these --

MR KIRBY: No, no, no.

QUESTION: They never got to see them?

MR KIRBY: No. The Foundation, because there could be proprietary information, we – it’s standard practice for us to allow outside entities, whether it’s a business or in this case a nonprofit, to look at it before it goes because of proprietary information. But ultimately, we are the ones who finally make a decision about what we’re going to release.

QUESTION: Okay. But in --

MR KIRBY: But we owe them that courtesy for proprietary information. You’re talking about the campaign.


MR KIRBY: My answer is no.

QUESTION: So they never got to – once they turned over the emails to you the first --

MR KIRBY: Before we – when we released --

QUESTION: -- before the FOIA review began, when you – once you – once those things were turned over, there was no contact between State Department and the campaign?

MR KIRBY: No. We don’t --

QUESTION: Not on the emails.

MR KIRBY: We do not – when we release the email traffic --

QUESTION: Okay. I’m just wondering what the process is.

MR KIRBY: -- which we continue to do, we are under no obligation nor have we given the campaign a heads-up --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: -- or a specific idea of what’s being released before it gets released.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MR KIRBY: Abbie.

QUESTION: Unrelated topic. There’s a new report out today from the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point which says that ISIS propaganda videos have substantially decreased in their production since its peak about a year ago. I was wondering if you have anything to comment about that, but also what you would attribute it to. And yeah, what is your response and what would you attribute that to?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen reports of the report; I haven’t actually read it myself. I know there’s people here at the State Department that are eagerly looking it over. So I can’t speak to specific findings by this – by the West Point Center. However, the reports coming out about it certainly reinforce our own view that we have been making a dent in Daesh’s ability to propagate their twisted narrative and recruit fighters, either to come to Iraq or Syria or to conduct attacks at home. And we know that we are – we know that these multilateral and interagency efforts to get at their messaging ability is beginning to bear fruit. We know that they’re – we know they’re having trouble recruiting talent and we know that they’re having trouble retaining fighters and they’re certainly losing – continue to lose leaders, as Brett McGurk was up here Friday talking about.

So the – we know we’re having an effect on them, but I would also say – and this is an important thing to add – nobody is spiking the ball on this. I mean, there is a lot of work left to do and this group has shown that they are adaptable and they are agile. And they are no less adaptable or agile in the information space. And we fully expect that they will continue to try to find ways to disseminate their twisted message and to recruit, so we’re going to keep at this. Here at the State Department, the efforts by Mike Lumpkin and the Global Engagement Center are very much tied into this. We know there’s a lot of work left to do.

Okay. I think I got time for just a couple more. Said.

QUESTION: I want to go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue very quickly. Okay?

MR KIRBY: Okay. Yeah.

QUESTION: On a couple points. The last six weeks have seen a spike in Israeli nightly raids targeting Palestinian refugee camps. Monday it was the Aida camp. They kidnapped eight Palestinian children under the age of 15. But this happens time and time again, and then the Israelis say, “Well, the army is not involved,” although the army was involved. They say it’s a police action, although they are not under their police jurisdiction. I wonder if you have any comment on that and if you call on the Israelis to release these boys.

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the reports. I don’t have much detail for you, Said, on this. We continue to urge all sides to avoid violence and take affirmative steps to improve the conditions on the ground. In general, we also believe that all individuals, certainly especially children, should be treated humanely and have their basic human rights respected.

QUESTION: But you always – and in fact, you encourage and you sort of – you supervise or oversaw the coordination between the PA – the security coordination between the PA and the Israeli authorities. Now, can you imagine a situation where a PA policeman could go into a settlement and do the same thing? I mean, why can’t you call on the Israelis, who are supposed to be the other part of this coordination? If they want something, they could conceivably go to the Palestinian Authority and say we want X, Y, and Z, right?

MR KIRBY: Well, what we want to see are both sides show the kind of leadership to – and affirmative actions to reduce the tensions and to move us forward. We want to see both sides do that.

QUESTION: But they’re then – right, but there is no equality of power on both sides, John.

MR KIRBY: Again, I think we’ve made our expectations clear for both sides there.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Sir, you just – this is not the first time that Saudi Arabia targeted civilians in Yemen. And sir, always, you always express concerns on that, never condemn it. So about this latest airstrike: Will you condemn it or will you just stick with the word of concern?

MR KIRBY: I think I’m going to let our statement over the weekend speak for itself, which I thought was pretty strong in terms of the very serious concerns we have over this. And if we weren’t serious about that concern, we wouldn’t be willing to conduct a review of aid and assistance to Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: Sir, so far, Saudi Arabia has killed more than 10,000 civilians in Yemen and displaced more than three million people. And most of us here in this room know this, that Saudi Arabia is involved in the Shia genocide all over the world. So despite their war crimes-like act, you’re still selling them the arms like $1.15 billion? Sir, why is that?

MR KIRBY: Well, there’s not a lot of opinion in that question is there? (Laughter.) I mean, look, I think we’ve been nothing but clear about our concerns about some of the military activity conducted by the Saudi-led coalition. Again, if we weren’t, we wouldn’t have talked about it over the weekend and said that we’re willing to take a look at our aid and assistance to Saudi Arabia and see if there need to be any changes going forward. And so we’re going to do that. And what I can tell you is what we want to see – and we continue to work very hard for – is an end to the violence in Yemen and a return to some political negotiations that can get us to a peaceful settlement there. That what really matters and the United States hasn’t taken eye off – our eye off that ball at all. Okay?

QUESTION: Sir, I have one more on Pakistan, please. I have one more question. Sir, in Pakistan, there’s too much talk on recent article published in Dawn newspaper that civilian Government of Pakistan tells military to take action against Haqqani and other militant organizations. Sir, the journalist who filed that story has been asked to not leave the country and his name is put into the ECL, the Exit Control List – means he cannot leave the country. So what are your comments about the freedom of press in Pakistan, especially in this case?

MR KIRBY: Well, so first of all, I’m aware of the reports of restrictions on Mr. Almeida’s travel. I would refer you to the Government of Pakistan for information on that. On press freedom, it’s obviously an issue that we continue to raise regularly with the Government of Pakistan, including our concerns about the difficulties and the dangers that journalists face there. We’re concerned about any efforts to limit press freedom or the ability of journalists to conduct their very, very important work.

Okay. Thanks, everybody. Got to go, got to go.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:03 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - October 7, 2016

Fri, 10/07/2016 - 17:56

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 7, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:36 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Okay. Thanks, guys. Just a programming note here: The Secretary will travel to Kigali, Rwanda on the 13th and 14th of October to join EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and others in striving to achieve U.S. climate and environmental goals at the upcoming Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol.

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is widely regarded to be one of the most successful environmental treaties ever and was the first treaty to achieve universal ratification. This global agreement has put the stratospheric ozone layer on a path to recovery through measures to control production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances. Negotiations in Kigali will be an important opportunity to reach global agreement on an ambitious amendment to the protocol to phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. HFCs have become popular substitutes for ozone-depleting substances; but while they are far better for the ozone layer, they are also potent greenhouse gases, which means that they do contribute to climate change.

An ambitious HFC amendment would build on the positive momentum of the Paris Agreement and could avoid up to a half a degree of Celsius warming by the end of this century. So the Secretary is very much looking forward to going to Kigali and to embarking on those negotiations.


QUESTION: Thank you. Before we get into policy stuff, is it correct that you guys are putting out another batch of former Secretary Clinton’s emails today?

MR KIRBY: Yes. At 3:30 this afternoon, we expect to be able to post on our website another batch of emails. Now, this is – these emails come from the materials provided by the FBI.

QUESTION: And can you give any – give us any more idea of what’s coming?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. So we’ll be making – releasing approximately 75 documents totaling approximately 270 pages of emails reflecting work-related communications involving Secretary Clinton. This will be our first substantial release of materials that we received from the FBI. I think, as you guys know, we were ordered by the court to process 350 pages of material received from the FBI by today, the 7th of October, and we met that requirement. So to be clear, we’re going to be releasing approximately 270 pages of the approximately 350 pages that we processed.

QUESTION: Why is there a difference of 80?

MR KIRBY: Because processing doesn’t mean releasing. There were, in many cases, either actual duplicates of material that we already had posted from the 55,000, and then there were also, inside the batch that we got from the FBI, there were duplicate documents. No sense in posting two when one is exactly the same. So – and processing --

QUESTION: Well, the only thing is that we – I mean, we’re taking your word for that, right?

MR KIRBY: Yes, you are.


MR KIRBY: Do you have reason to suspect my word on it?

QUESTION: No, I don’t have any reason to suspect anything. I’m just saying if the court ordered you to release 350 pages --

MR KIRBY: No, they didn’t. No, the order was to process, not to release --

QUESTION: Oh, okay. All right, all right.

MR KIRBY: -- to process, to work through 350, which we did.


MR KIRBY: And of those 350, 270 will be released today.

QUESTION: Okay. On to Syria and the Secretary’s comments earlier this morning, one is: Do you know what strike he was talking about in his comments overnight on a hospital in Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary’s referring actually to a strike that we saw happen yesterday on a field hospital in the Rif Dimashq Governorate. I’m not exactly positive that that’s what he was referring to, but I think he was referring to actually one that was --

QUESTION: Not one in Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: I believe it was – I think it was – I think he – my guess is – I’m guessing here that he was a bit mistaken on location and referring to one --

QUESTION: Which location? Sorry.

MR KIRBY: A field hospital in Rif Dimashq Governorate.

QUESTION: Was it --

MR KIRBY: So I think he was referring to one yesterday.

QUESTION: Definitely yesterday, though? It wasn’t one from Wednesday?

MR KIRBY: I think he was referring to one yesterday, and I know of another one on a hospital Monday, but I think that’s what he was referring to.

QUESTION: Is there a way you guys can check?

MR KIRBY: We did. I mean, believe me, I knew I was going to get asked this question.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

MR KIRBY: We looked at it and --

QUESTION: But you don’t have certainty, though?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. Best I got, best information I got, is that he was most likely referring to one yesterday in this governorate, but it could just be an honest mistake.

QUESTION: If we could – if we can nail that down with certainty what he was talking about --

MR KIRBY: I’ll do the best I can, Matt.


MR KIRBY: But again, knowing I was going to be asked this today, I did try to do as much research as I could.

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

MR KIRBY: I could not find one last night in Aleppo.


QUESTION: The precise death totals were 20 and 100 --

MR KIRBY: I recognize that. I can’t corroborate that. But look, let’s take 10 steps back here. I mean, over the last two weeks, we think almost 400 people now have been killed in Aleppo alone. So whether or not there was a strike last night in a hospital or Aleppo is kind of beside the point. The point he was – the broader point that he was trying to make is that the Russians and the Syrian regime continue this onslaught on Aleppo. And just over the last two weeks alone, as I said, almost 400 people, best we can tell, have been killed. And that doesn’t even count the wounded.

QUESTION: Can – then get – so if we could get clarity on that, that would be great. But the second --

MR KIRBY: I will do what I can, Matt, but I can’t promise --

QUESTION: -- I would also like – also seeking clarity on who exactly does the Secretary believe should do this investigation into possible war crimes. Because if it’s the ICC, to which you are not a party – I mean, that has got to go through the Security Council. Syria is not a party, neither is Russia, and it’s got – so it’s got to go through the Security Council. And there’s – the chances of that happening – in other words, a Security Council referral – are less than slim and none.

MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary was referring to his view that there should be – that these actions beg for an appropriate investigation. He wasn’t --


MR KIRBY: Well, he wasn’t getting ahead of the process. He was simply referring to the fact that we know these acts are violations of international law and they should be so investigated, and appropriately so. He wasn’t – that was the extent of his comment. That was the extent of the point he was trying to make. He wasn’t trying to get ahead of the process.

QUESTION: Well, was he just trying to make the point that these look like war crimes, as opposed to formally calling for a war crimes investigation? And to that point, I mean, it’s no secret that the U.S. has been working with Syrian groups and others to try and document some of these atrocities as potential war crimes for future accountability down the road.

MR KIRBY: I think, again, you heard him say when he was up at the UN a couple weeks ago – he talked about how the actions of the regime in particular were violations of international law. And I mean, we’re talking about bombing hospitals and bombing first responders and killing innocent civilians, not by accident but on purpose. And so this isn’t the first time he’s talked about the fact that these are violations of international law; and again, today he was simply making the point that because we believe they’re violations, they should be appropriately investigated.

QUESTION: I understand. But I mean --


QUESTION: -- it does seem --

MR KIRBY: I’ve answered that question.

QUESTION: I mean, I’m --

MR KIRBY: He wasn’t trying to make a specific point about by whom.

QUESTION: I understand that. But it does seem as if there is a violation of international law and there’s war crimes, and war crimes come – that is obviously a legal determination that comes with a lot more responsibility to hold those accountable. And I’m wondering where this building and where this Administration is in terms of determining whether these are war crimes and trying to document them as such for some type of future accountability, regardless of who right now is investigating it.

MR KIRBY: We certainly believe that the violations we’ve seen – the strikes and the attacks and the manner in which, that they have been conducted – merit and deserve an evaluation, a review, an investigation – call it what you will – as potential war crimes. Now, you’re right that there’s a very specific legal, technical definition – I’m not an expert on that, wouldn’t pretend to be – that comes with making that determination. And the Secretary wasn’t making that determination today. He was saying that these actions beg an appropriate investigation.

QUESTION: Well, but by saying that these accusations beg an investigation on war crimes – again, regardless who does it – that would suggest that he wants to know whether these are war crime – or fit the legal definition or not. And again, that would cause a whole – open up a whole other avenue of potential measures, policy decisions, and such.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to get ahead of the process, and I don’t think the Secretary was trying to do that either. I think he was giving an honest – his honest view that these violations of international law should be properly investigated for the potential to be determined as war crimes and that – and we’ve said this before – that if such a determination is made, people need to be held to account.

QUESTION: So is kind of throwing it out there, like whoever wants to investigate it as war crimes should do so? Or is he saying that there needs to be an --

MR KIRBY: He was simply saying that he believes these actions beg an appropriate investigation.

QUESTION: And is he willing to --

MR KIRBY: He wasn’t making a determination or offering an opinion or a view of who should do it or when.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, is he willing to spearhead – is he willing, as he’s done with other things – is he willing --

MR KIRBY: I think this is a discussion that he thinks should happen inside the UN and inside the international community.


QUESTION: Simply stated, does the U.S. Government believe, based on all the information that it has gathered, that Russia has committed war crimes in Syria?

MR KIRBY: I would again point you back to what he said at the UN and what he said today, that – he said that these strikes are clear violations of international law.

QUESTION: That’s not what he said today.

MR KIRBY: No, but he said that at the UN.

QUESTION: I remember.

MR KIRBY: Okay, I’m – so I think it’s important though to go back to – this isn’t a new idea here, what he said today. And what he said today was these acts, these acts which we – which he has said publicly have violated international law, ought to be appropriately investigated. But are we – are we ready now to make that call and say yep, absolutely? No. That’s why he wants to see them looked into.

QUESTION: Okay. So you’re not ready to say that you believe that Russia has committed war crimes in Syria.

MR KIRBY: No, and the Secretary didn’t allude to that today either.

QUESTION: All right, I got it. Okay. And then second thing: Do you think it is fair, based on what he said today, to say that he is calling for an investigation – not just that this cries out for investigation but that he’s actually calling for one, or does that --

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: Or does this stop short of that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I mean, I don’t know how helpful it is to parse the verbs. I would just point you back to what he said --

QUESTION: Actually, it’s very important.

MR KIRBY: I would point you back to what he said himself, which – that these are acts that beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes. So if you’re asking me would he like to see them appropriately investigated? My answer is yes, and that’s right from what he said, and I think I’d leave it at --

QUESTION: John, just to clarify: Would he like to see whom do the investigation?

MR KIRBY: He didn’t – again, the Secretary is not getting ahead of a process here, but he does think that this is a conversation worth having inside the international community.

QUESTION: Is it – John, is it fair to just regard this then as kind of a rhetorical exercise to kind of increase the pressure on the Russians before the vote at the UN Security Council? And essentially all you’re doing is just upping the rhetoric, but you’re not actually saying you believe war crimes were committed. You’re not actually calling for an investigation of war crimes. You’re not actually directly accusing the Russians of war crimes. You’re just tossing some words around ahead of a Security Council vote; is that the way to look at this?

MR KIRBY: No, I wouldn't look it at that way at all. He’s the Secretary of State, he doesn’t just toss words around for rhetorical exercises. You have seen his frustration build. You, yourself – all of you have seen his frustration build over the last several weeks. You heard what he said at the UN, called it like he saw it, that these were clear violations of international law. And today, he said that they begged for an appropriate investigation, and I think he meant every word of what he said. I’m not trying to parse here. I’m not trying to be – to dance around this thing, but the Secretary believes that what’s happening is an abomination, is – obviously violates international law. We’re talking, again – let’s remember and let’s remind people we’re talking about hospitals and homes and businesses and innocent men and women and children --

QUESTION: So why hasn’t there been an investigation thus far then?

MR KIRBY: I can’t answer that question, Elise.

QUESTION: But why isn’t the U.S. calling for one?

MR KIRBY: But I can tell you that the Secretary is interested in seeing that move forward.

QUESTION: Are you ready to spearhead that kind of investigation?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of specific process here, Elise.


QUESTION: Well, then why, as Arshad said, isn’t it – if he said it and he’s not willing to move forward with that, he was just throwing out an idea? I don’t understand what --

MR KIRBY: I think, as I said to Arshad, he’s interested in having a conversation inside the international community about this.

QUESTION: Is he going to start having that conversation with his counterparts?

MR KIRBY: I think you can safely assume that international leaders have already talked about the degree to which these violations are, in fact, violations of international law.

QUESTION: John, you know, as Matt said, that Syria is not a state party to the Rome Statute, so the court --

QUESTION: Neither is the U.S.

QUESTION: -- the ICC does not have jurisdiction automatically. And you also know that the only way, therefore, for it to have jurisdiction is for it to be referred – for the matter to be referred by the Security Council, where Russia, as you, finally, know, has a veto. So given that – right – given that the one court in the world that’s supposed to deal with these kinds of issues – right --


QUESTION: -- can’t unless Russia agrees to be investigated, which seems impossible, why shouldn't one regard it all as a rhetorical exercise because you know the ICC ain’t going to get jurisdiction to look into this?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, Arshad, fair question, but I’m simply not going to get ahead of the legal process here. I’m not educated enough to do that in the first place, and secondly, that wasn’t the Secretary’s intent today. He was expressing the frustration he has seen, the fact that he does believe an appropriate investigation is warranted, and that’s a discussion that he and other international leaders have to have in terms of process and how that would be done.

I take your points about the ICC, and I take your point about the UN Security Council and Russia’s veto. I think you can safely assume that the Secretary was aware of both those facts when he talked about this in the General Assembly and when he talked about it today standing next to Foreign Minister Ayrault.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on that. Are you expecting a vote tomorrow? And will he go up for it if there is one?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any travel to New York City to announce on the Secretary’s behalf.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: And could you – the point of what he said was to start a conversation inside the international community? I mean, it seems to me there’s been conversation going on for the last five years. If he feels that strongly about it, why isn’t it time to move beyond the conversating --

MR KIRBY: He was referring to what’s happening in the last several weeks in Aleppo specifically, Matt.


MR KIRBY: But look, obviously, there’s been --

QUESTION: -- but there’s been – everyone is – there’s a lot of talk. It’s all talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. And now it sounds like this is just more talk. Where is – does it – if he feels that strongly, why is not – why is there not – why isn’t that talk turning into some kind of action?

MR KIRBY: It very well might, Matt. I can’t – I’m not going to rule out the fact that it won’t lead to some action.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about de Mistura.

QUESTION: Earlier this week, the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN talked about this particular issue and said that Syria and Russia – and that the UN should change the rules about who – how countries are referred to the International Criminal Court so that countries that wield the veto power can’t prevent themselves from being referred to the ICC. Does the Secretary, does the State Department agree with that position now?

MR KIRBY: I’ll have to take the question. I don’t – I don’t know if we have a view on that proposal.


QUESTION: Can I just ask on – I mean, I think --

QUESTION: I mean – I’m sorry, but why not? I mean, that’s – it’s very germane to this particular issue that we’re – that you guys are all frustrated about for the past two weeks.

MR KIRBY: Your question implies that we haven’t taken a view of it. I don’t know. The reason why I’m not answering your question is because I don’t know and I’m not going to get up here and wing it for you. So I will take your --

QUESTION: Can you find out?

MR KIRBY: That’s what I said. I’ll take your question, sir, and we’ll get back to you. So don’t --

QUESTION: So – thanks.

MR KIRBY: Don’t presume by the fact that I’m taking your question that there’s no opinion here in the building. It just means that I’m not aware of it.


QUESTION: I think some of the confusion today is that Kerry’s remarks were seen as a change in stance, that it was seen as a stronger statement that he had issued before explicitly calling for a war crimes investigation. So I just have two questions. Are you, one, saying that this does not reflect a change in the stance, that his comments today do not mark a shift in tone? And also, is it – there’s confusion about the fact that he was presumably referring to an event that led him to give this sharper statement. Are you saying you can’t identify with certainty what that event was, which attack he was specifically referring to?

MR KIRBY: He was referring specifically – the acts he was referring to were about recent siege activity around Aleppo.

QUESTION: But this one where he said 20 dead, 100 wounded – you guys don’t know --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have specific information on that particular event. I told you before, I tried to research that before coming out here. I don’t have any specifics. But that doesn’t eliminate the fact that in this week alone, since Monday, we know of at least two attacks on hospitals and that over the last two weeks almost 400 people have been killed.


MR KIRBY: So he’s talking – when he talks about these acts beg for an appropriate investigation, he’s not simply talking about the one strike that he’s – that he detailed for you today.


MR KIRBY: And then on the change of tone, I don’t see this as a change in tone, and I’ve been with him now throughout this process. He – you – I can point you back to what he said at the UN during the General Assembly. I mean, this is not a new idea – as I said to Arshad – not a new idea for him that these are violations of international law, and we have long said that people should be held to account for these violations. So it’s not a big leap at all for him to say that it would beg for an appropriate investigation.

QUESTION: Could I follow up on what --

MR KIRBY: Sure. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: -- the de Mistura proposal? He suggested that the al-Nusrah and the militants pull out of Aleppo. Would you support something like this, or would you have a mechanism or would you suggest a mechanism to do that?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve seen the special envoy’s proposal. We understand the frustration behind it. And what I would say is we’re going to continue to have a healthy conversation with Staffan de Mistura about the way ahead, about trying to get to a ceasefire, to a cessation of hostilities. And what needs to happen, Said, more critically, is that the siege of Aleppo needs to stop.

QUESTION: Right. Okay --

QUESTION: Well, but --

QUESTION: -- let me just follow up with the numbers. Do you have any – on the figures. Do you have any actual numbers on the number of militants that are in eastern Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: I can’t verify --

QUESTION: Because the figures suggest anywhere between six to eight thousand, some say there is a thousand Nusrah in eastern Aleppo and so on. How do you determine how many --

MR KIRBY: I can’t validate those numbers. I would point you to Mr. de Mistura to do that. We – and we’ve said this before that we don’t believe that al-Nusrah comprises anywhere near a majority of the fighters in Aleppo, but I couldn’t give you an exact figure. I can’t verify those numbers.

QUESTION: But if the --

QUESTION: My last question on this, my last question on this is that the suggestion by the Syrian Government that if the militants surrender, give up, they have amnesty, do you have any comment on that? I mean, is that --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: The Syrian Government suggested that if the militants surrender and give up their arms, they will be given amnesty. Do you – do you think --

MR KIRBY: I think anybody that would take at face value --

QUESTION: Is that something that would have merit?

MR KIRBY: I think anybody that would take at face value anything coming out of the regime would be foolish given the --

QUESTION: Okay. They are the ones that are fighting them on the ground.

MR KIRBY: -- given what this regime has proven capable of doing.

QUESTION: Yeah. But they’re --

MR KIRBY: And I don’t see – look, the continued bombing and siege of Aleppo isn’t going to reduce the fervor with which many in the opposition are fighting. And I think it would – we’ve seen time and time again the Assad regime promising to do something and then failing to do it. So I don’t know how anybody could take that as a credible offer.

QUESTION: Wait. You just said – but wait a minute. You just said that the lifting of the siege of Aleppo would not stop the opposition from fighting with the fervor that which they’re fighting?

MR KIRBY: No, I said absent --

QUESTION: Okay, sorry.

MR KIRBY: Absent that.

QUESTION: So – okay. So if – I mean, I think it’s a long shot that Nusrah is just going to be like, sure, let me just get safe passage out of the city, but let’s just hypothetically, if you could find a way to implement this proposal that would, in fact, get the Russians to lift the siege --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know if it would or not.

QUESTION: -- get the Syrians to lift the siege of Aleppo, would you support safe passage of al-Nusrah out of this?

MR KIRBY: Al-Nusrah remains a party outside – I’m sorry, outside --

QUESTION: But you want to separate them, so where are they supposed to go?

MR KIRBY: -- outside the cessation of hostilities.

QUESTION: No, I understand. But you can’t on one hand say that you’re going to ask them to separate and on the other hand not give them a chance to separate.

MR KIRBY: Okay, I can’t speak for the likelihood of that --

QUESTION: What incentive do they have to separate, then?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for the likelihood that that proposal would work, and I’m not going to speculate about that.

QUESTION: I understand. But just – but on a more fundamental --

MR KIRBY: What needs to happen is the siege of Aleppo needs to stop.

QUESTION: I understand. But this goes – this is a very fundamental question of your one responsibility under this agreement – supposed agreement that is – you’re trying to get back on track – that you would separate Nusrah from the opposition. Now, if you separate them, where are these Nusrah people supposed to go? If you could get rid of them, maybe you could stop the ceasefire – you could stop the bombing, right?

MR KIRBY: Al-Nusrah has remained obviously an obstacle to peace in Syria.

QUESTION: Okay, so --

MR KIRBY: And that they are outside the cessation of hostilities we have long said, and we have talked to opposition groups – the ones that we influence – and we know that other countries who have influence over other groups have talked to them about the need to separate. We’ve also said that the siege itself – the continued bombing and violence perpetrated by Assad and by Russia – is having exactly the opposite effect. It’s actually encouraging more marbleization, if you will, by the continued violence. It’s not – it’s certainly not encouraging opposition groups to separate. It’s increasing – as I said, it’s increasing their fervor to fight.

QUESTION: But you’re not – I understand --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate about the likelihood of success or – out of the proposal that Mr. de Mistura put forward. We understand the frustration with which he made it and did it. We all share that frustration.

QUESTION: But how other --

MR KIRBY: And I can’t – I’m not going to – I can’t speculate about what ifs here.

QUESTION: I – but --

MR KIRBY: What I – what we want to see is the siege stop.

QUESTION: I understand you do. But again, you want to separate them. How do you propose that you do that? Where – how do – where – if they’re all in the city, what, are they supposed to go to the right bank of the city and --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert in the geography there. What I would tell you is we continue to have conversations with the opposition about the importance of not being co-located with al-Nusrah, and that is a conversation we continue to have with them.

QUESTION: So you’re leaving this totally up to the opposition to separate themselves?

MR KIRBY: This is ultimately – and I’ve said this, Elise, these are decisions they have to make.

QUESTION: So basically you’re saying just get out of the way so that we can bomb them and --

MR KIRBY: They – these are decisions they have to make, and we’ve talked to them very honestly about that.

QUESTION: For instance, Idlib is a – the – is a --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: -- Al-Nusrah stronghold, Idlib. Would they be allowed safe passage to Idlib, for instance?

MR KIRBY: Said, I’m simply not going to get into detail --

QUESTION: You’re not really giving them a lot of incentive to separate themselves, are you? I mean --

MR KIRBY: It is the Russians and the Syrian – the regime which is certainly not giving any incentive to separate. In fact, quite the opposite by the continued bombing of civilian targets and of opposition elements.

QUESTION: Another subject?

QUESTION: I know you’ve talked about this before (inaudible) when the cessation of hostilities was announced about how these opposition forces are supposed to separate from Nusrah. But if they do so, they would be, they’d be ceding territory basically to whoever attacks al-Nusrah and takes that territory. So it seems like – I mean, not only is there not incentive for them to do it now, but it seems like there never was an incentive for them to do it.

MR KIRBY: I think you’d have to talk to each group about their – what they’d consider their incentives.

QUESTION: No, I’m talking to you because you guys came up – the Americans came up with this plan.

MR KIRBY: I recognize that you’re talking me, and what I’ve been saying and have said many, many times is that we have made the case to the opposition that being co-located with Nusrah, since Nusrah is outside the cessation of hostilities, is a dangerous endeavor, but these are choices they have to make. We also understand they’re not monoliths, even – not just in an aggregate but amongst themselves, and many of them have more radical views than others. Many of them make pragmatic decisions on their own about where they’re going to physically be located. Those are decisions that they have to make as groups and some of those individuals have to make as individuals. It doesn’t change the fact that we think it is important for them to separate themselves from al-Nusrah since al-Nusrah remains outside the cessation of hostilities – a cessation of hostilities, by the way, which we don’t have right now because the regime and Russia continues to bomb in Aleppo.

QUESTION: Which is kind of the point. You keep saying that “outside the cessation of hostilities,” but that’s – that animal is dead. It’s extinct.

MR KIRBY: I just said that.

QUESTION: I – yeah, I know. So what’s the point, then?

MR KIRBY: Well, we obviously want to get back to it.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: What I said was obviously it’s not enforced now, but that doesn’t violate the principle with which it was established back in February and the fact that we want to get back to it, Matt.

QUESTION: It was – in fact – when was it ever enforced?

MR KIRBY: There were times, and you know there were times. Especially in February, we had a significant reduction in the violence after it was first announced.

QUESTION: No, no, no, no, that’s people observing it. When was it enforced? Where were violations of the cessation, when it existed, ever – when was anyone ever held to account? It --

MR KIRBY: Well, by enforced I mean implemented. I recognize that there have been violations since it was first implemented, and there is – and up until recently we had a task force bilaterally with the Russians to examine and to monitor violations.

QUESTION: There hasn’t – hold on. Just – there hasn’t been any more contact between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional contact to read out.

QUESTION: May I move on to a new subject? It’s on Wednesday the consul general of India, along with the chair of Diwali stamp and VP of USPS, they issued a historic forever Diwali stamp, which is a festival of lights. It’s a – we always ask you the negative – on negatives, so this is a positive.

MR KIRBY: Yes, you do.

QUESTION: So do you have anything to say on that?

MR KIRBY: Actually, I do. Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: We are pleased to note --

QUESTION: Are you – wait, wait. You have something to say about the post office issuing a forever Diwali stamp?



MR KIRBY: Are you writing down? Are you ready?

QUESTION: Why didn’t you start with that, John?

QUESTION: Word for word. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: We’re actually very pleased to note that the U.S. Postal Service commemorated the Hindu festival of Diwali with a forever stamp. As you know, that stamp was unveiled at the Indian consulate in New York on Wednesday. The post service – the Postal Service receives approximately 40,000 suggestions for stamp ideas annually from the public; 25 suggestions are selected by the committee for the Postmaster General’s approval. And as millions around the world celebrate Diwali at the end of the month, we certainly wish them the best.

QUESTION: Anything to say about Kashmir? Two nuclear-armed countries that have fought three wars --

QUESTION: There’s going to be a (inaudible).

QUESTION: -- you have tensions rising. Anything?

MR KIRBY: We’ve been talking about that all week.

QUESTION: Have you got anything to say about that today?

MR KIRBY: Well, we continue to want the two sides to work this out, to have dialogue and to work out the issue.

QUESTION: But you still haven’t confirmed that there was a surgical strike from India to Pakistan.

MR KIRBY: I’d let Indian authorities speak to that. What we want to see is the tensions de-escalate.

QUESTION: Can I ask you – this is going to be very brief, I know --

MR KIRBY: I’m going to have to get down here soon.

QUESTION: Yeah, this is – but there was a story this morning – I don’t know if you saw it, an AP story – about the importation or the sales, online sales of an, opioids called carfentanil, which is very dangerous and is responsible for all sorts of overdoses in the United States, all over North America, actually all over the world. I’m just wondering, in the story it talks about U.S. efforts as well as the efforts of others to crack down on this kind of thing, on this kind of sale, this kind of commerce. And I’m just wondering if you can give any kind of an update as to where – how far – where and how far you think you’ve gotten with the Chinese on this.

MR KIRBY: I cannot, Matt. I’m going to have to take that question.

QUESTION: Okay. If there was a stamp for Lunar New Year, would you have something to say about that?

MR KIRBY: I suppose if there was one, but --


MR KIRBY: -- I’m not aware of one.

QUESTION: You should have a stamp for just Rwanda.

QUESTION: Taking the temperature again of U.S.-Russian relations, something harkening back to the Cold War era, now the Russians are saying that they’re considering plans to restore military bases in Vietnam and Cuba in light of the improved relations between Vietnam and Cuba with the United States. How do you perceive these potential developments?

MR KIRBY: I would say a couple of things on that. I mean, these – obviously, overseas basing is – those are sovereign decisions that two states need to work out. We have overseas bases. Other – and there are obviously other nations around the world that also possess and hold overseas bases. That’s not uncommon.

I can’t speak for the motivation that might be driving. If, in fact, they are – I’ve seen the press reporting, but if in fact they are pursuing that, that’s – those are decisions, motivations that they need to speak to, not me. There’s – we have obviously good relations with Vietnam, and we’re trying to now get into a position where we can have better relations with Cuba. I mean, the normalization process is only just getting started. There’s a long way to go.

But these are obviously decisions that states need to work out amongst themselves, and there’s no – I mean, depending on the purpose behind it, there’s no great sense of angst here by one nation looking to explore the notion of overseas basing. It really goes to – it really goes to intent, and only they can speak to intent.

QUESTION: There was no – there would be “no great sense of angst” about having a Russian base in Cuba again?

MR KIRBY: I think – look, this is a – these are decisions that Russian leaders and Cuban leaders would need to work out. The fact is we have overseas bases ourselves, and we’re very comfortable with our overseas presence. And it’s not uncommon for other nations to do that. So I think they would have to speak for the motivation here.

QUESTION: Can I ask you --


QUESTION: -- on Vietnam? I think you may be ready for it. The Vietnamese Government today declared a California-based group as terrorists. Do you have any – have they raised this with the United States directly, or is this just something that they’ve said, or are you doing anything about this?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I’m going to have to take that. I haven’t seen that.


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: I’ve got – I’ve really got to go.

QUESTION: John, so can I --

QUESTION: On North Korea.

QUESTION: New subject?

QUESTION: Could you comment on the Nobel Prize?

MR KIRBY: On the what?

QUESTION: The Secretary (inaudible.)

QUESTION: On the fact that the Colombian President received the Nobel Prize. Would you comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, we – the Secretary put a statement out.

QUESTION: I understand, but --

MR KIRBY: I would point you to that. I mean, obviously we --

QUESTION: -- no, on the fact that there were two parties to this concluded peace deal, but they gave it to the President and not to the rebels. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: That’s a decision that the Nobel committee makes, Said. Obviously, we congratulate President Santos for his selection.

QUESTION: John, one more?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: So a spokesperson from North Korea hinted at a further provocative action and said that the U.S. will face a gruesome reality in the near future. We were wondering if you had any reaction to this statement and how you see North Korea’s recent activities.

MR KIRBY: The same way we have seen North Korean provocative activities, which we continue to condemn and to call for them to take the tension down on the peninsula, not add to it through rhetoric and through action. We obviously take their words seriously, because they have proven willing to conduct provocative activity in the past. That’s why we continue to work with the international community on the potential for even stiffer sanctions going forward inside the UN.

QUESTION: And, sorry, there’s been reports of some increased activity at a North Korean launch site and there’s a possibility that a nuclear test or missile launch may happen tomorrow or the day after. Has the U.S. seen any signs of this and is the U.S. preparing for this possible --

MR KIRBY: I mean, we’ve certainly seen reports about that, but I – as you know, I don’t talk about intelligence matters here from --

QUESTION: But it is the 10th anniversary, I think, of the North Korean nuclear program, isn’t it? So is there extra concern? Is this a period that you’re watching very closely?

MR KIRBY: I think we’re always concerned about the potential for their provocative --

QUESTION: Is this a heightened period?

MR KIRBY: We’re always concerned about the potential for their provocative activity and we’ve seen the reports on this. I’m just not in a position to --

QUESTION: All right. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: -- to confirm intelligence here from the podium. I do want to go back – one thing that you were asking me about – the Russian basing. When I say no particular angst, it’s at this point in time we just – a statement in the press like that, obviously. But what I would add to my answer to you is it’s too soon to know whether there needs to be alarm or concern about this given that it was something that they just put out in the media, so I want to clarify my answer to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: I don’t want to make it sound dismissive --


MR KIRBY: -- but it’s just too soon to know based on the information that we have, which isn’t much about their intentions. But it really does come down to the intentions of the overseas base.

QUESTION: Can you take the question – the – on the Philippines that was going to be asked before you go?

QUESTION: I just want --

MR KIRBY: I’ll take this; it’ll have to be the last one. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the latest comments from the defense minister and the talk of a suspension – suspending joint exercises, I know we talked about, like, yesterday you were talking about – their relations are still strong, but this seems to be, like, the first tangible break. And so, have you had a reaction to that? Are you communicating with the Philippines at all about this?

MR KIRBY: I saw those comments, and we checked with our colleagues at the Defense Department. They’re not aware of any official notification of the curtailment of these activities. Here at the State Department, we are, likewise, not aware of any official notification of the curtailment. So as I said yesterday and as I’ve said I think every day that we’ve talked about this since, that we’re focused on the very real, very significant security commitments we have through our alliance with the Philippines. And we think comments like this, whether they are or will be backed up by actual action or not, are really at odds with the closeness of the relationships that we have with the people of the Philippines and which we fully intend to continue.

Guys, I’ve got to go. I got to go. Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:18 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - October 6, 2016

Thu, 10/06/2016 - 17:18

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 6, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:11 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. Okay, just quickly if I could on the hurricane: As you all are I’m sure seeing, it continues to move through the Caribbean, with the brunt of the storm today hitting the Bahamas. At this time, we’re not aware of any deaths or injuries to U.S. citizens overseas as a result of the storm. But of course, we’re monitoring the situation as closely as we can and we stand ready to provide all consular – all possible consular assistance.

As the storm passes through the region, some of our embassies remain closed for routine services while others have reopened. We’re going to post updates on the status of operations on our website, I encourage you to check that out, as it’s a very dynamic environment and the information on there changes throughout the day. So please do go there first if you want the latest.

I would stress, however, that even if closed for routine services, we have been and we will continue to provide emergency consular services to U.S. citizens that are in need, drawing on both embassy staff in the affected countries and support staff here at the department. So we recognize the need to keep our people safe, obviously, and to keep them out of harm’s way. But that doesn’t mitigate our obligations to U.S. citizens overseas, and we’ll do everything we can to staff those needs as best as possible.

We’re going to continue, obviously, to watch what happens here over the next several days, and we’re going to stay actively in touch with governments in the region to provide assistance and humanitarian relief. I think you know that the USAID – the Agency for International Development – has requested the unique capabilities of DOD to help support their efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to communities that are cut off by the storm, especially in the hard-hit southwestern peninsula of Haiti. As a result, the U.S. military deployed a joint task force from U.S. Southern Command to support USAID’s disaster relief efforts by providing logistics and airlift capacity to deliver critical supplies and humanitarian personnel. USAID has deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team, an elite team of disaster experts, to Haiti, Jamaica, and the Bahamas. And yesterday, USAID conducted an aerial assessment mission aboard a U.S. Coast Guard plane over the southwest region of Haiti in particular.

As you know, we remain committed to working with governments and partners in the region to provide lifesaving assistance as the Caribbean continues to recover from the hurricane. As I said, we’ll stay very much on top of this.


QUESTION: Thank you. But you don’t have anything new in terms of money, USAID activity to announce for today, no?

MR KIRBY: I don’t, no.

QUESTION: Okay, let’s start with Syria.


QUESTION: First of all, I’m curious to know if there is any update on the suspended yet ongoing bilateral engagement with Russia on this issue. Has there been a new non-communication between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR KIRBY: No, there’s not been any communication between the Secretary and the foreign minister since yesterday. And I would remind that bilateral cooperation between the United States and Russia with respect to the cessation of hostilities remains suspended, and a phone call doesn’t mitigate that.

QUESTION: Okay. And there hasn’t been – as far as you know, there hasn’t been any other – any – even though they haven’t spoken person-to-person, minister-to-minister, there hasn’t been any other engagement?

MR KIRBY: Between the United States and Russia on this? No.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. So where – where does that leave us now? Is --

QUESTION: Can I clarify one thing on that?


QUESTION: Because it wasn’t 100 percent clear to me given what your colleague, Josh Earnest, said this morning. Was the topic of Syria broached at all in that conversation yesterday?

MR KIRBY: Of course it was.

QUESTION: Okay. So your point is just that it was not in the context of bilateral cooperation, but – right? Or have – because if it was broached but you’ve suspended the bilateral cooperation, then I want to understand kind of what – how exactly it came up yesterday.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I think – and I think Mark walked you through this – there were three principal topics that they discussed. One was Syria; one was Ukraine; and the other, of course, was DPRK and our work inside the UN to pursue additional sanctions on the regime. The discussion on Syria focused on two things principally. One was the situation in Aleppo and the Secretary’s obvious and deep concern about the continued siege there and also about the potential to continue multilateral efforts to discuss the way ahead. And that’s – and that’s basically it. We certainly, when we said we were suspending U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement on the cessation of hostilities and the work to that end in Syria, there was never any expectation that the two foreign ministers wouldn’t speak about Syria again. And certainly, if we’re going to continue multilateral efforts, which we fully intend to do, whether it’s with the ISSG or other partners or through the UN, there’s no way you can do that without including Russia in that discussion.

QUESTION: So and just – so are you trying to set up a meeting, for example? I mean, you’re talking about bilateral discussions. Are you trying to set up a meeting with other countries including Russia on this?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on the schedule to speak to today, but I certainly wouldn’t rule out the fact that there will be attempts and efforts through multi – through a multilateral fora to meet again and to try to work through this. I certainly wouldn’t rule that out.

QUESTION: And just one other one. Given the failure of the previous efforts and given the main thing that you guys argued was that the carrot or the leverage you had was Russia’s eagerness for intelligence-sharing cooperation, et cetera, the JIC, what makes you think they’re going to be any more likely to work to halt or reduce the violence in a multilateral context absent those incentives than they were when they had the incentives on the table?

MR KIRBY: We don’t know. We don’t know. That’s a call for them to make if they’re interested or willing in participating in a multilateral discussion or not. But speaking for Secretary Kerry, I can tell you that he fully intends to use multilateral efforts available to him, whether it’s the ISSG or the UN or something separate and distinct. Tom Shannon was in Berlin at the invitation of the German Government just yesterday to – a smaller but still multilateral discussion about Syria. The Secretary has every intent to continue to use those vehicles as best he can.

But we don’t know whether Russia will come to those sessions. We don’t know whether they will do so --

QUESTION: They weren’t (inaudible) yesterday.

MR KIRBY: -- in a constructive and productive way.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. And is there anything that you are doing to try to stop Aleppo from falling to the government, the Russian-backed government offensive, or have you kind of written it off?

MR KIRBY: Nobody is writing off Aleppo. I think everybody’s deeply troubled and concerned about what appears to be a very continued, concerted, and if – and increased effort by the regime to conduct a siege and to take Aleppo. But --

QUESTION: Yeah. Are you doing anything to stop it?

MR KIRBY: Well, we obviously are continuing – another reason why, as I said, they – Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Secretary spoke yesterday was the Secretary was expressing our concerns about what’s going on in Aleppo. We’re not turning a blind eye to that. And we still want – the short answer to your question is we’re still interested in pursuing a cessation of hostilities that can endure nationwide, and certainly in Aleppo. It’s just that now we’re going to have to pursue that goal through a multilateral effort and not any longer solely through a bilateral effort with Russia.

QUESTION: And are you willing to prefer those same incentives that you offered the Russians before?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of discussions inside the multilateral effort that we’re now going to have to rely on.

QUESTION: So I’m trying to get to my – the second part of my question, which was the famous menu of options that the Administration is now considering. Just briefly on two potential ones – one is the military option, an option that presumably would involve some kind of actual – kinetic military activity, as you like to call it. You will have seen that the Russians warned you guys today not to do that. And I’m just wondering, is there any – do they have good reason to issue such a warning? Do you take such a warning seriously? Do you think that if that option is taken, that it could lead to an overt U.S.-Russia military confrontation?

MR KIRBY: Well, nobody wants to see an escalation in violence or tensions between the United States and Russia on this issue. And as we’ve said many times, we still don’t believe a military solution is the right approach, that --

QUESTION: Doesn’t necessarily have to be a solution, but it could be just a move to get towards what the solution might be.

MR KIRBY: What I would tell you, Matt, is we continue to have an active discussion in the United States Government about options before us in Syria. And as I said, I think a week or so ago, not all of those options revolve around diplomacy. And that remains the case today. And I’ve seen the comments out of Moscow. Those comments notwithstanding, that conversation inside the U.S. Government continues.

QUESTION: All right. And then on the second – or one of the other options, which is that there’s – even they’re in recess, Congress seems to be – at least some in Congress seem to be chomping at the bit to put new sanctions on people who are – on countries that are supporting the Assad regime. And my question is this: Does the Administration support that kind of legislation, or even if – and even if you do, do you think that it’s unnecessary because you already have the tools through previous executive orders and previous legislation to do it?

MR KIRBY: I don't want to get ahead of the decision-making process or the discussions that are being had. I would simply go back and say that a robust discussion of alternatives and options continues to be had inside the government. That hasn’t changed. And there’s many different tools, many different alternatives that can and should be discussed. I don't want to speculate about any one in particular. I would just tell you that the Commander-in-Chief, the President remains open to hearing all ideas and to having a fair and honest discussion about the potential for those ideas. But again, I think it’s – so again, I’m not going to get ahead of those discussions or decisions and we’ll continue --

QUESTION: Okay. I think you misunderstood my question.

MR KIRBY: We will continue to stay in touch with members of Congress as appropriate here in terms of the way forward. But we still believe – this is an important point – we still believe that a diplomatic approach and a diplomatic solution is the best way forward.

QUESTION: Okay. I think you misunderstood my question. My question is not what option are you going to take. My question is whether you think, in considering the option of sanctions, which I presume you wouldn’t – you’re not going to take off the table right now – so if – when you consider or when the people who are doing the considering consider that option, do they go into it, that consideration, of the opinion that no new legislation or no new authorities are necessary, that you can go ahead and do that? Or do you think – would you welcome a move by Congress to pass new legislation?

MR KIRBY: I don't know that the discussions have advanced to a level where we have answers to all those questions right now. We’re – we certainly share the concerns by many members of Congress about what’s going on, and we’re going to stay in close contact with them and dialogue with them going forward. But I just don’t want to get ahead of where we are in the process right now.

QUESTION: Let me just follow up on the statement made by Brigadier General Konashenkov, the spokesman for the ministry of defense. He said that they have the 300 and the 400 and it’ll come out surprisingly and so on. Does that give you pause in contemplating a military option?

MR KIRBY: Again, Said, I don't want to – I think it’s safe to assume that we’re looking at a full range of options here. And those comments notwithstanding, we still have a responsibility as a government to consider all those options. What we’ve also said is that none of the other options that we’ve talked about to date are any better or can lead – we don’t believe will lead to a better outcome than what we’re trying to pursue through diplomacy. And we’re still trying. Even though we’re suspending bilateral cooperation with Russia, we’re still trying to pursue diplomatic solutions here. And so I just don’t want to – I don’t think it’s useful or helpful for me to speculate one way or the other about these comments and the threats that they might embody. We have a responsibility to the Syrian people, to our allies and partners, and we take that responsibility seriously. And we’re approaching this conversation inside the government with that in mind.

QUESTION: Do you consider those comments to be belligerent or provocative?

MR KIRBY: I just – I don’t think – comments like that are certainly – we don’t find them helpful to moving forward to reach some sort of diplomatic solution here, but the Russians should speak for themselves and why they’re saying that kind of thing.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you a couple of things on what de Mistura said today. He appealed to the Syrians and the Russians to halt attacks, to halt advancement and attacks in exchange for al-Nusrah pulling out of eastern Aleppo. First of all, is – can that be done? I mean, could anyone sort of press upon al-Nusrah – Jabhat al-Nusrah to pull out of eastern Aleppo? And second, I mean, then what? What if it happens? Would Nusrah remain as a fair game, in terms of being a target?

MR KIRBY: So a couple of thoughts here.


MR KIRBY: First of all, I can’t speak for al-Nusrah and what they’re willing to do or able to do. That’s – what I can say is they have been a spoiler here.


MR KIRBY: They have been an obstacle to peace in Syria.

QUESTION: Besides (inaudible) you have been targeting them.

MR KIRBY: And there’s no question about that and they still remain --


MR KIRBY: -- because they’re – they are al-Qaida in Syria and remain outside the cessation of hostilities from the time it was conceived until today. So they’re absolutely not going – they’re not part of any effort that we would endeavor to achieve a cessation of hostilities. But I’m not going to – I can’t possibly answer a hypothetical about whether they would go and under what conditions they would go and whether or not they would – what force might be a raid against them. They remain outside the cessation of hostilities, and I see no change to that, one way or another, based on their status as a UN-designated foreign terrorist organization.

QUESTION: Now, let me ask you – you don’t like hypotheticals, but let me ask you a hypothetical question. (Laughter.) I’m sorry. I know --

MR KIRBY: It’s okay. They’re easy to answer.

QUESTION: In the event that a strike is decided upon and you take out certain, let’s say, runways or military facilities and so on, it would be just a punishment or would it be a la Desert Fox back in 1998 in Iraq? Or would it be something that is sustained to basically – like Libya, to overthrow the regime?

MR KIRBY: Said, you’re well ahead of any decisions, at least that have been made to date here, on the U.S. side. I can’t even begin to entertain that question. We still believe a diplomatic approach is the best one. Yes, inside the government, we continue to have conversations about options. Not all of those options, as I’ve said, revolve around diplomacy. It would be irresponsible for us not to think about other tools available to us to change the situation on the ground in Syria.

But we’ve also said that military options, whether they’re a no-fly zones, a safe zone, whatever you want to call them, they bear risk. They expend resources. And they’re certainly, just by dint of the fact that they’re military, are going to not de-escalate the tension, not going to bring down the violence necessarily. That doesn’t mean they’re off the table. It just means that, in consideration of them, we have to factor all of that in. But your question gets well, well ahead of where we are right now, and I couldn’t possibly answer it.

QUESTION: So you said in response to one of the earlier questions that we have a responsibility to the Syrian people. Is that – what kind of responsibility is that? That’s a moral responsibility or does the Administration believe it’s got some – does the Administration have some other --

MR KIRBY: No, I was talking about obviously a moral responsibility --

QUESTION: -- a humanitarian responsibility?

MR KIRBY: -- and when you have a half a million people killed and gassed by their own government --

QUESTION: Okay. No, I just wanted to know if you were talking about something else.

MR KIRBY: I wasn’t trying to be a lawyer, no.



QUESTION: Yeah. Human Rights Watch has made public a letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi and they say there that, quote, “Any armed forces implicated in laws of war violations,” unquote, particularly the Hashd al-Shaabi, should not participate in the battle for – to liberate Mosul. Is anything being done to address their concerns?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think that’s a, first of all, question better put to the Abadi government. And I don’t want to speak for Prime Minister Abadi, but I think it’s fair to go back and talk about how – what he has said, and how we have publicly supported what he said, that these popular militia units – these Popular Mobilization Forces, excuse me – they have been useful in helping expel Daesh from areas of Iraq and they will continue to be useful. But we’ve long said that they need to be part of Iraqi organizational command structure, and they have been to a degree that satisfies Prime Minister Abadi, because this is his country. And we fully expect that they will have a role to play going forward.

Now, I think he’s also said – he’s been very clear about what role they won’t play in terms of Mosul, but I – again, I don’t want to get ahead of campaign planning here.

QUESTION: In terms of the role they’re playing, is it that they’re not going to enter Mosul but might be --

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to – the Mosul campaign plan is an Iraqi campaign plan, and Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi Government should speak to how they’re going to implement that campaign plan. It’s theirs. I’m not – certainly, you know I don’t like talking about military operations, and I certainly don’t like to talk about future military operations. They have – the PMF have played a role in Iraq. I suspect that they will continue to play a role. Exactly what that role is going forward in Mosul is not for me to say; it’s not for Prime Minister Abadi to describe.

QUESTION: Maybe I can formulate the question more State Department-like.

MR KIRBY: You can try. You’ll probably get the same answer, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Have you raised with the Abadi government the problem of these abuses that the Hashd al-Shaabi have committed and preventing them in the future?

MR KIRBY: We have – the short answer is yes, but that doesn’t mean that our hand was forced to do it. Prime Minister Abadi himself has expressed deep concerns about reports and allegations of violations of human rights in the conduct of operations in Iraq. In fact, he – I think this report was referring to allegations revolving around the operations in Fallujah, and the prime minister has talked about those exact allegations. And they have launched an investigation and they’ve been very honest and open about that. So of course, we’ve discussed it with the prime minister and his government, but it’s not like we had to bring it up. I mean, he was aware of these allegations on his own and launched an investigation on his own.


QUESTION: If we can go back to Syria – and sorry, this is from a little bit earlier in the week, and so I apologize if it’s already been addressed. But I was wondering if you had a response to the Russian Government blaming – putting blame on the U.S. for the shelling of the Russian embassy in Damascus.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know if it’s been addressed or not. There’s no truth to it. Okay?


QUESTION: India. Thank you, sir. Two questions. One, a team of Pakistani officials have been going around town defending that Pakistan is not behind attacks in India and also nuclear issues. And among other things, it’s a kind of propaganda against each other countries, I would say, and they had yesterday at Atlantic, today at the Stimson Center, and among others.

My question is here that in recent days, starting actually – going back to General Musharraf, when he said that Pakistan’s nuclear bomb is not a wedding gift but it will be used against India, now same – other officials after him are repeating the same thing, that nuclear bomb will be – we will use the nuclear bomb against India. My question here is, one, if Pakistan nuclear bomb is safe from the terrorists because those terrorists also talking the same language and attacking India.

And second, there is a issue now, what they are saying core issue is only Kashmir, but nothing. My question is: Which Kashmir are we talking about – Kashmir in India, Kashmir occupied by Pakistan, or Kashmir occupied by China? Second question.

MR KIRBY: All right. Well, on the first one, I think we’ve said before we’re confident that Pakistan has the security controls they need to have in place on their arsenal, and I’d let them speak to that more specifically. I wouldn’t get into that.

And on the Kashmir issue, our position has not changed. We want this to be worked out between both sides, the issue of Kashmir. And generally, generally speaking, I mean, we obviously want to see the tensions that exist right now be brought down and for dialogue to take its place – meaningful dialogue to try to address these issues bilaterally between the countries. Okay?


QUESTION: One more, I’m sorry.

MR KIRBY: One more? You said two.

QUESTION: Sorry. There is a bill going on in the U.S. Congress and also petition online that U.S. should declare Pakistan a terrorist state, because it also happened during President Clinton in the ’90s – same thing – the Congress. So if there is this bill because of these ongoing terrorist activities and all those – so if you are aware of this or – would you support this?

MR KIRBY: I have not seen anything specifically about the – such a bill, and obviously we don’t – I’m not going to comment on whatever pending legislation may be coming in that regard. What we – what I would say is common threat, common challenge in the region, and we’re going to continue to work with Pakistan, with Afghanistan, and the Secretary just came back from Brussels and the Afghanistan conference in Brussels. We’re going to continue to work with – and obviously it’s a threat to the Indian people as well.

So we’re going to continue to work with the governments in the region to try to address these common threats and challenges, and we’ve always said that more can be done about the safe havens and that’s – we’re going to, again, try to work as cooperatively as we can to that end.

QUESTION: Can I just make a question – comment – that is: As far as this conflict between India and Pakistan, my view personal for the last 25, 30 years, that there is a shop open in both countries by the politicians in India and military – by the military in Pakistan. They do not want to resolve and solve this issue, because they have sent their children overseas – UK, U.S., and other – so they don’t worry about their children or family will be killed and they want to let the innocent people get killed in both countries.

MR KIRBY: Well, Goyal, I don’t have your long history and – with the region. I didn’t grow up there. So I’m not going to – I mean, I respect that that’s your view, but I would respectfully, and I mean respectfully, offer a different one from our perspective.

There have been Indian children and Pakistani children and Afghan children that have been maimed and murdered at the hands of terrorists for many, many years – not just the last 15, but going well before that. But let’s just talk about the last 15 years. There’s a heck of a lot of women without soldier husbands anymore, and widowers without wives anymore. The killing has gone on for long enough and I just absolutely disagree – I fundamentally, with all respect to you, disagree that leaders in those countries don’t care because they’re sending their children outside the country. Maybe some of them do. They want them to get educations outside the country; that’s not unusual. But that’s a far cry from saying that they don’t care about the children of their countries and their families and their society, because that is just not our view in talking to leaders across the spectrum of both governments. That they actually – they do care.

Now, obviously there are still differences of opinion that exist between them; and as I said earlier, we want them to work through those differences. We have differences with many countries too, and we continue to try to work through them to the best we – the best we’re able to. And that’s all we’re asking, that’s all we’re hoping, that’s all we’re expecting for leaders in India and Pakistan to do as well. But I – we don’t think for a minute – we don’t believe for a minute that they don’t take the challenges before them seriously or the lives and security of their children.


MR KIRBY: Yeah. Nike.

QUESTION: John, can we stay in Asia? Philippines.


QUESTION: So your favorite person, Duterte. He --

MR KIRBY: My favorite person is Mark Toner. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: What the hell was that big (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: My least favorite.

QUESTION: You should not --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: You should never, never, never admit to who your favorites are. “One of.”

MR KIRBY: Sorry. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: It was funny, though.

MR KIRBY: It was funny. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Right, so he – today he said, if the United States is going to withdraw their assistance, quote, “Go ahead, we will not beg for it.”

First of all, I would like to get your comments on that. And then, is there any discussion within the – within this building to suspend the assistance to Philippines?

MR KIRBY: So look, we’ve seen these comments and I have spoken to this rhetoric before. It obviously – we believe, frankly, is at odds with the very close relationship that the United States continues to enjoy with the Philippines and the American people continue to enjoy with the Filipino people. And I can only speak for our side of this and tell you that we remain committed to that relationship and to our very real commitments on a security perspective to – to the Philippines. What we’re focused on now are the assistance efforts that are in place and ensuring that they best – sorry – that they best benefit the Philippine people and are compliant with U.S. laws and regulations. We continue to focus on our broad relationship with the Philippines and we’ll work together in the many areas of mutual interest.

QUESTION: So am I right to read as there’s no discussion to suspend the assistance?

MR KIRBY: As I told you, we’re focused on the assistance that we’re providing now. And look, in Fiscal Year ’17 alone that assistance totals about $180 million, and that’s this fiscal year coming, and we’re committed to that. That’s – I think that’s the best way I can answer the question.

QUESTION: How does the United States ensure that the $180 million for – part of it is used for law enforcement – will not be used for – in their hand for extrajudicial killing?

MR KIRBY: Well, because there’s a law called the Leahy Law that requires us to routinely and regularly vet security forces that are getting aid and assistance to make sure that any units that violate international law in that regard do not get aid and assistance. That’s a very robust program. We – it’s a law – obviously, we follow the law. It’s a law we strongly believe in. And whether it’s in the Philippines or anywhere around the world, that review process is near continuous and it will remain so.

QUESTION: Senator Leahy --

QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up on the Philippines?


QUESTION: Just – are you dismayed to see the comments not by President Duterte, but by the Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, who said that the country was compelled to realign Philippine foreign policy and not to submit to U.S. demands and interests? And he also referred to Duterte’s desire to liberate the country from what the foreign secretary called a, quote, “shackling dependency,” close quote, on the United States. Are you concerned that comments that are not perhaps helpful to the relationship are now emanating from significant lower-level officials?

MR KIRBY: Again, I think we’re mindful of the rhetoric, but we believe that it is at odds with the kind of cooperation that we have right now and which we’re focusing on and implementing now. And it certainly isn’t – those kinds of comments aren’t in keeping with what we see every day as the strong relationship between our two countries and between the American people and the Philippine people, and we’re focused on that continuing.

So, I mean, I’m – as I try to do elsewhere in other areas, I’m not going to – I don’t know that it’s useful to parse every bit of nuance – or, I’m sorry, every bit of rhetoric that comes out of there. What I can tell you is that in practicality, as you and I talk today, that cooperation continues. Those government contacts continue. The military-to-military relationship remains strong. Tangibly speaking, every indication that we get is that the Philippine side is committed to the relationship as well.

QUESTION: Yeah. It wasn’t so long ago, though – I mean, it was quite recently that we were in Manila with the Secretary, and he had a long meeting with the foreign minister – the foreign secretary. And I just wonder, did you get a hint of this from him in that meeting? Or is this something that may have just started with the president and is now filtering its way down the chain? Because as I recall, at least in their opening, at the beginning of their meeting, it was all sunshine and happiness. There was no hint, at least publicly. Was there any in private?

MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of, Matt. I do recall that meeting and the discussions afterward, and my understanding is that that was a very accurate reflection of the tone and tenor of the meeting --

QUESTION: Sunshine and happiness? Was that --

MR KIRBY: Your words, not mine. I would not – I – for the transcript, I don’t want it to say that I said “sunshine and happiness.” But I mean, look, there’s a lot of – but it is – but we have – look, five of our seven treaty alliances are in the Pacific region. One of them is with the Philippines. And we take that very seriously and we’re going to continue to take that very seriously. And the meetings that the Secretary had in the Philippines reinforced that for him, and again, nothing that we’re seeing today tangibly would change our mind about that.

We’ll go back here. Said, behind you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. On Bangladesh.


QUESTION: Secretary Kerry visited Bangladesh a month back, and it was a significant visit. He met the ruling prime minister and the main opposition leader, Begum Zia and the Sheikh Hasina, and she – he urged – he offered assistance for rescue Bangladesh from the international terrorist threat and he urged government to back to democracy as to uphold the – so to uphold the democratic values and human rights, as Bangladesh is planning by the – an elected government. So what action has been taken from the Bangladesh Government side to rescue Bangladesh from the international terrorist threat and to – back to democracy and ensure voting rights of Bangladesh people?

MR KIRBY: Well, what I would tell you is that we remain in close dialogue with Bangladesh. And as the government continues to determine what assistance it requires from the United States, we stand ready to provide that support. Just earlier this year the fifth U.S.-Bangladesh Partnership – at the U.S. – at the fifth U.S.-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue we announced Bangladesh’s participation in the U.S. Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, which will enable Bangladesh and the United States to expand our bilateral counterterrorism partnership and support programs to advance collaboration.

Additionally, we support the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, of which Bangladesh is a pilot country. This funding will support grassroots projects to strengthen communities’ resilience to violent extremism. We’re also working with Bangladesh police on community policing projects, to increase economic opportunities for vulnerable youth, and to help community leaders on conflict mitigation.

So in addition to critical programs like this, we’ve continued cooperation with the Government of Bangladesh on other important programs such as Feed the Future, Global Health, and the Global Climate Change Presidential Initiative. So there’s a lot of work being done bilaterally between the United States and Bangladesh, and we look forward to seeing that continue.


QUESTION: I was just wondering if you had a readout between Deputy Secretary Blinken and South Korean Deputy National Security Cho Tae-yong’s meeting this morning.

MR KIRBY: I think I do. But I have to find it in the book.

QUESTION: Moving from South Asia to East Asia. (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Well, when you have this many tabs.

QUESTION: Think how hard it would be if you had no tabs. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Fair point. I can’t argue that.

The deputy secretary did meet with the Republic of Korea Deputy National Security Advisor Cho Tae-yong. They discussed regional security issues, including the international response to the latest DPRK nuclear test and the importance of close coordination between the United States and the ROK. It was a good meeting; good, constructive meeting.

In the back there. I’ll get to you in a second.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. On Mexico. Speaking of the Leahy Law, as you just did, could you elaborate a little bit on the State Department thinking behind the decision to restore aid to Mexico, aid that was suspended last year because of the human rights situation? And I would say that the human rights situation is as bad this year as it was last. What was the thinking that went on at the State Department to make that recommendation?

MR KIRBY: Yep, hang on a second here. Actually, you know what --


MR KIRBY: -- I think I’m going to have to take that question. Hang on. What I would say is – I’m going to take the question and get back to you with more detail, but we are aware that Mexico has launched an ambitious effort to modernize and reform its law enforcement and justice system. These commitments, we believe, are central to the protection of human rights and the rule of law. U.S. cooperation under the Merida Initiative provides support for this critical endeavor. Human rights challenges remain, and we are committed to supporting Mexico’s own efforts to increase respect for human rights. But let me get back to you with a more detailed answer to this.


MR KIRBY: Yeah, Said.

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


QUESTION: Okay. I have a couple questions. Yesterday the Israeli navy boarded a boat, Zaytouna, in international waters, 33 miles from Gaza. Thirteen women were on board, including an American. Would you consider that to be an act of piracy?

MR KIRBY: Look, we have – I think we’ve talked about this.

QUESTION: I understand. But they – I mean, they boarded it, they took them by force to another port, they apprehended them, they put them in prison overnight. So --

MR KIRBY: What I would say is we underscore the need for international support for Gaza’s recovery. We want to see that done through appropriate channels – I think we’ve said that before – that the assistance and goods destined for Gaza should be transmitted through legitimate crossing and established channels.

QUESTION: But the act of boarding a ship in international water, is that --

MR KIRBY: I am not a maritime lawyer, Said.


MR KIRBY: What we said is we understand the pressing needs in Gaza. We want to see that aid delivered through legitimate channels.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me just follow up with the statement that you guys made yesterday, which was very strong, and in fact in which you rebuke the settlement activities and so on. But it also drew an indignant response by the Israeli minister of justice, Ayelet Shaked, and she suggested that you should not be saying this; you should be focusing on what’s happening in Syria. And then she concluded by saying, “I think we need to build in Judea and Samaria,” unquote, and so on. I wonder if you would comment on that.

MR KIRBY: Again, I don’t think it’s useful from the podium to get into a running debate here. I think you’re right; our statement was very strong, it was very specific. We stand by that statement. And any assertion that we aren’t paying enough attention to Syria simply flies in the face of the facts as we’ve – now we’ve spent I don’t know how many time – how much time in the briefing today and every other day talking about Syria. So I think while we obviously aren’t happy about the situation in that country, you can bet that the Secretary remains very, very focused on it. But I think I’m going to let our statement from yesterday stand.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any official government-to-government response from the – from Israel --

MR KIRBY: I’m not.

QUESTION: -- about the – on the statement?

MR KIRBY: I’m not, other than the public statements that came --

QUESTION: Yeah, no, but I mean that you’re not aware if Dan Shapiro got --


QUESTION: -- hauled into the foreign ministry or anything like that?


QUESTION: Listen, there’s one sentence in the statement that I want to ask you about. It’s toward the end of it. It says, “Proceeding with this new settlement is another step towards cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation that is fundamentally inconsistent with Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”

Can you – you said it’s another step toward this. So can you explain, what does that mean? Are you talking about – when you say “another step,” this is just another announcement of construction that --

MR KIRBY: Yet more settlement activity.

QUESTION: Is that the only thing that is going toward cementing a one-state reality?

MR KIRBY: Well, the statement was written in the context of this additional settlement activity.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. But you – when you say another step, does that mean – you mean you’re talking about just settlements, or are you talking about other actions that the Israelis have taken?

MR KIRBY: No, it says, “Proceeding with this new settlement is another step towards cementing a one-state reality.”

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. But it’s the previous steps that, in your opinion – I mean, in what – I’m trying to figure out if the steps – the previous ones, because you say this is just the latest one, right? Or is another one. So before this, was it all settlement activity, or are there other actions that the Israeli Government has taken that you – that also – that you believe also --

MR KIRBY: I think in the context of this statement, we’re referring to settlement activity. But clearly, as we’ve said many times, what we need to see is leadership across the board moving towards a two-state solution. And taken in its totality, which is more than just settlement activity, we haven’t seen that sort of leadership exuded to get us to a two-state solution.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR KIRBY: But the statement was – the statement was written to refer to previous settlement activity.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, so do you believe then that the Israelis, in doing this – let me start by saying when you use the word “cementing,” people don’t cement things by accident, right? It’s an intentional act. So is it your belief – is the Administration – does the Administration believe that the Israeli Government is just flat-out either lying or doesn’t care about its stated commitment to a two-state solution and is, in fact, while saying publicly that that’s what they want, actually actively taking steps to cement a one-state solution?

MR KIRBY: I think, Matt, I’m going to let the statement speak for itself, and --

QUESTION: Well, you would agree though that the verb – that the word “cementing,” the gerund, “cementing” from “cement,” right, is not something that you – that happens by accident? It’s not something – it’s an – it’s doing something intentionally. So do you --

MR KIRBY: Well, clearly, the settlement activity is intentional and --

QUESTION: Right, exactly, okay. So do you think --

MR KIRBY: -- I mean, there’s – we wouldn’t have written the statement the way we did if --

QUESTION: Okay. I just – and I’m serious in just asking it. Do you think that the Government of Israel right now is intentionally moving to create a one-state solution – reality, one-state reality?

MR KIRBY: I would say that it’s hard to derive from the activity that we are seeing, and in particular the settlement activity, that this activity is at all consistent with the statements and the assertions that they support a two-state solution. It’s also, as we – as the statement says, fundamentally inconsistent with Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, that it is – that it is obviously --


MR KIRBY: -- moving the country more towards a one-state --

QUESTION: So – reality.

MR KIRBY: -- a one-state reality.

QUESTION: Right, okay. So the – so this Administration thinks that the current Israeli Government wants a perpetual occupation and does not want Israel in the future to be a Jewish and democratic state? Is that – is that correct?

MR KIRBY: We – I don’t know if I understood it correctly. We obviously want to see --

QUESTION: That the U.S. – is it correct then, judging from the sentence, that the U.S. – the Obama Administration believes that the current Government of Israel wants a perpetual occupation and a one-state reality that is not Jewish, or not Jewish and at the same time democratic?

MR KIRBY: What we’re saying is that their activities, their actions to date specifically when we’re talking about settlement activity, flies in the face of stated assertions that they are serious about a two-state solution.

QUESTION: Right. But my – I get that.

MR KIRBY: I can’t --

QUESTION: I understand --

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for what --

QUESTION: Well, but there is --

MR KIRBY: -- they want.

QUESTION: But do you think that they’re doing that because what they want is an undemocratic Jewish state that perpetually occupies Palestinian territory?

MR KIRBY: All I can go by is what they’ve said they want, and they say they want a two-state solution. What we’re saying is that this kind of activity is actually moving them in the other direction. It flies in the face of those comments.

QUESTION: But when --

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for --

QUESTION: Yeah. But when you say cementing, that means they’re actively trying to do it. And I’m just wondering if you think that the Israeli Government doesn’t see its future as being Jewish and democratic at the same time, and do you – does the Administration believe that the Israeli Government wants to perpetually occupy land that was right now claimed by the Palestinians?

MR KIRBY: We can only go by their assertions.

QUESTION: So is it --

MR KIRBY: Their assertions are that they want a two-state solution, but their actions are going in the other direction.

QUESTION: And – right.

MR KIRBY: They’re opposite to that goal.

QUESTION: But do you think that they’re doing that intentionally? I’m trying to get at what you --

MR KIRBY: I’m not able to characterize their wants and their desires. What I can tell you is we evaluate and characterize by actions, and those actions are not in keeping with the words, with their stated desires.

I’ve got to get going.

QUESTION: Would the United – would the United States support equal rights for the Palestinians for the one --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Would the United States support equal rights for the Palestinians and a one-state situation?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into a hypothetical situation, Said. What we continue to support is a two-state solution.

QUESTION: A quick one. Unfortunately, an American woman died in Ethiopia, I believe on Tuesday, when her car was hit by rocks thrown, apparently, by protesters. Can you confirm that? Can you provide any information about the name of the woman, which I think is now being reported? And do you have any reason to believe that she was targeted because she was an American, or did she just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?

MR KIRBY: There’s some I can help with, some I can’t. I can confirm the death of a U.S. citizen on the 4th of October near Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Obviously, we offer our sincerest condolences to the family and to the loved ones. We’re providing all possible consular assistance. Out of respect for the family, we must decline further comment.

And as for the situation itself, that’s really for local authorities to speak to in terms of the investigation and how they’re looking into it. It’s really for them to speak to, not us.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:02 p.m.)

DPB # 171

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Wed, 10/05/2016 - 17:36

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 5, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:26 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey, guys. Apologies for running a little late.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: (Laughter.) Yes. But I was early yesterday. Anyway, let’s get started. I’m happy to make this as quick as you want.

So let’s start off with the end of the Brussels conference today. Secretary Kerry is, of course, en route back to the United States. He concluded his participation in the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan earlier today. He reiterated the U.S.’s commitment to Afghanistan’s stability, progress, and prosperity. The conference reaffirmed the international community’s steadfast support for Afghanistan’s continued development, and at the conclusion of the conference, the international partners confirmed their intention to provide $15.2 billion in support of Afghanistan’s development priorities from 2017 to 2020.

Also wanted to note today the United States joins more than 40 nations to issue a Joint Declaration for the Export and Subsequent Use of Armed or Strike-Enabled UAVs, unmanned aerial systems. The declaration’s a political commitment by its signatories that underscores growing international consensus that UAVs are subject to international law and stresses the need for transparency about exports and represents, we believe, an important first step towards comprehensive international standards for the transfer and subsequent use of UAVs. This joint declaration will serve as the basis for discussions on a more detailed set of international standards for the export and subsequent use of armed or strike-enabled UAVs, which the United States and its partners will convene in the spring of 2017. These discussions will be open to all countries, even if they chose not to join the joint declaration.


MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- can I ask you about that?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Are you physically unable to pronounce the word “drone?”

MR TONER: (Laughter.) “Drone.”

QUESTION: There you go. Okay. Thank you. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: As a world leader in the development and deployment of military UAVs, the United States seeks to promote efforts to ensure the responsible export and subsequent use of this rapidly developing technology.

Finally, I know many of you were on the call earlier today, but regarding the effects of Hurricane Matthew, we obviously continue to track its path very closely. President Obama spoke to the impact of the hurricane this morning, and as I noted, we held an on-the-record call. The – earlier today the U.S. Agency for International Development announced an additional $1 million in humanitarian assistance, including food vouchers, food rations, cash transfers, and meals at evacuation shelters for communities in Haiti that were affected by Hurricane Matthew. This brings the total USAID humanitarian assistance for regional Hurricane Matthew relief efforts to 1.5 million.

This new funding comes the day after USAID activated its Disaster Assistant Response Team in the Central Caribbean. This team has deployed to Haiti, to Jamaica, and to the Bahamas, where they’re continuing, with the governments of the affected countries and the humanitarian organizations on the ground, to bring vital humanitarian assistance to those in need.

We continue to advise U.S. citizens in affected areas to make preparations immediately to shelter in place in a secure location and to follow the emergency instructions provided by local authorities. Matt, I don’t know if you got up-to-date information about the embassies that you’d asked about yesterday.


MR TONER: You’re good? Okay. If anybody else is interested, Embassy Nassau closed for routine consular services October 5th through 7th. The airports in Nassau and Freeport remain open. In the Dominican Republic, Embassy Santo Domingo is open with limited operations October 4th, and American Citizen Services has officers present to assist any U.S. citizens. And finally, Haiti – Port-au-Prince is closed for routine consular services October 4th and 5th and has advised U.S. citizens to shelter in place.

I think that’s all I have. So over to you, Matt.

QUESTION: All right, let’s just start with Syria first.


QUESTION: So the Russian foreign ministry says that Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov spoke again today about Syria. Is that correct?

MR TONER: They did, earlier today.

QUESTION: All right. I’m very, very confused. I thought --

MR TONER: Don’t be confused.

QUESTION: -- just two days ago you said that they – that this bilateral contact had been suspended. That’s a quick suspension unless the situation on the ground has changed.

MR TONER: No – look, Matt.

QUESTION: I mean, do you guys actually do anything that you say? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: Come on, Matt.


MR TONER: No, I mean, look. Engagement remains – so what we talked about the other day was bilateral engagement with regard to Syria. That remains suspended, but it certainly doesn’t preclude the two foreign – the two – well, the Secretary of State and Foreign Minister Lavrov from talking.

QUESTION: That’s – you don’t consider that to be engagement?

MR TONER: That’s not. And we’ve been very clear --

QUESTION: Well, what did they do, then? Yell at each other?

MR TONER: Well, not at all. But look, first of all, it would be irresponsible for us, given what’s happening in Aleppo, not to touch base with Foreign Minister Lavrov periodically. But also I can say in the last 24 hours Secretary Kerry has spoken to his counterparts in the UK, in Germany, in France – or not France; rather, in Germany, Turkey, the EU, and Qatar. And as you know, Under Secretary Tom Shannon is in Berlin today attending that meeting.

I would say the conversation, which also touched on Ukraine – I’m talking about the conversation he had with Foreign Minister Lavrov – also touched on Ukraine and North Korea, but it was part of those multilateral efforts now that are going to continue because we recognize they’ve got to be part of the conversation.

What happened the other day, the suspension, had to do with that particular bilateral cooperation that we had thought we had reached a conclusion on on September 10th in Geneva. That effort is suspended, but that doesn’t preclude us from talking.

QUESTION: Well, okay. Then I --

MR TONER: What’s your – go ahead.

QUESTION: I don’t get it. I mean, usually when a government comes out and says that it’s not going to talk to another government anymore about something, that means you don’t talk to them anymore. So --

MR TONER: That’s not true, Matt. And in fact, I would argue --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: I would argue to the contrary, that it would almost be irresponsible for us not to have any conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov and with the Russians going forward about the situation on the ground in Syria.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but what – but Victoria was in Moscow today.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know. But I mean, this is the big one.

MR TONER: To talk about Ukraine.

QUESTION: Right, but the big thing here, the big bilateral engagement that was going on was between the Secretary and the foreign minister.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: So if you – when you come out and you say two days ago that you’re going to suspend the engagement, and then 48 – less than 48 hours later the engagement has resumed without any change in the situation on the ground, it just looks kind of odd. No?

MR TONER: No, because --

QUESTION: Okay, it does to me.

MR TONER: -- it doesn’t change the facts on the ground, as you note. We don’t have a cessation of hostilities. We don’t have humanitarian access. We don’t have any of the elements, the core elements of that September 10th agreement in the process of being implemented or implemented. There’s no – going to be no Joint Implementation Center. None of the, if you will, carrots either for Russia – or at least what Russia proclaimed to want, that Joint Implementation Center – is moving forward as well. But I think – and I tried to stress this yesterday – while that particular bilateral channel is now suspended, we’re not going to just walk away from what’s happening in Syria. We’re going to try to – on the multilateral front, try to coordinate with likeminded partners and allies and stakeholders, and that includes Russia and Iran. Unfortunately, that does include them.

QUESTION: All right. So this, then, you would characterize this conversation as a bilateral engagement in a multilateral setting? Is that what you’re trying to say? Kind of like --

MR TONER: In a multilateral effort.



QUESTION: Kind of like the way you used to talk to the North Koreans? Bilaterally, as part of the Six-Party Talks? Is that – I mean, I’m just trying to figure it out, because it’s very --

MR TONER: No, no, no, I understand it. I understand it. I – look, I --

QUESTION: I just don’t understand if you --


QUESTION: -- you tell the Russians one thing and then you turn around and don’t follow through on it. I mean, that’s what it looks like to me. So I appreciate your argument that that’s not what it is, but I just think it’s very confusing.

MR TONER: Well, optics aside, what it is was simply a call. They talked about a number of issues. They did talk about the situation on the ground in Syria. My argument back to you would be it would be irresponsible for Secretary Kerry not to raise what’s happening in Syria and make our concerns clear about what’s happening there. But that doesn’t mean that --

QUESTION: Right, yeah, it may be irresponsible --

QUESTION: I know, but --

QUESTION: -- but it’s not a suspension. That means that the contact hasn’t been suspended. So that’s what I’m saying.

MR TONER: I don’t agree.

QUESTION: I’m done, so --

QUESTION: The Russians --

QUESTION: French Foreign Minister Ayrault is going to Moscow.

MR TONER: He is.

QUESTION: Is he going there bilaterally as part of this multilateral --

MR TONER: (Laughter.) Look, all right, I get it. But I mean, Foreign Minister Ayrault is trying to pursue a French proposal. I’ll leave it for them to talk about the details of it. But I think in the wake of the failure of us to implement in any meaningful way the December – or the December – the September 10th agreement, other options need to be looked at, both internally – by that I mean within the interagency in the U.S. – but also externally with all of our multilateral partners. So we’re talking to the ISSG and we’re talking to other likeminded partners and allies, and that’s pretty much the – what’s happening today in Berlin.

QUESTION: But we shouldn’t expect there to be fewer calls between the Secretary and the foreign minister?

MR TONER: I can’t predict the frequency of their contact.

QUESTION: So around about three or four a week?

MR TONER: Again, how I would characterize this is we’re not going to stop talking altogether. We were very clear about this is a suspension of bilateral cooperation with regard to Syria.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: But the --

QUESTION: But then they were on the phone talking about bilateral cooperation in Syria just today.

MR TONER: That’s not at all – that’s not at all true. They did talk about Syria briefly, the situation on the ground. Again, the Secretary would be remiss, frankly, not to raise our concerns about what’s happening there. But let’s go back to what we were talking about with bilateral cooperation. It was a nationwide, credible, cessation of hostilities. It was this Joint Implementation Center, which would have had us working with Russia to carry out strikes against Nusrah and al-Qaida. All that’s suspended right now.

QUESTION: But, Mark, you’ve been talking to the Russians for four years and we’ve seen the results this week.

MR TONER: I can’t argue that the Russians seem intent on carrying out the strikes they continue to carry out in support of Assad against – or – yeah, against the civilian population of Aleppo, and we’re going to continue to raise our serious concerns about it.

QUESTION: Why the timing now to talk about Ukraine and North Korea? I mean, is there something urgent?

MR TONER: I mean, with regard to Ukraine, certainly as Matt stole my thunder, but Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland, is in actually Moscow I believe today. She may be wheels up. I’m not sure. But specifically there --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the embassy in Moscow stole your thunder not me.

MR TONER: Just joking. But she’s there specifically to work on what we’ve made a priority, which is implementation of the Minsk Agreements.

QUESTION: Did you talk about the harassment of the U.S. diplomats?

MR TONER: I don’t know. I don’t know if that came up.

QUESTION: And on Berlin meeting, do you have any readout?

MR TONER: I don’t. I tried to get a readout. It’s just wrapping up, frankly, so I’ll try to get it. If we have something meaningful to say about it later today, we’ll get that to you guys.

QUESTION: And Secretary Kerry when he comes tomorrow, he will receive the French foreign minister. He will see him here or --

MR TONER: I’m not sure if we’ve confirmed that or announced it yet, so.

QUESTION: Russia today announced it’s suspending or terminating two more cooperation agreements with the United States as follows the decree by Vladimir Putin on Monday. What do you have on that? And what does this say about the deteriorating state of U.S.-Russian relations right now based on everything else we’ve discussed here today?

MR TONER: Yeah. I think you’re talking about some of these reports we’ve seen. We’ve just seen, frankly, media reports on this so far, so we’ve yet to receive official notification from the Russians about the suspension of an agreement on cooperation in nuclear and energy-related scientific research. If they’re accurate, we would regret the Russian decision to unilaterally suspend cooperation on what we believe is a very important issue that’s in the interest of both of our countries.

QUESTION: And how do you assess the current state of U.S.-Russian relations?

MR TONER: How do we assess it? I think our assessment is while we have failed to cooperate meaningfully in this recent effort on Syria, we continue to disagree where we disagree with Russia, and that’s on Ukraine, certainly with what’s happening in Syria right now, and in other areas. But where we can cooperate constructively, such as nuclear agreements – and in fact, the other day they suspended this Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement – that’s a real tragedy, because these are areas that we had successfully cooperated in the past. And again, it’s in the interest of our both our countries to continue those efforts.


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- on Syria. Regarding the options that U.S. Government is discussing, are you getting close to the decision? Any meetings that you can talk about?

MR TONER: I don’t want to necessarily preview some of our internal U.S. Government meetings. I’ll just say that we continue our efforts to look at different options in the range of what I talked about yesterday.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: The pro-Kurdish party in Syria, the PYD, now controls significant areas of northern Syria, and they’re going to hold a conference, they’ve said, this weekend to announce the establishment of a federal system in the three cantons that they’re now administering. What’s your position on this?

MR TONER: Well, our persistent – position rather, excuse me – has been that the future of Syria should be decided by Syrians consistent with the political transition and election process that was outlined in the UN Security Council Resolution 2254, and that resolution states that the Syrian people will decide the future of Syria and that the Geneva Communique should be the basis of a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition. Put more simply, we support the territorial integrity of Syria and we also support a unified, democratic Syria in which the rights of all groups are protected.

So in direct response to your question, we’d urge Syrian parties – all Syrian parties to work together in a manner consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 in order to advance that political process. So what we don’t want are groups working on the margin creating their own systems or their own de facto states. This all needs to be worked out to a political transition that’s enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

QUESTION: That sounds like you don’t support this.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) I said what we do support. I tried to be affirmative in my description.

Please, in the back. Michael.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: One more Syria?

MR TONER: One more Syria.

QUESTION: Did you see this report by experts that were working with the ISSG about the strike on the aid convoy? Their claim – the report is claiming that it was a well-prepared stage, refuting reports that it was an airstrike.

MR TONER: Yeah, Michael, I did see those reports, and we’ve been very clear laying out what we know occurred in that strike against a humanitarian convoy, and that any bogus reports to the contrary don’t refute that.

QUESTION: Have you received this report, analyzed it?

MR TONER: We’ve actually seen no signs of any kind of report like this. I have no idea where that came from. Again, what we have said has been based on our best intelligence estimates of what – assessments, rather, of what happened. And I just would strike down any kind of bogus reports to the contrary.

QUESTION: On – just one more on this, on Aleppo. Have you seen reports or are you aware of certain groups from either side preventing civilians from leaving the city or – the eastern part of the city?

MR TONER: By any groups – I have not.

QUESTION: Well, I mean either by the moderate rebels that you support, by Nusrah, by the government, by --

MR TONER: That are actually preventing Syrian – citizens, rather – civilians, rather, from leaving?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: I’ve not, no.

Please go ahead.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you’ve already spoken about this, but what is the U.S. perspective on the idea of the UN Security Council adopting criteria to restrain members from using a veto when there are concerns about them having committed war crimes?

MR TONER: I haven’t actually seen that and I don’t want to necessarily preview how we would vote, but certainly, we take those – it’s an important issue. We take those kind of questions into consideration, but I don’t have anything to kind of preview.

QUESTION: All right. Move on?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Are we – yes.

QUESTION: This will be quick, I think.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you about the statement on the settlement.

MR TONER: Oh, yeah, of course.

QUESTION: It’s pretty clear that you’re unhappy about this announcement – both what the announcement was and the timing of it – timing of it for two reasons. So my question is one that’s been asked many times before, but if, in fact, you feel this strongly about settlements and if, in fact, all of your previous denunciations and condemnations of them have gone to – have gone unheeded or un-listened to, what is the point of coming out with these statements repeatedly and expecting a change in behavior?

When, if you think it’s this important, is there actually going to be a – even a threat of a consequence?

MR TONER: Sure. First of all, you’re talking about the statement we issued a short time ago. I do want to condemn, though, the fact that we’ve seen reports of rocket file – fire, rather – from Gaza into Israel. We would strongly condemn rockets and other attacks from Gaza into Israel and urge all parties to avoid any escalation.

I think with respect to your question, Matt, starting from the fundamental principle that our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable – and we just concluded, obviously, the memorandum of understanding that was alluded to in the statement. And that commitment stands, but when we see Israel carry out this kind of action – new settlement activity, announcement of new settlement activity – that, frankly, contradicts its stated goal to have or to achieve or pursue a two-state solution, it raises serious concerns and we have to publicly and privately convey those concerns to the Government of Israel.

I recognize your question and the – is that our comments have no effect. We still believe it’s important to make clear how we view the situation on the ground and the effects of these kinds of actions are having on Israel’s long-term viability as a democratic state in that region and a Jewish state in that region. This stuff only sets us – sets back the two-state peace process, a two-state solution, and makes it harder.

QUESTION: Okay. So your comment just now, does that – that’s an acknowledgement from the Administration that you have no leverage with Israel, despite the fact that you give them billions of dollars every year? You just --

MR TONER: Again, we believe – we believe --

QUESTION: You just said that --

MR TONER: Well, no, first of all --

QUESTION: -- that your words have no effect. So is – are you acknowledging or is the Administration acknowledging that it doesn’t have any sway, any pull with Israel?

MR TONER: What I would say is – and it’s important that we continue to convey to Israel – when we see actions that we believe are counter to Israel’s long-term security interests and counter to their stated goal of pursuing a two-state solution. And when we see that, we’re going to call it like we see it and we’re going to convey that.

QUESTION: But you don’t actually expect them to do anything about it. Is that --

MR TONER: I can’t speak for what – whether their behavior is going to change or how their behavior is going to change.

QUESTION: No, I mean the Administration. You say these things but you don’t actually expect them to act on them?

MR TONER: Well, of course. We wouldn’t say them unless we were mindful and hopeful that they would absorb them and act in a way that was consistent with, as I said, their long-term interests and, frankly, in the long – in the even short to midterm goal of creating the kind of climate on the ground that is – would even lead to the possibility of negotiations and a two-state solution.

QUESTION: Well, since you – since you started, since the United States starting – started opposing this kind of activity decades ago --

MR TONER: And you’re right, decades ago in --


MR TONER: -- Republican and --

QUESTION: Under both administrations.

MR TONER: -- as I’d say.

QUESTION: Yes, yes, I know. You read through the whole thing. Has it ever – have you ever seen – have you ever had any success?

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: There’s been --


QUESTION: I realize there have been short-term freezes, but it just seems to me that if you feel --

MR TONER: There have been short-term freezes.

QUESTION: -- this strongly about it to come out with a statement like this that talks about the MOU that was just signed and President Peres’s death – if you come out with a statement that strong, don’t – I mean, don’t you expect it to have some kind of an effect?

MR TONER: Yes, we do.

QUESTION: You clearly feel strongly about it.

MR TONER: Of course we do.

QUESTION: But you – you do expect it to have some kind of effect, but you know that it won’t?

MR TONER: You’re saying that – I was simply responding to your question that we don’t have – we’re not going to take any action. What I was trying to make clear --

QUESTION: Is that correct? You’re not going to do anything?

MR TONER: Well, again, we – our action is that --

QUESTION: Other than trying to make them feel bad?

MR TONER: No, but our action is that we convey to them both publicly and privately and to the world when we see Israel conducting itself in a way that runs counter to its security interests.

QUESTION: A follow-up just on the --

QUESTION: Mark, I’m curious, with respect to yourself and to the podium, you issued this statement from a spokesman. Now, your language has got tougher over the past few months, but isn’t it time for Secretary Kerry or for President Obama to be using the kind of language that you’re using from the podium today?

MR TONER: Well, there have been times in the past when it has come – these kinds of words have come from either Secretary Kerry or President Obama, and the message is always the same, which is we view settlements as counterproductive and counter to Israel’s interests. We’re going to keep up with that message and we’re going to keep conveying it to the Israeli Government when they take these kinds of actions. I think this one was, as we noted in the statement, particularly exceptional in the fact that it came mere days after we had concluded this memorandum of understanding, and also in the wake of one of Israel’s leading statesmen, Shimon Peres’s death.

QUESTION: Let me just press the point that Matt did --


QUESTION: -- a bit further, because you tie it, you say – you talk about the memo of understanding, you talk about the largest deal you just concluded. And in fact, again, towards the end, you say how this will only draw a great deal of criticism and, basically, condemnation from the international community and distance Israel from many of its partners. Why not, then? Why not go to the Security Council or the United Nation, where you can have an international – some sort of a decision that can impose sanctions. I mean, you’ve imposed sanctions on others that, basically, do not adhere to international law by any measure.

MR TONER: I mean, look, with regard to the UN Security Council and any action at the UN, our position hasn’t changed. We’re always concerned, frankly, about one-sided resolutions or other actions that could be taken within the UN, and we’re always going to oppose those kinds of resolutions that we believe delegitimize Israel’s – Israel and undermine its security. But we’re going to carefully consider our future engagement, if and when we reach that point, and determine how to most effectively pursue and advance the objective that we all at least claim to share, which is that of achieving a negotiated two-state solution. That work is going to continue with our international partners and we’re going to continue to make clear when we have concerns, such as we do today, with regard to Israel’s actions. We’re going to make those concerns clear to the Israeli Government.

QUESTION: But you have done that time and time again. I mean, obviously, you believe that Israel is addicted to the expansion of settlements. Isn’t that in a way – and you keep pumping money – isn’t that in a way like someone giving their son --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- drug money to continue doing what they’re doing? Don’t you want to stop at one point and say, “Enough is enough?”

MR TONER: Well, look, I would --

QUESTION: Because you’re saying when you get to that point – it’s been 50 years --

MR TONER: Said --

QUESTION: -- since this occupation has taken place.

MR TONER: Said, so let’s just separate the two issues. So our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security is both in Israel’s security – national security interests, but it’s also in the U.S.’s national security interests. The U.S. is safer when there is a safe and secure Israel in the region. But that’s particularly why we find its actions so befuddling, when it takes actions such as continued settlement activity that run counter to what we’re all trying to achieve here. And so we’re going to continue to press that case to them. We have a very close and very frank and candid relationship with Israel. We’re going to continue to call it like we see it, and when we see this kind of activity that we believe is counterproductive, we’re going to say so.

QUESTION: Is it because it feels good? Because you feel that you would like to say it or because you --

MR TONER: No, I mean – Said, we – you know this around the world; there are issues that we constantly raise, whether it’s in the realm of human rights or whatever. It doesn’t preclude us from having cooperation with any government in any other area, but we’re also frank when we see something that we believe runs counter to their interests and our interests, that we make that clear.

QUESTION: I appreciate you indulging me, but --


QUESTION: -- you keep saying that the UN is a forum that is somehow inherently opposed to Israel, while in fact, it was created through that UN organization. But let me ask you this: I mean, if it’s – this is in occupied territory, which you acknowledge, and there are laws that pertain to what is – what is the occupying power’s rights and privileges or obligations under international law, why not push forward, put your weight behind what is internationally lawful in this case, and bringing Israel to bear on these issues – holding it to account?

MR TONER: Look, I’m just going to say we’re working on this bilaterally. We’re working with other international partners. We’re just not convinced that the UN is the right venue for that.

QUESTION: My last one.


QUESTION: You said that “when the time comes.” When will the time come? When do you – in your opinion? When no longer there is any kind of land to establish a Palestinian state on? Is that, like, maybe at 10 percent more of the land? 20 percent more of the land?

MR TONER: Well, and – Said, we said as much in the statement that was issued, that it’s getting to the point, especially given the geographic location of this latest settlement announcement where a Palestinian – a viable Palestinian state becomes increasingly difficult to imagine.

Please, sir, in the back.

QUESTION: Ukraine.

MR TONER: Ukraine.

QUESTION: I actually have two questions.

MR TONER: I’ll get to you --

QUESTION: So the first one is regarding detention of Ukrainian journalists in Russia. So the international community, including European institutions and international organizations, concerned about this arrest, and two days ago the Department of State said that there is no a lot of details to say about it. And do you have any statements now?

MR TONER: I don’t have much of an update to provide. We’re obviously monitoring the situation very closely. I’d refer you to Russian and Ukrainian governments for the latest on this. I don’t have an update to what you just mentioned in your question. I apologize.

QUESTION: Are you in connection with Ukrainian Government on this issue?

MR TONER: I’m sure we’re discussing it with them. We’re – again, we’re always concerned when any journalist anywhere in the world, but certainly Ukrainian journalists in Russia, is arrested or detained. We’re monitoring it closely, but I’d refer you to the Russian authorities for more details.

QUESTION: And the second question: You said that Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov said today about Ukraine, they have a conversation on this issue, and Assistant Secretary Nuland is in Moscow. Could you comment, what is the current position of the United States regarding developments in Ukraine?

MR TONER: Well, as we noted, or you noted in your question, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland was in Moscow. She was joined by National Security Council senior directors, both Celeste Wallander as well as Charlie, or Charles Kupchan, and they did meet on October 5th with Russian officials. I think the focus of their trip was in making progress on Ukraine, what are the next steps that need to be taken in order to get the Minsk agreements fully implemented. Just because we suspended cooperation in other areas, our bilateral engagement or – with regard to Ukraine is going to continue. And let there be no confusion about that.

The Minsk agreements remain really the only viable way to restore peace and stability in eastern Ukraine, and we’re going to continue to support and to push for their full implementation, which requires, as you know, a real ceasefire, full and unfettered access for OSCE monitors, elections under Ukrainian law that meet OSCE standards, and the withdrawal of foreign forces and equipment, and finally, the return to Ukraine – and this is an important one – return to Ukraine of control of its side of the international border.

Obviously, a lot of work still needs to be done in this regard, but we still believe that this process, the Minsk process, represents the best way to get there.



MR TONER: Iraq. I’m sorry, you – apologize. Yeah.

QUESTION: The AFP, Agence France-Presse, reports that a U.S.-led coalition strike, quote-unquote, “most likely killed some 20 pro-government Sunni tribal fighters near the city of Mosul as they were mistaken for ISIL militants.” Considering the fact that the U.S. helps coordinate Iraqi forces gearing up for a Mosul offensive, how could this happen?

MR TONER: I’m aware of reports of that. I honestly – I would just have to refer you to the Department of Defense. I don’t know the specifics and what has been reported. I’m sure that there’s an investigation underway looking into the --

QUESTION: Just more broadly --


QUESTION: -- when the U.S. hit the Syrian military on September 17th, officials said they didn’t have good intelligence, they didn’t know where they were hitting. Would you say in Iraq the U.S. has good intelligence, especially with partners on the ground?

MR TONER: I mean, I’m not an intelligence officer, to put it as bluntly as that. I really would point you in the direction of someone who can speak about the level of our intelligence cooperation with Iraq or – and certainly I would make the assessment, though, that our cooperation with the Government of Iraq militarily is obviously much closer than what we have on the ground in Syria. While we have a de-confliction mechanism in place with the government of – or the ministry – between our Pentagon and the ministry of defense of Russia, that only pertains to de-conflicting our operations in order to protect the safety of our airmen and airwomen.

But with regard to intelligence on the ground, Syria’s a difficult case because of a lot of factors that we’ve talked about on numerous occasions. That said, when we assess our intelligence, we make every effort to ensure that it’s valid and credible before we would carry out any airstrike. If that airstrike mistakenly targets the wrong individuals or hits civilians, we own that and we conduct a thorough investigation and we’re as transparent as we possibly can be about it.

QUESTION: About these reported mistakes, given several apparent mistakes within the past month, including a strike in – strike last week in Somalia where the U.S. targeted al-Shabaab militants but ended up reportedly killing 22 Somali soldiers, would you say U.S. targeting in these anti-terrorist operations is precise?

MR TONER: We have taken out numerous members of al-Qaida and ISIL’s senior leadership in both Iraq and Syria and elsewhere – Libya as well – and so I think that speaks somewhat to the precision of our strikes. We’re not barrel bombing civilian targets, hospitals, schools, civilians, infrastructure. So while on any battlefield errors do occur, I would hold our record up with anyone.


QUESTION: Yesterday Iraqi parliament passed a motion to ask Turkish forces to remove from Iraq, and today Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi also called on Turkish forces to leave the country, and the Turkish foreign minister again said basically Iraq parliament does not represent all of Iraqi people. And it looks like it’s going to stay there, Turkish forces. What’s your position on that?

MR TONER: In general, with regard to Iraq, we’ve said this before: All of Iraq’s neighbors need to respect Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity. That’s the premise of the counter – the global counter-ISIL coalition that it operates under in Iraq, and we expect all of our partners to do the same.

QUESTION: So Turkey argues that they – Turkish forces are there to help the upcoming Mosul operation. Do you think that the Turkish forces are helpful there? Do you have any recommendation on that front?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think part of our ongoing dialogue with Turkey, with Iraq, with other forces on the ground, with Kurdish forces with regard to Mosul and the upcoming operation is coordination and making sure that we’re all focused on the same goal here and that everyone’s working in strong coordination with everyone else to achieve the objective, which is, obviously, liberating Mosul and driving Daesh out of Iraq.

QUESTION: So in that context, Turkish forces are helpful in the coordination, or they are coordinating --

MR TONER: I would refer you to – so no, I’m not trying to be coy here. I’m just trying to say I think it’s up to the Iraqis and the Iraqi Government to speak to Turkey’s role in Iraq. And it’s important, as I said, that whatever Turkey’s role is in Iraq, that it’s coordinated with the Iraqi Government.


QUESTION: I wonder if I could just ask you a question about the UN. Seems that the Security Council --

MR TONER: I didn’t hear what you said. Iran?

QUESTION: I said – no, not Iran.

MR TONER: UN. I apologize.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, the UN.

MR TONER: Oh, UN. Okay.

QUESTION: It seems that the Security Council just – may have just chosen Portuguese diplomat Antonio Guterres to succeed Ban Ki-moon. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: I do. We can confirm that today’s straw poll exercise in the UN Security Council resulted in the clear identification of Antonio Guterres as the preferred candidate to be the next UN general – secretary-general. We anticipate that the Security Council will hold a formal vote tomorrow to confirm his nomination. So that’s the next step, and then, obviously, after that would be for the full UN membership in the form of the General Assembly to consider that nomination. So there’s a few steps remaining. We would expect the full membership to approve the Security Council’s actions, but we’ll wait and see. But we’re very pleased to have been a part of this new selection process that gave member states and civil society opportunity to engage directly with the candidates in open fora. We welcome the opportunity to be part of these discussions. So --

QUESTION: Are you in any way disappointed that – there were 12 candidates; six were women. Are you in a way disappointed that not – a woman was not chosen for this post?

MR TONER: Well, look, the United States as a matter of longstanding policy does not make its voting preferences known on secret ballot elections. We are, however, well acquainted with Mr. Guterres for his many years working on the international stage and can state with confidence that he possesses the leadership qualities that’ll be crucial to serving in this vital post. This was an election, and so as such, in the selection process, I think what’s always important is that there is a number of candidates, a diverse set of candidates – there were, in this case – and that there was an open fora to discuss the qualifications of each one.

QUESTION: Well, wait a second.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: How can you say – you clearly supported him. I mean, all 15 Security Council ambassadors --

MR TONER: I – I know.

QUESTION: -- came out and said they had a consensus.

MR TONER: I understand.

QUESTION: If you had not supported him then there wouldn’t have been a consensus. So what – I mean, what is this? Plus, the General Assembly vote – isn’t that public?

MR TONER: That is.

QUESTION: Yeah, they all go to their little buttons and push the – and then push them --


QUESTION: -- and – so what is this, you don’t make a practice of talking about your voting preferences?

MR TONER: We don’t make a practice of talking about our voting preferences.


QUESTION: So if it had been 8-7, you wouldn’t say which you were coming down?

MR TONER: (Laughter.) No.

QUESTION: Well, it is said or alleged that you opposed Bulgarian diplomat Irina Bokova very strongly. Is that true?

MR TONER: I’m not going to speak to our voting preferences, Matt.


QUESTION: Different subject?

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: I just have one – last one on that, just for fun. (Laughter.) You’ve mentioned --

MR TONER: Because we don’t have enough fun in here.

QUESTION: Well, because you mentioned his broad international experience. Is this the first time you’ve backed the chairman of the Socialist International for an international post?

MR TONER: You’ve caught me out. I don’t know.

QUESTION: How many other have there been?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: It probably is the first time, isn’t it?

MR TONER: I’d have to google that one. (Laughter.) Sorry.

QUESTION: Do you have any information you’re able to share about any Americans who were injured or directly affected by Hurricane Matthew?

MR TONER: I do not. I don’t know if we talked about this in the call earlier today. My apologies if it was brought up. I don’t think we’ve got – but again, this is the kind of assessment that’s going to take – not – we don’t have an initial – we do have an initial assessment, but as we’ve seen in the past, natural disasters like this, we may not have a full picture for some time. I don’t believe – let me quickly look through here and see if we have any.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Well, there you go. I’ve got to start listening to those calls.

QUESTION: I didn’t hear the – directly the – (inaudible) that --

MR TONER: Is that it, guys?

QUESTION: No, no. I’ve only got one more.

QUESTION: Wait, I have one more on --



QUESTION: -- I don’t know if you’ve seen the --

QUESTION: Can I just do one more on this one?


MR TONER: Call me out again, that I didn’t read the transcript of this morning’s call? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It wasn’t in there. I don’t – I was on the call. I didn’t hear anything directly about that.

MR TONER: All right. We’ll have this out afterwards.

QUESTION: We’ll have it out after. Do you have any intention of creating a working group similar to the one that existed after the earthquake in Haiti with regards the hurricane?

MR TONER: How so? In terms of prevention or for future events, or kind of --

QUESTION: The State Department had a --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- they had a working – yeah, to look at the effects after. I didn’t know if there --


QUESTION: -- had been discussion of creating a similar --

MR TONER: I mean, honestly, it’s a fair question. I’m pretty sure that given the frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms in that part of the world, that a lot of research and a lot of examination’s already been done and evaluation. I think in the days and weeks to come we’ll have a better assessment of probably steps that can be taken to avoid damage. And again, it’s going to be country to country, because some of these countries don’t have the kind of preparations you might see in some of the other countries with regard to materials available to protect them and et cetera.

QUESTION: It’s probably too early for this as well, but Haiti, as a result of the hurricane, has abandoned its attempts to hold a presidential election next week.

MR TONER: “Suspended” is what I heard, yeah.

QUESTION: “Suspended,” yes. And they have been suspending their presidential elections or canceling them fairly frequently over the past three or four years. You’ve regretted, in the past, suspensions of their elections. This obviously is a natural cause.

MR TONER: I think we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here that they’re recovering from a natural disaster.

QUESTION: Well, that was in the --

MR TONER: Sorry?

QUESTION: That was in the clause.

MR TONER: That was a – (laughter). Matt, you had one more?

QUESTION: Yeah, I did. And I don’t know if you’ve seen this warning that Iran has given to the Saudis about its ships approaching Iranian waters or territory. It’s quite similar to – or I believe it’s similar to ones that they have told the Fifth Fleet or you guys, as well, and I’m just wondering if you see this as any kind of an escalation. They say that they will intercept, board, whatever, the Saudis in particular.

MR TONER: So I haven’t seen the actual statement. We’ll take a look at it. But certainly, if it is as you appear – as you have stated it to be, I don’t know if we’d view it as an escalation, but it’s certainly unhelpful, and we support freedom of navigation in that part of the world as we do everywhere.

QUESTION: Just one question on Turkey, Mark. I know this question was asked two days ago, but since then, there are several more media outlets shut down. There are about 121 journalists in Turkey right now. There are very few critical media outlets left in country. I am wondering, as ally of Turkey, what’s your assessment of the two and a half months since the coup about the Turkish administration’s policies regarding freedom issues?

MR TONER: Well, I think our concerns remain the same, which is we obviously saw the Turkish Government react strongly to what was a coup attempt and conduct – carry out an investigation into the causes and who was behind that coup attempt. But we’ve been very clear from the early hours afterwards that that should not directly affect Turkey’s democratic institutions, freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and kind of the core tenets of Turkey’s constitution. So that’s a message that we continue to convey to the Turkish Government.


QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:14 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 10/04/2016 - 18:59

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 28, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:16 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hey, everybody.


MR KIRBY: Just a couple things at the top. Today, I think as you may know, the Department of the Treasury imposed targeted sanctions on two individuals in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including one current and one former DRC official. Specifically, the United States designated former national inspector for the Congolese National Police John Numbi for engaging in actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in the DRC, and Major General Gabriel Amisi Kumba for being the leader of an armed group that has threatened the peace, security, or stability of the DRC.

As a result of today’s actions, these designated individuals’ assets within U.S. – excuse me, U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them. Today’s designations follow the listing in June of Celestin Kanyama and underscore our commitment to deter behavior that undermines the DRC’s stability and democratic institutions at this critical point in its history. They also reflect our continued concerns about the violence and the lack of an inclusive agreement on an electoral timeline.

On Ukraine and the MH17 report, as you saw, we issued a statement on this earlier today. I want to reiterate, however, that we are gratified that the Netherlands and other members of the joint investigation team are objectively and thoroughly investigating the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. The team’s interim findings corroborate Secretary Kerry’s statement in the days following the tragedy and leave no doubt that MH17 was shot down by a Buk surface-to-air missile, fired from territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists. We also note the JIT’s – the joint investigation team’s finding that the missile launcher was first brought into Ukraine from Russia and then moved out of Ukraine and back to Russia after the shoot-down.

And while nothing can take away the grief of all those who lost loved ones on that very terrible day, the announcement – this announcement is now another step toward bringing those responsible for this outrage to justice.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: That’s it?

MR KIRBY: Is there something more you’d like?

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know.

MR KIRBY: I mean, I’m --

QUESTION: That I would like? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: You don’t --

QUESTION: Lunch? Lunch?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) your statement this morning?

MR KIRBY: You want to order up toppers, I’m happy to do that.

QUESTION: Let’s start with Syria and the phone call that the Secretary had with Foreign Minister Lavrov --


QUESTION: -- in which he, according to you, Secretary Kerry, quote, “informed the foreign minister that the United States is making preparations to suspend U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria, including on the establishment of the JIC, unless Russia takes immediate steps to end the assault on Aleppo and restore the cessation of hostilities.”


QUESTION: What exactly does that mean? You’re making preparations to suspend unless Russia takes – I don’t quite get the construction there.

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: Are you making preparations or are you not making preparations now?

MR KIRBY: We – no, I see what you mean. We are working through steps that we might have to take to begin to suspend our engagement with Russia on Syria. We haven’t taken those steps yet, but the message to the foreign minister today was that we’re perfectly willing and able to move forward on those kinds of steps – steps that would end up in the suspension of U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria – unless we see some significant steps taken by Russia in the very near future to show that they mean what they say when they say they support a cessation of hostilities and a resumption of political talks.

QUESTION: And I don’t get – are you making preparations now or are you saying that you will make preparations to suspend unless? And what exactly are you talking about in terms of U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement? Does that include the de-confliction exercise? What does that mean?

MR KIRBY: So a couple – so on the first question, what – as I said, we’re thinking through what steps we would have to take to suspend the engagement if we need to. So while we haven’t taken any of these steps --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: -- we’re certainly thinking that through and we’re making preps to do that in the very near future. Now on the --

QUESTION: And can I just – what does that mean? Like, you’re preparing to bring people back from Geneva?

MR KIRBY: Well, for instance, it could include the fact that, yes, we’ve – as you know, we have a team in Geneva, and while they’re still there we certainly communicated to them that their presence in Geneva may not be the case --

QUESTION: May no longer be required?

MR KIRBY: -- for much longer.

QUESTION: That includes the de-confliction talks?

MR KIRBY: That’s a different issue. That’s a DOD thing, and that’s --

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MR KIRBY: -- and that revolves around – hang on a second – that revolves around the fight against ISIL, and I won’t speak for the Department of Defense. I think they would tell you that they still find the de-confliction mechanisms useful in terms of the fight against Daesh. What I’m talking about is the team’s – the technical team that we have had in Geneva to work through the modalities of this latest agreement that was arrived at on September 9th. And so one of the things that – one of the steps that can be taken that would potentially lead to a suspension would be not having that team in Geneva anymore.

QUESTION: So – and does this mean that the – is another one that the Secretary would no longer be prepared to have these big weekly meetings with Foreign Minister Lavrov, or almost daily phone calls about Syria, that they would only talk about other issues?

MR KIRBY: I don’t want to rule anything in or out at this point. I mean, let’s see where this goes.

QUESTION: All right.


QUESTION: Hold on.

MR KIRBY: But the short answer is that we are thinking through the logic of continuing this engagement given what we’ve seen in Aleppo over the last several days, and we are also thinking through what steps – if we were to suspend, what steps would we need to take to do that and how would that be manifested.

QUESTION: Last one for me on this. I don’t know if you’ve seen this statement from Senators Graham and McCain about this statement and this threat. It’s extremely sarcastic. I won’t read the whole thing, but, “Finally a real” – here’s part of it: “Finally a real power move in American diplomacy. Secretary of State John ‘Not Delusional’ Kerry has made the one threat the Russians feared most – suspension of bilateral talks.” It goes on to say, “What does this mean? No more lakeside tete-a-tetes at five-star hotels in Geneva, press conferences in Moscow. We can only imagine that having heard the news, Putin has called off his bear hunt and is rushing back to the Kremlin to call off Russian airstrikes,” blah, blah, blah. “After all, butchering the Syrian people to save the Assad regime is an important goal – Russian goal. But not if it comes at the unthinkable price of dialogue with Secretary Kerry.”

They’re clearly unimpressed with this. What do you – what’s your --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that statement.

QUESTION: One, is that appropriate?

MR KIRBY: That’s the first I heard of that statement. But look, I think – look, the Secretary addressed this, some of this criticism the other day in Cartagena. And I think I’d point you back to what he said that day. We – we’re not apologetic here for, as he said, going the last mile to try to achieve a diplomatic solution here. Because we continue to believe that more violence, more war, more bloodshed, is not the answer, and that the best way to end the civil war is to get the two sides back together again in Geneva. That can’t happen when the opposition’s being bombed and when civilians are being killed and hospitals are being struck, as they have been in just the last 24 to 48 hours. And so there’s nothing that the Secretary’s going to apologize for, congressional criticism or not, about talking to the Russians, who have the most influence on Assad, to try to get this to stop. But as he also has said, his patience is not limitless. And I think you can tell from his comments in recent days and certainly this readout today that that patience is wearing extraordinarily thin.

So it is easy to criticize the efforts that the nation’s chief diplomat is making --


MR KIRBY: -- when you aren’t – hang on a second – when you aren’t accountable for the results of those discussions and when you don’t necessarily – have thought through all the unintended consequences of more violence, more bloodshed, or military solutions in an already bloody war.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: John, what does it mean – what does it mean when he says “the unacceptable delays of humanitarian aid” unless he stops immediately, unless he proposes immediately? Like, what does that mean? I mean, it sounds like an ultimatum and it sounds like he’s expecting a result. So what is his definition of “immediately”? That’s the first one.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to give you a time stamp on that. Immediately means now. We want to see results now. I mean --

QUESTION: But does he have an idea in his mind about how long he’s going to give this before he actually makes good on this – these threats or --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to give you a time stamp here or a number of hours or days, but I can --


MR KIRBY: -- I think you can tell – I think you can tell from the tone of this readout that he’s not prepared to let the situation go on for very much longer before we have to take the steps we need to take --


MR KIRBY: -- to begin suspending --

QUESTION: Wait, I have another.

MR KIRBY: -- engagement. But I’m not going to – I just don’t think, in the wake of this phone call, and the very clear message that we sent to the Russians, that it’s useful for me to --

QUESTION: Did he give --

MR KIRBY: -- put a date on the calendar.

QUESTION: -- without saying it, without telling us, did he give Foreign Minister --

MR KIRBY: He made it very clear --

QUESTION: -- did he give Foreign Minister Lavrov a timeframe in terms of when he wants to see this or the cooperation would start to be suspended?

MR KIRBY: He made it very clear to Foreign Minister Lavrov that we needed to see steps immediately. We needed to see steps now.

QUESTION: No, I understand. But even if you’re not going to --

MR KIRBY: We needed to see real commitments.

QUESTION: -- even if you’re not going to tell us how long that is, did he give Foreign Minister Lavrov a specific timeframe in which he needed to see that?

MR KIRBY: He was very clear about our expectations in terms of the immediacy of the actions we need to see.

QUESTION: Now, if you’re – if you start suspending, as you say, this type of cooperation, given what Secretary Kerry has said about the ugly alternatives, where does that leave you in terms of discussions in this Administration? What is the level of discussion in terms of some other options, including possibly supporting the allies giving more weapons to the opposition? Because if you stop any pretense at a ceasefire, that would suggest that there’s no hope that they’ll be able to end this bombardment.

MR KIRBY: Without getting into the details and specifics of interagency discussions, what I can tell you is that interagency conversations about other options and alternatives that might be available to us and to our partners continue and --

QUESTION: And that would include?

MR KIRBY: -- I’m not going to get into specific details of them. But obviously, this is a discussion that we continue to have inside the interagency. But I’d also point out, as the President has said and as Secretary Kerry has said, none of those options are better for the Syrian people than an immediate cessation of hostilities that can be applied nationwide, the delivery of humanitarian aid, and just as critically, the resumption of political talks that can get the opposition and the regime together in some sort of format to produce a transitional governing structure.

We still believe that the best solution is political, that the best approach is diplomatic, not military. But obviously, it would be irresponsible and imprudent for this government not to continue to have rational, reasoned, deliberate, measured discussions about what our other options are, but they’re – but none of them, at least none that have been discussed so far, are being deemed by – certainly by Secretary Kerry – I won’t speak for other officials in the government – but none of them are better than the option of trying to pursue diplomacy.

QUESTION: What makes you think that the Secretary’s threat to begin to take steps to suspend cooperation if the Russians don’t act to stop the violence immediately is likely to get the Russians to actually stop the violence?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think that’s a question you’d have to ask Foreign Minister Lavrov. We know – we --

QUESTION: You made the offer. I’m asking you: Why do you think that offer would work?

MR KIRBY: I know you’re asking me, but I can’t speak for the Russians. What I can tell you is that we know, as I’ve said here from the podium many times, we know that they want a measure of cooperation between our two militaries. We know that they want the establishment of a Joint Implementation Center. And for our part, we wanted that too because we thought that that could help us advance the fight against a group like al-Nusrah in particular. So there is, we believe, an incentive on their part to have this cooperation from a military perspective, but we’ve seen nothing since the agreement was reached in Geneva on September 9th that would lead us to believe Russia is serious about meeting its end of these commitments.

So that’s my best way of answering your question. I think putting this to the Russians would also be a valuable exercise.

QUESTION: But you’re making an offer even though you’ve seen nothing to suggest that they’re going to take it, and I don’t understand why you’re still leaving this one last chance, if it is a last chance and if you don’t give them another opportunity next week or next month, to do this. I just don’t understand why given what you have yourselves seen. And the Pentagon accused them of having carried out the bombing on September the 19th, correct, because of the two Su-24s that were right over the aid convoy site. You have seen an intensification of air and ground bombardment of Aleppo over the last five days. I don’t understand why you believe – you believe – there’s any reason why the Russians would seize on what you say is their desire for military cooperation with the United States or intelligence-sharing when they have, in your own words, shown no reason to make you believe that.

So why are you doing this?


QUESTION: Why not just say it’s over?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that we believe that this would change their calculus. I don’t know whether it will or it won’t, and neither does the Secretary. The purpose of the call today was to express our deep and grave concern about what’s been happening in just the last several days, let alone what happened last week, and that given what we’ve seen on the ground and in the air around Aleppo, we – unless something dramatically changes very, very soon in terms of their willingness to take the kinds of steps to get to where we agreed we would be in Geneva on September 9th, unless we see something extraordinary, something significant very, very soon, we are going to have to take those steps to suspend our bilateral engagement on Syria. And that’s not an insignificant move for us. The purpose of the call today wasn’t to express an aspiration that they’ll suddenly see the light and do the right thing. It was to say, we haven’t seen you do the right thing – in fact, quite the contrary as Russian jets continue to fly over Aleppo and continue to strike opposition and civilian infrastructure. Not just Syrian jets, Russian jets. And it was, I think – and you can see it in the readout and certainly speaking for the Secretary, a measure of his frustration that he had to place this call today and deliver that very tough message to Foreign Minister Lavrov.

QUESTION: And do you – can you foresee any options that the U.S. Government could take, short of full-scale warfare and invasion, that would actually stop the Russian/Syrian onslaught on Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not a military tactician. And as I said, I – the Secretary’s --

QUESTION: You were.

MR KIRBY: No, I wasn’t. I was just a spokesman in the Navy. I would never count myself as a tactician, and I wouldn’t speak for specific military tactics in any case, because here at the State Department, the Secretary is still committed to a diplomatic solution. And again, without getting into specific other options, as I told Elise, there are other options that don’t revolve around the act of diplomacy that the interagency has discussed and has talked about, and those discussions are ongoing.

I mean, again, it would be irresponsible for this government not to think about those things and not to try to work through the calculus on other options that are outside diplomacy. But again, not to be redundant, I mean, the Secretary and the President both believe that none of them are better in the long run for the Syrian people than trying to get a diplomatic solution now and a cessation of hostilities today.

QUESTION: Is this --

QUESTION: John, can I just --

MR KIRBY: Hang on, guys. Hang on. I’ll go to Said, then I’ll go to you, Michael.

QUESTION: Is this warning restricted to the September 9th agreement? I mean, you can still cooperate on other stuff, right?

MR KIRBY: No, I think the – I think --

QUESTION: Or is it the whole Syria thing?

MR KIRBY: I think my readout was clear. This was U.S., Russian --

QUESTION: I don’t understand it. So is it pertaining to the truce or the (inaudible) or everything else is --

MR KIRBY: To suspend U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria.

QUESTION: On Syria, period.

MR KIRBY: Just right in my readout, U.S.-Russian bilateral engagement on Syria.

QUESTION: So basically this is – are you issuing an ultimatum that you may engage in other than diplomatic activities?

MR KIRBY: You can characterize it how you want. I think the Secretary was very direct about what our expectations are.

QUESTION: Now, the Russians are claiming – the Russian foreign ministry say that Mr. Lavrov told the Secretary that al-Nusrah and other groups – many other groups – are continuing with their assaults on government forces and so on, and that needs to stop. Could you confirm that that actually --

MR KIRBY: I can’t confirm that he said that specifically, but he has said in the past that we know that in some cases the opposition themselves have conducted attacks and violated the cessation of hostilities, and clearly Nusrah, which is outside the agreement altogether, has certainly not slowed offensive actions and terrorist attacks.


QUESTION: John, I’d just like to take another crack at Arshad’s question. If you’re going to get any kind of agreement, you have to have some leverage, and that can be positive and negative reinforcements. So you’ve said what’s in it – the agreement for the Russians is the possibility of military collaboration, this Joint Implementation Center. That’s something they want. But what I don’t think we have heard here is, so what are the consequences for Russia if this agreement falls through beyond some interagency discussions about options that have not yet been chosen? What are the consequences for Russia other than Secretary Kerry won’t talk to them on this particular issue going forward?

MR KIRBY: The consequences are that the civil war will continue in Syria, that extremists and extremists groups will continue to exploit the vacuums that are there in Syria to expand their operations, which will include, no question, attacks against Russian interests, perhaps even Russian cities, and Russia will continue to send troops home in body bags, and they will continue to lose resources – even, perhaps, more aircraft. The stability that they claim they seek in Syria will be ever more elusive, and it’s hard to imagine how a continued war – not just a civil war now, but increasingly more violent extremist activity in Syria – can be in the interest of a nation that says, that claims, and has claimed publicly time and time again that what they want to see is a whole, unified, pluralistic Syria and a stable Syria, a secure Syria, a Syria where they want to continue to have a defense relationship and a presence. So that’s what’s in it for them.

QUESTION: Well, when you say – just a quick follow-up – when you say that extremists will exploit the vacuum and that could include attacks on Russia’s cities and Russia could send its troops back in body bags, that also could suggest that perhaps the rebels could start sending home their troops in body bags.

MR KIRBY: It’s going to mean, again, more violence, more war, and you can expect casualties on both sides of this. But the question was what’s in it for Russia to meet its obligations under I don’t know how many different agreements, but specifically the one from September 9th in terms of seven days of reduced violence, humanitarian access. So the question posed to me was what’s in it for Russia, and that’s what’s in it for Russia --


MR KIRBY: -- aside from the fact that they also want to see a measure of U.S. military cooperation.

QUESTION: Right. But they clearly don’t care that the civil war is continuing because they’re helping to continue it. So it sounds like what you’re saying is that the consequences for Russia is that this is going to become more of a quagmire for them, and you’ve maintained that they don’t want to stay there indefinitely. So you said that the --

MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: No, you all – you, the Secretary, a lot of people have said that the Russians don’t want to stay there forever, and what I’m saying is you’re – it sounds like you’re suggesting that the consequences for Russia is that this will become a quagmire, that staying in it longer is not in their best interests.

MR KIRBY: What I – first of all, they have had a long-term presence in Syria. I don’t think anybody expects that they’re looking to end that presence. So it’s not that they --

QUESTION: No, I mean stay – when I mean stay there, I mean in this current configuration where they’re heavily engaged in a military intervention.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, those are decisions they have to make as a sovereign country. My point is the question was what’s in it for them to comply with this – what’s in it for them to meet their obligations, to move forward with a JIC, and get the cooperation that they want? What’s in it for them in terms of – or what happens to them if they don’t do that is that they’ll end up being, yeah, more deeply involved in this, and the war won’t stop. Opposition groups are certainly not going to pull back, extremist groups are likely going to expand and take advantage of the chaos, and the war will continue. And more Russian resources will be expended, more Russian lives will be lost, more Russian aircraft will be shot down, and they – and this will go on.

QUESTION: John, those are all consequences that you foresee would be imposed by the situation in Syria. Are there consequences that the Obama Administration is prepared to impose on the Russians for their failure to uphold the agreement? You can imagine economic sanctions, there could be military support to – is the Administration in principle prepared to impose its own consequences for the collapse of this agreement?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for the entire Administration here, but what I can tell you is – what I will tell you, Michael, is that --

QUESTION: What’s the policy?

MR KIRBY: -- we have – the policy is we continue to support a diplomatic solution to this rather than a military one. But that doesn’t mean that as a government – and certainly, I can only speak for the State Department and Secretary Kerry – that we – that doesn’t mean that we aren’t still discussing other options and alternatives that might be available to us. It’s just that we continue to believe that none of them are better than trying to get a diplomatic solution to this. Obviously it’s been elusive, and it has been extraordinarily frustrating to see it be so elusive, which is why the Secretary made this phone call to Foreign Minister Lavrov today. But I’m not going to speculate about if, then what, and what might happen going forward.

Moscow has a decision to make. They have had many decisions to make over many, many months, of course, but right now they have a decision to make, and the Secretary laid that decision before them.


MR KIRBY: It is: show that you’re willing to take an extraordinary, significant step to reduce the violence. And one of the – and the step that the Secretary talked about – and you heard him talk about it in New York last week – was keep Assad’s air forces on the ground, show – I got you. I know – I got you. I’m going to get to you, because I had no doubt in my mind that you were going to want to ask a question today. But show those extraordinary steps so that we can start to build the confidence necessary to actually implement the agreements that we’ve reached.

QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up on the consequences?


QUESTION: One of the things that the Secretary said – or that you said in your statement about his – in your readout of his conversation was – he talked about how the United States and its allies would hold Russia responsible for the situation, including the use of incendiary and bunker-busting bombs in an urban area. So is it your view that the use of incendiary and bunker-busting bombs in an urban area, where civilians are still largely present, could be construed to be a war crime or a violation of the international laws of war?

MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary has spoken to this and has acknowledged that the use of those kinds of weapons against civilian populations is in fact a violation of international law, as is the use of chlorine gas against innocent people, as is the bombing of hospitals or aid workers. I don’t think there is any doubt about that. Now, I think I know where you’re going here, in terms of holding responsible. I’m not going to speculate about how, when, or in what way Russia will be held to account for what it has not only permitted, but assisted the Assad regime in doing. But when we say they’re responsible, we mean it. But I’m not going to get ahead --

QUESTION: So you’re suggesting --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made yet.

QUESTION: I get it, but something that has happened is that the French foreign minister today said that he was trying to introduce a resolution at the Security Council calling for an end to the violence in Aleppo and saying that those who didn’t support that would – could be construed as aiding in war crimes, or deemed to. Would the U.S. Government support such a resolution, even if the Russians would, presumably, veto it, that sought to refer Syria to the ICC so that Russia maybe could be actually held responsible in a court?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re aware of the French proposal and I think you can imagine we’re reviewing it and looking at it. I don’t want to get ahead of any determination that we might make one way or the other. I think, obviously, aside from that proposal, we have been nothing but clear and forthright about our views about what’s been happening, particularly in the last week to 10 days, and who we hold responsible for that.

QUESTION: Last one for me on this, if I may. What is – I mean, you know that Syria isn’t a state party to the Rome Statute; therefore, the court doesn’t intrinsically have jurisdiction. And you know that for – the other route, as I understand it, is for the Security Council to make a referral, which seems most unlikely given that Russia has a veto and has vetoed other Syria-related resolutions. So what is the utility of going down that path? Is there an obvious benefit to going down that path or is it just kind of a fool’s errand because they’ll just veto it?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s just too soon to know, Arshad. I mean, the proposal was just made. As I said, we’re looking at it and reviewing it and I’m sure we’ll have an opinion in coming days on that. I just don’t want to get ahead of the process here. At the very least, though, you can see how the international community is becoming more galvanized here about what’s happening. And the form and the mechanism that that takes I think has yet to play out, but clearly, what’s happening in Aleppo has the world’s attention, and rightly so. Absolutely rightly so.

QUESTION: John, two – very briefly to clarify things. You accepted the premise of Arshad’s question, which is that your statement said that United States and its partners will hold Russia responsible for the situation. It doesn’t actually say that, but I want to make – do you intend it to mean that? It says the U.S. and its partners hold Russia responsible, which stops short of saying that you’re going to find – try and go bring some accountability for the actions that you say they’ve committed. Do you mean to say, and does the Secretary – did the Secretary tell Foreign Minister Lavrov that the U.S. and its partners will seek to hold Russia responsible/accountable for what you say they’ve been doing?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t mean to get caught up in a --


MR KIRBY: -- tense issue here, but --

QUESTION: Well, no, it’s not just a tense issue. It’s, I mean, you can --

MR KIRBY: The statement says we hold them responsible.

QUESTION: Yes. Does that mean you --

MR KIRBY: How that will be manifested I don’t --

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: But – but --

MR KIRBY: There haven’t been any decisions made about that.

QUESTION: And then – and then secondly, you said a few minutes ago that the interagency – within the interagency there are other options that don’t revolve around the act of diplomacy – terms of – and I just want to know, is one of those options walking away, simply abandoning support for the opposition? Or is that off the table like what we heard – boots on the ground were off the table for many, many years, which turned out not to be the case?

MR KIRBY: I just don’t find it useful to get into speculating about what other options are under consideration.

QUESTION: Well, no, no --

MR KIRBY: I know.

QUESTION: Whether it’s under consideration or not is --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to put anything on or off the table today.

QUESTION: What does outside that don’t revolve around the act of diplomacy mean? I mean, that either means walking away or it means more --

MR KIRBY: I think I’m going to leave it where I put it.

QUESTION: No, I mean, there’s diplomacy and there’s – well, I guess he’s right. There’s diplomacy, war, and nothing. So if you’re saying there’s other diplomacy, then the other two options are doing something more robust military, whether that means some kind of intervention or allowing the allies to be armed, or sitting around and doing nothing. Are you saying that sitting around and doing nothing is an option?

MR KIRBY: Obviously, we’re committed to doing as much as we can to try to stop the civil war and to stop the bloodshed. Again, critics can, will, have, and will continue to argue the efficacy of those efforts. Obviously, we’re not content, we’re not satisfied --

QUESTION: I’m not talking about the efficacy of the efforts.

MR KIRBY: Let me --

QUESTION: I’m saying that when you say there are options other than diplomacy, that would suggest that you mean more robust military options, and when I say military I don’t necessarily mean bombing or troops or any of that. I’m saying, like, a more kinetic --

MR KIRBY: Again, I just don’t think it’s useful for me to talk in any more detail about the kinds of discussions that we continue to have about what our options are. We still believe that the best one is diplomacy, that the best solution is political, that what needs to happen is creating the kinds of conditions where the opposition and the regime can resume the talks that have thus far failed to get to a – to get to that political solution. And beyond that, I just don’t think it’s very prudent or responsible for me to comment.

QUESTION: Just – I just have one more. When you said that we hold them responsible – just to go back to the legal issue, to the responsibility – when you say you hold them responsible, does it – are you saying that in a legal sense or in a moral, diplomatic sense?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t know that there was a different way of looking at somebody’s responsibility.

QUESTION: There is a – of course there is. You sit there all the time up from the podium and you say, well, that would get us into a legal determination which I don’t – you know what I mean? You’re always invoking that.

MR KIRBY: When we say that we’re holding them responsible, we mean within the universe of what that means. So is it moral? Absolutely it’s moral. And could there be some sort of legal ramification to that responsibility? Yeah, there could be.

QUESTION: But that – when you say that, that’s different than suggesting that you hold them legally responsible and you’ve contacted your lawyers and you’ve done – yes, it --

MR KIRBY: We’re not – I – I know you would like a lot more clarity on this than I’m going to give you today, but when we say we’re – we hold Russia responsible, we mean what we say. Now, I’m not going to speculate about the ramifications or consequences down the road of that.

QUESTION: But you’re not saying what you mean, though.

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not. I’m not going to go into any more detail on it than I have today, as much as I know you would like that. When we say we hold them responsible, we hold them responsible, in the entire universe of what that means, whether it’s morally or potentially legally.

QUESTION: So that would suggest that you’ve done a legal determination and you’ve found that they are legally responsible.

MR KIRBY: No, it doesn’t. It means that we hold them responsible.


MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: During the first few days of the ceasefire – the beginning of the ceasefire – the rebels had carried out over 300 ceasefire violations while the Syrian army actually stopped the strikes. Those were the first few days. This – Syria’s second largest rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, just came out and right away refused to abide by that ceasefire, and this was before the U.S. bombed the Syrian military – admittedly, by mistake – before – and then the humanitarian convoy was hit, which the U.S. blamed on Russia and Russia vehemently denied having done that. Looking at the events that followed the ceasefire, how is it fair to say that Russia is solely responsible for the failure of this deal?

MR KIRBY: Because – and we’ve said this many, many times – they have influence on Assad. I didn’t make that up.

QUESTION: Are you saying that you don’t influence with the rebels?

MR KIRBY: We do, and so do some of our allies and partners as well. And we’ve also been honest about the fact that the opposition hasn’t in every case and in every situation, on every day, met their obligations under that ceasefire arrangement. We’ve been honest about that.

The difference is the Russians aren’t being honest about what’s going on and about the degree to which they are supporting Assad and assisting him in this continued siege of Aleppo. I didn’t make it up that they have influence over Assad. They’re the ones who have asserted that they have influence over Assad. They’re the ones with a long security and defense relationship. They’re the ones with a base in Syria. We don’t have a base in Syria.

So it’s been pretty clear since the beginning of this that of all other nations, Russia has the most influence on Assad, and one of the reasons we know that is because back in February when the cessation actually was first announced, for about six to eight weeks we did see a significant reduction in violence, something to the tune, depending on your estimates, of – let me finish – 70 to 80 percent, and that was because we saw Russia use that influence on Assad to a greater good, which they have not – not only not proven willing to do in the last week to 10 days, actually actively assisted him to the contrary.

QUESTION: And if the U.S. does have influence with these rebel groups, why the hundreds of ceasefire violations? Why did that happen?

MR KIRBY: We have influence over some, not all. We have – there are --

QUESTION: The second largest rebel group just refused to abide by that deal.

MR KIRBY: There are other nations that have influence. And again, we have admitted that not all the opposition groups on every single day --

QUESTION: Can you --

MR KIRBY: -- completely abided by it, and we continued to work with them to that end.

QUESTION: Can you admit that part of the responsibility for the failure of this deal lies with the rebels and with the U.S. for not being able to separate the rebels from al-Nusrah, specifically in Aleppo, and for not getting everybody to abide by this ceasefire?

MR KIRBY: I think we’ve been nothing but honest about the fact that there have been violations of the ceasefire and the cessation of hostilities on all sides. I – we – the Secretary has said that I don’t know how many times. So I don’t know --

QUESTION: But right now Russia is being --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to be sure – I’m not sure that anything I can say today is going to be expand on that.

QUESTION: -- held solely responsible for the deterioration of the situation. Is that fair?

MR KIRBY: What I said was they’re responsible for this situation, the one we’re talking about here in terms of continued attacks on civilian infrastructure, hospitals, and innocent civilians in and around Aleppo, the siege of Aleppo.

QUESTION: But they say – just – John, they do say that they’re going after Nusrah and terrorists. And you say to that?

MR KIRBY: It’s not -- that’s not what’s happening. That’s what we say to that.


MR KIRBY: They’re hitting --

QUESTION: Can I ask --


MR KIRBY: They’re hitting hospitals. They’re hitting civilian infrastructure. They’re hitting the headquarters of the White Helmets. Now, so what we’re seeing them hit is not Nusrah, and where we’re seeing them bomb is not where we know Nusrah to be. And this is a – this has been a pretense that Moscow and Damascus has been proffering now for many months. Well, if you’re going to go after terrorists --

QUESTION: Do you think they’re trying to take Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: Fine, you want to go after terrorists. If you’re going to do what you say you do, then show that you’re going after terrorists, and they haven’t done that. There have been times when they have, but they have also, under the pretense of going after terrorist groups – presumably al-Nusrah – they have hit what are clearly civilian targets.

QUESTION: So you think they’re trying to take Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: I think you can only conclude from the military activity that we’ve seen that the siege of Aleppo persists and it’s --

QUESTION: It’s eastern Aleppo, part of Aleppo, because larger Aleppo is not under siege.

MR KIRBY: All you can do from – all you can conclude from what we continue to see on the ground is that the regime wants to take Aleppo back.

QUESTION: Is the Administration committed to making sure that eastern Aleppo or this particular area of Aleppo does not fall into regime/Russian hands?

MR KIRBY: Obviously, we don’t want to see the regime --

QUESTION: I know you don’t.

MR KIRBY: -- acquire any additional territory as per – as laid out in the cessation of hostilities agreement. I’m not going to speculate about actions, decisions, consequences, down the road.

QUESTION: Down the road means – by some estimates, it could fall in, like, the next five days.

MR KIRBY: The Secretary was clear this morning in his phone call to Foreign Minister Lavrov about the sense of urgency that we have here on the United States side with respect to what we want to – what we need to see them do.


QUESTION: The U.S. has expressed grave concern over what Saudi Arabia is doing in Yemen by hitting civilian targets there. Why isn’t the U.S. cutting – threatening to cut ties with Saudi Arabia?

MR KIRBY: We have – the Secretary talked about this when we were in Jeddah a few weeks ago. We have been honest with the Saudis about our concerns over the lack of precision in some strikes, and we’ve talked to them about the importance of conducting investigations into those strikes. And we know that – excuse me – that they continue to do that, to investigate. But --

QUESTION: But that’s far from threatening to cut ties.

MR KIRBY: It is the --

QUESTION: Congress just approved a sale of $1.1 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia – the Senate.

MR KIRBY: That’s right, because we have a strong defense relationship with Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia is under attack from --

QUESTION: Even though they’re hitting hospitals, schools in Yemen.

QUESTION: At the moment you have a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Excuse me. Saudi Arabia is under attack from missiles that are finding their way into Yemen with the help of Iran that are raining down on Saudi --

QUESTION: And Saudi Arabia is targeting --

MR KIRBY: -- Saudi – Saudi citizens, and they have a right to defend themselves. Now, we have – I have stood up here I don’t know how many times and talked about our concerns about the precision or lack thereof in some of these strikes and our concerns about that, and the Saudis have taken our concerns seriously. This is a different situation, and I think comparing what’s happening in Yemen to Syria is a ludicrous exercise.

QUESTION: But Saudi Arabia is doing there what Russia is accused of doing in Syria, so I’m --

MR KIRBY: No, no.

QUESTION: How is that consistent?

MR KIRBY: Because what we’re seeing the Russians do – and I would love to see you ask your government some of these questions. Russia Today never does that. You never poke and prod your own government. But so --

QUESTION: Oh, I do. But go on, on the first question.

MR KIRBY: Every so – so --

QUESTION: You attack me when you want to evade a question. You’ve done that before.

MR KIRBY: No, no, I’m not attacking you. I’m not attacking you.

QUESTION: Please, aside from that.

MR KIRBY: I’m not attacking you. I would just love to see your institution ask these same kind of questions of your own government – your government, which is flying aircraft over Aleppo and bombing hospitals. And it’s not imprecision; it’s specifically targeting civilian infrastructure and innocent people, innocent women and children and first responders that are trying to come to the rescue after these strikes occur. I mean, that’s deliberate, that’s measured, that is absolutely in violation of international law.

QUESTION: I’m asking --

MR KIRBY: We’re not talking about the – we’re not talking about civilian casualties that are caused by an inefficiency in the targeting process. We’re talking about, in Aleppo specifically, an effort to take that city down and to acquire --


MR KIRBY: -- to acquire it, it in violation of the cessation of hostilities, which was agreed on by Russia – oh, by the way – in February.


QUESTION: I am here asking you what I think are fair questions, and I have one more, if you can just --

MR KIRBY: I’ll give you one more.

QUESTION: Attacks – yes, put attacks aside --

MR KIRBY: I’m not attacking. I’m not attacking.

QUESTION: -- and just try to respond to the question.

MR KIRBY: I just am curious.

QUESTION: You are.

We are learning that Syrian rebels have received, quote/unquote, “excellent quantities” of surface-to-surface Grad missiles from, quote/unquote, “foreign states.” Actually, this is from a Reuters article. I was quoting a Reuters article. Considering how intertwined some of these rebel groups are with al-Nusrah specifically in Aleppo, how long do you think before these powerful weapons end up in the hands of terrorists?

MR KIRBY: I couldn’t possibly begin to answer that question. I don’t – I can’t confirm the veracity of that press reporting, and I’m not going to engage in speculation on a press report I can’t speak to.

QUESTION: Do you have any information about rebels (inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: Michel. Michel.

QUESTION: -- these weapons?

QUESTION: Is delivering MANPADS to the opposition is one of the options that the agencies are discussing?

MR KIRBY: Guys, I have talked about the fact that I’m not going to discuss in any greater detail interagency discussions about this.

QUESTION: Because news reports talked about this yesterday and today, saying that the U.S. is not opposing anymore providing the opposition with this kind of arms.

MR KIRBY: I’ve addressed this issue as much as I’m going to do today.

QUESTION: Can I move on?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, let’s move on. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Iraq and Baghdad, Iraq’s parliamentary – Iraq’s national assembly last week, it removed the finance minister. And the chief of staff of the presidency of the KRG was in New York last week, and he said that the United States was concerned. He told this to the Voice of America. The United States was concerned about this move. Could you elaborate on what he meant on this issue of U.S. concern about the removal of the Iraqi finance minister and what you think generally about what the Iraqi national assembly is doing?

MR KIRBY: What I would just say, first of all, is I’d refer you to the Iraqi Government for specifics on this recent vote to remove the finance minister. Politics aside, reforms are critical to reinforcing Iraq’s progress and to putting the country on a more sustainable fiscal path. We also will continue to support Iraq in its own critical economic reform efforts. We strongly support the Iraqi people in their fight against Daesh, which is on the defensive in Iraq, and we urge Iraqi leaders to continue their efforts to that end, to defeating Daesh. That must remain and does remain our central focus, particularly at a very pivotal moment in this campaign as Iraqi forces begin to pressure Mosul, and I think that’s as far as I’m going to go on that.

QUESTION: But you don’t think, like, having so many ministers – finance, defense, interior – so many ministries without ministers is a problem?

MR KIRBY: Look, the decision to remove is an Iraqi decision and they should speak – the Iraqi Government should speak to this decision. What I’ve said in the past is we continue to support Prime Minister Abadi and his reform efforts, both political and economic. Obviously, we know that in order to enact those reforms and implement them, you need a team, you need a cabinet, and we support his efforts to fill those posts and to move his government forward. But the individual decisions about removing, in this case, the finance minister, are for the Iraqi Government to speak to. But clearly, we, more broadly speaking, continue to support Prime Minister Abadi as he tries to move the government forward.

QUESTION: But the parliament seems to be opposed to the prime minister.


QUESTION: I mean, that’s why they’re removing his ministers. One interpretation of what parliament is doing is, in fact, that this is being done at the behest of Maliki, former prime minister, and he’s trying to get at the current prime minister.

MR KIRBY: I’m simply not educated enough and nor would it be prudent for me to involve in a debate – involve myself in a debate over parliamentary politics in Iraq. Democracy is hard work, it’s tough, and we understand that, and that’s why we continue to support the Abadi government as it moves forward. But these are votes, these are decisions that Iraqi politicians need to speak to.

QUESTION: Can I move on, Palestinian-Israeli issue?


QUESTION: Very quick issue regarding something called the Women’s Boat to Gaza. A boat moved in today, then I think tomorrow, another boat. It includes an American woman, a former diplomat, Ann Wright, and a colonel – a former colonel in the U.S. Army. They sent a letter to – and that’s my question – they sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on the 14th of September requesting that he, whatever, take some action to call on Israel, to prevent Israel from doing any – committing any kind of violent acts similar to what happened in May 2010.

First of all, are you aware of this letter that was sent to Secretary Kerry?

MR KIRBY: I’m not.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t know whether you received it or not?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of it, Said. I can look to see --

QUESTION: Look, I think the problem is – I think they came to the State Department, met with some people.

MR KIRBY: They came?

QUESTION: I think they came to this building and met with some people over this issue.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: You don’t know. Okay. Would you urge --

MR KIRBY: I mean, I’m aware of --

QUESTION: Would you urge the Israelis not – to prevent the boats violently from docking in Gaza?

MR KIRBY: So on the flotilla itself --

QUESTION: On the flotilla --

MR KIRBY: -- I’m aware of the reports. I don’t have more information about it to share with you. But as we’ve said before, while we underscore the need for international support for Gaza’s recovery and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, we remain of the view that this assistance and the goods destined for Gaza should be transmitted through legitimate crossings and established channels. I just don’t have more information on this letter. We’ll take the question and see if we can find out more about it. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: So I’m going to go to JASTA.


QUESTION: Because as you probably don’t know because you were standing up here when it happened, the House has just also overridden the veto. So it is – it’s law. And while I don’t expect you to comment on that necessarily, and the White House has done it extensively already, are you aware of, since the President vetoed the law last – vetoed the bill last week, if any countries have specifically come to you guys, embassies or here in Washington, and said that they would move to – or that they would seek to pass legislation that would – that could affect the sovereign immunity of the United States and U.S. officials abroad?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that any government has expressed an intention to do so since the President’s veto. Before the President’s veto, though, several governments – some of our European friends – who are less likely to have been affected by the intent of the law itself have expressed concerns about the issue of sovereign immunity surrounding the law. I mean, so these are --

QUESTION: Right --

MR KIRBY: -- France being one of them, expressed a concern about that.

QUESTION: Well, right. I know that people have expressed concerns about it, but have any of them come to you and said, “If this veto is overridden and this goes into – and this takes effect as the law, we’re going to consider doing something” --

MR KIRBY: That we’re going to reciprocate essentially. Yeah, I’m not aware of any – of any intention so stated specifically since the veto.

QUESTION: Okay. So if there hasn’t been that, is it just – is the Administration’s thinking that it’s just inevitable that it’s going to happen? Or were you guys just conjuring up a worst possible, worse-case scenario in the event that the veto was overridden?

MR KIRBY: No, I mean, it wasn’t – it’s neither, Matt. I mean, I can’t obviously predict what sovereign nations are going to do now with respect to this. But it wasn’t a conjuring. It wasn’t an extreme or outlandish interpretation of the effect of the law that we took. In fact, it was informed by concerns expressed by some of our allies and partners even in Europe that this --


MR KIRBY: That this law would force them to have to rethink the whole issue of sovereign immunity. We didn’t make that up. That was communicated to us by other countries.

QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that you did make it up. But I’m just wondering if anyone – I mean, that yes, they expressed concerns, but has anyone actually – has any country actually said or any government actually said that they’re going to go ahead and do it, take action commensurate with what they see as – what they see this law as having (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that we have received communication from any specific government that they would now move forward intentionally with a reciprocal piece of legislation. Obviously, we wouldn’t want to see that happen.

QUESTION: Gotcha. May I make a request then? Considering back a couple administrations ago, a couple years ago, the department was in the habit of giving us updates on when Article 98 agreements were signed, and I’m just wondering if it’s possible to ask if you keep track of the number of countries who have said that those might be in jeopardy now or if any of them get rescinded as a result of this veto being overridden.

MR KIRBY: Let me --

QUESTION: So I don’t know if you can. I’m just making the request now.

MR KIRBY: Got it. Let me consider it and see if --

QUESTION: Are you surprised by the size or the overwhelming majority that voted in the Senate, I mean, 97 to 1, the House is probably even a – I don’t know what the ratio is.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know either. I don’t either.

QUESTION: Are you surprised by that?

MR KIRBY: The bill had --

QUESTION: You say that --

MR KIRBY: The bill had – moving forward, it had bipartisan support. I’m not going to characterize --

QUESTION: But that’s an overwhelming bipartisan support.

MR KIRBY: 97 to 1 is a very clear and convincing --

QUESTION: Almost unprecedented

MR KIRBY: -- vote tally. I’m not going to characterize it one way or another. Obviously, we’re disappointed to see – to see what the Senate did. And I haven’t seen the reports out of the House, but if that’s true, that obviously continues to be of concern here. And it’s not what we --

QUESTION: One last question?

MR KIRBY: That’s not the outcome we wanted to see.

QUESTION: One more point on this. Are you expected that you will have some sort of diplomatic difficulty with Saudi Arabia as a result of this vote?

MR KIRBY: I think our hope would be not to, clearly. But it goes beyond just Saudi Arabia. It goes to a larger concern that we have had about this idea of sovereign immunity – not just for diplomats but for our troops, for U.S. companies that operate overseas. But certainly, our hope that the strength of the U.S.-Saudi relationship will be able to weather this, but we’ll have to see.

Yeah, Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, John. On Korea, Assistant Secretary Russel has stated in diplomatic associations recently, he said that THAAD missile system should be in place as quickly as possible in South Korea. Do you have any timeframe for these?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

QUESTION: So how quickly does the U.S. can deploy the THAAD in South Korea (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, we’re in discussions right now. The Defense Department is in discussions with the defense ministry there in the Republic of Korea. I would point you to my colleagues at the Pentagon to talk about the pace and scope of those discussions. I don’t know, and it wouldn’t be right for me to try to speculate about how fast this process is going to move along. There’s consultations going on right now, and I think we need to let that play out.

QUESTION: You mean, within this year or what?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate.

QUESTION: Also another one. North Korean embassy in Russia reported yesterday that North Korea has completed the development of nuclear weapons. So that how you response of this, their statement that they already have nuclear?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to intelligence matters from this podium. We continue to be, obviously, deeply concerned about the constant pursuit of the DPRK for nuclear weapon capabilities. Where exactly we think they are in that process, I’m simply not going to get into.

But what I will say is that with each test, and with each new provocative action, they only further galvanize the international community to take the steps necessary to put additional pressure on the regime. I understand that even with the most strident sanctions regime now in place that they still prove able and willing to continue these activities. Sanctions take time. And as the Secretary has said, Ambassador Power has said, we’re going to continue to consult with our partners at the UN on the potential for additional sanctions regimes for going forward. Now, but I just don’t have anything new to announce at this stage, and I’m certainly not going to speak to our views of where they are on the capability spectrum. Okay?




QUESTION: John, quick on DPRK. So the Coordinator for the Sanction Policy of the State Department Dan Fried this morning told a Senate subcommittee that he would not argue suggestions that more Chinese nationals are under investigation for evading sanctions related to DPRK’s proliferation. Do you have any more on that? Can you elaborate on what the – that more Chinese individuals and entities are being probed?

MR KIRBY: Actually, I don’t. I don’t have any additional information that I can offer on that. Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you take that question?

MR KIRBY: I’ll take the question, but I don’t think that we’re going to be able to provide much in terms of detail on that. That wouldn't be appropriate.

QUESTION: I have another question on South Sudan. Do you have anything on South Sudan’s former vice president, Riek --


QUESTION: -- Machar, and he was calling a possible armed struggle against South Sudanese Government? Do you have anything on that? Are you concerned of --

MR KIRBY: Of course. We’ve seen those statements and strongly condemn them, a statement calling for a return to war is basically what he did. The past two and a half years have proven that fighting is not going to resolve the underlying political disputes that led to conflict in the first place. We find it inexcusable that he would continue to promote armed resistance. It indicates a lack of concern for the well-being of the South Sudanese people, millions of whom continue to struggle just to survive and just as much want to see peace.

So as we’ve always said, the United States expects that the transitional government and all parties, including all leaders of the opposition in South Sudan, will avoid violence at all costs and implement the peace agreement.


QUESTION: MH17. Investigators noticed that Russia was involved in this case and the – in your statement you draw attention to this that the BUK system was tracked in from Russia and returned to Russia after shooting down the plane. Investigators also said that they identified hundred people responsible for these actions. So what is your line regarding specific role of Russia and Russian Government in that case?

MR KIRBY: Again, our assessment, which is consistent with the investigation team’s assessment in this interim report, is that the airplane was shot down by a BUK surface-to-air missile that was fired from separatist-controlled – not government-controlled – territory in eastern Ukraine. And it also makes clear that that missile system was transported from Russia into Russian-backed separatist-controlled territory in Ukraine before the incident, and then move back out to Russia after the shoot-down. And this is the result of months-long – what, 15 months? Something like that – long, thorough, impartial, credible examination of the incident. And it totally comports with what the Secretary said just a few days after the incident happened. But the investigation is ongoing. This is an interim report. We’re glad that they continue to investigate, and we look forward to seeing the results when they’re completed.


QUESTION: Just to – excuse me, just to follow up on that. I mean, what sort of, if any, next steps will you be taking? Will you bring this up with the Russians? I mean, what – I mean, if any – do you have a plan going forward now?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, it’s an interim report. I think we need to let the investigation conclude. I don’t want to get ahead of decisions right now while they’re still investigating. All the indications are, as I said, comport with what our views were of the incident, and we’ll just have to see how it plays out. Have we had conversations with Russian counterparts since this incident about our concerns about this narrative, about our views? Absolutely we have. Absolutely we have. But I’m not going to get ahead of anything yet.

QUESTION: You welcome the conclusion of the report. I – have you – are you aware of the Russian response to the conclusions?


QUESTION: And what do you make of the Russian reaction to it?

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen their response. I think we hold it to be completely without merit and absolutely not in keeping with the findings of the interim report, and certainly not in keeping with what our own understanding was even just days afterward.

QUESTION: Do you want to – I’m wondering if you can kind of look at this in a bigger context given what you’ve accused Russia of doing in Syria with its air force and what you’re talking about in terms of this report. I’m wondering if you have any larger kind of thing to say about Russian actions in these type of conflicts.

MR KIRBY: Here’s what I would say, more broadly speaking: A lot of the tensions that we’re dealing with are the result of Russian decisions. Decisions made in Moscow to destabilize areas of the European continent, to prop up a brutal dictatorship in Syria. These are Russian sovereign decisions that they also should have to speak to and aren’t necessarily being challenged by media in their own country, to face up to these decisions that they’re making. That said, I work for a man who, I think you all know, believes in the power of dialogue and diplomacy. And – and he has said many times that where there are areas where we can cooperate with Russia, we’re going to explore those opportunities. The Iran deal was one of them. And up until lately, I think we really believed that Syria was one of those; obviously having significant doubts about that now going forward. But he’s not afraid to try to find common ground where it can be had, and where we can work with Russia on things.

Obviously, Ukraine is one of those areas where we continue to have major disagreements with the Russian approach, and that is why the sanctions regime stays in place, because Minsk isn’t fully implemented, because Russia hasn’t fully implemented their side. Now, I understand there’s Ukrainian obligations on that, and we’re working closely with them towards that end, and they have implemented many steps. But Russia has significant choices and decisions to make. They’re decisions that will either further isolate them from the international community or help to facilitate a better integration with the international community.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on the Philippines. President Duterte said today that an upcoming joint naval exercise with the United States would be the last one between the two countries. His exact quote is, “I’m serving notice now to the Americans: This will be the last military exercise.” I realize this might be a DOD thing, but have you gotten – to your knowledge, has the U.S. Government gotten any notification that this is going to be the last military exercise?

MR KIRBY: To my knowledge, no. There has been no official rendering of a decision of that sort to the U.S. Government. I do encourage you to speak to my Defense Department colleagues. They might have a context I don’t have, but we’re not aware of any such decision. We’ve seen these comments, obviously, and would refer you to the president for – to speak to it.

What I would say is, broadly speaking, we continue to focus on our relationship with the Philippines and we’re going to continue to work together in many areas of mutual interest, including counterterrorism, to help improve the livelihoods of the Philippine people and to uphold our shared democratic values. Our relationship with the Philippines is broad and our alliance is one of the most enduring and important relationships in the Asia Pacific region. It has been a cornerstone of stability for over 70 years. It’s built on shared sacrifices for democracy and human rights, and strong people-to-people and societal ties, and obviously we’d like to see that continue.

QUESTION: Is it hard to do business with a country whose president, every few days now it seems, says things that presumably cause some consternation here?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, our focus is on the relationship today and moving it forward. And we continue to believe that that’s possible. Again, we’ve seen these comments, we’ve talked about them when they’re – when they have been made, but the bottom line is that we have significant security commitments with the Philippines. We’re committed to meeting those commitments and to furthering this relationship.


QUESTION: John, I got – this will be very short, I promise. Yesterday I asked Mark about the Secretary’s meeting with President Maduro in Colombia.


QUESTION: I – my specific question was whether the case of Josh Holt, the American who is in prison there, was raised.

MR KIRBY: It was.

QUESTION: And you – it was. And what did the Secretary say in relation to – to the president in relation to that case?

MR KIRBY: Again, I think, without getting into too much detail, I mean, he certainly reiterated our concerns about Mr. Holt. And I think I’m going --

QUESTION: But does that concern – are you calling for the Venezuelan Government to release him or are you just calling on them to ensure that he is given due process or whatever (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I just don’t want to get into too much specific detail on it here from the podium, but I can confirm that he did raise our concerns over Mr. Holt.

QUESTION: I have one – one quick one.


QUESTION: Have you heard anything about another American being detained in Iran? There was some stuff on Twitter yesterday about an Iranian American being detained, being charged with espionage?

MR KIRBY: Let me – I want to go back if I could, just a minute, to Matt’s question. While I won’t go into more specific detail about the conversation with President Maduro, I can tell you, just to put it on the record, that we’re obviously following the case closely, and that we continue to call on the Venezuelan Government to respect due process and human rights. But I – and I think you can – again, without going to – into more detail of the conversation with President Maduro, you – I think you can expect that that’s the same message that the Secretary relayed.

QUESTION: Okay, so – and just so I understand that, you’re not telling them that you – that you’re not urging them to release him immediately without any – without a case proceeding any further, you’re just calling on them to respect due process?

MR KIRBY: What I – that’s – what I’ve said is our policy with respect to Mr. Holt’s case, and I think I just need to leave it there.

You had a question on Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah. The intelligence minister from Iran yesterday tweeted that an American spy who wanted to move millions of dollars to create and launch a social network was arrested. Now, there was one that – I’m wondering if this is a new American.

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) I don’t – I’m afraid I don’t have any additional information on this. I’ll have to take that and look at it.

QUESTION: Well, are you aware of it?

MR KIRBY: I don’t --

QUESTION: Do you know what I’m talking about?



MR KIRBY: I don’t have information on this particular thing. I’ll have to take a look at it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:26 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 10/04/2016 - 16:59

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 4, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:45 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey, guys. Happy Tuesday.

A couple things at the top, then I’ll get to your questions. As you guys know, Secretary Kerry is in Brussels today to participate in the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan. He, I think, has met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as well as Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah to discuss a range of bilateral and as well as regional issues.

The Brussels Conference on Afghanistan is bringing together more than 70 countries and 20 international organizations to endorse a reform program and reaffirm support to the Afghan Government. At the conference, donors will – excuse me – at the conference, donors will outline their commitments to Afghanistan’s development linked to continued Afghan progress on political and economic reforms. The conference sends a strong signal to the Afghan people and to the region that the international community remains committed to a stable and prosperous Afghanistan.

And then just an update with regard to Hurricane Matthew. This morning, Hurricane Matthew made landfall on Haiti, bringing high winds and heavy rain along with it. It’s too early to fully assess the scope of the damage, but we’re continuing to closely monitor the storm’s progress and assess initial damage. We have also already started mobilizing assistance to communities impacted, including providing $400,000 in initial relief assistance to Haiti and Jamaica.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team, so-called DART, to the Central Caribbean. And the DART, which is an elite team of disaster experts, is coordinating with governments of the affected countries and humanitarian organizations who are already on the ground to bring vital humanitarian assistance and logistic support to those in need in the aftermath of the hurricane. The DART currently has experts in Haiti, Jamaica, and the Bahamas. The U.S. Government is also communicating with officials in Cuba, Dominican Republic, as well as the Cayman Islands in order to coordinate relief efforts if requested.

As mentioned yesterday, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance strategically pre-positioned some emergency relief supplies in Haiti, and it’s begun to prepare additional shipments of commodities from its emergency stockpiles in the region for rapid distribution to the thousands of impacted families. We’ll work with international partners to distribute critical relief supplies, manage emergency shelters, and provide logistic support to humanitarian organizations.

Also, just as a reminder, we issued a Travel Alert for Cuba in addition to the Travel Warning we issued over the weekend for Haiti, Jamaica, and the Bahamas. We continue to advise U.S. citizens in affected areas to make preparations immediately to shelter in place in a secure location and to follow to the emergency instructions provided by local authorities.

That’s it. Matt?

QUESTION: Yeah. Okay. Thank you. Just on that, really quickly --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- do you have in one place – can you – embassy – affected embassies, embassy closures, that kind of thing? Without having to look at each individual Travel Warning?

MR TONER: Yes. Hold on one second; let me see if I can find that really quickly.

QUESTION: If you can’t, it’s fine. But --

MR TONER: That’s okay. No, the – it – so we have not evacuated any U.S. embassy personnel. What we did is we enacted authorized departure via commercial airlines. That was permitted for eligible family members in Kingston, in Nassau, and in Port-au-Prince. And some have departed. But the ambassadors and I would say critical staff remain in place.

QUESTION: I’m – that – okay. Thank you for that, but I’m --

MR TONER: You’re talking about --

QUESTION: -- more about embassies that are going to be closed for business, like they can’t help people.

MR TONER: We’ll try to get an update on that. Yeah. We’ll just get an update.

QUESTION: Thanks. And then I wanted to ask – on this?

QUESTION: Uh, no. Syria.

QUESTION: Yeah, Syria. So since it’s now been a day since you guys have suspended the contact with the Russians on Syria, and there’s been a lot of talk since then about what potential options you have for going forward, and I am wondering if there is any clarity yet about what is possible, what is likely, or when – and when a decision might be made.

MR TONER: Well, there’s – excuse me. There’s some clarity – not a tremendous amount of detail yet. Just to reiterate what Secretary Kerry said, just because we’ve temporarily or suspended the cooperation that we had bilaterally with Russia on Syria doesn’t mean we’ve closed any doors with regard to multilateral action. And certainly, I think, we’re examining closely our approach going forward. And in that regard, the interagency, the departments and agencies, are discussing diplomatic, military, intelligence, and economic options. And we’ll all have these discussions going forward. But I think essentially our view remains the same. We walked away with – from this agreement that we’d reached with Russia with a certain degree of frustration and outrage and sadness, because we still think that that agreement, had it been implemented, would have provided the best way forward, which is a political process and a political transition and a political solution. We still – the options going forward that are being considered – and we’re looking at the range, but our stress is still on the political resolution.

QUESTION: Yeah. But it’s – okay. Well, I mean, I ask you --


QUESTION: Well, you can take – I know you’re not going to answer this, but I’m going to ask anyway.


QUESTION: What are the diplomatic, political, and intelligence options?

QUESTION: And military.

MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Didn’t I say military? Oh, diplomatic, military, and intelligence – sorry, not political. I couldn’t read my writing.

MR TONER: That’s okay. (Laughter.) Look, I mean, I’m not going to get into the details. As we develop options going forward and look at what is reasonable – and again, not just – this is not just about the U.S., but I want to stress the fact that we’re going to work within the multilateral framework. We’re going to work with other members of the ISSG. There’s already a meeting, I think, that was announced by Germany tomorrow in Berlin that we’ll participate in. But we’re looking at a range of options, some of which we’ve talked about here from the podium before. But I don’t want to preview or get in front of anything that hasn’t been formally sussed out.

QUESTION: Are all of those options multilateral options only? Or are you considering some unilateral diplomatic, military, intelligence, and economic options?

MR TONER: So my answer to that is going to be that we always, I think, consider unilateral options when looking at a situation like Syria.

QUESTION: And you are now?

MR TONER: And we are now.

QUESTION: Yeah. Thanks.

MR TONER: But as I said, we’re also looking at – with the Russian channel with regard to Syria suspended, we’re looking at how we can leverage and work with the other members of the ISSG.

QUESTION: The Secretary just --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) talked about the economic sanctions against Russian actors?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to close the door on any options. They’re – all things are being discussed. But I’d just --

QUESTION: But you’ve expressed a preference for multilateral action, especially as regards sanctions, and you’re meeting tomorrow with Europeans.

MR TONER: Well, we’ve talked about – I think with respect to some of the legislation that’s been proposed on the Hill, we’ve talked about the fact that, regardless of where economic sanctions are applied, but with respect to, for example, Ukraine, that it helps to work in concert with likeminded partners and allies, as we did with respect to --

QUESTION: Would you describe the people meeting in Berlin tomorrow as likeminded partners and allies?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, yes. You can look from the list of those attending. And again, I think this is just – in the wake of the inability for us to get this September 10th agreement, Geneva agreement, in place, it’s a chance for us to get together with some of our closest partners on this to talk about the next steps.


QUESTION: Secretary Kerry is not attending that meeting in Berlin.

MR TONER: He’s not.

QUESTION: He’s flying back.

QUESTION: Political directors, right?

MR TONER: He is not --

QUESTION: It’s been reported that he has meetings with the principals committee tomorrow at the White House?

MR TONER: I can’t confirm that right now. But I can say that I believe it’s going to be Tom Shannon who attends tomorrow’s meeting in Berlin.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Mark is what you just --

MR TONER: I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on this.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: What are you – the Secretary said we’re not giving up on the Syrian people and we’re not abandoning the pursuit of peace. So other than discussing options, what are you actually doing to pursue peace in Syria?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think there’s always going to be ongoing discussions about the best way forward and looking at the various options. I mean, I don’t – I’m not coming out here with anything to announce or anything to even really signal as a direction we may be headed. We’re looking at a range of things to do. But I think what’s important here is that there are other options out there. There are other players in this region. And we can work, we believe, in a multilateral way. We did so once before when the ISSG was first formed to get a cessation of hostilities in place. No one’s underestimating, frankly, the challenge here, because when you’ve got what is by any sense or definition an ongoing assault on the people of Aleppo, that that’s going to be hard. But we’re going to continue to pursue efforts.


QUESTION: Mark, I just want to --

MR TONER: I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: -- follow up on a couple of things. You said that you have sadly and reluctantly basically walked away from the ceasefire. What was the one event in your – I mean, you’ve talked about this before, but you could – could you tell us now what was the one event --


QUESTION: -- that basically made you walk away from this deal? Was it the bombing of the convoy? Was it the continuous bombing? What?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, it’s hard to pinpoint one event. Certainly, the bombing of the humanitarian convoy after over a week of trying to get that convoy up and running and get it the access and the papers and all the documentation that it needed to get into Syria, only to have it bombed was demoralizing to say the least and an outrage, and we said as much.

But then the fact that that was followed with, as I said, a full-on assault on Aleppo, it called into question, I think, the very feasibility or reality of a cessation of hostilities or even what we had talked about, which was a seven-day suspension or rather – not suspension but a reduction in the level of violence. We had two or three days where – that we talked about. There was a significant reduction of violence. And we talked about it at the time; there were violations on both sides. But then if you went into the weekend – I’m talking about the weekend before UNGA, before the UN General Assembly – it really started to deteriorate.

QUESTION: So in terms of timeline, because the suspension happened --


QUESTION: -- two weeks after the bombing, it really did not impact walking away --

MR TONER: Well, we talked – I think again, and the Secretary spoke to this several times, we continued to talk to Russia about actions that we felt could be taken to re-establish the credibility of the process, and that didn’t happen.

QUESTION: And Ambassador Churkin yesterday said basically that what sort of broke the ceasefire was the fact that you guys did not want to do something that you obligated yourself to, which is separation, or separating the terrorists from the moderate opposition.


QUESTION: Why is that such a daunting – why is that such a difficult thing to do?

MR TONER: Well, look, we’ve spoken to this many times.


MR TONER: It’s a hard thing to do given the circumstances, and it was only made harder by the fact that many of these groups were under assault, under attack by the regime, aided and abetted by Russian air forces. It didn’t make that piece of it any easier. But that’s an ongoing challenge.

QUESTION: But isn’t it true though that these groups were mixed with one another and, in fact, that made it easier for --

MR TONER: Well, we’ve acknowledged --

QUESTION: -- for elements like Nusrah --


QUESTION: -- to move about and arm and regroup and so on?

MR TONER: But I mean – some. And again, we’ve talked about the dynamic there and the fact that there is that mixing of some members of the opposition, moderate opposition, with Nusrah. Part of that, again, is exacerbated by the fact that when the regime attacks them, they’re defending themselves. And frankly, as we’ve said many times before, it drives them into the arms of the extremists.



MR TONER: Gayane. I’ll get to you, Michel.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry said the Syrian regime and Russia seem to have rejected diplomacy. On September 12th they were on a diplomatic path, then something happened. What do you think led to the failure of diplomacy?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think it was we had a succession of events that led us to the conclusion that there was no viability to this process going forward. And you know this. Everybody in this room knows that this wasn’t a decision made in haste. There was a rough week at UN General Assembly given some of the events on the ground in Syria, but we continued to keep that process going. But I think at a certain point the decision was made --

QUESTION: Certain things --

MR TONER: Sorry. The decision was made that --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I understand.

MR TONER: -- that we felt that the process couldn’t go on as such.

QUESTION: Didn’t it fail after some rebel groups, specifically Ahrar al-Sham in Aleppo, used the ceasefire to strengthen their positions? Didn’t it fail after ISIL nearly took over Deir al-Zor following the U.S. bombing of the Syrian military, admittedly by mistake? Did those things play no role in the failure of that deal?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think – look – and we’ve talked about this – there were a few good days of reduced violence in the beginning of the seven-day period, and then there was a series of events, certainly the attack by mistake on Syrian forces but then followed by the attack on the humanitarian convoy and then subsequently by an increase in attacks on civilian targets in Aleppo that were unconscionable, to say the least. And look, we can talk all about the fact that some rebel groups or some opposition groups may have used the pause to resupply. That’s a reality and that’s something that the strategists looking at what was happening in Aleppo had taken into consideration. That was something that was worked out in great detail in the discussions we had prior to the September 10th agreement that we reached with Russia. We all knew the dynamics going into this, but we had to get through that seven-day period, and then we could have implemented the JIC or the Joint Implementation Center. But we never got there. So you have to give this time – we had to give this time – to really solidify. And we didn’t – and we never got to the point where we could do that. One more.

QUESTION: Just a few more. Yeah.


QUESTION: Actually can I have two more, please?


QUESTION: Thanks much. Suspending ties with Moscow over the failure of that deal – was it a diplomatic move or a political one in your view?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, I think it was a diplomatic move. And I would just note that – and we’ve talked about this before – it was a suspension. We haven’t permanently closed the door, but I think we would need to see something – some action by Russia or the regime or both that really led us to believe that there was any reason to pursue it again.

QUESTION: I’m going to quote – so the Russia foreign ministry spokeswoman today was quoted as saying – and I would like to get your reaction to that quote --


QUESTION: -- “The whole time we were involved in these negotiations in this peace process, we realized clearly that the U.S. did not have a joint position. Different structures and organizations in Washington had different views on what’s going on in Syria. We were dealing with people who were changing their view and opinion every day. That was the main reason why they failed in fulfilling those agreements,” end quote. Was everyone on the U.S. side on the same page when negotiating the deal?

MR TONER: So we’ve been very clear about how the inner agency process works in Washington or in the United States. We think it’s very effective and it creates a single policy and a single path forward. But to get there, part of that, rightfully so, should always be a matter of debate and discussion, with alternate viewpoints and alternate options being presented. But ultimately, it’s the President who decides the way forward and he makes the decisions as the Commander in Chief.

QUESTION: Just one more. Just one more, please. How did Secretary Kerry --

MR TONER: Last one.

QUESTION: How did Secretary Kerry specifically evolve on diplomacy in Syria? He was taped recently saying that he argued for use of force. How did he evolve?

MR TONER: I’m sorry, I missed the – how did he evolve?

QUESTION: So how did Secretary Kerry evolve in his position on diplomacy in Syria? He was taped recently saying that he argued for use of force. How did he evolve?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, I’m not going to speak to either the fact that he was taped or his conversations that were private with members of the Syrian opposition. Look, Secretary Kerry has been very clear that he wants as robust a policy going forward to provide him the diplomatic leverage that he felt he needed in order to bring about a diplomatic process or a political transition in Syria.

QUESTION: Sorry, Mark, on your answer --

MR TONER: Yeah. That’s okay.

QUESTION: In your answer to the penultimate question there --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- you said that the interagency process is very effective and designed – creates a single policy. Isn’t the idea once the President makes up his mind and decides on the policy that the dissenters shut up and don’t complain publicly? That’s --

MR TONER: Precisely, I mean, that’s – as the Commander in Chief --

QUESTION: Did that happen in this case?

MR TONER: Again, in a policy and an issue as – like Syria – I mean, any given day there’s different elements and different dynamics to be considered. And I think that that always goes into --

QUESTION: Okay. And that happened?


QUESTION: Did it create a single policy with no dissent?



QUESTION: Okay. It did? Because there were a lot of people complaining about it.

MR TONER: I understand that there’s that --

QUESTION: And not secretly --

MR TONER: I understand that there’s the perception of that.

QUESTION: -- not whispering in the background.

MR TONER: I understand there’s a perception of that.

QUESTION: Perception? That’s --

MR TONER: But what I would say is that --

QUESTION: Doesn’t that compromise the effectiveness of this --

MR TONER: Again, we carried out the policy that the President had dictated that he wanted to pursue to the utmost degree that we could.

QUESTION: Mark, you talked about coordinating with partners in the ISSG --


QUESTION: -- forum. Russia a member of the ISSG --

MR TONER: They are.

QUESTION: Will they attend the meeting tomorrow and --

MR TONER: Tomorrow is not – I mean, it’s made up of members, but it’s not an ISSG meeting. There is, I believe, just at the working level, an ISSG meeting in Geneva. I’m not sure whether Russia will take --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: I think so. I’ll let the Germans speak to who’s participating, but I believe that’s it.

QUESTION: But Russia --

MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: -- will be there or not?

MR TONER: Tomorrow in Berlin? I don’t believe so. But again, I’d refer you to the Germans. They’re going to be – and I don’t know whether there’s going to be a working-level ISSG meeting in Geneva, but that’s a routine meeting. But those are ongoing.

QUESTION: Because Russia co-chairs the ISSG.

MR TONER: Correct. Correct.

QUESTION: That means they should be there.

MR TONER: I’m just not going to speak to whether they’re participating or not. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: My second question is news reports said that Russia has deployed, for the first time, S-300 antimissile system to Syria, in addition to the S-400. Can you confirm these reports?

MR TONER: Don’t know if we can confirm categorically or definitively yet, but we saw the announcement. Doesn’t seem consistent with their stated goals, which are to counter extremists, as in ISIL and al-Qaida, neither of which, the last time I checked, have an air force.

QUESTION: And what does it mean for you?

MR TONER: Our first goal is to protect U.S. interests, national security interests. We’re going to continue to do that. We’re going to continue to counter out – to carry out our counter-ISIL operations in Syria, and we’re going to continue to protect our air forces – our airwomen and airmen – as they carry out those missions.

QUESTION: Does it give you pause when you consider, let’s say, like maybe targeting Syrian targets in Syria and so on? Air Force targets, air fleets, and so on --

MR TONER: Again, I’m no military expert.

QUESTION: -- by air?

MR TONER: I’m no military expert, but given --

QUESTION: Because these are obviously intended for fighter aircrafts and jets and cruise missiles, as a matter of fact.

MR TONER: I won’t challenge your assumption, but we haven’t confirmed definitively. I haven’t seen a Russian confirmation that they’re actually deployed.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Well, they have.

MR TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: They have.

MR TONER: They have confirmed?



MR TONER: Oh. I haven’t seen it.

QUESTION: Also said something like there is a missile called the S23, which is designed for --

MR TONER: Again, there are these --

QUESTION: -- to shoot down a cruise missile.

MR TONER: I mean, we note their deployment, then, and as I said, it’s – it seems inconsistent with their goals.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. going to be continuing doing what it’s been doing in Syria or is it waiting for a new strategy?

MR TONER: Well, I think – so yes, in the sense that we’re going to continue to carry out support for groups within the counter-ISIL, counter-Daesh coalition – those groups that are fighting in northern Syria to clear out, to destroy and degrade Daesh. We’re also going to continue to carry out airstrikes. In fact, yesterday, you saw that, as the Pentagon confirmed, there was a strike against a senior al-Qaida figure that was carried out. Again, it shows the fact that through our strikes, we’re able to carry out very targeted strikes against senior leadership, rather than wholesale hitting of areas that include civilian populations.

But just in general, we’re going to continue those operations, full stop. And with regard to the way forward and the civil war in Syria, we’re talking to likeminded allies, partners within the ISSG, and we’re meeting internally as a government to plot out next steps.

QUESTION: What are requirements that it’s looking for for the next multilateral agreement? What are main stipulations?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, again, we – what we want is – I mean, we thought we were there with Russia, but what we want to see is a seven-day or – cessation or significant reduction in violence, a durable ceasefire or cessation of hostilities put in place, humanitarian access, which never happened during the last attempt to every place, but we would appreciate just some humanitarian access. And then, obviously, ultimately getting the political negotiations back up and running in Geneva.

QUESTION: Well, what leverage does the U.S. still have without Russia on its own to bring towards a multilateral agreement or any kind of agreement?

MR TONER: Well, look, I mean, it’s – that’s a fair question. I think as we assess going forward, though, it’s a matter of Russia being further isolated through its actions. Russia has been in Syria actively for the past year. It said it was going after al-Qaida and Nusrah – and Daesh, rather. We haven’t seen that to date, at least a concerted effort to do so. Frankly, it’s been there primarily to aid the regime, but it hasn’t built a broad coalition, it hasn’t, frankly, built much support at all. It’s only isolated itself on the international stage because of its actions, which include carrying out airstrikes against civilian centers, civilian populations, hospitals, and other civilian targets.

QUESTION: Well, so if Russia was involved in another --

MR TONER: Last question.

QUESTION: -- multilateral agreement, what precautions would you make Russia take before entering into a multilateral --

MR TONER: I can’t predict. I mean, I can give you broad strokes what those might be. One includes ceasing to carry out strikes against civilian populations. And then also, what we wanted to see at the end of last week was the regime grounding its air force.


QUESTION: I just want to follow up on what you said – a year ago, Russia began its involvement in Syria. Yesterday --

MR TONER: Intensified. Intensified.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah – no, they began on the 30 of September last year.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: So it’s been a year. Yesterday, Mr. Churkin said if it hadn’t been for Russian – Russia’s interference, Damascus today would be in the hands of Daesh. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: That’s a common narrative that the Russians put forward.

QUESTION: You don’t believe it. I mean --

MR TONER: Look – I reject that, and we reject that, because while everyone recognized for the past year or before that – but it was one of the primary tenets of the ISSG when it formed was the fact that you needed to, in some way, shape, or form, retain some of the infrastructure, some of the institutions of the Syrian Government as you went forward or moved forward with a political transition. Assad is not a future leader of that country. He can never be.


QUESTION: Yeah. Turkey has been a major supporter of the Syrian opposition and it’s a member of the I-I-S-G, and Vladimir Putin will visit Turkey next week for the World Energy Conference and he will meet with President Erdogan. Will any senior U.S. officials be at the conference, and if so, will they meet with the Russians? If not, has Turkey provided you any information on what Erdogan might be speaking – might be saying to Putin and --

MR TONER: Well, I mean, we – so we --

QUESTION: -- is there things you’d like him to be saying?

MR TONER: Sorry, didn’t mean to cut you off.

QUESTION: No, that’s okay.

MR TONER: We consult closely with Turkey on Syria all the time, continuously. I’m sure we’ll be consulting as – in the run-up to this meeting next week and after that. Turkey has played an increasingly helpful role, especially in the operations around their borders, trying to clear out some of the borders and also permitting the counter-ISIL coalition to use Incirlik Air Base.

I understand this visit by Putin was long planned. I can’t speak to who, what – or what level or what – or actually who among the U.S. Government who might be at this conference. I just don’t have that information yet.

QUESTION: Well, would you expect Erdogan to speak very harshly to Putin about what the Russians have done in Syria?

MR TONER: I – honestly, I can’t predict what he may discuss with President Putin.

QUESTION: Mark, I have to leave.

MR TONER: Yeah, please. Of course.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one very brief – it’s off topic, but I just – Tom Shannon is going to Berlin for this. He was supposed to go to Venezuela, was he not, this week? Is that still – is that happening or has it been postponed?

MR TONER: I believe so. I’m not sure that that was ever announced, but he’s definitely attending Berlin, so that’s – he’s not going to Venezuela.

QUESTION: Can we change topic?

MR TONER: We can change topic.

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

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

QUESTION: Okay. Yesterday, I asked Elizabeth on the demolition of homes --


QUESTION: -- in East Jerusalem and she responded by saying that – she stated your position but also said that you call on both parties to reduce tension. In this particular case, what could the Palestinians do? What would be their part in this aspect --


QUESTION: -- the home demolition?

MR TONER: I mean, look, I think – I know she was speaking broadly about – not necessarily to this specific issue or topic of demolitions, but we’re talking about the general environment which is not conducive to creating the kinds of conditions we need to see in order to get some kind of peace plan back on track.

QUESTION: But this has nothing to do with incitements or anything. The Israelis claim that the Palestinians do not get the proper permits, which they never give them a proper permit, and these Palestinian families grow. I mean, they have large numbers and so on, so they need to expand, which they never get. What should they do?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think we – we remain concerned about --

QUESTION: Should be able to – should people be able to build their – in their own homes and expand to accommodate their other members of their family and so on?

MR TONER: I think we’ve talked about this before, Said. Certainly, that said, anyone in the United States, I know, if they want to put on an addition to their house or do some work or expand their house, they need to get proper permits. That’s part of having a legal system in place. But that said, there should be a way --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: -- but there should be a way for them to do so.

QUESTION: So is Israel within its legal right --

MR TONER: I apologize?

QUESTION: -- to do that? Is Israel within its legal right to deny – to continue to deny?

MR TONER: I frankly don’t have enough detail on what their claims are and what their counterclaims. I think we’re just concerned that we have seen an accelerated rate of demolitions recently, and anytime we see that, we believe that it’s not helpful to the overall climate that we think needs to be in place in order for talks to get started.

QUESTION: I have just a couple more.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Isn’t it particularly cruel to have people demolish their own homes? As an alternative to that would be just huge sums of money that they must pay the occupational authorities.

MR TONER: Again, we’re concerned by what we’ve seen. We share those concerns with the Israeli Government. I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: And let me ask you one more thing about the Women’s Boat that is getting ready to dock in Gaza in a couple days. They’re calling on you, they’re calling on the international community and so on to press upon Israel not to intercept by force the boat. Would you call on Israel not to intercept by force this boat?

MR TONER: Sure. This is the --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: -- all-women --


MR TONER: -- Gaza – yeah – flotilla. Well, so while we underscore the need for international support for Gaza and its recovery, we do call attention – the Department of State does have a Travel Warning in place for Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, and our longstanding recommendation is that U.S. citizens stay out of Gaza entirely due to those concerns. I think in this particular case we would hope that the boat operators heed the instructions of Israeli authorities in order to best ensure the safety and security of the people onboard the boat. And I would also just add to that that there are other ways to get assistance into Gaza that are accepted and authorized by the Israeli Government.

QUESTION: How would you end the siege? How should the Gaza siege end? Because this has gone on for far too long. How should it end and when should it end?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, certainly we’d like to see it end as soon as possible. But that’s – that takes both sides, and certainly by both sides I mean that the Israelis need to be assured that tunneling and other security threats that are currently posed by some of those who live in Gaza to the citizens of Israel need to end.

QUESTION: Thank you.


MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Do you have anything beyond what Kirby has said in Brussels and Josh Earnest has said from the podium at the White House on Mr. Duterte’s latest comments that they’re at odds with a warm relationship and that you haven’t had any formal communications about altering the bilateral relationship?

MR TONER: I don’t have much to add to that. I mean, again, I thought he put it very well, which to say we’ve spoken to this kind of rhetoric and it’s at odds with the relationship we feel like we have with the Philippine people and with the Philippine Government. And we have not seen any real diminution in that relationship. So recognizing that we’re a treaty ally of the Philippines and also that we have the strong cultural bond, people-to-people bond, we’re going to continue.

QUESTION: You see why we ask you about this every day.

MR TONER: I understand, yes.

QUESTION: I mean, he’s the head of state.

MR TONER: I understand.

QUESTION: Are there any other countries in the world where the head of state talks that way where you don’t see any change in the relationship?

MR TONER: Again, that’s really --

QUESTION: What does he have to say? Or will he have to write it down and post it so you have a stamp on it?

MR TONER: No, look. I mean, no one’s giving any head of state a free pass on unhelpful rhetoric. But I think what’s important is that any bilateral relationship be seen in the broader context, and by broader context I mean the fact that we have had and continue to have good, solid cooperation and productive cooperation with Philippines on a number of levels. And we’re going to continue to pursue that. We’re not going to walk away.

QUESTION: Can you --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Can the U.S.-Philippine relationship withstand this kind of rhetoric for the rest of President Duterte’s term? I mean, he’s been in office for three months and change, right? He’s sworn at the U.S. President twice. He said that the military exercises that I think are beginning today will be the last ones, although the foreign minister then said well, no, the ones in 2017 are going to happen. I mean, it’s – can you keep your upper lip this stiff for another five years or however many years it is?

MR TONER: I’ll just say in response that the United States is going to live up to its commitments and is going to continue to move forward with this relationship. I can’t speak on his behalf. Okay.

QUESTION: Mark, you have described this as unhelpful rhetoric, but I’d like to get you to specifically respond to a quote from – this was the second speech of the day after the “go to hell” remark where he says, “I would be reconfiguring my foreign policy. Eventually in my time I would break up with America. I would rather go to Russia or to China. Even though we don’t agree with the ideology, they have respect for the people.”

Can you give us a specific response to that type of comment?

MR TONER: I do not want to get into a tit-for-tat with President Duterte. I would simply say that we have a very strong bilateral relationship and a very strong people-to-people relationship, and I think if you asked any Filipino citizen they would say that same thing.


QUESTION: But they voted this guy into office.

QUESTION: -- he’s the president.

QUESTION: But Mark, you talked about previously that relationships are not a zero-sum game, that you don’t mind that the Philippines would be getting closer to China or Russia.


QUESTION: But does that extend to arms sales as well?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not aware of what they may be talking about with Russia or China, but it’s not – we’re not trying to make this an either/or proposition. We value our relations with the Philippines. They’re a strong ally, a strong partner in the region. Again, we’ve had decades of strong relations with the Philippines. We’ve had each other’s backs and we want to continue that cooperation going forward. Public comments, rhetoric aside, we believe that the foundation still exists for that relationship to continue and strengthen.

QUESTION: You don’t have a problem with --

QUESTION: Is that --

MR TONER: We’ve got a lot of patience.

QUESTION: So you don’t --

QUESTION: Is that relevant to foreign policy and security policy or is it some sort of --

MR TONER: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Is he being a vigilante or is he conducting himself --

MR TONER: I’m not going comment on --

QUESTION: No, I’m saying, how would describe his security and foreign policy?

MR TONER: Oh, again, I think at the – I mean, I – he may in fact still be forming his policies going forward. He’s only been in office a few months, as someone just reminded me. I’m not going to speak to the course he may take. All I can speak to is the current state of our relations, and government to government, people to people, they remain strong.

QUESTION: It sounds like he might – he just wants you to stop criticizing his plan to kill all the drug addicts and traffickers.

MR TONER: Well, look, we’re never going to give – whenever we see or hear of credible allegations of human rights abuses, we’re never going to give that a pass. And that I will --

QUESTION: Well, it’s (inaudible) again tomorrow with it, but yeah.

MR TONER: That it, guys? Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:24 p.m.)

DPB # 169

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Mon, 10/03/2016 - 17:28

Elizabeth Trudeau
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 3, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:04 p.m. EDT

MS TRUDEAU: Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry I’m a few minutes late. I have quite a lot at the top, so I ask for your patience. First, on refugees. At the Leaders’ Summit in September, President Obama brought together world leaders to galvanize additional support, improve education and employment opportunities for refugees, and expand opportunities for refugee resettlement.

As you know, the U.S. resettlement program serves refugees who are especially vulnerable – those who fled violence and persecution and cannot safely stay or return home. This is the largest refugee resettlement program in the world. For each of the past several years, it has offered 70,000 refugees new homes in the United States. In this fiscal year, President Obama set a new, more ambitious goal: resettling 85,000 refugees. The end of the fiscal year, just at the end of last week, we welcomed 84,995.

These refugees are admitted under the program, come from 79 countries. Over 70 percent fled five nations – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Burma, Iraq, and Somalia – where protracted conflicts have driven millions from their home. Over 72 percent of these individuals are women and children. Many are single mothers, survivors of torture, people who need urgent medical treatment, religious minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or inter-sex individuals, or others imperiled by violence and persecution.

American communities have long been the bedrock of the United States Refugee Admissions Program. The United States is proud to work with partners in about 180 cities in 48 states and that list is expanding in Fiscal Year 2017 as more and more American communities open their doors to refugees. As you know, the safety and security of American citizens is our top priority. Refugees are screened more carefully than any other type of traveler to the United States. Screening includes the participation of law enforcement, intelligence, and counterterrorism agencies.

Looking forward, we will welcome 110,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2017. This is a 57 percent increase over fiscal year 2015 and is consistent with our belief that all nations must do more to help the record number of innocent civilians who are uprooted, cast adrift, and desperate to find peace, safety, and the chance to rebuild their lives.

Next, I know a number of you are following Hurricane Matthew. An update on that: As Hurricane Matthew threatens the central Caribbean, the United States is carefully monitoring the situation and preparing to assist governments and communities in the region. The USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has already deployed disaster response teams to Haiti, Jamaica, and the Bahamas in advance of the storm’s arrival. These disaster experts are actively monitoring the storm’s track in real-time and working with officials in Jamaica and Haiti, which have already requested U.S. assistance. The U.S. Government is also in close communications with officials in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Colombia, and Belize, to coordinate relief efforts if requested.

USAID has strategically pre-positioned emergency relief supplies including shelter materials, blankets, hygiene kits, household items, and water purification equipment to ensure that they can quickly help impacted communities. An initial shipment of relief supplies is being prepared to rapidly respond to those in need. We remain, as I said, in close contact with governments in the region. We’ll continue to coordinate preparations.

I’d also note, we’ve issued Travel Warnings for – excuse me, for Haiti, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, recommending U.S. citizens depart those countries if possible by commercial airlines. As we know, airports will close if conditions deteriorate. We advise U.S. citizens in affected areas, who have not already made travel arrangements, to make preparations immediately to shelter in place in a secure location and to protect their property. As always, we advise U.S. citizens to read Travel Warnings which provide embassies’ emergency contact information as well as other information to help them prepare for the storm. We’ll continue to update you as that unfolds.

Next, on Colombia. I think you all saw John Kirby’s statement this morning. The United States commends the government and the people of Colombia for the democratic process held yesterday and recognizes that difficult decisions will be taken, will need to be taken, in the days ahead. President Santos, FARC leader Londono, and opposition leader Uribe, have all indicated their commitment to achieve peace and to work together in an inclusive manner to do so. Colombians have also expressed their commitment to settle their differences through institutions and dialogue rather than violence.

Colombia can count on the support of the United States as it continues to seek democratic peace and prosperity for all Colombians. We support President Santos’s proposal for unity of effort in support of a broad dialogue as a next step towards achieving a just and lasting peace.

Finally, I think you’ve all seen the statement that just went out from John Kirby. The United States is suspending its participation in bilateral channels with Russia that were established to sustain the cessation of hostilities. This is not a decision we took lightly. The United States spared no effort in negotiating and attempting to implement an arrangement with Russia aimed at reducing violence, providing unhindered humanitarian access, and degrading terrorist organizations operating in Syria, including Daesh and al-Qaida in Syria.

Unfortunately, Russia failed to live up to its own commitments, including its obligations under international humanitarian law and UNSCR 2254, and was also either unwilling or unable to ensure Syrian regime adherence to the arrangements to which Moscow agreed. Rather, Russia and the Syrian regime have chosen to pursue a military course inconsistent with the cessation of hostilities as demonstrated by intensified attacks against civilian area, targeting of critical infrastructure such as hospitals, preventing humanitarian aid from reaching civilians in need.

As noted in the statement, the U.S. will also withdraw personnel that have been dispatched in anticipation of the establishment of the Joint Implementation Center. To ensure the safety of our respective military personnel and enable the fight against Daesh, the U.S. will continue to utilize the channel of communications established with Russia to de-conflict counterterrorism operations in Syria.

Thank you for your patience. We’re going to go to Lesley.

QUESTION: Thank you. So I assume that Secretary Kerry has informed Sergey Lavrov of the suspension of these talks?



MS TRUDEAU: We have been – we’ve been in direct communication with the Russians, not only in Geneva but consistently throughout this period.

QUESTION: But when did he specifically tell him that they had suspend --

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t have that – I don’t have that granularity in that. What I would say is that our teams met through the weekend. We engaged in what we viewed as very robust discussions. As I noted, this decision was not taken lightly.

QUESTION: Was it anything specific that brought this on?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to provide the granularity on the details of that, but --

QUESTION: Was it the bombing of the hospitals?

MS TRUDEAU: As we said in the statement, we were very – we were – the Russians made very clear that they would not cease the attacks that we’re seeing, that we saw this weekend, that we saw, the attack against the hospital. As we engaged in this dialogue with the Russians, our main points were always clear: humanitarian access, the re-establishment of a cessation of hostilities. We felt that we came to the point with Russia where we weren’t reaching the same goal.

QUESTION: And did --

QUESTION: So would the --

MS TRUDEAU: Hold on one second, Said.

QUESTION: Would the – yeah, so would the – I mean, Kerry would have had to have informed his counterpart of this. That’s what I’m trying to ask.

MS TRUDEAU: So what I’m saying is we had direct communication with the Russians. The Russians were informed.

QUESTION: Today? Or over the weekend.

MS TRUDEAU: So it was my understanding that that decision was taken today.

QUESTION: So given that this is now a suspension of talks, does this mean full-blown military warfare going on on both sides? Or does this mean that the U.S. has also now looked at those options and is ready to move forward on the alternatives?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, as the President said, we’re always examining our approach. The National Security Council has pulled in views from across the entire interagency, and that’s not just the diplomatic approach, where we’ve obviously been very focused, but also financial experts, military experts, intelligence experts. I’m not going to get ahead of next steps, but I will say, as we said last week, that those conversations have been going on.

QUESTION: Elizabeth --


QUESTION: -- just to follow up on Lesley’s thing on --


QUESTION: Did the Secretary himself inform the foreign minister himself by phone that the talks are suspended?

MS TRUDEAU: I have no call to read out on that, Said.

QUESTION: Okay, because apparently they had several calls in the last – since Saturday, like three on Saturday, maybe a couple yesterday, in fact maybe today, and so on.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, I don’t have any discussion on that to read out.

QUESTION: How is that likely to affect what is going on today at the Security Council, for instance? There is a meeting – there is a French proposal. What is your position on all this? Where – does that throw it completely out of the realm of discussion or possibilities?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I would note that this is a suspension of bilateral engagement with Russia. It’s not the end of multilateral engagement through the UN or through the ISSG. I’m not going to get ahead of that. In terms of any French proposal at the UN Security Council, of course, we’d refer you to the French. Our goal, as we’ve said, has always been clear: we’re looking for ways where we can build that, or establish – frankly, re-establish at this point. Because let’s be clear, there’s no cessation of hostilities. So re-establish that cessation of hostilities. Get that full, impeded[i] humanitarian access. These have always been our strongest points, and thus create that space where political dialogue can happen.

QUESTION: And lastly, I know many have many questions on this, but as Lesley said, I mean, this un-friending – I don’t know what you want to call this lack of communication now – does that put you in a position where it is likely to have some sort of a conflict between Russia and American airplanes?

MS TRUDEAU: No, you’re asking me for --

QUESTION: I know you --

MS TRUDEAU: -- for hypotheticals. You know it --

QUESTION: Because you said something about maintaining the communication channel --

MS TRUDEAU: The de-confliction.

QUESTION: -- on de-confliction.

MS TRUDEAU: The de-confliction through the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: Right. But so that remains.

MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: Does that also – so the Russian attacks may still remain, correct?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, you’re asking me about what Russia’s planning on doing in Syria?

QUESTION: No, I’m asking because this is an ongoing thing. I mean, you’re saying that the reason you nullified or suspended these talks is because the Russians have not been true to form, they have not met their obligations, and so on.

MS TRUDEAU: Exactly as we said.

QUESTION: So they are likely to continue with these attacks and so on. Is the United States likely to counter those attacks in any way?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to get ahead of this decision taken today. I mean, I want to reiterate, this was not a decision – I think as you well know – that we took lightly. This is a serious – it’s a grave decision. We’re very much considering next steps. As I said, this does not preclude multilateral dialogue, but we felt that it had come to an end.

Dave, you had questions?

QUESTION: The – if the multilateral dialogue you say continues, the co-chairs of the ISSG are Russia and the United States.

MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: Now, you’re co-chairs of a multilateral body, but – to work as an effective chair, you must maintain conversations on that. So will calls continue on ISSG and do you regard yourselves still as co-chairs?

MS TRUDEAU: I – so it’s my understanding we are open to working towards our end goals on that through multilateral efforts. What ended today was the bilateral engagement.

QUESTION: Right. But in order to arrange, for example, a meeting of the ISSG, then Secretary Kerry will have to call Foreign Minister Lavrov or vice versa.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I think that those sort of logistical details can probably be worked out, Dave.

QUESTION: I think what we’re trying to figure out here, Elizabeth --


QUESTION: -- is what impact does this have then on the battleground?


QUESTION: I mean, you’ve got the Syrian army backed by the Iranian-backed militia, you’ve got the Russian airplanes. What impact is this going to have on fighting on the ground? Does the U.S. step up its support for the opposition? Do you try and push back on eastern Aleppo, try to hold that? What – how does this translate into --

MS TRUDEAU: So I’m not going to get ahead of any sort of military decisions or, frankly, battlefield tactics that may be considered. The focus that the U.S. has had is the fight against Daesh, and we remain committed. I would say that you’ve seen tremendous gains within the last year on that, and also our focus to helping those most in need within Syria. In terms of how this impacts the Russians’ tactics, you’d have to speak to the Russians. Clearly, they had not pulled back. Clearly, they had not stopped their attacks, nor have the regime. That’s a conversation I think you would have with them.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. push back at, for example, the Saudis or anyone else arming – now really stepping up to arming the --

MS TRUDEAU: I wouldn’t get into sort of that – the granular talks that we have with partners in the region. What I would say is what we said last week: We’re aware that partners and allies are taking a look at a number of options. We remain in close contact with them.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS TRUDEAU: Hold on, wait. Gayane had a question, and then I’ll get to you guys. Gayane, we’ll keep it short, okay?

QUESTION: Yes. You said Russia did not live up to its obligations under the deal. Did the U.S. fully live up to its obligations?

MS TRUDEAU: We believe we did.


MS TRUDEAU: As we said, though – your question, I think, is the marbleization of the opposition with Nusrah. Am I – or am I leaning too far into that?

QUESTION: Did the U.S. separate the rebels from terrorists, as it said it would?

MS TRUDEAU: As we talked about last week, the United States continued to have detailed ongoing discussions with members of the opposition, emphasizing our view on the importance of de-marbleizing, of pulling apart from Nusrah.

QUESTION: In the few days --

MS TRUDEAU: Our view on that is Nusrah is al-Qaida in Syria. They are a terrorist group. As we said, it was never going to be fast, it was never going to be easy, and we were working hard towards that goal.

QUESTION: In the few days of the ceasefire, did the U.S. get leading rebel groups to abide by that ceasefire? Because right away, the second largest rebel group --

MS TRUDEAU: One of the things that we have always been clear that if they were attacked, opposition groups have the right to defend themselves.

QUESTION: But they said right away that they were not going to abide by the ceasefire. And in fact, they attacked. Did you expect --

MS TRUDEAU: And that was a conversation we had. And if they were attacked, they had a right to defend itself. Let’s do one more, and then I’m going to move around.

QUESTION: Did you expect a unilateral ceasefire, considering the fact that the second largest rebel group, right away, from the beginning of the ceasefire, refused to abide by it specifically in Aleppo?

MS TRUDEAU: We expected good-faith efforts from not only the opposition forces on the ground, as we continue to have dialogue, but also Russia as a proponent of the September 9th ceasefire, so – the September 9th agreement. So yeah, we did. We did expect action.

QUESTION: If you could go back to the deal on September 12th, what would have changed? Would the leading rebel groups abide by the ceasefire? Would the U.S. be able to separate the terrorists from the rebels?

MS TRUDEAU: I think you’re asking hypotheticals on this. What we wanted to see is we wanted to see both sides make a concerted effort and exert influence where they could. And according to our view, according to – as you can tell – our action today, we do not believe that Russia did that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you confirm – you referred to it slightly. Like, before this deal, there was a cooperation between Russia and U.S. about --

MS TRUDEAU: There were talks. There were dialogue.

QUESTION: No, no, there were – like, so that there is no friendly fire kind of thing.

MS TRUDEAU: Oh, you’re talking about the de-confliction --


MS TRUDEAU: -- which is out of the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: Yes. But that still goes on?


QUESTION: Okay. So --

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Said.

QUESTION: Could I --

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: -- just very quickly follow up? Because there is some – a leak was made on some point that the Secretary made with the opposition and so on. How would you sort of juxtapose the decision today against what was – what has been leaked?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, so --

QUESTION: How would you --

MS TRUDEAU: So on the leak – or the audio that was reported.

QUESTION: Audio, audio. Right. Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: We’re going to decline to comment on what was a private conversation that the Secretary had. I will note, though, that the Secretary was very pleased to have a chance to meet with this group of Syrians, to hear their concerns firsthand, and to focus on ending this war. In terms of some of the conversations, I’m just not going to unpack that more.

QUESTION: You’re not going to comment on the fact or on what has been alleged that he said that you guys are going to, let’s say, open and fair elections including Assad, correct?

MS TRUDEAU: Our position on Assad has not changed. We believe that Assad has lost legitimacy to lead Syria.

QUESTION: But if you feel that a fair and transparent election could be conducted in Syria, that he can --

MS TRUDEAU: Well, we’ve always said that this is up to the Syrian people. It’s up for the Syrian people to create the mechanics in that transition. Certainly, the international community stands with them as they do that, but this is a question for the Syrians. But our position on Assad has not changed.

Let’s finish up on Syria and then I know there’s a lot more. Let’s do – okay, we’ll do two, Gayane, and then we’re going to close this out, okay?

QUESTION: What is the U.S. strategy in Syria now without cooperation with Russia?

MS TRUDEAU: So as I noted, it’s the bilateral discussions with Russia. The suspension has happened. We will continue to talk with members of the international community through other multilateral fora. In terms of next steps, in terms of where we go, this happened today. I’m not going to get into hypotheticals on where we may be, but I do want to be clear that we’ve had these discussions within the U.S. Government across the whole range of facets of U.S. power. We continue to have these discussions with partners and allies.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. have a plan to fight al-Nusrah in Aleppo? Because this was part of the --

MS TRUDEAU: Our view – as we’ve said, Nusrah is al-Qaida in Syria. They are a terrorist organization. We continue to have conversations with those moderate opposition groups on the ground about the importance of de-marbleizing, of pulling apart.

QUESTION: And other than conversations, is there --

MS TRUDEAU: It’s a terrorist organization and we will continue to fight it.

So one more and then let’s wrap this, because there’s so much news.

QUESTION: There were reports today that one of the Nusrah leaders was killed. Could you confirm that or can you tell us about that?

MS TRUDEAU: So I’ve seen that. I believe the Department of Defense and also my colleague at the White House has spoken on this, so I’d refer you to their comments, Said.

Are we going to stay on Syria or are we --


MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry?


MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Can we go to Turkey and then we’ll go – are you on Syria, Abigail?

QUESTION: Yes. Just wondering – there were also reports of more chemical weapon attacks over the weekend – if that played in any role – played any role in this decision or --

MS TRUDEAU: It’s – I think what you’ve seen is sort of a cumulative number of issues that led to our decision today.

So we’re going to go to Turkey. Are we good? Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Yeah. The Turkish Government shut down a number of television stations, including a station for children. Most of the television stations were broadcasting in Kurdish language or other – or for other minority groups. Are you concerned about this latest crackdown on --

MS TRUDEAU: We’ve spoken --

QUESTION: -- the media, including children television?

MS TRUDEAU: So I’ve seen those reports and we’ve spoken to this issue many times within this briefing room. Freedom of press is a fundamental pillar of our view in our own democracy and also in Turkey’s democracy. It’s enshrined in Turkey’s own constitution. We understand that as Turkey continues to take steps to recover from the failed coup, that it will take a look at a number of issues. On this, though, we would re-emphasize our view on the importance of freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of access to information.

QUESTION: Are you directly not calling on your ally that it’s gone too far in this case? I mean, shutting down a children television station on accusations that it is funding – supporting terrorism?

MS TRUDEAU: I would reiterate what we said: This is enshrined in Turkey’s own constitution. This isn’t a U.S. issue. This is an issue, in fact, for the Turkish people. We’ve made our views well known. I think others around the international community have as well.

More on Turkey?



MS TRUDEAU: Let’s do one more on Turkey and then I’ll come to you, Lesley.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, the Turkish president stated that Turkey will be involved in the battle to retake Mosul and, quote, “No one can prevent us from participating.” The Iraqi Government has objected, and what is your position on this?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so thanks for the question. As we’ve said before, the Mosul operation will be Iraqi-led. The coalition continues to work closely with the Government of Iraq on all aspects of the operation. That includes military, humanitarian, stabilization, and government – governance after ISIL is driven from the city. All of Iraq’s neighbors need to respect Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity. That is the premise that the global coalition to fight ISIL operates under in Iraq, and we expect all of our partners to do the same.

I’d note that Turkey is a key member of the counter-ISIL coalition. We’ll continue to work with them and we’ll coordinate with them as they also seek to achieve their national security goals.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Mosul?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, sure.

QUESTION: Very quickly, very quickly.

MS TRUDEAU: And then we’ll go to you, Lesley.


QUESTION: The United Nations mission in Iraq, UNAMI, is warning that – of a looming human disaster as a result of the liberation of Mosul. Are you prepared in any way – what kind of pre-positioning or anything like this to deal with the situation?

MS TRUDEAU: So we’ve been taking a look at this for quite some time, and as you know, we’ve spoken about this from the podium. We – we’re in very close touch not only with the UN but also Iraqi authorities as we take a look on this. Anywhere in operations like this, the protection and the care of civilians is our number one priority, and also ensuring that when they do return to their homes, that they’re supported there.


QUESTION: Right, I want to come back to Russia. Putin today suspended a treaty with Washington on cleaning up their weapons-grade plutonium. Did this maybe have anything to do with the decision to suspend talks in Syria, the bilats?

MS TRUDEAU: I would not link those at all.

QUESTION: Not at all?

MS TRUDEAU: I would not, but I do have a comment on it.


MS TRUDEAU: We regret Russia’s decision to suspend this agreement unilaterally. The United States remains committed to the agreement. We believe it’s in the best interests of both the United States and Russia as part of our efforts to secure nuclear materials and combat nuclear terrorism. I would note this is the latest in a series of steps by Russia to end longstanding cooperation on nuclear security and disarmament, including its decision to not participate in the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, and its unwillingness to continue strategic arms control reductions.

I would also note it’s disingenuous of Russia to cite the United States threat to strategic stability as a reason for this decision. The United States seeks a constructive dialogue with Russia on strategic issues, but it is Russia instead who continues to engage in destabilizing activities, and to suspend cooperation under existing agreements like this one that benefit international security.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: So if you’re not linking both --

MS TRUDEAU: Hold on one second.

QUESTION: If you’re not linking both of them --

MS TRUDEAU: We are not.

QUESTION: -- because Moscow specifically said today that it was a series – it was done in response to unfriendly acts by Washington.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. You’re going to have to ask --

QUESTION: How can you not --

MS TRUDEAU: You’re going to have to ask the Russians for their decision. We believe it would be a shame if this important agreement was put aside because of an unrelated issue.

QUESTION: Would you say that this is the lowest point in U.S.-Russian relations in the last --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to characterize it as that.

QUESTION: Well, how would you characterize it?

MS TRUDEAU: What I would say --

QUESTION: Because tension is high, rhetoric about particular armament and so on, differences in Ukraine, over Syria, almost everywhere. Would you say that this is really a very low point in U.S.-Russian relations?

MS TRUDEAU: I think what you see is that in areas where we have commonalities, areas where we can work with Russia, we continue to do so. We’ve had conversations – the Iran deal is a perfect example on that – DPRK, issues like that. However, we do have sharp differences with Russia certainly on Syria, on Ukraine, on this issue right now. Where we can work with Russia to benefit the international community and also to increase our own national security, though, we will continue to do so.

Okay, wait. Are we still on Russia?



MS TRUDEAU: Okay, let’s do Russia.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the arrest of Ukrainian journalist in Moscow of three days ago --


QUESTION: -- when he had private visit to his close relatives?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. So I have seen those reports – being detained in Moscow. Obviously, we’re monitoring the situation. I don’t have a lot of detail. On more of that, I’d actually refer you to the Ukrainian Government.

Okay. Are we done with Russia?

QUESTION: One more on Russia.

MS TRUDEAU: One more.

QUESTION: There’s a report on Radio Free Europe that two U.S. diplomats were drugged in St. Petersburg at a conference last year.

MS TRUDEAU: I am aware of those reports.

QUESTION: One of them was hospitalized, apparently. Was this an act of provocation by the Russian services?

MS TRUDEAU: So what I would say is what we’ve said before on incidents like this. I’m not going to speak to the specific, of the various incidents that have occurred. What I can say is that we are troubled, we remain troubled by the way our diplomatic and consular staff have been treated over the past two years. We have raised our concerns at the highest levels. In particular, the harassment and surveillance of our diplomatic personnel in Moscow by security – personnel and traffic police – has increased significantly. As we’ve said before, we find this unacceptable.

QUESTION: And on this particular incident, you’re not confirming it --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m – no, I’m not going to speak to this --

QUESTION: -- but you’re not denying it either?

MS TRUDEAU: I will not speak to this particular incident.


MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Are we done with Russia? Let’s go to Asia. Hello, Tejinder.

QUESTION: So in – with respect to that surgical strike, Pakistani Lieutenant General Bajwa, the director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations, he took journalists from various outlets and – to the LOC, the Line of Control, in Boxor (inaudible), Hot Springs Formation, and showed them that, look, there is not – there’s no devastation, there’s – so – and then India is saying there was a such. What is your position on this?

MS TRUDEAU: So our position is what it was last week. We’re not going to speak to specific reports of incidents along the border. We urge calm and restraint on both sides. We understand, as we said last week, that the militaries are in touch. We believe that that continued communication is vital to reduce these tensions.

QUESTION: So do you confirm it happened or it didn’t happen?

MS TRUDEAU: No. As I said, I’m not going to speak to any reports of these incidents.

QUESTION: And the --


MS TRUDEAU: One second.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: And the – it’s – another one is about the – you have any comments on the Paris Agreement, which Indian lawmakers have given a nod and they have technically submitted the instrument to the UN?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. We welcome this. This is fantastic news. India, like many countries, has been working to complete its domestic process as quickly as possible. We are very encouraged. We care about strong climate action , and the Paris Agreement has been a matter of personal commitment and leadership for both President Obama and Prime Minister Modi. Thank you for that question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: We have heard from this podium that United States is engaged with the leadership of border countries Pakistan and India.

MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: So what is the core issue is being discussed in those discussions, in those engagements?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I think what you would take a look at being discussed is regional stability and regional security. One of the things I think we all need to focus on is conflicts or issues or rising tension are not contained to any specific region. We are in favor of any reduction of tensions that both sides agree to in this particular instance. We have strong ties with both Pakistan and India, and we’ll engage on that basis.

QUESTION: Both the militaries are on high alert, and there’s a threat of – obviously, there’s a threat of a nuclear war in that region. And the main reason all this started is the Kashmir issue. So is there any kind of discussion with India for the solution of this international matter, as it poses a real threat to the region, a threat of nuclear war?

MS TRUDEAU: What I would say is that our position on Kashmir has not changed, and I would remind you that we are having conversations with both on the importance of reducing the tensions in the region.


QUESTION: The Philippines?

QUESTION: Can I ask just a quick question on the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MS TRUDEAU: We’ll do this and then we’ll go to you, Lesley.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Very quickly, Israel announced plans to expand the settlement of Amona, apparently an outpost to all sides. Do you have any comment on that?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. Thank you for the question. We are deeply concerned by the reports of the government’s – of Israel’s decision to advance plans for settlement units. We’re still gathering information. But as we continue to make clear, as we have repeatedly made clear, we oppose steps like this, which we believe are counterproductive to the cause of peace.

QUESTION: Also, last week the Israelis forced Palestinian families to demolish their own homes --


QUESTION: -- in Jerusalem to avoid the heavy fines and so on that come along with the government demolishing them. Do you have any position on that?

MS TRUDEAU: It’s exactly what we’ve said when these issues have come up before. What we call on all sides is to reduce the tensions, to create the environment that can advance these dialogues and promote peace.



MS TRUDEAU: Oh, I’m sorry. One more.

QUESTION: I’m just tempted to ask now that the Secretary will not be so consumed by the Syria issue on a daily basis with his counterpart Mr. Lavrov, will he have more time for the --

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I would -- I would --

QUESTION: -- Palestinian-Israeli peace process?

MS TRUDEAU: I would dispute both sides of that question, okay. One is that the Secretary remains seized with Syria. This is a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions, and so I would not --

QUESTION: I’m not being smart-alecky. I was --

MS TRUDEAU: I would not say that he is reducing his interest.

QUESTION: Okay, I’m sorry. I --

MS TRUDEAU: But I would also say that the Secretary has never lost sight of the importance of the Middle East peace process. He remains deeply committed. He will continue to pursue that.

QUESTION: And I’m not making light of the Syria situation by any means.

MS TRUDEAU: No, of course.

QUESTION: I’m saying that it has taken a great deal of energy in the last few months on the international level. I’m saying that in the remaining months of this Administration, are we likely to see an energized and maybe renewed effort in that direction?

MS TRUDEAU: I would say that Secretary Kerry never stopped pursuing it.

QUESTION: So to the Philippines.


QUESTION: The – Duterte at the weekend said he had complained to Russia and China about the United States. Do you have any comment on that, first of all?

MS TRUDEAU: I do not.

QUESTION: It’s not really the complaint that everybody’s looking at this. It’s the escalation of tensions with an ally in the region. How does – I mean, how does the U.S. basically view this escalation of tensions? Are there discussions going on directly with them? Is there any kind of discussion underway of maybe withdrawing aid from that or suspending or withdrawing any kind of military cooperation that the U.S. recently agreed with the Philippines?

MS TRUDEAU: So a few things because there’s a lot of questions in there. What I would say first off about it is we’re very focused on our broad and deep and, frankly, historic partnership – in fact alliance – with the Philippines. We have a scope of relationship that spans all of the gamuts – diplomatic, military, certainly people-to-people. The cultural ties that our two peoples have are deep and broad. So we’re very focused on that and we’re very focused on the relationship.

Our partnership with the Philippines has been a cornerstone of stability for over 70 years. The Filipino people are some of our best friends, our allies, and that’s what our relationship is built on.

In terms of individual comments, I’m not going to get into a position – I think we addressed this last week – where we’re going to address every comment that’s made, because our focus is on the underlying relationship.

QUESTION: So that – the strength of that relationship was obviously before Duterte came in.

MS TRUDEAU: I think it continues now, Lesley.

QUESTION: So are you saying that what he’s saying is just --

MS TRUDEAU: I would refer you to the presidency of the Philippines to speak specifically to that. What I would note is we have not been officially contacted by the Philippine defense department authorities regarding President Duterte’s statement. I’d also note that we’ll live up to our commitments, and we expect them to live up to theirs.

QUESTION: But how can you continue to have a relationship with someone like this who speaks ill of the United States so publicly, demeans the President, and --

MS TRUDEAU: Because – because I think what you do is you look at the breadth of relationship, you look at our long-term partnership and, in fact, friendship with the Philippines. And that’s where our focus is.

QUESTION: But it surely can’t be business as usual between the two of you when he’s – when he acts like this.

MS TRUDEAU: Well, we’ve spoken about it before.

QUESTION: I mean, has this in any way changed the relationship?

MS TRUDEAU: I mean, Mark talked about this yesterday, I think. More importantly, President --

QUESTION: Yesterday was Sunday.

MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry. It feels like yesterday.

QUESTION: Yes, it does.

MS TRUDEAU: President Obama addressed some of this. Where we’re really focused, as I’ve said, is our partnership.

Okay? Are we still on the Philippines?

QUESTION: I’d like to go to Gambia.

QUESTION: Colombia.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. We’re all over. So why don’t we do the Gambia?

QUESTION: Is it true that you have banned visas for all Gambian government employees and people certain – from certain groups related to the government such as political parties? And is this in response to Gambia’s refusal to accept 2,000 deportees?

MS TRUDEAU: So what you’re talking about is recalcitrance, okay? So I’m going to read a little bit about this because this is a very detailed and technical thing, so again, bear with me. As of October 1st, 2016, the United States and Banjul, The Gambia, has discontinued visa issuance to employees of the Gambian government, employees of certain entities associated with the government, and their spouses and children, with limited exceptions. Under Section 243(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, when so requested by the Secretary of Homeland Security due to a particular country’s refusal to accept or unreasonably delay the return of its nationals, the Secretary of State must order consular officers to suspend issuing visas until informed by the Secretary of Homeland Security that the offending country has accepted those individuals.

I’d note, as a point of fact, that for many years, the State Department and ICE, part of DHS, have worked with recalcitrant countries at all levels to improve cooperation on removals. We consider all options at our disposal, taking into account complex bilateral relations, foreign policy priorities, and other extenuating circumstances. In many cases, diplomatic efforts are successful in addressing the problem. The Gambia is unique in that we have applied numerous tools on how to engage, but without any result. Some other countries have responded in some way or made partial efforts to address the deficiency; The Gambia has not.

We have been seeking cooperation with the Government of The Gambia on the return of Gambian nationals for some time, from the working level up to the highest level, and we have exhausted diplomatic means to resolve this matter.

QUESTION: Is it true that it’s 2,000 that they won’t take --

MS TRUDEAU: I won’t speak to numbers, David.

Okay, I had promised Gambia. I’m going to go to Abigail and then we’ll go to Colombia, because I know someone had a Colombia question.



QUESTION: Do you offer any – offer any comment on Jason Rezaian filing a federal lawsuit against the Iranian Government claiming he was taken hostage and psychologically tortured for 18 months in prison as an effort by Tehran to influence the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I’ve seen media reports on that. I’m not going to comment on the specific details. What I can say is that the safety and security of U.S. citizens remains our top priority, and we were determined to see Jason Rezaian and other American citizens released and returned to their families.

QUESTION: So do you accept the premise that there was --

MS TRUDEAU: This is an ongoing legal case and I’m just not going to speak to it, Abigail.


QUESTION: Colombia.


QUESTION: Thank you. The Secretary has repeatedly said how heavily invested the U.S. Government has been and is in the Colombian peace process in Colombia. You – in the statement, you talk of difficult decisions ahead. So what do you foresee? Do you foresee a return to war, to violence? Are they going to have to change the accord in some way (inaudible)?

MS TRUDEAU: I wouldn’t – first, the first part of your question, on the return to war – I think the Colombian people have been very clear on their view that they believe in a peaceful future for their country, for their citizens, for their children. Instead of getting into hypotheticals – what will happen, point A; what happens with point B – I’d just reiterate our commitment. We’ll stand by the government and the people of Colombia as they work through this.

QUESTION: On Armenia-Azerbaijan.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: So last week, Secretary Kerry was speaking at the Atlantic and Aspen Institute, and he was discussing various conflicts including Syria, issues with Iran. And he touched upon the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He said something to the effect of that the prospects for conflict resolutions are not there because the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan are not ready yet. Can you clarify what he might have meant, or more importantly, what would warrant such a statement?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Well, I won’t parse the Secretary’s words. I think they’re pretty clear. What I would reiterate, though, is that the U.S. supports a negotiated settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We continue to engage actively with the sides. You know we’re co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. Our longstanding policy shared by the Minsk Group co-chairs is that a just settlement must be based on international law, which includes the Helsinki Final Act, the principle of non-use of force or the threat of force, territorial integrity, and self-determination.

QUESTION: So the reason I’m asking is because Secretary Kerry, back in March, stated that U.S. reaffirms its support for territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, plus Ambassador Warlick has repeatedly stated the U.S. position, which is based on Madrid principles, which is withdrawal of Armenian troops from districts adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh and allowing return of IDPs and then awarding – granting interim status to Nagorno-Karabakh and then future expression of will of the population on the territory.

So Azerbaijan’s position does not conflict with that – with the position of U.S. or the OSCE Minsk process. So the only party which refuses to withdraw troops is Armenia. So why is it that the Secretary is stating that the leaders – two leaders are not ready?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, the responsibility for peace rests on the leaders of both countries, and we would reiterate their importance in finding a negotiated peace.

One more, I’m sorry, and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Afghanistan. A couple of weeks ago, President Ghani – there’s a peace deal between President Ghani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Now President Ghani is saying that United States and United Nations should lift international sanctions on Hekmatyar. So will U.S. pull out his name from the global terrorist list?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, as you know, we never get ahead of sanctions decisions. I won’t do that now. I think we spoke about that agreement when it was first announced out of Kabul and we welcome that. But in terms of individual actions on sanctions, I will not get ahead of that.


QUESTION: Thanks. So according to the House Judiciary Committee, as part of the investigation of former Secretary Clinton’s email server setup, two former State employees, Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson, were – under their – as part of their immunity deals, they were allowed to destroy the laptops after they had been inspected. And so my question for State is just given the ongoing FOIA lawsuits and also congressional investigations, is that provision something you all condone?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I can’t speak to immunity agreements and I certainly can’t speak to the FBI’s investigation. As we’ve said before, our focus is on processing for public release materials we have received from the FBI.

QUESTION: Okay. And just one --


QUESTION: -- quick other question. According to the FBI files, a State Department employee told federal investigators that some of the classified codes on the emails had been changed in order to shield them from public review. Is that also something that’s within the spirit of your responsiveness to FOIA requests?

MS TRUDEAU: You’re talking about the B(1) classification to a B(5) deliberative?


MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So we strongly refute those claims. We’ve been clear all along that our Freedom of Information Act review of former Secretary Clinton’s emails was a complex and multistep process that included consultation with State Department policy experts and legal advisors as well as other government agencies. State Department attorneys are involved in the multistep review process to ensure that proposed FOIA redactions and classification upgrades are defensible in court. State Department lawyers who are part of the staff in Legislative Affairs did not change proposed upgrades. State Department policymakers sometimes seek guidance from attorneys regarding the Freedom of Information Act and the attorneys advise on the legal standards.

We made appropriate redactions following the standards laid out under the FOIA guidelines for redactions as well as the rules governing classification as defined by Executive Order 13526. The department has complete confidence that the attorneys performed – that its attorneys performed the highest professional and ethical standards, including, with connection, with the review and release of Secretary Clinton’s emails.

QUESTION: So to be clear, these claims to the contrary are unfounded, it sounds like, from your --

MS TRUDEAU: We strongly dispute them.


MS TRUDEAU: Thank you. One more. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Syria just very, very quickly?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course you can.

QUESTION: Because your counterpart over the weekend, at the Syrian – at the Russian foreign ministry, said that an attempted attack or an attack on the Syrian army or Syrian military or bases or Damascus and so on will cause something akin to tectonic shifts or something like this in the Middle East. I wonder if you saw the comments.

MS TRUDEAU: I saw the comments. Our focus in Syria --

QUESTION: How do you – how do you respond to that?

MS TRUDEAU: -- has always been on fighting ISIL. Our focus is on fighting Daesh. I’m not going to clarify or speak to her comments.

QUESTION: Is that a threat? Is that a threat?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry, Said.

QUESTION: What does that mean, tectonic shifts that will cause – tectonic shifts?

MS TRUDEAU: I would have a very different job if I could read the Russians’ minds.

Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Just one more, please.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, I’m sorry. Tejinder, one more.

QUESTION: Yeah. I had asked last month about – there’s going to be a EU-Arab summit in Athens November 3 and 4. Will there be a U.S. presence and in what capacity?

MS TRUDEAU: I need to look at that, Tejinder.

QUESTION: All right.

MS TRUDEAU: I just don’t have an update for you.

Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:50 p.m.)

DPB # 168

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 29, 2016

Mon, 10/03/2016 - 14:19

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 29, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:43 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.


MR KIRBY: I do not have anything at the top, so we’ll go right to it.

QUESTION: You have nothing at the top? You can’t update us on --

MR KIRBY: Why every time do I do that do you sound incredulous?

QUESTION: Well, because I thought there was going to be --

MR KIRBY: I don’t --

QUESTION: -- some momentous news.

MR KIRBY: I don’t do it every day.


MR KIRBY: I try to come with something to enlighten you.

QUESTION: To annoy me.

MR KIRBY: And annoy you, yes. That’s always a plus if I can do it. But I don’t have anything today.

QUESTION: Well, can you update us on the status of your preparations to suspend the engagement with Russia on Syria?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates from yesterday.

QUESTION: In other words, there’s been no contact between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t – no, I didn’t say that. I just said I don’t have anything to update you on in terms of – in terms of decisions.

QUESTION: Well, so there was --

MR KIRBY: The Secretary did speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning. They continued their conversation from yesterday about the situation in Aleppo and about the fragility of the arrangement that we struck earlier this month in Geneva. But I don’t have any updates to give you today --

QUESTION: All right. Well, so --

MR KIRBY: -- or announcements to make.

QUESTION: So yesterday, you said you were preparing to suspend. This morning, the Secretary said you were on the verge of suspending.

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So what’s the tipping point? Things haven’t changed, so why haven’t you suspended? Yesterday, it looked, talked, and walked like an ultimatum. And now today, it looks like, in fact, it was a duck.

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t say that at all, Matt. And I think that the Secretary was just as candid and blunt today with Foreign Minister Lavrov as he was yesterday. You’re right; he did say today that we remain on the verge of having to suspend bilateral engagements on Syria with Russia. And that’s exactly where we are, which is where we were yesterday. And we are still prepared to enact that kind of a suspension and we’re in consultations right now inside the – inside our own government and, of course, with Foreign Minister Lavrov. But I just don’t have any updates for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Because it sounds like you backed down from what you had threatened to do. Is that not – why is this not – why should the Russians or the rest of the world not look at your decision not to go ahead and suspend as – after the – why should they not see your threat to suspend as a bluff, if you have not gone ahead and suspended, given the fact that there’s been no change in the situation on the ground?

MR KIRBY: Well, I certainly can’t get in the heads of Russian leaders and determine how they looked at the strength of the comments that we had yesterday. They still remain valid today, and I can assure you this was no idle threat. It wasn’t an idle threat yesterday and it’s not one today. The Secretary very much meant exactly what he said both yesterday and today, and we’re perfectly prepared to suspend if it comes to that. But again, the conversation continued today, and I just don’t want to get ahead of any decisions.

QUESTION: All right, last – my last one. You say it was no idle threat yesterday and it’s not an idle threat today. So it’s an active threat, but one that has not yet been acted on --

MR KIRBY: It is – it’s --

QUESTION: -- and one which you cannot give a timetable for when it will be acted on.

MR KIRBY: All I can tell you is we are – we remain very serious about where things are in Aleppo, where things are with respect to the failure of the arrangement thus far that we reached in Geneva. And we’re very serious about the potential of suspending bilateral engagement with Russia over – on Syria, if it comes to that.

QUESTION: Yesterday, you told us that – both in the readout and then when you spoke here, you told us that you would do so unless Russia took immediate steps to halt the violence. And when we asked you to define “immediate,” if I’m not mistaken, you said, “now.” So 24 hours has gone past. Is it fair to say that you don’t need immediate action from them?

MR KIRBY: No, that’s not fair to say at all.

QUESTION: So – well, if immediate means now and they didn’t do anything yesterday, and as best I can tell, the violence has continued pretty much unabated overnight, why are you giving them more time?

MR KIRBY: It’s not about giving them more time. As I said, the conversation continued again today, and the Secretary said it himself that we’re on the verge of a suspension, barring some significant steps by Russia. And we are in active – as in just a couple hours ago – active communication with Russia on that very issue.

QUESTION: Last week when the Secretary spoke emotionally at the Security Council, he talked about – when he was talking about the kinds of steps, he talked about an immediate, complete grounding of the Syrian air force, and you alluded to that earlier this week. Is that still the kind of dramatic step you’re looking for?

MR KIRBY: That – should that occur, should they be willing to implement that, that certainly would be a significant step that would give us the confidence that Russia is serious about meeting its end of the commitments.

QUESTION: And why, though, after all the time that has elapsed since the original Geneva Accords were reached – I think back in 2012, was it? – why do you still think that they might be serious when, by your own telling, they have violated so many of the agreements that you have reached with them? Why do you think that there’s even a scintilla of a chance that they might be serious now?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t suggest, and neither has the Secretary, that we believe they are serious. Their actions over just the last few days raise significant doubts and questions about the seriousness with which they are willing to apply their own commitments, stated not just privately to us in the negotiating room, but publicly. So we have significant doubts about their seriousness.

What I can tell you is that we – that in many of these – you talked about going back to 2012, and I can take you just back to February – when they have chosen, able and willing, to use the influence that they have on Assad to reduce violence in Syria, it has proven successful. Now, was it perfect? No. We never expected there to be zero violence in Syria. But there was a time for a couple of months earlier this year where it was significantly reduced, and people were out and about, and businesses were opening back up. So we know that they can do it.

But the question is – actually, we’re asking the same question that you are, Arshad – is: How serious are you about this? And again, that was very much the tone and tenor of the conversation today.

QUESTION: How do you – sorry, last one from me on this. But how do you address the criticism that you’ve been played and that what they have essentially done is used the negotiating process with the Secretary to help the Assad government achieve its aims on the ground while continuing to conduct a sort of pretense negotiation that you have played along with?

MR KIRBY: Nobody is under any illusion that Russia’s actions have propped up, bolstered, supported Assad in his efforts to continue to brutalize Syrian citizens, their own people. No, we’re not under any illusions. And if you go back and look at what the Secretary said at the UN Security Council just last week, I think you could see and hear in his voice how much he recognizes that reality. Nobody is being played here.

But that doesn’t mean that we’re not willing to continue to a point – and so far, we’re still in the mode of continuing to try to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict. And the Secretary said it again this morning, that he’s not going to apologize for going the extra mile to do that. But any suggestion that he’s sitting there at the table, blindly taking everything the Russians say on faith, or that he is naive to what Russia might consider its own geopolitical interests in Syria is just – it’s not – it’s not true, it’s false. It’s absolutely not – doesn’t comport with the facts. But he’s the nation’s chief diplomat. His job, his whole reason for being is to try to arrive at solutions through diplomacy. And that’s his mission and that’s what he’s been trying to do.

Now, he’s also been very honest that even as the nation’s chief diplomat, his patience isn’t limitless. And I think you can, again, go back just over the last seven to eight days and see the tone and tenor of what he’s been saying to all of you publicly about the situation, particularly in Aleppo. And you can see that he is indeed himself nearing the end.

QUESTION: Well, how many extra miles is he prepared to go, though? I mean, it seems like he’s already basically completed a marathon of extra miles so far. I mean, how many – and before you get – you keep asking this question, “How serious are you, Russia, about this” – how is it you haven’t gotten an answer to that question yet?

MR KIRBY: I would agree that – an honest answer to that question seems to be elusive. And as I said, as the Secretary said, that’s why we believe we’re on the verge of a suspension.

QUESTION: And it’s – but how can it be elusive? You keep saying over and over and over again that the Russians are showing that they’re not serious.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And yet you’re prepared to continually – to keep on, apparently, without limit asking the question of them without --

MR KIRBY: It’s not without limit.



QUESTION: John, could I --

QUESTION: Could I ask your – the language of diplomacy, when you say you need something immediately and you define “immediately” as now, and that was more than 24 hours ago and the consequence that you threaten doesn’t happen?

MR KIRBY: I would tell you – as I said earlier, we were serious about what we said yesterday. We stand by it and we remain serious today.



QUESTION: I just want to follow up on what you said yesterday, or the threat, because it did not go un-noticed in Moscow. In fact, your counterpart in the Russian foreign ministry, Zakharova, said who are you expecting to attack the cities, or something akin to that, she posted on her Facebook. Is it the moderates that you talk about? Obviously, I don’t know what kind of – what is the message behind what she’s saying. But she’s saying – she’s talking about the body bags and so on. How serious was that threat? How does that threat ought – should be interpreted?

MR KIRBY: I wasn’t issuing any threat yesterday to --

QUESTION: I mean, you were saying that those cities could be vulnerable, Russians will go back in body bags and so on. That was not a threat?

MR KIRBY: No. Those were facts. And they’re not new facts; they’re not things that we haven’t said before. The question was: What would be the consequences to Russia for not being serious about meeting their commitments? And I said what I have said, the Secretary has said, many times before – that the consequences are more war, more bloodshed. And it’s Russian troops that are in that war, not U.S. troops. So it was just a fact. There was no threat, there was no – I’ve seen claims that I was trying to incite terrorism, and that’s just completely bogus. That’s not at all the point that I was trying to make.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, on the issue of the ceasefire, I think the Russians are proposing a 48-hour ceasefire. Are you aware of that? Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen press reporting on it, but I --

QUESTION: It was not --

MR KIRBY: -- don’t have anything to confirm one way or the other that that’s a real proposal.

QUESTION: It was not a topic that the Secretary discussed with the foreign minister --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into a detailed readout of this discussion today. I’ve seen the press report on this supposed 48-hour ceasefire. I just don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION: My last one on this, just regarding maybe arming the opposition or relying on your allies, or your Arab allies in the GCC countries arming the opposition with stinger missiles and maybe even more sophisticated missiles, do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.


QUESTION: So since you have – this will be my last, because I’ve got to go someplace. But since you have not followed through on the suspension of the discussion, does that mean or can we infer then that in their conversation this morning, that in his conversation this morning, the Secretary got some kind of signal from Foreign Minister Lavrov that there was reason for you to keep the window open longer?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speak for Foreign Minister Lavrov, Matt, and I’m not going to provide a detailed readout of the conversation. It was a continuation of what they talked about yesterday. The only thing I can tell you is what I’ve said before – that the Secretary’s concerns were the same. His – the seriousness with which he believes we are approaching the verge of a suspension was, I think, very, very clearly relayed.

QUESTION: So then I just don’t understand why, then, there’s any reason to give them more time unless you don’t care --

MR KIRBY: Well, let’s not get ahead – I just don’t --

QUESTION: -- whether or not people take you seriously.

MR KIRBY: Let’s just – let’s not get ahead of process here. Let’s not get ahead of decisions.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: John, I’ve got two. First, the team is still in Geneva right now? Have you pulled them out?

MR KIRBY: As far as I know, there’s been no change to their presence in Geneva.


MR KIRBY: But as you know, Felicia, it’s an evolving – their presence, it comes and goes. There’s people that get added, get taken back. I mean, it’s not like a ship at sea where everybody’s there all the time. But the --

QUESTION: Right. Have you started pulling people out?

MR KIRBY: In this case – in this case, they’re still there, yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just a second question, I guess, just going back to – I know you’ve talked about this a lot, but Russia’s been complaining about rebels – U.S.-backed rebels being intertwined with Nusrah and there are some rebel leaders saying publicly that they feel the U.S. cares more about ISIS and al-Qaida than them in their fight against Assad. And so I guess why has it been such a problem to separate them? And then particularly, is there any deficit of trust between the U.S. and the rebels over this?

MR KIRBY: Well, let me take the second one first. I mean, we still continue to support the moderate opposition in Syria, as do some of our allies and partners, some of whom are in the region. And there’s certainly no diminution of our level of support for the efforts to move forward on a political transition. And that’s the kind of support that we’re talking about, is diplomatically trying to get a cessation of hostilities and humanitarian aid delivered so that they can get back to the table in Geneva with the regime and we can maybe hope to move the process forward.

We certainly understand the frustrations that some of them have voiced. We also understand that, to a large measure, much of that frustration comes from the actions of the regime which won’t stop bombing them and killing their families and destroying civilian infrastructure with the support of the Russian military. But there’s absolutely no question that the United States still very much wants to move the political process forward and is going to – we want to see the bombs stop and the humanitarian aid get in so that the conditions can be created for political talks to resume.

Okay? That – I don’t – did I answer everything?

QUESTION: I guess the question is just, like, is this trust over the question of how the U.S. feels about the rebels’ fight against Assad versus al-Qaida and ISIS – is this affecting this separation process?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that there’s a – I mean, if that notion is true --

QUESTION: It’s like – I just said some rebels are saying publicly --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I mean, I’m not aware that it’s having a tangible, practical effect on the work we’re still doing on behalf of the opposition to reach a political solution that I’m aware of. And then this idea that – the idea that we’re --

QUESTION: But in terms of this separation, the idea that they wouldn’t be willing to separate because they don’t trust that you care about their fight.

MR KIRBY: Well, certainly, we understand that some groups have in the past made that decision. Our message to them is exactly the same as it’s always been – that being physically collocated, at the very least, certainly being affiliated in any way or supportive of – in any way of offensive actions by al-Nusrah is a dangerous proposition for them to pursue. And we’ve been very honest about that. We recognize that the, quote/unquote, “marbling,” if you will, of opposition groups with Nusrah remains a challenge. And yes, we’ve heard comments by some that point to Nusrah as a fighting force against Assad.

But what we’re trying to do is end that fighting. What we’re trying to do is stop the civil war and create the conditions where political talks can resume. So that’s – I mean, the whole locus of the energy that we’re applying to this is to get a ceasefire, a cessation of hostilities, that’s nationwide and can be enforced nationwide so that the bombs stop dropping; get humanitarian aid in so that people can get food, water, and medicine; and resume some sense – and I don’t even mean a sense, but some sense of normalcy in their lives, so that political talks can pursue.

We believe that – and this is the message that we’re sending to everybody, including the opposition – that the way forward here still should be political in nature. And so that’s why we don’t want to see this marbling, we don’t want to see them fighting with a UN-designated terrorist group like al-Nusrah.

Now, these are decisions they have to make, but we believe it is in their best interests – and more critically, the best interests of the Syrian people – to separate themselves from a group like Nusrah, which is not party to the cessation of hostilities, and help us. By doing that separation, they can help us get to the cessation of hostilities, remove any excuses – and they’re not much more than excuses – that the regime and Russia have been applying to strikes against those areas, and help us get the political talks back on track.

Did that answer the question better?

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s helpful.

MR KIRBY: And then the other thing I’d say is any notion that we’re more worried about Daesh than we are about the civil war in Syria and the brutality of the Assad regime also is not without – I mean, that’s completely without foundation. But the efforts are different. The efforts are different.

QUESTION: Didn’t the Secretary say in congressional testimony, though, ISIS first, that’s the strategy? I mean, he made very clear in public that the U.S. Government’s strategy was to go after Islamic State militants first, right? So I don’t think it’s entirely without foundation that you’re more concerned about ISIS than about the Assad regime, because you chose to go after ISIS first.

MR KIRBY: I’d have to look at exactly what he said, Arshad, but the military strategy is about Daesh. We have a policy of pursuing a diplomatic solution in Syria, and I can assure you, and anybody that’s been traveling with the Secretary or been anywhere around him for the last several months can – I think could assert, that he has applied an enormous amount of energy and his own personal time and effort to trying to find a political solution in Syria. So I think any notion that he’s not prioritizing this just, again, it flies in the face of the facts and frankly flies in the face of the time – the actual, physical time – that he’s been devoting to it.

QUESTION: I don’t think anyone would --

QUESTION: You’ve said from this podium many times that Daesh is enemy number one.

MR KIRBY: It is --

QUESTION: You have said that many times.

MR KIRBY: Daesh is an enemy – no question that they’re an enemy to the United States and to the West. I mean, they are actively plotting and trying to inspire terrorist attacks on the soil of many Western nations, to include the United States. Of course it’s a – degrading and defeating them remains a priority. What I’m saying is that any notion that we’re somehow relegating to some sort of backwater in our policy approach a political solution in Syria just is – is not without – it’s not foundational.

QUESTION: John, I don’t think anyone would doubt that Secretary Kerry has put a lot of time and effort into trying to end the Syrian civil war, but the military strategy – and obviously a lot of the bandwidth taken up by the NSC and by the Pentagon is dealing with Daesh. And therefore you have a diplomatic strategy to end one thing and a military strategy to end the other; and the diplomatic strategy appears to be on the verge of collapsing, whereas the military strategy still has some ongoing momentum. Would that be fair?

MR KIRBY: What I would say is yes, we are making progress against Daesh. The effort against Daesh isn’t just military. Yes, there’s a military line of effort, no question about that, and there has been some success achieved both in Iraq and in Syria against this group. And it’s not just the United States; it’s a coalition effort. This is a terrorist group that we have now for more than two years made a concerted effort to degrade and destroy, defeat their capabilities in the field, which means there’s going to be what we would call kinetic activity against them. But as I said yesterday, the policy of the United States with respect to the civil war in Syria, remains the same and that is that we continue to believe that a political solution is the best approach, that – and to get to that political solution, a diplomatic effort is going to be the focus of the energy, and it has remained the focus of the energy. And the Secretary has borne that responsibility very seriously.

We’re – I wouldn’t begin to stand up here and assert to you that we’re content with the situation on the ground in Syria with respect to the civil war. I wouldn’t assert to you that we’re content with the level of progress that we have achieved diplomatically to try to bring this civil war to an end. That’s why the Secretary spoke again today with Foreign Minister Lavrov. That’s why we talked very seriously, yesterday and today, about being on the verge of having to suspend bilateral engagement with Russia over Syria. It’s not that we want to do it; it’s that Russia’s activities themselves and the regime’s are propelling us in that direction.

But no question, Dave, military progress against – not just military, but the entire effort against Daesh in Iraq and Syria has achieved momentum – you’re right – and has achieved some progress, and that we are all frustrated that we haven’t been able to achieve the kind of progress we’d like to see with respect to the civil war in Syria and trying to get a political solution found. That doesn’t mean that military solutions are going to transfer well into that effort. We’ve long said, and I said it again yesterday, of course there’s other options and alternatives that we’d be irresponsible not to consider. But we continue to believe that none of them are better than trying to find a political one to what is a very complicated civil war. One is a counterterrorism effort against a still lethal and dangerous group. The other is a very complicated, long-running, difficult, ugly civil war, and we continue to believe that a political solution is the best approach.

QUESTION: Follow-up to that question: You just said – and I typed it down – the effort against Daesh isn’t just military, so I listened very closely --

MR KIRBY: I’m glad. (Laughter.) That’s good.

QUESTION: I try my best. I listened very closely for the political dimension. Along the lines of Clausewitz, war is of continuation of politics by other means. What is the political dimension of the military strategy against Daesh? And I refer – speak in the context of two recent articles, one by Ambassador Khalilzad, former ambassador to Iraq, complaining that there’s no political strategy in regard to Mosul, and the other by Ramzy Mardini, in The New York Times yesterday, “In parts of Iraq,” quote, “recaptured from the militants where I’ve traveled, signs of any central authority are nonexistent.”

So it sounds like Daesh is being driven out of various places, whether Iraq or Syria, but there’s no political component to U.S. efforts to put in an authority that’s going to hold the area and, in a coherent way, prevent the return of terrorism, provide stability to the population.

MR KIRBY: Well, there absolutely is a political component to the strategy against Daesh, I mean – and it started with the assembling of a coalition of more than – now, it’s 66 nations, and it carries through in our support. And we talked about this yesterday with your question about the finance minister, our continued support for the political reforms and efforts of Prime Minister Abadi and his government going forward. Because we’ve long said the way you sustain a defeat against a group like this is good governance. And we’ve recognized – we were very honest at the time when Daesh rolled into Mosul now, that – two summers ago – that one of the reasons they were able to do so so swiftly and effectively was that they were up against elements of an Iraqi army that had not been well led, not been well trained, not been well maintained, because Prime Minister Maliki’s government wasn’t inclusive and it wasn’t pluralistic and it wasn’t necessarily concerned with keeping Iraqi defense forces’ capabilities up to the level they were when the United States ended our presence there in Iraq. So we’ve long said that in order to sustain a defeat, you have to do it with indigenous forces; that’s why this is an Iraqi strategy, not an American strategy. And it is Iraqi forces, under the command and control of Baghdad, that are continuing to press the effort. And that’s why it’s important that it be Iraqi systems, Iraqi people, Iraqi resources, and Iraqi institutions that come in after that defeat, so that they can sustain legitimate and authentic governance going forward.

Now, is it perfect in the execution? Absolutely not. War tends to be pretty messy at times. But there are efforts being made and we are supporting political solutions, as well in Iraq to help institute a level of governance that can be sustainable and provide for the basic necessities of life that Iraqi citizens want and deserve. Because one of the – we know this – one of the root causes of the growth of extremist groups is when they come into a vacuum like that – as they’ve done in Syria, where there isn’t good governance and there is no hope, no jobs, no way to sustain normal life, and they take advantage of that. It’s not the only reason; I’m not suggesting that a jobs program is going to solve everything. I’m just saying that good governance has an effect on trying to keep out extremists once they have been forcibly forced out of an area; but it’s a difficult effort.

And look, there are places – you talked about rebuilding efforts or holding afterward, and there are parts in Iraq where it has gone pretty well. Tikrit – 90-95 percent of the citizens of Tikrit are back in. We’ve seen many, many citizens of Ramadi come back; and in Fallujah, just starting to see some families come back into Fallujah. It takes time. We understand that. But it’s not as if – I mean, the question the way you posed it, and I’m assuming you’re getting this from the articles that you’re citing; I haven’t read them – is that there’s no thought given to reconstruction or rebuilding or political stability in the wake of an ISIL defeat. And there will be an ISIL defeat. It’s going to happen, and I can assure you that, very much, our energies and our efforts are being applied to helping Prime Minister Abadi be able to provide that level of governance going forward.

QUESTION: But do – they do come from the articles. Mardini, who worked in this building before he worked in Vice President Biden’s office, says in parts of Iraq, quote – in The New York Times – “In parts of Iraq recaptured from the militants where I’ve traveled, signs of any central authority are nonexistent.” His argument in that op-ed is that the United States needs to help Abadi build a proper force – military force – to liberate Mosul and not rely on the patchwork of militias that now exist.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Well, again, I really don’t want to get into the habit of responding to every op-ed columnist and every line written by them, with all due respect to their experience and wisdom and knowledge. And this is not – I’m not at all impugning that. But a couple of points that I’d like to make on the way you phrased that, anyway. This is an Iraqi strategy and it always has been, and part of our support to that strategy is a significant train, advise, and assist mission. I mean, you just saw the Pentagon announced additional trainers and advisors that will be going in to help the Iraqis take back Mosul at some point in the future. But that – so our mission is exactly the same as it was before, and we’re applying the resources – in consultation and coordination with the Iraqi Government, by the way; at their invitation – to help them achieve those goals. So we are committed to improving the battlefield competency and capability of Iraqi defense forces.

Now, back to the – I think you used the word “patchwork.” We’ve long said that the composition of Iraqi forces in the field – that has to be decided and approved by Prime Minister Abadi. Sometimes I think we forget that it’s a sovereign country and they get to make these decisions. And we’re going to advise them as they do, but ultimately they’re their decisions. And there have been militia forces who have participated in some tactical operations in Syria, and I suspect that that participation will continue. But it’s going to be done in accordance with the decisions, the organization, and the structure that Prime Minister Abadi puts around it. And to what degree they participate in this area or that, that is up to the Iraqi Government to decide. But we, for our part – the United States – remain committed to helping improve their capabilities in the field as they do that.

QUESTION: Can I ask one just very quick Syria one? Yesterday you told us that if you were to suspend your diplomatic engagement with Russia over Syria that that would not affect the mil-mil de-confliction efforts. I want to make sure that that’s still your position, that if you suspend diplomatic engagement that you expect to continue de-confliction?.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Still our position.


MR KIRBY: Yeah, Nike.

QUESTION: Can I ask a couple of different questions? Are we ready to move on?

QUESTION: Syria? Can I ask --

QUESTION: India and Pakistan. Do you have --

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: First, do you have any – are we ready?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Go ahead. Sorry.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Indians surgical strikes against the militants along the borders with Pakistan?

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second.

QUESTION: Mr. Kirby, are you not going to take my question on Syria?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to answer her question and then I’ll be happy to answer yours.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: So Nike, we’ve seen those reports. We’re following the situation closely, as I think you can understand. We also understand that the Indian and Pakistani militaries have been in communication. We believe that continued communication is obviously important to reduce tensions.

We’ve repeatedly expressed our concerns regarding the danger that terrorism poses to the region. And we all know that terrorism, in many ways, knows no border. We continue to urge actions to combat and delegitimize terrorist groups like LeT and the Haqqani Network, Jaish-e-Mohammad. So this is something that we’re obviously keenly focused on. Okay?

QUESTION: Follow --

QUESTION: Was there any prior consultation between the United States and India before the surgical strikes? I’m asking this because some media reports point out that Secretary Kerry has spoken to his counterpart and Susan Rice also spoke to her counterpart. So can you give us some --

MR KIRBY: I can confirm for you that the Secretary spoke with the – on the 27th, so earlier this week, with Indian External Affairs Minister Swaraj and reiterated his strong condemnation of the September 18th Uri attack. He condemned terrorism in all its forms and he cautioned against any escalation in tensions. Okay?

QUESTION: Follow-up?

QUESTION: After the second U.S. and India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue last month, what specific steps have been taken to strengthen cooperation on fighting terrorism between these two countries?

MR KIRBY: This is something we’re always working at with our partners in the region. We’re always trying to get better at combatting terrorism in the region. And there are many ways you can do that – through information-sharing regimens and increasing – like we said, increasing communication between all parties involved. So I don’t have a specific laundry list here to read out to you, because, frankly, it’s something that we’ve been constantly working at with our partners in the region.


QUESTION: You said Secretary Kerry had cautioned against escalation. Was this attack an escalation?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize it. Obviously, it’s – I mean, obviously an attack like that escalates tensions. But what I don’t want to do is try to get into some sort of broad characterization, one way or the other. But obviously an attack like this is horrific. And --

QUESTION: No, but the Indian response – is that – would that – is that the kind of escalation that Secretary Kerry was warning against?

MR KIRBY: Oh, I thought you were talking about the Uri attack.

QUESTION: No, no. (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Well, look, again, we – our message to both sides has been the same, in terms of encouraging them to increase communication to deal with this threat and to avoid steps that escalate the tensions. And I’m – I think I’m not going to get into characterizing each and every step along the way there. But obviously, what we want to see is increased cooperation against what is a very shared common threat for both countries, and to see steps being taken to deal with it by all sides.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: If I may, I would like to quickly – on Sudan. Do you have anything --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Hang on, hang on. Hang on, hang on. Since we’re on India/Pakistan, we’ll go here – I’ll go – I’ll get you Goyal, all right? All right? Go here.

QUESTION: Yeah. Since this was a counterterrorism operation and there is strong coordination between India and the U.S. on counterterrorism issues, was there any coordination on this strike by the Indian forces?

MR KIRBY: I just don’t have anything for you on that. And as you know, I don’t talk about the specifics of military matters.

QUESTION: And when Secretary spoke to India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, on 27, did he get any indication that India was going ahead with this kind of strike?

MR KIRBY: I just don’t have anything for you on that. I’ve read out the call to the level of detail that I’m going to.

QUESTION: So there has been one call or two calls?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’ve seen reports of two calls.


MR KIRBY: There was a technical issue on the first call, so they had to arrange a second call to complete it. So was there two calls? Yes, there were two calls, but it was really one conversation.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Okay? Goyal.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Thank you very much. Two questions. One, Ambassador Richard Verma was in Washington. Suddenly, he had to cancel everything, and he rushed back to Delhi. What was the reason and who he was going to meet, or if he rushed from here back to Delhi, was he carrying any message from the Secretary or from this building?

MR KIRBY: He did have to reschedule his event at the Wilson Center and, as far as I know, he’s returning to New Delhi. My understanding is that he believed that it was appropriate for him to go back. And I mean, he’s a – he’s got a big job, there’s a lot of responsibilities that come with it, and obviously it’s a very dynamic situation, and he felt it was prudent to go back. And we support that.

QUESTION: He’s doing a great job. And my second question is that, in recent days --

MR KIRBY: I’ll tell him you said so. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- Prime Minister Modi, he spoke about one thing – what he had a great message for the people of Pakistan that Pakistan and India both got freedom on the same day, but Pakistan is supporting terrorism, India is supporting ITs, engineers, and doctors around the globe. And what he said is Pakistan still has camps inside Pakistan who are attacking India. And finally, he said less attacks or fight against terrorism, hunger, and poverty; not against each other, each other peoples, and let’s have a development. Any message that you may have for Pakistan on this or what Prime Minister Modi said?

MR KIRBY: My message is the same as it was when Nike asked me about it. I mean, we understand that both militaries are in communication; we encourage that. We’ve expressed repeatedly our concerns about the danger of terrorism, cross-border terrorism, as well, in the region, and we continue to urge actions to combat and de-legitimize groups like LeT and the Haqqani Network and Jaish-e-Mohammad. I mean, these – as I’ve said many times in answer to you, Goyal, these are shared common threats that everybody in the region faces. And we believe it’s important for everybody in the region – and we’re obviously willing to, and have proven, willing to contribute to those efforts – to take that on, to take that on as a shared regional challenge.

QUESTION: And one more quickly, if you may I – thank you. Across the street today, U.S.-India Security Council, a non-profit organization, they had a high-class official from the Pentagon and other people also from the State Department. What they said that India and U.S. relations have gone – have come from far away and they are moving forward and they are not now, nobody can stop them. So do you agree that future of India-U.S. relations, what – according to their views and comments today?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments. That’s the first I’ve heard of it. What I would tell you is that we remain deeply committed to the bilateral relationship with India and to advancing it on – across virtually all sectors of public and private enterprise, and that I think you’re going to see us remain committed to that. Okay?

QUESTION: Just one – John --

MR KIRBY: We’ll go to Syria. Let’s --

QUESTION: Just one on Pakistan.

MR KIRBY: All right, and then I’ll go to you.

QUESTION: Has there been any calls made from – any high-level calls made to Pakistani leadership on the need to de-escalate tension in the region?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any calls to announce or read out to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Yesterday, you conceded that the Administration is looking at options other than diplomacy in Syria. Reuters cited officials who said they’d consider military options as well. Does this mean MANPADS for the rebels or perhaps a no-fly zone established by the coalition?

MR KIRBY: I think you can understand why I’m not going to discuss in any detail interagency discussions, but obviously, it would be irresponsible for us not to have those kinds of discussions.

QUESTION: I understand. But you said one of the consequences for Russia is going to be that it’s going to send troops home in body bags because you suggested maybe their planes will be shot out of the sky. So who’s going to shoot down the planes? Is it – could it be the (inaudible) coalition?

MR KIRBY: They’ve already lost aircraft. They’ve already lost troops in the military activity that they’re engaging. And what I was saying was that if we can’t reach a cessation of hostilities, if we can’t find a political solution, and they’re going to continue to militarily prop up Assad, they’re going to continue to face risk to their military forces from that effort, as they already have. That’s all I was saying. There was no threat. There was no incitement. That’s all I was saying.

QUESTION: The rebels can more actively shoot down planes if they get MANPADS from the allies. Is Washington prepared to give the greenlight to its allies to send MANPADS to the rebels?

MR KIRBY: I’ve already addressed that question.


MR KIRBY: Do you have another?

QUESTION: And what is the answer to that?

MR KIRBY: I’ve already addressed it just a few minutes ago.

QUESTION: Yes, yes --

MR KIRBY: If you go back and look at the transcript, you’ll see that I said I’m not going to discuss the details of interagency conversations.


QUESTION: Just one more question. It has been long --

QUESTION: Does that mean there have been interagency conversations on the possibility of MANPADS?

MR KIRBY: There have been interagency conversations about options and alternatives to the challenges posed by the civil war in Syria. And I said yesterday some of those are outside diplomacy --


MR KIRBY: -- but I’m not going to discuss in any detail or characterize those discussions.

QUESTION: Right. So your answer should not be interpreted to mean that you were confirming that there has been discussion of MANPADS?

MR KIRBY: That’s right. I’m not confirming that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yes, thank you for letting me clarify.

QUESTION: For a long time, it has been reported that the Administration has been working to prevent its allies from sending MANPADS to the rebels. What was the reason for that, for not – for persuading them not to send MANPADS to the rebels?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything for you on diplomatic discussions that we have with our allies and partners that are helping us try to find a political solution in Syria.



MR KIRBY: Yeah, Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, John. I hope you answer these questions.

MR KIRBY: You say that as if I don’t always answer your questions.

QUESTION: Or sometimes you just ignore it. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Maybe you don’t study --

MR KIRBY: Ouch. She said sometimes I just ignore them.

QUESTION: You need more study, but thanks. On the United States taking diplomatic sanctions against the North Korea, it is reported that United States request for diplomatic break with North Korea around the country as part of a – for isolating the North Korean diplomatically. Can you confirm this?

MR KIRBY: Well, you know, Janne, that we don’t have diplomatic relations with North Korea, so I’m not sure how we can break something that we don’t have.


MR KIRBY: Or maybe I didn’t understand the question.

QUESTION: Well, listen to Assistant Secretary Russel at the foreign writers club. He mentioned about this, but --

MR KIRBY: He mentioned what?

QUESTION: He mentioned on this, but the U.S. says North Korea doesn’t have a diplomatic relationship --

MR KIRBY: No, I know, that’s what I just said.

QUESTION: Yes, but – so around the country, some country, they have relationship with North Korea, like China --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- Russia, what other ones.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: So he said U.S. send notice to U.S. embassy at overseas. Do you have anything on this?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t.

QUESTION: No, you don’t recognize on this?

MR KIRBY: I’m not quite sure I’m completely understanding. Did he say that we intend to reestablish --


QUESTION: I think it’s to encourage other countries to break --


QUESTION: -- diplomatic relations --


QUESTION: -- to further isolate North Korea.

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such effort to do that, Janne. Look, those are sovereign decisions that countries make in terms of who they’re going to have diplomatic relations with and who they’re not. Our concern is more directly about the DPRK and the provocative activity, the pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities, and the threatening behavior that they continue to exhibit on the peninsula and on working inside the international community. And this is we are focused, working with other nations on trying to ratchet up the pressure to hold the North more accountable for those provocative activities. And that’s – and I can assure you that’s where our energies are being spent, largely inside the UN, and as we’ve said in just light of the most recent test – that we are going to pursue the potential for additional sanctions inside the UN. But I’m not aware of any effort on our part to dissuade a nation from a sovereign decision that they have made about diplomatic relations with the North.

QUESTION: Do you have any additional U.S. individual sanctions against the Chinese company except the recent one?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on that. I’d refer you to the Treasury Department.

I got time for just a couple more.

QUESTION: John, quickly --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: -- really quickly on surely your favorite topic, former Secretary Clinton’s emails. Just want to clarify – I know there was a production schedule entered just yesterday, but – so my understanding is there are about 2900 pages that State is going to process prior to Election Day, so I guess I was just curious. I know you all have talked about the strain that this puts on resources. How confident are you that you will be able to meet those deadlines?

And then secondly, just to clarify: Will these be released publicly and put on the State FOIA website?

MR KIRBY: So I would first refer you to the filing, which I think is what you’re referring to, with the court last night. I do know that our filing indicated that we’re going to process and make an additional production of former Secretary Clinton’s emails in November. This stemmed from an agreement that we reached with the requester – in this case, the Freedom of Information Act requester – to redirect resources that we had already committed to this case. I just don’t have – I couldn’t give you – I couldn’t quantify that for you right now.

QUESTION: But are you all confident that you’ll meet this? I believe it was a November 4th or November 3rd deadline.

MR KIRBY: Again, without getting into the specifics of the filing, I can tell you obviously we’re going to work very hard to meet our commitments to the court.

QUESTION: And will they – the emails be posted on the website? Will they be released to the public or just turned over in court to the --

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, our – the responsibilities through the Freedom of Information Act and to the requester – I don’t have an update for you in terms of when or how they’ll be made public, but we have been – traditionally, we do make public our responses to FOIA requesters. I just don’t have an update for you on this. Okay? But let me be clear: We take the court order seriously and we’re going to work very, very hard to make sure that we meet it.

QUESTION: Because I thought I – I don’t have it in front of me, but I thought that it mentioned in the court order that State did agree to make them public.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I can’t speak to the details of the filing. I would refer you to the filing on that. But it is common practice for us to make public our responses to FOIA requesters, and you can go to our website and see others that we’ve done that for. There’s a process involved here and I just don’t want to get ahead of the process of actually posting them. What we’re talking about here is a filing that was centered around the actual provision of the documents to a requester, and again, I’d point you to the filing for additional details on that. Okay?

Nike, last one.

QUESTION: Quickly ask, then – do you have anything on Amnesty International’s report that Sudanese Government has been using chemical weapons against civilians, and at least three times this year?

MR KIRBY: As far as I know, we’ve just now received this report. We’re obviously looking through it carefully – not been able to verify Amnesty’s specific reporting at this time, since we just got it. But the allegations of scorched earth tactics presented in the report, including the unlawful killing of civilians, the abduction and rape of women, the forced displacement, the looting, the use of chemical weapons, all of that are deeply concerning. And, of course, the images of the victims are horrifying. We unequivocally condemn the use of chemical weapons any time and such use against civilians in Sudan, if credible, would be reprehensible. Sudan is a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the use of chemicals as weapons by the government would violate its obligations under that convention. Okay?

Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:38 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 30, 2016

Fri, 09/30/2016 - 17:56

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 30, 2016

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2:06 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: All right. Friday surprise. Welcome.

Hey, everybody. Welcome to the State Department. It is indeed a Friday, which is, all things considered, a good thing. Before I start, I do want to give a shout-out to someone who is leaving us today who has served a short time in the front office, and we didn’t drive him away, I can guarantee you, but he’s going back to the Motor City, to Detroit, and his family there. But Patrick Thelen, thanks so much for all you’ve done. And despite everything, he remains a Detroit Lions fan, and God bless him for that. (Laughter.) But we wish him all the best. He’s a great guy.

I don’t have anything at the top, so I will go right to your questions.

QUESTION: Again. Two days in a row with nothing at the top. Interesting.

MR TONER: You’ve exhausted us.

QUESTION: The Russians have something to say.

MR TONER: You’ve exhausted us.


MR TONER: Yeah, they --

QUESTION: So let’s start with Syria.

MR TONER: Sure thing.

QUESTION: I’m sure you’re surprised.


QUESTION: It’s now been two days since the Secretary in a phone call with Foreign Minister Lavrov told Russia that you would suspend bilateral engagement unless Russia takes immediate steps to end the assault on Aleppo and return – restore the cessation of hostilities. Neither of those things have happened yet, have – that’s correct?

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: All right. So have you followed through, then? I know that they talked again.

MR TONER: They did speak earlier today, actually when the Secretary was en route back from Israel, and we are at the same place. We have not definitively closed that door. We have not definitively suspended our diplomatic relations regarding Syria with Russia. We’re on the verge because we have not yet seen them take the kind of actions that we’re looking to see them take, but we’re not there yet. And the conversation continues, but you know where we stand on this. I know that the Russians, as Arshad noted, have also been speaking to the media, but I think the Secretary has invested, as we all know here, a great amount of effort in a diplomatic process. There are other options that we’ve talked about here. Many of them are not very good, so before we definitively slam the door here, we want to make sure that we understand the stakes and that Russia understands the stakes, more importantly. So that’s --

QUESTION: You say that your position is clear, but I thought your position was clear two days ago that you were going to suspend this dialogue unless immediate action was taken. And it’s now been 48 hours and there hasn’t been any action. So I just – I – my --


QUESTION: I don’t know how you can say your position is clear, because it seems to be unclear, not – and not just to me but, presumably, also to the Russians. You made this threat, they didn’t do what you wanted them to do, and now you’re not following through on it.

MR TONER: Well – and I certainly don’t want to get into or divulge the content of our diplomatic discussions, but these are conversations on the phone.


MR TONER: And so I can’t say what the Russians may be offering to do or steps they may take or not take. Again, we’re just not there. We’re --

QUESTION: Are you suggesting – are you saying, then, not suggesting – are you saying that there is some sign, some indication from Russia that hope is not lost, that they’re willing to do something tangible in response to this ultimatum that was – seems to be a non-ultimatum that was delivered?

MR TONER: Well, again, I’ll leave it more or less what I just said, which is that we continue to have conversations with Russia with – between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov and they have – that insofar as we have not reached the point where we believe there’s no reason to continue.

QUESTION: I get that, but the Secretary himself and others --


QUESTION: -- in this context and in the context of other negotiations or --


QUESTION: -- has said that there’s no point in having talks for the sake of talks. And if --

MR TONER: Agree, and that has not changed. So I’m saying --

QUESTION: It hasn’t? But what are you doing right now --

MR TONER: I just don’t want to get into details of what – but I would say that we're not there yet. We may be in a matter of hours, in a matter of days, at that point, but we're not there yet. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that.

QUESTION: Or any less clearly.

QUESTION: Mark, yesterday --


QUESTION: Sorry, Matt.

QUESTION: No, I'm done.

QUESTION: Yesterday the Secretary said something to the effect that we don't want – we want to be pulling back from the process so that we’re not seen as complicit – I don’t think he used the world “complicit,” but something like that – in empowering the Russians to do what they’re doing. Isn’t that what is happening? I mean, they’re continuing to do what they’re doing.

MR TONER: Well, they are. And I think – so a couple of points to make there is – one is that we’re not blind to what is happening, and Secretary Kerry has clearly acknowledged that we’re outraged by what’s taking place right now with regard to Aleppo. And as he’s said many times, it’s egregious, it’s horrific, it’s in clear violation of international standards or norms – humanitarian norms and international law, and I think that at a certain point when you look at that, as we’ve been back and forth here on, it becomes futile to continue to believe in a diplomatic process.

That said, I just can’t definitively say we’re there at that point yet. We’re very close but we’re not there yet.

QUESTION: Mark, you said --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Just a few minutes ago on TV, you said that it’s hard to continue to believe in a diplomatic process. So if it’s hard, why are you still – why do you still believe in a diplomatic process?

MR TONER: Well – so, first of all, Secretary Kerry is in a sense duty-bound to pursue the diplomatic process to the fullest extent that’s possible, and we have not reached that threshold yet. Again, I don’t want to get into the conversations that are still ongoing, but we’ve seen enough that we don’t want to definitively close the door yet. That – as I said, that may change in the next – in the coming hours or days. I just don’t have a clear timeframe or time.

QUESTION: You’ve seen enough from Russia? I mean, that’s who you’re waiting on here.

MR TONER: We obviously haven’t closed the window, the door – whatever the metaphor you want to use here, but --

QUESTION: But you’ve seen enough from whom or from where? Because --

MR TONER: Oh, I would say that we’ve seen enough that – I can’t remember now what I just said, but that there’s enough there that we don’t want to walk away yet.

QUESTION: From the talks with Russia?

MR TONER: Right. But what’s also another factor as we look at this is if we do walk away from this diplomatic process, as frankly moribund as it is, what are the options? And the Secretary has spoken about this. Many of them are not good options. We’re continuing to have those conversations within the interagency, continuing to evaluate what we can do to alleviate the suffering in Syria, but the last thing we want to see, obviously, is any kind of escalation. If we do pronounce the diplomatic process dead, then what we don’t want to see is an escalation in the violence, and that could very well be the result.

QUESTION: Why did you make this threat if you don’t seem willing to carry it out? Doesn’t that --

MR TONER: Well, I don’t want to – again, we would not make such a statement if we weren’t willing to carry it out. And I also think that it is – we’ve talked about this before in other negotiations, that at some point you’ve got to be able to say, if this is in no one’s interest to continue this conversation, this dialogue, then it behooves us to walk away from it. But I think – I agree, this is on life support, but it’s not flatlined yet.

QUESTION: Mark, if at the moment the Syrian army is still making --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: I don’t know. I’m trying --

QUESTION: Where have – when has the Administration actually carried out a threat to walk away?

MR TONER: Carried out a threat or --

QUESTION: Well, I mean – didn’t walk –

MR TONER: Yeah, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: The U.S. didn’t walk out of the Iran nuclear talks.

MR TONER: We didn’t, but we became close at several occasions, as you know.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you didn’t do it. And you could argue, or I’m sure you – as you probably do, that you got what you say is a successful deal out of it by not walking away. But in terms of Syria, the Administration has twice said that it would do things if such and such happened or didn’t happen. And now – you know what I’m talking about.


QUESTION: And you didn’t follow through. So I guess, why do you – why should the Russians or anyone else for that matter take it seriously?

MR TONER: Well, again, I can’t speak to whether they do or don’t take us seriously, but they should – because we are reaching that point.

QUESTION: Mark, if you break off --

MR TONER: Please. Sorry, Dave. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. If you break off the talks tomorrow, say, or --


QUESTION: -- two days’ time because it’s not going anywhere, and then Mr. Lavrov calls you 24 hours later and say, “Oh, you were serious about that; well, let’s get the talks up on again then.”

MR TONER: I – again, that’s a --

QUESTION: It’s a hypothetical.

MR TONER: It’s a hypothetical.

QUESTION: But your threat is hypothetical for the moment.

MR TONER: It’s a hypothetical.

QUESTION: Your statement, sorry.

MR TONER: I would – with the caveat that at a certain point it becomes very difficult to believe that Russia is serious, or possibly worse, has any influence to dissuade the regime from continuing to carry out strikes. But I think if at any point in time we’re going to – if we believe that there’s a possibility for peace and a peaceful settlement of this, again, it would be bad if we didn’t pursue it.

QUESTION: Would you --

QUESTION: So you’d call off the talks if there’s no sign of the possibility of progress towards peaceful settlement, but if you call off the talks and then they ring you up and give you a sign, then you’ll put them on again.

MR TONER: Again, I --

QUESTION: So that nothing --

MR TONER: I don’t want to predict --

QUESTION: -- changes.

MR TONER: No, I mean, I don’t want to predict – I mean, what I think we would – what I would say is what we’re talking about here is the end of this so-called Geneva agreement. But this process that was reached, or this agreement, rather, that was reached on September 10th after many months of, as you guys know, consultation and close work and the promise that that held in many respects, including the possibility of some Joint Implementation Center – all of that, I think, would be shelved.

QUESTION: So for the past three days you’ve had daily phone calls with Foreign Minister Lavrov. And for the past three days the Syrian army has made tactical advances around Aleppo. Will you be surprised if the day the Russian and Syrian forces get bogged down around Aleppo, then you get a more positive phone call?

MR TONER: Well, and perhaps that would mean that the regime and the Russians come to the conclusion that we’ve come to long ago, which is that there will be no military solution to the conflict in Syria.

QUESTION: If they seize Aleppo and then declare a ceasefire, will that be acceptable to you?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to – I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals.

Please, Barbara.

QUESTION: Yeah, just a few questions, because Mr. Lavrov has done an interview with the BBC and I wanted to get --

MR TONER: That’s right, he did.

QUESTION: Yes, he did. So he denied using banned weapons in Syria and he denied targeting civilians. He said there wasn’t evidence for that. And your response, first of all, but also does that – does that kind of statement mean that you have any wiggle room left with these kinds of discussions you’re having?

MR TONER: So I mean, look, we have seen the regime, aided and abetted by Russian air power, carry out strikes against civilian targets. They may argue that they’re going after Nusrah and these are collateral damage. To a certain extent, that may be true, but there’s a way to do these kinds of strikes that limit that. But I think we’ve also just seen evidence of attacks on civilian infrastructure, and obviously on civilians, that are inexplicable in terms of trying to go after Nusrah. In terms of where that leaves us, I think, as I said, it’s difficult to continue to pursue a diplomatic process in the midst of so much carnage and so much evidence to the contrary. But – and I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re looking for some kind of – against extraordinary action or extraordinary measures that at least give some sign that Russia and/or the regime are in any way interested in a credible cessation.

QUESTION: And he’s also – and he said this before, but he kind of spelled it out quite strongly in this interview – that the Russians are saying there’s more and more evidence to believe that the U.S. from the very start planned to protect al-Nusrah as a kind of Plan B against Assad.

MR TONER: Honestly, I saw those remarks. It left me shaking my head. I don’t know what he means by it. Well, I can conjecture what he means by it, but it’s absurd.

QUESTION: But do you think the fact that the U.S. hasn’t been able to separate the opposition from Nusrah, which is what the Russians keep saying – how much of a factor is that in the escalation?

MR TONER: I mean, so granted, up to the September 10th agreement in Geneva, we talked a lot about that comingling or whatever we – marbelization, whatever the term is – and it was a reality. We conceded that. And it was our challenge coming to the table, agreeing in Geneva – our challenge was to try as best we can to reach out to the moderate opposition and make clear to them that they needed to in order for this thing to work. And we did that. We did it with our special envoy, Michael Ratney, but we did it through the – also the other members of the ISSG, other membering – member governments to reach out to the groups that they had contacts with to sell the deal, if you could – if I could put it that way, to convince these groups that it was in their best interest to abide by it.

Did we – was – were we 100 percent effective? No. But were we effective? Yes, and there was several days of a significant reduction in violence. But what’s happened now with the hitting of the humanitarian convoy and with the subsequent siege on Aleppo, you’ve got a scenario now, a dynamic where, as these moderate opposition forces are under real and increasing pressure by the regime, that they’re driven more or less into the arms. They have to turn to Nusrah, fight side by side. So it just – it escalates and makes more confusing and more jumbled what is already a difficult situation.

QUESTION: Was – can I just ask one more question?

QUESTION: Could I – I’ve got one.

MR TONER: Please, yeah.

QUESTION: This will be very brief.

QUESTION: Yeah, sure.


QUESTION: Just before I get – you talked about how you don’t want to close the – slam the door shut right now. Why in your estimation would it be so difficult to reopen that door --


QUESTION: -- and follow through on the threat and then – to stop it, and then see if that changes the situation? Why are you afraid, I guess, for lack of a better word --


QUESTION: -- that the door would be so hard to reopen?

MR TONER: It’s a fair question. I think what we’re – and I tried to explain this. What we’re talking about, what was reached in Geneva – it’s not to say that it would be impossible to somehow recreate that in some fashion, but I think a couple of things is one, is we’d set that aside for now and just say, “Look, that did not work, that was a failed effort.” And then two, we would consider as we – if Russia did come back to us in a week or ten days or two weeks, it would factor into our consideration the fact that they failed so miserably to live up to any kind of deal that – an agreement that we reached. So again, it’s a matter of credibility.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR TONER: Please, sir.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: Can we move on to a different country?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I just --

MR TONER: Of course. Sorry, we’ll get there.

QUESTION: That’s okay.

QUESTION: So can you work with people – if Nusrah fighters are fighting side by side with fighters that you support, can you then work with the fighters that you support, or have they then become people who are providing material support --

MR TONER: It’s a fair question, yep.

QUESTION: -- to terrorists and therefore you can’t --

MR TONER: That’s a fair – sure. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to --

QUESTION: Oh, yeah.

MR TONER: I think that was part of – that was – so the part – one of the big pieces of this effort – I apologize, some water. One of the big pieces of this effort coming out of Geneva was to attempt to do that, was to say, look, guys, we’ll have a seven-day period of cessation of – of violence or a significant reduction in the level of violence. And at that point in time after seven days, the regime would ground its air forces, we would set up this JIC, Joint Implementation Center. And at that point, you’re either with us or against us – moderate – I’m talking about the moderate opposition. That would have been a clear line in the sand, if you will, or whatever that they were either with – still with Nusrah or not.

Again, we talked about this. It’s self-identifying, but it’s also – it would have been a clear starting point from that point on to say, “Okay, you’ve made your choice, I guess.”

QUESTION: Just – and Barbara, one other one, if I may. Just on – in the…


QUESTION: In that interview with the BBC, Foreign Secretary – Foreign Minister Lavrov said what the Russians have been saying for a number of days now, which is that accusing the United States of having failed to disentangle the Nusrah from the opposition that you support. Is it your view that the U.S. Government was obliged immediately upon declaration or implementation of the ceasefire on September the 20 – on – or the 12th that it was your immediate obligation to begin disentangling the two? Or rather, is it your view that that was a process that was going to start after a week of a ceasefire?

MR TONER: Yeah. So what I think was understood was while we wouldn’t, from 12:01, whatever it was, on the Eid that that seven-day period began, expect any kind of, like, all right, guys, we’re moving over to this section and we’re disentangling ourselves, that – over the course of that week, if we had gotten there. And we talked about that a lot is – during those initial days, is that we didn’t expect a clean break. We never did, I don’t think anybody did; I don’t think the Russians, the regime – but that we would work towards that over the course of a period of time, seven days or whatever, to expect to see that.

Once we felt that we were at that point, to the best of an agreed-upon ability to reach that point, then we would say, okay, we’re ready to move on to the next phase. At that point, as I said, then it’s – the moderate opposition who are integrated with al-Nusrah would have had a choice to make.

QUESTION: So in other words, are they making a fair point here --


QUESTION: -- the Russians? That they say you failed to do the disentangling?

MR TONER: No, because there wasn’t enough time. I mean, we did not have enough time to fully – sorry, I didn’t mean to talk over you.

QUESTION: No, no, go ahead.

MR TONER: We did not have enough time to fully implement the agreement. And I talked about this a short time ago, is what you had, starting last weekend with the barrage and the airstrikes on Aleppo – you’ve just, again, driven the opposition back into the – you’ve recreated what was there before, which is – that doesn’t make anything any easier – when these groups are under the gun, literally, by the regime and by Russian airstrikes. The enemy of my friend is my friend, it’s like – or my – sorry, the friend of my enemy is my – (laughter) – what is it, whatever the damn thing is. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

MR TONER: Enemy is my friend, yeah. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. And so you’re going to have a dynamic where you’re driving them back into the arms of Nusrah.

QUESTION: And just to get back to my original question, can you continue to offer support to people that are fighting side by side with people you deem to be terrorists? I mean, if they’re fighting with them, they’re providing material support to them, right? So can you still provide assistance to the moderates, to the so-called moderates?

MR TONER: So I didn’t want to talk about – and for various reasons, I don’t want to necessarily get into details of who or among the moderate opposition we may be providing assistance to. I think that that’s all under consideration, that when we look at who we might provide assistance to among the moderate opposition. We’re constantly looking at the --

QUESTION: But is it a matter of law? Can you do that? I mean --

MR TONER: I don’t think we can. But I also think that we look and – look at a number of factors when we evaluate or look at how we provide assistance to these groups. That’s one of them, clearly. The other is their behavior, whether they’re guilty of committing human rights abuses or anything like that.

QUESTION: What – just a final question: And again, with the regards to the Russian suspicions, you haven’t really gone after Nusrah that much. Have you been holding back on going after Nusrah because they were mixed with the opposition? I mean, all we hear about is the strikes on ISIS.

MR TONER: Yeah, so --

QUESTION: We don’t hear about strikes on Nusrah.


QUESTION: Sorry, let me – and then a second question to you before – the other one is you keep saying there’s no military solution. That’s what – so therefore you have to keep the diplomatic channel open. But we’re not actually talking about a military solution, are we? We’re talking about a credible threat of force to help a diplomatic solution. So then my second question would be: Is that under discussion? But anyway.

MR TONER: Without lending one option any more importance or significance than any other option; I would say all options are under discussion, in answer to your second question. In answer to your first question, which was, again, about?

QUESTION: We keep hearing about --


QUESTION: -- striking ISIS, but never --


QUESTION: -- about striking Nusrah.

MR TONER: We did carry out strikes initially, back in 2014-2015, against Nusrah. But absolutely, you’re correct in that, as they became intermingled and as they became intermingled in civilian areas, we’ve always sought to limit the possibility of civilian casualties in any of our airstrikes.

And again, one of the things I’ve talked a little bit about this week is what – and what partly the promise that this Joint Implementation Center held was we wanted to work in a very strategic fashion about how to take out senior Nusrah leadership like we’ve done pretty effectively against ISIL. And that doesn’t include just laying waste to populated areas that may be under Nusrah’s control. That’s a very non-surgical way to do it.


QUESTION: Could I just ask a follow-up?

MR TONER: Of course. I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: You hit Nusrah – I believe you described it as al-Qaida – maybe in March --

MR TONER: Affiliate, yeah.

QUESTION: -- or something or – it was earlier this year.


QUESTION: Since then, there hasn’t been any specific action against Nusrah, is that right? Military action.

MR TONER: No, but I’d have to double check.


MR TONER: I just can’t definitively say that. And I think because of that – that space is, one, occupied by regime and Russian air forces, but also because of the mix.

QUESTION: Given that you – you’ve described the JIC as something that would be – the Secretary has – it would be in U.S. interest anyways because you want to target Nusrah.


QUESTION: Why aren’t you attacking Nusrah anyhow if it’s in U.S. interest?

MR TONER: That’s what I was saying, is – but I – and I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear --

QUESTION: No, no. I understand what you’re saying, but how would that change by cooperating with Russia? You still wouldn’t attack civilian populations, buildings --

MR TONER: No, but I – but what we, again – and I’m – I would really encourage you to talk to someone at the Pentagon who can give you a much more detailed tactical view of this. But one of the premises behind this was that it would allow us to better share intelligence and information and really target, as I said, senior leaders among Nusrah, and go after them in a much more strategic fashion rather than, frankly, using dumb bombs and cluster bombs – or cluster munitions and that kind of thing where we’re just, again, laying waste to an areas versus going after a specific target or group of individuals.

Please. Yes.

QUESTION: If you had actionable intelligence against Nusrah senior leaders, as you describe them, would you --

MR TONER: Would we --

QUESTION: -- be able to target them today or not? Because Aleppo and Idlib and a lot of these areas --


QUESTION: -- are out of your – are they in the confliction zone?

MR TONER: I would – I don’t want to – so I would encourage you to talk to somebody --


MR TONER: -- from the Department of Defense, whether we would be able to – through our de-confliction mechanism be able to target them.


MR TONER: Yep. Sorry, Samir and then --

QUESTION: Is the U.S. providing the Syrian opposition any --

MR TONER: Is who?

QUESTION: Is the U.S. --


QUESTION: -- providing the Syrian opposition any military help or any guidance to prevent the fall of East Aleppo to the Syrian and the Russians?

MR TONER: Well, look, we do provide them some support and some guidance. I don’t want to get into details and I don’t want to get into discussions of which groups among the moderate opposition that we support, but yes.

QUESTION: But you are providing?

MR TONER: We do provide assistance.

QUESTION: But did you increase it recently?

MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. Did we what?

QUESTION: Did you increase it recently after --

MR TONER: I’m not sure.

QUESTION: -- the offensive?

MR TONER: I’m not sure.


QUESTION: Just quickly, I mean – to circle about to what we were talking about at the beginning, what more would Russia need to do for you to move from the verge to actually closing the door on them? I mean, how --


QUESTION: It seems like it’s gotten a lot worse in the last week.

MR TONER: Yes it has. I mean, that’s --



QUESTION: -- what more would need to happen?

MR TONER: Well, I think, again, to offer to – at the very least, to put in place or stop the siege, declare a --

QUESTION: No, I mean what more would need to happen for you guys --

MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: -- to actually walk away.

MR TONER: I apologize, okay. I get where you’re going now. Sorry. I mean, it’s hard for me to say that a particular action or another event would push us over the edge. All I can say, Nick, is that we’re very close.

QUESTION: Because that – I mean, that then – the question or --

MR TONER: I think it’s rather not a question of – I think it’s a question that – if the current pattern continues any longer and we don’t see any effort to in any way arrest that or stop that or improve that environment or climate or whatever around Aleppo, at some point we’ll say, “Okay,” and walk away.

QUESTION: So does the fact that you haven’t walked away given that it’s gotten so much worse. Can we read that as an indication that the U.S. and Russia are discussing something now that does provide hope that this thing can be salvaged?

MR TONER: I wouldn't use “hope.” I think we – that we haven’t closed the door, that we’re still – there’s still some sense that there are steps that could be taken, but I don’t want to even characterize it as hopeful.

QUESTION: Quick – Mark, one quick one.


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

QUESTION: There’s a (inaudible) report that said that Russia is moving more aircraft into Syria. Can you confirm that?

MR TONER: I can’t. I saw the same report and looking to clarify or get confirmation of it, but I wasn’t able to.

Please, Lucas.

QUESTION: How close is Aleppo to falling?

MR TONER: Again, I’m – I don’t want to predict. I don’t want to – I just don’t have that kind of clarity and knowledge at that level, but we heard it here just a little while ago that there appears to be forces massing for some kind of assault on Aleppo. We’re watching it very closely but it’s hard to say. I mean, as you know, I mean, watching conflict zones around the world, it’s hard to say when and if a city or population center could fall. But given the uptick in violence, given the intensity of it, it’s hard – it’s – it could be soon.

QUESTION: Does the United States have a moral obligation to help the citizens of Aleppo?

MR TONER: That is a fair question to ask. I think that that is something that we have sought to do by pursuing so aggressively this diplomatic process. I think we’ve also sought to do so by pursuing and increasing even this past week our humanitarian assistance to those who have been displaced by the fighting, but also those within Syria and trying to continue to get them some level or some measure of assistance despite the fighting.

These are tough options, as I said – and the Secretary has spoken about this – is there’s no good options. And when you look at what’s possible, it means – and these are all things we have to weigh – greater military involvement on behalf of the U.S. and putting American lives at risk, and that’s a – so you have to weigh all of those things, and I agree, it’s – as much of it – as much as it’s a moral outrage what’s going on there, that all has to be weighed.

QUESTION: Today marks the one-year anniversary of Russia’s airstrikes in Syria. How would you characterize the last year in Syria with this – these Russian strikes? And Russia’s goal was to prop up the Assad regime, and it appears that their goal has been reached, as they’ve been successful.

MR TONER: You’re right, it is a grim anniversary since – one year since they began supporting the Assad regime in earnest with airstrikes. It is hard not to assess that they have succeeded in bolstering the regime and that, at least at the purely tactical level or the short term, was – as a short-term goal, was clearly their intent. They’ve been clear about that. And one of their concerns was that if Assad fell, if the government fell, that there would be chaos and that would allow terrorist groups to consolidate.

Our argument has consistently been, while recognizing that we don’t want a vacuum, that there is a democratic – or – democratic – that there is a diplomatic way to get there: ceasefire, parties negotiate, work out a plan; we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, the government – certain government infrastructure remains, civilian infrastructure remains. There’s a way to get there without doing what they’re doing right now.

So if they succeeded in propping up and creating some kind of stalemate, okay, so be it. Then we were able to put a cessation of hostilities in and then create that negotiating process. But it becomes increasingly evident that they may have broader or greater aims than that.

QUESTION: I have a few questions on Iran, if you don’t mind.

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead. Iran, sure. Are we done with –

QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up quickly on Syria first?

QUESTION: Oh, sure. Of course.

QUESTION: One more on Syria.

MR TONER: Okay, great.

QUESTION: If eastern Aleppo does fall, is that a defeat for U.S. policy given your response to --

MR TONER: I think it’s a defeat for the world in the sense that it’s just going to create a greater hardship for the Syrian people, it’s going to create more chaos within Syria and allow what are clearly terrorist groups with – like ISIL and Nusrah with aims to carry out terrorist attacks not only within Syria, but more broadly, to consolidate and to strengthen. So it’s a losing proposition no matter who you are.

QUESTION: And in your response to these questions earlier, you seemed to be suggesting that the increased mixing between al-Nusrah and the other opposition groups was an unfortunate side effect of Russia’s stance. Could it not be their goal?

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, I – that’s one person’s analysis. I can’t exclude that that’s not -- well, I mean, I just – I --

QUESTION: If – it’s several people’s analysis, including several experts, but --

MR TONER: I mean, that’s something you’ll have to ask the Russians.

QUESTION: Whenever Plan B is mentioned, you say there’s no good options ,and military options, you don’t see a military solution. How many sanctions has the U.S. – has this Administration put on Russia as a result of a year of intervention that has killed, I don’t know --

MR TONER: Well, you’re right. Our sanctions – yeah --

QUESTION: When you say thousands of civilians --

MR TONER: I mean, that’s --

QUESTION: -- how many sanctions has the U.S. Government levied?

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, we have sanctions in place, but regarding their behavior and --

QUESTION: In Ukraine.

MR TONER: -- and their actions in Ukraine – no, I was just about to say that --


MR TONER: -- and I – another valid option, one that – one among many that we’re looking at, but I don’t have anything particularly to announce.

QUESTION: Why – in 2012, maybe even the end of 2011, the U.S. applied sanctions on various Iranian entities for supporting Syria. Given that Russia’s involvement has taken on a level, at least through air power, that far outstrips Iran, what made the Iranian support so heinous in the deaths they caused that it prompted a sanctions response?

MR TONER: Sanctions response.

QUESTION: And what makes the Russian one so blase or not so significant that it doesn’t get a sanctions response from the U.S.?

MR TONER: So with regarding – with regard to sanctions, as I said, we do have already pretty severe sanctions, again, directed at their behavior in Ukraine in place against Russia. So whenever you’re looking at whether to sanction more or to increase the pressure on the Russian economy, you weigh a number of options. Sanctions can be very effective. We’ve seen it in the case of Iran, especially with regard to the nuclear program. But we also want to weigh that with our ability to work effectively with Russia.


MR TONER: We just haven’t reached that decision point yet, I guess, is my --

QUESTION: So it was the diplomatic track that remained open that kept sanctions out of play on Russia for all this death and destruction over the last several months?

MR TONER: Excuse me. That was one element of it, but --

QUESTION: And then, so what – if this – if these – if this engagement ends, what precludes the U.S. from then taking a sanctions response to Russia?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals about what we may or may not do except to say that there’s a number of options out there and we’ll continue to look at them all. They’re all being discussed and debated and considered, and sanctions are among them.


QUESTION: Questions on Iran Mark.

MR TONER: Yeah, of course.

QUESTION: On the subject of the Wall Street Journal story today --


QUESTION: -- what impact did the analysts here at the State Department assess that the delisting of those two banks, which are so intimately tied to Iran’s ballistic missile program, would have on Iran’s development of ballistic missiles?

MR TONER: So first of all, the story you bring up, there’s – none of the facts of that story were particularly new, but what I can say is that we did, when we were looking at – so we had agreed to delist – or remove the designation, rather – Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List – SDN list – we had agreed to remove Bank Sepah from that list on implementation day as part of the JCPOA. Now, as part of that process, we looked at all the entities. We conducted a very thorough review, in essence updating what we knew about Bank Sepah, and whether they qualified. And it was our assessment that they did qualify. So --

QUESTION: And is that because they were no longer tied to the ballistic missile program?

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, that’s exactly right, that they were no longer carrying out actions that we believed were linked to or linked them to the ballistic missile program. Now – so – and then, of course, there was the then subsequent delisting by the UN. But what’s important also to remember in any of this, whenever we’re talking about delisting someone from sanctions, that we always maintain the ability to reimpose U.S. sanctions on Bank Sepah or any other entity in Iran if we then consider their behavior is – or merits --

QUESTION: And did – does Secretary Kerry believe that unshackling the banks that have financed Iran’s ballistic missile program will somehow slow down the program?

MR TONER: That --

QUESTION: Did Secretary Kerry believe that removing the sanctions against these banks – did he believe that would slow down Iran’s nuclear ballistic missile program?

MR TONER: Not necessarily. I think this was part of, again, some of the things we looked at, in terms of the determinations that we made as part of the JCPOA – which entities needed to continue to be sanctioned. That’s something we do all the time, but certainly – within the framework of the JCPOA – we looked at. But we make no excuses for what was a very considered determination, with regard to Bank Sepah’s role in the ballistic program, but also that we continue to have concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile program.


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- Chairman Royce and others on Capitol Hill have complained that the briefings to congressional staff only occur after decisions are being made, not beforehand. Why is the Administration only briefing lawmakers after the fact?

MR TONER: I don’t have the specific timeline in front of me. I mean, I know that we made all the materials available to Congress for their consideration, so we weren’t trying to --

QUESTION: After the fact or before?

MR TONER: I don’t know, to be honest. I don’t have that in front of me. But we certainly try to be responsive and work with Congress and make them aware of what we’re – what actions we’re taking, especially with regard to Iran.

QUESTION: Are there any other parts of this nuclear agreement – implementation day – that we just don’t know about? I mean, there’s now three documents --

MR TONER: But that’s what I wanted to – sure.

QUESTION: -- that are signed by Mr. McGurk.

MR TONER: Again – and one of the reasons – sorry, I didn’t mean to talk over you.

QUESTION: Is there a fourth document?

MR TONER: So one of the reasons I said that there’s nothing particularly new in this story is that this was all came out, and there’s even several articles written at the time that it happened. I think there was so much happening – we’ve talked about that quite a bit – in that very congested period of time around implementation day that I think elements were lost, and there wasn’t a recognition that – of all the pieces that were in play.

QUESTION: Was the delisting the two banks – was that more leverage to use against --

MR TONER: Not at all. Not at all. It was just a different – again, we’ve talked about this a lot, and that’s – what would I say, the – that it’s so much, whether it was the detainees being released, whether it was the Hague settlement being paid, whether it was the delisting of this bank – there was a lot that happened in a very short time span, but they were not linked.

QUESTION: Was this the sweetener to the deal?

MR TONER: Please?

QUESTION: Was this the sweetener to the deal, like --

MR TONER: Not at all. No.

QUESTION: -- we’re very close to getting the prisoners released and --

MR TONER: No. Again, what it was – and we’ve said as much – is that we had a window, we had a moment, an opportunity to seal a number of different deals, if you will – to close a number of different outstanding issues with Iran, and we sought to do so.

QUESTION: And final question, just to go back to that first one.

MR TONER: Please, go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Was there any kind of internal assessment done that told the Secretary and other top officials what delisting these banks would have on Iran’s ballistic missile program?

MR TONER: What – and I’m sorry, I just want to make sure I understand that --

QUESTION: Did analysts here at the State Department study what kind of – what would happen after this delisting occurred? Was there any kind of analytics done --


QUESTION: -- to say what impact delisting these banks would have on Iran’s ballistic missile program.

MR TONER: Yes. It was made – the determination was made after a careful review of the activity of all the individuals and entities, including Bank Sepah, that would be removed from this list, SDN list that I talked about, Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List, on implementation day. So this was not done in any way, shape, or form haphazardly or by impulse. This was a part of a very thorough review.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah. Please sir.

QUESTION: Yeah. So the Philippines.


QUESTION: Recently, Duterte likened himself to Hitler and said that he’d be happy to slaughter the drug users and peddlers in his country. Has anyone from the State Department been in contact with the Philippines in regards to these comments?

MR TONER: I’m not aware. I don’t know what our bilateral mission, if they’ve been in contact with the Philippine Government. You’ve seen a number of – not the U.S. Government, but a number of voices comment on President Duterte’s remark – remarks. Look, what I would say to that is that America’s relationship, or partnership, with the Philippines is long and it’s been based on a mutual foundation of shared values, and that includes our shared belief in human rights and human dignity. And within that context, President Duterte’s comments are a significant departure from that tradition. And we find them troubling.

QUESTION: So obviously, he’s had some couple other spats --

MR TONER: Yes he has.

QUESTION: -- especially with Obama and such. How much longer is the State Department going to let him go on these kind of, like, off-the-wall comments?

MR TONER: As I said previously, words matter, especially when they’re from leaders of sovereign nations, especially sovereign nations with whom we have a long and, as I said, valued relations with. But what I’ve also been clear about is from a government-to-government level, or at a government-to-government level, we continue to productively, constructively, closely cooperate with the Philippines on a number of issues. And our people-to-people ties remain strong, our security and military ties remain strong. Our economic ties remain strong. And so, while there is this – there is these remarks occasionally being made, at the working level our relationship remains very strong and very vital.

QUESTION: So you see no hindrance about these – like, there’s no – there’s no hindrance with the relationship after these comments?

MR TONER: Not that we’ve seen, no.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah. Dan.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) clarification --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Philippines security forces are acting on this kind of rhetoric, though. I mean, there have been reports of killings.

MR TONER: And --

QUESTION: Is there a point where you can’t work with the Philippines security forces?

MR TONER: No, I understand that. And where we’ve – we have been deeply concerned about reports of extrajudicial killings by or at the behest of the government authorities in the Philippines, and have called on and repeat our calls for thorough, transparent investigations into any credible report of extrajudicial killings.

QUESTION: Mark, I just – quickly on that. I mean, he’s basically calling for the death of 3 million people. Your response doesn’t really – I mean, you find it troubling. It seems more than troubling.

MR TONER: Well, again, I – I think that it’s – again, what I said before was that when we listen to these kinds of comments, it is concerning, especially by the – from the leader of a nation with whom we have such a long and valued relationship with, and one that is based on concern about human rights, democracy, all the values that we hold dear. And I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: Is there any concern that if you criticize him too strongly, despite these outrageous actions and comments, that you’d be driving him towards strong relations with China and Russia, which he has expressed interest in?

MR TONER: And I’m aware of those remarks, and we’ve been very clear, Secretary Kerry’s been very clear when he met with President Duterte, we’re not – this is not a zero-sum game for us. We’re not trying to dictate with whom the Philippines should have strong relations with. Our only concern is that we want to maintain our strong relationship with the Philippines. But again, I’ll stress that it has to be one that’s based on shared values, democratic values, respect for human rights, and words matter. I’ll say it again.

QUESTION: So you don’t think that you’re pulling any punches in his – in criticizing him?

MR TONER: I’ll leave it where I left it.


MR TONER: Oh, sure. I’m sorry, and then you in the back.

QUESTION: India-Pakistan.

MR TONER: But – I looked at her and then I promise I’ll get to you.


QUESTION: So Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fast-tracked the citizenship of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. Is that something that you think would be possible for her to have done, either in her capacity as secretary of state, or after as a former secretary?

MR TONER: So the naturalization process, as you probably know, is handled by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. So for any questions about any individual case like that, I’d have to refer you to them.

Please. Oh, you did – oh, I’m so sorry.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry, okay. Okay, sorry.

MR TONER: No, I apologize. I’m --

QUESTION: So you refer the questions to them, but you – if – do you reject the statement that the secretary of state interfered with the immigration process in this case? Or are you just saying you have no comment on that?

MR TONER: I have no comment other than that it’s – we have no reason to believe in the veracity of that statement.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Have you got any assurance from either India or Pakistan regarding the situation on the Line of Control about what future course of action each of them might take?

MR TONER: Do we have any – I apologize, any clarity, you said?

QUESTION: Any assurance from either India or Pakistan on what future action they might plan on the LOC.

MR TONER: Well, I think John Kirby spoke a little bit about this. We’re continuing to follow the situation on the ground very closely. From our perspective, we urge calm and restraint by both sides. We understand that the Pakistani and Indian militaries have been in communication and we believe that continued communication between them is important to reduce tensions. I think we don’t – certainly don’t want to see any kind of escalation and any – and certainly any kind of break in that communication. We have repeatedly and consistently expressed our concerns regarding the danger that cross-border terrorism poses for the region, and that certainly includes the recent attacks – terrorist attacks in Uri. And we continue to urge actions to combat and de-escalate – and delegitimize, rather, terrorist groups like Lashkar-e Talaba – Tayyiba, rather – Haqqani Network, as well as Jaish-e-Mohammad.

Yes, sir, then I’ll go to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, it’s from the same – I just have some – few clarification.


QUESTION: Did you have any pre-knowledge of this so-called Indian surgical strike on Pakistani soil?

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

QUESTION: And it’s all based on an Indian statement that this happened, and the Pakistan says it didn’t happen and then it says two killed and they have arrested – so what – on what basis are you reacting? On the basis of the statement from India, on the basis of – do you have – I know you don’t talk about the intelligence matters.

MR TONER: I mean, we have high-level engagement, as you can imagine, with both governments, and our assessment is based on that.

QUESTION: So you confirm it happened?

MR TONER: It’s not for me to confirm it happened. It’s for the governments themselves to speak to their roles.

QUESTION: Okay. And then there was calls between Secretary Kerry and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

MR TONER: There was --


MR TONER: -- a few days ago.

QUESTION: -- what – yeah, what was – was there a suggestion from Secretary to Indian minister to cool down the – the whatever was going on at the UNGA and take it easy before this happened?

MR TONER: I’ll have to see if I can get you a readout of that call, but again, it’s part of our – we’re very concerned about the situation there. We don’t want to see it escalate any further. And as part of that concern, the Secretary is certainly engaged and talking to Indian leadership – senior Indian leadership.

QUESTION: Just the last one.

QUESTION: Can I have --

QUESTION: Just the last one. Pakistan has reacted, saying that if India does it again, they will react. And then they also talked about using nukes. Like, they don’t have a no-first-use policy, like India has declared a no-first-use. So do you – according to – as you have high-level connections and the intelligence reports, which you do not talk from the podium --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- do you expect further trouble?

MR TONER: I mean, in terms – so just to answer your question about some of the rhetoric from the Pakistani Government and the possibility of using nukes or nuclear weapons, I would just say nuclear-capable states have a very clear responsibility to exercise restraint regarding nuclear weapons and missile capabilities. And that’s my message publicly and that’s certainly our message directly to the Pakistani authorities.

QUESTION: So after your call for restrain and calm, the signals that you get from India and Pakistan – are they reassuring for you?

MR TONER: I don’t have a real readout. I mean, I think we’re just still following the situation on the ground very closely.


QUESTION: Yeah. Today New York Times published an article based on leaked audio of Secretary Clinton’s fundraiser in which she is heard as saying – expressing concerns about the security of Pakistani nuclear weapons, and she also talks about a nuclear suicide bomber kind of thing. Do you agree with her assessment? Do you have concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear security?

MR TONER: Well, I think I just attempted to speak to that concern about some of the rhetoric, as I said, we’ve seen coming out of Pakistan, regarding its nuclear weapons or – with regard to – I haven’t seen her remarks, honestly. I just haven’t seen them, so I can’t speak to them. Sorry.

QUESTION: The rhetoric or the statement has come from none other than the defense minister himself. And in this month twice in interviews, he has said use (inaudible).

MR TONER: But I – sorry. I don’t mean to talk over you, but I just said obviously we believe that nuclear-capable states have a very clear responsibility to use nuclear weapons responsibly.

QUESTION: To not use them.

MR TONER: Well, to not use them, exactly. But also to refrain from rhetoric – did I say use --

QUESTION: Use them responsibly. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: Well, this is what happens when you keep me up here for 90-plus minutes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Yeah. To not use nuclear weapons. And with that, I’m going to cut you all off. I want to go to --

QUESTION: I have one more. Bahrain.


QUESTION: Nabeel Rajab. I think he has a court date next week. What does the U.S. expect, and will any American officials be present? Bahrain, sorry.

MR TONER: Yeah, Bahrain. Sorry, of course. Well, you know our concerns. We’ve been quite vocal about this individual and his case. I can’t say that we’ll – whether we’ll be actually in attendance, but I can imagine we will. Certainly, we’re following the trial closely.

What was your last – what was the other part of the question?

QUESTION: What you expect in this hearing. Do you expect due process to be with – I mean --

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, of course, we want to see --

QUESTION: Do you expect him to be released --

MR TONER: I mean --

QUESTION: -- given that you don’t think the charges --

MR TONER: Precisely, and that we’ve said that before. But we certainly at the very least want to see a transparent trial for him.

QUESTION: Similar case, different side of the Gulf. Narges Mohammadi, the Iranian women’s rights activist --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Appeal court confirmed a 16-year sentence. Your views?

MR TONER: Yes. Share them shortly. I know that my views are in here somewhere.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: (Laughter.) I know, but I really want to get them --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR TONER: I really want to get the flavor of it for you. No, just one second. I apologize. We’re deeply troubled by reports that Iranian courts have upheld the 16-year prison sentence of Iranian journalist and human rights defender, Narges Mohammadi. No one should be jailed for peaceful civic activism. We are further concerned about reports that Mohammadi’s health is rapidly deteriorating while in prison, and that she’s been cut off from communicating with her two young children. Given these circumstances, the imposition of this prison sentence is particularly harsh and unjustified, and we call on the Government of Iran to provide Mohammadi with adequate medical care and to release her on humanitarian grounds.

QUESTION: And just one more on Iran. Is there anything more that needs to come out about implementation day? Are there any other documents or new (inaudible)?

MR TONER: I thought I answered this. No. I mean, look, again, we understand that a lot happened in a very condensed time period. We tried to be as forthcoming during that time period about all the different elements that came together. Understand the level of interest in this historic agreement, but we – I can’t say that there is anything new or more to come out on what we agreed on.

QUESTION: And finally, are Aleppo’s days numbered?

MR TONER: Again, I think that – I spoke about this before, I’m not a military tactician. I think that Aleppo is under tremendous pressure. We’re watching it closely. What we really want to see there is an end to this inhumane besiegement of the city.


QUESTION: Do you have anything on the – any update on the U.S. citizens who were – who reportedly died in the Seychelles?

MR TONER: Yes. Hold on. I’m not sure I have much to offer, but I know this is – I apologize, one second. So as you note, there were the deaths of two U.S. citizens in the Seychelles last week. It goes without saying that we extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of these individuals and are certainly in the course or in the process of providing all appropriate consular assistance. For questions about – which is I think where you’re going with this – about the circumstances of their death and the investigation into their deaths, I’d have to refer you to local authorities. And out of respect for the family during what is clearly a difficult time, I don’t have anything else to add.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yep. Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:07 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 09/27/2016 - 18:41

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 27, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:20 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: I have a very brief topper. Secretary Kerry will deliver remarks on the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to our national security, our economic standing at home and abroad, our strategic interests in the Asia Pacific, and our diplomatic leadership around the world. And he’ll do so at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington at 11:00 am on Wednesday, that’s tomorrow, September 28th. And we’ll have a notice to the press with more details on that.


QUESTION: That was brief.

MR TONER: I told you. I strive to be brief in my briefings. Sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, it is the operative word --

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- preceding the gerund --

MR TONER: And too often they’re not.

QUESTION: Let’s start --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Let’s start where we left off, before the TPP speech announcement, on Syria.


QUESTION: Has there been any further contact between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov? If not --

MR TONER: There – sorry.

QUESTION: Well, go ahead.

MR TONER: No, no. There has not.

QUESTION: Okay. So in the – anticipating that answer, are there any plans to? Or are we in a situation where it’s just hopeless and there’s not any real reason to have a conversation?

MR TONER: I think there are always plans to. And I – while I can’t say with certainty that they’ll talk in the next 24 hours or 48 hours, I certainly know that the Secretary is open to talking to Foreign Minister Lavrov. So I don't want to give the impression that there’s no interest in keeping that channel open. In fact, I think there is. But I think, as I said yesterday, we need to see some measures offered by Russia and on the part of the regime that change the reality on the ground. And that goes without saying, given the continued onslaught of the regime on Aleppo.

QUESTION: Are these teams still meeting in Geneva or is that basically – is the ceasefire or the cessation of hostilities task force or whatever it was called – is that basically a dead item now?

MR TONER: That’s a fair question. I don't know whether they’re still meeting in Geneva. I can take that question.

QUESTION: Well I – two – I mean, there are two parts to it. One, I mean, are they actually talking now? But also does this structure that you guys created --

MR TONER: Are we still – yeah.

QUESTION: -- that the ISSG created – is it still alive?

MR TONER: My understanding is that it hasn’t been disbanded, but certainly the – again, we’re under no illusions that the cessation of hostilities, such as we had envisioned it in Geneva ten or so days ago, is still in effect.

QUESTION: Well, how about in Vienna several months ago?

MR TONER: Fair point.

QUESTION: But you’ve said that Secretary Kerry is open to restarting the dialogue. Does that mean he’s waiting by the phone for Lavrov to call him?

MR TONER: Not at all. Not at all. And I --

QUESTION: Or has he made calls that have been refused?

MR TONER: Not at all on either count. Look, I think the Secretary was very clear, both in Cartagena yesterday, in Colombia, but also in his remarks over the weekend that he has not closed the door on this diplomatic process and, as the Secretary of State, he’ll never do that.

He said it would be diplomatic malpractice to do so, and his point is is that, as long as he’s Secretary of State he is going to pursue a diplomatic process that ends the fighting and allows for a peaceful political transition in Syria.

But that said, we’re under no illusions, given the intensity of the conflict in and around Aleppo over the past 72 hours, with barrel bombs, indiscriminate bombings, that we’re anywhere near reaching the seven days of cessation of --



QUESTION: -- a Syrian diplomatic process, is that simply the channel between himself and the Russian foreign minister? Or are there other diplomatic initiatives --

MR TONER: No, we continue to consult with other members of the ISSG, and that continues. But --

QUESTION: So in your answer to Matt’s question --


QUESTION: -- you said obviously he’s still keen to talk, but he’s not going to initiate?

MR TONER: I think, again, where – look, I think where he left it last week and in his most recent public remarks yesterday is: What’s happening in Aleppo is unacceptable, we recognize that the cessation of hostilities is badly weakened, if we could say even that, and that we need to see proposals going forward on how to resuscitate this cessation of hostilities. And what the Secretary talked about was reestablishing credibility in the process. And that’s – he talked about it when he spoke in the Security Council last week, but that’s what we’re looking for.

So we continue to be open to having that dialogue and those discussions with Russia.

QUESTION: And does he believe that Russia does want to restart the dialogue?

MR TONER: Well again, that comes down to – I mean, I think we’re always open to that – or at least we remain open to that. Let me put it that way.


QUESTION: You say the cessation of hostilities is badly weakened, but, I mean --