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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 1, 2015

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 17:34

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 1, 2015

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2:35 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Great. I have nothing at the top, so I will take your questions.

QUESTION: Can I ask a logistical question about the speech tomorrow?


QUESTION: Why is he still giving it?

MR TONER: Is that a logistical question?

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, is he still going to go to Philly and do this speech when he doesn’t really need to? It looks like the intended audience – or the two – maybe the two main intended members of the audience have come out today and said they support the deal.

MR TONER: Well, look, there’s many different elements of the Iran deal, and in fact, making the case both to Congress but also the broader issue here is making the case of the Iran deal to the American public. And so --

QUESTION: Okay, what I’m trying to get at – he and the rest of the Administration still feel that it is a relevant and – that it’s important to make the case for the agreement, right?

MR TONER: The Secretary feels very strongly that he needs to and this Administration needs to continue to make the case.

QUESTION: But not – but really it’s no longer to Congress right now, right? He’s trying to convince public – trying to sway public opinion? Or is it still --

MR TONER: Well, again, it’s trying to build support and, obviously, solidify support where that support already exists.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: And that’s relevant to Congress, but certainly, more broadly to the American public.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: You’re not giving up at 34, correct?

MR TONER: No, absolutely not.

QUESTION: I mean, wouldn’t you much rather have the largest amount of support?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: And wouldn’t you rather have 41 so you can block a motion to proceed, so you don’t even have to face a vote?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’re looking for the maximum amount of support we can possibly get.

QUESTION: Do you support a vote in Congress?

QUESTION: Staying on --


QUESTION: Support a vote in Congress over the deal?

MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the congressional tactics here and gaming it out. We’re very pleased with the support that we’ve seen thus far; those senators who’ve come out and members of Congress who’ve come out publicly in support of the deal. We’re going to continue to work that and try to increase those numbers.

QUESTION: So would you like to see lawmakers issue a vote and be on the record for how he or she stands on --

MR TONER: I mean, certainly, we’d love to see this pass in Congress, yes.

QUESTION: Mark, just staying on this same topic.

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Now, Republicans on Capitol Hill are saying – or sources from the Republicans on Capitol Hill, they suggest that they may introduce more severe sanctions and legislations, financial, and so on after – in the fall, basically forcing Iran just to sort of walk away from the deal. Is that something that you are concerned about?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to get into hypotheticals about what may or may not happen.

QUESTION: They’re not hypothetical. I mean, they’re saying.

MR TONER: What we’ve always said about this deal is, first of all, sanctions relief won’t come to Iran immediately if the deal is passed. It has to meet certain requirements before any type of sanctions relief related to its nuclear program could come into effect. And we’ve also talked about the fact that bilateral or, rather, unilateral sanctions that are nonnuclear related will remain in effect for years to come.

QUESTION: But you will discourage any kind of more sanctions against individuals, individuals Iranians, or government agents, and so on.

MR TONER: Again, it depends on what you’re talking about. What we’ve said all along is that – and we’ve tried to separate the two baskets, if you will. We’ve been very clear about what this agreement is about. It’s about stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. That said, we’re not ignoring the other basket of issues, which is the fact that Iran continues to be – play a nonconstructive or unconstructive role in the region. And we’re certainly going to keep pressure, whether it’s through sanctions or otherwise, on Iran to change its behavior in that regard.

QUESTION: Can I go to the cause that many of us didn’t get very much sleep last night?

MR TONER: Sure. Are we done with Iran?

QUESTION: That would be other people’s emails. I’m curious about the upgrades and the frequency of upgrades. In the comments that you put out – that were put in your name last night, you say it’s routine to upgrade information to classified status during the FOIA process. Happens frequently several times a month. What is – can you be more specific about that? Because it appears to have happened 125 times over the course of the month of August, and I realize that it’s an unusual --

MR TONER: It’s an extraordinary --

QUESTION: -- because it’s a large amount of material that is being released.


QUESTION: About – so there are 4,368 documents; 125 – portions of 125 were redacted. That’s about – at least if my horrible math is accurate, that’s about 2.8 percent. Is that pretty standard that in any FOIA release, about 2.8 percent of the documents have redactions for a classified reason?

MR TONER: You’re asking --

QUESTION: In general.

MR TONER: -- because the example that we gave, which is, as you’re – you’re right in that on a given month, this massive FOIA request notwithstanding, we do generally upgrade on --

QUESTION: Right. That’s why I’ve boiled it down to a percentage.

MR TONER: Yeah, exactly. I don’t have an exact whether that’s in keeping with the regular FOIA requests, how many we redact and upgrade. That’s just an example to say that this is not unique to this particular review, that it happens all the time. I can try to get that for you.

QUESTION: Can you just find out how many --

MR TONER: Yeah. Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- how many – is there an average of how many --

MR TONER: Yeah, we can – that’s certainly – we can try to figure that out. I can’t promise, but I think we can probably try to get the math for you.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: On this topic of the now classified emails, which I believe totals with the addition of 125 yesterday 288, the simple question I have is: Why weren’t those emails marked classified at the time they were sent?

MR TONER: Well, a couple points to make there. One is just understanding what our role in this process is, which is that we’re responding to a FOIA request to publicly release these emails.

QUESTION: I know. I know. But --

MR TONER: No, no, no, let me finish and then I’ll try to answer your question, I promise. So that’s where our attention is focused on is looking at and then upgrading these before public release, which is a common, frankly, thing that we look at these, we redact where necessary, in light of the fact that they’re going to be publicly released.


MR TONER: What we’ve said all along is we have not found anything that was marked classified at the time that it was sent.

QUESTION: Right. But the question is, Mark: Shouldn’t it have been marked classified? Wasn’t it – isn’t it true that it was mishandled? Because now you’re calling it classified, and not because this is information that has changed over time, that is magically now sensitive that wasn’t then. This information was mishandled and should have been marked or should not have been sent through unclassified systems. Is that an inaccurate statement?

MR TONER: No, I reject that because – for a couple of reasons. One is it is routine for us to look at this material – again, in light of the fact that via a FOIA process it is going to be publicly released, that this information is sensitive and we don’t want it to be publicly released, so we’re going to redact necessary portions. But we’re only doing that now in the sense that we can’t go back in time and judge accurately what the conditions were, what the circumstances were of that information at the time it was shared with the Secretary and make a judgment on that.


QUESTION: Why not?

QUESTION: But wait a minute. But isn’t it true --

MR TONER: It’s not that easy, Matt.

QUESTION: Isn’t it true that when you, Mark Toner --


QUESTION: -- use your unclassified email State Department system, as all these correspondence, all these 125 emails are based – are basically based on unclassified --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- most of them State Department email systems, isn’t it true that you’re not supposed to be sending information that could at any point be deemed classified, whether it’s the lowest level of confidential or whatever? If you’re going to be communicating that way, you’re supposed to use alternative secure means. Isn’t that true?

MR TONER: I mean, again – and we’ve talked about this a lot – and without getting into the specifics, but information that was shared at the time might years later be considered to be sensitive. And again, looking at it through the prism that we’re ultimately going to release it publicly, that does add an element to all of this.

QUESTION: Are you saying that the – this is my last question.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The majority of these emails fall under that category of things that were just later deemed sensitive that weren’t sensitive at the time? Or isn’t it true that they’re just being classified now because you have to because you’re putting them on the website?

MR TONER: So a couple of things. One is it’s very difficult for us – and I said this before – to go back and to judge what the circumstances were at the time this information was shared and to make a judgment on whether that information was classified at the time. It’s not a black and white issue. It’s not a clear issue. We see nothing at this point in time up until now that would indicate that any of this information was either – was marked classified at the time.

QUESTION: Well, of course, but it would have been impossible to mark it classified at the time --

MR TONER: Not necessarily.

QUESTION: -- and using an unclassified system, it would have been impossible to properly mark it classified.

MR TONER: But to the second part of your question is our role in this, as we have processed or continue to process this tranche of emails that we’ve received, we’re looking at how this is – could be perceived now upon public release. And that’s been our focus here. How do we process these and how do we ensure that any sensitive information now is redacted appropriately?

QUESTION: Do you think it’s possible when all is said and done and the FBI has had its look at it and everybody else is – whoever else is investigating this, that it could be determined that staffers within the State Department are actually responsible for mishandling and sharing this information in ways they shouldn’t have?

MR TONER: Again, that’s not for me to speak to from this podium today. Our role is to process this FOIA request. But you raise a valid point, which is that there are other investigations and reviews underway, and I would encourage you to speak to those entities to ask what they’re looking at. But they could well be looking at some of these broader issues.

QUESTION: But why is it harder --

MR TONER: Yeah, please, Arshad, and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Why is it harder to establish whether something should have been classified at the time it was sent than to establish, as you have just done, whether it should be classified now?

MR TONER: Well, again, it’s --

QUESTION: It should be easier because you have the benefit of history.

MR TONER: No, not necessarily, because again, when it’s – something might have become sensitive over time. And it’s equally possible the opposite, and we see that all the time where stuff is – material is declassified over – because it’s no longer considered sensitive. But equally, because of personal equities, other things we’ve talked about, that we deem this material should be redacted and classified just because the circumstances now make it more sensitive. I mean, it’s hard for me to give examples of that from the podium, but that’s – it’s part of the process and it’s just the way it works. There’s examples on both sides.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: But aren’t there far, far more – and I would guess about 99.999 percent – examples of information becoming less --

MR TONER: That’s an awfully high percentage.

QUESTION: It just seems to me that the whole concept of classifying something and with a date --

MR TONER: I think there’s examples on both sides.

QUESTION: Even the stuff that the redactions – well, but the redactions in here say that they’re being classified until declassification at a date certain. That date certain is never before; it’s always after, which means that all information becomes less sensitive over time, not more sensitive.

MR TONER: Again --

QUESTION: And I don’t – it just doesn’t compute to me --

MR TONER: Again, there’s examples of both. But again, this – none of this information --

QUESTION: I don’t think there’s any examples of --

MR TONER: But none of this information – no, you’re talking about – sorry, just to – what you’re talking about is classified, clearly classified information becoming declassified with the passage of time. I know exactly what you’re referring to. Again, let’s remember that this information was not classified at the time, not marked classified at the time.


MR TONER: And so that doesn’t apply to it that it would be declassified at a date certain. What we’re looking at – again, through this FOIA process, we’re looking at this information in terms of public release, and that adds an element to all of this. And so we redact as necessary to protect the sensitivity of that information.

QUESTION: So in other words, if it hadn’t been for the FOIA request --

MR TONER: But this is a common --

QUESTION: -- this stuff would be still floating out there or not, but it would be still floating out there just as sensitive as you say it is now, but just in the ether and no one would know about it, so it would be okay?

MR TONER: I don’t think it would be in the ether, but --

QUESTION: Well, it might be. I mean, the --

MR TONER: What – what – again, what I’m trying to --

QUESTION: And it might have just disappeared.

MR TONER: What I’m trying to clarify here is that we have a process to look at this information. It’s a FOIA process, and it’s not – it doesn’t just pertain to these emails from former Secretary Clinton. It pertains to all FOIA processes where we look at this and view a public release and redact as necessary.


QUESTION: Okay. So can I – may I just make my plea --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- for the taken question again just to --


QUESTION: When you say that it happens frequently or several times a month, if --

MR TONER: Yeah. No, we’ll work on that.

QUESTION: Just an idea.

QUESTION: May I ask you to take one other question, please?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: It’s a question that I asked the other day and I’d like to ask if the State Department will take a policy decision on this, not with regard to Secretary – former Secretary Clinton, but with regard to current and past secretaries of state, and that is whether it is the view of the Department that the Secretary of State is bound by the rules laid out in the Foreign Affairs Manual.

MR TONER: Okay. I mean, I --

QUESTION: As a general principle, do they apply to the Secretary of State or not, or do they apply selectively? That’s the question.

MR TONER: Okay. I will get you an answer for that.


MR TONER: Please, Lucas.

QUESTION: Who at the State Department signed off on Secretary Clinton having her own private email account and server?

MR TONER: Sure. My unsatisfactory but necessary answer to that is, again, that’s not our role in this process to really answer that question publicly; that there are reviews and investigations underway that will look at possibly some of these issues is for other entities to speak to.

QUESTION: But do you know who signed off on her having a private server?

MR TONER: Who signed off on her? I don’t, no.

QUESTION: I mean --

QUESTION: Did anybody?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to answer that question. I’m not going to litigate that question from the podium.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that nobody signed off on her having a private server?

MR TONER: No. I’m saying – look, everyone – there were – people understood that she had a private server. I think we’ve talked about that in the past.

QUESTION: What level was that knowledge? How high did that go up in this building?

MR TONER: I mean, you’ve seen from the emails. You have an understanding of people who were communicating with her, at what level they were communicating at, so --

QUESTION: Was there anybody in this building who was against the Secretary having her own private server?

MR TONER: I can’t answer that. I can’t.

QUESTION: And just --

MR TONER: I mean, I don’t have the history, but I also don’t have – I don’t have the authority to speak definitively to that.


MR TONER: Again, these are questions that are appropriate, but appropriate for other processes and reviews.

QUESTION: But not the State Department? She was the Secretary of State and --

MR TONER: No, I understand what you’re asking. But frankly, it’s perfectly plausible – and I talked a little bit with Arshad about this yesterday – is for example, we know that the State IG is – at the Secretary’s request – is looking at the processes and how we can do better and improve our processes. And whether they’ll look at these broader questions, that’s a question for them.

QUESTION: And just going back to Matt’s point about the redactions: Also in the redactions wasn’t just the code for classified but this B5, which is a privileged interagency memorandum. And there were 697 emails that contained this designation; by my math, about 10 percent of the emails contained this designation. I was wondering why so many of the emails contained this designation.

MR TONER: What, B --

QUESTION: B5, this privileged interagency redaction.

MR TONER: I’d have to, frankly, find out more about that.

QUESTION: And based on those markings I was describing a little bit, doesn’t this say that there was a lot of – these documents reveal a lot of foreign policy intent and objectives of this Administration, and isn’t that kind of a breach of national security?

MR TONER: Again – and we’ve talked a lot about this – is classification is not a black-and-white issue. You can talk about all of these things – foreign policy priorities, interagency communications – at an unclassified and a classified level. And I can assure you and I can assure the American people that these kinds of decisions are made by serious professionals within the State Department but throughout the interagency every day, and everybody receives extensive training and everybody takes that responsibility seriously. And when there are breaches, certainly, those are investigated and looked at.

QUESTION: And speaking of breaches, is the State Department confident that nobody breached the Secretary’s private server?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have an answer for you on that. That’s – I don’t know.

QUESTION: So last opportunity here: You don’t know who signed off on Secretary Clinton having her own server?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t personally, but I don’t think it’s our – necessarily our responsibility to say that. I think that that’s for other entities to look at.


QUESTION: Mark, is there a different classification criteria from one agency to the other, or is it like one size fits all?

MR TONER: That’s a good question. I would say it involves more equities, and different agencies look at it in different ways, and it speaks to sources and methods and other aspects of classification that I don’t want to get too deeply into. But again, many of these are, frankly, judgment calls, but done through – by seasoned professionals who are acquainted with all the risks and whatnot. But those are decisions that are made every day.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: So does your evident caution in limiting the areas you’re prepared to address on this reflect an expectation that this ends up in court?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’ve been clear about this is that there’s reviews underway. I would refer you to those agencies for specifics about what they’re looking at. But yes, I would say that at this point, given the ongoing reviews, that it’s not appropriate for us to speak to them in any conclusive manner from here.

Please, Tejinder.

QUESTION: Going back to this – the earlier question that now that you are doing this under this Freedom of Information Act, is it fair enough to say that your standards are stricter? You are – we are seeing more blacked out pages. Like there’s one email between the secretary and I think it was Huma where you are just giving us from and to and there’s not like – that email is just I think an addition to the number of emails you are throwing out there. What was the reason to show that email when there’s – like, there’s not even one word that you can show from that body?

MR TONER: Well, we release it because under the FOIA process we have to release all of these documents. But with every document, we look hard, line by line, word by word, at what might be sensitive, again, with a view towards public release now, in this current time, not passing judgment on what it may have been or may not have been at the time. And we make that judgment.

QUESTION: Line by line and word by word?


QUESTION: And you couldn’t leave like articles in and --

QUESTION: Yeah, some full stops, commas --

MR TONER: Articles matter. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Can we change --

QUESTION: Well, but I mean, if you’re just going to black the whole thing out, then there is a point to be made there.

MR TONER: It’s hard for me – (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You can make something completely unintelligible just by taking out all the verbs and all the nouns. (Laughter.) But you – right?

QUESTION: You just wipe out verbs.

MR TONER: I suppose so, Matt. but --

QUESTION: I mean, sometimes you don’t even have to take out the verbs and the nouns to make it unintelligible.

MR TONER: -- are we really going there?

Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR TONER: I’m sorry?


MR TONER: I’d love to.

QUESTION: Turkey. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: Turkey, even if it – Turkey.

QUESTION: Do you want to take that back? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So just --

MR TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- to follow up from yesterday, as we all know, two Vice journalists are still arrested in Turkey. According to reports today, they are – they have been arrested because engaging in terror activity on behalf of ISIL in Turkey. Do you have any further comments since yesterday? Have you gotten any kind of reaction from Ankara on this?

MR TONER: No, I mean, I would only say that we’ve – just in light of the comments I gave yesterday, which I talked about the fact that we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure that their actions uphold universal democratic values, and that includes freedom of the press, due process, and access to media and information. We’ve made our views often and clearly to the Turkish Government. I’m not going to get into any specific diplomatic exchanges about this case we may have had. But they’re aware of our feelings about this.

QUESTION: There are many rights groups around the world, including Amnesty International, calling on Turkey – first of all, dubbing these charges against them bizarre. And they call on Turkey to release these journalists. Would you join – would you urge Turkey to release these journalists?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’ve made our – I think we’ve – I’ve made our stance on this clear.

QUESTION: Today also there --

MR TONER: One last question, okay, then we’ll to move around just to keep it --

QUESTION: -- were further police raids on some private TVs --

MR TONER: Further? Oh, police raids.

QUESTION: -- security raids. Yes. The private TVs and newspapers. First of all, what’s your reaction? Have you seen the reports?

MR TONER: I’ve seen the reports. We certainly look to governments, including Turkey, to ensure that legal enforcement activity is done in accordance with international legal standards, and that includes full respect for due process as well as equal treatment under the law.

QUESTION: This seems to be every day new cases up to the November 1st elections. There are hundreds of cases, insult cases – allegedly insulting president being arrested. Mostly pro-Kurdish party members now being arrest again. And it seems like since the U.S. has been using Turkish air base, Incirlik Air Base, with the increased partnership with Turkey, some of these cases are gone unnoticed and U.S. is not giving the way – the reaction or condemnation that supposed to give. These are the criticism. What’s your response?

MR TONER: I wouldn’t make that assumption. First of all, we’re deeply appreciative of Turkey’s role now in the ISIL coalition, and as I mentioned yesterday, they’ve begun flying missions – anti-ISIL missions in northern Syria. So we appreciate their contributions as well as allowing the U.S. to use Incirlik Air Base. That’s a separate piece altogether from any concerns we might have about Turkey living up to its proud, democratic tradition. It’s – Turkey’s a NATO ally, it’s a friend, and we continue to call on it to live up to the democratic standards that it espouses.

QUESTION: Mark, would you like Turkey to conduct the same volume of airstrikes against ISIS as it has the PKK in middle and late July?

MR TONER: Again, it’s first of all in response to PKK strikes they have – or PKK attacks, rather, on Turkish security forces, police and military. They have, as we’ve said, justifiably taken action against PKK. We call on them always to use restraint. We’d like to see an end to that violence on the part of the PKK. They’re just ramping up now on their ISIL – anti-ISIL missions. It’s hard to know where – how far they’ll go or how much they’ll increase those, but we want to see a prominent role.

QUESTION: Because Turkey seemed pretty ramped up to strike PKK. They used over 20 airplanes, and it seems like this strike against ISIS was just like a couple jets.

MR TONER: Well, again, these are one-off missions, and certainly, what we talked about in the last couple of weeks is part of this process is getting Turkey integrated into the broader coalition effort. So watch that space.

Please, go ahead, Said, and then --

QUESTION: On ISIS too. Yeah. Yesterday, former General David Petraeus, former CIA head, suggested that maybe the United States should aid Jabhat al-Nusrah to fight ISIS. Are you aware of that? Do you have any comment on this?

MR TONER: Yeah, I’ve seen the report and I would raise an eyebrow because I think General Petraeus actually came out and said he had no – he made no comments. I think it was based on second-hand conversations that were suspect. Certainly, we’re not looking to cooperate with al-Nusrah. We – they’re a designated foreign terrorist organization.


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: On Uganda?

QUESTION: Actually, back up. One more on that question.



MR TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: Part of General Petraeus’s statement was he would like to see some elements from Nusrah, not necessarily partnering with the whole organization but maybe recruiting some fighters away. Do you see that as a potential?

MR TONER: Not at this point, no.




QUESTION: Have you – do you have any comment on a bill that was before the Ugandan parliament today, apparently, that would further regulate nongovernmental organizations? I know LGBT rights groups in particular are concerned that, as one person told me, it would institutionalize – additionally institutionalize discrimination against LGBT organizing in Uganda. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: I don’t. Certainly, we’d be concerned about any legislation, proposed legislation that would further limit gay rights in Uganda or put LGBT populations in Uganda under any duress. I don’t have specifics in response. If I can get those I’ll --


MR TONER: -- I’ll go ahead and give them to you. But generally speaking, we consider gay rights to be an important component of human rights writ large, and so we take those – any threat to those very seriously.

Please, Wendy.

QUESTION: Ambassador Power --

MR TONER: Pamela, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: -- made reference to the journalist sentenced in Azerbaijan, Khadija, and I did see your statement from earlier. Can you elaborate on the U.S. objection to the seven-and-a-half-year sentence? And then secondly, has the U.S. expressed those concerns directly to the government?

MR TONER: So on your – on the issue of raising those concerns, our concerns about this sentence to the Azerbaijani Government, yes, on multiple levels we’ve raised those concerns and we’ve raised them repeatedly. I apologize for your first question again, I – the first part of your question.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate on the U.S. objections to the sentencing?

MR TONER: Well, again, and I – if our statement – I thought it was in our statement, but we note that the court refused to review certain evidence and testimony from Ms. Ismayilova’s former employee – employer, rather, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, that were – was of direct relevance to her case and to the charges – specifically to the charges of financial crimes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Let’s go in the back. Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah, can we go back to Syria, please?

MR TONER: We can go back Syria.

QUESTION: Syrian refugees crises is getting worse and worse every day. After affecting the neighboring countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey, it’s affecting Europe today. How does the U.S. view this problem and what it’s trying to – and how is it trying to help?

MR TONER: Well, thanks, Michel, for that question. This is a very – as you correctly noted in your question, a very pressing issue. We’ve all seen news reports out of Europe, Eastern Europe, and also Greece and elsewhere of these migrants seeking asylum in parts of Europe and the European Union. It’s a complex issue, it’s a pressing issue. We support, certainly, the European Union’s efforts to develop a comprehensive approach to resolve these migration challenges. There’s no question that the very large number of extremely vulnerable asylum seekers coming to Europe poses a very serious and difficult challenge to the EU and the region and the nations in the region as a whole. Any solution must focus on saving and protecting lives and ensuring the human rights of all migrants are respected, as well as promoting orderly and humane migration policies. And so we would urge all the governments in the region to develop appropriate facilities that allow for proper screening of migrants and the provision of life-sustaining assistance. That’s where we think the focus should be at.

More generally speaking, as we’ve said all the time about these kinds of migration issues and asylum seekers, is we need to – ultimately providing safe haven for these individuals as they flee violence in their countries – as you noted, in Syria – is a temporary solution. What we really need to do is attack the root causes, so we need to have or put in place a credible, peaceful political resolution to the conflict in Syria so that these people can do what every refugee wants to do, which is eventually go home.

QUESTION: A follow-up on this, please, Mark.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Yeah, please. Yeah, Michel, last question, then the – sorry. Thank you.

QUESTION: There are voices in Europe calling for sending troops from Europe and under the UN flag to Syria to create free zones or secure zones to protect the refugees. How do you – what do you think about that?

MR TONER: Well, we’ve been clear and we’ve talked about this, certainly, in the case of Turkey, who I might add – or which I might add is a country that has absorbed some 2 million Syrian refugees over the past several years. But we’ve been very clear: Our goal is not just to create a safe zone. We’ve actually avoided that terminology. What we want to do is drive ISIL out altogether and create – re-establish, frankly, political order and legitimate governments – good governance in place so that these refugees can ultimately return.

QUESTION: And last one for me, please.


QUESTION: What’s behind the refusal of creating the secure zones?

MR TONER: What’s the --

QUESTION: Why the U.S. refuses to create secure zones in Syria?

MR TONER: Again, because ultimately the goal here is not just to drive ISIL out of a set geographic location; we want to basically destroy them.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on Syria?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Yeah, one thing that might relieve – reduce some of the pressure on the refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey, and Syria is the UNHCR’s resettlement program. And so the United States has received referrals from the HCR of many thousands of – up to 15,000 potential refugees that could be resettled here in the United States. Is the United States doing enough to process these things? Are you on course to take in that many refugees this year?

MR TONER: Well, we’ve talked about this in the past, and I’m just seeing if I have the current numbers in front of me. But we have taken in a number of Syrian refugees. I think – sorry, just to get the current figures here. So in 2015, rather, we received over 17,000 Syrian refugee referrals from the UNHCR, of which approximately 1,500 have been admitted since the beginning of the conflict. But I would caveat that by saying that the United States has not set resettlement targets for specific countries. We’re very likely to admit 1,500 to 1,800 Syrian refugees for permanent resettlement by the end of this fiscal year, and that number will increase for 2016, we expect.

QUESTION: Just to clarify --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: You said you had gotten – in 2015, you had gotten 17,000 referrals, correct, in – so far this year?

MR TONER: Seventeen thousand.

QUESTION: Yeah, or more than 17,000. And then you said of those, you have admitted about 1,500?

MR TONER: Fifteen hundred.

QUESTION: Is that – since the beginning of the conflict. Does that mean you didn’t admit any prior – that nobody was referred prior to this year?

MR TONER: I’d have to look into that. I don’t think that’s correct. I think we’ve admitted Syrian refugees before --

QUESTION: Prior to --

MR TONER: -- FY15, yes, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just --

QUESTION: But the fiscal year ends in 30 days, so you think you’re going to get up to --

QUESTION: Well, you said 15- to 1,800 --


MR TONER: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

QUESTION: So you think 1,500 to 1,800 in the next 30 days?


QUESTION: No, you’ve already taken 1,500 in, I thought.

MR TONER: We’ve already taken approximately 1,500, so --

QUESTION: Oh, so you expect --

MR TONER: Yeah, I’m sorry. Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: All right. So 300 – I mean, 3,000 --

MR TONER: It’s an estimate, but yes.

QUESTION: I think we should --

QUESTION: By the end of the month. (Laughter.) Are you banning me from doing math?

QUESTION: I think we should all be banned from doing math. (Laughter.) I think if we were good at math, we would --

MR TONER: I think I made an explicit request yesterday not to make me do math from the podium, Matt.

QUESTION: Anyway --

MR TONER: I thought you would honor that request.

QUESTION: But when you said the end of this fiscal year, you meant the end of this month, right?

MR TONER: I meant the end of this month, yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. If I was good at math, I would not be here. (Laughter.) But I have one more refugee question if I may.

MR TONER: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: I drew to your attention, but I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to get an answer, whether the U.S. Government has a position on privately run refugee centers that are contracted out by the Australian Government to a private company but that do not permit external visits by human rights groups. Do you have anything on that?

MR TONER: I would refer you to the Australian Government for more details specific to that question, but we encourage all countries to work with the UNHCR – UN High Commissioner for Refugees – to find adequate, durable solutions for refugees and asylum seekers, and to uphold obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention as well as the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

QUESTION: And does that include letting international observers like the UN inspect camps to make sure that they are well run?

MR TONER: I believe so.


QUESTION: One more --

QUESTION: Historically, the United States has taken about 50 percent of the refugees for resettlement from the HCR, but you’re short of that in the Syrian conflict.

MR TONER: Well, right, and a couple of points to make on that. One is that, as I thought I made clear, is that we don’t typically do our process – we just don’t assign – we don’t say we’re going to take X amount from Syria, per se. We don’t assign country quotas.

The other thing is – frankly, is that it’s a very rigorous review process to approve these asylum seekers coming from Syria and which involves a very rigorous security check. So that takes time. And then lastly, as I said, ultimately – well, two other points. One is that we are, I think, the largest provider of humanitarian assistance and providing humanitarian assistance and protection to these asylum seekers. I think we provided over 4 billion in humanitarian aid since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, and this is to the millions of refugees in Turkey and elsewhere where they’ve relocated.

But then ultimately, as I said in response to Michel, the ultimate goal here is we need to create the conditions where these reugees can return. That’s obviously the --

QUESTION: Mark, one question on Syria?

MR TONER: Let’s go to you and to you, Michael. And I’ll get back to you, Tejinder. Go ahead, please, sir.


MR TONER: Are we done with Syria?

QUESTION: Syria – no, no, one question.

MR TONER: Oh, I apologize, okay. Let’s finish with Syria and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: So there are some media reports out of the Middle East that the United States is considering to establish a command – some sort of command and control base in northern Syria to make the fight that YPG is taking against ISIS more effective. Is that true?

MR TONER: I don’t have anything to announce or even to say about that. I would --

QUESTION: Is that an option that you would be willing to consider?

MR TONER: I’m not going to deal with hypotheticals. What we’ve – what we’re actually doing right now is working with Turkey flying more strikes out of – airstrikes out of Incirlik. We believe that’s taking the fight in support of these anti-ISIL fighters in northern Syria.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Okay, you, sir. Yeah. Let’s finish with Syria and then we’ll go. I apologize.

QUESTION: I want to change topics.

MR TONER: Do you have a Syria?

QUESTION: Just a quick one on Syria.

MR TONER: Quick one on Syria and then --

QUESTION: Okay, go ahead.

MR TONER: I just want to exhaust that issue.

QUESTION: Is the State Department concerned about reports that Russia is sending fighter jets to Syria to strike ISIS, or do you welcome this development? And if so, how would you coordinate with the Russians?

MR TONER: So I spoke to this a little bit yesterday. We’re, frankly, still chasing the ground truth on that. We’ve seen those reports. I think I said yesterday that, in response to questions we got last week about – frankly, in response to some Russian officials saying we need to take the fight to ISIL. We’re already doing that. There’s a 37-some-odd-country coalition that’s taking the fight to ISIL. We would welcome Russia to be more involved in that effort.

QUESTION: And going back to the General Petraeus news, does the State Department --

MR TONER: That was two questions. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Excuse me. Does the State Department believe that there is a moderate opposition in Syria --


QUESTION: -- that the United States Government can --

MR TONER: Yes, but we’ve talked, again – and we’ve talked all along about the fact that we need to find – and that moderate Syrian opposition needs to coalesce and come together in order to form a more united front.

QUESTION: Who are these groups? Do you know?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, there’s several. I can get into the details, but they are out there. But they need to find their voice and they need to unify.

QUESTION: I want to go to Iraq.

MR TONER: What’s that? I promised this gentleman here.

QUESTION: I’ll follow. It’s okay.

MR TONER: Okay. Okay, Said.

QUESTION: Question on Japan.


QUESTION: So the lower house speaker, Tadamori Oshima, met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday, and Japan has been critical about Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general, going to China to attend the 70th anniversary of the war ceremonies, saying that it undermines the neutrality of the UN. Do you agree with that assessment?

MR TONER: That it undermines the neutrality of the UN for --

QUESTION: By attending these ceremonies.

MR TONER: For the UN – we’ve been very clear about our perspective on this commemoration event that’s taking place tomorrow, I think, in Beijing. We think it’s appropriate to honor the tremendous sacrifices of those who fought and died in that tragic war. But our focus – just as we stated on VE Day, our focus is on the future and our focus is what happened after the war, where we’ve seen a sustained period of peace, prosperity, partnership with Asia. And we want to see that continue to grow and solidify and bring a new era of peace and prosperity.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Ukraine?

QUESTION: Sorry, can I follow up?

MR TONER: Please go ahead. Let’s finish this topic.

QUESTION: What do you believe the role of the UN is in commemorating historical events?

MR TONER: Well, that’s for the UN to decide. Our – I think the UN is – can speak to how it – what role it wants to play. It’s a body comprised of all the nations of the world. I think it stands for the fact that all nations can come together in the pursuit of dialogue to discuss issues of importance and vital interests of the world. And so what the UN symbolizes I think speaks for itself.

Please, Michael.

QUESTION: Ukraine. On the Ukraine clashes yesterday --


QUESTION: -- you called for a full investigation and those responsible should be held accountable. The Ukraine interior minister – he doesn’t need to conduct an investigation, in his eyes. He knows – he says he knows exactly who did it: It’s members of the Svoboda political party and their leader. He has photos, videos; he said these guys were wearing t-shirts with logos on it. I mean, they weren’t really hiding it. And yesterday you deplored the violence. Do you condemn it? Sounds like it – this is an attack. This wasn’t --

MR TONER: I mean, look, I don’t know if I could’ve been clearer yesterday. I mean, first of all, we welcome the actual vote by Ukraine’s parliament on these draft constitutional amendments on decentralization. This is a key component of them continuing to fulfill their Minsk commitments --

QUESTION: Are you --

MR TONER: -- something, frankly, we haven’t – sorry, let me finish, Michael --

QUESTION: Oh, sorry.

MR TONER: -- we haven’t seen on the part of the separatists or Russia. And then secondly, we strongly deplore the violence that took place in the aftermath of that vote. It resulted in many injuries among law enforcement authorities, and our condolences to those who were injured and killed. And we call on the government to fully investigate this. If they feel they have evidence and proof of who was at fault here --

QUESTION: That’s what they’re saying.

MR TONER: -- then they need to, obviously through due process, investigate this incident and hold those people accountable, certainly.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: This was in reaction to the draft amendment --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- and this violence. Are you concerned that once the real thing gets implemented what that could look like? Are you – and that could undermine the Minsk process overall? Not to be flip.

MR TONER: No, I mean, I think – look, I think we have confidence in Ukraine’s government and in their law enforcement agencies to be able to provide security. But this is ultimately something for the Ukrainian people. Those who stood on the Maidan through the long winter months to make their case to the government that was then in place that they wanted more democracy, they wanted greater economic prosperity, greater engagement with Europe, they need to stand up and speak for themselves and to make their feelings known. And we – as I said, we support fully people’s right for peaceful assembly and protest, but once you have violence enter into it, then it changes it.

QUESTION: The draft – the problem with the draft, one more thing is --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- he was able to secure that with 265. He got 265 of the vote, but to make it law, he’ll need 300 eventually. Now, October elections could change but that’s a big gap. Are you worried – you congratulate him here, but aren’t you worried that this thing may never happen?

MR TONER: Boy, you’re – I mean, Matt was trying to get me in the congressional whip counting in the – for the Iran deal vote, but no, I’m not --

QUESTION: Are you not familiar with Ukraine parliament?

MR TONER: That’s right. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You don’t know the --

MR TONER: So no, I was going to say – I was just going to say I’m certainly not going to wade into Ukrainian parliamentary vote counts. Look, this is democracy in action. It’s up to the Ukrainian Government to make its case, so we’ll leave it to them.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about the Palestinian --

MR TONER: Couple more questions. Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Two quick questions on the Palestinian issue.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Are you aware that the Israelis raided a Palestinian refugee camp, Jenin, last night – the raid is still ongoing – using a tactical pressure cooker where they demolished three homes in pursuit of three Palestinian suspects? Are you aware of that?

MR TONER: Said, I have to say I’m not.


MR TONER: No. I’ll look into it.

QUESTION: The – and the flip side of that, it’s been 31 days since Israeli terrorist settlers attacked the village of Duma, killing a Palestinian baby and his father and mother and so on.

MR TONER: Yes, and his father, yeah. Mother, yeah.

QUESTION: And at the time, you expressed confidence that Israel has the wherewithal to pursue the terrorist perpetrators and bring them to justice, yet we don’t see this kind of raiding of the settlement to bring the perpetrators to justice. Are you still satisfied that Israel is doing all it can to apprehend the terrorist suspects in the settlement?

MR TONER: Well, again, we – and we spoke very clearly at the time and continue to condemn that kind of violence, that kind of activity, and call on for a full investigation and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Now, we know and we speak to this often that a full investigation takes time. The prime minister, the government was very clear in expressing their outrage about this violence and the need to address it, so let’s wait and let this process play out.

QUESTION: The point being that when the Israelis express their outrage going into Jenin to apprehend someone, but we have not seen anything similar to that in the settlement where the settlers have suspected – are suspected to come from.

MR TONER: You’re – I’m sorry. You’re talking – say you have not seen this expressed --

QUESTION: No, I’m saying no, we have not. We have not seen anything.

MR TONER: I just haven’t – I am not aware of the incidents.

QUESTION: Are you in touch with the Israelis on these things? Are you coordinating with them? I mean, you have a great deal of law enforcement and security coordinations with them. Are you coordinating with them in fact operationally or otherwise to bring these suspects to justice?

MR TONER: You’re talking about in the attacks in the Palestinian – yeah.

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah, those suspected – right, yes.

MR TONER: I don’t know if we’re actually cooperating with them on this case, but we have every confidence that they’re able to carry out this investigation.

QUESTION: You are? So --

MR TONER: Let’s let the process play out.

QUESTION: So you have every confidence, then, that the Israelis can bring these perpetrators to justice?


QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?

QUESTION: Different --

MR TONER: Go ahead, yeah. And then we’ll get to you.

QUESTION: I have two brief ones.


QUESTION: One, I don’t know if you’ve addressed this when I was not here, but do you know there’s an effort by the Palestinians at the UN to get their flag --

MR TONER: Yes. No, I’m just kidding. Sorry.

QUESTION: -- to raise their – to raise their flag at the UN? I would have asked Ambassador Power, but she took off.

MR TONER: Yeah. Boy, what an opportunity there, missed opportunity.

QUESTION: Do you guys have a position on that?

MR TONER: On the --


MR TONER: On the flag?

QUESTION: On the Palestinian request to have their flag – I mean, they are now a – recognized as a member of the General Assembly.


QUESTION: Yes, what?

MR TONER: We do have a --

QUESTION: Is it yes, no? Yes, we have a position? No, they can’t?

MR TONER: Let me finish, let me finish. We continue to believe that Palestinian efforts to pursue statehood or endorsements of statehood claims through the UN system that are outside of a negotiated settlement, we believe those actions to be counterproductive.

QUESTION: And that includes – that would include raising the flag?


QUESTION: It would. Okay. The Vatican has got a – which has the same status as the Palestinian Authority does at the General Assembly, has got a similar request. They have distanced themselves from the --

MR TONER: I don’t – have they --

QUESTION: -- Palestinian one. But they – it’s been an ongoing thing, and particularly because the Pope is going to be there this year, who is a head of state, and if I’m not mistaken is going to be on a state visit, or at least a papal visit here, which is pretty much the equivalent of a state visit, getting greeted by the President and all that kind of thing.

I’m wondering if the U.S. has the same position on the Vatican flag going up as it does for the Palestinians, or is it just an entirely different case because the Vatican is already recognized – you already recognize the Vatican as a state?

MR TONER: I’ll double-check on that, but my sense is that you answered the question, which is it’s an entirely different case.

QUESTION: And then --

QUESTION: So in the absence --

QUESTION: Excuse me, Said. Then also related to the UN and the Palestinian issue, are you aware of this latest surge in criticism of UNRWA and calls by some in Israel for it to be investigated, that kind of thing?

MR TONER: I’m not. I’d have to --

QUESTION: I didn’t think you would be. Could you --

MR TONER: I’ll look at --

QUESTION: Could you take a look at that?

MR TONER: Yeah, please. Yeah, no worries.

Tejinder, you’ve been waiting a long time. I apologize.

QUESTION: A short one on India. Is there any diplomatic fallout from the release of the 12-page secret document of the CIA yesterday which made headlines in India and other places about saying that then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wanted to bomb the Pakistani nuclear sites when she became the second time the prime minister?

MR TONER: Tejinder, I apologize; I’m not aware of the document. Are you talking about recent release of this document?

QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday it was – it made big headlines --

MR TONER: I apologize. I don’t --

QUESTION: -- that front page document – secret document of the CIA. And so there are no phone --

MR TONER: I was preoccupied by other --

QUESTION: The emails. I know.

MR TONER: -- questions of classification and non-classification.


MR TONER: No, I’m sorry. I don’t have any comment.


QUESTION: This is a different topic on China.


QUESTION: About Ambassador David Saperstein’s visit to China, who is in charge of the international religious freedom. As you released the statement yesterday, firstly let me ask about – could you tell me the reason why ambassador visited China this time and raised a deep concern against the violation of the religious freedom at this moment?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. So you’re talking --

QUESTION: Is it – are you --


QUESTION: Is the United States Government is investigating regularly or this is the first time?

MR TONER: But you’re – I’m sorry. Who made – could you just mention – you’re talking about?

QUESTION: Ambassador David Saperstein. You --

MR TONER: Yeah. No, I am aware of that. I’m not sure I have anything on his visit, though. I apologize. I’ll try to find out more about it.

QUESTION: Okay. And I believe U.S. Government is going to raise a concern when President Xi Jinping visit this time. But as we all know, on this human rights and the religious freedom, there are significant differences between the United States and China. So how are you going to – the United States Government raise concern and have a constructive discussion on this issue?

MR TONER: On religious freedom?


MR TONER: Well, just like we try to have constructive discussions on difficult issues across the board with China, including human rights, as Ambassador Power just spoke to, we believe strongly as a country, as a nation, in religious freedom, and we would call on all countries to allow people to – their own citizens to worship as they see fit. And that’s a matter of concern to us, ongoing concern.

QUESTION: One more thing.

MR TONER: Last question, guys.

QUESTION: So I would like to know about the fair assessment of the United States Government. The situation of the religious freedom in China is getting better or getting more serious since the last investigation, like the last couple of years.

MR TONER: Well, I can’t give you an overall assessment. It’s something we do watch closely. Certainly, our Human Rights Report speaks to it, our annual Human Rights Report speaks to it. I can say that it is an ongoing concern. And specifically, just to cite a recent case, a prominent Christian human rights lawyer Zhang Kai and his assistant, they were detained by the Chinese authorities. We certainly want to see him released. But this is just indicative of an ongoing pattern that we’ve seen.

Last question in the back.

QUESTION: I want to go back to Turkey and media issue because my --

MR TONER: Turkey and --

QUESTION: Turkey and media issue.

MR TONER: Oh, media issues. Sorry.

QUESTION: Media issue, because my newspaper today, police raid it all day and I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. According to some source, especially from government, they are going to take over all critical media, because we have some information about that. And have you concern – have you related with Turkish Government or communicate with Turkish Government specifically about this issue? Because today they – police raided two newspaper, two TV channel, and our newspaper raided today, and maybe tomorrow another one. Maybe day after, another one. And especially before election.

MR TONER: Well, as I said, we’ve made clear in the past and continue to make clear of our concern about Turkish Government interferences with freedom of expression and assembly, as well as the importance in the administration of due process and justice. I spoke to that already, talking about some of these raids that you referred to, that any kind of law enforcement, legal enforcement activity is done in accordance with international legal standards. And we would urge Turkey to follow those standards in this and any other case.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:31 p.m.)

DPB # 149

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 31, 2015

Mon, 08/31/2015 - 20:09

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 31, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:41 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Happy Monday, everybody. Sorry for the slight delay, but if I know one thing, it’s never talk over the boss. So I apologize, but thanks for waiting, everyone.

I just have a few things to read out at the top. First of all, just wanted to announce that Secretary Kerry will travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, quite possibly the greatest city in our nation and my hometown, on September 2nd to deliver --

QUESTION: Mark, come on. Such hyperbole – (laughter) – coming from you. All that homerism.

MR TONER: Anyway, I stepped on my lede. The – Secretary Kerry will travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 2nd to deliver a speech about the importance to our national security of the Iran nuclear deal. He will reassert that by blocking all pathways to a nuclear weapon for Iran the deal also makes safer the entire Middle East region. He’s also – he will deliver his remarks, rather, at the National Constitution Center. Secretary Kerry’s remarks will be open to the press and streamed live on More information on timing and how to access the speech will be released at a later time, so stay tuned.

I know many of you are eagerly awaiting the release of the next tranche of emails from former Secretary Clinton, so today I just wanted to announce that at approximately 9 P.M., the State Department will make publicly available online more than 7,000 additional pages of emails from former Secretary Clinton’s email account. These emails were reviewed using FOIA standards for public release. We’re producing more documents this month than we have produced in the previous three releases in May, June, and July combined. Today’s production exceeds the court’s goal of producing 25 percent of the Clinton email collection by August 31st. Meeting this goal is really a testament to our commitment to releasing these emails to the public as expeditiously as possible. And combined with the May, June, and July releases, the total page count now comes to more than 25 percent of the full set. The department is continuing to review the remainder of the set of former Secretary Clinton’s emails that are records and will make them publicly available on the department’s FOIA website on a rolling basis.

Just a couple more. Bear with me. September is the Department of State’s Passport Awareness Month and the launch of our Apply Early public awareness campaign. Why is this important? Well, in 2007 the department experienced an unprecedented surge in passport applications as a result of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Nearly 10 years later – and we’re coming up on it – those passports are beginning to expire, and the department has been experiencing increased demand for passport renewals. So we’re expecting a surge in passport applications to continue through 2018, and we would encourage all U.S citizen travelers to submit passport applications well ahead of their planned travel dates in order to avoid delays receiving their travel documents.

And then lastly, but certainly not least, we welcome today’s vote by Ukraine’s parliament on draft constitutional amendments on decentralization. This is an important step towards good governance for all Ukrainians which also helps fulfill another key piece of the Minsk agreements. We deplore the violence outside the parliament today that reportedly resulted in the death of at least one police officer as well as dozens of injuries. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those killed and injured. We call on all Ukrainians, no matter their affiliation or organization, to respect law and order. We fully respect Ukrainians’ right to engage in peaceful protests, but in a democratic society, grievances must be addressed peacefully and lawfully. We also call for a full investigation into the cause of today’s violence. Those responsible should be held accountable.

With that, I’ll go to your questions.

QUESTION: Just before we get into the email thing for a second, I – aside from taking issue with your description of the city of brotherly love, you said that more details would – what --

MR TONER: I just mean about just timing and --

QUESTION: Do you know roughly – is it afternoon, morning? When is --

MR TONER: Roughly around noon.

QUESTION: Around noon?


QUESTION: Okay. On --

MR TONER: But that’s not a definite. That may move a little bit, so I don’t want anybody to take that as gospel yet.

QUESTION: Okay. On the email release --


QUESTION: -- you say it will bring to more than 25 percent. Is that incrementally over 20 – like a point-something, or is it like 27 percent? Or do you – can you be more specific about what the percentage is?

MR TONER: Well – sure. Well, no, actually, because we’re still finalizing even at this late time how many – so I can’t give you a precise beyond that, that it’s over 25 percent. I could try to get you a more detailed and accurate --

QUESTION: So in other words, the number of pages could – is still in flux that will be released? So --

MR TONER: So the total page count – I can assure you it will be over 25 percent, but I don't know exactly whether it’s 26 or 27 or whatever. The – I mean, it’s 7,000 additional pages of emails today, and I don’t have – I can look for them, but – and do the math up here, but I encourage you all to do the same.

QUESTION: Is it 7,000 pages or is it 7,000 emails?

MR TONER: Seven thousand additional pages of emails.

QUESTION: So this could be 6,500 emails?

MR TONER: Yeah, I don’t have an accurate number on the emails yet.


QUESTION: Is it the judge’s --


QUESTION: -- standard that it’s 25 percent of the number of pages or 25 percent of the number of emails?

MR TONER: I believe that it’s 25 percent of the emails. That’s my understanding, but I’ll double-check that.

QUESTION: So is it, in fact, accurate that this is more than 25 percent of the emails --

MR TONER: So what I just said --

QUESTION: -- have been released, or is it more than 25 percent --

MR TONER: -- I said combined with the May, June, and July releases, the total page count comes to more than 25 percent of the full Clinton set. So I’ll double-check your – Arshad, your question about that. I’ll get back – yeah.

QUESTION: So if – but if he’s – if you’re right in saying that the judge’s standard is percentage of emails rather than percentage of pages, we don’t know that – for sure that you’re meeting the core standard.

MR TONER: That’s what I said, I think it’s pages.


MR TONER: That’s why I caught myself.


QUESTION: I got some more on the emails.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: I’d like to take you back to a story that was written by one of my colleagues earlier this month that looked at the question of whether so-called foreign government information is classified – is presumed to be classified when it is transmitted to the – somebody in the U.S. Government with the presumption or the explicit agreement that it will be held in confidence by the U.S. Government official.

My colleague has found 30 series of emails of those that have already been released by the State Department that contain what the department has subsequently itself deemed to be foreign government information. These are the ones that have been declassified. And among the emails that he found was a five-page email from then-British Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s top aide sent to Huma Abedin saying that then-Foreign Secretary Miliband wanted Secretary Clinton only to receive his email. That aide sent it from his home computer, which is a little perplexing but doesn’t, I think, change the obligations on the part of the U.S. Government when it receives information that a – from a foreign government that is clearly transmitted with the understanding that it is to be held in confidence.

So the question is: Is or was Secretary Clinton bound by the Foreign Affairs Manual’s obligation to treat as confidential – that is, the lowest level of U.S. classification – information that was transmitted by a foreign government with the understanding that it would be held in confidence? Or, as Secretary of State, is he or she not bound by the Foreign Affairs Manual’s strictures on this?

MR TONER: Well, so writ large or speaking broadly, classification – and we’ve said this many times – it’s not an exact science. It’s not often a black-and-white process. There’s many variation and there’s many strong opinions even on this very issue about classification. And this is all part, as we’ve said, again, many times, of the process that we’re undergoing – an interagency process where we look at these emails and we upgrade them as necessary, as we see fit. We’ve been very clear what our goal is here, and that is we’re dealing with some – as we said, some 55,000 pages of emails, and we’re processing them via FOIA rules and regulations. But our goal here is simply to make – to upgrade these where necessary and make them public.

What you’re asking me to speak to, Arshad, I’m not going to speak to from the podium because it’s not up to me to litigate these kinds of questions from the State Department podium. Our goal, as I said, is to respond to the FOIA request. Now, there are other reviews, investigations that we’ve spoken to or alluded to that may look at some of these broader questions, but it’s not for me to do that from here and certainly not today. I can just say that we stand by our contention that the information we’ve upgraded was not marked classified at the time that the emails were sent.

QUESTION: But wait a minute.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The Foreign Affairs Manual – and I’m reading from the version in effect for 2009 when the emails that we looked at were sent --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- says, quote – it says all department employees, quote, “Must safeguard foreign government and NATO-restricted information as U.S. Government confidential,” close quote, or higher. So I don’t fully understand how this can be a matter of great debate because if you stipulate that information given in confidence by a foreign government to a U.S. official is foreign government information, it seems like you are under an obligation to treat it as confidential or higher in terms of classification. Can you explain to me why that’s debatable?

MR TONER: It’s just that – I appreciate your question. It’s just that I hope you understand that I can’t litigate those kinds of things. I can’t pass judgment from this podium right now, certainly not when there’s other reviews or other investigations that may be underway. Certainly, as you know, the Inspector General is looking more broadly at some of these issues and questions. As I said, we just – our clear focus is on clearing these emails, redacting them as necessary in order to safeguard anything that we’ve deemed now should be upgraded in classification. But I can’t speak to the original.


QUESTION: Two other quick things. One is: Do you believe as a general matter that the Secretary of State, whomever he or she may be, is bound by the rules in the Foreign Affairs Manual or not? I mean, it may be that they’re not, that they have sort of a status that’s different and that therefore they have the rights to not follow it.

MR TONER: I mean, I would just say that every State Department employee from the Secretary on down takes the handling of classified information very seriously and is aware of the rules surrounding those classification standards.

QUESTION: And then one other thing. You said – sorry.

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: You said that you stood by your position that you’re – I can’t remember if you said you were confident or certain, but that the information in the emails was not marked classified at the time it was sent or received, but you’re not willing to take the position that it was not, in fact, classified when it was sent or received regardless of whether it was marked as such?

MR TONER: Well, we’ve said that we’re – and we’ve been very clear about this. When we’ve upgraded, we’ve always said that that certainly does not speak to whether it was classified at the time it was sent or handled or however, forwarded or received, and we’ve also been very clear that nothing that we’ve seen so far was ever marked classified. So I’ll just stay there.

QUESTION: And just last thing.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: On the thing that everybody is obliged to – I mean, can you not address squarely whether the Foreign Affairs Manual applies to the Secretary of State or not?

MR TONER: I mean, I can say that, again, we, from the Secretary on down, take the handling of classified materials and the rules surrounding those – so I mean in that sense, including the Foreign Affairs Manual but also other regulations, stipulations, training that we undergo in how to handle classified and confidential information.

QUESTION: You take them --

MR TONER: Seriously. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: But does that mean that you’re bound by them?

MR TONER: We’re all bound by – how we treat classified information is, as I said, an important component of the work we do, but I’ve also made clear that when you look at classified material it is not an exact science, it’s not black and white, it’s not always clear, so there’s strong feelings and different beliefs about when something is classified, whether it’s born classified, whether it should be classified later. These are all questions that are being answered in a deliberative and a thorough way that we’re looking at that’s not somehow some cabal of people in a small room somewhere making these decisions. It’s an interagency process. It involves the IC, it involves other agencies as it touches their equities. So that’s our focus.

QUESTION: Mark, since you just said those --

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- rules and standards are so important that everyone in this building has to follow them, can you say from that podium categorically that Secretary Clinton followed the rules and the law?

MR TONER: I’m just not going to answer that question. It’s not our goal, it’s not our function in this regard in releasing these emails. Our goal and our sole purpose when we look at these emails is to decide – well, first to publish them according to the FOIA request that we have received. But in doing that, looking at them and deciding whether any of that material needs to be redacted and subsequently classified.

QUESTION: Isn’t it a little odd that the State Department can’t state categorically that the Secretary of State followed the rules?

MR TONER: All I can say is that there are – and I’ve alluded to there – I’ve not alluded to it, I’ve said as much to Arshad: There are other reviews, and that’s really for the inspector general and other entities who are out there looking at some of these broader questions.

QUESTION: Why had this information been delayed? I mean, earlier we were told midday we’re getting these emails, then 6 p.m. Now it’s 9 p.m., when most of the public is not paying attention.

MR TONER: No, it’s – look, it’s certainly – that’s – it’s a fair question.

QUESTION: Well, so –

MR TONER: It’s a fair question. It’s – it always ends up this way. It’s because we’re getting these emails back from, as I said, this interagency review. We’re compiling them. We’re actually loading them online. It just takes a long time. And let me tell you, there’s a lot of really dedicated and tired people who have been working throughout the weekend to meet this goal.

QUESTION: So to your point, is it because they’re going through what’s classified and what’s not? They’re redacting? Is that the delay?

MR TONER: That’s part of it. They have to review literally every email, every page. And this is – again, this is a multilevel – what am I trying to say here? It’s a process whereby bureaus look at these, the regional bureaus; they’re passed on to other entities who look at these. They’re scrubbed several times, then they’re passed around to the different agencies if they – those agencies have equities here. And we’ve seen that in the case – in prior cases. But again, the goal is we do a thorough scrub on whether these need to be redacted before they can be released publicly.

QUESTION: So – can you tell the public have you found more information that was classified that’s in this tranche of documents?

MR TONER: We have upgraded some – a number of these emails.

QUESTION: And what’s your estimate of how many? You say there’s 7,000 pages. How many --

MR TONER: Right. And I don’t want to – again, it’s – until we release it, we don’t have a firm number. I think it’s somewhere around 150, but that’s --

QUESTION: That have classified information?

MR TONER: That had been subsequently upgraded --

QUESTION: That had been redacted? Okay.

MR TONER: -- had been upgraded to classified.

QUESTION: And are you saying that those 150 are being considered classified after the fact, or did any of them --


QUESTION: Okay. So zero were considered classified at the time?

MR TONER: That’s correct. That’s our estimation right now. Again, that’s – our goal is to look at this stuff – look at these emails, make a decision whether we redact, upgrade the classification, and then publish them.

QUESTION: Mark, can we move on?

QUESTION: No. I just want to – this foreign --

MR TONER: Matt’s going to make me do more math at the podium, and that’s always a dangerous thing.

QUESTION: This – yeah, no, I’m not going to get into math. The question though that Arshad was asking about foreign government information – is it safe to assume, and I don’t want to use – “assume” is the wrong word. But in the previously released emails, all the redactions that had been – that are going to be made have been made already, right? For stuff that is already out there that you put out over the first --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: So if there was something that was not redacted from a previous – from an email that was released prior to today, it’s not possible that it – you’re going to go back and redact it now, is it? It’s --

MR TONER: I mean, that stuff’s all publicly – what hasn’t been redacted is already out in the public sphere.

QUESTION: Is it the State Department’s – and is it the belief of the people who are looking at this that there was no classified information that was inadvertently already released in emails?

MR TONER: No. That’s not our belief, no.

QUESTION: So you think that there – so you’re allowing that there might have been --

MR TONER: Or conviction, rather.

QUESTION: -- or there was information that should have been classified and that was not redacted from earlier --

MR TONER: No, no, no, wait. Wait, wait. I said what we’ve released has been redacted via the FOIA process --


MR TONER: -- and we stand by what’s been released.

QUESTION: And so – so there is --

MR TONER: So nothing will be --

QUESTION: No one’s going back and looking at the stuff that’s already out there and seeing if there is information in there that should have been redacted?

MR TONER: Not on our part, no.



MR TONER: Yeah, please. Said and then – yeah.

QUESTION: Moving on? Okay, can I ask on --

MR TONER: Moving on.

QUESTION: -- Palestinian-Israeli issue? There was a study issued by Oxford University and published in Haaretz yesterday that there are 60,000 American Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: Sixty thousand?

QUESTION: Sixty thousand American Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

MR TONER: I don’t. I’m not aware of the study.

QUESTION: I know because you guys – your position is --

MR TONER: I just haven’t seen the study, frankly, so I don’t --

QUESTION: -- you oppose the settlements, you oppose – you consider them to be illegal and so on. But there you go – you have 60,000 Americans. Do you have any leverage with these American citizens?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, in terms of leverage – I mean, we through our embassy offer support for American citizens throughout the world. But what – we’re very clear on our policy on this issue, and I don’t know that we need to be any clearer.

QUESTION: Many elements among these settlers are extremists, they carry guns, they enforce their own sort of rules and regulations on roads and hamlets and so on – Palestinian hamlets. Do you have any kind of program, perhaps, to rehabilitate these settlers, bring them back somehow, as as opposed to the settlements?

MR TONER: No, I mean – and the other thing is we’ve also spoken about the uptick in violence, in extremist violence in Israel. And in fact, the government and the prime minister have also spoken about some of the recent attacks that we view as abhorrent. And we call on, frankly, all sides to stop this kind of violence.

In terms of programs, I’m not aware of what you’re – specific programs aimed at Israeli American settlers, no.

QUESTION: Since I – my last question on this issue.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Should the United States or would the United States have some sort of a program – an incentive program – to sort of encourage settlers to perhaps dismantle these settlements?

MR TONER: I mean, that’s really a question for the Israeli Government to look at. I mean, we’ve been very clear on how we feel about settlements.

QUESTION: Not really because they maintain their U.S. citizenship.

MR TONER: Well, we believe that settlements hinder getting any kind of talks back up and running and peace process going. We want to see positive actions on all sides.

So yeah, please.

QUESTION: Before I go, my two questions on South Asia.

MR TONER: You’re going?

QUESTION: If I can go back, emails, just quick one.


QUESTION: Some of these emails may be dealing also with --

MR TONER: I know it’s a big story when you’re even asking me about the emails, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Some of these emails may be also dealing with the foreign governments at the highest level. You think any of those governments are in touch with the State Department, or are you in touch with them?

MR TONER: Good question. We – I mean, of course, we’re in touch with foreign governments about a wide range of issues. But again, in terms of what we release publicly, that’s just according to the FOIA process. So we – if they have issues, they can certainly exchange those issue with us, but I don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION: Before I go --

MR TONER: Please go ahead.

QUESTION: -- two questions on South Asia, please.


QUESTION: Today you have issued a – or reissued or continuation of a Travel Warning to Pakistan. And that said that because of terrorism and terrorists are there and they may be a danger to the travels of U.S. citizens, and also Peshawar and Lahore consulates not offering any more services to the Americans there. What I’m asking is that since this Travel Warning is asking – talking about the terrorists are still there and there’s a threat, and at the same time today Pakistan’s defense minister, Mr. Khawaja Muhammad also– Mohammad issued another warning to India that we will use nuclear weapons against India.

What I’m asking is because of the base of terrorists in Pakistan and continuation of nuclear threats against India, where do – are we going about this? And at the same time we are talking about nuclear – nuclear activities or nuclear weapons in Iran because in the past there was a connection between Pakistan and Iran as far as giving or proliferation of --


QUESTION: So what is the future? I mean, where do we go from here?

MR TONER: That sounds like a lyric from a song. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I want to have that as a standing question for every topic.

QUESTION: What I’m saying is --

MR TONER: No, let me try to answer that. Let me --

QUESTION: What I’m saying really, India must be worried --


QUESTION: -- and India must be talking with the U.S. --

MR TONER: Sure, no, understood, understood. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make light of it because it’s a very serious issue.

First of all, in terms of the Travel Warning upgrade, or reissuing – reissuance rather, I’m not aware of that. But certainly, we do update our Travel Warnings periodically. That’s a courtesy to U.S. citizens traveling abroad. And there’s a lot of reasons why we issue these Travel Warnings, and there’s various – there’s Travel Warnings, there’s Travel Alerts. All of these are just to inform U.S. citizens who travel abroad about specific events, but certainly, in this case of a Travel Warning, the possibility of terrorist activity or danger to them if they do decide to travel to these areas.

Speaking more broadly, National Security Advisor Rice was just in Pakistan last week and met with Pakistani leadership and shared our assessment of the sources of regional violence as well as discussed ways to reduce this violence and to return the region to peace and stability. It’s a very dynamic region; we all know that. And we continue to consult with Pakistan and its neighbors to assess the challenges of the threat environment and what responses need to be made.

Speaking to your question about relations with India, that’s really a matter for – between the two countries, but we certainly want to see a reduction in tensions between India and Pakistan. It’s in the interests of everyone in the region and certainly everyone in the world. So as much as there can be dialogue there, as much as there can be a reduction in tensions, we would encourage that.

QUESTION: And on Sri Lanka quickly?

QUESTION: Can we continue with Pakistan?

MR TONER: Let’s – yeah, please. Lalit and then --

QUESTION: Pakistan itself. Today Pakistan’s foreign minister, the national security advisor, in his meeting with the German foreign minister, said that Haqqani Network is no longer present in Pakistan. Do you agree with his assessment that Haqqani Network is no longer present in Pakistan and they have all moved to Afghanistan?

MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to speak necessarily to his statement. I’m just going to say that – and certainly, as I said, National Security Advisor Rice was just there and she had very frank and productive conversations with her counterparts about the continuing threat and violence in the region and ways we can best counteract it. But in terms of the Haqqani Network and really the violence that we see from the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, we really want to double down, if you will, on trying to stop these groups from carrying out other acts of terror.

QUESTION: So – but if they are not in Afghan – Pakistan, then why from this podium for the last several weeks you have been expressing concern and asking Pakistan to act on Haqqani Network?

MR TONER: I just – look, I’m just saying that we recognize that there’s still a threat from these terrorist groups emanating from Pakistan. We want to see Pakistan take additional steps to address some of these threats. So I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: Change topics?


QUESTION: (Inaudible) on China?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Regarding this morning’s story in The Washington Post that the U.S. is readying sanctions against China, do you have anything to say on that?

MR TONER: No. I mean, the – I mean, not a lot of more light to shed on this issue. Certainly, the United States, as we all know, has sharp disagreements with China over its actions in cyber space, and we’ve been pretty clear and consistent about addressing these disagreements with the Chinese. We remain deeply concerned about Chinese Government-sponsored cyber-enabled theft of confidential business information and proprietary technology from U.S. companies. And in addition to cyber theft, we’re also concerned about actions that China’s taking that violate personal privacy, undermine core freedom or core – yeah, core freedoms for individuals online, and discriminate against U.S. technology firms.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. be concerned – since this comes a few weeks before the president of China visits the United States, would the U.S. be concerned about any retaliation by Chinese authorities in response to something like this?

MR TONER: In response to what specifically?

QUESTION: To sanctions against Chinese companies or --

MR TONER: Well, again, I didn’t – I was very clear saying we had nothing to announce in terms of economic and sanctions. Certainly, that remains a tool in the proverbial toolbox when we look at these kinds of situations, but I’m not saying we’re moving forward in that direction.

And that said, speaking broadly – more broadly to the President Xi’s visit, we’ve been very clear in all of our interactions with the Chinese to discuss the broad range of issues. Some we just – we agree on, obviously, but also a lot we disagree on, and cyber security and cyber protection is obviously an issue where we seek better cooperation. And again, we spoke to this during the S&ED meeting a couple months ago that it’s in the interest of China as well because if they want to attract more foreign investment, certainly companies – private companies are going to look for a secure cyber environment.

QUESTION: Can we stay on China?

QUESTION: Would you say – sorry, I had a few more on these.

MR TONER: Please go ahead and I’ll get to you next.

QUESTION: Would you say that the U.S. is coming to a realization that simply raising the issue and talking about it in diplomatic meetings doesn’t really help anymore given that the Chinese have not shown a willingness to back down on this issue?

MR TONER: Well, I don’t want to say it doesn’t help or it’s – look, I mean, we’re very clear and clear-eyed about our approach to this in the sense that we feel that these meetings, these dialogues with the Chinese allow us to raise these issues and have frank exchanges with them about our concerns. But it’s – this is – it’s one part of the strategy, diplomatic engagement. We also have trade policy tools and other law enforcement mechanisms that we can rely on. It’s just – I would say diplomatic engagement is just one of the avenues.

QUESTION: Okay. And last one on this: What is it exactly that has prevented you – given how outspoken the Administration has been over the last few years about Chinese cyber hacking, what is it that has prevented you from taking a more forceful action like the one described in this article up until now?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’re constantly – it’s a very fluid environment, cyber security. We’re constantly assessing the danger, assessing the risks, how to better prevent incursions on our cyber security. I don’t want to speak to your specific question other than to say that when we act, we want to make sure that we have compelling evidence to act on.

QUESTION: What are you --

QUESTION: Can we stay on China?

MR TONER: Yeah, please – I’ll get back to you in a second or – is this still on the same topic?




QUESTION: It’s on China, but it’s not about --

MR TONER: China? Matt had --

QUESTION: -- not about this.

MR TONER: All right. Go ahead and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering – maybe you spoke to this last week or when I was away about the president of Sudan visiting China for the military – the World War II celebration. Do you have --

MR TONER: I did not – we did not speak to it, but I --

QUESTION: Okay. Can – do you have any thoughts about that – positive, negative, or neutral – considering that he is wanted by the ICC and China is a --

MR TONER: I get one of those three choices, I would say --

QUESTION: -- Security Council member that --


QUESTION: -- or a member of the – permanent member of the Security Council that voted to send the whole Darfur case, issue to the ICC in the first place.

MR TONER: Well, we are concerned about these reports that Sudanese President al-Bashir is going to travel to China to attend the September 3rd World War II commemoration. As you know, he’s been charged with – by the ICC, International Criminal Court, with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, and warrants for his arrest remain outstanding. And we strongly support the ICC’s efforts to hold accountable those responsible for those acts. Our position is clear: We oppose invitations, facilitation, or support for travel by persons subject to outstanding ICC warrants.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, doesn’t – do the Chinese not have, in fact, a special obligation – even though they’re not like you, they’re not a member of the court, they are a member – and a permanent member at that – of the Security Council. Don’t they have a special obligation to uphold – or maybe not – to --

MR TONER: Well, we’ve been clear, as I’m being clear right now, in that we’ve called on all countries to join the international community in its call for Sudan obviously to fully cooperate with the ICC, and requested that governments, including China’s, not invite or facilitate or frankly support travel by President Bashir. And we have a longstanding policy of urging other nations to refrain from lending political or financial support to persons subject to ICC arrest warrants in Darfur. So it’s a serious cause for concern that he remains at large.


QUESTION: All right. Well, other than this being a cause of – serious cause of concern for you, are there any consequences for the Chinese for doing this?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to any concrete consequences that may result, but we believe China, like any nation, as you say, as a member of the Security Council, should weigh its concern – or weigh the world’s concerns about President Bashir and the fact that, as I said, he’s got an active warrant out for his arrests for war crimes.

QUESTION: Do you think they’ve done so in this case?

MR TONER: I would let them speak to that.

QUESTION: Should they arrest him?

MR TONER: We believe – I don’t know how to put it more clearly. We believe he should be held accountable and that they should arrest him.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: You had your hand up and then I’ll get – sorry. It was China as well?

QUESTION: About China, yes, back to the cyber issue.


QUESTION: What do you say when the Chinese say the U.S. spies on us too, hacks our computers, and so on?

MR TONER: Well, again, cyber security is a concern for many countries. You’re speaking to – you’re asking me to confirm that we spy or we hack into other people’s computers around the world. I’m certainly not going to speak to any intelligence activities we may carry out, except for the fact that the President has been very clear that we never do that – we never do any kind of surveillance or any kind of activity like that in pursuit of economic gain. What we – our intelligence agencies conduct is in the national security interests of the United States and our friends and allies.

QUESTION: The Chinese don’t confirm that either, by the way.

MR TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: The Chinese don’t confirm that either. They never confirmed any of that.

MR TONER: No, I understand, but the other thing is, again, and I think I spoke to this when answering the question, is we have concerns – legitimate concerns, we believe – and we have a combination of ways to address those concerns. And again, it’s something we raise with China on a regular basis. That’s something that’s important. I mean, we need to have that dialogue. We need to have that exchange of information. But as I made clear, that’s just one tool in the toolkit and if we need to move to other measures, we will. But again, we do that on the basis of evidence.

QUESTION: Can I ask about Ukraine?

QUESTION: China, China.

MR TONER: Let’s stay on China and then I’ll get to you on Ukraine. Please.

QUESTION: Mark, circling back to Bashir, has the U.S. made its concerns about this particular Bashir trip known to China?

MR TONER: Well, I just did if – no, I’m just kidding. (Laughter.) It’s a fair question. I don’t know that we’ve expressed it explicitly via our embassy or from – or here. I’ll have to – I can take that question, but get back to you.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Iraq?

QUESTION: China, please? China.

MR TONER: Just stay on China and then I’ll – you and then Iraq. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on a recent explosion in China --

MR TONER: I do not. I mean, you’re talking --

QUESTION: -- today or the day before?

MR TONER: You’re not talking about the explosion, the terrible accident that took place last week, are you?

QUESTION: Oh, no, no, no, no, more current.

MR TONER: Okay. A new – recent? No, I’m sorry, I don’t.

Please, you go ahead. You had a Ukraine question. Ukraine and then I’ll get – she had her question – her hand up before. Please.

QUESTION: You commented on the violence in Kyiv in your opening statement. Do you think the Ukrainian Government can use force against the ultra-nationalist rioters causing violence in Kyiv?

MR TONER: Well, our position – and it doesn’t apply simply to the situation in Ukraine – is pretty clear on this. We believe everyone has a right to peaceful protest, whether --

QUESTION: But they’re not peaceful.

MR TONER: If it’s not peaceful, then that’s – we would ask any law enforcement – sorry, law enforcement agency to conduct themselves with restraint, but certainly they have an obligation to uphold peace and law in that country. But it’s also an obligation on any protestors – no matter what they espouse – to do so in a peaceful way.

QUESTION: Just one more.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: So some of these same ultranationalist groups attacked the police at Maidan two years ago, and the U.S. message to the government at the time was do not use force, those are just protestors. Would you say the same thing to the current Ukrainian Government in Ukraine – to the current Ukrainian Government?

MR TONER: Again, and I say this realizing that many of these situations it can be a very murky situation in terms of violence, who causes what or who starts what. But law enforcement agencies need to exercise restraint. They’re certainly trained in that capacity, whether it’s in the United States or whether it’s somewhere else around the world, and that people have the right to peaceful protest. But there’s an obligation, as I said, on the protestors to also behave in a peaceful manner, which I think we saw in large part on the Maidan several years ago.

Please, on Iraq.

QUESTION: I want your reaction for a video that circulated over the internet of a celebrated Shia militia in Iraq, whose, like, his graphic pictures are seen basically burning an ISIS member and slicing off his flesh. I wanted to know whether the United States has a position on the anti-ISIS forces taking basically what seems to be from ISIS playbook in fighting the ISIS fighters?

MR TONER: Sorry, so you’re speaking to a video that shows --

QUESTION: Of a very famous militia man named as the Rambo of Iraq in Western press. He’s seen basically in the video like desecrating the body of an ISIS fighter. Is it okay for anti-ISIS forces to practice --

MR TONER: I mean, we wouldn’t – I’m not aware of this actual incident that you’re speaking about. But the desecration of any --

QUESTION: But in general, you are not --

MR TONER: In general, no, we don’t support --

QUESTION: Against ISIS. Against ISIS.

MR TONER: Regardless of who it is, we don’t support the desecration of bodies of fallen enemy or anyone, frankly.

QUESTION: I want to change topics.

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.


MR TONER: Oh, are we done with Iraq?

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?


MR TONER: Syria.


MR TONER: In the back, Iraq?




MR TONER: All right.

QUESTION: Very quickly.

MR TONER: Too much. (Laughter.) All right. Sorry, Said, very quickly to you, and then I’ll go around. And I promise I’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: On Syria, today the Russian foreign minister called on the Syrian opposition to close ranks so they can move forward with some sort of peace negotiation. Do you support that call? Are you working with different groups? Is Mr. Ratney sort of meeting with them to have them close ranks and perhaps get some (inaudible)?

MR TONER: So I’m going to try to kill two birds with one stone, because I know that you were also asking about Mr. Ratney. (Laughter.) This is how we – first of all, I’m not – I haven’t seen the remarks. Are you saying Foreign Minister Lavrov?

QUESTION: Lavrov, yes.

MR TONER: So I haven’t seen the remarks explicitly. I don’t have them in front of me. I haven’t seen them. We’ve long called for the – a political process consistent with the Geneva communique, but one that brings together moderate Syrian opposition towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria. Where we’ve, frankly, differed is that we’ve long held that the end result of that process cannot include any kind of government that includes President Assad. He has proven through his barbarity throughout the years that he cannot be a part of any peaceful political resolution in Syria.

Now, you mentioned our Special Envoy for Syria Michael Ratney. Just a quick update, we spoke about the fact that he was – met on August 28th in Moscow with senior Russian officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov. And August 31st he was – he’s in Jeddah – today’s August 31st, sorry – with Saudi Foreign Minister al-Jubeir to continue discussions about working towards a genuine political transition and bringing an end to the devastating crisis in Syria.

He also met on August 29th – just to complete the circle here, he was in Geneva with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, and again they talked about ongoing efforts to create conditions for productive negotiations. So all of these meetings support our efforts, Secretary Kerry’s efforts and engagements, rather, with his counterparts in support of Special Envoy de Mistura’s efforts. But nothing more concrete to share at this time.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Dave Clark. It’s my first briefing.

MR TONER: Hey, Dave. I meant to – I’m so sorry. That was a – so Dave Clark has joined the AFP bureau here replacing Jo Biddle. But welcome aboard – I should’ve said at the top. I apologize for that. That was --

QUESTION: It’s okay. Just for the question, the two British journalists working for a U.S.-based organization, Vice News, have been arrested and charged with terrorism in Diyarbakir, Turkey. Obviously, this comes on the heels of journalists being convicted in Egypt, another of your Middle Eastern allies. I was wondering whether the United States – obviously they’re not U.S. citizens, but do you have anything to say on that particular topic?

MR TONER: Well, sure, actually, we do. Freedom of expression, including for journalists, and due process are key elements in every healthy democracy and are enshrined, in fact, in the Turkish constitution as well as Turkey’s OSCE commitments and Turkey’s international human rights obligations. So as Turkey’s friend and NATO ally, we urge Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold universal democratic values, including due process, freedom of expression, as well as access to media and information.

QUESTION: One more on journalists.


QUESTION: As you’re aware of in Iran – there are reports out of Iran that two unnamed people have been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for espionage. Do you have any reason to believe that one of those two unnamed people might be the Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian?

MR TONER: So we’re aware of these news reports of the sentencing of these two espionage cases. At this point we’re not aware of any connection to any of the cases of detained U.S. citizens in Iran, including Jason Rezaian.

Yeah. I’m sorry, where was I? How about you? You were waiting. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: I just want to go back to Ukraine, if I may.


QUESTION: Thank you. You used the word “murky” describing the current situation.

MR TONER: No, I actually wasn’t --

QUESTION: You said --

MR TONER: I was saying writ large, oftentimes when there’s these ongoing street protests – we’ve seen it elsewhere; Egypt and elsewhere --

QUESTION: There’s violence. There is violence on the street.


QUESTION: Well, two years ago, the message that came from the U.S. was more clear and less murky, and that it was to urge the government at the time not to use force even though some of the same groups who came out to the parliament on Monday threw Molotov cocktails at the police and so on – so on and so forth. Why should the approach to these nationalist groups be different now as opposed to two years ago?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to relitigate or reopen every instance that took place on the Maidan. But I think we can all agree that the Maidan was largely a people-led peaceful demonstration, remarkably so given the months and months that many of the people were out on the Maidan. And our message should have been clear, which is that people do have the right to peacefully ask their governments to reform and to change according to the direction they want to see and the future they want for their country. And that message remains clear. Again, I – our message is that if you want to peacefully protest – and let me finish – peacefully protest, then the obligation on the part of law enforcement is that they should respect that right.

QUESTION: Two years ago are you saying that it was all peaceful? Was there – was the violence coming only from one side?

MR TONER: I – again, I just – this is the last thing I’m going to say about it. I said I can’t speak to every incident that took place on the Maidan. But by and large, yes, it was a dignified, peaceful protest on behalf of the Ukrainian people.

QUESTION: Did you see footage of --

MR TONER: In the back, please.

QUESTION: -- rioters throwing Molotov cocktails at the police and shooting --

MR TONER: I answered – I answered the question. Please go ahead. I answered the question. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. A question from the UK about Jeremy Corbyn --


QUESTION: -- who is, obviously, about to become the leader of the opposition and possibly our next prime minister.

MR TONER: Where – I’m sorry, where are we at? I apologize about that.


MR TONER: UK, yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. So Jeremy Corbyn is about to become leader of the opposition and possibly the next prime minister. He wants to withdraw from NATO and also abandon the Trident nuclear deterrent, and he recently also described the death of Usama bin Ladin as a tragedy. Have you got any concerns about this? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: The United Kingdom is a vibrant democracy, a close ally and partner, and they’ve got their own political process that we deeply respect. And I’ll refrain from commenting further.

Please, in the back. You have your hand up, and then I’ll circle back around. Please.

QUESTION: Thank you. About two things.

MR TONER: Ma’am, and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Two things. Anything on an American who may or may not have been fighting with the Kurds having been beheaded by ISIS or ISIL?

And two, Save the Children is saying that the major hospital, the al-Sabin Hospital, is close to having to shut down because of lack of supplies.

MR TONER: This is in Syria?

QUESTION: In Yemen, excuse me.

MR TONER: In Yemen. Okay. Sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah. So anything on --

MR TONER: But your first question was about --

QUESTION: An American beheaded by ISIL or ISIS.

MR TONER: In Syria. Yeah, right, okay. And then the second one – sorry, I’m just trying to clarify.

So we are aware – which was a small part my confusion when you mentioned the video – I thought you were speaking about this, but we are aware of this video. To be perfectly honest, we don’t have any way to confirm its veracity or not. We don’t have eyes on the ground in Syria and certainly in northern Syria, so I can’t really speak to it beyond that. But we are aware of the video.

QUESTION: Is it an American? Do we know?

MR TONER: We don’t know. I mean, I – we just don’t have any kind of – as I said, we don’t have – we’re limited in our capacity to confirm it.


MR TONER: Yeah, I’m sorry. On the Yemen --

QUESTION: The hospital, yeah.

MR TONER: I don’t know about that specific situation, but it doesn’t surprise us. I mean, certainly, we’ve been quite clear that the humanitarian situation in Yemen is very dire, which is why we want to see all sides exercise restraint and allow vital humanitarian assistance to get to where it needs to be on the ground. And that would include, obviously, Save the Children.


MR TONER: Yeah – Ilhan. Sorry – I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Going back to Turkey --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- quickly follow up on UK journalists. Have you reached out Ankara to ask about this development? They were arrested in Diyarbakir a few days ago. You don’t see this very often even though there is a pressure on the press. This kind of situation doesn’t happen often.

MR TONER: I believe we have conveyed our concern to the Turkish Government authorities.

QUESTION: Okay. One more: Today in New York Times, there is a editorial again, and slamming Mr. Erdogan, Turkish president, for waging a war of distraction talking about war with the PKK. So the criticism has been leveled by many, many experts that Mr. Erdogan is using this war as a cover before the upcoming early elections. Would you – what’s your reaction to this analysis?

MR TONER: Well, I would note that Turkey is a NATO ally and a strong partner in the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL – I-S-I-L. And just this past weekend, we saw Turkey’s increased – a manifestation of Turkey’s increased participation in the coalition to counter ISIL, which is its first airstrikes on ISIL targets inside Syria as part of the coalition’s air operations. So a couple of thoughts or a couple of responses to your question, which is – and certainly, John Kirby spoke to this last week on several occasions about the fact that Turkey’s doing all it can to contribute to anti-ISIL operations as a member of the coalition, and we’ve seen, certainly, progress on that front.

We continue to be in discussions with Turkey about its concerns along its own border and ways to help it better secure its borders. But Turkey, in terms of combating ISIL and dealing with the inflow of Syrian refugees, has been – has done above and beyond what we might expect. And speaking to the PKK issue, all of Turkey’s strikes against PKK targets has been in response to PKK attacks on Turkish military personnel and police. We want to see the PKK stop its attacks, we want to see both sides refrain from violence, and we want to see a return to a solution process that ultimately ends in peace for --

QUESTION: The Al Jazeera journalists?

QUESTION: The Al Jazeera journalists.

MR TONER: Oh, sure, yeah.

QUESTION: A question on Al Jazeera journalists.

MR TONER: Please, please.

QUESTION: I know you guys issued a statement --

MR TONER: All three of you at once.

QUESTION: -- over the weekend, but I wonder if you have anything to add.

MR TONER: I mean, nothing beyond what we said this weekend. As you noted, we put out a statement, I think, on Saturday. We’re deeply disappointed, concerned by the verdict handed down by an Egyptian court on these three Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, and Peter Greste. We urge the Government of Egypt to take all available measures to redress this verdict which undermines the very freedom of expression necessary for stability and development.

QUESTION: Has any level in this building – any official at any level reached out to their Egyptian counterparts with this message?

MR TONER: I would just say we have consistently and forcefully spoken about this case and raised it directly with the Government of Egypt.

QUESTION: So when you’re calling upon Egypt to redress the verdict, are you expecting the Egyptian Government to pay heed or any attention to your call?

MR TONER: Are we --

QUESTION: Are you expecting them, since they are your ally --

MR TONER: Yes. I mean, we urge the Egyptians to demonstrate through their actions – and rather than words – its support for freedom of expression, and we think the journalists should be released.


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Can I go to – go back to Yemen for a second?


QUESTION: Reports are that the UAE military is taking a more and more expanded role in southern Yemen dealing with things like public services, governance and issues and things like that. Is the U.S. providing any support to that – to the UAE in this effort?

MR TONER: No, we’re not providing any support, and in terms of UAE’s actions on the ground in Yemen, I would have to refer you to the Government of the United Arab Emirates.

QUESTION: Is the United States supportive of this given that you’ve – what you’ve – this sort of endgame is a little bit different from what you’ve been calling for.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, certainly, what we want to see is – and we’ve been – the ultimate solution in Yemen is – must be a political solution. So we continue in that regard to support the United Nations-led political transition as well as the UN special envoy, and we urge all parties to de-escalate hostilities and return to the political transition that was established by the Gulf Cooperation Council.

QUESTION: Sure, but what I’m getting at is --

MR TONER: Please, yeah.

QUESTION: -- what is – does the U.S. have any issue at all with the United Arab Emirates coming in, stepping into the vacuum after the Houthis left --

MR TONER: Again, I would --

QUESTION: -- and providing basic services that were not --

MR TONER: No, I would refer you to them to speak to their actions. Our concern in Yemen is a de-escalation of the violence, the violence that was – let’s remember was initiated by Houthis, and get back to the UN-led political process.

Go ahead, Lucas.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Russia?

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Is the State Department – in addition to your objections of Russia potentially selling the S-300 missile system to Iran, is the State Department also concerned about reports that Russia will sell jet fighters to Iran?

MR TONER: Yeah, I’ve heard that question. I just – we just don’t have any firm details about that, frankly. So it’s hard for me to – right now, it’s somewhere between a hypothetical or – I just don’t have anything concrete to speak to, I mean, to – so I can’t say whether any sanctions would apply to that if that were to happen, but it’s not even there yet, so --

QUESTION: Okay. And – but sanctions would apply if Russia sold fighter jets? Because that clearly is not a defensive weapon.

MR TONER: Well, again, you’re – we’re dealing in hypotheticals here. I’m just not going to speak to a situation, or like I said, some reports that we’ve heard. I haven’t seen anything concrete about it.

QUESTION: Just staying with Russia --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- up in the Arctic, the Russian military appears to be expanding its presence. It’s putting in new rescue stations, it has more ships in the water, and has put its flag down on some unclaimed territory beneath the ocean floor. Is the State Department concerned about Russia’s expansion in the Arctic?

MR TONER: I mean, Russia so far, just like any other member of the Arctic Council – of which there are eight, I think – all have territorial claims based on legal parameters, and they’re going about it the right way. They’ve – they’re going about it through the Law of the Sea Treaty and the conventions within that treaty. So they’re going through the right process to address those claims, just like other countries within the Arctic Council also have claims.

In terms of – sorry, I don’t mean to – but in terms of their actions in the Arctic, one of the aims of today’s GLACIER conference but certainly the Arctic Council’s main purpose is to bring together all those nations who have territorial interests or concerns in the Arctic, bring them together to discuss all of these issues, as well as important things like sustainable development, like the responsible use of resources in the Arctic. So all of these are on the table to discuss and that’s why we think it’s a really important forum.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is the State Department concerned about Russia’s military expansion into the Arctic?

MR TONER: Well, again, that’s – it’s somewhat of a murky issue in the sense of – and this is, again, why the Arctic Council is important, because search and rescue, is that a military option? We need to be as transparent as possible about all our intentions and what we’re doing in the Arctic. And so do we have concerns specifically about Russia? I would say we’re – we have concerns about how militaries conduct themselves in the Arctic, but that’s for all of the Arctic Council members to discuss.

QUESTION: But is --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: With Secretary Kerry and President Obama up in Alaska, they seem to be clearly very concerned about climate change. Are you concerned that Russia is not on the same page as this Administration when it comes to the Arctic?

MR TONER: Well, I think again, and it speaks to the importance of today’s conference, we will – it’s incumbent on all of the Arctic nations, if you will, to raise public awareness about the environment and how the environment in the Arctic and climate change in the Arctic affects all of us, whether you live in the Arctic or not.

QUESTION: But it doesn’t seem like that’s a priority for Russia, climate change. Would you say that the State Department’s concerns about climate change exceed Russia’s?

MR TONER: Again, I think it’s something we’re all – I’m not trying to excuse anybody or give anybody an A-plus on this – in this respect. I think every country needs to do more.

QUESTION: And lastly --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- back to the emails, if you don’t mind. One question, or two questions about the emails. Does the State Department own all the intelligence that are part of these redactions in the 150 emails today?

MR TONER: I’m not quite sure I understand the premise. Sorry.

QUESTION: Okay, let me – let’s try again.


QUESTION: Does the State Department have the authority to declassify intelligence from other agencies?

MR TONER: So that’s – I mean, that speaks to the fact that – and we had this situation where the intelligence – the IC IG actually, on a couple of emails actually upgraded them after the fact. But when those touched on IC equities, that was their purview or their right to do so, I believe. We, on other cases, have found or had disagreed, and there’s lots of reasons for those disagreements that are based on just looking at the material from a different viewpoint.

QUESTION: And just a yes-or-no question: Does the State Department have the ability to change the classification of other agencies?

MR TONER: No, I don’t believe so.


MR TONER: Turkey.

QUESTION: An interim government consisting of independent and opposition members formed in Turkey which will take the country to early elections. Would you give us any comment on this?

MR TONER: You’re asking – I’m sorry, what was the question again? I apologize.

QUESTION: Okay. An interim government consisting of independent and opposition members formed in Turkey which will take the country to early elections.

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, we’re not opining on the political process underway in Turkey. We have confidence in Turkey – the strength of Turkey’s – Turkish democracy. We would just ask that it adhere to its already strong standards.

QUESTION: Something on Russia?

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: There are some reports on Israeli and Arab media saying Russia deployed an expeditionary air force in Syria near Damascus. The reports say Russian jets and helicopters will target ISIS and Syrian Islamist rebels. How do you see this Russian – reportedly Russian reinforcements in Syria?

MR TONER: I’m frankly not aware of those reports. I’d have to look into them. More broadly, we have looked for many different countries to play a greater role in combating ISIL. We view it as an extreme threat to the region and to many countries in the West as well. But specifically to your – I haven’t seen those reports.

Last question, please.

QUESTION: Sorry, on Japan: Do you have any reaction to the massive protests that took place over the weekend against the security bills being pushed into – in the Diet?

MR TONER: Well, it’s security legislation that you say is – it’s under discussion right now. It’s a question – rather, it’s a domestic matter for Japan. For our part, we welcome Japan’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the alliance and play a more active role in regional and international security activities, as reflected in the new guidelines for U.S.-Japan defense cooperation that were approved in April.

QUESTION: Do you think that the U.S. support for these laws because of the protests, do you think that it sort of undermines the current administration’s, like, role and power?

MR TONER: The current Japanese administration’s? Or --

QUESTION: Right. I mean, that – you’re seeing the Japanese administration trying to push these bills and the reaction from the public. Do you think that the U.S. support – do you think that there’s a concern that --

MR TONER: Look, I mean, I’m not going to opine on the politics and public support for this or that initiative in Japan. I spoke clearly where our policy is and certainly that’s a matter for Japan, the Japanese to decide.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:44 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 16:03

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

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:02 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. I do not have anything to open us up with, so with that, we’ll go to you, Brad.

QUESTION: I don’t have too much, but I wanted to ask you if you had any comment on the IAEA quarterly report on Iran, what you thought of it if you’ve had a chance to review it yet.

MR KIRBY: Well, as you know, Brad, as our standard practice, we don’t comment on IAEA reports that have not yet been publicly released by the agency. So we’re going to let the IAEA address any of the specifics of their reports.

QUESTION: There was just one element I wanted to ask you about. I think the report – without getting too much into the details, I mean, it confirmed broad compliance. But there was some mention of the Parchin base again and about construction or other activity that was going on there. Independent of the report, is that something the United States has noted and is also concerned about?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’d say, without getting into the specifics here – as I said, we’re not going to do that – I think it’s important to remember that when you’re talking about a site like Parchin, you’re talking about a conventional military site, not a nuclear site. So there wouldn’t be any IAEA or other restrictions on new construction at that site were they to occur.

QUESTION: Which begs the question why it would be in the report then.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I – again, I’m not going to confirm details in a report that hasn’t been publicly released, and I would refer you to the IAEA for any contents that may or may not be in there.


QUESTION: Are you able today to confirm the reports about the Saudi capturing of the al-Khobar bombing?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have anything new to update you with the – from yesterday. I mean, obviously, as we said yesterday, we want to see the perpetrators of that attack brought to justice. And certainly, any detention of one or more of them would be a welcome development, but we’ve seen the reports and I would refer you to – since the reports are claiming that the Saudis have him, I would refer you to the Saudis.

QUESTION: Because there are some reports saying that this is – came as a result to the increased cooperation after the Camp David summit, like to increase security and intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and the Gulf countries.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I would refer you to the reports. The reports talk about Saudi involvement here, so I would refer you to the Saudis on this. I just don’t have anything more to add today.

QUESTION: Yesterday the Saudi foreign minister announced that the king will be visiting the White House.

MR KIRBY: And I believe the White House has spoken to that as well today.

QUESTION: They did?

MR KIRBY: They did. They put a – they put something out about that, so I would – on visits like this, obviously we would refer you to the White House to speak to it.


QUESTION: Can you at least confirm that there’s been some discussion with the Saudis on the possibility of this being the main suspect?

MR KIRBY: We – what I can tell you is we certainly have been in contact with the Saudis, with Saudi officials concerning these reports, but I won’t go beyond that right now.

QUESTION: Why won’t you confirm that they actually got the person or somebody who might be him?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, if – the reports are that the Saudis have him. I would – I think it’s appropriate if – for the Saudi Government to speak to those reports, and it just wouldn’t be appropriate for us to talk about it in any more detail here. We are in contact, have been in contact with Saudi officials about these reports, but I just – I’m not going to go any further than that today.


QUESTION: New subject?


QUESTION: There was an arrest of a Russian national in Finland at the request of U.S. authorities. His last name is Senakh, I think, but frankly I’m not sure.

MR KIRBY: An arrest of --

QUESTION: Of the Russian citizen, of the Russian national – of a Russian national --

MR KIRBY: There’s reports of an arrest of a Russian citizen in Finland?

QUESTION: -- national at the request of – in Finland at the request of U.S. authorities. A) I was wondering if you have something on that, why he was arrested, what is he charged with here. And secondly, Russian Government said that they consider this continuing practice of U.S. authorities trying to detain Russian nationals in the third countries as sort of hunt. Are you going to carry on this practice? Do you talk about – the Russians about this?

MR KIRBY: Look, I don’t – I don’t have anything on these reports that you’re speaking of, and I’m not going to speculate or comment on law enforcement matters one way or the other from this particular podium. I just don’t have anything on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And can you speak a little about this practice of yours where you – the U.S. Government --

MR KIRBY: Well, your question assumes there is such a practice, and I’m not in a position to --

QUESTION: Well, this is not the first case. There has been numerous instances like that.

MR KIRBY: I think your questions are better put to the Justice Department, but I’m certainly unaware of any practice the way you’ve described it.

Yeah, Goyal.

QUESTION: Afghanistan?


QUESTION: You must have seen the recent reports, actually a number of reports, by the United Nations that the future of Afghanistan is not really very bright because almost 1,600 innocent civilians have been killed by the Talibans, the violence there and violence continues. And what the report is saying – or United Nations special representative – that the government is not doing enough and the military or the police and some people in the government have corrupt – or corruption is the main cause, and the people of Afghanistan, they don’t have much yet confidence or faith or trust in the government or the military forces. So what – and the Taliban of course keep saying that they are still waiting when the international community or NATO leaves so they can move in. So what – where – what’s the message for the people of Afghanistan? They thought that the U.S. and the international community was there to help them and the future will be bright and they will be free of violence and free of terrorism and Taliban.

MR KIRBY: I don’t think anybody ever said that Afghanistan was going to be free of violence. Nobody’s ever talked about a violence-free Afghanistan. Obviously, what we want to see and what we’ve been working toward for going on 15 years now, or close to it, is an Afghanistan that is secure and stable, a good neighbor in the region, and prosperous. And that remains the goal. But the way that gets done is by healthy, strong institutions inside Afghanistan, to include security forces, which is of course the focus of the Resolute Support Mission right now, is to help Afghan National Security Forces continue their leadership of the security mission inside Afghanistan.

Nobody’s under any illusion of how difficult that’s going to be, and President Ghani – back to institution-building – has been working very hard at this to try to strengthen Afghan institutions for just such an end. And as I said, militarily we are contributing to the NATO mission that’s designed to help Afghan National Security Forces continue to advance, and they are. But I think – and I’m not minimizing at all our condemnation of the continued attacks that we’ve been seeing, certainly in the last week or so. And I think it’s – we ought to be mindful that just this week, Resolute Support – two Resolute service members were killed – two more.

So it’s a work in progress. I think President Ghani would tell you that as well. But it’s work worth doing, and work that we are going to – that we’re going to stay at. It’s just going to continue to take some time.

QUESTION: Some people or experts are asking, are you relying only on between Afghanistan and Pakistan, or also relying on or getting engaged other governments? How much role do you think China will be playing, or India?

MR KIRBY: I think, as I said, we want Afghanistan to be a good neighbor in the region, and they have many neighbors, and China and India are some of them. And India has played a constructive role over the last several years inside Afghanistan, and we would look to other nations like China to do the same. I think everybody in the international community could benefit from an Afghanistan that is secure and stable and prosperous, and I – and our message to the other partners is the same as it’s always been, which is we want to make sure that we’re all pulling on the same oars here to get Afghanistan to that better future.

QUESTION: One more on the region if I may.


QUESTION: India-Pakistan. Whenever the talks are planned between the two countries or leaders are ready to meet, either at the prime minister level or at the secretary level and all that, there are always tensions between the two countries and people are get scared what they talk about. Now, after the talks failed last week, and some generals in Pakistan – not first time, many times – they have been threatening that Pakistan is ready to use nuclear weapons against India and it would take only 15 minutes to destroy India because we have – we are a nuclear-weapon state. Now, also one of the first – one of the civilian – one of the officials said that it would not take much time to proliferate those weapons, that means to the Taliban and others might get it.

My question is here, that one official said – a general last week, after the talks failed – that they are ready to use now tactical nuclear weapons – tactical – if there is a war; not the nuclear which is maybe against the law or whatever, but they have now tactical nukes to use, and you know because you have come from the military. I don’t know because I’m a civilian person and not very educated on this issue. But that’s what he said, that tactical weapons will be used against India. What the U.S. you think is going to do about this? Because if they are ready to use tactical weapons against India, then that means they can probably to the – to the terrorists also.

MR KIRBY: Well, I haven’t seen those comments, Goyal, so I’d be loath to specifically address them. Obviously, what we want to see are the tensions decrease. And speculation about the potential use of nuclear weapons certainly isn’t doing anything to help decrease tensions, if in fact those comments were made. What Secretary Kerry has said repeatedly is that he wants the two nations to continue to work together with constructive dialogue to resolve their issues. And we understand that there are issues longstanding. But that’s what really needs to happen, is sitting down, dialogue, cooperation, talking through these things, and trying to work through some meaningful solutions.

QUESTION: Still on that --



QUESTION: We have a story about a British citizen who was a hacker and recruited for the Islamic State who was apparently killed in an airstrike, Junaid Hussain. I’m not going to ask you to talk about the military aspects, but have you had any discussions with your British counterparts about this occurrence?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any discussions with UK counterparts about this issue to read out or to discuss today.

QUESTION: Is it general practice to inform allies when citizens of their country are killed, be they good or bad individuals, in U.S. military operations?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, we’re not in a position to confirm these reports about this individual, so I really don’t want to go much further than that.

Separate and distinct, if you’re a terrorist and if you’re threatening our interests, the interests of our allies and partners, you make yourself a target. And as I said the other day talking about ISIL, I mean, this is a career choice with a short shelf life, and you need to realize that if you’re going to take it on.


QUESTION: Can we stay on Syria? First, let me ask you about the UNHCR report last week. They listed the figures and numbers on resettlement and other forms of admission for Syria refugees; it’s in the thousands. It’s in Western society – in Western countries, sorry. But under the United States it says open-ended resettlement. There are no figures. Could you help clarify that? How many have been resettled here or how many are applying? The figures fluctuate between, like, 2,000 to 70,000 applications or something.

MR KIRBY: Well, all I can tell you is there’s about 15,000 refugee referrals in the pipeline from UNHCR. I don’t have more numbers today to provide you, but the United States continues to welcome Syrian refugees, and we have and we’ll continue to do that.

As you might imagine, Syrian refugees, because of the situation there, go through some additional forms of security screening. And again, we continue to look for further enhancements for screening them in that process. The long-term answer there is not refugee resettlement, whether it’s in the United States or elsewhere. It’s in a better Syria where they can live peacefully and prosper.

QUESTION: Now, just to follow up on the Syria issue, could you clarify to us your relationship with Ahrar Al Sham? Are you aiding them? Are you supporting them? And this is a group that is rooted in Islamic fundamentalism. They espouse Sharia law. They never speak of democracy, they never mention the word “democracy.” And the word now is that you are supporting them. Can you confirm that?

MR KIRBY: No, we’re not. I talked about this the other day.

QUESTION: Okay, so --

MR KIRBY: There’s no change to our position on this group that we’re concerned by some of their activities, and there’s no cooperation with them right now.

QUESTION: Okay. So you continue to – not to work with Ahrar Al Sham, much as you will not work with al-Nusrah and the others, correct?

MR KIRBY: We’re – I’m not going to compare apples and apples here. I’m just saying that we aren’t – we are not cooperating with, we are not working with, we are not supporting this particular group.


QUESTION: Okay, just a quick follow-up if I may. The quick follow-up is that you were aiding and helping during – through your train and equip program what you call the New Syria Force. What is the status of the New Syria Force now?

MR KIRBY: Great question for DOD. I mean, that’s a – it’s a DOD program. Obviously, we’re interested in the success of this program. We believe it is important. It’s an important component of the overall strategy, but it’s being administered by the Department of Defense, and I think that’s a better place to go for details about that.

QUESTION: Is there frustration in this building that DOD’s not enacting the program effectively? I mean, the entire anti-ISIS campaign is being headed by an official in this building who is a former DOD official, as are you. And that’s okay, I’m not trying to go anywhere with that. I’m just saying to just refer it to DOD --

MR KIRBY: Well, thanks for bringing it up.

QUESTION: -- every time we ask, to just say, “Oh, you got to go ask DOD,” and then they don’t say anything, when you’re in a position to – so my question is, is there frustration --

MR KIRBY: Because I used to be a naval officer, I should be – no, look, I mean, it is a DOD-administered program. It is an important part of the strategy. And obviously, Secretary Kerry supports it and wants to see it succeed, as does our colleagues at the Department of Defense. They have been very, I think, candid about the challenges that they’ve experienced here in implementing the program. Even at the time in my former life, we talked about this. We readily acknowledged that it was going to be hard, and it has proven to be hard. And so they’re going to continue to work at this.

I think your point about General Allen, who is, I think, you’re referring to, he’s not – his job is not to run the campaign. His job was to get a coalition formed, established, and functioning, and obviously, we’ve – he’s accomplished that. We have 62-some-odd nations in the coalition, and of course, Turkey has just come in recently, and General Allen and Ambassador McGurk were key figures in working that agreement with the Turkish Government. But the campaign itself is being run by the Defense Department – the military side of the campaign being run by the Defense Department, specifically U.S. Central Command in Tampa.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Has U.S. been in contact with Ahrar Al Sham in the past?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Been in contact with or had talk with the Ahrar Al Sham officials?

MR KIRBY: I couldn’t tell you whether the – I don't know the whole history here. What I can tell you right now is that we are not communicating, cooperating, or working with this group.

QUESTION: And you are not planning to do in the future, for the future of Syria?

MR KIRBY: I am aware of no plans to change that posture. Their activities continue to be of concern.

QUESTION: I have other questions on Syria.

QUESTION: Still on Ahrar Al Sham.


QUESTION: When you say you’re concerned about them, are you – is this department examining whether they should be a foreign terrorist organization?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any deliberations on that, Brad. They are not an FTO. But this is something we look at all the time. So I’m not going to rule anything in or out at this point, but I’m not aware --

QUESTION: You don’t know specifically --

MR KIRBY: -- of any specific deliberations on that score. But this is something that we constantly evaluate and look at, and again, I’m not ruling anything in or out.


QUESTION: ISIS militants seized five villages around Syria’s Marea, which is located in this so-called ISIS-free zone. Do you have any reaction to this?

MR KIRBY: We don’t call it an ISIS-free zone. That’s one reaction.

QUESTION: So-called, yeah.

MR KIRBY: And then I haven’t seen the reports that you’re talking about. And again, for assessments on the ground, I’d point you to DOD.

QUESTION: Did you reach an agreement with Turkey about which opposition group on the north – in the north will receive support yet?

MR KIRBY: When you say “yet,” it means that you’re just assuming it’s coming. I – (laughter) --

QUESTION: I assume that.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I know you do. I know you do. Look, I’m not going to get into diplomatic – the specifics of diplomatic conversations that we have and have had with the Turks. We’re grateful, again, for their cooperation and their support to the coalition. We expect them to be flying missions here soon, and we’re going to continue to work with them to get at this very common threat.

QUESTION: John, considering that the bombardment out of Incirlik began on the 5th of August --

MR KIRBY: The bombardment of Incirlik?

QUESTION: Out of, out of. The bombardment out of Incirlik.

MR KIRBY: Oh, “out of.” I thought you said “of.”

QUESTION: No, no, no, out of the Incirlik Air Base began on the 5th of August. It was hailed at the time as – it’s going to make a great deal of difference. Now three weeks since then, what is – has there been any marked difference in, let’s say, with the depletion of ISIS forces?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m really leery to get into battlefield assessments here from this particular podium. I’d point you to DOD for an update on how the campaign is going militarily. But – and I truly don’t have, like, stats and figures of how many strikes have been flown out of Incirlik. I just don’t have that nor would I have that information. But that shouldn’t diminish the importance of the agreement to use Incirlik and our gratitude for that ability, as well as other bases inside Turkey. The proximity to that border area makes the use of Incirlik from a military perspective much more efficient and potentially much more effective.

QUESTION: It gives coalition airplanes more time in Syrian airspace, correct?

MR KIRBY: Well, it gives you – it reduces the time on station, it allows you to stay on station longer. I mean, geography matters in war, absolutely.


QUESTION: On Turkey again, still. Your deal with the Turks has come under strong criticism from one of the strong voices in this country. That’s Eric Edelman, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey. He just wrote this op-ed in The New York Times. He said – he’s questioning the long-term effectiveness of this deal, and he really puts out – I don’t know if you’ve seen his op-ed – a number of arguments why the U.S. should not enter a deal with Turkey over Syria, because he says it’s driven by domestic considerations in Turkey, not – it’s not because the Turks are really interested in going after ISIS.

MR KIRBY: And your question is?

QUESTION: I mean, your reaction. Aren’t you worried about what he’s putting out there, like the --

MR KIRBY: No, no.

QUESTION: The long-term, like, effectiveness of it?

MR KIRBY: No, no, look. I’ve seen Mr. Edelman’s piece, and he’s certainly entitled to his views. We’ve never shied away from the notion that particularly on an issue this important that there should be a multitude of views and opinions. And he has his and he’s obviously entitled and welcome to those.

So I’m not going to get into a rebuttal for every single person that writes an op-ed piece or gives a speech that has a view different than what the State Department does. Secretary Kerry is being clear and we’ve been clear from this podium about the importance of our relationship with Turkey, and just as critically, the importance of their contributions to this effort. And we’ve talked about this every day for the last couple of weeks.

QUESTION: Yes, but that what he says actually makes a lot of sense, to not just him – a lot of the people. For example, you have a --

MR KIRBY: I suspect there will be people that agree with him.

QUESTION: You have a looming civil war in Turkey, and you are saying nothing and you are doing nothing almost about it. You are seeing it as a proportional act of self-defense against a terrorist group, which is not the case. In southeastern Turkey you have young Kurds taking up arms fighting against the Turkish state, and the United States stays silent.

MR KIRBY: To say that we’ve stayed silent on any of this is an affront, and I take great exception to that. We have been exceedingly clear about what the goals are here and about what the coalition is formed to do. We’ve also said with respect to Turkey’s internal political evolution right now that we’re going to – as I said yesterday, we’re going to look and want to work and cooperate with whatever the new government is in Turkey. But those are decisions that the Turkish people have to make, and we’re going to respect that process.

But – and you want to talk about PKK? They have a right to defend themselves against terrorist attacks – as do we, as does any sovereign nation. But to say we’re staying silent or turning a blind eye I think reveals a little bit about where you’re coming from this journalistically. But I’ll tell you from the State Department nothing’s changed about the importance we are giving this fight and the criticality of having a coalition of the willing to go after these guys. And it is a coalition of the willing. And as I’ve said before, every member does what they can – where, when, and how much they can. And we respect that. And they can modify their involvement over time. They can do more, they can do less; and we’re seeing that in various coalition countries.

But that’s the goal. That’s the goal. The goal is about going after ISIL. And when we talk about the agreement with Turkey, whether you agree with it or not, fine. But when we talk about that, it is about helping the coalition do a better job against ISIL.

QUESTION: When I said the U.S. stays silent, just to make that clear, it wasn’t like my view. It is what I wanted to say --

MR KIRBY: It certainly came across as your view.

QUESTION: Yeah, it was – I wanted to say it’s like the view of many people for sure.


QUESTION: Because like --

MR KIRBY: I take it. Got it.


QUESTION: Syria via Russia? Special Envoy Michael Ratney is supposed to be in Moscow tomorrow. Do you have any information on that?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think I do, actually, have something. Let me keep looking for that because I know it’s in here somewhere, and we’ll go to somebody else.

Goyal, I already got you. I got you already, and I got you, too. How about you?

QUESTION: One on Pakistan. Today was a report has come out from two think tanks about Pakistan nuclear weapons, according to which in a decade Pakistan will have around 350 --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Today a report came out from two think tanks based in D.C., according to which Pakistan is going to have about 350 nuclear weapons in a decade or so. What do you have to say on this? And I remember a few months ago in the – U.S. and Pakistan had talks on their nuclear weapons in which U.S. said that it is working with Pakistan to mainstream Pakistan’s nuclear ambition with the international community. How you are working with Pakistan on that?

MR KIRBY: On the --

QUESTION: How to bring Pakistan into mainstream international community on nuclear weapons?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a specific update for you on the – I mean, obviously, these kinds of matters are matters we discuss with Pakistani leaders on a routine basis. But I don’t have specific talks to talk to you about today.

QUESTION: And your comment on the report itself, about Pakistan will be the third-largest nuclear stockpiles after U.S. and Russia in a decade?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, we’ve just seen this report and we’re digesting it. I’m not going to have anything substantive to offer on the report’s findings. This is something, obviously, that we continue to focus on, I would say consistent with the President’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons. Obviously, we continue to urge all nuclear-capable states, including Pakistan, to exercise restraint regarding furthering their nuclear capabilities. But we’re still going through the report. I think --


MR KIRBY: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Now I got on Ratney. I did find it. It’s about how I label this book and where I put stuff that I’m still trying to figure out. So if you could, I’m going to read to you a little bit, if that’s all right, because there’s a lot here. And I don’t like reading to you all, but it’s a fair question.

So, look, as part of the – our ongoing efforts to bring about a sustainable political solution to the Syrian conflict based on Geneva principles, U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Michael Ratney will travel from the 28th – that’s today – to September 2nd to Moscow, Riyadh, and Geneva. Following Secretary Kerry’s recent meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Saudi Foreign Minister al-Jubeir in Doha and in Kuala Lumpur, Special Envoy Ratney will meet today in Moscow with senior Russian officials and tomorrow in Riyadh with senior Saudi officials to continue discussions about working toward a genuine political solution – a political transition, I’m sorry – and bringing an end to the crisis in Syria. He plans to meet in Geneva with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura to discuss his ongoing efforts to create conditions for productive negotiations.

Now, if you’re asking who he’s going to meet in Russia, he will meet with the Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov and other officials at the Russian foreign ministry and security council.

QUESTION: And their focus is going to be political transition, as you said. And the Russians believe in solution; they want the Syrians to decide. And is that going to be the focus, that gap? Doesn’t that seem to be the main problem, where the Russians want the Syrians to determine their own future and the U.S. sort of has this predetermined outcome, in a way, of – well, you know.

MR KIRBY: Well, we talked about this yesterday, and I’m – I don’t want to re-litigate it all. I don’t want to re-litigate all this. We understand that the Russians have a different view in Syria than we do, frankly, and we’ve said this before: Their support to the Assad regime has been manifestly unhelpful to the crisis in Syria and have only served to embolden Assad to continue the depravations in his own country against his own people. So we obviously have a different view here.

That said, there – we believe, we hope that there is room for cooperation towards a political transition in Syria. What that’s going to look like and how it’s going to manifest itself we just don’t know right now. And as I said yesterday to Lesley’s questions, I mean, these talks, these discussions are just at their beginning, which is why it’s so important that Mr. Ratney is going. And it just started today; let’s see where this goes. We understand there’s a lot of work to do. But we think there’s an opening here for us to continue to work with Russia on a political transition in Syria. And again, what that would look like we just don’t know right now.

QUESTION: Has anything happened recently or since the last time they met that you see – now you see an opening? Why do you see an opening now? What is --

MR KIRBY: I don’t mean I see – I don’t mean that the opening just started today with his trip. I mean, it’s developed over time and certainly was reinforced for the Secretary in Doha when we had this trilateral meeting which the Secretary felt was very constructive and a positive meeting. And we’re just getting started here.

QUESTION: Is he going to be in Moscow tomorrow or today – tonight?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s today.

QUESTION: You said the 28th --

MR KIRBY: He’s – the 28th is – what’s today?

QUESTION: It’s tomorrow.

MR KIRBY: Tomorrow, sorry.

QUESTION: Tomorrow, yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: So he’s not in Moscow today. You said he’s not in Moscow today?

MR KIRBY: The 28th. The 28th, I’m sorry. It’s the 28th.

QUESTION: Can you explain that opening again? The opening is to continue working with Russia on --

MR KIRBY: I mean, we believe, based on the meeting in Doha, that there’s an opening here. There’s an opportunity to begin to work with Russia and with Saudi Arabia on trying to find options for a political transition in Syria. Obviously, that would be UN-led. We’re supporting the UN process, which is why Mr. Ratney’s going to go Geneva. All this needs to be under the UN process, but we do believe that there’s a potential here. I don’t want to overstate it. We know that we’re just at the beginning, and so we’ll see how it goes. And this is something that the Secretary is committed to, and again, that’s why he asked Mr. Ratney to make this trip. And we’ll see what – where it goes from there.

QUESTION: So is there a potential for something different to emerge out of this process than what’s previously been arranged or been attempted in previous U.S.-Russian discussions? Because up to now, those have failed on every level to do anything to stop the violence from --

MR KIRBY: Well, obviously, if we didn’t – if we didn’t think there was a chance for something different – that is to say, something successful – we wouldn’t be attempting it.

QUESTION: And what has led you to believe that now something different might emerge in – out of U.S.-Russian discussions on this matter that didn’t emerge out of the countless U.S.-Russian discussions since 2012?

MR KIRBY: That’s hard to – I mean, I wouldn’t try to pinpoint on any one thing. I think it’s a series of factors. Obviously, the crisis shows no signs of abatement; the violence against the Syrian people continues. The regime continues to be – to come under increasing pressure. And then, again, the meeting in Doha, which Secretary Kerry found to be constructive and positive. And so it’s been a series of things over time.

And again, I think it’s important that we focus on what we think we can get done and see where it goes.

QUESTION: Can I just follow on that really quickly? So Russia, Saudi Arabia – can you remind us again why not include the Iranian Government in this conversation, since Bashar Assad – I’m sure it was discussed here yesterday – in his interview with al-Manar, Hizballah TV, basically talked about the steadfast support that he’s confident he’ll continue to receive from both Moscow and Tehran. Why not include the Iranians in this gently growing momentum, if we can call it that?

MR KIRBY: I think where we are right now in the process, the Secretary believes that we’re approaching this from the right perspective, which is to say with Russia and with Saudi Arabia. And again, these are just starting.

QUESTION: So there’s no possibility of including the Iranians?

MR KIRBY: I think we’re focused on what we’re focused on now, which is discussions with the Russians and with the Saudis, obviously, and with the UN. And that’s where are right now, and I’m not going to get ahead of anything one way or the other at this point in time.

QUESTION: At risk of just beating it down and arguing with you here, look – but you’re not saying no. We’re – I mean, we’re open to the possibility --

MR KIRBY: I know what you’d like to do. I’d like – you’d like to pin me down on Iran here.

QUESTION: No, I just want to make sure --

MR KIRBY: There’s no discussions. There’s no – there’s --

QUESTION: -- because you’re introducing a possible gentle development, and I want to make sure that that’s – is that part of it or not?

MR KIRBY: No, I want to be clear. I’m not introducing anything long-term. What I’m saying is the focus right now is on the discussion with Russia and with the Saudis, obviously with the UN and under their auspices, to try to reach a political transition in Syria. Where it goes from now – from here, it’s hard to say.

And I don’t want to overstate things right now. There’s lots of things about Syria with which we disagree with Russia, so there’s a lot of work to be done. I’m not – and I don’t want you to read from what I’m saying that I’m “gently” suggesting there’s a role for Iran in the future. I’m telling you where we are today right now and the importance of Mr. Ratney’s trip and our – and Secretary Kerry’s focus on that. And that’s where we are, and that’s just – that’s where we are. I have to speak factually, and that – and those are the facts.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we go to Palestine-Israel?

QUESTION: One more question on Iran?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: The Iranian Government today executed Behrouz Alkhani, who is a leading Kurdish activist. Amnesty International calls the process by which he was tried “a denigration of the international and Iranian law.” Have you seen the – that?

MR KIRBY: No, I haven’t seen that report.


QUESTION: Can we go to Israel-Palestine for a minute? Today an ultra-nationalist settler group overtook a four-story building in the heart of Jerusalem in the Silwan neighborhood. Now, when this was done in the past they never left, so they are taking over a lot of buildings over the years in that very neighborhood, but they never seem to leave. Are you aware and would you call on the Israeli Government to do all it can to vacate the building?

MR KIRBY: Said, I haven’t seen that report. I’m not aware of that, so I just – I haven’t seen it. Is this building in the West Bank?

QUESTION: Yes, in East Jerusalem.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, look, I mean, our --

QUESTION: In occupied East Jerusalem.

MR KIRBY: Our position on settlements hasn’t changed, but I haven’t seen that report.

QUESTION: And let me ask you another question on Congresswoman Betty McCollough – McCollum of Minnesota. She sent a letter to the State Department last week asking that all shipments of arms be stopped to Israel until an investigation is completed in the killing of two Palestinian kids back on May 15th, 2014. The father of one of the children came and met with you guys a couple weeks ago. Do you have anything to share with us on that?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t.

QUESTION: Could you please find out?

MR KIRBY: I mean, I’ll --

QUESTION: A letter --

MR KIRBY: Well, if we’ve – if we received a letter from a member of Congress, we will, of course, reply and respond in the appropriate fashion, which is to say back to the member of Congress. And we don’t typically read those letters out publicly.

But we’ve obviously expressed our concerns about this particular incident and made very clear where we stood on that kind of violence.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: I wanted to shift gears and ask – move to China. China is commemorating the ending of the Second World War on the 3rd of September and is holding a large military parade. And they invited a number of foreign dignitaries to attend those events, including President of the United States. The invitation – well, the President is obviously not going. The U.S. announced, I think, that only U.S. ambassador to Beijing will attend those events.

Are you saying publicly why the decision was made not to – for the President not to travel?

MR KIRBY: We addressed this yesterday, I think, or the day before. Ambassador Baucus is the President’s representative in Beijing, and I know he’s looking forward to attending this commemoration and he is the President’s selection to attend this commemoration. So I don’t really have anything more to add. Every nation invited gets to make a decision about whether they’re going to attend and who’s going to attend, and the United States selected the President’s representative in Beijing, which is Ambassador Baucus.


QUESTION: I just want to check if this – if this is in your folder about the ongoing violence in Nepal. Do you have anything to say?

MR KIRBY: Nepal.

QUESTION: Ah, Nepal. (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: No, no. I think – let me see if I’ve got something on that. This is related to the protest activity, I believe. Yeah.

We’ve seen those reports, obviously. And look, we – our position around the world on peaceful protest and assembly is well known. We obviously don’t want to see any such protest activity turn violent. So certainly concerned by the violence that has been visited on this protest activity, and I think I’d leave it at that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:43 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 26, 2015

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 17:43

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 26, 2015

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2:02 p.m. EDT

sudannat">MR KIRBY: Okay, good afternoon, everybody. Just one thing at the top here. The United States welcomes President Kiir’s decision today to choose peace and to sign the agreement on the resolution of the conflict in South Sudan, along with other parties who signed previously. These signatures represent the full and final approval of the agreement by the warring parties and their commitment. While we support the signing of the agreement, we do not recognize any separate reservations made about the agreement and expect all parties to abide by all elements of the final peace agreement.

Secretary Kerry, who as you know spoke with President Kiir last week to encourage his signature, commends all those who have committed themselves to peace. To end the fighting we call on all parties to adhere to the permanent ceasefire within the next 72 hours and begin the process of implementing this agreement. The United States stands ready to support the implementation of the agreement, to work with the men and women of South Sudan who are committed to peace, and to hold to account those who would undermine the agreement or violate the ceasefire.

We express our thanks to the leaders of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and to our partners who have supported us in this process, to include the African Union, the UN, Algeria, Chad, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, China, and the UK, and Norway, and of course, the EU.

So with that, Matt.

QUESTION: Can I just – very briefly on this. The United States is not a guarantor – a signatory or a guarantor to this deal, is it, this agreement?


QUESTION: So what does it mean that you do not recognize any separate reservations?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think that refers to comments that President Kiir made after he signed.

QUESTION: I understand that. But if I’m him --

MR KIRBY: And the point --

QUESTION: -- and you guys aren’t a guarantor or a signatory, and you say you don’t recognize it --

MR KIRBY: Well, there’s --

QUESTION: I mean, my response would be, “So what?” I mean, it’s not up to you to recognize it or not recognize it. What implication does that mean – does that have, the fact that you who are not involved in this deal at all don’t recognize his reservations?

MR KIRBY: It means that we’re committed to the agreement as signed, and we expect everybody to abide by it and to effect the ceasefire. And it means that, as we said before, that through the UN there are options available to the international community, which we would support should any of the parties back out of the agreement that they signed.

QUESTION: So what it means – what you’re saying then is that should he act on these reservations that you say you don’t recognize, you would support at the UN the sanctions?


QUESTION: All right. Thank you.


QUESTION: Can I follow-up on that one?

QUESTION: Wait one --


QUESTION: So – and that you – should these not have been dealt with during the negotiations or before?

MR KIRBY: Should not what have been dealt with?

QUESTION: Should the – his reservations about this peace deal have been dealt with before to make it more effective? I mean, if you’ve got one party who’s not happy about it, do you really believe that there can be peace?

MR KIRBY: He signed it. He signed it and he’s committed himself to it, and our expectation is he’s going to meet his commitments. Obviously, he made a personal decision to overcome his reservations and sign this agreement. Our expectation is he’s going to meet his end of it. And if he doesn’t, or if any party doesn’t for that matter – this isn’t just about President Kiir, although he’s the one who’s voiced the reservations – then there are options available through the UN that we will explore.

QUESTION: So if there are – if he’s still unhappy with it as it goes forward, it’s open to renegotiation?

MR KIRBY: Look, he can be unhappy about it as long as he abides by it. What matters is the actions, not the words. And we want to see, as I said in my opening statement, we want to see everybody effect the ceasefire and hold to what they agreed.

QUESTION: And you think this is a good agreement?

MR KIRBY: We – yes, we do, and we’ve supported this. Yeah, absolutely.

QUESTION: Do you have any leverage to stop the flow of arms into southern Sudan? Do you have any influence on the transfer of arms?

MR KIRBY: There are. I mean, without getting into specifics – I’m not an expert on the sanctions regime, but there are all kinds of options available to the international community, which could include sanctions.

QUESTION: Are you aware that Israel has been supplying a great deal of arms to southern Sudan – to the conflict?

MR KIRBY: Am I aware of what?

QUESTION: Are you aware of Israeli weapons supplies to the conflict?



MR KIRBY: Samir.

QUESTION: Do you know if U.S. Envoy to Sudan Donald Booth attended the ceremony – the signing ceremony?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have details on that. I don’t believe he did.

QUESTION: He’s visiting Sudan.

MR KIRBY: He – but he was there, as you know, last week and came back. So --

QUESTION: He came back to Washington?

MR KIRBY: He came back, yeah, so I don’t believe – I don’t believe he did. But I tell you what; let me just check on that. I don’t have his travel schedule with me.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?


QUESTION: I’m just wondering, what can you tell us about the arrest or the capture of this Khobar Towers bombing suspect?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve seen the reports of it. I would refer you to the Government of Saudi Arabia for any details or further information. But I think it’s – though I can’t comment on these reports specifically, I think it’s important to remember to remind people about this attack which killed 19 servicemen and one Saudi citizen, wounded 372 other people. And the United States continues to stand with the victims and families harmed by this attack, and we’re going to continue working with Saudi Arabia and the international community to bring to justice all the perpetrators of it. But I don’t have details on this particular – the reports of the arrest.

QUESTION: So you can’t even say whether you believe it to be – the reports are credible?

MR KIRBY: I cannot. I’d have to refer you to the Government of Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: You do have a vested – I mean, are you checking?

MR KIRBY: Well, obviously, we’re in touch with --

QUESTION: It’s just that – it’s just the fact that 19 servicemembers were killed, 372 people injured --


QUESTION: -- as you said. The United States Government has a vested interest in knowing whether a suspect in this has been arrested or is about to be brought to justice. And I find it extremely difficult to believe that you don’t have an answer to the question and you have to refer to the Saudis, especially since the foreign minister was just meeting with Secretary Kerry in Nantucket the other day and the king is apparently coming in September. So I --

MR KIRBY: As difficult as it may be, it has to remain my answer today that I’d refer you to the Saudis for a law enforcement question internal to them and to their processes.

QUESTION: That you have no interest in at all.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say we didn’t have an interest in it. Of course, we have an interest in it.

QUESTION: Well, so --

MR KIRBY: As I said --

QUESTION: So are you asking them?

MR KIRBY: I can – look, it’s safe to assume --

QUESTION: I mean, the problem is that the answer that you’ve been given to give us suggests that you – oh, this is a Saudi thing and we have nothing to do with it.

MR KIRBY: Of course, we talk to Saudi officials about --

QUESTION: Okay. And what --

MR KIRBY: -- these kinds of issues. And I’m certain that we are having conversations about these reports with Saudi officials, but I’m not at liberty to go into more detail than that.

QUESTION: Would you request his extradition in the event that he was arrested?

MR KIRBY: Any extradition questions I think I’d have to refer you to the Justice Department for.

QUESTION: Okay. But would you – in the event that he is arrested, as alleged, would you trust the Saudi justice system to try him and render justice?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, we don’t even – I’m not even in a position to confirm the arrest, so I don’t know that it’s going to be valuable for me to get into speculative discussions about the justice processes there in Saudi Arabia. Again, I think the best place to deal with these questions are with the Saudi Government.

QUESTION: But you would like to see him tried in the United States --

MR KIRBY: We – as I said in my answer, we want to see all the perpetrators of this attack brought to justice.


QUESTION: Can we stay in Saudi Arabia?

QUESTION: Well, can we stay on this just for one second? Is it the United States – does the United States believe that Iran had anything to do with this attack?

MR KIRBY: I think we’ve spoken to this. Previous administrations have spoken about an alleged Iranian role in the attack on Khobar Towers, and there’s indictments going back to – I think it’s 2001 – which point to Iranian involvement. And again, for more detail on that I’d refer you to DOJ and the FBI.


QUESTION: Can we stay on – in Saudi Arabia related to that?


QUESTION: Saudi officials in Riyadh did announce this morning that King Salman will be in Washington on the 4th of September. Are you in position to confirm or to deny that?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, if the Saudi Government announced it, I’m certainly not in any position to characterize it any other way. I haven’t seen the announcement; but if they’ve announced it, I’ll let them speak to the king’s travel.


QUESTION: New subject?


russianat">QUESTION: Chairwoman of the Russian Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, Valentina Matviyenko, planned to travel to New York shortly. She was supposed to take part in an Interparliamentary Union session there. She was also invited to take part in a meeting of women heads of national parliaments, as far as I understand. The way that her visa request was handled by the U.S. embassy in Moscow was condemned by your counterparts at the Russian foreign ministry some time ago. They said that what you did was essentially a violation of international norms, and limitations and constraints that you put on her visa were unacceptable. I was wondering if you have a comment to this comment.

MR KIRBY: I’d say three things. One, the United States remains committed to meeting our UN host duty obligations regarding the transit for officials on UN business. We don’t discuss – and I’m not going to start today – discuss the details of individual visa cases. Visa records are confidential under law. And then thirdly, it is a matter of public record that Ms. Matviyenko has been sanctioned by several countries due to her actions related to Ukraine, and she and other Russian officials are aware that she is subject to sanctions.

QUESTION: Change topic?


QUESTION: I have a follow-up. Sorry, can I follow up with it?

MR KIRBY: Sure. Who are you?

QUESTION: (Laughter.) It’s Michele way back here.


QUESTION: The UN is coming up in – soon, the UN General Assembly, and obviously, Russia’s going to be bringing a lot of other officials. What kind of – when you say you have to facilitate travel to the UN, what kind of restrictions can be put in place on people that are on sanctions lists? I mean, how do you weigh those two issues?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said at the outset, I mean, we take our obligations seriously in terms of UN business and being the host nation for the UN. And without getting into the laundry list, I mean, if travel is in relation to strictly UN business, we take – again, we take those responsibilities seriously. I can’t get into the specifics on this case.

QUESTION: But if people are on the sanctions list and they go to the UN, can they not stay in U.S.-owned hotels? I mean, are there – do U.S. businesses have to look out for this kind of thing?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know the – I just don’t know what restrictions are placed on people that are being sanctioned and yet confirmed to be on UN business and at the UN. I mean, I’ll have to see if I can find out and get back to you on that. I just don’t have a list of what restrictions there may be on them when they’re in the country.


QUESTION: Can we stay on Russia for a second one?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I wanted also to get back to the INF Treaty violations issue, the alleged violations by Russia. It’s being reported by the U.S. media, which quoted unnamed U.S. officials, that U.S. Government conceded that U.S. officials who went to Moscow to discuss this matter with their Russian counterparts never actually detailed those charges, never described what it was specifically that concerned you and that constituted the supposed violations of the INF Treaty by Russia. Is that correct?

MR KIRBY: We have provided information to Russia on its violation, and we’re confident that the Russian Government is aware of the sophisticated ground launch missile to which we’re referring to on this violation.

QUESTION: So you described those concerns in details --

MR KIRBY: We provided them the information that we had on their violation.


yemennat">QUESTION: Can we go to Yemen?

MR KIRBY: Yemen.


QUESTION: Quick one on Yemen. It is – there are reports that the AQAP, the al-Qaida in Arabian Peninsula, is closing in on – the fighters of al-Qaida are closing in on Aden. Now, that would make them harder to detect and attack and so on. And basically, your support of the Saudi initiative is allowing them to do that. Do you have any comment on this?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’d say a couple of things. I think the deputy interior minister of Yemen spoke to these media reports about Aden falling to AQAP and said they were inaccurate. It is, as we said quite a bit, Said, a fluid, dynamic situation there on the ground. Our understanding is that while those conditions in Aden are dangerous, we do not believe AQAP or elements connected to AQAP control the city or any of the neighborhoods. Again, but it remains volatile, it remains fluid; we’re constantly watching this.

And then look, we’ve talked about Saudi Arabia and their involvement in this before. I would remind you that the Yemeni Government invited Saudi participation in this, invited them, asked them to help, and that’s the character of their involvement is at the request of the Yemeni Government. And we continually talk to Saudi officials about their prosecution of those combat missions that they continue to conduct.

QUESTION: But apparently, these – AQAP is able to insinuate itself or penetrate groups that are directly supported by the Government of Saudi Arabia. You have any comment on that? Or do you tell the Saudis not to support groups where al-Qaida might be infiltrating?

MR KIRBY: I think the Saudi Government is well aware of our longstanding concerns about terrorist organizations, and with al-Qaida specifically. I mean, the United States has been clear and firm not just in word, but in action for the last near-15 years on al-Qaida and the spread of its ideology. Nothing’s going to change about that.


QUESTION: So can I – just on Yemen and on the al-Qaida claim in Aden, you’re saying that you do – you accept or you believe to be credible what the deputy interior minister – or the interior minister --

MR KIRBY: What I said was I wanted to point you to his comments. What I said was it remains a fluid, volatile, dynamic situation, and we’re going to continue to watch it.

QUESTION: But you – and to the best of your knowledge --

MR KIRBY: I am not in a position definitively to say that there’s no AQAP in Aden.

QUESTION: Right, right. This Yemeni official is located where?

MR KIRBY: I don't know. He’s the deputy interior minister. I don't know from what --

QUESTION: Is he in Aden?

MR KIRBY: I don't know where he is. I’m just pointing you to his comments.

QUESTION: Do you know – okay, well, I mean, I’m just curious if he – if you believe that he’s in a position to know.

MR KIRBY: I just was pointing you to his comments, Matt, and I would point you to my comment --

QUESTION: But it sounds --

MR KIRBY: -- which is it’s a fluid situation we’re continuing to monitor. We have no indication that would assert that AQAP is in control of Aden. We don’t believe that they are.

QUESTION: Look, well, I don’t think that’s what the reports say, that they’re in control. The reports have said – that I’ve seen, at least – say that they are controlling certain neighborhoods.

MR KIRBY: We don’t believe that they control the city or any neighborhoods.

QUESTION: Any neighborhood at all?

MR KIRBY: That’s what I said.

QUESTION: Okay. And that’s based on your own intel or that’s based on what the deputy interior minister --

MR KIRBY: As all --

QUESTION: -- who you don’t know where he is --

MR KIRBY: I did not – just to be clear, Matt, I simply pointed you to what he said. I didn’t say we were backing it up, and --

QUESTION: I know, but you’re --

MR KIRBY: -- wait a second now. And when we make assessments like that, as you well know, it comes from a variety of factors. I mean, those kinds of assessments are formed through a mosaic of inputs.

QUESTION: Well, when you’re – let’s just put it this way: When you’re asked about allegations that Russian troops are in Ukraine, you don’t cite the Russian officials as saying, “No, they’re not.” Do you get what I’m saying here? By repeating what this interior – deputy interior minister said, you’re suggesting that you believe it.

MR KIRBY: I was simply pointing you to what he said as a matter of fact.

QUESTION: I understand that. But --

MR KIRBY: I’m telling you what we believe based on our own assessments --

QUESTION: Based on your own assessments.

MR KIRBY: -- which is that they don’t control Aden or any neighborhoods --


MR KIRBY: -- in Aden.


QUESTION: Has there been a marked reduction in the targeting of AQAP elements in Yemen since, let’s say, the Saudi-led assault began?

MR KIRBY: Well, that’s a great question for DOD.

Yeah, go ahead.

isilnat">QUESTION: This one’s on ISIS. Do you have any – can you confirm any additional information about reports that emerged earlier this week that ISIS executed nine men in Mosul who were reportedly charged with sodomy-related offenses?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, we’ve seen those reports. I mean, it’s difficult to confirm what they’re doing and when they do it. Certainly, we’ve seen those reports. They’re obviously deeply troubling, and, I mean, again, our record on – in fact, we talked about this, I think, earlier in the week, about the meeting that was held at the UN specifically to talk about ISIL and their persecution of people that are – either are or believed to be LGBT. So I can’t confirm those reports. Obviously, we’ve seen them and we’re deeply troubled by that. And if it’s true, it’s just another example of the barbarity of this group.

QUESTION: And one additional point that came out of that meeting on Monday in New York at the UN. Ambassador Power called upon Congress to increase the number of refugees allowed to resettle into the United States. There was just – there were statistics that indicated roughly 75 to 100 LGBT refugees had been allowed to resettle into the United States. Do you have any comment on Ambassador Power’s suggestion on --

MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly associate ourselves with her call and her concerns. I don’t have any updates for you in terms of numbers of that, but obviously, we fully support and associate ourselves with her comments.

QUESTION: And then one additional question to ask as well: There was an indictment in the stabbing of seven people in the Jerusalem Pride attack a few weeks ago. The person charged was indicted on murder and other charges. Any comment on that indictment?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m afraid I would be loath to talk – to comment on that judicial process.


turkeynat">QUESTION: Turkey? It was reported yesterday from U.S. ministry officials that the deal was finalized with Turkey about their contribution to the fight against ISIS.

MR KIRBY: Didn’t we talk about this yesterday?

QUESTION: Did you?

MR KIRBY: I thought we did.


QUESTION: We did and for a very long, extended period of time. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I wasn’t here. I’m so sorry, but can you tell us if there’s any disagreement now between the Turks and you on their contribution? (Laughter.) Okay, no --

MR KIRBY: I mean, what we could do is you could come up here and you could probably say exactly what I’m going to tell you: The Turks are a valued ally and a key partner in this fight, right. And we’ve reached agreement recently with the Turks so that we could use some of their airbases for missions against ISIL, and now they will be flying very soon. And I don’t know the – I don’t have an update on this of when, but they’ll be flying very soon inside the coalition air operations tasking order. That’s a big deal and we’re grateful to have them in the air with us soon.

We’re going to continue to talk to the Turks about this effort because it’s real to them. It’s not a – it’s not some theoretical exercise. They’ve got a border on both countries. They’ve got a foreign fighter problem they’re trying to deal with. They’re taking care of some 2 million Syrian refugees, and they’re hosting a train and equip site. They’re deeply involved. Does that mean that we’re going to agree on every single issue going forward? Probably not, but we don’t – but that’s the case with any friend and ally and partner, particularly in such a dynamic situation as this fight against ISIL. So we’re very grateful for the contributions that they continue to make and now will make in the future given their participation in airstrikes, and we’re going to continue to talk with them going forward to see if we can’t always try to improve that cooperation.

QUESTION: Can I ask you one more question about different topic? It’s also a little bit --

MR KIRBY: Is it also about Turkey?

QUESTION: A little bit – no, not Turkey, about – there were media report, including by the Financial Times, that Israel’s imports – three-fourth of its oil imports come from Iraqi Kurdistan. I know you have your own position on the sale of oil from Kurdistan and Iraq. Are you concerned about this or do you support the Israelis to buy oil from the Kurds?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the report. I’m not going to be in a position to confirm it. I’d refer you to the parties involved in that. Our position remains unchanged, that Baghdad and Erbil should negotiate a workable agreement on oil exports and revenue sharing that’s acceptable to both sides.

QUESTION: Can we --

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Israel?


QUESTION: Okay. The Israeli President Rivlin the other day, meeting with settler leaders and so on – he told them that they have the right to settle anywhere on the West Bank, basically saying that the West Bank is theirs, calling it by its – Judea and Samaria and so on. I wonder if you have any comment on that.

MR KIRBY: The same comment that we always have when we talk about settlements. Our position has not changed.

QUESTION: Right, but you saw these reports?

MR KIRBY: I have only seen press reporting of it, Said, but I – again, our position on settlements has not changed.

QUESTION: But that would be contrary to your position, wouldn’t it?

MR KIRBY: If it’s true that this is what’s been said – I mean, again, I’ve seen press reports – then yes, it would be contrary to what our position is. Our position has not changed on settlements.


QUESTION: Can we go back to ISIS? There was a New York Times report today that there’s an inquiry weighing whether ISIS analysis was distorted. The focus of this piece was primarily DOD, but there are some quotes in here from John Allen, from his talk at the Aspen Forum, I believe. You yourself a couple days ago gave a pretty positive report of some of the progress that’s been made in the anti-ISIL fight in the last year, so I was wondering if there is consensus from your point of view that --

MR KIRBY: My report was not positive, it was factual. There’s a difference, and --

QUESTION: Well, I would ask it – I would ask it this way, then, which is: Is there consensus within the U.S. Government about how the fight against ISIL is going?

MR KIRBY: I think when – look, I can’t speak for every person in the government. But I do believe that, certainly between the State Department and DOD, that yes, there is a common view here of how we’re doing. Does it – I can’t go down to every little detail of it and say that there’s agreement – wide agreement – on every single aspect, but there certainly is agreement – interagency agreement – inside the U.S. Government on the validity of the strategy, the fact that the strategy is working, that it will take time and this is going to be a long, hard fight, which means there’s going to be moments when ISIL achieves success tactically, perhaps even operationally, but that ultimately this struggle will be won by the coalition.

And then the last point I’d say there’s certainly broad agreement on – well, two more. One, that we are making progress, and I have detailed that. I can detail more for you today if you want. But two, that it can’t just be about military action. And we’ve talked about the lines of effort. There are multiple lines of effort against ISIL. The military line of effort obviously gets the most ink because it’s the most dramatic and we understand that. It also has the most tactical effect on these guys on the ground, and obviously, that pressure is going to stay in place. But we’re – we’re still working to help dry up their finances. We’ve got more than 30 countries in the coalition are taking administrative and legal action to get at the foreign fighter problem, including the United States. And of course, there’s a wide, constant diplomatic activity amongst the coalition and other members of the international community to try to get at the ideology of this group, this extreme ideology which continues to fester and they use to continue to recruit young men to the fight.

So it’s a wide-ranging, comprehensive strategy. And yes, everybody agrees that it’s the right strategy. And yes, everybody agrees that it’s working. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be times where there are setbacks, and it doesn’t mean, and frankly, we wouldn’t want for there not to be differing opinions as we move forward. And so I’m not going to speak to whether the Pentagon IG is looking at this or not. That’s not my place. I’d refer you to DOD on that.

But it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody, and in fact, it would be news if it didn’t, if people didn’t have different ideas moving forward and if there weren’t some analysis on the intelligence side, that spoke to real issues that needed to be addressed. I mean, that’s how it works in this country and at the interagency level, and that’s how you want it to work. Because if you don’t allow inside – the execution of a strategy for people to express an alternate view, even if you don’t agree with it, then you might be missing out on opportunities to get at a very determined enemy.

QUESTION: So would you take issue then with the notion that that reflects a distorted analysis then?

MR KIRBY: What reflects a distorted analysis?

QUESTION: That the – some of the comments that have been made by officials in DOD and here at State.

MR KIRBY: No, I absolutely would refute that. I mean, let’s talk about General Allen for a second – a retired four-star Marine combat leader in Iraq and Afghanistan; led our – the NATO mission in Afghanistan before his retirement. Absolutely the right leader to come in and pull together this coalition and get it to where it is today. I mean, that’s General Allen at work.

I’ve served for General Allen myself for a short period of time, and I can tell you, you won’t find a more pragmatic, realistic, clear-eyed leader than General John Allen. And so when he says something like he said out in Aspen, that ISIS is losing, he meant it and he believed it and he had the facts to back it up. It doesn’t mean, as I said, that there’s not going to be times when ISIL is going to achieve success.

But as I, and what you characterized as my positive assessment the other day, but as we talked about that, 30 percent fewer territory in populated areas of Iraq than they had a year ago; hundreds – hundreds – of vehicles and tactical pieces of equipment destroyed, gone. And it’s not like they’ve got a supply chain where it’s just – they can just easily regenerate that kind of combat power. We’ve hit their ability to sell oil on the black market, and we’ve certainly gotten at their training facilities in Syria. And obviously, in towns and villages – we can talk about Kobani, Baiji, Tal Abyad – I mean, we could go on and on about places where they’ve seized and then lost control of. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to keep trying to get at it, but their great strategic successes that some people have ballyhooed about haven’t been very long-lived.

I’m – in all of that, and I’ll say it again as I said the other day, nobody’s underestimating the scope of the challenge here. I think I’ve been very clear-eyed about this from this podium and from my previous podium. This is going to take several years. This is a determined enemy. They adapt, and we have to adapt with them. They continue to be able to recruit; we understand that. And they obviously are continuing – are continuing to be able to sustain some of their forces in the field. But they’re under a lot of pressure. They’re not 10 feet tall, and eventually they will lose. I don’t consider that an overly positive or rosy assessment, I consider that based on facts as we see them.

QUESTION: I have a separate ISIS question, but if you want to continue on this --

QUESTION: No, go ahead – on Syria.

QUESTION: Yes. So my colleague, Barbara Starr, has some reporting today about a drone strike – a U.S. drone strike – against the British-born ISIS recruiter Junaid Hussain. I won’t ask you to comment on that strike, because obviously that’s a better question for DOD.

MR KIRBY: You used my exact words. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But this is a British citizen that we’re talking about. The UK is a partner in this coalition. Was there any kind of previous communication with the UK before this strike was undertaken? And then could you just kind of talk more broadly about this individual’s value as a target, because obviously he’s been involved in some pretty high-profile, I guess, plots.

MR KIRBY: I think you can understand why I’m going to demur on this one. I don’t have anything to speak to with respect to these rumors and I would refer you to DOD for information about that. And as for the equities of our ally the United Kingdom, again, I’d point you to them to speak to this. I honestly just don’t have any information, and even if I did, this wouldn’t be the forum in which to discuss that.


QUESTION: Staying on Syria, but on the political front. There’s a great deal of political maneuvering or diplomatic maneuvering in Moscow, Russia, where three Arab leaders are meeting with President Putin. Apparently, Syria is on top of the agenda. They’re focused on the Geneva I communique and how to push it forward. Are you in consultations with the Russians and the Arab leaders – the Egyptian leader, the Jordanian monarch, and the Emirate leader?

MR KIRBY: Well, have we not – have we been in communication with them about the challenges in Syria? Yes.

QUESTION: I mean – yeah.

MR KIRBY: With respect to this particular meeting --

QUESTION: This visit.

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any specific communications that we’ve had with those leaders with respect to this meeting in Moscow. This was at the invitation of President Putin; they’re there, they’re speaking about this. Look, if out of these discussions can – comes good solutions that might help us get to a UN-led political process for a transition in Syria, then that’s all to the good. But let’s see where it goes.

QUESTION: The thinking is that if there is some sort of a political or diplomatic momentum, then the fight against ISIS would be consolidated and so on. Do you agree with that thinking?

MR KIRBY: I’ve not heard that particular line of thinking, and I think it would be premature to speculate about where this might go. Remember, there are two separate things here, Said. There’s – obviously, we want to work towards a political transition in Syria. The fight in Syria right now – the fight in Syria is against ISIL by the coalition, and those are two distinct, separate issues.


QUESTION: But it’s the same issue as Assad is fighting – I mean, and the Russians are talking to Assad about – you might’ve seen the reports coming out today that Russia has boosted its support for the Syrian --

MR KIRBY: We’ve long said we’ve got concerns about Russia’s support to Assad that continues to prop his regime up and allow him to continue to brutalize his own people, and we’ve long said that Assad’s a real part of the problem here. His brutality, his loss of legitimacy to govern has only allowed ISIL to fester inside the country.

What I’m talking about is that we are trying to move forward on a political transition in Syria. That’s why Secretary Kerry met with Foreign Minister Lavrov and Foreign Minister al-Jubeir in Doha a few weeks ago, and they continued to discuss this issue when Foreign Minister al-Jubeir was in Nantucket earlier this week. Obviously, this was high on the agenda for the two men to talk about. But what’s going on from the coalition perspective in Syria is about going after ISIL.

QUESTION: Well, what did you make of President Assad’s comments – overnight broadcast saying that he’s open to the idea of a coalition against ISIS? I mean, the discussion – you talk about a political discussion; it seems to be more one along the lines of a military coalition going forward with the Russians, and that the Russians aren’t talking here about Assad leaving.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll let the Russians characterize where they are on Assad. Our position hasn’t changed. He’s lost legitimacy to govern, and what needs to happen is a political process there for a new government in Syria that’s responsive to the Syrian people.

And Lesley, I want to also be very clear, and Secretary Kerry’s made this clear: What we’re – there is not going to be a military solution to the conflict in Syria, separate and distinct from the fight against ISIL. I’m talking about the future of Syria now and for the Syrian people. We’ve long said there’s not going to be a military solution to that, whether it’s U.S. or anybody else’s military, that this is – this has got to be done politically. That’s hard. Not that military solutions aren’t hard as well, but that’s going to take time and it’s going to take a lot of dialogue inside the international community, which is why Secretary Kerry hosted that trilateral meeting in Doha and wants to continue to see these discussions move forward.

QUESTION: So what is Michael Ratney going to be talking to in Moscow, Geneva, and Riyadh this weekend?

MR KIRBY: I had that here somewhere. He is going – you’re right – he’s going to Moscow, Geneva, and Riyadh. He’ll be --

QUESTION: I mean, if this not about --

MR KIRBY: He’ll be meeting with leaders there to talk about this exact idea, Secretary – he’s going to be representing Secretary Kerry to talk specifically about options that we, the international community, could make, certainly in this trilateral group of U.S., Russia, and Saudi Arabia, to try to come up with options for some sort of political process – a political process that we know is going to have to include opposition groups – and try to work through what that means and what that’s going to look like.

QUESTION: But John, it looks like – I mean, my – I’m trying to get my head around this. It looks like the discussion is a different one that the Russians are talking about. They’re talking about a military coalition, including Assad, against ISIS, that this is not – I mean, while at the same time, they’re going to also discuss that he leaves?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to speak for the Russians, but I’ll state it again as clearly as I can: There’s not going to be a military solution to this. That is the United States Government’s position, that is Secretary Kerry’s position, and it’s got to be done politically. And again, the Secretary wants to continue to explore options with the Russians and with Saudi Arabia on what those political options might look like.

And look, again, I can’t speak for what the Russians are saying on any given day, but – and we talk about Russia a lot, about the areas in which we disagree and the problems that we have. But this is one area where we think there could be room for cooperation with Russia on. And again, the Secretary wants to continue to explore that, and that’s why Mr. Ratney is heading over there. We’ll see where it goes. I mean, I think everybody recognizes this is going to be – it’s a long road.

QUESTION: Can you discuss the specific proposals that the U.S. is making on this?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think there are right now specific proposals. I think these talks are very nascent, they’re very much in the – at the beginning. I don’t think we’re at the point now where we’ve got a list of specific proposals. But that we are having this dialogue and discussion, especially with Russia, with whom we have many disagreements, I think that’s encouraging. We just need to see where it goes.

QUESTION: But John, do you accept what Putin said today? He called for an international coalition that includes the Assad regime to fight ISIL.

MR KIRBY: I’ve – we’ve made our position very clear.

QUESTION: So you’re --

MR KIRBY: I think my answer to Lesley sums up exactly where we are, which is that it hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: So you reject Assad’s regime?

MR KIRBY: We have long said that Assad has no future in Syria. He has lost legitimacy to govern, there’s not going to be a military solution to this; it has to be political.

QUESTION: And partner – and to fight ISIL? Do you accept Assad regime as a partner and to fight ISIL?

MR KIRBY: No, we don’t. We absolutely do not accept them as a partner in the fight against ISIL, and we have not, not since the beginning of this.


QUESTION: John, but you repeat it constantly that you want to maintain the Syrian state and its institution, including the army, conceivably. And so this army will have a role to play against ISIS or – and the likes in the future, couldn’t it?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know, Said. I mean, let’s not get the cart before the horse here.

QUESTION: But you – I understand, but --

MR KIRBY: We need a political transition, we need a government that’s responsive to the Syrian people before we start talking about what institutions will be in place going forward and who’s going to lead them.

QUESTION: But on principle, you don’t want to see happen to Syria, let’s say the dissolving of the army, such as what happened in Iraq, do you?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, again, I’m not going to get into speculation about what the institutional framework will look like here. We’re at the very beginning of trying to get, in an international community approach here, to a political transition, and we need to take this step by step.


QUESTION: U.S.-trained Syrian rebel group Division 30 released a statement yesterday and said that Assad regime’s air force attacked them in northeastern Aleppo. U.S. decided to protect these forces against the attacks, and do you have any reaction to this attack against this group?

MR KIRBY: I’ve not seen the report that you’re citing, and I don’t have any information on this alleged attack, so I’d be – it would be inappropriate for me to comment. I’d refer you to DOD for operational analysis in near-real time here.

What we have said is – and DOD has said – that as we get these Syrian fighters back into the fight after they’ve gone through the train, there’s an – we know there’s going to be an obligation to help protect and defend them. And how that’s done is up to DOD and the coalition to determine. I just don’t have anything more on this now.


QUESTION: But how long it will take these talks about Syria? I mean, who is hampering the convening of another Geneva or who’s – what’s the impediment? Who is blocking it?

MR KIRBY: Your question presupposes that there is an impediment or that there’s somebody slow-walking this. I think, as I said, these talks – at least the trilateral talks that Secretary Kerry has started – are just now starting. And we obviously want to see them as – we want to have the – the process that is supported is the UN process, in keeping with Geneva. I’m not aware that anybody is impairing it or slowing it. It’s a – this is a difficult situation and everybody understands that it’s going to take some time.

QUESTION: So how long do you think – how long it will take you?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Another years? I mean --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I mean, I couldn’t possibly predict that here today. What I could tell you is that the Secretary is very focused on this moving forward and wants to work very hard to get to some political options here, and we’re going to keep working at this.


QUESTION: Okay, I’ve got two questions, sir. One of them is related to – yesterday the State Department has – the U.S. has declared Haqqani as a global terrorist, and yesterday also the CENTCOM chief had a meeting with the Pakistani army chief in Islamabad. So I want to know one of the reason why the Haqqani has taken – it has taken so long to declare him a global terrorist, whereas we have been hearing about their activities since a long time that they are involved in terrorist activities.

And my second question is a little bit different but similar to that region, is that since the U.S. drawdown, the terrorist activities have increased in that region. And last 16 years, I have also been writing a lot about the drug trade in Afghanistan as the main support for these terrorist organizations. So why doesn’t the U.S. use the new techniques of spraying – spraying the poppy crop, putting the spray through the planes to destroy these crops or at least these terrorists don’t get this huge funding, no?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, on Haqqani, as far back as August of 2014, our Rewards for Justice Program announced a reward up to $5 million for information about Aziz Haqqani. Nobody has lost sight of this man’s terrorist activity, so I think it’s safe to say the United States Government has long been clear about our concerns about the Haqqani Network and about their activities in the region.

We also have been working closely with authorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan for many, many years about helping get at the terrorism threat that they both share – that we all share, particularly in that border region – and mindful as well that the Taliban profits from – continues to profit from the opium trade. And there are efforts inside – I know Afghanistan for sure – to try to get at stemming the flow of that financing. But I don’t have a prescription here for you on what the best way is forward with that right now. This is an issue – drying up this financial capability of theirs is something that we’re – that we remain focused on, and we’re going to keep talking to leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan about that.

QUESTION: But that is for sure, but – that drugs are basically the main finance of terrorists in that region, right? The U.S. – I mean, this is – I’m seeing in the U.S. Government like websites and stuff that the Taliban’s biggest earning is through drugs trade. So why can’t in all these years, I mean, since I’ve been reporting from that region, and all these years the opium trade has gone up since last 16 years and it has not gone down. That’s a very --

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t have a lot of data in front of me here about the opium trade. We’re all well aware that the Taliban has used it to finance itself. It’s also a source of stability and income for poor farmers who are basically forced in many times to grow it for the Taliban. So it’s not just as simple as an eradication program. You have to be able to work on supplementing it for something else, and we have worked with Afghan authorities for many years about trying to find other crops that farmers can grow to make a good living, and there’s been some success in that.

Is it total and complete? No, it’s not. We all recognize that. This is a tough problem to get at. But to simply work towards some eradication program to burn ‘em to the ground, while that may have an immediate effect it doesn’t necessarily do anything for long-term stability and security for Afghan farmers.

So if you’re looking for a prescription from me today, I can’t give it to you. But I can tell you that the United States has and will continue to remain focused on trying to work towards a more secure, more stable, more prosperous Afghanistan.


QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?


QUESTION: Yeah. So it’s getting to be kind of a weekly exercise in first the Administration comes out and promotes a letter by a certain number of former or current officials, and then the opponents of the Iran deal come out with a larger number. First it was the retired admirals and generals, three dozen or so supporting the deal. Now today there’s 195, almost 200 opposing the deal. The same thing happened with the rabbis. The Administration put out a thing from, I think, 120 rabbis and then the opponents of the deal had 300 rabbis sign.

So I mean, it’s gotten – I’m trying to – who – why is it that your lower – that the Administration’s lower numbers of these groups of people should be believed and the greater numbers in the opposing – in the letters opposing the deal shouldn’t be believed?

MR KIRBY: It’s not that – it’s not about the numbers, Matt. And whether --

QUESTION: It’s not?

MR KIRBY: And whether or not numbers of people in support are higher than numbers of analysts or critics in opposition. It’s not about the numbers. It is, however, about the facts and the merits of the deal. And so what I’d like to do is turn your question around a little bit and say it’s – what makes it – what makes the arguments for the deal more convincing than the arguments against the deal.

QUESTION: But you can do that and you’ve been doing it. I mean, everyone has been trying to do that on both sides --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- since the beginning.


QUESTION: But my point is that you have – why shouldn’t 195 retired admirals and generals be more persuasive than 36 or three dozen, the some-odd three dozen that you got? You’re a retired admiral. I presume you would have signed the pro letter given your current position. So why – but, so if that’s the case – maybe it’s not the case. Is it?

MR KIRBY: I’m very much in support of the deal. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. So if that – so why should – but why is it the letter that you would have signed, why should that have more weight than the letter than more than three times of your former colleagues has – have signed?

MR KIRBY: It’s not about the numbers of who supports it. And to pick a hundred of this type of person versus 50 of this person – it doesn’t – that’s not the relevant metric here. So let me just --

QUESTION: Well, then, but then --

MR KIRBY: Let me just --

QUESTION: If that isn’t then, why promote it? Why put it out? Why even put it out there in the first place? The Administration has been putting out these letters.

MR KIRBY: You said yourself the opponents of the deal have their supporters, and they’re putting them out there. Why wouldn’t we also point to those who are in favor of the deal and who they are and their expertise?

QUESTION: So the people that you got to sign your letter are more expert and are better qualified to comment on this than the much larger number that the opponents have gotten?

MR KIRBY: Let me put it --

QUESTION: It’s a serious question. I just --

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say it wasn’t a serious question. I just want to answer it. So there’s going to be – we know there’s going to be and there has been different voices here and different opinions. And Secretary Kerry’s not afraid of that. He has and has always maintained an attitude of openness to people who disagree with him on any matter, but certainly this one too. But he was in the room. He helped negotiate this. And he believes – and you’re going to hear from him soon – that the deal based on its merits – if you read it and you examine it factually, it is a good deal. It will get us an Iran that is not possessive of nuclear weapons capability and has commitments in perpetuity under the Additional Protocol so that we can ensure we know what Iran’s up to.

If you examine the deal on its merits, you – the Secretary believes you will see readily that it supports our national security interests and those of our allies and partners. It doesn’t mean that – and I’m not --

QUESTION: I get that, and I’ve heard and I understand the points that you’re trying to make. What I’m getting at is, though, that you’re right – Secretary Kerry was in the room. But the three dozen generals who – and retired admirals weren’t in the room, and why isn’t what they are saying in their letters a simple regurgitation of the talking points about the deal that the White House has said? And why isn’t the statement by 195 retired just not simply a regurgitation of the talking points of the opponents? And if that is all that they are, why bother to even have them? Why bother to put them out there?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I can’t speak for every single person that signed a letter on either side of it, but I think it would be doing all of them a disservice to say that they were simply regurgitating talking points. I think all of them in their own right are men and women of experience and leadership and prominence. Many of them served the country in uniform and out, and the Secretary respects that. He simply disagrees with the arguments of those who are opponents to the deal, and he has made his case for the deal very stridently and very publicly and he will continue to do so. It’s – but there’s no disrespect in pushing back and – about the opponents.

QUESTION: No – okay. So would your suggestion be that the general public in making up their mind, or members of Congress, who will actually have a vote on this, should pay no attention to letters on both – on either side?

MR KIRBY: No, no, and the Secretary’s never said that. He wants the American people to be able to make an informed, educated decision about their views on the deal --


MR KIRBY: -- as well as members of Congress, and he understands that in order to do that, they have to hear both sides. This is a democracy. That’s the way it works.

QUESTION: Okay. But that suggests, then, that you don’t think that these 195 retired admirals and generals who have come out opposed to it or saying that Congress should vote against it have made an informed and wise decision.

MR KIRBY: I believe that they are as convinced that they are right as the proponents of the deal are as convinced they are right. And it is the Secretary of State’s view that this deal is and should be supported --


MR KIRBY: -- that it is in the national security interest. And while he respects the opposing views of others and welcomes people to consult those views, he simply disagrees with them --


MR KIRBY: -- that they are not accurate.

QUESTION: Right. So the Administration’s position, then, is, in the long base – that this is not based on trust, but now you’re saying it’s, well, “Trust our judgment because it is better than these other people’s.”

MR KIRBY: Read the deal for yourself --

QUESTION: I have. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: -- and – well, that’s my message to all, not just to you. Read the deal for yourself.

QUESTION: And I don’t have a position on the deal.

MR KIRBY: We believe that the facts of the deal speak for itself.

QUESTION: I’m just trying – okay. And that people who are supporting it have come to a wiser and more reasoned decision than those who oppose it.

MR KIRBY: We welcome the support of those who support the deal.

QUESTION: All right.


QUESTION: Can I just follow up quickly on the Iran deal? Today there was an op-ed written by former envoy Dennis Ross and former General David Petraeus. Basically, they’re saying – they’re claiming to be undecided and they’re saying that if we – you were to give Israel these massive bunker buster bombs and so on, that it would help persuade those undecided to go ahead and support the deal. Do you have – have you seen the op-ed and do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Yes, I have seen it. I have read it. We welcome the confirmation by Mr. Ross and General Petraeus that the deal does leave us better off – they said so themselves – by ensuring that all the pathways to Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon have been – are blocked. And these are authors which we recognize, to Matt’s interrogation of me, that they are intimately familiar with the challenges posed by Iran’s behavior. And it’s good to see that they agree that if Congress blocks the deal, there’s not going to be an opportunity to negotiate a better one. But the answer is in – we believe the answer is in the deal being implemented because it does cut off all those pathways.

And there is one point to clarify in the op-ed. Iran’s nuclear program is not going to be treated just like the nuclear programs of countries like Japan and the Netherlands after 15 years. As we’ve said, and the Secretary’s made clear, there’s additional measures in this deal that last for 20, 25 years, as well as commitments such as the permanent conversion of the Arak reactor and shipping out all the spent fuel. Those last forever, not to mention the Additional Protocols, which I mentioned to Matt, in terms of inspection and monitoring, which Iran has signed up to.

The other thing is, look on page one of the deal. It’s like the second paragraph of the executive summary, where Iran commits itself to never pursuing nuclear weapons capability. It’s in the first page of the deal.


QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran?


QUESTION: Thank you. What’s your take, John, on the Iran foreign ministry, who urged the U.S. this morning in Tehran to release 19 Iranians --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’ve seen --

QUESTION: -- jailed in the U.S. for sanctions-related offenses?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen that report, Nicolas. I’m going to have to refer you to the Department of Justice for those kinds of matters.

QUESTION: And can you update us on the Americans jailed in Iran?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any specific update. I mean, if you’re asking about their condition, obviously, they’re still there, and we continue to call for their immediate release. They need to be reunited with their families. It’s long past time for all of them. And at every opportunity, when we get the opportunity, we raise their situations with Iranian authorities. But I don’t have a specific update for you. This is – the process – the processes under which they’re being held are not exactly transparent for us to exactly know.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:00 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 25, 2015

Tue, 08/25/2015 - 17:30

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 25, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:08 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. A couple things to start out with and then we’ll get at it.

First, I think you may have seen my statement about the sentencing of Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko. I just want to reiterate it here again. The United States strongly condemns the sentencing of these two in a Russian military court – 20 and 10 years, respectively – on groundless accusations – allegations, I apologize – of plotting terrorist attacks and other subversive activities in Russian-occupied Crimea.

This is a miscarriage of justice. Both Ukrainians were taken hostage on Ukrainian territory, transported to and imprisoned in Russia, and had Russian citizenship imposed on them against their wills. They’ve reported abuses by Russian authorities, who also restricted their access to lawyers, family, and others while in jail for more than a year. Mr. Sentsov and Mr. Kolchenko were targeted by authorities because of their opposition to Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea.

The United States stands by those who are persecuted for exercising their rights to speak freely and engage in peaceful protest. We again call upon the Russian Federation to implement the commitments it made in signing the Minsk agreements by immediately releasing Mr. Sentsov, Mr. Kolchenko, Nadia Savchenko, and all other remaining hostages.

On the Maldives, the United States is disturbed by the Government of Maldives’ recent late-night transfer of former President Nasheed back to prison. Former President Nasheed is serving a sentence imposed after a trial that was conducted in a manner contrary to Maldivian law and Maldives’ international obligations to provide the minimum fair trial guarantees and other protections under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

We renew our call on the Government of Maldives to release former President Nasheed, end politically motivated trials, and take steps to restore confidence in its commitment to democracy and the rule of law, including judicial independence, and to ensure fundamental rights are respected, including the freedom of speech, press, and peaceful assembly.

We also urge the government to ensure former President Nasheed’s safety and well-being in custody. We further urge the government to make progress on all political cases pending, including against former Defense Minister Nazim, whose appeal process has been delayed, and against Adhaalath Party Sheikh Imran, who has not been charged since his May arrest.

Finally, a travel note. Secretary Kerry will be traveling to Anchorage, Alaska on the 30th of August to host the conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience, which, if you run that out, spells GLACIER in the acronym. During GLACIER, Secretary Kerry will lead and participate in sessions focused on changes in the Arctic and the global implications of those changes, climate resilience and adaptation planning, and strengthening coordination on Arctic issues. Portions of the conference will be livestreamed on our website.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Do you think someone got a promotion or a raise for coming up with GLACIER? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I would certainly hope so.


MR KIRBY: That seems like it took some effort.

QUESTION: So there’s a division in the State Department that’s solely responsible for coming up with witty acronyms?

MR KIRBY: The – that’s the bureau of acronym development.

QUESTION: Yes? Acronym development? Okay.

MR KIRBY: Bureau of Acronym Development, which stands for BAD, so – (laughter). Not bad, huh? Just bringing that right off the top.

QUESTION: Wow, that was a pretty witty way to begin a Tuesday. I want to put in for being the assistant secretary of BAD. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Actually, Matt, when I took the job here, people already sort of described you that way. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Oh, did they? Touche.

Let’s start with Iran and the IAEA meeting and DG Amano’s comments today, and also the – well, maybe not his comments exactly, but the request. The IAEA is going to need more money --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- about $10 million a year, they say, to conduct – to do the stuff that’s going to be related to the Iran thing. My question is – I had read the U.S. representative’s comments to the meeting, and I understand that the Administration is ready to pony up its share of whatever of that it takes. My question is – do you know how much that is? Is it the standard UN assessment? And does Iran have to pay for any of this?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any specific funding contributions to speak to today in terms of amount, Matt. We’re still working our way through that. I do want to add that we have every intention to continue to contribute to the IAEA for this purpose of this – doing this very important work of the verification of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments. I won’t speak for Iran. I don’t know what, if any, commitments Iran has or will engender under this, but we’ve – as we noted in the statement, we’re committed to working with all the member states to ensure that the IAEA has the resources that it needs.

QUESTION: All right. Well, does that mean that should there be an Iranian inspection part element to this – in other words, should it be the case that under the IAEA rules or the IAEA arrangements with Iran, that Iranians – Iranian officials themselves are going to be doing some or part of any inspections of sites, whether it is military sites or declared nuclear sites, that the IAEA, and by consequence the United States as a – with what its contribution is, is going to be paying for these Iranian officials to conduct whatever work it is that they have to do? Or is that up to the Government of Iran to pay for?

MR KIRBY: Well, I honestly don’t have a specific answer for you in that regard. I mean, again, we’re going to contribute – continue to contribute to the IAEA and their funding needs specifically as it relates to this deal. And it’s not just us; we want other member states to do it as well. I’ll let Iran speak for itself in terms of what, if any, contributions it plans to make. But I don’t know that I would characterize the funding resources applied to IAEA and their need to do this work as sort of then paying for any efforts done by Iranian officials to meet compliance. I don’t --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, someone’s got to pay for it. They’re not going to work for free, whoever they are, whether they’re Iranians or they’re from Djibouti.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m assuming many of them are government – work for the Government of Iran. But --

QUESTION: Right. So do they – okay, so my question – and maybe this is a question better directed to the IAEA, but I’m not sure they’re going to answer it considering how un-forthcoming they’ve been about the details of the side – parallel – sorry, not side – parallel, confidential, not secret agreements. So I mean, I think that it is – it’s a relevant question to ask who actually is going to be paying for the inspections that get done.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m not saying it’s not a relevant --

QUESTION: And if you can refer me to someone else, that’s great.

MR KIRBY: I’m not saying it’s not a relevant question. I do think it’s better placed to the IAEA.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Can we go to (inaudible)? So John, did you say that there has been a request for some money?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think the IAEA said --

QUESTION: No. Has there been a request from the – by the Administration to Congress for funding?

MR KIRBY: No. Like I said, I don’t have anything to announce with respect to specifics on additional funding. It’s important to remember that we have been a contributor for resources for the IAEA as they have – as we have worked and they have worked to monitor the JPOA over the last couple of years, and we fully expect that that commitment will continue going forward under the JCPOA. I just don’t have a dollar figure to talk about today or any specific request that was made of Congress as of yet.

QUESTION: Isn’t it --

QUESTION: Well, do you know if that would be – would it come under the previous contributions, or would you be asking for additional money? Because it seems to me that if Congress doesn’t like the deal or a majority in Congress, maybe not a veto-proof majority but if a majority in Congress doesn’t like it, that they might be able to stop this – you from contributing your share.

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: And I’m not – so I’m just wondering if it could come out of the current U.S. contribution to the IAEA or not.

MR KIRBY: I think it’s going to depend on the need and what dollar figure we settle on in terms of our contribution as to whether or not it can come out of existing funds that have already been legislated or it will require a request for additional. And I just don’t think we’re there yet.

QUESTION: So isn’t it – I mean, it’s – is it not a concern if this – the IAEA runs out of money next month that it can actually do its job of monitoring --

MR KIRBY: Of course it’s a concern. That’s why we made the statement in Vienna today that we’re going to support and that we want other nations to contribute and to support as well. I mean, this is obviously critically important work, this verification regimen that the IAEA is responsible for under this deal, and we want to make sure that they have the resources they need to get it done. So yes, it’s obviously a concern.

QUESTION: So I assume that this is going to get fixed before the – they start running out of money?

MR KIRBY: Well, I just don’t have a timeline for you or any more details than that. But I mean, I think we made clear – although we may not have the detail for you today, we certainly have made clear, made publicly clear, that we’re going to continue to contribute and do our fair share.



QUESTION: -- on Korea situations, more detail about the – ask about the – in the agreement on South and North Korea yesterday, North Korea expressed the word “regret,” R-E-G-R-E-T, instead of they using – instead of apologize to South Korea.


QUESTION: What is difference between regret and apologize? Is there any diplomatic word for regrets is more --

MR KIRBY: You’re asking the wrong guy about diplomatic word meanings. I’m still learning all kinds of new language here at the State Department. (Laughter.) I think – and you can tell I’m not exactly succeeding.

QUESTION: Haven’t you seen the wheel, this regret/condemn --


QUESTION: Apology.

QUESTION: -- apology.

MR KIRBY: But I appreciate the reminder about the comments – or the word choices in my statements. The – look, I think what’s important to remember here, Janne, is that this was first and foremost an agreement between north and south, and that President Park found acceptable the expression made by the north. I don’t think it would be appropriate for me here at the U.S. State Department to weigh and to try to characterize the difference between the word “regret” and “apology.” The important thing is that they came to an agreement and that we now have an opportunity for the tensions to be decreased, and we’re starting to see that happening now. I think we still have a couple more days here to take a harder look at this, but that’s the most important thing – that dialogue brought about an agreement to decrease the tensions.

Now, obviously, as I said yesterday, actions speaker louder than words, so we have to kind of see how this plays out.

QUESTION: Because that North Korean delegation, Mr. Hwang Pyong So, who is military chief, he go back to North Korea, have his statement say, “We never have said any apology to South Korea; it’s a totally different say.” So how are we going to accept this agreement, and how United States have --

MR KIRBY: It matters most that north and south have accepted this agreement. This was a discussion between them, and they came to this conclusion, to this agreement. And now our expectation is that we want to see it implemented, and we want to see the tensions decrease. We weren’t in the room and weren’t a party to the discussions, and I think that’s wholly appropriate. And so I think it – your questions would be better placed to people that were in the room and not to the U.S. State Department. What – as I said, we’re – yesterday – we welcome this agreement, we want to see the tensions decrease. And as for what was agreed to on either side and how they feel about it or characterize it, that’s for the sides to speak to. Okay?

QUESTION: Quick follow-up?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Somebody had a follow-up on this? Yes.

QUESTION: So you had announced that Ambassador Robert King was going to Beijing. Was this prompted by the increased tensions between North Korea and South Korea?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, we announced that --

QUESTION: Ambassador Robert King, the – on human rights in North Korea, the special envoy.

MR KIRBY: No, I mean, I don’t – this was not tied to the tensions over the weekend.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have a --


QUESTION: Can we go to Maldives?

MR KIRBY: Did you have something else?

QUESTION: Do you have further details or a readout about his meetings in Beijing?

MR KIRBY: I do not, no.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

QUESTION: Can we go to Maldives?

MR KIRBY: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry. On the September 3rd event in Beijing, the Chinese Government announced that Ambassador Baucus would be attending. Can you confirm this?

MR KIRBY: Yes, I can confirm that our ambassador, the President’s representative to China, will be representing the United States at the event.

QUESTION: And was there any reason that the representative was from the ambassadorial level rather than from a higher --

MR KIRBY: He’s the President’s representative to China and he is the President’s choice to represent the United States at this event, and the ambassador’s looking forward to attending.


QUESTION: Your statement on Maldives seems pretty strong. Are you planning to take any action against Maldives, like cutting off aids or holding aids?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional decisions to speak to today. I think we made our point very clear here today in our statement, and now we’ll be looking to see what the government there does.

QUESTION: And this has been conveyed to the Government of Maldives too, right?


QUESTION: Not publicly?

MR KIRBY: Well, we don’t talk about the details of diplomatic conversations, but I think you can assume that since I felt comfortable enough bringing it up here at the podium that the message has been conveyed in other vehicles as well.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Biswal is traveling to Sri Lanka right now. Does she has any plans to travel to Maldives?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional travel plans for her to speak to or to announce.




QUESTION: Can we move to Turkey? To Turkey, yeah?

MR KIRBY: Is that okay?

QUESTION: That’s fine. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Is that where you were going to go anyway?

QUESTION: I was going there anyway.

MR KIRBY: Why am I not shocked? (Laughter.) All right, let’s talk about Turkey.

QUESTION: It seems like the Pentagon today confirmed that the talks between the Turkey and U.S. have concluded, and technical talks to integrate Turkey into the coalition. First, would you be able to confirm it? And second, or you can comment on that – what kind of a timetable should be expecting the Turkish fighter jets start striking in – against ISIL?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think the Pentagon confirmed it, and that’s – I don’t think you need any more definitive confirmation than from DOD about this. And as for a timeline, I would – first of all, I’d point you to DOD for details about what is clearly an operational matter in terms of getting Turkish aircraft into the air tasking order. So I don’t have anything on timing to give you today and that’s really a DOD matter.

QUESTION: Can we also say that with this conclusion there will be also some kind of a anti-ISIL territory you’ll be start – you’ll be starting with Turks to create this territory that we have been talking about?

MR KIRBY: You’re asking if there’s a quid pro quo here for getting them into the ATO for establishment of a zone, right?


MR KIRBY: I mean, that’s kind of where you’re – so I’ll say it again because we’ve talked about this many times. I mean, there’s – we’re not talking about preparations or plans for a zone of any kind. What we said is where ISIL goes, the coalition’s going to go. And right now, they tend to be up in that stretch along the northern border of Syria, southern border of Turkey, roughly west of the Euphrates. That’s where they’re operating – one of the places they’re operating – and we’re going to continue to focus on them where they are, but no different than before. I mean, there’s no plans right now in the books for a buffer zone of sorts or a no-fly zone of sorts.

This – the moving Turkish aircraft into the ATO is a normal progression of their assistance and cooperation with the coalition against ISIL, and we welcome – we will welcome them in the skies. And I know I can speak for the entire government when I say we look forward to having them flying those kinds of missions for the coalition.

QUESTION: Do you feel better about types of local forces to secure that zone by the border now comparing to few weeks ago now?

MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I quite understand the question. I mean, there are counter-ISIL fighters on the ground in Syria. Not all of them are Kurdish. And we’re going to continue to look for ways to support them as best we can as they go after ISIL. And that’s the goal here not to forget. It’s to go after ISIL, to degrade and defeat them. I mean, if you’re asking for an assessment of the quality of the fighters, I would point you to DOD. I really want to stay away from getting into operational assessments.

QUESTION: And speaking of local forces, there are reports just yesterday came out that some of the U.S.-trained forces – New Syrian Forces actually tipped off by Turkey to al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusrah inside Syria. Would you – what’s your comment or reaction to that story?

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen no indication that that’s true.

QUESTION: Okay. The accusations are pretty heavy and serious. So one of the accusation is that Turkey is not satisfied with this program – the current train and equip program – and Turkey wants something bigger.

MR KIRBY: Well, once again it strikes me how many different times we’re going to try to find fault with Turkey’s contributions to the coalition. I’m not going to riff the way I did yesterday, but I stand by everything I said yesterday. We see no indication that these allegations are true, and so I’m not going to entertain hypotheticals about whether they are or they are not. Turkey is an ally and a partner in this fight, and now – today here we’re talking about getting them into the ATO, getting them into the air, flying missions against counter-ISIL, and yet we still are having a debate about the degree to which they’re serious here. So I think we all need to focus on the real fight, the real struggle, and that’s against ISIL. And that’s what we’re focused on here at the State Department.

QUESTION: John, I want to ask about the diplomatic side. I mean, as you know and you read, the – on the internal political issues going on. And I’m not asking you to comment on those, but that uncertainty and given the election coming up, is there not some kind of concern that this could disrupt in any way or force a blowback during the election of this fight that’s going on against ISIS? I mean, is it not their concern that politics can interfere in the end, specifically given the vote?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t think it would be helpful for me to speculate about where it’s going to go and what impact it may or may not have in the future, except to say that we’re going to continue to work closely with whatever government the Turkish people select. And we have worked constructively with the Turkish interim government on a number of issues, counter-ISIL coalition efforts – obviously we’ve been talking a lot about that – since those June elections. And we look forward to continued cooperation with the new government.

I think it’s safe to say that, particularly when it comes to ISIL and the threats there in the region, that we both share a common sense of purpose here and a concern over the priority about going after ISIL. So, again, I don’t want to speculate on what the future may hold the – politically, we’re going to look for ways to continue to cooperate with the Turkish Government.

QUESTION: But for now, it hasn’t impeded any of those operation – joint operations? The one they announced today, the technical details – they haven’t actually announced when Turkey will --

MR KIRBY: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- will start.

MR KIRBY: They haven’t.

QUESTION: Is that – made me wonder whether politics has a – could play an issue.

MR KIRBY: Well, I would point you to DOD for how specifically Turkey’s going to be – these technical details are going to be hashed out. That’s really a military thing to do. I have certainly seen nothing that would indicate that politics – internal politics in Turkey with respect to the interim government – are playing a role here.

And I think it’s important to also remind, Lesley, that we are the ones who asked Turkey to hold off and not fly as part of the ATO for a little while. We’re the ones. And that was an – that was to help us better come to agreement about how best to fit them in. Every country brings to a fight different capabilities, different skill sets, and so this was a decision we made to ask them to hold off. So, I mean, that had absolutely nothing to do with politics. It had everything to do with military efficiency.

QUESTION: So when they actually – when they start being part of this, that’s up to DOD? This is not a – State’s not involved in --

MR KIRBY: That’s correct. That’s correct. That’s a military decision.

QUESTION: I haven’t gotten into this because I don’t really – you’re saying that since the beginning of the airstrikes, the Turks have been asked not to fly?

MR KIRBY: No, no, no, Matt. No. This was after the agreement to – for them to allow us to use airbases.

QUESTION: Just use the airbases.

MR KIRBY: Part of that discussion was a discussion of when and how to get Turkish aircraft involved in coalition missions. And at the time of the agreement to use the bases, we said hey, just hold off --

QUESTION: Which was just several months ago.


QUESTION: Less than a – two months ago?

MR KIRBY: It was about a month or so ago.

QUESTION: Yeah. All right.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yeah. But that wasn’t a longstanding thing.


QUESTION: General related question on Australia’s involvement in the coalition campaign. The Administration’s requested Australia’s involvement in the Syrian airspace. Are you able to shed any light on what the nature of that request is, and also whether it was prompted by a request from the Australian Government?

MR KIRBY: No, actually I wouldn’t. I mean, that’s – those are diplomatic conversations that we have with countries in the coalition, and I wouldn’t get into characterizing the details of them. As I’ve – we’ve often said, two things: It’s a coalition of the willing, and each country has to be able to contribute what they’re willing and the people that live in that country are willing to support. We want to respect; those are sovereign decisions.

And number two, Australia is already a member of this coalition. We’re very grateful for the contributions they’ve already contributed. They’re a good friend and partner in so many different ways. So we look forward to continued cooperation with Australia, but I wouldn’t get into the specifics of the conversations between us and them.


QUESTION: John, can you – also, sorry, can you confirm that the special envoy to Syria is going to Moscow?

MR KIRBY: No, I can’t. Let me take that question.

QUESTION: Just a clarification on the joint flights. Is it understood that the Turkish-U.S. joint flights will be mostly over this area that you don’t call a safe zone? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I’ll let DOD speak for the details of mission planning. Again, they’re – we expect Turkish aircraft to be flying soon. I couldn’t tell you when that’s going to be, and I certainly would be in no position to talk about where or what kinds of missions. That’s really for the coalition to speak to.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: On U.S.-China. How will the recent market turmoil from yesterday affect next month’s meeting between President Obama and his Chinese counterpart?

MR KIRBY: I’d – really would refer you to the White House for discussions about President Xi’s visit. That’s for them to speak to, and we – all I can tell you just from Secretary Kerry’s perspective, he’s very excited about this visit. He spoke about it when we went to Kuala Lumpur; meeting with his counterpart, he – we – they – we spoke about this visit a lot. Very much looking forward to it, and I think everybody is – shares the same, again, sense of purpose about making sure it’s a successful visit.

QUESTION: But you have a thousand-point drop in the market. So does it because a business-as-usual meeting or does it elevate it to a higher status?

MR KIRBY: I’m just not going to speculate about what’s going to be discussed during the President’s visit. We’re all looking forward to that. As for the market, I would refer you to the Treasury Department. Secretary Lew is monitoring this, and that’s really a more appropriate place for a question like that.

QUESTION: I have another topic.

QUESTION: Really? They’re not looking at your 401K? No?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) Mrs. Kirby is. I don’t even know how to get to it.

QUESTION: Second topic.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The State IG’s report on Ambassador Kennedy and her staff’s email traffic, and some of private accounts being used for business.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. So let me get to this. So what you saw was the Office of the Inspector General released their report of an inspection of the diplomatic work being conducted by our mission in Japan. And as the report reflects, that mission has significantly advanced U.S. interests in Japan and enhanced our wide-ranging collaboration with the Japanese Government, under the leadership of Ambassador Kennedy and her team.

And our partnership with Japan has never been stronger, which we believe – Secretary Kerry believes is testimony to the mission’s success, and again to Ambassador Kennedy’s leadership. Now, this is a result of a routine inspection which the inspector general conducts on embassies all around the world, and the goal is to do this every five years working closely with embassy personnel to identify areas for improvement. We consider these inspections to be really good, valuable management tools to help us get better at what we do. So we appreciate the hard work that the IG goes into these reports; we appreciate the feedback, the very honest, candid, forthright look at how our embassies are performing. And again, I think if you read the entire report, you’ll see that the mission in Japan is working very hard, very ably to advance our interests there in Japan.

Now, you asked about the emails. I know, I was going to get to it, but I wanted to make sure that it was clear what this was and where it was coming from. We did note comments by the IG related to the use of commercial email by some personnel at the embassy there – at the mission in Japan. And in accordance with department policy, the mission requires the use of official email accounts to conduct official business whenever possible. So – and no different to what we said before, the use of private email is allowed for some government purposes as long as certain rules are followed. The mission –again, this I think is clear in the report – periodically reminds employees of the importance of following these rules. And they include ensuring that certain types of protected information are not transmitted in non-official channels and that records sent or received on private email accounts are preserved as required.

QUESTION: But I believe some sensitive information – not classified, sensitive information – was part of that email traffic.

MR KIRBY: I think the inspection report annotated that that was a potential issue, and I think I would also add that the mission in Japan is implementing all the recommendations, including the recommendations with respect to email traffic, as we speak. I mean, they’re – they’ve taken the inspection report very seriously, as we would expect them to, and they’re implementing all those recommendations.

QUESTION: Can I – you said that the use of private email is allowed for some government purposes as long as certain rules are followed.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: What are those some government purposes that this is allowed for?

MR KIRBY: The rules are – and I can get you the whole list. I didn’t bring them up here. But it’s if you can make sure that the traffic is being preserved and recorded inside the government system as soon as practical, if not copying your government account on it when you send it; if you can’t do that for some reason – the system’s down or whatever – that you make sure you preserve it and then get it saved inside the government system.

It is not prohibited to use private email. It is discouraged, obviously, and we recognize there are instances when there may be no other choice, as long as the records are being preserved and recorded.

QUESTION: Okay. That explains what the rule is, but it doesn’t say it’s allowed – it doesn’t explain what the “some government purposes” are. Is it any government purpose as long as it doesn’t --

MR KIRBY: No. No, I wouldn’t say that. I mean, obviously, you need to be mindful when you’re on a private email account of the sensitivity of information that may or may not be transmitted.

QUESTION: So just a couple more things that’ll be quick. Is there any indication that Ambassador Kennedy violated the rules for using a private email account?

MR KIRBY: No, no.

QUESTION: There’s --

MR KIRBY: She uses an official email address for official business.

QUESTION: All right. So there’s no indication – does that mean that there is no indication you’re aware of from what the IG found that there was anything other – any classified information that was transmitted?

MR KIRBY: No, none at all.

QUESTION: And it’s your understanding, then, that even – that even before the OIG went in and made its recommendations or one recommendation about this, that they were proper – these emails that the ambassador and her staff were sending on their private accounts were being archived?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have that level of specificity, Matt, but what I can tell you is that they are implementing all the recommendations that the IG found, to include to make sure that they are completely in compliance with that policy. I have no indications that uniformly they were not before the IG.

QUESTION: Okay. But you said that there was no indication that they were – that they had broken any of the rules, so that would suggest that they were being properly archived. But now I think what you’re saying is you’re not sure --

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for every --

QUESTION: -- that they – if were or if that’s happening now.

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for every email that was sent or received before the IG got there. What I can tell you is that the ambassador did not violate department policy in the use of her email, but as the report noted, that there were other members of the staff who used private email. So I don’t want to speak for everybody, but I can tell you that the ambassador did not violate department policy.

QUESTION: And then the last thing I have – this is not a question of her operating some kind of a private server with its – this is – is that correct, or is it?

MR KIRBY: No. It is correct that it’s not

QUESTION: So this is, in other words, using a commercial – a Gmail account --

MR KIRBY: A commercial email account.

QUESTION: -- a Yahoo account.

MR KIRBY: Something akin to that. I don’t know exactly what she used, but it was not a private server.

QUESTION: Do you know the reason why she used a private server? Was there --

MR KIRBY: She didn’t use a private server.

QUESTION: It wasn’t a private --

QUESTION: I mean – sorry.

MR KIRBY: She didn’t use a private server. I can only tell you what the IG found was that there were some members of the staff who used a private email account for some purposes. And again, I think it’s important to remind everybody that it’s not prohibited to do that as long as the records are being preserved and recorded. And as I answered to Matt, we’ve seen no indication that Ambassador Kennedy violated any department policy with respect to her email practices. And she does use, has used, continues to use, a government email account for her official business.


QUESTION: Apart from the preservation issue, though, the OIG report also talks about potential security risks, including data loss, hacking, phishing, things of that nature. Is the State Department confident that the employees who used personal email accounts for business mitigated those risks appropriately?

MR KIRBY: What we – what we’re confident is that they’re taking the findings of the IG seriously and implementing all their recommendations. I think it’s – we’re also comfortable in the fact that we have here at Main State worked hard to make sure that everybody that works in the State Department here or around the world understands the risks inherent in using email accounts that are outside the system. I think we’re all cognizant of that.

There are times when you have to rely on a private email account because maybe the system’s down, but I think what we ask and what we expect is that everybody will understand the risks inherent in that. And that’s why we don’t want them to rely solely on a private email account to conduct business. It really should only be used very, very sparingly and as carefully as possible, and then, again, make arrangements to have all that stuff preserved and saved and recorded.

QUESTION: Do you know – I’ve got two very brief ones more on this. One, the recommendation that this was under, Recommendation 46, is for some reason redacted. Can you explain why the recommendation for the embassy to fix what seemed – would seem to be a relatively easy thing to fix – one, don’t use a private email account for official business; and two, if you do it, make sure it’s – you’re doing it – you’re using it not for classified information and you’re storing it properly. Why would that be redacted?

MR KIRBY: I’d point you to the IG. I mean, this is their inspection report which they made public. And they are, as you know, an independent --

QUESTION: They didn’t make the recommendation public. And it would seem to me the recommendation would be fairly obvious. I realize this is not your report; it’s the IG’s, so I’ll ask them as well.

MR KIRBY: Yes. At --

QUESTION: But it just strikes me as a bit odd that a recommendation to fix something which seems to be pretty obvious would be redacted.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’d point you to the IG to speak to that.

QUESTION: All right. And then the last thing is: Are you aware – has the IG been asked by the Secretary as part of its overall – his request for the overall review, have they been asked to look at this at each embassy when they do these kinds of inspections? Is this something that’s going to be coming up in – as we see these IG reports released for embassies in Brunei or Brasilia or wherever --

MR KIRBY: Well, this is part --

QUESTION: -- that there is going to be a section about – not necessarily that something has – is wrong, but that there’s going to be a section that they’re going to look at the use or potential use of commercial email for official business?

MR KIRBY: I’m aware of no specific tasking to the IG with respect to that. I would point you to the IG to speak to the tasking they’ve been given by the Secretary and how they’re going to execute it. But I’m not aware of any specific tasking by the Secretary to do an embassy-by-embassy look on this particular issue.

Again, so two things. One, the Secretary did ask the IG to go take a look at our communication practices here to determine what, if anything, we can do broadly better. And they’re still doing that work. And then again, I think it’s important to remind that Main State here has put out policies with respect to the use of private email, and our expectation is that everybody wherever they are – here in Washington, D.C. or around the world – have digested that memo and that policy and will execute it.

QUESTION: Related – it’s not Embassy Japan but it’s on Secretary Clinton’s email. There was a report this morning or maybe yesterday – I believe it was similar to a report that came out while I was away – saying that the – some of the emails that Secretary Clinton had received or sent contained information that was – was actually classified when – at the time that it was sent or received. Have you addressed this?

MR KIRBY: I have addressed this, but I’m happy to do it again.

QUESTION: Well, no, no, don’t worry. If it’s more – if it has been addressed, then that’s fine.


QUESTION: But if it hasn’t --

MR KIRBY: It has been.

QUESTION: It has been. All right. I will go look --

MR KIRBY: I can show you the transcript from last week.

QUESTION: -- and I will see if it addresses my question.

MR KIRBY: Okay, fair enough.

QUESTION: And if it doesn’t, I’ll ask tomorrow.

MR KIRBY: I have no doubt that you will, Matt.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on the email stuff --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- with Ambassador Kennedy? I just want to make sure I understood something that you said. In response to Matt’s questions, you said that the policy is that it is acceptable to use private email if you archive by forwarding or cc’ing your official email address so that it is captured in the system, in the archives, correct?

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And you also said that you have no indications that the ambassador – I’m not talking about the entire group that’s mentioned in the IG report, but that the ambassador had violated any State Department policies.

MR KIRBY: That’s right.

QUESTION: And I just want to make sure that the syllogism is correct that the ambassador archived all of her emails either when she – that dealt with official business either when she sent them or subsequently.

MR KIRBY: I think I’d leave it the way I did, Arshad. I mean, there’s absolutely no indications that she violated department policy. Department policy says only use it infrequently. She did use it infrequently, she does have an official email address that she does use for business, and the department policy says that those things need to be archived. There’s no indication that she violated any of those department policies.

QUESTION: So far as you know, she archived all that stuff?

MR KIRBY: Again, she’s – there’s been – there’s no indication that she violated department policy in this regard.

Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout on the Secretary’s meeting with the Saudi foreign minister?

MR KIRBY: He did meet with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir yesterday in Nantucket. It was a brief meeting, a couple of hours, I think. And as they always do, they talked about a range of issues of regional concern, talked about Syria, talked about Iran, of course, and talked about other security issues in the region. So yes, they did meet.

QUESTION: Did they talk about the king’s upcoming visit?

MR KIRBY: All I’ve – the readout that I received was that they talked about regional security issues, and I’ve gone in about as much detail as I can on that.

QUESTION: Was there a reason that this meeting was not announced?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: Or was it and I just missed it?

MR KIRBY: No. No, you didn’t --

QUESTION: In fact, I must congratulate Samir. This – his question was the first time I’ve heard about it. I think that if the Secretary of State is on vacation, wherever he – we should know if he’s going to have an official meeting, particularly if you’re willing to read it out after the fact. It wasn’t a secret, but I don’t think we knew about it.

MR KIRBY: No, I wouldn’t. He --

QUESTION: Maybe I’m out of the loop on this one.

MR KIRBY: He meets frequently with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir. There was no concerted effort to conceal it or to not speak to it. Discussions that he has with certain foreign ministers happen on a high-frequency level. This is one of those. Minister – Foreign Minister al-Jubeir is one of those counterparts with whom he has many conversations. And so I don’t think there was a concerted effort to conceal. I think it was just the judgment that this was not atypical, not out of the realm of the kinds of dialogue that he has with his counterpart in Saudi Arabia.


QUESTION: Yes. I’m not sure of this report, but I read a report that United States handed over the Palestinian Authority a paper about a two-state solution or something like that.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: What do you think then about the resignation of Abbas from the PLO Executive Committee?

MR KIRBY: We understand that several members of the PLO Executive Committee, including President Abbas, offered their resignations, which, as you know, triggered a meeting of the Palestinian National Council to choose a new executive committee, and I would refer you to the PLO for any further information on this. President Abbas has not stepped down as either the PA president or the head of Fatah, and I’m not going to speculate about Palestinian politics here from the podium.

QUESTION: But they expressed, like, frustration from the Israeli intention of, like, having continued the negotiation or, like, continue on the path of, like, two-state solution. They expressed doubts about that.

MR KIRBY: Well, I think I would let them speak to their reasons here.

QUESTION: But you haven’t talked about – to them about any of those issues?

MR KIRBY: We talk to counterparts all the time about lots of issues. Obviously, we’re still very concerned about where this is going. But again, I wouldn’t outline those here from the podium, and I certainly wouldn’t speak for Palestinian leaders about the reasons they took these actions. It’s for them to speak to.

QUESTION: And there is no paper that you – that the Administration submitted to the Palestinians?

MR KIRBY: I have nothing for you on that.

QUESTION: Okay, no.

QUESTION: Is it – correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe it is the Administration’s view that it is the head of the PLO that is the negotiating partner in peace talks with the Israelis, not the president or prime minister of the PA, correct?

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on that, so why don’t you let me go back and look in terms of what the policy is.

QUESTION: But I think --

MR KIRBY: But again, he’s still – he’s still the president.

QUESTION: Right, yeah. No, my next question was going to be, if I’m right about that and my memory might be wrong, but whether his resignation from the executive committee would therefore – and I realize there aren’t any, to my knowledge, active peace discussions going on, but whether that would make it harder for you to conduct peace talks if you don’t have sort of a duly authorized Palestinian representative to carry them out as head of the PLO.

MR KIRBY: Well, we still consider him, obviously, an important and valued partner here in this. And again, I’m not going to speculate about Palestinian politics and what that might mean in terms of moving forward towards to trying to come up with – looking for actions and policies and a genuine commitment for a two-state solution. I just wouldn’t speculate.

QUESTION: Can you take that question, though? Because if the head of the PLO is the official person who does the --

MR KIRBY: I will take Arshad’s question about whether that position is considered the lead negotiator. I truly don’t know that fact, and I will take that question.

QUESTION: Can you – did you – were you able to get any kind of a response to my question yesterday about the judge’s order and the lawsuit and the 10 million, which directly affects the finances of the PLO and the PA?

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: And apparently, according to the government, the Administration, it affects U.S. national security interests. I’m going to take this as a no, yeah?

MR KIRBY: No, no.

QUESTION: Oh, really? Oh, my gosh.

MR KIRBY: I got it here somewhere.

QUESTION: I’m going to be surprised for the first time.

MR KIRBY: I thought I had it here somewhere. I can’t believe I can’t find it.

Matt, let me get back to you.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm, sure.

MR KIRBY: I have it.

QUESTION: You had 18 pages on the Maldives and you can’t find it. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Let’s take the next question.

QUESTION: It’s all right.

MR KIRBY: I’ll get them. Dang it, I know it’s in here somewhere.

Go ahead. Who’s next? Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we go back for a minute to Ukraine and Russia?


QUESTION: You had pretty strong diplomatic language against the justice in Russia today for the Ukrainian filmmaker. It comes one week after a pretty strong statement also for this Estonian agent. Do you think that – I mean, is the U.S. prepared to follow these words by action and taking further diplomatic actions against Russia? And do you see – don’t you see any impact on the conversation you have between Washington and Moscow on important topics, matters like Syria and Iran?

MR KIRBY: Do we --

QUESTION: Don’t you see any impact --

MR KIRBY: About our strong statements here?


MR KIRBY: I mean, we make – we state these positions, we are clear about them because they need to be stated clearly, and because our commitment to fair and equitable judicial processes, to human rights, to democracy, to the rule of law is universal. And we’re not afraid to say, to object, or to condemn or to express our deep concern about these kinds of issues when they need to be expressed, regardless of what else may be going on in a bilateral relationship.

Will the statement today affect how Russia behaves or acts or responds? I don't know. That wasn’t part of the calculus. It needed to be said because of the way these two gentlemen and others are being treated inside and by the Russian Federation, and we’ll continue to speak out when it needs to.

There are many things that we don’t agree with Russia on. Obviously, this is one of them. There are others too. There are other areas where we can and we have and we will continue to find opportunities to cooperate, such as on the Iran deal, and we hope on Syria moving forward. That is why Secretary Kerry has had so many discussions lately with Foreign Minister Lavrov about trying to find a way forward to reach a political transition.

So do we – so the short answer to your question is no, we’re not worried necessarily by making these strong statements that they’re going to have some sort of adverse affect. They need to be said on the face of them, and we’re going to continue to do that.

I found an answer. I finally found it.

QUESTION: What, on the lawsuit?

MR KIRBY: I found a response to the issue.

QUESTION: Ah, okay. (Laughter.) There’s a big difference between a response and an answer.

QUESTION: Very big.

QUESTION: It’s kind of like “regret” and “apology.” We’re going to find out the difference right now. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Address and resolve.

MR KIRBY: I just didn’t have it tabbed right. So look, I’m not going to make any comment on the decision itself. The judge has made his ruling. But this is a judgment of the court’s – of the court, and of course, we’re going to respect it. We offered our views, including our interest both in supporting the rights of victims of terrorism to vindicate their interests in a federal court, and to receive just compensation for their injuries and avoiding the harms that could arise if the Palestinian Authority’s ability to operate as a governmental authority is severely compromised.

So I do not know, we don’t know how these views factored into the court’s decision, but we had an opportunity to express our views and we did that.

QUESTION: But my question is more – and I appreciate you going to bat for us and getting that answer. I know it was difficult. But the question is --

QUESTION: That response, shall we say.

QUESTION: Right, the response. The question, though, or the main part of my question from yesterday is that – do you think that your views and your statement of interest in this case was taken into account by the judge? In other words, does the figure of 10 million plus a million a month during the appeal process --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- is that – do you think that that is okay, and do you think that that decision reflects your interests, your stated interests in the case?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, we don’t know what factors the court used in making their decision. So I wouldn’t want to characterize why they came down where they came down. We --

QUESTION: I’m not asking you for – to say that the judge listened to us and agreed with us. I’m not asking for causality. I’m just wondering, you – the department – the deputy secretary, I think, signed the statement of interest --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- to the court, and I just want to know if you believe that the court’s decision is in keeping with what – whether or not that was the reason for the judge’s decision or not, but if you believe that it is in keeping that the judge took into account the U.S. Government’s interest on this case.

MR KIRBY: I’m just not at liberty to comment specifically. We’re going to respect the court’s decision.

QUESTION: Can I – I’ve got one more, just back on the emails for – the Embassy Tokyo emails. And I’m going to just read one – two sentences here, but it’ll be very brief. “The OIG identified instances where emails labeled sensitive but unclassified were sent from or received by personal email accounts.” That’s sentence number one. And then it says – skipping down a bit, “Employees are also expected to use approved, secure methods to transmit sensitive but unclassified information when available and practical.” I just want to make sure that it is the case that it is in some circumstances okay, even though not encouraged, to send or receive sensitive but unclassified information on a commercial email account.

MR KIRBY: It is clearly not okay to send classified emails, and I know that’s not what you’re asking. It is highly, highly discouraged to send information that you think is sensitive but unclassified --

QUESTION: Or marked sensitive but --

MR KIRBY: Or marked such.

QUESTION: But it is not against the rules per se? You can do it if you have a good reason for it. Is that the question – I mean, is that the --

MR KIRBY: You can do it if there’s no other viable means of communicating information and, as I said, you take the proper steps to make sure that it’s recorded --

QUESTION: And then getting back --

MR KIRBY: -- and gets into the – back into the government system. Again, we – let’s not lose the main focus here is we want people to use their government system account for official business.

QUESTION: I understand that, but then I want to get back to – so given that answer and given what – the answer you gave to Arshad and me before, your understanding is that Ambassador Kennedy did not – did – sent sensitive but unclassified information, but it was – or received it, but it was in accordance with the accepted – with the rules. Is that – that’s correct?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have – I’d point you to the IG, and I haven’t – I don’t – I can’t speak to every email that may have – may or may not have been sent on a personal email account. But as I said, there’s absolutely no indication that she violated department policy.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: And when did it become the policy of the department to, as you said, highly, highly, highly discourage the transmission of --

MR KIRBY: I think I just used two highlys, but --

QUESTION: Did you? I’m so sorry. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Yeah. No, that’s all right.

QUESTION: I withdraw one highly.

MR KIRBY: I think it was in the – this new policy about having the emails documented and preserved for record purposes is a relatively new one. I think it’s a couple of years old, Arshad. I can actually pull the policy statement for you so you can see it. It’s certainly not something we’re bashful about sharing, I just don’t have the exact date.

QUESTION: Okay. I’d like to see it, because --

MR KIRBY: But it’s relatively recent.

QUESTION: Okay. Because I thought that there was a policy statement about this I think in October of 2014, but I’m trying to figure out if in fact it went further back than that.

MR KIRBY: That may be it. I’ll have to pull it and find it for you. I just don’t have it in front of me.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: I meant to bring it up with me, actually, and I didn’t do it, so – yeah, go ahead, Nicolas.

QUESTION: Very quick one on Thailand. I know that I asked you before. This is not an obsession, but – (laughter) – do you have any clue --

MR KIRBY: The bombing?

QUESTION: -- about who is in behind the attack 10 days ago? Because the Thais – your military allies – seem to be completely in the dark.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update for you. And as we said last week, this is really an area – an incident that’s being investigated by Thai authorities, and I’d point you to them. But I have seen nothing that would indicate that we have additional information that investigators don’t have.

QUESTION: They didn’t request any U.S. assistance in terms of law enforcement?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any request by the Thai Government for assistance in this investigation, but the offer still stands. We’re willing to help in any way we can.

Yeah, back here.

QUESTION: Back to China. About China’s war anniversary ceremonies --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: China’s war anniversary ceremony, upcoming, will it be held next month? And as you said about Ambassador Baucus will attend to this ceremony --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: I want to confirm about he also will join to the military parade, or he will skip the military parade?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have specific details about what events in conjunction with this anniversary that the ambassador will go to. I’d point you – I’d ask you to talk to the embassy there in Beijing. They may have a much better sense of what events he’s going to participate in.

Okay, I got time for just one more. Yeah, back here.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


MR KIRBY: Huh? Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry. Do you have a response to Governor Scott Walker’s call to cancel President Xi Jinping’s state visit next month?

MR KIRBY: The – as I think I said before, we’re all looking forward to the president’s visit. Secretary Kerry is going to be personally involved and looks forward to his participation and to making sure that it’s a success, and there’s no plans to change the visit.

QUESTION: Do you think those types of comments are unhelpful for the upcoming visit?

MR KIRBY: I am not going to get into discussions here from the podium about comments made by candidates in the next presidential election. The – President Xi’s visit is a very important visit for our bilateral relationship with China, and as I said, we’re very much looking forward to it and to making sure that it’s a success.


QUESTION: Thank you. One question on Venezuela, because the Venezuelan Government ordered a closure of the border with Colombia after President Nicolas Maduro said that his country was under attack by some paramilitary groups – Colombian paramilitary groups.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And this, of course, has caused a humanitarian and political crisis. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Governments have a sovereign right to control their borders, and I’m going to refer you to the Venezuelan Government for additional information on its decision regarding the border with Colombia.

Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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

DPB #145

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Mon, 08/24/2015 - 17:03

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 24, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:02 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. Couple things at the top. First, I want to say the United States welcomes the agreement reached between the Republic of Korea and the DPRK earlier today. We support President Park’s tireless efforts to improve inter-Korean relations, which support peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. We continue to coordinate closely with the ROK and to reiterate our unwavering support for the alliance. And I’m going to refer you to the Republic of Korea for more detail with respect to the agreement reached.

On Ukraine, we welcome today’s meeting among Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, and President Poroshenko in Berlin, and their ongoing, shared commitment to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. We remain concerned, of course, about violence in eastern Ukraine. Our analysis continues to show, and as I have said before, that it is the combined Russian-separatist forces and not Ukrainian forces who are initiating aggressive activities. Ukraine’s military posture continues to be defensive. We firmly reject Russia’s efforts to point to Ukraine as the aggressor. There is no indication that Ukraine intends to conduct or is undertaking preparations for offensive operations in their own country or in eastern Ukraine.

We commend the OSCE’s ongoing efforts to facilitate Minsk implementation, and condemn separatist attacks and pressure on the monitors, which we continue to see. We call on Russia and the separatists to end the violence and begin full implementation of the Minsk agreements, including ensuring the safety and full access for OSCE monitors.

And then finally, today members of the UN Security Council held their first Arria-formula meeting on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender – or LGBT – issues, particularly in the context of ISIL’s crimes against LGBT individuals in Iraq and in Syria. This historic event recognizes that the issue of LGBT rights has a place in the UN Security Council. Around the world, the UN has documented thousands of cases of individuals killed or injured in brutal attacks simply because they are LGBT or perceived to be LGBT. This abhorrent practice is particularly widespread in ISIL-seized territory in Iraq and in Syria where these violent extremists proudly target and kill LGBT individuals or those accused of being so. No one should be harmed or have their basic human rights denied because of who they are or who they love.

We would like the thank Chile for co-sponsoring this event with us. The United States will continue to raise the plight of target LGBT individuals around the world and work to protect their basic human rights.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Thanks, but since I’ve been gone, the main news I’ve noticed since being back in the building is that the Dunkin Donuts and Subway have opened. I will defer to Brad for --

MR KIRBY: The lines have been quite long, I understand.

QUESTION: -- for the first question. Yes, yes. Especially at lunch.

MR KIRBY: All right, Brad.

QUESTION: Starting on Iran, and slightly different than what we talked about last week, I wanted to check if you saw the comments from President Rouhani over the weekend regarding purchasing weapons wherever they need to purchase them. Do you see that as consistent with the continued arms embargo that you negotiated as part of the JCPOA?

MR KIRBY: We’ve certainly seen those comments, Brad, and they are a reminder of what we said before about the potential threats that Iran still poses in the region and a reminder that they continue to conduct destabilizing activities and support to terrorism in the region. Which is why we’re not going to take our eye off of that, and it’s why U.S. sanctions with respect to that activity will remain in place. And it’s why we continue to have a very robust military presence in the region. And finally, it’s why the President and Secretary Kerry have made it very clear that we are going to continue to look for ways to build the partner capacity of our allies and partners in the region.

QUESTION: Do – would you consider that a violation of the UN sanctions as well as the JCPOA, if he were to make good on these threats to purchase weapon --

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not an expert on every one of the UN sanctions that were – that are in place. Again, these sanctions are – were put in place to bring them to the table for the nuclear talks. I would also remind you that those sanctions are still in place, and they will not be lifted until they have met the key implementing steps under the Iran deal in that agreement.

So let’s just see – let’s see what they do. While the deal does offer some sanctions relief, again, only if and when they meet their key implementing steps, and the IAEA can certify that they have, the United States will still have sanctions in place to deal with some of these destabilizing activities.

QUESTION: And just lastly on this subject, have you had any conversations with the Iranians since July 14th to clarify what this would mean to the continued arms embargo and ballistic missile provisions? Or is it --

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any conversations that – to read out to you on that, Brad.

QUESTION: So and then are you – would you – are you then disappointed by President Rouhani’s comments?

MR KIRBY: Certainly, those comments don’t do anything to decrease tensions in the region, and they certainly on the face of them don’t point to a more helpful or constructive role by Iran in the region. But it does, as I said at the outset, it’s a reminder of how seriously we need to continue to take the threat that Iran poses in the region through other activities.


QUESTION: Can I go to Korea?

QUESTION: Could you tell us --

QUESTION: Can we go to Korea, unless we’re still on Iran?

MR KIRBY: Said, are you on Iran or do you want to --


MR KIRBY: Iran? Yeah.



QUESTION: Okay. Could you tell us if the IAEA has similar agreements with the same kind of inspection regime and so on with other countries? Can you list the countries that the IAEA --

MR KIRBY: No, I can’t, Said.

QUESTION: -- has similar agreements?

MR KIRBY: I can’t. I would point you to the IAEA for that. And we talked about this at quite some length last week.


MR KIRBY: These are confidential agreements that the IAEA has with nations with which they have these arrangements, and they’re – so I’d point you to them to speak to that. And my guess is that they wouldn’t, any more than they would go into detail about the one with Iran. It is, however, typical for them to have those kinds of arrangements with other countries.

QUESTION: So why is this confusion on the issue of inspection? Why is there so much – like, a great room for confusion? Why can’t you say, or the Iranians or the IAEA, come out and say this is the inspection regime, this is – we have Iranian inspectors but they will be accompanied, or the Iranian inspectors will be accompanied by the IAEA inspectors and so on?

MR KIRBY: Well, the reason why we’re not able to just come out and detail it is because it’s an arrangement between the IAEA and Iran. And those are, by design, confidential arrangements. So it wouldn’t be our place to speak to the details of it.

That said, why is it confusing? I mean, you could answer that probably as well as I can. I mean, Secretary Kerry, Under Secretary Sherman, Secretary Moniz have all talked at length about their comfort with the IAEA’s ability to get the access and the information it needs to be able to validate that Iran is meeting these key implementing steps before sanctions relief can occur. So I mean, there’s no discomfort or confusion on the government’s side in terms of having in place a framework that can do exactly what we need it to do, which is to verify – not trust, but verify that Iran is meeting its end of the deal.

QUESTION: So when it’s said that Iran will not inspect itself, it is, in fact, Iran will not inspect itself?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would just point you to what the director general said last week, that he found reports that self-inspection was going to be the rule of the day, he found those to be misleading. And he said in his own words – I think I’ve got it here, I think I saved it. He’s “disturbed by statements suggesting that the IAEA has given responsibility for nuclear inspections to Iran. Such statements misrepresent the way in which we will undertake this important verification work.” His words.

Now, what’s entailed with the important verification work – I mean, that’s between him, the IAEA, and Iran – the details of that.

QUESTION: And finally on the issue of exchange of embassies between Britain and Iran, now that there is a British embassy, is this what the future will look like in the event that deal does not go through, that you have unraveling and the breakdown of sanctions and countries going their own way with Iran?

MR KIRBY: Well, I won’t speak for other nations, Said. And the decision to restore diplomatic relations, that’s a sovereign decision made by states. In this case the United Kingdom did that by reopening their embassy. But for the United States, we have no intention to do that, and what we want to see out of Iran is actions, the appropriate actions to prove that they are going to meet their end of this deal before they get a penny of sanctions relief. And that’s where our focus is.

And as I said to Brad, we’re also not losing sight of the other activities that they continue to be capable of in the region, including state sponsorship of terrorism. And we have tools at our disposal, be they diplomatic, economic, or military, to deal with those. But look, each nation around the world – these are sovereign decisions that they make about restoring diplomatic relations or not. We just did two weeks ago when we went down and opened our embassy in Havana. These are sovereign decisions and we have to respect those sovereign decisions by other nations.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran, now that it’s come up? I was going to wait. This – but on the agreement or the debate over the agreement. A few minutes ago at the White House, your colleague there, Mr. Earnest, said, “It continues to be our view that this agreement is not a side agreement and it’s not a secret one, primarily because this Administration went to great lengths to brief every member of Congress about the contents about the agreement. And now that we have seen what appears to be, or at least what the AP has assessed to be a near-final agreement – document that has been released, it’s hard to make the case that this is some kind of secret agreement.”

Is it the Administration’s position that, one, that this is not a secret agreement, and one reason that it’s not a secret agreement is because the AP published it?

MR KIRBY: It is Secretary --

QUESTION: Because that certainly sounds like what he just said.

MR KIRBY: Well, I did not see the comment, but I’m sure you’re reading it --

QUESTION: Well, I transcribed it quite accurately.

MR KIRBY: I’m sure you did, Matt.


MR KIRBY: It is Secretary Kerry’s view that this is absolutely not a secret or side deal, and I’ve said as much here from the podium. This is – these confidential arrangements – now, the contents of which are confidential. The fact that there is an arrangement between the IAEA and Iran is, of course, not secret or confidential. They do this typically around the world. So it’s Secretary Kerry’s view that it’s neither secret nor is it a side deal. It is an appropriate arrangement between the IAEA and another nation to verify.

QUESTION: So you don’t take issue with the veracity of the document that was published; you just think that the interpretation of it or the presentation of it, as Director General Amano quoted you saying, was somehow incorrect. Is that correct?

MR KIRBY: I think that’s what I said last week. I mean, I’m not --

QUESTION: Okay. So I don’t want to go over --

MR KIRBY: And I’m not --

QUESTION: -- stuff that you’ve already gone over last week. I understand this was an issue of some --

MR KIRBY: I appreciate that. Just one last point: I mean, as I said last week, I’m not going to comment on the veracity of leaked documents. So --

QUESTION: Okay, but your colleague at the White House just basically said this isn’t a secret agreement partly because AP has published it.

MR KIRBY: I understand.

QUESTION: And that sounds to me – and correct me if I’m wrong – as though you’re saying one of – parts of the Administration’s argument that this isn’t a secret deal at all is not only because you’ve briefed members of Congress on it, but because it’s been published.

MR KIRBY: Well, it has been briefed to members of Congress --

QUESTION: And been published.

MR KIRBY: -- the parameters of it. Well, it is now, or at least a – at least a leaked version of a draft document is now. But look, I mean, I don’t want to get hung up on AP’s coverage of this. It – we – Secretary Kerry doesn’t view it as secret --

QUESTION: Believe me, neither do I.

MR KIRBY: Secretary Kerry doesn’t see it as secret or side because it is typical. It’s a typical arrangement between the IAEA and another nation, and it’s vital to making sure the verification process takes place appropriately so that we can hold Iran accountable to its end of the deal.

QUESTION: Right. Well, is it possible, in your opinion, for the IAEA to do its job if part of the agreement is for Iran to have the people go in and do the samples itself as long as there is some kind of IAEA monitoring?

MR KIRBY: I would just say, as I said last week, that we are confident – remain confident that this deal in all its parameters will provide the IAEA the access it needs to do its job and to verify.

QUESTION: The access it needs to the facility?

MR KIRBY: Access and information that it needs to be able --

QUESTION: Okay. There’s a difference between access and information. Are you saying that they will have the access to this facility that is – that you’re comfortable with?

MR KIRBY: Yes. We’ve said that before.

QUESTION: Okay. They themselves.

MR KIRBY: We have said before that we’re comfortable that the IAEA in this deal will have the access they need to do their jobs, to include military sites, and we’ve said to include Parchin.

QUESTION: And that means that IAEA inspectors will go in?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the technical parameters between the IAEA and Iran.

QUESTION: So it’s possible – so you said – let me just – I’ll just end this, because I know it was gone over. I’ll stop asking questions after this. You – in the event there was an arrangement reached – or there is an arrangement reached where the IAEA does not itself actually send in its own inspectors, but that Iranian inspectors go in, take the samples, and bring them back to the IAEA – that does not necessarily – you think that that is okay, right? You think that that gives the IAEA the access and information needed to be able to do its job, correct?

MR KIRBY: Again, without getting into the details, Matt, we are comfortable and confident that --


MR KIRBY: -- this deal gives the IAEA the access that it needs and the information it needs to verify.

Yes, Janne.

QUESTION: On Korea, Korean situations. The North Korea threatened – as you know that the North Korea threatened military action to South Korea. And the other hands, North Korea want to talks. They using two-track missions. And also, at the meantime, now ongoing 2+2 high-level military talks between South and North Korea in Panmunjom DMZ. Do you think is this helpful – reduce tensions in Korean Peninsula, 2+2 talks?

MR KIRBY: Do I think that it will reduce tensions?

QUESTION: Yeah. Yes.

MR KIRBY: Well, that’s certainly our hope, but we’re going to judge the north by its actions, as we always do.

QUESTION: But what about the military actions? They like the talks, but they also wanted to – action to – military action to South Korea. They have two tracks.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, as I said at the beginning, we welcome this agreement, and it’s – we’re certainly hopeful that it leads to destabilizing – I’m sorry, to – that was not good – to decreasing the tensions – you guys got me on destabilizing activities – (laughter) – decreasing the tensions on the peninsula. We – it’s – obviously it was a very tense several days, and we are mindful of that. And again, we welcome this agreement, but now it’s up to the north to act and not simply just make assurances with respect to their own military activities there along the border.

So we’re going to have to see how this – how it plays out.

QUESTION: John, following on that, I mean, is it – I know you welcome the agreement. Is it a good thing that the south has agreed to cease its broadcasts as of tomorrow?

MR KIRBY: Well, look. I mean, we’re not – we’re not going to take a specific position on what they’ve agreed to do. You’ve seen the agreement. This was obviously a compromise by both sides. And again, I think that’s not insignificant all by itself. We hope that it will contribute to decreased tensions. And we’re just going to have to see how it plays out. But I’m not going to parse each agreement that each side made.

QUESTION: Well, but you welcomed it as a whole.


QUESTION: And the reason I ask the question – and I realize it’s a compromise, but it does appear as if the south has caved to the North Korean demand that they cease the broadcasts, which, as I understand it, they have every right to do. It’s not like it’s an act of aggression to – like firing shells over the border; it’s broadcasts. So I’m wondering why it’s good in such a circumstance – why backing down on something like that is necessarily good and necessarily leads to decreasing the tensions, and why it might not just lead to the north trying to bully its way into other concessions by the south.

MR KIRBY: I think the ROK has remained pretty resolute in the face of continued North Korean aggressive action and rhetoric. And I don’t know that I would characterize anything as backing down. They’ve been strong and they’ve been resolute, and we have an ironclad commitment through an alliance with South Korea to help contribute to peace and security on that peninsula. But this was, as most agreements are, a compromise. And I would point you to the South Koreans to speak to the specific items that they agreed to.

What’s important here is that the two sides did get together, they did come to an agreement that they both found mutually satisfactory, and that’s the important thing. And that tensions now, which had been running pretty high over the last several days – have an opportunity to decrease a little bit and take some of the air out of this. And I think, obviously, we’re going to have to see how it plays out. We’re going to watch it very closely, as we have. But again, I think that they were able to come to agreement is noteworthy. And again, we welcome it.

QUESTION: And apparently is – agreement is agreement, but North Korea is – whenever time they’re going to break this agreement, they do again and --

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, we’re going to judge the north by its actions, Janne.



QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq?


QUESTION: Any updates on that Kurdish political parties meeting and U.S. involvement?

MR KIRBY: So yesterday, the five main political parties in the Iraqi Kurdistan region met and decided to continue their discussions. We remain engaged with all the key stakeholders, the United States does. And as I said last week, this is, of course, an internal matter. And we’re – I’d refer you to the Kurdistan Regional Government for further information.

QUESTION: So one point on this issue, and specifically on U.S. involvement. I’ve been monitoring the social media reaction by the people and also the Kurdish media, that they’ve seen the U.S. involvement is a negative one, is not in favor of democracy, is not in favor of representation law. Because what we have heard from the delegations, that – Kurdish parties’ representation in the meetings – that Ambassador McGurk, he is pressuring everyone to accept extension – President Barzani’s presidential extension for two more years as justifying with the ISIS issue or crisis or threat. And also this is, as you have mentioned before, this is the end of his term, and by law he’s not allowed to stay. And also it’s not an election that he’s suggesting. It is something – extension – which is not democratic, not according to the law. So can you confirm that this is what he suggested in the meeting?

MR KIRBY: What I can confirm is that Ambassador McGurk was invited back to those meetings in Erbil after he had already left and went to Baghdad. We talked about this last week. He was asked back. And as I said last week, our role was simply to attend and to say what we have said all along, which is that we urge a unified, inclusive approach by all the political parties there, but that these were or these will be decisions that they make for the good of the people they represent. And any assertion that Brett McGurk or any other American delegate or any other American there in Iraq was putting undue pressure on the parties to do one thing or another is absolutely false.

QUESTION: That means you confirm that that’s not true, that he’s not – he didn’t suggested any – in any way to --

MR KIRBY: Ambassador McGurk was invited back. He didn’t go to Erbil to put pressure on any one party or for any one purpose. He was invited back, and so he went. And his message was that – what it has always been, which is that we want a unified approach by all the political parties to reach a consensus and to go forward so that they can best represent the people of the region.

QUESTION: Last one on this. Do you believe – like, is it United States position that it is important that the Kurdish political parties to reach an agreement whether to stay – to allow President Barzani to stay as the president of Kurdistan in any way because of – you think that they – everybody should focus on the ISIS threat at the moment?

MR KIRBY: We’ve said now is the time for unity in the face of a common enemy, and our focus is on defeating and degrading ISIL. And we want everybody to share that, obviously, same goal and to come together to unite against what is in fact a common enemy to all people living in Iraq.

As for the solution that they come up with, again, these are internal matters for them to speak to, for them to decide, and for them to explain – not for the American Government to dictate, and we aren’t.

QUESTION: Sorry, one thing is not clear. What do you mean by “unity?” Because they are all part of a government, all five major political parties. What this unity means, which is – I mean, they are – if they are part of the government and they are all in the parliament, so does this unity means that the division of the region that we have seen in the past in ’90s, so what is the unity --

MR KIRBY: I just meant a unified approach. Don’t read too much into it. I mean, we want them to take a unified approach forward to best represent the people of the region.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Said.

QUESTION: Can we stay on ISIS?


QUESTION: About the (inaudible) and Iraq. And over the weekend, the second in command was apparently targeted and killed, the second in command of ISIS. Now, a couple months ago there was the head of the finance and whatever for ISIS also was destroyed. Why do you think that despite sort of the fragmentation of the command and control of ISIS, they seem to be thriving? Why is that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think we would share the assessment that they’re thriving, Said. Do they remain a capable and viable enemy to the people of Iraq and Syria? Absolutely. Are they determined? Have they proven resilient? Yes. But they’re not 10 feet tall, they’re not invincible, and they’re in possession of less territory now – some 30 percent less now than what they had a year ago. And they are losing not only foot soldiers on the ground and tons of equipment every month; they are also losing some of their leadership. I’ve said it before, I mean, this is a career path with a short shelf life if that’s what you want to choose to do with your life; you’re going to be held to account.

Now, we’ve also said it’s going to take time. This is not an enemy that’s going to be defeated swiftly or easily. It’s important to remember two things. The best way of defeating them on the ground is with indigenous forces – Iraqi Security Forces in Iraq, Peshmerga up north, of course – and then that’s why the Pentagon continues to work on this train and equip mission for Syria.

Number two, what really is the long-term solution here is good governance – good governance in Iraq and good governance in Syria. Prime Minister Abadi’s making some reforms, he’s making some very significant decisions, and he’s trying to lead Iraq to a better future. Obviously, Syria is in a whole different category right now with the Assad regime and the brutality that they continue to submit their – the Syrian people to. But I guess I’d challenge the assessment that we’ve had no impact on ISIL. That’s just not true.

QUESTION: Why did the (inaudible) firing back, but they were able to move to Palmyra, for instance, about 150 kilometers on an open road and do it in daylight, apparently. So why not, let’s say – I mean, we recall that – the images of the Iraqi army withdrawing from Kuwait and being decimated along the way. Why is that --

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, your question presupposes the fact that we – that we have perfect visibility and knowledge of every move they make everywhere they make it. That’s just not the case. And in Syria, we recognize that it’s a tougher nut to crack because you don’t have solidified, unified opposition counter-ISIL forces throughout Syria. Obviously, in the north we have counter-ISIL forces that are quite effective. It’s not uniform throughout. It’s not even uniform throughout Iraq, as we know, even though the Iraqi Security Forces are battling very hard and are improving their battlefield proficiency each and every day.

Again, this is going to take some time, but we’re not omniscient and there are going to be times when ISIL advances. There’s going to be times when they achieve a tactical victory here and there, as we’ve seen them do. Oftentimes, they are short lived. You look at Kobani and you look at elsewhere in Iraq where they have occupied ground like the Baiji oil refinery and they get knocked out. So it’s going to – there’s going to be give and take here.

But if you take 10 steps back and look at what we’ve done over the last year, you can see a steady diminution of their power and their influence. They don’t like to admit that, of course, and you won’t – looking at their propaganda, you won’t see any of that. But they are shrinking their territorial gains and they are losing leaders, they are losing foot soldiers, they are losing equipment that they can’t always readily replace. It’s not like they have a supply chain the way a conventional army does. But it’s going to take time.

QUESTION: And lastly, today the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that there is a new initiative – a new U.S.-Turkish initiative, basically, to take the fight to ISIS. What is he talking about?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) Well, let me – I have it here somewhere. I’ve reorganized the book, so give me a second. What he’s referring to is discussions that we’ve had to finalize technical details for Turkey’s full inclusion in counter-ISIL air operations. As you know and we’ve talked about before, they weren’t flying missions in what we call the ATO, the air tasking order, because we had asked them not to so that we could properly coordinate their air operations. We’re finalizing those details now, and I suspect that you’ll see him involved in the air tasking order soon.

I think it’s also – stepping back, I mean – just a healthy reminder that they have been a strong contributor to the coalition efforts whether it’s taking care of millions of Syrian refugees, allowing us now access to some of their air bases, and hosting a train and equip site inside Turkey. So they continue to contribute and we continue to be grateful for those contributions.


QUESTION: Same topic?


QUESTION: So the Foreign Minister Cavusoglu stated that the talks concluded with the U.S., finalized. But you are saying that the talks are ongoing right now with Turkey?

MR KIRBY: No, no, I wouldn’t push back on the notion that we’ve concluded discussions, but we’re finalizing technical details now as a result of that.

QUESTION: So it’s ongoing. The second question is: Friday, last Friday, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter stated that Ankara needs to step up its efforts by the Syrian border against ISIL, whereas you have been sounding here kind of – U.S. is content with Turkey’s effort. Is there a different approach to Turkey?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t think there’s a different approach here. We – all nations in the coalition can continue to improve and to do more, everybody. And we’re mindful, as are the Turks, that the border remains an issue, and they’re taking steps. And they have contributed, and they continue to do so. I mean, here we are just talking about finalizing some details to get them up in the air flying missions against ISIL. That’s not insignificant. But every – all nations in the coalition, when you’re up against a resilient, determined enemy like ISIL, can – you always want to self-assess and make sure that you’re doing all you can. And oftentimes you find out in military operations – and I don’t want to get into a discussion too much here about military operations – but oftentimes you find out you can always do better. There’s no difference. There’s no difference.

I find it interesting that we continue to have this discussion about Turkey. I mean – and I don’t mean to – I’m not trying to sound flip. I’m not. But here’s a nation that has 2 million refugees that it’s taking care of inside Syria, significant security concerns of their own with the – a foreign terrorist group like the PKK continues to attack them, as we saw throughout the weekend. They’ve allowed us to use airbases now. They’re going to soon be flying in the coalition air tasking order, inside the coalition planning cycle for air ops. And yet I continue to get questions up here like, “Why aren’t they doing more? Why aren’t they doing enough?” Everybody can do better, including the United States.

But I think it’s fair to say that every member of this coalition – and it’s a coalition of the willing, and it can’t be a willing coalition if you’re being dictated to by everybody else what you have to do. You contribute what you can, where you can, when you can, and you spend as much money as you can. And maybe you shed as much blood as you can. Those are sovereign decisions that members of a coalition have to meet and make for themselves in accordance with the desires of their government and their people, and the Turks are doing that.

QUESTION: Yet many U.S. unnamed officials, they – and they are talking about how Turkey is not doing enough. Do you think there is something for U.S. Government to reckon with?

MR KIRBY: I think I answered that question just a minute ago.


QUESTION: On Turkey, can we get into some of the political developments? On Friday, President Erdogan said that there would be likely snap elections in November after his party was unable to form a coalition government. This is pretty unprecedented, because the party has had a pretty absolute majority for over a decade. Is there concern that this political uncertainty could potentially alter or complicate the U.S.-Turkish relationship at this critical time?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I’m going to – as I am in many other cases here, loath to discuss internal political matters in another country. What we’ve said is that we’re going to – Turkey is an ally and a partner, and we’re going to continue to work with whatever Turkish government is in place. And I’m not going to get into characterizing the internal political issues.

QUESTION: There are some concerns, though, because this call for new elections – I mean, a lot of people are linking it to the fact that he just didn’t like the outcome of the last set of elections. Since then, there’s been kind of an upping of nationalist rhetoric in the country. Are there concerns that this could lead to kind of a more authoritarian system? I mean, he’s already said he wants to institute a presidential system in Turkey that could increase his own powers. I mean, does this not create any concerns for the U.S. as far as that relationship?

MR KIRBY: I think we’re – we’re watching this just like we watch political developments in other places around the world. I think our stance, again, around the world for inclusiveness and representative government; fair and free, credible elections – it’s ironclad. We make that case everywhere around the world. But I’m not going to talk specifically about internal matters inside Turkey.

What we want to see is Turkey continue to be the strong ally and partner that it is, and we’re going to – again, we’ll watch this closely and we’ll work with the Turkish Government going forward.


QUESTION: Just follow-up on the same question. The question was about the authoritarianism, increasing authoritarianism in Turkey. So as the U.S. Government, you take this question as an internal matter? As far as we know, authoritarianism --

MR KIRBY: I’ve answered the question. I’ve answered the question and I’m going to leave it at that.

Yes, back there.



QUESTION: So there’s – a change of subject, sorry. So there’s some reporting out today – and I just wanted to see if you could comment on it – that the State Department did not appear to have submitted some legally required information regarding Secretary Clinton’s email server to the DHS during her term as secretary. Are you familiar with this at all?

MR KIRBY: I’m not familiar with that specific --

QUESTION: There was a – there’s a – there was some kind of program in 2010 from the DHS called the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program where every 30 days they were supposed to get a list of systems and vulnerabilities from all government agencies, and evidently they – there’s some reporting that they didn’t get that from State regarding that server. Are you familiar at all with this?

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

QUESTION: Can you take it or anything --

MR KIRBY: I will take it, but I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back to you on it. Some of these issues are under review and under investigations, and there may be a real limit here to what we can do in terms of detail on that.


QUESTION: John, just to follow up on that issue. Sorry. I know you addressed this before. But when Secretary Powell used a private server, was that a strictly private server, or he was using both? I mean, is this – was there – was that a similar situation to Secretary Clinton, or was it entirely different? Or what is the difference?

MR KIRBY: Said, I honestly have no idea how former Secretary Powell handled email here. And I think we’ve – I mean, I think my predecessors have talked about former secretaries and their email habits before. I just don’t have that. I’m not focused on that. Sorry.


QUESTION: On Russia?


QUESTION: Foreign Minister Lavrov today said he has seen signals to restore bilateral communication channels that were frozen by the United States. Are you currently considering reopening these, specifically the bilateral commissions --

MR KIRBY: Look, what I would tell you is that there are areas where we cooperate with Russia. The Iran deal is one of them. Syria and a way forward for a political transition is another. And there’s areas, obviously, that we disagree. I don’t have anything to announce with the restoration of any one vehicle here today, but Secretary Kerry continues to communicate directly with Foreign Minister Lavrov on a range of issues. I expect that communication will continue. And as I said, there are some areas where we’re going to see progress and work closely together on, and then there’s going to be other areas where we continue to disagree.

QUESTION: Senator Cruz today said he asked the Obama Administration to release this report about a U.S. – it was prepared by the Pentagon – about a U.S. response to alleged violations of the INF treaty with Russia. What do you think of the senator’s request? Do you think this is a good idea?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the senator’s request. I’d point you to DOD for this.

Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the protest in Lebanon?

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen the reports of the protest activity. And as our ambassador, Ambassador Hale, said today in Beirut following his meeting with the prime minister, we are deeply troubled by the images and reports of injuries. We support a thorough investigation and accountability, and of course, restraint. This weekend Lebanon’s vibrant civil society voiced its frustration over the political paralysis that has held Lebanon captive for too long. The United States continues to strongly support the prime minister’s efforts to advance political consensus so that the cabinet can work on many urgent issues.



MR KIRBY: Come on, now. Is that – oh, Said? I thought you had your hand up again. Oh, I thought – it sounded just like you. Goyal.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Before Prime Minister Modi visits the U.S. Silicon Valley next month and going to the UN, now the tension between the two countries – India and Pakistan – is building on the border, because the NSA-level – national security administration-level talks failed, or they were canceled. India said it was canceled by the Pakistanis, and Pakistanis said that India is not willing. So blame game going on between the two countries, but people are hurting – the innocent people in both countries.

My question is here, that India said that when two prime ministers – India and Pakistan – met in Russia, they agreed next level of talks in India will be on – only on terrorism, about terrorism between the two countries, counter-terrorism, but when these talks were started, that the Pakistanis start to saying that, “We will not talk about terrorism but other issues, including Kashmir.” Then that’s what happened.

So where do we go? Because Pakistan doesn’t want to talk about terrorism, and India is saying that before any talks start before the two countries terrorism issue must be – and/or Pakistan should stop terrorism into India, and then we can talk, and all the issues that remaining and past and future. So what role you think U.S. is playing or will play in the future now between the two countries?

MR KIRBY: Well, look. We were encouraged by the constructive interaction – the early constructive interaction between the leaders of India and Pakistan earlier this year, as you pointed out, and Russia, and we’re disappointed that the talks didn’t happen. And as I’ve said before, Goyal, we just encourage India and Pakistan to resume a formal dialogue soon. As we’ve said, this is – the issues are important; we recognize that. The tensions in the region are significant; we recognize that. And we believe it’s important for leaders of both countries to resume these – this dialogue and discussion and to try to come to some resolution.

QUESTION: And you think next – you think next month when UN leaders meet at the United Nations – global leaders, including, of course, Secretary of State, will be there, and the Indian foreign minister will be there and so will be the leaders from India and Pakistan – you think there will be some kind of talks there and U.S. will encourage or will have some Secretary-level talks between three --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any specific schedule items to read out for the UN General Assembly next month. You’re right, Secretary Kerry will be going. I think you can expect that his dance card will be pretty full. He’ll have a very ambitious agenda of meetings and discussions. And as to whether or not the leaders of India and Pakistan will use the opportunity to further discuss, I’d point you to them.

What we’ve said and I want to repeat is that these are issues for the two to resolve together, and that’s what we continue to encourage, is a resumption of dialogue between the leaders of both India and Pakistan.

QUESTION: Let me ask you one more quickly. As far as terrorism is concerned, where do U.S. stance* as far as terrorism against India is concerned? Because two countries – U.S., India – also talking about counterterrorism and all their own – all the time.

MR KIRBY: Right. What – I didn’t follow the question.

QUESTION: As far as terrorism against India is concerned from Pakistan, what – that’s what India is saying – U.S., India is also talking many times on counterterrorism in the region, so where do U.S. stands as far as terrorism against India is concerned – or in the region?

MR KIRBY: Look, we’re very – I mean, look, we’re very clear about the continued threat of violent extremism around the world. And if there’s – there are many shared challenges facing the global community. That’s certainly one of them. And as I said, we want both nations to sit down and hammer out the issues between them. Some of them have to do with violent extremism and some of them don’t; we understand that. But these are issues that the two parties have got to work out.

Our position about terrorism and the threat that it continues to pose around the world remains the same, and the United States will stay committed to countering violent extremism using all the elements of national power and international cooperation that we can.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: John, does it – does it mean that you – when you say that India and Pakistan need to resolve it between themselves, does it mean that you don’t see any role for the United States in this conflict?

MR KIRBY: In what conflict? The conflict that --

QUESTION: Meaning India and Pakistan.

MR KIRBY: Well, what we’ve said, particularly with the tension in Kashmir, is that our position has not changed, that this is an issue that India and Pakistan need to resolve.

When it comes to countering terrorism around the world, obviously the United States plays a role and we want everybody to play a role in that. But when you’re asking me about these particular tensions, we’re disappointed that the talks didn’t occur and we would like to see them resume.

QUESTION: Have you spoken to anybody in New Delhi or Islamabad after the cancellation of the talks?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any readouts. I don’t – I don’t have any readouts of the conversations.

QUESTION: But will the United States make any effort to restart the talks?

MR KIRBY: This is – these are – I said before this is an issue for India and Pakistan to come together and to resolve, and we’ve been very clear about that. I don’t have any readouts of conversations to add to that discussion.

Yes, in the back there. And I’ll get to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV Pakistan. With the new wave of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, especially in the Kabul – a few were claimed by the Taliban, a few were not.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: Since the start of 2015, the White House stops saying Afghan Taliban as terrorists. I hope you know about it. So how do you see this new strategy for not calling Afghan Taliban the terrorists? Is this new strategy helping for the peace process?

MR KIRBY: There’s no new strategy with respect to the Taliban. Look, the – what we’ve said is we want to see Afghan-led political reconciliation continue to advance. And it was encouraging, the first round of talks a few weeks ago. We haven’t been able to see that happen again. Yes, there’s been some violence as Kabul as recently as just a few days ago. And you’re right, the Taliban claim responsibility for some and others they didn’t, so I’m in no position to judge who’s responsible.

Hang on a second, sir. I got you.

But there’s no new strategy with respect to what we’re trying to do in Afghanistan with our international partners. That’s what the Resolute Support Mission is all about. And you might have seen three Resolute Support civilians were among the dead this weekend. It’s about helping the Afghan National Security Forces continue to take the lead for security in their country. It’s a serious mission that we’re seriously committed to, but there’s no new strategy here.

And as for the Taliban’s future, much of it is for them to determine if they’re going to renounce violence and renounce the terrorist type tactics that they use, and contribute to a meaningful reconciliation process in Afghanistan, well then we support that – an Afghan-led reconciliation process.

QUESTION: So how do you see the involvement of China in this peace process?

MR KIRBY: How do I see what?

QUESTION: The involvement of China in this peace process. I mean, the second round of talks of Afghan reconciliation process which are due to be held in China.

MR KIRBY: As long as it’s Afghan-led, I mean, we’re not – for other nations who have interests, as China does in Afghanistan, there’s a border there – as long as that participation is helpful to an Afghan-led process, then we’re in no position to say we don’t support that.

Yeah. Matt, did you have one?

QUESTION: Yeah. A week or so ago the Administration weighed in in the lawsuit against the Palestinian – against the PLO and the PA about the damages for the terrorism lawsuit. Today the gist of the Administration’s intervention or filing was that they shouldn’t be required to pay too much or an onerous amount because that would have negative implications for U.S. national interests and promoting a peace agreement, a two-state solution, and also the potential existence of the Palestinian Authority.

Today the judge has issued a ruling requiring them to pay 10 million upfront and then another million a month to secure the damages while this case is being appealed. Is that – in the Administration’s view, is that too much to be asking? Does this place an undue – does the Administration believe it places an undue burden on the Palestinians?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re aware that the court made a decision in the Sokolow case regarding the bond. To reiterate, earlier this month the U.S. Government submitted a statement of interest in the Sokolow litigation to apprise the court of its interests as they related to the bond required while the PA appeals. This filing was a statement of the interest of the United States and not on behalf of any party. And I’m not going to be able to comment further.

QUESTION: Well, is the United States concerned at all that some or any of this money will be actual money that you might have provided to the Palestinians in the past?

MR KIRBY: I’m just not going to be able to comment further, Matt.

QUESTION: And that’s because why?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to be able to comment further on this particular case.

QUESTION: Well, I understand that – I mean, you submitted the statement of interest on behalf of the U.S. Government saying that it’s in the national interests of the United States. I just want to know is whether the judge’s decision today, or do you think the judge in making his determination today, took your statement of interest on board, or is this onerous to the Palestinians or unhelpful to U.S. foreign policy?

MR KIRBY: I mean, I understand the question, Matt. I’m just not going to be able to comment further today.


MR KIRBY: John, a quick follow-up on that. You being their largest contributor, giving the Palestinians close to $500 million a year, will you guarantee those, like a loan guarantee or --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any --

QUESTION: -- for $10 million and 1 million more a month?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything further to add on this today.


QUESTION: Prime Minister Abe announced that he would not attend the September 3rd ceremony in China. Do you have a reaction to that? And do you have any update on who the U.S. will be sending?

MR KIRBY: As we said last week when President Park announced her plans, that these are sovereign decisions that nations have to make, and we’re going to respect those decisions. As for the United States, I don’t have anything to announce with respect to our attendance at this time.


QUESTION: The British media, specifically the Mail, said for a year they’ve been trying to get records of discussions between Tony Blair and George W. Bush at his ranch at Crawford in April of 2002, where the then prime minister is suspected of striking a deal with then President Bush to invade Iraq. The newspaper says the U.S. Government has the details of the discussions but refuses to release them under FOIA. Do you know why?

MR KIRBY: This is the first I’ve heard of this. I don’t have anything to add to that.

QUESTION: Have you heard about the Chilcot inquiry?

MR KIRBY: I have not.


QUESTION: On Japan, a follow-up to the explosion on the Sagamihara base over the weekend, and coming on the heels of the helicopter accident in Okinawa, do you think that this will influence sort of the U.S. interests in maintaining its security relations with Japan, in particular the Futenma relocation facility or the U.S. support for the security bills being pushed through the Diet?

MR KIRBY: Nothing’s changed about our position on the Futenma replacement facility. We’ve talked about this before. We continue to work with the Government of Japan as we move forward to have that facility replaced, which we believe is in the best interests of our alliance. These – the fire you’re talking about and the aircraft mishap which we’ve talked about last week – I mean, these are going to be fully and fairly investigated by the military. I would point you to DOD for more comment about causation and any results. As I understand, they’re both still being investigated, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to talk about that.

QUESTION: What would you say for – to the citizens of Japan? This sort of feeds into their fear or concern about the safety of U.S. bases or U.S. military installations.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, speaking at a – as a veteran myself, I can tell you that no military in the world takes safety – certainly, the safety of our people and the people that we serve and defend – more seriously than the United States military. And as I said at the outset – and I don’t want to speak for DOD here – but these incidents will be fully and fairly investigated, and then they will be transparent about what the results of those investigations were and what recommendations and changes they have to make to move forward.

I wouldn’t even begin to speculate about what caused that fire. It just happened. They’re looking into it. And as I said, you can expect that they’ll take – they’ll let the facts take them wherever they are. I do think that we have proven over many decades how seriously we take the security of Japan and our commitments and our alliance to defend Japan, and nothing’s going to change about that moving forward.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I just very quickly --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: You mentioned before Syrian refugees. Can you update us on where U.S. efforts stand in that regard, what the goals are for this year, how many you’ve let in, if you think those efforts are sufficient?

MR KIRBY: Hold on a second, I think I got something on that.

So we expect to welcome between a thousand and 2,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year, and 5-8,000 Syrian refugees in next Fiscal Year 2016. There are 15,000 Syrian refugee referrals in the pipeline from UNHCR. We continue to be a leader in this regard, both in terms of refugees we bring in but also the amount of money that we contribute to the effort.

As we’ve said before, that’s not the metric of success here, though it’s – accepting refugees is one aspect, but really it’s about helping ensure – because most of these people want to go home, and you can expect that – that’s understandable, and so what we’re really committed to is helping to foster the kind of political transition inside Syria so that it is a safe environment for Syrian people to return, including the millions that are seeking refuge in Turkey right now.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)

DPB # 144

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 20, 2015

Mon, 08/24/2015 - 16:54

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 20, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:06 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. I don’t have anything at the top. I do want to welcome – got a group in the back of future information officers. Is that what – that’s how you say it? Yep, all their heads are going north and south. After today you probably will regret this career choice – (laughter) – but I hope not, and I look forward to talking to you after it’s all over. But no announcements, so we’ll go to you, Brad.

QUESTION: So I wanted to pick up on something we addressed yesterday, and that was the report we had about the Iran IAEA PMD inspections. And I ask because an Administration-controlled Twitter account seemed to – or sought to imply that it was somehow wrong without directly challenging any of the facts. So do you want to say for the record what fact as presented in the story you challenge?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think I would point you to – quite frankly, I’d point you to comments made by the director general of the IAEA, Mr. Amano, today where he made it very clear that the IAEA is not giving over responsibility for nuclear inspections to Iran. In fact, he said that that completely misrepresents the manner in which that they do important verification work all around the world. So I mean, what – so what’s changed here is him actually coming right out and saying that they’re not giving over responsibility for inspections to Iran, nor would they do to any other nation.

Everything else we said I would stand by. We’re confident and more than comfortable with the – with the technical arrangements that the IAEA has to assure that they can properly address concerns about possible military dimensions of Iran’s program in the past. As I said to you yesterday, we already have a good footing and knowledge of what that past activity was. Just as importantly, we are very confident that this very aggressive inspection regimen that’s in place in the deal going forward --

QUESTION: Future --

MR KIRBY: -- for future is the strongest ever peacefully negotiated. So I think what you’re seeing is a reaction to the notion that Iran will just get free license to self-inspect, and as I said, the director general of the IAEA himself made it clear that that’s not true.

QUESTION: Notions aside, the points in the article that Iran would take the soil samples, Iran would take the videos; there would be seven points within Parchin, two points outside; that there wouldn’t necessarily be any IAEA inspectors in the facility --


QUESTION: You don’t challenge those per se?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said yesterday, Brad, I’m not going to comment about the contents of a draft document between the IAEA and Iran. Even the director general wouldn’t go so far as to reveal the details of what is a confidential agreement between him and another nation, nor do they do that with any country around the world.

QUESTION: So then how do you know that it’s – this is not extraordinary in its parameters if they don’t – if they’re not revealed for anyone?

MR KIRBY: How do I know if what’s not extraordinary?

QUESTION: Well, you seem to imply that this is normal, that these are procedures they do everywhere in the world.

MR KIRBY: No, no, no.

QUESTION: But we have people who say this is pretty abnormal – actually it’s extraordinary.

MR KIRBY: So two things. One, again, I’d point you back to what the director general – his comments about self-inspections, which I think was pretty clear. And then, number two, yes, you had – in your story there were a lot of other details that I am not in a position to nor would I comment from the podium about, because it’s a draft document between the IAEA and Iran. It is a document between the IAEA and Iran and even the director general spoke about the confidentiality of that, so it would be completely inappropriate for me to get into any haggling over the details in this leaked document.

QUESTION: And then I just wanted to ask because you brought up the difference between past possible military dimensions and the inspections going forward.


QUESTION: Can you assure us that for the future inspections regime – their future work – international inspectors will be able to get into Parchin?

MR KIRBY: Well, I – what I would tell you is – and Secretary Kerry has talked about this – that it is a very – it is an extraordinarily robust, more aggressive than we’ve seen in history in terms of peacefully negotiated inspection regimes. It’s much more aggressive and it goes – there’s – it’s – it exists on various levels. Not all of it is human inspections. There’s other monitoring capabilities that are going to be at play all the way from the mines to centrifuge activity. And again, I would just say we’re very confident that in the intrusiveness of this regimen that’s been established by this deal, that we’re going to be able to ensure that Iran is in compliance with their requirements under the deal.

QUESTION: I ask because I think on April 3rd, shortly after the Lausanne or the – maybe the day after the Lausanne framework, your predecessor, the acting spokeswoman, said it would be very hard to imagine – very difficult to imagine a final deal where inspectors do not get into Parchin.

MR KIRBY: Well, what we’ve --

QUESTION: And now you’re not saying definitively that now that you have a final deal, inspectors will get into Parchin.

MR KIRBY: What we’ve said, and Under Secretary Sherman made this clear too when she came up and spoke from this very podium, that the IAEA will have the access they need to sites that they need to get to, including military sites, in keeping with the agreement – the parameters of this deal. So we’re very comfortable that IAEA’s going to be able to get to go where they need to go.


MR KIRBY: Now, I’m not in a position to tell you every place in the country that that’s going to come up.

QUESTION: Well, I’m only asking about one.

MR KIRBY: I know that, but as I said, they will get to go where they need to go --

QUESTION: It’s a pretty big one.

MR KIRBY: -- including military sites. We’ve said that.


MR KIRBY: They will get to go where they need to go, including military sites.

QUESTION: So if they don’t get into Parchin, we’re to assume that you’re comfortable with that? Because you’re only confirming --

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

QUESTION: You’re only confirming that you’re comfortable with the access.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t – I said – Brad, they’re going to be able to go where they need to go --


MR KIRBY: -- including military sites. And if – and as you know probably better than I do, there are – that there’s a – there’s a protocol in place. If access is denied, there is an opportunity, as you know – this is the whole 24-day argument – that the partners to this agreement have a protocol established to be able to deal with denials of access. So we’re very comfortable, including military sites, where we need to go – where they need to go they’ll be able to go.

QUESTION: Does that include Parchin?

QUESTION: Two things on this, if I may. One is --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry? I – Justin, I’ve answered the question.

QUESTION: Well, I know, but it’s just so odd that you won’t say that word, since that’s what we’re all talking about. You’re saying “military sites,” but it’s like you’re avoiding the real question that Brad kept at: What about Parchin?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t think I’m avoiding it at all, Justin – including military sites. Parchin’s a military base --

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR KIRBY: -- so it would be inclusive of military sites.

QUESTION: So two questions to follow up on Brad. One is: Without commenting on the specifics of any draft or final agreement between Iran and the IAEA with regard to looking at Iran’s PMD, was there any specific item in the story that – factual item in the story that was wrong? I don’t want to know which one it is, but there are times when you guys will say this was inaccurate without saying specifically what because you can’t comment on the specifics. So was there anything you can specifically say without identifying it that was inaccurate – not notions, not imaginations, not speculations, not headlines, but facts?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said to Brad, I’m not going to get into speaking about the details of a draft document between --

QUESTION: I’m not asking about the details.

MR KIRBY: Arshad, I know, if you’d just let me finish.


MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into speaking about the details between – of a draft document between the IAEA and Iran or any other nation for that matter. And I would just, in terms of – in terms of the story itself, I would point you back to what the director general said himself in his statement, that the notion that they have given over responsibility to Iran for self-inspections is not the way they do business and misrepresents the – not just the arrangement they have with Iran but with any other nation. And so that’s the point. And if there’s a bone of contention that we can speak to, it would be that. But beyond that, I’m simply not at liberty to talk.

QUESTION: And the second question: Is it your understanding, as it is mine, that there are prior cases where the country that is subject to IAEA inspections has itself conducted sampling and taken photographs or videos that it subsequently provided to the IAEA?

MR KIRBY: I am not an expert on nuclear inspections or the arrangements that the IAEA has with various countries around the world. I would refer you to the IAEA. I am grossly unqualified to answer that question.

QUESTION: I think you’ll find that there are such instances in the past.

MR KIRBY: I’m simply not at liberty to say. That’s a question for the IAEA. But what I would like to go back to is Secretary Kerry’s confidence in the rigor that is applied in both the inspection regime going forward, which we talked about, as well as the IAEA’s ability through this arrangement, which they should speak to, but through this arrangement to be able to account for the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past program.

QUESTION: And that confidence is – I mean, he said that publicly earlier in the summer – that confidence remains the same wherever the IAEA now is in its negotiations with the Iranians about a final agreement on PMD – or a final agreement on inspections regarding PMD?


QUESTION: Could I ask the follow-up now? First of all, could you clarify that Parchin is a military facility and not a nuclear facility? Is it a nuclear facility?

MR KIRBY: I’m – we know it as a military site, Said.

QUESTION: As a military site. And it may have some, like, exploratory labs or something, correct?

MR KIRBY: You should talk to the folks in Tehran about that.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, the other things is on --

MR KIRBY: Thanks for filling in that, Brad.

QUESTION: -- on the IAEA. The IAEA, as far as similar arrangements or agreements and so on, is there an effort here to sort of make the IAEA do something that it has not done with other countries or with other agreements, similar agreements, with Iran?

MR KIRBY: Are you suggesting – sorry?

QUESTION: No, I’m saying this – this suggestion that the IAEA has made special agreements or private agreements on the Iran deal to allow them something that they did not allow others. There is no special treatment here is there, as far as you’re concerned?

MR KIRBY: Well, you would have to talk – you –the IAEA is better positioned to speak to their arrangements. And again, the director general’s also made very clear that he’s not going to get into the details of the arrangements. They work out these arrangements bilaterally with the countries around the world with which they work, and so I would let them speak to this.

But I think if you look at his statement --


MR KIRBY: -- today he’s been very clear that “The arrangements,” he says, “are technically sound and consistent with our long established practices. They do not compromise our safeguards standards in any way.” I mean, it’s right there in his statement.

QUESTION: So you are – then you’re happy or satisfied that this statement should put this issue to rest?

MR KIRBY: Yes. Well, we were satisfied before he had to issue this statement, which he issued in response to a story in the Associated Press. But even before the statement, the Secretary was very clear that he’s very confident and comfortable in the arrangements, the technical arrangements – and I said this yesterday – that the IAEA has with Iran over this.

QUESTION: Is that the same as the – same story that was brought up during the hearing with Secretary Kerry some couple weeks back? I mean, wasn’t there at the time also talk about some sort of special arrangement or special agreements with Iran? Would you say that these stories are the same?

MR KIRBY: This --

QUESTION: Remember – I think if you go back a couple weeks or whatever it is, during the hearing I think somebody brought up that the IAEA had special agreements with Iran – secret agreement, that’s what they called it, secret agreement.


QUESTION: Is this really – is this a different issue or is it the same old issue?

MR KIRBY: It’s the same in terms of – what this article gets to is the confidential arrangement that the IAEA has with Iran, as it does with nations around the world with which it’s associated. This is not the story – and I don’t believe that the Associated Press alleged that this was some new thing at all. And it’s not. So two points. One, it’s – the arrangement referred in the article is not a new thing. Number two, it’s not some secret side deal as it has been colloquially known. This is standard procedure for the IAEA to have these confidential arrangements with other countries.

And as – again, I’ll go back to what I said before – Secretary Kerry’s familiar with the parameters of it; so is Under Secretary Sherman; so is Secretary Moniz. They – and he remains confident that the IAEA will be – and this is a point that’s getting lost here – will be able to do its job to properly account for PMD – possible military dimensions – and then moving forward, with having an extraordinarily robust inspection regimen going forward.

QUESTION: Can I just issue a rejoinder? It’s not – you say it’s not a secret side deal, but it’s true that it’s neither – it’s not public and it’s confidential, correct – which is colloquially known as secret?

MR KIRBY: It’s not a secret side deal. It’s a confidential arrangement between --

QUESTION: And it’s not part of the actual agreement, but it runs parallel to the agreement because it deals with the roadmap for settling PMDs – is that correct?

MR KIRBY: Right, right.

QUESTION: So parallel, not side; not public, but not secret? Is that the position?

MR KIRBY: Brad, I mean, I appreciate the wordplay, but the point I’m trying to make is that this notion that this was some sort of under-the-table kind of thing --

QUESTION: I didn’t say that. You said --

MR KIRBY: I know you didn’t. But there are people out there, critics who are referring to it as a secret side deal as if it was some under-the-table, underhanded effort to try to get around the appropriate amount of transparency of this deal, and it is not. It is very much the same in terms of framework that they have with other countries. Now, each country’s different because each nuclear capacity and capability of each country’s different.

QUESTION: And not every country tried to covertly develop nuclear weapons, correct?

MR KIRBY: Exactly. So there --

QUESTION: So it should be strongest possible, in theory, correct? Given that this country tried to covertly develop nuclear weapons.

MR KIRBY: I would just go back to say that we’re very confident and comfortable that this arrangement, as it has been worked on between the IAEA and Iran, will do what we need it to do for the deal that’s been put in place by the P5+1 and Iran, which is to prevent them from having a nuclear weapons capability.

QUESTION: Well, John, some of the critics who are saying that this is a “secret side deal” – and I say that in quotes – are influential members of Congress and have obviously in the last 24 hours, they’ve come out and basically called into question the fundamental integrity of the deal that was struck between the P5+1 and Iran because of these reports. What is it going to take to persuade members of Congress to accept that what the IAEA is doing with Iran is standard operating procedure, is not something untoward, something unique, something that is going to be detrimental to the U.S. national security interest? Does it mean that Mr. Amano needs to have a briefing, a classified briefing, with members of Congress and show them what’s in the document in a classified briefing in order to persuade them of what you’re trying to say from the podium?

MR KIRBY: Mr. Amano’s already spoken.

QUESTION: He already did.

MR KIRBY: He’s already done that. And they don’t, and nor should they, share the actual agreement itself. But he’s already talked to members of Congress in a classified setting about the parameters of this.

QUESTION: But – yeah.

MR KIRBY: So back to Said’s question, this is not a new – this is not a new thing.

QUESTION: But if they did not actually see the document that spells out the agreement between the IAEA and Iran --

MR KIRBY: I wasn’t in the room. It was a classified briefing, so I’m not able to characterize what they were shown or not shown or what was discussed. But the director general himself went to Capitol Hill to explain this.

QUESTION: Right, but if we take these senior senators and congresspeople at their word, they don’t believe that the deal is a good arrangement. They are much more inclined to believe what the Associated Press reported on Wednesday. Would the U.S. advise the IAEA to actually show that document, that deal to members of Congress in order to quell their concerns about what is actually going on? Would that be advisable in the U.S.’s view?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary has explained, Under Secretary Sherman has explained, Secretary Moniz has explained our understanding of this arrangement in classified briefings to Congress. The director general of the IAEA himself has explained the parameters in a classified setting. The United States is not going to take a position to try to compel the IAEA to do things that are outside what they hold to be the limits of their obligations when it comes to sharing the technical details of a confidential arrangement.

QUESTION: Two truisms: Ronald Reagan was known for saying, “Trust, but verify.” Take a look at the actual deal. People in Missouri like to say they’re from the “Show Me State.” Why not actually put the document before those members of Congress who are extremely skeptical and who are working actively to try to get disapproval for the deal?

QUESTION: In a classified setting.


MR KIRBY: Again, the director general has already made a trip to Capitol Hill to explain to the best of his ability to do so. And I would point you again to what he said today, that these arrangements under this roadmap agreed to between Iran and the IAEA are confidential, and he has a legal obligation not to make them public.

QUESTION: Does that --

MR KIRBY: There’s a legal obligation not to make them public.

QUESTION: I’m sorry – that doesn’t necessarily preclude showing them to a member of Congress in a classified setting.

MR KIRBY: He has already been up to Capitol Hill and talked about this.

QUESTION: I know that, but – can I finish?

MR KIRBY: But you’re --

QUESTION: But saying it is not the same as showing the document.

QUESTION: Can I finish? Can I finish? Can I finish, please? Showing it to a member of Congress in a classified setting does not seem to me to mean that he has made it public. It means it has been shown to someone in a co-equal branch of the U.S. Government in a classified setting where they are under obligation not to disclose it. So where is the harm intrinsic in that? It’s not making it public.

MR KIRBY: You’re asking the wrong guy, Arshad. I’m not the director general of the IAEA. The man went to Congress, went to Capitol Hill in a classified setting, and explained the parameters. What he said, how much detail he went into, what, if anything, he showed them, I don't know, nor would it be appropriate for me to know that. This is an arrangement between Iran and the IAEA, which is – he’s under a legal obligation to preserve the confidentiality of that and he has to do that.

QUESTION: Right, but my point is that showing the agreement to a member of a co-equal branch of the U.S. Government in a classified setting does not necessarily – or indeed does not broach its confidentiality. And while you are not the director general of the IAEA, you have an interest in securing at least a veto-proof vote in the U.S. Congress to get the deal through. And so it seems to me a reasonable question to ask why shouldn’t you go to the IAEA and say, look, can you just show the full details of this in classified setting to members of Congress to try to allay their concerns?

MR KIRBY: We don’t believe that that’s necessary given the fact that the director general has already been to Capitol Hill to explain.


QUESTION: I have a question on the implementation of the JCPOA. Can you confirm now that, according to Politico, Ambassador Stephen Mull has been – the State Department is considering naming him as the person who will be overseeing the implementation of the agreement?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any personnel announcements to make today.

QUESTION: Well, you can’t confirm or even deny the report? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any personnel announcements to speak to today.


QUESTION: The AP article points to a draft document. Under Secretary Sherman said in congressional testimony that she had seen a draft document. Has Under Secretary Sherman, Secretary Kerry, Secretary Moniz – have they seen what would ultimately have been the final draft, the final document of this IAEA-Iran deal?

MR KIRBY: I would just point you back to what the under secretary said herself, that she has seen a draft document.

QUESTION: So we can’t confirm that she has seen the final document or even saw it before the deal was finalized in Vienna?

MR KIRBY: I would just point you back to what she said and what she has seen. More importantly, the Secretary, Under Secretary Sherman, Secretary Moniz are aware of the parameters of this arrangement and, again, as I said at the outset, are more than comfortable that it will allow the IAEA to do its job with respect to this agreement.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: And we can say confidently that they don’t believe that something has changed from a draft document to the final --

MR KIRBY: I’m just going to go back to what I said before, that they’re more than comfortable with the arrangement and the fact that it will allow the IAEA to do its job with respect to this deal.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Could I – thanks, John. Could I just squeeze in a slightly different question about Iran --

MR KIRBY: I would love to have a different question right about now.

QUESTION: -- then we could go back to this for the remainder of the briefing afterwards. But Britain is planning on opening its embassy in Tehran this weekend. Does this department have a position or a statement on that? Are the British jumping the gun, moving too quickly? Do you support their embassy reopening? And could you give us an update on internal discussions here about the possibility of ever reopening a U.S. embassy in Tehran?

MR KIRBY: I have nothing to report with – about an opening of a U.S. embassy. We don’t have diplomatic relations with Iran. And I would point you to the United Kingdom to speak to their own plans with respect to diplomacy. It wouldn’t be for me to comment on it.

QUESTION: So they can do whatever they want; we don’t mind, no problem?

MR KIRBY: Last time I looked it’s a sovereign country, and they can make these decisions for themselves.

QUESTION: Thank you.



QUESTION: -- a follow-up on that. Is it a good thing that the UK and Iran will --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize it or comment on it. This is – these – I’ve seen these reports and it’s not for me to confirm their accuracy, and it’s certainly not for the United States to speak to. If the reports are true, then this is for the United Kingdom to speak to.


QUESTION: The foreign minister in Iran welcomed today the Security Council presidential statement on Syria, which implies they are accepting the principle of Geneva for a political change in Syria, the transition in Syria. Do you see this as a significance – significant change?

MR KIRBY: I think what it – again, I won’t speak for Tehran. But I think if it speaks to anything, it just speaks for the validity of the UN process here and international community concern about where the conflict’s going and the fact that a political transition is necessary.

QUESTION: But this is the condition the Secretary was saying that for Iran to play a role in a peace settlement in Syria, they must accept the Geneva principles. And now this welcoming the statement that included the Geneva principles implies that they are accepting these principles. I mean --

MR KIRBY: Again, I would let Tehran speak for itself with respect to this. Nothing’s changed about our positions – our position about the legitimacy – the lack of legitimacy of the Assad regime to govern, and the fact that what needs to happen is a political transition in Syria to a government that’s more responsive for the Syrian people.

QUESTION: But the fact that they unanimously agreed on this statement – the Security Council – is really a watershed event. I mean, for the first time in two years. So you do expect some sort of a political process in the aftermath, maybe on the sideline of the General Assembly?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I mean, certainly – you’re talking about next month --


MR KIRBY: -- at the General Assembly.


MR KIRBY: I mean, obviously, the issue in Syria will be a topic of great discussion there. What’s going to happen on the sidelines of it, I wouldn’t get ahead of. I’d point you to the UN.

QUESTION: Let me ask you about the thinking in this building on Iran’s participation, because Geneva I is one thing; Geneva II was a different thing altogether because the opposition talked about regime change and the government only talked about terrorism. So – and Iran was not there, but the Saudis were there. So at the time it was perceived as Iran should have been involved. Do you look positively at any Iranian role in this process, perhaps because they do have a great deal of influence in Syria? Correct?

MR KIRBY: Look positively on any Iranian role? I mean, Iran has --

QUESTION: In a would-be Geneva III or something.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, we want the Geneva process observed, obviously. And what we want is a political transition in Syria. We’ve made our position very clear about the future of Assad and his regime. Obviously, we want – we don’t want anybody to play an unhelpful role in what’s going on in Syria. To date Iran has been unwilling to play a helpful role inside Syria. And look, we’ve made very clear our concerns about Russia’s involvement and propping up support for Assad, which only permits him to continue to brutalize his own people. So we’ve been very honest about the roles that certain nations are playing, helpful and unhelpful.

What we want, obviously, is to see this political transition succeed according to Geneva, and so we would – so I would – the way I would say this is we want everybody in the region, in the world and the global community, to support that process.

QUESTION: John, a quick follow-up to that. Are you saying that you see the role by Russia and Iran in Syria as, in essence, attempting to buy more time for Assad?

MR KIRBY: I would let Russia and Iran – this gets to their discussions, I think, is what you’re getting at. I’d let them speak for themselves about what they discussed. Again, I’d go back to what I said before. We want everybody in the region to play a helpful role, a constructive role through the UN to get to a political transition in Syria to a government that’s responsive to the Syrian people. And that is why Secretary Kerry called this meeting in Doha, the trilateral meeting between Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, and why he continues to want to work through that group to try to help support an eventual political process.

QUESTION: Is there any new information indicating that Iran and Russia are maybe willing to drop their insistence that Assad be part of the solution?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to Russia and Iran about that. Nothing’s changed about our position on Assad.

QUESTION: What about the talks between Kerry and Lavrov? Did the Secretary get a sense that Moscow is willing to – in their talks, that Moscow is willing to change its view of Assad going forward in terms of his role in Syria?

MR KIRBY: Again, it’s – you’d have to talk to Foreign Minister Lavrov and Moscow about what their intentions are in terms of this political process. What’s important, Pam, and that we don’t forget here is that you’ve got those three countries – Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States – talking and will continue to talk about a political process going forward. And as we said at the time, a political process that recognizes the importance of the opposition groups in helping effect this political transition. What Russia and Iran – what their stance might be on Assad is for them to speak to. I can only speak for our position – and that has not changed – that Assad --

QUESTION: Does that mean – does that mean you dropped your reservation about inviting Iran to Geneva second?

MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary spoke to this himself. There’s no plans to invite Iran into these discussions right now.



QUESTION: New subject?

QUESTION: No, can we stay on Syria for just one more? Today, there were rockets fired from Syria into Israel, and as a consequence, the Israelis are now, as we speak, are striking back. Are you aware of this or --


QUESTION: -- do you know of the developments?

MR KIRBY: You’ve got your iPhone, I don’t.

QUESTION: No, no, I mean this is --

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t --

QUESTION: This happened, like, several hours ago. I’m sorry.

MR KIRBY: It’s okay. I don’t have anything to report on that.

QUESTION: Yeah, but they also are – they’re saying that the Syrian regime will pay a heavy price. Are you aware of that?

MR KIRBY: No, I have not seen those comments.



QUESTION: Yes, sir. New subject, two related questions on India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan are now planning to have NSA – National Security Agency – administration-level talks on various issues, including Kashmir. But politics have already started. But the people are happy – both sides. The politics is that India is saying that only India and Pakistan will talk all those issues, but Pakistani high commission in Delhi wants to meet the – what, so-called, India is saying that those are the terrorists or anti-India elements.

So any U.S. input on these talks between two countries? Again, they are restarting, but there’s still, again, politics.

MR KIRBY: Same answer that I gave you before, Goyal. I mean, we want to see the tensions decreased, and that nothing’s changed about our position here with respect to the tensions in Kashmir. This is an issue that India and Pakistan need to work out.


QUESTION: Can I move to --

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, there is this story which has created quite a stir in South Asia today that is in every news site in India and Pakistan which says that the United States is going to decertify Pakistan. It happened once before in 1990 when senior Bush did that and suspended all military and civilian assistance to Pakistan except bare minimum for humanitarian assistance. And that led to a situation which allowed al-Qaida to set up shop in that region. So is it happening again? Are you going to decertify Pakistan?

MR KIRBY: I would refer you to DOD. That’s – you’re talking about these counterterrorism support funds. I believe that is a Pentagon-run fund and program, and I’d point you to them to speak to that.

QUESTION: I just wanted to --

QUESTION: John, if that is a DOD – that’s a DOD program for sure, but if this indeed in the work, would it complicate diplomatic relations with Pakistan, especially ahead of the prime minister’s visit to Washington to meet with President Obama, and also in terms of efforts to help secure the region along the Afghan border?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to get ahead of DOD on this. They need to speak to their management of this program. What I would tell you from the State Department is nothing’s changed about our strong commitment to supporting Pakistan’s effort to – efforts to eliminate terrorist threats in the border area and throughout Pakistan. And we welcome the consensus from the highest levels of the Pakistani Government about the importance of combating all terrorists.

So bilaterally, we’re still going to continue to work very hard at this relationship, which we know is very important. Is it complicated? Absolutely. But there are common challenges in the region that we want to continue to work with Pakistan to combat. And again, as I said the other day, we need to remember that Pakistan has also paid a heavy price because of terrorism inside their borders. They’ve lost civilians and citizens. They’ve lost soldiers. It’s not a theoretical exercise for them, terrorists; it’s right there. And we’re going to continue to work with them on that.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up --

QUESTION: But John, decertification will have very serious diplomatic consequences, too. So don’t you see, the State Department, in this frame of reference? I mean, it is going to – you will have to face the consequences as well; you will have to deal with it. So do you see it happening, the decertification?

MR KIRBY: I cannot speak to a program that we don’t manage here at the State Department. You really need to talk to DOD. As I understand it, no decisions have been made with respect to this. But you – I would point you to DOD. And as for the – I’m not going to comment on a hypothetical about what impact, if any, a change in certification would have except to say that nothing’s going to change from our perspective about the importance of this bilateral relationship and to helping Pakistan deal with this very real threat inside their own borders, and the border area writ large.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up quickly. Today there was a question before Secretary of Defense Ash Carter that according to a news report, Dawn in Pakistan has reported that this military aid will be cut off and there’s a planning in Washington – it’s because of Pakistan is not doing enough on Haqqani Network --


QUESTION: -- that was basically issue that means the counterterrorism or Pakistan is not doing enough. And this cannot happen without the recommendation from the State Department, of course, if any action Pentagon may take it.

MR KIRBY: So I mean, look, our views on Haqqani Network are well known and we’ve discussed them from this podium at length, and we raise the issue regularly as part of our engagement with the Government of Pakistan. The Government of Pakistan, I might add, has made it clear that it does not differentiate between militants. And this is a commitment from their prime minister, and that they will not allow Pakistani soil to be used as a safe haven for militants to attack other countries – in their words.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Samir.

QUESTION: ISIL affiliates in Cairo and Egypt – they did another bombing in the suburb of Cairo today. Do you have any reaction to this?

MR KIRBY: Well, we strongly condemn the bomb attack that took place in Cairo this morning which targeted the National State Security building. We wish all the injured a speedy recovery. And we want to reiterate our steadfast support for Egypt in this fight against terrorism.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you believe this claim of responsibility by – I think it was Sinai Province – is accurate, or do you have any reason to doubt that they carried this out, or --

MR KIRBY: A group called Islamic State Egypt has claimed responsibility. We’ve seen no indication to – we’ve seen no reason to doubt that claim of responsibility at this opint.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Change topic?


QUESTION: John, there has been in the past few days another escalation of tension between North and South Korea, highlighted by an exchange of fire in the last 24 hours. Is it the position of this department that the North Koreans this, or do you see it as a regular flare-up related to annual U.S.-South Korean military drills, which have been ongoing since early this week?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’d let the North speak to whatever motivated them. We’re certainly closely monitoring this situation and we are concerned by the firing of a projectile into South Korea from the North. As we’ve said before, these kinds of provocative actions only heighten tensions, and we call on Pyongyang to refrain from actions and rhetoric that threaten regional peace and security.

The other thing I’d say is the United States remains steadfast in its commitment to the defense, the security of the peninsula, to our alliance with South Korea, and we’re going to continue to closely coordinate with the Republic of Korea.

QUESTION: One more question on Korea.

QUESTION: The Russians actually also put out a statement; it was similar to what you said without – but it didn’t have the South Korea protection part in it. Have you seen the Russian statement? It didn’t condemn the North Koreans, but I wondered if you had a position on whether it was helpful.

MR KIRBY: Whether the Russian statement was helpful?


MR KIRBY: I have not seen it. We’ll let our statement stand for itself. I’ve not seen their statement.

QUESTION: One more on Korea.


QUESTION: Yeah. It is announced that South Korea President Park is going to travel to China next month to – in order to participate in the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of World Anti-Fascist War. So what is your assessment about that?

MR KIRBY: Participation in these kinds of events, that’s a sovereign decision for each country. I would tell you, we respect the Republic of Korea’s decision. And for anything else, I’d refer you to their government.


QUESTION: On Ukraine? The Russian representative to the OSCE today said that Ukraine is – they are not only failing to pull their military equipment from the contact line, but they are actually amassing forces even though the local militia have unilaterally withdrawn equipment. Do you call on the Ukraine side to stop amassing troops on the contact line and pull their equipment from the contact line?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, we’ve been very clear that we want that line respected, and I think – I don’t – I’m not going to speak to Ukrainian military movements. That’s – I don’t have that level of detail, nor would it be appropriate for me to do so. I’m not that --

QUESTION: They said regular troops, marines, volunteer units.

MR KIRBY: I cannot – I’m not going to – I can’t confirm from this podium what Ukrainian troops are doing. That said – and we’ve said this before – whatever they’re doing, it’s in response to continued violations of Minsk by Russian separatist forces, which – and I talked about it earlier this week – continue to push forward and use heavy weapons to attack Ukrainian positions. And you don’t have to take my word for it; the OSCE has made it clear, based on their analysis of these incidents, that the projectiles, the artillery, the rounds, are coming from Russian-separatist forces into Ukrainian areas. So --

QUESTION: They said it goes both ways.

MR KIRBY: So whatever – and I’m not speaking for --

QUESTION: The projectiles --

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second there.

QUESTION: -- fly both ways. They --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, they do. They do when --

QUESTION: And some of the violations – you even conceded a majority.

MR KIRBY: I’ve said a vast majority of the projectiles are coming from Russian-separatist sides --

QUESTION: But how are they going to stop if they amass troops on the contact --

MR KIRBY: -- and the Ukrainians have a right to defend themselves against kind of aggression. So what we want is – what needs to happen is the implementation of Minsk, and we need the Russian side to meet their obligations to the Minsk agreement. That’s what needs to happen.

QUESTION: But they’re saying some militia have unilaterally withdrawn the equipment. Why don’t they start there? Why doesn’t Ukraine meet those basic responsibilities to start pulling their equipment away?

MR KIRBY: Ukraine – we’ve already talked about this and we’ve already talked about this. I mean, they have withdrawn from the line of contact. Now, what’s been going on today, I’m not an expert on, but we’ve seen them withdraw. But they also have to react and be able to react and to defend themselves against Russian aggression, which they’re doing.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) Iraq. I have a couple of questions. First, you just published a fact sheet today on the State Department website about the military assistance and this military sales that you provide to Iraq. It’s very useful, but it’s a little bit confusing. I was going to see if you can tell us – I mean, it’s a DOD question but you published it – it’s your own fault – so I have to ask the question here. If since 2014, since the war against ISIS started, tell us the – how much you’ve provided to Iraq, but have they been military aid, meaning without charge, or have you sold the weapons to Iraq? Because at some point it talks about military sales and at some point it talks about military assistance. So it’s kind of confusing; you don’t know which portion has been free of charge and which portion have you charged Iraq.

MR KIRBY: Why don’t we get somebody who can break that down for you in greater detail?

QUESTION: That would be great.

MR KIRBY: I’m not at liberty right now. I don’t have that kind of specificity of information up here. It’s both. And the larger point that I think needs to be made is that since last summer we’ve accelerated the aid and assistance, military support, that we have given to the government of Iraq and that pace continues, and we’re going to continue to do that to help them beat back ISIL. And it’s not just the United States; other nations are also contributing as well to the degree that they can. As for the exact breakdown, you’re going to have to let us get


MR KIRBY: -- some experts to sit down and talk to you.

QUESTION: Okay. And also on the issue of the Kurdish presidency. I know we’ve talked about this for the last couple of days, but the issue remains outstanding and the U.S. officials remain in the region talking to the leaders there. The president’s legal tenure expired last night, midnight. Do you still regard the President Barzani as the legitimate president of Kurdistan since he’s no longer by the law the president?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think that we’ve talked about this – that they --

QUESTION: He’s expired since midnight, so we haven’t talked about it, his term.

MR KIRBY: They had meetings in Erbil, as we talked about, and they’ve agreed to postpone the parliament sessions to Sunday to allow additional time for parties to resolve all the pending issues related to the presidential matter.

QUESTION: But do you regard him --

MR KIRBY: And I’d refer you to Kurdish authorities to speak to more about this consensus agreement. So I’m not going to take a position one way or the other here. We were glad to see the Kurdish parties get together, coming to a consensus agreement to kind of – to deal with this presidential issue. And as I said, they’re going to work through the weekend to do that.

QUESTION: So my question is: When you deal with President Barzani, do you still deal with him as the president of the region?

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on the constitutional framework there. When Ambassador McGurk was in Erbil with our charge, they met with President Barzani and other Kurdish political leaders, and at their invitation were welcomed back to Erbil to get an update on the political situation. But the decisions that were made and reached were Kurdish decisions.

QUESTION: Just – sorry, two more. I just want to be clear on this. There are two senior U.S. officials that have been there – the ambassador to Iraq and also Ambassador Brett McGurk. Does that mean the U.S. take – took this issue very seriously? How serious did you think the issue was that made you send two official to stay in the meetings for hours, a couple of meetings at least?

MR KIRBY: They were asked to be there by the Kurdish parties.


MR KIRBY: They were invited. Ambassador McGurk was just in Iraq for much of this week, and I think earlier in the week I told you he was in Erbil, then he went to Baghdad, then he was invited back to Erbil by Kurdish political leaders because of these discussions they were having. And so he was very glad for the invitation. He and the charge went up there and they did sit in on these meetings, but it was at the invitation of Kurdish leaders and that’s why he was there.

Separate and distinct from that, of course we consider this an important matter. I mean, what’s happening in Iraq politically, militarily, economically, especially as it relates to the fight against ISIL, is of great interest to the United States and to every other member of the coalition. So yes, we take it seriously.

But the third point I’d want to make, and make it strongly, is that these were Kurdish decisions. Ambassador McGurk and our charge went at their invitation. It wasn’t to actively intervene or become involved in; they were invited back to sit in on these discussions. But the consensus that was reached was reached by the Kurdish parties.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Ask a quick question on Yemen?


QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday there were stories that the Saudi-led coalition is using American-supplied cluster bombs in its bombardment of Yemen. Could you confirm or deny that?

MR KIRBY: I’m aware of reports that the Saudis have used cluster munitions, but I’d refer you to the Saudi Government for comment about specific operational details.

QUESTION: Would you find that alarming or disconcerting if they are, in fact, using American-supplied cluster bombs?

MR KIRBY: I would just tell you that we remain in close contact, regular contact with the Saudi Government on a wide range of issues in Yemen. We’ve urged all sides in the conflict – you’ve heard me say this before, Said – including the Saudis, to take proactive measures to minimize harm to civilians. We have discussed reports of the alleged use of cluster munitions with the Saudis.


QUESTION: But you don’t oppose cluster munitions in principle?

MR KIRBY: There are --

QUESTION: You consider them a legitimate weapon of war if used appropriately, correct?

MR KIRBY: If used appropriately, and there are end-use regulations about – rules regarding the use of them. But yes, when used appropriately and according with those end-use rules, it’s permissible.


MR KIRBY: Cuba, sure.

QUESTION: And this goes to --

MR KIRBY: You guys have got me flipping all over throughout this book today. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That’s good.

MR KIRBY: I got to get a lighter book. Go ahead.

QUESTION: There are at least 200 Cuban health care workers in Bogota right now who are waiting for visas under something called the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program.


QUESTION: They’ve – say that they’ve applied for these visas. According to an agency over at DHS, it’s supposed to take about four to six weeks to process the visas. Some of these folks have been waiting for visas for up to a year. Can you explain, one, what might be the reason for the delay; and two, could you say whether or not the ongoing efforts to normalize relations with Cuba may have affected the implementation of this program?

MR KIRBY: The answer to the last question is absolutely not. And I want to make a couple of small points on this because it’s not a State Department program; it’s a program that’s directed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, and so I would point you to them for more details about this. But it’s not a visa program, Ros. It’s a parole program. That’s what it – so these – this travel is under what they call a parole. It’s not the parole in the sense that we know it in a judicial way.


MR KIRBY: But it’s administered by the Department of Homeland Security and allows Cuban medical personnel who are conscripted to study or work in a third country – in – at a third country under the direction of the Cuban Government to then safely and legally enter the United States. And again, I’d point you to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to speak to the – these cases and what these medical personnel are going through. But it is not at all related to our new policy with respect to Cuba. There’s no tie, no connection.

QUESTION: Okay. Have the Cubans raised any concerns about this program? Have they --

MR KIRBY: They have regularly voiced concern about the program, but it didn’t come up in discussion on Havana on Friday.


MR KIRBY: But their concern about it has been something that we’ve been aware of.

QUESTION: And there is – is there any inclination inside the Administration to eliminate this program, or does the U.S. feel that it’s a useful program?

MR KIRBY: No plan to eliminate – no plan to eliminate the program at this time.



MR KIRBY: Sure. Oh, yeah.

QUESTION: We’re all here.

MR KIRBY: Look, whatever. You guys should just start sitting together from now on.

QUESTION: Okay. Regarding the recent PKK attacks in Turkey --


QUESTION: Has Turkey requested any American assistance for its ongoing counterterror operations against PKK yet?

MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Has Secretary Kerry had any phone calls with his Turkish counterpart over the threat PKK poses against Turkey?

MR KIRBY: Not recently, no.

QUESTION: And there was a question yesterday asked about U.S. view on Ahrar Al-Sham. Do you have any answer for that?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: There was no question at the briefing. That’s right.

QUESTION: So what are you looking up? (Laughter).

QUESTION: Thursday afternoon.

QUESTION: It’s under seal.

MR KIRBY: I thought I had something in there on that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’m pretty sure it did not come up at the briefing yesterday. Is that correct?

QUESTION: We can’t talk about it tomorrow.

MR KIRBY: It did not come up at the briefing yesterday.

QUESTION: Have you found anything else good? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Wouldn’t you like to know.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the ISIS threat on Turkey? ISIS put out a message threatening Turkey. Is that – do you take that.

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: ISIS just put out a --

MR KIRBY: You’ve got me all distracted now.

QUESTION: ISIS put out a video message threatening Turkey with attacks --

MR KIRBY: I have not --

QUESTION: -- because they cooperated with the United States and they have allowed America to use the Incirlik base.

MR KIRBY: I’ve not seen --


MR KIRBY: -- that particular threat. But again, look, I mean, Turkey is a member of the coalition and is contributing to coalition efforts to go against ISIL. So while I haven’t seen their threat, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was true, because Turkey is an active member of the coalition and they are participating. And we’re grateful for that support.


QUESTION: Turkey. John, I don’t know if you have seen the footages and pictures and also reports on the escalation of conflicts between PKK and groups affiliated with PKK with the Turkish state and Turkish police and including the pictures of one of the fighters get naked after she was killed by Turkish police, orTurkish army, and also that the shelling and bombing civilian areas by both sides. So we have not seen any kind of statement by State Department concerning those attacks by --

MR KIRBY: Which attacks again?

QUESTION: In the – in Varto, in Lice, and several other areas near the Diyarbakir where the clash between the groups affiliated with the PKK and also the Turkish state police and army also.

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t have anything on those particular attacks that you’re bringing up. I mean, I just – and as you know, I want to be careful that we don’t get into too much tactical discussion here. Are you talking about attacks between the PKK and Turkey or --

QUESTION: Yeah. It’s also not exactly the PKK, but there are supporters of PKK, like civilian got armed in different areas in Turkey. It’s not in the mountain. It’s in the urban warfares. There are reports on Atlantic, there are reports on Guardian and other places for few days talking about the urban – the escalation of urban warfare between the Turkish police and Turkish army and also the supporters of PKK within the cities.

MR KIRBY: I just don’t have a lot of detail on these particular incidents that you’re talking about. The only thing I’d say, broadly speaking, is we all recognize the threat that Turkey’s under by terrorists, particularly, in this case, the PKK. They have a right to defend themselves against those attacks and we understand that. What I’ve also said is we want both sides to work this out through some sort of process of resolution that’s not violent. And obviously, as a foreign terrorist organization, we call on the PKK to stop using violence and to participate in a process that could solve this between them and Turkey peacefully.

But again, without speaking to these individual events, I would just say Turkey has a right to defend itself against terrorism, as does any nation.

QUESTION: But will you also call on Turkey to not use terrorism for shelling civilian areas, for killing civilians, teenagers, whatever, as a result of their conflict with the --

MR KIRBY: What I’ve also said – and I’ve said this in many other instances and examples in other parts of the world – is we want for parties to do what they can, everything they can, to protect civilian populations from this violence, and to act in accordance with international humanitarian law. And we’ve said the same thing about Turkey in this regard, that we understand they have a right to defend themselves against terrorists, but we would urge them to use the proper amount of precaution so that the collateral damage and civilian casualties are not a result and that international humanitarian law is observed.

QUESTION: Last one on this: Are you watching closely the developments there, or you just heard these events through the report?

MR KIRBY: Am I what?

QUESTION: Are you watching the developments in the Turkish --

MR KIRBY: Well, we monitor the situation as best we can, but, I mean, there’s a limit to – in some parts of the world as to what your knowledge is, and I just don’t have anything more detailed on that to offer today. And for operational kind of assessments, I’d point you to DOD.

I got time for just a couple more. Yeah.

QUESTION: A very quick one on Thailand: Do you have a little more to share about the Bangkok attack now that the investigation gets kind of international dimension with Thailand asking for the assistance of Interpol?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a lot. As you know, we have a long history of law enforcement cooperation with Thailand, and we’re going to continue to liaise closely with local authorities regarding the attack. Our embassy in Bangkok has informed Thai authorities that we stand ready to assist with the investigation as needed. I’m not aware of any request that’s been proffered.

QUESTION: So you have any clue of who could be behind of all --

MR KIRBY: No, this is a Thai investigation, and I’d point you to Thai authorities to speak to it.

QUESTION: John, two quick ones on different topics. One is Russia. There are Russian foreign media reports that Lavrov said that Vladimir Putin might be willing to meet with President Obama on the sidelines of UNGA. Is this something that Lavrov and Secretary Kerry have discussed recently?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any discussion about that and I’d point you to the White House for comment.

QUESTION: Okay. And with South Sudan, the talk yesterday between President Kiir and Secretary Kerry, do you know if Kerry called Kiir or if Kiir called Kerry? And also, gunmen in South Sudan shot and killed a journalist yesterday in what might have been a targeted killing, and that shooting of course comes after President Kiir threatened to kill journalists who reported against the country. What – the second question would be: What’s your reaction?

MR KIRBY: Secretary Kerry called President Kiir. As for our reaction, we’ve seen those reports of the killing of South Sudanese journalist Peter Julius Moi, and we’re very concerned about this development. Our embassy in Juba is following this situation very closely. Our condolences, of course, go out to his family, friends, and media colleagues. We call on the South Sudanese authorities and security services to expeditiously and thoroughly investigate this incident. We do not want to speculate on the nature of the incident or any connections there may be to other matters.

Separate and distinct, we are obviously deeply concerned by President Kiir’s comments regarding journalists earlier this week, and we call on him to disavow those words. The United States is committed to supporting freedom of expression, including of the press. Space for media, civil society organizations, and independent voices and views are crucial to building democracy and peace.

QUESTION: Sri Lanka?

QUESTION: John, I have --

QUESTION: A follow-up on that. Just – you said he made those comments about journalists earlier this week prior to the Secretary’s conversation?

MR KIRBY: I’d have to check the timeline, Arshad. I don't know.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m just wondering, was it – because I don’t think it was addressed in the readout of that conversation. Was it raised in the conversation?

MR KIRBY: I’d have to check the timeline. We routinely make clear our concerns about freedom of expression and freedom of the press.


QUESTION: I have two quick questions on Secretary Clinton’s emails. State Department attorneys yesterday confirmed in a court filing that Secretary Clinton did not have a department-issued mobile device. At this point, is the State Department able to say whether any of her personal devices were certified as secure?

MR KIRBY: There are – I’d just say there are reviews and investigations going on right now, including by our IG and by Congress, and so it’s just going to be inappropriate for me to comment beyond that.

QUESTION: We do understand that the iPad, at least, was not. So knowing that she had no State-issued device, does that raise the gravity of the situation, that it looks like this was all trafficked on personal devices?

MR KIRBY: Again, there’s reviews and investigations ongoing. I’m not going to comment beyond that.

Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Can I do a follow-up on that, John, before you run off, if you don’t mind?


QUESTION: I know it’s been a long briefing.

Is there not some obligation for official U.S. correspondence by a senior national security official to be secured from potential hacking?

MR KIRBY: Security is always a paramount concern, Arshad. But again, because there’s reviews and investigations going on right now, I’m just not going to be able to comment further.

QUESTION: But as a – as a general – my question isn’t – it’s as a general matter. I know security is a paramount concern, but as a general matter, aren’t official communications of a senior U.S. Government official supposed to be protected from hacking by anybody – by spies, by other countries, by journalists?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, we get – we are victims of cyber attacks every day.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR KIRBY: And the cyber realm is one that, obviously, we’re always deeply concerned about. And vulnerabilities, when they occur, we do everything we can to minimize those. So it’s a perennial concern here, particularly as the cyber realm continues to change in such a dynamic fashion. But again – so writ large, broadly, of course the communications of senior officials in government and protecting the – protecting them against cyber attack is obviously a concern. And again, I’d point you back to what Secretary Kerry did at the end of last year, which is ask the IG to go take a look at how we’re doing it here.

But with respect to former Secretary Clinton’s arrangements, again, these are things that are – there’s reviews and investigations underway.

QUESTION: But can you say whether it’s a legal requirement – not just that it’s a concern, which of course it is, but is it a legal requirement?

MR KIRBY: I’m not a trained lawyer, but there are any number of federal rules and regulations governing cyber security. And I suspect that many of them will continue to be edited and rewritten as we go through time, as the environment changes.

QUESTION: Can I have one more?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody. Nope. We’re done. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:12 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Wed, 08/19/2015 - 17:36

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 19, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:08 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: All right. A couple things at the top, folks, and then we’ll get going.

I know you’ve all seen reports of the brutal, gruesome murder of Khaled Assad, the archaeologist in Syria. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this murder yesterday of a man who dedicated his life to preserving Syria’s cultural treasures. Like so many of ISIL’s victims, his life and extraordinary work stand in stark contrast to that of his barbaric killers. These attempts to erase Syria’s rich history will ultimately fail. ISIL’s damage and looting of historic sites in Syria and Iraq which have been preserved for millennia have not only destroyed irreplaceable evidence of ancient life and society but have also helped fund its reign of terror inside those countries. As we respond to the brutality and suffering ISIL inflicts on the Syrian and Iraqi people, we continue to urge all parties in both countries and in the international community to deprive ISIL of this funding stream by rejecting the trafficking and sale of looted artifacts. All those who destroy important cultural property must be held accountable.

On Estonia, I want to express our deep concern by the conviction – about the conviction and 15-year sentence of Estonian Internal Security Service employee Eston Kovher by a Russian regional court. Kohver was seized in Estonia near the Russian border on September 5th of last year. His abduction, detention, and now conviction on baseless charges demonstrates a flagrant disregard by Russian authorities for the rule of law, and raises serious questions regarding Russia’s compliance with its international legal obligations. We are troubled also by reports that Mr. Kohver did not receive adequate legal representation from his attorney, who was appointed by Russian authorities, and that neither the public nor the Estonian consul were permitted to be present during the judicial proceedings. Once again, we call on the Russian Federation to act in accordance with its international obligations and to immediately return Mr. Kohver to Estonia.

And then lastly, I want to make a comment on the UN Relief Works – United Nations Relief Works Agency. In the United States we take for granted children’s right to education, to a public education. For refugee communities around the world, including in the Middle East, education is too often out of reach. Today, in response to a $100 million financial deficit that threatened to keep closed the doors of schools for Palestinian refugee children this fall, the United States is proud to announce a new funding of $15 million to the United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East. This contribution is part of a multi-donor effort to bridge the agency’s current year deficit so schools can open on time, ensuring quality education for a half million Palestinian refugee children in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza. This funding brings the overall 2015 contribution of the United States to nearly $350 million, 165 million of which went to the general fund to support essential services like education.

The United States has been and remains the largest and most reliable donor to the agency. We commend the agency’s senior leadership for their tireless efforts to mobilize resources and begin charting a course towards greater financial stability. We also commend the other nations that have committed, in particular Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, which contributed a total of $49 million, or almost half the amount needed to bridge the deficit. We’re going to continue to work with the agency, host governments, other donors, and Palestinian refugee communities to ensure the continuity of core services until a just and lasting solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees is reached.

Ensuring refugee children are able to go to school is something that benefits not just these children themselves; it benefits all of us. It is for this reason that the United States is also committed to helping provide education to this generation of refugee children in the Middle East, including Palestinians and Syrians, through relevant humanitarian organizations.

Now, I know there’s lots of headlines that you guys want to get to today, and I know that that last statement was a little long, but I think as we go through the headlines today and all the stuff that’s breaking that we not forget the importance of education for children. Some of us are parents, some of us have kids, some of our kids are in school, and I think we can all appreciate how important this money is and the need and the eventual hopeful result of Palestinian refugee children getting a good education.

Okay. With that, Brad.

QUESTION: Well, I’d like to get back to that because I’m interested by the very direct appeal you just made. I’d like to start with Iran, if that’s okay.

MR KIRBY: Absolutely.

QUESTION: We have a story about the arrangement that the IAEA and Iran have established for investigating Parchin and previous possible military dimensions of its nuclear program. Can you explain why this arrangement with Iran using its own experts and equipment to investigate the site was deemed acceptable?

MR KIRBY: Well, Brad, as we’ve said before, including in classified briefings for both chambers of Congress, we’re confident in the agency’s technical plans for investigating the possible military dimensions of Iran’s former program – issues that in some cases date back more than a decade.

Just as importantly, the IAEA is comfortable with arrangements which are unique to the agency’s investigation of Iran’s historical activities. When it comes to monitoring Iran’s behavior going forward, the IAEA has separately developed the most robust inspection regime every peacefully negotiated to ensure Iran’s current program remains exclusively peaceful – the overarching objective, as you know, of the JCPOA.

Now, beyond that, I’m not going to be able to comment on a purported draft document by the IAEA.

QUESTION: Can I – you describe this as parameters or logistics unique to Iran’s activities. I think previously the Secretary and others have talked about it being routine procedures. This seems different because it’s, one, unique; two, we can’t find previous examples that are similar to this, especially for a country alleged to have tried to develop nuclear weapons. How did that go from routine to now unique to --

MR KIRBY: Well, I wouldn’t amend the Secretary’s comments about this all – about this at all. I mean, unless you’ve seen every single arrangement that the IAEA has with every other country in which it has a program for monitoring nuclear activity, I don’t know --

QUESTION: We quote Olli Heinonen, who is the number two at the agency, and he recalls no such arrangement. So he – I mean, by that nature it’s even unprecedented. So it seems a bit weird to call it routine under such circumstances.

MR KIRBY: No, it’s not – it’s routine that the IAEA has these arrangements with individual countries. Those arrangements are, as we’ve said, confidential between the nation itself and the IAEA. That’s what’s routine here. And this is and remains, as I think the Secretary has described it, as a technical arrangement between those two parties. And it’s – regardless of the details, it’s not unlike, in terms of framework, the kinds of arrangements they have with other nations that have nuclear capacity.

QUESTION: While it’s between the IAEA and Iran, this arrangement has been endorsed by the P5+1; is that not correct?

MR KIRBY: As we’ve said, Brad, we are familiar with the contents, and the contents have been, as I said at the outset, briefed to both chambers of Congress. But because it is – because it’s reflective of a relationship between the IAEA and Iran, it’s not for the P5+1 to endorse or negate. It is – what we – what they have endorsed, what the deal has endorsed, is ensuring that through the IAEA that past military dimensions of their program, possible military dimensions of their program, have been adequately addressed, the concerns about those have been adequately addressed by the IAEA. That is what the P5+1 has endorsed.

QUESTION: Right. You’ve endorsed --

MR KIRBY: That – make sure that the IAEA is satisfied.

QUESTION: But within the agreement you endorse a roadmap that was separate to the agreement, and this is part of that roadmap – these logistics of the investigations.

MR KIRBY: The satisfying – again, not getting into the details of the document, but that the notion of making sure that the IAEA is satisfied that the possible military dimensions of Iran’s program are adequately addressed – yes, that – that goal, that achievement, is part of the roadmap going forward. Because as we said, until those concerns are adequately addressed by the IAEA, there can be no sanctions relief under this deal.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one or two more about this? I won’t take up the whole briefing. Are you confident that the IAEA will exercise control over the chain of custody for samples, for all evidence, throughout the duration from when it’s collected to fully analyzed and reported on?

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on IAEA protocols, but I can tell you that Secretary Kerry remains fully confident that the IAEA will manage their part of these requirements just as ably and efficiently as they do anywhere else in the world.

And again, I would say – I’d note again, as I said at the outset, that this regime is much more robust than in any other case around the world.

QUESTION: It’s not quite what – but fine. And then I have just one or two more. The document suggests that photo and video evidence would not come from everywhere in Parchin that is asked, that it’s limited in number to where this type of evidence can be collected. How can you assure that the entirety of the site, the entirety of your concerns, will be addressed?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, I’m not going to comment on the details of a draft document that belongs to the IAEA. I just can’t. As I – but as I also said and as Secretary Kerry has said, we have full confidence in the IAEA and in the inspection regimen that they will establish and set up to make sure that Iran cannot achieve nuclear weapons capability. We’re very comfortable with the arrangements.

QUESTION: But this – PMD is different --

MR KIRBY: I understand.

QUESTION: -- from its future capacity. It’s --

MR KIRBY: Okay, so I can say it again and I’ll say it – I mean, I can also say --

QUESTION: I mean, you’ve been confident for years, but --

MR KIRBY: -- and I’m glad you flagged it. He’s also very comfortable that the IAEA will get the information and the access they need to address concerns about Iranian PMD. And as the Secretary’s also said, it’s not as if we, unilaterally in the United States, don’t have an idea of what that activity has been over the years.

QUESTION: John, I just wanted to double-check that you think that you are saying that the investigation the IAEA is doing under these terms falls under the overarching nuclear deal, that this is part of your understanding of how things were going to play out.

MR KIRBY: Well, remember, Lesley, this arrangement is, as it should be, between Iran and the IAEA. So I’m not going to comment on the contents here, the details. We are familiar with these arrangements. They have been briefed to members of Congress, and as the Secretary has said, he’s very comfortable that the regime that is put in place – the inspection and access regime that’s going to be put into place, without getting into the details of it, will be able to address all the concerns about Iranian PMD and make sure that they are meeting their end of the deal.

QUESTION: And are you confident that these are the documents that you have seen? This is not --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – as I said it before, I’m not going comment on the veracity of leaked documents.

QUESTION: One more question on transparency. I mean, according to the report, the IAEA staff will be reduced to monitoring Iranian personnel. Are you comfortable that is a transparent way to actually inspect these sites?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to go into the details of a leaked draft document.


QUESTION: Can I move on to another topic? Can we go to the Palestinian issue?


QUESTION: Okay. And of course, we’ll talk about the UNRWA schools and so on, but first I wanted to ask you about your statement issued yesterday on the issue of Palestinian Americans going into Ben-Gurion Airport. Now, I know I raised this issue a couple weeks back about a Palestinian deacon from San Francisco who accompanied a group of clerics into Ben-Gurion, and then he was held for so many hours.


QUESTION: He does not have – I mean, there are so many cases, because you refer to the website where Palestinians with apparent document status in the West Bank must go through the Allenby Bridge, but in fact, this happened times and again with people who have no status in the West Bank.


QUESTION: Now, when you issued that statement, have you spoken to the Israelis regarding these very cases?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have – as you know, Said, we don’t talk about the details of our diplomatic conversations, so I’m not going to be able to get into any more detail. But I stand by what I said yesterday. It – we remain concerned, the government remains concerned about the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Arab Americans receive at Israel’s borders and checkpoints. That concern is longstanding. It remains the case today, and we routinely talk about these issues with our Israeli counterparts, but I’m not at liberty to go into specific detailed cases here.

QUESTION: Is it true that the Israelis are doing this because they want a waiver, a visa waiver to come to the United States, and that's the reason why?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would refer you to – I’d refer you to the Government of Israel for more information on --

QUESTION: But is it something that the United States has thus far denied Israelis, to give them a waiver to get into the country without a visa, correct?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such waiver, Said. Again, I’d refer you to the Israelis to speak to this.

QUESTION: Now I want to ask you a couple questions on the issue of the schools that you just mentioned --

MR KIRBY: Glad for it.

QUESTION: -- which is a great thing. Everybody wants to see all kids go to school. But wouldn’t it also make a great deal of sense to allow – let’s say, to lift the siege of Gaza so this thing can further enhance the kids’ accessibility to --

MR KIRBY: Well, that’s not really a question about the UNRWA’s work. I mean --

QUESTION: Well, no, it’s UNRWA, I mean, because it’s also you have the wall, you have all these things. Kids don’t have the access. It’s not just the school, but – and their ability to access schools is hindered time and time again.

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, we remain concerned about their ability to get an adequate public education. I’m not going to conflate that with the situation in Gaza.

QUESTION: One more question: Today, the Israelis demolished three homes in East Jerusalem. Are you concerned, do you express your concern on what the Israelis are doing?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those reports, Said, so before I make a comment here from the podium, let me get back to you. Obviously, now, in the past where we have been able to confirm such reports, we have expressed our concern. And if true, I’m sure we will continue to do that. But I haven’t seen anything on that and I’d like to refrain commenting until I know more.

QUESTION: Yeah, I think one was purportedly someone who lived there for 40 years and wrote an op-ed, maybe, in The Washington Post in the last week. So it was kind of --


QUESTION: -- an interesting --

MR KIRBY: I appreciate the context. I don’t have anything for it and I really would – I’ll refrain until I can get some more information. But as you know, Said, in the past, we’ve been very vocal about our concerns in this regard.


QUESTION: Venezuela’s President Maduro has released a video of an accused criminal who has links to an opposition party, and in the video, the man says he received money through an intermediary from a U.S. embassy official, also Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Senator Marco Rubio – and this was to finance opposition protest. First, what is the U.S. response to the accusations from Venezuela?

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen the press reports and the video of this accused criminal who made the allegation, which we hold to be just another completely – (cell phone rings) – no, it’s okay. Go ahead. (Laughter.) You want me to wait? You want to get it?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Which we hold to be yet another baseless and false allegation against U.S. officials.

QUESTION: Sorry about that.

MR KIRBY: It’s okay. And as you know, Pam, we support human rights and fundamental freedoms in Venezuela and around the world.

QUESTION: Is there – does the U.S. believe that the Venezuelan justice system is independent enough to establish the truth in this case?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make a characterization here of their judicial system. Again, we’re aware of this and consider it completely baseless.

QUESTION: While on Venezuela, can I just keep going on that one? Any further discussions between the Americans and the Venezuelans on --

MR KIRBY: I have no additional discussions to read out, Lesley.


QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq, Kurdistan, KRG?


QUESTION: Okay. You know that the president of the KRG agreed to stay on until whatever they – the differences are resolved so they can have another president, another candidate. First, could you care to comment on that? I mean, he’s been a great ally of the United States.

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, at the invitation of Kurdish political parties, as you may know, Ambassador Brett McGurk traveled to Erbil with our charge, Jonathan Cohen yesterday for meetings with Kurdish leaders and to receive an update on the political situation there. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq and the United Kingdom ambassador to Iraq were also invited by Kurdish leaders to participate in those meetings.

The talks were constructive and they did lead, as you note, to a consensus among Kurdish leaders on a way forward, whereby the leaders agreed to postpone KRG parliament sessions until Sunday to allow additional time for all parties to resolve the pending – did you just get a voicemail, is that what that was?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: To resolve the pending issues related to the presidential matter. I would note additionally that the American delegation throughout emphasized the importance of political unity and compromise that is required by all parties to defeat ISIL. We encouraged the Kurdish parties to once again unite their ranks and find a compromise and a consensus way forward.

QUESTION: Are you aware of reports about the corruption of the Barzani clan and so on? Does that factor in in these negotiations?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the details of the discussions. These were discussions that the Kurdish leadership had. We were invited – Brett McGurk and our charge were invited to attend, but these are – these were discussions and agreements that were hammered out by the Kurdish parties, and I’ll let them speak for what was said.

QUESTION: And not on Kurdistan, but related to Iraq – today Maliki returned to Iraq, and there’s been a great many charges levied against him in the last couple days and so on. Some make him responsible for the fall of Mosul and so on. Do you expect that Mr. Maliki might go to trial?

MR KIRBY: I would not speak for the Iraqi Government and potential future action there. That’s really not for us to get into. We, the United States Government, have, as you know, Said, long expressed our view of ISIL’s growth in power and influence in northern Iraq and their eventual capture of Mosul. We made very clear what we thought contributed to that, but your question really gets to issues that the Iraqis have to hammer out.


QUESTION: Bahrain?

MR KIRBY: Bahrain?

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any comment on a hunger strike by a prisoner, detainee – however you want to call it – Abduljalil al-Singace?

MR KIRBY: Actually, I don’t, Brad. Let me get back to you.

QUESTION: And then I have one other question: Do you have any position on legislation proposed by, I think, Senators Wyden and Rubio to limit arms sales to Bahrain given its fulfillment or lack of fulfillment on crucial reforms on minority rights provisions and things like that?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to – I don’t want to talk about – I don’t want to comment on pending legislation. I don’t think that’s what we want to do. But I do more broadly want to draw you back to what we said at the time when certain assistance was – holds were lifted. And as we noted when announcing that policy shift, that the human rights situation in Bahrain is not adequate, although there has been some progress. And we’re going – and we’ve made clear – Secretary Kerry has made this clear repeatedly – that we’re going to continue to press Bahrain on human rights issues. And as you might remember, the holds were lifted for ministry of defense equities and not the ministry of interior, particularly the internal security forces. So nobody has given Bahrain a free pass on this. We continue to press our concerns, and I suspect that that will continue as long as there’s concerns about the human rights situation there.


MR KIRBY: Yes. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. Can we go back to Syria and the strong statement you had about the murder of this archaeologist?

MR KIRBY: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: This is today also the first anniversary of the death of – the murder of James Foley, an American journalist. In June, President Obama said that 30 – about 30 American journalist are still held around the world. Do you have any update about the fate of those held in Syria and especially the whereabouts of Mr. Tice?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m afraid I don’t have an update for you other than to say that Secretary Kerry – we continue to remain deeply concerned about their welfare and well-being. And again, these activities – the abduction and detention of journalists and certainly what happened to this archaeologist yesterday – all this just goes to prove the utter brutality of this group and the continued need for everybody in the coalition to continue to act together to degrade and defeat them in Iraq and in Syria.



QUESTION: The war there is obviously a disaster for civilians, and you’ve had the Hodeida bombing – the port bombing – recently and Amnesty coming out and talking about at least eight points where the airstrikes have been completely indiscriminate of civilians, along with lots of other things. Is there a benchmark at a certain point where the United States might feel it would withdraw support for the campaign as it is continuing, or at least modify it given the massive humanitarian disaster and civilian casualties?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to get into hypotheticals, Barbara. We have – we’re aware of the Amnesty report and we’re reviewing it. As you know, from the very start of the conflict we’ve called on all parties, all sides to comply with international humanitarian law and to work to take all feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians. I would remind too – I think what you’re getting at, I think, is some military assistance to Saudi Arabia, and it’s important to remember that the Saudi Government was invited by the Government of Yemen, asked to help and to participate in this.

But to your question, I think this is something we’re monitoring very, very closely. It’s obviously a fluid situation, and I’d be loath to get into a sort of a hypothetical line at which we would alter or change – certainly, that that would be something that, should there be any discussion of that, and I’m not suggesting there is, it would be something that the Pentagon would be much more deeply involved in than we would be.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that. The military push in the south with the UAE and the Saudis having put ground troops in and beginning to push the Houthis up to the north, there’s a sense among the regionals involved that this might be a game-changer and perhaps force the Houthis to accept their terms. What is the U.S. view of this point in the conflict? Do you welcome it? Do you welcome the fact that the Saudis and the UAE seem to be making gains alongside the Yemini Government in exile?

MR KIRBY: We’re being careful not to characterize or comment on tactical events on the ground. We – as I said, it’s very fluid, it’s very dynamic, and it changes week to week. And so we’re being very cautious here about how to we speak to the security situation in Yemen.

What I will go back to is that we want the UN-led process to move forward and for, again, all sides to take necessary precautions, for all sides to observe international humanitarian law. And there’s a huge humanitarian crisis in there that must be addressed and cannot be addressed right now because aid can’t get to where it needs to go. So we want the UN-led peace process to move forward. We believe that that— a political solution— is the real long-term answer here in Yemen. But again, I think we want to be careful to not call any one development on the ground quote/unquote, a “game-changer,” because it is so fluid.

QUESTION: But you say that it’s making that UN-led process closer or farther?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think we’re prepared to characterize it that way right now, no.

QUESTION: John, on this very issue, the figures are really staggering. Close to 4,000 civilians have died as a result of the Saudi or the Saudi-led coalition bombing. There are something like 15 million people without access to health care or clean water or things of that nature. I mean, we’re looking at a looming humanitarian disaster. So isn’t it time for the Saudis – perhaps you could urge your allies, the Saudis, to sort of hold off a little bit in their bombardment campaign of Yemen?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, it’s important to remember that Saudi Arabia was asked to assist by the Government of Yemen, the government that we recognize. And as I said, we continue to urge all parties in Yemen, all parties, to allow for the unimpeded entry and delivery of essential relief items to the civilian population nationwide. Because you’re right, Said; it’s not just in any one location. And this includes urgently needed medicine, food, and fuel. So we want all sides to abide by international humanitarian law. And I know I joke about adjectives here, but the adjective humanitarian law, that – I say that with malice aforethought. I mean, we want everybody to meet their obligations, to distinguish between military objectives and civilian objects, and to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians.

So we share – deeply share the concerns, the humanitarian concerns in Yemen. It is a crisis. And again, I want to say we want all parties to do what they can to allow for the unimpeded entry and then distribution of needed humanitarian assistance items.

QUESTION: But John, the difference is that Secretary Kerry got involved last time in trying to arrange for a – well, in arranging a ceasefire – a temporary ceasefire so that humanitarian aid can get to the people. What’s – what’s changed now? Why is the U.S. not pushing that more in this case to ensure that those civilians get that access?

MR KIRBY: We continue to press the case for that, Lesley. But there is a UN-led process in place, and it is that process that we believe the best possible chance for peace and stability to occur. And so we want to make it clear that we support that process, and we want all parties to support that process. But obviously, this is not – none of this crisis is being lost on Secretary Kerry, and he continues to work diligently to make sure that the UN-led process is the process that is supported by all parties and that it can move forward.

QUESTION: Go to China?


QUESTION: Two of the leaders of last year’s protest movement in Hong Kong have said that they’re being formally charged by Chinese authorities for illegal protest. Do you have a comment on that? Or illegal --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I’m sure I have it in here somewhere.

So we’re aware of reports that Joshua Wong and Alex Chao will face charges related to their participation in last fall’s protest, and we expect that Hong Kong authorities will handle their cases in a fair and transparent manner.

QUESTION: One more – China.


QUESTION: About the commemoration of the end of World War II event, September 3rd – is anyone from U.S. going to attend the event?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any announcements to make today with respect to American attendance, U.S. attendance at that.

QUESTION: I want to make sure one things: Have you received any written invitation from China?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I honestly don’t know if there’s been a written invitation. We’re certainly aware of this event and we’re considering what, if any, participation we’ll have. I just don’t have any announcements for you today.

QUESTION: Just – can I go back to Iran very briefly, John? To clarify, you were quite clear that you wouldn’t confirm the contents of the leaked document, but are you denying the contents?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I’m neither confirming or denying the details in that document.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Abigail.

QUESTION: Can I have one more on that? One of the tweets going out by the Iran deal is that Congress has been briefed on all these details. Has Congress been informed to that level of detail about what the inspectors – the details of the inspectors in Parchin military --

MR KIRBY: Right. The briefings to members of Congress about this aspect were in a classified setting, Abigail, so I think you can understand why I wouldn’t be able to get into the specifics of what was briefed and what was discussed.

QUESTION: On the inspections, there is a new report that shows that it’s going to cost about $50 million a year or something to – for the IAEA to conduct these inspections. Does that – is that figure accurate and is – are the U.S. taxpayers going to foot the bill for that?

MR KIRBY: I have not seen that figure and I would refer you to the IAEA to talk to what they believe their costs are going to be.


QUESTION: Japan. The Okinawa prefectural assembly unanimously adopted a resolution protesting the recent crash of the U.S. military helicopter, and they also called for the U.S. military to reveal the cause and also to halt flights of the same model helicopter until safety measures are taken. Do you have a response to --

MR KIRBY: Well, I haven’t seen this statement by the prefecture. Is that what you’re saying it’s – came from?

QUESTION: Yes, the Okinawa prefectural assembly adopted a resolution.

MR KIRBY: Okay. I have not seen the resolution, so I want to be careful not to speak to language that I haven’t read yet. And what I will say is two things. One, I would refer you to DOD to speak to the degree to which this accident’s going to be investigated. They all are. Any time a U.S. military aircraft is involved in a mishap of any kind, there’s a full investigation done because we want to make sure that we figure out what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again. But again, I would refer you to DOD for any further details about it.

QUESTION: And do you have concern that it’s – I mean, was unanimously adopted, meaning all the political parties in the prefectural assembly supported the resolution?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for the assembly and the action that they took. You have more information about it than I do. That’s – those are decisions that they make and that they should speak to. What I can tell you is that we value deeply our alliance commitments to Japan and we’re going to continue to meet those commitments. Military operations and exercises are a key part of being able to meet those commitments.

Regrettably, when you conduct operations and exercises, there’s – they’re not risk-free and there’s always a potential for mishap, accident, injury, and sadly sometimes death. And in this case, this – hard landing is what it was. It wasn’t – as I understand it, it wasn’t a crash. It was a hard landing aboard a naval ship. And it’ll be fairly and fully investigated by the U.S. military, I can assure you, and the military will make the findings of that investigation known to the public, as they always do. So we need to let investigators do their work, let them find out what really happened, and I’m sure that that information will be shared with all relevant authorities at the appropriate time.

Yeah, in the back there.

QUESTION: Yes, on Estonia, besides raising the concern about the conviction of Mr. Kohver, are there any other ways that the United States could bring this issue up with the Russian counterparts?

MR KIRBY: I would just say we continue to raise these kinds of issues with our Russian counterparts in many different ways through many different vehicles, and the fact that I spent time today speaking to this right at the top I think should demonstrate the degree to which Secretary Kerry and the State Department remain concerned about this particular case, but about other such cases that we’ve seen come out of Russia. So nobody’s losing sight on this, nobody’s losing focus, and we’re going to continue to raise these issues through various means.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up: I know that you and your colleagues – often you have said that Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov, they talk often, they talk about various subjects all the time. But I do have to ask: Has this been brought up, to your knowledge, between the ministers?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any specifics with respect to this case and recent discussions he’s had with Foreign Minister Lavrov. But more – but broadly speaking, he continues to raise these kinds of concerns when he speaks to Foreign Minister Lavrov. Human rights concerns are always very high on the Secretary’s agenda.


QUESTION: So Fox News has identified the two emails from the Clinton aides that led to the FBI probe of Secretary of State Clinton’s email server. The one that’s not redacted includes information about Ambassador Stevens where – consideration of an impending departure, his expected whereabouts were he to depart, other information. Couldn’t this info, if it fell in the wrong hands, have put Ambassador Stevens’s life in jeopardy?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about what would have happened one way or the other in the past. I mean, the – what – the terrorist attack in Benghazi was thoroughly and fully reviewed, particularly by the Accountability Review Board here at the State Department, which was led by two independent leaders, so was fully investigated here at the State Department. And I don’t have anything more to add onto that.

QUESTION: And then just to follow – one more follow-up. As far as the disagreement with the inspector general about the classified nature of the emails, wouldn’t the inspector general know whether or not the information should be classified? Don’t they represent the view of the intelligence agencies that gathered the information?

MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t speak for the intelligence community inspector general. I can’t even speak and wouldn’t speak for the inspector general here at the State Department. They’re independent agencies and that’s the way it should be. So I would refer you to them to speak to their judgment. What I’ve said before is that two of those four, as we’ve said, were returned to the State Department, as they did not include intelligence community equities. And as I said yesterday, those two are going through the normal Freedom of Information Act review process. And if there is a determination here at the State Department that portions of them or all of them are in some form classified, then we’ll make that known. But we’re just not there yet. There’s a process and we’re going to follow that process.

As for the other two, I think, again, I made clear that we’ve asked the Director of National Intelligence for another assessment of those two, the two that the ICIG had determined should have been classified – or at least portions of which should have been classified top secret. So we’ve asked the DNI to look at that and we’ll see what happens. But they are independent and that’s the way it should be.

QUESTION: Can I follow up? There were several premises in the first question and I just wanted to ask you if you can confirm, one, that the FBI probe is in response to two emails. Is that your understanding?

MR KIRBY: I am not going to speak for the FBI.

QUESTION: And then two, that there is a probe in any way connected to an email specifically about Chris Stevens’ whereabouts. Is that your understanding?

MR KIRBY: A probe?

QUESTION: That’s – that was in the question, and you didn’t address or really confirm or deny.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m not going to talk about the – the question as I understood it – and if I got it wrong, I apologize – was would – you asked about decisions that were made at the time and whether that would have prevented his death. And I told you there was an exhaustive review done, the accountability review, and I’d point you to that, which was made public, to talk about the facts on the ground. And I believe that was the question.

QUESTION: And I’m asking you if you accepted the premises of her question regarding a probe linked to two emails and one specifically about Stevens’ whereabouts.

MR KIRBY: The – what I’ve said is that we are reviewing these emails to determine the degree to which – those two anyway – they’ve been returned to us for review. We’re reviewing the degree to which they contain classified information, and we’re going to do that through the normal Freedom of Information Act. There’s – that’s – if you’re talking about a probe, I wouldn’t call it a probe. It’s being – they’re being reviewed, as they should be, through our FOIA process.

QUESTION: You don’t know if this is related to any FBI action at all?

MR KIRBY: I won’t – I cannot speak for any other federal agency but the State Department.

QUESTION: And you won’t say whether or not those have anything to do with Chris Stevens and Benghazi?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the contents, no.


QUESTION: On this --

QUESTION: Same subject?

QUESTION: A clarification on --

QUESTION: This is the same as well.

MR KIRBY: Okay, hang on, hang on, hang on.

QUESTION: I just wondered if you have a clarification. On issues that are deemed classified by the State Department, are they done so in-house in the State Department, or are they done in coordination with other departments and agencies and so on?

MR KIRBY: In the case of these – oftentimes it’s not information that you – that you get is classified outside your agency by intelligence authorities. Sometimes things are deemed to be classified internally. Again, these are not always – sometimes they are, but not always are they black-and-white, binary decisions.

In the case of what we’re talking about here, which is the release of these emails --


MR KIRBY: -- which I think is what you’re getting at, there’s an exhaustive, extensive review process for each and every email, which includes not just State Department reviewers going through them but having intelligence community reviewers with us at the time as we go through them in real-time to help make determinations. Some of those determinations are fairly easy – yes or no. Some of them require additional review and discussion. Earlier this week we talked about some 300 that the intelligence community believes the relevant IC agencies ought to take a look at. That doesn’t mean that any or all or portions of those 300 are going to be classified. I wouldn’t get ahead of that process.

But the point is it’s – the short answer to your question is, with respect to these emails, it’s not just a State Department call; it is an interagency discussion that we’re having. And I think that’s appropriate. Does that slow it down a little bit? Yeah, probably, but we believe that that’s prudent.


QUESTION: Going back to these specific emails though, when they were released along with the first tranche of emails that were related to the Benghazi issue, there were redactions. And it was the position of this building at the time that any redactions had been made retroactively as the classification had been upgraded. This particular article says that the emails were deemed to contain classified information at the time they were sent. So just for maximum clarity, is it still the position of this building that the content in those emails was retroactively classified?

MR KIRBY: We stand by our review of those emails at the time.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: On to some non-hypothetical questions. First is --

MR KIRBY: Wait, you’re saying – you’re telling me they’re hypothetical in advance? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, they are non-hypothetical.

MR KIRBY: Oh, they’re non-hypothetical. All right.

QUESTION: And the first one is that how many emails still the end of business day last – yesterday you have gone through? The second is how many of them have you found that they may be have in containing classified information? And how are you doing with the deadlines?

MR KIRBY: Well, I am going to make it clear today that we are not going to get into a daily tally. Every month, as you know, we have to release a new tranche of emails. It is now, what, the 19th of August, and our reviewers and the reviewers with us in the intelligence community are looking hard at this next tranche. I’m not going to get ahead of exactly how many is going to be in there or how many upgrades there may be. So why don’t we wait till we get to the end of the month and then we’ll have a full report for you. Those emails, as they are released, will be up online. You can read them for yourself. And then I will have at the end of every month, as we have for the last two, a summary of the tranche itself.

QUESTION: Now going back to the server, what does the State Department know about it? It has been now handed over. Because in last couple of days – I think it was yesterday – Secretary Clinton has been avoiding the question about whether – because technically, it is different if it is – the emails are – the data is deleted or wiped or – there are different technical aspects of that. So do you know that – if the servers was wiped clean or the data was deleted? Where do we stand on that?

MR KIRBY: No, I would point you to former Secretary Clinton and her staff for – to comment about the status, the whereabouts of her server.

QUESTION: Yeah, because I was listening to the answers, and she avoided the question. It was repeated two or three times and she avoided it, and so I thought that maybe the State Department knows about that.

And the last one is: If you can give us a breakdown of – for, say, last four or five secretary of states, which servers they have used. I know that Secretary Kerry uses, but before that – say, five secretary of states – which servers someone has used,, some – so can you give us a breakdown and take the question?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have information today about the --

QUESTION: Can you take the question and if you can provide us --

MR KIRBY: You go back – you don’t have to go back too many secretaries of state before you get – before email, even.

QUESTION: Yeah. That’s what I’m saying.

MR KIRBY: I mean, so like, I just don’t have that level of detail. I don’t know that we have it. If we do and I can provide it to you, I’ll try to do that.

QUESTION: You say that you don’t have those details?

MR KIRBY: I’m up here --

QUESTION: Not now, but can you take the question?

MR KIRBY: -- I don’t have the details. I said I’d – let me look into it --

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR KIRBY: -- and if we have something that we can provide to you, I will, but I’m not going to speculate and dance on it up here. I just don’t have --

QUESTION: No, I’m not asking you to – requesting you to speculate.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have it.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Yeah, sort of related topic: The – a counsel for the State Department submitted a filing today in the Judicial Watch v. the State Department case.


QUESTION: This is the one related to Huma Abedin’s employment situation. In that, they seem to – this building seems to rebut the idea that they’ve failed to account for servers and devices of Clinton and her former aides that were in the possession of the State Department. And one of the items in that filing is that Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills both had State Department-issued BlackBerrys. The filing says that standard operating procedure would have been for there to have been a factory reset and for those devices to have been destroyed. But can you say definitively whether those BlackBerrys were returned? Is there, I guess, a receipt of them returning those BlackBerrys to the State Department?

MR KIRBY: You’re right. It is standard practice that when you move on, your personal device – your BlackBerry in this case – is – they do a factory reset, because oftentimes, they are repurposed and given to other employees. That’s happened to just about every BlackBerry I’ve had in government service myself. And it’s our understanding that that’s what happened in this case. It’s also likely that because this was a while ago, that those devices were – may have been destroyed. I don’t have the records of it because they were old and outmoded, and oftentimes, we purchase new equipment for – as the devices themselves are updated.

QUESTION: Great, but the language in the filing is fairly vague in saying that they were not located. I guess what I’m asking is: Was there a record that they were definitely returned to the State Department? Is that something that was looked into?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on whether or not they were – we have a record of them. They were – obviously, they were turned in, and according to protocol, they would have been reset and reissued. Now, who they were reissued to here in the department, I don't know. I don’t have that, and I don’t think they’re tracked in that way that you can look at your BlackBerry and know exactly who had it before because they’re reset. They have to be so that a new user can avail themself. So I don't know that we have a record of exactly who might have those BlackBerrys, even if they are still in use today.

QUESTION: Right, but you can say that they were turned in?

MR KIRBY: They were, yeah. They belong to the United States Government, and when you leave an agency – that you must turn it in. So yes, they were turned in. Where they are now, I couldn’t begin to tell you.

QUESTION: Is the information on those devices backed up or saved before they are reset or destroyed?

MR KIRBY: No, they remove user settings, configurations, and then, again, you want to be able to reissue it. So they are set back to the factory reset.

QUESTION: But you said that those devices belong to the United States Government.

MR KIRBY: They do.

QUESTION: Do they – doesn’t the information on there also belong to the United States Government, and by correlation, to the United States people?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, remember you’re talking about a Blackberry device. It’s not a – it’s not a server in itself. It’s a device that you manage your – mostly your email through. And your emails are – there’s a process for preservation of those as federal records.

QUESTION: Which --

MR KIRBY: But the Blackberry is just a device to – that you use for email and for phone.

QUESTION: But you can theoretically back up the information. There’s also text messages on those. There’s also call logs. I mean --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m not an expert in the records preservation --

QUESTION: I just find --

MR KIRBY: -- but that we --

QUESTION: I’m not accusing you of wrongdoing. I’m just confused as to why that’s not recorded, since it seems pertinent information for the archiving and retention of information that belongs to the public.

MR KIRBY: We – and there is a records preservation process in place. I don’t know all the details of it, Brad, with respect to personal computing devices – not personally owned --

QUESTION: They’re not personal.

MR KIRBY: -- but you know I mean.


MR KIRBY: That you have on your body instead of at your desk. And look, I mean, more broadly speaking, I mean, all of this is one of the reasons why the Secretary asked our IG last – late last year to go take a look at our records preservation process and our procedures here, to try to make sure that it’s as sound and efficient and effective as possible.

Okay. I’ve got time for just one more.

QUESTION: Just a quick clarification on that. You said the devices are sent back to the factories.

MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t. I said they’re reset to factory settings so that a new user can use them --

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR KIRBY: -- and not have to – they personalize it for themselves.

Yes, back here.

QUESTION: Could I could get a clarification on Iran? The reported IAEA agreement is only about past military dimensions, and there is a – and we want to know, can you confirm if there is a separate agreement pertaining to checking on future nuclear violations?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to the IAEA. As we said, that a key feature of this deal is that the IAEA must be able to address their concerns about PMD— possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program— and that’s the essence of the regimen that they have set up with this arrangement with Iran. But it is between the IAEA and Iran.

QUESTION: So can you or can you not say whether or not this separate agreement, moving forward, would be limited to Iranian inspectors?

MR KIRBY: I would refer you to the IAEA. That’s for them to speak to.

Abigail. Last one.

QUESTION: As part of the Ashley Madison hacking, 15,000 different government emails – email addresses were exposed. Is there any concern by the State Department about that information?

MR KIRBY: We’ve just seen press reports on this, so way too premature for me to be able to have a comment about this.

Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:01 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 08/18/2015 - 18:07

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 18, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:06 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. A couple of things at the top.

First on Syria, the United States welcomes yesterday’s UN Security Council presidential statement which showed that the Security Council, in one voice, stands for the principles outlined in the Geneva communique, including the need for a genuine political transition and transitional governing body in Syria. Yesterday’s statement underscores our long-held view that the only sustainable solution to the crisis in Syria is a political one – an inclusive, Syrian-led political process that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. The Security Council urged all parties to work diligently and constructively towards this goal. The United States is working diplomatically to achieve such a transition and is committed to supporting Special Envoy de Mistura’s efforts.

As you know, Secretary Kerry recently met with his Russian and Saudi counterparts to talk about a process forward for a political transition in Syria, and those discussions will continue. And as I said yesterday, he’s had a couple of conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov about this issue since that meeting in Doha.

On Sri Lanka, the United States commends the Sri Lankan people and government for yesterday’s election, which demonstrated their enduring commitment to democracy and the rule of law. The United States applauds the Sri Lankan elections commissioner, Sri Lankan civil society, and the candidates themselves for holding free and fair elections that were widely hailed as among the most peaceful in Sri Lanka’s history. The United States looks forward to working with President Sirisena, the prime minister, and the new government.

With that, Brad.

QUESTION: I don’t have anything maybe for the top, but if you have any update to your position on Thailand after today’s developments and any assistance you may be providing, as well as whether any Americans were affected.

MR KIRBY: Actually, I don’t have anything new today. We continue to monitor the situation closely. Thai authorities are investigating it. So I don’t have any new developments, and we have no indication today that there were any Americans involved in that tragic bombing. But again, Thai authorities are investigating this. We have maintained our offer for support. There’s been no request for any support.

QUESTION: Can we go to South Sudan --


QUESTION: -- where we ended yesterday? Today the South Sudan rebels are alleging that South Sudanese Government forces have attacked their positions, and they have accused the government forces of essentially taking advantage of the 15-day consultative period that they asked for to make gains on the ground. Is that what’s going on here?

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s a very fluid situation, Arshad. I don’t have a tactical update, if you will, on events on the ground of that nature. I will hasten to add, though, that our position remains the same as it was yesterday. We certainly welcome the signing of this agreement by the opposition leader, and we continue to urge the Government of South Sudan to also sign this agreement, which has been unified by, agreed by, supported by not only the states of the Intergovernmental Agency for Development, but the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, China, the African Union, and the United Nations. So it’s time to sign this agreement and to move forward for the South Sudanese people.

QUESTION: And are you making any progress on your review of ways to increase the pressure on those who haven’t signed the agreement?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, as I said yesterday and President Obama made clear, if there was no agreement signed as of yesterday, we’re going to consider ways to raise the cost for that intransigence. I don’t have any updates for you – we – other than to tell you that we are considering ways now to raise those costs, as we said we would. And again, we want the government to sign this. We understand there’s a 15-day period that they requested for consultations, and we urge them to go ahead and sign this agreement.

QUESTION: Are you – just the last thing on this. Are you not going to do anything to raise the costs during the now 14-day period?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not ruling anything in or not. I’m not prepared to say that at this point. What I can tell you is that we are actively reviewing options. That’s as we said we would. I don’t have any announcements with respect to that. I mean, this just happened yesterday. But as we said we would, we’re going to review the options available to us to increase the costs here for this intransigence. And again, I understand that they’ve requested this 15 days for consultation. It is in the government’s best interest to sign this agreement and to move forward for the people of South Sudan.

QUESTION: And last one for me on this. Should the government – and I realize you said that it’s a fluid situation and you don’t have an update on the technical situation. But as a general principle, does the U.S. Government believe that the Government of South Sudan should refrain from attacks on rebel positions?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s safe to say that we would obviously call on all parties to refrain from any violent means to bring about what we hope is a peaceful future for the people of South Sudan. So I can’t – again, I don’t want to confirm from this podium these press reports of this, but obviously, if it’s true, it’s deeply concerning to us and manifestly unhelpful to moving forward with the peace process. And again, we urge the government, the only agent in this process to not sign, urge them to sign, to move forward.

QUESTION: As the Obama Administration looks at what it might do in response to intransi – I can’t even say the word.

MR KIRBY: Intransigence. I had to practice it a couple times.


QUESTION: I don’t think you got it right.

MR KIRBY: I did get it right. On the third try I did. (Laughter.) Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. consulting with other countries about taking actions in tandem?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re certainly working – we’re working in coordination with the Intergovernmental Agency for Development – that one’s a mouthful too. We’re working with them to increase pressure on those parties that are not signing – the government – that are not – that are undermining this process. So yes, it’s not just unilateral. We’re working with the IGAD.

QUESTION: And is the U.S. --


QUESTION: -- perhaps revisiting its support, counsel, assistance to Salva Kiir in – over the time that he has become president?

MR KIRBY: Say that again?

QUESTION: Is the U.S. reconsidering the assistance it has provided to Salva Kiir, the political cover, the encouragement – given that this country isn’t even five years old --

MR KIRBY: Right. I don’t want to get ahead – again, to Arshad’s question, I don’t want to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made yet. There’s options that we have unilaterally. There’s options that we have through the UN. Obviously, we’re working in coordination with the IGAD on this. I mean, there’s – there are plenty of tools in the toolbox here to deal with this intransigence. That was pretty good, wasn’t it? And we’re just at the beginning of this, so I don’t want to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made yet. I think it’s just important to state clearly and unequivocally again that we want the government to sign this agreement. This conflict has gone on way too long and too many people in South Sudan have suffered as a result of the instability and insecurity there.

QUESTION: So would it be fair to describe the Obama Administration as exasperated with Salva Kiir and his government?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not going to throw an adverb on it here. We’ve been clear, I think, and very succinct about what needs to happen here. This peace agreement needs to be signed. The future for South Sudan and the people there depend upon – depends upon a peaceful, stable, secure South Sudan, and this agreement will help us get to that goal. And so that’s what needs to happen. I don’t know that I would put a label on it. Obviously, we’re – and as I said yesterday, we certainly regret that he hasn’t signed and again call on him to do so.


QUESTION: Could we move on? Do you have any comments on the reports that the Obama Administration is hoping to seal direct flights to Cuba by the end of the deal – by the end of year? Sorry.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, let me get to that. Okay, so on Cuba and commercial flights, I know there was a – there was some press reporting on this. I want to make one point right at the outset, and that is that – and Secretary Kerry was clear about this on Friday in Havana – that normalizing relations is going to be a long, complex process, and it’s going to require a lot of interaction and dialogue on both sides between our two governments, based on mutual respect. And that’s why he and his counterpart down there, the foreign minister, talked about this steering committee that’s being set up to sort of work through the various phases of normalization that we all recognize is going to take some time.

So with that as preamble, I think it’s also important to note that the embargo on Cuba is still in place. Legislative action alone is required to lift it. Obviously, Secretary Kerry and the President support the lifting of the embargo. But in the meantime, it’s the Treasury’s Department, their Office of Foreign Assets Control, will continue to administer the regulations that provide for general and specific licenses for the 12 categories of purposeful travel to Cuba that are now authorized for American citizens.

Under the Cuba regulatory changes published by this office, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, in January of this year, scheduled air service to Cuba by U.S.-based airlines is permissible. And then I would just add that we remain in contact with the Cuban Government regarding the establishment of scheduled air service, which U.S. airlines say they are eager to offer to authorized travelers – again, authorized travelers under those 12 categories, Brad. No decisions have yet been made, and of course, we seek to continue to have these technical discussions in the near future.

QUESTION: This isn’t, then, a congressional embargo issue. It is purely within the realm of the U.S. – the various agencies – Homeland Security, the FAA – deciding that everything that fulfills the requirements for this has been fulfilled, and then making an agreement with Cuba on all of those parameters?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, so I mean, we have to separate the two. There’s still an embargo and that’s in place and that requires the Congress to act to lift it.


MR KIRBY: And I don’t want to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made yet by the White House. What I can tell you is we’re staying in contact with the Cuban Government. There are 12 categories that – of purposeful travel that are permitted, and I would refer you to the Treasury Department on how exactly that’s being administered now and may be administered in the future. That’s really not a matter for the State Department. But it is separate and distinct, these 12 categories which are permissible now, from the lifting – a full lifting of the embargo, which would allow, of course, more fulsome and free – if the embargo’s lifted – more fulsome and free travel to Cuba. Does that --

QUESTION: Well, I’m not so much concerned about the individuals who could go. I think that was – that’s clear, as you said, from the January announcement – but on the rule for commercial airline carriers to establish direct links. Because right now you just have the charter flights, right?

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And what it would take to allow U.S. Airways – or American Airlines, sorry, or Delta or whomever to establish a direct Boston-to-Havana link or Washington to Havana or New York to Havana.

MR KIRBY: Right. Yeah. So again, we’re in contact with the Cuban Government on that. I’d point you to Treasury for more details on that.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t – isn’t the idea of having U.S. airlines allowed to go there – doesn’t that require, one, a rewriting of the 1953 transportation agreement between the two countries? And isn’t that a process that’s carried out jointly by State and the Department of Transportation?

MR KIRBY: Ros, I’m not familiar with 1953 legislation. And I’m not going to take the question because I think I’ve answered it as best I can today, which is that there are 12 categories for purposeful travel that are permitted. There’s been no decisions made about scheduled air – commercial air traffic to and from Cuba. We’re going to continue to talk to them about it. That’s one of the reasons why that I opened the answer talking about the steering committee, but no decisions have been made yet.

And as for the travel that’s currently permitted under those 12 categories, that’s really being administered by the Treasury Department, and I think you’d have to go to them for more comment about that.

QUESTION: So are you then suggesting that the idea of expanding the ability of U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba under this current Treasury rubric – are you suggesting that those reports are inaccurate?

MR KIRBY: What I’m suggesting is that no decisions have been made yet and that we’re going to remain in contact with the Cuban Government as we move forward. Normalization is going to take some time. But I think you heard Secretary Kerry talk about this when we were down in Havana on Friday. I mean, he noted a significant increase in travel to Cuba, over 35 percent increase. And he also talked about the – being able to reach an agreement to allow a resumption of scheduled air service would provide more options to facilitate authorized travel to Cuba, consistent with our policy of increasing people-to-people ties.

So it would – being able to reach an agreement on this would still, to Brad’s question, still allow for broader access through those 12 categories, because you can’t – beyond that, you’re talking about the embargo and that, again, requires congressional action.

But we’re not there yet. So what I’m saying in respect to the press reporting is that no decisions have been made, and this is an issue we continue to discuss internally and with the Cuban Government.

QUESTION: Have you heard from members of Congress who might be opposed to any more changes beyond what was already done at the beginning of the year for these person-to-person travel contacts?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any particular correspondence with congressional members on this matter to read out today.


QUESTION: Thank you, John. Can we go back to Syria and --

QUESTION: Just another one on Cuba.

QUESTION: Can we stick with Cuba? Yeah.

QUESTION: Just one more on Cuba.


QUESTION: And this is just a clarification. So as long as the 12 categories are respected, there’s nothing in the embargo that would prevent a commercial flight, as long as you can make an agreement with the Cubans. Is that correct?

MR KIRBY: I’m not a lawyer, Barbara. I’m just saying that reaching an agreement – as I said, reaching an agreement to allow resumption of scheduled air service would allow – would provide more options than we currently have to facilitate that authorized travel to Cuba right now under those 12 categories.

So being able to reach an agreement with air carriers and within our government and with the Cuban Government certainly would allow for more options to – for that authorized travel. So discussions are ongoing. No decisions to read out.

QUESTION: Just two quick things.


QUESTION: You said, I think, that you look forward to technical discussions with the Cubans on this issue soon. Do you have a date for those technical discussions?

MR KIRBY: We talked about this on Friday – actually, the Secretary talked about this when we were in Havana – that the – we think – we’re looking for the first meeting of this steering group committee to be sometime in early September, around the 9th or 10th of September. I don’t know that it’s been officially locked in, but that’s sort of the timeframe for this. And it’ll be here in Washington[1].

QUESTION: And would that steering group take up the issue of reaching an agreement on resumption of regularly scheduled air travel?

MR KIRBY: I don’t want to get ahead of an agenda for a meeting that hasn’t happened yet.


MR KIRBY: I do – but I do think we – I do want to go back to what I said before. This is going to be a long process. There are – as the Secretary said, there’s multiple phases here. One of them will include discussions about civil aviation, which would include this matter, of course. But this is going to be, we believe, a fairly lengthy process. And so I think I don’t want to – we don’t want to prejudge discussions that haven’t happened yet --


MR KIRBY: -- or get to speculative on timing.

QUESTION: And then – well, this is my last question on this, which goes to timing and the Journal report saying that it could be – or an agreement could be reached as early as the end of the year. I mean, is that your goal, or do you not even have a goal; you’re just going to let it take the time that it takes?

MR KIRBY: I think I’m just going to leave it where I was, Arshad. I’m not going to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made. Obviously, we want to move the process of normalization forward, but we don’t want to do it faster than we can accommodate or in an unwise speedy way. So we know this is going to take some time. There’s – there are some issues where we certainly share common goals with the Cubans – narcotics and maritime security – very, very common goals. And then there are other issues which I think are going to require a little bit more time to hammer out. Transportation and civil aviation is probably one of those. So I don’t want – I just – I don’t want to speculate about when we might see an agreement to go forward on this.

QUESTION: Just to clarify --


QUESTION: -- I think the Secretary – I thought I remembered him suggesting the first round might be in Havana. Are you saying it’s --

MR KIRBY: Let me check on that.


MR KIRBY: I might be mistaken on that, but I thought --

QUESTION: I’ll just check. It’s not – all right.

MR KIRBY: I thought it was here. So let me check on that, Brad. If I’m wrong, then we’ll send out a correction to that.


QUESTION: Can we return to Syria and what happened yesterday at the UN?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Yes? So unless mistaken, but correct me if I’m wrong, the Security Council statement made no mention of President Bashar al-Assad’s fate. So does it mean that we should read that as a concession made by the U.S. to the Russians, or that your position on the fate on President Assad is still very far away from Moscow?

MR KIRBY: There’s no concession from the United States perspective. Our position about – on Assad has not changed. He cannot be a part of Syria’s future.


QUESTION: Two questions. Thank you, sir. Terrorism-related questions. Last week India and Pakistan both celebrated their independent days. And my question here is that people wants peace, of course, in both countries, and – but there is fighting going on on the border in the Kashmir region. And because some people have shopped – opened their shops in both countries, not to resolve and solve this problem – in India maybe corrupt politician, in Pakistan the corrupt military and ISI people. My question here is that in Washington also the Pakistan embassy, dozens of people – Afghanis and Americans – they held a demonstration on the 14th. What they were saying that the most of the U.S. aid is being – it’s not going to people that it’s meant to be and taxpayers’ money is being misused by those people there. My question is here: Where do we stand, where do we go, what is the U.S. position as far as number of terrorists wanted by India and U.S. and they are sitting in Pakistan?

MR KIRBY: I have no idea, Goyal, what the number might be to that. But – and I don’t mean to make light of your question, because it’s an important one. The independence celebrations, I think, offer a good opportunity for everybody, whether they’re Indian or Pakistani, to kind of reflect on the challenges, the common challenges and security situation there between those two countries and inside those two countries. And we certainly would hope that people will take advantage of this anniversary to do just that. Certainly, there – we know there continue to be tensions, and our position about that has not changed. These are matters for both India and Pakistan to work out. There’s certainly enough motivation to do that given that tension still exists.

And as for the protest activity, I mean, that’s part of democracy, that people have the right and the responsibility, the ability to speak out against the policies they don’t approve. As for our assistance, I mean, we have strong relationships with both countries. I’m not qualified to get into the details of the security assistance package that was provided to Pakistan; I would refer you to DOD on that. But we have strong bilateral relations with both countries, and we, the United States have, as Secretary Kerry has said himself, have strong interest in seeing peaceful resolution to the tensions there.

QUESTION: Second related question is that Prime Minister Modi was in UAE and in Abu Dhabi and also yesterday in Dubai, where his message was, after 35 years, any Indian prime minister visited this region was that to give them a clear message that most of the terrorists, they have homes in there, in Dubai, including Dawood Ibrahim. And what he said, that they should close this section of the going-and-coming terrorists from the neighboring countries, because those terrorists use their money, black market money, against innocent people, killing in the region, including in India and Pakistan, of course. What he said that once you do this – and there should be international pressure on Dubai especially because it has open border, open doors for those terrorists, they have homes there – what he said then, then we can put pressure other countries that they – what India is looking for, Dawood Ibrahim and others wanted. Because innocent people are being killed there.

MR KIRBY: Well, I won’t – it’s not my place to speak to the prime minister’s comments or concerns. I mean, obviously, he has every right to be concerned about the security of his country and his people. I think, stepping back a little bit, we all recognize and our partners in that region recognize that terrorism is a shared challenge, a shared responsibility, for all of us to work together to share information as best we can and to work in concert and coordination – as we are against ISIL, 62-plus nations – to get at this very real threat. I think I’d leave it at that.


QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: John, on – move to Russia and Iran, if I could? Reports out of Moscow saying that the S-300 missile system sale was going to be finalized within the coming days given the five-year extension of the arms embargo on Iran as part of the JCPOA. Does this sale undermine the JCPOA?

MR KIRBY: Let me find my points on that. So our position on this sale has been known for some time. We continue to have concerns about the transfer of the S-300. And Secretary has spoken previously to Foreign Minister Lavrov about those concerns. We’ve been making very clearly our objections to any sale of this missile system to Iran, as I said, for quite some time, and we’ll continue to monitor it closely. The transfer of this defensive system to Iran is not prohibited under UN Security Council resolutions. Now, we need to know more about the specifics of this proposed transfer to determine whether any domestic U.S. sanction programs may be implicated should a sale or transfer proceed.

QUESTION: We’ve heard the Administration tout Russia’s role as a negotiating partner throughout the P5+1. Given this sale, given the concerns about Soleimani’s travel – reported travel – to Moscow, what does this say about Russia as an enforcement partner in the P5+1?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, this sale doesn’t – this sale, though we are – nothing’s changed about our concern, and I don’t want to make any implication that we are. This doesn’t violate UN Security Council resolutions. And so while we certainly object to it, the Secretary also has spoken clearly about Russia’s helpful role in getting us to where we got on the Iran deal. And it is important to remember that the Iran deal is not a U.S.-Iran deal, it’s a P5+1-Iran deal, and that every party to the agreement has responsibilities and obligations to keep. And it’s Secretary Kerry’s expectation that all of them will.

QUESTION: Why – why do you object to it?

MR KIRBY: Why do we object to the sale?


MR KIRBY: Well, this is a surface-to-air missile system going to a regime who we know continues to conduct nefarious activities and support to terrorism around the region. I don’t know why we wouldn’t object to it.

QUESTION: But do you view it as a defensive weapon or as an offensive weapon?

MR KIRBY: It’s defensive system, but it’s nonetheless a surface-to-air missile and it’s not an insignificant military capability.

QUESTION: You – so you don’t see that now that Iran has signed off on this nuclear agreement and has faithfully adhered to the last one, that it has a legitimate right to equip itself with defensive material that is not prohibited under the nuclear agreement or UN Security Council resolutions?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, again, the nuclear deal is separate and distinct --


MR KIRBY: -- from our concern about Iran’s nefarious activities in the region. And your question presupposes that they – that the purchase of this system would be used simply for internal national defense, and I submit to you that we have legitimate concerns that those kinds of systems could end up being used for other purposes or in the hands of other people. So I think we have every right to be concerned about it and to express those concerns.

QUESTION: Since we’re still on Iran --

QUESTION: But you said that – you said that Secretary Kerry has previously raised this issue with Foreign Minister Lavrov, which he has and talked about publicly.


QUESTION: Did he raise it in last week’s conversation?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know, Arshad. I mean, he speaks with Foreign Minister Lavrov all the time, and usually any conversation with the foreign minister includes more than one topic.

QUESTION: Can you check that?

MR KIRBY: I couldn’t tell you when the last time --

QUESTION: Could – just in --


QUESTION: Not when the last time was, but whether they talked about it in the last conversation, which would suggest greater immediacy to the longstanding U.S. concern about this.

MR KIRBY: I’ll tell you what, I’ll check. But I am not going to promise a readout of every conversation he has with the foreign minister --

QUESTION: I get it, I get it.

MR KIRBY: -- and the details of them.


QUESTION: Related to that, any comment on Senator Menendez announcing that he would vote against the deal?

MR KIRBY: Secretary Kerry’s been very clear that every member of Congress has to vote the way they – what they believe is proper for them and for their constituents. The Secretary has great respect for Senator Menendez and his service to our country, and he continues to believe that this deal should be supported by all members of Congress on the merits of the deal because it makes America safer, it makes our allies and partners safer – not to mention Israel – and that it is far better to deal with the nefarious activities of the Iranian regime when that regime does not possess a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: The Secretary --

QUESTION: Does he continue to lobby the members while he’s on vacation?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary’s not lobbying, Justin, but he has certainly been in constant communication with members of Congress, and I suspect that while he’s on vacation he will continue to communicate with them and address their concerns as appropriate.

QUESTION: Has he conducted any calls with any foreign officials or is he allowing Deputy Secretary Blinken to do that while he’s away?

MR KIRBY: No, he continues to communicate on the telephone with his foreign counterparts, absolutely.

QUESTION: Do you think that Senator Menendez’s – Senator Menendez, of course, former ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee --


QUESTION: -- do you think that his opposition endangers your ability to get the agreement through Congress?

MR KIRBY: Well, I kind of dealt with this a little bit a few days ago. The Secretary remains confident that this deal will achieve or will get the support of Congress. That said, he isn’t taking any vote for granted, and as I just said to Justin, he continues to reach out and continues to make himself available to those members of Congress who continue to have concerns.

QUESTION: You said he continues to – sorry. Can you say whether he’s had a private conversation with Senator Schumer?

MR KIRBY: Yes, of course he has.

QUESTION: Yeah, and – oh, okay. So --

MR KIRBY: Of course.

QUESTION: Have you made that public or something? I missed that.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know if we did or not, but if so, then I’m making it public now. Of course he has had conversations with Senator Schumer about this, absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay, yeah.

QUESTION: And Senator Menendez as well?

MR KIRBY: I believe so, but I’d have to check – I can tell you that he continues to make himself available to members of Congress.

QUESTION: So the President a couple weeks ago made a reference to many of the opponents of the Iran deal being the same people who dragged us into the Iraq War. Do you feel that argument is undermined given that then-Congressman Menendez voted against the Iraq War, whereas people like Secretary Kerry voted for it?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make political judgments here from this podium. That wouldn’t be appropriate. Again, the Secretary believes this deal is in the national interest not only of the United States but of our allies and partners, and he’ll continue to communicate with and answer the questions of members of Congress right up through the time they vote. He’s comfortable that it will meet with the approval of Congress. But as I said, he’s not going to take anything for granted and he’s going to keep talking to them.


QUESTION: Is the building coordinating in any way with nonprofit groups that support the Iran nuclear deal? There’s been some reporting that the Administration overall is working in tandem with Plowshares and with J Street and with other organizations to try to build support on the Hill for the deal.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything to read out from this podium about that. The Secretary of State has an obligation and a responsibility to communicate with members of Congress. He’s done that; he has – he believes in obligation to communicate with the American people about this, and he’s done that. And I think you’ll see him continue to do that. But that’s been the real central focus of his effort, is dealing with members of Congress and members of the media such as you all and, of course, the American people.

QUESTION: Change topic?

MR KIRBY: Can I – I’ve been up here a lot. Let me go back here just a little bit and then we’ll get back to you.



QUESTION: It has been – the clashes in Turkey, especially in the southeast of Turkey, has been increasing lately. And today, as the casualties also are increasing, do you have any new comments regarding the latest in Turkey?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any specifics with respect to recent attacks. Again, we call on terrorist activity to stop; we – particularly the PKK to return to the peace process. Violence, terrorist violence like that’s not going to get anybody anywhere and it’s not going to decrease the tensions there in the region.

QUESTION: Just yesterday, PKK, one of the leaders also ask or wanted U.S. to work with two parties, Turkey and the PKK, to bring about some ceasefire or kind of a peace talks. What is your position on that? Is U.S. willing to --

MR KIRBY: We’ve long said – we’ve long urged the PKK to renounce violence and return to a peace process.

QUESTION: No, would you be willing to take the position for a ceasefire between the parties if there is --

MR KIRBY: What do you mean “take a position?”

QUESTION: Mediate.

QUESTION: Mediate the parties.

MR KIRBY: We’ve long said this is for Turkey and the PKK to work out. We want the PKK to renounce violence and return to the peace process.


QUESTION: I think on Sunday UN Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli Corpuz spoke in Okinawa. And she mentioned that forcing the Futenma relocation facility onto Okinawa would be a violation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Do you have a comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Nothing’s changed about our position about the relocation of the Futenma facility.

QUESTION: Do you accept the UN’s decision or recognition of the Okinawan people, the Ryukyuan people of Okinawa as an indigenous people?

MR KIRBY: I’m just going to return to what I said: Nothing’s changed about our position about the benefits of the relocation of the Futenma facility. We continue to work with the Government of Japan.

QUESTION: But – so you don’t have a position on whether or not they’re indigenous?

MR KIRBY: On whether or not who’s indigenous?

QUESTION: The Ryukyuan people in Okinawa.

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to – I haven’t seen those comments, so I’m not going to address them specifically. I just want to keep returning to what I said before that we’re going to continue to work with the Government of Japan on the relocation of the Futenma facility, which we believe is in the best interest of our alliance.


QUESTION: Just one question. There were media reports that the United States was investigating the alleged use of chemical gas by ISIS against the Kurds in Iraq. Has that committee or that investigating team come to a conclusive result about the use of gas against --

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of a U.S. investigation into this. I’d refer you to --

QUESTION: CNN and other media outlets, they all reported it.

MR KIRBY: Oh, well, if CNN reported it, then – (laughter). I mean, look, I don’t – I don’t have anything to report on that.

QUESTION: So you didn’t investigate it?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m telling you I don’t have anything to report on this news report you’re giving me about an investigation. The press reporting itself is deeply concerning to us. I’ve seen no indication and we have no confirmation that ISIL used a chemical agent, whether it’s mustard or anything else. Obviously, if it’s true, it’s certainly very deeply concerning given the brutality that this group is capable of.


MR KIRBY: I don’t have any investigation to read out to you today --

QUESTION: But did the U.S. --

MR KIRBY: -- and I’d point you to DOD.

QUESTION: So you don’t know if the U.S. had investigated at all?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.



QUESTION: Just one question. Yesterday Ambassador Brett McGurk tweeted and he said that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a mass murdering rapist now in hiding with days numbered. Is this the view of the U.S. Administration now that Baghdadi’s days are numbered?

MR KIRBY: Baghdadi?

QUESTION: Al-Baghdadi, so-called caliphate of the ISIS.

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen Mr. McGurk’s tweet, but obviously, the way I would put this is any leader of ISIL is certainly putting themselves in harm’s way by assuming a leadership position. As we’ve said repeatedly, we’re going to continue to go after them wherever they are and continue to put pressure on them. And as a career choice, I would say it’s one with a very short shelf life.


QUESTION: Yes, please. Regarding Syria – and you mentioned the political transition or political solution – are you in touch or in contact with the authorities in Syria nowadays? I mean --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. Can you repeat that again? I missed you.

QUESTION: You talk about political transition or political solution --


QUESTION: -- for the case of Syria.


QUESTION: Are you in touch or in contact with the Assad regime or anybody representing it in – or are you planning to do that?


QUESTION: So there are some talks that – or reports, press reports – maybe you can have a chance to see it or not. There are some talks are going on between Americans and Syrian officials in Muscat. Do you have any confirmation or denying for that report?


QUESTION: My second question is regarding Egypt.

MR KIRBY: No, that was your second question.


MR KIRBY: That was your second question already.

QUESTION: Okay. The third question.


QUESTION: It’s good you have kept counting.

MR KIRBY: I do a lot of that up here. (Laughter.) Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Regarding this ratification of a new anti-terrorism law in Egypt, do you have anything to say about that?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, actually, I do. So we are concerned that some measures in Egypt’s new anti-terrorism law could have a significant detrimental impact on human rights and fundamental freedoms, including due process safeguards, freedom of association, and freedom of expression. We stand with Egypt in its fight against terrorism. And as Secretary Kerry said himself during the Strategic Dialogue in Cairo a few weeks ago, “defeating terrorism requires a long-term comprehensive strategy that builds trust between the authorities and the public, including by enabling those who disagree with the government’s policies to express those views peacefully and through participation in the political process.”

QUESTION: So my fifth question is about Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It’s not fifth; it’s fourth. So it’s about that there are reports from Los Angeles Times that United States has doubled the number of support staff advising the Saudi intervention in Yemen. Do you have anything to say about that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I don’t have anything on that. We’ve doubled the number of support staff?

QUESTION: Doubled the staff number, which is the advisor – what is called advisors to 45 people.

MR KIRBY: In Saudi Arabia for --

QUESTION: Helping Saudi Arabia in --

MR KIRBY: Oh, this is the support to Saudi Arabia and their --

QUESTION: Their --

MR KIRBY: -- and their air missions.

QUESTION: -- operations, operations.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. That – I’d have to refer you to DOD on that. I don’t have anything on that. No, that’s not a question for us.

QUESTION: John, I wanted to ask you – sorry.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: A real quick one about question number four. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: 4b of subset c. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The concerns about possible human rights violations he asked.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Has anyone from this building expressed those concerns to Egypt?

MR KIRBY: We are in constant dialogue with Egypt through our post there. So yes, we’ve expressed those concerns. Yes.


QUESTION: How about Saudi Arabia? I mean, they began registration for municipal election. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I’m afraid I’m not familiar with that, so I don’t have anything to add to that.


QUESTION: John, if I can change quickly. Just a clarification I wanted to get from the State Department on Secretary Clinton’s emails. Is it still the position of the State Department that no emails that came through the server were classified at their origination on the server, as opposed to being retroactively classified?

MR KIRBY: It is still our view that we have no indication that any of the emails that have been upgraded --

QUESTION: That’s not what he’s asking. So he’s talking about the ones that were --

MR KIRBY: But I don’t have to answer the question you ask. I just have to respond the way I want to. (Laughter.) So let me finish, and then if I don’t get at it – I wasn’t even through my first sentence and you challenged me.

QUESTION: No, I know. You already screwed it up.

MR KIRBY: No, no, no, no, no. You just didn’t like where I was going with it. (Laughter.) So you still have no indication that any of the emails were classified at the time they were sent or necessarily should have been known to have been classified when they were sent – of the ones that we have scrutinized, reviewed, and upgraded.

QUESTION: I ask because the inspector general’s report from the IC – there was a letter to members of Congress saying that two of those emails were classified from their origination, which would have meant once they hit that server --


QUESTION: -- that they were classified at the time. So that’s why I was looking for clarification.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, again, so two points. One, we’ve seen no indication – and I’ve said this before – that any classification markings were stripped. So that we see no indications that upon entry into the system people would have readily seen and known that they were classified in nature.

And as we’ve said before, of the four emails in question, two of them were deemed to not have intelligence community equities. Doesn’t mean that they – portions of them may not have been classified; it just means they don’t have any intel community equities.

And the other two, we’ve asked for clarification from the Director of National Intelligence to go look at it to determine the degree which they are, in fact, classified. So that decision hasn’t been rendered yet, and so we’re still working with them on that.

QUESTION: And the last one on that is if there was a sort of a lifting, a copying and pasting, if you will, off of a classified document and just portions of that were then placed into an email and then put on the server, does that sort of undermine the argument that no one saw anything that had markings on it? There wouldn’t have been markings --

MR KIRBY: Well, that’s a – it’s a great hypothetical that I’m simply not in a position to answer, and I don’t want to get into specific content here from the podium about this.


QUESTION: Just a couple of clarifications on this. Of the four emails in question, you said you have concluded that two of them had no intel community equities.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: You then said that is not to say they might not have contained classified information; they just didn’t contain any information that the intelligence community believes should be classified, right?

MR KIRBY: That was in the intelligence community’s realm or sphere, yes.

QUESTION: So was there any information in those two emails, where there was no IC equities, was there any information that was classified?

MR KIRBY: We’ve – it’s – we don’t have a determination right now about those two, whether they contained any classified information or not.

QUESTION: Okay. And then secondly, on the other two, you said that you have asked for clarification from the DNI?

MR KIRBY: These are the two that the intelligence community inspector general deemed possessed or contained at least some top-secret material.


MR KIRBY: We’ve asked for a further review by --


MR KIRBY: -- by DNI, and that review’s ongoing.

QUESTION: And you said in your answer – sorry, you said that you’ve asked for further review on the extent to which --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- those two --

MR KIRBY: May or may not be --

QUESTION: May or may not, that was the --

MR KIRBY: -- be classified.

QUESTION: All right, I get it. Okay. And then I got one last one on this if I may.

MR KIRBY: You should not go on a honeymoon, because we dealt with all of this while you were gone.

QUESTION: You don’t seem to want to answer the – first of all, I was not on my honeymoon, okay? So get your facts straight, okay? (Laughter.) Though I had a really good time.


QUESTION: And second, yesterday, I asked you if you would take a question and you said you would do what you could to help me. And I’m asking if you have an answer to that question, which was: Were the IT people and the people at the State Department responsible for ensuring that the Secretary’s communications are secure aware that Secretary Clinton was using a private email address on a private server?

MR KIRBY: So as we’ve said before, her email address and use of this server was known to those that she worked with here at the State Department, and I think you can see evidence of that in the 3,000-plus emails that have already been publicly released. And I think it’s important to remember – and I said this yesterday as a reminder – there was not then nor is there currently now a prohibition against using a personal email account for work.

The critical piece is here – is that you’re retaining the records. And again, that’s why we went back to even former secretaries to request any records that they had. And the second critical piece, which we talked about yesterday, which was that if you are in receipt of, possession of, transmission of, sensitive information or classified information, there are procedures and policies that you must use to go through it. So I don’t have any more detailed information to answer your question than that.

QUESTION: Now, could I – let me make clear: My question is not whether her email address or the private server were known to the people that she worked with, because the people that the Secretary worked with, in a sense, is a relatively small group of people.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And obviously, anybody who’s emailing her knows what her email address is. My question is whether the people in the State Department’s IT department and any other people at the State Department responsible for ensuring the security of her communications – not that they contain or don’t contain classified information – just that her communications are not subject to being wire-tapped or copied or intercepted by somebody else, because there’s got to be somebody here who is responsible for making sure that her communications or --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- any secretary’s communications are secure – whether those two categories of people, IT and whoever’s responsible for the security of the communications, were aware that she was using a private email address that operated from a private server.

MR KIRBY: As I said, there were people here that worked that knew of the arrangement. The arrangement was not prohibited. I don’t have any more details with respect to the IT people and what they did or didn’t know at the time and what they did or didn’t do at the time.

QUESTION: There’s a reason that I’m asking it.

MR KIRBY: It’s a fair question. I just can’t go beyond the detail I’ve given you.

QUESTION: Can you ask? I mean, the reason I’m asking --

MR KIRBY: I have.

QUESTION: And they – and nobody knows?

MR KIRBY: I can tell you that people here at the State Department, people she worked with, knew about this arrangement. There was nothing that prohibited it. And I don’t have any more detail in terms of what IT --

QUESTION: There was no reason for IT to get involved --

QUESTION: No, no. I get it. Can I keep going?

QUESTION: -- at the State Department. I mean, that’s what I think I’m getting from what you’re saying. There was no reason for the State Department IT department to get involved in her email, so they didn’t, right?

MR KIRBY: There’s – none that I’m aware of, no. No reason for them to.

QUESTION: So nobody from the IT department that you’re aware of knew that she was using a private email on a private server?

MR KIRBY: I know that people here knew about this arrangement, Arshad. I can’t go into --

QUESTION: I know that people here knew about the arrangement too, but --

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

QUESTION: -- what I don’t know is whether the people who were responsible for making sure that her communications didn’t get hacked into knew. That’s the question. And if they didn’t know --

MR KIRBY: I understand the question.

QUESTION: -- then the question is: Why didn’t they know?

MR KIRBY: I understand the question.

QUESTION: But you can’t address it.

MR KIRBY: I answered it as best I can. I’ve answered it as best I can. And I’m sorry I messed up your honeymoon vacation. I just heard it was so great a vacation that --

QUESTION: Yes, well, that it was.

MR KIRBY: -- it might have been or could have been. Anyway.

QUESTION: The two emails that were referred back to the State Department to look at its own equities, not the two that the IC inspector general or that the CIA then classified but you say is still under discussion. So the two that were sent back to the State Department – why has there been no determination on the classification level yet? It’s been several days now, right? At least a week.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak for how long those matters take. I mean, the – that’s a matter for the reviewers to look at, and we’ve asked DNI to take a look at it and I’m sure they’ll do it as expeditiously as possible. But it’s more important to be right than it is to be fast.

QUESTION: But it’s – these are just – I mean, these aren’t emails of Tolstoyan length here, are they? They’re just --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t know what the content is.


QUESTION: Proustian?

QUESTION: Proustian length, even better.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know what the content is or if Tolstoy wrote any of them. I can just tell you that we’re not going to rush DNI to a judgment here; we don’t want to rush judgment.

QUESTION: No, no, no, not on the DNI ones – on the ones that were referred back to the State Department that are --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: So those are here in the building. You’ve had several days to look at them and you haven’t made a determination. I find that strange, but maybe that --

MR KIRBY: I don’t.


MR KIRBY: No, I don’t.

QUESTION: Is that why it takes five years sometimes to get a FOIA review cleared in this building? I mean --

MR KIRBY: Wow, somebody’s got an issue here. Look, I’m – we’re looking at these as carefully and methodically as we can, and we’re not going to rush to judgment on any one document.

QUESTION: But are you looking at these in any different way than you would at any other emails that go through a FOIA review? Is this special scrutiny because it was a secretary?

MR KIRBY: No. No. As a matter of fact, as I said yesterday, we’re doing this in a measured, deliberate, methodical way in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act process, which can be lengthy at times because it’s supposed to be. We have to – there’s a balance you have to strike between providing public information and yet – and protecting sensitive information. And that’s a difficult balance to strike. And I think Mark Toner talked about this a week or so ago that this is not a binary decision process and it requires some care. So we’re not going to rush to judgment on this thing.

QUESTION: No, I understand, but you have 30,000 emails and here it’s taking several days to discuss – to figure out the fate of two.

QUESTION: Yeah. And until you’re --

QUESTION: I mean, if that’s the process on every email in question --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know exactly where we are in the process of examining these two. I don’t know what the content is of them, so I don’t know how tricky a determination this might be. But rest assured we’re going to do it in a careful, methodical way. It’s simply – we talked about this yesterday. When you’re talking about sensitive information, it’s important to get it right, and there’s no reason for us to rush here.

Yeah, I’ll take one more.

QUESTION: Can I follow up a little bit on the FOIA issue itself? Because Judge Sullivan, who is the judge in one of the many FOIA lawsuits related to Secretary – former Secretary Clinton’s emails and her aides’ emails, has put forward the idea that maybe some of these lawsuits should be consolidated into a single FOIA lawsuit. Is that something that the department thinks would be helpful in terms of being more responsive with these ongoing legal actions?

MR KIRBY: I have not seen that assessment by the judge, and so I’m not at a point where I can offer a view by the State Department on that.

QUESTION: Can you take the question?

MR KIRBY: I’ll take it, sure.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:00 p.m.)

DPB # 141


[1] Correction: The technical talks will be held in Havana, Cuba.

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 18:20

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 17, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:10 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. A couple of things at the top, and we’ll get right to you. I’ve got a full house here today.

Secretary Kerry and the State Department expresses our deep sympathy to all those affected by the explosion in central Bangkok Monday night their time, this morning our time. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families and with the Thai emergency personnel who are working to help those injured. The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok has issued an emergency message for U.S. citizens advising them to avoid the area and to monitor local media for updates.

We are closely monitoring the situation and are liaising closely with local authorities to gather information to determine whether any U.S. citizens were affected by the explosion. We cannot say at this point that we know that to be the case.

Turning to Pakistan, I want to reiterate the statement put out by our mission in Pakistan. The United States strongly condemns the terrorist attack on Punjab Home Minister Colonel Shuja Khanzada’s offices in Attock, which killed 20 including the home minister himself. We extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the victims of Sunday’s violence. Such blatant disregard for human life is unacceptable and contrary to the aspirations of the Pakistani people for a secure, stable, and prosperous nation.

The United States remains committed to the people of Pakistan and to the Pakistani Government’s efforts to fight terrorism. We support Pakistan’s determination to bring justice to those behind this attack and are prepared to provide assistance, if requested, to government authorities investigating this reprehensible act.

And then finally on Ukraine. As Secretary Kerry indicated to Foreign Minister Lavrov last week when they spoke, we are gravely concerned by the sharp increase in attacks by combined Russian-separatist forces across the ceasefire line in eastern Ukraine. These attacks continued this weekend, including to the east and north of Mariupol, apparently in an attempt to threaten that city.

There can be no mistake about who is responsible: Russia and the separatists are launching these attacks, just as they escalated the conflict last August. OSCE reports show that the majority of ceasefire violations are committed by combined Russian separatist forces in direct violation of the Minsk agreements. We continue to urge an immediate ceasefire and full implementation of the Minsk obligations, and we further remind that efforts by Russia and the separatists to grab more territory will be met with further costs.

With that, Brad.

QUESTION: Just following up on Thailand, is the U.S. providing any assistance at this point --


QUESTION: -- to Thai investigators?

MR KIRBY: There’s – no, there’s been no request.

QUESTION: Okay. And then I’ll cede. Yeah.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Thailand. So you said you express your sympathy for the Bangkok explosion. So so far you don’t see that as a terror attack?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s too soon to tell, honestly, and Thai authorities are investigating this. We don’t have any information right now that would lead us to be able to describe the cause here, or if – and if an entity is responsible and who that entity might be. We’re just not there yet.

QUESTION: Could we go to China?


QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Times story regarding the Obama Administration having warned Beijing about covert agents operating in the United States?

MR KIRBY: First of all, welcome back, Arshad.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Good to see you again. Look, I’m not going to comment and we don’t comment on specific cases. And so while I’m not going to do that, generally speaking foreign law enforcement agents are not permitted to operate within the United States without prior notification to the Attorney General. And it’s a criminal offense, actually, under U.S. law for an individual other than a diplomatic or consular officer or attache to act in the United States as a law enforcement agent of a foreign power without that notification.

But I think broadly in – with regard to China, we do – the United States does regularly engage on law enforcement matters of mutual concern, including fugitives and anti-corruption through what we call the U.S.-China Joint Liaison Group on Law Enforcement Cooperation. We also continue to emphasize to PRC officials that it is incumbent upon them to provide U.S. officials with significant, clear, and convincing evidence to allow our law enforcement agencies to proceed with investigations, removals, and prosecutions of fugitives.


QUESTION: Yes, I’m just trying to have a comment about the withdrawal of United States, like, Patriot missiles from Turkey.


QUESTION: What – like, what does this decision mean? What is the reason behind those – this decision? What does it mean in regard to U.S. and NATO commitment to support Turkey and protect it? And also, does Assad forces has no more capability, like, to attack Turkey with ballistic missiles?

MR KIRBY: Okay, there’s a lot there, and for much of this I’m going to refer you to DOD. This was a U.S. military decision --


MR KIRBY: -- and so it’s really appropriate that they speak to the details here.

But the main reason that the Patriots – the U.S. Patriots batteries – there’s two – are being removed is for force modernization needs. Military equipment often needs to be upgraded and improved, and that’s the case here. It was also done in coordination with a global review that we implemented on ballistic missile defense around the world. So we believe that this was a sound decision for the U.S. military to make, but it’s their decision to make.

As for our commitments to Turkey’s security, nothing’s changed about that. Turkey is a NATO ally and a strong partner, particularly in this effort against ISIL. You just saw over the last couple of weeks the Turks allowing us to use three of their bases to conduct strikes against ISIL in Syria. And again, I’d point you to DOD, but it’s my understanding that they are flying manned strikes out of those bases, Incirlik principally, today. So nothing’s changed about our commitment to Turkey’s security or the commitments that we have through NATO under the alliance and Article 5.

QUESTION: Do you still have, like, ships down there, like, to protect Turkey? That’s what I understood, like?

MR KIRBY: Well, right. And I didn’t get to your third question. I mean, there are ample ballistic missile defense capabilities in the region, to include from Navy ships at sea. And again, I’d let you – I’d let the Pentagon speak to this with more detail, but there are in the Eastern Med and has been for quite a few years permanently stationed ballistic missile defense-capable ships – cruisers and destroyers. And again, the Navy would have the latest on that. But nothing’s changed about our commitments to security in the region. Nothing’s changed about our focus on ballistic missile defense. This was a decision the Pentagon made for force modernization reasons. And we are comfortable here at the State Department that the military, our military, retains the kinds of capabilities in the region to deal with whatever ballistic missile threats would arise.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: One follow-up?

QUESTION: A follow-up?


QUESTION: Does this mean that you think that the Syrian regime’s capacities have changed?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to get in --

QUESTION: Does this mean you no longer think that they can --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into intelligence assessments one way or the other about the ballistic missile threat there or anywhere else in the region. I would just point you back again to what I said before, which is that we’re comfortable that we retain the necessary BMD, ballistic missile defense capabilities, in the region, and we’ll focus on that. And I would remind you that this mission in Turkey was not just a U.S. mission; it was a NATO mission, and so other nations also participate in it.

QUESTION: But you haven’t heard anything from the Syrians that says that – that say – where they say they’re not going to attack?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into intelligence assessments. And again, I’d point you to the Pentagon for more detail.


QUESTION: Does Turkey support this maneuver?

MR KIRBY: Well, you saw that there was a joint statement put out by the Turkish Government and the United States together. So yes, they were informed about this and we put out a – they – our governments put out a joint statement. So yes, they’re supportive.

QUESTION: I have another Pentagon question.

MR KIRBY: So – okay. (Laugher.) So you’re going to ask me anyway.

QUESTION: Do you want to go around Turkey?

MR KIRBY: No, go ahead, go ahead.

QUESTION: So the Pentagon is expanding drone flights over a number of countries, including Ukraine. Do you what is driving this? And are you concerned because that’s expanding lethal power as well that the U.S. can get drug into this more on a – militarily?

MR KIRBY: Drug into Ukraine? I’m not – again, I’d refer you to the Pentagon to speak to what they do from a manned and unmanned air system perspective. That’s not my place. But nothing’s changed about our approach to what’s going on in Ukraine. You just saw – you just heard my statement there about the increasing attacks we saw over the weekend and our concern about that, and that right now our assistance to Ukraine still is on the nonlethal side but we continue to look at --

QUESTION: But does it include drone surveillance right now?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the specifics. Again, that’s a military prerogative. I think I’m not going to speak to it.

QUESTION: Then there’s going to be violations submitted by the eastern rebels as well about Ukraine violations. Do you condemn those as well related to heavy equipment?

MR KIRBY: I think I said this pretty clearly in my opening statement. And it’s not just coming – it’s not just coming from me. The OSCE has determined that the vast majority of these attacks are coming from the Russian-separatist areas onto Ukrainian areas. Now, if the Ukrainians fire back they’re doing it in self-defense and they have the right to do that.

QUESTION: But there are – there are – Ukraine is violating – you conceded a majority, which is – the other side questions, but what about Ukraine’s violations?

MR KIRBY: We have talked about this ad nauseum. The vast majority of the action – the attacks – are coming from the Russian separatist side. Ukraine has a right to defend itself. Obviously, what we want from all parties here is to abide by Minsk, which means you withdraw and the violence stops, and you start sitting down and talking about a settlement going forward. But make no mistake of where the vast majority of these attacks are coming from.


QUESTION: John, can I – since we shifted a little bit to Russia, can I ask you a Russia-related question?

MR KIRBY: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Thursday, a senior State Department official said that Secretary Kerry had raised his concerns about the travel to Moscow by IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani, and the previous day the deputy State Department spokesman had indicated in this briefing here that it was the U.S. belief that this travel indeed had occurred. On Friday, the Russians denied that Qasem Soleimani had ever gone to Moscow. Have the Russians said anything to the United States that in any way eases your concern or reduces your concern about this travel? And do you still feel that it’s necessary for the Security Council to press ahead with a full investigation of this episode?

MR KIRBY: No – to your first question, no, I’ve seen no indication that we have any additional information that would ease our concern. As I said Thursday, we’re still not in a position to confirm – independently confirm reports of his travel, but it certainly is of concern enough to us that again, as I said, the Secretary raised it with Foreign Minister Lavrov last week. And as we’ve also said, any such travel, should it have occurred, would be a violation of UN Security Council – of a UN Security Council resolution. And we’d let the UN speak to what they would do about that, but we certainly would be supportive of them looking into that.

QUESTION: Supportive of them or you’re – on Wednesday, we were told something a little stronger than that. We were told that the U.S. was asking or wanted the UN Security Council --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. No, nothing’s changed about that.

QUESTION: -- to pursue this, not that --

MR KIRBY: Nothing has changed.

QUESTION: -- you would be supportive of it if some – if they looked into it.

MR KIRBY: Don’t read too much into my language, Michael. Nothing’s changed about the fact that we would like it looked into, yes. And – but again, nothing – we’ve seen nothing that would mitigate our concern over the reports of his travel.

QUESTION: And one other quick thing on Russia. Have the number of Russian forces inside Ukraine increased?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an estimate to give you today. I don’t, and I’d point you to the Pentagon for that kind of level of detail. I don’t have any information that would suggest what the numbers are. What’s more important to us than the numbers, whatever they are, is the activity. And as I said in my opening statement, we’ve seen an increase of this offensive activity over the weekend.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Can we stay with Russia?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, we’ll do Pam, Russia. And then you want to change topics?

QUESTION: Can we – I want to go back to Turkey --

MR KIRBY: Okay. So one more on Russia. Is that going to be good for everybody and then we can go to Turkey, or do you want to keep on Russia for a while?

QUESTION: I don’t – yeah, Ukraine, Russia.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Pam, we’ll go to you, and then we’ll come back to you. All right, go ahead.

QUESTION: Foreign Ministers Lavrov and Zarif in their talks today talked about expanded cooperation, possibly in the military sector, if the sanctions are eased through the Iran nuclear deal. And they also talked about a shared support for Assad and having a role in ending his country’s crisis. Does the United States see this stepped-up cooperation as destabilizing, considering it’s coming at a time when the U.S. is at odds with Russia over Ukraine and also the U.S. and Iran also have differences on a number of issues?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m going to let the Russians speak for the dialogue they’ve had with Foreign Minister Zarif and what that means for them. I’ll just go back to what we’ve said before. I mean, Russia has been a constructive partner on the Iran deal – Secretary Kerry has talked about that – and there are other areas where we think we can cooperate with Russia, including potentially Syria.

When we were in Doha, Secretary Kerry met with Foreign Minister Lavrov and Foreign Minister al-Jubeir of Saudi Arabia, the first time the three of them got together to talk about a process forward for a political transition in Syria. Those talks were just the very beginning. And it doesn’t come as a surprise to us here that in discussions with Foreign Minister Zarif that Foreign Minister Lavrov would raise that issue. There’s a long way to go with – on that topic and a lot more to work through.

On Iran, we’ve said all along – again, I can only speak for the United States – that we approach this deal from one perspective and one perspective only, and that was to prevent them from getting nuclear weapons capability. And there are other issues with Iran – deep issues – with which we disagree, particularly their destabilizing activities in the region. And nothing’s going to change about the fact that we’re going to still – we still will and will retain the tools necessary, whether they’re diplomatic, economic, or military, to deal with those activities.

QUESTION: But specifically, is a stepped-up Russia-Iranian engagement destabilizing to some of these other efforts that the U.S. has been pushing for?

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s hard to say when we weren’t in the room when they met. And I’d let them – those two gentlemen speak for what they talked about. So I can’t at this point characterize it as destabilizing at – I don’t – because we don’t – we can’t speak for a conversation we weren’t a party to. Again, I’d let them speak to it.

What we’ve said all along is that there needs to be a political transition in Syria, that Assad has lost legitimacy to govern, and that we’re willing to explore a process forward for that transition with Russia and with Saudi Arabia. And that’s where it sits right now.

QUESTION: And if I can do one more on Russia, slightly different topic. Last week we had the reports that Russia had blocked access to parts of the Reddit social media site. Today there are Russian news reports that the government has banned batches of wine from several U.S. wineries because of concerns about what they say is excessive amounts of insecticides. What’s your response? And does this appear to be a trend to ban anything American?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to officials in Moscow, Pam. I can’t speak for decisions they’re making about – with respect to imports into their country and why they’re making that. That’s really not a question for us.

QUESTION: Is there concern that there may be a broader effort behind these actions?

MR KIRBY: Again, these are – if they’re, in fact, true, they’re economic decisions that the government in Moscow’s making, and I would let them speak to the reasons behind that. More broadly, there are areas with Russia, obviously, where we disagree. And I just talked about at the opening Ukraine is certainly one of them. There are areas where we can and have cooperated with Russia, like on the Iran deal, and potentially maybe on Syria. So it’s a complex relationship. But as for their reasons for doing this, I would let them speak to that.

Yeah, back here.

QUESTION: With ARD German Television. Concerning support to Ukraine, the Ukrainian press, citing Ukrainian parliament committee on foreign affairs, reports that the United States will allocate $500 million for training of Ukrainian national guard and armed forces. What’s your response to that, and can you clarify the total amount of funding the U.S. has provided to the Ukrainian armed forces?

MR KIRBY: That’s a great question for the Pentagon. I mean, seriously, it is. We’ve talked about this national guard training before, but it’s really a DOD equity to speak to. And it is just national guard training for internal security.

QUESTION: The document they’re citing is a letter from President Biden to one of the Ukrainian parliament members. Is that --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I have not – I’m not familiar with the letter. I mean, I would – rather than me take the question, I would refer you to the Pentagon to speak to that. Yeah.

Let me go to Brad; he’s been patient. Go ahead.

QUESTION: If we’re done with Russia.

MR KIRBY: Are we done with Russia? It looks like – no? Is your question about Russia? No, it’s not about Russia. So he tried to sneak in there. No, I promised Brad I’d go back to him.

QUESTION: All right. Just returning to Turkey. You said – can you say when Turkey was first informed that the batteries would be taken out of the country?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have the exact date, Brad.

QUESTION: And then some of the reports seem to suggest that the Turks were livid with this decision. Is that something that people in this building have registered?

MR KIRBY: That is – we would not characterize their reaction that way.

QUESTION: And have you had any – have you noticed any effects on the Incirlik operation or the joint mission as a result of this decision to take the batteries out of Turkey?

MR KIRBY: None whatsoever.

QUESTION: How would you characterize their reaction if they weren’t livid?

MR KIRBY: Well, I wasn’t in the room. I’m told that the conversation was very candid and forthright, and that at the end of it they understood the reasons behind it. But I would let them speak to more detail than that. But characterizations of them being livid or being heated or them being angry, that’s not how it’s been described to me.

QUESTION: Would it be fair to say that they were unhappy, even if they understood your reasoning?

MR KIRBY: Again, I think I’m going to leave my comments where they were. I wasn’t in the room so I want to be careful that I don’t over-colorize this when I wasn’t there. As I’ve – what I’ve been – the way it’s been described to me was that certainly they had concerns; those concerns were addressed in the discussions. You saw them – we put a joint statement out. So clearly they’re in support of this decision, and we’re moving forward.

And I’d remind you that, I mean, we continue to cooperate with them against ISIL in the region. First of all, our NATO commitments to them are ironclad. Secondly, their membership in the coalition also is ironclad in terms of the kind of support that they’re giving the coalition to continue to fly strikes against ISIL. And as I said, again, I’d point you to the Pentagon, but as my understanding is that manned flights are – manned strikes are being flown out of Incirlik even as recently as today.

QUESTION: Without saying when they were first informed, can you give a sense of how long this decision has been in the process? I mean, have you been having discussions for weeks or months about this? Has this come up at NATO as well as bilaterally? Can you give just some sense that this – was this a surprise or had this been a long time in cooking?

MR KIRBY: I – what I know is that this decision has been long planned. I mean, you don’t make force modernization decisions in a vacuum and you don’t do it at the spur of the moment. How long, Brad – I’d have to point you to the Pentagon. Again, this was a U.S. military decision. We communicated it for the U.S. military to the Turkish Government, as is our responsibility at the State Department, but this was a military decision and I’d let them speak to the parameters around which it was made.

QUESTION: Quick follow-up on Turkey?


QUESTION: Is there any way you can confirm that you have informed the Turkish side after the Incirlik agreement?

MR KIRBY: When – was it done after?

QUESTION: Yes, after --

MR KIRBY: My understanding is the notification to them was done after that agreement to use Incirlik, yes.

QUESTION: Another topic, again on Turkey. One of the leaders of the PKK stated to British press that they have been in contact in direct talks with the U.S. Can you confirm on that?

MR KIRBY: I can tell you that we are not in direct talks with the PKK – absolutely not. This is a foreign terrorist organization. We don’t sit down and have talks with the PKK. Nothing’s changed about our position on the PKK – that they need to renounce the violence, they need to resume a peace process, and stop attacking the Turks inside Turkey.


QUESTION: So do you have indirect? I mean, you said particularly we don’t have direct --

MR KIRBY: It never ceases to amaze me here at the State Department how you guys hang on adjectives and adverbs. (Laughter.) And I’m just not that clever. I mean, there’s no talks with the PKK. So no direct, no indirect. There’s no talks with the PKK.


MR KIRBY: Does that help?


MR KIRBY: All right, thanks for flagging that for me.


QUESTION: Still on the Kurds. I’d like to ask a question about Iraqi Kurdistan, where the tensions are really mounting over the future of President Barzani, whose term is coming to an end this Thursday.


QUESTION: Brett McGurk tweeted this: “In Kurdistan region to urge unity in face of serious ISIL threat and in honor of 1,200 Peshmerga martyrs. The terrorists feed on division.” This statement by Brett McGurk, this tweet, has been read by many people in Kurdistan as an indirect support for President Barzani to extend his term, to stay in power.

MR KIRBY: To extend his term?

QUESTION: Yeah, to stay on – to stay on in power.

MR KIRBY: I think that would be a mistake to read it that way.


MR KIRBY: In fact, I don’t think it’s a mistake; it’s a mistake to read it that way. The Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s presidential – that presidential issue is an internal political matter, and this is a decision for the people and parties of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region to make together.

QUESTION: But are you calling for a peaceful transition – peaceful and democratic transition of power as his term is coming to an end – his last term – by Thursday?

MR KIRBY: We aren’t taking a position – this is a – this presidential issue is for the people of the region to work together and to decide and to determine. We’re not taking a position on that.

QUESTION: You’re not calling – you’re not willing to call for a peaceful transition of power, which you often do in regard to other countries when somebody’s term is coming to an end.

MR KIRBY: It’s not a country. It’s not a country.

QUESTION: A region.

MR KIRBY: It’s a region of Iraq. We’re not going to get involved in internal Iraqi politics. Obviously, separate and distinct from that, wherever there are elections and transitions of power, whether it’s from one individual to another or one party to another, we obviously want to see that be done peacefully and securely, fairly, openly, transparently, and credibly, obviously, but we’re not taking a position on this. And Brett McGurk was certainly not inserting himself into that process in any way whatsoever.



QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MR KIRBY: You guys always go together.

QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.) So what is your level of involvement in this issue? Because there are two things that you always – well, one, which is the democracy – you just said it – you always support the free and fair election, but this is not about election. This is about somebody --

MR KIRBY: I understand that.

QUESTION: -- his term came to an end.

MR KIRBY: That’s why I made the distinction.

QUESTION: Yeah, this is – his term came to an end and according to the laws that he has to step down, but it seems he will not. But this is one part. The other part is that this region is one of the effective partners. They are – they’re part of the international coalitions to fight ISIS, so this situation will have an impact on that. So what is your level of involvement in this? I know Ambassador McGurk and his delegation will be there for a few days and talking to Kurdish officials, and he tweeted several times on this specific issues, the crisis. So there should be a level of involvement. Like, you did it in Baghdad – that there was not government when ISIS came, was close to Baghdad, then you kind of helped the Iraqi parties to form the new government. This is kind of the same situation.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, while there, Brett McGurk met with President Barzani and the leaders of all the major Kurdish political parties. Not atypical when he goes to that part of Iraq. What he went for and what he did was reaffirm the U.S. commitment to continue cooperation with Iraqi Kurdish forces to fight – in the fight against ISIL, and he commended the regional government and their officials there for their coordination with the Government of Iraq – their coordination – and coalition members in that same fight. And of course, he praised the contribution of Peshmerga forces, which have been very capable in the field. That’s it. He did not go to insert himself into an internal political matter, and he’s not doing that.

QUESTION: So last one on that: Does that mean that you are not concerned about any way of political transition will happen, maybe will cause instability in the region? That means --

MR KIRBY: We’re not – I mean, I love your attempts to continue to get at the same issue. I think I’ve answered the question. We’re not inserting ourselves into this internal political matter. Separate and apart from that, we always want to see – whenever there’s a transition in government, we want to see that responsive to the people; free, fair, credible, transparent. We’re not inserting ourselves in this, okay?


QUESTION: John, if I can move to Secretary Clinton’s email server, some new things that we’ve learned since we were in this room last – the existence of an additional server, now the State Department saying that 305 of the emails are being scrutinized by the intelligence community to see what may be classified, 63 confirmed to include classified material. Can the scope of this still be called limited, and if so, how?

MR KIRBY: All right, let’s unpack that before I get to your yes-or-no question. Let’s keep in mind that so far, of the 15 percent or so of the email traffic that we’ve made public – and that’s a small amount – but even that 15 percent or so consists of more than 3,000 emails, so 63 of them have been upgraded in some form.

Now when we say “classified,” everybody thinks – you think about spy thrillers, “classified.” Sometimes classified can be high, sometimes it can be low, and most of these are at a very low level, what we call confidential. So 63 of 3,000 – more than 3,000 so far – so that’s a pretty small percentage. I have no doubt that as we continue to release these emails over time, you’ll see additional upgraded correspondence. It’s just – mathematically, it’s a fact. It’s going to happen. How many, I don't know.

These 300 that you talked about, this is a result of the care and the scrutiny with which we are scrutinizing this email traffic. We’ve got intelligence community reviewers sitting with our reviewers as we go through that traffic. So what you’re seeing here is exactly what we want to see, which is the proper care and scrutiny being applied to this. That 305, I think is the number, have been recommended to other intelligence community agencies to look at from their equity perspective. It’s a healthy thing. It’s a good thing. It doesn’t mean that all 300 are going to end up at some level of upgrade. I suspect some will and I suspect some won’t. We just have to let the process work its way out.

But this is a healthy thing and it’s, again, part of the seriousness with which the State Department wants to take the proper scrutiny in looking at these emails, particularly with respect to potentially sensitive information. Does that get at --

QUESTION: But is there some threshold at which this goes from being what has in the past been referred to as something that’s limited to something that’s major? It just seems like the numbers continue to go up. We’re learning and hearing of sort of more items each day. At what point does it go into something that’s – the State Department will consider more broad?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t – there’s not a number out there that I can tell you, when we reach this percentage of upgrades or this number, that all of a sudden we’ve gone from limited to major, okay? As we’re at 15 percent – a little less, I think – there’s a lot of work left to do. And I can assure you that there will be additional upgrades over time. It’s just a mathematical fact. Where that’s going to end up when all 33,000 emails are reviewed, I couldn’t begin to predict.

What I think is important, though – our responsibility here at the State Department is to review these and to make them public through the Freedom of Information Act. That’s where Secretary Kerry’s focus is on, and that’s what we’re focused on. And what I think you’re seeing here is testament to the fact that we’re taking this very seriously, and we’re doing it deliberately and in a measured way, and we’re not going to shy away of making an upgrade recommendation if that’s, in fact, what has to happen. So I think we’re just going to have to see where we are at the end of this. I couldn’t possibly begin to anticipate what the level’s going to be and how one would characterize that --

QUESTION: I have two quick follows-on --

MR KIRBY: -- as much as I know you guys love adjectives.

QUESTION: Two quick follows-on it. Have all of Secretary Clinton’s and her associates’ devices that were tied to the email server been certified as secured by the State Department?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such certification on that and I would refer you to former Secretary Clinton and her staff.

QUESTION: And then lastly, has the FBI reached out to the State Department seeking any of those devices?

MR KIRBY: I have to – let me take that question. I’m not aware of that, but I’ll take that for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: John, can I follow up on that?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: You noted that most of the 63 emails whose classification were upgraded were upgraded to the status of confidential --

MR KIRBY: Correct.

QUESTION: -- which is the low level, or the lowest level?

MR KIRBY: The lowest level of classification, yeah.

QUESTION: Shouldn’t information that is confidential, even if it is the lowest level of classification, be treated with appropriate safeguards so as to prevent its dissemination outside of the U.S. Government?

MR KIRBY: Yes. Of course.

QUESTION: So why does the fact that it was low-level classified somehow change the fact that it is information that should be kept inside the circle of the government?

MR KIRBY: It doesn’t.


MR KIRBY: And I didn’t imply that.

QUESTION: Okay. And if it’s the case, as you suggest, that mathematically there are going to be more emails that are upgraded to confidential or some higher level of classification, why shouldn’t the State Department’s policies be such so as to prevent classified information of any sort from being transmitted on non-secured, non-government devices?

MR KIRBY: We do have such policies in place.

QUESTION: But you didn’t, I think, at the time, correct?

MR KIRBY: No, no, no, no, no, no. There was no prohibition at the time for former Secretary Clinton to use a personal email account at the time. Now, that policy has changed. But there has always been in the federal service very strict regulations and policies about the handling of sensitive and/or classified information, and that hasn’t changed at all.

QUESTION: But what I don’t understand, though, is that there is this big gap or big potential loophole in that at the time, Secretary Clinton was permitted to transmit information on a non-government, non-secured system. That information could subsequently be – even if it was not classified in the first place, could subsequently be upgraded to some level of classification, and therefore you leave a large loophole for the possibility that classified information gets transmitted on non-secure, non-government systems, and you only realize after the fact when you go through the scrutiny that you’re doing now that, in fact, classified information has been transmitted in a non-secure – non-secured, non-governmental fashion. Do you agree that that is a loophole?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t, actually, Arshad. I mean --

QUESTION: Why isn’t it a loophole?

MR KIRBY: Well, let me explain. There was no prohibition at the time of using a personal email account. Whether it’s a personal email account or it’s your email account on the unclassified network, the rules are the same – you’re not supposed to transmit sensitive or classified information on it. It’s just – that’s the rule. You’re just not supposed to do that. They have regulations and policies in place about that, and it doesn’t matter whether I’m emailing you from my Yahoo account or from my The rules are pretty clear about what I can and can’t transmit on an unclassified – so that doesn’t – there’s no loophole there; there’s no change. There was no prohibition against the use of that personal email. But there always is an umbrella of prohibitions against the use – or, I’m sorry, the transmission of sensitive and classified information over those accounts.

We’ve said before that as we’ve done this review, certain of that correspondence has been now retroactively upgraded because we have intelligence community reviewers looking at it and making those decisions. It’s not – and those decisions are tough to get at because sometimes information changes over time. Most of the time, information declassifies over time. There are occasions – rare, but – when you might want to retroactively say, “Well, that’s now sensitive,” or maybe it was sensitive at the time but it wasn’t marked so, and so that the receiver or sender didn’t realize at the time. That’s also possible. There’s lots that go into this.

What I want to stress is that we’re taking this very, very seriously and we’re very moving forward very deliberately about this. And I think it’s just – it stands to reason that over time, as we get through 30,000 more – we’ve released 3,000, so there’s a large amount left to go – that it’s certainly feasible to expect that there’ll be future upgrades. It also doesn’t mean – at least not at this point in the review, we haven’t seen any indication that anybody did it willfully or negligently, that people knew at the time that they were transmitting. And that it was – that it was sent to former Secretary Clinton or anybody else on her staff doesn’t mean that they solicited that sensitive information or that the sender meant to put sensitive information out there at the time. So it’s just not as cut and dry as I think everybody would like it to be at this point. We’ve still got a long way to go.

The other thing that I think is important to keep in mind, and as I say this I’m making no excuses whatsoever for any transmission of sensitive information, but this State Department is an outward-facing institution of the United States Government. Perhaps more than any other federal agency, we are America’s face to the world, which means we have to communicate with the world. And that can be email, it could be phone, text, social media, we’ve got a website. We have to – in order to do our job to represent America’s interests around the world, we have to be out there, we have to have dialogue, we have to communicate; we have to ask for information, we have to send information on various platforms.

So it’s inevitable at some point as you’re trying to do your job as a diplomat in sometimes sensitive situations or restrictive environments that information may come to you whether you wanted it or not that ends up being sensitive. When you know that’s the case, when you feel that’s the case, when you believe that’s the case, you have obligations – all of us do – to properly protect it.

But we’re going through this very methodically. We’re going to continue to do that. We’ve seen no indication of negligence or wrongdoing at this point, so we’re just going to have to keep working through it.

QUESTION: I understand that you’re going through this in a rigorous manner, and the fact that you’re going through 33,000 emails shows that you’re taking this seriously. I’m interested more in the institutional question of whether there are, whether there were, and indeed now are proper policies in place so as to prevent the transmission of – you used the word sensitive or classified, I think.

MR KIRBY: And/or.

QUESTION: And/or, yeah. And I don’t know if “sensitive” is a term of art or if it just means something that maybe isn’t classified.

MR KIRBY: Sometimes there’s unclassified correspondence which we would consider sensitive.

QUESTION: Sensitive.

MR KIRBY: It doesn’t mean that it can’t be transmitted on an unclassified network. It just means that you want to maybe limit the number of people that are copied on it or see it or you don’t forward it outside the institution.

QUESTION: From an institutional point of view, what seems to me to potentially be a concern, and it would be a concern not so much for me because it’s not my institution, but for you, is that regardless of how you are transmitting information, whether it’s on a unclassified system or whether it’s on the internal classified system or whether it’s on a private unsecured or non-government system, is that it is perfectly possible, as I understand it, under the current rules for people to transmit information that, were it to be scrutinized carefully, would indeed be found to be classified even if it’s the lowest level of classification, and that therefore you have a fairly significant loophole under which your employees may discuss and transmit information that, if somebody actually looked at it carefully as you’re doing now, would be deemed to be classified. Does that not seem to you to be a concern?

MR KIRBY: Well, yes and no. Yes, we’re always concerned about the proper security and safeguarding of sensitive and classified information. But I – but essentially, back to your loophole question, no, there’s no – the responsibilities of a federal employee – and I come from 30 years in the Navy and, I mean, this is something that’s drummed into you from the moment you raise your right hand. The responsibilities of a federal employee to protect sensitive information, whether it’s classified or not, is absolute. And if – you may not have – you may not be the sender, you may not be the originator, but if you’re a recipient of it and you know you are – and sometimes it’s hard to know. In the very fast-paced, dynamic world that we’re living in, whether it’s from a military security perspective or diplomacy, sometimes it’s hard to know at the moment you’re in. But if you do know or you have a reason to suspect, “Boy, I just got an email that’s got some sensitive information in here,” there are steps in place, there’s procedures – we’re all trained on them – on how to deal with that. You alert the IT folks, you alert the security folks, you do what you have to do. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s not so easy to know where that line is. But there are procedures in place regardless of where on the unclassified side that information resides and/or was transmitted, whether it’s a private Gmail account or my There’s procedures and rules and they have not changed. Like I said, I’ve been at this now for three decades and I can tell you they’re the same. It’s the one thing that’s absolutely certain as you take on a job in the federal government.

QUESTION: The point here, though, is that there are at least 63 instances in which information that was not just sensitive but retroactively judged to be classified was transmitted on a non-secured, nongovernment system. And I don’t understand why that would not be troubling.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that it’s not troubling. What I said was that we have not seen any indications at this point that anybody committed willful wrongdoing in it. But obviously, we’re always concerned when there’s any indication that for whatever reason potentially sensitive information was not properly safeguarded at the time. Obviously, that’s a concern. I mean, it’s such a concern that Secretary Kerry back in, I think it was December – I can check that; I think it was in December – asked the State Department inspector general to do exactly that, Arshad, to go look at our communications practices here, particularly on email, and to determine what, if anything, we need to be doing better on a spate of issues.

But one of them was the protection of sensitive information. And in fact, he asked to meet with the IG just a few weeks ago to get an update on how that process is going. I mean, he’s very closely monitoring that.

QUESTION: So just to ask it very simply: Is it troubling?

MR KIRBY: Is what troubling?

QUESTION: Is it troubling to you that in 63 cases, information that was subsequently judged to be classified was disseminated on a non-secured and nongovernment system?

MR KIRBY: What I would say is we take that very seriously, as we should.


QUESTION: Can I just ask a couple factual questions? Sixty-three, 305, were these all passively received by Secretary Clinton and none sent by her?

MR KIRBY: I do not have the details on that, Brad. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Do you know if any were sent by her?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: And then if something is received and not sent on --


QUESTION: -- how would you know – how do you know if that’s – if proper procedures were taken by the recipient?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, there’s --

QUESTION: Because how do you know if they read it, for example, or read that sentence, or – I mean, can you?

MR KIRBY: It’s hard to know, Brad. I mean, every individual has responsibilities on their own to deal with sensitive information when they’re in receipt of it. And as I said, there’s procedures for how you handle that, if you – and certainly if it’s self-evident that the information that you’re getting is of a classified nature or sensitive nature. I mean, the employees – they’re trained. We have procedures in place for how to deal with that, but how am I going to know or how is any manager going to know at any given time that one of his employees or subordinates is doing it right? It’s up to the individual and their level of knowledge of the procedures, their conscience, and their individual efforts.

QUESTION: Right. But the procedures are in place if you receive that under your unclassified email account, correct?

MR KIRBY: Right. It’s even incumbent upon you on your classified networks. Not all your classified networks are cleared for the same level of information. So for instance, if you’re working on a secret-level network, and you believe you’re getting information on that that is higher than that level, you still have the same obligations.

QUESTION: But if you have your own private email account on your own private email server, you – it must be harder, then, to contact IT folks about a server, the existence of which they don’t even know, let alone the details of which they don’t even know, in order to somehow properly protect. So that – do you understand the question? If you – if the IT folks and the people in the building responsible for that don’t even know about your server, let alone how to deal with your server, how could they possibly be expected to protect classified information off of it?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I can’t speak to knowledge of the server, and that wouldn’t be my place to do that. I would refer you, again, to former Secretary Clinton and her staff on that. What I would tell you is that – to my answer to Arshad, the obligations that are set upon a federal employee about the protection of sensitive and classified information are the same no matter where you are, and they are the same no matter on what network you receive information that you don’t believe is properly being transmitted or properly being safeguarded. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a – your private account or your work account. And again, we now have procedures here at the State Department that require all work being – to be done on the

QUESTION: But I think what he was getting at, and it’s what I’m trying to get at too, is that you don’t control the server if it’s not a government server.

MR KIRBY: No, we don’t.

QUESTION: So you may have procedures, but you can’t eliminate or secure that information to the same degree you can when you can hide it. I mean --

MR KIRBY: But the responsibilities of the employee don’t change. So for instance, if I were to get or receive sensitive information on my private email account that’s related to – well, it doesn’t matter what it’s related to, but let’s assume it’s related to work – I have a responsibility to report that and to take the proper steps to the degree that I can.


MR KIRBY: It’s difficult to do in the cyber environment to completely erase something, but at least you need to alert somebody to it and take the proper steps. I mean, everybody has those shared responsibilities.

QUESTION: Change the topic?

QUESTION: Could I ask one quick follow-up on this?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I’ve had 20 minutes’ wait. You said you (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: I know, but we got on the email thing and I – I will get – I promise I’ll get to you.

Is this related to emails?

QUESTION: Yeah, I’ll be brief. Given that the secretary – former Secretary Clinton’s – the tenor of her public statements on this issue have been to sort of suggest that it’s hyped out of proportion or not exactly a matter of grave public interest, are you – does it concern you that there’s – that she doesn’t take it as seriously as you just suggested the State Department does?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize or speak for former Secretary Clinton or her views of this. Our interactions with her staff to date have indicated to us that they are taking the matter seriously and are trying to be cooperative. But beyond that, I won’t – I’m not going to talk about --


MR KIRBY: I know. I’m not going to get into characterizing what or how she’s talking about it. What I can tell you is our interactions with her staff have been professional, and I have every reason to believe that they will continue to be.

QUESTION: Sure. I mean – but I wasn’t asking you to characterize her position. I was asking you to say whether you are concerned by the public statements she’s made which suggest that she thinks that this has been blown out of proportion.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into a discussion or a debate about rhetoric, particularly in a campaign season. Our focus, Secretary Kerry’s focus, is on making sure that we meet the court-ordered public – you know what I mean, the court order – I’m losing my words here. But we have a court-ordered process to make public these documents through the Freedom of Information Act. His focus is on making sure that we meet those goals and that we do it properly in a methodical, measured way, and that’s what we’re focused on. And the interactions that we’ve had with former Secretary Clinton’s staff in that regard has – have been professional. I’d leave it at that.

QUESTION: John, can you take the following question? Can you take the question: Was – were the IT people and the people at the State Department, and the other people at the State Department responsible for ensuring that the Secretary’s communications are secure, aware of the fact that she was using a private email address on a private server?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’ll have to – look, I don’t know what the technical arrangements were at the time, Arshad. So I’ll do what I can and see if I can – to help you with that.

QUESTION: John, one quick follow on your point about the difficulty in determining what is – is, maybe, may not be classified. Is it an accurate statement to say that a cabinet secretary, the Secretary of State, would be in as good of a position or a better position than any State employee to make that determination and have the information with which to make that determination?

MR KIRBY: I think I know where you’re trying to get at here. Look, every federal employee has the same responsibilities, and it doesn’t matter – if you are entrusted a position in the federal government and the means to communicate – and this is a outwardly focused agency, as I said – we all have the same responsibilities. And it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are in the organization. All those rules, they’re written down; they’ve – they have been implemented over time. They have been proven right over time, and we all have the same obligations.

Last – anything more on emails? Okay. Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you Mr. Kirby. (Laughter.) I just fall asleep 30 minutes. As you know, the – I have a little bit of military issues; I think you can answer this.

MR KIRBY: You have what?

QUESTION: Military issue.

MR KIRBY: That you think I’m going to answer?

QUESTION: Yes. You always say to ask the DOD – as you already know that U.S. and South Korea conduct Ulchi Freedom Guardians.


QUESTION: UFG military exercises begin today. In this regard, today North Korean foreign ministry warns of second Korean War. Can you comment on this?

MR KIRBY: These exercises have been long planned and they’re exercises we routinely do with our allies in South Korea. You’re right, they have started. They’re proceeding normally and apace, and we look forward to completing the exercise with them as we always do. This is about improving alliance capabilities and meeting our security commitments there in the region and on the peninsula, and nothing more than that.


QUESTION: Two small questions, one with regard to – how does the U.S. view the Saudi and Russian nuclear deal? They are supposedly having some sort of a nuclear deal.

And secondly, when is the next dialogue process which was expected to be taken somewhere in the middle of this month between the new Taliban leadership and the Government of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the U.S., Chinese – what, observers over there. There’s any future --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any update for you on the latter. We are – we’re observers and only observers. This is – as we’ve said before, this reconciliation needs to be an Afghan-led process, so I’d point you to the Afghan Government for more details about what the next step is, what it looks like, and when it’s going to happen.

And I’m not aware of – I don’t have any details for you today on your other question about Russia and Saudi Arabia. I’d point you to both those countries to speak to that. I don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Yes.

QUESTION: Can I ask on the Israeli-Palestinian topic? I – specifically on U.S. citizens being denied entry to Israel and that this has been happening increasingly recently. Also, one of the new elements to this is U.S. passports – their U.S. passports being confiscated until these individuals had reached their destination outside of Israel. So what I wanted to ask was: Have you guys raised this issue recently? When was the most recent time you’ve raised this issue? And have you heard from any U.S. citizens who’ve had this problem in the – increasingly recently?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to have to take that question. I honestly don’t have anything for you on that today.

Pam, I already got you. Go ahead. Go ahead back in the back.


MR KIRBY: I’ll get back to you. I’ll get back to you.



QUESTION: I believe yesterday there was another strike or strikes by the Assad Government in Douma --


QUESTION: -- and near Damascus. And the U.S. condemned in the strongest term. Do you think this condemnation is going to prevent Assad causing future massacres with the airstrikes?

MR KIRBY: I think the way I’d put that is we’ve seen – sadly, we’ve seen no indication that he is willing to stop killing and maiming his own people through various means, whether it’s airstrikes or barrel bombs. In this case, many of the killed were teenagers who were working to support their families. So it’s just another example of deplorable brutality on his own people, which only further stands as testament to why we believe he’s lost legitimacy to govern in Syria and there needs to be a political transition to a government that is responsive to the hopes and dreams and futures of the Syrian people.

But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to turn a blind eye when he does this stuff. So yeah, we condemned it, and we’re going to continue to do that. But it doesn’t change the fact that he’s lost legitimacy to govern.

QUESTION: When we ask about the condemnation, it is mostly – I’ve been following on social media – it is mostly on sarcastic terms, that U.S. condemnation really doesn’t do much to stop it for years.

MR KIRBY: So should we just not – so we just – should we just say nothing? Should we just ignore it? I understand that people may – do I expect every word we utter out here to change his behavior? No, of course not. But nor are we going to just ignore it and turn away and not say anything and not speak out against the utter brutality of this man and his regime. So we’re going to continue to say things and to speak out. And we’re not the only one in the international community that’s repulsed by this. We have an obligation to continue to highlight for people who aren’t necessarily paying attention perhaps as much as they should to what Assad’s doing to his own people.

And that is why, in addition to speaking out – we’re not just – it’s not just about issuing statements. That’s why Secretary Kerry is taking this so seriously about trying to help reach a political transition. That’s why he met with Foreign Minister Lavrov and Foreign Minister al-Jubeir in Doha and then met again with Foreign Minister Lavrov when we were in Kuala Lumpur – about many issues, this being one of them. So we’re going to continue to say what needs to be said, but Secretary Kerry’s going to continue to do what needs to be done to try to reach a political transition there.

QUESTION: So while you have been consulting with the Russians for a long time, there are reports over the weekend that Russia just delivered six fighter jets to Damascus.

MR KIRBY: Well, Russia can speak to the arms transfers they’re conducting. What we’ve said is their continued support for the Assad regime has done nothing to help ease the tensions and stop the violence inside Syria. We’ve been very public about that too.

QUESTION: So you don’t have any issue with the Russians delivering fighter jets?

MR KIRBY: No, I just said – I just said – I mean, as for what they’re delivering and in what contract, that’s for them to speak to. But we have made it clear that their continued support, whether it’s moral or material – in this case, material – we continue to say, we continue to make the point that that does nothing to reduce the tensions, it does nothing to stop the violence, and does nothing to encourage what we really want, which is a political transition in Syria to a government that’s responsive to the Syrian people. So if you’re asking me, do we have a problem with it, yes, we do.


QUESTION: Last question: Have you known this transfer of fighter jets beforehand? Have you been noticed or warned about that?

MR KIRBY: There’s no responsibility for the Russian Government to notify us of arms transfers.


QUESTION: Stay in Syria?



MR KIRBY: Syria?


MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Have you seen the reports also of the statements from the YPG commanders that they have had three – I think three or four fighters were injured in Syria and they have sent them to Turkey for the hospitals, then they have been found under al-Nusrah fighters in Syria. So have you seen any of these reports or any confirmation?

MR KIRBY: No, no.


MR KIRBY: Can’t help you, sorry.


QUESTION: Libya. The --

QUESTION: Syria, Syria? Syria?


QUESTION: Are there any procedures United States can help to stop the barrel bomb or the bombing of civilian? I mean, there is no United Nation Security Council or anything United States can do?

MR KIRBY: Well, we continue to work with the international community to try to find solutions to stop this violence. Again, what really needs to happen is a political transition because Assad has lost legitimacy to govern, obviously. I won’t speak for other nations, but our commander-in-chief has made it clear that there’s not going to be a military solution to the conflict in Syria. It has to be done politically. And that is what Secretary Kerry’s very much focused on.


QUESTION: On Libya, the State Department late yesterday had the joint statement condemning the violence by Islamic State affiliates in Sirte and urging support for dialogue. Since then, Libya has asked Arab countries to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State in Sirte. Is there U.S. concern that it’s time to broaden the international response to Libya’s crisis beyond the UN-led political effort to counter some of the impact of the violence from the Islamic State affiliate groups there?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re aware of the Libyan Government’s call for Arab militaries to conduct strikes against ISIL-affiliated positions in and around Sirte. As we’ve stated previously, we believe the best way to counter terrorism in Libya and create a safe environment for all Libyans is in partnership with a committed and unified Libyan Government, and as we have said before, we continue to support the UN-led process to get to that end.

QUESTION: One more?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, time for just a couple more. Tejinder.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can we go back to Taliban question?

MR KIRBY: Taliban?



QUESTION: In view of the terrorist attack last week in Kabul, do you still believe, are you confident that – or do you think that the peace talks with the Taliban has a bleak future?

MR KIRBY: We continue to hope that an Afghan-led reconciliation process will lead to a political way forward in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: But why you are so hopeful? You have – you must have seen strong statements from the Afghanistan Government.

MR KIRBY: Look, we’re obviously concerned about the violence in Afghanistan and in and around Kabul, certainly, lately. That’s of deep concern to us. We note that the Afghan National Security Forces are doing a good job responding to that violence. It’s not unexpected that, particularly in the warmer months, the Taliban tries to exert themselves inside Afghanistan. But we support President Ghani, his efforts to get at this security challenge in his country. That’s why we have nearly 10,000 American troops in there as well as from international partners to help the Afghan National Security Forces as they continue to take the lead for security inside their country. We’ve long said that the long-term answer here is a reconciliation process that is Afghan-led. And we welcomed the first set of talks that occurred, and I would point you again to President Ghani for what the next step looks like, but we certainly have every expectation and every hope that those kinds of talks can continue.

QUESTION: But do you believe that given the tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan right now after President Ghani issued such strong statements against Islamabad, Pakistan can still can bring these Taliban leaders for talks?

MR KIRBY: I would let the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan answer that question.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

MR KIRBY: Obviously, we want to see the reconciliation process move forward. Nothing’s changed about that. And Pakistan has a shared interest in this. I mean, this is a common cause, common challenge, common enemy both sides face, and we welcome the dialogue and the cooperation that has happened of late. We understand there’s tensions. There have been and there will continue to be tensions across that border because it’s such a safe haven for extremists.

Pakistan has suffered deeply from Taliban attacks inside their country, and their soldiers have bled just like Afghan soldiers have bled. That’s why we continue to think it’s important for the two sides to look for ways to cooperate and to communicate and to work towards a better solution here, which, again, we believe is through the reconciliation process.

QUESTION: I have one quick one on Thailand. Have you seen those terrorist attack in Bangkok in religious place? Do you have anything to say on that?

MR KIRBY: I mentioned that at my opening. And I would point to Thai authorities who are investigating this.

Yeah, last question.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you actually have the information yet to answer this, and if you don’t, if you could just get it to us later. As you’ll have seen, South Sudan President Kiir has failed to sign the peace deal by today’s deadline, and the IGAD mediator has said that his – that Kiir’s government wants another two weeks to make up its mind about this. Any comment on this and --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Actually, I appreciate the question. We welcome the signing of the peace agreement by the opposition leader Riek Machar and other parties and stakeholders. The United States deeply regrets that the Government of South Sudan chose not to sign an agreement that was supported by all of the states in the IGAD, plus the troika – the United States, United Kingdom, and Norway – China, the African Union, and the United Nations today. We call on the government to sign the agreement within the 15-day period it requested for consultations.

And as the President has stated, if there was no agreement signed today, we consider – we would consider ways to raise the cost for intransigence. We’re going to work with our regional and international partners on next steps and on ways to increase pressure, especially against those that are undermining the peace process or opposing this agreement.

QUESTION: Are you going to – just one quick follow-up on that. On raising the cost for intransigence, are you only going to begin that process – are you essentially giving them the extra two weeks or the extra 15 days, and the you’re going to look at raising the cost?

MR KIRBY: I don’t want to get into hypotheticals at this point. I’m going to let the statement stand for itself. And IGAD stands for Intergovernmental Agency on Development, right? I think that’s right. I didn’t have that written down.

Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:18 p.m.)

DPB # 140


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 13, 2015

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 17:17

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 13, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:08 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. What’s with the front row here? This isn’t church. (Laughter.) It’s not church. Come on down.

QUESTION: We’re giving you a buffer zone. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Now that’s a good one. Hi guys. No, we’ll wait for you guys to get settled. Just tell me when you’re ready.

A couple things at the top. As you know, and I put out a statement earlier today, Secretary spoke with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov, earlier this morning. In that call, he expressed our grave concern about the sharp increase in separatist attacks in eastern Ukraine and he urged an immediate ceasefire and full implementation of Minsk obligations. These are points he has obviously made before.

On Syria, the Secretary and the foreign minister agreed to continue exploring options for a political solution to that conflict. The Secretary also raised concerns about the travel to Moscow by IRGC Commander Qasem Soleimani as well as legislation in Russia that would limit the activities of non-governmental organizations.

I want to switch to China real quickly. First, we wish to express our condolences to the Chinese people over the explosion in Tianjin. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families and with China’s first responders, who are working to help recover from this terrible tragedy and to assist those who were hurt.

Also on China, as you know, today we held the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue here at the State Department. This dialogue reflects the importance of human rights in our bilateral relationship and provides an opportunity to continue discussions of key human rights issues that were raised during the Strategic & Economic Dialogue, you might recall, from late June. And of course, these are issues that will be addressed during President Xi Jinping’s state visit in September. The talks are being led on our side by Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski, who I think will be making himself available to you at the end of the day today to sort of read out the meeting, so I won’t get ahead of what he’s going to say, since the dialogue is ongoing.

I do want to note that the Secretary made some opening remarks at the top of the meeting. He certainly welcomed what we all believe will be a very successful visit by President Xi next month. He extended his condolences as well for the explosions in Tianjin. He also highlighted that when the United States and China are able to stand together, whether it’s on climate change or the Iran nuclear negotiation, both our countries profit and so does the world. He certainly highlighted the importance of safeguarding human rights, including the freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, and association as an international responsibility and essential to deepening our bilateral cooperation.

With that, we’ll open it up to questions. Lesley.

QUESTION: I wanted to talk to you about Myanmar, or did you want to go to Soleimani?

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Myanmar, the developments overnight – does the U.S. believe this is a heavy-handed approach by the security forces? Is it a – is too much of a heavy-handed approach?

MR KIRBY: Which exactly --

QUESTION: In Myanmar, in Burma.

MR KIRBY: The – is this about the leadership changes?

QUESTION: Correct.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. So we’ll --

QUESTION: So the security forces were brought in, surrounded the headquarters --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, right.

QUESTION: -- and the ruling party chief was basically ousted.

MR KIRBY: Right. So we’re aware of those reports and we’re monitoring that. I really don’t have more detail on the conduct of it at this time, but we do continue to urge the government, state security forces, political parties, and civil society in Burma to work together peacefully to ensure the upcoming elections are credible, inclusive, transparent, and free from interference by security forces. But again, we’re still monitoring this.

QUESTION: But John, the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, which I was – which actually looks after this situation has asked for a clarification of the actions taken on this. Are you – is that the general request from the government?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, the – our embassy there is an extension here of the State Department. As I said, we’re monitoring this, and certainly as we get more information – and we certainly would like more information – we have a better sense of what happened here, I think we’ll be able to comment a little bit more specifically.


QUESTION: Can we go to – can we go back to General Soleimani, since you started with that?


QUESTION: First of all, did you raise also your concern with the Iranians about this trip to Moscow? And could you give us a little bit of context of your reaction? Because our understanding that there is a lot of diplomatic activity around Syria, and don’t you consider this trip to Moscow as part of searching, looking for a diplomatic solution to the conflict?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I don’t want to speak for the Russians with respect to this. And as I said, the Secretary raised it. I’ll let the Russians characterize their reaction to that.

Separately, though, as we’ve noticed – as we’ve noted, Secretary Kerry continues to want to work towards a political solution to the conflict in Syria, which means having discussions with Russian leadership and with Saudi Arabian leadership. We talked about this in Doha last week. Everybody agreed that a political solution to the conflict in Syria is what’s needed, and there continue to be discussions trilaterally, certainly, between those three nations to try to explore those options. And that was – again, that was a topic of discussion this morning when Secretary Kerry and the foreign minister spoke.

And then you had – your first question I don’t think I answered. What was it?

QUESTION: Did you raise your concern directly with the Iranians?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t have any readout of discussions to talk about with respect to – with Iran over this.


QUESTION: On Qasem Soleimani, so we can understand. He is not wanted, he’s just – he’s sanctioned but not wanted by, let’s say, law enforcement agencies anywhere, is he?

MR KIRBY: If the travel happened – and I’m not in a position to confirm it – if it happened, it would be a violation of Security Council resolutions, and certainly then a matter of serious concern to the United States.

QUESTION: So he is not on, let’s say, the Interpol list that – as someone who ought to be seized upon landing anywhere?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have – I’m not a judicial expert here. I can tell you that his travel would be a violation of Security Council resolutions.

QUESTION: Now, he’s accused of being responsible for the killing of U.S. troops. Can you give us which period was that? Was that, let’s say, giving advice to the Mahdi Army, for instance, and bad days of the civil war? Was it afterwards? When was that period where he commanded or gave orders to kill American troops?

MR KIRBY: Well, he’s still a commander of the IRGC, and we’ve talked openly about the threat that that force continues to represent and their involvement in nefarious activities and acts of violence over many years. I don’t have a dossier on what General Soleimani has – what operations he’s commanded or not. He is the leader of the IRGC. We’re going to maintain sanctions on the IRGC and the Qods Force and its leadership, including Soleimani.

QUESTION: But – sorry to press the issue, but they talk about figures like 500 or something – I mean, some large figure. How did they establish these figures that – that General Soleimani himself is actually responsible for the killing of these troops?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those figures, Said, and so I’m not in a position to quantify them. I’d refer you to DOD. I mean, we’re all well aware of the activities of the IRGC.

QUESTION: Would you say that there is a political angle to floating this issue now by some groups?

MR KIRBY: A political angle to floating of what issue?

QUESTION: Yeah, by someone who is trying to basically undermine the deal with Iran and so on. They looked at the Soleimani angle --

MR KIRBY: Well, if he --

QUESTION: -- as possibly a – some sort of a tool that could be used to undermine the deal.

MR KIRBY: If he indeed traveled – and as I said, I’m not in a position to independently confirm that – it is a violation, it is of serious concern. The motivation for that travel, again, should it be – should it have occurred, I wouldn’t begin to be able to speak to.

QUESTION: Can we stay on the Iran deal, unless someone wants to --

QUESTION: Just a clarification – so the readout of the discussion with Secretary Kerry expressing concerns is not confirmation that the travel did happen? Are you guys saying still at this point you cannot confirm the travel?

MR KIRBY: That’s right. But he certainly has seen the reports of the travel and expressed his concerns about those reports.


QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on a question that I asked Mark yesterday. You were present during the Reuters meeting the day before yesterday. And the Secretary expressed confidence that the deal will go through; that’s why he did not have a plan B. Is that because of – he has spoken to his former colleagues in the Senate and so on, considering that only democrat thus far, Senator Schumer, has spoken that he would – has announced that he would vote against the deal? Is that – does he have the figures sort of worked out where he’s confident that the deal will go through?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary, number one, is very confident in the merits of the deal. And he was, I think, very clear about that the other day up there in New York City. And he wants the deal examined on its merits. And when you look at it from the facts of it, when you really read it, it clearly demonstrates that by preventing Iran from possessing nuclear weapons capability, it makes the region safer, it makes us safer. It certainly makes our allies and partners safer.

And so that’s what he wants the debate and discussion to be about: the merits of the deal. And he has said not just in this week but previously that he’s confident that when it’s examined on its merits, it will pass muster in Congress. And I think he said as recently as the other day that he’s confident that it will, that it will get the approval that it needs in Congress. But he’s also – I also think he said he’s not taking any vote for granted. And that’s why he continues to engage with members of Congress and will continue to engage right up until September. He’s not taking anything for granted.

QUESTION: But the fact that no other senator has announced opposition thus far is a good sign, isn’t it?

MR KIRBY: I think so far, yes. I think as you look at who has come out publicly for and against, it certainly reaffirms the Secretary’s confidence that it will get the approval that it needs from Congress. But again, he’s going to continue to work the phones, he’s going to continue to answer questions, he’s going to continue to communicate with members of Congress to address whatever remaining concerns there may be. And he’s not going to take anything for granted.



QUESTION: The Iraqi Kurds have claimed that ISIS has used chemical – may have used chemical gas against their fighters near Erbil. Is that – have you seen those reports?

MR KIRBY: I have not.

QUESTION: Just one more question. Yesterday – I think just yesterday General Odierno said at the Pentagon that – I’m not going to ask you for military analysis, but he said the partition of Iraq might well be the only solution for the country because of the Shia-Sunni problem which he thought that will be there for a foreseeable future and that, of course, the Kurdish-Arab problem as well. Do you share his opinion on that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to the general’s personal views. That’s for him to speak to. I don’t – my reading of his comments was it was more qualified than that. It was that he didn’t see that as a need now. What I’ll tell you is – from the State Department is that certainly it is not our policy and not our view and not the future that we seek for Iraq. We continue to support the Iraqi Government in Baghdad under Prime Minister Abadi. We want to – helping him as he deals with the very real challenges inside his country. And it is the sovereign government of Iraq that we support, and only that government.



QUESTION: But General Odierno, who really knows Iraq and was there for a long time and knows the makeup, was a bit more emphatic on the issue of division. But my question to you is: Is the United States – he also – because he worked it into the context --


QUESTION: -- the context of the reforms that were introduced by Prime Minister Abadi and the head of the parliament, which did away with the vice presidency, did away with the deputy prime ministers, and so on. Are you guys in support of this doing away with the vice presidents and so on?

MR KIRBY: Well, we talked about this the other day.


MR KIRBY: I mean, these are specific decisions for Prime Minister Abadi to speak to.


MR KIRBY: We welcome the leadership that he has shown, the energy that he has demonstrated in terms of getting his government up and running, and making changes to try to make Iraq – the Government of Iraq – more responsive and more inclusive and more representative of the Iraqi people. And so we’re going to continue to work with him as he continues to try to lead his country through this difficult transition period. But we’re not going to take a position on every single decision that he is making.

QUESTION: But because – I remember back under Paul Bremer, when he basically put this formula into action – so many for the Shia, five for the Sunni and five for the Kurds and so on – as a way – as a step towards national reconciliation. Do you feel that doing away with these positions compromises national reconciliation efforts?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, Said, I’m not going to comment on each and every decision that he’s making. We support him in his efforts to reform and to help the Government of Iraq transition through this very difficult period. And I think I’d leave it at that.



QUESTION: Yesterday also General Odierno talk about Syria. And he said that Syria has changed forever. We don’t know if we will have same Syria again. Is this statement, which mostly taken as the military’s view as opposed to his personal view – do you think this contradicts with the State Department’s position that Syria has to be protected, its territorial integrity has --

MR KIRBY: I didn’t see those particular comments. And I think you can understand that I’m going to allow General Odierno to speak for himself. Our view of what’s going on in Syria has not changed. Secretary Kerry, as all of us do at the State Department, continue to work very hard to try to find ways and to explore options for a political transition in Syria, which is the ultimate solution here – a government that is responsive to the Syrian people who have suffered greatly and gravely at the hands of Bashar al-Assad – continue to suffer, I might add. Now, that’s the real endgame here for Syria, and that’s what Secretary Kerry is focused on.

QUESTION: Today – today on Syria – today the opposition said from Moscow that they will not – they reject the Russian plan basically, the Russian plan to have some sort of process going based on Geneva I. They reject it; they will not deal with Assad in any capacity. Do you support their position?

MR KIRBY: Well, we have routinely been working to better support the opposition inside Syria. I think we’ve also long said that Bashar al-Assad has lost legitimacy to govern. He continues to commit acts of brutality and violence on his own people, including barrel bombing, which continues. So I don’t think anybody sees a future in Syria which leaves him and his regime in power. What we do want and what the Secretary continues to try to pursue – and this was reflected in his meeting in Doha with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir of Saudi Arabia and Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia – is to work towards a political solution there, and he’s going to continue to do that.

We know that in order to achieve that goal, there’s going to have to be continued work with opposition groups. And it’s how do you get at that and how do you plot a framework forward with the opposition to bring that about, and there’s just no easy answers right now.

QUESTION: So despite the fact that maybe Assad controls the largest portion in Syria compared to the other groups – I mean, they each control so much area – he is out of any future formula?

MR KIRBY: We – nothing’s changed about our position with respect to the Assad regime and its future in Syria.


QUESTION: Do you have any update on yesterday’s Atima camp strike by the coalition? Mark did not have any details yesterday. But reportedly, there were more than half a dozen civilian casualties.

MR KIRBY: No, and I would point you to DOD for an update on a tactical airstrike issue. We’ve seen the reports. Obviously, we remain deeply concerned by any potential civilian casualties. But this is really something for DOD to speak to.

QUESTION: Do you have any number of how many people were killed in that attack?

MR KIRBY: No. As I said, I would point you to DOD for details of a tactical airstrike. I don’t have that kind of level of information.

QUESTION: And generally, how U.S. or the coalition determines a particular target to strike? I mean, like for example for Atima strike, how the coalition was determined to strike in that particular --

MR KIRBY: You have to talk to the Defense Department about how they conduct tactical operations. This is not the appropriate podium for me to speak to that. I will say just more broadly that nobody takes the protection of civilians more seriously than the United States, certainly, than the United States military, and the coalition in general, not – because it’s not just U.S. aircraft. I mean – just hang on a second.

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MR KIRBY: Everybody is focused keenly on trying to avoid civilian casualties and civilian damage, which is obviously not the goal for a group like ISIL, which continues to just commit utter depravations and violence against civilians in Iraq and in Syria. But as for the details, I would definitely point you to DOD. It’s not appropriate for me to comment about that.

QUESTION: There was an article in The Wall Street Journal that says basically the United States doesn’t want Turkey to strike ISIS until the agreement that you have with Turkey is fully written out, basically.

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I would --

QUESTION: Is that true?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, what I’d say is we have requested Turkey not to undertake independent counter-ISIL strikes in Syria until Turkey is fully integrated in coalition operations, to ensure safe air operations for the coalition in very dense airspace. And the Turks have agreed to that.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: What is your expectation when, do you think, this coordination can establish and Turks can start striking?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. Say the first part of your question.

QUESTION: Do you have any kind of timetable for this coordination to get established?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t. I mean, we’re continuing to work with Turkish authorities about how best to get at the threat of ISIL across that border, what that’s going to look like. But I don’t have any updates for you on that. And again, that’s more of a DOD question.

QUESTION: In this same article, some American officials expressing concerns over Turkey’s legitimate and self-defensive airstrike against PKK, and saying that Turkey used the Incirlik agreement as a hook to attack PKK bases, which actually PKK killed over 30 security officers – Turkish security officers just last month. So do you agree with those views or --

MR KIRBY: The last part I did not get.

QUESTION: Do you agree with those views that Turkey used Incirlik agreement as a hook to attack PKK locations?

MR KIRBY: Absolutely not, and I’ve said that before. I said it as recently as Monday, and I think we’ve said it even earlier than that. Look, Turkey’s an important ally, a NATO ally, a close friend, and a strong partner in this coalition. We welcome their decision to open their bases to U.S. and coalition members participating in air operations against ISIL. Beyond those operations, we’re going to continue our dialogue with Turkey to evaluate options on the most effective means of countering ISIL on its borders in a manner that promotes Turkey’s security and regional stability as well.

What we’ve said before is they have a right to defend themselves against terrorist attacks, and that is a separate and distinct matter than the discussion that we had with Turkey about their continuing cooperation.

QUESTION: But it looks like there are some officials in there – out there, most possibly defense officials, disagreeing with you and talking to American press. Is just something that shows that you have disagreement within the Administration over these strikes?

MR KIRBY: Well, who are these officials? You got names on them?


MR KIRBY: No, you don’t.

QUESTION: But that’s the question.

MR KIRBY: They’re anonymous sources, and I’m not going to speak to the credibility of anonymous sources. I just told you what our position is with respect to the cooperation that we’re getting from Turkey and will continue to get and the relationship that we’re fostering – continue to enjoy with Turkey.

Look, this is a dangerous, complex issue, and it’s a dangerous and complex time. And you have a coalition now of more than 60 countries. Every member of that coalition is contributing what they can, where they can, when they can. Turkey is contributing. And now they’re contributing even more and we’re grateful for that.

It doesn’t mean that in any bilateral discussion you have with them – a coalition member – that you’re going to necessarily agree on everything. But we’ve got a good, strong relationship with Turkey. They are cooperating. They’ve now allowed us use of these air bases to continue to go after ISIL and we’re grateful for that.

QUESTION: Can I ask you on Cuba what you --

QUESTION: Can we finish Syria?

QUESTION: No, I’m sorry. Go ahead.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Are you still communicating with those U.S.-trained Syrian opposition forces, which about 54 of them – do you know where are they?

MR KIRBY: Great question for DOD. Are we done with Syria? Looks like we are.

Back here, behind Said.

QUESTION: So on China, is the U.S. helping at all or supporting any of the relief efforts after the explosion?

MR KIRBY: No, there’s no request for – from Chinese authorities for any assistance at this time.


QUESTION: Can I follow up? Is there any indication that any U.S. citizens were injured, affected due to the explosion?

MR KIRBY: Did I do – I just did that, didn’t I? Sorry. No, we don’t have any indications right now.

QUESTION: Now, some information circulated in the social media in China is saying that the explosion of the chemicals has radiation. Given the proximity of Tianjin to Beijing, only few of – they are very close. Is there any concern of the severity or if – is there any information from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have any more detail for you on this. I’d point you to Chinese authorities who are both responding to this devastating explosion and investigating it, and it’s really for them to speak to.


QUESTION: Cuba, just a technical question. Am I right that Cuba is the only place in the world where it is against U.S. law to be a tourist?

MR KIRBY: Is it the only place in the world where it is against U.S. law to be a tourist? I don’t know; I’m going to have to take that one. I’m going to have to take that one.


QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Kirby.

QUESTION: Can I follow on Cuba? Sorry.


QUESTION: Today – I mean, which you’re getting ready to go to tomorrow.


QUESTION: Today, former President Fidel Castro said that the United States ought to pay reparations for all the harm that it has inflicted on Cuba over the past decades. Would that something that would be considered?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments, Said. Look, we’re just now re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Tomorrow’s a historic day. The Secretary very much looks forward to his visit down there. There are lots of issues – and I’m not saying this is one of them, I’m just saying there’s lots of issues that in the process of normalization I suspect will be discussed.

I have seen nothing that would indicate that that’s one of them, but let’s focus on what’s really important, which is this very historic restoration of diplomatic relations and the formal opening of our embassy down there in Havana. And again, we’re very much looking forward to this.

QUESTION: Any information on plans to meet with President Castro?

MR KIRBY: There are no such plans, no.

QUESTION: But it could happen, right?

MR KIRBY: It’s not on the agenda for tomorrow.


QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Kirby. On North Korea, recently North Koreans’ landmines explodes at the DMZ, and two soldiers has been injured. In this regard, do you think a UN Security Council resolution will put additional sanctions against North Korea?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t speak for the UN on this. That’s really a question for them to speak to.

QUESTION: And second question: Last week, North Korean Deputy Ambassador to UN Jang Il Hun said that North Korea will not come back to any table for the discussion their nuclear issues. Can you comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Again, I haven’t seen those comments. Our position has not changed that the United States and international community continue to call on the North to comply with its international commitments and obligations, including by taking concrete steps to abandon its nuclear program in a complete, irreversible, and verifiable manner and to cease all nuclear activities immediately.

QUESTION: Do you think it’s still optimistic about the Six-Party Talks?

MR KIRBY: We’ve long said that the onus is on North Korea here. We stand ready to resume the Six-Party Talks. But the onus is on North Korea to commit to be willing to do that, and they haven’t.

Yes, Goyal.

QUESTION: Afghanistan.


QUESTION: Two questions on the region. One, at least two generals have been speaking this week – one General Campbell at the Brookings Institutions, and yesterday General O’Connor on the future of Afghanistan. And both, of course, said that progress is being made and the future looks bright and international community should support the dialogues and the new government in Afghanistan.

My question is here. According to the press reports and also – it’s been now two years Omar Mullah was killed, and now, according to the reports, he was being treated and killed in a Karachi, Pakistan hospital. My question is that that means just like Pakistan was saying about Usama bin Ladin for 10 years that they don’t have him, he’s not there, so you think this is the second time that Pakistan has misled or stabbed at the U.S. on Omar Mullah’s whereabout?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think you saw Pakistani authorities denying those claims. I have nothing to add one way or the other about where he was treated. Our focus, Goyal, is on continuing to support the Afghan people and Afghan National Security Forces as they continue to secure their own borders and their own people, and that’s what the Resolute Support Mission is all about. And we’re a contributing nation to that and we’re going to continue to focus on those needs inside Afghanistan.

QUESTION: But as far as dialogue is going on between Afghanistan and Pakistan and both sides of the Taliban, how much can you trust now Pakistan, you think, on this dialogue?

MR KIRBY: Look, I think we welcome the dialogue that continues to occur between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I would draw your attention to meetings as recently as today with counterterrorism officials from both countries talking and discussing ways to bolster security in both countries. And as we’ve said before, this is a common, shared challenge in that – across that border and in that border area.

So it’s encouraging. It’s promising that they’re having, again, discussions today. And again, we welcome that, because we’ve long said that cooperation and communication between the two will only – can only lead to positive results if it continues and if it really leads to some sort of tangible, shared commitments.

QUESTION: And finally, on Tuesday, 11th of August, U.S. – United States International Commission on Religious Freedom, they had an op-ed or wrote in Foreign Policy magazine that August 11th was declared by the founder of Pakistan, Mr. Jinnah, that that will be the religious freedom day in Pakistan. But according to this commission, the minorities are under attack in Pakistan and U.S. should – they have recommended that United States should do more and press for the freedom of all kinds in Pakistan which has been deprived of the minorities and others inside Pakistan. Have you spoken or talking about these all things, and how much seriously do you take this commission’s report and recommendations?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the commission’s report or its recommendations. I think you know our position. Secretary Kerry’s position is very clear when it comes to the practice of religion and freedom of speech and assembly. We take those basic human rights extraordinarily seriously. I mean, I just talked to you about the dialogue we’re having with Chinese authorities today on human rights, the whole day just devoted to human rights. So it’s obviously a top priority agenda for Secretary Kerry. It will remain so with all countries around the world, but I don’t have anything specific with respect to this report.

It is something we bring up routinely. And everywhere he goes we find opportunities – we look for opportunities to talk about the importance of human rights.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.


QUESTION: John, thank you. I have two quick questions on Secretary Clinton’s server. Has the State Department been able to determine whether each of the four classified emails sent to Secretary Clinton’s server originated within the State Department or whether they originated within another agency?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates for you in terms of original sourcing on those emails.

QUESTION: And secondly, has the State Department been able to determine whether any classification markings may have been stripped from any of those documents from anyone within the State Department?

MR KIRBY: We have no indications that there were any – that there was at all any stripping of classification markings on these.


QUESTION: Yeah, China and Taiwan. Deputy Secretary Blinken and Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel are meeting with Zhang Zhijun, who is the minister of China’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office. What is the nature of this meeting, and is the presidential election of Taiwan among the topics being discussed? Can we have – please have a readout afterwards?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know that I’m – I’ll check and see if we can give you a readout. I don’t have an agenda to give you right now.

QUESTION: Okay, let me put my question this way. A recent article published in The Diplomat – let me quote – indicate that the United States – it’s regarding the presidential election in Taiwan. The article quotes, “U.S. defense planners cannot help but wonder if the DPP” – which is a opposition party in Taiwan – “will seek to entrap the United States in a cross-strait crisis in an effort to achieve its dreams of independence from China.” And, “Tsai Ing-wen,” who is a “DPP presidential candidate, has done little to assuage such fears.” Do you share such observation? And the article also point out it’s time for the United States to review the policy toward Taiwan. Is there any discussion within this building to review the policy toward Taiwan?


QUESTION: What is the status of U.S. security commitment toward Taiwan?

MR KIRBY: I mean, we remain committed to fulfilling our responsibilities under the Taiwan Relations Act. Key priorities with Taiwan include ensuring it has the ability to defend itself, and remain free from coercion or intimidation. When free from coercion, Taiwan has increasingly engaged China with confidence. That’s our position on it.

QUESTION: Could we have a readout after the meeting today?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to guarantee readouts at this point. I take the question, and we’ll see.

QUESTION: John. John, on Japan.


QUESTION: It is reported that Japanese Prime Minister Abe may visit to North Korea coming up at the end of this month. Can you comment on that?

MR KIRBY: No. I make it a point never to comment on the travel of other --

QUESTION: If he did it --

MR KIRBY: -- of foreign leaders. I can talk about Secretary Kerry’s travel, but that’s about it.

QUESTION: Do you have any information that the Japanese are discussing with his visit to North Korea?

MR KIRBY: I honestly am not going to speak for Mr. Abe’s travel. I just – it would be inappropriate for me to do that. I’m not going to comment on that.

Yeah, back here.

QUESTION: So Prime Minister Abe is slated to give his statement on the 70th anniversary of World War II tomorrow. Does the State Department have any expectations of what he might be saying?

MR KIRBY: Again, you’re asking me to get ahead of comments that Mr. Abe hasn’t made yet. So that’s a better question – questions about what he’s about to say are really better placed to him and to his staff.

QUESTION: Do you think, though, that this statement would be an opportunity for him to build better relations with his neighbors?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to let Mr. Abe speak for himself. And again, we’ve – we have a deep alliance and friendship with the Japanese people and the Japanese Government. And we’re always looking for ways to make sure that we keep that alliance and those security commitments strong. As for what he’s going to say or not say on this particular anniversary, I’d leave it to him and his staff to speak to.

QUESTION: Have you been in communication at all about the wording or the type of message that --

MR KIRBY: We don’t suggest talking points to foreign leaders one way or the other, and that – so no.

Okay. I’ve got time for one more.

QUESTION: Sorry, John, one last one.


QUESTION: It’s actually the helicopter crash on Okinawa.


QUESTION: And we were a bit confused because we read Mark Toner’s sentence yesterday, and he said that the helicopter crashed in international waters, but it actually crashed eight miles off the island. And so we’re not sure – is that international waters or not?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to refer you to DOD. This was an Army helicopter that apparently had a hard landing on --

QUESTION: Right, but then they referred back to you, which is why I’m asking.

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: They referred back to you. They referred back to State.

MR KIRBY: About the crash?

QUESTION: Whether it fell in international waters or not, yeah.

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not an expert on this particular incident.


MR KIRBY: As I understand it, it happened on a USNS ship, which is a naval – a U.S. naval support ship. And as for the details of it, I would be – it would be inappropriate for me to --

QUESTION: Okay. It just seems a bit contradictory, which is --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I just – I don’t have the details on this.

QUESTION: Okay, okay.

MR KIRBY: And it would be inappropriate for me to speak to a military mishap from the State Department’s podium. It did – I know that it happened aboard a U.S. naval ship, but all the where and how, that’s really for DOD to speak to.

Okay, thanks everybody.

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

DPB # 139

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 12, 2015

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 16:30

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 12, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:06 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey, everyone, welcome to the State Department. Happy Wednesday. Just a couple things at the top. First of all, I wanted to speak to the possible death of a Croatian citizen in Egypt that took place; many of you are aware of the video that’s circulated earlier today. We’ve obviously seen Prime Minister Milanovic’s statement about the reported murder of a Croatian citizen, Tomislav Salopek, by ISIL terrorists in Egypt. We understand the Government of Croatia is still working to confirm this brutal act. Our thoughts, obviously, are with Mr. Salopek’s wife and children, his family, and the Croatian people at this very difficult time.

We obviously condemn in the strongest possible terms the horrific violence and brutality that ISIL continues to carry out across the region. The United States stands shoulder to shoulder with Croatia, with Egypt, and all of our friends and partners in the fight against terrorism.

And I just – I did want to commend to all of you – I know most of you got to see or read the Secretary’s – the transcript of the Secretary’s event at Thomson Reuters yesterday in New York. It was a thorough discussion of how the JCPOA effectively shuts down all of Iran’s pathways to enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon and also why other options that opponents of the deal have proposed, such as walking away or securing a better deal, are not only not realistic but are likely to have the opposite effect, which would remove – see the removal of all constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and the crumbling of the international sanctions regime.

I also want to call your attention to the continuing support that we’ve seen for the Iran deal. Over the weekend, I think there was a letter from the nation’s leading scientists – a letter sent to President Obama. And also yesterday an open letter that was shared from three dozen retired U.S. military generals and admirals who unequivocally stated that, “There is no better option to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon,” end quote. We believe that the more the American people understand how good this deal is, how effective it is for America’s security and that of our allies and partners around the world, the more they’ll support it.

I’ll take your questions. Brad, do you want to go?

QUESTION: So I think we’ll get back to both of those in a bit. I just wanted to ask firstly about the emails of former Secretary of State Clinton. We heard from this podium when we first learned about her private email account that no classified information was supposedly within those emails, and now we found out yesterday. Does that make you worried about what more is – we’re going to learn from these emails?

MR TONER: Well, so obviously most or many of you saw the statement that we put out last night. Just to reiterate, the emails that have been discussed have not been released to the public, and where we’re at in this right now, this process, is we’re working with the director of national intelligence to resolve whether in fact this material is actually classified. But in the meantime we’re taking steps, clearly, to make sure that the information is protected and stored properly.

So it’s also important, I think, to emphasize that these emails were not marked as classified at the time they were sent, and both of – both of which they were received obviously by Secretary Clinton. They weren’t sent by her. But none of them were classified at the time. And what we’re – our focus has been throughout this is obviously we need to be responsive to the request put on us to release publicly all of her emails that she provided to us, the State Department, per FOIA regulations and processes. We’ve been doing that. We’ve been working to clear these in a manner that’s been as responsive as possible and quick as possible, because we know that many members of the public and you journalists want to see these emails, and are redacting them as necessary, as we find things that need to be upgraded in their classification.

We have not seen anything at the TS level yet, and so – but that is our function throughout, and we have an embedded group of folks from the IC community – or from the IC, rather, who are looking at these emails and helping us clear them as we go through them.


QUESTION: So it’s your assertion that none of the information even in these latest emails, like, that have come to light contained information that was classified at the time they were penned? Is that right?

MR TONER: Again, I think we’re – what I would say is we’re in discussions with ODNI about their recommendations. They’ve clearly – and we’ve seen those and acknowledged the fact that they’ve – they – so they’ve taken two of the emails and they’ve said there’s no IC equities in these. The other two they’ve said should be classified, I think, at the Top Secret level. We’re now assessing that ourselves internally. I think we’ve said in the past, classification, looking at these kinds of issues, it’s – sometimes it’s black and white but oftentimes it’s not. And so there’s lots of considerations to take into account when we’re looking at these. So we’re looking at – or we’re working with ODNI on these emails. We’re looking at – we’re trying to clarify their findings and trying to resolve whether we think they need to be classified.

QUESTION: But you – at this point you’re not satisfied that it was classified at the time that they were written?

MR TONER: I’d just say we’re in discussion with them.

QUESTION: Okay. But that shouldn’t be – I mean, that’s not – that should be pretty black and white if somebody’s classified it, and until that --

MR TONER: Well, they weren’t marked. Let me clarify that. They were not --

QUESTION: Well, the emails weren’t marked.

MR TONER: Yeah, they were marked as classified, right.


MR TONER: But as we’ve been doing throughout --

QUESTION: But the information therein doesn’t – if you write down everything you heard at a classified briefing and put it in an email, that’s – it’s not marked as classified but that’s classified information.

MR TONER: Right, right. Right, correct.

QUESTION: I mean, not that that happened here, but --

MR TONER: No, no, right. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I mean, shouldn’t – did all of her aides get some sort of training in how they handle classified information when they joined the State Department?

MR TONER: And that’s a normal step, yes. They would all get briefings on --


MR TONER: -- handling classified material. That’s --

QUESTION: Does the secretary get that as well, or is that something presumed at the – that a secretary --

MR TONER: I can’t speak to – precisely to what she received in terms of training, but that’s a normal part of the process as well.

QUESTION: So shouldn’t they have known better on information that could perceivably become classified, not to have sent that over to an unclassified email account, let alone a nongovernmental email account?

MR TONER: Well, Brad, again, you’re asking me to step back in time and make judgments on who was sending what at that time and how they were assessing the information. That’s not, frankly, our job here. Our job is to look at the information that Secretary Clinton has passed on to us and release it publicly.

QUESTION: I understand.

MR TONER: And so as we release it, we’re looking to see if any of that needs to be upgraded. We’re not aware now – with the exception now of these two emails that have been flagged, and we’re looking at them and working – but we’re not aware of any classified material that was sent to her at that time.


MR TONER: But what we’re doing and what we have done, frankly, and you know this, is we’ve redacted stuff after the fact.

QUESTION: And then I just have --

MR TONER: Upgraded it. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- one final question, since it deals with the retention element which you raised, and it had been the position of this building that the server and the thumb drives, that that – with – those being retained by her lawyer was acceptable. The Justice Department felt otherwise. Where did you come to the conclusion that that was an acceptable means of retention at that time?

MR TONER: So my answer to that is we had based our assessment of where these materials are being held at the lawyer’s office based on what we had determined, which was that some of it was classified as – up to Secret/No Foreign, I think is the classification level. And we sent security experts to evaluate where they were being held, and at that level that was acceptable.

QUESTION: Mark, could you clarify something --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- that you just said – I’m sorry – on this one.

MR TONER: It’s okay.

QUESTION: How does something that was unclassified get upgraded to be classified? What is the mechanism or how is it determined that it should become classified?

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, a lot of it, without getting into too much detail, deals with names, sources, all that thing – all that kind of consideration. So we would look at it – if something was not sensitive or considered sensitive at the time or classified, it could over time evolve that given who was saying what to whom, where that source – where that information was coming from, that we would need to upgrade the classification to protect those sources. That’s usually, generally. I mean, there’s other variations on that, but that’s generally the --

QUESTION: So I thought with time --

MR TONER: So what we do is – sorry, I apologize – essentially, so we – and we’ve said this before. So we don’t throw the entire document out; what we do is often redact certain lines that protect --

QUESTION: I thought with the passage of time, things that are classified become unclassified, not the other way around.

MR TONER: That’s true as well. That’s true as well. I mean, both are – again, this is – I mean, there’s very clear examples of when it’s black and white, but it’s not often black and white. And these are – it’s – some of it’s art and some of it’s science. But a lot of it is, frankly, very knowledgeable people looking at this and sharing it among those who have equities in the content and information for us all to reach a common agreement on the classification level.

Yeah, I’ll go to you, James.

QUESTION: Thanks very much, Mark. I have a few questions on this subject.

MR TONER: Sure thing.

QUESTION: And forgive me if any have already been addressed in this setting, because I think you’ll agree this is rapidly becoming a sprawling subject difficult for any one person to master.

First, is it the understanding of the department that the actual server has been turned over to the FBI?

MR TONER: So unfortunately, I’m going to have to refer you to the FBI. They have not confirmed that. We’ve also seen the reports from Secretary Clinton’s lawyers and from Secretary Clinton’s staff that that has happened, but we’ve not received an independent confirmation. And it’s not for me to confirm that, so that’s a question for the FBI to answer.

QUESTION: We were just talking about what is known as derivative classification, and I just wonder if it’s your understanding that material which is classified at some level which is transmitted from one individual to another electronically, whether there are in place any coding or encryption systems that flag when such classified information is taken from a classified source and cut-and-paste, if you will, into an unclassified source. Is there like a marker, like the dye that we put on money, on banks or whatever, that will help us trace when that’s happening?

MR TONER: That’s beyond my level of expertise. I mean, a lot of times, as you note, James, whether it’s email or cable traffic or whatever, classified information – and it’s something we drill into every Foreign Service officer and take very seriously and every civil servant within the State Department – the proper level of classification, identifying it as such, and then marking it and keeping it marked. I just don’t have the expertise to say that the – in the information sphere that that’s able to – that you’re able to, as you say, dye it.

QUESTION: You just alluded to a visit to Mrs. Clinton’s lawyer’s office that was taken – made by government personnel for the purpose of verifying that the security in that lawyer’s office was adequate for the purpose of retaining the server. Who made that visit? When was it?

MR TONER: I don’t have the details, but we’ve talked about this before. We sent over a – again, I don’t know if it was one person or several persons, but we were in touch with the lawyer’s office – again, understanding at that time we weren’t dealing with a top secret level – the possibility of a top secret level email or emails. We did make the determination at the time, and that included an onsite visit. So I don’t have details of who, what, where, when, but that was done. And we ensured at that time to our confidence in – or that we had confidence that that was being appropriately stored up to that level that we had at the time.

QUESTION: It seems to me that if this department has working for it people with the expertise to make such a determination about the security procedures and their adequacy in the lawyer’s office, this department also has access to people who’d be in a position to judge whether the procedures that Mrs. Clinton herself was using with respect to the server were adequate or appropriate. And has that determination been made?

MR TONER: Again, two points to make. One is – and we all understand this in this room, both those of us who are in government service but also all of you in the media – cyber security is an evolving issue, and so what the level of cyber security that existed four or five, six years ago, is not at the level that we need today. So let me just finish. So we’re obviously always looking to upgrade and assure that we have the best protections available both on our unclassified but certainly our classified systems.

But I would also just remind you, so this was in response to a FOIA request that Secretary Clinton handed over these emails for us to go through and make public. We’ve been doing that. That’s our goal in this. She said this is the – encompassed the entirety of her email exchange on that given issue, Benghazi and Libya, and we’ve been focused – our efforts have been focused on sifting through this stuff, making it public, and then classifying where we – or upgrading the classification where necessary.

QUESTION: Just a few more.

MR TONER: Yeah, please. No, that’s okay.

QUESTION: And I appreciate your indulgence and that of the room.


QUESTION: Has, to your knowledge, Secretary of State Kerry, at any time since March when this story first broke in The New York Times, discussed this matter with former Secretary of State Clinton directly?

MR TONER: I can tell you that Secretary Kerry is very seized with the overall issue. Two points to make here. One, in making sure that we fulfill our requirement to make these emails public while classifying them or upgrading their classification if necessary, takes that very seriously. We have devoted a considerable amount of resources and manpower to this effort.

Secondly, I’m not – he wants to make sure that our existing security – computer security is at a level that’s needed in today’s age.

QUESTION: Has he spoken to Clinton?

MR TONER: I don’t know – that’s what my – the last thing is. I don’t – I’m not aware that he has spoken directly with Secretary Clinton about this issue. I’d have to check on that.

QUESTION: Obviously, the Department of State has been in touch with Secretary Clinton or her aides just for the logistical purposes of meeting the various timetables for requests, the litigation involved, and so forth. Is the Department of State providing any counsel or maintaining any contact of any kind with respect to this matter with any of Secretary Clinton’s former staff?

MR TONER: No. Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION: The revelations about ex post facto amplification of classification level – does this place any of Mrs. Clinton’s former aides in any kind of jeopardy such as you understand it?

MR TONER: Again, it’s not really my position to make that kind of a judgment, frankly.

QUESTION: Last question.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: We have here the former Secretary of State, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States, and she’s now engaged in the business of turning stuff over to the FBI. That’s pretty heavy stuff, isn’t it?

MR TONER: Well, again, I would just return to what our role is and the State Department’s role is in this process, which is to go through these emails, to make them public, while making sure that any material within them that needs to be upgraded in classification is – that we do so. It’s not for me to talk to the broader issues at hand here. That I’d refer you to the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: Do you see parallels with the Petraeus case?

MR TONER: I do not. I’ve said this before; it’s apples and oranges in my view.

QUESTION: Can I just do one here?

MR TONER: Yeah, please go ahead, Brad.

QUESTION: Do FOIA processes ever lead to investigations on the improper use, storage, or transmission of classified information? Or are those two things completely siloed off? I mean, has there ever been an example where in a FOIA process --

MR TONER: Yeah, and I --

QUESTION: -- you’ve ever referred something then for an investigation?

MR TONER: Right. It’s a good question, and I don’t have a ready answer in terms of examples of where that’s been the case. I think – and again, I would refer you to the IG, because I think what’s – that would be in the purview of the IG, to look at those kinds of issues. And that’s frankly why they exist, is to see if there’s broader implications and to conduct investigations as they see fit. And they’ve got full autonomy to do so.

QUESTION: And then just in these emails, without describing what they are, you don’t see any element, even if something was or has now become top secret, of intent by any official to transmit classified information?


QUESTION: So even if --

MR TONER: You’re talking about – sorry, you’re talking about intent by the originators of the --

QUESTION: By the sender, yeah. Or the sendee too, the recipient, to receive classified information improperly or something like that.

MR TONER: Again, we’re still in the process, frankly, of discussing with ODNI whether they need to be classified at that level.

QUESTION: Mark, one more, just one more?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Go ahead, James.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry responded in an interview setting recently to the question of whether it was likely that the Russians and the Chinese had had access to his email. And he said words to the effect that it was a safe bet. Is it a safe bet that the Russians and Chinese had access to Hillary Clinton’s official email given how little security procedures were in place?

MR TONER: Again, where the Secretary’s remarks – and he speaks to the reality, as I said, that we all live in today, which is that anything sent in an unclassified setting is vulnerable. So I’d leave it there.

QUESTION: Following up, did you --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Do you have access, the United States, to the emails of Chinese and Russian officials, since he’s so sure – (laughter) --

MR TONER: Nice try, Brad.

QUESTION: I mean, how does he know they have his emails unless he has their emails, maybe?

MR TONER: Nice try. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: All right. New topic?

MR TONER: Please. Sure. Are we done with --

QUESTION: A new topic?

MR TONER: Okay, yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. On Cuba, I wanted to ask about the AP report that the Obama Administration doesn’t plan to have Cuban dissidents at the morning flag-raising with John Kerry. Could you tell us when and where and which dissidents Secretary Kerry is planning on meeting? Will he be meeting with them privately in the afternoon at a separate flag raising? Who will he meet with?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, I think – sure.

QUESTION: And also explain to us why the decision was made to not have some at the morning event.

MR TONER: Well – so I’m not going to, frankly, get into detail walking through his schedule for that day, who he’s going to meet with where and what and how that’s going to look. Frankly, I’ll leave that for him or for others to speak to as we get closer to the actual day. I know we’re only two days away, but – but the Secretary has been very clear and we’ve been very clear that he plans to meet with a broad range of civil society during his day or during the day in Cuba, in Havana. But I don’t want to get into specific details about who – and I said who he’s going to meet with, where that’s going to take place.

But we’ve been very clear more broadly in saying that, as much as we look forward to increasing our diplomatic engagement with the Government of Cuba, we’re well aware of the challenges that we face on the human rights sphere and we’re not going to shy away from addressing those challenges and continuing to meet with key members of civil society in Cuba.

QUESTION: But did the Cuban Government tell you that if you had any of those dissidents at the morning event, that they would not attend?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to what we may or may not have shared with – or discussed with the Cuban Government.

QUESTION: And so can you give us any insight into why they are not going to be at the morning event?

MR TONER: Well, again, then you’re asking me to implicitly confirm whether they’re not or not. I’m not going to speak to who the invitees are to specific events. I’ll let others do that as we get closer.

Please, in the back.

QUESTION: I just want to --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure, go ahead if you’re --

QUESTION: -- follow up on this issue.


QUESTION: Did you address the fact that the Cuban Government is arresting some opponents of rapprochement?

MR TONER: I think we spoke to this, frankly, as of Monday --

QUESTION: You did? Okay. Could you – okay. Is there anything beyond that?

MR TONER: -- and I believe that John Kirby was quoted in the very story in expressing our --

QUESTION: Okay. Apologies for (inaudible).

MR TONER: No, it’s okay. I’m just – I’m teasing Brad over here.

But in any case, no, we’ve been very clear. We spoke out against it. Any time we see that kind of action, we’re not going to shy away from addressing these issues from – and discussing human rights. It remains a challenge in the relationship. But we’re basing this sea change in our policy towards Cuba on the assessment that through increased diplomatic engagement we can offer more opportunity to the Cuban people, increase the amount of exchange between our two peoples, and open up the space, if you will, between our two countries.

QUESTION: Would you say that it is highly likely that Secretary Kerry would meet with President Castro?

MR TONER: I – (laughter) – nothing – but nice try, again. This is a fun – anyway, please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Something separate.

MR TONER: And I’ll get to you, I promise. Oh, is this a separate --


MR TONER: Okay, go ahead. And then I apologize. I thought it was still on the --

QUESTION: Okay. So the Swiss Government announced today that they were lifting – not just suspending, but lifting – previously suspended sanctions on Iran. So they are completely lifting their sanctions; that, I believe, makes them the first country that is doing so, even though the JCPOA has not been implemented. What’s the – was the U.S. Government consulted? Did you know that they were planning on lifting their sanctions today, and what is your reaction to the fact that they’re doing that before the EU, the U.S., Russia, China, UN, anyone else?

MR TONER: Sure. In answer to one of your questions, my first point to make is that we’ve seen these reports. We’re looking into them, so we just found out about it.

QUESTION: So the U.S. Government wasn’t consulted ahead of time?

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no. But we’ve been clear that we won’t relieve any sanctions under the JCPOA until after the IAEA verifies that Iran has taken all of its major nuclear-related steps, and that remains our policy. So until that occurs, we intend to continue aggressively enforcing those sanctions. But as to specifically what these sanctions were that lifted and how they’ll affect, we’ll have to look into that and get back to you with more detail.

QUESTION: Good. So U.S. enforcement means then that if Swiss companies were to avail themselves of their country having lifted those sanctions, the U.S. would still prosecute them under secondary sanctions – or I shouldn’t say prosecute – would still pursue them under secondary sanctions?

MR TONER: I would say that, yes, any of our sanctions – I would say any of our sanctions pertaining to Iran would still apply, yeah.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran?


QUESTION: Still on Iran?

MR TONER: You’re a different topic, or --


MR TONER: Okay. Well, let’s stay on Iran, and then we’ll finish that.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up from the Thomson Reuters event yesterday.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry made a comment that was – I didn’t see any readout of a conversation with Zarif, but he mentioned that he received a message from Secretary Zarif only yesterday. Was that a telephone call or an email? Are they snapchatting now? (Laughter.) Do you know what that was?

MR TONER: I don’t – aware of the – that he did make the remark. I’m not certain of how that communication took place.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just to --

MR TONER: I don’t believe it was a phone call.

QUESTION: You don’t believe it was a phone call? Okay. And then – which is interesting. Maybe it was Snapchat, then. But to the substance of that, he said that Zarif was in Beirut doing outreach, and he seemed to paint it in a positive light where he either used outreach or coordinating. And I just wanted to wonder – I mean, I just wanted to ask: What was his understanding of that outreach or what is your understanding? He said he’s reaching out to those countries.

MR TONER: It’s a fair question. I – again, I’m aware of the remark and I truly don’t want to put myself in the position of parsing his words without understanding the context, but my assumption, generally, would be that Zarif was also engaged in reaching out to the region. He’s already been doing so talking about the deal and making efforts to convince them of the importance of this deal.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I was only struck by it later --

MR TONER: But I don’t have any specific --

QUESTION: -- because then I saw a report in Al-Manar, and while I don’t vouch for it necessarily, I saw that they quoted Zarif saying that he was there for regional cooperation “to fight extremism and face threats posed by the Zionist entity,” which made me wonder why the Secretary was expressing this outreach in such a positive tone.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, certainly – and we’ve been clear about this throughout – just because we have reached agreement on a specific deal dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, we have segmented that because it’s important that we not have a nuclear-capable Iran, but that doesn’t take away from all of our – all of our problems with Iran’s involvement in the region, and that includes, obviously, anti-Semitism and issues with Israel.

QUESTION: So to – just to hammer it home, you’re okay with him going to Beirut and Kuwait and Qatar to do outreach for anti-extremism efforts but anti-Israel would be still problematic?

MR TONER: Of course. But also, again, we’re focused – and the Secretary’s spoken to this as have others – we’re focused on getting this deal across the finish line, getting Congress’ approval. We believe it’s in the best interest of the United States, of all our partners and allies. It prevents – it provides the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that’s where we’re focused on.

What that may mean for the other aspects of our relations with Iran and Iran’s behavior in the region, that’s all an open question, frankly. And we’re very – and we’re obviously very wary.

Yeah, please, James, if you – are we – on the – still on the same topic?


QUESTION: I am on Iran sanctions, yeah.

MR TONER: Okay. Let’s just finish Iran then.

Do you have Iran too?

QUESTION: Yeah, very quickly. On --

MR TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: On the Secretary’s comments yesterday, he expressed confidence that the deal will go through and in fact he does not have a plan B. So what gives him that confidence? I mean, do you have – do you keep a tally that you have maybe less than 60 senators that will oppose it or less than 67 that could override the veto? What gives him that confidence that he does not need a plan B?

MR TONER: Well, I think the Secretary’s been very frank in saying that there is – the critics of the deal --


MR TONER: -- don’t really have a plan B. None of the plan Bs that they’re offering really offer an acceptable resolution to the problem at hand, which is keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. In terms of what makes him confident that eventually Congress will approve it, I think, I mean, he’s a former senator; he can do counts. He knows how to – how the – that legislative body works. But I think he’s also confident in the merits of the deal and the more that people know about it, the more that they’ll understand that this is, as I said, a good, effective way to and the best way to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.


QUESTION: And just to quickly follow up, a PR firm, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, took 58 legislators to Israel basically to be lobbied by the Israeli Government to vote against the deal. Should, in this case, this PR firm or – this PR firm register as a foreign agent? Should it register as a foreign agent?

MR TONER: I’m not going to speak to that. They’re – we’re a free society.


MR TONER: They’re fully capable and have every right to do what they’re doing. Again, what we would just ask is that they make the same effort to learn enough about the deal themselves that they can make up their own – make a sound judgment about its merits.

QUESTION: Does this kind of activity qualify for a PR firm to – or does it obligate them to register as a foreign agent in your judgment?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have the legal expertise to answer that question.

QUESTION: Is that something that the State Department does or is it the Department of Justice? Who determines --

MR TONER: I believe it’s the FBI, Department of Justice who makes that determination.

Yeah. Go ahead, James.

QUESTION: I wanted to follow up with a few questions on the exclusive reporting of my Fox News colleagues Jennifer Griffin and Lucas Tomlinson last week, wherein they disclosed that General Soleimani of the Qods Force had secretly traveled to Russia in the latter part of July of this year, apparently in so doing in violation of existing U.S. and UN sanctions on him. First, do you have any better an idea now, today, than you did when this story first broke last week as to the purpose of the general’s travel to Russia?

MR TONER: So we’ve – obviously, as we said last weekend, I think, when the story broke, as you mentioned, we’ve seen these reports. We – and we said at the time this travel would be a violation of UNSC resolutions and thus a serious matter of concern to the UN Security Council as well as, obviously, to the United States. So we’ve raised this travel with senior Russian foreign ministry officials, and we’re going to raise it and address it further in New York. We intend to work with the Security Council and its Iran Sanctions Committee and the UN’s Iran Panel of Experts, which is a sanctions monitoring team, to ensure, frankly, that there’s a full, thorough, adequate investigation as well as sufficient follow-up. The UN sanctions on Soleimani do remain in effect, and so we call on all countries to respect and enforce all designations made under UN Security Council resolutions.

QUESTION: Has the United States Government, in pursuing this in these various channels, yet received any responses from any concerned parties?

MR TONER: My understanding is we have not. So again, we’re pursuing this and we’ve made our concerns clear to Russia, but we’re also pursuing it within the Security Council.

QUESTION: You have no idea what the purpose of his visit was?

MR TONER: At this point, we do not.

QUESTION: Because I believe it has been asserted by the semi-official news agency in Iran that the purpose of the general’s visit was to discuss arms sales. Are you aware of that report?

MR TONER: We’re aware of reports, but we have not, again, received a firm response from the Russian Government.

QUESTION: Have you confirmed that the general met with President Putin?

MR TONER: I have not, we have not.

QUESTION: Doesn’t this episode raise very valid concerns about how much cooperation the U.S. and the other members of the P5+1 can expect to receive from Russia in the implementation of the JCPOA, when here the Russian Federation is colluding actively in a violation of existing sanctions?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, Russia was, as you know, a member of the P5+1 process and an effective one. The Secretary has spoken to the fact that they were among the toughest negotiators with Iran and were helpful to reaching the deal that we were able to reach. I think it’s important that there are sanctions in place specific to this individual, but that --

QUESTION: But Mark, this doesn’t bode well --

MR TONER: Sorry, let me just finish. But – sorry, just – but that they remain in effect, and we’re following up through the mechanisms that are available to us in the Security Council to ensure that enforcement is carried out.

QUESTION: But if Russia is violating the sanctions that are in place right now, why should any American regard that the Russians will be reliable in implementing the terms of the deal once it goes into effect?

MR TONER: But again, these are – so it’s – careful not to get too caught up. We have a series or network of sanctions, both unilateral sanctions as well as through the UN Security Council that specifically target the IGRC and its actions, and we’re going to make sure that those sanctions continue to be enforced. As for this specific incident, we’ve reached out to Russia. We’re trying to carry through and make sure that whatever applicable sanctions apply, that they’re fully enforced. And I’ll just leave it there.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Quick follow-up: General Soleimani was in Iraq some months back --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- publicly and knowingly. Did the U.S. refer that to the sanctions committee and ask that it be investigated?

MR TONER: I’ll have to look. I don’t remember.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Please. Let me get to Dmitry, he’s --

QUESTION: Can I follow up on the Soleimani and Russia --

MR TONER: Sure thing.

QUESTION: Are you prepared at this point and from this podium to unequivocally declare that this violation – this alleged violation of sanctions by Russia actually took place? Do you know --

MR TONER: No. As I said, we’re – no. And it’s an important point of clarification: We’re investigating it. We’ve gone through the UN Security Council. There are mechanisms in place to look into this incident and to come up with a conclusion.

QUESTION: Do you – you don’t know if it happened or not?

MR TONER: Again, we’ve reached out. We’ve seen the press reports, but we haven’t determined yet.

QUESTION: But surely the U.S. Government knows where perhaps the biggest – one of the leading sponsors of terrorism, specifically against Americans, in the last several years is in the world, right?

MR TONER: So just to clarify, Brad, we’re looking into what was the purpose of his travel, the purpose of his meetings, and how – and whether sanctions apply to his travel there.

QUESTION: You just said you’re looking into his travel, not his alleged travel, correct?

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: So you do accept it as a fact that the travel occurred.

MR TONER: That’s our understanding, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. (Inaudible.)


MR TONER: Yeah, please, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Iraq, one on General Qasem Soleimani – he was actually meeting in Iraqi Kurdistan also. I don’t know if that implies on his travels.

MR TONER: Yeah, that’s what he just referred to. Yeah.

QUESTION: He met with the Kurdish leaders before Ambassador McGurk meet them about the crisis of the President Barzani, but this is something else.

But I just want to ask you about something else. You have the nuclear deal with Iran, and that raise concern in the region. And United States did much to convince its allies, like the Gulf states, to enhancing their defense system by giving them the missile – what they need against Iranian threat. And also Israel – and also even you made phone calls. President Obama made phone call to the Israel prime minister, and also – so several other step happen to ensure the allies in the region.

But one group was there left out: the Iranian oppositions; the Kurds and others also. And before the deal and after the deal, the Iranian – they intensified their harassment on the opposition groups, those that live in Iraq, including the Kurdish opposition and the other Iranian Mujahedin-e Khalq in Iran – in Iraq. And you have said – you have even not condemned their actions. There was an attempt at – three times attempt assassination one of the Iranian leader, Abdullah Mohtadi, the head of the Komala of Iranian Kurdistan in his headquarters three days ago.

MR TONER: Right. Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off, but – so your specific question is --

QUESTION: -- is you haven’t done anything to protect the positions they live peacefully in Iraq and in other places. Some of them, they have been in contact with you in the past, and there was also other stuff happen inside Iran, like executions of the political activist.

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to – I – so --

QUESTION: So you have done much for your allies --

MR TONER: So we haven’t – sorry, just to – I don’t mean to cut you off, but – so I mean, we’ve been very clear of the fact that our pursuit of a nuclear deal via the P5+1 was focused solely on preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.


MR TONER: We’ve not given them a free pass and by no means intend to give them a free pass on all the other issues, challenges that we face in the region with Iran. And so --

QUESTION: But you haven’t done also --

MR TONER: -- if you’re speaking about some of the harassment, I guess, of opposition forces that are in Iraq, again, that’s all – these are all issues that we’re going to continue to address as appropriate.

Please – yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we – change of topic?

MR TONER: Sure thing.

QUESTION: China and the devaluation of the yuan. I know that you talk about it yesterday, but the yuan dropped sharply again today. Is it a matter of concern for the U.S. Government, and do you know if the Secretary is in contact with the Chinese authorities?

MR TONER: I’m not aware. I’d refer you to really the treasury. The Department of Treasury and Secretary Lew has obviously been following this issue. I mean, we’re obviously following it closely. I think I said yesterday that we have and continue to press China to make necessary financial reforms. We’ve seen some progress and we want to see more, but for greater insight into what this means or what this could potentially mean for the U.S. market or the U.S. dollar, I would refer you to the Department of Treasury.


MR TONER: Syria, sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the attack to the Atima village in northern Syria, I have --

MR TONER: Apologize, I didn’t hear the first part of your question.

QUESTION: On the – to the Atima village in northern Syria, the attack – I just want to ask about it, a few questions.


QUESTION: The coalition said it could confirm a deliberate airstrike in the vicinity of Aleppo, including Atima. So it means that the attack was done by the coalition, and where dozens of civilians have died. And Pentagon says that the targets are identified properly. Upon that, how does it come, then, that so many civilians have died? And what was the target of these attacks?

I have a few questions more. Will you run an investigation on the responsibles of this attack? And how do you plan to compensate the civilian death?

MR TONER: I’m – I apologize, I’m not aware of the specific incident that you’re talking about. I mean, certainly, as we’ve said many times, when our Air Force carries out airstrikes we take every effort to avoid civilian casualties, and to the extent that we can carry them out with pinpoint accuracy and spare civilian lives, we do so. We make every effort to do so. And we’ve been very clear that all of our airstrikes – the coalition’s airstrikes – are done in coordination to assist anti-ISIL forces on the ground. I’m just not aware of the specific incident that you’re discussing right now, so I’d refer you really to the Pentagon to give those kinds of operational details.

QUESTION: Can I ask a few questions?

MR TONER: Sure thing, yeah. I don’t know if I can answer them, but I’ll – you can ask them.

QUESTION: And some reports say that it has been long time that al-Nusrah left the area, so how would you elaborate this, that al-Nusrah left the area that was attacked – Atima?

MR TONER: Again, so I apologize that I’m not – I mean, al-Nusrah obviously is an al-Qaida affiliated group. We know that they’ve attacked some of the Free Syrian Army contingents that we’ve helped train up. I’m not sure again of the specific incident, so I apologize whether you’re – whether there was ISIL forces in that area or what we were actually – if there were indeed coalition airstrikes, what the focus was. I apologize.

QUESTION: Syria too? Syria.

MR TONER: Sure, Syria, and then back to you, Dmitry.

QUESTION: Today the Security Council met and either they did issue or are in the process of issuing a statement to shore up de Mistura’s effort – the United Nations envoy to Syria – effort to find some sort of resolution based on the Geneva I principles and so on. First of all, are you aware of the statement that is either coming out or came out today?

MR TONER: I haven’t seen it yet, no.

QUESTION: Okay. So with all this --

MR TONER: But we’ve been very clear that we support, obviously, de Mistura’s efforts.

QUESTION: Okay. So with all that is going on – today, Zarif made his way to Syria; there are movements and foreign ministers visiting everywhere – are we likely to see a political process or the restart of the diplomatic process on a Syria resolution possibly right after, let’s say, the Iran deal is done and behind us?

MR TONER: Boy, Said, I don’t want to make those kinds of predictions, but I can tell you that we remain hard at work at trying to reach a political resolution. Obviously, it’s a key component of our overall strategy to the region.

QUESTION: And today the Information Minister of Syria Umran gave us an interview to CNN saying that they are willing to meet with the militant opposition, the armed opposition. That is --

MR TONER: This is the Syrian minister?

QUESTION: The moderate, yes.

MR TONER: I apologize. Okay.

QUESTION: Yes, the moderate opposition that you are supporting. First of all, can you tell us what the status of the New Syria Force is? Was it decimated last week? Are they still there? Are they the ones that will be negotiating with any representative of the Syrian Government in your estimate?

MR TONER: I’m not aware specifically what the statement was or what is being proposed in terms of meetings between moderate Syrian opposition and the Syrian Government, so I can’t speak to that. In terms of those forces that were, as you mentioned, I believe, attacked last week, we’ve been very clear, first of all, that those forces aren’t anywhere near the levels that they need to be. We need to continue to train and equip these individuals and build up the capacity of those forces. More generally speaking about the political process, we’ve also been very clear and continue to make efforts to help the moderate Syrian opposition consolidate because you need a common voice there if you are, as you said, going to reach a political resolution that adheres to the Geneva Communique.

QUESTION: Stay on Syria?

MR TONER: Yeah. Let’s let Dmitry --

QUESTION: There was --

MR TONER: He had his hand up first, and I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: There was an article published yesterday by the Daily Beast which essentially stated that the United States decided to drop its idea to stand up this new Syrian force and instead rely on Kurdish militias. My question is: Is there a policy shift within the U.S. Government on that, with regards to that?

MR TONER: No, we remain focused on the train and equip program. But that’s just one component of our overall efforts. And as you mentioned, anti-ISIL Kurdish forces, Turkomen, Syrian Arab forces that are all fighting ISIL in northern Syria are all part of that effort, as is the broader coalition.

QUESTION: And a couple of – a couple of tangential on that.

MR TONER: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Is there plans, other plans being considered right now to not only increase U.S.-Russian interaction with regards to Syria to get a political settlement in the country, but also to counter terrorism more efficiently there? Is it – does it make sense, for instance, to send General Allen to Moscow to get this dialogue going, do you think?

MR TONER: You’re talking about in general anti-ISIL efforts?


MR TONER: Counterterrorism efforts --


MR TONER: -- in the region?

QUESTION: Well, yeah, mostly Syrian and the region in general.

MR TONER: In Syria, okay. Sorry, just clarifying. Look, our focus remains on countering ISIL, but certainly, we realize that when you’re talking about a place like Syria we want to see a political resolution to the broader conflict there that is being perpetrated on the Syrian people by Assad’s regime. We’ve been very clear, though, that Assad cannot be part of any final outcome or resolution to that situation, and that’s been our stance now for quite a few years and we remain true to that. We believe that he has lost all credibility.

So when we’re talking about – we have to – and I said this yesterday. I will use a bad metaphor again, but we have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. We’ve got to be able to take the fight against IS – or against ISIL and push it out of where it’s holding territory. We’ve also got to reach a political resolution – but again, not one that can involve Assad.

And guys, I’m sorry; I’m looking at the clock because I’ve got just a couple more questions. In the back.

QUESTION: Iran. Yesterday Secretary Kerry indicated that some allies were reluctant regarding backing – they’re ready to walk away on Ukraine. Do you know which allies are those and --

MR TONER: Sorry. You said Iran but then you said walking away on --

QUESTION: Well, first --

MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. He said he was worried that – he warned that if people reject – if the U.S. and Congress reject the Iran deal, some of our allies will walk away from the situation in Ukraine. And he said they’re already dicey and they’re already ready to say, well, we have done our part. Which allies is he referring to? Why are they reluctant --

MR TONER: You’re talking about this as in a part of the Thomson Reuters --

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Part of the speech.

MR TONER: Okay. Look, I think he was just more broadly speaking – and he’s touched on this before – that if we fail to get this agreement – as I said, to cross the finish line – that it really undermines U.S. credibility. And as we’ve seen with Iran, the fact that we’ve been able to maintain uniformity on sanctions and rely on our partners and allies --

QUESTION: The Soleimani visit notwithstanding? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: With our allies and partners to keep the pressure on Iran. It brought them to the negotiating table and it helped us reach a deal. And what he’s speaking to more broadly, whether it’s Ukraine or other issues, that our credibility will take a hit if we don’t get this deal.

QUESTION: Yeah. With Ukraine, though, he said right now it’s already very dicey and some are reluctant, some are ready to walk away is what he kind of indicated. Which allies are reluctant and ready to walk away?

MR TONER: I’m not going to speak to that. We’ve had tremendous support with EU and with other allies and partners in the region in maintaining sanctions. And frankly, once Russia and the separatists it backs complies with the Minsk agreements, then we can have and talk about real sanctions relief.

Please, very quickly.

QUESTION: On Syria, today yet new reports that say that this new zone, ISIL-free zone, YPG forces or PYD forces will not be allowed in that zone. Would you be able to confirm that?

MR TONER: I can’t confirm that.

QUESTION: And can you also tell me what’s your understanding with regards to Ahrar Al Sham opposition group? Do you think these opposition forces can be a group that can seize or secure this new zone once the ISIL will be freed?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. You’re talking specific --

QUESTION: Ahrar Al Sham.

MR TONER: I’d have to look into that group.


MR TONER: But we’ve talked about what we want to see on the ground, which is stability, security, but also local government’s return and create a safe and secure environment for people.

Please, just a couple Asian press. Are you – yeah.

QUESTION: I have two question. Yesterday, Japanese central government begin to talk with the Okinawa governor over the continuous – the plan to relocate a U.S. Marine air base to the Henoko Nago. The two sides had remained as far apart as ever. So what does the U.S. Government expect at the conference? And also same day, the U.S. army helicopter crashed in Okinawa during a training mission. So Japanese Government and Okinawa Governor Onaga has requested the information of the accident. So what is – do you think the accident would impact the conference?

MR TONER: First of all, on the accident, we’re obviously aware of reports that a U.S. Army helicopter had a hard landing, what they call it, aboard the U.S. Naval Ship Red Cloud that was in international waters off Okinawa. Certainly our thoughts and prayers are with the injured crewmembers and obviously their families. I refer you to the Department of Defense as to whether there will be an investigation into that incident and for further information in general. But we’re confident both sides, speaking more broadly to your question about Futenma, remain committed to implementing the relocation of Marine Corps air station Futenma to Camp Schwab at Henoko Bay.

Guys, I have to – I’m sorry, guys. I have to cut it off there. I apologize.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:59 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 11, 2015

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 18:40

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 11, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:06 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey everyone, welcome to the State Department. Happy Tuesday, and I’ll take your questions. I don’t have anything at the top, so please go ahead. I’ll go with you first, sir.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from Reuters.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Iraq’s parliament approved Prime Minister Abadi’s wide-ranging reforms. How much did the United States know about these reforms, and are there any sort of redlines, because there seems to be some concern that if the reforms go too far they could alienate the Sunnis and the political process? If you could comment on that.

MR TONER: Well, first in terms of the reforms, we certainly applaud the unity that was shown by Iraqi leaders from across the political spectrum in moving forward on Prime Minister’s Abadi’s proposals, which, as you know, were aimed at streamlining the government and addressing corruption. And we’d note that these measures were unanimously approved by the Council of Ministries – Ministers, rather, earlier today.

So we certainly commend Prime Minister Abadi’s initiative to promote improved transparency and government services, and this is certainly something he pledged when he came into power to govern more inclusively. So we certainly believe that he’s doing so through these measures that were adopted, and expect he’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: There were specific people in the list, including former Prime Minister Maliki, who was removed. Do you share Mr. Abadi’s concern or Mr. Abadi’s position that those people are corrupt people that had to be removed?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, I think the efforts were designed, as I said, to streamline the government. Those are obviously – this is an internal issue for the Iraqi Government. What we’re looking at, the bigger picture, is – as I said, is his efforts to govern more inclusively, and we think that these measures, as adopted, will do that. But --

QUESTION: So you don’t have any issue with those specific people who have been fired, basically, or removed from power?

MR TONER: Again, I think I spoke to what we’re looking for here – more inclusive governance, a more streamlined process, better transparency. And certainly, as you mentioned, one of the goals is to fight corruption, but I’m not going to speak to individuals. I’m just going to say that as a matter of a broader concern to us – please, go ahead, Elise.

QUESTION: Can I move on to Syria?

MR TONER: Are we done with Iraq? Great.

QUESTION: I mean, there’s been a lot of talk about the rebel forces and them being captured and just not being able to stand up. Could you talk a little bit about what you think needs to be done to get a credible rebel force on the ground in Syria to fight ISIS? I mean, now the U.S. believes five of the six rebels they trained and equipped have been captured, so they’re under constant attack. What needs to be done?

MR TONER: Well, look, and many people from the Department of Defense, from the Pentagon, people more – with more expertise than I have on this matter have spoken to this issue. And I think recognizing that this has been a difficult process to vet these people, to train them, to get them back into what is a very fluid, dynamic situation where, as we all know from last week, they’re under threat from a variety of forces. They’re not just there to – I mean, they’re there to attack and take the fight to ISIL, but they’re under threat from other groups and entities in that region. So it’s a very fluid, very difficult situation. It remains a challenge.

That said, we’re committed to building the capacity of the moderate Syrian opposition and we remain dedicated to that. But we need to --

QUESTION: Do you --

MR TONER: And sorry, just to finish. But – and we – obviously, as you noted in your question, we need to grow the capacity. We need more people going through the pipeline and getting out to the field.

QUESTION: Do you anticipate working more with the YPG Kurds since the train and equip rebels that you have have virtually evaporated as a force?

MR TONER: Well, I think – and we’ve talked somewhat about this – part of the reason – and we’ve reached this agreement with Turkey to use Incirlik – is not just the YPG, the Kurds there, but there’s Turkoman, there’s Syrian Arabs as well, and these have been effective fighting forces as well against ISIL. So certainly, we support their efforts to clean that region out and to push ISIL out from northern Syria.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: So you do anticipate then more collaboration and cooperation?

MR TONER: I don’t know if I want to say more or just to say we’re going to maintain that. I mean, that’s obviously behind the agreement that we have with Turkey, which is – and again, I’m not – I mean, the YPD have been very efficient, but it’s not just them. It’s the Turkoman, it’s the Arabs as well.

QUESTION: Same topic?

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: The deputy foreign minister of Turkey is saying that the U.S. and Turkey have reached an official agreement on establishing a safe zone, safe area, whatever language you want to call it, in northwestern Syria. Is that true that there is a so-called safe zone or safe area that has been officially designated for fighting ISIL?

MR TONER: Sure. What we – our understanding is, is that Turkey has granted the United States expanded access to Turkish facilities to enhance air operations against ISIL. We’ve been pretty clear from the podium and elsewhere saying there’s no zone, no safe haven. We’re not talking about that here. What we’re talking about is a sustained effort to drive ISIL out of the region.

QUESTION: So you --

MR TONER: So we’ve been very careful about not to put monikers or descriptive adjectives on how – describing what this area’s going to look like, except to say we’re – our effort is focused on driving ISIL out of the region.

QUESTION: But are you confirming or denying that there is an official agreement on a certain amount of territory inside Syria where the coalition, with Turkey’s help, is going to be going after ISIL?

MR TONER: I think I would just say, again, we’ve agreed on using Turkish facilities to enhance our air operations against ISIL, and those efforts will continue. And then beyond that, we remain in discussion with Turkey about – and that includes evaluating options on how to – on more effective means to counter ISIL in the region.

QUESTION: The deputy --

QUESTION: It sounds like you’re trying to – it sounds like you’re denying it.

QUESTION: Right, I mean – sorry, Elise --

MR TONER: I’m not. I’m just – I’m not going to characterize it as a safe haven or an anti-ISIL zone.

QUESTION: Well, the Iraqi – well, the deputy foreign minister is also claiming that as part of this agreement – which it sounds as if the U.S. has not officially reached – that the U.S. has agreed to attack not just ISIL fighters within this area, but also attack any Kurdish fighters who are in that area, ostensibly because the Turks consider the Kurds as some kind of threat.

MR TONER: Again, I haven’t seen those remarks. We’ve been clear when talking about the PKK that they are an FTO – a foreign terrorist organization – and we support Turkey’s right to self-defense against them. That’s separate and apart from our anti-ISIL efforts in the region.

QUESTION: Is it helpful to have --

MR TONER: Just one more. That’s a --

QUESTION: Is it helpful to have officials in the Turkish Government making these kinds of claims and saying that Washington has signed off on actions that clearly are what the Turkish Government would want to achieve?

MR TONER: Well, look, I haven’t actually – I haven’t seen the actual remarks. I’m just telling you what our understanding is here, which is that we have an agreement to use Turkish facilities to enhance our air operations against ISIL on the ground. We are in ongoing discussions about other measures or efforts that we can take to help take the fight to ISIL and clear that zone.

Go ahead, Brad. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Just on the Turkish claim that the U.S. would engage in any activity against PKK, you would not --

MR TONER: Sorry, one more time. The --

QUESTION: The Turkish claim --

MR TONER: Yeah, on the claim there --

QUESTION: -- about U.S. military – potential U.S. military activity against PKK. The U.S. would not be engaged in any --

MR TONER: Our focus is on ISIL.

QUESTION: And you do not have any congressional authorization, there is no authorization for the use of military force against the PKK, is there?

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION: And I just wanted to follow up on yesterday.


QUESTION: We asked a couple times about Mazen Darwish. Since the U.S. put a lot of great calls into his release and now he has some level of a release, do you have a response to this action by the Syrian Government?

MR TONER: About his release?


MR TONER: Good question. Let me – I think we do have some kind of comment. I’ll get back to you on that.


MR TONER: Sorry, Brad.

QUESTION: A quick one on Iran deal?

MR TONER: Please, yeah.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more question on this, please? Sorry.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Let’s finish up and then we’ll go to you, Elise.

QUESTION: So are you saying that there is – because according to the deputy Turkish foreign minister, there is actually going to be a zone where the PYD is not allowed to be in. So are you saying there is no zone that is banned for the PYD in northern Syria? Everywhere they can go and they can go after ISIS everywhere they want?

MR TONER: So what we --


MR TONER: Again, what we’re --


MR TONER: No, there’s no agreement on some kind of zone. What we have talked about and what we have agreed on is, as I said, using Turkish facilities, take the fight against ISIL in northern Syria, clear that area with – and we talked a lot about this – with bringing in – bringing back, rather – with the goal of bringing back, rather, local government, local autonomous governments, and those refugees who want to return can return. So we’re trying to get ISIL out of the picture and then re-establish – for those refugees who want to return, re-establish a secure environment for them to do so.

QUESTION: On the Iran deal, Secretary Kerry just said something like warning that if the Congress rejects the deal, that there’s a danger that the U.S. could lose its – the dollar as the reserve currency around the world, and I’m just wondering where that charge would come into play. Are you hearing that from Treasury analysts, or like, where does that – where was that coming from?

MR TONER: Yeah, that’s – you know what, I’m sorry. You’re talking about from his talk he just gave at the Iran – from the Thomson Reuters --

QUESTION: I think it’s an argument that I’ve heard the President and the Secretary and Secretary Lew make --


QUESTION: -- but I just don’t know where that’s --

MR TONER: Yeah, I would have to check on that.


MR TONER: I apologize; I don’t have that in front of me.

QUESTION: Can I ask you as well --


QUESTION: The Secretary makes the argument that if Congress votes down the deal there would be no inspections. I thought that inspections long predated the Iran deal – maybe not at the level you hoped to have them at, but they are an NPT member and an IAEA member and they’ve had inspections in Iran forever, I think. Is that not right?

MR TONER: Well, again, you’re right to note that the level of inspections would be a lot less. My understanding, though, is that there would be, just as the Secretary said, that if we didn’t enact this deal that we won’t have, again, the unprecedented level of inspections on Iran.

QUESTION: Okay. So it’s the – and then the other thing that I was a little confused by was this notion that’s – not just he but others have made that if Congress votes down the deal, Iran wouldn’t be subject to restrictions on its nuclear program. So are they no longer subject to any restrictions from the United Nations? Have those all vanished now that this deal takes its place?

MR TONER: Well, again – and we’ve – he’s talked a lot about this as have others. The sanctions regime would potentially unravel and collapse, and so then Iran could pursue its nuclear program unconstrained. And it’s already, as we talked about, a threshold state in terms of nuclear capabilities or obtaining a nuclear weapon. So again, the deal would keep that – those sanctions in place, and then until – or as Iran complies with the deal, then those sanctions – some sanctions relief would come into effect.

QUESTION: So when he’s talking about unconstrained, he’s talking about it in the sense of pressure, not in a legal sense? Because they would still be legally prevented from getting a nuclear weapon as a member of Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as member of various --

MR TONER: I’d have to check on that, but I think – I know that they – that the sanctions regime would be considerably weakened.


MR TONER: Yeah. Because there would be no – I mean, we’d be left with unilateral sanctions against them. And frankly, the rest of the world, as we’ve talked about many times, would – in the absence of a deal --


MR TONER: -- the very strong multilateral or UN sanctions be put in place.

QUESTION: But you could also snap those sanctions back at the UN?

MR TONER: The snapback does remain. Yes, that’s right.

QUESTION: So in theory, punishments are – you have the ability to put constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and on Iran’s economy if you so choose, deal or no deal.

MR TONER: Well, again, with the deal – with no deal, again, we would lose the credibility that we have built up, we would lose our P5+1 partners and their willingness to enact a deal and to keep the pressure on Iran until it complies, obviously, with the IAEA and grants the access we need. So I mean, I think the concern here is that without a deal all of that falls to the wayside.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR TONER: Please. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, following up your remarks from this podium yesterday, has anyone from the State Department reached out to Pakistan also for reducing tensions between the two countries?

MR TONER: You’re talking about between Pakistan and Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Afghanistan and Pakistan, yes.

MR TONER: We’re in constant contact. I don’t have anything new to report or to say.

QUESTION: Do you agree with Afghanistan’s statements that the terrorist attacks were from across the border, from safe havens across the border?

MR TONER: You’re talking about the terrorist attacks over the weekend?

QUESTION: Yeah, in Kabul.

MR TONER: I don’t have any other information to share about that, but obviously, we condemn those attacks.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that. Yesterday we were told that there was a phone call with the Afghan president, but Pakistan was mentioned in the statement. So was anybody from this building or from the U.S. Administration did speak to anybody in Pakistan counterparts, or the podium was used to tell them that get your act together?

MR TONER: I’m not aware of any – certainly, any calls at the Secretary’s level. As you noted, he did talk to the Afghan president, again, to express our deep condolences at the tragedies over the weekend. But we are in constant contact with the Pakistani Government and express our concerns on a variety of things, including counterterrorism.

QUESTION: But I had also asked yesterday about that such statements from this podium have been released. And it’s been seven years since the Mumbai attacks, and six Americans died. What Pakistan has done? And we – are we just going to just – is there something that we don’t know that’s going on, what is --

MR TONER: Well, I mean, you’re talking about Mumbai specifically.


MR TONER: I mean, we’ve been very clear – President Obama’s spoken to this – that we want to see the Mumbai perpetrators, the financiers, the sponsors held accountable for their crimes. We continue to follow the criminal proceedings closely and we urge additional actions to prevent such an attack from ever happening again.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. assisting Afghanistan in tracing out who were behind these attacks?

MR TONER: I’m not aware that we’re assisting them in the investigations, but certainly we’re providing security assistance to them. And – but I’m not aware of anything specific in terms of these investigations.

QUESTION: In view of these series of attacks in Kabul over the last one week, what’s the level of security of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul?

MR TONER: Well, we don’t speak to our security posture.

QUESTION: Has it increased?

MR TONER: But I mean, look, it’s – these have been attacks in and around Kabul. It’s – there’s been, as I think we noted yesterday, a rise in civilian casualties. So certainly it’s a very – a very sensitive security environment. So we take precautions as needed.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we talk about Guantanamo?

MR TONER: Sure. But – in the back.


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

QUESTION: Mark, what is your reaction to reports that investigators in the MH17 crash may have found what are Russian – fragments from Russian surface-to-air missiles? First of all, what’s your reaction? And secondly, if this is indeed the case, how might the – it affect U.S. reaction? Would the U.S. look at exerting any additional pressure on Russia for its role in Ukraine?

MR TONER: I mean, we’ve been very clear about our assessments since, really, immediately following this terrible tragedy. And that is that the MH17, we believe, was shot down by surface-to-air missiles fired by – or fired from, rather, separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. We obviously continue to support efforts to bring those responsible, to hold them accountable for the deaths of 298 passengers and crew. I’m aware of the reports that you mentioned earlier today; we certainly support the Dutch investigation. I know that the National Transportation Safety Board is participating in that investigation, but our assessment hasn’t changed. We still believe this was the work of Russian-backed separatists.


QUESTION: Can I go back to Syria?

MR TONER: Sure thing.

QUESTION: So earlier today, Foreign Minister Lavrov said he was concerned about this focus on removing Assad. He said removing him militarily would mean a power grab by Islamic State militants. Do you share these concerns? What are your thoughts?

MR TONER: He said – I’m sorry. He said it was --

QUESTION: He said removing Assad militarily would mean a power grab by Islamic State militants.

MR TONER: Well, again, there’s really – it’s a very complex situation, as I’ve said multiple times, security-wise in Syria. But just trying to compartmentalize here, there’s – what Assad’s doing is reprehensible. He’s created the conditions, as we’ve said many times, that have led to this kind of lawlessness and statelessness that has led to the growth of groups like ISIL. We need to see a political resolution to that. But we’ve been – also been very clear that we don’t believe that can involve Assad. But we want to see a moderate Syrian opposition emerge, and we want to see a political process emerge according to the Geneva communique. So that’s one aspect of it.

The other side of this is our anti-ISIL fight. And we’re, as I said, working with Turkey, but obviously with all the other coalition members to – through airstrikes and through support for these groups fighting on the ground to really help dislodge and destroy ISIL.

QUESTION: But you would – if it was possible, you would support the moderate opposition, however indirectly, in overthrowing Assad if need be militarily? I mean, you would --

MR TONER: What we’ve said is we want to see a political solution in – a resolution to the crisis in Syria.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. ruling out --

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: -- any sort of military intervention to have Assad leave power? Is that just off the table?

MR TONER: You mean by us or by whoever?

QUESTION: By whomever.

MR TONER: I mean, look, we’ve been very clear – we’ve been very clear we support the UN process. De Mistura is leading that process. We want to see a political resolution in accordance with Geneva.

QUESTION: Yes, please.


QUESTION: Regarding the political solution, I mean --


QUESTION: -- this term is repeatedly said in – from this podium. What are the components of this political solution from your perspective?


QUESTION: I’m not listening to other narrative, whether it’s Russian or Syrian or any other country.

MR TONER: Well, I think what we – what we – what I just mentioned was there’s a UN-led effort here. De Mistura just briefed on this I think a couple weeks ago. We certainly support the establishment of working groups to look at all the different elements to a political resolution. We need to – or we don’t, but the Syrian opposition, moderate opposition needs to solidify, coalesce, come together, and become a governing force. And then we can see a political process, as I said, consistent with the Geneva communique that we’re agreed on take place.

But again, we don’t believe that Assad can be a part of that just based on the terrible horror that he’s wrought on his country over the past five years.

QUESTION: Correct me if I’m wrong --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- for a while you looking for a – it was said that U.S. is supporting a kind of transitional period led by Assad or somebody else from this – the system.

MR TONER: Well, I think what we’ve said is we don’t see a political solution that involves Assad. So I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: So and the other question – it seems that yesterday Secretary Kerry talked to Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: I’m not sure – it was mentioned in Egypt that he talked about Egypt --

MR TONER: That’s right. It was yesterday.

QUESTION: Yeah, about – and then he talk about Syria and political solution. Meanwhile he received another call from Lavrov. So what do you expect? I mean, you had the chance – the Secretary had the chance to meet Lavrov and Jubeir in Doha, and then after that he met Lavrov in Asia.

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: What you are trying to do? I mean, yesterday it was kind of – the question was raised but there was – it – the questions were not answered. So you haven’t answered --

MR TONER: That what we’re trying to do – well, again, I’m – I’ve said this many times from – over the last week: We don’t want to get ahead of the process here. You’re right. The Secretary has been in conversations. There was the meeting in Doha with Lavrov and I think the Saudi Foreign Minister Jubeir.

QUESTION: Foreign --

MR TONER: They did also meet in Asia. And – we – so we’ve been having these ongoing conversations on basically recognizing the urgency to move forward on a genuine, sustainable, political transition in Syria. But as to the specifics or what might happen next, I’m not going to get ahead of the process. And our – I would add that our special representative or envoy, Michael Ratney, is still traveling around the region as well holding meetings.

QUESTION: So another question --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- related to the frequently asked --


QUESTION: -- question about the buffer zone/security zone and what was coming out of Ankara --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- regarding this proposal or whatever you can call it – plan. You are saying there is nothing like that on the table? I mean --

MR TONER: Again – sorry – just to clarify, what we’re doing in Turkey – or with Turkey rather – this is a 37-odd member coalition against ISIL. Certainly, we’re welcoming greater Turkish participation. Our agreement with them is to use their facilities, namely Incirlik, but to increase our ability to strike ISIL in northern Syria. I just – we’ve been very careful to shy away from saying we’re creating some kind of zone. Our ultimate goal is to degrade, destroy ISIL and drive them out of that region.

QUESTION: But if you – I will try to put in a question form --


QUESTION: -- if something – of course, if – I’ll avoid “if” because becoming hypothetical. (Laughter.) It’s – the question is whether or not Turkey created that status quo. Are you going to oppose it or just accept it as a reality?

MR TONER: Again, that’s a question for the Turkish authorities. You’re saying if they create what, some kind of --

QUESTION: Kind of – I mean, like say this is our zone to work in it?

MR TONER: We’re getting ahead of what’s actually happening here with the cooperation – level of cooperation that we have with Turkey is just to do air strikes against ISIL. We’re talking about ways that we can help Turkey better secure its border. I’m not going to get into specifics, and it certainly doesn’t involve creating a safe zone.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?

MR TONER: Yeah, please, in the back. And then just spread it around. I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Promise?

QUESTION: Thank you. I think many people are very much surprised the two allies – with Mr. Sinirlioglu who talks to here, maybe everyday daily basis – and he comes out on the record. He says that U.S. and Turkey agreed on the safe zone. This is on the record, not unnamed officials. And then just a couple hours later, you come out and then you basically deny his claims. So this, I think, this is why people are so --

MR TONER: Sure. I’m not denying his claims. I, frankly, haven’t seen his remarks, so I’m just trying to speak what our policy and what our understanding is of our agreement reached with Turkey.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Yeah, please. Let’s finish with Turkey. Yeah.

QUESTION: Would you allow Turkey to attack the PYD the same way they are attacking PKK, if the PYD --

MR TONER: No, no, our understanding with Turkey is that they will not attack and we would not agree to that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject briefly?


QUESTION: China moved to sharply devalue its currency. Can you tell me what your stance is on that in the sense of it negatively affecting U.S. commerce? Has it been raised at some level with the Chinese Government?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, I would – first of all, I’m going to say I would refer you to the Department of Treasury, who obviously watches this issue much more closely and with a greater expertise than certainly I do. But so I’m not going to try to speculate on this issue beyond saying that we obviously have a strong economic relationship with China. Most recently we had the Strategic & Economic Dialogue here. And as, frankly, Treasury Secretary Lew has said, we have pressed China to continue financial reforms. And while we want to see additional economic reforms we believe that are needed, but we have seen progress. And that has – include commitments by China that were secured at the most recent Security & Economic Dialogue.

But again, I would refer you to Treasury. They closely monitor the situation and they would be able to speak to this issue much better than I can.

QUESTION: But this one I think was the biggest one since maybe ’94, something like that. And it seems that administration after administration in these talks are had at the highest levels, even the dialogue you’re talking about, and yet there doesn’t seem to be any traction or any results as far as them devaluing their currency whenever they want to and negatively affecting U.S. – possibly U.S. commerce.

MR TONER: Well, again, we’ve seen them take some – what we believe are positive economic reforms. We want to see continued progress. But I’m going to refer to the Treasury. I’m not going to speak to the broader issue.


QUESTION: I have some questions on Korea.


QUESTION: And first, two South Korean soldiers lost their legs when landmines exploded on the border with North Korea, and investigators have determined that North Korea secretly planted these landmines on the south side of the border. What’s your reaction to this provocation?

MR TONER: Forgive me; that’s the first time I’m hearing about that story. Certainly, our condolences and sympathies go to these soldiers who were so grievously injured. I would have to look into it a little bit more to find out if indeed DPRK is responsible for that. We would obviously condemn it.

QUESTION: Okay. My second question is --

MR TONER: Sure. Yeah.

QUESTION: There have been some reports that the U.S. has asked the Korean President Park Geun-hye not to attend the Chinese war anniversary event. And the latest report is that the U.S. asked Korea to send its ambassador to Beijing to attend this event on behalf of the President.

MR TONER: No, I can nip that one in the bud. No, we don’t – we haven’t put any pressure on anyone to, in any way, shape, or form, on who or how they should attend the 70th anniversary. That’s an easy one.

QUESTION: And my last question.

MR TONER: Yeah, please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, my last question. North Korea created its own time zone called Pyongyang time.

MR TONER: Sorry. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You don’t have any comment on that?

MR TONER: I’m supposed to have more of a poker face. (Laughter.) No, no comment. Please, go ahead.


MR TONER: Let’s stay on North Korea and then we’ll move. Please.

QUESTION: So there have been reports that there is a second hall of centrifuges has been discovered and likely operational in the uranium enrichment workshop in North Korea’s Yongbyon facility. Have you seen these reports? Do you have anything on this?

MR TONER: I’ve not. I’ll look into them, certainly. It’s unfortunately in keeping with North Korea’s continued intransigence on this issue, but I don’t have any other comment.

QUESTION: Are there any steps to --

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, it seems like, obviously, a lot of the focus is on the Iran deal, but have there been more substantial steps to work towards denuclearization of the Korean peninsula?

MR TONER: Well, obviously, we’ve got a number of folks here at the State Department who are working on Six-Party Talks. We want to get those, obviously, restarted but it’s an issue we take very seriously. But I don’t have anything to announce at this point.

QUESTION: Would you say that, I mean, currently the Iran deal is a much higher priority than working on North Korea?

MR TONER: Look, in the – at the Department of State we need to be able to – what’s the expression – walk and chew gum; no issue takes precedent. Certainly, we’re at an historic moment here with an Iran deal and the potential to really prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, so it’s a big deal and we’re taking it very seriously. As you’ve seen the Secretary, the President’s involvement – everyone – Secretary Moniz, it’s a full-court press to try to convince the American people that this is the best deal, but that certainly doesn’t preclude us taking other issues very seriously, including North Korea’s behavior.

In the way back. In the – yeah, thanks.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about --

MR TONER: Yeah --

QUESTION: -- reports that came out yesterday in the U.S. media that were saying that Chinese cyber spies, as they called them, had been accessing email accounts of Administration officials as far as – as far back since 2010. Is this true, and if so, does this stoke any tensions leading into Xi Jinping’s visit in September?

MR TONER: I’ve seen those reports. I don’t have anything to – really to comment about them. I’ve seen no verification of them, but we obviously take cyber security very seriously. This was something that came up in the broader context during the Strategic & Economic Dialogue, frankly, because it has such an economic impact. American or Chinese businesses or any international firm needs to be able to operate in a secure cyber environment in order to do business whether it’s in China or the United States or wherever.

In terms of the specific allegations, I’d have to get more information. I don’t know.

Please go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION: Venezuela?


QUESTION: President Maduro says that a special Venezuelan commission will be meeting soon with U.S. Government officials over allegations of what he calls Washington’s “vulture plan” designed to destabilize Venezuela’s economy. First, are you aware of such a meeting? And then secondly, what are your reaction to his allegations?

MR TONER: So first question, we don’t – I don’t have any – we haven’t received an invitation for a meeting with Venezuelan officials to discuss the quote/unquote “vulture plan,” these – but they’re false allegations. Look, I mean, we don’t – we’re not promoting unrest in Venezuela. We’re not attempting to undermine the Venezuelan economy. We share strong ties between our people. We also share one of the longest-standing diplomatic relationships in the hemisphere and we talk to Venezuelan Government officials on a regular basis.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Last week I asked about Prime Minister Abe’s statement on this upcoming Friday.


QUESTION: There have been reports that Prime Minister Abe will use the words such as “aggression,” “colonial rule,” “deep remorse,” and “apology” on Friday in his statement, which is consistent with previous prime ministers. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: I really don’t. And I’d simply say that, I mean, I don’t want to get out ahead of – before he’s even made the statement by press – responding to press reports about what he may or may not say.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) stay on Japan?

QUESTION: Sorry, a follow-up on that?

MR TONER: Sure, we’ll stay on Japan.

QUESTION: Thank you. It’s about the restarting of a nuclear power plant in southern Japan.


QUESTION: It’s the first restart since the introduction of new safety regulations after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Do you have any reaction to this?

MR TONER: Just to say we – the restart – you’re talking about the Sendai nuclear power plant? It was a Japanese decision, obviously, as it should be, so I’d refer you to the Japanese Government. I mean, we obviously with Japan maintain a strong dialogue on a range of energy-related issues, and that includes nuclear safety. But the decision, as I said, to restart the nuclear plan was solely the Japanese Government’s.

QUESTION: Are you welcoming or neutral, negative?

MR TONER: Neutral. (Laughter.) Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Cuba. Can I move on to Cuba?

MR TONER: Yeah, did you have a – do you have – are you still – you were – did we go on Japan or Guantanamo?

QUESTION: Yeah. On Guantanamo, but I’m not sure that his Cuba question is --

MR TONER: Is it Cuba? Well, let’s say Cuba and then go to Guantanamo.


MR TONER: Sorry. I apologize, Ros. I should have gone to you next.

QUESTION: The first – the best question, the – next coming, and it’s Secretary Kerry’s Cuban trip.


QUESTION: This is also an historical trip over the last 54 years. But as you know, Cuba asked the United States to lift the U.S. embargo and the return of the Guantanamo naval bases. But as everybody knows, Congress opposed both request.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And normalization is – I know normalization is a long process.


QUESTION: But if the United States cannot satisfy their requirement, how can the United States proceed these normalization process? What is your perspective of these talks?

MR TONER: Sure. Jeez, you’re taking away – you’ve answered all your questions with one of my proposed answers. That’s unfair.

No, it’s certainly – you’re absolutely right. Normalization is a process. We’ve been very clear about that. Certainly, we’ll take another step in that process on Friday with the raising of the flag after 54 years of hiatus. We’ve been very clear that this doesn’t alleviate every challenge in the relationship, but it does give us the ability to speak directly with and to the Cuban Government, engage with them more directly.

We want to – and we’ve been very clear about this too – expand ties with the Cuban people, give them greater opportunity, establish greater dialogue with them. Obviously have a very close relationship with Cuba despite this 54 years of – where we didn’t have diplomatic relations. We want to see the embargo lifted. The Secretary said as much. That’s got to be Congress’s decision. But we got to take this step by step, and we’re going to – we believe that the results will bear out that, that we’ll see a stronger relationship while, again, being very clear that we’re not brushing away concerns about civil society or human rights. Those are all going to remain important challenges that we’re going to continue to talk with the Cuban Government about.

QUESTION: Could you clarify --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- a little bit more Obama, U.S. Administration, the position on lifting embargo? Do you believe Cuban Government should take some concrete action in order to lift these sanction – I mean the embargo?

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, it’s – frankly, it’s Congress that needs to be – that needs to take the next steps for – in terms of lifting the embargo. So I mean, apart from lobbying Congress there’s not a whole lot they can do. But again, we’ll continue to make the case. We want to see, as we’ve said many times since making this decision, stronger trade relations. All of this giving more opportunity to the Cuban people, we think, will be in Cuba’s, and frankly, the United States’ long-term interests.

Yeah, please, go ahead – oh, I’m sorry, Ros, you’re right. Thank you for reminding me.

QUESTION: Yeah. In terms of the military prison at Guantanamo, which is separate from the naval station which the Cubans have said they would like returned to their control, what progress is being made within the Administration to try to close the prison? There is The Washington Post report indicating that the Department of Justice is resisting efforts to at least move the detainees who can be moved to a federal facility in Illinois.

MR TONER: Well, we obviously strongly support, the Secretary strongly supports President Obama’s determination made from his – the very first day of his Administration to close Guantanamo. It’s obviously a top priority. It has remained a challenge throughout. We recently named Lee Wolosky, who is the new State Department special envoy for Guantanamo closure, and we’ve, frankly, dedicated substantial resources to do the diplomatic work necessary to negotiate detainee transfers. I’m not going to specifically talk about one of your questions, which is bringing them to the United States. That’s not really in our purview. But the State Department certainly remains dedicated to the ultimate closure of Guantanamo and are taking all possible steps, really, to reduce the detainee population at Guantanamo.

QUESTION: Are you able to comment on whether there have been a number of resettlement agreements reached with as many as six other countries in order to relocate those detainees who have been cleared for release? And if they have been – if these agreements have been reached, how quickly do you anticipate that they could be approved?

MR TONER: I don’t have anything for you in terms of any agreements we may have for additional detainee transfers except that we remain hard at work on trying to find those transfers, trying to --

QUESTION: Is there a sense, and this is my final one --

MR TONER: Yeah, please. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is there a sense that there’s a renewed push within the Administration to deal with the military prison question because it might then give the U.S. more leverage in long-term negotiations with Cuba over the future of the naval station?

MR TONER: I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it that way. I would just say that we simply remain – this president couldn’t have been clearer from day one, as I said, that he wanted to close Guantanamo Bay, believes it’s in our national security interests, and that remains a huge priority for this Administration.

QUESTION: We’ve talked about this once – a couple times before, the --

QUESTION: The same question.

MR TONER: Okay, I’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: The Hillary Clinton emails at the lawyer’s office. There’s just one other question I had about this --


QUESTION: -- because I get confused, and I apologize.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) Okay.

QUESTION: So the --

MR TONER: It’s easy to be confused.

QUESTION: We’ve talked about the fact that you have all those emails already; those are duplicates. Do you also have emails from her top aides that also had accounts on that server? Do you – her top State Department aides? Do you have those emails as well?

MR TONER: So those have been – it’s a good question, actually. So my understanding is those have also been subpoenaed and --

QUESTION: Right. It’s like a FOIA or something.

MR TONER: Right, exact – well, again – and I’ll clarify this. If I get it wrong, don’t worry. I’ll be told I was wrong – (laughter) – and I will clarify it. But my understanding is that yes, that some of these of her close aides who were also part of these – or were part of the email exchanges have also been asked to comply with the FOIA request.

QUESTION: Right. But if they – what I’m getting at --


QUESTION: -- is there is one of their lawyers, there’s this kind of – this fight between them and Judicial Watch. And one of their lawyers was quoted as saying that they had been – one of them had been instructed to delete some of these emails. My question is: Do you already have them? Do you have access to those, or are the only who have those emails those aides themselves?

MR TONER: Okay. My understanding is that some of them have been handed over, but we don’t have access to all of them yet.



QUESTION: So just one --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Again, it’s a clarification. We have so much.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: So do you have – are you looking for everything that was on the server? Or you’re going for the emails, or like --

MR TONER: No, no, and that’s a common misperception. We received the – all of Secretary Clinton’s emails. And according to the FOIA request, our sole duty or function is to go through those and to publicly release them, obviously redacting them where they’re – where we need to redact them for – upgrade their classifications. So that’s been our – that’s remained our goal and our sole pursuit. It’s a considerable one. But Secretary Clinton handed them over. She said to us that this did, in fact, compile the bulk or the entirety of her correspondence.

QUESTION: And as the new regulation is coming in, and as the present Administration is using the – so now everything – you feel that everything is in place? Like, we will not have missing emails or missing documentation?

MR TONER: Well, this is something, obviously, that we take very seriously – document preservation. And we’re --

QUESTION: No, there’s a – it’s a – not on National Archives as --

MR TONER: Right. No, I understand what you’re – what you’re asking in terms of --

QUESTION: In terms of the --

MR TONER: Right. And the use of --

QUESTION: -- 2016, 2019. These are the deadlines.

MR TONER: So this is – right. So this is – wait, I’m sorry. What was --

QUESTION: These are the deadlines for the Administration to put everything in the --

MR TONER: Ah, okay. I understand what you’re asking, then. Yeah, I mean, we spoke about it last month, I guess was the --

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MR TONER: -- or last week was the release of that month’s tranche. We fell a little short. We’re making every effort to catch up. We expect we’ll do so, and our goal is to meet all of the deadlines, yes, going forward.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MR TONER: Please, go ahead, sir.

QUESTION: I’m just going back to Ros’s question about Guantanamo Bay --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- and the detainees.


QUESTION: Without talking about the policy or the faith of the detainees, what is exactly – can you clarify the role of the State Department in this process?

MR TONER: In Guantanamo? Well --

QUESTION: Yes. I mean, yeah – I mean, without being involved in the Department of Justice or other things.


QUESTION: What is the role of the State Department?

MR TONER: Well, as I said, we have a special envoy for Guantanamo closure. And part of this is, as I just mentioned, is – and it’s a fairly big part of this – is as these individuals are cleared for release or resettlement, is working out arrangements with partners, allies around the world, to resettle these detainees.

QUESTION: So the State Department played that role?

MR TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: The State Department played that role?

MR TONER: That’s right.


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Sorry. On Japan, the Japanese economy minister, Akira Amari – he posted on his blog that he was surprised that the U.S. lacked its usual stubborn persistence at the latest TPP meetings, and he expressed concern about --

MR TONER: That’s an offhand compliment or something – backhanded.

QUESTION: Well, he expressed the concern that there would be a decrease in motivation and – in completing the TPP negotiations. Do you agree with the --

MR TONER: I mean, without parsing his words, I think everyone wants to see us reach an agreement on TPP. We’ve been hard at work on this for many years now. We didn’t get there, but we did make some progress and we expect to get there. We expect to get this over the finish line.

QUESTION: How much efforts are you taking to ensure that momentum is kept up? Are you talking about possible --

MR TONER: I’d refer you to – sure, I’m sorry to interrupt you.

QUESTION: Well, about the next step in the negotiations.

MR TONER: I’m not sure when the next meetings will take place, but I would refer you to USTR for the next steps.

Is that it, guys? Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:53 p.m.)

DPB #137


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 10, 2015

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 16:49

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 10, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:04 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Just a – afternoon, everybody. A couple things at the top. I think you saw our statement on Saturday over the weekend deploring the terrorist attacks on the Kabul police academy and on Afghan national and NATO military bases. This morning’s terrorists – this morning, I’m sorry, terrorists detonated a car bomb at Kabul’s international airport. These attacks, all of them have resulted in now hundreds of casualties and at least 56 deaths, including children, and demonstrate again the insurgency’s complete disregard for the lives of innocent Afghans. The people of the region have suffered far too much at the hands of terrorists and violent extremists. The United States stands by the Afghan people and remains committed to working closely with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other partners to achieve a stable, secure, and prosperous region.

Now is the time for the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together to achieve the shared goal of defeating violent extremists. It is in the urgent interest of both countries to eliminate safe havens and to reduce the operational capacity of the Taliban on both sides of the border. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families who suffered as a result of these attacks, and again, we call upon the Taliban and anyone supporting them to bring an end to the violence in Afghanistan.

On Ukraine, we are deeply troubled by a sharp rise in attacks in eastern Ukraine, particularly the heavy artillery assault on government-controlled Starognativka. In the last three days, three Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and 35 wounded. Today, Ukrainians reported 127 different separatist attacks, the most since Debaltseve – since the Debaltseve offensive in February. Russia and the separatists it supports cannot simultaneously talk peace and then fight. If they want peace, they must implement the full ceasefire that they agreed to in Minsk.

We are also deeply concerned about the arson attack over the weekend that destroyed four OSCE vehicles in Donetsk. We call on the separatists to provide security for the OSCE monitoring mission and allow it to do its vital work.

With that, Brad?

QUESTION: Before we go back to Ukraine, can we follow up on Afghanistan? Are you concerned the increasing attacks and the increasing lethality of these attacks will set back any efforts at negotiating a ceasefire, a longer term political reconciliation in Afghanistan?

MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly hope not, Brad. I mean, the goal has always been one of Afghan-led reconciliation with the Taliban, and that remains our goal and our objective. Obviously, these attacks underscore two things – Afghanistan remains a dangerous place and that the Taliban has not renounced the use of violence as a tactic and a terror device. So we certainly hope not. I mean, we want to see this – obviously, we want to see political reconciliation and a safe and prosperous and secure Afghanistan. And again, these attacks underscore that that remains a challenge.

QUESTION: Do they underscore as well that the forces within the Taliban that seek to foment further instability and violence are winning out against those elements within the Taliban that may be inclined to a reconciliation?

MR KIRBY: I think that’s difficult to say right now, Brad. I mean, perfect visibility into the inner workings of the Taliban is a difficult thing to have and to talk to. Again, I would go back to what I said before; we certainly want to see a political reconciliation process move forward. We want to see peace. And recent participation in those reconciliation talks as of a few weeks ago was certainly an encouraging sign, and we said at the time that it was very early – just beginning; we want to see this progress. So it’s difficult to say the degree to which these attacks – the effect that they’re going to have on the reconciliation process. Again, we hope that they don’t.

QUESTION: And then just lastly, your comment on Pakistan sounded eerily familiar to many, many, many comments over the years about now is the time for Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together. Why does this continue to be a problem? And I thought that you – there had been some progress, you believed, on this front.

MR KIRBY: Well, certainly – yes. So a couple of things. We applauded President Ghani when shortly after taking office he reached out to leaders of Pakistan, and they did have some constructive conversations about the shared challenge in that border region, which we all recognize as – remains a dangerous place and remains a safe haven for terrorists. And you probably have seen President Ghani’s comments earlier today talking about the threat that he believes continues to emanate from Pakistan. I will tell you Secretary Kerry spoke to President Ghani today. They talked about this, this issue of the safe havens and of the need for both countries to continue to work at this, to try to eliminate those safe havens. Nobody said it was going to be easy, and while we did cite progress, that doesn’t mean that anybody on either side is going to sort of let their foot off the gas on the need to continue to talk, to continue to try to deal with these safe havens.

QUESTION: But John, do – a lot of people are putting these increasing attacks on the leadership quarrel within the Taliban. Are – is that not what you guys are seeing?

MR KIRBY: Well, I wouldn’t get into intelligence matters up here, Lesley. I think I probably answered it as best as I could when I talked to Brad. I mean, it’s just too – it’s difficult to say exactly what’s behind and who exactly in the Taliban are behind these attacks. But we do believe they were by the Taliban, and certainly, as we have before, we condemn that violence and we want to see peace in Afghanistan, we want to see these attacks stop. We would like to see reconciliation – excuse me – an effort on reconciliation continue.


QUESTION: Staying on Afghanistan. You said that Secretary Kerry spoke to Pakistani president. What is --

MR KIRBY: He spoke to President Ghani.

QUESTION: Okay, sorry. So you mentioned Pakistan in this. Has anybody spoken to Pakistani leadership? If yes, what is their --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any calls to read out from this podium with respect to calls to Pakistani leadership recently. He did speak to President Ghani just a couple hours ago.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, but when you mentioned Pakistan in your statement, that means – do you have any substantial proof that Pakistan is involved? And is Pakistan doing anything to stop this?

MR KIRBY: Look, this is a continual challenge, the idea of the safe havens that exist on both sides of the border. And again, I’d go back to what I said at the outset: We call on both countries to continue to work together to try to eliminate those safe havens. I don’t have – nor would I if I did – don’t have specific intelligence regarding these particular attacks, the ones that happened over the weekend and this morning. Afghan security forces responded ably to the scene. Again, it’s a reminder that Afghanistan remains a dangerous place, and we all have to continue to work harder together on this shared challenge.

QUESTION: But this statement also raises the question that 2008 Mumbai attacks, and nothing has happened all these years. So how do you expect Pakistan to react? The six Americans who died in those attacks, in 2008 Mumbai attacks.

MR KIRBY: What do you mean, nothing has happened since then?

QUESTION: Pakistan has not done anything to apprehend the – they have been let – it’s an – it’s also an ongoing process.

MR KIRBY: Again, we continue to call on all the countries involved here to do what we can to kind of – to address this shared challenge.




QUESTION: Have you got any more information, comments about the attack on the U.S. mission there, and whether you think it’s related to the beefing up the presence at Incirlik or the fight against ISIS?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think you all know there was a security incident at our consulate in Istanbul. Nobody in the consulate was injured. We’re working with Turkish authorities as they investigate this, and I really wouldn’t go beyond that right now. I can tell you that the consulate will be open for business tomorrow.


QUESTION: Turkish police actually contend that the attack that carried out to U.S. embassy was done by the left-far organization DHKP-C. It called the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Army Front. Do you have any --

MR KIRBY: No. I’m going to refer you to Turkish authorities. This is their investigation. I have not seen that statement that you say they have put out. But I would let the Turkish authorities speak to this. This is their investigation.

QUESTION: Can I go to Iraq?


QUESTION: So just to clarify – sorry. You said nobody in the consulate was injured. That means no consulate staff?

MR KIRBY: No U.S. consulate personnel, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And – okay, and that includes local as well as --

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any injuries as a result of this.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: On Turkey.


QUESTION: Is the U.S. Government frustrated in any way with these – the retaliatory strikes against the PKK? Were you caught off guard in any way?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve talked about this before, recognizing that Turkey has a right to defend itself against terrorist attacks. And I would add that we continue to call for the PKK to cease their attacks, to return to a political process here. And we’ve made it clear that our expectation is that Turkey is going to take the necessary steps to prevent any civilian casualties and to act in accordance with international humanitarian law.


QUESTION: How worried are you – meaning you, the U.S. Government – that the Turks may be using the fight against ISIL as a reason to go after Kurdish fighters, particularly those who belong to the YPG, inside Syria? Is it complicating the efforts to defeat ISIL by having Turkey use the cover of its own security concerns?

MR KIRBY: Well, your question implies that that’s exactly what they’re doing. As I said, and we talked about this over a week ago, their attacks on PKK are as a result of attacks they are suffering by this terrorist group inside Turkey. I’ve already said we’ve called on them to do what they can to prevent civilian casualties, to act in accordance with international law, and we continue to advocate for a political process here between the PKK and Turkey. That is separate and distinct from the cooperation that we enjoy with Turkey against ISIL, and the Turks have made it clear themselves that certainly inside Syria, they’re focused on counter-ISIL activities.

QUESTION: Do you have an ironclad promise from the Turks that they’re not going after any Kurdish fighters, whether they belong to YPG or anyone else, who happen to be inside Syria?

MR KIRBY: I would just point you to what the Turks have said themselves, that their focus inside Syria is on counter-ISIL forces. They also have a right to defend themselves from the PKK when they’re attacked, and they’ve done that, and again, we’ve made clear what our expectations are with respect to their – to that retaliation.

QUESTION: But does the U.S. trust the Turkish Government when it says that it’s only going to go after those Kurdish fighters when they have been attacked and not use the pretext of attacks, such as what has happened today in southeastern Turkey, as a reason to go after Kurdish fighters inside Syria?

MR KIRBY: Again, Ros, the Turkish Government itself has made clear what their intentions are with respect to counter-ISIL operations in Syria, and what they – and where they’re going to focus their energies and their operations. They’re a strong ally, a good partner in this fight, and we have no reason to doubt that they’re going to do exactly what they said they’re going to do.

QUESTION: But given that Turkey is very much concerned about the ongoing Kurdish effort to try to establish its own state, what inducements has the U.S. offered to Ankara in order to basically make sure that their fight against ISIL doesn’t expand into other areas?

MR KIRBY: Their fight against ISIL expands in other areas – the Turks?

QUESTION: Yeah, right.

MR KIRBY: Again, everybody is focused on the ISIL threat inside Syria, and Turkey has said themselves that that’s where the locus of their energy is going to be applied. We continue to have conversations with them about how best to bolster security in the region and to achieve a common objective here. And we’ve also said – been very clear that we’re not interested in doing anything that’s going to change the territorial integrity of Syria.

QUESTION: What about the Kurds, the fighters inside Syria? What conversations has the U.S. had with them about making certain that their efforts are focused solely on ISIL and not on any larger ambitions of trying to establish their own nation-state?

MR KIRBY: There’s no support from in the coalition to do anything to change the territorial integrity of Syria. We’ve made that clear.

QUESTION: And how would you hold the Kurds accountable if they did try to take advantage of the situation to try to carve out their own nation-state?

MR KIRBY: Well, that’s a hypothetical that, I mean, I’m --

QUESTION: But it’s their ambition. It’s not a hypothetical.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak for their ambitions. They have been proving – they have proven very effective against ISIL, which is why the coalition continues to support them from the air. We’ve made it clear the coalition’s goal and focus is against ISIL, period. It’s not about changing the map, it’s about going after ISIL. In fact, the only thing that – in terms of territory that we’re interested in changing is the territorial hold that ISIL has both in Iraq and in Syria, and we’ve made that clear. And everybody – anybody who is in the coalition and certainly anybody supporting the coalition, that’s the expectation. That’s what we’re focused on.

QUESTION: So my final one: So to make it very clear, the U.S. is not going to tolerate mission creep from any member of the coalition?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, your question implies that there’s people in the coalition that have some sort of idea about mission creep. Mission creep, by the way – mission creep isn’t about – mission creep is when the mission itself changes and becomes something bigger than it was at the outset. The mission here hasn’t changed. It’s about degrading and destroying ISIL. And when we have fighters on the ground in Syria who are going after ISIL – and they’re not all, by the way, Kurdish; there’s Arab fighters, there’s Turkoman fighters. When we have fighters on the ground – willing, effective partners who are willing and are executing operations against ISIL – we’re going to continue to support them. That’s the goal, not changing the map of Syria.




QUESTION: Can we go to Cuba?

QUESTION: Can I have one last one on Turkey and then move on?


MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. Government assured the Turks that the Syrian Kurdish fighters will not enter the 68-mile strip along the border?

MR KIRBY: Say that again. You’re reading it really well.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Has the U.S. Government assured Turks that the Syrian Kurdish fighters will not enter the 68-mile strip along the border?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about diplomatic conversations that we have one way or the other. What we are focused on, again, is getting after ISIL where they are, and where they are right now in Syria tends to be gravitating towards that northern strip of border area. And we’re going to continue to work with our partners at going after them there.

QUESTION: Is there a plan to increase security at the embassy or the consulate given these attacks in Turkey?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about security precautions that we take. You know that’s never a good idea. I think you can imagine that everybody’s taking the threat very, very seriously. The consulate – the embassy did put out a security message when the event was ongoing and we’re going to always do what we have to do to protect our diplomats and our people.

QUESTION: Have the diplomats been told to restrict their movements?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into specific security measures. Again, you all should know that that’s not a wise thing for me to do from the podium. We’re going to do whatever we have to do to make sure that our people are safe.


QUESTION: John, a very quick one on Cuba: What’s your take on the arrest of 90 people yesterday in Havana?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. We saw those reports. Deeply concerned by this roundup of peaceful activists by Cuban authorities this past Sunday. Members of our embassy there in Havana have confirmed these reports. The United States will continue to advocate for the rights to peaceful assembly, association, and freedom of expression and religion, and we’re going to continue to voice our support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba.

QUESTION: So how many are you saying were rounded up? Because it’s different numbers. I saw 118.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a number for you.

QUESTION: You don’t have a number?

MR KIRBY: I’d refer you to Cuban authorities there. For us, it doesn’t matter whether it’s one or it’s 101. We’re going to continue to make – to call for support for peaceful assembly, association, freedom of expression.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary plan to meet with dissidents when he goes to Cuba?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything specific with his – on his schedule Friday when he goes down to Havana. We’ll – as we get closer to Friday, we’ll be able to give you more details about his visit.

QUESTION: There’s nothing on his schedule at all this week. What’s up with his schedule this week? What’s he doing?

MR KIRBY: What’s up with his schedule this week?

QUESTION: Yeah, because there was nothing on it, and that’s sort of unusual. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Well, you all know Friday’s a big day.


MR KIRBY: He’s going down to Havana to formally open up and raise the flag at our embassy in Havana.

QUESTION: Check. Yeah, we got that.


QUESTION: What else is he doing?

MR KIRBY: Tomorrow he’s going to New York City. He’s got an event with Thomson Reuters – an on-the-record event to talk predominantly about the Iran deal. This is continuing our efforts to explain the benefits of the Iran deal and how it meets our security interests and the interests of our allies and partners. And then I don’t have anything else for the remainder of the week to read out.

QUESTION: On Wednesday and Thursday is he in Washington or is he --

MR KIRBY: Wednesday and Thursday, I believe he’s in Washington. I can get you more details on his schedule later. I don’t have a day-by-day right now with me.



QUESTION: The dissident that was freed – do you have any comment regarding the release of Mazen Darwish, who the Secretary has actually been calling for his release?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know if I do. Let me come back to you on that, Lesley.


QUESTION: Syria also?


QUESTION: This renewed effort on the part of the Administration to see if some kind of political process can be revived, which they’ve been pretty straightforward about or open about, saying that the atmosphere has changed for various reasons and people are more willing to have mature conversations, et cetera. Is there actually anything on the table at the moment that Mr. Kerry is discussing with Lavrov and other people, or is it just exploration?

MR KIRBY: Well, at this point I think it’s safer to say these discussions are explorative in nature. As you know, when he was in Doha last week he met with both Foreign Minister Lavrov and Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir from Saudi Arabia. It was the first time the three of them had gathered together for a discussion about Syria. That was the topic area. And they explored sort of the situation on the ground right now and they explored possibilities for trying to move forward to get at a political solution in Syria.

I think it’s safe to say that there are – there’s still a lot of work to do here, and this first meeting was encouraging (a) that they could have it; (b) that they could use it to discuss one topic, like a topic – so serious as what’s going on in Syria; and trying to get at a political solution. But I wouldn’t want to mislead you to think that there was a menu that came out of it or specific objectives that all agreed to and that all are going to pursue. I mean, it’s – it was a good first meeting and I know that there will be more. He met with Foreign Minister Lavrov on the sidelines of the ASEAN ministerial in Kuala Lumpur. Obviously, many topics were discussed in this bilateral meeting between him and Foreign Minister Lavrov, but it did include Syria and sort of following up on the discussion that they had had in Doha just a few days before. So a lot of work to be done here.

QUESTION: Are they aiming for something in particular? I know you’re saying they’re still discussing, but are they aiming for a conference or a --

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, broadly speaking they’re aiming at trying to find a way to get to a political solution here in Syria.

QUESTION: But like another conference or --

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have anything like on the schedule to announce. I think what they did agree was that the three of them need to continue talking and exploring these ideas, and they all three committed to that.

QUESTION: What has changed that makes the U.S. and Russia and the Saudis believe that this could be a moment to try to start pushing for a political solution in Syria? What has changed on the ground, as it were?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, nobody said that we’re at some moment now. I think everybody recognizes how thorny this issue is, how complicated it is, and that it’s going to take a lot of hard work. I also would say that it’s not as if we haven’t always been focused on trying to get to a political solution in Syria. I mean, this is – the conflict there has been going on for quite some time, so it’s not like they’re just – everybody is just kind of waking up to the need that we’ve got to get at this.

But it is also safe to say that conditions on the ground have continued to worsen, the Syrian people continue to suffer, and that – look, you can read it in the news yourself, I mean, but – the Assad regime is coming under increasing pressure from within and his security forces are continuing to struggle against the opposition, the resistance. So I wouldn’t say that we’re at a moment or an inflection point in time right now, Ros, but certainly it would be imprudent, it would be irresponsible, if Secretary Kerry and other leaders weren’t taking a hard look at what’s going on right now and trying to really continue to push for some sort of political solution.


QUESTION: Did the Secretary ever get a sense during those conversations that there was any kind of change in the positions of the Russians towards Assad? And is the aim to bring him or to bring together all these parties – and I gather Iran would be invited too – to sit down and discuss a transition?

MR KIRBY: A transition?


MR KIRBY: I just don’t think we’re at that point right now, Lesley, and I’ll let the Russians speak to their views in terms of the Assad regime. I think, again, these were – this was an – this was a first-step effort here in terms of the three of them sitting down, and I think everybody recognizes that a political solution has to be found. The “how you do that” part is still what they’re working through and I think it’s just going to take some time.

QUESTION: Follow-up?


QUESTION: There seems to be also --

MR KIRBY: You’ve been very patient. I’ll get back to you. I know.


QUESTION: There seems to be also Iranian peace plan that will presented to United Nations next week, I believe. Are you aware of such peace plan and do you have any view --

MR KIRBY: A peace plan that’s being --

QUESTION: For Iranian peace plan. Iran will present peace plan.

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have anything on that. I’d refer you to the UN.

QUESTION: And just to follow up your previous question, do you think the Iranian nuclear deal has anything to do with opening a political solution or for parties to get together?

MR KIRBY: About Syria?


MR KIRBY: No. No, this isn’t about linking it to the Iran deal. The Iran deal was aimed at doing one thing and that’s preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon capability. Now, the Secretary’s been clear, and I don’t want to – by what I’m about to say I’m not changing at all or clarifying my answer to you; there is no connection between the two. That said, the Secretary has been clear that should, and that’s a big “should,” an Iran deal lead to different and more constructive Iranian behavior on a spate of other issues that we continue to have with that regime, well, that’s all to the better but that’s not the goal, that wasn’t the focus.

I think, back to my answer to Ros, I mean, current events clearly speak for themselves inside Syria: The conflict continues to go on; people continue to suffer; Assad continues to brutalize his own people; he’s facing increasing pressure. And I think Secretary Kerry’s view, it’s just irresponsible for them not to be able to try to sit down and try to work hard towards trying to find a political solution. But we’re at the beginning here and there’s a lot of work to be done.


MR KIRBY: Yeah, let me – can I come back to you? Because – go ahead. You’ve had your hand up for a while, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yeah. The former director of Defense Intelligence Agency Michael Flynn said it was, quote/unquote, the “willful decision” of the Administration to support and to coordinate arms transfers to the insurgents in Syria knowing, based on an intelligence report from 2012, that the major driving forces behind the insurgents in Syria were Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and al-Qaida in Iraq, or what we know – what we now call ISIL. So that intelligence report from 2012 was released under FOIA and it also says, quote, “There is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria, and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime,” end of quote.

Do you admit – would you admit, like Michael Flynn did, that in 2012 the U.S. supported the rise of the forces that we now call ISIL in order to defeat Assad?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to intelligence reports. I’m certainly not going to talk to an intelligence report that I haven’t seen. Let me just remind everybody what our positions are. We have been supporting a moderate Syrian opposition, and in particular, with respect to ISIL it’s been about help try – DOD’s program to try to train and equip moderate Syrian opposition fighters to go in there to fight principally against ISIL. We’ve also said and continue to believe that the rise of ISIL inside Syria was, in fact, helped by the Assad regime’s lack of legitimacy to govern effectively its own people and its own territory.

QUESTION: It’s not just somebody saying it. It’s the director of Defense Intelligence Agency at the time saying that it was the willful decision of the Obama Administration to coordinate arms transfers to the insurgents while having the intelligence about who they were, and that intelligence report from 2012 is available. It’s in public domain.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m just not going to make a habit of speaking to intelligence reports here from the podium whether they’re in the public domain or not. I’m just not going to make a habit of doing that. We – and I won’t speak for the intelligence community. I won’t even speak for DOD, my former employer here, when it comes to support for the moderate opposition. But our position hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: But would you say that in 2012 --

MR KIRBY: Assad has lost legitimacy to govern. Right? It is through him, his brutality, that has helped ISIL fester and grow inside Syria. And it is against ISIL that the whole coalition is aimed at. Now, as far as the moderate opposition, there has been some support of them, and again, I would point you to DOD and the support that they are continuing to try to lend to a moderate opposition to go in and fight.

QUESTION: But the U.S. intelligence reports that the U.S. knew that those were not moderate opposition forces, that they knew --

MR KIRBY: I’m not --

QUESTION: -- and exactly the report said the major driving forces behind the insurgency in Syria were – that’s a quote from the report.

MR KIRBY: I know. This --

QUESTION: -- which Mr. Flynn says every – all the policy makers saw but they made, quote/unquote, the “willful decision” to continue with the policy of supporting those insurgents.

MR KIRBY: I would refer you to the intelligence community. I’m not going to talk about intelligence matter from – matters from this podium.



QUESTION: So about Prime Minister Abadi’s reform initiatives, he has removed two of his deputies and two vice presidents, including former Prime Minister Maliki, from power. What is the U.S. take on that? Is it good for the country at a time when it’s fighting the Islamic State?

MR KIRBY: Prime Minister Abadi has presented a proposal to streamline the Iraqi Government. We note that these measures were unanimously approved by the Council of Ministers. This is an internal Iraqi matter, but we do commend Prime Minister Abadi’s initiative to promote improved government services and transparency.


QUESTION: So one more thing about – inside Iraq but inside, actually, the Kurdistan region.

MR KIRBY: Say again?

QUESTION: Inside the Kurdistan region in Iraq, there is another crisis going on nowadays. And according to the experts, this crisis over the presidency of Kurdistan has reached a particularly dangerous level with the opposition parties stressing that president should not seek a third term, and he’s not willing, apparently, to not seek a third term. And --

MR KIRBY: You’re talking about President Barzani?

QUESTION: President Barzani, yes. So isn’t that – like aren’t you worried that this region, which is very important in your fight against Islamic State, might destabilize as a result of this internal leadership crisis?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to – as I said to your first question, I’m not going to talk about internal political matters inside Iraq. I think broadly speaking, Iraqi political leadership understands the threat that ISIL poses to them and to the Iraqi people, and we’re going to continue to work with the Government of Iraq to deal with the threat that they face. So I think I’d leave it there.

QUESTION: Has the United States – I know Mr. Brett McGurk was in Kurdistan, I think yesterday. Has the United States been in touch with the Kurdish officials over this specific issue, the crisis over the presidency?

MR KIRBY: We don’t ever talk about the details of diplomatic conversations. Ambassador McGurk is in Iraq to have a wide range of meetings and discussions with Iraqi leaders about how we can all work together to combat and to degrade and defeat ISIL inside Iraq.

QUESTION: Just one more, John. Sorry. Today, actually, there are media reports that the ruling party, which is the KDP, has – had moved its armored vehicles and its armed forces inside the capital Erbil, as basically a deliberate attempt to show muscle inside the capital at a time when the region is facing this leadership crisis. Aren’t you worried while you’re arming, of course, the Peshmerga, which is an effective force against ISIS in the ground, that this – what these weapons might – might be used in domestic struggles by the Kurds?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not aware of the events that you’re detailing there. I’d just go back to what I said before. I think we’re certainly comfortable that leaders in Iraq share the same sense of urgency and purpose that we do about the threat ISIL poses internally to Iraq and the Iraqi people but also regionally, and frankly, they’ve got aspirations beyond the region. I think everybody has that same shared sense of purpose, and that our – that we are as a coalition directing our energies, our efforts, our resources, against that threat. And everybody understands that that’s the threat that’s most important right now.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Could I have a quick follow-up, please?


QUESTION: On the Iraqi reform package by Prime Minister Abadi, I know you don’t want to talk about the Iraqi internal issues, but from this building you have said many times that the problem of ISIS and the Iraqi issue is not only security, it is also the problem of governance that led to the ISIS unfolding.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And also even President Obama said that --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- several times. So do you think this reform package is part of the plan that you are hoping that Prime Minister Abadi will fix the governance problem, or this is something else, you don’t support it?

MR KIRBY: I applaud you for a very deft attempt to try to get me to actually go ahead and comment on internal Iraqi politics. (Laughter.) It was a very well-constructed question – (laughter) – that I am going to not answer. (Laughter.)

Look, these are internal Iraqi matters. But as I said at my outset, we certainly commend Prime Minister Abadi for the initiative that he’s taking to promote government – to promote improved government services and transparency. I mean, he has really moved with alacrity to try to get at better governance inside Iraq, to be more inclusive, to be more responsive to the Iraqi people. And nothing changes about what we’ve said before about the importance of good governance in Iraq and, frankly, in Syria with respect to permanently being able to sustain a defeat of ISIL.

QUESTION: Okay, one more on Kurdistan. I just want to follow up on what Namo said. Actually, Ambassador McGurk and Ambassador Jones, they were meeting with the Kurdish officials over the weekend, specifically on Saturday, and they have discussed, actually, the issue related to the President Barzani. I do have a response from Ambassador McGurk’s office about that, but I just want to have a clear answer about that, if there is something United States want to favor in – to say in the favor of President Barzani that he – that they want to stay – President Barzani to stay because of the ISIS effort, or this is something you don’t want to talk about it?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the details of conversations. I mean, these are internal Iraqi political issues that the United States is not going to insert ourselves into. But you’re right; Ambassador McGurk did meet with President Barzani and other leaders there. He reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to continued cooperation with Iraqi Kurdish forces in the fight against ISIL, and he commended KRG officials for their coordination with the Government of Iraq and coalition members in that same fight, and he praised the contribution of Peshmerga forces.

QUESTION: One last on Iraq and Iran. On the – over the weekend and also that other – last week, I think, also, that Iranian, I don’t know, spy, whatever, intelligence, tried to assassinate one of the Iranian Kurdish opposition leaders in Iraq. And two days ago, one of the Iranian spy also was captured by the Iranian opposition leaders in Sulaymaniyah that he was trying to plant 20 kilograms of TNT in their headquarters where there are civilians also living there.

So they have had a statement, official statement to the U.S. consulate and also to international community that Iranian is trying to use the U.S. – the nuclear deal to do more destabilization efforts. And they have said also over the past few weeks, after the deal was announced, the Iranian intensified their efforts to harass the Iranian Kurds where they are living peacefully in the Iraqi Kurdistan. Do you have anything on that or --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on the details of the reports that you’re laying out there. I would just say broadly speaking that nobody in the United States Government is turning a blind eye to Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region – their support for terror, for the Houthis, for Hizballah, for the Assad regime. The Iran deal is about keeping them from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which we believe makes everybody in the region safer. But nobody has taken an eye off the other destabilizing activities they continue to conduct in the region writ large. So I don’t have anything specific on that, but I can tell you that we’re mindful and well aware of the threats that they continue to pose.


QUESTION: A separate question on Iran. Do you have a comment on the end of the trial of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian?

MR KIRBY: I’m aware of the reports of his – of Jason’s court appearance today. We continue to call for his immediate release as well as that of Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, and we continue to call for Iran to work with us to locate Robert Levinson so that all can be returned to their families.

QUESTION: Do you view it as a positive sign that this – at least we’re getting to a decision point, or do you have any indication that this will be resolved positively?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything beyond what I said, Brad.



QUESTION: On Uganda?

QUESTION: Well, Iran?

MR KIRBY: Sure. I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: The President said Iran’s nefarious activities might get a economic boost with the release of some of the Iranian funds, but he also said that it wouldn’t be a game changer. Is the Administration at all kind of minimizing the risk of the danger of that kind of money getting back into the – being released to the Iranian Government?

MR KIRBY: Well, Secretary Kerry has addressed this many, many times. Yes, there’s going to be some sanctions relief. That was the whole – the reason the sanctions regime was put in place was to get Iran to negotiate, which they did, and we have a deal. And as part of that deal, there will be sanctions relief.

But I would remind you, as Secretary Kerry has – Secretary Lew spoke to this – I mean, this is an economy that has an awful lot of need to the tune of about $500 billion or more of domestic priorities and infrastructure improvement that they need to make. And the amount of relief, when it comes – oh by the way, it’s not automatic. They have to implement their part of the deal before they see sanctions relief. There’s a lot better things for them to spend that money on.

Now, obviously, that’s their call, and Secretary Kerry has said as well that you can’t rule out that some of that money might not be used for support to terrorism or other nefarious activities. But if it is, we have other tools at our disposal to deal with that. We have our own sanctions regime against Iran and these activities. And we have plenty of other options available – the United States does – to deal with that, including a very robust military presence in the region. So again, nobody’s turning a blind eye to this.

QUESTION: No, but I think one of the issues has been that you’ve created a kind of binary between economic improvement and support for terrorism. But when the – one of the biggest, if not the biggest economic institution in that country is the Revolutionary Guard, even economic improvement could go to enrich an organization that commits what you say are acts of terror overseas. And how do you stop that if they’re living up to the deal and the rest of the world is still trading with them?

MR KIRBY: Because if they do conduct these activities, we’ll know about it and we have other tools at our disposal to deal with it. I mean, I can’t – as we’ve said, we can’t rule out that some of this money – which is theirs, by the way – could be used for some of this. But it’s not like we’re not going to know about it. It’s not like we’re turning a blind eye to what they’re doing now. I mean, even under the sanctions regime that they were – that they continue to face, they conduct these activities. So we’re going to continue to work hard at this and we’re going to have – we have tools at our disposal to deal with it.

Yeah, Justin.

QUESTION: I just wanted to change subjects, if I could, and forgive me if this was addressed last week. Senator Grassley’s office is asking if a State Department IG investigation into Huma Abedin goes beyond this issue of an overpayment, suggesting that it’s looking into other things as well and suggesting there’s a criminal probe of some sort. Is this something that you can comment on at all? Is there a criminal probe out of this building’s watchdog regarding Clinton’s aide?

MR KIRBY: Well, the IG, as you know, Justin, is an independent organization here at the State Department. I won’t speak for them. They’d have to speak for that. We are certainly aware of Senator Grassley’s concerns and we’re going to be responding to his correspondence appropriately – the way it should be, not in public.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, because just – but just the IG’s office isn’t saying anything, although I would point out they did something when it – when the question was directly related to Clinton, they did feel the need to put out a clarifying statement about her emails and that investigation. But I guess this one doesn’t raise to that level.

I would just want to know if you think that there is any reason to believe that there was any criminal behavior going on with her aides during her tenure. I mean, is that farfetched or what?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to speak to matters that the IG may or may not be looking into. It wouldn’t be appropriate. What our focus is, Justin, is on making public the 55,000 pages or so of more than 30,000 emails that former Secretary Clinton has provided us.


MR KIRBY: The Secretary has made it clear that he wants to get those out and get those out as expeditiously as we can. We have a court-ordered timeline and we’re meeting that. That’s where our focus is.

Yeah – I’m sorry. Yeah, you had – (laughter) – you had questions.

QUESTION: Yeah, do you have any comment on the Uganda pride parade that happened this past Saturday in Kampala? And can you tell me if any U.S. officials took part in that from Embassy Kampala or other U.S. agencies?

MR KIRBY: Yes, actually I can confirm that some embassy officials from the public affairs and political sections were represented at those Wednesday events in Uganda.

QUESTION: And then a quick Africa – another follow-up to Africa – have you seen any reports that Gambian President Jammeh has threatened his nephew with imprisonment, or even execution, for posting a Facebook post in support of gay rights? He’s a student at the University of California in Santa Barbara. And there was a report that came out over the weekend that he had apparently threatened to execute or even – or imprison his nephew for life over this post. Have you seen that report?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak to those reports. What I can speak to is our strong position, as we’ve repeatedly made clear, about being deeply concerned by continued reports of human rights abuses in the Gambia, and of course, our position on LGBTI rights. We believe – we’ve said it before – that gay rights are human rights and nothing’s changed about our position in that regard.

I’ve got time for just a couple more and then I’ve got to get going.


MR KIRBY: Wait, I’ve gotten you a lot, Ros.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: So the State Department launched a grant program to recruit Russian-speaking journalists in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, and under the title of counter-Russia messaging. What is behind the timing of this, and why those countries?

MR KIRBY: You’re going to have to let me get back to you.


MR KIRBY: I’ll have to take that question.


QUESTION: On Japan? Japan has announced that it is going to be restarting its nuclear reactor the first time since the disaster in Fukushima. Do you have any comments on that?

MR KIRBY: I thought I did.

QUESTION: I think before you finish, can you check again on Mazen Darwish?

MR KIRBY: On what?

QUESTION: The Syrian opposition leader, Mazen Darwish, who --

QUESTION: The free speech campaigner (inaudible) --

QUESTION: She asked about it --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m going to have to take that for a question, too.


MR KIRBY: And as for you, the – we’ve seen those reports. That’s actually – that’s a matter for Japanese Government to talk to, not for us.

QUESTION: Time for a follow-up?


QUESTION: Under Secretary Gottemoeller was over the weekend participating in various commemoration ceremonies for Nagasaki, and before that for Hiroshima. What were the impressions of her visit?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to have to get back to you on that, too. I mean, I have not had a chance to talk to the under secretary since she came home. I know she felt honored to be able to attend and represent the State Department there.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Can I get a follow-up on that?


QUESTION: Is there anything specific that came out of her meetings regarding denuclearization and disarmament?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a readout of those meetings?

One more.

QUESTION: Yeah, just – do you have a reaction to al-Nusrah’s decision to pull back from its positions on the front line in the north? It says it’s doing that because Turkey’s joined the coalition and it doesn’t want to be allied against – with Turkey against ISIS, so it’s pulling back. But is this something that will be – help the U.S. and Turkey create this ISIS-free zone? Because Nusrah’s been attacking your guys there.

MR KIRBY: Well, a couple of thoughts there. I haven’t seen those statements by al-Nusrah with respect to what they are or not doing. And then secondly, I know people using this phrase “ISIL-free zone.” I mean, that’s not a term that we’re --

QUESTION: What is your phrase for that zone?

MR KIRBY: Well, there is --

QUESTION: It’s not a safe-zone you said, so what do you call it?

MR KIRBY: We don’t have a – (laughter) – we don’t have a term for it because we’re not referring to it has a zone. I mean, what we’ve said repeatedly is where they are, we’re going to be there, and we’re going to support those on the ground to try to degrade and defeat them wherever it is. And so we’re not – we’re not calling it a zone of any kind. And I can’t speak to what al-Nusrah may or may not be doing.

I just want to make a larger point and that – I think is important to keep making that the campaign is about going after ISIL. That’s the focus here, and we’ve got more than 60 nations in this coalition that are helping us do that in all manner of different ways. And it’s going to take a long time; it’s not going to be easy. We recognize that the situation inside Syria is very complicated, but that doesn’t change anything about our overarching goal which is about degrading and destroying this group inside Iraq and Syria.

Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:54 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 6, 2015

Thu, 08/06/2015 - 16:28

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 6, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:43 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey, guys. Welcome to the State Department. It being Thursday, happy Thursday.

QUESTION: By the way, are there briefings in August, or is like --

MR TONER: Not on Fridays, no.

QUESTION: Fridays you took – okay.

MR TONER: No, but I didn’t want to lead with that because I figured then you would ask me more questions today – (laughter) --

QUESTION: Exactly. We have to be ready for it.

MR TONER: -- in anticipation of not having me tomorrow. No, of course. But of course, as things come up and break, we’ll do our best, as we always do, to be responsive to any issues or questions you might need addressed.

I will – I don’t have anything at the top, so I’ll go right into your questions.


MR TONER: Lesley, do you have anything?

QUESTION: Yeah, I do. Can I start off with this report by this – by the think tank looking at the Parchin military site in Iran, which seems to have raised a few questions? And I just wanted to put some of those to you. Some of – the question here is whether you think – so the big thing about the report is that the cleanup of this site by the Iranians, the fear is that it could kind of cover up issues that need to come out in – under the deal. So does this in any way contravene or breach parts of the deal or any part of the deal that was signed last month?

MR TONER: Okay. So first of all, I’m not going to comment on any of our own intelligence that we may have on this particular issue. I think what the report refers to is commercially available satellite imagery. But to speak to your broader question, it’s important to realize that the JCPOA doesn’t – or isn’t implemented until Iran addresses and meets its key nuclear steps, which include an IAEA report that addresses questions about – well, past concerns, questions about its PMD, what we’ve talked about before.

But also, we’ve been very clear all along – the Secretary, Secretary Moniz as well, others – that this isn’t something – you can’t cover up past nuclear activity very easily. It lasts for decades, even longer. And so this isn’t something, I think as the Secretary said, you can simply flush down the toilet. There are traces that remain and we are confident in our ability to be able to fully investigate and to find out if the evidence does remain of these – of previous activities. We and the international community have been very clear about our concerns about Iran’s past activities, and including – this includes its efforts to clean up suspect sites. So while cleanup activities – and again, I’m not confirming this – would always be a cause for concern, particularly at this site, where IAEA has already requested access, but we’re confident in our knowledge of what has actually occurred at Parchin.

QUESTION: So this isn’t – as I said, this isn’t new activity. I mean, they’ve been – made efforts previously to clean this site.

MR TONER: Right. And we’ve made – and we’ve – sorry, just – I don’t mean to interrupt, but yeah, and we’ve been very clear that we understand and believe we have – well, we know what happened at those sites, so --

QUESTION: So even though they’re trying to – I mean, the fact that they’re sanitizing it, does that mean that they’re trying to cover up? Or --

MR TONER: And again, I’m in an awkward position here, because I’m not going to talk to what our intelligence may be telling us is happening at this site. We have this report. This report relies on commercial imagery, stuff that may or may not be happening on the ground. So I’m not trying to confirm that. But all I’m saying is, first of all, the JCPOA isn’t fully implemented, so this is – this couldn’t be a violation if it were the case. I’m dealing with hypotheticals here. But Iran needs to meet its key nuclear steps, and that includes addressing the IAEA’s concerns about its past military dimensions of its program.

QUESTION: But what you’re saying is that even though they’re scrubbing it now and it’s – as I said, it’s not a new thing; it’s been going on for a while – that will not cover up any evidence.

MR TONER: But it – yeah. That’s a separate point that I want to be very clear about: that we’re confident in our ability to detect any kind of previous activity.

QUESTION: But the fact that Iran is actually doing this raises some serious questions.

MR TONER: Again, though, I haven’t confirmed that and I can’t, so I don’t want to – I don’t want to go there, because --

QUESTION: This is a – this think tank is not a fly-by-night thing --

MR TONER: Understood.

QUESTION: -- and neither is questions raised with the – I mean, are you questioning the imagery, or is it because it’s made up? Or --

MR TONER: I just don’t want to – well, no, I’m not going to – again, this is commercially available satellite imagery. I just am unable to confirm the findings. But let’s be very clear that this is – that we’re able to detect, as I said, and monitor this kind of activity if it were happening.

And I think the JCPOA is fundamentally focused on ensuring Iran’s nuclear program, as we all know, is exclusively peaceful, and it does have a very rigorous verification regime, one of the most rigorous ever negotiated, and that includes special access that goes beyond what’s called the Additional Protocol in setting a defined time limit to ensure that the IAEA gets access to these – any undeclared locations.

So we’re confident going forward that we’ll be able to have eyes on whatever activity is ongoing or is indeed being covered up.


QUESTION: On Iran, but not on the cleanup --

MR TONER: That’s okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- if someone wants to follow up on that.


QUESTION: Why are you guys unable to put to rest this talk or this rumor or these allegations that there indeed have been some parallel agreements or agreement done either with the IAEA and Iran and so on? Why are you unable to put that to rest?

MR TONER: Well, it’s a fair question, and I would note that the director general of the IAEA actually gave a closed-door briefing with – to Congress yesterday in an effort to address some of these ongoing questions that we’ve had. The bottom line – and I’ve said this and others have said it repeatedly – there’s no secret deals here. The IAEA has special arrangements with Iran, but they have special arrangements with I think over 180 countries, including the U.S. That is the way the IAEA works; that’s how it functions. And these are considered confidential arrangements between the IAEA, which is a credible international organization with an enormous amount of expertise and the ability and skill set to carry out these kinds of arrangements and to carry out inspections as needed on these programs. But there’s a reason why these are confidential agreements that other countries don’t want this information shared broadly and even publicly.

So there’s no special – as you said, there’s no – as you questioned or your question pointed to, there’s no secret arrangements, no secret agreements here. This is standard IAEA practice. And again, Director General Amano was here yesterday, he spoke to members, tried to clarify this. As we said before, Wendy Sherman, other members of the Iran negotiating team, or the P5+1 team, were also briefed on these arrangements. So it persists – I understand that – but it’s just not an accurate characterization.

QUESTION: But the fact that it persists so obviously, so conspicuously, by those who met with Director Amano, does that really – either he is not telling them what has really happened or you’re not telling them what has really happened, or they’re just entrenched in that political position and there’s no way that their minds could be changed.

MR TONER: Well, that’s a very good question and a fair question, and you’ll have to ask them, frankly. I mean, there’s a lot of people – and the President certainly alluded to this yesterday in his speech – there’s a lot of people who have come in with certain preconceptions about this deal even before having read it and absorbed it. Our role – and we’re trying to do our best here, speaking for the State Department, but certainly everyone involved in these negotiations are doing our utmost to try to just give Congress the information it’s – it needs to make an informed decision.

QUESTION: Are you hitting a brick wall? And my last question.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: And maybe you are losing hope to sort of persuade members of Congress who will obviously vote against it?

MR TONER: Not at all. Look, we always knew this was going to be a period of decision and for Congress to weigh the pros and cons of this deal. Again, the President spoke far more eloquently than I could about the reasons why this is a good deal, why this is the best possible path to pursue, one that will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. But ultimately, these congressmen have to make their own decisions. We’ve seen numerous Democratic senators come out in favor of the deal. Others are still deciding. Certainly on the other side of the aisle, others are considering to – or still considering the deal. But we always knew this was going to be a process, but we’re confident, I think, in – that this JCPOA speaks for itself and it offers, as I said and others have said, the President said yesterday, the best possible solution to this issue, and one, frankly, that – sorry – one, frankly, that avoids a possible war.

Why don’t you go and then to – back to Lesley.



QUESTION: There was a lawsuit filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York – families of U.S. victims of Iranian terror, who say they are owed hundreds of millions of unpaid damages by the Islamic Republic of Iran and will never receive their compensation if the funds frozen by the U.S. are released back to the ayatollahs as part of the recently agreed – as part of this deal. Do you have any take on that?

MR TONER: I’m aware of this lawsuit. What I would just say is there’s no connection, absolutely no connection between any sanctions relief that Iran would receive under the JCPOA if it meets – and again, if it meets – the nuclear commitments under the deal and any outstanding court judgments. So the funds that would be released as part of the JCPOA sanctions relief are funds primarily from Iran’s oil sales that have been deposited into restricted accounts, and the U.S. does not hold or control any of this money. So it’s a separate issue.

But again, this is an ongoing court – or a legal matter. I’d just say we continue to work with Congress, the Department of Justice, and other ways to – and others, frankly, to explore ways to compensate the victims of Iran’s past activities, including its support for terrorism.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: One more on Iran, if you don’t mind.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Robert Jordan, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, he wrote a book called The Desert Diplomat. He was on – I think it was Charlie Rose the other night, had an interesting interview. And at one point he said – he was talking about the Iran deal, and he said – he was asked what he thought of the deal. And he said, “I hate the deal, but it’s the best deal we’re going to get. And I don’t think the snapbacks will work. I think they’re a fantasy.” I wonder if you have any comments on --

MR TONER: I don’t. I mean, we’ve – and again, others have argued much more eloquently or explained than I can that snapbacks would allow us the ability to put sanctions quickly back in place if Iran fails to meet its obligations under the JCPOA. And I’d just refer you to the President’s speech yesterday for why this is a good deal.

Please. I’m sorry. Lesley, do you have another question, or are you okay?

QUESTION: I want to change it to --

QUESTION: Can I just very quickly --

MR TONER: Yeah, let’s finish out Iran and then we’ll – sorry, we’ll get to you.

QUESTION: There was talk that American Iranian journalist Jason Rezaian may be released or something is underway. Are you aware of that, or can you share with us --

MR TONER: I don’t have any new information other than that we continue – and the Secretary has made this clear on many occasions – we continue to call for his, and frankly, the release of all detained Americans in Iran. And it continues to be – whenever we speak with the Iranian Government, we make those --

QUESTION: Sure. Could you confirm that only his family and The Washington Post are involved in any kind of ongoing negotiations with --

MR TONER: I can look into – see if there’s anything new to report on that, but I haven’t heard anything.

Please, you, and then Lesley.

QUESTION: All right. So – thank you.


QUESTION: The first question I have is actually pertaining to the general issues that we’re talking about.


QUESTION: But kind of shifting a little bit towards Syria. So Russia has apparently invited the main opposition group to Moscow next week, and Iran is apparently poised to present a new peace initiative on Syria. So is there new diplomatic traction with Moscow and Tehran on a Syrian peace initiative, and is there room for common ground with Iran and Russia?

MR TONER: Good question. Certainly, we talked a little bit about this yesterday. The Secretary had another meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov in which they did discuss Syria and the situation there. And I did want to – the Secretary spoke to this earlier in a press avail that he had in Malaysia. But it did include a discussion not completely related to your question but certainly related about the draft UN resolution involving chemical weapons use in Syria, which will be voted on tomorrow.

The Secretary said this resolution would create a mechanism that would enable international – the international community to designate accountability for chemical weapons use in Syria, so obviously, an important movement on that very troubling issue. I don’t want to get ahead of tomorrow’s vote, but I did want to cite that.

More broadly speaking, we are consulting closely with Russia, obviously, on next steps in Syria. I think we’ve been very clear we’re seeking a political resolution here, but one that cannot include President Assad. So as much as we can find common ground in ending the fighting, ending the conflict, putting in place a credible political process that leads to an inclusive democratic government in Syria, we support that. But it cannot include President Assad.

So we’re pursuing that, and I don’t have much to say. I would refer you to the Russian Government to speak about this meeting of opposition figures, but certainly, we want to see the continued growth and strengthening of a moderate opposition in Syria. And like I said, given the complexity, fluidity of the situation in Syria, a political solution, a resolution to the conflict couldn’t be more urgent.


MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: So when we talk about the development of this peace process, can Iran play a part in that initiative?

MR TONER: Again, not – and we’ve been clear on this – not so long as it supports the Assad regime, and that’s really where we fundamentally disagree. The Assad regime has carried out brutal attacks on the civilian population of Syria, and frankly, has been instrumental in creating the kind of lawless area to the north where ISIL has been able to get purchase, and frankly, extend its roots. Now we’re trying to dislodge it, destroy it, defeat it; but let’s be very clear that any process going forward, any kind of peaceful resolution to the conflict, can’t involve the Assad regime.


QUESTION: Right, and if I could --


QUESTION: -- just switch to Russia and the Islamic State --

QUESTION: Can we stay?

QUESTION: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: Let me stay on --

MR TONER: Okay, sure.

QUESTION: -- Syria on this point. Staffan de Mistura very clearly said the other day that he cannot imagine a resolution without Iran being involved. Everybody talks about Iran’s role in Syria – it is financing, it is equipping, it is arming, doing all these things – yet you don’t want them to be part of the process, although you claim that they wield so much influence in Syria. Why would you want to do that?

MR TONER: Well, I don’t think I said that. I said what is unacceptable to us is the continued support for the Assad regime, and I think that’s a clear point of difference between us and the Iranians.

QUESTION: But I mean, you accept, on the other hand, GCC countries who have been covertly and overtly, as a matter of fact, supportive of groups like Jabhat Al-Nusrah and others and so on. You accept them into the table. They are supporting these groups and which you disapprove of, but on the other hand you will not accept Iran while it is continuing to support the regime, correct?

MR TONER: All I’m trying to explain to you, Said, is you’re asking me about Iran’s role --


MR TONER: We would, I think – if Iran could play a constructive role, it would be one in which it doesn’t support the Assad regime. The Assad regime, frankly, is the root of all evil here. It has created the conditions in which we find ourselves, and frankly, the poor Syrian people find themselves today. So any covert, overt support for that regime is a nonstarter.

QUESTION: So despite the fact that the regime may represent a hefty portion of the population – Christians, Alawites, other minorities, Shias, and many Sunnis as a matter of fact – you think that the regime should not be represented in any way?

MR TONER: We think Assad is not --

QUESTION: So you’re talking about Assad himself and not the regime or his family?

MR TONER: What we want to see is – what we want to see is a process move forward consistent with Geneva, and that’s always been our position.

QUESTION: Mark, can we come back to this --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- to the draft? Is tomorrow the vote?

MR TONER: That’s correct. Sorry, I didn’t know what you were – sorry, yes.

QUESTION: So that’s what I want to talk about. But also how does this play into this political resolution that the Russians are trying to put together? Does it play any part in trying to pull together some kind of --

MR TONER: Well, I think one of the areas, frankly, where we have found common ground with Russia on Syria has been on the need to account for and remove all of Syria’s declared chemical weapons. We did accomplish that goal, but indeed, as we’ve seen with the use of chlorine and through barrel bombs in constant – the issue, the problem persists. And so I think, again, there’s an effort, and as I said, a common cause from both sides – us and the Russians – to address this. And we’re – this is a good thing. This is, I think, a positive step, if we can get it through the UNSC.

QUESTION: So other than naming the perpetrators, which would be either government or rebel forces, what happens to the person – the groups responsible?


QUESTION: Is there any kind of consequences?

MR TONER: So again, I don’t want to get out ahead of the process. This resolution would enable the international community to designate accountability for chemical weapons for Syria. It’s a critical first step in trying to get justice for the Syrian people.

As to next steps, that’s a little bit further ahead, and how – but it would establish a mechanism, as I said, that could look at – that would enable the international community to designate accountability, and then from there we can look at possible repercussions.

QUESTION: But what --

MR TONER: And again, I mean, I think that what’s important here is that – sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt you. But what’s important here is that we agree that people need to – the perpetrators of these horrible acts need to be held accountable.

QUESTION: But what would the U.S. like to see as the possible consequence to --

MR TONER: I’m going to leave that – again, these are all --


MR TONER: -- all things under discussion. But right now the immediate goal in front of us is to get this resolution voted on tomorrow.

QUESTION: Russia-Ukraine?

MR TONER: Yeah, let’s – do you mind – I’ll get – or we – what was your – let’s finish out with – I apologize.


MR TONER: No worries.

QUESTION: On Russia and ISIL yesterday you said that Russian participation in the fight against the Islamic State could be positive. Do you have any additional details on what that might include? How could Russia be involved, and is it at all possible that Moscow would join the air campaign against ISIL?

MR TONER: That’s – we’re jumping way ahead. I mean, to this point, Russia hasn’t, frankly, been very involved with the coalition or with anti-ISIL efforts. We certainly want to see – or would like to see Russia become more involved. But to this point, we’re just – we’re still in discussion.

Please. Yeah.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry mentioned a video conference tomorrow between U.S. and Russian officials to discuss the situation in Ukraine.

MR TONER: Oh, right. I’m sorry, I apologize; it just took me a second.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the participants or what time?

MR TONER: I don’t. I believe this is the working groups on Minsk. And I don’t have many details. I know that he – that he addressed it in his remarks earlier that it’s going to, frankly, get into some of the details about the Minsk agreements and then fulfilling those. Sorry – if I have it in front of me, I’ll try to quickly look. But yeah. No, this is – yeah. This is a – I think a conference – I’m not sure what level it’s going to be.


MR TONER: So I’ll try to get more details for you on that.

QUESTION: He also referenced in his discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov a difference of opinion on the Ukraine elections and constitutional reforms. Can you provide any specifics on that, or what was he referring to more specifically?

MR TONER: On – I’m sorry, one more time – a difference of opinion?

QUESTION: He said there was a difference of opinion, and he specifically mentioned Ukraine elections and constitutional reforms that they’re trying to work through.

MR TONER: Sure. So as I said, we’re still looking for full compliance with Minsk. And as we all know, there’s different categories to fulfilling these agreements. And frankly, we haven’t seen the full implementation on the part of Russia or the separatists that it backs. So – and there’s all these subgroups, as I said, these working groups that are working on these various issues, including the issues that you mentioned. So we’re continuing to work for them. I don’t want to get out ahead of the process that’s ongoing. But the fact is is that we still don’t feel like they’re complying fully with the Minsk commitments.

QUESTION: One more.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: He did mention they were not far away on rail resumption and the OSCE monitoring, which – is he talking about the withdrawal of weapons with that? And what does he mean by the rail resumption and they’re not far away? What needs to be done to close this issue?

MR TONER: Sure. So with OSCE monitoring – I mean, we’ve been very clear on the need for OSCE monitors to have full access, which means access to all parts of separatist-held territory. And so that’s as plain as it could be. We just want to see these special monitoring missions be able to access all areas and be able to carry out their work, which is --

QUESTION: Do you think they’ve made progress?

MR TONER: -- absolutely vital to monitoring the ceasefire.

QUESTION: It sounds like maybe they made progress on that point.

MR TONER: Yeah, I don’t have – again, I’m sorry, I apologize; I don’t have many concrete details. But as much as – if we could make progress on that, it would certainly be – it would be valuable.

You said the second point was the rail resumption.

QUESTION: Yeah, he mentioned rail resumption, rail track, and then he kind of got cut off.

MR TONER: Yeah, I apologize.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) rail service because of the chaos, or --

MR TONER: That I don’t know. And I apologize. I’ll --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR TONER: -- try to get a fuller readout for you and get back to you. Thanks.


MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Yeah, on Syria. I think you’ve seen the reports on different media in U.S. and Europe. They’re talking about the U.S. betrayal of the Kurds. They are referring to the Syrian Kurds, of course. So do you have any comment on that? Then I will ask you some --

MR TONER: Any comment on the?

QUESTION: On the – your agreement with Turkey was something – a betrayal – considered as a betrayal to the Kurds in Syria.

MR TONER: You’re – sorry, you’re talking about --

QUESTION: In Turkey.

MR TONER: I apologize. I’m not – I’m just not getting you clearly.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, you have an agreement or understanding, memorandum of understanding, using Turkish air bases – Incirlik.

MR TONER: Of course, yes, okay. I’m with you.

QUESTION: So it was – I mean, there were so many analyses on that, but most of them --


QUESTION: -- they were considering this as a betrayal to the Kurds in Syria, especially the YPG.

MR TONER: Oh, a betrayal.


MR TONER: Okay, okay. I apologize. I just didn’t hear that word. How so? Because what we’re – I mean, we’re actually in support of – I mean, there’s forces that are anti-ISIL forces, including Syrian Kurds, Syrian Arabs, in fact even Syrian Turkoman, who are fighting ISIL in northern Syria. And so once we establish ourselves and are able to conduct airstrikes out of Turkey, then frankly, the air support that we’ll be able to bring to these groups in their fight against ISIL will be quicker, faster, better.

In terms of what you’re thinking about, a betrayal, I mean, we’ve been very clear to the Turks about – the Turkish Government about these forces – not the Kurdish forces, not the – now, I’m being very clear here – not – I’m not talking about PKK, which is a designated foreign terrorist organization. But these forces shouldn’t be harassed or fired upon.

QUESTION: And the YPG shouldn’t --

MR TONER: And the Turkish Government has obviously agreed, so --

QUESTION: Yeah, but this is – I mean, like, there are arguments to support these claims. That is something going on there, because there are reports that United States air campaign is not supporting the YPG fighters to advance toward Jarabulus, which – where the Turkey – Turkish Government wants to establish a safe zone, whatever name is --


QUESTION: -- ISIS-free zone. And also, there are other reports – and actually, not the reports, a response from the Pentagon to me when I ask them about the train and equip program. I asked John also on this podium. The YPG, they are not in a train and equip program, and they are not part of this program supported by Pentagon. And the reason is that one of the host country, which is Turkey, they are sensitive about their participation, and they have a role in this program. So this is also two other things that can support this argument that there are – there are other stuff going on, that the YPG’s being undermined; you are helping them in Hasakah and other area, but not in Jarabulus. Do you have a response for that?

MR TONER: Only to say that in terms of the train and equip program, I really would refer you to the Pentagon for specifics about that, but we certainly are appreciative of Turkey agreeing to host that train and equip program. As we’ve discussed numerous times, we’re still working through the kinks and trying to – and that includes a very serious vetting process and trying to choose the best candidates for this train and equip program, but we’re hoping to boost those numbers considerably going forward.

In terms of the YPG, I don’t want to speak to operational details. A lot of that is still being worked out. Again, we’re just – we just reached the agreement with Turkey. Our discussions are ongoing. We talked about this, that we’re still looking to how we’re going to operationalize this agreement going forward, but we’ve been very clear our goal is to support those anti-ISIL forces fighting in northern Syria.


MR TONER: One more.

QUESTION: Yeah, one more on that. But the question is --


QUESTION: -- will you support the air campaign for the rebel groups – YPG, whoever they are – to advance toward Jarabulus or the area considered as the Turkish favorite place to have an anti-ISIS whatever, free-ISIS area? So is it – you will – will you help the rebel groups, including YPG, to go on – take on ISIS, wherever they are, with no restriction to any geographical area inside Syria?

MR TONER: Again, I wouldn’t say – I wouldn’t even pinpoint it to the YPG. I would say, more broadly, we’re seeking to support all the anti-ISIL forces taking the fight to ISIL in northern Syria, but I’m not going to speak to that specific case.



MR TONER: Please, Said, yeah, and then back to you.

QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to move to the Palestinian issue.

MR TONER: Sorry, I’ll get to you (inaudible). To the Palestinian issue?

QUESTION: Are we done? Yes, yes.


QUESTION: I wanted to ask you: Today, there is a Palestinian man named Siam Nawara meeting here in the Department about – it’s about the killing of his son, a 16-year-old, a year ago. It was raised in this room with the spokeswoman, Jennifer Psaki --


QUESTION: -- on the 20th of May last year. So – and it was also mentioned in your Human Rights Report and so on. You, at the time, said that you were waiting for the Israelis to disclose all the facts that happened. Have you been advised of all that happened in the killing of these two young men?

MR TONER: You know what? I don’t have any details about the meeting, so I’ll have to check on that and get back to you whether we’re – yeah.

QUESTION: No, not the meeting, but it’s also --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: I sent you an email. I don’t know if you --

MR TONER: No, I apologize, I did see --

QUESTION: It’s okay.

MR TONER: Sorry, it was --

QUESTION: That’s okay, no --

MR TONER: -- a crazy morning. I’ll look into it, Said. I apologize.

QUESTION: I understand, yeah. Look into it, because at the time, these two young boys were – or 16-year-old teenagers that were shot --

MR TONER: Yeah, no, I’m aware of the case. I just don’t have any new information to add, so I’ll check up on it.

QUESTION: Okay, all right. Let me then follow up on another issue --


QUESTION: -- that Matt raised, I think it was last week, about a Palestinian American complaining upon entry into Tel Aviv airport – Ben Gurion airport – being harassed and deported, as a matter of fact. Last week they deported a Palestinian deacon, Father George Khoury. They kept him waiting, languishing for 12 hours, and under the pretext of digging into whether they have or don’t have a permit to stay in the West Bank. Now, these are Americans. They have no residence or anything in the West Bank. Many of them, like Father Khoury, was – had not been there for decades and so on. Are you aware of that?

MR TONER: We’re aware of the reports. I can’t speak in any great detail because we – I don’t think we have Privacy Act waivers for any of these individuals, but obviously we are concerned for any American citizen who might be detained or otherwise questioned, and certainly we’re ready to offer support as needed. So --

QUESTION: One Palestinian American --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- novelist, writer, who was held up, she said that she went to Amman and she tried to speak to the consulate, the American consulate or the chancery in Amman, and was not able to talk to anyone. Are you aware of that?

MR TONER: I’m not aware of that case, no.

Please, and then I’ll get to you, Lesley. I apologize. These guys have been waiting.


MR TONER: On Japan, please.

QUESTION: So today obviously marks the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.


QUESTION: Ambassador Kennedy, Under Secretary Gottemoeller attended the ceremonies. Secretary Kerry spoke about it in Malaysia. I was wondering if there were any other steps that the State Department was taking to commemorate the day, or any concrete steps to push for further decrease of nuclear weapons.

MR TONER: Well, I don’t really have anything to add to – as you said, the Secretary spoke to this earlier today in Kuala Lumpur, spoke to the impact, the continuing impact that this – that war and then indeed this event has on people, on countries; underscores the importance, frankly, of the agreement that we’ve reached with Iran to reduce the number of nuclear weapons. As you know, it’s been a major initiative of this Administration to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, something we’ve been working hard at and with other countries and partners as well. This – it’s an important day, as I said, for not only to remember the terrible events, but also, as I said, to look towards – or as others have said, to look towards what has been built out of the ashes of that war: indeed, a strong partnership with Asia, certainly a strong bilateral relationship and alliance with Japan, unprecedented secure – era of security and prosperity. All of these are tremendous positives. We need to be – continue to seek to bring greater security to the region, and as I said, to reduce the number of nuclear weapons.

QUESTION: Also on Japan?

QUESTION: I had a follow-up.

QUESTION: Sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s also been reported that Secretary Kerry will likely be going to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial that is being considered for April of next year, along with the G7 meeting in Japan.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that?

MR TONER: I can’t, and I’m – appreciate the question, but I just can’t speak to the Secretary’s schedule nine months in advance. Obviously we’re aware of the dates of the foreign ministers meeting of the G7, but I don’t have anything to announce now at this point.

QUESTION: Also on Japan?

MR TONER: Please, and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: In regards to the advisory panel report that was released with recommendations for Prime Minister Abe’s statement next week, how does the State Department view this report?

MR TONER: We’re aware of the report. It was issued by the advisory panel. We welcome Prime Minister Abe’s positive comments this past year on history issues and – as well as Japan’s postwar contributions to peace. We took note of his remarks in Washington about upholding the views expressed by previous prime ministers in regard to the past. And we believe, finally, that strong, constructive relations between countries in the region promote peace and stability and are in the – their interests as well as the interests of the United States.

QUESTION: And sorry, also --

MR TONER: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- the – does the State Department believe that it is necessary for Prime Minister Abe to issue an apology, or is it sufficient to express remorse? Secretary – Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel stated something to that effect on July 21st.

MR TONER: Stated something to what effect?

QUESTION: To the effect that it was sufficient to express remorse.

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have his remarks in front of me. I’ll – we’re – as I said, we’re – we welcome Prime Minister Abe’s positive remarks this past year and I’m not going to project on what he may or may not say.


QUESTION: Mark, I have two questions regarding Congress. The one is today Senator Corker said that he would – demanded that the State Department hand over documents used to rank countries in the human trafficking report and said that if it didn’t hand it over, he would subpoena them. Would the State Department have any issues handing over those documents and emails, including those from Secretary Kerry?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, first of all, you’re talking about the Trafficking in Persons Report --

QUESTION: Correct.

MR TONER: -- and the hearing that was held in the Senate earlier today. We certainly appreciate Congress’s concern about the integrity of this report. It’s frankly something we share. You heard the Secretary speak to this from Malaysia earlier today – very strong comments about the process and – as well as speaking to the situation in Malaysia and while noting progress there, also noting the need for increased progress. And we continue to stand by the process for determining the rankings that go into the report.

In terms of what – Congress’s request, we’re still waiting for a formal request. And I don’t mean to be procedural here, but we do – I know there was a back-and-forth during the hearing today, and at the end of it they were discussing what in fact they would ask for and how they would ask for it. So we really need to wait to receive that formal request, but speaking generally, of course we try to be responsive to Congress.

QUESTION: And then a follow-up on something else.

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Senator Grassley – did you see this today? – has said that he is going to put new holds on 20 nominees for the Foreign Service officer positions, saying that the State Department had not been responsive to letters and phone calls.

MR TONER: You’re talking specifically about?

QUESTION: Well, he’s got 20. He says – it’s a very long email.

MR TONER: Okay. But you’re talking about the holds? Okay, yeah, these held – I’m aware of at least one nominee that he’s put a hold on.

QUESTION: Well, he said he’s – he said the new holds are on 20 nominees.

MR TONER: I haven’t seen that additional add. I mean, look, we’ve received nearly a dozen letters and requests from Senator Grassley in recent months, and just in – as recently as July 1st we responded to him and then told him that a response that includes a document production was in process, and this response also included substantial responses to his queries on – specific queries on records retention at the State Department. These – as we’ve discussed at length here, these kind of document productions take time, and the Department will be providing information to Senator Grassley in response to the requests in the very near future. And in terms of – I think he sent a letter yesterday. We’re working on a response to his requests from the most recent letter.

QUESTION: It’s kind of maybe a follow-on, but --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: But you talked briefly about this yesterday. The Secretary Clinton emails situation, the ones that are at Kendall’s office, that thumb drive – I didn’t quite get what you said yesterday, where they go next. I mean, the idea that Congress was also asking for them, so there were some orders for preservation – does that mean they just stay with him, or do they somehow end up going to you or going to the Benghazi committee or where?

MR TONER: Right. So fair question, and I agree it’s a very complex situation. So my understanding is that the counsel for former Secretary Clinton has advised the department that it was subject to separate document preservation requests from the select committee on Benghazi as well as from the inspectors general for the department, the Department of State, and obviously the IC, the intelligence committee – or community. So department officials in that – so they said they have to retain those documents on site. So what we did in response to that is provided them with instructions regarding how to properly store, physically secure these documents. We also have provided Secretary Clinton’s lawyers with instructions regarding appropriate measure for physically securing documents as we’ve made – identified material that needed to be upgraded. We’ve talked about this to a great extent as we review these things and we say this – we would now classify this portion or that portion.

As to what would happen next to these, I don’t know. My understanding, at least for the time being, is that they’re going to be retained by the law firm. We’ve sent our security people out there; they’ve checked. They’re confident that it is a secure site, and that her lawyer does have the proper security clearances. I don’t know as to what – how this is going to be resolved down the road or what’s going to happen to the documents.

QUESTION: And then it is – it is your stance that you have all those documents anyways? These are --

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- basically duplicates?

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: I have just a follow-up on the Grassley thing.

MR TONER: And I did follow up on that, because you had asked me and I was a little fuzzy on it, but no.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Mark, I have a question on – a follow-up on this Grassley thing.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: So the fact that he says he’s going to block it – does that actually mean that you don’t – you can’t hire these officials, or does it mean that despite that you can hire them anyway?

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, what I – I mean, my understanding – I haven’t seen the latest, but is – there’s – on a specific nominee. So I mean, they can always put a hold on a nominee confirmation to an individual.

QUESTION: So that stops them coming to work or joining the State Department?

MR TONER: No. My understanding, again, is that this is a nominee for something that needs to be confirmed by the Senate or position --

QUESTION: Oh, so it’s --


QUESTION: -- to do with the confirmations. That’s --

MR TONER: Yeah. That’s my – yeah, exactly.



MR TONER: Well, can I just – I’m sorry, Said. I --

QUESTION: Sure. Take your time.

MR TONER: Just in the back, and then I’ll get back to you. I promise. I apologize.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I was wondering – so about U.S. engagement in the ASEAN Regional Forum, trying to move that from more of a confidence-building institution to a preventive diplomacy institution. I was wondering, what is the difference between confidence building and preventive diplomacy, and what are sort of like specific measures that are considered preventive diplomacy?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, I mean, obviously, it’s important – it’s an important forum, and it’s an important forum for a variety of reasons, one of which is to talk about – and we talked a little bit about this the other day – the need – or the venue, that the venue offers a chance for all member states to raise concerns and really to put forward ideas for how to resolve those concerns. And one – frankly, one good example of this would be the South China Sea. So as much as we see – we always want to share our concerns, share our viewpoints, we’d also like to see processes or mechanisms put in place that help to resolve these issues going forward.

QUESTION: Sorry, can I follow up?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: So the Chinese foreign minister stated that all building has stopped in the South China Sea. How does the U.S. respond to these claims?

MR TONER: Again, we’ve been very clear that we want to see all building stop in that area. We want to see a reciprocal halt among claimants to land reclamation, new construction, further militarization of outposts, and we want to see, basically, an overall easing of tensions that create space for diplomatic solutions to many of these claims. So as much as China’s willing to take those steps, we would welcome it. But I don’t know that we can confirm that.


MR TONER: Please, and then – yeah, Yemen? Sure.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering if you’ve seen reports that Yemen’s al-Qaida branch – or al-Qaida’s Yemen branch, I’m sorry – has seized three towns near Aden, and if you have any reaction or can confirm the reports.

MR TONER: I did. I mean, I don’t know that we can confirm those reports yet. Obviously, it’s of concern to us any time that al-Qaida seizes territory and claims it, but – we’re watching the situation closely, but I don’t have anything specific. I’ll see if I have anything for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Please go ahead, and then back to Said.


MR TONER: Yemen too? Okay, let’s start on Yemen.

QUESTION: Today there are reports that Saudi ground troops have actually entered Yemen. Are you aware of that?

MR TONER: I’m aware of the reports. I can’t confirm details. I would refer you to the Saudi military to confirm that.

QUESTION: Would you caution the Saudis not to do that?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think – and we’ve talked a lot about this – it’s been – so the Saudi-led coalition has undertaken military operations at the request of the Government of Yemen to stop Houthi efforts to take over Yemen by force. So again, it’s finding the – what’s the root cause here. And that is since the Houthis and their allies have conducted repeated armed infiltrations into Saudi territory and fired mortar rockets across the Saudi border that have killed both Saudi civilians and security personnel, it’s within Saudi’s – Saudi Arabia’s right to defend itself. But it’s important also to say that we need a political solution in Yemen. So we continue to support the United Nations and the UN special envoy for Yemen in their efforts to mediate a peaceful solution that will return all parties to the political dialogue process.

And also while we’re on the topic, I mean, there’s a looming humanitarian crisis, and we’ve talked a lot about that and the fact that we’ve wanted to see a ceasefire or a pause in the fighting take place, and so that vital food assistance and aid can be delivered to these vulnerable populations. So I mean, there’s a really – obviously, the violence, the fighting needs to stop. We need to get access to some of these vulnerable populations and get them the food assistance that they need, and then we want to see a political resolution there.

QUESTION: And related, are you aware of the terrorist attack in Abha, Saudi Arabia that – today claimed by ISIS, ISIL?

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, I don’t – I am aware of it. It’s – you’re talking about the mosque attack?


MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, we obviously condemn the attack. I think it took place in the southern town of --


MR TONER: -- Abha, yeah. Deplore the brutality of the terrorists. It was an unprovoked attack, obviously, on Muslims who were peacefully worshipping and praying. We express our condolences to the victims. As to the identity and motives of the attackers, I don’t have any further information to add.

Have I exhausted you yet? Or no, one more.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Turkey.

MR TONER: I’ve got to run after this. I apologize, I – and I’m on a timeline – or a deadline this week. I apologize.

QUESTION: In the past couple weeks or couple days maybe, I asked you, I think, about the PKK and Turkey conflict, and United States position was that both sides should come back, return back to the negotiation table. And the big – the larger concern for United States is to take on ISIS, not the – the conflict between the two sides.

So the PKK leaders, KCK, and also the HDP leader, Selahattin Demirtas, and others and also the Kurdish activists, they have also supported your – this argument that the – both sides should come back to the negotiation table, but they are suggesting a third party involvement, especially United States. And yesterday there was an official statement from the HDP and the PKK that they are asking for United States involvement in the conflict between Turkey and PKK. So is – United States will be willing to be playing a role in that --

MR TONER: No, our position hasn’t changed. We want to see PKK violence stop against Turkey, we want to see them return to the peace process, and we would look to the Turkish Government to respond proportionately, but no change in that.

I did want to – sorry – you had raised a question about Russia and Ukraine, and I – it brings up a broader point and I apologize to – I failed to raise this earlier, but Foreign Minister Lavrov made some comments about missile defense yesterday. It speaks to a lot of different things and it didn’t come up, but I – you probably saw my colleague, John Kirby, put out a tweet about this. But he made a comment about the President, frankly, not telling the truth about missile defense, and that’s at best a selective reading of the President’s statements, and at worse a willful ignoring of the facts. The President has consistently said since 2009 that the European Phased Adaptive Approach missile defense system is necessary to protect the U.S. and our allies from the threat posed by ballistic missiles from the Middle East. And the agreement with Iran, if it is fully implemented, will only address the issue of nuclear weapons but does not resolve the threat posed by Iran’s ballistic missiles. So I just wanted to clarify that point. I didn’t want the perception to be out there that somehow the JCPOA and ending Iran’s nuclear program, which we obviously all agree is of the utmost importance and a huge priority, but does not necessarily end the need for a missile defense system to defend against ballistic missiles.

QUESTION: Quick follow-up on --

QUESTION: Just the threat from Iran, right?


MR TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: Because --

MR TONER: From Iran. Thank you, yes. For – yes.

QUESTION: And no one else?

MR TONER: Thank you for clarifying.

QUESTION: No one else.

MR TONER: Yes, yeah, from the region, yeah.

QUESTION: Quick follow-up on this.

MR TONER: Yeah, please. Thank you.

QUESTION: I mean, this evening 10 presidential hopefuls are going to debate this issue and they just might make a very compelling case, probably refutable evidence, as to why this deal is foolish. Are you prepared to counter that or deal with this eventuality?

MR TONER: I mean, look, I mean, we’re going to continue to make the case from this podium, from the White House, from our Secretary, from the President himself on why this is a good deal and answer the questions as they come to the best of our ability. But this is the democratic process at work. They have every right to debate the pros and cons of this deal. We believe it’s the best possible way forward to deal with Iran’s nuclear program.


(The briefing was concluded at 2:35 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 5, 2015

Wed, 08/05/2015 - 16:31

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 5, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:37 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. Happy Wednesday. Sorry, I should say that with more certainty. Happy Wednesday.

Just very briefly at the top, and then I’ll get to your questions. The United States – first I wanted to speak about the Burundian human rights activist who was attacked. The United States condemns the brutal attack on prominent Burundian human rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa and calls for those responsible to be brought to justice immediately. This attack reinforces the urgent need for the government and the peaceful opposition to work together in pursuit of a consensus and find a peaceful path forward for the people of Burundi. Failure to do so carries with it the risk that Burundi’s political crisis will only deepen and further undermine the peace and stability enabled by the Arusha Agreement over the past decade. We call upon all stakeholders to exercise calm and restraint and avoid provocative statements and acts. We urge the Government of Burundi to ensure the safety of Mr. Mbonimpa, and our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family, and for the sake of the citizens of Burundi, we wish him a safe and speedy recovery.

That’s all I have at the top. I’ll take your questions. No questions? Great. We’re done. No, I’m just kidding. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: If we can go back to what we were talking about the other day, the email – the Clinton email issue.


QUESTION: I had a couple of follow-up questions for you. And one is kind of similar to just what I asked the other day, and that’s just simply looking back at this statement from the IC IG and the State Department IG: Is the State Department – in your response the other day, is the State Department contending that the State IG might have made a false statement when he said that these four emails contained classified information when they were generated?

MR TONER: We just haven’t seen them. So we – what we’ve seen, what we have vetted internally, and frankly through the interagency, we have, as I’ve talked about, redacted portions of those that we believe now are confidential or classified material. But through our process, we’ve not seen anything that former Secretary Clinton has given to us that should’ve been classified at the time. So it’s just – it’s not any way passing judgment on what they have deemed to be classified. It’s just we haven’t seen it.

QUESTION: Okay. When you say you haven’t seen it, though, I mean, these are four emails out of only about 40 that were specifically turned over to the IG to look at. And are – I mean, are you saying that the IG didn’t point out to the State Department, “Hey, there’s these 40 emails; here’s these four that are classified”?

MR TONER: To my knowledge, we have not. No, they – this was something that they – again, without – and I – this is how the OIG works, and the IC IG, but they conveyed these to the FBI or Department of Justice. They referred to – referred them to the Department of Justice. So we don’t have – basically we don’t have eyes on this. They’re operating independently, so we haven’t seen them. That’s my understanding. If that’s wrong, I’ll get back to you, but I think that’s right.

QUESTION: So they sent it to the FBI, and then they sent a memo to the Senate and the House intelligence committees and the CIA director, but they have not told the State Department --

MR TONER: Specifically these things, yeah.

QUESTION: -- which four emails they’re talking about?

MR TONER: No. And that said, as I’ve talked about on – I can’t remember now; it was Friday, I guess – we have in the past month or so tried to incorporate a contingent of IC reviewers, basically, into our office here that’s reviewing these documents so that they can – just trying to streamline the process, to be frank, and trying to get their input from the get-go. But certainly throughout this process we’ve been clearing things through the interagency.

Please, go ahead. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: One more on the emails. So it’s been reported – and I think that you confirmed from this podium, or someone did, that the State Department identified classified material in the emails in May and instructed Clinton’s lawyers on appropriate measures for physically securing those emails. My question is: Why wouldn’t you just ask for them to turn them back over to you? I mean, are --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- do they have --

MR TONER: It’s a good question. So you’re right. So you’re talking about the emails in the possession of former Secretary Clinton’s lawyers, is what you’re talking about, right?


MR TONER: So the counsel for the former – for former Secretary Clinton advised the Department at the time that it was a subject to a separate document preservation request from the Select Committee on Benghazi, and from the inspectors general for the department as well as for the intelligence committee. So accordingly, Department officials provided Secretary Clinton with instructions regarding appropriate measures for physically securing these documents. So because of these preservation requests or orders, they did not want to physically relocate them or give them directly to the department. So what we did, as I talked about a little bit last week, is we actually had a security expert go look at the facility where they were being held at the lawyer’s offices and made sure that they were up to code or up to standards.

QUESTION: Is that lawyer cleared, does have --


QUESTION: -- appropriate clearance?


QUESTION: And so basically --

MR TONER: And that’s not uncommon. We do – people who are outside the State Department – that’s another good point to stress, is that we do occasionally, for a variety of reasons, clear people to hold classified documents who aren’t employed by the State Department.

QUESTION: So basically, there were two entities in the U.S. Government who wanted these emails --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- and so you just told them how to keep them so they can get them to both of you.

MR TONER: Right, and again, it was subject to – this is important, and I’ll try to explain it – but there’s a separate document preservation request. So the lawyer’s office said they’re going to hold onto those because of that request to preserve these documents rather than hand them over, but also, obviously, we have access to them.

QUESTION: Can I just follow on that one, please?

MR TONER: Please go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: I’ve also got the memorandum that Charles McCullough, the inspector general of the intelligence community, had sent to members of Congress. And he says in here that he requested the rest of the 30,000 emails in State possession, “However, State rejected my office’s request on jurisdictional grounds.”

So the State Department has cleared Ms. Clinton’s personal attorney to view these and to keep them at his facility, but did not turn them over to the intelligence community IG. Do you know if this has changed at all?

MR TONER: Again, as we clear these documents, these emails, and go through the process and, as I said, redact those portions that we now would deem classified or should be upgraded, we share those with the intelligence community already. We have – but there are clear channels here, to be frank, and we have shared those with our own IG. But it’s not incumbent on us and frankly not in our jurisdiction to allow the IC IG access to those emails.

That said, we’re going through them all diligently. We’re sharing them through the process that’s established to clear these documents via – or in accordance with FOIA regulations, sorry. The IC is getting eyes on these. It’s just how we’re diligently kind of going through the process, and before publication, we always clear these through the IC.


QUESTION: And why would the State Department clear David Kendall to have them and to view them but not the IC IG?

MR TONER: Well, he’s – that – again, he is former Secretary Clinton’s lawyer. He is in possession of these. Again, because of these – as I tried to lay out, because of the request that he’s had to preserve those documents, he has asked to hold onto those. So in accordance with that, we simply cleared the site where they’re being held, made sure that it was a secure facility and capable of holding what could be potentially classified material.


QUESTION: Do you already have all the emails he has?

MR TONER: Yes, I believe so. I’ll double-check on that. Yeah, I mean, I believe it’s the same set of --

QUESTION: Like, if they weren’t preserved, you wouldn’t have them?

MR TONER: Right, right, exactly. Correct, yes, that’s correct.


QUESTION: I know you said you sent a physical security expert over.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: As the FBI investigates the setup, has the State Department been involved in any way in that investigation, the --

MR TONER: Not --

QUESTION: -- physical security expert been questioned in any way or --

MR TONER: Involved in – I’m sorry, just – on what, the – what --

QUESTION: The FBI is investigating the security of the setup of her server.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And as State Department was part of the initial assessment of whether it was secure, have they been involved in the FBI investigation?

MR TONER: I just don’t know. I don’t know if we’ve been in discussion with them or that’s been a separate – and it could well be, just because of the integrity of whatever investigation there is. I just don’t know the answer.


QUESTION: New topic?


QUESTION: On Japan. So the Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga quoted Prime Minister Abe in his conversation with Vice President Biden that the allegations about spying could shake – quote, “could shake the relationship of trust in our alliance and I would have to express serious concerns,” end quote. Do you have any reaction to that, especially given --

MR TONER: I don’t beyond what I’ve – sorry – what I’ve conveyed over the last couple of days. You’re talking about the conversation --

QUESTION: Between Vice President Biden and Prime Minister Abe.

MR TONER: Yeah. No, I mean, except that, as I said yesterday, the Government of Japan has conveyed their concern or their sentiments about this. I’ve been very circumspect in what I’ve said to address these allegations because I don’t want to speak to classified documents or allegedly classified documents, but we’ve been in touch with the Japanese. We’ve been talking through these issues, but we believe our relationship is strong.


MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, his quote kind of goes against that, that “it could shake the relationship of trust in our alliance.” And so does that --

MR TONER: Again, I – other than – I’m not going to – I mean, I’m not going to dispute his words. I’m just going to say that we believe the relationship is on strong footing. We believe going forward it’s only going to get stronger. This has been a bedrock of security and stability for the region and we expect it to remain so.

QUESTION: So he also requested --

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead. Finish.


MR TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: He also requested an investigation. In the phone conversation it’s been recorded that he’s requested an investigation. Are you aware of this request? Are you – is State going to be supporting this investigation?

MR TONER: I’m just not aware of it, so I don’t have anything to comment on it.


QUESTION: Malaysia?


QUESTION: While the Secretary was in Kuala Lumpur, did he at all discuss former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s conviction on sodomy charges that certainly continues to spark protest and outrage among local LGBT rights advocates? Was that all – was that discussed in any way yesterday in Kuala Lumpur?

MR TONER: Well, I can say that first of all, Secretary Kerry raised the issue of human rights in all of his meetings in Malaysia. But I can also confirm that when he spoke with Prime Minister Najib, he did raise Anwar’s case and ask that Anwar be afforded much needed medical attention. So it was raised.

QUESTION: And then as a follow-up to that, Malaysia, Singapore are among the countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized. Both countries are poised to join the TT – the TPP, rather, if ratified. Was that issue raised as well during his meetings in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore? And if so, how would that factor into ongoing negotiations over TPP that we continue to hear about?

MR TONER: Well, only – I mean, I don’t have a greater readout to give you. As I said, he did raise human rights. As we’ve been very clear from this podium and elsewhere, gay rights are human rights. And so in that context, we certainly believe that gay rights fall into the concerns that we would have going forward on any kind of trade agreement that our concerns be alleviated.

QUESTION: And then as a final question, as a follow-up to that, Congressman Meeks a couple of months ago told me that there’s, quote, “enforceable standards” within TPP. Based on your comments you just said and what has been discussed from the podium and elsewhere, should folks be confident that any final agreement with TPP will have those enforceable human rights standards?

MR TONER: I’m not an expert on the standards that are within the TPP proposal, but I do believe that he is correct in that there are human rights standards written into the agreement that we would expect to be upheld.




QUESTION: Yesterday a Kremlin spokesperson said Russia would not join the anti-ISIL coalition. Did the United States ask them? Have we tried to persuade them to join? Did Kerry bring this up with Lavrov? The readout seems like a one-way conversation. The U.S. – here’s our air campaign position, but did you say, “Hey guys, let’s join. What ideas do you have”?

MR TONER: Well, I wouldn’t --

QUESTION: If not, why not?

MR TONER: I wouldn’t characterize it as a one-way conversation. It was our readout and we don’t attempt ever to speak on behalf of whoever our interlocutor is in those – yeah, right --

QUESTION: Or what you understand them to say – your perception.

MR TONER: Right. It was a – I think it was a substantive conversation. Clearly, we’re seeking to move forward for a peaceful resolution in Syria – sorry, you’re talking about in Syria in terms of political resolution or anti-ISIL?

QUESTION: First anti-ISIL --


QUESTION: -- and I guess both --

MR TONER: Yeah, yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- more particularly.

MR TONER: Well, he did talk about the situation in Syria. And as I’ve stated very often, it’s a very complex, very fluid situation. We’re looking for a way forward, a political resolution. We’re clear that even though we want to see a political resolution consistent with the Geneva communique, we don’t see Assad as part of that. We’re trying to work through some of these issues with Russia. We talked about de Mistura’s efforts at the UN, and we certainly are supportive of those. We have a new envoy for Syria in place now and he’s getting acquainted with the issues.

To speak to the anti-ISIL efforts, we have a coalition right now that’s taking the fight to ISIL in northern Syria. I’m not going to speak for another government or why they may or may not join that coalition, but certainly, it’s an effort that has brought together a pretty diverse group of governments and different entities in common cause. Because of the depravity, because of the brutality of ISIL, I think most people recognize it as a severe, even existential threat. It’s in our national security interests, obviously, but it’s in the security interests of many. So we would always encourage more people to join us in the efforts to defeat and degrade ISIL, but I can’t speak on behalf of the government.

QUESTION: But also it would be --


QUESTION: -- it would be a positive thing for Russia to join. I mean, they have quite some – they have common cause --


QUESTION: -- with you on that. So, and they have of the military capabilities that would be nice to tap into. Don’t – do you --

MR TONER: They certainly do. And I would just – I would just characterize we’re – obviously, from today’s meeting and the meeting just a few days ago in Doha, we’re very much engaged with Foreign Minister Lavrov talking about all these issues and the possible way forward. I don’t want to get out ahead of what we may decide or how we may move on this, but we’re fully engaged.

Yeah, go ahead. I’m sorry, go ahead please.

QUESTION: One more on that meeting?


QUESTION: Can you talk about – did they discuss the situation in the Ukraine? Do you have anything further on that?

MR TONER: They did. They talked about – they did talk about Ukraine. They talked about the – so first of all, they did – there was – this is the one that was on the ASEAN ministerial sidelines, not the one in Doha a few days ago. They did discuss the situation in Ukraine and specifically the steps needed to see Minsk – the Minsk agreement fully implemented. And as I just was explaining, they also covered in depth the situation in Syria, to include the importance of finding a political solution, the need to continue to address the Assad regime’s possession and use – potential use of chemical weapons, obviously. And then they spoke a little bit about the upcoming UN General Assembly and plans to counter violent extremism. So it was a broad range of topics.

QUESTION: Did it seem like the ceasefire was closer or --

MR TONER: Ceasefire in?

QUESTION: The Minsk agreement.

MR TONER: In Minsk agreement. You know what? We’ve seen continued violations of the ceasefire. We’re still not quite there yet. We still haven’t seen the Russian separatists or, frankly, the Russian troops on the ground in eastern Ukraine fulfill their commitments to Minsk. So we continue to work that issue.


QUESTION: Yeah, and on Lavrov’s plan to defeat ISIL, and I’m wondering how much it’s in line with the U.S. strategy, current strategy to defeat ISIL, particularly on regards to the other dynamics in Syria such as Assad regime and the Kurdish forces on the ground. And how much do you see Russians’ plan in line with the U.S. plan?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, again, I think it’s important when you’re talking about the various forces at play in Syria, we recognize the fact that the Assad regime has showed, frankly, no capability or no willingness to go after ISIL, I-S-I-L. Our focus, frankly, has not – has been on supporting those groups in northern Syria, especially Turkoman, Syrian Arabs, Syrian Kurds who are taking the fight to ISIL, who are looking to push them out of northern Syria. We talked about the agreement with Turkey to use some of its airbases to really focus our efforts, airstrikes and what have you, to support these groups fighting in there.

We look to – we – I can’t really speak to the Russian proposals. But I think, as I tried to convey, this is – ISIL’s existence is something that brings together a broad range of governments, of entities out there, because of its brutality, because of its – the terror that it’s fomenting in this apolitical state that it’s created. But again, just to be very clear, this is something that the Assad government has created, this kind of stateless zone where ISIL can establish itself and thrive. And so we need a political resolution to what’s going on with the Assad regime right now in Syria. We also need to take the fight to ISIL. So we need to do both.

QUESTION: Sure. And on that, do you see any change on Russia regarding the Assad?

MR TONER: Again, we’re talking – and I don’t want to get out ahead of any decisions or any shifts, but we had a – the Secretary had a substantive conversation with Foreign Secretary Lavrov today. We’re going to continue to talk going forward.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: A follow-up on some other question. You just talk about the cruelty of the Assad regime and you have been talking about it for some time. Today on New York Times there was a article by the Human Rights – head of Human Rights Watch was talking about how the barrel bombs in Syria have to be stopped at least if you are not getting any kind of political solution anytime soon, that the U.S. Government has to use – given that U.S. has capability to do that like northern Syria or you are able to give the – give warnings to Assad regime, don’t you think it’s about time for U.S. to take some concrete steps against Assad regime in terms of barrel bombs?

MR TONER: In terms of --

QUESTION: The stopping.

MR TONER: Well, we’ve been, I think, very clear that we condemn the use of barrel bombs. I think you’re talking – just to be clear, you’re talking about the reports that the Assad regime has dropped, I think, over a thousand barrel bombs on the town of Zabadani is what you’re specifically addressing. Yeah.

QUESTION: And they have been dropping those bombs across Syria on opposition.

MR TONER: Yeah. No, look, I mean, we’re outraged that the Assad regime continues to use barrel bombs as an instrument of terror against the Syrian civilians. It’s been widely documented – obviously, the use – by the international community. No country should defend or excuse these kinds of tactics. And frankly, these reports of barrel bomb usage just highlight the daily horrors of what’s happening in Syria and just underscore again the need for a political process, for a political resolution to the situation, and ultimately to hold those responsible for these actions accountable.

QUESTION: Just to put a fine point.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Officials like former U.S. official Fred Hof has been talking about it as well --


QUESTION: -- but the argument is here that U.S. can impose or can use its leverage against the regime to stop these bombs by warning or using deterrence. Do you think that U.S. can do this?

MR TONER: Well, I think we’ve been – as we were with – clearly in addressing the threat of chemical weapons, we’ve been attempting to clearly convey and even curb the Assad regime’s use of these kinds of offensive weaponry that, frankly, just kill innocent civilians and bring untold horror into the – their daily lives. We continue to be concerned about it. We’re looking at ways to address it. I don’t want – again, don’t want to get out ahead of any decisions that haven’t been made yet, but it’s of great concern to us.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. Government plan to launch a formal complaint after an Iranian warship pointed a weapon at a U.S. Navy helicopter? It happened in the Gulf of Aden on July 25th.

MR TONER: Frankly, I’m not aware of the report. I’ll have to look into it.

QUESTION: Will you take that one?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure thing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: There are some reports – back to Syria by the way --

MR TONER: Have we left?

QUESTION: -- that the New Syrian Forces are fighting with al-Nusrah Front. And I was wondering if the fighting, combatting al-Nusrah is part of the New Syrian Forces mission. And how do they deal if they face the Nusrah Front soldiers on the ground?

MR TONER: Sorry. You’re saying – you’re asking – I just want to make sure I understand your question. You’re asking if al-Nusrah --

QUESTION: The New Syrian Forces are clashing with the --

MR TONER: Right, right.

QUESTION: -- al-Nusrah Front on the ground.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, we’ve been very clear that we’re looking at defensive actions to protect these forces. Our stance on al-Nusrah is very well known, and we’re going to continue to protect these forces, the NSA, as you refer to them, as they bring the fight to ISIL in northern Syria. So we’ve been providing them with, as I said, defensive strikes to help protect them where we can.

QUESTION: Sorry, a follow-up on that.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: So is – are you also bringing the fight now to al-Nusrah Front? Is that part of --

MR TONER: I said we’re – insofar as – insofar as they’re under threat – these anti-ISIL Syrian forces are under threat by al-Nusrah, we’re going to – and we said this – we’re going to take steps to protect them.

QUESTION: So the New Syrian Forces will not be taking – well, they, themselves, will not be attacking al-Nusrah Front. That’s not part of their mission.


QUESTION: It’s exclusively to fight ISIL.

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. It’s not part of their mission, but do they also share information or intelligence regarding the al-Nusrah or something on the --

MR TONER: I’m not going to speak to that from here.


QUESTION: Hi, thank you. I was wondering: Will the U.S. be making any sort of statement for the commemorating the 70th anniversary of the war? Will that come from the White House or State or --

MR TONER: 70th anniversary --

QUESTION: August 15, yeah.

MR TONER: Of the – yeah.


MR TONER: I’m sorry, of the war.


MR TONER: Yeah. Again, I don’t want to get out ahead in front of it, but certainly, I can expect some kind of public statement, whether it comes from the White House or here or both, often is the case.


MR TONER: Please, yeah.

QUESTION: It has been a while that we haven’t asked about the press freedom in this room. You usually talk about recently this strategic alignment or an alignment with Turkey and security issues. But one thing that – it seems they are getting more problematic in Turkey. In recent case, Istanbul prosecutor’s office prepared an indictment against 18 journalists in Turkey, asking up to seven years each for covering the previous terror attempt at the Istanbul courthouse. Do you have any comment on these cases?

MR TONER: Sure. We’ve made clear – and we made clear that we remain concerned about Turkish Government interference with freedoms of expression and assembly as well as the administration of justice, including due process. As you know, we believe media freedom and due process are key elements in every healthy democracy, and they’re enshrined in the Turkish constitution and in OSCE and other international agreements to which Turkey is and the United States have both, frankly, committed. We continue to urge Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold Turkey’s core values, and that includes democracy and universally recognized and fundamental freedoms.

QUESTION: Do you see any uptick in the recent, recent times? We have seen this case of insults by the president to hundreds of people, blocked websites, news websites, most of them pro-Kurdish websites, blocking even Twitter accounts of the journalists. So it is – clearly there is something, this trend is becoming --

MR TONER: I don’t know if I would call it an uptick. We have seen cases, as you cite, and others. And in each case, our position’s very clear.

Please, go ahead, in the back.



QUESTION: So there’s a Indian family in Oregon who’s – who took their child to the hospital and then U.S. authorities have taken legal custody of the child. Firstly, are you aware of this case? And secondly, have you – if so, have you had any information from India’s MEA on this?

MR TONER: Sorry, I’m not aware of the case. But just to recall, you said that it’s an Indian couple in Oregon?

QUESTION: Yeah. In Oregon, the child had an injury and they went to the hospital. And the authorities for whatever reason decided that it was a case of some sort of abuse and they’ve taken custody of the child and things like that. Have you heard about this?

MR TONER: I’m frankly not. I would point you to local authorities and, I mean, certainly – but the couple is not being detained or --

QUESTION: Yes, one of them was – has been arrested as well.

MR TONER: Okay. I mean, there’s – obviously there’s consular aspects to this, whether the Indian diplomats would get access to their detained citizens, but as to the particulars of the case, I really can’t speak to them from here. This is a local law enforcement issue.

QUESTION: Is this something that you could take and come back with more information, or --

MR TONER: I can see if I have anything more. Yeah, sure.


MR TONER: Please go ahead, and then you.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the reports – there’s a report out today from Bloomberg specifically that the U.S. intelligence community has informed Congress of evidence that Iran was sanitizing its suspected nuclear military site at Parchin in broad daylight days after agreeing to the nuclear deal with world powers. The new evidence, which is classified, was satellite imagery picked up by U.S. Government assets in mid and late July showed that Iran had moved bulldozers and other heavy machinery.

MR TONER: I’m not – I – I’ve not seen those reports until you just spoke to them. But we’ve been very clear that with the new joint agreement that we planned that you can’t hide nuclear activity. There are traces that remain. So – but I can’t speak to that specific instance, what you’re talking about. I’ll try to see if I have anything more, but – please.

QUESTION: So Japan will be meeting North Korea on the sidelines of the ASEAN forum. Do you support this meeting? Do you encourage this dialogue?

MR TONER: Well, I think what we would urge is any effort that would convince North Korea to address the international community’s concerns and to get back on a process where it comes – it addresses – as I said, the international community’s concerned about its nuclear program. We would support that, but --

QUESTION: I mean, specifically, they are going to be addressing the issue of abductees.

MR TONER: That’s another really important issue between Japan and North Korea. So hopefully North Korea will be supportive.

QUESTION: And you had indicated that – I mean, that the U.S. would not be meeting with North Korean counterparts.

MR TONER: I know.

QUESTION: And so that hasn’t changed?

MR TONER: No. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: I was wondering if the U.S. received extradition request of Fethullah Gulen from Turkey? And what’s the current status on that?

MR TONER: (A) I can’t speak to extradition requests of specific individuals. So I don’t have any more information on him is (b). Sorry. Anything else, guys? Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Hi. Also on Turkey.

MR TONER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Pentagon has said today that the U.S. has launched its first drone strike into northern Syria from I think Incirlik Air Base on Monday. Can you elaborate more on this?

MR TONER: I mean, I don’t have much more to say. The Pentagon is much more appropriate to speak to kind of the operational details of our collaboration and cooperation with Turkey. But I can confirm that. I mean, they obviously already have – we’re looking to, as we’ve been very clear, use Incirlik as a way to bring the fight to ISIL. It’s much closer – in northern Syria, rather. It’s much closer, and so we can really intensify our support for those anti-ISIL groups that are fighting in northern Syria in support of their efforts.

QUESTION: So you can confirm that Incirlik will be used to attack targets in northern Syria, not the other parts of Syria? It’s only northern Syria?

MR TONER: I mean, I think what we’ve said all along is that it’s going to be used as a platform to take the fight to strike in support of anti-ISIL forces, but strike ISIL targets mostly there in northern Syria.

QUESTION: Do you have any timetable to start to free – ISIL – start creating ISIL-free zone in northern --

MR TONER: First of all, no zone. (Laughter.) I have to be very clear about that. We’re taking the fight to ISIL. We’re trying to get them out of that whole region, eventually destroy and degrade them entirely.


MR TONER: So there’s this kind of continuing narrative that we’re creating some kind of zone or enclave or whatever you want to – or safe haven or whatever. That’s not our goal here. Our goal is to take the fight to ISIL, defeat them, and destroy them ultimately so that many of the people who have been displaced from that region can return and once again peace and stability can be re-established. But no timetable for when we’re really going to get into full swing. A lot of these operational details are still being worked out with the Turkish Government.

Please. And I think it’s the last one. I’m sorry, I have to run again today. I apologize.

QUESTION: Okay, on Sudan. According to Sudan’s deputy UN envoy, the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has – who is accused of war crime and genocide by the International Criminal Court, is planning to come to U.S. on September to speak on UN conference. And I was wondering if he can come to U.S. and if he can get U.S. visa, if he can speak in the UN, because U.S. was quite critical when he spoke in the African Union in June that he walked away without getting arrested.

MR TONER: Well, again, we don’t have any – we’ve seen reports that President Bashir plans to speak at the UN summit in September – Summit for Development. We don’t have any further information at this time. We can’t, frankly, talk about individual visa cases or disclose any details from it. We’re prohibited by law from doing so. More broadly, though, as you correctly stated, even though we’re not a party to the Rome statute of the ICC, we have strongly supported the ICC’s efforts to hold accountable those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur. So I’ll just leave it at that.

QUESTION: So if he comes to U.S., then I assume that according to your statement, he will be arrested?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to get out and speak to hypotheticals. We haven’t received any word that he’s intending to go there. And frankly, if we did, I couldn’t speak to it from here. Sorry about that.

Is that it, guys? Thanks so much.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:13 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 4, 2015

Tue, 08/04/2015 - 16:29

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 4, 2015

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1:35 p.m. EDT

MR TONER:  Hello, everybody.  Happy Tuesday, as this week crawls on.  No, just kidding, sorry.  (Laughter.)  Got to stay positive.  Anyway, welcome to the State Department.  A couple things at the top and then I’ll take your questions.

First off, I just wanted to call everyone’s attention to a new website called  So ever since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was finalized, you’ve seen and heard the Administration undertake a concerted campaign to ensure the American people understand precisely how this agreement would work.  And today we posted an annotated version of the full text of the JCPOA deal on  So in this version, the American people can read the deal for themselves, which we hope they will take the time to do, and they can also see what some of our lead negotiators have to say about precisely how various elements of the arrangement will work.  Lawmakers as well as the American people should judge this deal on its merits, and we are pleased to introduce another tool that will allow them to do so.

I also just want to briefly mention that we strongly condemn last night’s terrorist firebomb attack on an Israeli vehicle in East Jerusalem which resulted in a woman being badly burned.  We wish a swift recovery to her and call on local authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.  It is critical that restraint is exercised by all sides and that provocative actions and rhetoric cease.  We call on all sides to lower tensions, and obviously, we discourage any more violence.

With that, Lesley, do you want to go first?

QUESTION:  I can go first.  Mark, this is regarding the Reuters investigation into how the State Department handled its trafficking report this year.  The investigation found that the State Department inflated assessments of 14 strategically important countries in this year’s trafficking report.  Menendez has just called a hearing on it.  Can you confirm that Sarah Sewall will be appearing before that hearing this week?

MR TONER:  Yes, I can confirm that she’s going to be appearing at that hearing.

QUESTION:  What does it say about the State Department, about this report in which a lot of things are based – aid, judgments of countries, naming and shaming of countries – when such assessments are actually politicized and it’s not based really on what’s going on in the country?

MR TONER:  Sure.  Thanks for the question, Lesley.  You won’t be surprised if I disagree with some of the assumptions and allegations in your question.  Look, I’m not going to go in and re-litigate every analysis that we did as part of this report, Trafficking in Persons Report.  I think we’ve tried to talk about it.  I know Under Secretary Sewall was here at this podium and answered your questions about the report and its findings, but I can speak to the process and just stress and underscore that that process is – on how these rankings are decided – is iterative, it’s deliberative, and it’s fact-based, and it’s documented in the specific country narratives that are included in the report. 

The State Department staff in Washington and in embassies around the world work year-round to gather and evaluate information from foreign government officials, nongovernmental organizations, international organizations, as well as a full array of open sources.  And it’s only after that kind of rigorous analysis that – and discussion, frankly, between, obviously, the TIP office, the trafficking in persons office, also the relevant regional bureaus, and then the senior State Department leadership, then the Secretary of State does approve the final country rankings and determinations. 

But this idea that somehow this process is driven by anything other than a deliberative process analyzing the data and creating an objective report that is credible and stands alone – we stand by the process, frankly.  The goal here is to help nations improve their efforts to stop human trafficking and to fight modern slavery.  And that’s the goal, pure and simple, and we stand by the process by which we arrive at that – at those conclusions.  These are important rankings.  We understand that the world looks to them quite closely, and as such we need to ensure that the process stands on its own merits.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up?

MR TONER:  Yeah, please.  Sure thing.

QUESTION:  Would you – I mean, aside from being a tool to influence government policies, it’s also a reference that is relied upon by many people around the world.

MR TONER:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Would you not say that the integrity of that – the quality of that reference has been compromised by the perception of these accusations that persist – that have been persistent for the last month or so?

MR TONER:  Well, again, I mean, frankly, the TIP report is just one of the many reports that we do.  The other one, frankly, is the annual human rights report, which is – as everyone here well knows, is looked upon by the NGO community, international agencies, other governments, as a truly credible analysis of the human rights situation around the world.  We’re fortunate in that we have almost universal representation in countries around the world, so we’re able to do deep dives drawing on our embassy staff overseas, and again, with our considerable connections with the nongovernmental community, civil society, to really analyze and come up with credible information and then make – from that draw judgments. 

You’re absolutely right; the credibility of these reports hinges on the public perception that there’s a process in place that is not influenced by political considerations or any of that.  And all I can do is vouch for that from here.  I’ve spoken to it.  John Kirby has spoken to it.  Frankly, the Secretary has spoken to it.  Under Secretary Sewall has spoken to it.  But we get that and we understand that.

QUESTION:  So you agree that the perception has taken a hit recently and that therefore the integrity also?

MR TONER:  I think – I mean, I acknowledge the fact that when you do have stories coming out that say that there – political considerations have biased the report or have influenced unduly the report’s conclusions, sure, I mean, you’ve got to accept the fact that people are going to read that and take it at face value.


QUESTION:  Senator Menendez is holding a hearing on Thursday about what he has long suspected was politicization of the rankings for the U.S.’s other goals.  And last Monday he noted in particular the rankings of Cuba and of Malaysia.  How does the under secretary and others who will be working with her plan to persuade him that the change in these two countries’ rankings, among others, was not the result of other foreign policy goals of this Administration?

MR TONER:  Sure.  Well, look, I’m not going to preview her testimony.  All I can say is that she’s an expert in this field; she brings considerable experience and knowledge, and understands how this process works probably better than anyone.  So in that regard, it’s simply another opportunity for us to engage with Congress, try to answer their questions as frankfully – frankfully? – frankly, thank you, self-correcting – frankly and honestly as we possibly can and attempt to address their concerns.  But again, we stand by the process.

QUESTION:  But he does note, for example, in the case of Malaysia, and I’m quoting the senator, “Members of the parliament, the legal profession, and human rights activists have urged the United States to support their efforts and to maintain the Tier 3 ranking which they tell us Malaysia deserves.  Today we have failed them,” closed quote.  In that case, is the Administration willing to argue that there was enough proactive progress made on Malaysia’s part given that it had been moved down last year really as a symbol of the fact that it wasn’t doing enough to get out of the Tier 2 Watch category?

MR TONER:  Well, look, I don’t want to, as I say, go country by country, although Malaysia has obviously been one that’s been targeted, if you will, as – by certain news organizations and others in Congress.  But we stand behind the results or the findings and the judgment of the report.  It’s not to say – and I think Under Secretary Sewall spoke to this – it’s not to say that everything is solved if you move up in a tier by any means.  Even Tier 1 countries have work to do.  We all have work to do.  I think it notes the progress that has been made on the ground, and there’s a very analytical process and it’s done individually.  We stress that, that it’s not done in relationship with how Malaysia works with other countries or how it fits into a broader – we look at these very country-specific and country-focused.  And it’s a straightforward assessment of the situation, but it’s not to say your work here is done; everybody can – has areas of improvement.

QUESTION:  Well, how does the State Department then rebuild the credibility around the report?  I mean, it’s not just --

MR TONER:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  -- Senator Menendez; it is human rights organizations who are also very concerned that something that can be used to hold countries accountable essentially has been eroded.  And again, I’m going to use the case of Malaysia because it was involved in these talks which have stalled for the time being on trade, something which is, of course, a very key interest of this Administration.

MR TONER:  Look, I mean, you can use that argument with many countries around the world, that other factors weigh in.  And certainly, as I said, I’ve used other examples – the Human Rights Report as well.  It’s why, frankly, when we make these kinds of assessments, we really have to firewall them and ensure that the process is deliberative and it’s not influenced by other considerations, shall we say.  All we can do, if your question is how do we restore the credibility of this, is, frankly, defend it in public or with Congress to continue our outreach to the NGO community and continue to make the case that this – we believe the findings in this report are valid.

QUESTION:  Does the fact that there has been no permanent director of the office for the better part of the past year in any way make the office more vulnerable to political pressure within the government?  Because let’s be honest, people do have their own agendas and will try to put that agenda into something such as a report that does have this level of credibility.

MR TONER:  Well, look, I’d just say that we believe – and clearly, your interest endorses that – that the TIP office performs a critical function here at the State Department.  We certainly welcome the White House announcement that Susan Amato has been named as the nominee for the director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking.  And we look forward to working with Congress to ensure that she can get started as soon as possible.  Obviously, we want that kind of leadership for a variety of reasons within the TIP office. 

Please, go ahead.  Yeah.

QUESTION:  But Mark, can I just come back --

MR TONER:  Yeah, sure.

QUESTION:  -- to this?  Because who ultimately makes that?  You said the Secretary signs off on it.  But if your humans rights experts are telling the State Department that they should – these countries should not be upgraded, that this is still a problem – I mean, in Cuba just a few weeks ago, from this podium John Kirby said that there’d been 100 people that had been detained in Cuba.  I mean, how can that be an improvement?  But most of all, if your experts in this department and on – and in those countries are saying this hasn’t improved, and that differs from what John Kerry is saying or his deputy or other people, how – who ultimately – should they not be listening to the people on the ground?

MR TONER:  Of course that’s one source, and obviously a critical source.  I do want to note with Cuba we were talking about human rights there, and obviously we spoke out against those detentions.  I think those people were subsequently released.  But returning to your overarching question, absolutely right that we look to nongovernmental organizations – I just spoke to that – international organizations, frankly, foreign government officials, and as I said, a full array of open sources in making these determinations.  But as I said, it’s a process.  We draw from a lot of different sources before we ultimately come up with a decision – an assessment, and then a decision.  And ultimately it’s the TIP office that – with the input of the regional bureaus, but the TIP office that ultimately makes that designation.  And as I said, the final decisions are the Secretary’s approval – are subject to the Secretary’s approval.


QUESTION:  Can we change topics?

MR TONER:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Can we change topics?

MR TONER:  Do you have another – are you --

QUESTION:  No, I wanted to switch topics.

MR TONER:  Okay.  Let’s go Said, and then you.  Sorry.

QUESTION:  Sorry for being late.  I don’t know if you addressed this at the top.

MR TONER:  No worries.  We’re just talking about --

QUESTION:  On the Iran deal, as you brief right now, the Israeli prime minister is addressing Jewish Americans and Americans at large basically to sort of mobilize against the deal.  And so – and I wonder if you any reaction to that.  Are you aware of it?

MR TONER:  You just missed me --

QUESTION:  So sorry.

MR TONER:  No, that’s okay.  There’s a new website up called that talks about – actually has the JCPOA, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action up on the web.  So any American or, frankly, anyone can read it for themselves.


MR TONER:  I think we just need to be as transparent and open as possible.  We understand there are critics out there of the deal, and we’ve been – as I said, we’ve – certainly the Secretary, Under Secretary Sherman, Secretary Moniz have been very, very forward-leaning in trying to convince the American people and certainly Congress, and then also, as you saw with the Secretary’s trip to the GCC, other countries in the region, and around the world, that this is a good deal.  And we’ll continue to make that case, but this is partly a matter of free speech.  Others are certainly – have every right to make the case otherwise, but it won’t sway us in our determination.

QUESTION:  So you’re not bothered by the fact that a foreign leader is basically addressing and sort of pushing, if you will, Americans to sort of stand against a deal that you worked so hard for?  That does not bother you?

MR TONER:  Well, again, the Secretary has been very clear.  We recognize Israel prime – the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s disagreement, I guess, about the deal.  There are other voices in Israel who think it is a good deal.  The American people, and as we would hope for people anywhere, can look at a variety of sources.  We feel, however, we – and by “we” I mean the entire P5+1 – have made and will continue to make a compelling case that this deal is the best deal and, frankly, shuts off every pathway for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION:  The fact that --

MR TONER:  One more and then – sorry.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  The fact that the announcement was made on Saturday, a day after it was announced by the White House that the President is going to address the nation tomorrow about the Iran deal --

MR TONER:  Thank you for promoting that.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  So --

MR TONER:  I should have mentioned that.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Okay.  So do you think that there is sort of an underhanded effort to sort of preempt the President before he speaks to the nation that (inaudible) --

MR TONER:  I don’t want to – I don’t want to make any judgments or characterizations in that regard.  I just think, as you noted, the President is going to be out himself tomorrow speaking on this subject.  Certainly look forward to that.  And again, it’s just an – clearly, we’re – “we” being the United States Government – are fully engaged on this issue. 


MR TONER:  Yeah.  Sorry, Said.

QUESTION:  The – there are reports that Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA has been quoted saying that the agency is barred from revealing to the U.S. any details of the deals – any deals it’s made with Tehran.  But my question is:  I thought that it had been said from this podium and also from the White House podium that you don’t have the actual documents but that you’ve either been briefed on the documents or have viewed the documents and then gone to Congress and briefed them on that.  Is that correct?

MR TONER:  My understanding is we have been briefed on the documents.  We’ve actually not laid eyes on the documents.  If that’s incorrect, I’ll – but I think that’s correct.  So we’ve been fully briefed and our experts are comfortable with the – with those documents and those deals, or those agreements.  And again, just to widen the lens a little bit, it’s important to note that this is true – these types of agreements are not just with Iran; they’re not some kind of secret deal.  The IAEA has this with every country, and so it’s not – the perception that there’s somehow some kind of secret, behind-the-scenes deal is incorrect.  And like I said, we’ve been fully briefed on what’s inside those agreements or what those agreements are about.

QUESTION:  But how do you kind of try to persuade the American people to go – to be supportive of this deal if there is a portion of it that prohibits the U.S. from knowing some of the most crucial details?  I mean, are you confident that you’ve been briefed on all the most crucial details and that’s what you’re telling the American people, that you don’t need to see the documents, you know everything that’s in there?

MR TONER:  Yeah.  I mean, basically we are confident.  Again, this is not unique to Iran.  These – the IAEA has these types of deals with countries around the world.  I don’t know the exact number; they have the same kind with the U.S.

QUESTION:  But Iran would be a unique --

MR TONER:  What’s that?

QUESTION:  But it would be unique in Iran – in the sense that their leaders have said certain things about other countries in the past.

MR TONER:  Well, again, this is – these are – it’s very common for these deals to – these types of agreements to exist.  There’s not anything secretive about them.  We’ve been briefed on them.  We’re confident that we understand that these are good – these agreements are fine.  Congress has what we have, which is basically all the materials