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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 19, 2016

Tue, 07/19/2016 - 18:12

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 19, 2016

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2:18 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: How are you? Matt back from his sojourn in the White House. Exciting.


MR TONER: Exciting.

QUESTION: Not really. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: Anyway, anyway, good to have you back.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Welcome, everyone, to the State Department. Just a couple of things very briefly at the top.

First of all, an update on Secretary Kerry – obviously spent the day, as you know, in London and the U.K. He did meet with the new U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, and he also met with United Nations Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. That was followed by a bilateral meeting with the new U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Afterwards, he met with both Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, rather, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier, French Foreign Minister Ayrault, Italian Foreign Minister Gentiloni, as well as EU High Representative Federica Mogherini also in London, where they discussed a range of multilateral issues. Finally, I understand Secretary Kerry is ending his day with a working dinner, again hosted by Foreign Secretary Johnson.

I also want to announce some upcoming travel. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Vienna, Austria on July 22nd to join EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and the U.S. delegation in Vienna for the first day of High-Level Talks at the Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol.

The meeting is aimed at making progress on a hydrofluorocarbon phasedown amendment for adoption later this year. Achieving such an amendment would build upon the climate change success achieved last year in Paris and is one of the most consequential and cost-effective means the global community can take this year to combat climate change.

Secretary Kerry will then travel to Paris, France on July 22nd, where he will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss ongoing efforts to advance a two-state solution. He’ll also from there travel to Vientiane, Laos from July 25th to 26th to participate in the ASEAN Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers Meeting, the ASEAN-U.S. Ministerial Meeting, and the Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial Meeting. At all of these ASEAN meetings, the Secretary will discuss the region’s security architecture and shared transnational challenges including maritime security; illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing; the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula; and the South China Sea.

Finally, Secretary Kerry will visit Manila, the Philippines, from July 26th-27th, where he will meet with President Rodrigo Duterte as well as Secretary of Foreign Affairs Perfecto Yasay to discuss the full range of our cooperation with the new Filipino administration.

It’s quite a trip, and I know some of you will be joining us on it. That’s all I have. Matt, over to you.

QUESTION: Right. Where to begin?

MR TONER: Where to begin. Yes.

QUESTION: Where to begin? Well, let’s start with Turkey since this came up at the White House.

MR TONER: Sure thing. Of course.

QUESTION: And your colleague at the White House kind of threw this over to you and the Justice Department, so I wanted to – he said – I wanted to follow up on it.


QUESTION: He said that the Turks this morning had submitted some documents electronically relating to Mr. Gulen and his status and their potential eventual extradition request. And he also said that these documents were now being reviewed by the Department of State and the Department of Justice. Can you explain to us what those documents are that you’re reviewing? If they don’t amount to a formal extradition request, what exactly are they?

MR TONER: Sure. So first of all, you’re right and Josh is certainly correct to say that we did receive materials which we are in the process of analyzing under the treaty. As Josh stated, I’m not – also not in a position at this point in time to judge or to say specifically what those documents encompass or whether they constitute a formal extradition request.

What I can say is, as we know, as we all know, that there’s a well-defined, well-established process that’s in place that governs these types of interactions, and we’re looking at these documents now. We’ll update you all as appropriate whether – if we determine that they are a formal extradition request, because as we’ve said, we’re waiting for that formal extradition request to come through. And we’re also going to continue working closely with Turkey to clarify and work through the process.

I don’t think I can stress enough that this is not an overnight process. That’s just not how these processes work. So this is going to take some time, but we’re going to stand by the extradition treaty and we’re going to act in accordance with the extradition treaty. I just can’t say – you want me to definitively state what these documents are. We’re still in the process of analyzing what they are.

QUESTION: Well, did they tell you, or did they just dump them on you and say, here, look at this, here’s 50 pages --

MR TONER: Again, I think they were --

QUESTION: -- but we’re not going to tell you what it is?

MR TONER: My understanding --

QUESTION: Didn’t it come with a subject line saying --

MR TONER: My understanding is that they were delivered – first of all, even though we have spoken a little bit about the fact that we had not received a formal extradition request yet from the Turkish Government, as you all know, we don’t normally share the details of extradition requests, so this is an uncomfortable space to be in as a spokesperson. That said – so I don’t want to necessarily --

QUESTION: Are you asking for sympathy? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: Just a little understanding.


MR TONER: No, no, of course. Let me finish, Matt. So I don’t want to attempt to characterize what these documents are until we’ve made a final evaluation that we believe they constitute a formal extradition request according to the treaty that we have with Turkey. We’re still in the process of analyzing that. I don’t want to characterize how the Turks have characterized them. I don’t want to attempt to speak on behalf of them.


QUESTION: Okay, but in the extradition treaty --

MR TONER: Of course, yes.

QUESTION: -- is there something that’s less than a formal extradition request, or is there --

MR TONER: There can be --

QUESTION: Does the treaty lay out a process by which --

MR TONER: There can be --

QUESTION: -- first they give you something that is less than a formal request and then --

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, and I would refer you to the DO – Department of Justice to speak more definitively on this, or frankly, anyone with a legal background or a legal degree, which I don’t – neither of which I have. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Anyone but you. I get that.

MR TONER: No, but my understanding, Matt, is there are other steps and other documents that can be put forward short of a formal extradition request.

QUESTION: And what would those – what might those be?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t --

QUESTION: I’m not asking what they are.

MR TONER: Yeah, that’s okay.

QUESTION: What is – but what are the kinds of things that they might submit that have not – that don’t rise the level of a formal extradition request?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to get into the characterizing what we may have received. I think we’re just in the process of evaluating whether these --

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: -- whether these are a formal request or not.

QUESTION: All right.


QUESTION: And then related to this but not on the extradition --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- and this will be it for me.


QUESTION: There have been an enormous number of arrests and firings in Turkey. We’re talking like 20,000 civil servants, 8,000 police, 9,000 troops, every single dean of every pubic university in the country. What do you make of this? Is this not a little bit concerning to you, or is this something that you think is warranted by the attempted coup?

MR TONER: Sure. Good question and a fair question. What we have said and what our assessment continues to be is that in the aftermath of Friday’s dramatic events, where the democratically elected Government of Turkey and the people of Turkey felt under threat that their government was about to be overthrown by a military coup, it is understandable and justified, frankly, that the government would take actions to go after the perpetrators, to conduct a thorough investigation into what happened, and really to try to provide for the security of the Turkish people in light of, as I said, what was a – an intended coup of the government, the democratically elected government. So I cannot overstate the sense of the Turkish Government and the Turkish people right now that they truly felt and truly feel under threat.

At the same time, the types of arrests and roundups and that you cite have not gone unnoticed by us. We have urged the Government of Turkey to maintain calm and stability in the wake of Friday’s events, but also – or we’ve also urged them to uphold the democratic standards that the Turkish constitution provides for, as well as rule of law.

So just to sum up, we support completely the efforts to bring the perpetrators of the coup to justice. We just also caution against any kind of overreach that goes beyond that.

QUESTION: You don’t – so you don’t think that this is overreach? I mean, you’re talking tens of thousands of people here. Surely if they were all involved – I mean, if they were all involved in this, one would assume that the coup would have gone a different way, no? I mean, do you really think that this is – that this kind of a reaction is warranted and that is justified, as you said, as in --

MR TONER: In light of --

QUESTION: In going after the coup plotters, has the Government of Turkey, to this point, since Friday, upheld the democratic standards and rule of law that you are calling for them to --

MR TONER: Look, Turkey is an ally; Turkey’s a partner; Turkey’s a friend. We understand the tremendous stress that the government has gone through. But in all of our conversations – in all of our conversations, whether it’s through Secretary Kerry – and also, as you know, President Obama spoke with President Erdogan earlier today – we have also stressed the need to avoid any escalation and avoid any efforts or any actions, rather, that would increase tensions and, frankly, jeopardize the strong democratic tradition that clearly Turkey’s citizens hold dear and were out in the street defending on last Friday.


MR TONER: Yeah. Sure, Lesley.

QUESTION: -- can you confirm a meeting between the Turkish ambassador and Blinken today, please?

MR TONER: I believe that meeting took place earlier today. I don’t have a readout.

QUESTION: Was that – what was that – was that meeting about these materials that you’re talking about or --

MR TONER: I’m not clear, Lesley, how those materials were transmitted to us. Josh said electronically. I have no reason to doubt that.

QUESTION: Well, was it more to discuss those materials or was it more to reiterate the advice that you’ve been talking about in terms of being mindful?

MR TONER: I think it was larger than that, Lesley – or sorry, Elise. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Okay. We’re interchangeable. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: I’m sorry, Elise. See, you’re not here enough that I don’t get to talk to you all the time. I apologize. Anyway, so I don’t have a full readout. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Deputy Secretary Blinken after the meeting. I think going into it the expectation was that it’s going to be a broader meeting than just talking about the extradition request, obviously. That’s important. Clearly it’s on the minds of the Turkish Government in the aftermath of Friday’s events.

But beyond that, as I said, we are offering our support to Turkey’s investigation. We’re also offering our support and advice to the Turkish Government as they attempt to go after the perpetrators of Friday’s coup attempt. So it’s a broader – and also, frankly, the fact that this week – later this week we’re going to have a large counter-Daesh or counter-ISIL meeting, and Turkey is an important partner and ally in that effort.


QUESTION: Is the minister – from what I understand that the minister --

MR TONER: Yes --



MR TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The foreign minister is not going, attending any more.

QUESTION: He canceled his visit.

MR TONER: So I have heard those rumors as well. I’d have to refer you to the Turkish Government to speak to who is actually going to represent the delegation here on Thursday.

QUESTION: Who requested the meeting?

MR TONER: Today? I don’t know. I believe --

QUESTION: Can you --

MR TONER: I’ll check.

QUESTION: And then can I ask

QUESTION: You believe – what were you going to say?

MR TONER: No, I’ll check. I don’t want to believe, I want to be sure.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on the --

MR TONER: Of course, Lesley.

QUESTION: -- thing on the – Erdogan has asked parliament to consider a death penalty. Do you – is this something that the U.S. would support, given that it --

MR TONER: It’s not for just to support or not support. That’s a question for the – for Turkey’s political system to debate.

QUESTION: But the EU specifically said that this is a deal-breaker if they go ahead with this.

MR TONER: That’s – again, that’s for the EU to also to comment on. We don’t have, frankly, a role to play or anything to say about whether another country would pursue that option.


QUESTION: Thank you, Mark. On North Korea.

MR TONER: Are we done with this?


MR TONER: Let’s finish Turkey. Yeah, let’s finish Turkey. Turkey, Turkey. And then we’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: Mark, on Friday I was wondering at what time Secretary Kerry was informed about the coup attempt in Turkey?

MR TONER: You’ve – I mean, he was overseas at the time. I’m trying to remember where he was exactly on Friday. He was in Moscow.

QUESTION: Moscow, yeah.

MR TONER: So you’ve challenged by ability to calculate international time zones. I’m not, frankly, sure. I’d have to look into it and get back to you. I mean, look, suffice it to say that as this story broke – and much of it broke over social media – the Secretary, as was the President, was immediately briefed about what we knew what was happening on the ground. And I spoke a little bit about this yesterday when somebody – I think a Turkish reporter – asked me why were we so slow in responding.

Well, look, I mean, frankly, we were – within a couple of hours, we had, from the State Department, had issued a very strong statement in support of the democratically elected Government of Turkey, and our – I think our embassy had done that even – had issued a similar statement even earlier than that. But suffice it to say that it was quite a chaotic and confused situation on the ground and so it took a little bit of time for all of us to understand what was happening.

QUESTION: Mark, you said --

MR TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: You said the State Department released a strong statement, but actually, Secretary Kerry said that we support democratically elected – no, he said that – would support stability and peace in Turkey. He didn’t mention anything about democratically elected government. After a couple hours of Kerry, President Obama said U.S. support democratically elected Turkey. Kerry’s first comment didn’t mention anything about Turkey democratically elected government.

MR TONER: I think you might be – and I’m not sure – but you might be referring to a brief --

QUESTION: So my question is --

MR TONER: Let me finish.

QUESTION: Yeah, please.

MR TONER: You might be referring to a brief question he got from a reporter on his way out, when, again, we were still assessing what was actually happening on the ground. But if you go back, you’ll see that there was a statement issued in Secretary Kerry’s name that supported the democratically elected Government of Turkey. But please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Basically, the first reaction of U.S. wasn’t anything to do with the democratically elected government; rather, supporting the peace and stability in Turkey. And after three hours, we started to hear the rumors that the coup is failing, and then I heard the statement from President Obama. I’m just saying a couple of stories that I’ve been reading in the news – yeah.

MR TONER: I’m aware of the stories and let me just --

QUESTION: That’s – and --

MR TONER: And I frankly appreciate you raising these stories because it’s absurd, some of the allegations that are out there, we’ve seen in some of the Turkish media, but in other media as well.

QUESTION: And the Turkish Government. It’s not just the Turkish media, Mark.

MR TONER: Well, regardless of who is putting them out there, it’s absurd to think that the United States was somehow complicit or in any way connected to the events of Friday. I can reject that categorically, wholeheartedly, and just say that this is a NATO ally, it is a partner, it is a democratically elected government, it is a strong democracy, and we stand with and stood with Turkey during that crisis.

QUESTION: And you said that the rumors were already on social media when Secretary Kerry spoke, and it quite difficult for me to understand that U.S. is hearing at the same time as the other people on social media. So you describe Turkey as a strong NATO ally, that the --

MR TONER: Look, I mean, social media – I don’t want to get into a discussion of – I mean, we get our information from a variety of sources, including social media, and I think anybody would say today that very often, social media can be ahead of the curve. It depends on the circumstances and it depends on the country, but very often, people who are there on the ground reporting back, it is a – to dismiss it as a source of information, I think, would be foolish for any government or any person to do.

QUESTION: And Turkish PM today said regarding the Mr. Gulen, we have no doubt on the source of this coup attempt, and he said that I would like to ask my American friends, did you look for evidence when demanding the terrorist who carried out the September 11 attack. So he was quite strong that they sure about this – it’s related with the Gulen, and they also said that U.S. did not look for evidence when they were going after the terrorist as a first reaction after the attacks.

MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to – I mean, I’m not going to re-litigate how we investigated the 9/11 attacks, but I can assure you that we were certain, based on the evidence that we had, of who was behind the attacks. That’s a separate issue and I don’t want to even go there. But when you’re talking about the possible involvement of Gulen in last Friday’s events, we have been clear almost from the very first hours when these allegations began to emerge there is an established process for this. There is an extradition treaty that we have had since 1979, I believe, with the Government of Turkey. And the Secretary was very clear in saying that once we receive a formal request, we will look at the evidence, we will judge the evidence, we will determine based on the evidence – not driven by political motivation, not driven by emotion, but based on the evidence we receive, we will make a determination as to the extradition.

QUESTION: And my last question.

MR TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: I was wondering how would you describe Mr. Gulen. Like, is he only a religious leader for you who runs schools in U.S. and charity organizations, and without any – holding any power in Turkey or in U.S.? How would you describe him?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, I’m not sure it’s incumbent on us to describe what his activities are, the extent of his activities are, his involvement with events in Turkey. He is here, thus far, legally. He runs a variety of operations from where he lives in Pennsylvania.

QUESTION: When you say “variety,” would you name some?

MR TONER: I’m not going to – I mean, look I’m not – no, I’m just not going to --

QUESTION: Do you seem his as a – but do you see him – it is a legitimate --

MR TONER: I mean, I think --

QUESTION: Do you see him as a political figure with a constituency inside Turkey? I mean, he’s living here --

MR TONER: I mean, I think --

QUESTION: He’s living here under – he has a green card.

MR TONER: Right. Correct.

QUESTION: But would you consider him kind of a political – here on political asylum? Like, what is your feeling about why --

MR TONER: Well, I mean, first of all – sure, sure. Let me – so first of all, political asylum is a very defined category. He’s never asked for asylum, so that’s off the table. Look, I mean, he is, by any assessment, someone who is in the public space in Turkey. He is someone who some Turks are – follow or are interested by him. But I think all we can do to assess him is to say, is he doing anything illegal? Not to our knowledge. Is he involved in last Friday’s events? Well, we’ll evaluate the evidence that’s presented to us, but I don’t want to attempt to characterize his behavior as anything other than what it is.

QUESTION: I understand. This isn’t the first – like, this --

MR TONER: Yeah. That’s true.

QUESTION: -- attempted coup notwithstanding, this is not the first time that the Turks have raised concerns --

MR TONER: Concerns, yeah.

QUESTION: -- or questions about his political activities.


QUESTION: Has there ever been any kind of move to talk to him or investigate any of these allegations?

MR TONER: To talk to Gulen himself?

QUESTION: Or his associates --


QUESTION: -- to investigate any of these allegations, because they’re longstanding allegations that he’s trying to subvert the political process in Turkey.

MR TONER: Sure. Honestly, Elise, I’m not sure what our history of contact has been with him. I can try to get more information for you.

QUESTION: Can you – but can you also take the question about these longstanding allegations that the Turks have --


QUESTION: -- and whether also you think that whether some of these – (a) has there ever been any investigation into him and (b) do – is there any – do you think that there’s any validity to some of the allegations that the Turkish Government is using the attempted coup as a pretext to go after him, despite the evidence?

MR TONER: Well, that’s – so I can answer that, and how I would answer that is we certainly hope not.

QUESTION: I mean against him in particular.

MR TONER: You can’t – right, no, I mean – and that’s what I think – so first of all, I will take your question about any previous contacts that we’ve had with him or concerns that we’ve had with him, and I’ll try to get you an answer to that.

But in answer to whether the Erdogan government is using him as some kind of scapegoat or using the coup as a way to target him or go after him, that’s why it’s so important that we go and work through the established process as dictated by the extradition treaty, and we’ve been clear that that is an evidence-based process. So it’s not for us to pass judgment on what may be behind the motivations and whether it’s legitimate or not. We just have to look at the evidence and make a judgment based on that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: I’ll get – yeah, sure. Go ahead, Matt, and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: It’s still on Turkey, yeah.



QUESTION: Just follow up what you just said, Mark. You said that you are going to evaluate according to the documents presented to you about the Gulen’s involvement with the coup. So you have been presented some evidence regarding tying him to the coup?

MR TONER: So I’m not sure – I think you might have just walked in; I apologize if you didn’t hear it. So at the top of the briefing I just talked about – and Josh actually spoke to this at White House. We have received some documents, materials --

QUESTION: I know that. But the question is --

MR TONER: So we’re not – yeah, please.

QUESTION: Was it also the evidence within that documents that tie him to coup?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think we’re still analyzing what these documents entail and whether they entail or constitute a formal extradition request.

QUESTION: You also said that you have offered your sources for the investigation, you also said yesterday --

MR TONER: Resources.

QUESTION: Resources. Has Turkey communicated with you? Are they interested in --

MR TONER: That’s a good question. I’ll try to get an answer for that, whether they’ve followed up on that with us.

Matt, did you have other – are we off Turkey? And then I’ll get to --

QUESTION: Yeah, two extremely brief ones. The Secretary’s remarks in Moscow that you were talking about before, did he – maybe I misheard because I wasn’t here, but did he not say that he hoped for continuity? Was that one of the words that he used?

MR TONER: I believe so.


MR TONER: And I apologize. I wasn’t actually here. But I think that’s the phrasing. I don’t have it front of me, Matt, so it’s partly --

QUESTION: Okay. All right. And then just lastly, and I think you’re probably going to refer me elsewhere, but I have to ask about --

MR TONER: Sure, of course.

QUESTION: -- Incirlik and the power situation there.


QUESTION: Literally the power situation there.

MR TONER: Yeah. (Laughter.) No, that’s very true.

QUESTION: The electrical power. I’m told that this is – while normally would be handled by DOD, that it has in fact become a political, diplomatic thing because of the situation and the tensions there, and that really it’s going to require a political determination by Erdogan or one of his people on the civilian side to get this back up and running. In light of that, I’m just wondering if this is something that you’re aware of that might have come up between the President and – the two presidents in their call, or if this is something the embassy is working on.

MR TONER: So I’m not aware that it came up in the actual call between President Obama and President Erdogan. My understanding is that the power was indeed cut. It was running and it may still be running on its backup generator, and has been able to sustain operations based on that generator power.

QUESTION: Yeah, but for how long?

MR TONER: Yeah, that’s a good – I was just about to say --

QUESTION: The power should be running out soon, right?

MR TONER: So right, there are redundancy measures in place specifically for this kind of outage or this kind of instance, and we’re working through several options to kind of – to continue, rather, those generator options if they’re unable to restore commercial power.

QUESTION: Such as?

MR TONER: I don’t have the specifics. And that – here’s almost where I’d have to --


QUESTION: But Mark, do you think it’s been --

MR TONER: (Laughter.) But, sorry, I just --

QUESTION: Windmills?

MR TONER: So just to speak broadly, and then I really will refer you to the Department of Defense, who is obviously on top of this and concerned with it – along with, as you noted, our embassy is providing whatever assistance they can provide – but U.S. Central Command has made appropriate adjustments to operations, obviously to minimize any impact that this might have on overall counter-ISIL operations.

QUESTION: But Mark, do you think it’s been deliberately kept off?

MR TONER: I don’t think – again, I don’t have a determination one way or the other. I don’t believe so, no.

QUESTION: Really? Because, I mean, we’ve heard from some corners of the government that they do think it’s – whether it’s intentional or not, it’s really causing you a problem, and if they don’t put it on – they don’t put the power back on soon, that you’ll have to make other arrangements. I mean, it sounds – I don’t know if it’s being overblown, but it sounds like a pretty serious – if they’re --

MR TONER: No, I would say that power supply is always critical.

QUESTION: Is it an issue of power supply, or is the – are the Turks blocking your ability to get stuff done out of Incirlik that could affect the coalition?

MR TONER: Well, so first of all, to my knowledge and understanding, it is simply a matter of power supply that was cut off. I believe --

QUESTION: Do you think it’s solely based on the actions of the attempted coup, or is this now – are they holding Gulen hostage something?

MR TONER: I believe – no, no. Our assessment is that it was based on the – it was a result of the coup attempt. But I don’t have specific details. I’d refer you to the Department of Defense, who are really keeping abreast of this.

But in answer to your broader question, well, of course. I mean, if there’s no power at Incirlik or if we remain on generated power – generator power – that’s going to be a problem going forward. But again, U.S. Central Command is looking at that and obviously has contingency plans in place to address that.

QUESTION: I understand about the contingency plans, but it seems like it’s more of a – I mean, I’m wondering if – is it purely a power issue or is this now a diplomatic issue that needs to be dealt with by the highest levels of government?

MR TONER: Again, my understanding is that it’s a power issue.


QUESTION: At first, the coup attempt was being described as amateurish, poorly planned, et cetera, and it never had a chance. But today a different version is emerging that it came quite close to succeeding. So I had a two-part question. One, what is your assessment of it? Was it amateurish or was it something very serious? And the second part of it is to the extent that it was very serious and the Turkish Government – the individuals in it – feel that they are threatened, are you concerned that in order to bolster their standing and their position within the country, they’ll appeal to anti-American sentiment, which is widespread in the Muslim world – that that will be something they’ll resort to?

MR TONER: So the first – answer to your first question is we don’t know. Turks are looking at it, investigating this. I mean, look, it was clearly serious enough to cause a major disruption and, for at least a number of hours, cause grave concern that the democratically elected Government of Turkey had been overthrown or was about to be overthrown. So, I mean, it was a serious incident or effort in that sense. But I think the investigation – let’s let it play itself out, and as we get more information, we’ll have a better assessment. But that’s really for the Turkish authorities to speak to.

Your second question was about whether anti-Americanism is a concern. It’s always a concern. We --

QUESTION: But the – that they feel really threatened, then they’ll play that anti-American card.

MR TONER: Well, look, I mean, my response to that would – simply to restate the fact that Turkey has been a longstanding ally of the United States, and the United States is a friend and a partner with Turkey. That doesn’t mean we agree across the board on everything; certainly we don’t. But we have a strong common agenda with respect to global issues, and I think we also have a strong belief in the value of democratic values and traditions. We’ve been very candid about speaking when we have concerns about some of those – when we feel that some of those democratic values or democratic traditions are under threat, but we have a strong relationship with Turkey, and I certainly would reject any insinuation, as I did earlier today, that the United States is in any way involved, is in any way complicit with any such effort to overthrow the democratically elected Government of Turkey. And on the contrary, as I said, we stand strongly on the side of the Erdogan government.

QUESTION: So Mark, do you think that this Gulen issue is – could become a major issue between you and Turkey?

MR TONER: I mean, it – one of the reasons I’ve been stating and restating the fact that this is a legal process based on evidence, not driven by political agendas or what have you, is to simply underscore the point that wherever we come down on this, it’s not – this is not a political decision. This is not something we do want to have in any way, shape, or form affect our relationship with Turkey. What we’ll – what we will do and what we can pledge to do is study the evidence, look at it, weigh the evidence, adjudicate it according to the best legal standards that we have, and make a decision, as I said, based on the evidence. I think we have to be very mindful of the fact that emotions are running high in Turkey right now, and that’s understandable. So we certainly don’t want it to ever become a political issue.

QUESTION: So – and so it’s not a political issue already?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think we’ve – in our conversations and the Secretary’s conversations with his counterparts, we’ve been very clear that – to say that there is a process in place, we will look at this if you – once we have a formal request, and we will respond appropriately.

QUESTION: I just want to be clear.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: So the State Department and the Justice Department reviews this at the same time, and then Secretary Kerry makes the call on what happens in the end?

MR TONER: So – sorry. So, yes, in coordination with Department of Justice, Department of State will review and process the requests to and from foreign governments, and I’m speaking broadly now about the extradition process. So this – we work with the Department of Justice reviewing, processing requests by foreign governments to extradite fugitives. And we advise on obligations set out in extradition treaties. And we do – the Department of State does make final determination on whether or not to surrender anyone to a foreign country under – after a U.S. district judge or magistrate judge has determined that the charge underlying the extradition is justified.

QUESTION: And this process can take up to years or months?

MR TONER: I don’t have a timeframe for you. It does take a while. It’s not going to be an overnight situation.



QUESTION: Thank you. On --

QUESTION: Can we stay in that region?

QUESTION: On North Korea – on North Korea --

MR TONER: (Laughter.) Apparently not. I’ll get back to you, I promise.



MR TONER: Go ahead. You’ve been waiting.

QUESTION: As you know, that the North – yesterday, North Korea launched three Scud ballistic missile into east coast in South Korea. Regarding on this, North Koreans continued a violation of UN Security Council resolutions. What is the United States position on this? Is – do you have any additional --

MR TONER: Well, we strongly condemn yesterday’s missile tests. They violate UN Security Council resolutions that explicitly prohibit North Korea from using or launching or using ballistic missile technology. This is just another in a series of provocations that raises the concerns of the international community and, frankly, only strengthens our resolve to continue to put pressure on the leadership of North Korea to suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program, but also to hold it accountable for the kind of actions that it’s undertaken that, frankly, threaten international security.

So we’re going to keep the pressure on. We’ve got a strong sanctions regime that we strengthened even further after – recently after missile tests – or nuclear tests, rather. And we’re going to continue to apply pressure and we’ll continue to call on North Korea to stop its provocative actions and respond to the international community’s concerns.

QUESTION: U.S. have any individual or additional sanctions to North Korea or --

MR TONER: No, nothing at this point. I don’t have anything to preview or to add at this point. But look, I mean, we’re always looking at ways we can continue to apply pressure, and what we talked about, frankly, is the sanctions are pretty severe right now. What matters is how we enforce those sanctions and that actually involves better coordination among all the countries in the region, and that includes China. We’ve talked quite a bit about that.

Please, Nike. Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we stay in the – Armenia? Do you have anything --

MR TONER: Kind of in the – (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- on what happened – yes, neighbor of Turkey – do you have anything on --

MR TONER: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: -- what happened in Armenia? The militants is attacking a police building and --

MR TONER: Yeah, not a great deal. I mean, look, first of all – you’re talking about the police station --


MR TONER: -- hostage situation. I mean, we offer our thoughts and prayers to the families of the police officers who were killed or injured during – I think the incident took place Sunday in Yerevan’s Erebuni district. We obviously condemn strongly the use of violence to effect political change in Armenia or anywhere. We encourage Armenian authorities to handle the situation with appropriate restraint, but again, our condolences go out to those police officers who lost their lives in the attack.

QUESTION: Given --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Given the geographic proximity, are you concerned – is the United States concerned what happened in Turkey may be an inspiration, may be inspiring neighbors or other countries to do a similar thing?

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, frankly, it doesn’t even have anything to do with the geographic proximity. I hope not. We would hope not. Using military force or force to overthrow a government is – a democratically elected government, is always a bad idea. We want to see political change through democratic processes. And so we would certainly want to caution anybody who thinks that violence is a plausible way to achieve any political aims.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: In the back. What’s that? I’m sorry, Matt. You got – your --

QUESTION: Well, I’m just curious --

MR TONER: Your smirk is rising.

QUESTION: No, it’s not a smirk. I’m just puzzled.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: You condemn the use of violence to effect political change in Armenia or anywhere? Really?

MR TONER: What am I --

QUESTION: Can you think of anytime in the recent – in our lifetimes when the United States has not only not condemned the use of violence to effect political change but actually supported it?

MR TONER: Again, I’m sorry – I’m not trying to be dense here, but I mean, I – situations are complex in many parts of the world, but I think it’s a pretty common dictate of ours to say that there’s no military solution to any crises, political or otherwise.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I ask you about Syria?

MR TONER: Please, of course.

QUESTION: Just for a second, considering there’s a lot of violence going on there.

MR TONER: Yeah, that’s a great example.

QUESTION: I’m wondering if you have seen or you’re aware of this beheading of a child by a group that is supported by the United States.

MR TONER: Yeah. No, thanks. We’ve obviously seen the reports, and we just can’t confirm. We’re seeking more information. We understand from unconfirmed reports that the group, the Free Syrian Army, has appointed a commission to investigate the incident and that they’ve made arrests of those allegedly involved. I’d refer you to – it’s Al Zinki, I guess, is the group --


MR TONER: -- for additional information. But I can only say that it’s an appalling report, and obviously, we’re very concerned certainly if it’s accurate. We’re trying to get more information and more details.

QUESTION: Okay. Is that the kind of thing that could – that if you’re – if you are able to confirm it and if you do get – if you’re able to back up the reports --


QUESTION: Is this the kind of thing that would affect assistance, U.S. assistance to this specific group but also just in general to the FSA?

MR TONER: Well, I think we’d take a – if, as you said, if we can prove that this was indeed what happened and this group was involved in it, I think it would certainly give us pause.

QUESTION: It would give you pause?

MR TONER: Well, give us pause about any assistance or, frankly, any further involvement with this group.

QUESTION: So, in other words, so it will draw – there will be some kind of consequence if you’re satisfied that this actually happened?

MR TONER: I can’t – again, I can’t say what that consequence will be, but it will certainly give us, as I said, serious pause and we’ll look at, frankly, any affiliation or cooperation with this group we may have going forward, if these allegations are proven true.

Yes, Samir. And I’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: On his meeting with President Abbas, is the Secretary going to provide Abbas with any new thinking or new ideas?

MR TONER: It’s a fair question. I don’t have a lot of detail going into the meeting. That’s obviously a few days away. I think it’s more just an opportunity for him to update and talk to President Abbas about where we stand with regard to these issues and the two-state solution and efforts to reach a two-state solution. We have the French proposal out there. We’ve had meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu. So I think it’s a chance for the Secretary to sit down with Abbas and both hear what his thinking is but also to share our thoughts on possible ways forward.

Please. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: On – just on the Palestinians.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: The prime minister of Israel has complained rather forcefully about a monument that the PA just erected to a person who the Israelis say is a terrorist, who was also responsible for killing an American citizen. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about that.

MR TONER: Matt, I don’t have any particular – I’m just – I wasn’t aware of that. I mean, I would – I mean, my response in general would be obviously we don’t want to see any kind of efforts to glorify any individuals who are involved in any acts of terrorism. But I don’t know specific – I’d have to get more specifics about this monument.

Please, sir, in the back.

QUESTION: About Secretary Kerry’s visit to London --


QUESTION: -- you said he meets with top foreign policy leaders of Europe to discuss a range of issue.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: So is the Ukrainian issue a point of that discussion as well as Russian aggression?


QUESTION: And do you have any details of that?

MR TONER: So I don’t have a readout of the meeting to the point whether I know that they specifically discussed Ukraine. I can imagine that it did come up, if not in his meetings today then certainly with his bilaterals with foreign minister – Foreign Secretary, rather, Johnson. And also, obviously, he met in recent days with EU High Representative Mogherini.

And frankly, Ukraine is always a topic of discussion and where we stand in terms of ongoing violence but also in terms of implementing Minsk. And I know that on July 18th, there were some series of attacks in eastern Ukraine that frankly raises concerns anew. I think that seven members of Ukrainian armed forces were killed and 14 were injured. This is the highest number of casualties on a single day in the past year, and it endangers the ceasefire and Minsk implementation. So I think we’re all concerned about it.

And this was also – I would go back to last weekend. He was in Moscow and he did talk with Foreign Minister Lavrov and with President Putin about the need to fully implement Minsk so that we can conclusively end the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

QUESTION: Do you think that the agreement that you reached with the Russians on Syria, that the Russians are using this as pretext to kind of take advantage of the – you know what I mean? Like while they’re being more – while they’re promising to be more cooperative in Syria, they feel that – they feel that they’re taking that as a yellow light to --

MR TONER: Not necessarily. I think we’ve been somewhat successful in separating the two issues.

QUESTION: I mean, you really don’t think that they’re – you really don’t think that they’re playing Ukraine off of Syria?

MR TONER: I mean, I don’t know if I would connect the two. What I would probably just say is we’ve been continually concerned about the lack of follow-through by the Russians in implementing Minsk. Whether that’s involved or some kind of counteraction to their efforts in Syria, frankly we’ve been concerned and disappointed by their lack of follow-up with regard to the cessation of hostilities and the political process in Syria. So I don’t know if I can make a direct correlation or a tit-for-tat comparison like that.

Is that it, guys?

QUESTION: No, I’ve got just a few.


QUESTION: They’ll be quick though.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: About Iran.

MR TONER: Oh, yeah.

QUESTION: Yesterday in response to the story out of Vienna on the – this document – the Iranian --


QUESTION: -- R&D document. You said in a written comments --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- that there is no secret document or secret deal. The supposed secret document appears to be --

MR TONER: You’re taking my line. I was just going to reiterate that forcefully from that --

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m just trying to figure out what exactly is it in your mind --


QUESTION: -- and the mind of people in this building that constitutes “secret.”

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, this is a fair question.

QUESTION: Because --

MR TONER: It’s a --

QUESTION: -- later on it says --

MR TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- this plan is an IAEA Safeguards Confidential Document, meaning it is not public. “Not public,” to me – I don’t care what you want to call it – if it’s not public, it is in some sense secret.

MR TONER: So look, let me attempt to answer this question. So I think my response, our response, was simply to say that this wasn’t a document that was somehow unknown to the P5+1, that was somehow unknown to those who are implementing the JCPOA or the IAEA, and certainly it was not something that was unknown to Congress. This is a, and as you note, an IAEA safeguards confidential document, and that means it’s not in the public sphere. But it’s also – and again, we’re drawing assumptions here on what this document is, but as you note, it’s Iran’s – most likely Iran’s R&D plan. And that was thoroughly vetted and reviewed by the P5+1 as well as the IAEA. So this – I think what we’re pushing back on is the sense that this is somehow some new document to drop that changes --

QUESTION: Well, it’s not new in the sense --

MR TONER: -- the parameters or changes our expectations with regard to Iran’s nuclear program past year 10.

QUESTION: It’s not --

MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: It’s not new in the sense that it was, yes, completed back in July. But it is new in the fact that nobody outside – and there’s no suggestion that the IAEA or the P5+1 didn’t review or sign off on this. There’s also no suggestion that members of Congress who might have known – might have had an interest in it might – would have been able to see it. But no one outside that knew what it was or knew its contents.

MR TONER: But this is part --

QUESTION: Did they? No.

MR TONER: Sorry. Okay.

QUESTION: So that’s the – it’s the information in the document that is new to the public.

MR TONER: To the public.


MR TONER: I’m not going to argue that. Yes, that’s true.

QUESTION: Okay. So is it safe to assume, then, that, since you say that it was reviewed and that the Administration has full confidence that allowing Iran to operate second and third-generation centrifuges and escalating up their usage in years 11 through 13 of the deal will not have any impact on their ability to – on their breakout time capability after year 15, when the restrictions on the stockpile – excuse me – restrictions on the stockpile, uranium stockpile, lapse?

MR TONER: So we’re confident that Iran’s enrichment capacity in the years after, I guess, year 10 – the initial decade of the JCPOA – will undergo measured, incremental growth that is consistent with a peaceful civilian nuclear program. And if, for whatever reason, Iran tries to pursue a military nuclear program, we’re confident that we have the safeguards in place and the access in place to the information, to the data, to the material that we need to watch that we can detect that. So --

QUESTION: Until – even after year 15?

MR TONER: Even after 15.

QUESTION: Okay. So – but you’re not concerned the --

MR TONER: But again, part of the agreement here – sure.

QUESTION: You’re not concerned, though, that allowing them or giving them the ability to spin these centrifuges, second and third-generation centrifuges, would give them the expertise, experience to crank it up once they’re no longer constrained in other areas, especially the stockpile?

MR TONER: But again, I think what it is is we’re – so there’s kind of two aspects. One is this was always part of the agreement that Iran could begin to develop after year 10, consistent with a peaceful civilian nuclear program.


MR TONER: Under the JCPO – under – sorry.

QUESTION: Yes, that --

MR TONER: Under the IAEA’s watchful eye --

QUESTION: That – it says that in --


QUESTION: -- actually in the JCPOA.

MR TONER: Sorry. Yes. That’s correct.

QUESTION: But this document is not in the JCPOA, but --

MR TONER: No, but this is --

QUESTION: -- is the details of what that --

MR TONER: Sorry. But this is part of its – my understanding is it’s part of – right, it’s part of Iran’s commitment to – I’m looking for the – what the terminology is. But anyway, it’s about Iran trying to comply with IAEA standards going forward to develop a peaceful nuclear program and that they’re – part of that involves them coming up with this quote/unquote “R&D plan” and submitting that to the IAEA.


MR TONER: Yeah. Sorry.

QUESTION: Which no one in the public knew about until yesterday, correct? The contents of it.

MR TONER: That’s right. But --


MR TONER: But it was shared with P5+1 members; it was shared with the IAEA.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: I understand it was not in – it was – no, it was not in the public domain.

QUESTION: All right. And then just also on Iran, the comments by Foreign Minister Zarif today. I don't know if you’ve seen them. Pretty dismissive of the United States – they can’t do a damn thing.

MR TONER: Look, I mean, we try not to wade into what we consider to be remarks that play to domestic audiences in Iran and --

QUESTION: Well, okay. So you don’t think that they – that he actually means this because he was just saying --

MR TONER: We’re confident that we have all the safeguards, all the access that we need to successfully monitor and, if needed, to restrict Iran’s ability to pursue a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: And these don’t concern you at all?

MR TONER: I mean, look, it’s not helpful, but he’s playing to a domestic audience.

QUESTION: Just one single question.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: How do you see Turkey right now? Do you see it – consider it stable after the coup, or --

MR TONER: It’s a fair question. It was a pretty dramatic, cataclysmic event in the political sphere of Turkey – well, heck, in the whole – and beyond the political sphere. And so – but we believe that the government has taken initial steps to restore calm and stability, and I think what’s critical in the coming days and weeks is that it also takes steps to assure that Turkey’s democratic traditions and values are also sustained, because that is what brought people out in the street. That is what the Turkish people hold dear and we want to see preserved, and we certainly don’t want to see any military coup or attempted military coup restrict that in any way.

Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:14 p.m.)

DPB # 127


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Mon, 07/18/2016 - 16:42

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

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:11 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey everybody, welcome to the State Department. Just a couple things at the top and then I’ll get to your questions. First of all, I wanted to announce the U.S. Department of State will convene an International Drug Treatment Experts gathering to address the issue of childhood addiction. This is a first-of-its-kind gathering and the State Department is doing this today. It’s convening experts and practitioners from around the world to make progress against this rapidly emerging and alarming phenomenon of childhood substance abuse and addiction.

This is going to be a three-day meeting that brings together other drug treatment experts, NGO, practitioners, government officials from 10 countries and several international organizations. Excuse me. And the goal here is to build upon the drug treatment protocols for youth that have been developed by the State Department as well as our international partners to create a comprehensive and evidence-based treatment, prevention, and recovery platform for these children.

Also just a quick update on the Secretary’s travels. As you know, he was in Brussels earlier today, where he met with EU Foreign Affairs Council – the EU Foreign Affairs Council, rather. He also held a joint press avail with EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and then participated in a U.S.-GCC foreign ministers meeting. He is en route, or I believe he’s now arrived in London, where he’ll meet tomorrow with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura as well as Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, and also attend other multilateral meetings on Yemen and Syria.




QUESTION: I want to start with Turkey. Has the Secretary made any further calls today regarding Turkey? Has he spoken – he’s spoken three times to the foreign minister, right?

MR TONER: Yeah, and I think he just spoke within the past hour and I don’t have a readout. Frankly, it was a rather brief call, but he spoke with Foreign Minister Cavusoglu again just a short while ago.

QUESTION: Was that a follow-up from the – you don’t know what --

MR TONER: No, I wasn’t – I apologize, I wasn’t able to get a readout. If there’s anything to share, I’ll share it with you guys later.

QUESTION: And then the White House has said that the U.S. has not yet received a specific extradition request from the Turkish Government regarding the cleric Mr. Gulen. Is that your understanding as well that that has not been received?

MR TONER: That is our understanding. We have not yet received a formal extradition request. Yes.

QUESTION: So you’ve not received a formal one, but has the government actually said to you that it intends to do that and that it will provide evidence that Mr. Gulen was – helped mastermind this coup?

MR TONER: So I’ll switch that question around a little bit in my answer because I don’t want to speak on behalf of the Turkish Government. What I would say is the Secretary has clearly stated that he and we, the United States, would welcome a formal extradition request with the evidence that we believe – or that they would offer in terms of the extradition for Gulen.

As you know, the extradition process is not something we talk about openly or publicly. And in fact, we don’t often address publicly extradition requests. In this case, we’ve made an exception given the level of public rhetoric back and forth to say that we haven’t yet received a formal request. But we do have an extradition treaty in effect with Turkey, and again, we would welcome such a request from them with the evidence that they believe shows that Gulen is involved in this coup attempt.

QUESTION: You said you would welcome one. So you’re expecting one?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to necessarily – I mean, again, there’s lots of public comments on the part of Turkish officials about who or what factions may have been behind this coup attempt. I think it’s important, frankly, in these early days of the aftermath that we don’t speak on behalf of the Turkish Government. We let them carry out their investigation. We’ve offered assistance in that investigation, whatever we can provide. But I think in terms of extradition, all we can say at this point is we do have a formal extradition treaty with Turkey. It’s been in force since 1981. It has a set process to it. We need to receive a formal request. We’ve said we have not yet received that formal request. But once we do, we’ll evaluate it according to that process.

QUESTION: What is your response, then, that Turkey’s saying it will reconsider its friendship with the U.S. if the U.S. doesn’t extradite Mr. Gulen?

MR TONER: Well, again Lesley, I think what’s important here is that we not try to make this personal to the case of Gulen. This is a legal treaty. It involves legal analysis and a process. We have said that we will carry out that process. We just need to receive the formal extradition request and, as well as that, we need to see the evidence. We’re going to make an evidence-based decision on whatever decision that may be. And that’s all we can do. It has nothing to do – it has no bearing on whether we believe or buy into what allegations may be made – may be flying around right now. What we need to see is clear evidence that backs up this request, and then based on that evidence we’ll make our best judgment.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. actually asked Mr. Gulen if he has any involvement? Have you personally sought that assurance from him?

MR TONER: Lesley, I’m not aware that we’ve actually had any formal contact with him since Friday.

QUESTION: One more --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- before I hand it over to my colleagues. The Secretary and others in the EU have expressed concern on – over the clamp-down of what the government’s been doing. I mean, 20,000 officials have already been – that the – that Turkey’s taken actions against because of the coup. Do you – does 20,000 seem excessive to you at this stage?

MR TONER: Detained?

QUESTION: As an excessive action against – I mean, so many people involved.

MR TONER: Yeah, look, I mean, again – a couple of thoughts. First of all, we absolutely stand by the Government of Turkey and the people of Turkey in the aftermath of Friday’s attempted coup. Turkey’s a NATO ally. It’s a key partner in the region. It’s a key partner to the United States. It’s a key partner to the EU. And we stand squarely on the side of the elected leadership of Turkey.

We’ve been clear since the moment of the news of this coup attempt became public, we’ve been very clear that we stand with the democratically elected government of Turkey. We have also offered assistance as Turkey attempts to bring the perpetrators of this coup attempt to justice and we support that effort. But – and this is not – I don’t want to comment necessarily on the 20,000 or this move or that move. What I want to speak to broadly is that we have cautioned against a reach – if you will – that goes beyond a legitimate effort to bring these perpetrators to justice, and to stress that, as again we’ve – in the aftermath of Friday’s and Saturday’s events, that the Turkish Government remains true to the values – the democratic values that it holds and the Turkish people hold dear. And I think that’s essentially our message.

QUESTION: The very fact that U.S. and the EU – Mogherini basically was – if you impose the death sentence, it’s a – that’s a deal breaker of you joining the EU. The fact that you actually expressed this concern means that you have the concern that – I mean, are you concerned that the government could be over-reaching?

MR TONER: A couple of thoughts or ways that I would respond to that question. First of all, it’s no secret publicly we’ve said in the last few months we have expressed our concern about some of the actions of Turkey’s government with respect to freedom of the press, freedom of expression, civil society, and we have called on Turkey’s government to live up to the values in the Turkish constitution, live up to its democratic aspirations and its democratic traditions. So that’s not new; we’ve been very clear about that.

We also recognize that in the aftermath of the kind of upheaval and the kind of dramatic events that took place on Friday – and let’s be very clear, they were dramatic events – that there can be a tendency on the part of any government to react in a way that extends beyond appropriate due process and investigations into who was behind these actions. So that’s all we’re saying here. We’re just simply cautioning that in – cautioning our Turkish friends and partners and allies that in the aftermath of this, they need to remain true to the democratic ideals that they hold dear. And this is true, frankly, for many governments the world over that face political crises, social crises, that they always have to be mindful of their values – their core values as a nation.

QUESTION: I’ll leave it up to my colleagues.

MR TONER: Sure. Nike.

QUESTION: Yes, hi, Mark. Thanks. So we have reporters on the ground trying to filming the reactions, but they were encountered with crowds shouting they are Americans, don’t talk to them, don’t listen to them. So with such high anti-American sentiment in Turkey, are you concerned of the U.S.-Turkey cooperation in the aftermath?

MR TONER: I don’t think so, Nike. And I’d also be wary of just – and I recognize that your reporters on the ground are reporting what they’re seeing and what they’re hearing, but I don’t know how pervasive that sentiment is. As I said to Lesley just now, we’ve been – we couldn’t have been clearer and quicker in our response of support for the democratically elected Turkish Government. And let’s be very clear and mindful of that fact, that there is absolutely no rationale, no justification for the actions that were taken against that democratically elected government last Friday evening. And so we’ve been very clear where we stand on this issue. We have offered our support for the Turkish Government. We have, again, been very clear in condemning the actions of the military or those factions within the military that tried to carry out this attempted overthrow of a legitimately elected government. There’s never any justification for that.

So are we concerned about anti-American sentiments among the Turkish people? I would hope that the Turkish people recognize that the United States stands with, again, the democratically elected Government of Turkey, but also with the Turkish people and their aspirations for a strong democracy. And we’ve been very clear about that. We’ve been very clear, as I said even prior to this, when we see efforts or moves on the part of even the Turkish Government that we believe restricts that democratic space, we express those concerns because we feel – and this is also important – that we have the kind of relationship with Turkey that we can share those concerns with them. They are a NATO ally, a long-term – or a longtime ally of the United States, and we have an honest and candid relationship. And we have areas – and we’ve seen this, frankly, in terms of going after Daesh – where we disagree a little bit on some of the ways and modalities that we go about that. That’s part of any relationship. So we’re not always going to agree on everything with the Turkish Government, but in a moment like this, we stand strongly and firmly with them.


QUESTION: Are you calling for the restraint from the rhetorics from Erdogan’s government? Because over the weekends, we’ve seen and we heard some of the rhetorics quite accusive.

MR TONER: Well, again, I would think that – and, again, bearing in mind that in the aftermath of a tumultuous event like Friday, it’s not unexpected that you’re going to hear fiery rhetoric, impassioned rhetoric, and not just from the political leadership but on all sides. I think my response to that would be we always need to be mindful of that, and like we would in many situations around the world – even in our own country – we could caution against rhetoric that escalates tensions and rather support de-escalation.


QUESTION: One final question, if I may.

MR TONER: Please. Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: So are you concerned about the military cooperation in the aftermath? Because some of the personnel live off-base. And then are you worried about the military cooperation?

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, I’d refer you to our colleagues over at Department of Defense to speak specifically to the status of Incirlik and our use of that airbase. But broadly speaking, no. I mean, we’re not concerned about our ongoing cooperation with Turkish security forces, Turkish military, especially within the anti-Daesh or anti-ISIL coalition. And we’ve been very clear about expressing our commitment to keeping the pressure up on those airstrikes that we’re carrying out against Daesh in northern Syria especially. But also in Iraq we’re not going to let up, and we’re going to try to seek to continue those operations as much as we can given the fact that – again, that events on the ground, especially over the weekend, led to some at least temporary disruption of those activities.

QUESTION: Are they coming to the counter-ISIL conference this week in Washington?

MR TONER: My expectation is that they are, yes – or our expectation is that they are.


QUESTION: On Turkey, a couple more, Mark?


QUESTION: You said that you made it clear to Turkish Government and you are with the democratically elected government.


QUESTION: When you look at the ministers, one after another coming out, and I can quote you some of their remarks, that they hold America responsible for this coup as long as you don’t give Gulen back to Turkey, or like Prime Minister Binali Yildirim who said that there will be no country as a friend of Turkey if not giving Gulen back, apparently talking about the U.S. And look at the pro-government. Maybe it’s – basically it’s out there and it’s again accusing U.S. So my question is: When you’re talking to Turkish officials, are you conveying these messages and when you get it, because there is no counter-message in terms of --

MR TONER: I think it’s a fair question. I think what we’re conveying in our conversations to Turkish officials is exactly what I just attempted to explain to Lesley, which is the fact that we need to, looking at the – again, the process of extradition and the potential extradition request for Gulen, because we haven’t received a formal extradition request, we need to take the emotion, we need to take the drama – if you will – out of it, and need to look at it as purely as a legal question or a legal case, and that that needs to follow a legal process.

It has nothing to do with our strong and ongoing alliance and partnership with Turkey. It is simply, when we look at any extradition case, irrespective of who that person – or who it’s about, we have to evaluate the merits of that case based on the evidence that’s made available to us. And it’s a – it is a set process. It’s looked at purely from a legal standpoint, and that’s, I think, what we need to abide by. And we would expect the same – if the – if it were switched and we were asking for Turkey to extradite someone, we would expect the same diligence and we would expect Turkey to also abide by due process.

QUESTION: Did the Turkish Government – have they told you they are sending the notice or request anytime soon? Any kind of deadline? Have you been noticed about the request?

MR TONER: Yeah, I don’t want to get in – I don’t want to get really beyond what’s been said so far. And the reason is that we don’t generally discuss – we’re a little bit, as we say, out in front of our skis in terms of even acknowledging that we haven’t received a formal request. But given, as I said, the swirl of rhetoric around this particular case, we have said that we’ve not yet received a formal request. But we don’t generally speak about extradition requests. And again, it speaks to, I think, the fact that any extradition request needs to be carried out in a way that is objective and is – and according to legal standards.


QUESTION: Apart from these accusations of coup involvement with the Gulen movement, what are you – I am sure you have looked into this movement now or the Fethullah Gulen. What is your assessment of the group? Can you describe us how do you see this group?

MR TONER: Of Gulen’s --

QUESTION: Gulen group or Fethullah Gulen himself. Do you consider him peaceful? Do you consider him – how do you consider him or his movement?

MR TONER: I mean – look, I mean, again, I don’t know that we have any assessment of Gulen’s group apart from what we have – let me rephrase that. We haven’t made any assessment of Gulen’s group and their involvement in this attempted coup. That’s to be – that remains to be seen. If we receive evidence, we’ll certainly evaluate or assess that evidence.

As to his role, we’re well aware of how he is perceived by members of the – Turkey’s Government and political leadership, but he is, to our knowledge thus far, living in accordance with the law. If he wasn’t, then we would obviously have something to say about that. But to our knowledge, he’s living peacefully up in Pennsylvania in his compound.

QUESTION: But you say you’ve not made an assessment. Are you planning on doing an assessment of whether he was involved or not?

MR TONER: Again, I think as much as it is part of any extradition request, we would look at that. Yes, we would make that kind of assessment, certainly if we were trying to evaluate his involvement in the coup.

QUESTION: And outside the extradition – I mean, if this is going to – if this is something that’s going to become between you and a key ally --

MR TONER: I think --

QUESTION: -- is it not that you --

MR TONER: Without getting – and I feel like I’m already wading into hypotheticals a little bit more than I’d like to. But how I would answer that is that certainly if Turkey has concerns about the involvement of Gulen or his group, they can share their concerns with us along with the evidence that they have collected, and we will certainly look at that and evaluate it. That’s something we would do for any ally and partner. As to any extradition request, again, that is something that would have to proceed along to – established processes.


QUESTION: So when we go back to Friday --

MR TONER: Oh, sorry.

QUESTION: -- when exactly did you learn about the coup attempt on that day?

MR TONER: I think it was late afternoon our time.

QUESTION: So, like, to give an exact time?

MR TONER: I think we first saw the reports over social media. Again, I’m speaking only on behalf of the press office and our knowledge of it, but I think most people became aware of it late on a Friday afternoon in Washington around 4 p.m. Washington time. I think there were initial indications on social media first and foremost, is my understanding.

QUESTION: Did you knew anything about it before that timing, before it came out like an issue on the social media?

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION: I have a couple more, if I may.

MR TONER: Sure, go ahead. Please finish. Yeah.

QUESTION: So there are some critics that the U.S. Administration believes the statement that it stands with the democratically elected Turkish Government after five to four – four to five hours after the coup attempt took place. So why not earlier releasing the statement?

MR TONER: In terms of the timing of the statement? Look, I mean that it was a very dynamic situation. As with any situation like that, we’re trying to evaluate, frankly, what is happening on the ground. I think the Turkish Government was trying to evaluate and analyze what was happening on the ground, so I don’t think it’s unusual that we also were trying to figure out what exactly was taking place. But for you to insinuate that there was somehow any delay because we were trying to game out this or to – that somehow we were involved, I would just reject that wholeheartedly.

QUESTION: But I mean, even if the claims were not true, I mean, you would still support the Turkish Government, which is like --

MR TONER: Exactly.

QUESTION: -- which is the democratic – like, the representative democracy.

MR TONER: Precisely, yes.

QUESTION: So you could – you may have – right – like release it before earlier, even if the claims were not true. So what is your reaction to that?

MR TONER: Again, I – in terms of the timing, I believe we were as responsive as we could be given the circumstances. And we couldn’t – our message couldn’t have been clearer, which is that we stood by and stand by the democratically elected government of Turkey.

QUESTION: So there are also some reports, sir, saying that NATO should remove Turkey from the alliance. And I want to ask you what’s the -- what the U.S. position is on that, because you are referring to Turkey as a NATO ally, like, regarding all the issues, like the fight with the Daesh and, like, with everything. So what is your --


QUESTION: -- what is the U.S. Administration position on this?

MR TONER: Our position or our policy hasn’t changed. Turkey is a NATO ally and a strong partner. I would refer you to the NATO secretary-general to speak on what NATO’s position is regarding Turkey’s membership, but with respect to our understanding and our belief is that Turkey remains a NATO ally. I think what the Secretary and others have expressed since the events of Friday has been very clear in that regard. And as a NATO ally – and as a democratic NATO ally, we expect and look to Turkey to exhibit the kind of behavior befitting a democracy. And I talked about this before – in the aftermath of political upheaval like this, there can be frankly – and not just in Turkey, but in many countries – and I’ve said this several times already – a tendency to overreach. And we would just – and we have been very clear in our discussions with our colleagues in Turkey that we would expect Turkey to live up to its democratic standards.

QUESTION: So you don’t expect any changes regarding that latest issue --


QUESTION: -- with Turkey’s NATO alliance?


QUESTION: And my last --

MR TONER: Yeah, please, go ahead. I’m sorry, finish up.

QUESTION: My last question is whether you think that this last tensions between the U.S. and Turkey regarding the Fethullah Gulen issue would further escalate --

MR TONER: Regarding the – Gulen issue.

QUESTION: -- the Fethullah Gulen --

MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: -- yeah – issue, because it’s apparently has become an important issue between the two countries right now. So do you expect this case to further escalate the U.S.-Turkey relations? Or how – in other words, how do you expect this issue to change or whether it will have an effect on the U.S.-Turkey relations?

MR TONER: Well, I would hope not. And the reason I would hope not is because, again, there is an extradition treaty that we have had for many years with Turkey. Secretary Kerry made very clear to Foreign Minister Cavusoglu that there is a formal process for any extradition request and that it must go through appropriate legal channels and be subject to legal analysis. This is not a political decision; it is not an emotional decision. It is based on our best legal judgment of any case. This doesn’t – and I’m not speaking specific to any request we may receive about Gulen. It’s anybody. It’s a very serious matter.

So it doesn’t – I understand emotion is running high in Turkey right now. That’s to be expected and it’s somewhat understandable. All I would simply stress is that with – as with any extradition request, that we would live up to our obligations under that treaty and do so in a manner that is devoid of emotion, devoid of any political intention, but adheres to an established legal process.

QUESTION: And may I --

MR TONER: Okay, sure.

QUESTION: -- ask just one more?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: There are some – also some media reports saying that some CIA officials have said that the coup – like, having a coup is legitimate. What exactly – which coup do they mean? Do you know something about it? Are you aware of these reports?

MR TONER: Again, we would never support – I don’t know. When you say anonymous CIA officials, I become immediately wary. But all I would say in response to your question is that there’s never a justification for an attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government.

In the back, sir. Oh, and then I’ll get to you. I promise. I’m sorry to overlook you. Still on Turkey or --

QUESTION: Yeah, one quick on Turkey and one on the South China Sea.

MR TONER: Of course, okay.

QUESTION: First, on Turkey, has the U.S. ever received official extradition requests for Fethullah Gulen from Turkey in the past?

MR TONER: Not to my understanding, no.


MR TONER: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: And then on the South China Sea, China has said that it’s going to close off part of the South China Sea for military drills. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR TONER: I don’t, other than that – I mean, I would simply go back to what we said last week in the wake of the tribunal’s ruling, and that is we would call on China to really, in the aftermath of the ruling, to seize the opportunity that it presents to look at all of the claimants’ concerns and to seek out legal and diplomatic processes to resolve them. And so we don’t want to see escalation, we don’t want to see further escalation in the South China Sea. That applies to China but it applies to other aspirants – or not aspirants, excuse me – claimants with regard to the territory of the South China Sea. So I think we would call on all claimants to de-escalate and to seek mechanisms that don’t involve military assets or any kind of construction or any kind of artificial construction that only increase tensions in the South China Sea.



MR TONER: Please. Oh, we’re between Turkey and – are you South China Sea?


MR TONER: Let’s do you and then we’ll go back – I promise I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Okay. So a follow-up about the South China Sea tribunal.


QUESTION: Do you suggest to China to give up its claims?

MR TONER: Not at all. Not at all, and we’ve never said that. We encourage all claimants to seek out peaceful resolution of disputes. That’s our clear and unchanging message with regard to the South China Sea. We’re not saying that – we’re not making any judgments on the South China Sea’s claim – or, rather, excuse me – on China’s claims or any other claimants’ claims. All we’re asking for is that all parties simply refrain from provocative actions in the South China Sea.

For our part, we’ve always maintained that we want freedom of navigation and we will continue to carry out freedom of navigation operations within the South China Sea, just as we do throughout the world.

QUESTION: Yeah. So did the Philippines request any assistance and did the U.S. provide any assistance to the Philippines, whether it was financial, personnel, subject matter expert, or evidentiary support?

MR TONER: This is – you’re talking about with regard to their – the tribunal and its --

QUESTION: The whole process.

MR TONER: Again, not that I am aware of. This was – we had no involvement in this process. This was – and we’ve been pretty clear about that throughout that this was a legal process that was carried out by the tribunal. The U.S. didn’t have any sway or any influence on the tribunal, and nor would we have attempted to weigh in in any way, shape, or form. In fact, we see these kinds of legal processes that are objective, that are apolitical, as a way to, frankly, answer some of the questions around claims in the South China Sea.

QUESTION: So will the U.S. recognize China’s historical claims in the nine-dash line that are not completely affect by the tribunal award?

MR TONER: One more time, the question? I apologize.

QUESTION: I mean the award only affects rights that overlap with a exclusive economic zone and doesn’t apply to the rest of nine-dash line of the South China Sea. What’s the U.S. position on the nine-dash line right now?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think – look, I mean, I think what’s important here is that the tribunal addressed all of these concerns in its ruling, including the nine-dash line. And it did so, as we said, as the result of a legal process that was devoid of any kind of political influence, and so we respect the outcome of that process.

QUESTION: Does U.S. consider one day to ratify the International Law of the Sea?

MR TONER: You know where we stand on that. We would – we adhere to the International Law – the UN – UNCLOS, the UN Law of the Sea. It has yet to pass our Congress, but we would appeal to our Congress to indeed pass the Law of the Sea.


QUESTION: After looking the other way for some time regarding Turkey’s human rights abuses, I guess because of the war against Daesh, the U.S. and the EU have spoken out because now the crisis is so acute. But the statements that you and the EU make don’t say anything about Turkey’s military aggression in the Kurdish regions, which is acute. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights have condemned it. And I wondered, now that Turkey’s human rights is an issue for the U.S. and the EU, might you also be raising the topic of the human rights violations in the southeast, particularly because of the potential for expanded military conflict?

MR TONER: Well, look, our policy has been pretty clear about PKK activities. We view the PKK as a foreign terrorist organization and we support Turkey’s efforts to go after the PKK. But as with any counterterrorism operations, we always want to see every effort made to avoid and certainly minimize any civilian casualties. And certainly, we would want any kind of counterterrorism operations to be mindful of human rights and human rights concerns.

We have seen, unfortunately, over the past six months to a year really an uptick in violence in – between the PKK and Turkish authorities. We’ve seen a breakdown in the mechanism that was established towards negotiations with and talks with the PKK. We’d like to see the PKK to stop its attacks on Turkish authorities or Turkish police and security forces, and to see a return to, again, some kind of mechanism whereby there could be a peaceful – or discussions, rather, about ending the violence. But in any case, we support Turkey’s right to defend its citizens.

QUESTION: Well, the idea of talks to end the violence now – and this might seem kind of counterintuitive – but army morale cannot be very good right now given how the Turkish Government is abusing its own military. And it may not be – and that may tempt the PKK into more aggressive action, which would mean more conflict, violence, innocents die, so that in the general context – maybe not today or tomorrow, but in this context, would it be – might it appropriate for some party – the UN, the U.S., the EU – to start thinking of negotiations so as to preempt any PKK counter-aggression and maybe even take a monkey off the back of Ankara right now because they have enough problems to deal with?

MR TONER: Look, I don’t want to conjecture about any possible international role in resolving the conflict with the PKK. I would simply reiterate the fact that we would hope the PKK would exercise restraint, that it would refrain from any violent actions and terrorism against the people of Turkey, and certainly, given the sensitivity in the aftermath of Friday’s coup attempt, that it’s – and that it simply refrains from ongoing terrorist acts against Turkish security forces. But as to possible outreach efforts or engagement by the international community with the PKK, I just can’t speak to that.

Please, in back.

QUESTION: South China Sea-related. After the tribunal ruling, Japanese Government last week – it also claimed that --

MR TONER: I’m sorry, we’re back on South China Sea?

QUESTION: Yes, related. The question is on Japanese Government position on one of – on the island or rock, it claimed called Okinotori in the West Pacific Ocean. Even though the island is only – or the rock is only nine square meters but it claims all maritime entitlement. Do you have a position on this?

MR TONER: Are we still talking about the Taiping rock?

QUESTION: No. I mean, it’s related. As you know, Taiping is one of the largest island in Spratly Islands, but one of the rock or island Japanese Government claimed in the West Pacific Ocean, it’s only nine square meters --

MR TONER: Sure. I --

QUESTION: -- but Japanese Government – yeah.

MR TONER: Yeah, no – thanks. And thanks for the question. I just would say the United States does not generally take a position on whether small islands around the world are rocks or not for purposes of Article 121-3, and that is part of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. And that says, and I can read it aloud: “Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.”

QUESTION: Then that applies exactly to Okinotori, which doesn’t – which can’t really maintain the human lives on the rock.

MR TONER: Which cannot or --

QUESTION: Which cannot. So I wonder, so does it mean the United States not necessarily support Japanese Government’s claim?

MR TONER: Does not necessarily support the Chinese – I’m not aware of the specific rocks or islands that you’re referring to. I’m just saying that we don’t take a position on other small islands around the world are considered rocks or not in terms of International Law of the Sea.

QUESTION: Then in that regard, do you think other countries also have fishing rights, freedom of navigation in 200 nautical miles within Okinotori?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think I would just refer you to the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. There is an article there, 123-3 – or 121-3 that specifically lays out what can be considered a rock or what can be considered an island and whether it can have an economic exclusive zone or a continental shelf. There is a very legal definition that we would adhere to.


QUESTION: Follow-up – my question, Mark. Thanks so much.

MR TONER: Yeah, no worries.

QUESTION: Do you think it’s justified for Mr. Erdogan’s government to – since it’s after coup and its upheaval, do you think for him to justify to go after the journalists and websites and shut them down? There about 20 news websites have been shut down within last 72 hours, and there are lists being published about the journalists – critical journalists that claims that they’ll be arrested soon, and I even know one journalist friend already there is a issue – warrant issue for her.

MR TONER: I don’t mean to cut you off, but I would just say --


MR TONER: Look, and a core democratic value is freedom of speech. A free media, an independent media, is a critical element of any democratic society, any democratic government. So of course, we would have any concerns to restrict that media space – even, as I said, given that in the aftermath of events like Friday’s, there can be an attempt by government, any government, to go after or attempt to establish control over what’s going out publicly from different media organizations. So I think, again, it speaks to the fact that we would like to see Turkish authorities, Turkish Government exercise some restraint.

QUESTION: Mark, do you expect this – the coup to come up during the anti-ISIL conference this week? I mean, some kind of commitment from the Turks that they are going to play a role, and that despite internal political issues --

MR TONER: It’s a fair question. It’s really question for the Turkish Government to speak to. I mean, I – look, I mean, we’re there to talk about, obviously, anti-ISIL efforts and coalition efforts. Turkey’s a strong partner and member of that coalition. It’s going to be a chance for us, I think, to do at least – at the very least a signals check of where we stand in the aftermath of Friday’s coup attempt. But it’s our expectation that these efforts are going to go on, they’re going to continue. We have made tremendous progress against Daesh over the past year and year and a half. We want to keep that pressure on.

QUESTION: So there’s no concern that even the commander of the airbase from which you operate has been detained?

MR TONER: I mean, look, there is – this is something that the Turkish authorities, Turkish Government is reacting obviously to Friday’s events. We support them in going after the perpetrators of Friday’s events. But it really – as to the continuity of their armed forces and their security forces, that’s really something for them to speak to. I think on our part, like I said, is we would certainly hope that our strong partnership with Turkey with regard to going after Daesh continues.

QUESTION: Can I turn to South Sudan?


QUESTION: I’m curious why the U.S. felt it necessary to explain over the weekend that it wasn’t – and to reassure South Sudan that you weren’t basically trying to take over the country.

MR TONER: Well, I think it was an effort to simply tamp down what was an unwarranted and un – or baseless rumor that somehow the U.S. was planning some military action in South Sudan. We felt it best simply to come out publicly and refute that as strongly as possible given, I think, the volatility of the situation on the ground and the sensitivity of the situation on the ground, that we want – we certainly didn’t want any misperceptions or any rumors picking up steam among the people in South Sudan.

QUESTION: So the South Sudanese leaders had not asked you? Is that – these were just purely rumors or press reports, or --

MR TONER: Exactly. I mean, we were picking up from our folks on the ground these kinds of rumors that were being generated. I don’t want to speak to who was behind them; I don’t know. But we felt that they were getting enough pickup, if you will, enough legs, that we felt we needed to address them.

QUESTION: Has it – did it have anything to do with the 200 U.S. military personnel that were – that are – have been sent to South Sudan?

MR TONER: Well, and that was something – again, we tried to address that in the statement that we released yesterday, which is that we did send a small contingent on July 12th of U.S. military personnel that was sent simply to assist the embassy in bolstering its security and also assisting with the departure of nonemergency personnel. That’s it. And so we wanted to make very clear that there was no other or ulterior motive to these military personnel being on the ground in Juba. And we just wanted to explain their presence to the citizens of Juba.


MR TONER: Yeah, hey.



QUESTION: Can I switch topics?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: AP has just released a story saying that they’ve obtained a document that shows that key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program would be eased in slightly more than a decade, and that these restrictions, once they’re eased, would allow Iran to make a weapon within six months as compared to a year. Any knowledge of that or a response to that report?

MR TONER: No. No – I’m sorry, you said it’s an AP report based on --

QUESTION: A document that they have obtained.

MR TONER: A document from – whose document, I guess is my question.

QUESTION: That’s a very fair question --


QUESTION: -- to which I don’t have an answer.

MR TONER: I – honestly, I don’t – Abigail, I don’t have any reference to that. We stand by the JCPOA and our belief that it will continue to prevent Iran from being able to pursue any pathway to obtain a nuclear weapon. And as to any alleged document, I just can’t speak to it at this point in time.

QUESTION: May I go to Nice for a moment?

MR TONER: Sure, of course.

QUESTION: Do you have any more information about Americans who were involved? I know that you had confirmed that two Americans were killed in the attack. Was there any further information about Americans who were injured or killed?

MR TONER: That’s right. So, of course, as we did last week, we strongly condemn the attack in Nice and our condolences go out to the families of those who were killed – certainly the many French – innocent French citizens who were killed in the attack. We did confirm or are able to confirm now that a third U.S. citizen, Nicolas Leslie, was killed in last week’s attack, and that is on top of the two other confirmations that we gave of U.S. citizens Sean and Brodie Copeland, who were also killed in last Thursday’s attack. And our deepest condolences to their family and friends.

I can say that our consular teams are on the ground in Nice, in Marseille, as well as in Paris, and have been working, frankly, around the clock to provide whatever assistance they can to the families of these victims.

QUESTION: Do you know if that person died as a result of injuries, or did they die on – at the – on the scene on the night?

MR TONER: It’s a fair question. I’ll look into that. I believe it was during the actual attack.

Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:01 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 15, 2016

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 16:14

Elizabeth Trudeau
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 15, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:00 p.m. EDT

MS TRUDEAU: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for coming. I have a few things at the top. You’ve seen the Secretary’s statement. The United States strongly condemns the attack in Nice. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of the deceased and injured in this senseless attack on innocent people. We can confirm that we are aware of two U.S. citizens, Sean and Brodie Copeland, who where killed in the attack in Nice. We express our condolences to their family and friends. U.S. consulate in Marseille is providing all possible consular assistance. Out of respect for the privacy of the family, I will not comment further on them.

Our consulate in Marseille continues to make every effort to account for U.S. citizens in the city. Privacy considerations also prevent us on speaking more on any specific case absent written authorization. Additional consular officers from U.S. Embassy Paris are en route right now to Nice to provide assistance to U.S. citizens in need. U.S. embassy is operating normally.

U.S. citizens are urged to contact their family members to let them know if they’re okay. U.S. citizens should also minimize their movements around Nice and be vigilant of their surroundings. Continue monitoring local media for updates. Adhere to the instructions of local authorities.

Next, on South Sudan. The situation in Juba remains fluid. Although the events of the last several days have made it more difficult, we believe it is still possible that these longtime political adversaries can still come together in the interests of the South Sudanese people. We condemn all actions by the government to prevent civilians from boarding flights out of Juba or otherwise departing South Sudan. It is unacceptable, given the conditions in Juba, to prevent civilians from freely departing the country.

We are also concerned about the actions by government security forces to beat and temporarily detain transitional government officials affiliated with the SPLM-IO on July 14th. We call on the government to ensure the protection and safety of all members of the transitional government of national unity irrespective of their affiliation in the SPLM-IO or any other party.

Currently, there are no U.S. Government chartered flights scheduled. Commercial airlines, I’d note, have restored flights to and from Juba. U.S. citizens seeking to leave South Sudan are encouraged to use commercial airlines. We are also grateful for the efforts of several foreign governments for their evacuation efforts and support to U.S. citizens.

The U.S. ambassador and emergency personnel remain in the country, engaging diplomatically with leaders in South Sudan and supporting U.S. citizens in the country. USAID personnel also remain in Juba to assess humanitarian impacts of the fighting, to work with partners to meet urgent needs, and continue USAID operations.

We continue to press the leaders of South Sudan to end the fighting. We call on all parties to allow civilian freedom of movement and provide unfettered humanitarian access to all people in need. We also remind the parties the destruction and damage to humanitarian facilities, violence against aid workers is unacceptable and must stop immediately.

And final, a scheduling note. As previously announced, next week the United States will hold a pledging conference in Washington in order to raise support for the humanitarian and stabilization needs of – needs in Iraq. Today, I’d like to welcome the Netherlands as a co-host. The United States is pleased to be co-hosting this important event with Canada, Japan, Germany, and now the Netherlands. The July 20th pledging conference in support of Iraq will provide a unique and important opportunity for the international community to assist in remedying the devastation caused by Daesh to the most vulnerable and give the Iraqi people the means to rebuild their nation.

And with that, Lesley.

QUESTION: Thank you. I just want to come back to the Nice attack.


QUESTION: How many Americans do you believe that are still around there or that may need assistance?

MS TRUDEAU: So, as you know, U.S. citizens aren’t required to register their presence when they travel overseas. We don’t maintain comprehensive lists of U.S. citizens. Estimates of U.S. citizens in particular countries can vary. We don’t want to offer figures because they’re just not authoritative. Though, I will note, and I’ll take this opportunity – – for U.S. citizens traveling overseas, please register. We encourage you to do that as you go. For U.S. citizens in Marseille who need immediate assistance, they can contact the U.S. consulate general. The French Government has also set up an emergency line.

QUESTION: Does the United States have any information about this attacker? Was he known in any way to the United States?

MS TRUDEAU: So I know my colleague at the White House spoke a little bit about this. At this – we’re about 18 hours after this attack. I’d say I think a lot of you guys had long nights. We had a long night here at the department as well. We’re going to let the French investigate this. I don’t want to get ahead of this.

QUESTION: So the French – have the French asked for any assistance from the United States?

MS TRUDEAU: So the Department of Justice has reached out to our French counterparts to offer assistance. I don’t have what the French have asked for, but I’d refer you to DOJ to speak to that, because we have offered.

QUESTION: And then lastly on this one. Do you – is there anything that has come up in the U.S.’s monitoring of the situation that would indicate who was – whether he was part of any organization?

MS TRUDEAU: Again, I think it’s too early to get ahead of that. We’re 18 hours out. Let’s let the investigation move forward.


QUESTION: On the same topic, I mean, while this horrible terrorist attack seems to have been conducted by a lone wolf – the term “lone wolf” and so on – all indications or all information show that the mosques in places like Nice and Marseille and Paris and others that are really funded and supported by many of your allies, mainly in the gulf – they basically sort of instigate that kind of rhetoric and so on. And my question to you that I’ve asked in the past as well: Why can’t the United States get its allies to commit to tone down that kind of rhetoric in these major mosques that really prey on the vulnerable and the weak, on the non-belonging and so on.

MS TRUDEAU: So I’ve – I guess I – sort of three-part answer to that, and hold me accountable for all three, okay. First one: This is not Islam. This is not Muslims. Let’s be very clear on that, and I don’t – I want to put that out point-blank. Whatever motivated this individual to do that attack, it’s not Islam.

Secondly, in terms of our communications – separating it from your question – we do work with our partners and allies around the world on messaging. The Global Engagement Center here at the Department of State works very closely to counter that sort of inflammatory rhetoric and messaging.

And finally, on the last point, it’s too early to talk about motivation here. And out of respect for – it’s almost 100 people now, over 200 injured – let’s let the investigation move forward.

QUESTION: It breaks my heart to be asking these questions and so on, but --

MS TRUDEAU: I know, Said.

QUESTION: -- the truth of the matter – I mean, I understand, and I don’t want to be misconstrued as suggesting that this is Islam or anything like this --

MS TRUDEAU: Of course. No, of course.

QUESTION: -- but in fact, these clerics that are – they compete with one another on who can be more extremist, and they are funded by governments that are close allies of the United States. I’m saying that why can’t this issue be raised, and be raised in public, so they can be held accountable? And you follow the money.

MS TRUDEAU: So we do talk about violent rhetoric. We do talk about the importance of countering messaging, not only online but face to face. I just think – I think it’s too soon to make that link now, okay?


QUESTION: As you doubtless know, Secretary Kerry spoke about the terror attacks in Nice while he was in Moscow.


QUESTION: And he underscored the implications of the attack for the talks that he’s holding there, particularly about coordination in Syria – that the terrorist attack makes such coordination more necessary because Syria is an incubator of terrorists.


QUESTION: I know this is a little early, but do you have the sense that the Russians view the situation the same way as Secretary Kerry – that is, in this terrible tragedy there could be a silver lining with the implications for better coordination for dealing with the Syrian civil war?

MS TRUDEAU: So thanks for the question. I actually just got off the phone with our colleagues in Moscow. I’m told discussions are ongoing, so I don’t have a readout on outcomes of that meeting. So I’m not going to discuss that.

However, what I would say is we’ve been clear and other members of the ISSG have been clear that ungoverned spaces and Assad’s oppression have been breeders for violent extremism. Linking this to this attack – I’m not going to do that, but the causation is very clear.


QUESTION: Yeah, I want to just follow up on this point.


QUESTION: On supposed – the plan, or the much talked-about at this Administration plan to counter ISIS. It talks about cooperation, it talks about creating some sort of a control and command center that will operate together – American-Russian command and control center – center possibly operating out of Jordan and so on. So all these details are out there. Are – has there been any kind of reaction, has there been any agreement, or is that something where we will do this if you do this?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to discuss to what purports to be a leaked document.


MS TRUDEAU: In terms of the tangible outcomes of that meeting, I just don’t have anything for you right now because the discussions are ongoing.


QUESTION: Does the --

QUESTION: Because it does speak very clearly – I mean, both the Secretary of State and the foreign minister of Russia and probably the Russian president and our President – they all spoke about there are groups that are on the terrorist list, like Jabhat al-Nusrah, and they are fair game and they ought to be attacked and so on, and there’s going to be some sort of exchange of information on these things. Why must this be held to some sort of if you do this, we will do that? Why can’t they coordinate on this very issue?

MS TRUDEAU: So I would say that the cessation of hostilities – who was included in that and who was excluded from that – that was coordinated. We’ve been very clear Daesh and al-Nusrah are not parties to the cessation of hostilities, but beyond that and talking about coordination or details of that, I’m just not in a position to do that as of right now.

QUESTION: Elizabeth, do you --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry, I’ll get to you.


QUESTION: Just – I wanted to get – the discussions are ongoing with Lavrov?

MS TRUDEAU: The discussions are ongoing in Moscow. I’m not quite sure what configuration they’re happening in now.

QUESTION: Okay. So was it – they met earlier this morning, and then there was a break, and then they’ve gone back in?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. I think you saw that they actually went over to the French embassy together.

QUESTION: I did not see any of that stuff. I didn’t get any --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, to sign the condolence book. So Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry did.

QUESTION: Are there any indications yet whether there is some sort of agreement --

MS TRUDEAU: Again, discussions are ongoing. I just can’t get into that level --

QUESTION: It’s too early to tell?

MS TRUDEAU: It’s too early, I think, to characterize it.

QUESTION: Could you say the discussions have lasted longer than expected?

MS TRUDEAU: I would say that the discussions are ongoing. And is Moscow plus seven, plus eight?

QUESTION: Yes, seven.

MS TRUDEAU: Plus seven, so it’s past 9 o’clock at night.

QUESTION: The Secretary said that the meeting with President Putin lasted till one in the morning. When did the meeting start?

MS TRUDEAU: To be honest, I don’t have that granularity right now.


MS TRUDEAU: So we can check that, Samir.

QUESTION: Okay. Different topic?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: No, one sec.

MS TRUDEAU: Oh, I’m sorry, hold on. We’ll get to Tejinder and then we’ll chat.

QUESTION: I have a follow up on the last question.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: He did not mention the names. Whenever we hear here, we hear Iran, we hear – but most – the most extremist funding – extremists who come out of funded mosques are from the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia. So – and they’re our allies. So what exactly is going on? Like, it’s – they have Wahhabis and Saud family have that combination for 4, 500 years. It’s a very tight knit. So can we – do you, this department, this building, reaches out and tells them to tone down? Because what he was trying to say without naming is that there is this money pouring in and there – it – they can be identified on one, two, three, four. You remember 9/11, what happened, so --

MS TRUDEAU: Of course, we remember 9/11, Tejinder.


MS TRUDEAU: I mean, what we would say is that we constantly and continually engage with our partners and allies around the world on the issue of violent extremism, particularly on messaging. As I mentioned to Said, in person, online, written products. We understand – and I think the attacks in Baghdad, the attacks in Saudi, the attack in Bangladesh – terror has no borders, and we’re seeing this increasingly. I think you guys feel this too. It’s just a series of attacks. So this international coordination, and we’re speaking specifically about messaging, but on all of the lines of effort, is – has never been more important, so we are engaged.


QUESTION: Could I just follow up on this very issue?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. And I’m sorry, I will get to you.

QUESTION: Sorry – okay. According to French report, there are 1,200 French citizens who have gone to Syria and back, so there is a real problem with the foreign fighters and so on. Now, most of these people that went across the border into Syria or even on to Iraq, they have gone through the Turkish border. So the Turks conceivably could have lists and so on of all these people that cross their border. Is that something that you would be asking the Turkish to provide – let’s say, if they are German citizens, provide it to Germany; French citizens, provide it to France and so on. Is that something --

MS TRUDEAU: So another complicated question.


MS TRUDEAU: What I would say is the issue of foreign fighters is something we’re very focused on.


MS TRUDEAU: I think Brett McGurk has stood up here and has spoken about this.

QUESTION: Right, right.

MS TRUDEAU: And the President has said these lone wolves need to be right once. We all – all of our nations – need to be right 100 percent of the time. We do engage with our partners. Turkey has been very focused on closing that border. In terms of the information-sharing, I’m not at – I’m not going to be able to speak to that, but it is an active conversation that we have with our partners and allies.


QUESTION: Yesterday, Secretary Kerry said that he discussed with Mr. Putin Ukrainian issue.


QUESTION: Do you have any details on that? And if no, what is the current position of the United States Administration on Ukrainian issue during this visit of Mr. Kerry to Russia?

MS TRUDEAU: So I think you saw the readout that we did last night. As you note, Secretary Kerry did speak about this. Our position on Ukraine remains the same. Crimea is Ukraine. We have condemned the Russian aggression that continues to be an unhelpful and destabilizing force in Ukraine. We also encourage Ukraine to step forward and continue to make the reforms that are so important for the Ukrainian people. For details on the discussion though I’m going to refer you to the readout that we put out.

Okay, Lesley.

QUESTION: Change of subject. Emails.


QUESTION: Yeah, it’s usually one I don’t bring up, but since my colleague, Matt, is not here – he usually asks about it. I’m trying to get into some more kind of – any update on kind of how you’re going to go about this process?

MS TRUDEAU: I do have an update. It’s quite long, so I’m going to ask you guys to bear with me while I go through this. Okay?

We have additional information to provide about our internal review process. I will not be speaking about any specific case, nor will I be engaging in hypotheticals. As is standard, to protect the integrity of our work we cannot discuss the details of an ongoing review. Just as the FBI did not comment on its investigation, while it is ongoing we will not comment on our review.

That means I cannot confirm for you what specific materials we will consider or what individuals may or may not be evaluated for possible employment or security clearance-related actions. Our policy – so yes, it is --

QUESTION: What can you tell us?

MS TRUDEAU: It is moving. Yes, well, let’s go and I’ll give you exactly what we can.

Our policy is to assess each case on its own merits while taking into account all relative – relevant facts and circumstances. Furthermore, the department cannot comment on the status of any particular individual’s security clearance. Our goal is to complete this process thoroughly and expeditiously, but we will not put arbitrary deadlines on our work.

There is a significant amount of information about our process available to the public online. You’ll like this: For instance, I would point you to our Foreign Affairs Manual, specifically 12 FAM 500 and 230 sections. I’ll do my best to outline this process from the podium, but I cannot speak to every provision in the FAM. I also cannot speak to how the process will be applied to account for any specific circumstances.

In summary – and I still have a lot more to go, so stay with me – Diplomatic Security is responsible for evaluating security incidents and then reviewing them as appropriate for potential security clearance-related actions. Diplomatic Security is also responsible for referring certain incidents to our Bureau of Human Resources for potential employment actions. No matter the individual or conduct involved, the department conducts the review process in a professional, impartial, and fair manner that takes into account all relevant circumstances.

Multiple components within Diplomatic Security are involved in the process, supervised and overseen by the assistant secretary for Diplomatic Security. One component of Diplomatic Security conducts an initial assessment of security incidents and, when appropriate, issues security infractions or security violations. Security clearance reviews are conducted by a different DS component. As with Director Comey at the FBI and Attorney General Lynch at DOJ, it’s standard for our chief law enforcement officer, the assistant secretary for Diplomatic Security, to be involved with high-profile or complex matters, which is certainly the case here.

Assistant Secretary Greg Starr is the person in Diplomatic Security who is ultimately responsible for affirming or rejecting recommendations to revoke an individual’s security clearance. A decision to revoke a security clearance may be appealed to the Security Appeals Panel. Similarly, our human resource process can include multiple components, but ultimately Director General Arnold Chacon is responsible for taking disciplinary actions on an employee. That’s our process.

I know there’s questions about potential outcomes of the process. The short answer is that outcomes for any individual depend on their specific circumstances taking into account all of the relevant facts. This is what our review will determine. Current employees can face a range of employment discipline including reprimand, suspension, and termination. People with security clearances, including former employees, could have those clearances suspended and/or revoked.

We also maintain a security file on all personnel involved in security incidents. For individuals who no longer have a security clearance, the incident information is kept in their security file so it can be considered if they apply for a security clearance in the future. When evaluating whether a person remains eligible for access to classified information, the department follows the whole person approach based on the government-wide adjudication guidelines. Our Foreign Affairs Manual states that, quote, “Each case will be judged on its own merits,” end quote, based on specific, quote, “facts and circumstances,” end quote. Under the guidelines we can look at the severity of an incident, whether the person is a repeat offender, whether the individual is amenable to training or reform, and whether the incident was a technical violation or resulted in actual harm to national security.

As we have said, now that the FBI and DOJ have concluded their investigation, the department intends to conduct a review of Secretary Clinton’s emails according to our well established Security Incident Program. We’re preparing to conduct our review.


MS TRUDEAU: So there’s a lot. Thank you for your patience.

QUESTION: Well, I’ve got to digest quite a few.


QUESTION: But be with me on this, because I’m trying to get my head around it.


QUESTION: So the question here is: Has the FBI handed over – and how many emails has the FBI handed over to be reviewed?

MS TRUDEAU: At this stage, we have not received any from the FBI.

QUESTION: Have they indicated to you when that’s going to be?

MS TRUDEAU: I have no timeline on that, but we have not received them.

QUESTION: And then on DS, are they the – do they have the final word? Would – does Greg Starr have the – Assistant Secretary Greg Starr have the final word on this? Or can Secretary Kerry or even the President overturn those decisions or have the final say?

MS TRUDEAU: So I said there is – as I mentioned, there is a significant amount of information about our process online. So for this particularly, look at section 230 and 500 of 12-FAM. The 500 section outlines the Security Incident Program, which is handled by the Program Applications Division of Diplomatic Security. The 230 section outlines the security clearance, which is administered by the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability, also within DS. Both components operate under the oversight and supervision of the assistant secretary for Diplomatic Security.

QUESTION: So when it comes to Diplomatic Security, is that withdrawn – as you’re investigating it, is that withdrawn at the end or is it withdrawn at the beginning? Is it frozen? How does that work?

MS TRUDEAU: So the process you’re talking about – and forgive me for the FAM references, but it’s really detailed and really specific. So if people are looking for the details on this, refer to 12-FAM 233.4. I’m going to refer you there. As a general matter, the suspension of a security clearance is available if Diplomatic Security determines it’s appropriate while they carry out their review. However, if you read the FAM, you’ll see it’s not an automatic process; whether or not to suspend a person’s clearance depends on the circumstances. It’s a judgment of the trained professionals in DS.

QUESTION: And then how unusual is it that Diplomatic Security – or how unusual is it that this process – that you use this process?

MS TRUDEAU: So I’m not – it’s – I’m not going to talk sort of precedent, but I would say that there is offices within Diplomatic Security, and this is their mandate. All of us within the department – and we’ve spoken about this; Secretary Kerry has spoken about this – have the obligation to safeguard and correctly handle information.

QUESTION: So would this also include former employees? It includes former employees, right?

MS TRUDEAU: As I’ve said.

QUESTION: As you said. Does it include employees that are not part of the State Department but might also be involved in this – in the emails?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, I’m not going to speak, as I mentioned, to the specifics of any individual, any case. I just want to outline this broadly, bring you guys up to date on it, and give you the references, because it is such a technical and granular matter.

QUESTION: Yeah. But I mean, as you know, Secretary Kerry – Secretary Clinton has been involved in this, and a lot of people are wondering how this could affect her. So would you be able to make some kind of outcome whether it includes her or whether it includes somebody in a lower position? Is everybody going to be looked at equally?

MS TRUDEAU: Again, I just can’t speak to the specifics on who will be reviewed, what incidents will be reviewed. But I will say the review is taking place.

QUESTION: And you can’t tell us when this review is going to start?

MS TRUDEAU: No. No, they – the idea of projecting a timeline on this – we’ll say they’re committed to a fair, impartial, and absolutely rigorous process.

QUESTION: And when you say – just one more question.


QUESTION: When the FBI says that it’s looking at thousands of withheld emails, that it’s going to give State thousands, you don’t know if it’s going to be thousands or if it’s going to be hundreds? You have no idea?

MS TRUDEAU: I couldn’t speak to the FBI documents.

Abbie, are you good?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS TRUDEAU: Oh, I’m sorry. Tejinder, are we doing emails?

QUESTION: No, no, it’s on email.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I’ll come to you, Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: It’s just a technical question.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: I’m trying – she actually asked, and the answer – I didn’t understand the answer.

MS TRUDEAU: There’s a lot of words in there.

QUESTION: So the question that I have is that when the FBI was looking at it, they looked at Secretary Clinton, they looked at those – I don’t know, eight, nine, ten people who handled that private server. How many of those people are State Department employees or not employees?

MS TRUDEAU: So this --


MS TRUDEAU: Go ahead, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Technically, is Secretary Clinton a former employee or she’s above your law?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So I’m not going to talk to specific individuals --


MS TRUDEAU: -- or specific incidents. Secretary Clinton’s a former employee.


MS TRUDEAU: Are we on emails?


MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Let me go to Janne and then I’ll come over to you, Abigail.

QUESTION: Thank you, Elizabeth. Secretary – Deputy Secretary Blinken called South Korea and Japan deputy foreign minister have a meeting in Hawaii. Do you have anything on this?

MS TRUDEAU: I do. Thanks for the question. Deputy Tony Blinken, the Republic of Korea First Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam, and Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama had productive discussions at yesterday’s trilateral meeting. The three discussed interests of mutual concern, including the DPRK nuclear threat, North Korea’s deplorable human rights situation, maritime security, and they also considered potential actions for increased trilateral cooperation.

QUESTION: Were there any discussion of further Six-Party Talks meeting issues?

MS TRUDEAU: I have nothing to share on that, Janne.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you, ma’am.

MS TRUDEAU: Thanks. I’m going to go to Abbie and then I’ll come over to you, Samir.



QUESTION: And then me.

MS TRUDEAU: We’ll line it up, and then Tejinder.

QUESTION: I’m actually going back to Nice for a moment.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course, Abbie.

QUESTION: I recognize you can’t speak to specific cases, but are you able to give a general number of Americans who were injured in – within the – from the attack?

MS TRUDEAU: I cannot. No, the Privacy Act, without written authorization, precludes me from speaking about that.

QUESTION: Are you able to say whether there are any Americans who have been injured?

MS TRUDEAU: We are aware of reports that there are U.S. citizens who have been injured.

QUESTION: You’re aware of – okay.


QUESTION: And are you able to say the number of consular officers who have been moved from Paris down there?

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t. I think, actually, to be honest, it’s a surge. It’s very fluid. We’ll meet the need.


QUESTION: The Iraq Pledging Conference.


QUESTION: Do you know how many countries will participate, will attend?

MS TRUDEAU: You know what? Let me actually check and see if I’ve got that for you. I don’t. I think, actually, to be honest, we’re still getting invitation numbers. I may have more for you on Monday.

QUESTION: All right.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay? So let me see if I can look into it and then I’ll update you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Sure. Wait, was it Tejinder or Said?

QUESTION: Pledging conference?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. Do you guys mind?


MS TRUDEAU: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any information on representation from the KRG in the Iraqi delegation?

MS TRUDEAU: I think we’ve spoken about this quite a bit, Laurie, I think at two briefings this week. Again, we would refer you to the working group to speak about invitations.

QUESTION: I sent them a note. They haven’t responded to me.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. But they would be the appropriate ones.


QUESTION: I have a quick question on Egypt. There’s going to be a hearing on Sunday about freezing assets of two major – major human rights activist figures: Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid and others. The last time there – and there’s going to be a ruling. The last time this situation was about to happen, Secretary Kerry spoke and apparently put it off. Is he likely to do something like this again or --

MS TRUDEAU: So what I would say is we’re very much aware of Sunday’s --

QUESTION: Hearing.

MS TRUDEAU: -- potential announcement after the hearing.


MS TRUDEAU: We are monitoring the situation closely. Obviously, as you mentioned, this department has been very engaged in it. We’ll see what the hearing outcome is. I’m not going to get ahead of that, but we are watching the situation very closely.

QUESTION: Because this is part of an ongoing thing that targets American and Egyptian NGOs and groups that deal with human rights issues since 2011.

MS TRUDEAU: I know, and as we’ve spoken about, we’re very concerned with the deteriorating situation there for these NGOs, whose purpose is to help the Egyptian people.


QUESTION: Yes. You must have seen the reports what’s going on between India and Pakistan. Pakistan has declared July 19 to be observed as black day to express solidarity with people of Kashmir after Indian forces killed the Hizbul commander Burhan Wani. And there’s a lot of back and forth going on. Are you, this department, in touch with them or after this (inaudible)?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So I spoke a little bit about this yesterday. Obviously, we’re gravely concerned about this situation. We’re gravely concerned about the violence. In terms of those specific comments, which we are aware of, I’m going to refer you to the government to speak to the words of their own minister. As we’ve said before, it’s a situation where we need all parties to this to reduce the rhetoric, reduce the violence, get back to a situation where they can have dialogue.

QUESTION: But like it’s 15th so on 19 it’ll be observed black day so there’ll be an escalation in tension. And also I wanted to know a technicality of a question. There is a visiting minister from one of the countries and he was expressing some – he expressed some – is that allowed in a way? Like he’s here for a particular reason, and then he’s – his comments against the other country from this soil, does it have a tacit support of your department?

MS TRUDEAU: No, I wouldn’t say that any call for increasing tension or increasing rhetoric is something that we would support. We’ve been very clear on our position on that. But again, it would be the government of that minister to speak to his remarks.

Okay, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah, could I ask you – the Congress just released the 28 pages that linked the Saudis or possible link between the Saudi embassy here in Washington and the 9/11 hijackers and so on. Do you have any comment on that?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so --

QUESTION: They just --

MS TRUDEAU: So did they release it? Did they post it online?

QUESTION: They just did.

QUESTION: They just did.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. I think, actually, Josh Earnest spoke a little bit about this. Obviously, the ODNI had transmitted it to Congress. It’s a congressional report, so Congress had the choice to release this publicly. In terms of the content of the report, it’s a congressional report. In terms of the redactions, that’s a question for ODNI. But if you have specific questions on State Department equities --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, the State Department has expressed the view in the past that making this public will somehow compromise relations or alliances with certain countries and so on. Do you still stand by that position?

MS TRUDEAU: I would say --

QUESTION: Do you believe that releasing these 28 pages in any way will compromise your alliance with Saudi Arabia?

MS TRUDEAU: I wouldn’t characterize that, no. I would say that Saudi Arabia remains one of our most important allies in that region. We have robust cooperation with Saudi on counterterrorism, regional challenges, economics, energy. Our cooperation in those and in other areas will not change.

QUESTION: One sec. You said economic.


QUESTION: When first this report had come out that it will be released, if you remember, they had threatened that they’re going to dump U.S. bonds and things, that it would be how many billions. So do you expect them to carry out any threat?

MS TRUDEAU: I would refer you to the kingdom to speak particularly to those remarks. I would say our close cooperation with Saudi Arabia has not changed.

QUESTION: Can I go over to emails for a second?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course. And then, Abbie, we’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Is Pat Kennedy going to be involved in any of this?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so thanks for the question.

QUESTION: I know there’s been some questions about that.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. So first, as we’ve said many times, Under Secretary Kennedy did not approve nor was he aware of the extent to which Secretary Clinton was using personal emails. No matter the individual or the conduct involved, the department will conduct and does conduct the security clearance process review in a professional, impartial, and fair manner that takes into account all relevant circumstances.

According to our Foreign Affairs Manual, the Under Secretary for Management Pat Kennedy becomes involved in a security clearance revocation in the event of an appeal. He is a member of a three-person panel that’s at the very end of our process. I’m not going to speculate that it’ll even get that far.

QUESTION: And you said Secretary Kerry is not going to be involved?

MS TRUDEAU: So Secretary Kerry will be informed of the details, the results of the review, after its completion. Again, I’m not going to speculate on outcomes or hypotheticals. As we’ve said many times from this podium, he wants this review done by the book, and the book requires Diplomatic Security lead and conduct this review.

QUESTION: And then just one more small one.


QUESTION: Will the – so FAM is pretty clear that supervisors (inaudible) be held responsible for their subordinates’ actions. How are you going to deal with this? Is this --

MS TRUDEAU: That is – that’s something I think I’m not going to speculate on that. I’m not going – I can’t speak to the details of that. I can’t speak to the review. And honestly, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals on the review.

QUESTION: Yeah. And then are you going to deal it as one big infraction, or are you going to look at several --

MS TRUDEAU: Again --

QUESTION: You don’t know?

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t speak to how they’ll do it – specific incident, individuals. It’s just the review is happening.

QUESTION: Will they --

MS TRUDEAU: We’ll do it by the FAM.

QUESTION: Will they do – okay. But will they be clear about that before it even starts? Because it sounds like it hasn’t even started.

MS TRUDEAU: No, the review is in process. They’re preparing to move forward.


MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Abigail.

QUESTION: On the release of the 28 pages, the Saudis put out a statement saying that they hope this cleared up any lingering questions about their actions or intentions. Do you feel like there are any questions that still linger about their actions or intentions? Do you think that this report answers any of those questions – answers those questions?

MS TRUDEAU: So the 9/11 Commission’s report provides the authoritative account of who perpetrated and supported the 9/11 attacks. The 9/11 Commission built on the work of the joint inquiry and fully investigated the allegations in the 28 pages without finding any evidence that the Saudi Government or members of the Saudi royal family knowingly provided support for or had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Could I ask you a question on U.S. stated position on the peace process, the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, very quickly?


QUESTION: I know you don’t comment on the campaign and so on, but the GOP’s new platform drops the two-state solution as part of its program and so on, and – which is really a departure from positions taken by both Republican and Democratic administrations. Do you feel that such a thing can complicate your efforts in the future? I mean, it’s not – I know --

MS TRUDEAU: There’s – you’re, like, doing multi-part answers today, Said.


MS TRUDEAU: One, can’t comment on campaign rhetoric. I just won’t do it.

QUESTION: Right, I figured, but it is a departure --

MS TRUDEAU: Secondly, our position on a two-state solution has not changed.


MR TONER: It is the Administration’s position, it has been several administrations’ position. But beyond that, I’m just not going to comment on platforms that may have been put forward.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Can I go back to you on this Chinese – the American businesswoman that’s been charged by China?

MS TRUDEAU: Yes, Sandy Phan-Gillis. Thank you.

QUESTION: So you’ve been – according to reports, you’ve been officially informed of these charges.

MS TRUDEAU: Yes, and thank you for the question. This is an important case. Chinese authorities have informed us they will bring a case against Ms. Phan-Gillis to the Nanning Intermediate People’s Court. We urge China to resolve this case expeditiously and provide a fair and transparent legal process in accordance with local law and in a manner that also respects international human rights. We also ask that China ensure that Ms. Phan-Gillis continues to have full access to an attorney. U.S. consulate is providing consular assistance, including monthly consular visits, to Ms. Phan-Gillis since she was detained on March 20th, 2015. Consular officer last visited Ms. Phan-Gillis on June 20th. We monitor this case very closely.

I’d note one last thing: Senior government officials have raised Ms. Phan-Gillis’s case with senior Chinese Government officials on multiple occasions. We will continue to do so.

QUESTION: How senior? That was going to be my follow-up.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, of course.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary taken this up at all?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to speak to the Secretary’s conversations on this, but I will say that it’s not just once. We continue to raise this.

QUESTION: And can you tell us, in what condition is she? You said there’s been some – they’ve – there’s been visits, but is she in good health?

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t believe I can actually speak to that, but we have been providing monthly consular visits. We will continue to that. The safety and – the safety, the health, the well-being of U.S. citizens remains one of our highest priorities.

QUESTION: Do you know what she’s going to be charged with?

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t.


MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:40 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 14, 2016

Thu, 07/14/2016 - 17:24

Elizabeth Trudeau
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 14, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:03 p.m. EDT

MS TRUDEAU: Hello, everyone. We’ll be as brief as possible today, but I do have a couple things at the top. Today we welcome Liberia as the 163rd member of the World Trade Organization. This is a significant step for Liberia’s economic integration into the global trading system and adds another voice in Africa to this important forum. We applaud Liberia for this significant achievement. We look forward to working together as a – with Liberia as a full member of the WTO.

A note I think most of you are tracking – earlier today Secretary Kerry was in Paris, where he attended the Bastille Day celebrations. He also delivered brief remarks to the press on the one year anniversary of the JCPOA. I think you’ve seen that transcript, as well as the President’s statement on this anniversary. After departing from Paris, the Secretary arrived in Moscow, where he’ll be meeting with President Putin shortly. We expect to offer a readout after that, so I won’t get ahead of this now.

And with that, Matt, over to you.

QUESTION: So you’re going to offer a readout here or there?

MS TRUDEAU: So it’s my understanding we’ll get it there and then you guys will get it here.

QUESTION: All right. So I – this was gone over at great length at the – in the White House briefing, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it; I’m not, at least. But on Syria and on Russia and on this proposal that’s being brought, it’s been clear for several years now – or at least more than 18 months – that the U.S. position has steadily – slowly, but steadily – evolved, shifted, coming more in line with the Russian position, which has remained consistent since the very beginning of this conflict.

And I’m just wondering why, if the kind of proposal that’s we’re – that’s being presented or that has been presented is being presented now, why couldn’t it have been presented far earlier in this process, at least after December, when the Secretary went to Moscow and essentially aligned the U.S. position with that of the Russians vis-a-vis Assad. Isn’t it – is it wrong to think that had this proposal been made earlier a lot of lives could have been saved?

MS TRUDEAU: I would dispute the view that our position has moved. Our position has been consistent, which is Assad must go, that there must be space to have discussions to create that area for a political transition to move. I’m not going to comment on the details of documents, as the White House said, that haven’t been approved or agreed to. We have long said that we would welcome Russia’s increased focus on ISIL, on al-Qaida in Syria. Our common view is that these groups pose a threat to not only the people of Syria but to both our nations.

On your question on timing, again, not going to get ahead of discussions that may be happening in Moscow. Hopefully we’ll have more later today.

QUESTION: Well, you say that your position has been consistent, but it hasn’t. It – first it was Assad must go and he must go immediately. Then it was well, maybe he can hang on for a little bit, but in the end he still has to go, but that it’s got to be up to the Syrian people to --

MS TRUDEAU: Well, it’s always got to be up to the Syrian people. That hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Yeah. But your position on Assad definitely did change in terms of the timing of when he has to go. And now it appears to have changed to the point where you are prepared to accept or agree to joint operations with the Russians, something that they proposed well over – a month or two ago. So the – it may not – on that score, it may not have changed just yet because it hasn’t been agreed to, but you are now open to things that you weren’t open to just several months ago on that, on the military front. And I guess I just – I don’t understand why it’s wrong for people who are critical or critics of the policy, whatever it is, to point out that if you really think that this is going to salvage the ceasefire and lead to transition talks, or think it has a chance to, why wasn’t it – why didn’t you do it earlier?


QUESTION: I mean, a lot – thousands of people have died in the interim.

MS TRUDEAU: We are absolutely aware of that. We have been consistent in calling not only for the cessation of hostilities to continue in Syria but also to push Russia to exert its influence on the Syrian regime to make that possible.

I’m going to unpack your – your questions a little bit. First, on the cooperation, at present, we are not conducting or coordinating military operations with Russia. It’s not clear we’ll reach an agreement to do that. In Moscow, the Secretary will discuss the importance of focusing Russian efforts on ISIL and al-Qaida while emphasizing the urgent need for Russia and the Syrian regime to meet their commitments. That hasn’t changed. We have been consistent all along on that.

And we have also said that we’re not going to commit indefinitely to diplomacy that doesn’t achieve real results. We cannot provide political cover for those seeking to pursue a different agenda. Russia has influence. It has shown it has influence. The Secretary is committed to creating the space for a political transition. Our position on Assad has not changed, Matt.

QUESTION: The point is that it – whether or not you – I mean, you say it’s not clear we will reach an agreement to do – or to conduct or coordinate joint military operations. But the mere fact that you’re considering doing it is a shift.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I would dispute that.


MS TRUDEAU: I would say that it is --

QUESTION: How can you possibly dispute that? It has been the position of the Administration --

MS TRUDEAU: We have always --

QUESTION: -- that you would not – that you would de-conflict – as soon as the Russians sent their planes and people in --


QUESTION: -- back in last September, the position, up until now, has been nothing other than just this de-confliction exercise. Now you are considering, have proposed, or are willing to consider a Russian proposal, but that’s – that in itself is a shift. It is not consistent with your position --

MS TRUDEAU: Our focus --

QUESTION: All right. You’re – obviously, we’re not going to get --

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

QUESTION: I have just one more, and then – and it’s brief. And that is that your colleague at the White House and you also said that it’s time – the Russians have to make a choice.


QUESTION: That they have to – this is a test. The testing has been going on and on and on and on and on. It seems clear to everybody – except for you guys, apparently – or it seems clear to most people that the Russians have made their choice --


QUESTION: -- and that it is kind of pointless to keep testing them when it’s clear that they’re not going to budge.

MS TRUDEAU: But we’ve seen repeatedly through the nature of this conflict that Russia does have influence. We saw when the beginning of the cessation of hostilities that they do have the ability to influence the regime. That is our goal here. Our points, our position have been the same all along on this, Matt.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Elizabeth?


QUESTION: To follow up, just to be clear, has the Secretary’s – is this proposal coming from the Secretary, or is it an interagency proposal?

MS TRUDEAU: So, again, I’m not going to comment on specifics of any proposal. What I will say is that the interagency, the entire U.S. Government, as we move forward has been having very robust and very vigorous conversations on this. I think my colleague at the White House addressed this. Our position, again, is that we’re looking for a future for the people of Syria.

QUESTION: So in that language, “robust,” does that mean that there are disagreements with – interagency disagreements? There are definitely officials that are coming out, talking about that they don’t think this is going to work.

MS TRUDEAU: I would say in any situation – and Josh addressed this at the White House – in any situation that’s as complex and critical and, frankly, as heartbreaking as the humanitarian situation right now in Syria, raises lot of very strong viewpoints. The conversation within the interagency among our colleagues is very vigorous. But that said, our position as an administration is very focused right now.

QUESTION: So would you say that the Secretary’s trip has the full backing of the White House and of President Obama?

MS TRUDEAU: I am not going to characterize that for the White House, but I would say that the Secretary is going to present and to have discussions in Moscow that present the Administration’s views. I am not going to get ahead of those discussions right now.

QUESTION: Because, I mean, usually when a Secretary of State goes with a proposal like this, it has the backing of the White House. But the White House has not specifically said that. And that’s what this is about.

MS TRUDEAU: Well, because I think the awkward thing is none of us are talking about any proposal right now. What we’re talking about is there’s going to be discussions that happen. They start tonight when the Secretary meets with President Putin. They’ll continue tomorrow as he meets with Foreign Minister Lavrov. Let’s see where they go.

QUESTION: But does – there has to be a proposal. I mean, there – it was published this morning.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. But again, we’re not going to talk about the details.

QUESTION: So that’s not a proposal?

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t speak to any specifics of any documents that may have been leaked. You know that, Lesley.

QUESTION: Well, can you at least say that there is a proposal that’s going to be made or discussed?

MS TRUDEAU: What I’ll say is that the Secretary will meet with President Putin tonight. He will certainly be engaging in a very focused conversation on Syria. Those conversations will continue tomorrow with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

QUESTION: Then just something more – very specific on clearing this. What is the aim of these discussions? I mean, both sides have been fighting ISIL. Is the aim here to try to hone in more on these groups like al-Nusrah?

MS TRUDEAU: So what we would say on that is that Russia’s significant military intervention gives it enormous responsibility for Syria’s future. The Secretary will be speaking to Russian leaders about that. We believe that it’s time that Russia decides if it’s serious about advancing its purported goals in Syria.

QUESTION: But that’s the point, though. The Russians have made themselves – have made it clear that they are serious and that they believe that what they’re doing now is advancing their goals.

MS TRUDEAU: And as we said, Matt, we have talked about times where the Russians have been helpful on this.

QUESTION: Yeah, but in pursuit --

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t speak to the Russians and what their decisions --

QUESTION: I know, but in pursuit of their objectives. And that when you say it’s time for the Russians to stand up and make a choice, well, why isn’t it clear to you guys that the Russians have made their choice? It’s been --


QUESTION: It’s been – their position has not changed in four years, more than four years.

MS TRUDEAU: We think Russia has influence. We think that they need to use it.

Samir. No? We’ll go back. Hey, Oren. Nice to see you.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. So the State Department spokespeople have been saying from the podium for a long time now – complaining about Russian airstrikes on members of the opposition and asking the Russians to refrain from striking on groups that are intermingled with al-Nusrah. Has that position changed?


QUESTION: Is that going to change?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to – I – no.


QUESTION: Yes. Turkey’s prime minister yesterday talked about returning ties with Syria, quote, “to normal.” That’s caused great concern among the Syrian opposition. Does the United States share that concern, and has it tried to clarify what the prime minister meant by those remarks?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I’d refer you to the Turks to speak to their comments. I believe the foreign minister also spoke about it today. Our position is very clear. Turkey is an important partner in the fight against ISIL, against Daesh, continues to stand strongly with the United States and other members of the coalition. And also, let’s remember Turkey has been an extraordinary host to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who – they’re hosting on their own land. So I would refer you to the Turks on any clarification you’re seeking on that.

QUESTION: And does the State Department feel the need to clarify that statement with the Turkish --

MS TRUDEAU: I’d refer you to what the Turks themselves have said on this, okay?

QUESTION: Well, have you asked?

MS TRUDEAU: So we engage regularly with the Turks on this one.

QUESTION: Yeah, on this.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, so --

QUESTION: You did? You asked him what he meant by that?

MS TRUDEAU: So we have --

QUESTION: Or you asked them?

MS TRUDEAU: We have discussed this with our Turkish allies and friends.


QUESTION: And did – what did they tell you when you discussed it?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I’m not going to read out that conversation, but I would refer you to them. I believe that they’ve spoken about that, okay?


QUESTION: (Inaudible) Al Jazeera Arabic. Thanks for the opportunity. So in terms of timing, can you speak to why there’s optimism this time around? Obviously, the Secretary last week met with his Saudi counterpart and he’s in Moscow today. What makes you so certain that this time around there will be more success on something long-lasting, some kind of commitment that all sides can abide by?

MS TRUDEAU: So we’ve spoken about this at length from this podium. The Secretary has spoken about this as well. I’m not going to get ahead, as I’ve said to Matt and Lesley, of the discussions that are happening right now, actually, in Moscow, nor the discussions that’ll happen tomorrow. Our position has been clear on this. There’s got to be a future for the Syrian people. That’s what the international community is focused on.

In terms of your question, if we’re optimistic, I would say we’re very pragmatic on this. This has been a humanitarian toll that is devastating. That said, that there’s no excuse not to work on every possible track towards a solution, okay?

Hi, Nick.

QUESTION: Can I move to Saudi Arabia?

MS TRUDEAU: Are you good, Matt?


MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Saudi.

QUESTION: I have another one on Syria.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, go ahead. We’ll come to you, Nick.

QUESTION: Sorry. Kind of a follow-up to my previous question: Are Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam considered part of Nusrah or part of the opposition?

MS TRUDEAU: So our position on Nusrah, which is part of the UN-designated group, is that they are not party to the cessation of hostilities. Jaysh al-Islam – they are not designated on that UN group.


QUESTION: On the 28-page --

QUESTION: Let me just make a point. Why are they not on that UN list? Why are they not on that UN list?

MS TRUDEAU: Because they have not been so designated by that UN group.

QUESTION: And the United States supports or opposes putting them on that list?

MS TRUDEAU: I think we’ve talked about this at length, Matt.

QUESTION: But again, so you go back to the point where you’re saying, well, they’re not covered – or they are covered by the cessation of hostilities because they’re not on that UN list. But the reason that they’re not on that UN list is that you oppose them being on that UN list.

MS TRUDEAU: We have also talked about the importance of groups like this to disassociate themselves --


MS TRUDEAU: -- to move apart, to not intermingle, to not be aligned there.

QUESTION: And in – right, okay.

MS TRUDEAU: And that’s something we continue to have these very robust conversations --

QUESTION: And some of the opposition commanders today, in response to reports about the proposal, have said that they’re not going to disassociate themselves with Nusrah, because Nusrah is a formidable or a credible fighting force. So clearly, I mean, you’ve been talking to them about – and their direct sponsors for months about disassociating themselves and getting themselves away, and they haven’t done it and they won’t – they say they won’t do it. So what --

MS TRUDEAU: I guess our focus is that these two particular groups are not our biggest focus on this. We understand. We understand there’s intermingling. We understand, because we’ve spoken to them. We will continue. We’re not saying no, it’s not a problem. But we’re also very focused on the situation in the ground right now in Syria.

QUESTION: All right.


QUESTION: So the House Intelligence Committee is saying it may release the 28 pages from the 9/11 report, those classified 28 pages, as early as today or tomorrow. Have you spoken with the Saudis on what may – what’s in those 28 pages? Are you concerned about the effect that this may have on U.S.-Saudi relations and have you spoken with the House Intelligence Committee?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. So I have no timing to announce on that. That would be, obviously, for Congress. Or I would also actually specifically refer you to ODNI to speak about their timing on that. I’m not going to get ahead of any release of any report by Congress nor detail diplomatic relations on a timeline that we’re just not aware of.

QUESTION: But have you spoken with the Saudis ahead of this to sort of --

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Again, the timing on the release of that report, that would be a question for ODNI, and then ultimately, Congress, because that report does belong to Congress.

QUESTION: I mean, just timing aside, are you sort of laying the groundwork with the Saudis on what --

MS TRUDEAU: We’ve had multiple conversations with the Saudis about this. In terms of specific readouts or anything specifically on this, I have nothing – nothing to offer.


QUESTION: On the South China Sea, I wonder if --

MS TRUDEAU: Of course. Do we really have anything more we can say about South China Sea? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: First of all, do you have a response to Philippines proposed that they may send an envoy to China to discuss the arbitration?

MS TRUDEAU: Our focus, as we’ve said repeatedly from the podium, is that we encourage all claimants to avoid provocative actions and rhetoric. We would welcome any discussion among claimants. We hope that all claimants take advantage of this opportunity that the arbitration decision provided to work together and manage these disputes.

QUESTION: And secondly, could you please confirm, is there the office in the State Department called the Office of Geographer? Are they responsible for those maps that United States Government use or any official maps for the government? And what’s their responsibility?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So we’re talking about the rock, island thing, correct?


MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So let me answer the question you’re actually asking. The United States does not take a position on whether other’s small islands around the world are rocks for the purposes of Article 1213. The terms “island” and “rock” are not mutually exclusive categories under international Law of the Sea. Under Article 1213 of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, islands are, quote, “rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.” I know we owed you that from yesterday, so I wanted to make sure you got that.

In terms of if there’s an Office of the Geographer in the State Department --

QUESTION: Yeah, I couldn’t find the website.

MS TRUDEAU: I can actually check. I’m not aware of one. It doesn’t mean there’s not one. So let me find out.

QUESTION: So does the State Department send your own researcher and officers --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, why don’t I take a look at it? Because I’m not aware of any office, but that doesn’t mean there’s not one, because there’s a lot of offices I’m not aware of. Okay.

QUESTION: And some point you mentioned the UNCLOS definition of the island. So China is challenging the court decision. It’s from the Permanent Court of Arbitration instead of the ICJ, because the example that Spokesman John Kirby reached* the other day, the case between United States and Canada, actually it’s ruled by the ICJ instead of this permanent court. So why do you think the ruling is legally binding?

MS TRUDEAU: Because both claimants agreed to a legally binding decision when they joined that --

QUESTION: No, China didn’t agree with that.

MS TRUDEAU: When they joined, they did.

QUESTION: But even the United Nations came out to say that court, the PCA, Permanent Court of Arbitration, is not connected to UN.

MS TRUDEAU: So you’re asking about the Canada or you’re asking about this decision?

QUESTION: I’m asking about this decision from this Permanent Court of Arbitration, why it’s legally binding, because the example that spokesman give me the other day, it’s a decision from the ICJ, not the same court.

MS TRUDEAU: No, it’s the Law of the Sea Convention. The tribunal’s decision in this case is legally binding on both the Philippines and China.

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s my question. Why this court decision is binding --

MS TRUDEAU: It’s provided in the Law of the Sea Convention, knowing, of course, that the United States is not a signatory but these groups are. Okay.

QUESTION: But wait. I just wanted to ask --


QUESTION: The rock island thing.


QUESTION: And you mentioned a citation of a number.


QUESTION: That – what – where is that from? Is that your own definition or is that Paul Simon’s definition or is it the UNCLOS definition?

MS TRUDEAU: I would sing it for you but you don’t want me to do that. It’s the Law of the Sea Convention on the definition of island and not.

QUESTION: So you guys, even though you’re not members of it, you accept their definition of the --



QUESTION: But why on the map you released in 2010 says that Taiping Island – you actually --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. I – again, I think we went through this yesterday a bit. So what I would say is under the Law of the Sea Convention, that’s how it’s defined. In terms of the State Department’s map, again, I don’t even know if we have an office. I’ll look and see if we have an office on that. But it’s the Law of the Sea Convention and this arbitration decision. Pulling in a random U.S. map from a website is not going to influence that.

Okay. Al Jazeera.

QUESTION: Thank you. If I can change the subject to Egypt. Have you been in touch with the Egyptian authorities on the case of Aya Hijazi, a U.S. citizen? She’s been imprisoned without trial for over 800 days?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. So we are aware that Ms. Hijazi – let me just go here – has been detained in Egypt for more than two years and is currently on trial. We continue to call for an expeditious resolution to the case and a fair and transparent legal process, in accordance with local law and in a manner that also respects international human rights. We continue to provide all possible consular assistance to Ms. Hijazi. We meet with her frequently, and we also attended her last court hearing, which was May 21st. We will attend all upcoming hearings and continue to provide that consular assistance.

QUESTION: Can I ask about --

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: -- a general question, which is the issue of – it’s been brought up by groups such as Amnesty International, the issue of forced disappearances --


QUESTION: -- in Egypt. Amnesty has a report where they’re saying there’s an average of four forced disappearances per day and they’re asking countries such as – in EU but also on the U.S. to pressure Egypt to stop those practices. Do you agree with the Amnesty report or do you think Egypt’s --

MS TRUDEAU: So we read the report. We think that the allegations in the report are deeply concerning. We urge all authorities in Egypt to investigate all allegations of abuse by the security forces. As we’ve said repeatedly, we’re concerned by the deterioration in the human rights environment in Egypt. We believe all Egyptians are entitled to receive equal and fair treatment before the law. They have a right to due process.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: This is the shortest ever.

QUESTION: No, no. I got a couple.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course, Matt.

QUESTION: Where to begin? Oh, right. So I’m just going to try and clear something up that’s come up for the first three – the briefings – every briefing this week.


QUESTION: And that is – this has to do with Kashmir --


QUESTION: -- and the violence there.


QUESTION: So on Monday and then again on Tuesday, Kirby – basically he said the same thing, that you’ve seen the reports of the violence --


QUESTION: -- you’re concerned by it, but then referred questions to the Indian Government about it.


QUESTION: So he said the same thing Monday and Tuesday.


QUESTION: And then Toner was asked yesterday, and he basically referred back to what Kirby has said. This statement that – referring questions back to the Indian Government has been interpreted by India and – but also by others as meaning that the U.S. Government believes this is purely an internal Indian matter and that they should be – basically the United States is minding its own business and won’t get involved. Is that a correct interpretation?

MS TRUDEAU: No, I would say we’d have – we’ve had discussions with both India and Pakistan on this issue.

QUESTION: On the current – or the recent --

MS TRUDEAU: On a range of issues, but including Kashmir, yes.

QUESTION: No, no. On this specific – these specific recent outbreaks of violence.


QUESTION: You have? Okay. There’s also been the question raised of why you’ve said that you’re concerned about the violence but you haven’t condemned the deaths of civilian --

MS TRUDEAU: So we are very concerned about the deaths of the protesters. I understand it’s over 30 now; that’s of grave concern to us. We continue to be in touch with the Government of India. We’ve been in discussions with the Government of Pakistan as well.

QUESTION: Okay. But is this something that the United States would condemn?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, we’d encourage all sides to make efforts to finding a peaceful resolution. The situation on the ground from what we understand is very complex, it remains fluid. In terms of clarity on what’s going on, in terms of the protests as well as the security force reaction, we’re still trying to get it.

QUESTION: All right. And then – but just in terms of this being an internal matter for India, while it may be taking place on territory that India claims or administers --

MS TRUDEAU: Exactly.

QUESTION: -- do you – I mean, does that absolve it of any kind of criticism for any abuses that may or may not take – that may take place?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, we take – as we said and as both Kirby and Toner did say, we’re very concerned about this latest outbreak of violence on that.

QUESTION: All right. And then somewhat related to that, the head of – the leader of Lashkar-e Tayyiba is a man who you guys have put a Rewards for Justice bounty, to loosely use the word “bounty,” of $10 million. This has been an issue that’s been raised before. He is basically walking around in Pakistan openly with not a problem giving interviews, whatever. He has said that the United States, by taking the position that – or not taking any position – condemnation on the deaths in the recent violence, that you’re basically giving India a free hand or you’re encouraging them to use harsh tactics against demonstrators. Is he correct in saying that?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Of course not. I mean, we’ve seen the statements. We – as we’ve said from this podium many times, we remain concerned about his activities. He’s listed by UN Security Council 1267 al-Qaida Sanctions Committee. As you note, he’s also on the Rewards for Justice Program. Both LET and Saeed are designated by the U.S. Government. We would – we’re not going to respond to every statement like that. Obviously we disagree with his premise, but we’ve also been very clear with the Government of Pakistan that they must target and root out these extremist groups, all militant groups and Taliban. And I believe Toner referenced yesterday the very helpful comments from General Sharif on this.

QUESTION: Right. Is it a concern to you that this guy who has been designated by the UN and then by the U.S. is just – seems to be going about his day-to-day things?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, we remain very concerned by his activities as well as the statement, as you’ve highlighted.

QUESTION: Have you – and you have raised this with Pakistani authorities?

MS TRUDEAU: We have been very clear.

QUESTION: All right, on Israel briefly --


QUESTION: -- unless anyone has more on that – I asked a question yesterday about the guy who’s been named the chief rabbi of the IDF and has --


QUESTION: Did you get a response on that?

MS TRUDEAU: So we have. We understand their concerns with some of the comments that this individual made in the past. While we won’t respond to every comment, obviously there’s no justification for rape.

QUESTION: He’s made some other comments as well. Are those the only ones you’re referring to?

MS TRUDEAU: The ones that I’m tracking are the ones I’m referring to.

QUESTION: All right. And then lastly, as you began with the Iran – the Iran-iversary as some people are calling it --

MS TRUDEAU: Hashtag.

QUESTION: Yeah, in a – yeah, but I don’t think these people are supporters of the deal calling it Iran-iversary. But anyway, Foreign Minister Zarif in his comments marking the anniversary of the deal basically complained again that you guys in particular – the U.S. but also the other members of the P5+1 – have not been living up to your end of the deal and that you need to do more in terms of sanctions relief. Is that a valid complaint?

MS TRUDEAU: We would disagree. We’ve made clear that the United States will continue to live up to its commitments under the Iran deal as Iran lives up to its own commitments.

QUESTION: So there is no – the Iranian officials have said for some time that if they’re not getting the relief that they think that they’re – or that they are owed under this deal, they’re going to walk away from their part of the bargain. That – on the first-year anniversary, you would say that they do not have any cause to do that?

MS TRUDEAU: I would say that we believe that the United States is living up to its commitments. We continue to have discussions not only with our international partners but also with the Iranians on this. This is – it was certainly not a simple deal. I think you --

QUESTION: Oh, yeah.

MS TRUDEAU: -- 18 days in Vienna remember the negotiations that led to this. But we believe, yes, we are.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Great. Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:34 p.m.)

DPB # 124

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 13, 2016

Wed, 07/13/2016 - 17:43

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 13, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:15 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey, Matt.


MR TONER: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the State Department. As you already heard, no doubt last night, Secretary Kerry announced that the United States will provide an additional $439 million of life-saving humanitarian assistance for those affected by the war in Syria. This new funding brings U.S. humanitarian assistance in response to this conflict to nearly $5.6 billion since the start of the crisis. This announcement of an additional $439 million also reflects the great generosity of the American people and demonstrates U.S. commitment – ongoing commitment to helping address the unprecedented magnitude of the suffering and urgent needs of those affected by the conflict in Syria.

The Syrian conflict – it’s worth noting – remains the largest and most complex humanitarian emergency of our time with more than two-thirds of Syria – of Syria’s pre-war population, which is roughly over 18 million people, in need of humanitarian assistance both inside Syria as well as in the region.

I don’t have anything else at the top. So, Matt, over to you.

QUESTION: Just one thing on that.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: The Secretary also said that he was very pleased to announce that the Administration would definitely meet its goal of bringing in 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the fiscal year. That’s correct, right? Just before he made that announcement he said that they would reach that goal, right – that you would reach that goal? I’m just wondering how he can possibly know that --

MR TONER: I would say that --

QUESTION: -- with 100 percent certainty.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, we’re – we believe we will meet that goal.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he said it was definite.

MR TONER: We’re working diligently. I can’t – I don’t know – I’m looking to see if I have in front of me where we’re actually at on the current total.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, I just wanted – I mean --

MR TONER: I think we’re about half way or more than half way there as of July 8th.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you only --

MR TONER: You got to – you also have to convey and project confidence, Matt. That’s what a leader does. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. So, but – but you acknowledge that --

MR TONER: No, seriously, we’re working --

QUESTION: -- there isn’t any way you can say with 100 percent certainty that that goal is going to be met when it’s still two-and-a-half months to go and you’re already – out of 8, 9, 12 months you had --

MR TONER: I think we’re – he was expressing the degree of confidence that we have that we have all the measures in place. We’re working diligently to reach that goal. It’s a priority.

QUESTION: Different issue.


QUESTION: And this is Russia.


QUESTION: And what is your understanding of what happened to the head – the Broadcasting Board of Governors chairman? Have you made representations to the Russians? Will this come up when the Secretary is there – is it tomorrow or Friday?

MR TONER: So a couple of things on that, Matt. First of all, we’re still, frankly, in the process of sorting through all the details of what happened yesterday, or last night, and the timing of what occurred. But obviously, everybody’s seen the reports. You know also that the Broadcasting Board of Governors did issue a statement on the matter. I’d refer you to that and to them for additional details. I’m limited here. And I’m limited because we’ve not yet received a Privacy Act waiver. Once I do, I’ll be able to say a bit more but not a whole lot more about the incident and about the case.

QUESTION: Well, I --

MR TONER: I said a little bit. And I did --

QUESTION: So the Privacy Act now applies to officials – government – all right, it’s an independent government agency and I realize it is kind of a part – it is a part-time job.

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: But he still was traveling in his official capacity. The BBG, as you noted, put out a statement. It said that the other people who were with him on this delegation went to the embassy, spoke to Ambassador Tefft, and then they thanked Ambassador Tefft and the Department back here for their urgent --

MR TONER: So I was going to finish that.

QUESTION: Oh, okay, I thought you were done.

MR TONER: I was – allow me to go on a little bit further and say --

QUESTION: I’m sorry. I thought you were done.

MR TONER: That’s okay. No worries. We were, when alerted – our embassy in Moscow – to what was happening and to the incident, we did obviously go and assist Chairman Shell. But your question highlights some of the ongoing questions and details that we’re trying to sort through, which is in exactly what capacity he was travelling. And I have to stop there because you said he is – it is a role that he plays. He is also a private citizen.

QUESTION: Well, it’s my understanding that he was supposed to go to a reception or to ceremony today marking the – an anniversary for Radio Liberty in Moscow. That would seem to me that he was doing this not in his private capacity at NBCUniversal but rather in his capacity as chairman of the BBG.

MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to read too much into this and I don’t want to – I just – all I’m trying to say, Matt, is I don’t have full Privacy Act clearance to go any further. And frankly, we’re still trying to sort through the details of what actually happened. As to why he was denied, that’s really something for the Russians to speak to. Whether we raised our concerns with the Russians – we did.

QUESTION: You did?

MR TONER: And whether it will come up with Secretary Kerry, I don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay. The Russians have said that the reason that he was denied entry was because he was put on an expanded stop list that was expanded because you guys expanded sanctions against individual Russians. Did they – have they not given you that explanation? They made it publicly.

MR TONER: Have they made that publicly?

QUESTION: The foreign ministry.

MR TONER: Well, look, Matt, I’m not going to – again, if they’ve said publicly, they’ve offered their explanation. I said it’s not for us to explain what happened to him. It’s for them to speak to why they refused his entry.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not really asking you to explain what happened to him.


QUESTION: I would like to know whether or not you disagree with what happened to him. When you say you express your concerns, did you --

MR TONER: Well, look, we’re concerned.

QUESTION: -- did you protest it?

MR TONER: We expressed our concerns about what happened. We’re still trying to see – sort through the precise details of what happened, and why he was refused. I’m aware of some of the public comments that they’ve made, certainly. And with regard to that public reason that they gave, all I’ll say to that is, look, the appropriate response for Russia to any of our sanctions would be to address the concerns on which our sanctions are based and not to do a tit-for-tat.


MR TONER: You’re saying that – you’re saying that public – that the public response that he gave, that he was put on a no-fly list or a no-entry list --

QUESTION: Yes, both – both countries do this tit-for-tat all the time. You guys never seem to – when they – why are you asking them to do what you guys won’t do?

MR TONER: Our sanctions are --

QUESTION: I mean, there were just two – four diplomats, two from each side, expelled from each of the countries last week. This happens on and – happens over and over again. It doesn’t seem like any – is that really a reasonable or a logical expectation?

MR TONER: Well, it is in the sense of if Russia wants the sanctions lifted – all the sanctions – we’ve spelled out a clear way by which those sanctions can be lifted. So if they meet those commitments and they meet those expectations, then they can be lifted.

QUESTION: Well, is it fair to say that you have a problem with this guy not being able to get in to the country?

MR TONER: It’s fair to say we have concerns about what happened, yes.

QUESTION: All right.


MR TONER: Yeah, please.

MR TONER: Do you think – I mean, given the increasing diplomatic tensions going on, not only the fact that you expelled some of theirs, but this is now the latest in a long list that’s been going on now for several weeks, do you really think this is business as usual between the countries? I mean, there’s a lot festering --

MR TONER: I wouldn’t use that term.

QUESTION: There’s a lot festering underneath here, and --

MR TONER: But I wouldn’t use that term. I mean, look, we’re – the Secretary is traveling to Moscow and he’s been very clear what the goal is, and that is to try to resuscitate the cessation of hostilities and the fact that we are yet again going to Russia to try to get its buy-in on a process that can lead to a nationwide ceasefire, or a cessation of hostilities. We haven’t seen that thus far, but we’re having another go at this. The Secretary has been very clear about the fact that they’ve not lived up to their commitments so far in terms of exerting influence on the regime to stop these ongoing attacks on opposition forces who are adhering to the cessation of hostilities. And the overall effect of that is you’ve got ongoing violence, you don’t have a nationwide cessation of hostilities that all these parties have allegedly committed to and the regime has committed to, and that just stymies the political process, and you’ve just got – you – so you can’t go forward on this, and we need to go forward.

QUESTION: But, Mark --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- can you separate what’s going on in these other tensions – the NBC guy, the diplomats --


QUESTION: -- and then what’s going on in Syria? Are they connected in any way?

MR TONER: To that I’ll say that – and we’ve made this point before – is our relationship with Russia is very complex. We disagree where we disagree – and there are areas, in fact, as you know, where we disagree quite strongly. But there are areas where we can cooperate. Iran – the Iran nuclear deal was a great example of that. Thus far, we have made some progress in our approach to Syria. There are areas with regard to Syria and how to resolve the conflict there on which we agree as part of the ISSG how to get there – a political process, an end to the conflict, that there is no military solution to the conflict. But while we have reached those kinds of overarching agreements, we haven’t seen the practical reality on the ground yet and we need to have that.

And that’s what – so Secretary Kerry’s going to Moscow, he’s going to meet with Putin, he’s going to meet with Lavrov, and we’re going to again have these discussions about how we can get this cessation of hostilities back into a reality or a state of feasibility.

QUESTION: But Mark, since the Iran deal, where is it that you find – the Secretary comes out of meetings with President Putin and Lavrov with these promises that things are going to happen, but where actually have they happened on the ground?

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean – and I don’t mean to go big and I don’t mean to walk back. I mean, there have been some undeniable progress. We did get a cessation of hostilities. Has it been perfect? No, by no means, but it has saved lives, such as it is. It’s deteriorated over time, so we need to resuscitate it, we need to reinforce it, but it was in place. It was a success, such as it was. It wasn’t a complete success. It has not been, but --

QUESTION: Only for a few days, so --

MR TONER: That’s not true. For a few months, I would say, and that it’s been weakened and fragile, and I agree with that around – in certain areas, Aleppo being one of them, but – and that’s one of the goals here. We need to get a nationwide cessation of hostilities. We need to move beyond these periods of calm or whatever we’re calling them and get into a credible, nationwide cessation of hostilities. That’s the goal here. If we get that, then we can get a political process hopefully back up and running again. And that’s the goal, again, that everyone allegedly who is part of the ISSG adheres to and believes in, or has at least professed that they believe in. We’ve got to test this. That’s – this is what we’ve got. This is the model. I don’t think Secretary Kerry or anyone has said this is going to work 100 percent, but we have to test it. That’s what we’re doing.

QUESTION: Would you say that this --

MR TONER: Please --

QUESTION: -- that this trip of the Secretary of State to Moscow is like a last-ditch effort? Because the Secretary said yesterday or last night we’re going to try this one more time or what – or something like that. So does that mean this is really like the last time that you will be pushing --

MR TONER: It’s – that’s a very fair question, Said, and I can’t answer that definitively. I think we’re – I would – my answer to that would be we don’t have – our patience is not unlimited. We don’t – and ultimately, as I said, if this thing collapses, we’re left with what comes next, and that’s going to be a return to conflict and a return to a situation that we felt like we were making progress moving away from. Again, we’ve seen limited progress here. I don’t want to simply say that this has been a failure in any way, shape, or form – not at all. We have seen a significant decrease in fighting. That has saved lives. We have seen some or many areas get access to humanitarian assistance, but it hasn’t been sustained and it hasn’t been complete.

QUESTION: So that brings into issue --


QUESTION: -- the proverbial pPlan B, right? I mean, so what is pPlan B?

MR TONER: So we’re not to pPlan B yet.

QUESTION: I mean, listening to, let’s say, what Lavrov said yesterday about de Mistura and so on --

MR TONER: Sure, yeah.

QUESTION: -- I mean, you see that the gulf is really widening. It’s not – you’re not coming closer together. So the Saudi foreign minister was here last week talking about sending ground troops to Syria and so on. So the situation is not really – does not bode well for a process.

MR TONER: Look, we’ve had these meetings in the past. The Russians tell us they share our intentions to bring an end to the conflict. We all profess to saying that this war must end and it must end through a political solution, not a military solution. We’ve got to continually test that proposition. The ISSG is only effective insofar that it can exert influence on the parties. We believe Russia can exert the necessary influence on Assad to get it to change its ways and to adhere, and that’s all – we’re continuing to push that.

QUESTION: My last point on this --

MR TONER: Please, yeah.

QUESTION: -- is that the Russians insist on designating Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam as terrorist organizations. And in fact, all indications show that these groups keep spawning other groups that are very, very similar, and in fact, in many ways, whether in dogma or practice, Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam really look very much like al-Nusrah in many ways. So why is it so difficult to say that these guys that commit these acts in this fashion are actually terrorist groups and fair game?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. Your question is why would it be so difficult for us to make that leap?

QUESTION: The question is – yeah, why – yeah. Are you, let’s say – is this like a red line for you that you will not designate Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam as terrorist organizations?

MR TONER: Well, our response to that is that these are – Nusrah, Daesh are groups that have been designated by the UN through an agreed-upon process. The – all other groups – and we have recognized and we’ve said this before – Kirby’s spoken to it, I’ve spoken to it – there is – the Secretary’s spoken to it – there is – on the battlefield there are groups that mesh together or individual fighters or groups of fighters. It’s not a clean situation all the time, which is why we need to work harder to coordinate our efforts to delineate between those groups.

QUESTION: But the reason that --


QUESTION: The reason that they haven’t been designated by the UN is because you won’t let the UN do it. It’s a bit disingenuous to get up here and say, “Well, it’s not up to us. It’s up to them UN” --

MR TONER: No, but --

QUESTION: -- when you’re preventing the UN from doing it, is it not?

MR TONER: But that’s not entirely true. And the fact that – I mean, it’s – look, I mean, we – there is an agreed-upon process by which these groups have been --

QUESTION: Yes. And you – when it is raised, when people want to put them on, you and others – your allies, the Saudis in particular – say no. But then you say – you stand up and say, “Well, the reason they’re not on the list is because it hasn’t gone through that process.” And I’m just saying, don’t you think it’s a bit disingenuous to say they’re not on the list because it hasn’t gone through this process --

MR TONER: No, because --

QUESTION: -- when you are one of the prime reasons that they haven’t been gone through – it hasn’t gone through this process, no?

MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to speak to that. All I’m going to say this is a – it’s a consensus-based decision-making process.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Last thing – can you just take this?

MR TONER: Yes, sir. Yeah.

QUESTION: I just want to know what the – the Privacy Act, how it applies to – in this case.

MR TONER: Yeah, I --

QUESTION: I mean, if he was – does it apply to American diplomats?

MR TONER: Again, I’m happy to do that. I’m happy to talk to you about it --

QUESTION: And also the – yeah. And also the difference between someone who has a part-time position and then also someone who might be – have a part-time position but be traveling on their – in their private capacity.

MR TONER: Yep, fair question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thank you.

QUESTION: It’s a follow-up to the questions --


QUESTION: -- that Said and Matt raised.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Well, did the U.S. and Russia reach an understanding on what to do with Ahrar al-Sham Jaysh al-Islam whom last month in Aspen Secretary Kerry called subgroups underneath al-Nusrah and Daesh. Do the U.S. and Russia have an agreement on what to do with these groups?

MR TONER: Well, so I’m not going to get ahead of discussions that will be taking place when he’s actually in Moscow, wouldn’t want to do that. But we have long been saying that we would welcome Russian engagement to combat al-Nusrah and Daesh. We’re continuing to discuss with Russia – and I’m not going to get into the details of that discussion at this point – but we continue to discuss with Russia the imperative of focusing the fight on Daesh and al-Qaida in Syria and on ways that we can collectively better enforce the cessation of hostilities. And I was trying to make this point with Lesley, because until we have that credible cessation of hostilities back in place, we can’t get this political process up and running that we all – all members of the ISSG say, “Okay, we recognize this is the way forward.”

So we’re really at a stalemate. We need to get a cessation of hostilities back. We need to focus on how we can enforce that. And then, again, the humanitarian piece is also always foremost.

QUESTION: So do I understand --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- there’s no agreement on these particular groups?

MR TONER: We’re still – again, we’re still talking with Russia about how we can coordinate better our efforts.

QUESTION: The policy has not changed --

MR TONER: I’m not going to get into – yeah.

QUESTION: But doesn’t the Secretary’s assessment that these groups or subgroups of designated terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida in Syria, which is al-Nusrah – doesn’t that warrant some change of policy? Or do you think that as long as these terrorist subgroups call themselves differently, they’re off the hook?

MR TONER: I think – I’ve spoken to this before. I’ll say much the same as I’ve said before, which is that we recognize that in places like Aleppo and elsewhere that there’s a mixing or comingling, whatever you want to call it, and that we need to work more closely together to disentangle where these groups are mixing with known terrorist groups. We’re willing to have that conversation with Russia, and --

QUESTION: But as I understand, you’ve been having that conversation for months now. I ask many times on this --


QUESTION: -- and you answer the same thing.


QUESTION: There has been no progress reported on that.

MR TONER: It continues to be a challenge. I don’t know how to put it any other way. That said, we have seen – and I can – we have reports again today of additional bombings of civilians, whether it’s from Russia or whether it’s from the regime, of areas. There was a strike near Jordan, near the border with Jordan, that we’re looking into now, where refugees may have been hit. So we’ve seen continued examples of innocent civilians also being hit by regime bombs, and that continues. And all that does is create, frankly, a situation where the political process can’t move forward.

QUESTION: I want to go back to these --

MR TONER: Of course.--

QUESTION: -- particular groups that I asked about.


QUESTION: If you insist that these groups be treated differently, then you also suggest that there is a distinction between them and al-Nusrah. What is that distinction?

MR TONER: Well, again, I – these groups have been designated, as I was trying to make the point to Matt, through a very detailed process – not by me, certainly, and I’m not making this up from the podium. But it was a consensus-driven process. Not everyone is in agreement on this, but that is how these things work. This is how the ISSG functions. Not everyone in that group, whether – it’s not just U.S. and Russia – agrees on who all the bad guys are and who all the good guys are. But what we had said is there needs to be a process. We need to say, okay, these groups, we all agree, are designated terrorist groups – we can agree with that. The other groups, as long as they adhere to the ceasefire – and we’ve talked about this before; that is incumbent on them, it’s their responsibility to adhere to the cessation of hostilities, just as it is for the regime. Otherwise this thing falls apart.

QUESTION: But when they don’t, when they don’t, when they are fighting alongside --

MR TONER: But we do have a process in place. We do have monitors – or not monitors, we do have a process in place – we’ve talked about this – where we – where there are violations of the cessation of hostilities. We look at these, we work with Russia; we’ve still got that structure still in place.

QUESTION: Is it permissible to go after them without a UN Security Council designation?

MR TONER: I’m not sure I understand the question. One more time.

QUESTION: As they are violating the cessation of hostilities thing, I mean, does these two groups – Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam – fighting alongside al-Nusrah and Daesh occasionally – would that be all right to go after them without a UN Security Council designation?

MR TONER: Well, again, it is – we’ve seen violations, frankly, by – credible allegations, let me put it this way, of violations by many different parties to the cessation of hostilities. You are correct in one point: that enforcement of that cessation of hostilities is in some ways voluntary or self-identifying. If I’m a member of a group, a moderate opposition group, and I say I adhere to the ceasefire, then my actions dictate how I’m treated. But that also applies, frankly, to the regime, who consistently also violates the cessation of hostilities.


QUESTION: Yes. Switch the topic to Iraq?

QUESTION: Can we stay on Syria?

MR TONER: Of course. Let’s do that, and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Recognizing that you don’t want to go into details, can I ask you to go into details – (laughter) – trying to confirm the – or comment on the AP report from yesterday about the offer that the Secretary will bring to Russia on the possibility of sharing military information for targeting Daesh and Nusrah in return for assurances that Assad will stop bombing rebels who have signed up for the ceasefire?

MR TONER: No, I’m not going to go beyond what we’ve talked about more broadly. Look, I’m not going to get into the details of any discussions we may be having with Russia before those discussions have taken place, so I’m going to leave it there.


QUESTION: Yeah. I’d like to clarify a point that --


QUESTION: -- seems misreported in some of the Kurdish media.


QUESTION: And probably you would like to have that clarified too, and then I’d like to ask a question.


QUESTION: The point of clarification: The MOU that was signed between the Pentagon and the Kurdistan Regional Government for $415 million in aid for the Peshmerga --


QUESTION: -- that was done with the approval of Baghdad. Is that correct?

MR TONER: Yes, it was.


MR TONER: Yes, it was done with the full consent of the government in Baghdad.

QUESTION: Okay. I just thought everyone would be better off if that were clear.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: So I’ve got a question.

MR TONER: Thank you.

QUESTION: Okay. There seems to be a difference --

MR TONER: Of course. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- in the way that the Defense and State Departments approach this issue of relations with the KRG. And the MOU arose when Secretary Carter was in Baghdad a few months ago and he told the Abadi government that the Defense Department was going to provide these funds to the Peshmerga so they could help fight Daesh and asked if Baghdad – if the government objected and they didn’t. So the onus was on them to object. But when it comes to – and they didn’t object, okay.

So when it comes to something like next week’s pledging conference in support of Iraq, the State Department’s approach is to encourage – it’s kind of nice and soft and whatnot – says to encourage the Iraqi Government to include KRG representatives, and the Iraqi Government doesn’t do that. So my question: Doesn’t it seem that if the State Department were to follow the Pentagon model and say, “This is what we want to do or want you to do, do you have any objection,” it might get better results?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, with respect to the MOU that you cited, look, I’d refer you to my colleagues over at the Department of Defense to speak to the details of that military assistance. But as you mentioned, Acting Assistant Secretary for Defense – or of Defense, rather – Elissa Slotkin did travel to Irbil I think this week to finalize that, as you note, previously announced assistance to the Kurdish Regional Government. And that was, as I said, done with the consent of the government of Baghdad, which has been, frankly, a consistent part of our process of assisting the Iraqi Government all along – either through the Department of State or through the Department of Defense – which is we are working to support those Kurdish forces who have shown tremendous skill, tremendous courage on the battlefield fighting Daesh, driving it out of territories that it’s controlling.

And, as I said, we’re working hard to support those efforts. We do that, though, through the command and control of the Iraqi Government. And we’ve talked about this not just with respect to the Kurds but with other fighting groups in Iraq, because the ultimate goal here – what we want to build here – is the capability of the Iraqi Government to provide its own security for its people. That’s been an overarching goal. We don’t want to necessarily always have to be there to support them; we want to build their capability to provide that kind of security.

Now, you’re talking about the donors’ conference, so let me get there – or the pledging conference. That is, of course, an opportunity for us to enhance our humanitarian assistance and our stabilization assistance to the Government of Iraq, which includes the Kurds. That’s part of it, and I don’t want there to be any kind of confusion there. But that’s going to be through the Iraqi Government – that assistance is going to be, again, through the command and control of the Iraqi Government.

But to imply that we’re somehow not engaged or not working directly with the Kurds as much as possible, hearing their concerns, discussing with them their concerns – I mean, look, we have – we’ve had senior U.S. officials, including Brett McGurk frequently, who have traveled to Kurdistan Regional Government – Kurdistan, rather – on nearly every trip that they’ve made to the region, and we’re going to continue to do that. You’re talking about different techniques that the Department of Defense is – look, I’m not going to speak to how all that works. All I’m saying is that Department of Defense, Department of State, same team, same government. We’re all working together, connected, to provide the support that we feel is necessary to get the Iraqi Government, the Iraqi people, the security that they need.

QUESTION: Well, I know the British were at one point more insistent when they held a similar conference that the Iraqi Government have KRG representatives included in its delegation. It just seems that if the State Department were to do more than simply encourage but to insist, then the Iraqis might actually do that.

MR TONER: I mean, look, it’s – as to who was invited or the invitation process, that was part of the coalition working group and that was – they were the ones doing the invites, so I’d refer you to them on who precisely and what the rationale was behind that.

Any more? Yeah.


MR TONER: You want to go to --


MR TONER: I assume you want to go to --

QUESTION: China/South China Sea.

MR TONER: China/South China Sea, sure.

I’ll get to you too. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Sorry. Do you have any comment on Taiwan’s decision to send warships into the South China Sea to conduct patrols following the arbitration decision yesterday?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. You’re saying – what was the exact question? I apologize.

QUESTION: Sorry. Taiwan sent a warship into the South China Sea to conduct – control – to patrols to protest the arbitration decision.

MR TONER: Again, I mean, I think what – the only – my only reaction would be what we’ve said repeatedly about China’s and other claimants to the South China Sea yesterday after the ruling was announced – is that this is an opportunity here, an opportunity to – for everyone to take a step back and work together – avoid escalating the situation any further, but work together to resolve their disputes regarding territorial claims; that everyone in this immediate aftermath or period following the ruling should, frankly, exercise restraint and avoid provocative actions. And that applies to all claimants.

QUESTION: Would you consider that a provocative action – sending warships?

MR TONER: I’m not going to – I mean, again, I don’t have the details in front of me. I don’t know if this was a FONOPS, whether it was a freedom of navigation exercise. I just don’t have the details. I’m saying our message writ large is simply that all claimants should refrain from provocative actions.

I’m sorry. Go ahead. Yeah, Nike.

QUESTION: You said that you encourage all parties to work together --


QUESTION: -- to solve the disputes. Does that mean that Taiwan should be brought into a negotiation for multilateral solution, for a peaceful solution?

MR TONER: Look, I don’t want to necessarily, like – everybody’s digesting the ruling from yesterday. It was a massive legal document. But it was also, from what we’re gleaning from it – and people far smarter on this have already spoken to it than I am – have already spoken to it, that it was a very – it is – it presents an opportunity for all claimants to take a step back from some of the actions we’ve seen over the past months and to look at ways that we can find peaceful resolutions to the various claims and disputes. I’m not going to speak to whether they should be a part of this process. I know that they have concerns.

But I think what we’re looking for in the immediate aftermath, like I said, is that we don’t want any – see any provocative actions. We don’t want to see any escalation of tensions. Different nations are digesting the results of the hearing – or the ruling, rather – and let’s let that sink in.

QUESTION: Some of them have already digested it and spit it out. (Laughter.) So do you have anything to add to what the White House said a little bit earlier about China’s threat or China’s warning that it could put – it could slap an air defense identification zone over the South China Sea?

MR TONER: I do not.

QUESTION: And Mark, is it relevant to you that the aircraft that landed today on the Chinese – on the Spratly Islands – that they were civilian and that they were not military? Is that significant?

MR TONER: I’m sorry, you’re talking about what exactly? There’s been so many different --

QUESTION: So today, two Chinese aircraft – civilian aircraft landed --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- at these new airports on these – on the Spratly Islands.

MR TONER: Is this the Mischief Reef and the Subi Reef? Is this what you’re talking about?

QUESTION: That’s correct.

MR TONER: Yeah, okay.

QUESTION: Yeah. Is it significant to you that they were civilian aircraft and not military aircraft?

MR TONER: I mean, look, there is, I guess, some measure of significance, but – to that, but we still see those – these kinds of actions as raising tensions unnecessarily rather than lowering them. And we want to see a lowering of tensions. So this is really for all claimants, as I said, to take advantage of the ruling and show restraint and take advantage of the opportunity presented by the tribunal’s finding or decision to work together to manage these. That’s our only focus here, I guess, is we don’t have a dog in this fight other than our belief that – other than, obviously, our treaty obligations but also our belief in freedom of navigation. But what we want to see in this very tense part of Asia – of the Pacific, rather – we want to see de-escalation of tensions, and we want to see all claimants take a moment to look at how we can find a peaceful way forward.

QUESTION: Do you have any readouts on high-level discussions today with the Chinese or any of the other countries, claimants --

MR TONER: Nothing --

QUESTION: -- on this issue?

MR TONER: Not aware that the Secretary has been engaged on this. I know that Danny Russel’s in Honolulu. I’m not sure of his conversations, but no, nothing in particular.

QUESTION: Do you think those conversations are going to come up in Honolulu?

MR TONER: Doubtful.

QUESTION: What did you say?

MR TONER: I said doubtful.

QUESTION: Oh, doubtful.

QUESTION: Can I just interject?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: This will be really brief because this just happened while you’re here, and I’m hoping that maybe by the end of the briefing or certainly like within the next half hour after you can get an answer --

MR TONER: Okay. Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- and that is that the Secretary’s friend, Mr. Hammond, has been appointed to be the chancellor of the exchequer in Britain, and his replacement as foreign secretary has just been announced as Boris Johnson. How do you think this will affect, or if it will affect at all, both the U.S.-British relationship in the diplomatic area, and also is the Secretary – is this someone the Secretary thinks that he’ll be able to work with given his previous positions?

MR TONER: Well, look, I mean, we’re always going to be able to work with the British no matter who is occupying the role of foreign secretary because of our deep, abiding special relationship with the United Kingdom. And we congratulate Foreign Secretary Hammond on his new role and we look forward to engaging with Boris Johnson as the new foreign secretary. This is something, frankly, that goes beyond a relationship, that goes beyond personalities. And it is a absolutely critical moment in certainly England’s history but also in the U.S.-UK relationship. So absolutely, we’re committed to working productively going forward.

QUESTION: But you don’t have any concern? Because this Administration, both the President and the Secretary, took a very different line on – and granted, it’s not their country, but Mr. Johnson led a movement that the – this Administration fundamentally disagreed with and thought was a bad idea.

MR TONER: And all of that has been discussed, obviously, in great detail, but the British people voted, and they voted to leave the European Union, and now our focus is on the future.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

QUESTION: Can I go back to the South China Sea?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Just real quickly. National University of Singapore, they released this map on their website, and together with gazetteer. So one map here, it says the source is from United States Government. And it says here on those land features – Taiping Island, controlled by Taiwan – the feature of – this island is island instead of rock as --


QUESTION: -- not – different from what the ruling says. I wonder if this represent the United States Government view.

MR TONER: Can I – what map is it? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: So this map released on the website of National University of Singapore but it says the source is from the United States Government.

MR TONER: Hold it up, please. I’m going to hold you to it.

QUESTION: The source – source is from the United States Government. I assume it’s from the State Department and --

MR TONER: Yeah, you’re – but you’re referring to Taiping? Is that the --


MR TONER: Okay. Look, the decision was quite clear in its description of what is an island and what is a rock, so I would just refer you to its legal definition.

QUESTION: It can’t be both?

MR TONER: I can – (laughter). Arguably – excuse me. But --

QUESTION: Does it really – does it quote the song? I am a rock and I am an island?

MR TONER: Great song, by the way, but unrelated to this discussion. (Laughter.) But – and I can give you that, but I don’t need to read it to you. But look, it – basically there are – there’s a very clear definition within the finding, or the court ruling, that delineates what is an island, legitimate island, and what is a rock.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the question is: Does the U.S. Government – do you have your official definition of the land features in South China Sea? Because what if the ruling, it’s contradict to what you find if it’s island or rock?

MR TONER: We’re not at this point in time going to challenge the definition that they’ve put in there legally at this point.

QUESTION: South China Sea?

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

MR TONER: Please, let’s finish with South China Sea.

QUESTION: Yeah. My name is Tanaka from NHK.


QUESTION: The Chinese senior official yesterday in the brief press briefing said the ruling is invalid and it is wasted paper. They describe it as wasted paper. Can I have the – can I ask for the reaction?

MR TONER: We disagree. But so does – so do many countries and many claimants. Look, this was a court ruling. This is not the U.S. or any other country arbitrarily saying this or that about – with regard to the actual claim of the case. This is, again, a legal process that resulted in a decision and we believe, as I said, that it offers a very – on a very complex issue, a very clear decision regarding the claimants. And so we would urge all – certainly all of those countries who have signed to – up to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to adhere to the findings.

Please, sir, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV. Sir, today the Pakistan military and the Pentagon confirmed the death of Khalifa Omar, a topmost terrorist, in a drone strike in Afghanistan. Sir, in your opinion, how much these drone strikes are useful in elimination of the terrorist network in the Pak-Afghan border area?

MR TONER: Look, I’m not going to speak to the method by which he was killed. But as you note, he was – this gentlemen, Omar Khalifa, who was the leader of the Tariq Gidar Group – I’m using that as a term of expression, not as a – any way of a description of him – but he was responsible for some of the most heinous terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including the murder of over 130 children at the Peshawar army school. That was in 2015. I would just simply say, without speaking to means or methods, this underscores the U.S. commitment to combat terrorism in the region and the need for all countries in the region to, equally, to combat extremism in all its forms.

QUESTION: Sir, one of the Congress committee yesterday demands to stop all assistance to Pakistan. And they alleged that Pakistan is not doing enough in elimination of the terrorist networks, and Pakistan still have the policy of the good Taliban or good terrorists or bad terrorists. What are your comments on that, sir?

MR TONER: We’ve been through this before. Look, Pakistan suffered greatly, as I just mentioned, with the attack in Peshawar – suffered greatly from terrorism. We believe that Pakistan is taking steps to address terrorist violence, particularly focused on groups that threaten Pakistanis’ – Pakistan’s stability. They have made progress shutting down terrorist safe havens. They’ve restored government control in many parts of Pakistan that have been used as terrorist safe havens for many years. And these are important, and they’re meaningful steps for Pakistan to have made. And they’ve also come at a cost, and that cost is in – certainly in Pakistani lives.

At the same time – and we’ve made this point before – we’ve been very clear that Pakistan must target all militant groups, including those that target Pakistan’s neighbors, and close all safe havens. And so in this regard we certainly welcome comments by General Raheel Sharif’s – Sharif, rather, on July 6, when he directed Pakistani military commanders, intelligence agencies, and law enforcement agencies to take concrete measures to deny any militant groups safe haven or the use of Pakistani soil to launch terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: So Senator McCain, with a few some other senators, was in Pakistan last week. And he proposed the extension of the service of Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, who is going to retire in November this year. According to Senator McCain, he wanted to see General Raheel Sharif to continue as the chief of the army staff so that the military operations can be continued in the tribal area or other parts of the country. You want to comment on that?

MR TONER: I don’t. Again, we are continuing to address some of our concerns about where Pakistan needs to move next in terms of combating terrorist threats. We welcome, as I said, General Sharif’s comments and we would just – I would simply state that it is in the U.S.’s long-term national interests to support Pakistan’s efforts to combat terrorism, violent extremism, and build a more stable and democratic society. I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: But sir, one last question about --


QUESTION: Sir, one last, please, sir. Thank you. Thank you very much. I know (inaudible).

MR TONER: All right, all right. One last question then we got to wrap it up. I’ll get to you, Said. I apologize.

QUESTION: Sir, John Kirby for the last two days --

MR TONER: Who’s that?

QUESTION: -- expressing concerns on the situation of Indian-held Kashmir, whatever is going on there. Thirty civilians have been killed there and, like, 300 were injured by --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- the Indian security forces. So – but he don’t want to condemn the killing of the 30 innocent civilians. I’m asking that question because, like, few decades ago, the United States supports the UN resolution on Kashmir to give the self-determination right to the Kashmiri people. I mean, why are you trying to condemn the killing of the 30 innocent civilians in Kashmir?

MR TONER: Why are we trying to, what, condemn the killing of?

QUESTION: In Kashmir, the Indian-held Kashmir, there are the protests going on there.

MR TONER: Yes – no, I know what you’re talking about, yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. Sir, United States supported the UN resolution about the Kashmir – the self-determination rights to the Kashmiri people. Do you still support that UN resolution?

MR TONER: Look, our policy and position on Kashmir hasn’t changed.


QUESTION: Sir, what is the policy on the Kashmir?

MR TONER: I’ve said it before. We want to see dialogue between India and Pakistan and the Kashmir on the – on how to resolve the conflict in Kashmir and our policy hasn’t changed.


QUESTION: A really quick question on the Israel-Palestine issue.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York against Facebook for $1 billion allegedly for being a Hamas tool? Are you aware of that? Do you have any comment?

MR TONER: So very preliminary reports of it. I just don’t have any information on it – any more information. I’ve seen reports, so I don’t really have any comment at this point.

QUESTION: Can we stay --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- with Israel?


QUESTION: Yesterday, I know that this came up extremely briefly and there wasn’t --


QUESTION: -- much of a response to it, but this – I want to ask about this report from the Hill committee on OneVoice.


QUESTION: A couple things about it. One is less substance and more logistical, I guess --

MR TONER: Okay, okay.

QUESTION: -- at least, I think, and that is: There was reference made in this report to the consulate general in Jerusalem deleting email that related to these grant – or at least one of the grants that’s in question here. And I’m just wondering if you have more to say about that.

MR TONER: No more to say other than that --

QUESTION: Well, it’s --

MR TONER: Sure, no, no, of course, yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: It has been presented in some reports and by some critics of the Administration --

MR TONER: Yeah, no, I’m --

QUESTION: -- as an attempt to purge this, as an attempt to --

MR TONER: Which is --

QUESTION: -- to cover it up and --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- I’m assuming that you don’t agree with that, but I just want to know what’s your explanation.

MR TONER: Yes, I – we strongly disagree with that. Look, I mean, first of all, the Senate’s investigation found no wrongdoing, and as was made clear in the report, Mr. Ratney – Michael Ratney was working, frankly, under State Department’s IT limitations – let me put it that way – with regard to the size of his in-box. And this is something that many of us have grappled with and continue to grapple with. And his deletion of any emails was simply – how do I put it – content-neutral housekeeping. It wasn’t any attempt to purge his – certain emails on any specific topic. And any allegation that that was the case is, frankly, false.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m sure we’ll get back to that at another point, but --


QUESTION: -- I realize this has gone on for a long time, so let’s --


QUESTION: I want to make it quickly.

MR TONER: Okay. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’m wondering – I want to get through this quickly.

MR TONER: Happy to.

QUESTION: The – although it is correct that you say that the sub – the committee found no wrongdoing by the State Department, it also – it did determine that the department, quote, “failed to take any steps to guard against the risk that OneVoice could or would – could engage in political activities using State Department-funded grassroots campaign infrastructure after the grant period ended.”

Is that something that you accept as a finding?

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: I don’t – I didn’t see any State Department response to --


QUESTION: -- in the actual report. Is that something that you believe that was mishandled by the parties?

MR TONER: Look, this was – I guess my answer or my response to that is just to explain how this particular grant, but how, more broadly, the grant process takes place. But in this particular grant, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv provided a grant to this OneVoice Israel – I think it was – the timeframe was 2013 to 2014 – and that grant ended before the announcement of any elections.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, but that’s what we were told at the time --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- when this first came up. But what we weren’t told at the time was that the group was then giving this empty infrastructure – or using the infrastructure that was created during the time of the grant possibly using U.S. grant money to enter into or to take part in an overtly political campaign.

MR TONER: So in any given grant, after the grant period ends there is an assessment done – how the grant was used, how the money was used, et cetera, et cetera. But we can’t and would in no way try to stipulate how an organization, an NGO, conducts itself after the activities that were designated within the timeframe of the grant or – yeah, after those activities are ended. Does that make sense? So I guess, yes --

QUESTION: No, it doesn’t make any sense at all because you guys --

MR TONER: -- so – no, no, no, let me finish. Let me finish.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: I’m just going to – okay, look, let me explain it this way. If I’m working with an NGO – as I’ve done personally in places like Poland – we are working on a given issue, whether it’s the environment – we are looking at a group, an NGO that is working on a specific project. They are developing mechanisms, infrastructure, et cetera, using the grant money. We don’t ask them – once that grant has expired or is over, we close out that grant as any embassy or consulate would do, and there are accountability procedures and processes for that. But we don’t say, “Oh, please delete all of the infrastructure or destroy all the infrastructure that you have developed and don’t use any of it going forward.” Does that make – I guess that’s my point I’m trying to make is --

QUESTION: Yeah, but the finding of the committee was that you should have, particularly given this group’s previous political role or role that it played in previous Israeli elections – you should have had some kind of stipulation in there to make sure that – well, at least that’s the suggestion of the report – it’s not my suggestion – that they seem – excuse me – the people who wrote the report seem to find it hard to believe that this kind of firewall wasn’t put in place.

MR TONER: All I can say is that, as with any grant, Embassy Tel Aviv provided oversight in accordance with government policy and all regulations through the grant period.


MR TONER: The Senate report confirms that, confirms OneVoice Israel’s conduct fully complied with the terms of the agreement, that --

QUESTION: I understand that. But it also says that this – the use of U.S.-funded resources for political purposes was not prohibited by the grant agreement because the State Department placed no limitations on the post-grant use of those resources and suggests that that’s an issue, that that’s a problem. And my question is: Do you agree?

MR TONER: I’ll --

QUESTION: And the reason I’m asking --

MR TONER: Sure. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: This is not just about Israel, this is a broader – there are governments around the world that take issue with NGOs and other groups that are funded by the United States and by the European Union and by others because they say that they are interfering in the internal political affairs. The Russians are very big on this kind of thing. And this report’s findings seem to make it look like that they have a point, that despite your protestations that no, no, no, we don’t even get involved in the internal politics of other countries – in fact, indirectly you can and do because there aren’t any limitations put on this – what this aid is used for.

MR TONER: But again, my response or rebuttal to that is that this was done specifically for a grant that was, I think, to generate dialogue and discussion promoting a two-state solution. That grant – the money that was – and resources that were allocated were specifically for that purpose. Again, the report found no wrongdoing, but once an NGO develops the capabilities that it develops given through a grant, we can’t simply say that you’ve got to --

QUESTION: Okay, so there aren’t any plans to change this for the future?

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: All right, okay. Then last one on Israel, and that is: I’m wondering if these comments by the guy who’s been named to be the chief rabbi of the IDF – he’s made some pretty controversial comments – have these hit your radar at all? Do you have anything to say about it?

MR TONER: No, let me take the question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah. Is that it, guys?

QUESTION: No, no, no. Sorry.

MR TONER: It’s okay.

QUESTION: I – just two.

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

QUESTION: There are two brief ones on Iran.

MR TONER: No, that’s okay.

QUESTION: Well, actually one broader email question. You were asked, or John was asked the other day, about the emails that the FBI is going to – this is Secretary Clinton’s emails.

MR TONER: Oh, right, right, right.

QUESTION: And the FBI is going to give them to you, the ones that they found that weren’t turned over, and the question was whether or not you guys are going to release those as you did with the original 55,000.

MR TONER: So the answer – and I’ll try to be brief and quick here. So just as we processed the material turned over to the department by former Secretary Clinton, we will appropriately and with due diligence process any additional material that we do receive from the FBI to identify work-related records and make them available to the public, and that’s consistent with our legal obligations.

QUESTION: And have you gotten those? Do you know how many there are and --


QUESTION: -- do you have any idea how long it will take?

MR TONER: No, no, and no. Sorry.

QUESTION: No, no, and no?


QUESTION: When you do take receipt of these from the FBI, will you be able to tell us how quickly – once you know the universe of the number of documents, will you be able to say how long it will take to review them?

MR TONER: Possibly, and we – I pledge that we’ll be as transparent as we possibly can and try to give a timeframe, but at this point we just don’t know.

QUESTION: Extremely briefly on Iran.

MR TONER: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: There are two moves on the Hill going on – one that would bar the Boeing sale to Iran, and one that would not only stop any heavy water – or bar any heavy – purchases of heavy water from Iran in the future, but one that would also try to – and I don’t know if it’s possible now – stop the completion of this first sale for $8.6 million. Do you have anything to say about either of those?

MR TONER: I mean, look, we don’t usually comment on legislation that’s not yet passed. But you know where we stand on both issues, so --

QUESTION: And then this – President Rouhani said today, or warned, that they could pull out or they could just restart their nuclear program whenever they wanted to if the – if they felt that the agreement wasn’t being complied with. It’s the year – tomorrow is the year anniversary of the deal, and I am just wondering if that’s what you guys had in mind. If Congress is going to stop these things from happening if their legislation succeeds, wouldn’t that give the Iranians a reason to restart their – the stuff that they stopped?

MR TONER: Look, all I can say, Matt, broadly speaking, is we’re going to continue to uphold the agreement. And as to Rouhani’s comments, look, we believe that we have all the – the agreement provides us with all the necessary tools and access that we need to – frankly, to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and that remains the case.

QUESTION: You say – when you say, “We’re going to uphold the agreement,” does that mean you’re going to uphold your end of the agreement even if the Iranians do not?

MR TONER: Well, again, yeah – no. I mean, look, we’re going to uphold – I was – that was a confusing argument. Wait, what was it?

QUESTION: Well, are you --

MR TONER: If they don’t --

QUESTION: You said, “We’re going to uphold” --

MR TONER: If they don’t uphold their end of the agreement, no, the agreement is nullified. I mean, then both --


MR TONER: In any agreement it’s incumbent on both sides to uphold the agreement.

QUESTION: Okay. So as long as they uphold their end --

MR TONER: Exactly.

QUESTION: -- you will continue to uphold --

MR TONER: Exactly.

QUESTION: But if they violate it, then --

MR TONER: We believe we have all the necessary maneuverings and powers to enable us to --


QUESTION: Are you upholding your end?

MR TONER: Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: Do you think that – they (inaudible) – okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:15 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 12, 2016

Tue, 07/12/2016 - 16:37

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 12, 2016

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MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MR KIRBY: Book gets heavier every day. A couple things at the top, so please bear with me.

First on South Sudan, we understand that the unilateral ceasefires called by both the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and government and in opposition on July 11th appear to be holding despite reports of sporadic gunfire in some parts of Juba and scattered fighting in the town of Wau. The Secretary spoke for the second time with the prime minister of Ethiopia, President Kenyatta of Kenya, and for the first time with President Museveni of Uganda yesterday, regarding next steps in a coordinated regional response. We are, of course, working closely with international partners to address the conflict in South Sudan.

Both the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the African Union Peace and Security Council have released communiques calling for enhancements to the UN mission in South Sudan and the mandate for that mission, and an increase in the number of peacekeepers. We are reviewing these communiques and discussing with our partners in the Security Council.

The U.S. embassy is reducing its staff still in South Sudan. The embassy released a security message today stating that the U.S. Government brought assets to Juba to implement the decision for a reduction in embassy staff, otherwise known as an ordered departure, and to provide support to conduct a safe and orderly departure of private American citizens and third-country nationals as needed over the coming days. I want to stress again what I said yesterday: The embassy is not evacuating. Non-emergency U.S. embassy personnel continue to depart the country via this ordered departure process.

Due to ongoing security concerns, we do want to again say that citizens should remain vigilant when moving about the city. We continue to press, obviously, the leaders in South Sudan to end the fighting and to provide unfettered humanitarian access to those that are in need. So we’re staying on top of this. We’re watching it very, very closely. The Secretary remains engaged, our ambassador in Juba remains engaged, and we are continuing the ordered withdrawal of embassy personnel.

QUESTION: Is the ambassador leaving also?

MR KIRBY: The ambassador is still there.

QUESTION: Is she going to be – he or she going to be part of this?

MR KIRBY: I don’t foresee that. I don’t foresee that. Again, as you know, an ordered departure is non-emergency personnel; it’s not everybody. The ambassador is essential personnel.

On the South China Sea, I think you’ve seen my statement this morning on the decision by the tribunal and the Philippines-China arbitration. The United States strongly supports the rule of law. We support efforts to resolve territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea peacefully and through arbitration such as this. As I said, this decision is an important contribution to the shared goal of a peaceful resolution to disputes in the South China Sea.

When joining the Law of the Sea Convention, parties agree to the convention’s compulsory dispute settlement process. And as provided in the convention, the tribunal’s decision is final and legally binding on both China and the Philippines. The onus is now on them to meet that obligation. We urge all claimants to avoid provocative statements or actions. This decision can and should, as I said in my statement, serve as an opportunity to renew efforts to address maritime disputes peacefully.

Finally, on a programing note, later today the Secretary will speak briefly at the Washington Passport Agency – this is at 4:30 p.m. – where he will introduce MissionOne, which is an initiative that we’ve started here that expands and modernizes the services that the State Department offers U.S. citizens. He will also urge American citizens planning overseas travel to apply early for their passports in the midst of a current record-breaking passport application surge.

Later on this evening, I think you know the Secretary will host a reception to mark the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr to mark the end of Ramadan. The Secretary will highlight citizen diplomacy and highlight ways as well for ordinary individuals to forge and strengthen ties with countries, communities, and individuals around the globe.

With that, Brad.

QUESTION: On the South China Sea, I saw in your statement you urged the claimants to avoid provocative actions or statements. In light of that, how do you respond to China’s immediate reaction?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, first of all --

QUESTION: I guess you saw they called it a farce, among other things, and reiterated it would have no --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, no, no, we saw. No, we certainly saw the – we certainly saw the comments. I would hasten to say that that reaction was not a surprise. They had certainly signaled their intention to rebut the decision even before it was rendered. But as we’ve said, all claimants should exercise restraint both in action and in rhetoric, and should, again, take advantage of this opportunity to observe the rule of law, to observe their international obligations, and to work through the details of the arbitration in a peaceful, reasonable, sensible manner.

QUESTION: So since China has so consistently said it will not abide by this ruling and it said again today, I’m confused why you say you expect both parties to comply with this ruling. It would seem like a bad expectation unless you don’t believe that China – you think China is lying and they are going to abide by this ruling?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speak for the Chinese. They can say what they will. But that they have – that they have --

QUESTION: On what basis do you expect that?

MR KIRBY: That they have made these unhelpful comments doesn’t mean that our expectations should change. It is a legally binding tribunal decision, and our expectation was before it was made and is now after it’s made that all claimants are going to abide by it.

QUESTION: But expectation is what you think will happen, not what you hope will happen. Your expectation – you actually think China is going to abide by this ruling even though they say they’re not?

MR KIRBY: It is both our hope and our expectation that China will --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: -- will abide by its legally binding obligations under this decision. So it just got rendered. Let’s see where we go from here.

QUESTION: And last one from me on this. Since foreign policy is more than hopes and expectations --

MR KIRBY: Should be, yeah.

QUESTION: -- how do you plan to ensure that China will indeed abide by this ruling? Or are you just --

MR KIRBY: Well, look, as I --

QUESTION: -- just going to hope for that? Or --

MR KIRBY: As I said in my opening comments, the onus is on them. The decision has been rendered. For our part it’s some 500 pages. We’re still going through it so we can better understand it here. I suspect that the claimants are probably still reading through it, as it is pretty lengthy. But the onus is on them now. The tribunal has spoken, and it’s up to the parties now to abide by their legally binding obligations in there.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

QUESTION: If China fails to abide by the ruling, then it will be in breach of international law?


QUESTION: A follow-up. In a statement you said you ask for all parties to respect the rule of law and you support arbitration. Can you give me any example that the United States has ever complied with any of the rulings on international arbitration, particularly when it’s weighed against your interest?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, actually I think I’ve got one in here somewhere. Hang on a second. I know I’ve got one in here.

QUESTION: Don’t look in Nicaragua. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: You’ve been reading ahead, haven’t you? Ah, where is it? Here we go. I knew I’d find it.

So we believe an example can be found in the resolution of a contentious and long-disputed maritime boundary between the United States and Canada in the Gulf of Maine. To resolve that dispute, the U.S. and Canada brought the legal question to third-party dispute settlement before a chamber of the International Court of Justice and argued the case on its merits and complied with the decision. So we have – we’ve done this ourselves.

QUESTION: But you know, as Brad just mentioned, there are other cases that you didn’t really complying with the ruling. And there was this article yesterday written by the Harvard professor Graham Allison. Actually, he pointed out that none of the UN security permanent members, none of them has ever applied by the ruling of the permanent court of arbitration when it comes to the issue about their sovereignty or the Law of the Sea.

MR KIRBY: That doesn’t change the fact that it’s a legally binding decision. That might – that’s very interesting. I’m not a lawyer, but it doesn’t seem relevant to the fact that this tribunal decision is legally binding.

And on Nicaragua, so I’m told – or at least I have here – that this case was over 30 years ago in which the U.S. participated at a jurisdictional stage. The U.S. and Nicaragua ultimately resolved this case bilaterally, which Nicaragua withdrew their position voluntarily. So just so you know I got that in there.

But again, to your – I haven’t read this gentleman’s argument, and I’m no lawyer. I was barely a good history student, so – what I can tell you, though, is that this is a legally binding decision and it’s our expectation – and, oh – and frankly, it’s the world’s expectation. This is – it’s not just the United States. The world is watching now to see what these claimants will do. The world is watching to see if China is really the global power it professes itself to be and the responsible power that it professes itself to be. The world’s watching this.

QUESTION: Yes. Just to follow up on that, other great powers before – as I mentioned, the UN Security Council members, they haven’t even complied with their ruling before. So how would you expect China to comply with the ruling?

MR KIRBY: Again, I think that’s an interesting case that’s not relevant. I mean, your argument is not relevant. This is a – I can’t speak for every other member of the UN Security Council. I gave you two examples where the United States worked these kinds of things out peacefully, one through arbitration. It is a legally – there’s no dispute here. I understand that the Chinese have made an argument that they’re not going to abide by it. I’ve heard that loud and clear, okay. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a legally binding obligation. And it’s the world’s expectation that China will abide by its obligations under this legally binding decision.

QUESTION: What if China doesn’t?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. China should care about abiding by it, because China should care about the fact that the entire world is watching what they’ll do now, in this – in the event of the tribunal’s decision.

QUESTION: And the final one. In a statement, you also mentioned you – we are still studying the decision and have no comment on the merits of the case. Does that mean you may not necessarily agree with all the rulings? Because one of that Taiwan actually objected was the island Taiwan controlled called Taiping Island and the arbitration ruling said it’s a rock instead of island.

MR KIRBY: I’m – what I’m – my comment stands. We’re – it’s a 500-page decision. We’re still working our way through it; it just got rendered today. And so I’m not going to make any specific comment on this particular case.

QUESTION: But if you haven’t studied – if you haven’t finished studying it, how can you support everything the --

MR KIRBY: We certainly – we are certainly familiar enough with the decision and the components of it to say what we say before it got rendered, which is it will be legally binding. I’ve said the same thing for a matter of days now, even before we knew what it was – that it was going to be legally binding and that the expectation would be that all claimants would abide by their responsibilities under it. That point hasn’t changed since before the decision got rendered, and it’s certainly not going to change now.

I’m not going to talk about the specifics of the case, as you – as I’ve said also many times, the United States isn’t taking a position on individual claims. We do take a position on coercion and the use of force or military pressure to try to change or to try to affect the outcome on these claims. We’ve long said that we want these disputes resolved peacefully, in accordance with international law. This tribunal decision represents that law and, again, it’s our expectation that all sides are going to abide by it. Okay.

QUESTION: Can I ask – just following up on this – I mean --

MR KIRBY: Who are you?

QUESTION: Nick Wadhams from Bloomberg.


QUESTION: So China already responded to your statement, filing a solemn representation, basically protesting it. We had Senator Dan Sullivan today calling for a review of U.S. force posture in Asia, possibly considering putting a second aircraft carrier strike group in the region in response to this ruling. So what is the next step for the U.S.? It was totally anticipated that China would reject this ruling. They’ve now done so. Aside from urging them to adhere to a ruling that we already knew they were not going to respect, what is your next step?

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s day one. And the next steps are for the parties to determine, not for the United States to determine. As I said, the onus is on them now to abide by the obligations set forth in the decision. It’s day one, so let’s see where it goes. And I’m not going to get --


MR KIRBY: Wait a second. I’m not going to get ahead of hypothetical situations of what the United States will or won’t do. We – our expectation, the world’s expectation is that all claimants – both claimants in this case – are going to abide by their obligations. So let’s see if that actually happens.

And then I’m certainly not going to speak to hypothetical military movements one way or the other. We have a strong presence in the Asia Pacific, not – for a variety of reasons, not aimed at any one country. And I don’t see any change to that presence. In fact, it’s all part of the President’s rebalance to the Asia Pacific, where you have a majority of the U.S. Navy out there as well as many assets from other of the services.

Now we’re – we – five of our seven – five of our seven security alliances are in the Pacific region. We have enormous commitments from a security perspective that we absolutely will abide by. But I’m not going to speculate one way or the other about intransigence on this and what that might mean for military posture going forward.

QUESTION: Now, given that China has now basically made this a bilateral issue by directly protesting your statement, I mean, does the Secretary have any plan for contact with Wang Yi again? Are there any channels that you guys are going to open up with the Chinese about – I mean, it seems like we’ve now moved pretty far beyond both sides calling for abstaining from provocative statements. I mean, we’ve now got pretty provocative statements on both sides.

MR KIRBY: It doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop urging restraint and calm and sensibility and a sense of maturity and leadership in the wake of this decision. Those are still required.

Number two, as I mentioned, he did speak to Foreign Minister Wang Yi before – obviously a few days ago – before the decision. I don’t have any future phone calls to announce today or to speak to, but he routinely speaks to his Chinese counterpart on a range of issues, and I suspect those conversations are going to continue.

And as for opening up new channels, there’s no need to do that. We have lots of communication channels open with the Chinese here at the State Department, the Defense Department as well, and of course, the President also has a way of communicating with President Xi. So there’s lots of ways that we will continue to stay in touch with China going forward.

QUESTION: John, can I follow up on Itu Aba?

MR KIRBY: On what?

QUESTION: Itu Aba, the Taiping Island in the South China Sea. Can I follow up on that quickly?


QUESTION: I’m not going to quiz you on 500-page details of the ruling. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Itu Aba – some called Taiping Island – is the largest land feature in the Spratlys chain. And so today’s ruling, to some of the legal experts, a little bit surprising because it was defined as rock, not island. Given the fact that Taiwan has about 200 people post in Taiping or Itu Aba, what role does the United States want Taiwan to play going forward?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, again, I’m not going to speak to the specifics of this case, as I said at the outset. Nothing’s changed about our “one China” policy and our desire to see cross-strait relations be productive and peaceful. But other than that, I’m not going to comment.

QUESTION: Shouldn’t Taiwan be – does the United States consider bringing Taiwan to a negotiation table to – when trying to find a peaceful and diplomatic way to solve the disputes?

MR KIRBY: I know of no such plans. Again, nothing’s changed about our “one China” policy, nothing.


QUESTION: In March, the Chinese pulled back from what looked like land reclamation plans for the Scarborough Shoal, reportedly under U.S. pressure. Just wondered if you were confident that they would keep that stance after this ruling or whether there was sort of diplomatic exchanges or urges from here that they don’t take that action.

MR KIRBY: We have been nothing but consistent for many months about our concerns about militarization of features in the South China Sea. President Xi, when he was here standing next to President Obama, made clear that they weren’t going to do that. We have seen some signs in recent weeks that some of that activity continues, and we have been, again, very consistent, very clear with our Chinese counterparts about our ongoing concern with – in that regard, and that’s not going to change.

Now, I can’t possibly speculate what China may or may not do going forward after this decision, but they themselves have committed to not militarizing features, and that’s our expectation. And frankly, that’s the expectation of plenty of countries there in the region and many countries around the world.


QUESTION: Mr. Kirby, very quickly, you said you are consistently concerned about land reclamation activities by China. Some people in China point out that, in fact, China is hardly the first country to do so. Vietnam, the Philippines did that in past, but in those cases the U.S. was not so eager to project their anger or protest. Is there a double standard here?

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going – again, we’re not taking individual positions on individual claims, but I think it’s a far cry and a stretch to compare what China has done in just recent months and certainly over the last year or so with land reclamation and militarization with any such potential like situations from other countries in the region. There’s absolutely no way to compare the scope and the size and the character of it.

QUESTION: But from your statement this afternoon, it seems that Washington can imply, if not dictate, what countries in the region in South China Sea should or should not do based on a piece of treaty, UNCLOS – which, of course, the U.S. did not ratify. This Administration, along with others --

MR KIRBY: And we continue to urge the Senate to --

QUESTION: -- tried to push for it, but you never get the two-third majority of the Senate.

MR KIRBY: We continue to urge the Senate to ratify. We’ve --

QUESTION: Do you think the U.S. --

MR KIRBY: This Administration has been very, very clear about that. But we still abide by the central tenets of it, even though we aren’t a signer.

QUESTION: But when you abide by the central tenets, do you think the U.S. loses kind of the moral authority to do that when it does not ratify it?

MR KIRBY: This isn’t about expressing moral authority, and I kind of reject the implication in the question. This isn’t about the United States projecting moral authority. This is an international tribunal which came up with a legally binding decision that the United States didn’t influence. We said before that they reached it that it would be legally binding; so did the world. Now they’ve reached it; it’s still legally binding, and the world is going to be watching what both claimants do in terms of meeting their obligations on this.

As I said at the outset, the United States doesn’t take a position on individual claims. We do take a position on coercion, and part of coercion is the potential militarization of land features that appear to have only one outcome in mind, and that is to press, potentially through force, these claims when those claims ought to be settled through exactly this kind of a process.

QUESTION: And finally, do you think the U.S. in any ways contributed to the rising of tensions, militarization in South China Sea when they send bombers and cruisers, frigates in the region so often?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t, and here’s why: The United States military has a presence in the Pacific. We are a Pacific power. Five of our seven treaty alliances are in the Pacific. We have enormous security commitments in the region. And when we operate our ships and our aircraft, we do so in international airspace and international maritime space, and we train with our allies and our partners. And those are serious obligations, because our military has an – has a responsibility to protect and defend the United States national security interests. And we’ve been doing that for a long time, well before these issues in the South China Sea came up. So the short answer is, no, I don’t.


QUESTION: Can we move to a new topic?


QUESTION: Are we done?

QUESTION: Just follow on that point – in the statement, you asked for all claimants to avoid provocative actions and rhetorics. Does that also include United States?

MR KIRBY: The United States isn’t committing provocative rhetoric or actions. I’ve said, again, we don’t take a position on these claims, and our military operations in the region are 100 percent aligned --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Listen, now, I know where you’re going here. I get that you don’t like this, but that doesn’t make it less true, that our military operations in the region are designed to look after U.S. national security interests, including the interests of five of our seven treaty alliances. We have enormous responsibilities. We have been and remain and will remain a Pacific power. And so as the Secretary of Defense has said, we’re going to fly, sail, and operate in accordance with international law where we need to to protect those interests. That is not something new. That is something that the United States military takes very seriously, and has for decades – well before this discussion was even being had about the South China Sea.


QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?


QUESTION: Yeah. Today --

MR KIRBY: I can’t believe I’m actually glad to move on to Syria. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: All right. (Inaudible.) Today, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, Sergey Lavrov, said in Baku that – he basically gave a scathing criticism of UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura. He accused him of not carrying on with his responsibilities in organizing a meeting among Syrian – basically, he was very critical of Mr. de Mistura’s statement that he’s waiting for American-Russian agreement. Do you have any comment on – have you seen those comments, and do you have any comment?

MR KIRBY: I have not seen the foreign minister’s comments, but – so without addressing – without addressing comments I haven’t seen, I do think that it’s incumbent upon me to restate what the Secretary has said many times in applauding the UN Special Envoy de Mistura’s efforts to try to get the political process back on track. And he has tried mightily, and it has been extraordinarily difficult. And you know one of the reasons why it’s been so difficult for him? Because when you try to bring the opposition together, try to get them to start having even proximity talks with the regime, and their people are still being bombed; and innocent civilians are still being bombed; hospitals are being bombed; and there are continued ground offenses by the regime that are still happening, like places in and around Aleppo; and millions of Syrians are still starving, not getting the medicine they need, not getting food and water – makes it real difficult for the opposition to move forward with meaningful talks or to believe that there’s even a hope for that.

So what would make Staffan de Mistura’s job enormously easier would be for the Russians to use the influence that we know they can have on the Assad regime to get the violence to stop, to cease with the temporary regimes of calms, and let’s get to something that’s real – which, oh by the way, Moscow signed up to in three communiques and a UN Security Council resolution when they said that they supported a nationwide cessation of hostilities. So what would be, again, helpful to Mr. de Mistura is for Russia to use that influence to that end and to press the regime to allow the humanitarian access to continue unimpeded and unfettered to the still millions of Syrians that are in need. I think that would go a long way to helping the political process get back on track and to seeing Staffan de Mistura achieve the kind of success that the Secretary believes that he still can achieve.

QUESTION: So the two positions – the Russian and the American position are so far apart. What is hoped to be achieved when the Secretary makes his trip to Moscow on --

MR KIRBY: I actually don’t agree, Said, that our positions are far apart. I mean, we’ve signed up to these communiques. We’ve signed up to a UN Security Council resolution. Russia is a co-chair with us in the task force on cessation of hostilities. So there’s near-daily communication between the U.S. and Russia on what’s going on on the ground, and what the Secretary looks forward to talking about in Russia is how we can take that same spirit of uniformity on what we both want to see in Syria to the next level. Let’s get the cessation of hostilities applied nationwide, let’s make it enduring, let’s get the humanitarian access to flow unimpeded, let’s see if we can help de Mistura get the political process on track. And so we have teed up ideas to the Russians, and I think you’ll see that this trip to Moscow will be an indicator – we believe will be an indicator of Russia’s – the sincerity of Russia’s own statements about their commitment to going after Daesh in Syria and going after al-Nusrah and trying to see that a whole, unified, pluralistic Syria can be had.

QUESTION: And my final on this one – the Secretary a couple months ago, or a month and a half ago, spoke about his patience running out or the United States’ patience running out.


QUESTION: Will that be the message he’s driving home, especially in the aftermath of the meeting with the Saudi foreign minister Adel Jubeir last week, where they talked about sending ground troops to Syria and maybe becoming even more involved in the effort to bring down the Assad regime?

MR KIRBY: I think if you’re asking me is the Secretary still frustrated by what’s going on in Syria, the answer is yes. In fact, I’d say he’s extremely frustrated, and we want to see real change in what’s been going on. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re going to Moscow, to see if that change is actually going to be possible – if the Russians are going to do what they’ve said that they were going to do. So, again, he looks forward to having these conversations. He’s convinced that there can be progress. He’s convinced that the Russians can contribute to real political and peaceful solutions in Syria. We’ve seen in the past where, when they choose to exert their leadership and their influence, the positive effect that it can have. And so, again, we – he’s going to once again probe the sincerity of their own stated commitments to those outcomes.

But I believe he meant every molecule of what he said when said that his patience was growing thin. I think the patience of the international community is growing thin with respect to what’s going on in Syria. Still too many people are being innocently killed and injured; still too many people are being driven from their homes; still too many people are without basic food, water, and medicine, and the basic necessities of life; and still we have a regime in power that refuses any effort to try to move this political process forward in a way that gets to an end state where we have a government in Syria which is responsible for and responsive to the Syrian people.


QUESTION: I guess – I assume you saw the Washington Post story today entitled, “Kerry touts the Russian line on Syrian rebel groups.”

MR KIRBY: I did see that piece. I am actually quoted in that piece.

QUESTION: I wonder what your response to that piece is.

MR KIRBY: You saw my quote, right? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Maybe I didn’t read it carefully. Would you mind --

MR KIRBY: Oh, you didn’t see my quote.

QUESTION: Or maybe I have an old version of it. I don’t see --

MR KIRBY: Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no. No, I was in the original piece. I talked to Josh Rogin for that story. My reaction is my quote. You can just read it right there.

QUESTION: I apologize.

MR KIRBY: That’s okay. It’s all right.

QUESTION: On the same point, are you considering – can I go ahead?

MR KIRBY: Am I considering?

QUESTION: Are you considering, like, designating Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam as terrorist groups, as the Russians asking for?

MR KIRBY: I know of no such consideration that’s being considered. Again, Samir, we’ve talked about this. The – in the UN Security Council resolution governing the process here, the – and this was agreed to by the – by every member of the ISSG, including Russia, that groups designated by the UN – not by the U.S., by the UN – as foreign terrorist organizations would not be party to the cessation of hostilities, and the UN has not designated those groups as foreign terrorist organizations. And we’re going to abide by the agreement that we also signed up to inside the ISSG.

QUESTION: I believe that was the UN Security Council --

QUESTION: What did the --

QUESTION: -- not UN.

MR KIRBY: What did I say?

QUESTION: UN. The UN Security Council, which is the United States, Russia, and three other countries, so --

MR KIRBY: No, I know who’s a member of it. Did I say it wrong?


MR KIRBY: The UN Security Council resolution --

QUESTION: Which would – right, which means --

MR KIRBY: -- which said that --

QUESTION: -- you have a say in that, in defining which groups are terror groups.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, but not the U.S. unilaterally.

QUESTION: No, no, no, but --

MR KIRBY: That’s what my point was, Brad.

QUESTION: But the point is if Russia and the U.S. disagree and then --

MR KIRBY: Well, then --

QUESTION: -- you decide to agree, you can change that UN resolution. That’s --

MR KIRBY: That could be a matter for the Security Council to bring up. I’m not aware of any --

QUESTION: Right, but it’s not out of your hands.

MR KIRBY: -- coming conversations in that regard. I – my point to Samir was that this was decided on by all the members of the ISSG, endorsed by the Security Council in a resolution that only UN-designated foreign terrorist organizations would not be party to the cessation, and there’s been no change to that. And I don’t see any changes coming to that.


QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?

QUESTION: -- what did the --

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second, Said.

QUESTION: What did the Secretary mean when he was in Aspen? At Aspen he said the Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham are under groups of ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusrah.

MR KIRBY: Did you read my quote in Josh’s story?

QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Because that lays it right out for you. Look, as I said, there’s no change to our policy – and I just stated our policy, thanks to Brad’s clarifications, but I stated the policy. And the Secretary was simply referring to the fact that we’re not blind to the notion that some of these fighters shift their loyalties and some go from fighting in one group to another. And that’s all the point he was making. He wasn’t changing our policy with respect to who is or who is not a part of the cessation of hostilities.

QUESTION: In that same UN resolution, you set a target date of August --

MR KIRBY: UN Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: -- UN Security Council resolution --

QUESTION: No, I was clarifying that it wasn’t UN-named terrorist groups; it was UN Security Council --

MR KIRBY: But it was --

QUESTION: The U.S. had a role in that, not – it wasn’t just --

MR KIRBY: Well, of course we did.

QUESTION: -- some UN functionary --

MR KIRBY: No, of course we did.

QUESTION: -- who declared it a terrorist group.

MR KIRBY: Well, of course not.


MR KIRBY: Of course not, of course not. But you were wrong. It isn’t a UN resolution; it’s a UN Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: In that same UNSC resolution, you set a target date of August 1st to create a framework for a political transition.


QUESTION: How would you evaluate how close you are to meeting that target date of August 1st?

MR KIRBY: As – you’re right, the Secretary talked about it as a target, so did Foreign Minister Lavrov talked about it as a target. And we’re mindful of the clock; we’re mindful of the calendar, I can assure you that. Again, another – it underscores the importance of the Secretary’s trip to Moscow and the conversations that he intends to have there. We’re obviously also mindful of where the political process sits right now, which is that there hasn’t been suitable progress moving forward. I’m not going to predict what’s going to happen in a couple of weeks or not, but clearly, we are not ignorant to the fact that achieving some sort of groundbreaking political development in two weeks is not likely.

That doesn’t mean that these still aren’t discussions worth having and it doesn’t mean that we still shouldn’t strive to try to meet the basic milestones that were laid out in the resolution, and we’re going to do that. And again, that’s one of the reasons why the Secretary feels it’s important to head to Moscow.

QUESTION: The Secretary also said at the beginning of May that if there wasn’t progress in the next couple months on this in working towards that target date that Assad should expect a very different track. Is there any movement on that and the idea of this different track, since we’ve seen so little progress in the last few months?

MR KIRBY: I’m just going to let the Secretary’s comments stand for themselves.



MR KIRBY: Really?



QUESTION: Thank you, Josh – thank you, John.

MR KIRBY: Josh? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Josh is a different person.

QUESTION: He’s a different one.

QUESTION: Yes. John, yesterday --

MR KIRBY: I don’t pretend to be anywhere near as competent as my White House colleague.

QUESTION: Yesterday, you talk about – I ask about Human Rights Watch group report on Turkey southeast, and you said you were going to study on it. Do you have any comment now?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a whole lot more than what I told you yesterday. We’re obviously aware of the report stating that the Turkish Government has not responded to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – the letter requesting permission for a UN team to conduct an investigation in southeastern Turkey to examine potential violations by the security forces during military operations in urban areas. We urge Turkey to allow effective investigations by Turkish prosecutors into civilian deaths and destruction of civilian property in Cizre – is that how you say that --


MR KIRBY: -- Cizre, thank you – and other towns in the southeast and give the UN and nongovernmental groups access to the area to document what is taking place. Last thing I’d say is we urge Turkey to take all feasible precautions, of course, to protect civilians and act consistency – consistently with legal obligations.

QUESTION: UN and human rights groups have been asking for this permission for months. In 2016, Turkey is a NATO ally. How do you see – how it is not possible for Turkey, your ally, not to allow investigators to look into the human rights violations?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I think I’ve stated our position. We urge them to allow that access and to conduct those investigations. We believe it’s important not because they’re a NATO ally, but because it’s the right thing to do. And again, we’re not bashful about stating our views in that regard.

QUESTION: And one more: There is – Hursit Kulter, he is the local pro-Kurdish party member who have been disappeared for five days and been millions of hashtag going on in the Twitter and social media, and there is no comment from Turkish authorities for over four to five days. I wonder if you have anything on that.

MR KIRBY: I’ve not seen that report. Why don’t we see if we can’t get back to you.

Janne. Said, I got you. I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you, John. On North Korea, as you know that North Korea launched the SLBM on last Saturday. Do you think North Korea is in violation of UN Security Council resolution on this?

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen the reports that they launched what appeared to be a ballistic missile from a submarine in the Sea of Japan. We are obviously monitoring and continue to assess that in close coordination with our regional allies and partners.

QUESTION: On THAAD issue again?


QUESTION: Yeah. Do you think --

MR KIRBY: You didn’t let me finish my answer.

QUESTION: Okay, sorry.

MR KIRBY: I mean, I had a lot more eloquence here.

QUESTION: Thanks, sir.

MR KIRBY: We strongly condemn North Korea’s missile test in violation of UN Security Council resolutions which explicitly prohibit North Koreans’ use of ballistic missile technology. These actions and North Korea’s continued pursuit of ballistic missile and nuclear weapons capabilities pose a significant threat to the United States, our allies, and to the stability of the greater Asia Pacific. And as I’ve been saying for much of the briefing today, we take those security obligations very, very seriously.

Now, you had a question on THAAD?

QUESTION: Yes, about the THAAD. North Korea on military headquarters announced yesterday strongly recommend about regarding THAAD deployed to South Korea about North Koreans’ declaration of war against the South Korea and United States. What is the U.S. position on their remarks?

MR KIRBY: It’s the same as it’s been, Janne. I mean look, the whole reason why there are now active discussions about the deployment of a THAAD system is because of the continued threat that the North poses to the people of South Korea and to the region. It is a purely defensive system. We’ve talked about that. But it is – this is a necessary conversation that our two militaries believe they need to have in terms of this potential deployment.

Again, we continue to call on Pyongyang to cease the kinds of actions and rhetoric and threats that do nothing to ease the insecurity on the peninsula, and in part have, quite frankly, driven our two militaries to having this now active discussion about this potential deployment.

QUESTION: But the China has tolerated a North Korean nuclear program. Why China criticize the United States deployed their THAAD missile for defense, using for defense?

MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I understand the – why --

QUESTION: I mean, Chinese – why they are so against United States?

MR KIRBY: Well, you’d have to talk to Chinese authorities for their reservations. I think you’ve seen in some of their comments that they’re concerned about the perceived threat of this system to their own capabilities in the region. And as we have said many, many times, this is a purely defensive system. We have offered to share certain details of the capabilities of the system with Chinese officials, and I’m not aware that they’ve taken us up on that offer.

This is a – again, a purely defensive system, so there should be no reason for China or any other nation to be concerned about this in terms of any offensive capabilities. It is purely defensive. And frankly, we wouldn’t be having the discussion that we’re having with the Republic of Korea if Pyongyang had chosen over these many months and years a different path.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I have a Clinton emails question and then I have a couple on Israel, but I’ll be – try to be fast. Last week there was a State Department deposition and it mentioned that Pat Kennedy asked the FBI to turn over several thousand emails the FBI was able to find on the wiped server. Have you gotten these yet?

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second here. I’m going to have to get my glasses out. I know I have it here. I want to make sure I get exactly what you need.

So as we’ve said for many months, we’re going to work with the FBI to determine the appropriate disposition of potential federal records – federal records, I’m sorry, that it’s recovered. I can confirm that we’ve sent a letter to the FBI requesting that, to the extent the FBI recovered former Secretary Clinton’s work-related emails that were not in the group of emails she provided to the State Department in December of 2014, that they provide us with such emails. And as I’ve said for many months, we’ll work with the FBI to determine the appropriate disposition.

QUESTION: So have you gotten them yet?

MR KIRBY: Again, I don’t have any updates for you. I can just say that we have made the request.

QUESTION: Right. Do you plan to release these as part of the full release of the secretary’s former work emails?

MR KIRBY: That is – what I would say to that is we’re going to continue to work with the FBI on the proper disposition. And I don’t have anything with respect to potential release to speak to right now.

QUESTION: Okay. And then on Israel, a couple things. One, the NGO law that you had expressed concerns about in the past has come into effect. Do you have a position now that it is operational?

MR KIRBY: We’re aware that the Knesset passed the NGO bill last night. Although some of the issues that we were concerned about were addressed in the final version, we are still very concerned about the potential impacts of this legislation – in particular, the chilling effect that this new law could have on NGO activities. As the President has made clear, a free and functional civil society is essential, and governments must protect freedoms of expression, including dissent and association, and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard.

QUESTION: I think the EU said it risks undermining democracy. Do you share that opinion?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think I’d point you back to what the President said, that free expression and including dissent and association, a free and functioning civil society – those are all key elements to a healthy democracy.

QUESTION: And then coincidentally but separately, there was a Senate report that came out today on State Department aid to a group. I think it was called OneVoice. And it concluded that some U.S. money went to an effort that was opposing the Israeli prime minister. Do you have a comment on that?

MR KIRBY: As the report was just released, actually we’ve not had time to go through it closely, so I’m not going to be able to comment on specifics. But I would note that the report makes clear there’s no evidence that OneVoice spent State Department grant funds to influence the Israeli election. Again, I just don’t have additional comment at this time.

QUESTION: Iran? Iran?

QUESTION: John, could I follow up on Brad’s question --

MR KIRBY: Sure. I had a feeling you’d want to.

QUESTION: -- on the NGO? Now, since basically those organizations that get their funding from abroad, there are only – or most of their funding – there are 27, 25 of which are human rights organizations that really document Israeli military occupation, abuses, and so on. And it is bound to have a very, very negative effect on the ability to report and record and document these human rights abuses. So I know you mentioned that – about free press and so on, but also the human rights situation. I wonder if you would have a comment on that.

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, I mean, it’s not just about freedom of expression; it’s dissent and association. And when I said dissent and association, I was talking about some of these NGOs that promote civil society and human rights issues. And again – and I said this in the answer to Brad – I mean, we’re deeply concerned that this law now as passed can have a chilling effect on the activities that these worthwhile organizations are trying to do.

QUESTION: And just related, the foreign minister of Egypt was in Israel and met with the prime minister, and they were talking about maybe restarting some sort of a peace process. He’s trying to arrange a meeting, apparently, between Egyptian President Sisi and the prime minister in Israel. Are you aware of these activities? Do you – are you in communication with them as part of the organizing process? Do you have any comment on them?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, we’re aware of the Egyptians’ interest in trying to contribute to solutions that could get us to a two-state outcome. This is something that the Secretary has routinely discussed with Foreign Minister Shoukry. I can’t speak to his specific travel or meetings that he’s having in Israel or with Israeli leaders, but – and I wouldn’t – and I won’t speak to specifics of any of the content of those meetings. That’s for those individuals to speak to. But as the Secretary has said many times, we’re still committed to a two-state solution, and he’s not going to turn up his nose at any good ideas that are proffered either here in the United States or around the world that could help us achieve that outcome and could help the leaders in the region to make the kinds of decisions to achieve that outcome for themselves.

QUESTION: John, just a quick one on Syria: What happens – what’s the plan for August 1st? It seems you’re treating it like – more like a goal than a hard deadline, so do you just shift the goal, then, or what?

MR KIRBY: Well, as the Secretary said all along, it was never considered a deadline.

QUESTION: Yes. So --

MR KIRBY: He even said when he talked about it as a target. And obviously we still would like to achieve that target. But --

QUESTION: But you won’t be able to use it in the next two weeks, right?

MR KIRBY: -- we’re certainly mindful that with two weeks to go, as I said, that a major breakthrough on the political process is most likely not likely. That doesn’t mean, though, that it’s not important to go to Moscow and to have discussions about how we can better get there, to include a discussion about the cessation of hostilities and the humanitarian aid, which has been a real obstacle to moving the political process forward. And so the Secretary’s going to be interested to talk to Russian leaders about their ideas about how we can achieve that outcome. It’s not about moving goals. It’s about achieving the goal itself, and the larger goal is a political solution to the problem in Syria.

Again, we’re mindful that August looms. More critically – and this is an important point – the Secretary is mindful that millions and millions of Syrians are still in desperate need inside and outside the country, and that even when, as they call for a regime of calm, ground and air operations continue to occur against opposition forces in and around Aleppo and in and around Damascus. So I certainly understand, and it’s a fair question about August 1st, but the Secretary’s focused on the much larger goal of achieving a real political solution in Syria.

QUESTION: But – I mean, I understand that, but if you put a date down as a way to kind of keep the talks focused and --

MR KIRBY: Sure. Dates like that, targets can help to be forcing functions.

QUESTION: Then at a certain point, if there’s just no progress, you just indefinitely extend the date or you take a different approach or what?

MR KIRBY: Well, obviously, we need some different approaches, and again, that’s one of the reasons why the Secretary is going to Moscow. We have not achieved the level of peace and security in Syria that we want to. And so, as I said earlier, we have proposed some alternatives and some options, and the Secretary looks forward to discussing those ideas with Russian leaders and any ideas they might have in terms of achieving a better outcome. But the tools are all there, Barb. The – we – the elements of how to get to success in Syria are laid out in the UN Security Council resolution. The issue has been the execution and the implementation, and a large measure of that has been continued violations and obstructionism and acts of violence against their own people by the regime.

And Russia can play a more productive, more constructive, more useful role in terms of trying to check that behavior and try to turn events to a more – to more positive outcomes in Syria. And again, that’s why we’re – one of the reasons why we’re going to Moscow, of course. And so we’ll see where we get after the discussions in Russia and we’ll see where we get throughout the rest of July.

But again, I mean, it was never intended to be a deadline. It was certainly intended to be a forcing function, a target goal, and I can’t predict for you the degree to which there’ll be another one on the horizon. But I can tell you that for our part, the U.S. Government, certainly Secretary Kerry, remains committed to the larger goal set – as set forth in the Security Council resolution about a unified, whole, pluralistic Syria with a government that’s responsible and responsive to the people there.

I got time for one more. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV. Sir, it is about the situation in Indian-held Kashmir. You spoke about it yesterday. I’ve seen your comments.



MR KIRBY: So I don’t have anything more to say. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, I know.

MR KIRBY: This is an easy last question.

QUESTION: But sir, the Press Trust of India reported that John Kirby says that it is an internal matter of India. I haven’t seen those comments in the transcript. Have you said that?

MR KIRBY: I said – hang on, I’ll tell you exactly what I said. I said we’ve seen reports of the clashes between protesters and Indian forces in Kashmir, we’re concerned by the violence, we encourage all sides to make efforts towards finding a peaceful solution, and I said I would refer you to the Government of India for any more specific information about those clashes.

QUESTION: Sir, is it the internal matter of India or do you consider Kashmir the disputed territory?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to leave my answer where I left it. I think I did a pretty good job.

QUESTION: Sir, do you support the UN resolution on Kashmir?

MR KIRBY: I think I did a pretty good job answering it yesterday. I’m going to stick with that. Thanks. Appreciate it, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:02 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 11, 2016

Mon, 07/11/2016 - 17:24

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 11, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:11 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.


MR KIRBY: Okay, a couple of things at the top. On South Sudan. In response to the sudden and serious decline in the security situation in South Sudan, we released statements on the 9th and the 10th of July condemning the latest outbreak of violence and calling on President Kiir and first president – I’m sorry, First Vice President Machar and their political allies to immediately restrain their forces from fighting.

Our ambassador, Ambassador Phee, has spoken repeatedly with senior officials on both sides, and today we welcome the presidential decree declaring a unilateral ceasefire to take effect at 6 o’clock. We also welcome the commitment conveyed by First Vice President Machar to reciprocate with the unilateral ceasefire for opposition forces.

The United Nations Security Council, the African Union, and regional partners have been actively engaged in calling on the leaders in South Sudan to commit to the full and immediate implementation of the peace agreement, including the permanent ceasefire.

We strongly urge that the two leaders do everything in their power to ensure these decrees will be fully respected and unfettered humanitarian assistance will be provided to those affected by the violence. And I also want to add our condolences, thoughts, and prayers to all those who have been affected by the violence, the families of those killed, and of course those who have been wounded and hurt.

The Secretary remains, for his part, very engaged. He spoke yesterday with Prime Minister Hailemariam and President Kenyatta regarding a coordinated regional response to the unrest. The UN Security Council yesterday discussed as well how to enhance the UN mission in South Sudan – otherwise known as UNMIS; I think you guys are familiar with that acronym – to better enable the mission to prevent and respond to violence. We are in active communication with partners on appropriate next steps.

In addition, we are moving out on all fronts to reduce the number of staff by implementing an ordered departure from our post. That is our focus right now – an ordered departure. We are adjusting – are simply adjusting our footprint in response to the deterioration in the security situation. We are also in constant communication with U.S. citizens in Juba, and we released a Travel Warning yesterday evening protecting American citizens and ending the fighting are our – remain our top priorities in South Sudan, and we are working closely with senior leaders, the African Union, and regional partners to do so.

A note on Pakistan. We are deeply saddened by the passing of Pakistani philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi on the 8th of July – one of the world’s great humanitarians. Edhi’s compassion, dignity, and humility serve as an example to us all. He led a life dedicated to serving others regardless of religion, class, nationality, or ethnicity. We offer our deepest condolences to his wife and his children, the millions that he personally touched, and of course to the people of Pakistan on this sad occasion.

Finally, a programming note. Secretary Kerry will travel this week – starting this week. He’ll travel to Paris at the invitation of President Hollande to attend Bastille Day celebrations. He will – the travel starts Wednesday. The Bastille Day celebrations are obviously on the 14th. Later that evening on the 14th, he’ll travel to Moscow where he will begin a series of meetings with senior Russian officials to discuss Syria, Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh, among other issues. He’ll then travel to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, on the 15th of July, where he will meet with the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn to discuss a range of bilateral issues, the transatlantic relationship, and a variety of other issues of mutual interest to us both.

The Secretary will then travel to Brussels from July 17th to the 18th where he will meet with EU member-state foreign ministers and EU High Representative Federica Mogherini ahead of the Foreign Affairs Council, and there to discuss of course key foreign policy priorities across the continent.

Next, the Secretary will travel to London on the 18th and the 19th, where he will attend multilateral meetings on Yemen and on Syria.

So with that, Dave, do you want to kick us off?

QUESTION: Yes. Let’s start with the South Sudan since you did. Can you – what’s the situation now in terms of the departure of the Americans from your mission?

MR KIRBY: Well, we don’t – for security purposes, we don’t detail specific numbers, but the ordered departure is in place. It’s not an evacuation, it’s an ordered departure. And we’re working through effecting that even today, but I just don’t have and I won’t have on a daily basis any kind of an update.

QUESTION: Is the end state to have zero staff in country?

MR KIRBY: I beg your pardon?

QUESTION: Is the end state everybody gone?

MR KIRBY: No. It’s an ordered departure, a steady ordered departure of staff. So, again, I just don’t have an update for you.

QUESTION: Okay. And is – are all U.S. personnel that you’re aware of accounted for and safe?

MR KIRBY: All chief of mission under people – people under the authority of the chief of mission have all been accounted for. We obviously are in touch with – as best we can with other American citizens who are in Juba. It’s, as you know, difficult for us to say with 100 percent certainty that we know of every American citizen that is there, but we are trying to stay in communication with them as best we can.

QUESTION: And are you able to remain in communication with the two camps, with the president and vice president of --

MR KIRBY: We have. We have. Our ambassador has, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I have some on Syria as well, but if anyone wants to continue on Sudan --

MR KIRBY: Anything more on South Sudan?

QUESTION: I just want to make sure I understand. When you are through with – when this ordered departure comes to an end, there will be staff of some number at the embassy; is that correct?

MR KIRBY: It’s an ordered departure adjusting the footprint in response to the deterioration. I’m not going to be able to say with great specificity what the end state of that’s going to be in terms of presence there. As I said to Dave, we’re not talking about evacuating the embassy. It’s an ordered departure. Okay? Go ahead, Dave.

QUESTION: So Syria. The Syrian army has renewed a 72-hour ceasefire that they themselves declared. Obviously, last week when we were traveling, Secretary Kerry welcomed in principle the 72-hour Eid holiday ceasefire.


QUESTION: Obviously, the United States would rather there was a nationwide permanent cessation, but that was what was on the table. However, it seems to have been breached, and today we have reports that there’s a rebel offensive underway to try and break the siege of Aleppo. So do you regard the Syrian ceasefire as being in place, or is that gone now? And how – what’s the state of the cessation that has obviously been partially honored up to now?

MR KIRBY: Well, as you rightly said, the regime extended it for an additional 72 hours which was ending today. But even as recently as yesterday, Syrian regime forces continue to conduct ground and aerial operations in Aleppo in violation of both the nationwide cessation of hostilities, which was called for in the UN Security Council resolution, but also the Eid period of calm which they themselves announced. We’ve also seen disturbing reports of regime advances in Daraya, which is a suburb of Damascus.

That said, the cessation has largely held in other parts of the country, and we continue to urge all parties for complete compliance with the nationwide cessation of hostilities. The regime needs to do – and we’ve said this before, Dave – they need to do what it committed to do, which is to end the indiscriminate use of weapons, including the targeting of civilians and civilian authorities, and including medical ones. And we look to the Russians to make a greater use of the influence that we know that they have to make that happen.

QUESTION: You know whether the Russians were involved in the prolongation of 72 hours, or was that a Syrian --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I honestly don’t know the degree to which they influenced the extension, but clearly there is not enough influence being applied, or that influence is being ignored, because we continue to see violations even shortly after they announced an extension.

QUESTION: And when was the last time Secretary Kerry spoke to Lavrov or anyone --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update for you since he spoke on the 5th of July.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you expect the Secretary to discuss the new proposal with the Russians on cooperation to focus on fighting ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusrah?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, we expect the discussions in Moscow to range across many issues. Syria will be front and center; there’s no question about that. And I – without getting ahead of an agenda or discussions that haven’t happened, I can assure you that one of the key topics the Secretary is going to want to cover with Russian officials is reduction in violence, the cessation of hostilities – getting that applied as it should have been applied, nationwide and in enduring way; a political transition; and of course, they will – I have no doubt that they’ll continue to discuss the humanitarian situation on the ground and the need for better and more sustained, more unimpeded access to so many millions of Syrians in need. I fully expect that this will be front and center on the agenda, and the Secretary will make clear that we expect – as we have – Russia to use the influence that we know it has on the Assad regime to get the situation in better control.

QUESTION: Can I move to Iraq?


QUESTION: Thank you. So about the additional 560 troops that Secretary Carter announced today --


QUESTION: -- did that come in response to a request from the Iraqi Government, or was it your assessment that you need to send these troops?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to point you to what Secretary Carter said when he announced it and he made it clear that this was done in full consultation with Prime Minister Abadi’s government in Baghdad.

QUESTION: Did they request it, or you thought, like, that there needs to be additional U.S. troops?

MR KIRBY: It was done in full consultation and coordination with the Iraqi Government. All of our troops in Iraq are there at the invitation and the support of the Iraqi Government. That won’t change with this additional deployment.

QUESTION: What do you say to critics who are saying this is definitely mission creep? Because – and what kind of role? I know you might refer me to the Pentagon – what might – what kind of role they might play in the (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: You’re right, I’m going to refer you to the Pentagon. But listen, it ain’t mission creep if the mission ain’t changing, and the mission’s not changing in Iraq with respect to what U.S. troops are doing in a train, advise, and assist capacity. And then, of course, our airmen are very much engaged in air operations, as they have been inside the coalition.



QUESTION: On July 20, you’ll be hosting a humanitarian pledging conference for Iraq.

MR KIRBY: Yes, I announced it.

QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.) So there’s an issue with the participation of the Kurdistan Regional Government that’s in northern Iraq. It got a huge number of refugees that they’re hosting – nearly 2 million – but generally they don’t get to attend these conferences, because the U.S. leaves it up to Baghdad whether to include the Kurdish representatives or not and Baghdad doesn’t include the Kurdish representatives.

So my question is: This time, will you press Baghdad to make sure that representatives of the KRG include – are included? The British have done that in the past and it’s worked. Or, alternatively, might you invite representatives of the Kurdistan Regional Government directly to attend this conference?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, I want to talk about the importance of the conference, and the Secretary is very much looking forward to it. It is – it’s going to be an important gathering for an important purpose: to further encourage international community support for the very real financial challenges that Iraq still faces as they are trying to enact reforms, political and economic; as they are fighting a very lethal enemy still on their soil. So there’s a lot of work to be done on that day, and the Secretary looks forward to rolling up his sleeves and getting at that work.

I don’t have an update for you on invitations or the process itself. The only thing I would say is that, as we have made clear in the past, the support that the United States is providing to Iraq in this time of great need is being done as – and it will continue to be done – through the Abadi government in Baghdad. Again, I will take the question for you in terms of any more specificity on the invitation process. I just don’t have that level of information right now. But I do want to stress that we continue to manage the support that we’re providing through Baghdad.

QUESTION: Well, it seems that given the critical role that the Kurdish Peshmerga play in fighting ISIS and the great generosity that they’ve shown all these refugees and displaced persons, that they really merit the attention of the United States, and if they’re not getting from Baghdad a reasonable share of this aid, that the United States should really consider stepping in and addressing this issue.

MR KIRBY: Well, I would take issue with the notion that we haven’t. I’m not going to get ahead of pledges or what size, scope, and character they’re going to be or how they’re going to be distributed inside Iraq. But you raise a good point, and one I neglected in my first reply to you, and that’s that we obviously recognize the service, the sacrifice, the courage, the bravery, the skill on the battlefield that the Peshmerga have demonstrated every single day.

And we’re mindful of the toll that this fight has taken up in the north and the significant role that the Kurdish Regional Government has played in terms of trying to deal with it as well. That’s why, when you see Brett McGurk traveling to the region, he never fails to stop in Erbil and have discussions with KRG representatives. And so has, in fact, Secretary Kerry in his most recent trip to Iraq made the effort to meet with them – now, it was in Baghdad, but he made the effort to meet with them. So we’re mindful of that. We’re mindful of the role they’re playing and the skill that they are demonstrating, but I just won’t get ahead of specifics in terms of pledging contributions by any one state or how they might be distributed.

QUESTION: Or invitations?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, I will see if I can find out more information about the invitation process, the protocol element of this. I don’t know how much information I’m going to be able to provide this far out, but I’ll take the question and we’ll see what we can do in terms of getting you a better reply.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Carol.

QUESTION: John, do you have any reaction to the indictments in Tehran today of the three dual nationals, including an American and a Lebanese man who was working on contract for the State Department?

MR KIRBY: I do, Carol. We’ve seen the reports of unspecified indictments announced by Iran against U.S. citizen Siamak Namazi and a U.S. legal permanent resident named Nizar Zakka, as well as other non-U.S. citizen dual nationals. As we’ve said before, we continue to believe that if the reports are true, both are being unjustly detained and should be released as soon as possible. We don’t have any further information to provide on these announcements and we’re continuing to make all appropriate efforts on these cases and any other cases of U.S. citizens detained or missing in Iran.

QUESTION: Are you taking it upon yourself to try to work for the release of the Lebanese citizen who is a resident of the United States?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, we – for privacy reasons, Carol, we’re not going to comment on efforts that we make on behalf of specific U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents overseas without their written consent. What I can tell you is that we continue to use all the means at our disposal to advocate for U.S. citizens who need our assistance. That’s really as far as I can go on that.


QUESTION: Do you have a response to the Japanese elections yesterday?

MR KIRBY: The – certainly we saw the elections and the preliminary results. I would refer you to Japanese authorities to speak to their elections. Japan is obviously a close friend and an ally and certainly a democracy in their own right. And we look forward to continuing that very close association, that very close friendship, that very close partnership, and we’ll continue to work with all the elected members in Japan’s government. But I’m not going to make a characterization or a comment one way or the other on an internal election.

QUESTION: North Korea --

QUESTION: Specifically – sorry, one more.

QUESTION: Sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just specifically, they elected more than two-thirds of the ruling majority party, which means that they could potentially create changes to the pacifist constitution. Do you have any comment on (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I absolutely would not get ahead of issues like that. As I said, Japan is a close ally and a friend and a partner and we look forward to continuing that very close association with them going forward. I’m not going to speculate one way or another about policy changes that this election may or may not infuse into the system. That would be inappropriate at this time.

QUESTION: So North Korea says they’ve broken ties – well, de facto ties that they had through the mission at the UN in New York to the United States. To what extent can you break that tie since it’s – it was informal, I understand, but what’s your reaction to that?

MR KIRBY: I would say our reaction is essentially that, again, we call on North Korea to refrain from actions and rhetoric that only further raise tensions in the region. I’m not going to share the details of diplomatic exchanges one way or the other, but none of the rhetoric we’ve seen of late is doing anything to increase security and stability on the peninsula. And the DPRK knows very well what its international obligations are and should know very well what their obligations are to their own people in terms of the proper kinds of decisions and choices that they need to make going forward.

QUESTION: Syria --

QUESTION: Is there going to be – just on the same issue, is there going to be any negative consequences to not having that diplomatic channel, especially as the military drills are scheduled for August?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to get into the details of diplomatic exchanges one way or another. As you know, we don’t have formal diplomatic relations with the DPRK. And as for their exercises – is that what you’re referring to?

QUESTION: The joint U.S.-South Korean exercises for August/September.

MR KIRBY: Is there going to be an impact on that?

QUESTION: Well, if there’s – yeah, I mean, if there’s no – that traditionally, there’s a rise of tensions in advance and surrounding those, and if there’s not a diplomatic channel through New York, there’s concerns that that could make things even worse.

MR KIRBY: Well, let me back up a little bit. First of all, I’ll point you to DOD to speak to specific training exercises, timing, scope, character. That’s not for us to speak to. But we have significant security commitments with the Republic of Korea, alliance commitments that we intend to continue to meet. And a key component of meeting those commitments is military readiness, and a key way to assure military – ensure military readiness is to exercise, is to train together. And I can assure you that here at the State Department we fully support efforts by the two militaries to do just that, and I don’t see any impact on the requirements to stay militarily ready and therefore the obligations to train and to exercise going forward. And given the threats both rhetorically and actually that have come from Pyongyang of late, we certainly believe all the more strongly that a proper readiness posture is warranted there in the South.

QUESTION: Syria and Iraq?


QUESTION: Can I do one more follow-up on this?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, let’s stay in the region.

QUESTION: And do you have any concerns on American detainees in North Korea? They said now that they would treat them with wartime law.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, again, we’ve seen the comments, again, not – I’m not going to – I’m not going to comment on every utterance that comes out of Pyongyang. But clearly, rhetoric such as that obviously is not doing anything to ease tensions. As we’ve said before, the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the State Department. That’s not going to change, and we continue to call on the North to cease what is obviously an improper and unjust detention of these individuals.


QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?


QUESTION: South China Sea. I wonder if you have any response to last Friday’s briefing you were asked about if the United States welcomed the remarks by Philippine’s officials that they are open towards discussions of a joint exploration of resources in the South China Sea. Does the United States welcome it?

MR KIRBY: The – welcome the – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Welcome the proposal by the Philippines that they are willing – they are open to discussion for a joint exploration of natural resources in the South China Sea with China.

MR KIRBY: Those are sovereign issues that – and decisions that leaders of nations are entitled and in fact have a responsibility to make. We’ve seen those comments. But again, this is – these are issues for the Philippines and China to discuss, and the United States isn’t – doesn’t have an official reaction to those particular statements.

QUESTION: With the ruling of tomorrow’s Hague tribunal coming up soon, do you think is that opened up an opportunity for discussions for joint resource management?

MR KIRBY: Look, let’s not get ahead of a tribunal decision that hasn’t been rendered. We – our position has all along been that we want all claimants to resolve disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law. We don’t take a position on claims. We do take a position on coercion; we want these things resolved in accordance with rule of law. And as I said to your last question, if there are bilateral arrangements that can be had to do just that short of having to take it to some – to a higher level, as long as it’s done peacefully and in accordance with international law, the United States isn’t going to certainly interfere with that. But I just don’t want to get ahead of a decision that hasn’t been rendered.

On your question on the Americans, I want to go back. There’s one point I want to make. We continue to urge Pyongyang to adhere to its commitment to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and grant consular access to any detained U.S. citizens without delay. I had forgot to mention that and wanted to put that in there, so I apologize for coming back to you.

We still in the region? Yes? No?

QUESTION: South China Sea, South China Sea.

MR KIRBY: Okay, you both have your hands up. We’ll go – you go first.

QUESTION: Okay. Do U.S. official plan to communicate with their Chinese counterpart after South China Sea arbitration? Result comes out tomorrow.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to get ahead of this decision. We need to see what the tribunal comes back with. As I’ve – that said, as I’ve said here from the podium and as Secretary Kerry stressed in a recent conversation with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, that whatever the decision is, we urge all sides, all claimants, to show restraint, to show respect for the rule of law, and to not allow – again, whatever this decision is – to not allow for increased tensions and increased instability in the South China Sea area.

QUESTION: Is there any established communication mechanism between the U.S. and China to effectively control the possible conflicts caused by the arbitration?

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s not about controlling conflict. And you – there are many levels of communication that we have with Chinese officials. DOD has several in place at various levels in the military chain of command, and of course, the Secretary has a very forthright relationship with his counterpart, and I suspect that that will continue. There are many ways in which we can communicate with China to effect our mutual interests in the region and around the world. And it’s in no one’s interests to see the tensions in the South China Sea rise, to see insecurity fomented. And again, that was the message that the Secretary delivered in his conversation just recently with the foreign minister and it will – it will be – consistently will be our message. I just – I’m not going to get ahead of, again, a decision that hasn’t been made yet. Okay?


QUESTION: A question about the Japan upper house election. And Japanese Minister for Okinawa Affairs Shimajiri lost her upper house seat to challenger backed by the Okinawa governor and coalition of the activists opposed to the Futenma relocation plan. So the Okinawa election result was the symbol that the people of Okinawa showed their will to oppose the Futenma relocation plan. So do you have any comment about the result of the Okinawa election, and does U.S. States Government give up the calling for Futenma relocation plan?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to comment on internal elections which just occurred. I think I’ve addressed that in my previous answer. And on the Futenma replacement facility, as we’ve said, we – we’ll continue to work with the Government of Japan for the Futenma replacement facility and that project and moving forward with it. We’re mindful, of course, of the concerns by many residents of Okinawa. We have been mindful of their concerns, and that’s not going to change. I can assure you Ambassador Kennedy is engaged on this very closely. But we still believe that moving forward on the replacement facility is in the best interest not just of the U.S. military and our security commitments in the region, but our security commitments to Japan, to the Japanese people. And so I don’t have – I don’t have nor would I expect any changes to our commitment to that going forward.


QUESTION: Back to Syria and Iraq.

MR KIRBY: Okay. I wasn’t looking at you, but that’s okay; you’ve been patient. So we’re going to go to him – I tell you, I’ll go him, you, and then you. How’s that? All right, go ahead.

QUESTION: Right. And just following up on the earlier question, I mean --

MR KIRBY: Who are you?

QUESTION: Ryan Browne, CNN. Sorry.


QUESTION: So just to go back to the earlier question about the Russian conversation, you mentioned a range of issues that they were going to talk about pertaining to Syria, but not specifically a potential military cooperation on ISIS and al-Nusrah?

MR KIRBY: Well, we – first of all, there is no – other than a channel that has been opened up between DOD and the Russian military to de-conflict for safety of operations purposes, there is no U.S. military coordination with the Russian military inside Syria. But the Secretary – as we’ve said before, we continue to explore options and alternatives and proposals with respect to the fight against Nusrah and Daesh in Syria. And as I said, the degree to which the Russian military is willing to be committed to the fight against those two groups and exclusively those two groups, well, that’s a conversation that we’re willing to have. I just don’t have any developments to speak to today, and obviously I wouldn’t speak for the Defense Department anyway. But there’s no military coordination going on now.

We have and will continue to explore options and alternatives going forward to try to get the cessation of hostilities better applied and enforced; to try to increase pressure on Nusrah and Daesh across the country; and, again, while with an eye to trying to get at a political transition, because, as we’ve seen, prior talks between the opposition and the regime haven’t gone so well, and one reason for that is that they were being bombed at the same time they were sitting down trying to have a conversation about a political future. So we know that this is a key component in terms of achieving any success on the political front, and I suspect that the Secretary will spend quite a bit of time in his discussions in Moscow on that issue.

QUESTION: Then just quickly on Iraq, as the forces – a new set of U.S. troops are bound to go in and they just recaptured a major base near Mosul. Can you talk a little bit about kind of the Iraqi Government’s vision for Mosul and kind of – not necessarily a timeline, but how important politically is that for the Iraqi Government under Abadi?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m loath to talk for another government. But I mean, broadly speaking, we all know how important Mosul is, and we’ve known that for quite some time. And there is an Iraqi strategy; there is a campaign plan to retake Mosul. It’s their plan. Obviously, the United States and coalition members will support as necessary; but it’s their plan, it’s their strategy, and they have to speak for it and they have to execute it. And I think as you heard Secretary Carter speak to today out in Baghdad, that these additional troops in part will help with logistical needs and logistical capabilities in terms of supporting any future advances on Mosul. And the capture of Qayyarah – the base in Qayyarah, which is 40, 50 miles south of Mosul – that’s an important step in the continued progress to retake Mosul.

To restate your question, I certainly wouldn’t speculate from here one way or another when that would happen or the manner in which it would begin specifically in terms of Mosul proper. But we’ve said all along and for many months now that shaping operations have already occurred in terms of trying to soften up Daesh positions around Mosul. So this has been a continuing process, this has been a continued focus of the coalition and of the Iraqi Government, and we’re going to continue to look for ways to support them in their efforts to retake Mosul.


QUESTION: Thank you, John. I got Turkey-related questions today for --

MR KIRBY: I’m shocked.

QUESTION: First from --

MR KIRBY: Totally shocked.

QUESTION: First one Syria, Syria/Turkey. Today, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim stated that there are actually not many reasons for Turkey to fight with Syria; on the opposite, actually there are many reasons for Turkey to have good relations with Syria, which – assuming he intends to say Syrian regime. How do you see these signs coming from Ankara that may be another rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll let Turkish officials speak to those comments. I mean, I’ve seen them, but they should have to characterize those comments. What I will say is Turkey is a NATO ally, Turkey’s a key partner in the coalition, Turkey has been cooperative and helpful with respect to going after Daesh inside Syria materially and in many other ways. They also continue to have a very tough refugee problem on their side of the border – more than 2 million that they are caring for and have done so nobly. And I would add that they are – they continue to make efforts to shut down the flow of foreign fighters across their borders. So Turkey’s engaged. Turkey’s involved. This isn’t – as I said, it’s not a theoretical exercise for them. It’s real and it’s right on their border.

So we would look, for our part, for that cooperation to continue. We would look for Turkey to continue to contribute to coalition efforts. And we are in constant communication with Turkish officials about how to better effect that kind of coordination and how to better make those improvements and how to improve the way that together we’re all going against a common enemy.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, there was a news that one of the PKK leaders got hit in northern Syria, which is within the Syrian part of the – Kurdish part of Syria. Have you had any kind of confirmation on that? Bahoz Erdal is the name of the PKK leader.

MR KIRBY: I do not.

QUESTION: Okay, one within Turkey. Just today, Human Rights Watch released a report and saying that Turkey is blocking investigations demand from UN – United Nations official of High Commissioner for Human Rights as well as from the human rights groups into the displacements and the unlawful killings of civilians. These are the alleged abuses that are made by this – the Turkish Government within the last months, which the people could number about half a million Kurds within Turkey forced to leave their places. Do you have any comment on that one?

MR KIRBY: We’re only just now aware of this human rights report. We’re working our way through it. I don’t have specific opinions to render on any of these findings. Obviously, these are serious issues. These raise serious concerns. But until we’ve had a chance to go through the Human Rights Watch report it would be, I think, imprudent for me to comment one way or another with respect to the findings.

Obviously, broadly speaking, we take all allegations of mistreatment of refugees or innocent civilians very, very seriously. And to the degree any such charges are true, we’d like to see them fully investigated, fully and transparently investigated, and those responsible be held to account. But that’s broadly speaking. I don’t have specific things to address with this particular report.

QUESTION: A final one. These allegations about --

MR KIRBY: Are you sure? (Laughter.)



QUESTION: These allegations about the treatment of the Turkish Government in the southeast of Turkey have been going on for months, since last summer, and these questions have been asked to you many, many times.

MR KIRBY: As I said, we take these kinds of allegations very, very seriously. Nobody wants to see those things occur. And we continue to urge Turkey to fully investigate and to examine these. But you asked me a specific question about a report that just got issued, and we’re still working our way through that. But again, broadly speaking, we take this very, very seriously.

Yeah, in the back there.

QUESTION: Thank you. Kevin (inaudible), South Africa Broadcasting. I was just wondering if you had any official comment on the charges that were brought by South African authorities involving a plot to attack the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria.

MR KIRBY: So a couple of thoughts on that. First of all, we applaud the work of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, I guess otherwise known as the Hawks, in making these arrests. And we have full confidence in the South African judicial system to handle this case according to internationally accepted best practices for terrorism cases. I would refer you to South African authorities for more details on their arrests.

QUESTION: Just one more. In light of this event, these suspects, they’re not only looking to attack the U.S. embassy but also to head to Syria to join ISIS. Are you concerned about the security level and measures in southern Africa at the moment, especially in light of the safety of U.S. citizens?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re always concerned about the safety and security of our personnel and our facilities and American citizens overseas. I can tell you that we regularly engage South African authorities with respect to that. As you know, we’ve issued security messages in the past. We’ll continue to do that as needed. And this is something we’re constantly monitoring and we’re constantly working with South African authorities on it. But in general, of course, we’re always concerned about that.


QUESTION: Is there any comment on Theresa May, who is poised to become the next prime minister of Britain?

MR KIRBY: We look forward, as I said before, to working with ever – whoever the next prime minister of Great Britain is. But obviously, that decision is up to the British people.


QUESTION: The New York Times reported about two hours ago that Indian authorities in Kashmir have killed about 30 people. Is there any condemnation from the State Department with regard to this? These people have been killed in the last three days and the numbers continue to rise.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. We also have seen reports of the clashes between protesters and Indian forces in Kashmir. Obviously, we’re concerned about the violence. We encourage all sides to make efforts towards finding a peaceful resolution. This is really a matter for the Government of India to speak to specifically, and I’d refer you to them for more comment.

QUESTION: One more thing. A few months ago, I had asked you about the Durand Line issue, and you had said that the U.S. recognized Durand Line as a permanent border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And then a few weeks ago there were the skirmishes between the Pakistani forces and the Afghan forces and you gave a statement about that as well. But then there are formal ambassadors of U.S., such as Zalmay Khalilzad – he mentions in his book that the Durand Line is a disputed territory. Does the U.S. --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to re-draw the map today between Afghanistan and Pakistan. I don’t have anything additional to add to what we’ve said here.


MR KIRBY: But, look, broadly speaking, I’m not going to get into a topographical discussion with you today. We understand that the border region is still a safe haven for many terrorist groups. That’s point one.

Point two: We understand that the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan know this themselves and have made efforts in the past to work together to try to address that threat. That’s point two.

Point three: We understand that that effort also has not always gone smoothly, and we continue to urge those two governments to work together along that spine to eliminate the safe haven that so many groups there still enjoy, because those groups are targeting both Afghan and Pakistani civilians – innocent people that continue to die and be maimed by these groups. So there’s a shared interest there, and that’s what we’re focused on. And we’re not focused on lines on the map; we’re focused on lines of effort to go after these groups by both governments. Okay?

QUESTION: Can I just move from the Durand Line to Broadway? (Laughter.) Secretary of State Kerry left the NATO Summit earlier than his – than the President or Secretary Carter or indeed Secretary Nuland, and many of the other principles from other NATO allies, and then on Saturday night he attended a production of Hamilton on Broadway. Did he leave early to go to the theater?

MR KIRBY: Well, a couple of things on this, Dave. I think, number one, it’s important to note that he had a very full schedule, very comprehensive agenda in Warsaw – actually the entire week, but certainly at Warsaw.


MR KIRBY: And he completed all his commitments at the Warsaw Summit before departing, each and every one of them, and no event that happened the day following involved leaders at the foreign minister level. It was a heads of state day, basically, of topics. So he worked very hard in Warsaw. He completed all the meetings and discussions that he had intended to complete, but yes, he did depart before the President, and he departed because he had committed to attend the wedding of the son of a very dear, close, personal friend of his back in New England. That is the reason why he left Warsaw a little early. But again, I would stress that even if he had stayed, he would have already completed his entire agenda. So I think press reporting and speculation out there that he left Warsaw to attend a play is just patently false.

QUESTION: But the play didn’t appear on his public schedule.

MR KIRBY: He did go to the musical on Saturday night. That is a fact. He did, as a private endeavor, something that he wanted to do with his daughter. So he did attend. But that had nothing to do with his Warsaw agenda whatsoever and it had no effect whatsoever on the work that he was able to get done in Warsaw.


QUESTION: Can we go to Secretary Clinton’s email server? Has the State Department started the process of reviewing the security clearances of former Secretary of State Clinton’s aides?

MR KIRBY: There’s, I think, a little bit of a flaw in your question. The internal review that we are going to conduct is not about reviewing security clearances. It’s about reviewing the specific handling of sensitive and classified information, as we said we would a few months ago. So we’re now going to start that effort now that the FBI has completed their investigation. There are and could be administrative outcomes as a result of this review, but I’m not going to prejudge that or get ahead of it.

We are still – as I talked about Friday, we are still organizing the effort in terms of scope and character, and I just don’t have an update for you today on that.

QUESTION: I’m sure you’re aware that today, in addition to the proposed legislation from the Senate, some members of Congress have also – of the House have also introduced legislation to revoke the security clearances of Clinton’s aides. I know you just mentioned that there could be administrative actions, but is the State Department looking at similar actions like the legislation that they’re proposing?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, that question gets to the review itself, which hasn’t begun. I mean, we’re still organizing the effort. And the review will be – it’s all about looking at the degree to which information was classified at the time it was sent and then the handling of it.

As a result of this, as I said before, there are numerous administrative outcomes that could occur and some of those outcomes could affect security clearances, but again, I don’t want to speculate because we haven’t begun the work. So – and I’m certainly not going to talk about proposed legislation. I’m aware of it but I’m not going to – that’s for members of Congress to speak to. Our focus, and where Secretary Kerry wants the State Department focus, is on conducting this review in an efficient, effective, as expeditious as possible manner. And when we get to the end and we can share information with you, we will. We’ll try to be as transparent as possible, but as I also said last week, there’s going to be some legal restraints, most likely, on the level of specificity that we can go into because this is an administrative, not a criminal, process. Okay?

QUESTION: Do you know of a situation where a State Department employee or a DOD employee has kept their security clearance if they were exercising extreme carelessness in handling classified information?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is we take the handling of classified and sensitive information very seriously here. You’ve heard me say that even in recent days. It’s something that we’re always trying to improve. We’re certainly open to ideas and efforts to do just that. I don’t have the litany of history here in front of me in terms of the degree to which people have been impacted in that way as a result of not handling things well. But again, we’re not going to prejudge outcomes here. We’re going to do this review fairly and efficiently and effectively, we’re going to focus on doing it the right way, and then we’ll let what is learned guide decisions and recommendations going forward. I’m just not going to get ahead of that.

Okay. Thanks, everybody. Have a great day.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:00 p.m.)

DPB # 121

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 8, 2016

Fri, 07/08/2016 - 17:17

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 8, 2016

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2:06 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY:  Good afternoon.

QUESTION:  Good afternoon.

MR KIRBY:  Happy Friday to everybody.  Just a real quick travel update for you.  As you know, the Secretary is in Warsaw today participating in the NATO summit.  He’s there, obviously, with President Obama at what the President himself has called the most important moment for our transatlantic alliance since the end of the Cold War.  Today the Secretary met with UK Foreign Minister Hammond to discuss Brexit, the President’s leaders summit on refugees in September, and our ongoing coordination related to the Middle East and Ukraine.  He also met with Polish Foreign Minister Waszczykowski and discussed the strengthened U.S. presence in NATO’s east, transatlantic ties, Russia, support to Ukraine, and the situation in Syria.  He also met with the presidents of both Armenia and Azerbaijan to reiterate the need for the sides to uphold the commitments reached at the Vienna and St. Petersburg meetings, and to reaffirm the United States support for substantive talks leading to a comprehensive settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  In addition, the Secretary participated in the President’s meetings, obviously, with the EU leaders, NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg, and Polish President Duda.  The Secretary will depart Warsaw later tonight and return to Washington.

With that, Brad.

QUESTION:  Just following up on the internal review that you’ve reopened.  Can you say anything more about what exactly the review is focusing on particularly?

MR KIRBY:  Well, it’s going to focus on what we said it would focus on at the time when we first talked about it, and that was the degree to which email traffic was properly handled, sensitive – the degree to which email traffic was classified or sensitive at the time it was transmitted, the degree to which it was properly treated as such at the time it was transmitted.  And that’s what we said back when – in January, when we had originally intended to start.

QUESTION:  And I know you call it a review, this review has – as you said this week, it has the ability to determine possible infractions at the end of the day, whenever it completes.

MR KIRBY:  It’s a review into these issues.  As a result of information that the review uncovers, there could be outcomes, but the review is to actually determine the degree to which information was handled appropriately, not to determine specific outcomes.  There are outcomes that could come from what we learn from the review.

QUESTION:  I won’t ask about any of the officials who worked under Secretary Clinton per se, but about the secretary herself, there are some calls from the Hill about stripping her security clearance.  Is that – as a former official, albeit the top official in the department, is that something that is even possible as the end of this review?

MR KIRBY:  Well, again, without speaking to any individual or to – and certainly not to get ahead of this review, which is now just beginning, obviously, as I said before, the process can result in a variety of employment and/or security clearance outcomes from both current and former employees.

QUESTION:  So when you say former employees, that – does that include the former Secretary of State, or is she not actually a former employee since she was essentially the employer?

MR KIRBY:  I’m not going to speculate any more.  Again, the process could result in a variety of employment and/or security clearance outcomes for current and former employees.

QUESTION:  And then lastly, since you did have two months, I think, before you suspended the review, can you give us an idea of how much work or how far along you got at that time when you suspended it?

MR KIRBY:  To be quite honest with you, Brad, we didn’t get that far along, actually.  And I wouldn’t even say that it was suspended, because shortly after making the decision that we needed to proceed with a review, we got into consultation with the FBI, and as a result of that consultation, at their request, felt it was prudent to not move forward.  So there wasn’t really any traction had at the outset.  So now we’re going to – we’re going to go ahead and start.

QUESTION:  I had one more I remembered.  Now that the FBI probe, Department of Justice has made its – is over and the Department of Justice has made its decision and the IG is done here, do you expect the former secretary and any officials who come under your radar as part of this review to participate with this internal review, or are you not going to be asking them?

MR KIRBY:  I’ll tell you we’re still working through the logistics and the mechanics, and I’m just not in a position to go into any detail today in terms of actual mechanical process here.  I just don’t have that level of information today.

QUESTION:  That’s – just one thing, to be clear – the review.  The statement that you guys had under your name yesterday said that you intended to resume the review.  Have you actually begun that yet, or not really?

MR KIRBY:  Well, I mean, this decision just got made.  So have they as of today, 2 o’clock, rolled up their sleeves and working through documents?  No.  As I said to Brad, we’re still working through the logistics and the organization of this effort.  And to the degree that I’m in a position in the coming days to give you better insight into that process, I’ll do that.  But our focus – since this decision literally just got made yesterday, the focus today is on setting it up and establishing it and trying to determine the proper parameters.

QUESTION:  And who will conduct the review?

MR KIRBY:  These are typically conducted – in this case will be conducted by our Diplomatic Security directorate.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And does the director general’s office have any role in such a review, either as part of the investigatory part of it or as part of the implementation of any – should there be any – employment or other consequences?

MR KIRBY:  Again, I don’t have additional details on the organization and the structure.  That’s the kind of stuff that we’re working through right now.

QUESTION:  And does – last thing – who ultimately is the arbiter of the outcome or any consequences, if there are any?  Is it the Secretary of State who makes that determination?  Is it a panel that makes that determination?  Who is the ultimate arbiter of whether or not there should be a consequence for whatever is found as a result of this?

MR KIRBY:  Again, as I understand it, each of these sorts of internal reviews are tailored to the circumstances.  And that’s what we’re working through right now, is the parameters and the organization and that kind of thing.  I just – we don’t have – I don’t have enough information to answer that question today.

QUESTION:  Could you take that one?  Because it would be useful to know who – where the buck ultimately stops in terms of making a determination on what consequences, if any, there would be.

MR KIRBY:  I will see what we can do, but I can’t assure you that I’ll know that certainly any time soon.  Again, each one of these sorts – there’s a range of guidelines and procedural guidelines that help guide us on the way, but we – as we typically do in internal reviews, you want to tailor it to the circumstances.  And so not every one is cookie-cutter, not every one is approached the same way, and I suspect that the outcomes of each are sort of – are reviewed and decided upon at different levels depending on the scope.  So we’re working our way through all that.  As I said, to the degree that I can give you better insight on organization, process, parameters, I’ll do that.  But I am loath to promise anything specific here today as we just work our way through it.

QUESTION:  I think it’s an – one of the judgments that the FBI director made was that it was in his view important that he come out and talk publicly to a far greater degree than is normally done about what he found so that there would be transparency.  And it seems to me that it would be – I understand that internal reviews and internal personnel matters often are kept secret or are not widely discussed, but it does seem like it would be reasonable for the public to know who ultimately would make a decision – if there is ultimately a decision – on consequences.

MR KIRBY:  It’s a fair question.  I think to some degree that could depend on what’s learned.


MR KIRBY:  So that may not even be something that I’ll be able to discuss with any specificity until the process is over.  We just have to work our way through this.


QUESTION:  Change of subject?

MR KIRBY:  Sure.

QUESTION:  No, no, we stay on this.

MR KIRBY:  You want to stay on this topic?


MR KIRBY:  Okay.

QUESTION:  The FBI director, he gave three points.  One was he called the people involved extremely careless.  He said something about your department which you have said that you don’t agree, and then he had a conclusion.  His conclusion has been accepted by the Justice Department.  In this review, are you going to take into consideration what his assessment was – like, extremely careless and all – because you had kept your review on hold – as you said it’s not suspended – because of the FBI investigation?  Now, will – this investigation will be taken into consideration?  What are their internal findings?  Will it be taken into consideration, or no, you will not just even look at that?

MR KIRBY:  Again, Tejinder, that’s – those are the sorts of issues that we’re working through right now.  I just don’t have any more specific information about the parameters here of this review to talk about today.  And as I said earlier, to the degree that I’m in a position to describe with better detail in the coming days, we’ll do that.  But I’m not going to promise a set of specific details that I’m going to be able to provide one way or another.

Arshad, I think, spoke to it well when he said that these reviews are largely administrative in scope – in fact, not largely, they are.  And there are real limits and legal considerations that we have to consider in terms of providing detail.  I can tell you that we will be as transparent as possible, but there will be limits and restraints on us in terms of transparency because of the nature of this as opposed to a full-on FBI investigation, which this is not.

QUESTION:  But during his testimony on the Hill, the FBI director said that in case this was a person in the FBI, there will be serious consequences.  So that’s what I’m trying to see – that internal review means it will be an internal review and it will be all hush-hush – we won’t know anything – or will there be consequences?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – your – those questions are absolutely two different things.  I’m not going to prejudge outcomes when we’re still putting the effort together.  Number two – again, as I said, we’ll be as transparent as possible about the process and about the outcomes, but we have to comply with various legal obligations.  So I’m not going to be able to make commitments today one way or the other about what we’re going to be able to disclose.  Sorry.


MR KIRBY:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  On South China Sea.

QUESTION:  Sorry, just one more on this.  According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, it’s something called DS/IS/APD that is the final – that, quote, “performs the final adjudication of all security incident investigations including administrative, i.e. non-criminal investigations,” closed quote.  Can you check if that is who actually has the final call?

MR KIRBY:  I think I’m going to leave my answer the way it was.  We’re still establishing the parameters.  Not every one of these is done in a cookie-cutter approach.  And I’m just – I’m certainly not at liberty today to be able to describe to you how things will be adjudicated at the end of this.  And when – if and when I have the ability to be – to provide more detail, I will, but I’m just not able to do that right now.

QUESTION:  Okay.  No, no, I get that.  I’m not asking how it would be adjudicated – meaning what the outcome is going to be – but one, in terms of fairness – right? – people in similar circumstances should be treated the same way.  So normally one would imagine that there would be a process that prescribes a set series of steps, appeals, judgments, and where the buck stops.  If you guys don’t have those processes, and I’d be very surprised that you – if you don’t, that would be very odd.  So I – I’m going to keep asking you this question because I think it is worth knowing who ultimately makes the call on this.  Is it a political official?  Is it a panel of officials?  Is it officials who include other agencies whose equities may have been involved in the disclosure of – in the transmission of classified information on an unsecure private network?  I mean, I think it’s a fair question to ask when you have that information.

MR KIRBY:  I didn’t dispute that it’s a fair question to ask, Arshad.  I can assure you that this will be done in the most professional and independent manner possible.  And there are a range of procedural guidelines that we have to pull from here as we work through this process, but we will do it in strict accordance with those guidelines and we will do it fairly and we will do it efficiently.  And to the degree that I can be transparent about process, and to the degree that I can be transparent about outcomes, we will.  But there are going to be restrains on that, I’m afraid.


QUESTION:  On South China Sea, next week the International Court of Arbitration will come out with a judgment on South China Sea.  China has taken a position of non-acceptance and non-participation.  Do you think this position of China will impact the regional situation after the verdict is out?

MR KIRBY:  Well, look, I’m not going to get ahead of a tribunal decision.  We’ve said all along that we support the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea, including the use of international legal mechanisms such as arbitration.  And as provided in the Law of the Sea Convention, the tribunal’s decision in this case will be legally binding on both parties, the Philippines and China.  It’s our expectation that both parties will comply with their obligations and exercise restraint.

QUESTION:  But China has already said it’s not going to accept this order.  By doing so, do you think that China is – this is a case of China defying international order?

MR KIRBY:  I’ve stated what our policy is and what our expectations are.

QUESTION:  Yesterday at the congressional hearing, one of the State Department officials accused China of double standards – China trying to accept international order where it suits its needs and – or in this case saying it’s not accepting this.  Why do you think, sir, China, has taken such a move?

MR KIRBY:  You’d have to ask officials in Beijing what their motivations are for whatever statements they’re making.  I’ve made clear what our expectations are.  We’ve made clear to Chinese leaders what our expectations are.  But let’s not get ahead of a decision that hasn’t been rendered yet.

QUESTION:  I have a specific one on Iran.  German intelligence has this report that’s saying that Iran tried to acquire technology that could be used for a military nuclear program even after it signed the nuclear deal.  The incidence report is from the German Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution or some such.  And in addition, the UN is also kind of raising questions about that Iran’s nuclear activity might not be consistent with the deal.  You also have the Institute for Science and International Security issuing a report yesterday Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization is trying to acquire carbon fiber.  So kind of taken together, it might suggest that Iran is not living up to its nuclear commitments.

MR KIRBY:  We have no information to indicate that Iran has procured any materials in violation of the JCPOA.  More generally, the IAEA has reported that Iran continues to implement its nuclear-related commitments under the deal.  We understand that Germany shares this view and is not suggesting that Iran has violated its JCPOA commitments. 

As for the --

QUESTION:  Well, it seems like it says that it is.  I mean, it’s saying that Iran sought to acquire technology that could be used for a military nuclear program even after it signed the agreement.  So how is that not saying that Iran is not living up to its --

MR KIRBY:  We understand the BFV report is mainly about missiles; and while it does mention nuclear dual-use technology, it covers all of 2015 and makes no distinction about whether the reported activities occurred prior to the JCPOA coming into effect.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Now, what about this international – this Institute for Science and International Security saying that Iran is attempting to acquire carbon fiber, which we know --

MR KIRBY:  I haven’t seen that report and therefore wouldn’t be proficient enough to speak to that finding.  But I’d go back again to what I said, that we have absolutely no indication that Iran has procured any materials in violation of the JCPOA. 

QUESTION:  Also, apparently, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also voiced concerns in a new report saying that Iran’s actions under the missile program were, quote, “not consistent with the constructive spirit” of the nuclear deal.  So I mean, again, taken together would you say – yes, I can see you saying on a – technically maybe they’re not violating their commitments, but are they living up to the spirit of the deal, would you say?

MR KIRBY:  They – we have no indications that they are in violation of the JCPOA.

QUESTION:  I didn’t say --

MR KIRBY:  No, let me --

QUESTION:  Violation of the terms or in violation of the spirit?

MR KIRBY:  Violation of the JCPOA.  They’re not violating the JCPOA.  We have no indication that they are, Elise.  Now, on the separate and distinct ballistic missile activity, support for terrorism, obviously we still have very valid concerns in that regard.  We’ve made no bones about that.

QUESTION:  Can I just ask real quick --

QUESTION:  Can I have a follow-up?  You said it had no – you had no information that Iran has procured equipment in contravention of the JC – do you have information that Iran has sought to procure equipment, or are you just not aware of the times it succeeded?

MR KIRBY:  I have no information to indicate Iran has procured any materials in violation of the JCPOA.

QUESTION:  Yeah, but --

MR KIRBY:  And as I said, the IAEA reported – has reported that Iran continues to implement its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. 

QUESTION:  I’m not asking about the IAEA, which doesn’t really have an intelligence capacity.  I’m asking specifically about whether Iran has sought to procure equipment for its nuclear program that it shouldn’t.

MR KIRBY:  I’ve answered the question.

QUESTION:  No, you said --

QUESTION:  No, you haven’t.

QUESTION:  No, you --

MR KIRBY:  Yes, I have.

QUESTION:  Whoa, whoa, whoa.

MR KIRBY:  Yes, I have.

QUESTION:  I asked if they have sought, and you have – and which is specifically it talks about in that German intelligence report that it tried a variety of ways to get stuff it’s not supposed to have.  And you’re just saying we don’t know if – but we have no information if they got it or not. 

MR KIRBY:  There’s no --

QUESTION:  That’s a big difference from saying, well, we know they’re not trying to do this; they’re living up to the deal. 

MR KIRBY:  Living up to the deal means not procuring --


MR KIRBY:  -- and not attempting to. 

QUESTION:  It also means not trying to procure.

MR KIRBY:  And not – not procuring.

QUESTION:  So you’re saying flatly they’re not procuring --

MR KIRBY:  So if I’m procuring a car, I’m trying to buy a car, right?  It’s the same thing.

QUESTION:  No, if you procure a car --

QUESTION:  Well, if I know that you’re not allowed to get the car and I’m a responsible citizen and I say, “No, I will not sell you that car” --

MR KIRBY:  Matt – Matt --

QUESTION:  -- that’s a completely different thing. 

MR KIRBY:  Brad, Brad, Brad --

QUESTION:  That doesn’t mean you’re upholding the law because you were forbidden.

MR KIRBY:  Do not parse my words.  There are no indications that Iran is violating the JCPOA.  The IAEA is – continues to find the same to be true.  And as we’ve said all along, we’ve got enough monitoring in place to know if they’re going to try to cheat.  We have no indications that they are doing so.

QUESTION:  You have no – wait.

MR KIRBY:  And I am not going to talk about intelligence matters in any more detail than that.

QUESTION:  Well, no, no, no, no.  But I just – you said that he’s parsing, but I respectfully think that you’re parsing.  The question is:  Have you – do you have any information that they are trying to obtain material that would not be consistent with their commitments in the deal?  Not that they have it; that they’ve tried to get it.


QUESTION:  Yes or no?


QUESTION:  Okay, thank you.

QUESTION:  So one other question.  Is it not a violation – if the German report is correct that they have tried to get nuclear equipment that could be used for a military program, is that not a violation of at least the spirit of the JCPOA?

MR KIRBY:  I’m not an expert on what the spirit is regarding a certain deal.  I’d refer you to German authorities who wrote this report to speak to their conclusions.  I think I’ve answered the question about our views on Iran meeting their obligations under the JCPOA, and I’m not going to begin to have a dialogue about the spirit of it and what that means.

QUESTION:  I mean, surely it’s not that difficult to understand that if you spent more than two years negotiating an agreement whose entire purpose was to prevent a state from obtaining a nuclear weapon, it’s surely not that hard to say that if they’re off buying dual-use or trying to buy dual-use technology that might violate the spirit.

MR KIRBY:  If that was the case, then it would violate the deal, wouldn’t it?  But as I said, we have no indication that they are violating the deal.  And the deal has never been about trust.  It’s never been about spirit.  It’s never been about how we feel about Iran.  It’s been about them meeting their commitments, and they are meeting theirs.  We are meeting ours.  And there are multiple regimes in place to allow us to examine the degree to which they are meeting their commitments.  And as long as they meet theirs, the international community --


MR KIRBY:  This is not about touchy-feely.  This is about monitoring, it’s about verifying, and it’s about holding --

QUESTION:  So going back to the fact that you said that the Germans are kind of looking at this from the whole 2015, not when they actually kind of signed the agreement, so you’re – are you saying that, like, they might have tried before the deal was actually signed, or are you casting doubt on the whole report itself?

MR KIRBY:  I think I’ve responded --

QUESTION:  No, you didn’t respond.

MR KIRBY:  Yes, I did.  I responded as far as I’m going to respond on this.  And I would respectfully recommend you speak to German authorities about this report.

QUESTION:  Well, no, I mean, of course we’ve spoken to them and we have the report.  I’m just --

MR KIRBY:  Okay.

QUESTION:  But you are kind of casting doubt on the report itself or on the timeline?

MR KIRBY:  No, I’m not.  All I’m noting is – I’ll say it again – that while it does mention nuclear dual-use technology, it covers all of 2015 and makes no distinction about whether the reported activities occurred prior to the JCPOA coming into effect.  And for more detail about that, I would recommend that you speak to the report’s authors.

QUESTION:  So you’re not doubt – so you’re not casting doubt on the fact that they might have tried to obtain dual-use technology, just not since the deal was signed?

MR KIRBY:  I am saying that they are in compliance with their JCPOA commitments.

QUESTION:  It’s just it’s a little confusing because if the policy is indeed distrust and verify, and you have a report that casts question, why --

QUESTION:  And trusting without verification.

QUESTION:  Why aren’t you then ascertaining as hard as possible to find out exactly when these alleged infractions took place, before or after the deal?

MR KIRBY:  The Germans can speak to this report --

QUESTION:  Yeah, but --

MR KIRBY:  Brad, wait a second.  The Germans can speak to this report.  We have ways of monitoring their compliance with the JCPOA and those measures are in place, and every indication we have since the deal was implemented is that they’re meeting their obligations.  And the IAEA – which, by the way, in terms of the deal is responsible for doing that compliance verification – has said the same thing in numerous reports.  That’s what matters.  What matters is once the deal got implemented, are they complying?  And every indication that we have right now is that they are.  That is the deal.

QUESTION:  I dispute the notion that the IAEA is doing export controls in Germany on dual-use --

MR KIRBY:  I didn’t say they were doing export controls.  But they – but the – under the deal, the IAEA --

QUESTION:  Well, they wouldn’t have the ability to get this information.

MR KIRBY:  Under the deal, the IAEA is responsible for monitoring compliance, and they are.

QUESTION:  Yeah, but they do not have the capacity to examine exactly what this report is talking about.  So if you’re relying on the IAEA, they could get whatever they want and --

MR KIRBY:  Brad, I’m not an expert on their capacity to monitor --

QUESTION:  Well, I am.

MR KIRBY:  I think you’d have to talk to IAEA officials about that.

Goyal, go ahead.

QUESTION:  South Asia?

MR KIRBY:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Thank you, sir.  Two questions.  One, as far as U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement is concerned, so far only one U.S. company, Westinghouse, signed for to build at least six nuclear plants in India.  More may follow.  My question is as far as U.S. Government and Indian Government is concerned, is this deal done between the government-to-government, or there are still issues pending?

MR KIRBY:  As far as I know, there’s – we’re still in discussions with India about this.  I don’t have any more details.  We’ll have to try to see if we can get you something on that.

QUESTION:  And second, if I may quickly on Bangladesh, as far as so much has been said about bombings and troubles and killings in Bangladesh.  What type of help you think Bangladesh have sought from the Secretary or from the U.S. or what sort of help you think U.S. is going to provide to Bangladesh to fight this terrorism, ongoing terrorism in Bangladesh?

MR KIRBY:  Well, I mean, the Secretary did speak to the prime minister.  He offered our assistance in their investigative efforts.  I don’t have any updates for you in terms of any help that they’ve accepted.  I’d point you to Bangladeshi authorities who are actually still investigating this.  And we obviously, as a nation, continue to stay fully committed to fighting terrorism there and around the world with our partners.  Obviously, this is a threat which doesn’t know borders and it’s a group that is trying to export terrorism to sow fear outside Iraq and Syria.  And it’s – that’s why there’s 66 countries arrayed against this particular group.

QUESTION:  Thank you, sir.

MR KIRBY:  Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yes.  Back on South China Sea, the foreign secretary of the Philippines stated today that the Philippines would be willing to share natural resources with China regardless of whether or not they won at the tribunal next week.  Is that something you would welcome?

MR KIRBY:  I haven’t seen that report, and look, these are decisions that sovereign nations have to make, so I don’t know that we’d have a view one way or the other of that.

QUESTION:  Also on China – sorry – the Chinese Government summoned Ambassador Baucus over the issue of the THAAD deployment, and I was wondering if you had details of that meeting or a response to Chinese concerns over the deployment.

MR KIRBY:  I can tell you that Ambassador Baucus did have a meeting with his Chinese counterparts about this, and again, we’ve made very clear that because of the ongoing, continued threat by the North that this was a capability that we would be exploring with our South Korean allies.  And you saw the announcement last night that it’s going to move forward.  And it will add to and improve our abilities to better defend our South Korean allies and the South Korean people from what continues to be a significant threat.

And I would just remind that it is a purely defensive system, and that is a – we have made that clear to Chinese officials in the past and we are more than happy to continue to have a conversation about the purely defensive capabilities that this system represents.

QUESTION:  Isn’t it a concern that --

QUESTION:  Were the Chinese informed --

QUESTION:  Sorry.  Isn’t it a concern that the deployment of THAAD complicates the relationship with China when you need their cooperation the most over the North Korea issue?

MR KIRBY:  We continue to need – as the Secretary said yesterday, continue to need Chinese leadership and Chinese influence in a productive way with respect to North Korea.  There’s no reason why this deployment should be of concern to Chinese leaders since it is a purely defensive measure and because the North Korea – because the North continues to pose such a real and significant threat to South Korea.

QUESTION:  John, on the – on the THAAD issue again – deployment of THAAD in South Korea – when will the plan be placed THAAD in South Korea?  Do you have a timeframe?

MR KIRBY:  I don’t know, Janne.  That’s a decision that – those are decisions that still have to be made.  They announced that they’re going to move forward.  I have no visibility.  And I would actually point you to the ministry of defense and to DOD to speak to whatever plans are.  As far as I know, those discussions are ongoing and I’m not aware of any final decisions in terms of timing and placement.  All that is downstream and will be determined between the two ministries of defense.

QUESTION:  So you don’t know any timeframe for the --

MR KIRBY:  I do not.

QUESTION:  All right.


QUESTION:  Oh, one main concern from the Chinese side is a readout system of THAAD deployment.  They claim that it might jeopardize China’s national interest.  Do you listen to China’s concern and do you think their concern is legitimate?

MR KIRBY:  We have certainly listened to their concerns and we have offered to provide informational briefings for them on the way the system works.  Again, this is a purely defensive system that we wouldn’t have to talk about and wouldn’t have to consider if the DPRK had proven, in recent weeks and months, willing to take a different, more peaceful path.

QUESTION:  And yesterday, the Chinese foreign ministry was asking the United States and South Korea to stop the process.  Once a decision has been made and then you’re going to move forward, is it possible to go reverse the whole process?

MR KIRBY:  I’m not going to speculate.  Look, the announcement was made last night to move forward and it’s my understanding that the Defense Department is going to do exactly that in concert with the ministry of defense.  This is a Defense Department to ministry of defense issue that they are now going to move forward on the necessary planning, and that’s the focus.

QUESTION:  And last one:  Are you concerned this move may reinforce the mistrust between U.S. and China?

MR KIRBY:  There’s no reason why it should.  Again, we’ve – we have certainly listened to their concerns, we’ve – we tried to address those concerns.  We’ve offered to be as transparent as possible about the capabilities of this system, which, again, is purely defensive – purely defensive.  And it is about protecting – because we must, we have obligations to help protect our South Korean allies and that’s why we’re having this discussion, that’s why this decision was made.  There should be no reason why the Chinese or anybody else needs to be concerned about what is a purely defensive system.


QUESTION:  Could I ask a Gaza question, on Gaza?

MR KIRBY:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Amnesty International issued a very critical report on the situation in Gaza regarding reconstruction and so on, citing the passage of two years.  There was, back in October 2014 a donors conference in which the United States also participated.  Can you update on what is your – if you are doing anything in terms of injecting aid or the delivery of aid to Gaza at the present time?

MR KIRBY:  I think I would frame it this way:  Obviously, we remain deeply concerned about the situation – the humanitarian situation – in Gaza.  As you know, Said, unemployment remains as high as anywhere on the planet; often power is only available for a portion of the day; degradation in water quality and environmental conditions continue to threaten – to make the strip unlivable; the majority of the population is forced to rely on assistance from the international community to make ends meet.  So what we’re doing is going to continue to call on the international community to deliver on the pledges that were made in the 2014 Gaza Reconstruction Conference in Cairo.  I can tell you that we have fulfilled 100 percent of the pledges that we made there, which is a sum total of $414 million.

QUESTION:  Are you trying to persuade the Israelis to lift the siege, perhaps, or – and the Egyptians as well; both are your allies in terms of the siege of Gaza – or – as was suggested in the Quartet report?

MR KIRBY:  I don’t have anything more to update on this.  Again, we’re very, very concerned about the humanitarian situation there, and we’re in constant conversation with everybody in the region about how to better address it.

QUESTION:  Would you like to see the siege eased up?

MR KIRBY:  I’m going to leave my answer where I did.

QUESTION:  Quick ones on Europe.  You have – firstly, do you have any information NATO websites going down --

MR KIRBY:  I do not.

QUESTION:  Okay.  On the incident outside the Russian embassy, there’s been more comments out of Moscow or wherever.  Seems like they’re bent on humiliating you over this incident.  Do you have a response?

MR KIRBY:  So I’ve been clear from the podium that we would prefer to deal with this matter in private government-to-government channels.  However, because, as you noted, the Russian Government continues to make allegations about this incident, I am now compelled to set the record straight.  On the 6th of June, an accredited U.S. diplomat, who identified himself in accordance with embassy protocols, entering the American embassy compound was attacked by a Russian policeman.  The action was unprovoked and it endangered the safety of our employee.  The Russian claim the policeman was protecting the embassy from an unidentified individual is simply untrue.

In addition to the attack on the 6th of June, Russian security services have intensified their harassment against U.S. personnel in an effort to disrupt our diplomatic and consular operations.  We’ve privately urged the Russian Government to stop the harassment of American personnel in Russia, and as I said before, the safety and well-being of our diplomatic and consular personnel abroad and their accompanying family members are things we take very, very seriously.

QUESTION:  All right.  On the individual, the diplomat, there were some reports that he sustained injuries, including maybe a broken arm.  Is that true, and has he since left the country, been PNGed, or anything like that?

MR KIRBY:  Privacy considerations restrict me from speaking about health, and, as a standard practice, I’m not going to comment on the status of any of our employees serving overseas.

QUESTION:  In Congress there’s calls for an investigation.  Do you support those?  Will you undertake an investigation?

MR KIRBY:  I’m not aware of any investigation that we are going to undertake.  If that changes or something, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION:  And then what does this say about the broader U.S.-Russian relationship?  Is it getting – if you can’t even operate in normal manner in the country, is it getting to a level – a worse level than it’s been in a very long time?

MR KIRBY:  Well, I mean, I think it certainly speaks, as I said, of – to the kinds of harassment over the last couple of years – I mean, this is a very graphic example and a very violent one.  But it comes on the heels of two years of increasing diplomatic harassment by Russian authorities that is also unprovoked and unnecessary.  And as I said I think a week or so ago, Russian claims that they’re getting harassed here are simply without foundation.  So you want to have a conversation about in-kind treatment, it’s time for Russia to treat our diplomats with – in the same manner in which they’re treated here when they come to the United States.

And as for the broader relationship, the – our relationship with Russia is complicated, and we certainly don’t see eye to eye on everything.  There are areas where we have in the past and I think we’ll continue to seek cooperation with them, such as on Syria and the political process there.  There are obviously still areas where there’s tension; Ukraine and Minsk implementation is one of them, and certainly this.  There’s no need for this when there’s so many more important things for us to be working on with Russia and so much real, meaningful geopolitical progress that could be had.  There’s no place for this kind of treatment and there’s no reason for it.

QUESTION:  Are you prepared to make an official complaint about a Vienna Convention violation?

MR KIRBY:  I don’t have anything on that to say today.

QUESTION:  And then lastly, are – do you have – are you considering any countermeasures against Russia in terms of diplomatic presence in the United States, whether it’s expelling embassies, limiting movement, or otherwise responding to this incident?

MR KIRBY:  So a couple of things on there.  I’d say in – certainly in a sign of how seriously we take it, as I said earlier, the Secretary raised it directly with Foreign Minister Lavrov on the very day that it occurred.

(Ringtone plays.)


MR KIRBY:  That’s okay.

We’re well aware that such efforts against U.S. personnel are not always sanctioned by all elements of the Russian Government.  So we’re going to look to senior Russian officials with whom we engage to reign in those elements seeking to impede our diplomatic and consular activities in – I’m sorry – in Russia and our bilateral relationship.  And again, this has been raised at the very highest levels – this particular incident – and I think you’ll continue to see us do that.

QUESTION:  Also on Russia.  Yesterday, you criticized the Russians in the context of the Syrian violation of their own ceasefire.  Was there any Russian response since then to that criticism?

MR KIRBY:  I’m not aware of any.

QUESTION:  Might Secretary Kerry raise it at – with the Russians?

MR KIRBY:  As I said, he has – his last conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov was Tuesday, at the beginning of the regime of calm.  I don’t have any additional communication between him and Foreign Minister Lavrov to read out at this time.

QUESTION:  John, very quickly on this issue.  Yesterday, your counterpart from the White House on the plane apparently told reporters that the President did not agree with Russian President Putin on anything regarding Syria.  So are – are we to understand that now this coordination between the United States and Russia on Syria is on hold or is it frozen?

MR KIRBY:  We are continuing to talk to Russian authorities about how to best move forward in Syria, to include getting a cessation of hostilities that’s nationwide and that it’s enduring.  I don’t have any specific decisions to announce or speak to today with respect to greater coordination or greater communication.  There’s already an avenue of communication between our Defense Department and the Russian military with respect to safety of flight and general situational awareness.  As I’ve said many times before, to the degree that Russia is willing to take on fully Daesh in Syria, then that’s a conversation we continue to be willing to have.  I just don’t have any updates for you at this time.  But we are in constant communication with our Russian counterparts about the threat that Daesh and al-Nusrah continue to pose in Syria and about how their efforts can be better aligned with the efforts of the coalition with respect to those two groups and to getting a cessation of hostilities that, again, can be enduring and nationwide.  And again, I just don’t have – I don’t have any final decisions one way or the other to talk to today.

QUESTION:  Do you think that the kind of rhetoric we are hearing from the NATO summit, for instance, vis-a-vis Russia could in any way sort of alienate Russia, widen the gap where they can take sort of a hardened – more hardened position in places like Syria?

MR KIRBY:  I also understand that there is going to be – maybe it’s already happened, I don’t know – a NATO-Russian commission discussion.  Again, NATO’s a purely defensive alliance, always has been, remains that way, and – and we’re – we continue to have – as a NATO member, we continue to have conversation with Russian authorities about NATO capabilities and about NATO engagement on the continent and beyond.

Last one, I’m afraid.  I’ve got to get going.

QUESTION:  The South China Sea.  So the announcement of the THAAD deployment was made right at five days before the South China Sea arbitration.  Is there any reason behind it?  And what does it have to do with the South China Sea situation?

MR KIRBY:  I’m sorry, I missed the first part of your question.  What was announced five days before?

QUESTION:  The announcement of the THAAD system deployment – THAAD system.


QUESTION:  Missile system.

MR KIRBY:  The THAAD system – the THAAD?

QUESTION:  THAAD missile system deployment.

MR KIRBY:  You’re – the announcement last night being five days -- 

QUESTION:  Before the South China Sea -- 

MR KIRBY:  -- before the tribunal?


MR KIRBY:  No, they’re not connected whatsoever.


MR KIRBY:  No.  I mean, this is about – again, the THAAD deployment is about defending our South Korean allies from a real and growing ballistic missile threat from the DPRK. 

QUESTION: Can we sneak in a couple more – no follow-up questions?

MR KIRBY:  Yeah, I just have to – I do have to move --

QUESTION:  Firstly, do you have any – I think it’s the one-year anniversary of the Chinese crackdown on lawyers.  Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY:  I don’t right now.  I think we’ll have something a little bit later today.

QUESTION:  And then anything you want to say about South Sudan?

MR KIRBY:  South Sudan.  Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. 

QUESTION:  I thought you might.

MR KIRBY: Hold on a second.  So we are monitoring reports of gunfire and explosions today in Juba, including near the presidential palace.  As of 1:15 this afternoon our time, Eastern Standard Time, we understand that the situation has calmed.  The president, the first vice president, and vice president have jointly appeared on television there and appealed for that calm.  I can tell you that all embassy personnel have been accounted for.  At this time we do not have any information regarding exactly what led to the fighting.  And again, we would note that the senior leadership there in Juba were in a meeting as the clashes started.  Those leaders have assured us of their commitment to resolve the tensions that have escalated in recent days.

Okay, thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:53 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 7, 2016

Thu, 07/07/2016 - 17:46

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 7, 2016

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2:17 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: Looking for your coffee cup --

MR KIRBY: No, I think I – I think I have like two pairs of glasses in this jacket again.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody. A couple of things at the top. One, I want to just provide a short update on the period of calm in Syria. So today’s the second now of three days of the recently announced period of calm for Eid in Syria. Violence thus far we assess has been broadly reduced, showing us that it is possible for both sides to refrain from aggression when they choose to do so. However, we’ve certainly seen reports of regime strikes and attacks in familiar locations: in Aleppo; artillery attacks in the Damascus suburbs; and we’ve seen reports of strikes in Idlib. So obviously, it’s extremely troubling and deeply disturbing to us that once again the regime is not meeting their full commitment, contrary to their own declaration.

So we’re going to continue to monitor these violations carefully, as we have in the past. We continue also to call on Russia to use all of its available influence on the regime and its allies to cease offensives during this pause, particularly in Aleppo where the regime appears to be continuing to pursue an offensive military plan in violation of the calm they themselves have announced.

Broadly speaking, despite these violations, as I said at the top, the level of violence has been reduced in the first 48 hours of this 72-hour period. And of course, we welcome that reduction in violence. As we’ve also said before many times, we want a full and enduring compliance by all parties that resets the cessation and renews both sides’ longer-term commitment to ending this conflict through a political transition.

Update on the Secretary’s schedule – as I think you know, he’s in Kyiv today following his visit to Tbilisi, Georgia yesterday, and then before going on to Warsaw for the NATO summit. He met with President Poroshenko today as well as Prime Minister Groysman, Foreign Minister Klimkin, and Rada Speaker Parubiy. In his meetings, the Secretary stressed our strong support for Ukraine, praised Ukraine achievements, and urged Kyiv to accelerate reforms, especially fighting corruption. The Secretary also stressed the need for full implementation of the Minsk agreements while expressing concern over the sharp rise in violence initiated by combined Russian-separatist forces in Donbas.

I think you also saw – at least I hope you saw that the Secretary announced an additional $22.3 million in humanitarian assistance for Ukraine. And as he said today in Kyiv, the United States will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine.


QUESTION: I won’t ask you to weigh in in the middle of the FBI director’s hearing, which is still ongoing, but I wanted to follow up on some issues you raised yesterday regarding the classification markings in former Secretary Clinton’s emails.


QUESTION: Firstly, the marking of a parentheses “C” – where does that come from? What law designates a parentheses “C” as a valid classification marking?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Can you check on that, so that we know?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that it is governed by law, but I’ll be happy to check and see.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, if it isn’t, I would be interested to know how it’s indeed classified.

MR KIRBY: Not everything in terms of procedure is governed by legislation, Brad. But I’ll check and see where – if that’s covered in any way.

QUESTION: Well, I looked at Executive Order 13526, which seems to be – well, which proclaims to be the rule on classified national security information. And it doesn’t talk about anything about parentheses “C”s or anything like that. It talks about three valid terms – Secret, Top Secret, and Confidential. And it explicitly says any other marking is invalid. So if you could figure that out, that’d be great.

And then secondly --

MR KIRBY: I would – let me just – I will do what I can, Brad.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay.

MR KIRBY: But I mean, you’re – the issue of classification and markings is not a State Department responsibility in the government. I mean, we obviously have our responsibilities to obey the executive order, but I don’t want to set us up as the authority to speak to every issue of marking that the U.S. Government follows.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know that the U.S. Government follows this writ large. It seems that you follow it. But I’d like to know why, or based on what.

MR KIRBY: I’ll check.

QUESTION: Secondly, on the category of classification, I think yesterday you said it was to protect the idea of a call or to not get ahead of the Secretary’s decision-making process. Again, there are strict rules, as I see them, for classification, what can be classified – WMDs and critical infrastructure, covert intelligence. Can you tell me what protecting the Secretary’s decision-making process falls under?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have the advantage of having that document in front of me, Brad. And I’m not an expert on it; I’m not going to pretend to be or purport to be. I’m happy to further research your question.


MR KIRBY: Happy to do that. But as I said yesterday, this was a – this is a fairly common practice and it’s designed to try to treat with care and prudence and not to close down decision space of the Secretary in advance of a recommended call – in case, for instance, that call doesn’t get made or it gets made under a different set of circumstances. So the degree to which it’s governed by regulation or order, I don’t know. And again, I’m happy to look. But I --

QUESTION: I have one more you might need to look into.

MR KIRBY: But – but I – but I think we need to take 10 steps back, take a deep breath, and look at this in perspective. This is a practice which many people use here as a way to try to protect what we believe is sensitive information and to try to preserve decision space for the Secretary of State in advance of, in this case, making a call. So look, I mean, we could have the debate over and over again --

QUESTION: Let me just have my last question. It also under classification rules say you have to put a specific date or event for declassification that must be stated. It doesn’t say when the Secretary decides and there’s a cognitive process inside the Secretary’s brain to make a call that that ends the classification. So can you tell me where this practice on kind of ad hoc expiration comes from as well?

MR KIRBY: I’ll ask the question, Brad.

QUESTION: And then --

MR KIRBY: I have to tell you, though – I mean, I’ll ask these questions; they’re fair questions.


MR KIRBY: But again, we’re talking about people trying to do the best they can to protect some sensitive information and protect decision space for the Secretary, and we’re – and of the entire universe of documents, we’re talking about an extraordinarily small amount. So I don’t – I am – again, I’m not pushing back and I will be happy – first of all, I’m happy to admit what I don’t know, happy to go try to find out for you, but I do think it’s important to keep this whole matter in some sense of perspective here in terms of the universe of the issue.

QUESTION: I do. But here’s why I think it’s relevant, and I’ll pose this as a statement/question.

MR KIRBY: There’s a surprise.

QUESTION: We had a discussion earlier this week where you forcibly rejected the notion that there’s a lax culture when it comes to classification in this agency, and now you’re saying that there are practices here that don’t – maybe don’t ascribe to any guidelines or rules, but just are done as a matter of practice for protecting decision-making processes or what, when there are strict guidelines on how you are supposed to classify things. And I don’t quite see what’s wrong with the law, as it is for the entire government --

MR KIRBY: Well, let’s not presume --

QUESTION: -- that we need this separate process.

MR KIRBY: First of all – so first of all, let me go --

QUESTION: And why --

MR KIRBY: Let me go research it --

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MR KIRBY: -- and we’ll find out if there’s some sort of violation here. But when I refer to questions about a lax culture, it was a broad-brush statement that was made about a lax security culture at the entire State Department – which, as I said the other day, we don’t subscribe to. We don’t share that assessment. Now, you could look at it your way and say, “Well, if we’re not following the rules, then that proves the point.” I would look at it the other way, is that you have people that are trying to take extraordinary care in a pre-decisional environment for the Secretary of State and to preserve what could be sensitive information in advance of a call that might not be taking place. That to me doesn’t connote a culture of negligence and lackadaisical disregard for sensitive information. It actually, to me, says the opposite.

So let’s just agree that I’m going to go ahead and try to see what I can do to put some fidelity on these questions, but I am – still stand by my comment the other day that a broad-brush assessment that the State Department is lax, doesn’t have a healthy security conscience here, is simply without base.

QUESTION: I have some more specific ones that you may or may not need to take --

MR KIRBY: More specific? Well, that’s great. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yesterday you said that you were aware of two instances in which there was that “C” in parentheses marking. This morning, Director Comey said repeatedly that he believed that there were three. Do you know where – is there a third one?

MR KIRBY: As I also said yesterday, we’re – we don’t have full visibility on all the records and documents that the FBI used in their investigation. I stand by my assessment of exactly what I said yesterday, is that we are aware of two.

QUESTION: Okay. So you’re not aware --

MR KIRBY: That does not mean that – I’m not disputing that there could be a third or that there is a third. I’m certainly not disputing the director’s comments.


MR KIRBY: I’m simply saying we’re aware of two.

QUESTION: Okay, and that’s still the case – that hasn’t changed between yesterday and today?

MR KIRBY: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Okay, great. Second thing: Going back to the discussion that you had yesterday and just now with regard to the practice of putting a “C” on such a memo prior to a decision that has been made for the secretary to place such a call, the – one of the emails talks about having a call at 7:30 a.m. or at some other point during the course of the day. Is it your view that the decision to make the call – this is the one about the condolences to the president of Malawi. Is it your view that the decision to make the call had indeed been made when those emails were sent and you were just talking about what time it would be?

MR KIRBY: I have no idea. There’s no way for me to know that.

QUESTION: Well, if you don’t know whether the decision to make the call had been made at that point, then how do you know the information wasn’t – wasn’t not just marked classified but actually classified when the secretary sent it – when the secretary’s aide sent it?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know – I don’t know how to answer your question. What I said yesterday – I’m not going to get into litigating each and every one of these emails. What I said yesterday is oftentimes it is practice to mark them Confidential in advance of a decision to make a call, and then once the decision is made they’re made Sensitive but Unclassified and they’re provided to the Secretary in a way that he or she can then use as they’re on the phone, and that – that by all appearances, it appears to us that the remnant “C”, if you will, on this particular email call sheet was human error because it appears to me from the traffic that the secretary had been asking, had been wanting the call sheet, which would, I think, indicate that the secretary was at that time intending on making the call.

But I can’t say that for sure because I wasn’t here and I wasn’t involved in the email traffic itself. So I’m being careful about how I’m wording this because we’re making assumptions here that I simply don’t know for a fact are true. But that’s why we believe in this case it was – it was simply human error in terms of the transmission of that particular subparagraph labeled “C”.

QUESTION: Okay. So it’s your assumption that the secretary had at that point made the decision, hence the information would no longer have been classified, hence the marking was a rogue or --

MR KIRBY: A human error.


MR KIRBY: A mistake. That’s our assumption, Arshad. But again, not having been here and party to that entire exchange, I don’t know that for – to be a fact 100 percent.


QUESTION: I have one more on this if people are – want to go on. I just wanted to ask if, in the event the secretary decides not to make the call, when does the classification expire?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know, Brad.

QUESTION: Well, isn’t that useful information given that there are strict rules as well on classification cannot be indefinite in this country?

MR KIRBY: We’re – I’m not going to get into a circular argument with you here on this. I told you I will look at the regulation.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay.

MR KIRBY: I will do the best I can to answer your questions, Brad. But all I’m trying to do is put some perspective on this.

QUESTION: It was – it’s a very confusing policy. That’s why there are so many questions.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t – it’s a – I didn’t call it a policy. I said oftentimes it is standard practice --

QUESTION: Practice. It’s a very confusing practice.

MR KIRBY: -- for it to be deemed Confidential in advance of the secretary making a decision – hang on, Goyal – making a decision, and then it is rendered SBU so that the secretary can use the document in an unclassified setting to make the call. And again, I am not an expert enough to debate the expiration of the classified setting, the markings on it. I will do the best I can to answer your questions. I think, again, taking a couple of steps back, look at this in broad terms – it is staff members working hard to try to protect decision space for the secretary in case that call doesn’t get made.


MR KIRBY: And maybe we don’t want that out there that we decided no, we’re not going to call that foreign leader, we don’t think it’s okay to send him a condolence message. And that’s not information necessarily that we want to have in the unclass environment. And so you have people that are doing the best they can to try to protect decision space for the secretary and to protect – and to protect what we still would render as sensitive information. Again, that doesn’t connote to me a culture of laxity and negligence and --

QUESTION: Oh, I mean, I didn’t ask that on this question. But if you classify something and it’s to protect the possibility that maybe the secretary doesn’t make the call, that information still has to become public at some point. Whether you don’t want it to or don’t think it should be is regardless. It’s public information after a point of declassification.

MR KIRBY: No it doesn’t.

QUESTION: That’s how it works in this country.

MR KIRBY: It doesn’t automatically become public; it becomes declassified at a certain point.

QUESTION: It becomes declassified.

MR KIRBY: That doesn’t mean it has to be put in the public domain.

QUESTION: Well, it becomes declassified at a certain point, isn’t that right?

MR KIRBY: Eventually Classified information will have an expiration on it.

QUESTION: But in this case there was no expiration, so it just kind of was undefined.

MR KIRBY: Well, you and I don’t know that, do we? Because what we have is an email that was put on the unclass side. It was taken to – put on the unclass side, and one marking on one paragraph was labeled “C,” which we believe was a human error. But you and I haven’t seen what was the actual Confidential call sheet that was prepared before it was transferred over to the unclass side, so I don’t know how you and I could know what markings were on that call sheet or what dates were put on there, if any.

QUESTION: I don’t know --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- but I also didn’t know that this sentence comes from a Classified – a fully Classified document. I don’t think anyone had told me that before.

MR KIRBY: I said yesterday that call sheets are generally --

QUESTION: So this sentence --

MR KIRBY: -- considered Confidential, and that doesn’t mean that --

QUESTION: This sentence was lifted from a Classified document and put into an Unclassified document?

MR KIRBY: No, Brad. I mean, the call sheets are generally held at a Confidential level in advance of the secretary making a decision to make a call. Not every paragraph of that have to be Confidential. Like, you could still have a Confidential document with four paragraphs, right, and maybe three of those paragraphs are Confidential but one’s Unclassified. So, again, I haven’t seen the actual call sheet that was drafted, so I can’t tell you for sure that every paragraph in there was labeled Confidential with a “C” or Unclassified with a “U.” All I do know is that the email that was processed through FOIA and released contained one paragraph – I think it was actually a sentence; it was like the purpose of the call, I think – that was – that the “C” marking was retained when it was transmitted over an unclass system to former Secretary Clinton. Again, we believe that that was simply human error as the call sheet was moved over to a format that the secretary could use. That “C” should’ve been removed; it wasn’t, because – I mean, the line was really – it was the purpose of the call, I believe is what it was, and so you can see if that’s the document being moved over, that’s the paragraph being moved over, it should have been – the “C” marking should have been taken off.

QUESTION: Can we move on? Okay.


QUESTION: Syria – on Syria. Now, you cited violations by the Syrian forces, the – the Syrian army. Can you cite where this happened, or is it they cut off the road near Aleppo – actually, the road – supply routes to some of the opposition groups? Is that what you’re referring to?

MR KIRBY: No. I’m referring to mostly airstrikes.

QUESTION: And where are these airstrikes? Which areas?

MR KIRBY: As I said, in and around Aleppo, in the suburbs of Damascus, and in Idlib.

QUESTION: Right. But --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have the exact coordinates on the map, Said.

QUESTION: I understand. I’m trying to see – because halfway through this cessation of hostilities – whether it can endure from your point of view, whether it can endure or not – because if it’s just isolated – is it isolated or is there, like, a pattern of strikes?

MR KIRBY: There --

QUESTION: Is it like striking in a couple of areas in the north and in the south or is there a pattern of Syrian airstrikes?

MR KIRBY: Said, we continue to see regime violations --

QUESTION: I understand.

MR KIRBY: -- after they announced themselves a regime of calm. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a pattern or whether it’s a one-off. If you’re striking either opposition positions or civilian targets, then you’re violating the cessation of hostilities, and you’re certainly now violating the regime of calm that you yourself announced. So it doesn’t matter whether it’s a pattern or it’s a one-off. Any violation is something that we should take seriously and any violation deeply concerns us.

QUESTION: I understand. The reason I’m asking is because you did express the hope that it can endure, it can go on and maybe be a prelude for something else, so – yeah.

MR KIRBY: Well, as I also said, in general there’s been a reduction in the violence in the last 48 hours. Even though we have been concerned about these violations, there still has been a general reduction in the violence across the country, which – again, we think that’s a good thing. What we’d like to see is a total application of the cessation of hostilities and to have that be enduring, not temporal, not for 48 hours, for 72 hours. And again, we welcomed this --


MR KIRBY: -- announcement when it came and it was our fervent hope that it would be fully applied over those 72 hours, and we’re obviously deeply troubled that it hasn’t been.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the President spoke with his Russian counterpart and they probably discussed the ceasefire. Has there been any conversations between the Secretary of State and the Russian foreign minister on this very issue, on having the ceasefire extend beyond the 72 hours?

MR KIRBY: Yes, of course.

QUESTION: And could you --

MR KIRBY: I mean, they – in general, yes, they’ve talked several times about this.

QUESTION: No, I mean today in the last – since the presidents spoke, yes.

MR KIRBY: They have talked – they have certainly – they certainly talked about --


MR KIRBY: They certainly talked about this particular regime of calm, as I said yesterday, that we not only welcomed it but we talked to them in advance of it and were advocates of it in advance of it, because again, even though we want to see it endure, we certainly are not going to turn our nose up at even temporary reductions in violence given the situation in Syria. So yes, they did talk about this, and the last conversation that he had with Foreign Minister Lavrov I show as Tuesday, July 5th, so just earlier this week.

QUESTION: More on that conversation: Did the case of a U.S. diplomat or spy – however you want to define him – being beaten up outside the Russian embassy come up in that call or in any call that you know of?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have additional detail out of the call to speak to, but I can tell you that Secretary Kerry has raised our concerns about an incident involving an accredited U.S. diplomat that occurred outside our embassy in Moscow, and he did that – oh, actually, I apologize, I do have the time. He did that in a private phone call with Foreign Minister Lavrov on the 7th of June. Sorry about that. I didn’t realize I had that additional detail.

QUESTION: Have you had a chance to see the video that’s been now posted by a Russian TV channel?

MR KIRBY: Yes, I have.

QUESTION: What do you make of it? Do you – are you upset with the treatment of this diplomat?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I’m not in a position to verify the authenticity of the video. I don’t know the source of it, so I’m not in a position to verify it. I’m also not in a position to question its authenticity. And while I’m not going to speak to the specifics of any particular incident or various incidents that have occurred, I will state again that we are extremely troubled by the way our employees have been treated over the past couple of years, and we have raised those concerns at the highest levels. And harassment and surveillance of our diplomatic personnel in Moscow by security personnel and by traffic police have increased significantly and we find this absolutely unacceptable.


QUESTION: And since he – one more, one or two more – since he was identified by the Russians as a spy, do you refute that allegation that he was a spy?

MR KIRBY: What I’m – what – I think I just characterized him. We – he is an accredited U.S. diplomat.

QUESTION: And then lastly, why does the – why is there a Russian police presence right there in front of the very entrance? Is that a standard practice that – and they can physically accost people as they enter? Is that normal procedure in most embassies?

MR KIRBY: It is typical for outside the embassy or consulate compounds – it is common practice for us to have local security forces there. Outside the compound – as you know, Marines and then even some contract security people will provide additional layers of security inside the property of the compound. But outside, this is not uncommon to have local security forces there to check IDs and that kind of thing.

QUESTION: And they have the right to control who enters and who doesn’t into your embassy?

MR KIRBY: They have a responsibility to verify the identification credentials of individuals that are seeking to get to the next level of screening to get into our embassies. As you know, Brad, it’s not – we don’t just have one set of doors that you just walk in and all of a sudden, you’re in. You have to go through additional screening. And so their job is to provide that layer of security on the outside of the perimeter to verify the proper credentials of somebody who is trying to get inside to the next level of security.

QUESTION: Isn’t that local security part of Vienna? Isn’t that what the U.S. does for the embassies here in Washington and for consulates, that the host country provides exterior security?

MR KIRBY: That’s my understanding.

QUESTION: Now, in terms of how this Russian officer treated the diplomat, what is Russia’s legal obligation under Vienna to hold this person accountable for his behavior?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to speak to the specifics of this incident, Ros. As I said the other day when we got into a round of questioning about the – we – we’ve been troubled over the last couple of years by the way our personnel have been treated. And we believe the way to best address this issue and deal with it is to do it government-to-government, and that’s how we’re going to keep it. We are not going to litigate this in public.


QUESTION: You mentioned that Secretary Kerry will be at the Warsaw NATO summit, and Turkish President Erdogan is also going, and he said that his main objective will be to get the other countries there to understand that the PKK and the Syrian PYG and PYD are terrorists on the same level as Daesh. What will be the – do you know what the U.S. response will be specifically as regards the Syrian groups? And if you don’t agree with that, will there be an attempt to actively rebut the Turkish position?

MR KIRBY: Well, let’s not get ahead of conversations that haven’t happened yet, okay? I don’t want to preordain discussions in Warsaw. We continue to hold the PKK as a terrorist group. They are an FTO. They’re designated as a terrorist group. As I said yesterday, we recognize Turkey’s right and responsibility to defend themselves and their citizens, their borders from acts of terrorism. We also continue to urge the PKK to cease the acts of violence and to return to a negotiating table. And nothing’s changed about – nothing’s changed about our view in that regard.

QUESTION: I understand that, but with the PYG and the PYD the U.S. has a different position than Turkey, and I wondered if it was going to be assertive – going to assert its position against Erdogan’s.

MR KIRBY: Our views of the YPD and PYG have not changed.

QUESTION: That they’re not terrorist organizations.

MR KIRBY: They are not designated as terrorist organizations.


QUESTION: Can I change subject?




QUESTION: Do you have anything on the suspension of the U.S. electoral assistance to Haiti? Has the U.S. suspended it?

MR KIRBY: So on Haiti, the U.S. Government has suspended its assistance toward completion of the presidential electoral process there. We made notification to government officials in Haiti on July 1st. Just in terms of context, the U.S. has provided over $30 million in assistance to the 2015 Haiti electoral cycle, and we did not plan funding for two more electoral rounds in 2016-2017, per the revised electoral calendar.

Suspension of U.S. electoral financial assistance does not signal a reduction in U.S. support for the people or development of Haiti; rather, we believe it allows us to maintain assistance in other priority areas such as health, economic growth, infrastructure. This decision enables the United States to retain vital humanitarian and development programs that help ordinary Haitians improve their lives.

QUESTION: Do you know when was the decision be made and then when will that take effect?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, as I said, we notified the government on July 1st. I can’t tell you the exact moment at which we made the decision. We notified on July 1st. But since April of 2016 we have highlighted the possibility of not funding new elections. This is a decision that has – we’ve been considering now for quite some time. When the actual decision was made I don’t know.

QUESTION: Is this a matter of not having the funds available to support a second round of elections, or is this the U.S. showing its displeasure with the Haitian decision to scrap the previous election results and start all over in October?

MR KIRBY: Look, as I said, it doesn’t signal a reduction of our support for the Haitian people. It will allow us to maintain assistance in other key priority areas, which we’ll continue to do.

QUESTION: No, but my question is very specific. A senior Administration official did indicate that the U.S. was not pleased with this decision to not redo the runoff but to go back to square one and start the election all over again.

MR KIRBY: We’ve made no bones about the fact that --

QUESTION: Is this a disapproval of the specific policy?

MR KIRBY: We’ve made no bones about the fact that we had concerns about the way the process was unfolding. And as I said, we had no plans – did not plan for funding for two more electoral rounds.

QUESTION: Was the U.S. surprised by the Haitian reaction to this decision?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think – I mean, there was no expectation that everybody in Haiti would appreciate or endorse this decision. But again, we believe it’s the sound thing to do, the right thing to do, for the people of Haiti in the long term.

QUESTION: In terms of maintaining diplomatic influence, is the U.S. in a way giving up leverage by withholding the electoral funds, or does the U.S. see that it has more influence over a recommitment to democratic principles and policies in Port-au-Prince?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s important to remember that we financially supported the 2015 elections, and those results we, the European Union, the Organization of American States all found to be credible. And as we said before, we regret that the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council chose to discount the 2015 presidential electoral results rather than complete those elections in a timely manner. And we continue to urge, as well as the rest of the international community, the Government of Haiti to hold credible and fair elections as soon as possible.

We have provided – in addition to what I said before, I mean, our own Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement has provided $2.8 million of equipment to support the Haitian National Police in terms of those October 2015 elections. We have spent a total of $33 million on the Haiti 2015 election cycle through those October 2015 elections.

And I would say since the 2010 earthquake through March 31st of this year, the United States Government provided $4.6 billion in relief, reconstruction, and development assistance in support of the Haitian people. I don’t think anybody in their right mind can question U.S. support for the Haitian people and for their efforts to rebuild and to recover and to move on. There’s absolutely no question about that. This wasn’t --

QUESTION: But are you concerned --

MR KIRBY: This isn’t about – this isn’t about leverage, Ros. This is about what we believe is in the best interests of the Haitian people and about being able to prioritize the assistance going forward on issues which we know they still need help with.

QUESTION: But you’re not concerned that because of the decision to scrap the previous election’s results that undemocratic principles may be coming into play within the Haitian political sphere?

MR KIRBY: No, these are decisions that the – these are decisions Haitian leaders have to make. And again, we’ve made clear what our concerns were about the electoral process thus far. We’ve been nothing but candid and forthright about that. But ultimately, these are decisions that they have to make, and we want to continue to urge them to make the right ones.

QUESTION: If they continue on a path that the U.S. Government really doesn’t favor, is the U.S. willing to reconsider its humanitarian aid?

MR KIRBY: We’re going to continue to prioritize the support in areas we believe are important to Haiti that – I don’t – I don’t foresee any change to U.S. support for the Haitian people in all manner of ways, and certainly economic assistance is one of them. And I think I’d leave it at that.

QUESTION: How much money is involved here? In other words, the decision not to fund additional kind of rounds of this election saves you how much money that you can then deploy --

MR KIRBY: It wasn’t – we didn’t plan for funding --

QUESTION: I know, but --

MR KIRBY: -- for two more rounds, so it’s difficult to put a dollar figure on that. But what I can tell you is that in the assistance for the 2015 electoral cycle was at – over – a total of over $30 million.

QUESTION: Yeah, you said 33 million, right?


QUESTION: But my question is you – I wouldn’t have asked you the question if you had just said, look, we didn’t plan for this and we’re not going to fund it. But you said you’re going to use the – that money for other things, right? And therefore it seems to me you must have some idea of how much money you’re not going to give them for this if you’re going to use it for other stuff, right?

MR KIRBY: I said it rather – it allows us to maintain priority assistance on things that we are already funding, so we’re going to continue that. I don’t have a dollar figure in terms of this because it wasn’t funded, it wasn’t budgeted. It would be impossible for me to make up that number.

QUESTION: So, but if you had funded it, you would have had to have taken it out of those other areas?

MR KIRBY: Not necessarily, but it’s certainly – not necessarily, but it does – but it certainly would have to be taken in consideration of the totality of the assistance that goes to Haiti.

QUESTION: So it would have had to have come out of total assistance from Haiti?

MR KIRBY: It is part and parcel – electoral support’s part and parcel of the aid and assistance that goes to Haiti.


MR KIRBY: And so certainly, in that regard, yes, it would come out of total assistance that goes to Haiti --

QUESTION: Right, but --

MR KIRBY: -- but I don’t – but again, we weren’t – we had not budgeted for this. I mean, we have to do – you have to forecast ahead --


MR KIRBY: -- for even education assistance or disaster relief assistance. You have to have a budget going ahead.


MR KIRBY: We did not budget for additional electoral cycles.

QUESTION: I get that, but --


QUESTION: But if it wouldn’t necessarily come out of the hide of the other priority programs, I don’t see how you can – I mean, if you had said yeah, it would have come out of the other Haiti-related programs, I’d be like, okay, I understand that, fine. But you’re saying no, not necessarily, which implies you could have gotten money from elsewhere, which implies to me that it’s not actually coming out of Haiti.

MR KIRBY: We didn’t make those decisions, so it’s impossible for me to tell you exactly how much money would have come out of additional funding somewhere else or out of the existing budget for aid and assistance from Haiti.

QUESTION: Right, but if it didn’t – but if it wouldn’t definitely have come out of the other Haiti assistance – right – and you’re saying “not necessarily” --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- then how can you argue this allows you to maintain your other priority funding, because maybe you could have maintained your other Haiti priority funding and gotten the money from another pot?

MR KIRBY: Because we’ve made a qualitative decision here that we’re going to continue to support Haiti going forward in these other areas --


MR KIRBY: -- and I can’t tell you with certainty that those other areas will see increases or not. They might.


MR KIRBY: I don’t know. But we didn’t budget for additional electoral support and we’re going to maintain our focus – as I said, we’re going to maintain our focus now on the other priority areas which we think are important to the Haitian people.

QUESTION: Right, but I don’t see how you can argue that the decision has been made so that you can maintain your priority funding elsewhere. It seems to me you’ve just made the decision, you don’t know where the other money might or might not come from.

MR KIRBY: No. Arshad, I’ll try this again.

QUESTION: Yeah, no, I’m not trying to be tendentious. I’m trying to understand it.

MR KIRBY: There are two factors here. One, we didn’t plan for additional electoral cycles.


MR KIRBY: And we’ve already expressed our concern about additional electoral cycles.


MR KIRBY: And as I said, $33 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars were spent to help them with the 2015 electoral cycle because we think that’s important, and we thought it was important when they had a result and we would have liked to have seen that process go through to completion.

So we didn’t plan for 2016 or 2017 cycles and we’ve already stated where we are on the 2015 cycle. So we’re going to now focus – we’re not turning our back on the people of Haiti. My whole point of saying this was we’re not turning our back on the Haitian people, and the aid and assistance that we have in place will stay in place and we will examine whatever options are going forward in terms of additional assistance for other purposes. We just don’t – I don’t have any new decisions or announcements to make.

QUESTION: Okay. But the decision not to fund additional electoral expenditures is not because you want to protect the other funding, right? Because you’ve acknowledged it isn’t necessarily coming out of that funding. It’s for another reason. It’s because you’re just not going to support the electoral funding even though you’re definitely going to support all the other stuff.

MR KIRBY: It’s because we didn’t fund, we didn’t budget for 2016-27[1]. We have maintained a budget for other kinds of Haitian assistance --

QUESTION: Right, right.

MR KIRBY: -- and that’s going to continue.

QUESTION: And – but you have contingency funds of all kinds – of all sorts, right? And you’re choosing not to go into any other contingency funds to fund the Haiti election, to not fund additional Haiti --

MR KIRBY: We did not budget – we did not – I don’t think I can say it any differently. We did not budget for additional electoral rounds and we are now – we’re going to continue to prioritize and maintain the priorities – the word I use, “maintain” the priority on assistance – other assistance that we give to the Haitian people.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) ask for additional aid --

QUESTION: And why not – just last one from me, please: Why not try to find extra money somewhere for – I know you didn’t budget for it. I also know $33 million is not an inconceivably huge amount of money. I mean, it’s a lot of money, but I’m sure that if you wanted to find another 5 or 10 million or whatever it was, you probably could have found it somewhere. Why --

MR KIRBY: Because we believe the assistance that we are providing in other areas are put to better use for the Haitian people.

QUESTION: But it’s not coming out of that money.

MR KIRBY: I’ve answered the question, Arshad. I don't know how I can do it any other way.


QUESTION: Well, let me ask it this way: Did the Haitians try to bargain with the U.S. for getting some sort of electoral assistance?

MR KIRBY: I don’t talk --

QUESTION: Did they ask and did the U.S. say no?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the details of diplomatic conversations.

QUESTION: Can we move on?


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


QUESTION: Very quickly – yesterday, the prime minister of Israel rejected your statement on the settlements, saying that he does not believe that the settlements are an obstacle to peace or stand in the way of peace. Today, they also announced the expansion of settlements in Gilo, outside of Bethlehem. First of all, do you have any comment on both these issues?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen reports of that, Arshad.


MR KIRBY: And again – (Laughter.)


MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, Arshad – Said.

QUESTION: He’s about a foot taller.

MR KIRBY: Arshad’s on the brain right now. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: If you had just answered my question --

QUESTION: With hair.

MR KIRBY: I did.

QUESTION: Or you’d forgotten about me entirely.

MR KIRBY: I did answer your question. I did. I answered it 10 times.

QUESTION: You’re still absorbed – you’re still absorbed in --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, Said.

QUESTION: It’s okay.

MR KIRBY: Or are you Brad? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’m the one without hair.

MR KIRBY: No, we’ve seen reports. All I would tell you is that nothing’s changed about our position on settlements, and you know that very well.

QUESTION: Okay. But again, the same issue.

MR KIRBY: Okay. But you don’t like that answer.

QUESTION: Well, no, I’m saying that’s fine. I mean, your statement was perceived to be strong. Obviously, they tried to rebut it – the Israeli Government and so on. But then what’s next? I mean, they keep – every time you issue a strong statement, they get back at you. They just up the ante, so to speak. So that’s what we have seen – upping the ante – whether it’s due to violence --

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: -- or due to responding to the Quartet report, or whatever. But so what are you prepared to sort of put some muscle into your statements?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s very clear and very well known what our position is with respect to settlements. Also, it’s very clear and very well known what we expect in terms of leadership, and that leadership being demonstrated by all sides over there in terms of taking down the violence and getting us to help create conditions toward a two-state solution. The power is within the leaders there to do that.


MR KIRBY: And I can tell you that the Secretary, for his part, will stay absolutely engaged on this going forward.

QUESTION: But except that one power does not have any power and the other power is an occupation power.

MR KIRBY: Both sides have responsibilities, both sides have power, both sides have an ability to help create the conditions that will better foster and get us closer to a two-state solution.

QUESTION: Can we talk about that?

QUESTION: Can I ask one quick question on Facebook? Because the Israelis are introducing a bill that would allow them to pressure Facebook to take out some materials that is posted and so on. I wonder if you have any comment on that.

MR KIRBY: What I’m aware of is that this is --

QUESTION: In fact, the minister of police called Facebook the – like, blood on their hands, something to that effect.

MR KIRBY: So I’m aware that – of the proposed legislation. I don’t have additional comment on it now because it’s still in draft form. But as you know, and in general, we support freedom of expression, the free flow of information, regardless of the medium. And we also strongly condemn incitement to violence.

QUESTION: Can I ask one on --

QUESTION: South Asia?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Wait, wait. Hang on a second. Ros, you have had plenty of time here.

QUESTION: South Asia?

MR KIRBY: Go ahead. I – who are you?

QUESTION: I’m Nick Wadhams. I’m the new guy with Bloomberg.

MR KIRBY: The new guy with Bloomberg. All right.

QUESTION: I just had quickie on North Korea. The foreign ministry said today that it wanted the U.S. to rescind the sanctions announced yesterday, and if the U.S. didn’t do so it would cut all diplomatic contacts with the U.S. Do you know what diplomatic contacts they’re referring to? And does the U.S. actually have diplomatic contact with North Koreans that it’s – wasn’t mentioned before?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not aware of any diplomatic contact with – directly with the North. And --

QUESTION: But you maintain a New York channel, right?

MR KIRBY: There’s a channel, yeah, through the UN.

QUESTION: Right, through the UN, sure.

MR KIRBY: But that’s different. That’s not direct diplomatic relations.

QUESTION: So there’s – there are no direct contacts?

MR KIRBY: No. And again, we stand by the decisions that we made.

QUESTION: John, follow-up --

QUESTION: I’d like to ask you another one on that.

QUESTION: One on North Korea again, because I – he got the North Korea issue, a follow-up --

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. China has been officially criticized the U.S. sanctions for human rights abuse against North Korean Kim Jong-un. Do you have any comment why Chinese, they criticize the United States in this?

MR KIRBY: Well, the Chinese can speak for themselves in terms of their view of this. I think I talked yesterday or mentioned yesterday that the Secretary had spoken with Foreign Minister Wang Yi. This was one of the issues they discussed. They also discussed the South China Sea; I don’t think that’ll come as a surprise to anybody. We stand by the decision to designate these individuals and entities for human rights violations, and the Chinese can speak for themselves in terms of whatever objections they might have to it.

QUESTION: Do you think China is --

MR KIRBY: I will tell you this, though, and I think the Secretary – let me just add that the Secretary mentioned this in his presser today that it’s important to remember that the Chinese joined the international community in enacting the toughest sanctions – UN sanctions on the North in the last couple of decades, that they – that those sanctions have a tougher enforcement mechanism applied to them. And the Chinese are – they, like the rest of the international community, are working through those enforcement issues. And we’ve long said that China has an influence here. They have a leadership role particularly in the region and in particular with Pyongyang that we want to see them completely utilize to try to help bring about the proper pressure on the DPRK.

QUESTION: But this is not on UN sanctions. This is the U.S. by own self --

MR KIRBY: No, I know, I know. But I felt it was important to put it in context here because I didn’t want to be just dismissive of the issue of China’s involvement. Again, I’d let Chinese leaders speak for themselves in terms of whatever objections they might have to these sanctions that we have put in place, but we stand 100 percent resolutely behind them.

QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?

QUESTION: Sorry, one more on North Korea. Among the rhetoric that came out on KCNA was North Korea calling the latest sanctions a, quote, “declaration of war,” describing them – the sanctions against their leadership as, quote, a – as a, quote, “hideous crime” and saying that they will, quote – they will take, quote – they will take the, quote, “toughest countermeasures,” close quote, in response to them. Do you have any response to these kind of threats?

MR KIRBY: I mean, the only thing that we would respond with would be to once again call on North Korea to refrain from actions and rhetoric that only further raise tensions in the region. And I can’t see how this rhetoric does anything but that.

QUESTION: Just two quick questions on South Asia. One, starting with Bangladesh. There are more troubles in Bangladesh and also there is a Travel Warning from the U.S. Is there any credible threats to the U.S. citizens there? Also, recently Bangladesh and U.S. had a strategic dialogue here. If these warnings were among the parts – if Bangladeshis have mentioned during their meetings here at the State Department that all these threats are maybe coming or Bangladesh is under threat from the terrorists?

MR KIRBY: Let me put it this way. Let me kind of walk you through --

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR KIRBY: -- this latest Travel Warning, because I think that’s probably the best way to get at your multiple questions.

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR KIRBY: The State Department issued a Travel Warning for Bangladesh on the 6th of July, yesterday, alerting U.S. citizens to the ongoing potential for extremist violence and recommending U.S. citizens consider the risk of travel to Bangladesh. And I want to highlight the word “ongoing” in that. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Alert that was issued back in February of this year. The U.S. Government believes the threat of terrorism remains real and credible and that terrorist attacks could occur against foreigners. U.S. citizens in Bangladesh are urged to maintain a high level of vigilance in light of recent terrorist attacks and to monitor local security developments. The U.S. embassy has imposed restrictions on personnel movement, which we list on the country-specific information page on our website,

Again, and I want to stress that anybody planning travel to the region ought to go to there and check it out. U.S. citizens in Bangladesh are encouraged to take similar precautions as those we have instituted for our own people. Again, the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas is one of our highest priorities. We provide U.S. citizen with as much information as possible so they can make well-informed decision before they go.

QUESTION: And one more, if I may go back to China.

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

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: If I may go back to China.

MR KIRBY: Hang on. I’ll go to you, then you, and then I’m going to have to --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: I know.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR KIRBY: You – you’re yielding?

QUESTION: Bangladesh --

MR KIRBY: All right, he’s yielding to you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. There was another bomb blast in Bangladesh today. Three people were killed. Do you expect – do you suspect any terrorist activities in that?

MR KIRBY: It’s just too new for us to know, but as I said, we’ve been mindful of the continued threat of terrorist attacks in Bangladesh. I’m going to let Bangladeshi authorities speak to developments. I’m just – I don’t have enough information now to quantitatively – or I’m sorry, qualitatively describe them.

QUESTION: The Bangladeshi Government is saying these attacks are a result of homegrown radical Islamic terrorists. Do you agree with the assessment? Because ISIS have been claiming and al-Qaida have been claiming those attacks.

MR KIRBY: I think we’re going to leave it to Bangladeshi authorities who are investigating particularly what happened in Dhaka to do their work. And I’ve been very careful not to get ahead of their work, so I think we need to let investigators finish, let Bangladeshi authorities report out what they’ve learned, and then we’ll go from there. Clearly it was a terrorist attack – the one at the cafe in Dhaka. I don’t have additional information on what you just told me. No question that that was an act of terrorism. Nobody’s disputing that. But we’re going to let investigators do their work before we jump to any conclusion – before we make any conclusions. We’re not going to jump to conclusions, period. Sorry.

QUESTION: And Secretary in his phone call to the Bangladeshi prime minister had offered FBI assistance in investigating the terrorist attack --


QUESTION: -- in the cafe. Has that been accepted?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates for you, and again, I’d point you to Bangladeshi authorities for how they’re conducting their investigation.

Goyal, you get the last one today.

QUESTION: Thanks very much. A quick question on Tibet – I understand my – I think this group is from Tibet. Like this group, many thousands outside are asking the same question, that China is sending millions of people from the mainland China into Tibet. And what Tibetans are saying – as I said, millions in the U.S. or around the globe – that they are destroying their culture, their religion, and freedom. So when Secretary talks to the Chinese – or recently Dalai Lama was of course in the White House, met – meet – met with President Obama. So what the Secretary tells them or what they tell the Secretary about --

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: -- their destruction of their religion and culture and mainland Tibet?

MR KIRBY: I mean, look, broadly speaking, the issue of human rights and freedom of religion and freedom of expression are always things that the Secretary raises with foreign leaders. But – and he’s – and we have certainly raised it with foreign leaders in China, and I suspect our ongoing concerns about that will continue. I – we are not bashful about talking about the freedom of cultural expression and religious freedoms there in China.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

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

DPB # 119

[1] 2016-17

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 6, 2016

Wed, 07/06/2016 - 16:46

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 6, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:11 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon. Hello, everybody. Just a couple of things at the top: I think you’ve seen that today we released a report identifying North Korean officials and entities responsible for or associated with serious human rights abuses or censorship. You’ve also seen my statement on this, or at least I hope you have, and the report and the annex of course can be found on our website. In conjunction with the report, the Department of the Treasury has added North Korea persons, including Kim Jong-un, to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List. Both actions are consistent with the requirements of the North Korean Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016.

Human rights abuses in the DPRK are among the worst in the world. The government continues to commit extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, forced labor, and torture. Many of these abuses are committed in political prison camps where an estimated 80- to 120,000 individuals are detained, including children and the family members of accused.

This report is the first listing of persons determined to be responsible for serious human rights abuses and censorship in the DPRK as required by the act, and we’re going to continue to identify more individuals as we obtain additional information.

Now, as you, I think, can understand, obtaining information about these kinds of issues in the DPRK is not easy, especially obtaining the identities of officials below the very top leadership. It’s very difficult given the closed nature of the DPRK. But in fact, this report represents the most comprehensive U.S. Government effort to date to actually name specific officials responsible for or associated with the worst aspects of this regime’s brutal repression of its own people.

On a scheduling note, I think you know Secretary Kerry is in Tbilisi today on his first trip to Georgia as Secretary of State. This year Georgia celebrates 25 years since the restoration of independence. The Secretary met with Prime Minister Kvirikashvili and other government officials to underscore U.S. support for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration aspirations, their democratic development, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. The Secretary and the prime minister also chaired the sixth plenary session of the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission. I think you saw that he – the Secretary also participated in a press conference earlier this afternoon with him.

Now, as a sign of the strength of the bilateral relationship, the U.S. and Georgia signed a memorandum on deepening the defense and security relationship which reaffirms and expands our bilateral defense and security cooperation in the areas of defense capacity building, military and security cooperation, information sharing, and I believe we put out a fact sheet on that earlier today that you can also find on our website if you’re interested in more information about that.


QUESTION: I realize a lot’s going on, so I’ll be fast. First, on North Korea, do you actually think that these sanctions will improve human rights or censorship in North Korea?

MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly would like to see the situation in North Korea improve with respect to human rights, obviously. And if we weren’t concerned about that and if we didn’t want to see the situation improve, we wouldn’t have been pursuing this in concert with the Congress for so long. So we certainly hope that that’s the outcome. Only the regime’s leadership can honestly answer that question about whether they are fully committed to it or not. This isn’t just symbolic – this identification of these individuals. It really, for the first time, puts them out in the public domain in a way that they haven’t been necessarily before. And it could have repercussions not just from a U.S. perspective, because now other nations – in terms of these sanctions, other nations will probably – and other institutions will probably think twice. And so there could be – quite frankly, there could be global financial implications for some of these individuals.

QUESTION: I mean, given that Kim Jong-un and his top aides aren’t visiting the U.S. or signing cell phone contracts with American companies or investing in American hedge funds that I know of, what – is it mainly, then, a provocation? And then you spoke about other countries could take – I mean, what countries – which countries would be okay with North Korea testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons but then would follow the lead on a censorship restriction sanction?

MR KIRBY: Well, look. I don’t --

QUESTION: I mean, it’s a bit strange to – it’s – the Congress --

MR KIRBY: No, no, no. I think – look, I don’t know the extent to which there are U.S. economic assets here at play. I suspect you’re probably right that there are – that if there are any, there’s not many of them.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: But this will have – hang on, hang on a second. Hang on, please. But – and I can’t speak for every nation or every banking institution around the world. All I can say is that when we do this, when we put somebody on a special designation list like this, it does reverberate around the world and it can have an impact on the way other countries or other international bodies and financial institutions consider doing business. I don’t have the full scope of the business activities globally or regionally of all the individuals. I’m just saying that there can be, as a result of this, a real financial cost to this.

There is also, though, a power that exists in naming them. Naming them’s difficult to do. As I said, it’s a closed society, it’s opaque, we don’t have a lot of visibility. A lot of work went into doing the best we could to name these additional officials in concert with the jobs we know they do there and the impact that they’re having on their own people. So there’s a real power there too.

So it – is there a message here as well? Is there a messaging component to this? Absolutely, there is. But we believe that it still could have an impact on them. Now, whether it’ll have a dramatic impact on Kim Jong-un and his decisions, I can’t say. This is clearly a leader who has resisted many international efforts to curb his provocative behavior and to get him to make the kinds of responsible decisions that he should be making on behalf of his people.

But that doesn’t mean that this still isn’t the right thing to do and it doesn’t mean that it’s still not the right thing for us to continue to pursue. As I think I made clear, we’re going to continue to look at this going forward.

QUESTION: Don’t you think – just to follow on Brad’s point, I mean, don’t you think this could have the opposite intended effect – that, like, this’ll just provoke the regime into more provocative behavior, more antics, more – if history serves us well, anytime you take an action against North Korea of this nature, it will be North Korea’s neighbors, perhaps the United States, and even the North Korean people that could suffer further as a result.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I can’t predict what Kim Jong-un’s going to do as a result of this or any other action by our government or governments around the world. But this is yet another opportunity for him to try to make the right decisions.

QUESTION: Right, but he’s never taken any of those opportunities, and in fact, has done the exact opposite. And while I – while I --

MR KIRBY: The answer cannot --

QUESTION: Can I finish?

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I understand that it’s an important symbolic gesture that, in your eyes, raises attention to the human rights abuses well documented by the regime. But I’m just wondering if you’ve given consideration to the fact that it could have unintended negative consequences.

MR KIRBY: We think through as many circumstances as possible whenever we make these kinds of decisions, Elise. These are done obviously with careful deliberation. But it would send absolutely the wrong message to him and could embolden him to continue these depravities on his own people if you just sit by quietly and say nothing and do nothing and sanction nothing.

QUESTION: I didn’t say do – I didn’t say “Say nothing and do nothing,” but like, given the fact that the regime is already, like, sanctioned to the hilt, I’m not necessarily sure what actual practical effect that these sanctions have except for their symbolic value.

MR KIRBY: Well, let’s see. They just – we just announced them. Let’s see how it goes.

QUESTION: Can we change the subject?


QUESTION: Could we talk about emails for a second?

QUESTION: For a second?

QUESTION: Or 20 seconds?

QUESTION: I have a second (inaudible).

QUESTION: Okay. A couple of things: I’d like to talk about your statement from yesterday where you said that – let me just get to it – you said yesterday that the department’s process for reviewing potential pieces of mishandling information does not apply to – exclusively to current employees. Can you talk about the process by which if some employees were found to be handling – mishandling classified information, how records could go in their files if they’re not employees of the State Department anymore, and how – it seems to me that you are saying that this could have an effect on their future employment at the State Department, but I’m wondering about – and security clearance at the State Department, but I’m wondering what the practical effect would be on future employment throughout the U.S. Government.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Let me – kind of figured that you might be asking about this, so if you’ll let me go through this, I have --


MR KIRBY: -- so I can be precise.


MR KIRBY: So first, as I said yesterday, the department will determine the appropriate next steps following a decision by the Department of Justice, and I want to – I have to say that first so that I make it clear that I am not --

QUESTION: It’s clear.

MR KIRBY: -- hypothesizing or speculating. We’re going to let the Justice Department consider the findings of the FBI investigation and make whatever decisions they’re going to make. The State Department’s process for reviewing potential cases of mishandling of information does not apply exclusively to current employees. Our process can result in a variety of outcomes, including counseling, issuing warnings, security infractions, security violations, and possibly the revoking of an individual’s clearance.

An individual’s employment status obviously will impact the options that are available to the State Department, of course. So, for instance, while a former employee cannot be disciplined if he or she is no longer employed by the department, there could be repercussions, including issuing a security violation or infraction, which would be kept in their file --

QUESTION: Post-State – post?

MR KIRBY: -- post-State Department employee --


MR KIRBY: -- which would be kept in their file, or, of course, revoking an individual’s security clearance, assuming that individual still needed the clearance to work in another federal agency or something like that.

QUESTION: But you – but didn’t you say yesterday that the agency that – if their security clearance was, like, terminated when they left the agency, that it would be up – that you don’t hold the clearance anymore?

MR KIRBY: If it is renewed by another agency. In other words --


MR KIRBY: -- if it was then – then that agency’s responsible, but the State Department could still --

QUESTION: Weigh in.

MR KIRBY: -- could still weigh in.


MR KIRBY: If the violation happened while they were a State Department employee, we’d have an obligation to do that.


MR KIRBY: So the potential outcomes of the department’s process turn on a variety of factors, including the nature of the incident and an individual’s record. But the review process for potential mishandling of classified information is the same as we – for current and former employees, and it’s done by Diplomatic Security, DS.

According to department policy, our policy is to maintain files on personnel who are found to have mishandled information to guide current and potential future decisions about employment and security clearances. And again, we wouldn’t prejudge the outcome of any potential --

QUESTION: But are these files, like, kept in the State Department? Are they OPM files? Like, do they go into, like, the ether of all government employees, or is this just when you’re considering rehiring at the State Department?

MR KIRBY: I’ll take the question. I don’t know. I mean, I – my understanding is that we – we – if we have reason to create such a file, we would maintain that file. But let me just check and see the degree to which any of that’s shared.

QUESTION: Okay. I have one other one. I should have asked this yesterday, but the FBI director spoke of a small number of emails that bore classified markings that identified them as classified. And The New York Times reports that these were call sheets. I don’t know if those are the ones that we’re talking about, but is there anything you can say on specifically what the markings were and how someone could mishandle information that is clearly marked classified in the heading?

MR KIRBY: So a couple of thoughts here --


MR KIRBY: -- because the – it’s a broad question. Obviously, I’m not going to be able to speak, as I wasn’t yesterday, to the FBI’s findings. We don’t have full insight into their investigation, so it’s not going to be appropriate for me to comment on their findings or recommendations, or --

QUESTION: Well, you guys --

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second.


MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. Give me a chance.


MR KIRBY: So I’m not going to comment on their findings and recommendations or all the documents that they reviewed. I am aware that there have been media – a media report pointing to call sheets within the Clinton email set that appear to bear classification markings. So let me just talk to that in a sense.

Generally speaking, there’s a standard process for developing call sheets for the secretary of state. Call sheets are often marked – it’s not untypical at all for them to be marked at the confidential level – prior to a decision by the secretary that he or she will make that call. Oftentimes, once it is clear that the secretary intends to make a call, the department will then consider the call sheet SBU, sensitive but unclassified, or unclassified altogether, and then mark it appropriately and prepare it for the secretary’s use in actually making the call. The classification of a call sheet therefore is not necessarily fixed in time, and staffers in the secretary’s office who are involved in preparing and finalizing these call sheets, they understand that. Given this context, it appears the markings in the documents raised in the media report were no longer necessary or appropriate at the time that they were sent as an actual email. So it appears that those --

QUESTION: That the calls were already made?

MR KIRBY: -- no – that those markings were a human error. They didn’t need to be there. Because once the secretary had decided to make the call, the process is then to move the call sheet, to change its markings to unclassified and deliver it to the secretary in a form that he or she can use. And best we can tell on these occasions, the markings – the confidential markings – was simply human error. Because the decision had already been made, they didn’t need to be made on the email.

QUESTION: But how – did this – as I understood some of these call sheets, she would ask who she was supposed to call, and they would send a call sheet. So she hadn’t made a decision because she didn’t even know who was on the sheet yet.

MR KIRBY: No, no, no, no, no. A call sheet isn’t just about who you’re going to call; the call sheet has points to raise, things to be prepared for in the discussion. It’s a preparatory document.

QUESTION: And usually when you classify something, you give an endpoint for its classification. As I understand, on your classified system, you put a date. So isn’t that a problem? I mean, if there is no end date, it shouldn’t have – and then it’s still classified.

MR KIRBY: No, there – it’s not a problem. They’re not --

QUESTION: Not a problem?

MR KIRBY: Call sheets – call sheets are not – the classification on them are not fixed in time. They are rendered at the confidential level, which, as you know, is the lowest level, so as not to prejudge or get ahead of the secretary’s decision about making a call or not. Sometimes not --

QUESTION: That’s a cop --

MR KIRBY: -- every secretary agrees that now is the right time to call this foreign leader or that foreign leader. And so to protect the information of the call itself, the idea of the call itself, the need for the call itself, it’s kept at the confidential level. Once the secretary makes a decision to place the call, which are done --

QUESTION: So the idea to call somebody is classified? I thought there are very strict --

MR KIRBY: To preserve --

QUESTION: -- rules on national security grounds.

MR KIRBY: To preserve the secretary’s decision space and sometimes the information in the call sheet itself, they’re kept at the confidential level by and large before a decision is made. Once a decision is made, they are --


MR KIRBY: -- converted to unclassified, and if there’s anything that --

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR KIRBY: -- needs to stay classified on it it’s not put on the call sheet.

QUESTION: That makes sense.

QUESTION: Right, but --

MR KIRBY: And then it’s used.

QUESTION: -- somebody has to convert them to unclassified.


MR KIRBY: Correct.

QUESTION: If they still have the markings, they’re classified.

MR KIRBY: In this case --

QUESTION: You can’t say, “Well, we think it would have been unclassified.”

MR KIRBY: Brad, as I said, in this case we think that it was human error; that those confidential markings should have been removed by the individual who was transmitting them on the unclassified side. It was an honest – it was a mistake.

QUESTION: Can I ask a --

QUESTION: Okay, wait – wait, wait, can I just --


QUESTION: -- on this one point? So – okay, so we’re talking about, what were they, two instances when there were these call sheets that were --

MR KIRBY: We’re aware of two.

QUESTION: -- human error? So are those the only emails that had – that the FBI director was referring to when he said a small number bore classified markings? Is that all we’re talking about here?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak to that.

QUESTION: No, you can’t open the door and choose and cherry-pick the ones that you want to talk about and not talk about the others. That’s --

MR KIRBY: Yes, I can, when I don’t know. I don’t know all the documents that the FBI had at their perusal for this investigation. You’re assuming that the only thing --

QUESTION: So you only found out – you only looked to find out about the ones that are human error that shouldn’t have been classified?

MR KIRBY: You’re assuming that the only email traffic that the FBI looked at was the ones that we released through FOIA. And I don’t know that’s – I don’t know that to be the case.

QUESTION: But you’ve looked at all of the emails, so that you – so then you would know.

MR KIRBY: We are not aware of any others that were so marked, like these two call sheets, but --

QUESTION: Thank you. That was easy.

MR KIRBY: -- but – but – I – but – no, but it’s not that simple. It’s not that simple.

QUESTION: That was a very simple answer. That’s all we were looking for --

QUESTION: Can I ask if --

QUESTION: -- if you knew of any other emails that bore such markings.

QUESTION: Can I ask --

MR KIRBY: We’re not aware, but we also don’t have full visibility on what the FBI – the documents that the FBI referred to yesterday. We don’t have full visibility on every document --

QUESTION: But you do have full visibility on all the email stuff.

MR KIRBY: -- that they looked at as part of their investigation.

QUESTION: But you do have full visibility on all the emails, so you would know if other emails bore classified markings that had --

MR KIRBY: Elise, we had – we – our job was to go through the 55,000 pages of the --


MR KIRBY: -- of the 32,000 some-odd emails --

QUESTION: Correct.

MR KIRBY: -- to release, to prepare them for FOIA release. We are aware of two of them that have these markings. But I can’t tell you for a fact that that is the sum total of all the email traffic that the FBI considered or spoke to yesterday. You’re going to have to go to the FBI. That’s my point.

QUESTION: I have one more on this and then I’m done with this subject. You might not have this answer at your disposal, so I’d ask that you look into it. Information Resources Management in 2009 introduced a system called SMART, which you’re probably aware of, for how you mark things classified, but in the OIG report it said that the secretary’s office elected not to use SMART in 2009. I’m looking at another OIG report that says this SMART system was designed to help classifiers adhere to executive orders and classification rules, but if the entire secretary’s office under Secretary Clinton – and I don’t know if this continues – isn’t actually using the program that was created to help them adhere to federal rules on classification, how are they actually marking emails in accordance with classification rules?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Tell you what, let me take the question, Brad. I mean, that gets into a level of detail I just don’t have.

QUESTION: Just one more on this. Jason Baron, the former director of NARA --

MR KIRBY: Of who?

QUESTION: NARA, National Archives.


QUESTION: It’s National Archives, NARA.

MR KIRBY: Yeah – no, I know. I got it.

QUESTION: And they had developed a system, and the different departments are supposed to put that system into place with the deadlines of 2016, 2019. Can you update how far you have done that – you can take the question – and how much is left? When is it – are you going to reach the deadline that was given by NARA?

MR KIRBY: Let me take the question. I don’t have that.


QUESTION: Yeah, just a few questions off the back of the Chilcot conclusions. Is there agreement in this building that the U.S. and the UK went to war before exhausting all peaceful options, all options for disarmament, which is one of the conclusions?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to the findings of the Chilcot report. That’s really for the Government of the UK to talk to, and I’m certainly not going to relitigate the decisions that led to the Iraq war here from the podium in July of 2016. I’m just not going to do that.

QUESTION: Sure, but could you say whether the report mostly confirmed the U.S. assessment of mistakes made and what went wrong?

MR KIRBY: We’re not examining the report with that in mind, with trying to do the forensics. This is, again, a UK report. We’re going to let UK officials speak to it. What I can tell you is our focus is on trying to get a political transition in Syria, trying to defeat Daesh in Iraq and in Syria, trying to help Prime Minister Abadi make the necessary political and economic reforms he knows he needs to make in his country. That’s where Secretary Kerry’s head is, and we’re not interested in relitigating the decisions that led to the Iraq War in 2003.

QUESTION: Sure. Just one last question: Do you think this document could be helpful for policymakers here in any way?

MR KIRBY: Again, I don’t – we’re not going to make a judgment one way or the other about this report, and I’ll let British officials speak to the degree to which they intend to derive lessons learned from it. That’s really, again, for them to talk to. We’re not going to go through it, we’re not going to examine it, we’re not going to try to do an analysis of it or make a judgment of the findings one way or the other. Our focus, again, is on the challenges we have in Iraq and Syria right now, and that’s where our focus is.

QUESTION: So you’ve basically moved on, is what you’re saying.

MR KIRBY: Our focus is on what’s going on in Iraq and Syria right now.

QUESTION: So – but you were not really a bystander. You’re saying you’ll let them speak. I mean, you’re a part of this war, right? You are the major part of that war, and this report basically is saying that this war, much as many American lawmakers --

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: -- and others concluded, that this war was premised on wrong premises. It was conducted in the wrong way; it was handled thereafter – that resulted in the mess that we have today. I mean, that is basically where you need to comment.

MR KIRBY: That’s where I need to comment?

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, what I’m saying is that – yeah. I mean, this is really a major report by your major ally in the war.

MR KIRBY: And I believe --

QUESTION: The war --

MR KIRBY: I believe that UK officials are taking it seriously and I’m going to let them speak to it, Said. I’m not going to relitigate the decisions that led to the Iraq War here, July 2016. You all have reported on those decisions all these many years. The record is out there for anybody to see and to evaluate on their own. Secretary Kerry is focused on trying to help Prime Minister Abadi do the things he needs to do in Iraq and to defeat Daesh there and in Syria, and we’re going to stay focused on those goals. That’s where our focus is right now, not on doing the forensics on decisions that were made 13 years ago.

QUESTION: Let me stay with – on Iraq. Today there are reports on the Popular Mobilization Committees --

MR KIRBY: On the what?

QUESTION: -- or militias – that they have – the Popular Mobilization – it’s a Shia militia supported by Iran, but there seems to be a split along religious grounds. Some want to give allegiance to Najaf, which is a holy place; others to Qom in Iran and so on. Do you have any reports on this, and do you – are you concerned that this may actually further exacerbate an already very bad internecine kind of conflict there more?

MR KIRBY: Well, a couple of thoughts. I mean, first, we’ve said all along that we don’t want to see any decisions made by anybody in the fight against Daesh result in inflamed sectarian tensions, period. We’ve said that from the very beginning. We have commended Prime Minister Abadi’s efforts to be inclusive as he goes after this threat in his country, and he’s doing that. And he and other leaders in the Iraqi Government we think have done a commendable job folding in the capabilities of the PMF – Popular Mobilization Forces – into some of these operations. That is an internal matter that they have discussed, that they have decided. We have supported that process. But we don’t want to see anybody by dint of what they’re doing against Daesh further inflame sectarian tensions in the country; that – that’s counterproductive in our view.

And the PMF have proven helpful in the fight against Fallujah. And I won’t speak to future operations and the role that they’ll play or how they’re going to be factored in, but Daesh is now not in Fallujah and Iraqi Security Forces fought well, fought bravely, fought competently to get them out. Certainly it was a challenge; we knew that, and there was some support by the coalition. PMF were a part of that effort. But how they’re factored into future operations, again, that’s for Prime Minister Abadi to speak to.

QUESTION: One on Syria related to the campaign. On – Secretary Kerry’s meeting yesterday with Saudi Foreign Minister al-Jubeir, he said that the two men – your statement says that the two men discussed efforts to combat Daesh, including in Syria, where the kingdom has offered to commit troops to the counter-Daesh campaign. Now, this is not the first time that we’ve heard about Saudi Arabia offering troops. But in the past there’s been a kind of – I don’t know if the word would be “dismissal,” but downplaying of the offer as you didn’t know whether it was serious, you weren’t ready to talk about that yet. I’m wondering if the fact that it’s in your statement so publicly means that there was enhanced discussion of perhaps Saudi committing – Saudi Arabia committing troops to the effort.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll let the Saudis speak to specifics of their proposal.

QUESTION: Well, you specifically mentioned it, though.

MR KIRBY: No, I know. See, I was going to get to the rest of that. I just wanted to say that one thing right out front. Look, this is – a couple of thoughts here, Elise. We have made no secret of the fact that we’re interested in discussing with other members of the coalition efforts that they can take to increase the pressure on Daesh, just as we have taken measures to increase the pressure on Daesh. This is an idea that has been floated before by Saudi authorities, and it – and it’s an idea that we continue to discuss with them. And I – and we did note – I did note in the readout of the meeting yesterday that it was discussed. Not the first time that it has been discussed, and I suspect it won’t be the last time that it’ll be discussed. But we’re – in terms of creating a sustainable defeat of Daesh, we are going to retain an interest in talking to coalition partners about options and alternatives to do that. And this is one of those ideas that we continue to discuss with Saudi authorities.

QUESTION: It sounds, though, that the offer is now being kind of more seriously weighted, the fact that you’re mentioning – that you’re being --

MR KIRBY: It has --

QUESTION: -- proactively bringing it up. It doesn’t sound as if something that you’ve been kind of – I know it’s been something that’s been discussed here and there, but the fact that you’re giving so much weight to it in that short statement suggests that it’s – now you’re more seriously – the discussions have intensified on the option.

MR KIRBY: I would say that it has always been seriously discussed.

QUESTION: You haven’t seriously discussed it either in statements or from the podium, so I’m just once again asking --

MR KIRBY: No, I have talked about it from the podium. I can’t speak for every readout that I’ve issued, but this is an issue that – look, we take seriously any --

QUESTION: Sounds like you’re closer to agreeing with the Saudis on some kind of --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get of – I’m not going to hypothesize about potential decisions down the road. This is not something new; we’ve talked about it before. That the Secretary would – that it would come up in yet another conversation with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir is also not new. It’s not a new topic of discussion between those two leaders at that level. And as I said, I would fully expect that it’ll continue to be discussed.

QUESTION: Okay, but this is the – I mean, am I wrong? This is the first time in maybe six months that I’ve heard you proactively offer the suggestion that they’ve talked about the Saudis committing troops.

MR KIRBY: You know what? I usually get beat up about my readouts being too vague, not having enough in them, so now you’re just forcing me back into vagary.

QUESTION: But now you’re – no, no, no – but you’re suggesting --

MR KIRBY: No, I was going to – I’m going to provide less information now --

QUESTION: No, but you’re suggesting that it wasn’t a carefully – I mean, it sounds as if the fact that you mention it means that --

MR KIRBY: All my readouts are carefully written.

QUESTION: But can I just ask --

QUESTION: Can you help me, please? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I think it’s been 18 – it’s been 18 months that I think they’ve been talking about this, and they’ve been --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know about that.

QUESTION: At least a year. And they’ve been waiting for some sort of response from the U.S., being that this is a U.S.-led coalition, and they haven’t gotten one. So you saying that we’ll have more discussions and I wouldn’t – that just sounds like nothing. But did the Secretary give a response to their offer to send a ground force into Syria?

MR KIRBY: The discussion yesterday was not about arriving at a final determination on this issue. This is a topic that has been discussed in the past and I suspect will continue to be. We are interested in having these kinds of discussions with coalition partners about efforts that we can apply to increase the pressure against Daesh, but as in all – well, every line of effort --

QUESTION: So I think --

MR KIRBY: -- every line of effort, but particularly the military line of effort, you have to think these things through carefully. And so we’re doing that and we’re having these discussions with Saudi officials. I’m – I put it in the readout because it actually was a topic of discussion and you guys yell at me when I don’t put things in the readout, so --

QUESTION: No, I’m not – no, that’s a straw man. I mean, I’m asking you what actually was advanced or not advanced, whether you actually made progress, is this going to happen, not about your readout practices.

MR KIRBY: Thank you. I do not have any additional detail to read out to you today from the conversation.

QUESTION: John, just a quick follow-up. Do you trust the Saudi offer? Is it really a genuine offer, considering that they have not sent ground troops to Yemen next door? I mean, do you trust that they are being very sincere about --

MR KIRBY: If we didn’t take the offer seriously --


MR KIRBY: If we didn’t take the offer seriously, we wouldn’t have – they wouldn’t have come up in the conversation and I wouldn’t have put it in my readout.

QUESTION: So it goes back to Elise’s point. So is this something that is being planned? Is that something that, in your opinion --

MR KIRBY: Again, Said, I’m not going to talk about military planning one way or the other. You know I won’t do that.

QUESTION: And would also require --

MR KIRBY: It was a topic of discussion yesterday. I suspect it will continue to be discussed. We’re interested in talking to all members of the coalition about efforts they can apply --

QUESTION: Sounds like that interest is intensifying, though. Would that be an accurate reflection?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize the level of intensification one way or the other. It’s a topic of discussion and it will remain so.

QUESTION: Could I ask you about the ceasefire – the announced ceasefire on --

QUESTION: Wait, hold on a sec. I want to follow up on that. Did they discuss anything else besides – any other contributions the Saudis might make besides troops on the ground?

MR KIRBY: They did talk about the broad effort against Daesh in Iraq and Syria. As you know, Saudi Arabia is a member of the coalition. They talked about the situation in Syria. Saudi Arabia is a member of the ISSG. I mean, it was a – as discussions with the foreign minister often are, they covered several topics.

QUESTION: Anything specific that they offered in addition to troops?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to the Saudis about that.

QUESTION: Can I ask on the ceasefire? I know that you welcomed the – the 72-hour ceasefire announced by the Syrian Government. Are you – and, like, talking to, let’s say, to the Russians about having this possibly extend, and maybe if it holds, it will be another similar cessation of hostility as we have seen last February and March?

MR KIRBY: So a couple of things there. Obviously, we welcome any decrease in the violence. And though we’ve seen some reports of violations already in this regime of calm that just got announced, so far, generally, it appears as if it has resulted in a decrease in the violence, which is always a good thing. And you heard the Secretary spoke to this in Georgia today, that especially around the time of Eid, this halt, this cessation, this regime of calm is a good thing. But it doesn’t change the fact that we want to move beyond temporary cessations, temporary ceasefires to truly enduring ceasefires.

Now, this one was put in place for the entire country, and I would tell you that we were involved in the discussions with Russia as thoughts were put into this regime of calm. But, obviously, we want to see it expand in terms of time so that it’s enduring. That’s what we’re really after.

QUESTION: So clearly the Russians when they want to can be – exercise their influence on Assad to stop the violence?

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm. Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: You – earlier, you decried the sectarianism in Iraq. I want to talk about sectarianism in Turkey and whether you have quite the same sentiments. And yesterday, at the end of Ramadan, the Turkish president gave a public address in which he raised the subject of Turkey’s war with its own Kurds. Then he said, “We have lost 600 people in this war and they are martyrs. They have lost 7,000 people and they’ve gone to hell.” Are you concerned about such heated us-versus-them rhetoric in a NATO ally, particularly as many of those 7,000 Kurdish fatalities are civilians? Is that an issue?

MR KIRBY: What we – as we’ve said all along, Turkey faces, continues to face, a very real threat of terrorism, and it’s not just from the PKK, but they certainly suffer continued threats of violence from the PKK. And you saw at the airport – now this was – again, I don’t want to get ahead of Turkish investigation, but had – that attack bore all the hallmarks of Daesh. So there’s no question that the Turkish people continue to face a very real threat and that Turkey has a right and a responsibility to protect its citizens just like we do here in the United States.

QUESTION: But it just killed 7,000 of them.

MR KIRBY: I’m getting there. Okay? So they have a responsibility as a sovereign nation to protect their people from the threat of terrorism, and we’ve – and we’ve called, as we continue to call, on the PKK to cease this violence, to cease these attacks, and to return to negotiations with the Turkish Government so that there can be a peaceful resolution here. That’s what we want to see. And as we – as I’ve said in other places in the world, I mean, what’s needed is strong leadership on all sides here to make the right decisions so that those kinds of discussions and negotiations can occur. Okay?

Yeah. Said, I’ve gotten you a bunch of times.

QUESTION: Okay. I just want to go back to the Palestinian issue. Not now; when you’re done.


QUESTION: Hi. My name is Tanaka from NHK. I heard that the Secretary Kerry and the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke on the phone. Is there a readout, or can you share with us what has been discussed?

MR KIRBY: They did speak – let’s see, I can get you that. They spoke – they spoke – as a matter of fact, they spoke today. I don’t have a readout for the conversation right now, but we’ll see if we can get something for you a little bit later.


QUESTION: I have an Asia-related question. Do you have any update on the case of the Vietnamese American businesswoman, Sandy Phan-Gillis? Any update on her case? And then has the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou been in touch with her or visited her? If so, what is her well being?

MR KIRBY: Yes, I do. Hold on just a second. So on Sandy Phan-Gillis, we’re aware of an opinion recently issued by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the United Nations Human Rights Council expressing its view that the Chinese Government’s detention of U.S. citizen Sandy Phan-Gillis has been arbitrary and requesting that the Government of China take certain steps to remedy her situation in keeping with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment. While not legally binding, we would encourage the Government of China to review and consider the opinion and recommendations received from the working group. The U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China has been providing consular assistance including monthly consular visits to Ms. Phan-Gillis since she was detained on the 20th of March 2015. A consular officer last visited her on the 20th of June. We continue to monitor her case closely.

We’re certainly concerned about her welfare and her lengthy detention without trial, and we urge China to resolve this case expeditiously and to ensure that Ms. Phan-Gillis continues to have full access to an attorney. Senior U.S. Government officials have raised her case with senior Chinese Government officials on multiple occasions, and I can assure you we’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: Do you know if her case was raised – was discussed during Kerry’s phone call with Wang Yi?

MR KIRBY: As I said, I don’t have a readout of the phone call. It just happened today, so we’ll have to get back to you on that.

QUESTION: One final follow-up, if I may: What kind of message – I mean, the way this case was handled – is sending to other Americans who try to promote business opportunity in China? Because reportedly, she was arrested while attending a trade delegation.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, we continue to encourage U.S. citizens planning to visit China, as we do in so many other cases, to visit our website. Go to, which provides country-specific information so that citizens can make informed travel decisions. So, I mean, just like we would have for many other places, we’re not discouraging it; we’re just saying if you’re going to go, if you – and whether it’s for business or for pleasure, to get informed, to be smart. And we’re happy to help provide that information.

QUESTION: Can I ask about a curious tweet yesterday – or was it a retweet – by your under secretary for public diplomacy?


QUESTION: Does the U.S. kind of endorse Iran’s understanding of terrorism and who its victims are now?

MR KIRBY: I think you’re referring to a tweet by Under Secretary Stengel. Look, there’s been – here’s what I’ll say about that: He was citing the views expressed by many Muslim leaders about the attacks in Saudi Arabia. He was not expressing any kind of policy shift by the United States about Iran’s continued state sponsorship of terrorism. Our concerns with respect to that sponsorship remain valid and they remain significant.

QUESTION: All right. He --

QUESTION: But he --

QUESTION: Well, hold on, hold on. He quoted one person, not many Muslim leaders. He quoted the foreign minister of Iran.

MR KIRBY: I understand that.

QUESTION: First of all, do you consider the foreign – you speak a lot about how Muslim – Islam is a religious of peace and Muslim leaders are, by and large, peaceful. Do you believe that now, the foreign minister of the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, is a Muslim leader? Is that a U.S. position?

MR KIRBY: Nothing --

QUESTION: Does he speak for the faith now?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think any one individual speaks for that.

QUESTION: Is he one who speaks for the faith?

MR KIRBY: I’m not qualified to say whether he speaks for the Muslim faith or not, Brad.

QUESTION: Is Rick Stengel qualified?

MR KIRBY: Rick Stengel was simply tweeting out the – yes, they were views expressed by Foreign Minister Zarif, but they were at a representative meeting of Muslim leaders about terrorism. And I didn’t organize that conference, so I can’t speak for how they --

QUESTION: Right. Just one second --

MR KIRBY: -- hang on – to how they were invited or by whom or who speaks for what. I’m not a Muslim faith leader myself and I’m in no position --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: -- to say who is or who isn’t. But look, go look at our countries – our terrorism report. Look at everything that the Secretary has said since getting the Iran deal. We have been nothing but candid and forthright about our consistent concerns over Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, which we know they still do.

QUESTION: I’m trying to figure out – I’m going to go through the rest of the tweet. It’s not that long. But I’m trying to figure out why he would even tweet this and you haven’t really explained it to me yet. Do you believe that Iran is a victim of terrorism and not a perpetrator? He – I think it said, “We will remain victims.” Is that your opinion of Iran?

MR KIRBY: Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism.

QUESTION: And then what is your understanding of Iran promoting unity among Muslims at a time it has forces in Syria, it supports Hizballah in Lebanon, it has forces involved in some of the worst sectarian strife in Iraq --

MR KIRBY: Right, yeah.

QUESTION: -- it has supported a rebellion in Yemen.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: So do you think – do you think --

MR KIRBY: I’ve never stood up here and said that --


MR KIRBY: -- Iran was unifying Muslims in the region.

QUESTION: So is it surprising to you that the under secretary supports the Iranian concept of Muslim unity now?

MR KIRBY: I think that that’s a leap to a conclusion based on --

QUESTION: Well, explain to me, then, what – explain to me what his – he was trying to convey by that tweet.

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m still trying to figure out my own Twitter account, so, I mean – (laughter) – I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Well, I haven’t found a tweet by you that I can do this to yet, so – (laughter) – you’re off the hook. You have to speak for him now.

MR KIRBY: Look, I can’t speak for every tweet sent by every official here, but I can promise you that the under secretary was not diverting from our constant and continued belief that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism.

QUESTION: Well, when you look at your other Muslim allies and you have said, the Secretary has said, others, that we stand together in terms of combating, fighting terrorism, we’re all victims, we’re all one, do you see Iran as part of a anti-terror coalition that you can all join together in?

MR KIRBY: We still see Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. That hasn’t changed, and until their behavior changes in the region, I don’t suspect our conclusions with that – on that – in that regard are going to change.

QUESTION: So why would the under secretary tweet something kind of giving currency to the idea that Iran and – that the U.S. feels that Iran is in the same vein as some of these other Muslims that you’ve spoken about?

MR KIRBY: I don’t believe that that was his intent at all. He was simply trying to characterize a gathering of Muslim leaders and some of the things that the gathering was concluding about terrorism. There was no intent in the tweet to endorse Iran as a – as a victim of or a defender of – not defender, but a protagonist against terrorism. The U.S. Government’s policy has not changed. This tweet changes nothing about that. We still --

QUESTION: Basically anyone can tweet, it doesn’t mean (inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: We still hold Iran to be a state sponsor of terrorism.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, he repeated what Foreign Minister Zarif said, but I believe he added his own comments when he said that “Muslim leaders speak out against terrorism.” And that would indicate that he believes that Foreign Minister Zarif is a Muslim leader worth quoting.

MR KIRBY: I would let the under secretary speak for the specific choice of how he crafted his tweet. I – I’m just not going to ever make it a practice of speaking to individual tweets by officials here in the building. What I can tell you --

QUESTION: Well, isn’t he, like, the top-most public diplomacy official in the building whose --

MR KIRBY: No, that would be John Kerry.

QUESTION: Well – okay, well – (laughter.)

QUESTION: Christian leader John Kerry. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: But look, guys, you’re --

QUESTION: But I mean someone who’s running the policy or whose --

MR KIRBY: You’re --

QUESTION: -- bureau is writing the policy on social media policy of this department.

MR KIRBY: You’re reading way too much into this, way too much into this.

QUESTION: But, John, do you believe that you are combining this – all the Muslim leaders under one umbrella and you are bridging the gap between Shias and Sunnis which is going on in the Middle East. It’s – we don’t talk about --

MR KIRBY: I’m bridging the gap between Sunni and Shia?

QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: No, I’m saying that --

MR KIRBY: Don’t you think you guys are taking this just a little too far?

QUESTION: Well, we’re just – it’s a curious tweet --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: -- in that you’ve now disowned everything he said in the tweet. And he’s the head of your public diplomacy.

QUESTION: No, but he wanted to give currency to the idea, and he did.

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to defend each and every tweet sent by officials here. I can assure you that all he was trying to do was capture the sense of all these leaders about the threat of terrorism and that – and that comment was, I believe, intended to sort of capture that representative view. That doesn’t mean that we hold Iran in some sort of new level in terms of their state sponsorship of terrorism. They’re still a state sponsor. We’re still going to keep sanctions in place to deal with their support for terrorism in the region. We’re still going to keep a robust military presence in the region to counter that, to counter those activities. Nothing’s changed, and I think you guys are just reading way too much into it.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: I’ll take one more. Barbara.

QUESTION: A clarification on Syria. You said to Elise that the Russians can exercise influence when they want to. Are you saying that they want to more now than they have in the past few months?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to Russian authorities about how much they want to.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I’m talking about in terms of the results and --

MR KIRBY: But I’ve said before --

QUESTION: -- in terms of the results of what you’re seen.

MR KIRBY: I’ve said before that we know when they exert their influence, that it can have an effect. We’ll see how this plays out.

Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Is this an isolated incident?

MR KIRBY: We’ll see how it plays out.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:02 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 07/05/2016 - 16:47

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 5, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:15 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody.


MR KIRBY: I have some comments here at the top that I want to make, certainly regarding what happened over the weekend. We strongly condemn the recent spate of deadly terrorist attacks that have been focused on civilians, including women and children, and which have brutally taken hundreds of lives from Istanbul to Dhaka to Baghdad to the attacks in Saudi Arabia. These acts have shown no respect for human life, whether young or old, male or female, Muslim or non-Muslim. These terrorists murdered without discretion. We cannot say whether these attacks were coordinated or whether they were conducted by independent opportunists. As you know, investigations are still ongoing, and I’m not going to get ahead of those processes. I’d refer you to those countries to talk about it.

But what we do know is that the goal of these attacks was to attract attention and to spread terror and to spread fear. They occurred during and at the end of Ramadan, the holiest time of the year for Muslims. Indeed, a Daesh spokesman himself called for targeting during this very holy month. So what’s obviously evident is that Daesh certainly has no respect for Muslim life, life in general, or any respect for Islam itself.

Now, even as we continue to pressure Daesh in Iraq and Syria, we remain extremely concerned about their ability to inspire terrorist attacks that require few resources with little to no coordination. And we are working, obviously, with our partners to help spread this – to help halt, sorry, the spread of terror.

We’ve always made clear that the military campaign is not enough to defeat Daesh or to remove the threat that it poses; that a holistic campaign that addresses the root causes of extremism is the only way to deliver a sustainable defeat. That’s why we’re working with partners from around the world to cut off Daesh’s messaging, financing, and recruitment networks. That’s why we work with partners to expand the global ability to identify, disrupt, arrest, and prosecute suspected foreign terrorist fighters. And it’s why we’ve identified concrete areas to increase partner capacity in disrupting, arresting, and prosecuting suspected foreign terrorist fighters and better information sharing on their networks.

The United States now has information-sharing agreements with 55 international partners to identify and track the travel of suspected terrorists, and the number of countries contributing foreign terrorist fighter profiles to Interpol has now increased by some 400 percent over the last two years alone. We’re partnering with governments in areas including strengthening information sharing on known and suspected terrorists, implementing or enhancing counterterrorism legislation, increasing effective traveler screening, and strengthening border security, as well as building comprehensive financial investigations.

This is and will remain a truly global effort. At least 35 countries now have arrested foreign terrorist fighters or aspirants, and 12 countries have successfully prosecuted foreign terrorist fighters. At least 45 countries have enacted laws or amendments to create greater obstacles for foreign terrorist fighters traveling into Iraq and Syria. And as you well know, the coalition itself is some 66 nations strong now.

We’re also focused on confronting and discrediting the violent messages that Daesh puts out on a daily basis on social media that they try to use to inspire and to recruit people. We’ve seen that Daesh and those that they inspire feed off their distorted narrative of the so-called caliphate. As we go after its network, we cannot lose focus on defeating this threat at its core in Iraq and Syria, and that’s why we’ve accelerated our campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria and why we will continue to do so. Over the last six months, we’ve seen significant progress in this campaign as local partners on the ground have increased the tempo of efforts to retake territory across multiple fronts and diminish the group’s finances and access to additional manpower. This will continue.

And we’re well aware of the threat that Daesh poses to us as well as to our allies and partners. That’s why we have galvanized this international coalition to shrink the territory that they hold, to kill their leaders, to cut off their financing, and to counter their messaging. And as you’ve heard the – as you heard the President, that campaign is firing on all cylinders and it will continue to keep up until the job is done. But let me be clear: The threat of terrorists, terrorist attacks, and terrorism will be with us for a long time, and we know that. We’re mindful of that. And I can tell you that we will and we must remain vigilant against that threat.


QUESTION: I wanted to start with the announcement by the FBI director regarding former Secretary of State Clinton. First, do you have a response to this announcement that no criminal charges will be sought?

MR KIRBY: Let me just say at the outset, Brad, that the State Department cooperated fully with the FBI’s investigation. As you can understand, I’m not at liberty to share the details of that cooperation. Furthermore, the State Department does not have full insight into the FBI investigation, so it’s going to be inappropriate for me to comment on their findings or on their recommendations.

Secondly, the department will determine the appropriate next steps following a decision by the Department of Justice. We’re not going to get ahead of that. The department has, as you know, an administrative process to evaluate cases where information may have been mishandled, as we have said previously. At the request of the FBI, the department has not moved forward with that process to ensure that we did not interfere with the investigation. And as I said earlier, we’re not also going to interfere with the process now before the Department of Justice. I just don’t have any more updates on the possible scope or timing of our process.

QUESTION: So one of the word I think that kind of stood out in this regarding the State Department’s equities was “careless.” I think he even said extremely careless at one point regarding the former secretary and how she handled her emails – top staff around her, including some still at the department, and the agency as a whole. Do you agree that this agency was extremely careless with how it dealt with classified and otherwise sensitive information?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to, again, comment on the specific findings and recommendations that the FBI director noted today.

QUESTION: Why not?

MR KIRBY: But the question about --

QUESTION: That was a public statement.

MR KIRBY: The claim about – I do want to address this – the claim about a lax environment or culture when it comes to handling classified information. And I would just say – and I’m comfortable commenting on that because, as the director himself said, that was not part of their investigation – his – their assessment of a lax environment or culture. We don’t share that assessment of our institution. That said – and I’ve said this many times before – we’re always looking for ways to improve. We’re going to continue to look for ways to improve. But we don’t share the broad assessment made of our institution that there’s a lax culture here when it comes to protecting classified information. We take it very, very seriously.

QUESTION: But I’m sorry, you don’t share the assessment that when the former head of the agency had thousands of emails that you had to upgrade, including hundreds that were – over a hundred that were classified at the time, that that doesn’t amount to a lax approach to classified information? I mean, how many hundreds would you need for it to be lax, in your opinion?

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying, Brad, is that as a cultural assessment of the State Department as an institution that we have a lax culture here, we don’t share that assessment. And as the director said himself, that’s not – wasn’t part of their investigation or the findings and recommendations that they made inside that investigation.

QUESTION: Well, but so it’s not – it’s true that it was not the scope of their investigation, but in looking at her emails and the number of officials that were emailing here about classified information, that’s where they came to the determination that there was a lax culture. So I mean, I guess you would have to look at every single employee and see what their treatment of email to determine that it’s a lax culture, but clearly, the FBI found enough – Secretary Clinton’s intent or whatever notwithstanding, that generally that there were a lot of officials and that they came across in the scope of this investigation which led them to believe that the culture is not taken as seriously as it could be.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll let the FBI director speak to their findings and recommendations and his investigation, as he should. The question was do I share, do we share, the assessment of the culture at the – of the – at the institution of the State Department to be lax, and we do not share that assessment. We take it very seriously here.

QUESTION: So you think – well, clearly, he found it in the previous administration, in the previous term. So are you saying that maybe that there was a lax culture that doesn’t exist anymore?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not saying that. I’m not saying that at all, Elise. I’m not parsing words here. I’m saying that the State Department has in the past and does today take the treatment of classified information very seriously. And when we --

QUESTION: So it was just some bad apples?

MR KIRBY: And when we have – pardon?

QUESTION: So it was just a few people that did not take enough care?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to any more specifically about the findings and recommendations that the FBI made and announced today. What I can tell is we don’t share the broad assessment that there is a lax culture here at the State Department when it comes to dealing with classified information. In fact, quite the contrary; we take it very seriously.

QUESTION: I have one more. I have one more. Can you – the FBI director said that had some of these people still been in office that they would have been subject or could have been subject to administrative penalties. Is anybody that’s currently employed by the State Department going to have any notes in their files as a result of anything that their emails uncovered in terms of their communications?

And then also, some of the previous employees that worked for Secretary Clinton that were found to have exchanged what is now believed to be classified information, are they going to have kind of posthumous notes put in their file should they ever seek to be employed by the U.S. Government again? And does the State Department do that or does the FBI do that, and is that through OPM? Like what’s the process there?

MR KIRBY: So let me answer it this way, and I think I alluded to this at the top. We’re going to determine the appropriate next steps following a decision by the Department of Justice, and that’s where this really lays right now. We have – as you know and I’ve said, we have an administrative process to evaluate cases where information may have been mishandled, and as I’ve said previously, at the request of the FBI, we didn’t move forward with that process so as not to interfere with their investigation. We also don’t believe that it’s appropriate at this time, given that there are – that the matter is now before the Department of Justice to determine their next step, to make decisions or not to make decisions – we don’t think it’s appropriate for us to move forward on that at this time. So I just don’t have an update for you on the – on any possible timing or scope of that review process.

QUESTION: So what would be the – so once the Department of Justice makes their recommendation, then you would determine what administrative processes you want to move forward with?

MR KIRBY: I think we need to wait to see what the Justice Department decides to do now in the wake of the FBI investigation before we move forward one way or the other, and we want to allow the proper time and space for that before we decide anything further with respect to those issues.

QUESTION: Kirby, a couple of detailed questions on this, and if you don’t have the answers, if you could undertake to take them. As has been explained to me, there are two separate processes that can be undertaken here. One of them is an administrative process and the other is a security clearance-related process.

As has been explained to me, but I’d like to confirm, the administrative process governs solely people who are currently employed by the Department of State. So can you confirm that that’s the case, that administrative processes or sanctions don’t apply to people who are no longer employed by State?

Second, as it’s been explained to me, it is possible for people who are no longer employed at State but who retain a security clearance to be subject to a security clearance process and perhaps sanction. Is that your understanding as well?

And then a couple of other specific things. Are any – is – does Secretary – former Secretary Clinton or any of her senior aides – specifically Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan, and Huma Abedin – continue to have security clearances provided by the State Department? And if so, is it theoretically possible that you would then review those security clearances in the light of whatever is ultimately the Justice Department prosecutorial decision and the FBI’s investigative material?

MR KIRBY: There’s an awful lot there. Let me see if I can dissect it. I’m certainly not going to get ahead of what is still an ongoing process now at the Justice Department, or speculate one way or the other about which way this will go. I don’t know – I’m happy to ask the question, your question about administrative processes. I don’t know if there is a technical definition for “administrative” and whether that applies in broad scope to only current employees or former employees. I’ll have to take that.

On the security clearance process or review, all I can tell you generally speaking is that – is that if there is a need – and I’m speaking broadly, not to this – that – the way it typically works, as I understand it, is that the department that issues a security clearance, if there is – if it’s determined that that clearance needs to be reviewed for whatever reason, it’s up to that – it’s up to the department that issued it to review it regardless of whether the employee is still at the – is still employed by the agency. The agency has that responsibility unless, of course, that employee went to a different federal agency and then got it renewed there. Does that make sense?

I’m not going to speculate one way or another about the degree to which this is – this is even a part of it. The FBI director was very careful; I’m going to be very careful. These are now decisions that have to be discussed. The findings and recommendations now have to be absorbed by the Department of Justice, and then they make – they’ll make decisions or not going forward.

And then on your last question, about the individuals, we do not discuss the security clearance of individuals as a matter of policy. We just don’t discuss it.

QUESTION: In – but these are former officials.

MR KIRBY: We don’t – we do not discuss.

QUESTION: And one of them, Jake Sullivan, in the transcript of his deposition in the civil lawsuit in which he was deposed as part of discovery, his lawyer said that his security clearance was restored so that he would have the ability to look at some of the material that was classified that they wanted to talk to him about. And so it’s at least in the public domain in that one instance, according to his lawyer, that he had, as of that date about a week ago, a security clearance.


QUESTION: Why can’t you talk about whether former officials have security clearances?

MR KIRBY: Because that’s our policy.

QUESTION: You don’t want --

MR KIRBY: And it’s been longstanding policy. We do not discuss the security clearance levels or access of individuals, current or former. We just don’t – that’s our policy and I’m not going to violate that.

QUESTION: It’s a State Department policy or a government-wide policy?

MR KIRBY: I know it’s at least a State Department policy, Elise. I’ll find out if it goes beyond that. I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Because certainly there have been instances, whether it’s General Petraeus or Sandy Berger or others, that when there was punitive action taken, they did discuss the security clearance.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to discuss the individual security clearances from this podium – just not going to do it. And if there’s – I’d refer you to the individuals in question and if they’re represented by others to speak to that, but I won’t do that.

QUESTION: Just one more on the question of lax – laxity. You state that you disagree with the assessment that the State Department is lax, has a culture of being lax in the protection of classified information. Why is it that the highest State Department official was allowed to establish and use a private email server with, as I understand it, no government-provided security for emails that contain information that, as the FBI director said this morning, some of which was classified at the time it was sent and received? I mean, if it’s not lax, how can the top official of the department go off and set up their own system that isn’t subject to the normal procedures here?

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to re-litigate the investigation. As I said, I’m not going to speak to the findings and recommendations – the FBI director spoke to that earlier today – and to what they found in terms of the practices back then and how those practices were followed. What I’ll just tell you – broadly speaking, we don’t share the assessment that as an institution – an entire institution – that the State Department has in the past or does today take lightly the issue of sensitive and classified information. We absolutely don’t.

QUESTION: What’s your basis for that?

QUESTION: The reason I asked it is that you look at, as I understand it, kind of every level of potential check or balance here, right? The assistant secretaries for DS, the under secretary for management – according to the inspector general’s report, these people were not asked and did not voice an opinion on the use of this system. The person on the seventh floor who was charged with these kinds of issues, at least according to the report, told people – told two people not to talk to anybody about it. So even if the quibble is with the world “laxity,” do you feel that your systems were sufficient to safeguard classified information sent by or to the secretary of state?

MR KIRBY: Again, I think the FBI director addressed that as well as part of their investigation. I am simply not going to discuss or comment on their findings and recommendations with respect to this case.

QUESTION: Well, I mean --

MR KIRBY: This issue – wait a second, Elise. Wait, wait – and to your question. And as he said himself, his assessment of the State Department’s culture was not part of this investigation, and that’s why I’m comfortable addressing that, that on – as a whole, in the main, we absolutely do not share the broad assessment that the entire culture here at the State Department is lax when it comes to protecting sensitive and classified information.

And what I’m basing that on, Brad, is the longstanding – and I don’t just mean recently – the longstanding training and indoctrination that one goes through before you get employed here and the periodic reviews of the training and sensitive information handling that you have to go through all the time. I’ve been here a little bit more than a year; I’ve already had to go through it several times myself. That you – we have two networks for email traffic that are deliberately set up to handle various degrees of sensitive information, and that the work of diplomats all around the world is by its very nature is sensitive, but it’s also outward-facing, and has to be. And there is a role here at the State Department to be communicative, to have dialogue, to foster communication. That’s a big part of who we are. And I can – and I can tell you that everybody involved in that understands the risks and the opportunities of it, and takes it very seriously.


MR KIRBY: So to say that the culture here --


MR KIRBY: -- is lax, that’s a pretty broad brush, and again, we wouldn’t use it; we don’t believe it.

QUESTION: The problem is this indoctrination that you speak of obviously didn’t work when it came to the past secretary, or the hundred or so officials who all contacted her during the course of her tenure, or the dozens of officials who would have known that she wasn’t using a address or would have known that information that was at least on the borderline was going to a nongovernment account. So that failed across the board, right?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make a qualitative assessment.

QUESTION: The IG report said as much.

MR KIRBY: The IG spoke as well to this. I’m not going to talk about the findings and recommendations of this investigation.



MR KIRBY: But this was – there is a difference, Brad, between an assessment of email practices under Secretary Clinton’s tenure and how they were implemented and saying that the culture here at the State Department is lax.

QUESTION: Okay, well, what --

QUESTION: Yeah, but – no, no, no, hold on. But – sorry, you can’t separate the head of the agency and everybody who worked around her at a senior level in this agency and say --

MR KIRBY: Right, and I’m not trying to.

QUESTION: Well, you --

QUESTION: -- well, there were somebody out there who was following the rules, so the culture was okay.

MR KIRBY: It’s more than somebody, Brad.


QUESTION: Well, I don’t know. Show me an IG report that shows all the adherence.

QUESTION: Let me --

QUESTION: And secondly, you’re making this case about how the State Department was an – is an outward-looking agency.


QUESTION: None of these emails from Secretary Clinton were outward-focused. They were all about internal messaging, they were all about her and her aides consulting on matters --


QUESTION: -- that weren’t meant for public consumption, and there’s even messages about not wanting things out for public consumption. So I fail to see how that’s an argument that shows why somehow this is distinct or excusable.

MR KIRBY: It’s a valid argument when you’re talking about the entire institution, Brad, and not an individual inside it, regardless of whatever level that individual serves, to make a broad assessment – and look, I don’t – I don’t – I’m not going to – I think I’ve said it plenty of times already – to make a broad assessment of the entire institution, that it was lax or that we don’t care or we don’t take it seriously. We don’t share it.

Now, look, as I also said, we’re always looking for ways to improve. And if there’s ways we can learn from this particular investigation to improve, then we’ll do that.

QUESTION: So, John – okay. So I think it’s pretty clear what you’re taking issue with is that you’re – you’re interpreting the FBI director’s comments to mean a culture throughout the whole State Department apparatus. And I think his – what he’s trying to say is based on – and they did not – the scope of their investigation was not the whole State Department; it was Secretary Clinton and the immediate staff and several other dozen officials that were emailing her – that there was a lax culture among a subset of State Department officials. That – I don’t think he’s making an indictment on the whole State Department, but he is saying that there was a culture inside the State Department where the security was lax. I mean, the fact that this took place kind of indicates that it was.

And he does also say that this use of a personal email domain was known by a large number of people and readily apparent. So there were numerous people inside the State Department that knew that she was using this type of system. So how can you not – if you don’t want to acknowledge that there was a lax culture in the whole kind of State Department bureaucracy, can you not acknowledge that among a subset of employees at the time that there was a lax – a culture of lax security among that subset?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll let the investigation speak for itself and the FBI director to speak for it.

QUESTION: But by you kind of parsing out and saying that this – let me finish – that by you parsing out and saying that the whole building doesn’t have a lax security problem suggests that you’re dismissing that a small portion did.

MR KIRBY: I was not suggesting any such thing, Elise. As I said, we cooperated with the FBI on its investigation. I can’t talk about the scope of that cooperation. I’m not going to, again, address the specific findings and recommendations that he made. And the director has spoken for their investigative work, and I would refer you to him and to his staff to speak to it going forward. And I don’t have his exact quote, so I can’t tell you if I’ve misinterpreted or not. I mean, he can speak for himself in terms of what he meant. The way we interpreted it was that it was a broad-brush assessment of the culture here at the State Department when it came to --

QUESTION: Do you not – do you not agree that a group of people, however large it was, that knew about this system and let it kind of – greenlighted it and let it go forward and didn’t ask questions about it suggests that security – and a culture of security was lax somewhere in the --

MR KIRBY: Look, our inspector general himself found that there were lapses and that not all appropriate practices were conducted. I mean, nobody’s taking issue with that. What I’m taking issue with – and the only thing I’m taking issue with today, because I’m not going to comment, as I said, on the specifics – the only thing I’m taking issue with is an assessment, a broad assessment, of the culture of the institution, which we do not share.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?

QUESTION: Something else from today: The director of the FBI said that the FBI had found over a hundred emails that contained classified information at the time that they were sent or received, and some were even actually marked classified. So that contradicts what the State Department has been saying throughout this investigation, so how do you square the two?

MR KIRBY: As I said, I’m not going to comment on the specific findings and recommendations of the investigation.


QUESTION: One follow-up --

QUESTION: Would you, though, at least acknowledge that --

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. Hang on.

QUESTION: Something else that he said in his comment – he said that the 110 emails had been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information. So do you now acknowledge that it is the owning agency’s responsibility, not the recipient’s or even necessarily the State Department, in determining what information is classified and what’s not?

MR KIRBY: Again, what I would tell you is we cooperated fully with the FBI on this and I’m not going to comment specifically on the findings of the investigation. As much as I know you’d like me to, I’m not going to do that. There is now – there is a process here in place where the Department of Justice is going to take a look at this. We’re going to let that process play out, as we should, and we’ll await any pending decisions by the Department of Justice before the State Department moves forward one way or another.

QUESTION: John, how do you stand up --

QUESTION: What about the possibility that people hostile to the U.S. had possibly gained access to --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: What about the possibility that states or entities hostile to the U.S. had possibly gained access to some of the content of those emails? Do you share those concerns that the FBI director said today?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, we, of course, take the security of our systems very, very seriously, and we’re always concerned about intrusions into our system. I think the director also said that they didn’t find any direct evidence that the system was compromised, but I don’t have additional details to offer today.

QUESTION: But he also said that you couldn’t be sure and that – and it’s possible that they did so and you don’t even know about it.

MR KIRBY: Again, we’re always concerned about this. And look, federal government systems get attacked every day. I just don’t have any additional details on this.

QUESTION: Oh, you’re not – you’re not suggesting that because government systems are hacked that there was enough security in place that would replace --

MR KIRBY: I’m not --

QUESTION: -- that would be equal to the government security? The FBI director specifically said that it was not as secure as a government system or even a Gmail account.

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to discuss or debate the findings or the recommendations.

QUESTION: But you were the one that raised it. You said government computers get – or government systems get hacked all the time.

MR KIRBY: It doesn’t mean we don’t take it seriously, Elise.

QUESTION: Hey, John, just – can I --

MR KIRBY: Carol.

QUESTION: John, do you – I believe the FBI director made a point of saying that you were lax in comparison to elsewhere within government. Do you believe that you stand up equally to other agencies in the government, including national security agencies like the FBI and the CIA, the White House, and the Pentagon? Do you think you are equal to them?

MR KIRBY: I think – look, first of all, that everybody has a – everybody in the federal government has standard rules that crosscut agencies in terms of how sensitive and classified information is treated and dealt with. We all have the same basic rules. But each federal agency also has a fundamental different purpose and each of the major federal agencies has to, by dint of their purpose, look at the world in different ways.

As I said to Brad, we are required – not just that we like it – we’re required to be outward-facing, we’re required to communicate, we’re required to foster dialogue, we’re required to have conversations with foreign leaders and in foreign countries all around the world every single day. Now, that doesn’t obviate, doesn’t excuse, it doesn’t mean that we’re not also responsible in the conduct of that business to protect sensitive information. We have to. But the State Department, unique to many – unique, I think, among federal agencies, has an actual obligation to communicate.

So that’s why I’m confident in saying that – look, do we always get it right? No. Have we admitted that there were things we could have done better in the past? Absolutely. The IG found that. The Secretary himself has taken steps to try to improve records management here. But we have an obligation to communicate, and you have to find the right balance between the need to do that – to foster dialogue, to try to gain better understanding of what somebody else thinks and articulate your policy, at the same time protecting sensitive information. So we have a different role. I don’t think it’s useful to compare each and every federal agency with the way they do this because each of them have different responsibilities in terms of the information environment. But again, I’m not at all excusing anything in terms of our responsibilities – our baseline responsibilities, which every federal agency has – to protect classified and sensitive information.

QUESTION: Hey, Kirby.


QUESTION: According to a letter dated February 18th, 2016, from Julia Frifield, the assistant secretary for legislative affairs, to Chairman Grassley, the letter explicitly discloses that Cheryl Mills did maintain a top-secret – well, did maintain a security clearance because, pursuant to Section 4.4 of Executive Order 13526, she was designated by former Secretary Clinton to assist her in research consistent with that section of the executive order. So you do disclose – you do talk about security clearances, at least in this one instance, with regard to Ms. Mills.

MR KIRBY: That’s a – that – you’re talking about a piece of correspondence between the head of legislative affairs here and a senator. That’s different than public disclosure, certainly different than disclosure and talking about it here from the podium. As I said, our policy is not to discuss it, and I’m not going to change the policy here today.

QUESTION: Even though you’ve told lawmakers about it?

MR KIRBY: That is not the same as having a public discussion of security clearance. That’s a vastly different thing.

QUESTION: Is it – that wasn’t a classified letter.

MR KIRBY: Just because something’s not classified doesn’t mean that it’s --

QUESTION: Well, we know that.

MR KIRBY: -- that it’s okay to discuss here at the podium, Brad.


MR KIRBY: I mean, look, the – I’m not going to violate --

QUESTION: We know that classified isn’t the marker for you to --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to violate the policy today.


QUESTION: Can we move on?

MR KIRBY: Are we okay to move on?



QUESTION: Let me ask about Iraq. As you started at the top, it was a miserable – it was a terrible weekend in Baghdad. Also, the head of the anti-terror committee for the United Nations said that there could be as many as 30,000 foreign fighters going back from Syria and Iraq to their home countries.


QUESTION: And wreak havoc. I mean, is that – all along, the issue of the open borders and, in fact, Turkey allowing all these fighters to go into Syria and Iraq would probably come back to haunt them. That’s something that’s in hindsight. But what is being done to really now seal off that border to prevent such a thing?

MR KIRBY: There’s been a lot of work to do exactly that, and the Turks are working very hard at this. And we continue to be in very close consultation with them as they try to do exactly that. And they have made strides and the flow has decreased. But I think the Turkish Government will be the first to tell you that they realize they still have an issue along that border and they’re – and that they’re still working at it. But it has decreased. We’ve seen that.

QUESTION: Well, I’ll tell you what: If these foreign fighters want to leave and go back to their home countries, they either have to go through the Turkish border or the Jordanian border. I mean, it seems that this is pretty – the only two available gateways back to their – could you – could the United States work closely to ensure that these borders are sealed off to prevent these fighters from --

MR KIRBY: Could they add what? Could they add --

QUESTION: Could you take measures along with the Jordanian Government and the Turkish Government but that would be something under your own auspices to ensure that the flow of fighters is cut off from going back?

MR KIRBY: We’re working closely with both governments on their border concerns, and they – and these are not philosophical problems. They’re tangible, they’re real, and these governments understand that. And we continue to talk to them about ways in which we can be helpful in their efforts to secure their borders. But believe me, this is an issue of constant conversation between us and the Government of Jordan, as well as between us and the Government of Turkey.

QUESTION: And finally, today the minister of interior, the Iraqi minister of interior, submitted his resignation, saying that he assumes responsibility but he’s not getting any cooperation from Haider al-Abadi or the Iraqi Government writ large. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the press reporting that’s about this resignation. I can’t confirm the veracity of those reports. I’d refer you to the Government of Iraq to speak to that. But I would say, broadly speaking without getting into this particular case, that the – Prime Minister Abadi is well aware of the challenges that his government faces on the ground by groups like Daesh, and he’s well aware of the reforms – political, economic, and yes, continued military reforms – that need to continue to be made. And we’re going to continue to support him in those efforts.

QUESTION: Can we go on to Israel-Palestine?

QUESTION: Wait, can we stick with this for one second?

QUESTION: Sorry, go on.

QUESTION: Just a couple of quick things. Can you offer any assessment with regard to whether you believe the multiple attacks that occurred over the weekend, notably those in Turkey, Iraq, and Bangladesh, were coordinated?

MR KIRBY: No, as I said at the top, we don’t know that.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you have – at the top, you said that you have, I think, information-sharing agreements with 55 international partners. Are those countries or does that include non-countries but, like, Interpol or something else?

MR KIRBY: It’s largely with countries.

QUESTION: And do those include Turkey, Bangladesh, and Saudi Arabia?

MR KIRBY: I’m not at liberty to detail the countries.


MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, there’s lots of arrangements that we have with nations around the world that, for various reasons – sensitivity domestically – that they prefer not for us to make public, so we just don’t.


QUESTION: Thanks. Two questions on South Asia, if I may, please.

MR KIRBY: Wait. Before we leave the Middle East, I think Brad wanted to go to --


MR KIRBY: So why don’t – let me come back to --

QUESTION: Let me follow on the Middle East – quickly one. As far as this bombing in Saudi Arabia is concerned, many people I have been talking here, they are very surprised – who go to the Mecca/Medina for their pilgrimage and all that – they have never heard anything like this. How surprised was this to the U.S. that this kind of things also happen in this place of Saudi Arabia?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think I addressed this at the top, Goyal. I mean, first of all, we’ve been mindful for quite some time that – first of all, terrorist attacks is – that’s not a new thing for Daesh. It’s part and parcel of their overarching efforts to spread fear, to try to inspire recruits, and to try to dominate in many cases local populations. So this is a tactic they have used since the very beginning. We have also been very mindful as they have gotten under more pressure in Iraq and Syria that they would increasingly find themselves drawn to those kinds of conventional terror tactics, and that’s what they’re doing. And as I said last week, I think it was, that mindful that we have been about their motives and about the tactics they are using or continue to use or increasingly use, we too are adapting as well.

And I – at the top, I went through a litany of things that we have done in recent months to try to get a better handle on the flow of foreign fighters, their financing, their ability to recruit, their ability to message, and frankly, their ability to operate. And though it doesn’t make the same level of headlines, there have been over the last year alone dozens of arrests, if not more, and we don’t know how many as a result of the great work that law enforcement and intelligence communities around the world are doing – we don’t know how many attacks have been prevented. But we do know that some have been. It doesn’t mean that we take each one any less seriously. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t the potential for more. This is a tactic that doesn’t, as I said, require a lot of resources. It doesn’t require all that amount – sophisticated coordination in every sense. And we all need to stay vigilant for the potential for future attacks – and we are.

QUESTION: You think that because of this, Saudis will reach to the U.S. more than ever in the past, and now the Middle East will be united against the terrorism (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I think you’re already seeing – I think you’re already – look, there’s no nation in the world that supports Daesh. And you’re already starting to see the Middle East coalesce around trying to get at this very significant threat.


QUESTION: Do you have a comment on the – unless you were going to ask about Iraq?

QUESTION: Russia-Turkey.

QUESTION: Do you have a comment on the Israeli settlement construction announcement?

MR KIRBY: We’re aware of reports that the Government of Israel intends to advance plans for hundreds of housing units in Israeli settlements in the West Bank as well as East Jerusalem. If it’s true, this report would be the latest step in what seems to be a systematic process of land seizures, settlement expansions, and legalizations of outposts that is fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution. We oppose steps like these, which we believe are counterproductive to the cause of peace. In general, we’re deeply concerned about settlement construction and expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and the design – and the – I’m sorry, the designation of land throughout the West Bank for exclusive Israeli use.

As the Quartet report highlights, since the beginning of the Oslo process in 1993, the population of settlements has more than doubled, with a threefold increase in Area C alone. Currently, there is at least 570,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Moreover, approximately 100 settlement outposts in Area C have been built without formal Israeli Government approval, making them illegal even under Israeli law. Again, as the Quartet report makes clear, these actions risk entrenching a one-state reality and raise serious questions about Israel’s long-term intentions.

QUESTION: Given that you raise the idea of this as a systematic process of land – land expropriation or land seizures or however you put it, what is the U.S.’s systematic response beyond just saying this is bad every time? Do you have a systematic approach to counteracting this trend that is blocking peace, in your opinion?

MR KIRBY: Our approach has been consistent throughout. First of all, calling it like we see it and not being afraid to do that; having tough discussions with Israeli leaders about this and being willing to continue to do that; working inside the Quartet, and the Quartet report addresses this pretty clearly as I just said; as well as working with other members of the international community to try to see if we can advance a two-state solution.

QUESTION: Do you – do you – the way I understood it was this is a response to the violence. Do you see the notion of settlement expansion as a consequence of violence as an appropriate countermeasure?

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m – I really am loath to get into analyzing cause and effect here in terms of connecting that particular dot. We’re obviously deeply concerned about violence and we condemn the recent attacks. There’s – and we’ve said this before – no justification for terrorism, no justification for the violence, no justification for the taking or maiming of innocent life. And so we’re going to continue to look for leaders in the region to do what they need to do, take the affirmative steps that are required, and act – demonstrate leadership to take down the tensions to reduce the violence to get us to help create the conditions for a two-state solution. That doesn’t change, however, at all our opposition to settlement activity, which we believe is illegitimate.

QUESTION: I have a last one, tangentially related. The wife of a man killed in a West Bank attack was an American citizen. I think the car was shot at and it was just another American – I think it might have been Hebron – another American who almost died in this case. Are you having conversations with the Palestinians about the rising American death toll in this wave of violence?

MR KIRBY: Obviously, we’re – any death and any injury is significant when it results from this sort of violence. And so our conversations with leaders on both sides are about, again, taking steps to reduce the violence so that innocent people can go about their lives – all innocent people can go about their lives.

QUESTION: Do you think that that --

QUESTION: But your first job’s to protect Americans --

MR KIRBY: And we take that very --

QUESTION: -- and there are --

MR KIRBY: And we take that very seriously.

QUESTION: Well, a lot – there’s been several now, I think, killed in this wave of violence --


QUESTION: -- more than in a lot of places where you have --

MR KIRBY: We take that – no, we take that very seriously, but --

QUESTION: -- deeper engagement.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Even military engagement in some places.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to detail the specifics of diplomatic discussions we may be having on this. I can tell you obviously we take that responsibility very seriously. But more broadly speaking, we want to see all innocent life protected.

QUESTION: And do you think that the Palestinian attackers are attacking Americans on purpose? Do you think that they are targeting Americans?

MR KIRBY: As I said, I’m not going to analyze each and every specific act here from the podium, Said.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Brad’s question, do you ask the Palestinians to investigate whether there’s actually been deliberate attacking or deliberate targeting of Americans?

MR KIRBY: We want – first of all, we want the attacks to stop.

QUESTION: Right, I understand. But things that have already taken place.

MR KIRBY: And obviously – obviously we would – we – and we’ve said this before – we welcome thorough, complete investigations on these matters, transparent investigations by all sides. But I’m not going to get into a discussion of each and every one.

QUESTION: According to the Israeli press, the Palestinian Authority is getting ready to cut off all relation with the Quartet because they feel that the report was completely biased towards Israel. First of all, are you aware of these reports? And second, are you having a conversation with the Palestinians on this very issue?

MR KIRBY: I think what we’ve seen is a PLO statement that takes issue with some aspects of the Quartet report, and that’s our understanding, is that this is more a statement of their concerns and objections to the report itself. And as I said last week, we fully expected that there would be objections, that there will be concerns, that not everybody would like everything that they read in there. But I’ll say it like I said last week – I’ll say it again – both sides had input and we valued – welcomed and valued that input.


MR KIRBY: Goyal, I already got you. You – did I get you yet?


MR KIRBY: No? Go ahead.

QUESTION: This is a follow-up to a question I asked you last Thursday about the possible consequences of this Turkish-Russian reconciliation for Syria. Since I asked my question, The Financial Times reported the dynamics of a possible deal, and to quote from them, Turkey’s “priority will be subduing Kurdish rivals and weakening ISIS – aims for which it could expect Russian support in exchange for Ankara dropping its demand for regime change in Syria.”

So first part of my question: Is that a scenario that the U.S. thinks possible, and is it concerned – and if so, is it concerned about such an outcome? And second part of the question: Has – have U.S. authorities had any feedback from Turkey or Russia – Turkish or Russian officials about the nature of their reconciliation and its implications for the Syrian civil war?

MR KIRBY: Well, let me try to carve it this way: As I said last week, to the degree this improved relationship can lead or accelerate efforts against Daesh, particularly inside Syria, then we would welcome that. And we’ve said that all along, even with respect to Russia – to the degree that they were willing to focus their efforts against Daesh in Syria, that that was a conversation we’d be willing to have with them. And Turkey’s a NATO ally, Turkey is a member of the coalition, and Turkey has cooperated and provided support to that very end. And if these discussions, this relationship between Turkey and Russia, again, can accelerate that effort, then obviously that would be welcome. And as to the specific arrangements that they made between one another, they would have to speak to that. I don’t believe we have visibility on every nuance and every bit of context in those conversations.

QUESTION: What if it’s at the cost of leaving Assad in power?

MR KIRBY: Our position on Assad has not changed – has not changed.

QUESTION: That he should go?

MR KIRBY: We continue to believe that he can’t be a part of the long-term future of Syria, that the Syrian people deserve a government that’s responsible for them, responsive to their needs, not barrel bombing them. And so nothing’s changed about our view of Assad.


QUESTION: I was wondering if you might be able to give us some more information about Secretary Kerry’s visit to Georgia. What message Secretary is going to deliver in Tbilisi?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I talked about this yesterday – or I’m sorry, last week – when we announced the trip. He’s very much looking forward to it. As I think you know, he leaves this evening. I’m not going to get ahead of reading out meetings that haven’t happened yet, but as I said last week, he’s very much looking forward to talking to them about our bilateral relationships and ways in which that relationship can continue to improve.


QUESTION: Georgia has some challenges – country is trying to come closer to NATO; also, Georgia is expecting visa liberalization with the European Union, and there is some – this is election year. Is Secretary going to address all these challenges during his meeting with --

MR KIRBY: I think I’ll let the Secretary speak for his meetings once he’s had them.

Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Have a great day.

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

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Fri, 07/01/2016 - 17:07

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 1, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:19 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody, and happy Friday to you. Let me just say in advance I hope everybody has a good Fourth of July. I have quite a few things at the top here to go through. First – and I know you guys are probably tracking this – we’re certainly aware of reports of what appears to be a hostage situation in the Gulshan neighborhood of Dhaka in Bangladesh. We’re also aware that local security forces are on the scene and responding. Our embassy in Dhaka is currently conducting accountability. I can tell you as of now – just before I came out here – that they have accounted for 100 percent of American citizens working under the chief of mission authority. They are still working on accountability, obviously, of everyone under chief of mission authority. But right now we know that we have accounted for all Americans working under chief of mission authority. They’re also obviously in constant touch with Bangladeshi authorities as they continue to work through this very fluid, very live situation right now.

QUESTION: Sorry. When you say “accounted for,” you mean they’re all okay?


QUESTION: Can you spell the name of the neighborhood, please?

MR KIRBY: G-u-l-s-h-a-n. The situation’s ongoing. Obviously, too early for us to say who’s involved, motivation – any of that stuff. It’s all still unfolding right now, and we’ll obviously update you as the situation continues to unfold and more information becomes available.

And actually, Matt, I want to go back on what you said. I know what they’ve done is they have got 100 percent accountability. So let me take back what I said in terms of we know everyone’s okay. I just know that there’s 100 percent accountability. So rather than speculate, let me just leave it at that right now.

QUESTION: Okay. Could someone ask maybe during the course of this briefing just because, I mean, you can be accounted for --

MR KIRBY: You want to see if we --

QUESTION: -- and not be okay. I mean --

MR KIRBY: That’s what I mean. That’s what I mean. That’s why I wanted to clarify we have 100 percent accountability for American citizens that are under chief of mission authority, but I can’t say with great certainty everyone’s condition. So we’ll check and see if we can get more information. And look, it’s – as I said, it’s unfolding, and more information is going to be coming in, I’m sure, as we go through --

QUESTION: And – but, I mean, “accounted for” leaves – that could be that you that know someone is being held hostage. That would be – so that’s --

MR KIRBY: I can only say what I’ve got --

QUESTION: I understand.

MR KIRBY: -- which is we have 100 percent accountability for American citizens that are working under the chief of mission authority. And we are continuing to work on the accountability of others and we’re continuing to stay in touch with Bangladeshi authorities. Obviously, very fluid situation right now.

In Kenya, we’re deeply concerned by the disappearance and murder of Willie Kimani, a lawyer and investigator working with the U.S. nongovernmental organization known as International Justice Mission or IJM, along with IJM client Josephat Mwenda*, and IJM driver Joseph Muiruri. We understand that Kenyan authorities are investigating this, and our embassy will continue to monitor the situation closely.

On to the West Bank. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the latest terrorist attack that took place today near Hebron, which resulted in the death of one Israeli and left three other Israelis wounded. We call on others to also condemn such attacks. There is absolutely no justification, as we have said many times, for terrorism or the taking of innocent lives.

On Yemen. We note the UN special envoy’s announcement that parties involved in the ongoing Yemen peace talks have signed a commitment document designed to guide a new phase of negotiations following a two-week period ending on the 15th of July. Discussions have led to progress toward a roadmap to end the conflict, which we expect to continue when talks resume. We continue to call on the delegations to uphold the cessation of hostilities and to return to Kuwait with a commitment to swiftly reach an agreement that will bring the Yemeni people the peace and security that they deserve and a chance to begin to rebuild their economy. We also emphasize the importance of allowing unfettered humanitarian access throughout Yemen.

We strongly support the efforts of the UN special envoy for shepherding these talks and for his tireless commitment and dedication to their success. These talks offer the best chance, as we’ve said before, to reach a lasting agreement. And now is the opportunity, the time for the parties to make the compromises and commitments that will benefit their people and bring stability to Yemen, a country and a people who have suffered far too long. We hope the parties will use the period – this period constructively so that when they resume an agreement can be reached expeditiously.

On Liberia. Today, Liberia’s security forces have assumed full responsibility for the country’s security, marking another major accomplishment in Liberia’s progress toward the end of its civil war beginning in 2003. Yesterday, a United Nations mission in Liberia turned over full security responsibility to the Liberian Government. UNMIL, UN Mission in Liberia, will remain in Liberia to help the Liberian security forces – I’m sorry, security services – protect civilians in the event of an emergency that risks reversing Liberia’s peace and security accomplishments. We congratulate the people and Government of Liberia on this historic transition. It reflects their significant and steady advances with the support of the international community toward restoring peace and stability for all Liberians across the country. We pay tribute to the peacekeepers – the UN mission for their continued service there in Liberia.


QUESTION: Right. I was going to start with Bangladesh, but since we know what you know already, then I’ll move to the Quartet report. I just have two brief things. One, in terms of the recommendations, they seem to be not new, shall we put it that way. I mean, it doesn’t seem like there’s any proposal to do anything other than what the Quartet has – and others have long called for. And I’m just wondering, one, why – why they are not – they say that they’re specific recommendations, but in fact, they’re pretty general. So why isn’t there more specificity?

MR KIRBY: I would disagree that they are not specific, Matt, and I can’t – remember, it’s not just a U.S. report, so I’m not going to speak for the entire motivation of the Quartet. I can just tell you that we’re comfortable – for our role in it, we’re comfortable that these are legitimate recommendations, recommendations that we believe – and many of them, as you rightly said, we’ve believed for quite some time – but we still believe are valid and still believe can help – if enacted, if adopted, if pursued – can help us get closer to a two-state solution.

So the question – well, I don’t want to say that; that’s not fair. The – what matters, at least from our perspective, is that the report does lay down some specific and solid recommendations about going forward. It wasn’t – the exercise wasn’t about necessarily trying to come up with something new. It was about coming up with an appropriate set of – an assessment of the situation of the on the ground and an appropriate set of recommendations going forward. That many of those recommendations – most of them – are ones that we have made in the past or we have talked about before – not just us, but other members of the Quartet – I think should come as no surprise to anyone.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu said today that they – that Israel is going to deduct from the tax payments that it sends or that it holds for and then distributes to the Palestinian Authority, that they’re going to deduct the amount that the PA pays the families of attackers. One, is – what do you think of that? And secondly, why isn’t there a recommendation in here for the Palestinian Authority to specifically stop such payments if you think that they’re a bad idea? Or is that included in number three, which says the PA should act decisively and take all steps within its capacity to cease incitement to violence?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think it does fit into that one.


MR KIRBY: And as for – and we’ve seen the prime minister’s comments. I think he can speak for his reasoning behind that. I’m not going to respond to each and every thing that he has had to say about the report. Look, I would just say that there was no expectation as we worked on the report here – at least from the United States perspective – that everybody would like everything in there. But I’m going to leave it there.

QUESTION: But – well, in the past, this – the U.S. has been critical of Israel withholding the money, the tax – that tax money. So you have no opinion about this?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say we have no opinion. I’m not going to respond to everything everybody is saying – react to that. Our views on this --

QUESTION: This doesn’t – this doesn’t have anything to do with the report --

MR KIRBY: Our views hasn’t – haven’t changed.

QUESTION: All right. Last one on this is this morning an official who’s quite --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: An official this morning said – an unnamed official this morning, but who is quite familiar with this report – said that in terms of UN – the UN, that the Security Council would not formally endorse this, but would rather just welcome it. Can I ask, one, is that – are you able to say that on the record? And two, why or why not?

MR KIRBY: I would say we would be open to having the Security Council welcome the report.

QUESTION: But you don’t --

MR KIRBY: We’d be open to them – we would be open to them welcoming it.

QUESTION: But you’re not looking for them, the council, to do anything more in terms of enshrining it, say, as with – they do with other things, like with the Iran deal or something?

MR KIRBY: I think I’d just leave it where I put it, that we would – open to them welcoming it. That’s obviously a discussion the Security Council would have to take up.

QUESTION: One other question on that, on this specific language: The official this morning said that, quote, “At this time we are not looking for the Security Council to take any more substantive action” --


QUESTION: -- beyond welcoming. Does that mean that you are open to the possibility of the Security Council taking more substantive action on the report at some time in the future? It’s just right now you’re not looking for them to do anything but welcome it?

MR KIRBY: Right now, we would be open to them looking at this and welcoming it. I wouldn’t be in a position right now to speculate or hypothesize about future actions they might or might not take going forward. Right now we’d be open to them welcoming it.

QUESTION: John, this – the Palestinian negotiator, Mr. Erekat, has denounced it already. He said that it doesn’t take into account that – it puts the two parties on parity, and obviously the Palestinian party see themselves as under military occupation. Whereas the – Netanyahu has said that he rejects the idea that settlements are any bar to peace. He says he’s frozen them before; he didn’t get anywhere then. Obviously, you’re expecting pushback from both sides. Is this within the parameters of what you expected, or is this disappointing, that there’s such an immediate --

MR KIRBY: I would say – I don’t think we’re surprised by the fact that not everything in the report was welcomed by either side. Number two, I would tell you that – and remind you that we took input from both sides as this report was being drafted. And the third thing I’d say is that we stand solidly behind the recommendations that were made. And we still believe that a two-state solution is possible, but we still believe that in order for that to be realized it’s going to take some leadership and some compromise and some tough decisions and choices by both sides.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up on that and (Inaudible.)?

MR KIRBY: Sure, Said.

QUESTION: On this, first of all, I asked the senior official on the difference between illegitimate and illegal as far as the settlements are concerned. Could you explain the difference, from your point of view? What is the difference between calling it illegitimate settlement activity or calling it illegal?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, we’re not going to make any determinations here or – about legality or legal definitions. Our position on settlements is the same as has been for past administrations as well. We view them as illegitimate and we don’t believe that they are constructive to trying to get us to a two-state solution. So I think I’m just going to leave it there. Our policy is the same, has been the same for quite some time, and we continue to make that case to the Israelis.

QUESTION: The official also said that these are just recommendations. In other words, you don’t have, like, a next step kind of a thing as far as these recommendations are concerned.

MR KIRBY: Well, and the – obviously, the next step --

QUESTION: Which you cannot make the Israelis do it, do this, or the --

MR KIRBY: The next step, we would hope, would be that the sides would look at these recommendations and seriously consider adopting them. Because we believe, as we have believed on many of them, that they’re sound and they’re prudent, and that they could help get us closer to a two-state solution. That’s the next step that we hope results from this report. But it’s obviously up to the leadership there in the region to determine and decide for themselves whether they’re really serious about a two-state solution or whether they’re not.

QUESTION: Now, let me – on the issue of the Gaza or point eight in the report, which is calling on Israel to accelerate the process for relieving – the restrictions --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, the access issues, yeah.

QUESTION: -- the movement and so on, the access to and from Gaza and so on, and taking into consideration the security of Israeli citizens and so on, what steps must be taken sort of in a short order to relieve a really awful situation?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think it’s laid out in the report, and I don’t want to rehash every --

QUESTION: But this has been – these recommendations, Kirby, were talked about before, and many times before, in many other reports. So I mean, what are you prepared to do or to pressure your ally, let’s say, both Israel and Egypt that also close the border with Gaza, to basically take actual steps, tangible steps, to relieve the pressure on Gaza?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think it’s, again, laid out in the report. And I would encourage people to read the report for themselves, but it says – and I know you have, Said; I’m not talking about you – but I mean, the – I mean, it makes it clear that we want to see Israel ease some of these restrictions.

So back to your question – what can they do – they can start by easing these restrictions. And we understand in Gaza – we understand Israeli concerns about security. Those are legitimate concerns, and that’s spelled out in the report as well. But we think that they – a good first step here is for them to take a serious, sober look at easing some of these access restrictions.

QUESTION: On Matt’s question on the withhold --

MR KIRBY: On the what?

QUESTION: On withholding some of the tax money – the Palestinians’ tax money that the Israeli prime minister announced today, he’s also accusing the Palestinian Authority of money laundering, that they sort of revert to money laundering schemes to get this money to the families and so on. Are you aware of any money laundering schemes? The PA – because you are – you’re – you are its main financier or funder, let’s say – the Palestinian Authority --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any specific knowledge of that activity.

QUESTION: And lastly, when you began by condemning the attack today --


QUESTION: -- you said that we call on others to condemn it. Are you – are you directing this to the Palestinian Authority or Palestinian Authority president?


QUESTION: Who are the others?

MR KIRBY: Well, everybody, and that’s nothing new, Said.

QUESTION: Including – including Mahmoud Abbas --

MR KIRBY: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- the president of the Palestinian --

MR KIRBY: Absolutely, it includes President Abbas, but it’s everybody. And I have said that many, many times up here that incitement and inflammatory rhetoric by all sides is inappropriate and not leading us any closer to a two-state solution. But if you’re asking me does it include President Abbas, absolutely, it does. Absolutely.


QUESTION: Just two questions. The first is, as you’ve said and we’ve been discussing here, these recommendations have been made before in different ways. And you’ve also been saying for two years it’s up to the parties to take the steps necessary and they haven’t. So what exactly is the purpose of this especially if there’s no weight – enforcement weight behind it? You’re not even ready to make a UN resolution out of it. Is it to set the groundwork for a possible UN resolution at some time?

MR KIRBY: I mean, it builds – it builds on Quartet discussions back to September of 2015 --

QUESTION: Which have all come up with nothing.

MR KIRBY: No. Barbara, I would disagree. It’s not nothing.

QUESTION: On the ground they haven’t.

MR KIRBY: We’re – none of us are happy about the situation on the ground, Barbara.

QUESTION: But then what’s the point of a whole report like this if it’s not setting like the groundwork for some kind of further international action?

MR KIRBY: But you’re missing the point. You’re missing the point entirely. The report lays out tangible, prudent recommendations that the Quartet believes, if adopted by both sides, could help us get closer to a two-state solution. And so back to Said’s question – what’s the next step – well, the next step here is, we would hope, that both sides would adopt these recommendations --

QUESTION: And if they don’t adopt the recommendations, then what’s the next step after that?

MR KIRBY: -- and take the kind of – and make the tough choices and exhibit the kind of leadership that can help us get to a two-state solution. That was the purpose of the report. It was to assess the situation and to offer some recommendations going forward. It’s not an enforcement tool and never was intended to an enforcement tool.

QUESTION: So if they don’t adopt the recommendations, is there another step after that?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to hypothesize or speculate about decisions that haven’t been made yet. Look, it just got released. We know – obviously, both sides have reacted to it. We hope that they’ll try to absorb it in the coming days and try to see the practicality in these recommendations and hopefully make the right decisions going forward. That’s our – that’s our hope.


QUESTION: Can I just – one – sorry, one other question, specific one about recommendation number nine: “Gaza and the West Bank should be reunified under a single, legitimate and democratic Palestinian authority on the basis of the PLO platform and Quartet principles and the rule of law.” This is being presented as a recommendation, which means that you assume it can be done in some way. But the senior official who was speaking this morning said elections, for example – we weren’t advocating elections. How is this supposed to happen as a recommendation --

MR KIRBY: I think what we’d be looking for is for the sides, if they were to adopt that recommendation, which we – which the Quartet believes is valid, that the sides would work their way through how that’s to be done. The – it wasn’t intended to be proscriptive or prescriptive in every single sense of the way. It was supposed to be a set of recommendations that we would look for them to exhibit the leadership on to try to adopt. And we would look for them to, as leaders, to work together to figure out the best way forward here.

QUESTION: Please --

QUESTION: What role to the Israelis have in deciding how or when the Palestinians might hold an election?

MR KIRBY: Again, this is for something we – we’re not – the report’s not getting into that level of detail.

QUESTION: But you said “the sides,” but presumably, it’s up to the Palestinians when they have an election, right, which they haven’t done for a long time now?


QUESTION: So it’s just the Palestinians that need to figure that out?

MR KIRBY: Well, obviously, if there were – I mean, again, we didn’t – there was no discussion about elections in there, so I’m not going to hypothesize about elections.

QUESTION: No, it called for – it called for a democratic – the establishment of a democratic and unified Palestinian leadership --

MR KIRBY: In broad terms, Arshad.

QUESTION: -- in both places.

MR KIRBY: On all the recommendations --


MR KIRBY: -- we want both sides to work together. I’m not saying that each and every recommendation has to be some sort of bilateral negotiation, but in general, we want both sides to work together to try to adopt as many of these recommendations as possible.

QUESTION: And you said – you said in response to one of Barbara’s questions, you said she was missing the point entirely. I’m not clear what the point of the Quartet is, actually. It’s been around for 14 years and aside from producing the roadmap – which the both sides ignored – and now this, has it accomplished anything?

MR KIRBY: Well, look at the report. It is certainly --

QUESTION: No, what has the Quartet done since it’s – since it was born 14 years ago? I mean, I don’t --

MR KIRBY: Matt, I’m not a historian on the Quartet.


MR KIRBY: I mean – but look, I mean --


MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, no. I mean, go --

MR KIRBY: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: Finish. Tell me why this – tell me why do you think that this is going to help.

QUESTION: Or what’s the point of it, just simply stated?

MR KIRBY: It builds on the last session of the Quartet back to September, it’s a report that the Quartet had been planning to issue for quite some time and had worked very hard on, it was designed to come up with a series of recommendations that we would hope the leadership on both sides would adopt to get us closer to a two-state solution. That was the intent of the report. That is what the work of the Quartet has been at least since September – actually back to March before. And so now there’s a report and we – the Quartet desires that both sides take a look, a serious, sober look at it, and adopt the recommendations. That’s the point.

QUESTION: All right. So Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the settlement – stopping, halting of the settlement activity hasn’t worked before in terms of dealing with the violence. Is that something that you agree with?

Let me put it this way: Does the Administration, as part of the Quartet, think or believe that an end to West Bank and East Jerusalem construction will result in no more attacks?

MR KIRBY: We do not believe that construction or sole-use designation is constructive to getting us closer to a two-state solution. But Matt, you got to look at all the recommendations cumulatively. We’re not saying that any one of them is going to – if just that one is solved, that it’s going to solve all the problems and solve Middle East peace forever.

The reason there’s so many recommendations is because we believe that all of them are important and they should all be adopted, and that if they’re all adopted, we certainly would be able to create the climate and the conditions that would be more conducive to a two-state solution. But there’s no intent here to say that, well, number nine or number eight and then that solves it all.

QUESTION: Can you cite any period during this time where actually settlement activity was frozen and how it impacted --

MR KIRBY: Said, you’re going to – I’ll have to get you somebody who has a sharper history on the --

QUESTION: Well, because I think the only time was – the only time that I can think of was back in 2010 when they froze settlement activity for a while, or they said they froze it while expanding it.

MR KIRBY: You have a better sense of the history than I do, but look, we continue to believe settlement activity is illegitimate. We do not believe that it is leading us any closer to a two-state solution and we want to see it stop.

QUESTION: And one last thing: The official also said that we need some actual steps – not only steps for confidence-building measures to restart the talks, one-to-one talk. What does that mean? Not just steps for confidence-building measures.

MR KIRBY: It means we want to see tangible, affirmative action taken and leadership demonstrated on both sides to take down the violence, to reduce the tensions, and to move us forward to a two-state solution. That’s what we’re talking about and that’s what the report designates.

QUESTION: John, but there’s a very small technical point. You said you want them to consider it in the coming days. It has been around – the Quartet has been around 14 years or so. Now, what is the deadline? How long the Quartet is going to wait – 14 days, 14 months, 14 years – before they go get together again and bring out another --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Tejinder, there’s not a – there’s no deadline on this that I’m aware of nor was there intended to be. It was intended to be two things: an assessment of the situation and recommendations for leadership going forward. And there’s not a deadline on it and it’s not an enforcement tool.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR KIRBY: It is a set of recommendations represented by the Quartet to encourage the kind and-- to provide options for the leadership there in the region to take to move forward, to create the conditions that are more conducive to a two-state solution.

QUESTION: No, but when will the Quartet look at it again to assess that this is what we --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t have an agenda item for the Quartet going forward on this. Again, this just got released today.


MR KIRBY: And I can appreciate why we would all want to see everything enacted today, right? But there was no expectation that it would be. And as Matt pointed out, not all these recommendations are necessarily new. They are things that we have been espousing before, and therefore, should be of surprise to no one that they --

QUESTION: I don’t think any of them are new, actually.

MR KIRBY: In any event, we want – again, it is intended to provide a comprehensive set of recommendations that the leadership on both sides can take a sober look at and hopefully make the right decisions to move us closer to a two-state solution.


QUESTION: Thanks. Change of topic?

MR KIRBY: Can we? Okay.

QUESTION: On Russia. Yesterday, the Russian ministry of foreign affairs spokesperson gave a lengthy and detailed account of a June 6th incident outside the Moscow embassy that was first reported Wednesday in The Washington Post. According to the Russian foreign ministry on the record, on that night a U.S. diplomat emerged from a taxi late at night in a low cap pulled down over his face, rushed to the checkpoint, refused to show his credentials, hit the sentry in the face with his elbow, pushed the security guard, and fled into the embassy. Is that the State Department’s understanding of the events of that night, or do you dispute the official Russian account?

MR KIRBY: Josh, I’m not able to speak to the specifics of any particular incident. But I can say that we continue to be very troubled by the way our employees have been treated over the past couple of years. And I can tell you that we’ve raised those concerns at the highest levels, including to President Putin, there in Moscow. Harassment and surveillance of our diplomatic personnel in Moscow by security personnel and traffic police have increased significantly, and we continue to find this unacceptable.

I have also seen these comments made by Russian officials, which are factually inaccurate, and Moscow knows that all too well. However, we’re not interested – the United States is not interested in having a public debate on the issue. We believe that this is best handled in private government-to-government discussions. That’s how we’re going to continue to do this. We’ve raised, as I said, our serious concerns all the way up to the highest levels of the Russian Government.

And the last thing I’d say is the Secretary takes extremely seriously our responsibility to look after the safety and well-being of our personnel overseas wherever they are, and we’re going to continue to do exactly that. And we’re going to continue to make known our concerns.

QUESTION: Yeah. I want to make sure we’re not conflating two different stories here. On Monday, The Washington Post reported increased harassment and intimidation of U.S. diplomats in Moscow. Right? That seems to be what you’re responding to in that statement.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the specific incident was a violent attack from an FSB guard in front of the embassy against a U.S. diplomat. So I understand your comments about the overall level of harassment. But are you – when you say that the Russian media – Russian foreign ministry is inaccurate, are you saying that they are inaccurate about this incident, which is separate and distinct and unique?

MR KIRBY: Josh, I’m aware of the – of both stories. And my answer was in response to your question and also in response to our larger, broader concerns about harassment.

QUESTION: So was --

MR KIRBY: So, I mean, again, I – I’m just not going to get into talking about specific incidents. We’re going to handle this the way we believe it’s appropriate, which is not – to not get into a public debate but to do it in government-to-government discussions. And I just am not able to speak to the specifics of any individual incident one way or the other.

QUESTION: But to be clear, you’re saying that the Russian accounting of that incident is inaccurate; is that right?

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is that we’ve seen comments by Russian officials over the last several days --

QUESTION: I’m talking about this specific --

MR KIRBY: I understand.

QUESTION: -- comment from yesterday --

MR KIRBY: I understand.

QUESTION: -- about this June 6th incident.

MR KIRBY: We have seen the comments by --

QUESTION: You’ve seen that comment?

MR KIRBY: I have. I have seen it, Josh.

QUESTION: And is that comment inaccurate?

MR KIRBY: Josh, I’ve seen the comment. What I’m telling you is we’ve seen several comments by Russian officials over the last several days which they know all too well are inaccurate.


QUESTION: Let me just follow up, Matt, if you’ll allow me.


QUESTION: Thank you. The Russian foreign ministry also said that there is a video of the incident that they have handed to the State Department that is in your possession; is that correct?

MR KIRBY: We – we’re aware of a video, yes.

QUESTION: Will you release that video?

MR KIRBY: I know of no plans to release that video.

QUESTION: The Russian foreign ministry said that the diplomat is a known CIA agent who is disguised and returning from an intelligence operation. Is that correct?

MR KIRBY: I’m just not going to go into more details about these incidents.

QUESTION: Okay. The Russian foreign ministry further says that the State Department leaked the story to The Washington Post in a deliberately – deliberate effort to spoil bilateral relations. Is that correct?

MR KIRBY: You tell me. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I can tell you that is not correct. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: There you go. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Also it is – they said that the American diplomats themselves requested that the U.S. embassy be guarded by a Russian police guard, including FSB guards. I know that this is not uncommon for local guards to defend U.S. diplomatic facilities; but at the same time, has there ever been, to your knowledge, or is there now an examination of whether or not having Russian police and Russian FSB guard the U.S. embassy in Moscow should be continued as a policy?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that that’s under consideration, Josh. But as you rightly said, it’s not uncommon at all for our posts overseas to have local security forces on the outside. Of course, you know we have Marines that are inside, but it’s not uncommon for us to have local security forces of whatever stripe is appropriate per country we’re in provide a measure of security outside. That’s not uncommon, and I’m not aware of any consideration or review of that policy with respect to our post in Moscow.

QUESTION: Can you just say if the diplomat is safe and sound and in good health?

MR KIRBY: I’m not in a – as I understand – again, look, I really don’t want to get into talking about specifics, specific incidents.

QUESTION: I mean, it’s out there.

MR KIRBY: Apparently --

QUESTION: The horse has left the barn.

MR KIRBY: Yes, apparently, it’s out there. You’ve rightly noted that. But I’m just not going to talk about the details of it. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Well, then how can you tell us that it’s factually inaccurate?

MR KIRBY: Because we know it is.


MR KIRBY: Because we know that --

QUESTION: Because?

MR KIRBY: Because we know and they know that their comments --

QUESTION: Eat your peas. They’re good for you.

MR KIRBY: Many of their public comments are inaccurate, and they know. And I’m not going to get into a public debate about what goes on.

QUESTION: Well, that’s fine, but we don’t know which of the comments are – you’re referring to. So I just --

MR KIRBY: And --

QUESTION: I mean, are you saying the entire story that was told – that she relayed is inaccurate?

MR KIRBY: Matt, I’m not going to get into the specifics of these incidents.

QUESTION: Well, then don’t tell us that it’s inaccurate and expect us just to believe that if you can’t tell us what is – what part of the story that she told is wrong. What’s – I mean, was there an incident?

MR KIRBY: There have been many incidents of harassment --

QUESTION: This one that he’s talking about.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to specific incidents.


MR KIRBY: There have been many incidents of harassment. There have also been many comments made in the last several days by Russian officials about those incidents, and many of those comments are factually incorrect. And we’re going to take this up with them – this inaccurate depiction, depictions – we’re going to take this up privately government-to-government the way we think it should be done.

QUESTION: So you’re – have you complained to them about them making this – their version of the story public?

MR KIRBY: We have made clear and plain our concerns not only about the comments but more importantly about the incidents and the harassment.

QUESTION: And how was that done – about the comments?

MR KIRBY: Well, it --

QUESTION: Did you call her up and say, hey, this is – we don’t like this?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any calls with my Russian counterpart to read out to you, if that’s what you’re asking.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean --

MR KIRBY: But again, we have many --

QUESTION: So how was your displeasure made known?

MR KIRBY: We have many ways in which we can convey our concerns and displeasure over this – over this issue with Russian authorities. Many, many levels and many ways to do that.

QUESTION: As part of the broader issue, getting away from this one incident which you won’t confirm happened, the Russians have complained that the United States is involved in similar behavior, harassment and surveillance. Are you saying that that’s incorrect, that you don’t have people following Russian diplomats here, in New York, or at consulates that you suspect are up to – that are not involved in activities compatible with their diplomatic status?

MR KIRBY: Russian claims of harassment by the United States are without foundation.

QUESTION: Right. Well, you said that’s harassment, but they’re – what about surveillance?

MR KIRBY: All accredited diplomats and consular personnel serving in the United States enjoy the protections afforded by international law, including the applicable Vienna Conventions and bilateral agreements.

QUESTION: But does that mean no accredited – no accredited Russian diplomat is ever followed, surveilled?

MR KIRBY: Russian claims of harassment are without foundation. Everybody is treated with the proper international law protections.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Today, the number two in the Iranian army threatened to attack the Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq, and this follows several days of intermittent Iranian shelling of Kurdish border villages. And I’ve got a two-part question. When that Iranian shelling was going on of the Kurdish villages and the Kurdistan Region, the United States didn’t say anything. In fact, it didn’t even acknowledge that this was happening. So my – the first part of my question is do you think that kind of closing a – turning a blind eye to what Iran was doing might have contributed to the escalation of the threat from Iran? And two, the second part of my question is: What is the U.S. response to today’s threat from Iran?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen either reports of the shelling or this comment that you’re referring to, but – so you’ll have to let me look into seeing what we know about both of those. But this – the notion that we’re somehow turning a blind eye to Iran and whatever destabilizing activities they may be conducting, is not an accurate portrayal. I mean, we’re mindful – now, again, I don’t have the details on this, and I would also encourage you to consult the Defense Department as well and the coalition. I just don’t have operational details on this. But this notion that we’re somehow giving Iran a free pass in the region is simply not accurate.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran?


QUESTION: The other day in Aspen, Secretary Kerry made some comments to the effect that trade and business – specifically U.S. trade and business, but more generally all trade and business – will serve as a catalyst to or could serve as a catalyst to moderate Iranian behavior that you object to. Is there any evidence to suggest that increased trade – like the Boeing sale, for example – will moderate Iranian behavior?

MR KIRBY: I think what the Secretary was referring to was the fact that we know many Iranians want to have better relations with the rest of the world. They want to be more outward-looking. Not everybody does, but it’s a very young population, and we know that there are some even in the leadership that would like to be more open to the rest of the world. And we have seen in many places around the world when formerly closed societies become more open, that it can have a positive effect on – not only on their local economy, their security, their stability, upward mobility of the population, but also increased and more constructive relations with neighbors.

So I mean, you can see that through the arc of history. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen here. He wasn’t at all prognosticating, nor was he saying that we’re trying to somehow leverage a specific, unique bilateral outcome with Iran; that Iran – the deal was to do what the deal did, which was to cut off their pathways to a nuclear weapon. And as he has said many times, if, as a result of that, it could lead – and I think he’s referring to the fact that trade could be one of those factors – could that plus an opening by the Iranian people to better relations with the West – if that could lead to moderating behavior or the cessation of destabilizing activity, well, that’s all to the good. But that’s not why we went into the negotiations.

QUESTION: Can you – could you rattle off a few of the countries that – formerly closed countries that have moderated their behavior due to these --

MR KIRBY: Well, look at what’s happened – look at what’s happened in Burma. And again, early on, but there’s been some positive effects there. Again, I’m – I can get you – if you want a list, I’ll get you a list. But I mean, I’m not --

QUESTION: All right. Well, I just – I’m just curious as to why the Administration – or Secretary Kerry, but presumably the entire Administration – believes that this kind of trade will encourage moderate behavior rather than giving them – giving the Iranians more tools, more money to continue the behavior that it has been that you have objected to in the past.

MR KIRBY: And we’ve said all along – we’ve said all along, Matt, that if, as a result of the sanctions relief, whether that’s the actual unfreezing of assets or through deals like with Boeing Corporation, if the money that is obtained as a result of that from the deal is used for terrorist activities, we still have plenty of tools at our disposal to deal with that.


QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?


QUESTION: Very quickly. Now, in the past, you’ve called on the Syrian Government not to attack or the Russians not to attack groups like Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam. Well, today, a Syrian jet was downed apparently or crashed as a result of --


QUESTION: -- technical things, and Jaysh al-Islam captured the pilot. Now, in this event, if the – and you call on the Syrians not to attack them. In this event, would Syria be right to let’s say attack or try to retrieve its pilot – the government forces?

MR KIRBY: You should probably talk to somebody in the legal profession that’s better on rules of engagement than I am. This isn’t – I don’t want to get into a back-and-forth over specific rules of engagement here. What we want to see is the cessation be applied nationwide, which means that parties to the cessation are not shooting at one another. And I’m not going to debate the merits of this incident. I’m aware of the press reports about it. I don’t have any specific information about the veracity of it. But the idea here – what the Secretary is focused on – is getting the violence to end and getting a cessation that can be applied nationwide and duly enforced by everybody.

QUESTION: I guess my question is that you are – you’re saying that ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusrah are fair game, but this and this and this are not for the ceasefire to have much of a chance.

MR KIRBY: It’s not just us, Said. The entire international community signed up to this through the ISSG, and there’s – any UN-designated foreign terrorist organization is not party to the cessation.

QUESTION: I know. But when a group like Jaysh al-Islam comes out and says and boasts about capturing a certain pilot and invokes the kind of rhetoric about war and fighting and bringing down the regime and so on, does that give the regime sort of a – perhaps the right to respond?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to debate what the regime might do or might not do. I think just based on past experience, I don’t see any proclivity by the regime to need excuses. I mean, they continue to kill and harm their own people, and that itself is unconscionable. And I mean, it’s not about whether they have a free pass or not. They have been liberally taking the lives of their own citizens now for five years.

QUESTION: Can you confirm (inaudible)?

QUESTION: And lastly – lastly on the release of the Russian --

MR KIRBY: I’m not – look, I don’t – I can’t even confirm the veracity of these reports, so --

QUESTION: If they’ve captured a pilot, would you urge them --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a comment on that right now.

QUESTION: On the Russian-American joint cooperation and so on, could you give us a clearer picture today on what is that likely to be?

MR KIRBY: Nope. I’m going to let my comments yesterday stand.


QUESTION: Two quick questions on Turkey, John. One of the Turkish police stated that they already got the IDs of the attackers, Istanbul airport attackers – two of them Russian citizens. Do you have any information on those suspects? Have you been told by the Turkish Government about these attackers?

MR KIRBY: We don’t have any additional information.

QUESTION: Second question is there are just today six different news websites have been shut down, and it looks like there are more critical news sites maybe shut down very soon. I was wondering if you have any comments on this.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. We’ve seen those reports. And look, as we’ve said in the past, unfettered access to information is an essential element of a democratic society. Freedom of expression for individuals as well as media organization we believe is a key element in – and we think that free expression, free press, access to that information are the kinds of principles that are enshrined in the Turkish constitution, and we’d like to see those lived up to. As Turkey’s friend and ally, we’re obviously – go ahead.


MR KIRBY: Go ahead. Somebody didn’t like what I just said, so --

QUESTION: Yes, I did not like that. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Both of you. You didn’t like it, and apparently you two didn’t like it. (Laughter.) So it’s all right. Let’s --

QUESTION: I didn’t have a problem with it at all. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I had a question on Turkey, but --

MR KIRBY: But it’s not that one.


MR KIRBY: Oh, okay. Well, when I get interrupted in midsentence, I just have to assume that you’re not partial to what I’m saying.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: These freedom of press questions have been asked to you many times.

MR KIRBY: Yes, you have.

QUESTION: In recent times, it looks like you are basically repeating the exact same words and sentences; and this kind of gives that even though the trend is really getting worse and worse, we don’t see any kind of change on your side.

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) That reminds me of a story when I was an altar boy.

QUESTION: Oh my. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: The priest that I knew was writing his homily, and saying the same thing Sunday after Sunday, and didn’t seem to think it was having an effect, so on one particular Sunday in the margins he wrote, “Shout here.”

I can – I’m not saying it any differently because we don’t believe it any differently. And I don’t – we don’t believe that – just like to Josh’s question about Russian harassment – that me standing up here and pounding my fist on the podium and getting all hot and bothered and lathered up about it is going to make it any better. Okay? We believe in freedom of expression. We believe in freedom of the press. I would think that you guys would appreciate that. And we believe it not just here at home, but we believe that any country that says it believes in democratic principles and has a constitution that enshrines those principles ought to feel the same way. And we’re not bashful about saying it, but to scream it and yell it, to use different verbs or nouns, as you described it, isn’t going to change at all the fact that our concerns remain the same and that we’re having the – unfortunately having to have the same conversations with Turkish officials.

What I’m saying – hang on a second. What I’m saying to you is what we’re saying to them. And as Turkey’s friend and ally we do it in the spirit of friendship, we do it in the spirit of hopefulness that this trend, which I agree with you is worrisome and definitely going the wrong direction, can be reversed. And it can be. It’s a very simple thing to reverse through good, solid, sound leadership decisions. And so far, those leadership decisions haven’t been made. In fact, they’re – the opposite are being made. But I guarantee you that next week and the week after, if we continue to see things going the wrong way, you’re going to continue to hear me say it in exactly the same way, because there’s no better way to put it than we have been putting it.

QUESTION: Okay. On the first – your answer to the first question on the suspects, does that also apply – that means that you haven’t – you can’t confirm and you haven’t even heard it from the Turks? And secondly, does that also apply to these reports that a Chechen was the mastermind of --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m not aware of every conversation that we’re having with Turkish authorities as they investigate this. It’s their investigation. We’ve obviously offered to do whatever we can to help. I’m not aware that they have accepted any of those offers of help, so I – I’m not aware of any conversation specifically that perhaps our law enforcement agencies may be having with Turkish authorities. I can tell you here at the State Department we are not getting blow-by-blow updates from the Turks about what they’re learning in the investigation. In fact, many times we’re hearing about it, as you are, when they read their findings out in the media. So we just don’t have any additional information.

QUESTION: Okay. So in terms of the – you’re not aware of any validity of a Chechen --

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I have no – I have nothing specific on the investigation or the progress of it to talk about.

QUESTION: All right. I have an unrelated question.

QUESTION: In the spirit of friendship and hopefulness, do you --

MR KIRBY: You’re going to end the briefing? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’ve got one more, but it’ll be really quick.

QUESTION: Do you have any fresh comment on Turkey’s parliament late last night passing a law restructuring the judiciary?

MR KIRBY: I do, actually. We note the parliament’s passage yesterday of a bill to overhaul two of Turkey’s highest courts, which we understand will be conveyed now to President Erdogan for signature. The United States is deeply concerned about the legislation’s potential to erode the independence of the Turkish judiciary and subject it to increased political pressure. We believe an independent judiciary, as provided for in the Turkish constitution, is essential for advancing the rule of law, promoting a fair and transparent business environment, and remains a key pillar of a healthy democracy. As a friend and NATO ally, we will be monitoring Turkey’s judicial reforms closely to understand how they adhere to our shared democratic values.


QUESTION: Yesterday, you were asked about the court filing – this has to do with the email FOIA issue. I just wanted to clarify one thing, because I assume you don’t have anything new to say about it today.

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

QUESTION: All right. But I just wanted to know, when you said that the delays that your people are predicting in these court filings – like 2018, late – stuff will – a lot of things won’t come out until after November and then there’s other things that might not come out until 2018 – are those delays solely a function of the deluge or the number of requests that have come in, or is there something else going on here too?

MR KIRBY: No, it’s solely --

QUESTION: Of the 22,000 --

MR KIRBY: It’s solely the result of the increased workload – yes – of the FOIA requests that we have received and the staffing challenges that we continue to have to face, absolutely. If the question is --

QUESTION: No, no, the question doesn’t – isn’t intended to imply that there’s some political reason. I’m just wondering, is it only because of the number, the sheer size or sheer amount of the request that’s slow? Or is there something institutionally that needs to be fixed to speed this up?

MR KIRBY: Well, those are two --

QUESTION: That’s the question.

MR KIRBY: Those are actually two different questions, so --


MR KIRBY: -- so let me take the – I’ll take it the way I’m interpreting them. Yes, it is about volume, but it’s also about – so it’s not just about the numbers, the increasing numbers of FOIA requests – as I said, tripled in the last several years. It’s also about the fact that more and more, the FOIA requests are ever more expansive, that we are seeing increasing not only numbers of requests but the scope of information – the volume of documents that the requests are asking for – are bigger and bigger and require that much more search effort, that much more analyzing before they can be prepared for release. So it’s a function of the number of requests, but also the nature of them, which are more expansive.

And then thirdly, yes, look, we – I talked about this yesterday. The Secretary is very keen to see if he can make the process here at the State Department more efficient, more effective. Some of that has to deal with resourcing and manning, and we have made efforts to increase the manning of the FOIA office. I can tell you we’re open to considering additional changes if need be. That’s one of the reasons why he hired Janice Jacobs to come in to take a look at – and she is working hand in glove with the FOIA office right now to see if there’s ways that we can improve processes.

So we’re mindful that there’s probably things we can do on our end to try to clear the backlog faster, but as I said yesterday, they keep coming in and they’re coming in now asking for increasing volumes of data and material that just take a lot longer to deal with. And that is – those are the sole reasons why these delays are going to ensue.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on that one: Are they dealt with the order received strictly, or do you prioritize some depending on content or ease of processing? Or is it just first come, first served?

MR KIRBY: I mean, it’s – we’re getting so many, Dave, that it’s not about – it’s not about first come, first served. You do the – certainly – I don’t want to leave you the impression that we’re picking and choosing off a menu – well, this one’s – we’ll do this one today and not that one because this one we think is easier. I mean, there’s a – they are working through to try to – they’re trying to figure out how to better process FOIA requests, but it’s not – it is largely done by when they’re received, because as you know, and the law is clear, you’ve got a certain timeline to get answers out. So it’s largely done, but you may get several in a given day. So there’s – we’re still working through the process to try to make it more efficient, but it is largely done in order of arrival. But some of them --

QUESTION: But not strictly – it’s not issued a number when it comes in and --

MR KIRBY: Well, no, they are. I mean, they are – they’re all given case numbers, absolutely, but some of them – like, let’s say, hypothetically we get five today. Maybe three of them are fairly easy and can be knocked out in short order, and maybe two of them may take us longer and we’ll have to get back to the requester and just let them know we’re not going to meet your deadline. But there is a timeline for that. We have – and we’re mindful that we don’t always meet the timeline, but there definitely is a timeline. So you do date-stamp them when you get them and you do track them as they come in, yes.

Okay? Thanks.

QUESTION: John, can you give us an update on Bangladesh (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I can give you one thanks to --

MS TRUDEAU: If you can read my writing.

MR KIRBY: -- if I can read her writing. It’s no --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on camera.

MR KIRBY: So no – yeah, we want to put this back on camera, guys? No Americans --

MS TRUDEAU: Under chief of mission.

MR KIRBY: No Americans under chief of mission were involved in the incident, so I think that answers your question, Matt, in terms of that they’re okay.


MR KIRBY: We’re still accounting for all private American citizens who may have been in the area. We don’t have finality on that, and again, it’s still a fluid situation, so we’ll continue to update you throughout the day.

Thanks, Elizabeth. Appreciate that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:13 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 30, 2016

Thu, 06/30/2016 - 17:47

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 30, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:35 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: And now the book. Now, the book. (Laughter.) All right, guys. I have several things that I want to start us off with and then, obviously, we’ll get right to it.

You may have seen, or at least I hope you saw, my statement this morning about the outrageous terrorist attack in the West Bank where a 13-year-old girl, Hallel Ariel, was stabbed to death in her home. We have now confirmed that she is a U.S. citizen. This brutal act of terrorism is simply unconscionable. We offer our heartfelt condolences, of course, to her family and to her friends. I’d also add that we’ve just now heard that at least two Israelis were wounded in another stabbing attack today in Netanya, and of course we extend our hopes for a quick and full recovery. Look, as we’ve said many times, there’s just absolutely no justification for terrorism. And out of respect for the privacy of the families – in particular, the family of Hallel – I’m just not going to have further comment on those attacks.

I want to give you an update on the Istanbul attack. The Secretary this morning spoke, called – placed a call to Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu to express his deep condolences following Tuesday’s terrorist attack on the Ataturk International Airport. He reiterated our steadfast commitment to our partnership with our NATO ally, Turkey, in the shared fight against terrorism.

On to Kabul. The United States condemns today’s horrific multipart attack on Afghan National Police and civilians in Kabul. The first attack targeted new police cadets. A second attack then targeted the brave people who rushed to help the victims of the first attack. This incident during the Holy Month of Ramadan underscores the extremists’ complete disregard for human life and the harm that they continue to inflict on the Afghan people. Attacks like these are going to only deepen our support for the people and the Government of Afghanistan and their efforts to bring security and stability to their country.

On to Cameroon. Also yesterday in Cameroon, Boko Haram carried out terrorist attacks that killed over a dozen civilians. Boko Haram continues to commit vicious attacks against civilians, including children. This organization repeatedly has shown no regard, of course, for human life. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of the latest victims of Boko Haram and we remain committed to supporting our African partners in their fight against Boko Haram as we continue to work with Cameroon and the other nations of the Lake Chad Basin region to bolster their efforts to end this wanton violence and to restore peace.

A travel note – and I think you may have seen our statement about this as well today – but the Secretary will travel to Tbilisi, Georgia on July 6th to meet with Georgian – the – excuse me, to meet with the Georgian prime minister for bilateral discussions on a range of issues, including U.S. support for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations and successful elections in October. He’ll then co-chair a plenary meeting of the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission and hold meetings with the Georgian president and other leaders of Georgia’s opposition parties.

He’ll then travel to Kyiv, Ukraine, on the 7th of July where he’ll meet with President Poroshenko, Prime Minister Groysman, and other Ukrainian leaders to discuss progress on reforms, and the implementation of the Minsk agreements, as well as other issues.

And then on the 8th of July, he’ll accompany President Obama to the summit meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Warsaw, Poland. He will meet with his counterparts from NATO ally and partner nations to further efforts to strengthen NATO’s security and to project stability to the alliances east and to the south.

Finally, I’d be remiss today if I didn’t also recognize that this is the last day for a member of our State Department bullpen, Voice of America journalist Pam Dockins. Pam, as you all know, is a terrific colleague and a consummate professional, not to mention an all-around really nice person, which is sometimes a little hard to come by in this business – no offense to anybody else in the room. (Laughter.) You’ve been with us for, what, two and a half years, and I’ve worked with you then at least a little bit more than a year that I’ve been here. And I just want to thank you for the professionalism that you bring to the job every day, for the tough questions that you are unafraid to ask, and to the account that you hold us to, but for your – but for your always professional demeanor. And you’re great to travel with. You’re not so easy to face here at the podium, but I respect that about you and we’re going to miss you. And I understand you’re going down to St. Augustine; is that right?

QUESTION: That’s right, yes.

MR KIRBY: I’ve been there many times as a Floridian. If you need restaurant recommendations or anything, just let me know. I think it would be fair if – you were going to applaud. I think we should applaud. Yeah, let’s applaud. (Applause.) Great. We’re going to miss you. I also think it would be fair if we give you the option for the first question today, if you’d like it.

QUESTION: I do have a question, but I think we want to go on to the news of the day and I’ll come back to it.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Look at that, she’s still the consummate professional, yielding the first question. So we’ll start with you, Deb.

QUESTION: Okay. So is there any truth to this report about how the U.S. has proposed on Monday, I guess it was, a new agreement that would enhance military cooperation between the U.S. and Russia in Syria? The report says that Kerry is very supportive of it. We just heard Ash Carter be less than – he was a little hesitant about endorsing it at the briefing over at the Pentagon. Is this new, just --

MR KIRBY: Look, here’s what I can say. I’ve seen the press report that you’re referring to, and here’s what I can say about it. We’ve been clear about Russia’s obligations to ensure regime compliance with the cessation of hostilities. We have also been clear about the danger posed by al-Qaida in Syria to our own national security. We’re looking at a number of measures to address both of those issues while also accelerating the fight against Daesh. We’re going to – I’m not going to speak to the details of ongoing internal or diplomatic conversations in that regard. But again, we have been nothing but clear and forthright about what we want to see happen inside Syria and what we want to see the Russians do with respect to the influence that we know that they have over Assad.

QUESTION: So with deliberations, though? I mean, it sounded as if there was something that was actually transmitted on Monday, some sort of agreement.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think I’m going to leave my answer where I did, Deb. We’ve been very clear. We have been in constant conversation with other members of the ISSG about how to make the cessation of hostilities enduring and nationwide, about how to better go after groups like al-Nusrah and Daesh. And we’ve also been very clear about the regime’s role in violating the cessation and the role that Russia can play in terms of getting better compliance out of the regime. But I’m just not going to talk about the details of those discussions – discussions, I might add, that, again, we’ve not been bashful about saying have been happening. But I’m just not going to go into details.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR KIRBY: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: So without specific – referring specifically to this proposal, the ideas talked about do generally meet the criteria you have mentioned about military cooperation, don’t they? I mean, you’ve said it would be good for – to cooperate more closely with Russia if we were – if they were attacking ISIS and al-Qaida, which is what the proposal says, and if they weren’t attacking rebels that we support, which is what the proposal says. So I mean, broadly speaking, they do meet those criteria you’ve talked about before --

MR KIRBY: We’ve made no bones about the fact that – and we’ve said it many times, that if the Russians with their military presence in Syria prove to be willing to focus those efforts against Daesh, well, that’s a conversation that we’d be willing to have. We’ve – I’ve said that many times. I’m not going to talk about the specifics that were laid out in this press report and I’m not going to detail internal or diplomatic conversations. But again, I go back to what I said earlier: We have been nothing but clear and candid, certainly publicly, about what our expectations are with respect to the cessation of hostilities and to Russia’s role here in terms of the influence that they have.

QUESTION: But Kirby, the – you’re suggesting that those discussions are taking place about – I mean, you’re actually confirming that in this report what – by saying that you’re not prepared to give details. But can you just at least say that those discussions are taking place? The Secretary and everyone else has been frustrated by the fact that none of these – the humanitarian aid has not been delivered and that the bombing of ISIS positions – or the bombing of the opposition has not taken place – or continues to take place. So there is a frustration – so is there a frustration that this is not happening and therefore should – something else needs to be looked at, including what this article says is an expanded bombing campaign?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to talk about the specifics of this press report. But are we frustrated by what’s going on on the ground in Syria? Absolutely. And the Secretary has been very vocal about that, that the status quo is not sustainable, it’s not acceptable. Too many Syrians continue to die at the hands of the Assad regime either through barrel bombing or through starvation and lack of proper food, water, and medicine. So the situation obviously has to change, and the Secretary has been extraordinarily committed to trying to bring about that sort of change in Syria.

There are three legs to that: the political track – that’s the discussions between the regime and the opposition which UN Special Envoy de Mistura is leading; the cessation of hostilities; and access to humanitarian assistance. All three of those things are important, and no real progress on any one of them can really be had without progress on all of them. And we have – he has been tireless in his efforts to try to move each of those legs forward and to get better outcomes than what we’re seeing right now.

Yes, there’s been some access to besieged areas largely on the ground, but it’s still not enough. Yes, there have been pockets in Syria for short periods of time and in a localized area that have seen a reduction in violence, but it’s not enough, and it’s not over the course of the entire country and it’s not enduring and it’s not being uniformly enforced. And yes, there’s been discussions between the opposition and the regime, but you well know, Lesley, that those talks after three rounds still have not gotten us any closer to getting this transitional government process in place.

Now, I know I’m kind of rambling here, but I’m trying to make a point that we continue to work diligently inside the International Syria Support Group and with the UN to try to move the processes forward in Syria to achieve better outcomes. There are, throughout that process – there has been and there will continue to be lots of discussions, lots of conversations, lots of proposals. And there have been proposals offered by multiple parties inside this process and they are all given due consideration. I’m not – I haven’t yet and I’m certainly not going to start laying those out publicly, and I’m not – by saying that there’s ongoing conversations, by saying that we’re obviously interested in discussing ways to get at better outcomes in Syria with Russia or with anybody else in the ISSG, I’m not confirming this particular press report.

QUESTION: When last did – when last did the Secretary speak to Lavrov?

MR KIRBY: Let me look and see if I have that. I do not have a recent call in the last week or so with him going back to the 23rd of June. I have no recent calls.

QUESTION: Could I follow up on de Mistura?

QUESTION: John, I know that you don’t want to talk about the report.

MR KIRBY: Let me go to Said and then --


MR KIRBY: Is this the same topic?

QUESTION: Same topic, yeah.

QUESTION: Yes, yes, same – same topic.

MR KIRBY: Both of you, okay.


QUESTION: First, let me add my voice to what you said about Pam. We’re going to miss you, so – she’s a tremendous colleague.

I wanted to ask you, on the Special Representative de Mistura, can you share with us any meetings that he may have had today in this building?

MR KIRBY: I know he’s in town for discussions. I don’t have a readout of his agenda.


MR KIRBY: So we’ll see if we can dig that up for you. I don’t have a specific agenda for him.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, he held a press conference yesterday at the United Nations right after the closed meeting and he said that – conceivably that a meeting by the 1st of August is doable provided that it really comes in with the intent of being serious and not just holding talk just to hold talk.


QUESTION: And he – when I – he was followed up on “Who do you expect?” He said, “Well, basically, the Russian and the United States.” So what is – what is it that you need to bring in to these talks to make them happen? Because otherwise, I think he painted a very bleak picture. He said this is the last round for President Obama, possibly for the secretary-general and so on, suggesting that maybe in the autumn there’s not going to be any talks in the future after the next General Assembly. So what are you prepared to offer, who are you prepared to pressure, how can you deliver the opposition to bring in something substantive?

MR KIRBY: Well, Said, I think I kind of got at that in my last answer to Lesley. I mean, we understand and we know all too well that the first three rounds of talks were troubled and were set back by the fact – well, by many things, but without question that the cessation of hostilities was not being adhered to, wasn’t being enforced, that many opposition groups and civilian targets were being hit. And it’s difficult to carry on a political discussion about a transitional governing process with the regime when that’s happening, and we understand that. There was also much less access to humanitarian assistance back then. All of that made – did not exactly set the climate properly for having meaningful talks about the political track.

So again, back to my answer to Lesley – that mindful of that, the Secretary continues to try to find ways – and I’ve said this many times before – to get the cessation of hostilities, which is still fragile, to be less fragile, to be enforced across the country by everybody, and for us to make sure that those parties not – those parties not adherent to the cessation, al-Nusrah and Daesh specifically, continue to remain under the appropriate amount of pressure. And that is not – I mean, not uniformly happening on the – certainly on the regime and the Russian side. So there’s a lot that we think needs to continue to be done to try to set the proper conditions for the resumption of meaningful political talks.

Now, I wouldn’t begin to try to speculate for you when the next round can start, and I’m not prepared to say that the next round’s the last round. I can assure you that that’s not the Secretary’s hope or expectation. He wants to see us get moving as quickly as possible, because every single day more and more Syrians are dying, more and more Syrians are being put at risk. Their lives and their livelihoods are being lost. And that is the sense of urgency driving the Secretary forward, and I can tell you that he is fixated on it and he was – he – and he will stay so.

So again, I’d – mindful of the challenges certainly and mindful of the steep hill that we know the UN special envoy has to climb, and I can assure you that we have every intention of climbing that with him every step of the way.

QUESTION: John, I know that you --

QUESTION: Related to this topic --

QUESTION: I know that you don’t want to talk specifically about the story, but going back to Secretary Carter’s answer a couple of hours ago, the report notes that he was opposed to it because an other – because, among other things, it would, in essence, let Russia off the hook for what it has done in Ukraine – the annexation of Crimea, the ongoing interference in the stability of the eastern part of Ukraine, and that that is really at the heart of his opposition to it. Is the U.S., in the interest of trying to restore stability, trying to bring back Syrians to their country, willing to make a purely transactional agreement with Moscow, even if it does mean that it’s getting a little more integrated into the world’s security posture?

MR KIRBY: I’m not sure what you mean by “transactional,” but let me just frame it this way. Nothing’s changed about our views on Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which we still consider illegitimate. Nothing’s changed about our views of their activities in Ukraine and the violation of Ukrainian territorial integrity, or our belief that the sanctions against Russia need to stay in place until Minsk is fully implemented.

So we’re still – nothing has changed about that. And the Secretary continues to discuss with Foreign Minister Lavrov – and Assistant Secretary Nuland continues to discuss with counterparts in Russia and in Ukraine – how we can move forward on getting Minsk full implemented. And I can tell you that we remain committed to that.

In Syria, we have been, again, nothing but candid and forthright about our concerns about the situation on the ground and that Moscow is either not using their influence appropriately on the Assad regime, or the Assad regime is proving resistant to that influence. In any event, the situation on the ground is not sustainable, and we continue to want to see Russia use its influence – the influence that we know they can have, because they – because it has borne out in the past --


MR KIRBY: -- to continue to use that influence in a manner in which can reduce the violence and allow for more humanitarian access to millions of Syrians that are still in need. This isn’t about transactions, Ros; it’s about outcomes. And it’s about continuing to work inside the framework of the International Syria Support Group, of which Russia is a founding member --


MR KIRBY: -- to get to those outcomes. Now, again, I’m not going to speak to this particular press report and I’m not going to speak to the details of conversations we are or are not having with Russia or any other member of the ISSG, except to say, as I said at the outset, that these are discussions we have had in the past, trying to get better outcomes. And you can darn well expect that Secretary Kerry will continue to have those discussions to move the process forward.

QUESTION: Is it – but is it fair to say – this is my last one, Barbara. Is it fair to say, at this point, that the U.S.’s goals are fundamental but essentially modest – expand the ceasefire nationwide and get food and medicine in – and anything that comes beyond that is gravy?

MR KIRBY: No. No, I wouldn’t associate myself with that characterization one bit. It – our goals in Syria are not modest, and they’re not just our goals. If you look at the communiques coming out of Vienna and Geneva, if you look at the UN Security Council resolution, it is clearly a representative statement of the international community. I mean, the International Syria Support Group is – what – 20-plus members. Again, Russia is a member; Iran is a member – sorry, I said “measure” – member. So those statements are clear and they are concise about what the overarching goals in Syria are, and they are not modest goals – unified, whole, pluralistic Syria that has in place a government that can be responsible for and responsive to the desperate needs of the Syrian people.

And we talked a little bit – you asked a question of Ms. Coppedge about the refugee situation. And one of the best ways, we believe, to deal with the outflow of Syrian refugees is to make sure that they have a home they can go back to, that they can live in peaceably. So those are not modest goals. Those are serious, long-term, strategic goals, and the Secretary is committed to that.

Now, one of the ways – well, several of the ways you can get to that goal are by getting the violence down, so that means a cessation of hostilities --


MR KIRBY: -- which can then open the door to better, more productive political discussions, which have not been able to have – to be successful, in part because innocent people were being killed and the opposition was being bombed. And I don't want to be remiss in mentioning the humanitarian problem. I mean, I know I keep hitting on it, but it is serious. And while there has been more ground access, it’s still not enough; it’s still not sustainable. The regime still plays games with it, and that’s unconscionable.

So those are important goals, but they are not – that’s not the end game, Ros. I mean, the end game – it’s clear. We’ve espoused the communiques and we’ve espoused, obviously, the UN Security Council resolution, which calls for a unified, whole, pluralistic, peaceful Syria. And that is a very strategic goal.

QUESTION: Just another quick question on this. Would there be any – or is there a concern in the calculations that a concerted, increased military campaign focused on Jabhat al-Nusrah, even though it’s not part of the ceasefire, could strengthen Assad? Or is that not – does that not matter?

MR KIRBY: If a military campaign --

QUESTION: You would have a concerted military campaign focused on Jabhat al-Nusrah, whether that would be – whether that would strengthen Assad, because Jabhat al-Nusrah is one of the groups that’s most successful against Assad. Or is that not a factor here when you discuss these things? Doesn’t it matter?

MR KIRBY: Rather than engage in a hypothetical, what’s a factor here is the cessation of hostilities, which calls for stopping the violence against anybody party to it, and the people not party to it are UN-designated foreign terrorist organizations. And right now inside Syria that means al-Nusrah and that means Daesh. And as I said at the outset, we want to see continued, concerted pressure being put on them. And obviously that’s largely through a military level of effort, when we’re talking about Syria.

QUESTION: So it’s the same? They’re the same, in terms of the kind of military pressure you put on them?


QUESTION: The two groups.

MR KIRBY: They are not party to the cessation, and should therefore remain vulnerable to military pressure. So I think that’s how I’d leave it.

QUESTION: Yes. But the United States has a campaign against ISIS. It doesn’t have a campaign against Jabhat al-Nusrah.

MR KIRBY: Against al-Nusrah?


MR KIRBY: Well, look, I’m not going to get into military issues here, but, I mean, I think I’ve indicated in the past that we have in the past put pressure on al-Nusrah – the United States, not the coalition. And I’m not going to prognosticate about future operations, but that’s – but they are not party to the cessation, and therefore should consider themselves vulnerable to continued military pressure.

And as I said again earlier, as we’ve always said, if the Russians want to contribute to the effort in Syria by putting pressure on al-Nusrah and only al-Nusrah and Daesh and only Daesh, then that’s – we would deem that helpful. And that’s a conversation that we’re willing to have. Thus far, it has not been so clear that they’ve been willing to do that.


QUESTION: Related question. Turkey and Russia have just had this very public reconciliation after some months of dispute, and they’re on opposite sides of the Syrian civil war. Is there a concern that this reconciliation will occur more on Russia’s terms than on Turkey’s terms, and Turkey supports the Syrian opposition, Russia supports Assad, that this reconciliation might strengthen Assad, weaken the opposition, to the extent that Turkey is conciliatory towards the Russians, and perhaps with the exception of the Kurds, I guess, who could benefit from Russian support?

MR KIRBY: I would let leaders in both countries speak to their relations and prognosticate about whatever improving relations there are, whatever that would mean for the campaign against Daesh. What I would say though is Turkey’s a NATO alley; Turkey obviously has a long border with Syria. They are working to deal with certain stretches of that border. They have been cooperative with the coalition in terms of support to coalition operations against Daesh. And we look for that cooperation to continue and we want to continue to find ways to deepen it and to improve it.

With Russia, Russia is not part of the coalition against Daesh. But as I said and continue to stress, that to the degree to which they are willing to focus their energy and their efforts against Daesh in Syria, that is a – that would be a welcome contribution, and we would be willing to continue to have conversations with them about how they can be effective in that regard. But again, there’s a lot of – there’s still a lot of work to be done, there’s still a lot of conversations to be had. I won’t and wouldn’t speculate about the relations between Turkey and Russia and what that might mean. That they have been able to have that conversation, that they have been able to begin a healthy discussion, we certainly welcome that. We stand nothing to gain from there being animosity between them, whether it’s over what’s happening in Syria or elsewhere. To the degree that the international community can stay or be united against Daesh – again, that is all to the good. This is a group that enjoys no support from nation-states. And so to the degree to which nation-states can continue to put pressure on them, to degrade and defeat their capabilities – again, all that’s to the good.

QUESTION: Kirby, the White House just confirmed that de Mistura is in town in D.C. today. Who is he meeting from the State Department? Is he meeting --

MR KIRBY: I just got that question.

QUESTION: Did you?


QUESTION: Oh my goodness. Where was I? (Laughter.) Forgive me.

MR KIRBY: Do you have another one? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I have --

QUESTION: I can’t believe I’ve missed that one. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I’m just so riveting up here. It’s just my eloquence; I’m sure that’s what it is. (Laughter.) Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Let me ask you a related question – I mean, in light of the horrible attack in Istanbul.


QUESTION: Is that in any way an indication that this whole war on terror is maybe misguided, that perhaps attacking territory or driving Daesh and its --


QUESTION: -- different whatever --

MR KIRBY: No. No, and I think --

QUESTION: Because obviously they are able to strike and move about and so on --


QUESTION: -- and maybe it ought to be, like, law enforcement, or like INTERPOL and – or – that kind of cooperation and so on among nations rather than a war.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, and that’s happening, actually. That’s happening, Said. I mean, the short answer to your question is no. And we believe that their increasing reliance on spectacular, more classic terrorist attacks is in many ways a representation of the pressure that they’re under in Iraq and Syria. Now, Brett McGurk was talking about this just a couple days ago. They’ve lost nearly half of their territory in Iraq, about 20 percent of it in Syria --

QUESTION: But that’s the --

MR KIRBY: Wait a minute.

QUESTION: That’s exactly the point. They lose territory, but they are able to strike elsewhere and more horribly.

MR KIRBY: Yes, and we talked about this months ago, that we – that that wasn’t a surprise to us, that as they got under more pressure – they’ve lost – they have lost much of their composure as a quasi-military group. When this first started, they were storming across the border in track vehicles and convoys and armed pickup trucks and moving almost like in military formation. They don’t do that anymore. And you just saw what happened, what, a day or so ago when they tried to leave Fallujah in a massive convoy of trucks and they got hit pretty hard. They – so as they get under more pressure inside Iraq and Syria, how did – what happened? They changed the way they communicate, they changed the way they operate. They started hiding inside the population, right, and they started resulting more in extortion and terror operations inside Iraq and Syria. And then as the pressure ratcheted up even more, what happened? They started to reach out – outside of Iraq and Syria, where they can’t operate so freely, to conduct these kinds of spectacular attacks.

Now look, I’m not at all suggesting that they’re completely down and out. They are under enormous pressure in Iraq and Syria. But they are still capable of conducting these attacks, and we take that seriously. And so they have adapted to the pressure we put them under. We are also adapting to their adaptation, if you don’t mind the lengthy explanation there. So we are adapting, too. INTERPOL is involved. We have now more information and intelligence sharing arrangements with allies and partners in the region and in Europe than we did before – and more cooperation, I might add. And more than 30-some-odd nations have adopted administrative and legal procedures to try to get at the foreign fighter threat.

So the international community is adapting to this, and this idea, this notion out there that we’re just helpless and standing by while they continue to try to strike Western targets is simply not borne out by the facts. Now, does that mean that there’s never going to be another attack? And I can’t – again, back to Ataturk Airport, as far as I know, there’s been no official claim of responsibility. And while it bears all the hallmarks of Daesh, I’m not in a position to confirm that it was, so let me just state that up front.

But obviously, we’re mindful that the danger of terrorist attacks against Western and/or soft targets remains. That’s why we’re continuing to adapt our approach as well. That’s why the interagency here in the United States is working so hard to try to prevent these attacks. But if somebody’s committed to blowing themselves up, it’s going to continue to be hard to combat that as they change the manner in which they try to prove able to do that. They only have to be right once; we have to be right every single day, 24 hours a day. And I can assure you that, at least from the United States Government perspective, we’re committed to trying to make sure we’re as ready as possible.


MR KIRBY: Goyal.

QUESTION: Trafficking report.

MR KIRBY: Okay. I know you didn’t get to ask a question. I may have to take it, but go ahead and ask.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Question is: This is a big problem as far as South Asia is concerned, including India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. Many of these sheikhs from the Middle East, they come there, buy little girls – small girls – and lure them also for money and all that, and poor parents might – sometimes they sell them and sometimes they are just trafficking. How big is the problem as far as South Asia is concerned – as I mentioned, these countries – and what U.S. is doing? This has been going for many, many years as far as Middle East is concerned, and those big, rich sheikhs, they go to India, these – and South Asia.

MR KIRBY: Look, obviously we’re mindful of trafficking issues in South Asia and around the world. I would point you to the report that we just released today, which I think will better answer your question than I can from up here when it lays out our concerns in the region. And, as you heard Ms. Coppedge make clear, we obviously have tools at our disposal to deal with it, and the Trafficking in Persons Report is actually one of those key tools because it is a report card on various countries and their conduct and performance – improvement or lack thereof – with respect to trafficking in persons.

QUESTION: And another question, if I may? Just another --

MR KIRBY: I’ll come back to you in a second. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: As far as this MTCR is concerned, this time which India became the member, and of course the – of course U.S. did help or support it. But this time, for this membership, China was not very much against it or didn’t say much. But what’s happening as far as NSG is concerned?

MR KIRBY: What – in what – say that last part again? What’s happening with --

QUESTION: Membership in the NSG.


QUESTION: Yeah, and because China is still opposing it, and – but as far as MTCR, they didn’t much spoke about – against it.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll just say again, India has a strong record and we believe deserves to be included in the NSG. That’s why the Administration, including senior White House and State Department officials, made a concerted effort – and I do mean concerted effort – to secure India’s membership in the recent NSG plenary that was held in Seoul, and we talked about this. We’re obviously disappointed that India was not admitted during this recent session, but I can tell you that we’re going to continue to work constructively with India and all the other NSG members on India’s accession in the months ahead. We’re not going to let that go. Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: There’s a bipartisan push in the Senate to stop selling arms to Bahrain because the senators believe doing so violates U.S. law. The State Department has criticized Bahrain for human rights violations. With this being the case, how is continuing arms supplies not a violation of U.S. law, or do you think it is at this point?

MR KIRBY: Are you basing that on the fact that we got a letter from Congress, that question?

QUESTION: Did you get a letter from – well, how is that --

MR KIRBY: What I’ve said – we’ve seen reports of the letter, but we’ve not yet received it. I didn’t know if – I didn’t understand if that’s what you were referring to. We’ve seen reports; we have not yet received it.

QUESTION: But the arms supplies continue, and why do – why does the State --

MR KIRBY: We continue to urge the Government of Bahrain to reverse their recent harmful actions. These, as you know, include the suspension of the opposition political society al-Wefaq, the extension of the prison sentence against Wefaq secretary general Sheikh Ali Salman, the detention of activist Nabeel Rajab, and the revocation of citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qassim. As Secretary Kerry underscored to the Bahraini foreign minister, recent government actions against civil society will only lead to greater instability, with potentially grave consequences for not only Bahrain but also the broader region.

To your question, as you also well know, we had put restrictions on foreign military sales to Bahraini security forces recently. About a year ago, we lifted some but not all. And as I said about a week or so ago, we – we’ve proven in the past we’re not afraid to put those kinds of limits in place if we feel like we need to, and we will continue to review our options going forward.

QUESTION: But it is up to the State Department to determine Bahrain is a systematic violator of human rights. What does Bahrain have – what else does Bahrain have to do for the State Department to make that determination and stop arms supplies?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – I won’t speculate about specific determinations one way or the other. I think I’ve been very clear about what we expect of Bahrain’s leaders. And I think we’ve been very clear about our concerns about very specific recent actions that they’ve taken, and we’ve been very clear about urging Bahrain to reverse those exact actions, every one that I just mentioned. So you ask me: What do they need to do? They can start by reversing those actions, which we have said to them in numerous ways. And again, I’m not going to speculate one way or the other about where things go. What we want to see happen right now is for them to reverse those actions.

QUESTION: But why does the U.S. continue arms sales despite the concerns that you have voiced?

MR KIRBY: We lifted – we had stopped them altogether, as you know. We lifted – a partial element of them to help Bahrain deal with real, tangible counterterrorism threats that they face. But we didn’t take all of it away, and there were still some in place over some of the interior ministry police forces, because we believe that there still – there was more work that needed to be done. And we still believe there’s more work to – needed done. And that restriction is still in place, and I won’t speculate going forward about what decisions we might or might not make. What we’re focused on right now are the decisions that Bahrain has made recently and seeing those decisions reversed. Okay?

QUESTION: But are you at all concerned that Bahraini authorities may use some of the U.S.-provided weapons to crack down on the opposition?

MR KIRBY: We always have concerns about the end use of items that are inside the Foreign Military Sales program and there are often – and I won’t – I can’t cite chapter and verse in this case, but there are limits placed upon that, end-use limits that are placed upon articles that – in the Foreign Military Sales program. And again, what was lifted was certain items – and I can get you the list of specific items that were lifted, but certain items that were geared towards counterterrorism efforts and counterterrorism capabilities that Bahrain continued to need. But yes, there’s limits, of course, on that.

QUESTION: But just to be clear, at present you do not think that continuing --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going --

QUESTION: -- arms supplies to Bahrain violates U.S. law at this point?

MR KIRBY: I have answered your question, and we’re going to continue to review Bahrain’s actions going forward. And I’m not going to speculate one way or another about decisions that haven’t been made yet.


QUESTION: Hi. A question about Okinawa. The Japanese prosecutor is charging U.S. military worker with the rape and murder of the 20-years-old in Okinawas. Do you have any comment that?

MR KIRBY: A comment about what? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Japanese prosecutor charged U.S. military worker with the rape and murder of 20-years-old woman in Okinawas.

MR KIRBY: Oh, okay. So he’s been charged.

QUESTION: Yesterday. Yes.

MR KIRBY: I don’t, actually. I wouldn’t from this podium weigh into the specifics of a legal case. Again, we were all outraged by this crime. You called him in your question a U.S. military worker. I think it’s important to make sure that it’s clear that this individual was not a member of the United States military but a civilian contractor. And that’s an important – I’m not minimizing the crime at all. We’re all outraged by it. But I just wanted to correct that one bit in your question.

And I know that Ambassador Kennedy remains in close touch with Japanese authorities and with U.S. military authorities as this investigation proceeds. But I wouldn’t want to say anything from the podium to insert ourselves into this legal case one way or the other.


QUESTION: Armenia.

MR KIRBY: Armenia. Was that going to be your first question, Armenia? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: There are regional reports that the Secretary spoke to Armenia’s president today. First off, can you confirm? And then secondly, if so, was the context largely on looking at progress for Nagorno-Karabakh?

MR KIRBY: He did speak with both the president of Armenia and Azerbaijan. I don’t have a detailed readout for you. We’ll see if we can get something a little bit later today that – but the conversation did happen – those conversations – it wasn’t one call, it was two – did happen. And, of course, they talked about Nagorno-Karabakh and where things are going and our desires to see a peaceful resolution there. But I just don’t have a more detailed readout for you, okay?


QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on a court filing today by the State Department where they said they would need an additional 27 months in order to complete a FOIA request. Is that the kind of timeline with FOIA requests that we should be expecting, and would an increase in resources be required to meet this mounting – the mounting FOIA requests? Is there an outstanding request to Congress?

MR KIRBY: So a couple of thoughts there. I think you know I can’t comment on the specifics of matters that are in ongoing litigation. I’d refer you to the court filings in this case for all the details because we just can’t – we just can’t speak to it with great specificity.

But generally speaking, and I think you’ve heard me talk about this before, but there has been a dramatic, significant surge in FOIA requests to the State Department in recent years which we are working very, very hard to clear and to respond to. Just since 2008 the volume of FOIA requests here at the State Department has tripled. In Fiscal Year 2015 alone we received 22,000 FOIA requests, and that’s just in one fiscal year.

So the other thing I’d say is that these requests are also frequently more complex and increasingly seeking larger volumes of documents, requiring more time, more resources, and frankly more interagency coordination. So again, without speaking to the details here, I’d just tell you that you have to – in considering the response time to any single FOIA request, you have to factor in the cumulative effect it has on an office that is already working at full tilt to try to deal with a very large volume of increasingly more complex and cumbersome FOIA requests.

But I’ll say this: The Secretary takes our FOIA obligations very, very seriously. It’s why he hired Janice Jacobs to come in as a transparency coordinator. She’s working hand in glove with the people in the FOIA office to try to improve processes, to try to help clear the backlog. It is a difficult job when you’re – as you bale water out of the boat, water keeps coming in. So they’re working at this very, very hard.

The other thing I would say is that we haven’t been bashful in the past about plussing up the resources of the office. I’m not predicting one way or another that we would do that going forward, but we certainly reserve all the rights and responsibilities to do that if we need to. If we need to look at manning and resources again, we’ll do that. The Secretary’s been clear about that. And if, in turn, that would lead to a request or a requirement for additional fiscal resources, the Secretary is not afraid to do that either. I’m not predicting that’s going to happen. I’m not going to get ahead of budget requests that haven’t been made, but I can tell you this Secretary is very focused on trying to deal with these FOIA responsibilities as efficiently and as effectively as we can as an institution.

QUESTION: Wait, wait, can I go back to – I apologize for being late. I just got off a plane. I have a couple. but I’ll just let other people go, but I just wanted to follow up.

QUESTION: A follow-up to that one?


QUESTION: A follow-up on Abby’s, yeah.


MR KIRBY: You have a follow-up on FOIA?

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, your maritime analogy, you baling. Does that mean the State Department is sinking?


QUESTION: So you are going to – you’re not going to – the ship – the FOIA ship is not going to go down because you’re not able to bale fast enough, is it?


QUESTION: You intend to fulfill all of these --

MR KIRBY: No, Matt. I wouldn’t read too much into my analogy. I was simply trying to articulate it.

QUESTION: Well, you said that you’re baling water out of it. That would imply the boat is sinking.

MR KIRBY: I was trying to articulate it in simple enough terms for you to understand. And maybe I made it – maybe I made it – (laughter) – no, I admit maybe I made it too simple and I apologize for that.

No, of course not. Look, we take it seriously and we’re going to continue to work at this.

QUESTION: Is the massive increase you describe in FOIA requests simply because more U.S. citizens are discovering and availing themselves of legitimate means of inquiry? Or are you receiving harassment from political opponents or just nuisance makers who want to overload you?

MR KIRBY: We don’t consider the Freedom of Information Act a tool by people harassing us or political opponents. It’s legitimate and we take it seriously. I can’t – I couldn’t begin to try to articulate why the increase or what’s the motivation behind that. You’d have to ask each requestor. We don’t really bother ourselves with trying to figure out the motivation. A legitimate --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on two or three themes, or was it across the board?

MR KIRBY: The – I mean, 22,000 in the last year alone, I’m --

QUESTION: Right. But if 11,000 were the former secretary’s --

MR KIRBY: Well, we don’t – we don’t talk about the specifics of FOIA requests, so I’m not going to get into chapter and verse in terms of what they’re about. But 22,000’s a lot, and there’s a lot – obviously, various issues that we get FOIA requests for. But it’s the law. We believe – we believe not only in – obviously we have to obey the law, but we believe in the soundness of it and that it’s healthy for the American people, whether it’s private citizens or journalists alike, to use the Freedom of Information Act to procure information from the federal government. And the Secretary is committed to our responsibilities under that.

Now, why people do it or why the increase? Again, we don’t bother ourselves with trying to do the forensics on that. We’re – we wouldn’t anyway, even if there wasn’t a significant increase and surge here; but in particular, because there is, there’s more than enough work to go around just trying to get these things out the door. That’s where our focus is on.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) they’re asking about. Can you – are you – can you give us, can you tell us, 22,000 requests last year, what years those requests cover – like, say, how many, what percentage of them cover the years 2009 to, say, 2013?

MR KIRBY: No, I can’t. And I don’t – and we wouldn’t – we wouldn’t characterize them.

Yes, Janne, way in the back there.

QUESTION: I waited so long.

MR KIRBY: Yes, I know. I know.

QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.) Do you have any information on that North Korea preparing for another nuclear test or another missile launch for the – on 4th July in the peninsula?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t, as you know, get into intelligence matters one way or the other or try to prognosticate.

QUESTION: When did the North --


QUESTION: I have another question for that. The U.S. Congress appoint – reappointed North Korea as a terrorist country. Do you have anything?

MR KIRBY: Look, we’ve – we share Congress’s concerns about the provocative activities of the North and about the destabilizing actions that they continue to take that are doing nothing to contribute to stability and security on the peninsula. And that’s why we so resoundingly supported the new UN Security Council resolution that enacted the toughest sanctions in, what, two decades with a much tougher enforcement mechanism attached to it. I mean, we’re very focused on the danger that the DPRK still poses.

QUESTION: Do you think provocative is terrorist act?

MR KIRBY: Look, they have – they have – they’re a provocative nation on multiple fronts.

Yeah, in the back there.

QUESTION: But can --

MR KIRBY: I already got you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sir, Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV. Sir, there’s a hot debate in Pakistan right now about the allocation of funds – like $3 million – to a madrassa called Darul Uloom Haqqania by the KPK government. Sir, many of the political parties in Pakistan and even the former President Asif Ali Zardari lashes out on the provincial government for allocation of these funds at this madrassa, also called factories – a factory for jihadis. So I sent this question to your press team, but I was surprised they choose not to comment on that. So what’s the reason, sir?

MR KIRBY: Just because you sent a question to the press team doesn’t mean I have to answer it. I’m kidding, of course. Look – let me see. I thought I had something in here.

QUESTION: Is your answer to the question (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I don't know. You’re going to have to let me get back to you.

QUESTION: Sir, are you aware --

MR KIRBY: Seriously, I have it. (Laughter.) I’m trying to find it. Help me out, Elizabeth. Where is it?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I’m still looking.

QUESTION: Can we go back to (inaudible)? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I don't know.

QUESTION: (Off-mike). (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Hang on, hang on, hang on. Here we go. Boy, that took a while. We’re aware of press reports stating that the KP government proposed a $3 million budget allocation to the Darul Uloom Haqqania seminary. I would refer you to the KP government or the Government of Pakistan with any questions concerning this funding.

QUESTION: Sir, are you aware that this is the same madrassa religious school which was funded by the U.S. Government and CIA in the early ’80s to oust the Soviets – occupiers from Afghanistan --

MR KIRBY: I’m going to let my statement stand.

QUESTION: Sir, I have one more.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Abby.

QUESTION: But can I complete my questions? One more, one more. Sir, the Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz has said that there are some tensions in the relations between the United States and Pakistan, and one of the reason is the U.S. concerns on the CPEC, the Pak-China Economic Corridor. Sir, what are those concerns?

MR KIRBY: Say that last part again.

QUESTION: The CPEC, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Sartaj Aziz has said that you – United States has expressed concerns on the CPEC project. Sir, what are those concerns?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – I’m simply not going to detail diplomatic conversations that we have. Look, there are enormous challenges in the region. We continue to work with the – with Pakistan to try to address those challenges. I don't have anything more additional for you.


QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the swearing-in of the new president of the Philippines today, who’s made comments saying that under his leadership the country will not be beholden to the U.S. and that he wishes to expand ties with Beijing?

MR KIRBY: Look, I’ve seen the comments. We look forward to working closely with his administration going forward. The Philippines is an ally and a partner in the region. We have no expectation that that’s going to change. And look, as a sovereign nation, they have every right to seek bilateral relations that they believe are appropriate to their situation, whether it’s security-related, economic-related, or politically so.

We have a relationship – bilateral relationship with China. Do we agree on everything? No. But we cooperate on many things, climate change being one of them. So again, we look forward to continuing to work with the Philippines going forward. And again, we leave it to them to decide what bilateral relations they might pursue. But to the degree there is avenues for dialogue and discussion and constructive movement forward in the region, well that’s healthy. We would want to see that.

Okay. I got to go. Thanks, everybody. Nope. Thanks. I got to go. Sorry.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:30 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 29, 2016

Wed, 06/29/2016 - 16:36

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 29, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:46 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hello, David.

QUESTION: Sorry I wasn’t here yesterday. I Brexited.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) All right, off to a good start. Welcome, everyone, to the State Department.

Just like to begin by reiterating what I and we, the State Department, expressed last night in the statement, and that is simply that we are shocked and saddened by yesterday’s attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. The United States extends its deepest condolences to the families of the victims, as well as our hopes for a quick recovery for all those who were wounded in that vicious attack. We obviously remain in close touch with the Turkish authorities and will remain so. Let there be no doubt that we stand in solidarity with our NATO ally, Turkey, in combating the common threat we face from terrorism. These kinds of vicious attacks only reinforce our determination to work with the Government of Turkey to counter the scourge of terrorism and to support all those across the region who are working to promote peace and reconciliation.

Now, just to update you, we’re not aware at this time of any U.S. citizen deaths. We are aware of reports of U.S. citizens who were near the attack location, but there are no reports of U.S. citizens who are seriously injured. Immediately following the attack, I can say that the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul issued an emergency message informing U.S. citizens of the attack and urging them to avoid the area around the airport. U.S. citizens should continue to check with local media, and obviously with the social media sites and the website of the U.S. Consulate, for the latest updates.

I did want to mention, as many of you – or all of you, I hope – know, the Secretary is in Ottawa today accompanying President Obama at the North American Leaders Summit, where he joined the President in meetings with Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada as well as President Pena Nieto of Mexico. The leaders discussed their vision for a more integrated North American – North America, rather, that provides a prosperous and secure future for the citizens of all three countries and promotes North American leadership on global and regional challenges. They did discuss concrete initiatives to promote peace, security, development, to enhance our competitiveness in the global economy, and to expand opportunities for our citizens. And they also announced an historic North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership that better harmonizes our countries’ climate and energy strategies.

With that, over to you.

QUESTION: Could we start with Istanbul?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Given what happened and the series of attacks now in Turkey this year, are you advising Americans to put off travel or reconsider any plans they might have to visit Turkey?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, you saw yesterday, actually, partly coincidentally, that we did reissue our travel warning – an updated travel warning, if you will. That was done – in this case, frankly, it was an update of an existing travel warning, when a ordered departure in this case was approved or extended or changed for members of the embassy community. And what had happened was we did extend the March 29th, 2016 ordered departure from Turkey of family members from our consulate in Adana and in Izmir province, and that’s through July.

But --

QUESTION: This is Istanbul, though, right?

MR TONER: This is – yes, no, I understand that. I’m just saying – sorry, I was speaking to why the travel warning was extended and reissued yesterday. But look, I mean, our – sorry --

QUESTION: Yesterday or Monday night?

MR TONER: Monday night, you’re right. But broadly speaking, and more in response to your question, we did note in this travel warning increased threats from terrorist groups to U.S. citizens, warning about the fact that extremists have targeted airports and transportation hubs throughout Europe – not just within Turkey – transportation systems, other vulnerable targets, if you will. And we have seen, obviously, a spate of ongoing terrorist incidents, terrorist attacks in Turkey. But again, we’re not saying Americans should not travel to Turkey. In any such instance – whether it was Brussels, whether it was Paris after the terrorist attacks there – we’re simply reminding Americans, as if they need reminding, but certainly trying to remind them to be up-to-date on the current information, to bring with them their street smarts, if you – if I could put it that way, and to just be situationally aware when they’re on the ground and to be aware of these threats.


QUESTION: You – hold on, I have just a couple more.

MR TONER: Yeah, of course, of course. Yeah, sure, please.

QUESTION: You’re not saying yet that this is an Islamic State attack, is that right?

MR TONER: Nobody has confirmed that yet.

QUESTION: So you don’t – you don’t have information to believe that the Islamic State was responsible for this attack?

MR TONER: Again, I cannot confirm that. People have spoken to it, but what I’m going to say is let’s let the Turkish investigation play itself out and --

QUESTION: And then --

MR TONER: -- till we – sorry, until we say who’s responsible.

QUESTION: And then I just wanted to ask, I – we heard the Secretary speak from Aspen on --

MR TONER: Of course, yeah.

QUESTION: -- the attack. There seems to be some dissonance between what he – hear me out first --


QUESTION: -- from what he said about this shows the increased desperation of ISIS and what, for example, Mr. Brennan said on the Hill last week about there has been no reduction in the ISIS threat or their global reach to commit terrorism. So I just wanted to get your – what exactly does the Secretary mean when these terrorist attacks happen and he’s saying that shows how – how they’re getting weaker or more desperate?

MR TONER: Well, again, I’m reluctant always to parse the Secretary’s words, but in this case, I think what he’s clearly indicating – and we’ve spoken to this, John and myself have spoken to this before – is as you increase pressure, as they lose territory and are under increased pressure on the battlefield in Iraq, in Syria – and we’ve seen that: they’ve lost territory, they’re under increasing pressure, they’ve lost key footholds in Fallujah and elsewhere.

And as they’re under pressure – or, rather, let me rephrase that: They’re under pressure. But that does not affect their ability to carry out terrorist attacks either in Europe or elsewhere in the world, in Turkey especially. But we’ve also seen it in Baghdad and we’ve seen it in Iraq. They are still capable, and in their desperation, even perhaps more willing and liable to carry out these kind of attacks to continue to exert their will.

QUESTION: What does that say, then, about the anti-ISIS campaign? As I recall, it was to fight their capability to --

MR TONER: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: -- inflict harm on the United States, not to retake villages in Syria or Iraq or --

MR TONER: Sure, I think we – sorry. I don’t mean to talk over you.


MR TONER: I think we have to do both. It’s a multi-front effort and we’ve talked about this before. And I think at the same time that you have to remove Daesh from the battlefield, from the territory that it has claimed in Iraq and Syria, at the same time, you have to be able to stop their ability to recruit as well as stop their ability to create terrorist networks elsewhere. And that’s a real challenge and we’ve talked about that a lot. It is always easy for a couple of individuals with access to weaponry and access to explosives and the intent to kill themselves to carry out these kind of brutal terrorist attacks. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a challenge we can’t eventually address, but it’s just – it speaks to the complexity.


QUESTION: Can we go to the – yeah, on the travel warning.


QUESTION: So I saw the travel warning that came out on Monday night and I compared the opening sentence on Monday night to the one that came out on March 29th --


QUESTION: -- and they’re identical. The one that came out – they both say, “The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey and to avoid travel to southeastern Turkey.” And one of the challenges I think we all have in dealing with your travel warnings is that they’re generally not annotated, so it’s not possible to know what’s different except by looking at the previous one.

So I went and I looked at the previous one and I saw that it basically said the same thing. I realize that there’s a slight difference – one province was dropped off and so on. But how is an American citizen who is thinking about going to Turkey supposed to understand that the increased threats that you’re reporting are Monday – on Monday are any different from the increased threats from terrorist groups that you reported on March 29th?

I mean, so a couple of simple questions: Were there even more threats that had come out prior to June 27th, Monday, that made you issue this, or not?

MR TONER: So I think what – it’s a fair question. A couple of points here: First of all, is always check with, a very easy website to remember, for travelers to get the most up-to-date information specific to a given country. But I think in the case of this Travel Alert that was re-issued, it was certainly updated, but you’re right, it is hard to distinguish. I think what I would just say is in this particular case, with a relatively few tweaks, the same threat level persisted. And so I understand your point that why should a traveler take any more heed or notice of that. I think that a traveler to Turkey – and frankly, to many parts of the world – has to simply be aware and cognizant of the fact that the threat remains in place and act accordingly.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Right. But what I’m asking --


QUESTION: -- is kind of simpler.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I mean, let me – I’ll ask a real simple question. One: Did the U.S. Government and did the issuance of the June 27th Travel Alert – did the U.S. Government have any reason to believe that there would be an attack on June 28th or upcoming?

MR TONER: No. And that was the second part of my answer, that if we had – and I realize there’s a range of quote-unquote “products” that we put out on behalf of – or for the American traveler. A travel warning is a travel warning. If we had information, credible information, about an imminent threat on – or a developing situation, even if it wasn’t a terrorist attack, but any natural disaster looming, what we’d use is an emergency message. And that is reserved, as I said, for imminent events or threats that may require immediate action on behalf of U.S. citizens. That could be violent demonstrations; that could be, as I said, civil disturbances, natural disasters. And we did after the attack issue an emergency message immediately once we had – telling them to avoid the --

QUESTION: But my question is even simpler.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) Okay.

QUESTION: Did you have any reason to --


QUESTION: -- expect an imminent --

MR TONER: My understanding is – sorry.

QUESTION: -- threat in Turkey on Monday?

MR TONER: So – okay. And my answer is – and I’m sorry I haven’t been clear on this --


MR TONER: -- we did not have, as I said, kind of imminent or actionable intelligence.

QUESTION: Got it. Okay. So, then, second question --


QUESTION: -- and again, I think it’s a simpler --


QUESTION: -- question – you state on March 29th that there is increased threats of attacks by terrorist groups in Turkey. And you state exactly the same thing – there is increased threats of terrorist actions by – of attacks by terrorist groups on June 27th. Were there more threats on June 27th than there had been, or was the threat level any higher? Was there any increase in the threat – in the number of threats on June 27th than there had been in March?

MR TONER: So my answer to that is – and we – we’re not – I’m not going to discuss necessarily specific details of the threat information we have, except, as I said, in the case of when we had actionable intelligence that a given site was going to be targeted. I can say that we would reiterate the language of our – in our latest Travel Warning for Turkey, which did note increased threats from terrorist groups to U.S. citizens.

QUESTION: But I – but here’s --

QUESTION: But now, do you have a baseline from before you ever issued a travel warning for Turkey or increased from the previous Travel Warning? Where does the increase take place?

MR TONER: My understanding is that it was increased from the previous Travel Warning.

QUESTION: Increased from the previous Travel Warning.


QUESTION: Okay. So that’s helpful, because that at least helps --


QUESTION: -- helps us understand --


QUESTION: -- a little better. And --


QUESTION: -- is there no way of – and another thing. I mean, you look at the March Travel Warning, and it notes the ordered departure.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: There’s no timeline on that ordered departure in that Travel Warning, unless I’m mistaken. It just says you’ve ordered departure. And normally you order departure, and that’s – they’re ordered gone until you rescind that, right? So I don’t understand why you felt it necessary to put out a note on Monday night extending the ordered departure until a particular date. I mean, I understand the change in dropping one of the provinces, but I don’t understand why you felt it necessary to give an end date for the ordered departure status, because it was indefinite when you originally did it. So why do that?

MR TONER: I’m frankly not sure that it is an indefinite. I think that it was – internally, at least, we do have to extend these periodically. And I think that it was an effort to notify the public that that ordered departure was going to be extended. That’s my understanding, is that when an ordered departure is extended, in which case it does have to be done administratively by the State Department --

QUESTION: It has to have an end date?

MR TONER: -- it has to have an end date.

QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, why not try to make more explicit the difference between the travel warning from June and the travel warning from March? I mean, it seems to me that American citizens would have benefited from knowing on Monday that there was even more threats than there had been in March. I mean, why not make that clear? We’re issuing this because there is even more threats out there than there were in our last one which was issued – that just seems to me you have more – you’re giving the citizenry more information. Why not do that rather than forcing all of us to do this Talmudic reading of the last one and the current one and then not actually understanding until 48 hours later what the difference is?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to draw unnecessarily a link between the issuance of this travel warning and yesterday’s tragic attack at a Turk airport. I think this vehicle, which is the travel warning, is simply a way to periodically update the American public on where we stand, how we assess the security of a given country. And it can be for a lot of reasons, not just terrorism – although that’s probably the reason we talk about most – and I think in that respect it does that. If we have, as I said, imminent – or information about an imminent attack or threat, that’s a different way – a different vehicle that we’ll use to notify the public of that.

QUESTION: Wait, but I just – it’s just kind of a practical question.


QUESTION: Maybe there’s a – maybe there’s an answer. But I don’t understand why you wouldn’t give people more information if you have it.


QUESTION: And you didn’t – you said it’s your understanding that there was more threat information as of – or more threats --

MR TONER: Yeah, and I’ll double check on that if there was – if there was – because --

QUESTION: Shouldn’t Americans know that?

MR TONER: Of course, and that’s why this vehicle exists. But I want to double-check whether there was – I know I said that. I want to go back and double-check on whether that’s the fact that there was – between the last one and this current one that there was more --


MR TONER: -- threat information that had actually spiked.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you.

MR TONER: Just to make sure I understand that correctly. So I’ll get back to you on that.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: One clarification about this – the emergency message to warn of an imminent threat, you said, for violent demonstrations and natural disasters and so on --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- has that been used before to warn of a terrorist attack?

MR TONER: Yes. I can come up with – I can get you specific examples, but yes, it has.

QUESTION: How many is that that it would be used for --

MR TONER: Well, I mean, it’s obviously not that common because it’s rare that we have actionable intelligence of an imminent terrorist attack. But in that case – there is precedent for this and --

QUESTION: You did it for South Africa a few weeks ago.

MR TONER: I think you’re right. Yeah, I think that’s correct, but I can double-check on that. We can get you --

QUESTION: Mark, you said a few minutes ago --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- that the Turks are investigating and that no one’s been able to determine who is responsible, but everyone keeps suggesting that this has the hallmarks of an ISIL attack. Is that the working assumption of the U.S. Government? Are they ruling out the PKK or other groups that might have some grievance against the Turkish Government?

MR TONER: Sure. It’s a fair question that I’m hesitant to answer because it looks like I’m leaning one way or the other, and I’m very hesitant to speak authoritatively about who we think is behind this. But I think in any kind of assessment like this, the experts – the folks who really follow this stuff and look at these investigations or look at these attacks and are able to recognize the hallmarks or the tendencies of certain groups versus other groups and how they carry out their attacks – it’s – there are assumptions that are made. But I think we just have to let the – we’ve also seen in the wake of these kinds of events it go the other way. So I think we’re just being cautious. And we’re also being respectful and mindful of the fact that this was an attack on Turkish citizens or Turkish people in Turkey, and really their – it’s their investigation.

QUESTION: And keeping in mind that it does appear that many of those who were killed were Turkish, have there been any gentle reminders – if I can use the expression – to the Turkish Government that if it turns out that this wasn’t ISIL – that this was the work of Kurdish separatists, as an example – that the government won’t use the attack yesterday as a pretext for cracking down on civil liberties?

MR TONER: So, first off, I don’t think we’ve seen any actions on the government to indicate that it’s going in that direction. I’m very hesitant to respond to that question or to caution the Turkish Government, which is, in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack, obviously dealing with recovery, dealing with security of its citizens, and by all accounts doing a pretty good job in the immediate aftermath. Let’s let the investigation play itself out. I think that’s what the Turkish authorities are doing. And we’ll see.

Please, in the back, yeah. You had a question yesterday and I didn’t get to you. I apologize.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Conventional wisdom has been that one of the problems that the U.S. has had in fighting Daesh in the area has been that Turkey has seen the Kurds as a bigger problem than Daesh. Do you think that perhaps one positive thing that could come out of this tragedy is that Turkey might take more seriously the threat from Daesh and see the Kurds as a lesser – it reverse its priorities so that Daesh is the number one threat and the Kurds are a lesser issue for Ankara?

MR TONER: So – couple of thoughts on that. First of all is you are right – and we’ve talked on numerous occasions in this room about Turkey’s real concerns about Kurdish forces operating in northern Syria and, frankly, our support for those Kurdish forces who are, frankly, very capable forces fighting to remove Daesh from its foothold in northern Syria. And we’ve been very frank in recognizing Turkey’s concerns and in talking to Turkey about those concerns. So I don’t want to diminish or downplay those concerns. And we’ve also been very clear that we view the PKK as a foreign terrorist organization, and as such, we work with Turkey on combating them. But we draw clear delineation between the PKK and the Syrian Kurds, as I said, who are part of the many groups that are fighting against Daesh in northern Syria.

I also don’t want to underplay or under-emphasize Turkey’s role in the coalition, the anti-Daesh coalition. I think we’ve made real progress in the last – certainly in the last year working with Turkey in order to bring more pressure to bear on Daesh in northern Syria, certainly through their allowing us the use of the Incirlik Air Base, rather, but also working to close that I think 98-kilometer border that has proved such a challenge.

So these are all real challenges. And as Ambassador Sam Power just said recently or just a few hours ago on – in an interview, let’s not forget that Turkey has also been very accepting to the millions of refugees who have poured over its borders from Syria and offered them refuge. So Turkey is playing an important role with regard to Syria, with regard to the conflict there, both from the Assad regime as well as with Daesh. So I don’t want to underplay that. But they have, as many countries do within the coalition, different – sometimes different priorities, different ideas about how to go about that, and that’s something we’re in constant dialogue with them about and working to coordinate better.

QUESTION: So it’s possible that this might facilitate the U.S. making of its argument about the importance of fighting Daesh?

MR TONER: I think the Turkish people and the Turkish Government are well aware of Daesh’s nature and the need to – for us all to destroy Daesh.

Please, Barbara.

QUESTION: Speaking of Sam Powers, just, if you – a question about the AP story on the compensation package for the Cameroonian family whose child was killed by her convoy. Can you confirm that the compensation has already been delivered to the family and that it includes what was reported – a million francs, a pair of cows, flour, onions, rice, salt, sugar, soap oil, and a well for fresh drinking water to come?

MR TONER: So on your first part of your question – so we have been working on a compensation package – sorry – commensurate with local custom as well as the needs of the family and of – and the village. That includes potable water well in the boy’s community that will serve as a lasting memory to his life, as well as some monetary, food, and other support. I can confirm that U.S. diplomats have visited the family on several occasions following the accident, and we’ll continue to provide any and all support possible.

What I cannot answer is whether that compensation has already been delivered or is in the process. I’d have to get back to you on that.


QUESTION: There are reports that these Istanbul attackers were under investigation since 2012 by Turkish state. Do you have such an information coming from the U.S. intelligence? Can you confirm that?

MR TONER: So – appreciate the question. If I had that information from U.S. intelligence, I probably wouldn’t share it from the podium, but I do not, I can tell you. We just don’t know at this point. And it’s often the way in these – there’s lots of – and I understand in – and this is casting no aspersions on cable news, but they get a lot of experts who are outside the government who can express their opinions on who might be behind such an attack. We have to be more measured and more cautious about what we say about who’s behind this attack, and that’s why I’m saying let’s let the investigation play itself out.

QUESTION: So did you send an alert? I mean, did you warn Turkish officials against such an attack before that?

MR TONER: No, and we talked about this --

QUESTION: Because there are --

MR TONER: -- just a few minutes ago, in case you missed it. But no, we did issue – re-issue a Travel Warning the other day, but that was not indicative of an imminent threat or an imminent attack. Had we had that information, of course we would have shared it with Turkish authorities, but we didn’t.

QUESTION: I’m not talking about the Travel Warning. I’m talking about an official warning to the Turkish officials. I mean, maybe the share of intelligence.

MR TONER: No, I mean, we have – I mean, look, we have – we share – we have intelligence-sharing as a NATO ally and partner with Turkey all the time. I’m certainly not aware that we had any --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: -- specific threat information, and had we, we of course would have shared it with Turkey.


QUESTION: A follow-up?

MR TONER: Sure, Goyal. I’ll get to you in a second.

QUESTION: As far as, Mark, terrorism is concerned, it’s not only U.S. problem or – it’s a global problem, including, of course, the problems in India. My question is here now again we are on the same brink as in the past, that little, smaller terrorism is still going on in the Indian states – Indian – in India now.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: And openly, again, Hafiz Saeed is saying that we will go after our enemies, which is India and U.S. And he said that we are supporting all these terrorism and terrorists in India and we will continue to destroy India until we have our presence there fully.

MR TONER: Who – who’s this saying this? I apologize.

QUESTION: Hafiz Saeed from the Pakistani soil once again, which he had been doing in the past. And these are recent – as far as yesterday’s and --


QUESTION: -- last week reports. And he openly, freely – he’s giving all these full and free messages of hate and --


QUESTION: -- against India.

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, look, we obviously work closely with India on counterterrorism efforts in the region as we do with Pakistan, and we’ve been very clear publicly and privately about our concerns about Pakistan’s efforts to combat terrorism in the region and the need for it to do so. But we need to work effectively with all the countries in the region in order to increase our ability to combat terrorism and to bring stability to the region. And we certainly recognize that India has felt the scourge of terrorism on several occasions, and our condolences and – go out to the Indian people who were killed or injured in those terrorist incidents, and we continue to work with India on more effective counterterrorism efforts.

QUESTION: And finally, you meet so many Indian and Pakistani officials in India and also in Pakistan and also here at the State Department in U.S. when they visit and back and forth visits. Do you – of course you talk about these problems, but what answer do you get from the – these officials and what is the solution that --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- these activities stop in the future?

MR TONER: I think the – I’m not going to disclose what we discuss with them. Look, I think the – part of the solution is more effective coordination, and we’ve talked about this on many occasions. Pakistan and India, the United States, Afghanistan – all those countries have to work more closely together. Many of these terrorist groups operate within that environment and all of the governments in the region have to be diligent about taking the fight to these terrorist groups that may, as you said, use safe haven in one country to carry out attacks on another country. That’s part of effectively cordoning off and really choking off these terrorist groups. And we all need to do a better job at it.

QUESTION: Can I just --

QUESTION: Only the innocent peoples are the victims in both countries.

MR TONER: Sure, let – yeah. I’m sorry, I missed that.

QUESTION: Only the innocent peoples are victims of these --

MR TONER: Exactly, thank you.

QUESTION: -- terrorists in both countries.

MR TONER: Let me get Arshad, and then I’ll go to you, and then I’ll go to you. I apologize.

QUESTION: Just a real quick one. As I think you should be aware, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and other have – well, let me put it this way: There is a move afoot by some human rights groups to get the United Nations to drop Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council. And in particular – and I believe it’s Human Rights Watch has alleged that the United States could be complicit for providing targeting information to the Saudis in Yemen if the Saudis are found to have committed war crimes or crimes of war. Do you have any comments on this effort to drop Saudi Arabia, whether you think they should be dropped or not? And do you have any comment on potential U.S. complicity for targeting information?

MR TONER: So we have seen those reports – or we’re aware, frankly, of the – this effort to remove Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the United States is obviously resolute in its commitment to strengthen the protection of children through the framework that was created by the council. And as we’ve said repeatedly before, we remain concerned about the effects of the conflict in Yemen on the civilians there, and especially on children. And we have worked long and hard to get a peace process up and running, and we continue to urge all sides in the conflict to protect civilians and comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law. Specifically, because we only have observer status on the human council – or Human Rights Council, excuse me – I’d refer you to the UN for more details. I mean, we don’t have a vote.

With regard to your second question about complicity, I’m not going to speak to that other than that we work very closely, as I said, to urge all sides to show respect for civilians and to certainly not target civilians, but indeed to protect civilians and comply with international humanitarian law.

QUESTION: Even if – even though you’re an observer at the current time and not --


QUESTION: -- a member, do you think it’s a good idea to boot Saudi Arabia from that august body?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to weigh in on a process that, again, we’re just an observer to, except to say that we want the Human Rights Council to remain an effective body and we do believe in its mission and we would hope that all members to the Human Rights Council would respect that mission.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up.


QUESTION: You say you’re just an observer. I think you’re a little more. You’re the single biggest payer of the Human Rights Council. You also took part in the election for picking the Human Rights Council, however flawed the democratic method of clean ballots and whatnot. So – and your voice still carries, I think, a little weight in the world, especially with --

MR TONER: Thank you, Brad.

QUESTION: -- a number of Western group countries that are on the body. So do you really have no position on whether Saudi Arabia should be removed or not from the – and Saudi Arabia, last time I checked, was a major U.S. partner – non-NATO ally, I think.



MR TONER: Well, they are. Look, I’m just – what I was trying to – the point I was trying to make to Arshad is we’re not a voting – will not be a voting member. We’ll obviously remain active as an observer-state, and we’ll continue to work to make sure that the council lives up to its mandate. Beyond that, I’m not going to pronounce on whether Saudi Arabia should or should not be a member.


QUESTION: Hardly a ringing endorsement for a – I mean, you are providing assistance to Saudi Arabia in this conflict, are you not? And yet you’re not even willing to say that they shouldn’t suffer diplomatic repercussions as a result of this very conflict. What is that – then why are you providing them assistance in this conflict?

MR TONER: Well, again, Brad, we’ve been very clear about our involvement in Yemen, and that is geared towards – and the reasons for our involvement, our support for the GCC, led by, obviously, the Saudis, in combating the threat that it faced on its borders from the Houthis. But in every situation, in every occasion, we have also stressed the fact that all sides in that conflict need to abide by international law and avoid civilian casualties. And with respect to this movement with regard to their position in the Human Rights Council, we’re not going to comment on it. Just not.



MR TONER: Brexit.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry said David Cameron has no idea how to leave the EU, quote, “And by the way, nor do most of the people who voted to do it,” end quote, followed by laughter. Isn’t it this kind of condescension that led the British voters voting the way they did? I mean, before the referendum, Brexit advocates had a bump in the polls when President Obama told the UK, “You’re going to be at the back of the queue if you go ahead with this.” Do you think more condescension is going to help change their mind?

MR TONER: So I don’t think there’s any condescension. I think everybody, including the British people and government as well as the EU authorities and the European people, or the people of the member-states of the EU – let me put it that way – everyone is looking hard now at how this process moves forward. And I think that there is a degree of examination that – at how the mechanisms and agreements and how this separation will take place. I think the Secretary was simply highlighting that this is not going to be something that happens overnight.

QUESTION: But how is it U.S. officials’ place to say what Brexit voters understand or have no idea about?

MR TONER: Again, the Secretary was speaking in an environment, the Aspen Ideas – I think you’re talking about the forum that he was at yesterday – where he was being very casual about his comments. But what he was trying to underscore was the fact that this is a complicated process, and that we need to move forward – not we, but the UK and the EU need to move forward slowly and deliberatively as they tackle it. Look, this is uncharted territory in a sense. And so there are laws and processes that exist, but I think as they move forward with this, it’s going to take some time.

But also, just to underscore, this is not the U.S. trying to inflict its viewpoint or in any way kind of shape this process. I think what we’re trying to show in the immediate aftermath of last week’s vote is our strong partnership, continued partnership with the EU, and that as well as that, our strong bilateral relationship with the UK, and the fact that no matter what happens with Brexit, those relationships will continue and abide.

QUESTION: You said Secretary Kerry was a little casual when saying that. Do you think the President saying that the UK was going to be at the end of the queue was also a little bit too casual?

MR TONER: Not at all, and I think that – and I’m not trying to say that they were – and I’m sorry if I gave that impression. Look, I mean, by “casual” I meant that they were simply sharing their viewpoints. But in the President’s case, I think he was very explicitly sending a message that how we felt about this vote. But at the same time, we recognize that this was a democratic process, and we respect that process, and we’ve said as much in the immediate aftermath of the vote.

Please, sir. A couple more.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: May I follow up on that one? Immediately before the phrase (inaudible) our colleague found condescending --


QUESTION: -- he – Secretary Kerry said that – and I think this is accurate from what we’ve seen from London – that David Cameron doesn’t want to immediately invoke Article 50 because he wants to get a new government in place that could negotiate the divorce proceedings, if you will. There are people in Brussels, however, and in other European capitals who’d like to get a move on with this as quickly as possible, thinking a clean break would be more – bring more stability and reassurance to the markets and to other countries. Obviously that’s a debate to be had; does the United States have a view? Obviously not a determining view, but do you have a – do you lean on one side of that argument or the other?

MR TONER: I just think that – and the Secretary spoke about this, frankly, very eloquently, I think, in his press avail with Foreign Minister Hammond the other day, and that is what I think is most important is that these discussions on the process and how this looks and how it works is done in a way that’s, as I said, calm, measured, deliberative moving forward. But frankly, this is for the EU and the UK to work out between themselves.

QUESTION: In terms of the U.S., what sort of preparations is the State Department making to protect U.S. interests in the European Union if Britain’s not going to be part of a close ally? Is there sort of a diplomatic surge surrounding Germany, which is sort of the next closest ally?

MR TONER: Well – yeah, I mean, it’s a fair question to an extent, but I would just only simply respond by saying that – I mean, Foreign Minister Steinmeier is one of Secretary Kerry’s closest confidantes and friends and partners. The U.S.-German partnership, although it’s been tested in recent years, is as strong as ever. And let’s also be clear that even if Britain does exit the European Union, it still remains one of the most capable members of NATO. So on the security front that connection remains.

So I think – I don’t want to overemphasize or overblow the impact of Brexit. I simply think it’s worth noting that our relationship with both England – or the UK, rather – and the EU are going to remain strong and vital. And as much as we can – but I don’t think it’s necessarily needed, but as much as we can be a conduit between the two, that’s also important.

QUESTION: Is there any way that the department is looking to compensate for the loss of having such a strong ally in the world’s largest trading bloc?

MR TONER: How so?

QUESTION: Well, just – the argument that the – that President Obama and others made for the UK remaining in was in many ways talking about how important it is to have an important ally also echoing sort of U.S. interests within the continent.


QUESTION: So is there sort of an alternative or a sort of backup plan that the U.S. is working on to maintain its interests in the EU?

MR TONER: No, again, because I think we still have strong relationships in – within the EU, with member-states. The Secretary did say I think the other day that he’ll miss the UK voice at the table in the EU, and that’s legitimate. But again, we respect this vote, we respect the decision of the British people, and we’ll figure out a way moving forward to shore up our relations with our remaining partners within the EU as well as make sure that the U.S.-British relationship remains as vital as it’s always been.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up?

QUESTION: Wait – I’ve got a follow-up.

QUESTION: All right. I’ll wait, I’ll wait.

MR TONER: Yeah – sure.

QUESTION: Why does it make sense to put Britain at the back of the queue for trade negotiations now that it’s left Brexit? Why is that a good policy? Why does that make sense?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to get into parsing the President’s remarks before the Brexit vote. In the aftermath of the vote I think we’re looking at all aspects of this. And again, hesitating to speak on behalf of the President, I think he was simply saying that there are other existing, ongoing priorities for us, including TTIP, for example, and TPP. And I think he was simply trying to reflect those priorities when he was talking about it.

QUESTION: You want a strong Britain, correct?

MR TONER: Of course we want a strong Britain, and we want a strong --

QUESTION: You want a Britain with a healthy --

MR TONER: -- trade relationship, yes.

QUESTION: -- with a healthy economy?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: With enough tax revenues to be able to pay for 2 – spend 2 percent of GDP on security?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: So why would you do anything like neglect or favor other trade deals over one with Britain when that could hurt their economy and thereby hurt their – I mean, the United States is a huge market for British exports, so why would you put them at the back of the queue?

MR TONER: Again, I’m – in the – as we move beyond the Brexit vote, we’re looking at how to balance all of these different aspects if this separation does happen. And one of the most important is obviously trade and the stability of the markets and we’re mindful of that – of course we are. And we’re also mindful of our strong trade relationship with the UK. But I’m not in a position at this time to say we’re going to do X, Y, or Z, other than to say that we’re going to continue to work closely with Britain. We continue to encourage a strong trade relationship with Britain.

We’re also, at the same time, going to pursue TTIP with the EU because that is also an absolutely vital and significant trade relationship, the most important we have.

QUESTION: One last one from me on this.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: The Secretary yesterday, when he was asked a question --


QUESTION: -- about the back of the queue comment and a bilateral deal with the British versus a multilateral deal with – versus negotiating TTIP with the European Union --

MR TONER: Of course, yep.

QUESTION: -- and he talked about how it just sort of stood to reason that if you’ve got a negotiation with 27 countries potentially – assuming the Brits leave – that that’s – and it’s a bigger market, it makes sense to focus on that. And he said, quote, “I think given what has happened, the President is going to try to do both at the same time. He knows how to multitask.”

MR TONER: Couldn’t have said it better myself.

QUESTION: The way I understood that was that the President was likely to seek to negotiate both at the same time. Is that what he meant to say?

MR TONER: So I think I’m just going to reiterate what I hopefully conveyed a few minutes ago, which is that we do have to be able to do both. We have to pursue what is already an in-process negotiation with the EU. So by its very nature, we’re further ahead in terms of negotiating TTIP with the EU than we are with negotiating any separate trade deal with the UK.

But we are completely mindful of the need to remain – or retain, rather, a robust trading relationship with the UK, and of its importance in the global marketplace.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Sorry, just a couple of follow-ups. Wait, let me go, just --

MR TONER: Guys, just a couple more questions. I’m really running out of time. I apologize.

QUESTION: On Brexis – on Brexit --


QUESTION: -- he asked about enhancing --

MR TONER: Brexis is important to eat every morning, by the way. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. (Laughter.) I’m sorry, that was --

QUESTION: -- enhancing --

MR TONER: I apologize for that.

QUESTION: -- relations with other EU members.


QUESTION: You will not have a member of the Five Eyes in the EU anymore after Brexit. Are you considering France or Germany or anyone else for that role?

MR TONER: I don’t think any decisions have been made at this point. We obviously --

QUESTION: Are you considering? Yeah.

MR TONER: Yeah, and I don’t want to even lean into that other than to say that we – even though we don’t have a member of the Five Eyes, we do have a very strong intelligence cooperation with many members of the EU, as with – as well as with the EU writ large.

QUESTION: Right, but --

QUESTION: But when you’ve talked about Five Eyes in the past --

MR TONER: But I understand what you’re – yeah, I understand.

QUESTION: -- and you’ve lauded it as such a --

MR TONER: I understand.

QUESTION: -- great thing, now without that, that’s a clear loss, is it not?

QUESTION: Or was it not really meaningful the whole time?

MR TONER: No, of course it was important and – I’m just saying that I don’t have anything to announce or I – obviously, intelligence cooperation, enhancing intelligence cooperation, will remain a priority, and in the absence of Britain, we’ll of course look at how – ways we can enhance that further with other EU members.

QUESTION: One more.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: You talked about – you cited the Secretary’s comments about calm, measured, deliberative discussions, which sounds like the diplomatic version of “slow, slow, slow,” which seems to be Britain’s position and not the EU’s position. If these talks had to be calm, deliberative – sorry, calm, measured, deliberative, how do you help the EU ensure that we don’t have a slow, drawn-out process that leads to every one of its members asking for similar or other concessions and renegotiation?

MR TONER: Sure, it’s a fair question. And this is all – let me just emphasize and underscore this is all for the EU to work out with Great Britain. These are all considerations. I think what’s important and what I was trying to convey is not necessarily slow, slow, slow, but not done in – with an excess of haste. And all I’m saying by that is – and the Secretary spoke to this the other day – as I said, he put it far better than I could – but just not do anything rashly.

QUESTION: Why is it for the EU to work out with Great Britain? Once Britain leaves --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- isn’t it for the EU to work out not – if Britain --

MR TONER: Well, of course, but --

QUESTION: -- leaves the EU, it’s not for Britain to tell the EU how to negotiate its own --

MR TONER: Of course, but we’re not even there yet. We haven’t even begun that process yet with Britain leaving the EU. We have not --


MR TONER: That process hasn’t even --

QUESTION: So you’re saying you can’t even begin to think about how --

MR TONER: Well, of course we’re --

QUESTION: -- you do it because the process hasn’t started yet, which seems to me that that’s not very helpful.

MR TONER: No. Brad, all I’m simply saying – and I’m sorry if I’m not able to covey this well – but I think that there’s a long – there is a process ahead of us that could take, frankly, months to years.

QUESTION: Well, that’s a choice. It doesn’t have to take months to years.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, there’s – again, there is a process in place – and I think this speaks to your comments – is that beyond Brexit now, both the UK Government and the EU are looking at how this process needs to be implemented.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. hope that process will never begin?

MR TONER: Not at all. What we – look, I mean, regardless of the outcome of this process, we’re going to remain close, strong partners and allies with Great Britain; we’re going to remain close, strong partners and allies with the EU. Our only interest in any of this is that through this process – this separation or whatever we want to call it – that it be done in a way that is mutually beneficial to both parties.

QUESTION: Very quick just on Saudi Arabia.

MR TONER: Yep, sure. Sorry.

QUESTION: The actual process – so Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for the UN General Assembly to remove Saudi Arabia from the Human Rights Council. To do so requires a two-thirds majority of the UN General Assembly. You do have a vote in the UN General Assembly.

MR TONER: We do.

QUESTION: So do you favor Saudi Arabia’s removal in such a vote?

MR TONER: I don’t think we would talk about our vote before that happened – before the vote took place. But nice try. (Laughter.)

One last question, I apologize.

QUESTION: See how much you get off of --

QUESTION: On the Global Engagement Center that I asked about yesterday --

MR TONER: You did ask me about that and --

QUESTION: -- has it expanded over the past year, and also will the center’s mission expand beyond combating terrorism?

MR TONER: I know you asked me about that. Somewhere in this big book in front of me I have it. I just can’t find it. I apologize for that. I apologize.

QUESTION: May I help you? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) stacks and we’ll all take a bit away with us. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: Let me give one last shot here and look where it might be, and if I can’t find it --

QUESTION: Can you issue it on paper?


MR TONER: Yeah, well, we probably could that.

QUESTION: Okay, great.

MR TONER: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:41 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 06/28/2016 - 16:32

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

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:38 p.m. EDT

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

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

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

And with that, Brad, over to you.

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

MR TONER: Sure, Brad.

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

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

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

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

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

MR TONER: Some of them are --

QUESTION: -- 90 percent.

MR TONER: Ninety percent, oh.

QUESTION: Yeah, 80-something.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

MR TONER: Yeah. Sure, go ahead.

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

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

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

QUESTION: And my last one.

MR TONER: Yeah. Sure. That’s okay.

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

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

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

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



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

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

QUESTION: Mark, you said that --

MR TONER: Please, Said.

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

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

QUESTION: Okay. So what are --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

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

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

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


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

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

QUESTION: I mean, those who --

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

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


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

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

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

QUESTION: And lastly --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

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

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

QUESTION: Forever.

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

QUESTION: As of now --

MR TONER: As of now, right.


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

QUESTION: Can I just --

MR TONER: Please. Oh, I’m sorry --

QUESTION: Can I just go back to --

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

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

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


MR TONER: Yeah, please. Go ahead.

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

MR TONER: Yeah, I’m – yeah.

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

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

QUESTION: (Sneezes.)

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

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

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



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


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

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

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

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

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

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

Please, Abbie.

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

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

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

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

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

MR TONER: Please.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: I have one more on the --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- the Benghazi report.


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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: So just to clarify --

MR TONER: Please.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: So you – sorry. So you --

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

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

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

QUESTION: I’m talking about the video.

MR TONER: Yes. Yes. Yes.


MR TONER: Yes. Sorry.

QUESTION: You don’t believe that?

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

QUESTION: Yeah. Yeah.

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

QUESTION: Right, okay.

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

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Going to Syria?

QUESTION: Can we change to another subject?


MR TONER: Yeah, I think we can.

QUESTION: Can I go next?

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

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


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

MR TONER: Good question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Yeah, Ottawa.

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

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

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

QUESTION: Go to Syria?

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

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

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


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

QUESTION: Okay. I’m sorry.

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

QUESTION: I thought you were done. Sorry.

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

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

MR TONER: I mean, look --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

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

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

QUESTION: Now, let me just follow up --

MR TONER: Go ahead. Yeah.

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


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


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


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

MR TONER: So I think --

QUESTION: What is your reading and --

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

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

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

QUESTION: And lastly --

MR TONER: Yeah. Please.

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

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

I got to go really quick guys, so Nike.

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

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

QUESTION: The liberation of Mosul.

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

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

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

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

MR TONER: Political?


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

QUESTION: Can I ask a Cuba question?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

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

QUESTION: Okay, a Cuba question really quick.


QUESTION: Starwoods Hotel is now running --


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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

And you, sir.

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


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

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

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

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

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Mon, 06/27/2016 - 16:15

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

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:05 p.m. EDT

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

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

And that’s all I have. Matt.

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

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t.

QUESTION: -- Britain and the EU?

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

QUESTION: Let me just ask this.


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

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

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

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

QUESTION: All right.


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

QUESTION: No, I’m good, thanks.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, (inaudible).

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Just one more Iraq question.


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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Okay. Will --

MS TRUDEAU: -- but I cannot confirm them.


MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Said.

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


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

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

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

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, on the 20 million.

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


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

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

QUESTION: And just one last --


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS TRUDEAU: Sure, Samir. Hi.

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

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

QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, of course.


QUESTION: Hold on, can we – Bahrain.


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

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

And Ros, you wanted --

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Bahrain?

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


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

QUESTION: Very quickly, because --


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

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


MS TRUDEAU: Go ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt, you had a question?

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

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

QUESTION: So what are the other agencies involved?

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


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

QUESTION: Wait, hold on, hold on.


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

MS TRUDEAU: I believe they were.

QUESTION: Yeah. You know what they did?

MS TRUDEAU: They refused to comment on it.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: So which ones?

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

QUESTION: I’m going to hold my breath.

MS TRUDEAU: Hold on one second.

QUESTION: How long should I hold it?

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


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


QUESTION: Can you comment on that?


QUESTION: You’re not aware?

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

Okay, Ros.

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


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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Is this just really a good idea?


QUESTION: Can I go to the Palestinian --

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

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

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Hold on --

QUESTION: This is somewhat related.

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

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

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

QUESTION: Is it --

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

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

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


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

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

QUESTION: You don’t --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) with cash.

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

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

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

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

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

MS TRUDEAU: I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: -- because of the --

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

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

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

QUESTION: From Iran?

MS TRUDEAU: We believe – yeah --

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

MS TRUDEAU: Funding.

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

MS TRUDEAU: Significant.

QUESTION: -- from Iran?

MS TRUDEAU: We believe that’s the case.


QUESTION: On Lebanon --


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


QUESTION: -- army in Lebanon?

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

QUESTION: Can we go to Palestinian-Israeli issue?


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

MS TRUDEAU: Sure, of course.

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


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

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


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


QUESTION: And let me just ask you --

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

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

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

Okay. Turkey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

MS TRUDEAU: Actually, I don’t, no.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.


QUESTION: Do you have anything on --

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

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

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

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

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



QUESTION: Also on Japan --


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

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

QUESTION: Is there --


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

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


QUESTION: -- deputy foreign minister --


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

MS TRUDEAU: With – in Somalia --

QUESTION: Yeah, then --

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

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

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

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


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

MS TRUDEAU: No, fair enough.

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

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

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

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

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




QUESTION: Former Burmese junta.

MS TRUDEAU: Nice, thank you.


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

QUESTION: Yeah, just --

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

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

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

QUESTION: Okay. Okay, thanks.

MS TRUDEAL: Abigail.

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


QUESTION: Can you --

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

QUESTION: So you said you take it seriously.


QUESTION: What exactly have you done?

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


QUESTION: Is that it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS TRUDEAU: Recently.

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

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

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


QUESTION: It has not?



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

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

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


QUESTION: No, I have one more.

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

QUESTION: Venezuela.

MS TRUDEAU: That was pretty slick, guys.

QUESTION: Venezuela.


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

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

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

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t know that.

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

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t know that either.


MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Fri, 06/24/2016 - 16:48

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

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:43 p.m. EDT

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

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

MR KIRBY: Oh yeah? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: We are still here.

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


QUESTION: Let’s start with Brexit.

MR KIRBY: Yes, sir.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MR KIRBY: By some estimates, yeah.

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

MR KIRBY: I think so.

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

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

QUESTION: In the EU --

MR KIRBY: In the EU as a partner?

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

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

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

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

MR KIRBY: Indeed.

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

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

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

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

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, British what?

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Can I follow up on a point?


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

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

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

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

And I think I’d leave it there. Yeah.

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Okay. We’re going to move on?

QUESTION: Two different questions.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead, Goyal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR KIRBY: Justin.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Okay. Well, how is --

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

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

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

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

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

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

MR KIRBY: I mean, if it – we don’t --

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






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: You wouldn’t say with whom?

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

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

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


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

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

MR KIRBY: Yes. I mean --

QUESTION: Okay. But those --

QUESTION: The private --

MR KIRBY: I mean, if he ‘s --

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

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

QUESTION: Or in any detail, right?

MR KIRBY: Right, right.

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

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

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

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


QUESTION: I have one more on this.

QUESTION: I do, too.

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

MR KIRBY: Again, I’ve articulated --

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

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

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

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

Does that help?

QUESTION: I think so.

QUESTION: So I don’t --

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

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

MR KIRBY: That doesn’t preclude private --

QUESTION: That doesn’t preclude --

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


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

QUESTION: But that’s not – yeah.

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

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

QUESTION: How do you know?

QUESTION: Well – (laughter) – depends.

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

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

QUESTION: All right.

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

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


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

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Sure, okay.

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

Okay. Pam.

QUESTION: Eritrea.

MR KIRBY: Eritrea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MR KIRBY: North Korean diplomat.


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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: I understand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the United States of America.

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

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

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

QUESTION: But you have --

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

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

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

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

Thanks, everybody. Have a great weekend.

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

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Thu, 06/23/2016 - 18:07

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

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:07 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.


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

QUESTION: They’re both very stylish.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

MR KIRBY: They did.


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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Can I quickly follow up --


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

MR KIRBY: Not during this trip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MR KIRBY: As I said --

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

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


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

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

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

QUESTION: Can we go to --

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

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

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

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

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

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean --

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: You don’t think it’s --

MR KIRBY: As we’ve said before, we --

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

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

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

MR KIRBY: Why can’t I what?

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

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

QUESTION: And this is that kind of rhetoric?

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

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

QUESTION: Central African Republic?

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

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

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: Well, you’re --

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


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

QUESTION: Okay. All right.

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

MR KIRBY: You mean the --



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


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

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

QUESTION: I was asking because --

QUESTION: Well, do you plan on raising it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MR KIRBY: But we’re a member.

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

MR KIRBY: We’re a member.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: I know. But you’re --

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

QUESTION: I have one on North Korea.

QUESTION: Back over to --

QUESTION: Can I just follow --


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

QUESTION: Follow on (inaudible).

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

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Thank you very much.

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


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

QUESTION: Please, Goyal.

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

QUESTION: Goyal, please ask your question.

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

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

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

MR KIRBY: That’s a big one.

QUESTION: Now that all of the children are grown.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Well, that’s what I mean.

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

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

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

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

MR KIRBY: There was no exchange between the two.


QUESTION: Turkey. So going to Turkey --

QUESTION: Can I follow up on what the --


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

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah, it’s okay.

MR KIRBY: Don’t worry about it.


MR KIRBY: I’ll get to you. Yeah.

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

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

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

MR KIRBY: Nope. Nope.

QUESTION: Do you expect that there will be one?

QUESTION: Can I have just one more on that?

MR KIRBY: Turkey?

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

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


QUESTION: Thank you.

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

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


QUESTION: Can I follow up on Turkey?


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

QUESTION: Refugees.

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

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

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

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

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

MR KIRBY: Fighting with or fighting against?

QUESTION: ISIS – against, sorry.

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

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

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

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

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


QUESTION: Change of --

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Yes, yeah.

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

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


QUESTION: Syrian national released to Uruguay.


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

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

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

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

QUESTION: I have questions on Japan.


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

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

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

MR KIRBY: You’re talking about nuclear weapons?


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

QUESTION: Unless you have --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Japan. This week --

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Uh-uh.

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

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

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

QUESTION: One more on Pakistan?


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

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

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

MR KIRBY: This is where? I’m sorry.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Exactly.

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


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

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

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


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

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

MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.

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

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