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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 29, 2016

Thu, 09/29/2016 - 18:11

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 29, 2016

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2:43 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.


MR KIRBY: I do not have anything at the top, so we’ll go right to it.

QUESTION: You have nothing at the top? You can’t update us on --

MR KIRBY: Why every time do I do that do you sound incredulous?

QUESTION: Well, because I thought there was going to be --

MR KIRBY: I don’t --

QUESTION: -- some momentous news.

MR KIRBY: I don’t do it every day.


MR KIRBY: I try to come with something to enlighten you.

QUESTION: To annoy me.

MR KIRBY: And annoy you, yes. That’s always a plus if I can do it. But I don’t have anything today.

QUESTION: Well, can you update us on the status of your preparations to suspend the engagement with Russia on Syria?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates from yesterday.

QUESTION: In other words, there’s been no contact between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t – no, I didn’t say that. I just said I don’t have anything to update you on in terms of – in terms of decisions.

QUESTION: Well, so there was --

MR KIRBY: The Secretary did speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning. They continued their conversation from yesterday about the situation in Aleppo and about the fragility of the arrangement that we struck earlier this month in Geneva. But I don’t have any updates to give you today --

QUESTION: All right. Well, so --

MR KIRBY: -- or announcements to make.

QUESTION: So yesterday, you said you were preparing to suspend. This morning, the Secretary said you were on the verge of suspending.

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So what’s the tipping point? Things haven’t changed, so why haven’t you suspended? Yesterday, it looked, talked, and walked like an ultimatum. And now today, it looks like, in fact, it was a duck.

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t say that at all, Matt. And I think that the Secretary was just as candid and blunt today with Foreign Minister Lavrov as he was yesterday. You’re right; he did say today that we remain on the verge of having to suspend bilateral engagements on Syria with Russia. And that’s exactly where we are, which is where we were yesterday. And we are still prepared to enact that kind of a suspension and we’re in consultations right now inside the – inside our own government and, of course, with Foreign Minister Lavrov. But I just don’t have any updates for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Because it sounds like you backed down from what you had threatened to do. Is that not – why is this not – why should the Russians or the rest of the world not look at your decision not to go ahead and suspend as – after the – why should they not see your threat to suspend as a bluff, if you have not gone ahead and suspended, given the fact that there’s been no change in the situation on the ground?

MR KIRBY: Well, I certainly can’t get in the heads of Russian leaders and determine how they looked at the strength of the comments that we had yesterday. They still remain valid today, and I can assure you this was no idle threat. It wasn’t an idle threat yesterday and it’s not one today. The Secretary very much meant exactly what he said both yesterday and today, and we’re perfectly prepared to suspend if it comes to that. But again, the conversation continued today, and I just don’t want to get ahead of any decisions.

QUESTION: All right, last – my last one. You say it was no idle threat yesterday and it’s not an idle threat today. So it’s an active threat, but one that has not yet been acted on --

MR KIRBY: It is – it’s --

QUESTION: -- and one which you cannot give a timetable for when it will be acted on.

MR KIRBY: All I can tell you is we are – we remain very serious about where things are in Aleppo, where things are with respect to the failure of the arrangement thus far that we reached in Geneva. And we’re very serious about the potential of suspending bilateral engagement with Russia over – on Syria, if it comes to that.

QUESTION: Yesterday, you told us that – both in the readout and then when you spoke here, you told us that you would do so unless Russia took immediate steps to halt the violence. And when we asked you to define “immediate,” if I’m not mistaken, you said, “now.” So 24 hours has gone past. Is it fair to say that you don’t need immediate action from them?

MR KIRBY: No, that’s not fair to say at all.

QUESTION: So – well, if immediate means now and they didn’t do anything yesterday, and as best I can tell, the violence has continued pretty much unabated overnight, why are you giving them more time?

MR KIRBY: It’s not about giving them more time. As I said, the conversation continued again today, and the Secretary said it himself that we’re on the verge of a suspension, barring some significant steps by Russia. And we are in active – as in just a couple hours ago – active communication with Russia on that very issue.

QUESTION: Last week when the Secretary spoke emotionally at the Security Council, he talked about – when he was talking about the kinds of steps, he talked about an immediate, complete grounding of the Syrian air force, and you alluded to that earlier this week. Is that still the kind of dramatic step you’re looking for?

MR KIRBY: That – should that occur, should they be willing to implement that, that certainly would be a significant step that would give us the confidence that Russia is serious about meeting its end of the commitments.

QUESTION: And why, though, after all the time that has elapsed since the original Geneva Accords were reached – I think back in 2012, was it? – why do you still think that they might be serious when, by your own telling, they have violated so many of the agreements that you have reached with them? Why do you think that there’s even a scintilla of a chance that they might be serious now?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t suggest, and neither has the Secretary, that we believe they are serious. Their actions over just the last few days raise significant doubts and questions about the seriousness with which they are willing to apply their own commitments, stated not just privately to us in the negotiating room, but publicly. So we have significant doubts about their seriousness.

What I can tell you is that we – that in many of these – you talked about going back to 2012, and I can take you just back to February – when they have chosen, able and willing, to use the influence that they have on Assad to reduce violence in Syria, it has proven successful. Now, was it perfect? No. We never expected there to be zero violence in Syria. But there was a time for a couple of months earlier this year where it was significantly reduced, and people were out and about, and businesses were opening back up. So we know that they can do it.

But the question is – actually, we’re asking the same question that you are, Arshad – is: How serious are you about this? And again, that was very much the tone and tenor of the conversation today.

QUESTION: How do you – sorry, last one from me on this. But how do you address the criticism that you’ve been played and that what they have essentially done is used the negotiating process with the Secretary to help the Assad government achieve its aims on the ground while continuing to conduct a sort of pretense negotiation that you have played along with?

MR KIRBY: Nobody is under any illusion that Russia’s actions have propped up, bolstered, supported Assad in his efforts to continue to brutalize Syrian citizens, their own people. No, we’re not under any illusions. And if you go back and look at what the Secretary said at the UN Security Council just last week, I think you could see and hear in his voice how much he recognizes that reality. Nobody is being played here.

But that doesn’t mean that we’re not willing to continue to a point – and so far, we’re still in the mode of continuing to try to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict. And the Secretary said it again this morning, that he’s not going to apologize for going the extra mile to do that. But any suggestion that he’s sitting there at the table, blindly taking everything the Russians say on faith, or that he is naive to what Russia might consider its own geopolitical interests in Syria is just – it’s not – it’s not true, it’s false. It’s absolutely not – doesn’t comport with the facts. But he’s the nation’s chief diplomat. His job, his whole reason for being is to try to arrive at solutions through diplomacy. And that’s his mission and that’s what he’s been trying to do.

Now, he’s also been very honest that even as the nation’s chief diplomat, his patience isn’t limitless. And I think you can, again, go back just over the last seven to eight days and see the tone and tenor of what he’s been saying to all of you publicly about the situation, particularly in Aleppo. And you can see that he is indeed himself nearing the end.

QUESTION: Well, how many extra miles is he prepared to go, though? I mean, it seems like he’s already basically completed a marathon of extra miles so far. I mean, how many – and before you get – you keep asking this question, “How serious are you, Russia, about this” – how is it you haven’t gotten an answer to that question yet?

MR KIRBY: I would agree that – an honest answer to that question seems to be elusive. And as I said, as the Secretary said, that’s why we believe we’re on the verge of a suspension.

QUESTION: And it’s – but how can it be elusive? You keep saying over and over and over again that the Russians are showing that they’re not serious.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And yet you’re prepared to continually – to keep on, apparently, without limit asking the question of them without --

MR KIRBY: It’s not without limit.



QUESTION: John, could I --

QUESTION: Could I ask your – the language of diplomacy, when you say you need something immediately and you define “immediately” as now, and that was more than 24 hours ago and the consequence that you threaten doesn’t happen?

MR KIRBY: I would tell you – as I said earlier, we were serious about what we said yesterday. We stand by it and we remain serious today.



QUESTION: I just want to follow up on what you said yesterday, or the threat, because it did not go un-noticed in Moscow. In fact, your counterpart in the Russian foreign ministry, Zakharova, said who are you expecting to attack the cities, or something akin to that, she posted on her Facebook. Is it the moderates that you talk about? Obviously, I don’t know what kind of – what is the message behind what she’s saying. But she’s saying – she’s talking about the body bags and so on. How serious was that threat? How does that threat ought – should be interpreted?

MR KIRBY: I wasn’t issuing any threat yesterday to --

QUESTION: I mean, you were saying that those cities could be vulnerable, Russians will go back in body bags and so on. That was not a threat?

MR KIRBY: No. Those were facts. And they’re not new facts; they’re not things that we haven’t said before. The question was: What would be the consequences to Russia for not being serious about meeting their commitments? And I said what I have said, the Secretary has said, many times before – that the consequences are more war, more bloodshed. And it’s Russian troops that are in that war, not U.S. troops. So it was just a fact. There was no threat, there was no – I’ve seen claims that I was trying to incite terrorism, and that’s just completely bogus. That’s not at all the point that I was trying to make.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, on the issue of the ceasefire, I think the Russians are proposing a 48-hour ceasefire. Are you aware of that? Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen press reporting on it, but I --

QUESTION: It was not --

MR KIRBY: -- don’t have anything to confirm one way or the other that that’s a real proposal.

QUESTION: It was not a topic that the Secretary discussed with the foreign minister --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into a detailed readout of this discussion today. I’ve seen the press report on this supposed 48-hour ceasefire. I just don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION: My last one on this, just regarding maybe arming the opposition or relying on your allies, or your Arab allies in the GCC countries arming the opposition with stinger missiles and maybe even more sophisticated missiles, do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.


QUESTION: So since you have – this will be my last, because I’ve got to go someplace. But since you have not followed through on the suspension of the discussion, does that mean or can we infer then that in their conversation this morning, that in his conversation this morning, the Secretary got some kind of signal from Foreign Minister Lavrov that there was reason for you to keep the window open longer?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speak for Foreign Minister Lavrov, Matt, and I’m not going to provide a detailed readout of the conversation. It was a continuation of what they talked about yesterday. The only thing I can tell you is what I’ve said before – that the Secretary’s concerns were the same. His – the seriousness with which he believes we are approaching the verge of a suspension was, I think, very, very clearly relayed.

QUESTION: So then I just don’t understand why, then, there’s any reason to give them more time unless you don’t care --

MR KIRBY: Well, let’s not get ahead – I just don’t --

QUESTION: -- whether or not people take you seriously.

MR KIRBY: Let’s just – let’s not get ahead of process here. Let’s not get ahead of decisions.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: John, I’ve got two. First, the team is still in Geneva right now? Have you pulled them out?

MR KIRBY: As far as I know, there’s been no change to their presence in Geneva.


MR KIRBY: But as you know, Felicia, it’s an evolving – their presence, it comes and goes. There’s people that get added, get taken back. I mean, it’s not like a ship at sea where everybody’s there all the time. But the --

QUESTION: Right. Have you started pulling people out?

MR KIRBY: In this case – in this case, they’re still there, yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just a second question, I guess, just going back to – I know you’ve talked about this a lot, but Russia’s been complaining about rebels – U.S.-backed rebels being intertwined with Nusrah and there are some rebel leaders saying publicly that they feel the U.S. cares more about ISIS and al-Qaida than them in their fight against Assad. And so I guess why has it been such a problem to separate them? And then particularly, is there any deficit of trust between the U.S. and the rebels over this?

MR KIRBY: Well, let me take the second one first. I mean, we still continue to support the moderate opposition in Syria, as do some of our allies and partners, some of whom are in the region. And there’s certainly no diminution of our level of support for the efforts to move forward on a political transition. And that’s the kind of support that we’re talking about, is diplomatically trying to get a cessation of hostilities and humanitarian aid delivered so that they can get back to the table in Geneva with the regime and we can maybe hope to move the process forward.

We certainly understand the frustrations that some of them have voiced. We also understand that, to a large measure, much of that frustration comes from the actions of the regime which won’t stop bombing them and killing their families and destroying civilian infrastructure with the support of the Russian military. But there’s absolutely no question that the United States still very much wants to move the political process forward and is going to – we want to see the bombs stop and the humanitarian aid get in so that the conditions can be created for political talks to resume.

Okay? That – I don’t – did I answer everything?

QUESTION: I guess the question is just, like, is this trust over the question of how the U.S. feels about the rebels’ fight against Assad versus al-Qaida and ISIS – is this affecting this separation process?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that there’s a – I mean, if that notion is true --

QUESTION: It’s like – I just said some rebels are saying publicly --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I mean, I’m not aware that it’s having a tangible, practical effect on the work we’re still doing on behalf of the opposition to reach a political solution that I’m aware of. And then this idea that – the idea that we’re --

QUESTION: But in terms of this separation, the idea that they wouldn’t be willing to separate because they don’t trust that you care about their fight.

MR KIRBY: Well, certainly, we understand that some groups have in the past made that decision. Our message to them is exactly the same as it’s always been – that being physically collocated, at the very least, certainly being affiliated in any way or supportive of – in any way of offensive actions by al-Nusrah is a dangerous proposition for them to pursue. And we’ve been very honest about that. We recognize that the, quote/unquote, “marbling,” if you will, of opposition groups with Nusrah remains a challenge. And yes, we’ve heard comments by some that point to Nusrah as a fighting force against Assad.

But what we’re trying to do is end that fighting. What we’re trying to do is stop the civil war and create the conditions where political talks can resume. So that’s – I mean, the whole locus of the energy that we’re applying to this is to get a ceasefire, a cessation of hostilities, that’s nationwide and can be enforced nationwide so that the bombs stop dropping; get humanitarian aid in so that people can get food, water, and medicine; and resume some sense – and I don’t even mean a sense, but some sense of normalcy in their lives, so that political talks can pursue.

We believe that – and this is the message that we’re sending to everybody, including the opposition – that the way forward here still should be political in nature. And so that’s why we don’t want to see this marbling, we don’t want to see them fighting with a UN-designated terrorist group like al-Nusrah.

Now, these are decisions they have to make, but we believe it is in their best interests – and more critically, the best interests of the Syrian people – to separate themselves from a group like Nusrah, which is not party to the cessation of hostilities, and help us. By doing that separation, they can help us get to the cessation of hostilities, remove any excuses – and they’re not much more than excuses – that the regime and Russia have been applying to strikes against those areas, and help us get the political talks back on track.

Did that answer the question better?

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s helpful.

MR KIRBY: And then the other thing I’d say is any notion that we’re more worried about Daesh than we are about the civil war in Syria and the brutality of the Assad regime also is not without – I mean, that’s completely without foundation. But the efforts are different. The efforts are different.

QUESTION: Didn’t the Secretary say in congressional testimony, though, ISIS first, that’s the strategy? I mean, he made very clear in public that the U.S. Government’s strategy was to go after Islamic State militants first, right? So I don’t think it’s entirely without foundation that you’re more concerned about ISIS than about the Assad regime, because you chose to go after ISIS first.

MR KIRBY: I’d have to look at exactly what he said, Arshad, but the military strategy is about Daesh. We have a policy of pursuing a diplomatic solution in Syria, and I can assure you, and anybody that’s been traveling with the Secretary or been anywhere around him for the last several months can – I think could assert, that he has applied an enormous amount of energy and his own personal time and effort to trying to find a political solution in Syria. So I think any notion that he’s not prioritizing this just, again, it flies in the face of the facts and frankly flies in the face of the time – the actual, physical time – that he’s been devoting to it.

QUESTION: I don’t think anyone would --

QUESTION: You’ve said from this podium many times that Daesh is enemy number one.

MR KIRBY: It is --

QUESTION: You have said that many times.

MR KIRBY: Daesh is an enemy – no question that they’re an enemy to the United States and to the West. I mean, they are actively plotting and trying to inspire terrorist attacks on the soil of many Western nations, to include the United States. Of course it’s a – degrading and defeating them remains a priority. What I’m saying is that any notion that we’re somehow relegating to some sort of backwater in our policy approach a political solution in Syria just is – is not without – it’s not foundational.

QUESTION: John, I don’t think anyone would doubt that Secretary Kerry has put a lot of time and effort into trying to end the Syrian civil war, but the military strategy – and obviously a lot of the bandwidth taken up by the NSC and by the Pentagon is dealing with Daesh. And therefore you have a diplomatic strategy to end one thing and a military strategy to end the other; and the diplomatic strategy appears to be on the verge of collapsing, whereas the military strategy still has some ongoing momentum. Would that be fair?

MR KIRBY: What I would say is yes, we are making progress against Daesh. The effort against Daesh isn’t just military. Yes, there’s a military line of effort, no question about that, and there has been some success achieved both in Iraq and in Syria against this group. And it’s not just the United States; it’s a coalition effort. This is a terrorist group that we have now for more than two years made a concerted effort to degrade and destroy, defeat their capabilities in the field, which means there’s going to be what we would call kinetic activity against them. But as I said yesterday, the policy of the United States with respect to the civil war in Syria, remains the same and that is that we continue to believe that a political solution is the best approach, that – and to get to that political solution, a diplomatic effort is going to be the focus of the energy, and it has remained the focus of the energy. And the Secretary has borne that responsibility very seriously.

We’re – I wouldn’t begin to stand up here and assert to you that we’re content with the situation on the ground in Syria with respect to the civil war. I wouldn’t assert to you that we’re content with the level of progress that we have achieved diplomatically to try to bring this civil war to an end. That’s why the Secretary spoke again today with Foreign Minister Lavrov. That’s why we talked very seriously, yesterday and today, about being on the verge of having to suspend bilateral engagement with Russia over Syria. It’s not that we want to do it; it’s that Russia’s activities themselves and the regime’s are propelling us in that direction.

But no question, Dave, military progress against – not just military, but the entire effort against Daesh in Iraq and Syria has achieved momentum – you’re right – and has achieved some progress, and that we are all frustrated that we haven’t been able to achieve the kind of progress we’d like to see with respect to the civil war in Syria and trying to get a political solution found. That doesn’t mean that military solutions are going to transfer well into that effort. We’ve long said, and I said it again yesterday, of course there’s other options and alternatives that we’d be irresponsible not to consider. But we continue to believe that none of them are better than trying to find a political one to what is a very complicated civil war. One is a counterterrorism effort against a still lethal and dangerous group. The other is a very complicated, long-running, difficult, ugly civil war, and we continue to believe that a political solution is the best approach.

QUESTION: Follow-up to that question: You just said – and I typed it down – the effort against Daesh isn’t just military, so I listened very closely --

MR KIRBY: I’m glad. (Laughter.) That’s good.

QUESTION: I try my best. I listened very closely for the political dimension. Along the lines of Clausewitz, war is of continuation of politics by other means. What is the political dimension of the military strategy against Daesh? And I refer – speak in the context of two recent articles, one by Ambassador Khalilzad, former ambassador to Iraq, complaining that there’s no political strategy in regard to Mosul, and the other by Ramzy Mardini, in The New York Times yesterday, “In parts of Iraq,” quote, “recaptured from the militants where I’ve traveled, signs of any central authority are nonexistent.”

So it sounds like Daesh is being driven out of various places, whether Iraq or Syria, but there’s no political component to U.S. efforts to put in an authority that’s going to hold the area and, in a coherent way, prevent the return of terrorism, provide stability to the population.

MR KIRBY: Well, there absolutely is a political component to the strategy against Daesh, I mean – and it started with the assembling of a coalition of more than – now, it’s 66 nations, and it carries through in our support. And we talked about this yesterday with your question about the finance minister, our continued support for the political reforms and efforts of Prime Minister Abadi and his government going forward. Because we’ve long said the way you sustain a defeat against a group like this is good governance. And we’ve recognized – we were very honest at the time when Daesh rolled into Mosul now, that – two summers ago – that one of the reasons they were able to do so so swiftly and effectively was that they were up against elements of an Iraqi army that had not been well led, not been well trained, not been well maintained, because Prime Minister Maliki’s government wasn’t inclusive and it wasn’t pluralistic and it wasn’t necessarily concerned with keeping Iraqi defense forces’ capabilities up to the level they were when the United States ended our presence there in Iraq. So we’ve long said that in order to sustain a defeat, you have to do it with indigenous forces; that’s why this is an Iraqi strategy, not an American strategy. And it is Iraqi forces, under the command and control of Baghdad, that are continuing to press the effort. And that’s why it’s important that it be Iraqi systems, Iraqi people, Iraqi resources, and Iraqi institutions that come in after that defeat, so that they can sustain legitimate and authentic governance going forward.

Now, is it perfect in the execution? Absolutely not. War tends to be pretty messy at times. But there are efforts being made and we are supporting political solutions, as well in Iraq to help institute a level of governance that can be sustainable and provide for the basic necessities of life that Iraqi citizens want and deserve. Because one of the – we know this – one of the root causes of the growth of extremist groups is when they come into a vacuum like that – as they’ve done in Syria, where there isn’t good governance and there is no hope, no jobs, no way to sustain normal life, and they take advantage of that. It’s not the only reason; I’m not suggesting that a jobs program is going to solve everything. I’m just saying that good governance has an effect on trying to keep out extremists once they have been forcibly forced out of an area; but it’s a difficult effort.

And look, there are places – you talked about rebuilding efforts or holding afterward, and there are parts in Iraq where it has gone pretty well. Tikrit – 90-95 percent of the citizens of Tikrit are back in. We’ve seen many, many citizens of Ramadi come back; and in Fallujah, just starting to see some families come back into Fallujah. It takes time. We understand that. But it’s not as if – I mean, the question the way you posed it, and I’m assuming you’re getting this from the articles that you’re citing; I haven’t read them – is that there’s no thought given to reconstruction or rebuilding or political stability in the wake of an ISIL defeat. And there will be an ISIL defeat. It’s going to happen, and I can assure you that, very much, our energies and our efforts are being applied to helping Prime Minister Abadi be able to provide that level of governance going forward.

QUESTION: But do – they do come from the articles. Mardini, who worked in this building before he worked in Vice President Biden’s office, says in parts of Iraq, quote – in The New York Times – “In parts of Iraq recaptured from the militants where I’ve traveled, signs of any central authority are nonexistent.” His argument in that op-ed is that the United States needs to help Abadi build a proper force – military force – to liberate Mosul and not rely on the patchwork of militias that now exist.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Well, again, I really don’t want to get into the habit of responding to every op-ed columnist and every line written by them, with all due respect to their experience and wisdom and knowledge. And this is not – I’m not at all impugning that. But a couple of points that I’d like to make on the way you phrased that, anyway. This is an Iraqi strategy and it always has been, and part of our support to that strategy is a significant train, advise, and assist mission. I mean, you just saw the Pentagon announced additional trainers and advisors that will be going in to help the Iraqis take back Mosul at some point in the future. But that – so our mission is exactly the same as it was before, and we’re applying the resources – in consultation and coordination with the Iraqi Government, by the way; at their invitation – to help them achieve those goals. So we are committed to improving the battlefield competency and capability of Iraqi defense forces.

Now, back to the – I think you used the word “patchwork.” We’ve long said that the composition of Iraqi forces in the field – that has to be decided and approved by Prime Minister Abadi. Sometimes I think we forget that it’s a sovereign country and they get to make these decisions. And we’re going to advise them as they do, but ultimately they’re their decisions. And there have been militia forces who have participated in some tactical operations in Syria, and I suspect that that participation will continue. But it’s going to be done in accordance with the decisions, the organization, and the structure that Prime Minister Abadi puts around it. And to what degree they participate in this area or that, that is up to the Iraqi Government to decide. But we, for our part – the United States – remain committed to helping improve their capabilities in the field as they do that.

QUESTION: Can I ask one just very quick Syria one? Yesterday you told us that if you were to suspend your diplomatic engagement with Russia over Syria that that would not affect the mil-mil de-confliction efforts. I want to make sure that that’s still your position, that if you suspend diplomatic engagement that you expect to continue de-confliction?.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Still our position.


MR KIRBY: Yeah, Nike.

QUESTION: Can I ask a couple of different questions? Are we ready to move on?

QUESTION: Syria? Can I ask --

QUESTION: India and Pakistan. Do you have --

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: First, do you have any – are we ready?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Go ahead. Sorry.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Indians surgical strikes against the militants along the borders with Pakistan?

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second.

QUESTION: Mr. Kirby, are you not going to take my question on Syria?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to answer her question and then I’ll be happy to answer yours.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: So Nike, we’ve seen those reports. We’re following the situation closely, as I think you can understand. We also understand that the Indian and Pakistani militaries have been in communication. We believe that continued communication is obviously important to reduce tensions.

We’ve repeatedly expressed our concerns regarding the danger that terrorism poses to the region. And we all know that terrorism, in many ways, knows no border. We continue to urge actions to combat and delegitimize terrorist groups like LeT and the Haqqani Network, Jaish-e-Mohammad. So this is something that we’re obviously keenly focused on. Okay?

QUESTION: Follow --

QUESTION: Was there any prior consultation between the United States and India before the surgical strikes? I’m asking this because some media reports point out that Secretary Kerry has spoken to his counterpart and Susan Rice also spoke to her counterpart. So can you give us some --

MR KIRBY: I can confirm for you that the Secretary spoke with the – on the 27th, so earlier this week, with Indian External Affairs Minister Swaraj and reiterated his strong condemnation of the September 18th Uri attack. He condemned terrorism in all its forms and he cautioned against any escalation in tensions. Okay?

QUESTION: Follow-up?

QUESTION: After the second U.S. and India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue last month, what specific steps have been taken to strengthen cooperation on fighting terrorism between these two countries?

MR KIRBY: This is something we’re always working at with our partners in the region. We’re always trying to get better at combatting terrorism in the region. And there are many ways you can do that – through information-sharing regimens and increasing – like we said, increasing communication between all parties involved. So I don’t have a specific laundry list here to read out to you, because, frankly, it’s something that we’ve been constantly working at with our partners in the region.


QUESTION: You said Secretary Kerry had cautioned against escalation. Was this attack an escalation?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize it. Obviously, it’s – I mean, obviously an attack like that escalates tensions. But what I don’t want to do is try to get into some sort of broad characterization, one way or the other. But obviously an attack like this is horrific. And --

QUESTION: No, but the Indian response – is that – would that – is that the kind of escalation that Secretary Kerry was warning against?

MR KIRBY: Oh, I thought you were talking about the Uri attack.

QUESTION: No, no. (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Well, look, again, we – our message to both sides has been the same, in terms of encouraging them to increase communication to deal with this threat and to avoid steps that escalate the tensions. And I’m – I think I’m not going to get into characterizing each and every step along the way there. But obviously, what we want to see is increased cooperation against what is a very shared common threat for both countries, and to see steps being taken to deal with it by all sides.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: If I may, I would like to quickly – on Sudan. Do you have anything --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Hang on, hang on. Hang on, hang on. Since we’re on India/Pakistan, we’ll go here – I’ll go – I’ll get you Goyal, all right? All right? Go here.

QUESTION: Yeah. Since this was a counterterrorism operation and there is strong coordination between India and the U.S. on counterterrorism issues, was there any coordination on this strike by the Indian forces?

MR KIRBY: I just don’t have anything for you on that. And as you know, I don’t talk about the specifics of military matters.

QUESTION: And when Secretary spoke to India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, on 27, did he get any indication that India was going ahead with this kind of strike?

MR KIRBY: I just don’t have anything for you on that. I’ve read out the call to the level of detail that I’m going to.

QUESTION: So there has been one call or two calls?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’ve seen reports of two calls.


MR KIRBY: There was a technical issue on the first call, so they had to arrange a second call to complete it. So was there two calls? Yes, there were two calls, but it was really one conversation.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Okay? Goyal.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Thank you very much. Two questions. One, Ambassador Richard Verma was in Washington. Suddenly, he had to cancel everything, and he rushed back to Delhi. What was the reason and who he was going to meet, or if he rushed from here back to Delhi, was he carrying any message from the Secretary or from this building?

MR KIRBY: He did have to reschedule his event at the Wilson Center and, as far as I know, he’s returning to New Delhi. My understanding is that he believed that it was appropriate for him to go back. And I mean, he’s a – he’s got a big job, there’s a lot of responsibilities that come with it, and obviously it’s a very dynamic situation, and he felt it was prudent to go back. And we support that.

QUESTION: He’s doing a great job. And my second question is that, in recent days --

MR KIRBY: I’ll tell him you said so. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- Prime Minister Modi, he spoke about one thing – what he had a great message for the people of Pakistan that Pakistan and India both got freedom on the same day, but Pakistan is supporting terrorism, India is supporting ITs, engineers, and doctors around the globe. And what he said is Pakistan still has camps inside Pakistan who are attacking India. And finally, he said less attacks or fight against terrorism, hunger, and poverty; not against each other, each other peoples, and let’s have a development. Any message that you may have for Pakistan on this or what Prime Minister Modi said?

MR KIRBY: My message is the same as it was when Nike asked me about it. I mean, we understand that both militaries are in communication; we encourage that. We’ve expressed repeatedly our concerns about the danger of terrorism, cross-border terrorism, as well, in the region, and we continue to urge actions to combat and de-legitimize groups like LeT and the Haqqani Network and Jaish-e-Mohammad. I mean, these – as I’ve said many times in answer to you, Goyal, these are shared common threats that everybody in the region faces. And we believe it’s important for everybody in the region – and we’re obviously willing to, and have proven, willing to contribute to those efforts – to take that on, to take that on as a shared regional challenge.

QUESTION: And one more quickly, if you may I – thank you. Across the street today, U.S.-India Security Council, a non-profit organization, they had a high-class official from the Pentagon and other people also from the State Department. What they said that India and U.S. relations have gone – have come from far away and they are moving forward and they are not now, nobody can stop them. So do you agree that future of India-U.S. relations, what – according to their views and comments today?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments. That’s the first I’ve heard of it. What I would tell you is that we remain deeply committed to the bilateral relationship with India and to advancing it on – across virtually all sectors of public and private enterprise, and that I think you’re going to see us remain committed to that. Okay?

QUESTION: Just one – John --

MR KIRBY: We’ll go to Syria. Let’s --

QUESTION: Just one on Pakistan.

MR KIRBY: All right, and then I’ll go to you.

QUESTION: Has there been any calls made from – any high-level calls made to Pakistani leadership on the need to de-escalate tension in the region?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any calls to announce or read out to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Yesterday, you conceded that the Administration is looking at options other than diplomacy in Syria. Reuters cited officials who said they’d consider military options as well. Does this mean MANPADS for the rebels or perhaps a no-fly zone established by the coalition?

MR KIRBY: I think you can understand why I’m not going to discuss in any detail interagency discussions, but obviously, it would be irresponsible for us not to have those kinds of discussions.

QUESTION: I understand. But you said one of the consequences for Russia is going to be that it’s going to send troops home in body bags because you suggested maybe their planes will be shot out of the sky. So who’s going to shoot down the planes? Is it – could it be the (inaudible) coalition?

MR KIRBY: They’ve already lost aircraft. They’ve already lost troops in the military activity that they’re engaging. And what I was saying was that if we can’t reach a cessation of hostilities, if we can’t find a political solution, and they’re going to continue to militarily prop up Assad, they’re going to continue to face risk to their military forces from that effort, as they already have. That’s all I was saying. There was no threat. There was no incitement. That’s all I was saying.

QUESTION: The rebels can more actively shoot down planes if they get MANPADS from the allies. Is Washington prepared to give the greenlight to its allies to send MANPADS to the rebels?

MR KIRBY: I’ve already addressed that question.


MR KIRBY: Do you have another?

QUESTION: And what is the answer to that?

MR KIRBY: I’ve already addressed it just a few minutes ago.

QUESTION: Yes, yes --

MR KIRBY: If you go back and look at the transcript, you’ll see that I said I’m not going to discuss the details of interagency conversations.


QUESTION: Just one more question. It has been long --

QUESTION: Does that mean there have been interagency conversations on the possibility of MANPADS?

MR KIRBY: There have been interagency conversations about options and alternatives to the challenges posed by the civil war in Syria. And I said yesterday some of those are outside diplomacy --


MR KIRBY: -- but I’m not going to discuss in any detail or characterize those discussions.

QUESTION: Right. So your answer should not be interpreted to mean that you were confirming that there has been discussion of MANPADS?

MR KIRBY: That’s right. I’m not confirming that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yes, thank you for letting me clarify.

QUESTION: For a long time, it has been reported that the Administration has been working to prevent its allies from sending MANPADS to the rebels. What was the reason for that, for not – for persuading them not to send MANPADS to the rebels?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything for you on diplomatic discussions that we have with our allies and partners that are helping us try to find a political solution in Syria.



MR KIRBY: Yeah, Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, John. I hope you answer these questions.

MR KIRBY: You say that as if I don’t always answer your questions.

QUESTION: Or sometimes you just ignore it. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Maybe you don’t study --

MR KIRBY: Ouch. She said sometimes I just ignore them.

QUESTION: You need more study, but thanks. On the United States taking diplomatic sanctions against the North Korea, it is reported that United States request for diplomatic break with North Korea around the country as part of a – for isolating the North Korean diplomatically. Can you confirm this?

MR KIRBY: Well, you know, Janne, that we don’t have diplomatic relations with North Korea, so I’m not sure how we can break something that we don’t have.


MR KIRBY: Or maybe I didn’t understand the question.

QUESTION: Well, listen to Assistant Secretary Russel at the foreign writers club. He mentioned about this, but --

MR KIRBY: He mentioned what?

QUESTION: He mentioned on this, but the U.S. says North Korea doesn’t have a diplomatic relationship --

MR KIRBY: No, I know, that’s what I just said.

QUESTION: Yes, but – so around the country, some country, they have relationship with North Korea, like China --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- Russia, what other ones.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: So he said U.S. send notice to U.S. embassy at overseas. Do you have anything on this?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t.

QUESTION: No, you don’t recognize on this?

MR KIRBY: I’m not quite sure I’m completely understanding. Did he say that we intend to reestablish --


QUESTION: I think it’s to encourage other countries to break --


QUESTION: -- diplomatic relations --


QUESTION: -- to further isolate North Korea.

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such effort to do that, Janne. Look, those are sovereign decisions that countries make in terms of who they’re going to have diplomatic relations with and who they’re not. Our concern is more directly about the DPRK and the provocative activity, the pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities, and the threatening behavior that they continue to exhibit on the peninsula and on working inside the international community. And this is we are focused, working with other nations on trying to ratchet up the pressure to hold the North more accountable for those provocative activities. And that’s – and I can assure you that’s where our energies are being spent, largely inside the UN, and as we’ve said in just light of the most recent test – that we are going to pursue the potential for additional sanctions inside the UN. But I’m not aware of any effort on our part to dissuade a nation from a sovereign decision that they have made about diplomatic relations with the North.

QUESTION: Do you have any additional U.S. individual sanctions against the Chinese company except the recent one?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on that. I’d refer you to the Treasury Department.

I got time for just a couple more.

QUESTION: John, quickly --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: -- really quickly on surely your favorite topic, former Secretary Clinton’s emails. Just want to clarify – I know there was a production schedule entered just yesterday, but – so my understanding is there are about 2900 pages that State is going to process prior to Election Day, so I guess I was just curious. I know you all have talked about the strain that this puts on resources. How confident are you that you will be able to meet those deadlines?

And then secondly, just to clarify: Will these be released publicly and put on the State FOIA website?

MR KIRBY: So I would first refer you to the filing, which I think is what you’re referring to, with the court last night. I do know that our filing indicated that we’re going to process and make an additional production of former Secretary Clinton’s emails in November. This stemmed from an agreement that we reached with the requester – in this case, the Freedom of Information Act requester – to redirect resources that we had already committed to this case. I just don’t have – I couldn’t give you – I couldn’t quantify that for you right now.

QUESTION: But are you all confident that you’ll meet this? I believe it was a November 4th or November 3rd deadline.

MR KIRBY: Again, without getting into the specifics of the filing, I can tell you obviously we’re going to work very hard to meet our commitments to the court.

QUESTION: And will they – the emails be posted on the website? Will they be released to the public or just turned over in court to the --

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, our – the responsibilities through the Freedom of Information Act and to the requester – I don’t have an update for you in terms of when or how they’ll be made public, but we have been – traditionally, we do make public our responses to FOIA requesters. I just don’t have an update for you on this. Okay? But let me be clear: We take the court order seriously and we’re going to work very, very hard to make sure that we meet it.

QUESTION: Because I thought I – I don’t have it in front of me, but I thought that it mentioned in the court order that State did agree to make them public.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I can’t speak to the details of the filing. I would refer you to the filing on that. But it is common practice for us to make public our responses to FOIA requesters, and you can go to our website and see others that we’ve done that for. There’s a process involved here and I just don’t want to get ahead of the process of actually posting them. What we’re talking about here is a filing that was centered around the actual provision of the documents to a requester, and again, I’d point you to the filing for additional details on that. Okay?

Nike, last one.

QUESTION: Quickly ask, then – do you have anything on Amnesty International’s report that Sudanese Government has been using chemical weapons against civilians, and at least three times this year?

MR KIRBY: As far as I know, we’ve just now received this report. We’re obviously looking through it carefully – not been able to verify Amnesty’s specific reporting at this time, since we just got it. But the allegations of scorched earth tactics presented in the report, including the unlawful killing of civilians, the abduction and rape of women, the forced displacement, the looting, the use of chemical weapons, all of that are deeply concerning. And, of course, the images of the victims are horrifying. We unequivocally condemn the use of chemical weapons any time and such use against civilians in Sudan, if credible, would be reprehensible. Sudan is a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the use of chemicals as weapons by the government would violate its obligations under that convention. Okay?

Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:38 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Wed, 09/28/2016 - 17:26

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 28, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:16 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hey, everybody.


MR KIRBY: Just a couple things at the top. Today, I think as you may know, the Department of the Treasury imposed targeted sanctions on two individuals in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including one current and one former DRC official. Specifically, the United States designated former national inspector for the Congolese National Police John Numbi for engaging in actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in the DRC, and Major General Gabriel Amisi Kumba for being the leader of an armed group that has threatened the peace, security, or stability of the DRC.

As a result of today’s actions, these designated individuals’ assets within U.S. – excuse me, U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them. Today’s designations follow the listing in June of Celestin Kanyama and underscore our commitment to deter behavior that undermines the DRC’s stability and democratic institutions at this critical point in its history. They also reflect our continued concerns about the violence and the lack of an inclusive agreement on an electoral timeline.

On Ukraine and the MH17 report, as you saw, we issued a statement on this earlier today. I want to reiterate, however, that we are gratified that the Netherlands and other members of the joint investigation team are objectively and thoroughly investigating the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. The team’s interim findings corroborate Secretary Kerry’s statement in the days following the tragedy and leave no doubt that MH17 was shot down by a Buk surface-to-air missile, fired from territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists. We also note the JIT’s – the joint investigation team’s finding that the missile launcher was first brought into Ukraine from Russia and then moved out of Ukraine and back to Russia after the shoot-down.

And while nothing can take away the grief of all those who lost loved ones on that very terrible day, the announcement – this announcement is now another step toward bringing those responsible for this outrage to justice.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: That’s it?

MR KIRBY: Is there something more you’d like?

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know.

MR KIRBY: I mean, I’m --

QUESTION: That I would like? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: You don’t --

QUESTION: Lunch? Lunch?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) your statement this morning?

MR KIRBY: You want to order up toppers, I’m happy to do that.

QUESTION: Let’s start with Syria and the phone call that the Secretary had with Foreign Minister Lavrov --


QUESTION: -- in which he, according to you, Secretary Kerry, quote, “informed the foreign minister that the United States is making preparations to suspend U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria, including on the establishment of the JIC, unless Russia takes immediate steps to end the assault on Aleppo and restore the cessation of hostilities.”


QUESTION: What exactly does that mean? You’re making preparations to suspend unless Russia takes – I don’t quite get the construction there.

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: Are you making preparations or are you not making preparations now?

MR KIRBY: We – no, I see what you mean. We are working through steps that we might have to take to begin to suspend our engagement with Russia on Syria. We haven’t taken those steps yet, but the message to the foreign minister today was that we’re perfectly willing and able to move forward on those kinds of steps – steps that would end up in the suspension of U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria – unless we see some significant steps taken by Russia in the very near future to show that they mean what they say when they say they support a cessation of hostilities and a resumption of political talks.

QUESTION: And I don’t get – are you making preparations now or are you saying that you will make preparations to suspend unless? And what exactly are you talking about in terms of U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement? Does that include the de-confliction exercise? What does that mean?

MR KIRBY: So a couple – so on the first question, what – as I said, we’re thinking through what steps we would have to take to suspend the engagement if we need to. So while we haven’t taken any of these steps --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: -- we’re certainly thinking that through and we’re making preps to do that in the very near future. Now on the --

QUESTION: And can I just – what does that mean? Like, you’re preparing to bring people back from Geneva?

MR KIRBY: Well, for instance, it could include the fact that, yes, we’ve – as you know, we have a team in Geneva, and while they’re still there we certainly communicated to them that their presence in Geneva may not be the case --

QUESTION: May no longer be required?

MR KIRBY: -- for much longer.

QUESTION: That includes the de-confliction talks?

MR KIRBY: That’s a different issue. That’s a DOD thing, and that’s --

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MR KIRBY: -- and that revolves around – hang on a second – that revolves around the fight against ISIL, and I won’t speak for the Department of Defense. I think they would tell you that they still find the de-confliction mechanisms useful in terms of the fight against Daesh. What I’m talking about is the team’s – the technical team that we have had in Geneva to work through the modalities of this latest agreement that was arrived at on September 9th. And so one of the things that – one of the steps that can be taken that would potentially lead to a suspension would be not having that team in Geneva anymore.

QUESTION: So – and does this mean that the – is another one that the Secretary would no longer be prepared to have these big weekly meetings with Foreign Minister Lavrov, or almost daily phone calls about Syria, that they would only talk about other issues?

MR KIRBY: I don’t want to rule anything in or out at this point. I mean, let’s see where this goes.

QUESTION: All right.


QUESTION: Hold on.

MR KIRBY: But the short answer is that we are thinking through the logic of continuing this engagement given what we’ve seen in Aleppo over the last several days, and we are also thinking through what steps – if we were to suspend, what steps would we need to take to do that and how would that be manifested.

QUESTION: Last one for me on this. I don’t know if you’ve seen this statement from Senators Graham and McCain about this statement and this threat. It’s extremely sarcastic. I won’t read the whole thing, but, “Finally a real” – here’s part of it: “Finally a real power move in American diplomacy. Secretary of State John ‘Not Delusional’ Kerry has made the one threat the Russians feared most – suspension of bilateral talks.” It goes on to say, “What does this mean? No more lakeside tete-a-tetes at five-star hotels in Geneva, press conferences in Moscow. We can only imagine that having heard the news, Putin has called off his bear hunt and is rushing back to the Kremlin to call off Russian airstrikes,” blah, blah, blah. “After all, butchering the Syrian people to save the Assad regime is an important goal – Russian goal. But not if it comes at the unthinkable price of dialogue with Secretary Kerry.”

They’re clearly unimpressed with this. What do you – what’s your --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that statement.

QUESTION: One, is that appropriate?

MR KIRBY: That’s the first I heard of that statement. But look, I think – look, the Secretary addressed this, some of this criticism the other day in Cartagena. And I think I’d point you back to what he said that day. We – we’re not apologetic here for, as he said, going the last mile to try to achieve a diplomatic solution here. Because we continue to believe that more violence, more war, more bloodshed, is not the answer, and that the best way to end the civil war is to get the two sides back together again in Geneva. That can’t happen when the opposition’s being bombed and when civilians are being killed and hospitals are being struck, as they have been in just the last 24 to 48 hours. And so there’s nothing that the Secretary’s going to apologize for, congressional criticism or not, about talking to the Russians, who have the most influence on Assad, to try to get this to stop. But as he also has said, his patience is not limitless. And I think you can tell from his comments in recent days and certainly this readout today that that patience is wearing extraordinarily thin.

So it is easy to criticize the efforts that the nation’s chief diplomat is making --


MR KIRBY: -- when you aren’t – hang on a second – when you aren’t accountable for the results of those discussions and when you don’t necessarily – have thought through all the unintended consequences of more violence, more bloodshed, or military solutions in an already bloody war.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: John, what does it mean – what does it mean when he says “the unacceptable delays of humanitarian aid” unless he stops immediately, unless he proposes immediately? Like, what does that mean? I mean, it sounds like an ultimatum and it sounds like he’s expecting a result. So what is his definition of “immediately”? That’s the first one.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to give you a time stamp on that. Immediately means now. We want to see results now. I mean --

QUESTION: But does he have an idea in his mind about how long he’s going to give this before he actually makes good on this – these threats or --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to give you a time stamp here or a number of hours or days, but I can --


MR KIRBY: -- I think you can tell – I think you can tell from the tone of this readout that he’s not prepared to let the situation go on for very much longer before we have to take the steps we need to take --


MR KIRBY: -- to begin suspending --

QUESTION: Wait, I have another.

MR KIRBY: -- engagement. But I’m not going to – I just don’t think, in the wake of this phone call, and the very clear message that we sent to the Russians, that it’s useful for me to --

QUESTION: Did he give --

MR KIRBY: -- put a date on the calendar.

QUESTION: -- without saying it, without telling us, did he give Foreign Minister --

MR KIRBY: He made it very clear --

QUESTION: -- did he give Foreign Minister Lavrov a timeframe in terms of when he wants to see this or the cooperation would start to be suspended?

MR KIRBY: He made it very clear to Foreign Minister Lavrov that we needed to see steps immediately. We needed to see steps now.

QUESTION: No, I understand. But even if you’re not going to --

MR KIRBY: We needed to see real commitments.

QUESTION: -- even if you’re not going to tell us how long that is, did he give Foreign Minister Lavrov a specific timeframe in which he needed to see that?

MR KIRBY: He was very clear about our expectations in terms of the immediacy of the actions we need to see.

QUESTION: Now, if you’re – if you start suspending, as you say, this type of cooperation, given what Secretary Kerry has said about the ugly alternatives, where does that leave you in terms of discussions in this Administration? What is the level of discussion in terms of some other options, including possibly supporting the allies giving more weapons to the opposition? Because if you stop any pretense at a ceasefire, that would suggest that there’s no hope that they’ll be able to end this bombardment.

MR KIRBY: Without getting into the details and specifics of interagency discussions, what I can tell you is that interagency conversations about other options and alternatives that might be available to us and to our partners continue and --

QUESTION: And that would include?

MR KIRBY: -- I’m not going to get into specific details of them. But obviously, this is a discussion that we continue to have inside the interagency. But I’d also point out, as the President has said and as Secretary Kerry has said, none of those options are better for the Syrian people than an immediate cessation of hostilities that can be applied nationwide, the delivery of humanitarian aid, and just as critically, the resumption of political talks that can get the opposition and the regime together in some sort of format to produce a transitional governing structure.

We still believe that the best solution is political, that the best approach is diplomatic, not military. But obviously, it would be irresponsible and imprudent for this government not to continue to have rational, reasoned, deliberate, measured discussions about what our other options are, but they’re – but none of them, at least none that have been discussed so far, are being deemed by – certainly by Secretary Kerry – I won’t speak for other officials in the government – but none of them are better than the option of trying to pursue diplomacy.

QUESTION: What makes you think that the Secretary’s threat to begin to take steps to suspend cooperation if the Russians don’t act to stop the violence immediately is likely to get the Russians to actually stop the violence?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think that’s a question you’d have to ask Foreign Minister Lavrov. We know – we --

QUESTION: You made the offer. I’m asking you: Why do you think that offer would work?

MR KIRBY: I know you’re asking me, but I can’t speak for the Russians. What I can tell you is that we know, as I’ve said here from the podium many times, we know that they want a measure of cooperation between our two militaries. We know that they want the establishment of a Joint Implementation Center. And for our part, we wanted that too because we thought that that could help us advance the fight against a group like al-Nusrah in particular. So there is, we believe, an incentive on their part to have this cooperation from a military perspective, but we’ve seen nothing since the agreement was reached in Geneva on September 9th that would lead us to believe Russia is serious about meeting its end of these commitments.

So that’s my best way of answering your question. I think putting this to the Russians would also be a valuable exercise.

QUESTION: But you’re making an offer even though you’ve seen nothing to suggest that they’re going to take it, and I don’t understand why you’re still leaving this one last chance, if it is a last chance and if you don’t give them another opportunity next week or next month, to do this. I just don’t understand why given what you have yourselves seen. And the Pentagon accused them of having carried out the bombing on September the 19th, correct, because of the two Su-24s that were right over the aid convoy site. You have seen an intensification of air and ground bombardment of Aleppo over the last five days. I don’t understand why you believe – you believe – there’s any reason why the Russians would seize on what you say is their desire for military cooperation with the United States or intelligence-sharing when they have, in your own words, shown no reason to make you believe that.

So why are you doing this?


QUESTION: Why not just say it’s over?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that we believe that this would change their calculus. I don’t know whether it will or it won’t, and neither does the Secretary. The purpose of the call today was to express our deep and grave concern about what’s been happening in just the last several days, let alone what happened last week, and that given what we’ve seen on the ground and in the air around Aleppo, we – unless something dramatically changes very, very soon in terms of their willingness to take the kinds of steps to get to where we agreed we would be in Geneva on September 9th, unless we see something extraordinary, something significant very, very soon, we are going to have to take those steps to suspend our bilateral engagement on Syria. And that’s not an insignificant move for us. The purpose of the call today wasn’t to express an aspiration that they’ll suddenly see the light and do the right thing. It was to say, we haven’t seen you do the right thing – in fact, quite the contrary as Russian jets continue to fly over Aleppo and continue to strike opposition and civilian infrastructure. Not just Syrian jets, Russian jets. And it was, I think – and you can see it in the readout and certainly speaking for the Secretary, a measure of his frustration that he had to place this call today and deliver that very tough message to Foreign Minister Lavrov.

QUESTION: And do you – can you foresee any options that the U.S. Government could take, short of full-scale warfare and invasion, that would actually stop the Russian/Syrian onslaught on Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not a military tactician. And as I said, I – the Secretary’s --

QUESTION: You were.

MR KIRBY: No, I wasn’t. I was just a spokesman in the Navy. I would never count myself as a tactician, and I wouldn’t speak for specific military tactics in any case, because here at the State Department, the Secretary is still committed to a diplomatic solution. And again, without getting into specific other options, as I told Elise, there are other options that don’t revolve around the act of diplomacy that the interagency has discussed and has talked about, and those discussions are ongoing.

I mean, again, it would be irresponsible for this government not to think about those things and not to try to work through the calculus on other options that are outside diplomacy. But again, not to be redundant, I mean, the Secretary and the President both believe that none of them are better in the long run for the Syrian people than trying to get a diplomatic solution now and a cessation of hostilities today.

QUESTION: Is this --

QUESTION: John, can I just --

MR KIRBY: Hang on, guys. Hang on. I’ll go to Said, then I’ll go to you, Michael.

QUESTION: Is this warning restricted to the September 9th agreement? I mean, you can still cooperate on other stuff, right?

MR KIRBY: No, I think the – I think --

QUESTION: Or is it the whole Syria thing?

MR KIRBY: I think my readout was clear. This was U.S., Russian --

QUESTION: I don’t understand it. So is it pertaining to the truce or the (inaudible) or everything else is --

MR KIRBY: To suspend U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria.

QUESTION: On Syria, period.

MR KIRBY: Just right in my readout, U.S.-Russian bilateral engagement on Syria.

QUESTION: So basically this is – are you issuing an ultimatum that you may engage in other than diplomatic activities?

MR KIRBY: You can characterize it how you want. I think the Secretary was very direct about what our expectations are.

QUESTION: Now, the Russians are claiming – the Russian foreign ministry say that Mr. Lavrov told the Secretary that al-Nusrah and other groups – many other groups – are continuing with their assaults on government forces and so on, and that needs to stop. Could you confirm that that actually --

MR KIRBY: I can’t confirm that he said that specifically, but he has said in the past that we know that in some cases the opposition themselves have conducted attacks and violated the cessation of hostilities, and clearly Nusrah, which is outside the agreement altogether, has certainly not slowed offensive actions and terrorist attacks.


QUESTION: John, I’d just like to take another crack at Arshad’s question. If you’re going to get any kind of agreement, you have to have some leverage, and that can be positive and negative reinforcements. So you’ve said what’s in it – the agreement for the Russians is the possibility of military collaboration, this Joint Implementation Center. That’s something they want. But what I don’t think we have heard here is, so what are the consequences for Russia if this agreement falls through beyond some interagency discussions about options that have not yet been chosen? What are the consequences for Russia other than Secretary Kerry won’t talk to them on this particular issue going forward?

MR KIRBY: The consequences are that the civil war will continue in Syria, that extremists and extremists groups will continue to exploit the vacuums that are there in Syria to expand their operations, which will include, no question, attacks against Russian interests, perhaps even Russian cities, and Russia will continue to send troops home in body bags, and they will continue to lose resources – even, perhaps, more aircraft. The stability that they claim they seek in Syria will be ever more elusive, and it’s hard to imagine how a continued war – not just a civil war now, but increasingly more violent extremist activity in Syria – can be in the interest of a nation that says, that claims, and has claimed publicly time and time again that what they want to see is a whole, unified, pluralistic Syria and a stable Syria, a secure Syria, a Syria where they want to continue to have a defense relationship and a presence. So that’s what’s in it for them.

QUESTION: Well, when you say – just a quick follow-up – when you say that extremists will exploit the vacuum and that could include attacks on Russia’s cities and Russia could send its troops back in body bags, that also could suggest that perhaps the rebels could start sending home their troops in body bags.

MR KIRBY: It’s going to mean, again, more violence, more war, and you can expect casualties on both sides of this. But the question was what’s in it for Russia to meet its obligations under I don’t know how many different agreements, but specifically the one from September 9th in terms of seven days of reduced violence, humanitarian access. So the question posed to me was what’s in it for Russia, and that’s what’s in it for Russia --


MR KIRBY: -- aside from the fact that they also want to see a measure of U.S. military cooperation.

QUESTION: Right. But they clearly don’t care that the civil war is continuing because they’re helping to continue it. So it sounds like what you’re saying is that the consequences for Russia is that this is going to become more of a quagmire for them, and you’ve maintained that they don’t want to stay there indefinitely. So you said that the --

MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: No, you all – you, the Secretary, a lot of people have said that the Russians don’t want to stay there forever, and what I’m saying is you’re – it sounds like you’re suggesting that the consequences for Russia is that this will become a quagmire, that staying in it longer is not in their best interests.

MR KIRBY: What I – first of all, they have had a long-term presence in Syria. I don’t think anybody expects that they’re looking to end that presence. So it’s not that they --

QUESTION: No, I mean stay – when I mean stay there, I mean in this current configuration where they’re heavily engaged in a military intervention.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, those are decisions they have to make as a sovereign country. My point is the question was what’s in it for them to comply with this – what’s in it for them to meet their obligations, to move forward with a JIC, and get the cooperation that they want? What’s in it for them in terms of – or what happens to them if they don’t do that is that they’ll end up being, yeah, more deeply involved in this, and the war won’t stop. Opposition groups are certainly not going to pull back, extremist groups are likely going to expand and take advantage of the chaos, and the war will continue. And more Russian resources will be expended, more Russian lives will be lost, more Russian aircraft will be shot down, and they – and this will go on.

QUESTION: John, those are all consequences that you foresee would be imposed by the situation in Syria. Are there consequences that the Obama Administration is prepared to impose on the Russians for their failure to uphold the agreement? You can imagine economic sanctions, there could be military support to – is the Administration in principle prepared to impose its own consequences for the collapse of this agreement?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for the entire Administration here, but what I can tell you is – what I will tell you, Michael, is that --

QUESTION: What’s the policy?

MR KIRBY: -- we have – the policy is we continue to support a diplomatic solution to this rather than a military one. But that doesn’t mean that as a government – and certainly, I can only speak for the State Department and Secretary Kerry – that we – that doesn’t mean that we aren’t still discussing other options and alternatives that might be available to us. It’s just that we continue to believe that none of them are better than trying to get a diplomatic solution to this. Obviously it’s been elusive, and it has been extraordinarily frustrating to see it be so elusive, which is why the Secretary made this phone call to Foreign Minister Lavrov today. But I’m not going to speculate about if, then what, and what might happen going forward.

Moscow has a decision to make. They have had many decisions to make over many, many months, of course, but right now they have a decision to make, and the Secretary laid that decision before them.


MR KIRBY: It is: show that you’re willing to take an extraordinary, significant step to reduce the violence. And one of the – and the step that the Secretary talked about – and you heard him talk about it in New York last week – was keep Assad’s air forces on the ground, show – I got you. I know – I got you. I’m going to get to you, because I had no doubt in my mind that you were going to want to ask a question today. But show those extraordinary steps so that we can start to build the confidence necessary to actually implement the agreements that we’ve reached.

QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up on the consequences?


QUESTION: One of the things that the Secretary said – or that you said in your statement about his – in your readout of his conversation was – he talked about how the United States and its allies would hold Russia responsible for the situation, including the use of incendiary and bunker-busting bombs in an urban area. So is it your view that the use of incendiary and bunker-busting bombs in an urban area, where civilians are still largely present, could be construed to be a war crime or a violation of the international laws of war?

MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary has spoken to this and has acknowledged that the use of those kinds of weapons against civilian populations is in fact a violation of international law, as is the use of chlorine gas against innocent people, as is the bombing of hospitals or aid workers. I don’t think there is any doubt about that. Now, I think I know where you’re going here, in terms of holding responsible. I’m not going to speculate about how, when, or in what way Russia will be held to account for what it has not only permitted, but assisted the Assad regime in doing. But when we say they’re responsible, we mean it. But I’m not going to get ahead --

QUESTION: So you’re suggesting --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made yet.

QUESTION: I get it, but something that has happened is that the French foreign minister today said that he was trying to introduce a resolution at the Security Council calling for an end to the violence in Aleppo and saying that those who didn’t support that would – could be construed as aiding in war crimes, or deemed to. Would the U.S. Government support such a resolution, even if the Russians would, presumably, veto it, that sought to refer Syria to the ICC so that Russia maybe could be actually held responsible in a court?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re aware of the French proposal and I think you can imagine we’re reviewing it and looking at it. I don’t want to get ahead of any determination that we might make one way or the other. I think, obviously, aside from that proposal, we have been nothing but clear and forthright about our views about what’s been happening, particularly in the last week to 10 days, and who we hold responsible for that.

QUESTION: Last one for me on this, if I may. What is – I mean, you know that Syria isn’t a state party to the Rome Statute; therefore, the court doesn’t intrinsically have jurisdiction. And you know that for – the other route, as I understand it, is for the Security Council to make a referral, which seems most unlikely given that Russia has a veto and has vetoed other Syria-related resolutions. So what is the utility of going down that path? Is there an obvious benefit to going down that path or is it just kind of a fool’s errand because they’ll just veto it?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s just too soon to know, Arshad. I mean, the proposal was just made. As I said, we’re looking at it and reviewing it and I’m sure we’ll have an opinion in coming days on that. I just don’t want to get ahead of the process here. At the very least, though, you can see how the international community is becoming more galvanized here about what’s happening. And the form and the mechanism that that takes I think has yet to play out, but clearly, what’s happening in Aleppo has the world’s attention, and rightly so. Absolutely rightly so.

QUESTION: John, two – very briefly to clarify things. You accepted the premise of Arshad’s question, which is that your statement said that United States and its partners will hold Russia responsible for the situation. It doesn’t actually say that, but I want to make – do you intend it to mean that? It says the U.S. and its partners hold Russia responsible, which stops short of saying that you’re going to find – try and go bring some accountability for the actions that you say they’ve committed. Do you mean to say, and does the Secretary – did the Secretary tell Foreign Minister Lavrov that the U.S. and its partners will seek to hold Russia responsible/accountable for what you say they’ve been doing?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t mean to get caught up in a --


MR KIRBY: -- tense issue here, but --

QUESTION: Well, no, it’s not just a tense issue. It’s, I mean, you can --

MR KIRBY: The statement says we hold them responsible.

QUESTION: Yes. Does that mean you --

MR KIRBY: How that will be manifested I don’t --

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: But – but --

MR KIRBY: There haven’t been any decisions made about that.

QUESTION: And then – and then secondly, you said a few minutes ago that the interagency – within the interagency there are other options that don’t revolve around the act of diplomacy – terms of – and I just want to know, is one of those options walking away, simply abandoning support for the opposition? Or is that off the table like what we heard – boots on the ground were off the table for many, many years, which turned out not to be the case?

MR KIRBY: I just don’t find it useful to get into speculating about what other options are under consideration.

QUESTION: Well, no, no --

MR KIRBY: I know.

QUESTION: Whether it’s under consideration or not is --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to put anything on or off the table today.

QUESTION: What does outside that don’t revolve around the act of diplomacy mean? I mean, that either means walking away or it means more --

MR KIRBY: I think I’m going to leave it where I put it.

QUESTION: No, I mean, there’s diplomacy and there’s – well, I guess he’s right. There’s diplomacy, war, and nothing. So if you’re saying there’s other diplomacy, then the other two options are doing something more robust military, whether that means some kind of intervention or allowing the allies to be armed, or sitting around and doing nothing. Are you saying that sitting around and doing nothing is an option?

MR KIRBY: Obviously, we’re committed to doing as much as we can to try to stop the civil war and to stop the bloodshed. Again, critics can, will, have, and will continue to argue the efficacy of those efforts. Obviously, we’re not content, we’re not satisfied --

QUESTION: I’m not talking about the efficacy of the efforts.

MR KIRBY: Let me --

QUESTION: I’m saying that when you say there are options other than diplomacy, that would suggest that you mean more robust military options, and when I say military I don’t necessarily mean bombing or troops or any of that. I’m saying, like, a more kinetic --

MR KIRBY: Again, I just don’t think it’s useful for me to talk in any more detail about the kinds of discussions that we continue to have about what our options are. We still believe that the best one is diplomacy, that the best solution is political, that what needs to happen is creating the kinds of conditions where the opposition and the regime can resume the talks that have thus far failed to get to a – to get to that political solution. And beyond that, I just don’t think it’s very prudent or responsible for me to comment.

QUESTION: Just – I just have one more. When you said that we hold them responsible – just to go back to the legal issue, to the responsibility – when you say you hold them responsible, does it – are you saying that in a legal sense or in a moral, diplomatic sense?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t know that there was a different way of looking at somebody’s responsibility.

QUESTION: There is a – of course there is. You sit there all the time up from the podium and you say, well, that would get us into a legal determination which I don’t – you know what I mean? You’re always invoking that.

MR KIRBY: When we say that we’re holding them responsible, we mean within the universe of what that means. So is it moral? Absolutely it’s moral. And could there be some sort of legal ramification to that responsibility? Yeah, there could be.

QUESTION: But that – when you say that, that’s different than suggesting that you hold them legally responsible and you’ve contacted your lawyers and you’ve done – yes, it --

MR KIRBY: We’re not – I – I know you would like a lot more clarity on this than I’m going to give you today, but when we say we’re – we hold Russia responsible, we mean what we say. Now, I’m not going to speculate about the ramifications or consequences down the road of that.

QUESTION: But you’re not saying what you mean, though.

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not. I’m not going to go into any more detail on it than I have today, as much as I know you would like that. When we say we hold them responsible, we hold them responsible, in the entire universe of what that means, whether it’s morally or potentially legally.

QUESTION: So that would suggest that you’ve done a legal determination and you’ve found that they are legally responsible.

MR KIRBY: No, it doesn’t. It means that we hold them responsible.


MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: During the first few days of the ceasefire – the beginning of the ceasefire – the rebels had carried out over 300 ceasefire violations while the Syrian army actually stopped the strikes. Those were the first few days. This – Syria’s second largest rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, just came out and right away refused to abide by that ceasefire, and this was before the U.S. bombed the Syrian military – admittedly, by mistake – before – and then the humanitarian convoy was hit, which the U.S. blamed on Russia and Russia vehemently denied having done that. Looking at the events that followed the ceasefire, how is it fair to say that Russia is solely responsible for the failure of this deal?

MR KIRBY: Because – and we’ve said this many, many times – they have influence on Assad. I didn’t make that up.

QUESTION: Are you saying that you don’t influence with the rebels?

MR KIRBY: We do, and so do some of our allies and partners as well. And we’ve also been honest about the fact that the opposition hasn’t in every case and in every situation, on every day, met their obligations under that ceasefire arrangement. We’ve been honest about that.

The difference is the Russians aren’t being honest about what’s going on and about the degree to which they are supporting Assad and assisting him in this continued siege of Aleppo. I didn’t make it up that they have influence over Assad. They’re the ones who have asserted that they have influence over Assad. They’re the ones with a long security and defense relationship. They’re the ones with a base in Syria. We don’t have a base in Syria.

So it’s been pretty clear since the beginning of this that of all other nations, Russia has the most influence on Assad, and one of the reasons we know that is because back in February when the cessation actually was first announced, for about six to eight weeks we did see a significant reduction in violence, something to the tune, depending on your estimates, of – let me finish – 70 to 80 percent, and that was because we saw Russia use that influence on Assad to a greater good, which they have not – not only not proven willing to do in the last week to 10 days, actually actively assisted him to the contrary.

QUESTION: And if the U.S. does have influence with these rebel groups, why the hundreds of ceasefire violations? Why did that happen?

MR KIRBY: We have influence over some, not all. We have – there are --

QUESTION: The second largest rebel group just refused to abide by that deal.

MR KIRBY: There are other nations that have influence. And again, we have admitted that not all the opposition groups on every single day --

QUESTION: Can you --

MR KIRBY: -- completely abided by it, and we continued to work with them to that end.

QUESTION: Can you admit that part of the responsibility for the failure of this deal lies with the rebels and with the U.S. for not being able to separate the rebels from al-Nusrah, specifically in Aleppo, and for not getting everybody to abide by this ceasefire?

MR KIRBY: I think we’ve been nothing but honest about the fact that there have been violations of the ceasefire and the cessation of hostilities on all sides. I – we – the Secretary has said that I don’t know how many times. So I don’t know --

QUESTION: But right now Russia is being --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to be sure – I’m not sure that anything I can say today is going to be expand on that.

QUESTION: -- held solely responsible for the deterioration of the situation. Is that fair?

MR KIRBY: What I said was they’re responsible for this situation, the one we’re talking about here in terms of continued attacks on civilian infrastructure, hospitals, and innocent civilians in and around Aleppo, the siege of Aleppo.

QUESTION: But they say – just – John, they do say that they’re going after Nusrah and terrorists. And you say to that?

MR KIRBY: It’s not -- that’s not what’s happening. That’s what we say to that.


MR KIRBY: They’re hitting --

QUESTION: Can I ask --


MR KIRBY: They’re hitting hospitals. They’re hitting civilian infrastructure. They’re hitting the headquarters of the White Helmets. Now, so what we’re seeing them hit is not Nusrah, and where we’re seeing them bomb is not where we know Nusrah to be. And this is a – this has been a pretense that Moscow and Damascus has been proffering now for many months. Well, if you’re going to go after terrorists --

QUESTION: Do you think they’re trying to take Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: Fine, you want to go after terrorists. If you’re going to do what you say you do, then show that you’re going after terrorists, and they haven’t done that. There have been times when they have, but they have also, under the pretense of going after terrorist groups – presumably al-Nusrah – they have hit what are clearly civilian targets.

QUESTION: So you think they’re trying to take Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: I think you can only conclude from the military activity that we’ve seen that the siege of Aleppo persists and it’s --

QUESTION: It’s eastern Aleppo, part of Aleppo, because larger Aleppo is not under siege.

MR KIRBY: All you can do from – all you can conclude from what we continue to see on the ground is that the regime wants to take Aleppo back.

QUESTION: Is the Administration committed to making sure that eastern Aleppo or this particular area of Aleppo does not fall into regime/Russian hands?

MR KIRBY: Obviously, we don’t want to see the regime --

QUESTION: I know you don’t.

MR KIRBY: -- acquire any additional territory as per – as laid out in the cessation of hostilities agreement. I’m not going to speculate about actions, decisions, consequences, down the road.

QUESTION: Down the road means – by some estimates, it could fall in, like, the next five days.

MR KIRBY: The Secretary was clear this morning in his phone call to Foreign Minister Lavrov about the sense of urgency that we have here on the United States side with respect to what we want to – what we need to see them do.


QUESTION: The U.S. has expressed grave concern over what Saudi Arabia is doing in Yemen by hitting civilian targets there. Why isn’t the U.S. cutting – threatening to cut ties with Saudi Arabia?

MR KIRBY: We have – the Secretary talked about this when we were in Jeddah a few weeks ago. We have been honest with the Saudis about our concerns over the lack of precision in some strikes, and we’ve talked to them about the importance of conducting investigations into those strikes. And we know that – excuse me – that they continue to do that, to investigate. But --

QUESTION: But that’s far from threatening to cut ties.

MR KIRBY: It is the --

QUESTION: Congress just approved a sale of $1.1 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia – the Senate.

MR KIRBY: That’s right, because we have a strong defense relationship with Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia is under attack from --

QUESTION: Even though they’re hitting hospitals, schools in Yemen.

QUESTION: At the moment you have a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Excuse me. Saudi Arabia is under attack from missiles that are finding their way into Yemen with the help of Iran that are raining down on Saudi --

QUESTION: And Saudi Arabia is targeting --

MR KIRBY: -- Saudi – Saudi citizens, and they have a right to defend themselves. Now, we have – I have stood up here I don’t know how many times and talked about our concerns about the precision or lack thereof in some of these strikes and our concerns about that, and the Saudis have taken our concerns seriously. This is a different situation, and I think comparing what’s happening in Yemen to Syria is a ludicrous exercise.

QUESTION: But Saudi Arabia is doing there what Russia is accused of doing in Syria, so I’m --

MR KIRBY: No, no.

QUESTION: How is that consistent?

MR KIRBY: Because what we’re seeing the Russians do – and I would love to see you ask your government some of these questions. Russia Today never does that. You never poke and prod your own government. But so --

QUESTION: Oh, I do. But go on, on the first question.

MR KIRBY: Every so – so --

QUESTION: You attack me when you want to evade a question. You’ve done that before.

MR KIRBY: No, no, I’m not attacking you. I’m not attacking you.

QUESTION: Please, aside from that.

MR KIRBY: I’m not attacking you. I would just love to see your institution ask these same kind of questions of your own government – your government, which is flying aircraft over Aleppo and bombing hospitals. And it’s not imprecision; it’s specifically targeting civilian infrastructure and innocent people, innocent women and children and first responders that are trying to come to the rescue after these strikes occur. I mean, that’s deliberate, that’s measured, that is absolutely in violation of international law.

QUESTION: I’m asking --

MR KIRBY: We’re not talking about the – we’re not talking about civilian casualties that are caused by an inefficiency in the targeting process. We’re talking about, in Aleppo specifically, an effort to take that city down and to acquire --


MR KIRBY: -- to acquire it, it in violation of the cessation of hostilities, which was agreed on by Russia – oh, by the way – in February.


QUESTION: I am here asking you what I think are fair questions, and I have one more, if you can just --

MR KIRBY: I’ll give you one more.

QUESTION: Attacks – yes, put attacks aside --

MR KIRBY: I’m not attacking. I’m not attacking.

QUESTION: -- and just try to respond to the question.

MR KIRBY: I just am curious.

QUESTION: You are.

We are learning that Syrian rebels have received, quote/unquote, “excellent quantities” of surface-to-surface Grad missiles from, quote/unquote, “foreign states.” Actually, this is from a Reuters article. I was quoting a Reuters article. Considering how intertwined some of these rebel groups are with al-Nusrah specifically in Aleppo, how long do you think before these powerful weapons end up in the hands of terrorists?

MR KIRBY: I couldn’t possibly begin to answer that question. I don’t – I can’t confirm the veracity of that press reporting, and I’m not going to engage in speculation on a press report I can’t speak to.

QUESTION: Do you have any information about rebels (inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: Michel. Michel.

QUESTION: -- these weapons?

QUESTION: Is delivering MANPADS to the opposition is one of the options that the agencies are discussing?

MR KIRBY: Guys, I have talked about the fact that I’m not going to discuss in any greater detail interagency discussions about this.

QUESTION: Because news reports talked about this yesterday and today, saying that the U.S. is not opposing anymore providing the opposition with this kind of arms.

MR KIRBY: I’ve addressed this issue as much as I’m going to do today.

QUESTION: Can I move on?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, let’s move on. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Iraq and Baghdad, Iraq’s parliamentary – Iraq’s national assembly last week, it removed the finance minister. And the chief of staff of the presidency of the KRG was in New York last week, and he said that the United States was concerned. He told this to the Voice of America. The United States was concerned about this move. Could you elaborate on what he meant on this issue of U.S. concern about the removal of the Iraqi finance minister and what you think generally about what the Iraqi national assembly is doing?

MR KIRBY: What I would just say, first of all, is I’d refer you to the Iraqi Government for specifics on this recent vote to remove the finance minister. Politics aside, reforms are critical to reinforcing Iraq’s progress and to putting the country on a more sustainable fiscal path. We also will continue to support Iraq in its own critical economic reform efforts. We strongly support the Iraqi people in their fight against Daesh, which is on the defensive in Iraq, and we urge Iraqi leaders to continue their efforts to that end, to defeating Daesh. That must remain and does remain our central focus, particularly at a very pivotal moment in this campaign as Iraqi forces begin to pressure Mosul, and I think that’s as far as I’m going to go on that.

QUESTION: But you don’t think, like, having so many ministers – finance, defense, interior – so many ministries without ministers is a problem?

MR KIRBY: Look, the decision to remove is an Iraqi decision and they should speak – the Iraqi Government should speak to this decision. What I’ve said in the past is we continue to support Prime Minister Abadi and his reform efforts, both political and economic. Obviously, we know that in order to enact those reforms and implement them, you need a team, you need a cabinet, and we support his efforts to fill those posts and to move his government forward. But the individual decisions about removing, in this case, the finance minister, are for the Iraqi Government to speak to. But clearly, we, more broadly speaking, continue to support Prime Minister Abadi as he tries to move the government forward.

QUESTION: But the parliament seems to be opposed to the prime minister.


QUESTION: I mean, that’s why they’re removing his ministers. One interpretation of what parliament is doing is, in fact, that this is being done at the behest of Maliki, former prime minister, and he’s trying to get at the current prime minister.

MR KIRBY: I’m simply not educated enough and nor would it be prudent for me to involve in a debate – involve myself in a debate over parliamentary politics in Iraq. Democracy is hard work, it’s tough, and we understand that, and that’s why we continue to support the Abadi government as it moves forward. But these are votes, these are decisions that Iraqi politicians need to speak to.

QUESTION: Can I move on, Palestinian-Israeli issue?


QUESTION: Very quick issue regarding something called the Women’s Boat to Gaza. A boat moved in today, then I think tomorrow, another boat. It includes an American woman, a former diplomat, Ann Wright, and a colonel – a former colonel in the U.S. Army. They sent a letter to – and that’s my question – they sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on the 14th of September requesting that he, whatever, take some action to call on Israel, to prevent Israel from doing any – committing any kind of violent acts similar to what happened in May 2010.

First of all, are you aware of this letter that was sent to Secretary Kerry?

MR KIRBY: I’m not.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t know whether you received it or not?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of it, Said. I can look to see --

QUESTION: Look, I think the problem is – I think they came to the State Department, met with some people.

MR KIRBY: They came?

QUESTION: I think they came to this building and met with some people over this issue.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: You don’t know. Okay. Would you urge --

MR KIRBY: I mean, I’m aware of --

QUESTION: Would you urge the Israelis not – to prevent the boats violently from docking in Gaza?

MR KIRBY: So on the flotilla itself --

QUESTION: On the flotilla --

MR KIRBY: -- I’m aware of the reports. I don’t have more information about it to share with you. But as we’ve said before, while we underscore the need for international support for Gaza’s recovery and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, we remain of the view that this assistance and the goods destined for Gaza should be transmitted through legitimate crossings and established channels. I just don’t have more information on this letter. We’ll take the question and see if we can find out more about it. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: So I’m going to go to JASTA.


QUESTION: Because as you probably don’t know because you were standing up here when it happened, the House has just also overridden the veto. So it is – it’s law. And while I don’t expect you to comment on that necessarily, and the White House has done it extensively already, are you aware of, since the President vetoed the law last – vetoed the bill last week, if any countries have specifically come to you guys, embassies or here in Washington, and said that they would move to – or that they would seek to pass legislation that would – that could affect the sovereign immunity of the United States and U.S. officials abroad?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that any government has expressed an intention to do so since the President’s veto. Before the President’s veto, though, several governments – some of our European friends – who are less likely to have been affected by the intent of the law itself have expressed concerns about the issue of sovereign immunity surrounding the law. I mean, so these are --

QUESTION: Right --

MR KIRBY: -- France being one of them, expressed a concern about that.

QUESTION: Well, right. I know that people have expressed concerns about it, but have any of them come to you and said, “If this veto is overridden and this goes into – and this takes effect as the law, we’re going to consider doing something” --

MR KIRBY: That we’re going to reciprocate essentially. Yeah, I’m not aware of any – of any intention so stated specifically since the veto.

QUESTION: Okay. So if there hasn’t been that, is it just – is the Administration’s thinking that it’s just inevitable that it’s going to happen? Or were you guys just conjuring up a worst possible, worse-case scenario in the event that the veto was overridden?

MR KIRBY: No, I mean, it wasn’t – it’s neither, Matt. I mean, I can’t obviously predict what sovereign nations are going to do now with respect to this. But it wasn’t a conjuring. It wasn’t an extreme or outlandish interpretation of the effect of the law that we took. In fact, it was informed by concerns expressed by some of our allies and partners even in Europe that this --


MR KIRBY: That this law would force them to have to rethink the whole issue of sovereign immunity. We didn’t make that up. That was communicated to us by other countries.

QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that you did make it up. But I’m just wondering if anyone – I mean, that yes, they expressed concerns, but has anyone actually – has any country actually said or any government actually said that they’re going to go ahead and do it, take action commensurate with what they see as – what they see this law as having (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that we have received communication from any specific government that they would now move forward intentionally with a reciprocal piece of legislation. Obviously, we wouldn’t want to see that happen.

QUESTION: Gotcha. May I make a request then? Considering back a couple administrations ago, a couple years ago, the department was in the habit of giving us updates on when Article 98 agreements were signed, and I’m just wondering if it’s possible to ask if you keep track of the number of countries who have said that those might be in jeopardy now or if any of them get rescinded as a result of this veto being overridden.

MR KIRBY: Let me --

QUESTION: So I don’t know if you can. I’m just making the request now.

MR KIRBY: Got it. Let me consider it and see if --

QUESTION: Are you surprised by the size or the overwhelming majority that voted in the Senate, I mean, 97 to 1, the House is probably even a – I don’t know what the ratio is.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know either. I don’t either.

QUESTION: Are you surprised by that?

MR KIRBY: The bill had --

QUESTION: You say that --

MR KIRBY: The bill had – moving forward, it had bipartisan support. I’m not going to characterize --

QUESTION: But that’s an overwhelming bipartisan support.

MR KIRBY: 97 to 1 is a very clear and convincing --

QUESTION: Almost unprecedented

MR KIRBY: -- vote tally. I’m not going to characterize it one way or another. Obviously, we’re disappointed to see – to see what the Senate did. And I haven’t seen the reports out of the House, but if that’s true, that obviously continues to be of concern here. And it’s not what we --

QUESTION: One last question?

MR KIRBY: That’s not the outcome we wanted to see.

QUESTION: One more point on this. Are you expected that you will have some sort of diplomatic difficulty with Saudi Arabia as a result of this vote?

MR KIRBY: I think our hope would be not to, clearly. But it goes beyond just Saudi Arabia. It goes to a larger concern that we have had about this idea of sovereign immunity – not just for diplomats but for our troops, for U.S. companies that operate overseas. But certainly, our hope that the strength of the U.S.-Saudi relationship will be able to weather this, but we’ll have to see.

Yeah, Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, John. On Korea, Assistant Secretary Russel has stated in diplomatic associations recently, he said that THAAD missile system should be in place as quickly as possible in South Korea. Do you have any timeframe for these?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

QUESTION: So how quickly does the U.S. can deploy the THAAD in South Korea (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, we’re in discussions right now. The Defense Department is in discussions with the defense ministry there in the Republic of Korea. I would point you to my colleagues at the Pentagon to talk about the pace and scope of those discussions. I don’t know, and it wouldn’t be right for me to try to speculate about how fast this process is going to move along. There’s consultations going on right now, and I think we need to let that play out.

QUESTION: You mean, within this year or what?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate.

QUESTION: Also another one. North Korean embassy in Russia reported yesterday that North Korea has completed the development of nuclear weapons. So that how you response of this, their statement that they already have nuclear?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to intelligence matters from this podium. We continue to be, obviously, deeply concerned about the constant pursuit of the DPRK for nuclear weapon capabilities. Where exactly we think they are in that process, I’m simply not going to get into.

But what I will say is that with each test, and with each new provocative action, they only further galvanize the international community to take the steps necessary to put additional pressure on the regime. I understand that even with the most strident sanctions regime now in place that they still prove able and willing to continue these activities. Sanctions take time. And as the Secretary has said, Ambassador Power has said, we’re going to continue to consult with our partners at the UN on the potential for additional sanctions regimes for going forward. Now, but I just don’t have anything new to announce at this stage, and I’m certainly not going to speak to our views of where they are on the capability spectrum. Okay?




QUESTION: John, quick on DPRK. So the Coordinator for the Sanction Policy of the State Department Dan Fried this morning told a Senate subcommittee that he would not argue suggestions that more Chinese nationals are under investigation for evading sanctions related to DPRK’s proliferation. Do you have any more on that? Can you elaborate on what the – that more Chinese individuals and entities are being probed?

MR KIRBY: Actually, I don’t. I don’t have any additional information that I can offer on that. Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you take that question?

MR KIRBY: I’ll take the question, but I don’t think that we’re going to be able to provide much in terms of detail on that. That wouldn't be appropriate.

QUESTION: I have another question on South Sudan. Do you have anything on South Sudan’s former vice president, Riek --


QUESTION: -- Machar, and he was calling a possible armed struggle against South Sudanese Government? Do you have anything on that? Are you concerned of --

MR KIRBY: Of course. We’ve seen those statements and strongly condemn them, a statement calling for a return to war is basically what he did. The past two and a half years have proven that fighting is not going to resolve the underlying political disputes that led to conflict in the first place. We find it inexcusable that he would continue to promote armed resistance. It indicates a lack of concern for the well-being of the South Sudanese people, millions of whom continue to struggle just to survive and just as much want to see peace.

So as we’ve always said, the United States expects that the transitional government and all parties, including all leaders of the opposition in South Sudan, will avoid violence at all costs and implement the peace agreement.


QUESTION: MH17. Investigators noticed that Russia was involved in this case and the – in your statement you draw attention to this that the BUK system was tracked in from Russia and returned to Russia after shooting down the plane. Investigators also said that they identified hundred people responsible for these actions. So what is your line regarding specific role of Russia and Russian Government in that case?

MR KIRBY: Again, our assessment, which is consistent with the investigation team’s assessment in this interim report, is that the airplane was shot down by a BUK surface-to-air missile that was fired from separatist-controlled – not government-controlled – territory in eastern Ukraine. And it also makes clear that that missile system was transported from Russia into Russian-backed separatist-controlled territory in Ukraine before the incident, and then move back out to Russia after the shoot-down. And this is the result of months-long – what, 15 months? Something like that – long, thorough, impartial, credible examination of the incident. And it totally comports with what the Secretary said just a few days after the incident happened. But the investigation is ongoing. This is an interim report. We’re glad that they continue to investigate, and we look forward to seeing the results when they’re completed.


QUESTION: Just to – excuse me, just to follow up on that. I mean, what sort of, if any, next steps will you be taking? Will you bring this up with the Russians? I mean, what – I mean, if any – do you have a plan going forward now?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, it’s an interim report. I think we need to let the investigation conclude. I don’t want to get ahead of decisions right now while they’re still investigating. All the indications are, as I said, comport with what our views were of the incident, and we’ll just have to see how it plays out. Have we had conversations with Russian counterparts since this incident about our concerns about this narrative, about our views? Absolutely we have. Absolutely we have. But I’m not going to get ahead of anything yet.

QUESTION: You welcome the conclusion of the report. I – have you – are you aware of the Russian response to the conclusions?


QUESTION: And what do you make of the Russian reaction to it?

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen their response. I think we hold it to be completely without merit and absolutely not in keeping with the findings of the interim report, and certainly not in keeping with what our own understanding was even just days afterward.

QUESTION: Do you want to – I’m wondering if you can kind of look at this in a bigger context given what you’ve accused Russia of doing in Syria with its air force and what you’re talking about in terms of this report. I’m wondering if you have any larger kind of thing to say about Russian actions in these type of conflicts.

MR KIRBY: Here’s what I would say, more broadly speaking: A lot of the tensions that we’re dealing with are the result of Russian decisions. Decisions made in Moscow to destabilize areas of the European continent, to prop up a brutal dictatorship in Syria. These are Russian sovereign decisions that they also should have to speak to and aren’t necessarily being challenged by media in their own country, to face up to these decisions that they’re making. That said, I work for a man who, I think you all know, believes in the power of dialogue and diplomacy. And – and he has said many times that where there are areas where we can cooperate with Russia, we’re going to explore those opportunities. The Iran deal was one of them. And up until lately, I think we really believed that Syria was one of those; obviously having significant doubts about that now going forward. But he’s not afraid to try to find common ground where it can be had, and where we can work with Russia on things.

Obviously, Ukraine is one of those areas where we continue to have major disagreements with the Russian approach, and that is why the sanctions regime stays in place, because Minsk isn’t fully implemented, because Russia hasn’t fully implemented their side. Now, I understand there’s Ukrainian obligations on that, and we’re working closely with them towards that end, and they have implemented many steps. But Russia has significant choices and decisions to make. They’re decisions that will either further isolate them from the international community or help to facilitate a better integration with the international community.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on the Philippines. President Duterte said today that an upcoming joint naval exercise with the United States would be the last one between the two countries. His exact quote is, “I’m serving notice now to the Americans: This will be the last military exercise.” I realize this might be a DOD thing, but have you gotten – to your knowledge, has the U.S. Government gotten any notification that this is going to be the last military exercise?

MR KIRBY: To my knowledge, no. There has been no official rendering of a decision of that sort to the U.S. Government. I do encourage you to speak to my Defense Department colleagues. They might have a context I don’t have, but we’re not aware of any such decision. We’ve seen these comments, obviously, and would refer you to the president for – to speak to it.

What I would say is, broadly speaking, we continue to focus on our relationship with the Philippines and we’re going to continue to work together in many areas of mutual interest, including counterterrorism, to help improve the livelihoods of the Philippine people and to uphold our shared democratic values. Our relationship with the Philippines is broad and our alliance is one of the most enduring and important relationships in the Asia Pacific region. It has been a cornerstone of stability for over 70 years. It’s built on shared sacrifices for democracy and human rights, and strong people-to-people and societal ties, and obviously we’d like to see that continue.

QUESTION: Is it hard to do business with a country whose president, every few days now it seems, says things that presumably cause some consternation here?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, our focus is on the relationship today and moving it forward. And we continue to believe that that’s possible. Again, we’ve seen these comments, we’ve talked about them when they’re – when they have been made, but the bottom line is that we have significant security commitments with the Philippines. We’re committed to meeting those commitments and to furthering this relationship.


QUESTION: John, I got – this will be very short, I promise. Yesterday I asked Mark about the Secretary’s meeting with President Maduro in Colombia.


QUESTION: I – my specific question was whether the case of Josh Holt, the American who is in prison there, was raised.

MR KIRBY: It was.

QUESTION: And you – it was. And what did the Secretary say in relation to – to the president in relation to that case?

MR KIRBY: Again, I think, without getting into too much detail, I mean, he certainly reiterated our concerns about Mr. Holt. And I think I’m going --

QUESTION: But does that concern – are you calling for the Venezuelan Government to release him or are you just calling on them to ensure that he is given due process or whatever (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I just don’t want to get into too much specific detail on it here from the podium, but I can confirm that he did raise our concerns over Mr. Holt.

QUESTION: I have one – one quick one.


QUESTION: Have you heard anything about another American being detained in Iran? There was some stuff on Twitter yesterday about an Iranian American being detained, being charged with espionage?

MR KIRBY: Let me – I want to go back if I could, just a minute, to Matt’s question. While I won’t go into more specific detail about the conversation with President Maduro, I can tell you, just to put it on the record, that we’re obviously following the case closely, and that we continue to call on the Venezuelan Government to respect due process and human rights. But I – and I think you can – again, without going to – into more detail of the conversation with President Maduro, you – I think you can expect that that’s the same message that the Secretary relayed.

QUESTION: Okay, so – and just so I understand that, you’re not telling them that you – that you’re not urging them to release him immediately without any – without a case proceeding any further, you’re just calling on them to respect due process?

MR KIRBY: What I – that’s – what I’ve said is our policy with respect to Mr. Holt’s case, and I think I just need to leave it there.

You had a question on Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah. The intelligence minister from Iran yesterday tweeted that an American spy who wanted to move millions of dollars to create and launch a social network was arrested. Now, there was one that – I’m wondering if this is a new American.

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) I don’t – I’m afraid I don’t have any additional information on this. I’ll have to take that and look at it.

QUESTION: Well, are you aware of it?

MR KIRBY: I don’t --

QUESTION: Do you know what I’m talking about?



MR KIRBY: I don’t have information on this particular thing. I’ll have to take a look at it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:26 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 09/27/2016 - 18:41

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 27, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:20 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: I have a very brief topper. Secretary Kerry will deliver remarks on the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to our national security, our economic standing at home and abroad, our strategic interests in the Asia Pacific, and our diplomatic leadership around the world. And he’ll do so at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington at 11:00 am on Wednesday, that’s tomorrow, September 28th. And we’ll have a notice to the press with more details on that.


QUESTION: That was brief.

MR TONER: I told you. I strive to be brief in my briefings. Sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, it is the operative word --

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- preceding the gerund --

MR TONER: And too often they’re not.

QUESTION: Let’s start --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Let’s start where we left off, before the TPP speech announcement, on Syria.


QUESTION: Has there been any further contact between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov? If not --

MR TONER: There – sorry.

QUESTION: Well, go ahead.

MR TONER: No, no. There has not.

QUESTION: Okay. So in the – anticipating that answer, are there any plans to? Or are we in a situation where it’s just hopeless and there’s not any real reason to have a conversation?

MR TONER: I think there are always plans to. And I – while I can’t say with certainty that they’ll talk in the next 24 hours or 48 hours, I certainly know that the Secretary is open to talking to Foreign Minister Lavrov. So I don't want to give the impression that there’s no interest in keeping that channel open. In fact, I think there is. But I think, as I said yesterday, we need to see some measures offered by Russia and on the part of the regime that change the reality on the ground. And that goes without saying, given the continued onslaught of the regime on Aleppo.

QUESTION: Are these teams still meeting in Geneva or is that basically – is the ceasefire or the cessation of hostilities task force or whatever it was called – is that basically a dead item now?

MR TONER: That’s a fair question. I don't know whether they’re still meeting in Geneva. I can take that question.

QUESTION: Well I – two – I mean, there are two parts to it. One, I mean, are they actually talking now? But also does this structure that you guys created --

MR TONER: Are we still – yeah.

QUESTION: -- that the ISSG created – is it still alive?

MR TONER: My understanding is that it hasn’t been disbanded, but certainly the – again, we’re under no illusions that the cessation of hostilities, such as we had envisioned it in Geneva ten or so days ago, is still in effect.

QUESTION: Well, how about in Vienna several months ago?

MR TONER: Fair point.

QUESTION: But you’ve said that Secretary Kerry is open to restarting the dialogue. Does that mean he’s waiting by the phone for Lavrov to call him?

MR TONER: Not at all. Not at all. And I --

QUESTION: Or has he made calls that have been refused?

MR TONER: Not at all on either count. Look, I think the Secretary was very clear, both in Cartagena yesterday, in Colombia, but also in his remarks over the weekend that he has not closed the door on this diplomatic process and, as the Secretary of State, he’ll never do that.

He said it would be diplomatic malpractice to do so, and his point is is that, as long as he’s Secretary of State he is going to pursue a diplomatic process that ends the fighting and allows for a peaceful political transition in Syria.

But that said, we’re under no illusions, given the intensity of the conflict in and around Aleppo over the past 72 hours, with barrel bombs, indiscriminate bombings, that we’re anywhere near reaching the seven days of cessation of --



QUESTION: -- a Syrian diplomatic process, is that simply the channel between himself and the Russian foreign minister? Or are there other diplomatic initiatives --

MR TONER: No, we continue to consult with other members of the ISSG, and that continues. But --

QUESTION: So in your answer to Matt’s question --


QUESTION: -- you said obviously he’s still keen to talk, but he’s not going to initiate?

MR TONER: I think, again, where – look, I think where he left it last week and in his most recent public remarks yesterday is: What’s happening in Aleppo is unacceptable, we recognize that the cessation of hostilities is badly weakened, if we could say even that, and that we need to see proposals going forward on how to resuscitate this cessation of hostilities. And what the Secretary talked about was reestablishing credibility in the process. And that’s – he talked about it when he spoke in the Security Council last week, but that’s what we’re looking for.

So we continue to be open to having that dialogue and those discussions with Russia.

QUESTION: And does he believe that Russia does want to restart the dialogue?

MR TONER: Well again, that comes down to – I mean, I think we’re always open to that – or at least we remain open to that. Let me put it that way.


QUESTION: You say the cessation of hostilities is badly weakened, but, I mean --

MR TONER: That may even in itself be overstating it.

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, isn’t it gone? You have a massive air --

QUESTION: Under --

MR TONER: Understating it. Thank you.

QUESTION: -- and ground assault on the largest city in the country.

MR TONER: It’s unacceptable, and that’s absolutely right. What’s happening in Aleppo is unacceptable.


MR TONER: He said as much, and it’s – you’re right, that we – so I guess my point is we cannot look at what is happening and simply turn away and pretend that there is still a credible cessation of hostilities in place.

QUESTION: So if it is unacceptable, is the U.S. Government willing to do anything other than to remain open to resuming a dialogue with Russia to try to stop it, or are you just going to accept it?

MR TONER: Well – sorry, I didn’t know – so we very much call on Russia to stop attacking the civilian residents of Aleppo. We’re going to continue – as I said, Secretary Kerry, Secretary of State Kerry, as the nation’s leading diplomat, is going to continue to pursue the diplomatic options that he has left in front of him. And as he said, he’s going to continue to pursue those until they’re exhausted.

As to what other options or other directions we may go in, I can’t speak to any – or I can’t announce anything or even lean into anything today because, while those discussions continue, and I talked about it yesterday, we’re still pursuing the agreement that we reached in Geneva as the best way forward.

QUESTION: And are any of your Gulf allies now proposing, more vehemently, providing additional arms including, perhaps, MANPADS to the opposition?

MR TONER: I wouldn’t presume to speak on their behalf and I’d have to refer you to them to talk about what they may or may not do. I think speaking broadly we have said that there are scenarios out there where, if this collapses altogether, if it descends further into conflict, that there is that possibility. But I can’t speak to – on behalf of these governments. Please.

QUESTION: A follow up on --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) contingency plans to deal with the humanitarian catastrophe when Aleppo falls?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, I – look, we’re – insofar as we’re, one, announcing more humanitarian assistance, both within and I think Anne just said three quarters, if I’m not mistaken, of that will go inside Syria. We are looking at trying to alleviate the humanitarian suffering and looking towards how that might even increase in the days and weeks ahead.

And I think also we’re going to continue to push hard for humanitarian access. I know the World Health Organization called for, in fact, humanitarian corridors to evacuate the injured from Aleppo. And we certainly support that, but we also would add that you shouldn’t – the injured shouldn’t have to leave their homes to get this kind of treatment, so what we want to see is sustained access.

QUESTION: Twelve hundred million people live in East Aleppo.

MR TONER: I agree, it --

QUESTION: That would be a – if they end up on the road --

MR TONER: I agree.

QUESTION: Turkey’s border’s closed.

MR TONER: I agree, and those are all things we’re looking at and considering going forward, but right now we just want to see an end to the fighting.

QUESTION: Follow-up --

QUESTION: Mark, I wanted to follow up on --

MR TONER: I’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: -- Arshad’s question --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- and start by reading you some statistics from the White Helmets. This is the unarmed civilian rescue workers in Syria and Aleppo. They said just over the past eight days, a thousand dead, 1,700 airstrikes, 19 of them with bunker-busters; 200 of the strikes with cluster bombs, hospitals now declaring they’re no longer able to take in new patients. Only 30 doctors left in Aleppo.

Is it – setting aside the idea that the ceasefire is not working, is it possible to argue that the atmosphere of the ceasefire has actually made things worse? Has this brief cessation led to an even worse bombardment and humanitarian situation? Of course not intentionally, but --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- could you not make that argument?

MR TONER: Justin, it’s hard to evaluate what the strategy behind this flagrant onslaught on Aleppo is. We talked a little bit about it yesterday. Whether it’s the regime’s insistence on pursuing a military solution to the conflict there even though they and even though Russia claims to want a political solution and that there is no military solution, it’s really hard to evaluate what’s behind this acceleration and this ramping up of its assaults on innocent civilians in Aleppo. We’re going to continue to push hard through whatever channels we have for the regime to stand down and to try to work, as I said, to put back in place some kind of reduction in the level of violence. But those statistics you read are extraordinary, and you said they’re from the White Helmets?


MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, and we would just obviously – the Secretary attended an event when he was in New York about the White Helmets, and we certainly commend their selfless, courageous efforts in the face of these attacks.

QUESTION: What makes Aleppo different? What makes --

QUESTION: Their commander’s in town --

MR TONER: Sorry. That’s okay.

QUESTION: What makes Aleppo different from the Yezidis who were on Mt. Sinjar, from the Libyans who Qadhafi said he was going to hunt down like rats? What’s the difference here? You have 250,000 people in a defined area that are now surrounded that are subject not just to air, but now to ground assault. What’s – why did the United States deem it to be in the U.S. national interest to intervene in those other circumstances but not in this circumstance?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, I don’t want to necessarily get in the habit of comparing different conflicts and different circumstances, such as the ones you raised, because every set of circumstances is a little bit different. And in the case of Aleppo and the case of Syria, it’s hard to find one that’s more complex. We’ve talked about that. But also the fact that really until the past few weeks, we felt like we were on a firm path towards a possible diplomatic resolution to this. We still believe that’s possible. As I said, we haven’t given up on that process. But that’s where we still are in terms of our approach.

Now, that doesn’t mean we’re not mindful – I don’t know how anyone could not be – of the tremendous humanitarian suffering that’s going on right now in Aleppo, and that’s why we’re working so hard to ramp up our assistance but also to gain access for humanitarian convoys. And I would just finish by saying we’re continuing to weighing all – we continue to weigh all options. Those discussions are ongoing. I don’t want to rule anything out, but right now we’re focused on the diplomatic one.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: When you say you don’t want to – I’m sorry, the last one from me.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: When you say you don’t want to rule anything out, Secretary Powell once stood at that exact podium and said in early 2003, “The time for diplomacy is over.” Is it conceivable to you, since you don’t want to rule anything out, that the Administration may come to the conclusion that having expended five years of effort on diplomacy and particularly three and a half under Secretary Kerry, that the time for diplomacy is over and that you need to make use of other elements of national power? Or is that not conceivable to you?

MR TONER: I think those – again, as part of, frankly, a healthy debate within any Administration, those conversations are always ongoing – how you approach or how you resolve an issue like this or a problem like this, a conflict like this. Ultimately, that’s a decision for the President to make.


QUESTION: A Reuters article – co-authored by Arshad, by the way – cites U.S. officials who believe the Gulf states may soon begin to arm Syrian rebels with MANPADs to shoot down aircraft. One U.S. official was quoted as saying, “The Saudis have always thought that the way to get the Russians to back off is what worked in Afghanistan 30 years ago: negating their air power by giving MANPADS to the Mujahideen,” end quote. About two weeks ago, U.S.-backed rebels drove U.S. Special Forces out of the town of Al-Rai, shouting, “Infidels, crusaders, dogs, pigs” at them – their words. In light of the fact that some rebels are quite openly anti-American, are you worried that these MANPADS could one day be used to shoot down U.S. planes?

MR TONER: So first of all, I’m not going to confirm what anonymous U.S. officials may or may not have said. I think I’ll just answer your question more broadly by saying that we cannot dictate what other countries – and I’m not naming names – but may or may not decide to do in terms of supporting certain groups within Syria.

QUESTION: So you will not try to stop them from providing rebels with MANPADS, with anti-aircraft weapons?

MR TONER: I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying is ultimately, and we’ve talked about this, is that you may have a further deterioration on either side, both among the opposition but also by the regime. And by deterioration I mean more arming and more conflict between them, an intensification of the conflict.

As to the specific comments that were made about what or may – what may or may not be provided to – by governments to different rebel groups, I’m just not in a position to confirm or speak to that from this podium. Sorry.

QUESTION: Does the Administration do anything to stop its allies from providing these powerful weapons to rebels in Syria?

MR TONER: What we’re engaged with – our allies, and frankly, all of the members of the ISSG, which is, as we know, not necessarily all like-minded governments or nations, but they all share, purportedly, a common vision for the outcome that they want to see in Syria. We’re in consultation with all of those governments at all times, including last week in New York. What came out of that ISSG meeting last week in New York was a recommitment, even in the face of what was happening in Syria then and has intensified and worsened over the ensuing days – was a commitment to the Geneva agreement that we’re – that would put in place seven days, followed by establishment of a JIC, followed by the grounding of Syrian regime’s air power.

Please, Barbara.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Justin’s question --


QUESTION: -- does the Administration see what’s happening in Aleppo as a qualitative difference from the violence we’ve seen over the past years? I mean, that’s what’s suggested by the reaction in the Security Council on Sunday – the anger about the bunker busters and the allegations of war crimes against Russia. So is this seen as a change, a qualitative change?

MR TONER: I think – without necessarily trying to characterize it, I think we said it’s a violation of international law, as I think – as Secretary Kerry put it in speaking at the UN last week. I think he called it a flagrant violation of international law when you’ve got indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations, strikes that are hitting civilian targets, hospitals, et cetera. There has been an alarming increase in both the intensity and the targeting of these attacks. I don’t think – as I said, I think we’re all aware of that in this room.

QUESTION: But if there’s an alarming increase in the intensity and the targeting and the introduction of new, more powerful weapons, you still continue with the same strategy? I mean, if the situation has gotten that much worse, the same strategy is somehow supposed to deal with it?

MR TONER: Barbara, what I would say to that is we are within the State Department focused on the diplomatic side of this equation and we’re continuing to pursue the diplomatic options that are available to us. We worked through many months to reach the agreement that was reached in Geneva with the Russians. We still believe it’s a viable path forward despite – or in spite of the increased fighting that we’ve seen over the past week or so. We need to get back on track. What we’ve talked about, how to get there – the Secretary suggested some proposals, but we need to see Russia’s response to those proposals.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one quick question on Turkey as well?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Do you have any information from Tony Blinken’s meetings in Turkey today? There’s been a – the Turkish president has called a meeting of his top officials, all of his top officials tonight with no suggestion of what it’s about. But the speculation is that it’s possibly off the back of Mr. Blinken’s meeting and it’s about Turkish participation in Raqqa.

MR TONER: I don’t – I mean, I don’t have much of a readout. I apologize. He’s, obviously, as you mentioned, in Ankara, along with Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk and Deputy Assistant Secretary Jonathan Cohen and the Commander of the Operation Inherent Resolve Lieutenant General Townsend. He is meeting – I think he’s discussing with Turkish officials plans to take back Mosul, Raqqa, and Dabiq, and he’s had meetings today with Turkish officials, focused on the details of how to implement those plans, along with – or with – in cooperation with our Turkish partners. I know he visited also the Turkish parliament earlier today, which was, as we know, damaged in the attempted coup earlier this year. If I can get a further readout or additional readout, we’ll certainly make that available to you guys.


QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: Can we stay on Syria for a second?

MR TONER: Yeah, let’s finish up with Syria. Please.

QUESTION: Just on the 364 million, I just wanted to follow up on another question.

MR TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: If three-fourths of that money is going to be spent inside Syria and humanitarian aid convoys are getting bombed, I mean, how do you spend that money inside Syria and what do you spend it on? Do you have sort of details?

MR TONER: So – and I’m not sure that Anne mentioned this, but we are going to put out a fact sheet, or it should be out now already, about the 364 million. And in that fact sheet, it does talk a little bit about who we work with, the different operations of the United Nations that Anne mentioned, and other international organizations, NGOs as well, that through these organizations we’re able to provide assistance to, I think, 14 governorates in Syria, supporting – helping alleviate critical humanitarian needs.

But you’re absolutely right that there are parts of Syria that still remain what we call besieged areas, and we still don’t have full, unlimited access to those areas, so that remains a challenge. But there are areas, obviously, where at least some humanitarian assistance is able to filter in, and always in the goal – our goal, rather, in providing that humanitarian assistance is to be able to keep people in place. We don’t want to see people displaced, either internally or obviously to the countries and regions that border Syria, but even beyond that to Europe and elsewhere. But we’re going to continue to work through our partners on the ground in Syria. We are able to provide, as I said, limited – and there’s people who can – far more expert who can talk about how we do that. But we are able to work, obviously, within a very challenging security environment, or these people are able to work to provide some humanitarian assistance. But again, it’s not enough. It’s not full access.

QUESTION: Okay. But has that been cleared with the government? I mean, aid in Syria has been sort of a central part of this conflict and is sometimes – the government accuses aid groups or feels that aid is going to rebels. I mean, it’s --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Surely there must be a concern that this could only exacerbate the conflict?

MR TONER: Well, and it certainly speaks to, again, the courage of some of these aid groups, including the UN, but also these NGOs that operate in that kind of environment. They continue to --

QUESTION: (Sneezes.)

MR TONER: -- God bless you – they continue to push the boundaries and continue – and I think that was evident last week, when, right after the attack on that aid convoy headed to Aleppo, I think 24 to 48 hours later, they were again staging convoys to try to get access to some of those places in Syria. I think that speaks to the courage of these individuals.

QUESTION: Okay. But have you cleared this aid with – has there been any coordination with the government?

MR TONER: I think I’d have to leave it to the UN and to the NGOs themselves to talk about whatever clearances or – but my understanding is that they would always seek, first and foremost, to have the authorization of the Syrian Government to operate within whatever geographical area they’re operating in, just as we attempted to do last week for this aid convoy that was struck. So bearing in mind – I’ll get to you in a second. I’m going to --

QUESTION: Yeah. Of the dying days of the ceasefire, the narrative from U.S. officials is we’d leave the door open but our patience isn’t limitless. But now it’s more a question of: well, it would be malpractice to close the window at any time to any kind of peaceful solution. Is the idea of the patience being limitless now being dropped and you’re saying now, in fact, it is limitless, you’ve got to keep the window open?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think we are at a difficult juncture, but that’s often the case in conflict zones, and certainly one as complex as Syria. And despite all of the setbacks and all of the challenges, we still believe it’s worthwhile to pursue a diplomatic process that was worked out with Russia to the agreement and consent of the other members of the ISSG and, frankly, that many within the moderate Syrian opposition had also bought into.

But again, recognizing that, when you’ve got the moderate opposition under attack in Aleppo and elsewhere, they’re not going to adhere to any ceasefire or cessation of hostilities. And we talked a little bit about this dynamic yesterday. That just exacerbates what’s already a difficult situation, because they’re under attack by the regime – of course they’re going to defend themselves.

So I don’t know how to put it in a way that conveys the sense that we are trying to always resuscitate the diplomatic process that we believe can eventually lead to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria, but we also recognize that it’s gotten very hard.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: My question is about Panama’s expedition request.

MR TONER: Let’s get finished with – on these other questions, because – I’m sorry, sir. Our common procedure is to move through all the different regions.

QUESTION: Turkey. Yesterday, Turkish spokesman finally said that YPG forces had moved east of the Euphrates, which is something that the United States has been saying for weeks.


QUESTION: And I wondered, is that – since Deputy Secretary of State Blinken and McGurk had arrived – just arrived in Turkey, I wondered, is that something that they helped clarify? And in any case, does that Turkish statement about the YPG satisfying their geographical requirements – does that indicate that the U.S.-Turkish dispute over the YPG role in fighting ISIS has been largely resolved, or is it still an issue?

MR TONER: Well, so we also saw those remarks yesterday and it was gratifying to see that they also confirmed what we had been saying for some time, which was that in the past – not sure of the timeframe, but the past weeks or so that we’ve seen them – these groups – Syrian Kurdish groups who had been fighting in that area, again, adhere to their commitments that they made to us and withdraw from the area around the Euphrates – east of the Euphrates. So that’s a good thing.

We certainly – as we said at the time, the last thing we want to see is these forces come into conflict with Turkish forces who are on the ground, as well. And we also called for a de-escalation at the time and urged that all of the parties there keep their eye on the prize, so to speak, in keeping the pressure on Daesh, keeping the pressure on destroying and dislodging Daesh, because that’s the overarching security concern. So even as Turkey sought to re-establish control over its border region and you had these various groups, including the Syrian Kurds, working to liberate areas also in northern Syria that were Daesh-controlled, we didn’t want them to come into conflict. Again, it speaks to the complexity of the battlespace there.

Your last question has --


MR TONER: -- oh, is it all – look, we’re going to continue to – sorry, I didn’t mean – I just remembered what you asked – so we’re going to continue to have those conversations, as you saw last week, with Turkish authorities. And we have Deputy Secretary Blinken in Turkey today with a group of government officials and military officials. And we’re going to work closely with Turkey to de-conflict and to coordinate on efforts to secure their borders, but also to drive out and destroy Daesh.

QUESTION: But do you think you’re making progress towards that goal? Is that what that statement might indicate?

MR TONER: Look, I think we’re – I think we’re --

QUESTION: Give you a chance to say yes.

MR TONER: I know. (Laughter.) I’m always careful, you’re a spokesperson. I think we – I don’t want to say “making progress.” I think we’re pleased to see the confirmation, as I said, from the remarks from the Turkish Government yesterday. We’re going to continue to keep up our engagement with Turkey and with YPG forces in order that there is no kind of conflict – conflict there.

Please, Nike.

QUESTION: Can I ask a couple of different questions? Are we ready to move on?

MR TONER: (Laughter.) That’s the idea of the briefing.



QUESTION: First, on Azerbaijan, do you have anything on the referendum in Azerbaijan? Because --

MR TONER: I think I do.

QUESTION: Okay. Because opposition --


QUESTION: -- and civil society are saying that there is some movement by the – to expand the presidential power.


QUESTION: I wonder if you have anything.

MR TONER: So we are aware, as you noted, that Azerbaijan conducted a constitutional referendum yesterday. It came off without any security incidents. I think the Venice Commission – it was in the – or on the ground, rather, noted that the process would have benefitted from greater public discussion in the lead-up to the vote. We would urge the government to address reports of voting irregularities, and we do remain committed to helping Azerbaijanis build a stronger democracy and encourage political transparency and dialogue within the country.

You had other questions?

QUESTION: Yeah. Can I ask about Afghanistan?

MR TONER: You certainly can.

QUESTION: First, I’m wondering if you --

QUESTION: Sorry. Can I ask one more about Azerbaijan?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Is it good that one family has ruled this country for so long and that the son of the previous ruler can now rule it for even longer?

MR TONER: I think our focus, Arshad, is on how do we improve the institutions and how do we improve or work with the Azerbaijani people and government to improve the process, the democratic process. It’s not for us to dictate what the outcome of that democratic process may or may not be, except to say that where there are irregularities they should be investigated, where there are glitches in the process they should be looked at and improved.

QUESTION: But the question is more – is it a democratic process?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think we’re looking at the election that took place yesterday, and I think we found that it was marred by some reports of voting irregularities, and that’s what we’re going to --

QUESTION: Yeah. But when you have situations where people are put in a position where they’re able to be presidents for life, is that – is that democracy?

MR TONER: Again, I think in any of these kinds of situations, Matt, we’ve – Azerbaijan is not unique in having longstanding presidents or heads of state.

QUESTION: Not at all. I’m not saying it’s unique at all. I’m just wondering --

MR TONER: But no, no, no, let me – but let me finish. No, no. Let me finish.

QUESTION: -- in the case where you have --

MR TONER: But I think that our point of concern is always in trying to work within the structures that are there to improve the democracy or democratic institutions, to improve and work where we can to improve to the process, rather than we can’t dictate that term limits.


QUESTION: Can we move on?

MR TONER: We can.

QUESTION: Afghanistan. First, do you have anything on the overnight attack at a security outpost near Kunduz, because reportedly Taliban was behind it?

MR TONER: Let me see if I have anything on that. You’re talking about – where was this again?


MR TONER: Oh, yes, I do. So you’re talking about reports and the outpost near Kunduz, right?


MR TONER: Well, we’ve seen reports, obviously, that Afghan soldiers were killed. I believe it’s reportedly an insider attack.


MR TONER: We certainly offer our condolences to their families, loved ones, and colleagues. I would say attacks like this only strengthen the resolve, we believe, of Afghans who are fighting with bravery and with determination on the battlefield every day. We believe that Afghanistan’s security forces remain determined and resolved to fight for the security for their country and their citizens. And we’re going to – we, the U.S., and obviously with our NATO allies and partners, are going to remain committed to supporting those forces, making sure that they’ve got the capabilities and the training to carry out their mandate.

QUESTION: And then another question on Afghan.


QUESTION: Its national unity government is nearing a two-year completion of its term. What is your assessment on the political reforms required by that deal in Afghanistan?

MR TONER: Sure. So you’re right that President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah developed a new electoral decree when they were – came into office, and that will determine the process for selecting new members of the Independent Elections Commission as well as the Electoral Complaints Commission. And these are important bodies, because they’ll manage the elections, and they have to be viewed as credible by Afghans if future elections are to meet even a minimal threshold of success. So we are urging, and continue to urge, both leaders to make more rapid progress on that front.

We also – as you know, there’s going to be the Brussels conference next week looking for donor commitments for Afghanistan, and that’s going to strengthen Afghan institutions, spur economic growth, support the Afghan Government’s reform agenda, and send a strong signal to the Afghan people and the region that the international community remains committed to a stable and prosperous Afghanistan. But, ultimately, these are conversations that need to be had among Afghans and Afghan leaders. I’d refer you to the Government of Afghanistan to talk about their political and reform agenda.

QUESTION: What is going --

MR TONER: A couple of questions – go ahead.

QUESTION: What is going to happen after two years is up? I mean, is the U.S. going to broker extension of the deal?

MR TONER: I’m not going to predict what role, except to say that we’re – we remain committed to working with the Afghan Government and leadership in trying to continue along the reform agenda that they’re working on, but also, as you note, to ensure the smooth democratic transition to the next government.

QUESTION: Staying in the region, but a different issue.

MR TONER: Yeah. So I’ll take one, two, and then back to you for the last --


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: On – India today said that talks and terror cannot go together and as such, India informed that it will not be participating in the regional South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit, which was scheduled to be held in Pakistan next month – in November, I think. So what’s your take on that? U.S. is --

MR TONER: I’d refer you --

QUESTION: -- observer to that.

MR TONER: Sure. Yeah, I’d refer you to the Government of India to comment on their decision not to attend this meeting. We’ve --

QUESTION: What is observer take on it? Because you are an observer, you go --

MR TONER: We are.

QUESTION: -- there, U.S. goes there, every --

MR TONER: I mean, look, what I would say more broadly is – and we’ve said it many times from the podium – is we want to see closer relations and a normalization of relations, frankly, between India and Pakistan. It would be the – to the benefit of the region. And we want to see de-escalation in the political discourse between the two countries and greater communication and coordination between them.

QUESTION: What is your prescription for de-escalation of tension?

MR TONER: What is the --

QUESTION: Your prescription for de-escalation of tensions?

MR TONER: It’s not for us, necessarily, to offer a prescription. I mean, I think we would – and we’ve said, again, many times that we want to see a de-escalation and that’s, obviously, facts on the ground or actions on the ground, but also within – with – that applies to the rhetoric that’s flying back and forth as well.

And again, I mean, it’s in both countries’ mutual interest to put aside tensions, work towards putting aside tensions and de-escalating tensions, and establish more normal channels of communication.

QUESTION: But do you think talks and terror can go together? Talks and terror can go together simultaneously?

MR TONER: I – I’m not sure what your reference is or what your inference is.

QUESTION: There can be terrorist attack coming from across the border at the same time (inaudible) --

MR TONER: Well, I mean, clearly we’ve talked about that before is, while we’ve seen Pakistan make progress on some of the terrorist groups operating within its own borders and carrying out attacks within Pakistan’s borders, that we continue to put pressure on Pakistan to respond to those groups who are, quote/unquote, “seeking safe haven on Pakistan’s borders,” that – who are intent on carrying out attacks elsewhere in the region.


QUESTION: Thank you, Mark. The first time the United States take individual sanctions on Chinese-owned companies – is there any other countries U.S. taking actions, except to China?

MR TONER: So you’re talking about the actions that were announced yesterday --


MR TONER: -- I think by the Department of Treasury and Justice. Nothing to preview at this point in time, but we’d refer you to the Department of Treasury for talking about – more about implementing those actions taken yesterday.

QUESTION: Second question and the last week, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se mentioned about – after UN General Assembly, he noted that North Korea should be disqualified from UN member status. What is your comment on his mention?

MR TONER: You’re talking about his remarks --

QUESTION: About disqualified North Koreans --

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, I think the call we heard from – or of – from the foreign minister – was it foreign minister’s remarks? I’m sorry.


MR TONER: Yeah – last week from Korea was a natural result of North Korea’s continued dangerous provocations in the region. North Korea’s actions continue to undermine stability on the peninsula, undermine the credibility and authority of the international system that has repeatedly warned North Korea to abandon its nuclear missile program. So in general, we think it’s important for the international community to explore options to impose real costs and consequences on North Korea’s bad behavior. But I’d refer you to the North – or the – to the Korean Government to – for details on their statement.

QUESTION: Do you think the North Korea should be deprived of the qualification in member of United Nations?

MR TONER: Again, I think – I’m not going to speak directly to that statement by Korea, the Korean Government – or foreign minister, rather. I think I’d just spoke to it more broadly that as North Korea continually violates the international system, it’s incumbent on the international community to look at ways to hold them to account.

Please, sir. Last question.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. The question is about the extradition request by Panama for the ex-president of their country, Ricardo Martinelli. And I’d like to ask you what you can tell us about the process today, a little bit more broadly if there are any – if you see any diplomatic obstacles, requests for asylum, immunity, or anything like that.

MR TONER: Yeah. This is an extradition request by the Panamanian Government for --


MR TONER: Yeah. So we wouldn’t necessarily speak to the details of any extradition request. That’s usually kept confidential because it is a legal process and a determination made through a legal process. I’d refer you to the Department of Justice. They may be able to provide you more of a status check if that – as that request moves forward, but beyond that I can’t really speak to it.

QUESTION: Well, Mark, you really didn’t think you were going to get away with that, did you – not being challenged?

MR TONER: Get away with? Oh.


MR TONER: Challenge away, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just thinking about one extradition request that you have been --

MR TONER: And I said “usually.”


MR TONER: And that was an exception.

QUESTION: And can you explain to us why that was an unusual – why that is an exception other than the fact that you guys think that it serves your interest to talk about that one and not necessarily to talk about this one?

MR TONER: Well, I --

QUESTION: And for those who may not know what I’m talking about --

MR TONER: As much as we – so he’s talking about Gulen.

QUESTION: -- it’s Gulen.

MR TONER: Yeah. So as much as we’ve acknowledged that such an extradition request was made, I don’t think we’ve gotten into the details or the nitty-gritty.

QUESTION: You talked about dossiers being delivered and at one point it wasn’t enough to be a --

MR TONER: But --

QUESTION: -- a formal request, then it became enough to be one.

MR TONER: But I think what – sure, Matt. So first of all, he’s welcome to go to the Department of Justice and see what they can give him in terms of where the status of this is. I just don’t – I don’t have that information in front of me. But normally we don’t talk about extradition requests.

QUESTION: And so why was the Gulen case different?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think it was – first of all, it was a political upheaval for the country that created a great deal of public outcry within Turkey and allegations and requests that the Turkish Government made about this extradition. So given all that, we responded in a very measured way but said in a very measured way publicly that we were going to evaluate this as we evaluate all extradition requests.

Now, you – you’re right, we did confirm once we received that, because as the Secretary said in the immediate aftermath of that failed coup attempt when asked about this very subject – would we extradite Gulen – we said – he said there’s a process here. We respect that treaty that we have with Turkey, and when we get a request, we’ll --


MR TONER: -- vet that. Sorry.

QUESTION: So all that has to happen in the case of Panama or any other country that wants you to --

MR TONER: Yes, is create a huge – (laughter).

QUESTION: -- is to have public – political upheaval and a lot of angry complaints, public complaints from the government and – is that correct? That’s what tips the --

MR TONER: That’s – anyway.

QUESTION: That’s what tips – makes the case?

QUESTION: Once the DOJ and the State and the courts are finished, then the Secretary of State signs off on the extradition.

MR TONER: I think that’s how the process works, yes.

QUESTION: So we’ll --

QUESTION: I got one more on Latin America --

MR TONER: Please, sir.

QUESTION: -- and that has to do with Venezuela.

MR TONER: I closed my book, come on.

QUESTION: Venezuela.

MR TONER: Sure. Of course, of course.

QUESTION: And the meeting that Secretary Kerry had with President Maduro last night.


QUESTION: I saw the readout, which was, shall we say, sparse on details, to say the least. And I don’t have – I only have one question about it; others might have other questions. But I just – did the case of Josh Holt, the American who’s been in prison there – did the Secretary raise that with President Maduro?

MR TONER: I know we’re following this case as closely – we do raise him regularly with Venezuelan authorities. I can’t confirm that was raised directly with President Maduro in the meeting yesterday.

QUESTION: You can?

MR TONER: I cannot. So I’ll take the question.

QUESTION: Do you know why? This is a pretty high-profile case.


QUESTION: Do you know why it wouldn’t have been raised, why the Secretary wouldn’t have raised it?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to it. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know how long the meeting was. I don’t know how – I just can’t. I’m sorry.


MR TONER: I mean, I don’t know why it wouldn’t have been raised.


MR TONER: I can’t confirm that it wasn’t raised.

QUESTION: Right. Well, can someone look into it? Just because the cases of Americans who are in prison --

MR TONER: Of course. Of course. And --

QUESTION: -- this is your – what you say is your highest obligation.

MR TONER: And what I can say is that we call on the Venezuelan Government to respect due process and human rights. And as you note, we do take the welfare of American citizens very seriously.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:07 p.m.)

DPB # 164


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 26, 2016

Mon, 09/26/2016 - 17:02

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 26, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:03 p.m. EDT



MR TONER: I didn’t know you were here.

QUESTION: I barely have a voice after yesterday.

MR TONER: That’s not a terrible thing in my view. No, just kidding. Yes, I spent a lot of time yelling as well at the TV yesterday.

Anyway, welcome to the State Department Monday morning briefing – Monday morning – Monday afternoon briefing.

QUESTION: Feels like Monday morning to me.

MR TONER: Yes, it does. (Laughter.) Just a couple of things at the top, and then I’ll open it up to your questions.

First, I wanted to briefly talk a little bit about Secretary Kerry’s trip today to Colombia. He’s in Cartagena, Colombia, leading the United States delegation at the signing of the final peace accord between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC, to end over 50 years of conflict – this hemisphere’s longest war. Our Peace Colombia strategy, announced by President Obama in February, will support implementation of the accord with a focus on its – on three pillars: first, security, including counternarcotics and re-integration of former fighters; second, expanding state presence in public institutions; and then thirdly, justice and other assistance for the victims of this conflict.

U.S. support for Colombia has been a bipartisan effort sustained across more than three presidential administrations, proving that a resilient long-term partnership with a committed nation does pay real dividends. So congratulations.

I also wanted to mention briefly the United States – this – hosting the 2016 Africa Growth and Opportunity Act Forum, so-called AGOA, for those of you into acronyms. This morning, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman welcomed more than 400 participants to the 2016 AGOA Forum. The annual AGOA Forum serves as the premier event that brings together African trade ministers with U.S. counterparts to discuss how we can work together to enhance our trade and investment relationship.

Earlier today, the State Department hosted the first AGOA dialogue on women and trade. The discussion explored how to realize the inclusion of women entrepreneurs in the political and economic sphere, as called for in the reauthorized AGOA. Now, there is a growing consensus in both Africa and the United States that open trade and international investment are among the fastest ways for Africa to boost its economic growth, spur development, and reduce poverty. Since 2000, AGOA has been the cornerstone of U.S. economic policy in Africa. And the recent 10-year extension of AGOA provides an important degree of predictability to investors and buyers who are looking to invest in or source from Africa, and will keep – and will help keep our trading relationship with sub-Saharan Africa on a positive track. However, it is also important for U.S. and African policymakers to begin drawing up a strategy appropriate for the next phase in our trading relationship.

That’s all I have. Matt, over to you.

QUESTION: Well, I wasn’t going to start with this, but what is the next phase in the --

MR TONER: Well, I think it’s under – it’s all under discussion, but I think looking at how to kind of take this – take the trade relationship to the next level, so supporting entrepreneurs but also strengthening those trading ties.

QUESTION: Right, but if it’s been extended for 10 years, then --

MR TONER: Well, I know. It’s a long-term strategy; I understand that. But --

QUESTION: All right. Okay. On the Secretary – I haven’t seen all of his comments that he made today, but I did see some brief ones about the situation in Syria. And I don’t – I apologize if I – if he said more and I missed it, but what is the status of your consultations with the Russians right now? Is that still happening? Has he spoken with Lavrov, or are the people meeting in Geneva still, or is it just – is it --

MR TONER: I don’t want to say it’s done, but there’s been nothing to report on, I think, since Friday. I’m just checking quickly, but I don’t believe he’s spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov since Friday.

QUESTION: So what’s the status of the --

MR TONER: Well, look, I mean, you saw what the Secretary said. It’s hard to point to a cessation of hostilities, it’s hard to point to a diplomatic process when we’re in the midst of a pretty aggressive series of assaults on Aleppo. I don’t want to say we’ve thrown in the towel and I don’t think he would say that, but it’s hard – unless we see some gestures by Russia on behalf of the regime or the regime and Russia, significant gestures – and we talked about some of those in New York last week – we’re not – this isn’t – we don’t see this moving forward. But we’re still committed to pursuing this process. It’s just we’re not in a good place. I don’t know how to put it more frankly than that.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, clearly not.


QUESTION: I mean, but according to you guys, you’re looking for gestures from them. But aren’t you seeing gestures from the Russians and from the Assad regime right now?

MR TONER: Well, arguably, yes. I mean, that’s true.


MR TONER: I mean, I – what the Secretary said --

QUESTION: So why haven’t you --

MR TONER: -- said it’s unacceptable. Well, Matt, I mean, this is – and I think the Secretary has talked about this, and certainly talked about it at the end of last week when it was clear that he and everyone was pretty frustrated by the lack of progress. But we’re still committed to pursuing a diplomatic process, because first of all, it’s really the only way out of – it’s the only viable way out of the mess that is Syria. But secondly, I mean, it’s – he put it as diplomatic – it would be diplomatic malpractice to not pursue this. That he’s – it’s incumbent on him as the Secretary of State to pursue this to the last possible measure, and we’re going to continue to do that.

QUESTION: But so you don’t think that the last possible measure has been reached now?

MR TONER: We don’t, but we’re getting close, and it’s – as I said, it’s hard, and as the Secretary said earlier today in Cartagena, that what’s happening in Aleppo is unacceptable, and it’s hard to talk about any kind of transition government or any kind of negotiating process when the moderate Syrian opposition and civilians in Aleppo are being bombed.

Clearly, the regime – and quite possibly Russia – believe that there is still a military solution here, and that’s difficult to – it’s difficult to pursue a diplomatic process when you’ve got that scenario.

QUESTION: The Secretary himself --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- said in those comments to the reporters traveling with him that Syria and Russia appear to be pursuing a military solution and to be trying to take Aleppo and destroying it in the process. Is the United States willing to do anything to try to stop Syrian and Russian forces from taking Aleppo?

MR TONER: I’m not sure what you mean by “willing to do anything.”

QUESTION: They’re pursuing a military solution. Are you willing to do anything besides verbally asking them to stop, which doesn’t seem to have worked, to stop them?

MR TONER: Well, look, we’re committed to continuing to engage with Russia diplomatically, and we’re not going to walk away from that avenue. Again, the Secretary said it would be diplomatic malpractice to do so. As dark as it seems, frankly, it’s one of the few options that we have. I mean, if you’re asking about the legendary Plan B, I think that we’re not there yet and, frankly, we continue to have all of these discussions within the interagency about what other options we do have, and that conversation, that dialogue, continues. But we still believe that based on the agreement that we reached in Geneva with Russia, that that diplomatic process is still the best option we have.

QUESTION: But you haven’t suggested any willingness to do anything besides focus on a diplomatic option that clearly failed at least last week, in its latest iteration, not to mention all the previous ones – failed most recently. So I’m just asking --


QUESTION: -- is there anything else that you’re willing to do beyond talking and pursuing a diplomatic option?

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, we can all extrapolate on what the other options are out there, but where we are at with our Syria policy right now is a diplomatic process and pursuing through the ISSG and through direct dialogue with Russia a way forward that tries to bring some credibility back to the process. You can’t have that, obviously, today with the firefighting or the assaults on Aleppo, but what the Secretary talked last week about in New York, which is, frankly, an extraordinary gesture on the part of Russia and Russia influencing the regime to, for example, ground these aircraft – in some ways, to jumpstart what would be a credible way forward for a cessation of hostilities.

Now, I’m not deluded – we’re not there. We’re not – we’re far from there. And it’s hard to keep that in perspective as we are presented with the facts on the ground today. But that is the option that we continue to pursue.

QUESTION: The – one more for me, if I may.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The Secretary also said on Friday that he had had a brief – well, he didn’t say it was brief, but he said he had talked to Foreign Minister Lavrov and that they had made a little progress. Foreign Minister Lavrov was asked on Friday afternoon what that progress was, and he didn’t say there was no progress, but he said nothing to suggest that there was any progress. What was the progress that you made on Friday afternoon – on Friday morning, excuse me, when they spoke briefly, and why haven’t you had any conversation since then?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, I think we’re looking to see – I’m not sure specifically what he was alluding to by the progress. We talked about some of the – as I said, some of the measures we wanted to see Russia and the regime take, again, to restore credibility to this process. I also think that the ball is somewhat in Russia’s court now where we want to see some kind of action that we believe can prove that there’s still legitimacy to this process, and I think that’s what we’re – one of the reasons why we haven’t had continued conversations, because we haven’t seen that yet.

QUESTION: But the fact that today, Mr. Lavrov said that he did not consider the process dead – you don’t consider it dead. Isn’t that – doesn’t that suggest that --

MR TONER: And --

QUESTION: -- we might have a meeting sometime soon, maybe today, maybe tomorrow --

MR TONER: Again, I – and I also have to say that the consensus in the – within the ISSG last Thursday was that while it was the grim reality on the ground, that everyone still around that room believed that the best way forward was this Geneva agreement. But clearly, it faces real challenges when we continue to see the kind of behavior by the regime. And again, I think it goes back to this – how do we restore some kind of credibility to the process? And we’ve talked about those, we continue to talk about those with Russia. If Russia wants to come back to us with serious proposals, of course we’ll listen to and consider those.

QUESTION: Now, from your point of view, and your allies’, of course, there are a number of elements that need to be put in place before we get this process going. Now, on the other side, they’re saying all you have to do is really basically separate the terrorists from the moderate opposition. Why is that so difficult? Why is that so undoable? I mean, if you can leverage your --

MR TONER: Sure. Well, yeah, and we’ve talked about that. It’s a valid question. I mean, we’re talked about that and that was one of the things that we accepted coming out of Geneva – incumbent on us to exert that kind of influence, to make sure that the moderate Syrian opposition clearly got that message: You’re either with the moderate forces who are part of the cessation of hostilities or you’re with Nusrah. I think what happens when you have the reality of Aleppo with renewed airstrikes, with renewed fighting, with a renewed government regime offensive on the ground, that – we’ve talked about this before – that that only drives the moderate opposition into the arms of Nusrah, and it only stokes that extremism.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: A couple more. I’m --

MR TONER: Yeah, please. I’ll get to you in a second.

QUESTION: Do you believe that the moderate opposition is in any way intently or by happenstance is giving cover to the al-Nusrah? I mean, are they coordinating with them? Some of these moderate opposition, they – maybe they don’t want to separate.

MR TONER: I mean, and that’s ultimately – as I said, we --

QUESTION: What happens in this case?

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, well, what happens – again, if we get a cessation of hostilities in place for seven days --


MR TONER: -- and the regime would ground its air forces – and we talked about that; that was all part of the Geneva agreement – then at that point, you’re either with the moderate opposition or you’re part of Nusrah, and if you – you’re either signed up and you’ve removed and disengaged or you’re part of Nusrah. We’ve talked about that. That’s where, really, the way forward becomes concrete, which the moderate opposition would have to choose. At this point in time, we are not there.


QUESTION: Now, let me – just --

QUESTION: Hasn’t it all --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, just one last thing. I was with one of the most moderate elements of the Syrian opposition and he’s saying that it is natural for the opposition to regroup and rearm and reposition itself, so that should not be some sort of a condition placed by the Russians or the Syrians that they should not be doing that. Do you agree with that assessment?

MR TONER: So, two points to make. One is when you have the kind of intensive fighting that you have in Aleppo, when you have the constant airstrikes, the regime offensive, again, that only exacerbates this – what we’ve talked about, this kind of blend or mixed – intermixing of – the opposition is going to try to protect itself. And so it’s going to drive some of those forces – not all of them, but some of them – into the arms of the extremists.

That’s one dynamic that’s a challenge here, to be frank. And certainly, as I said, they’re – they will seek to resupply and regroup. That’s also a natural occurrence. That doesn’t mean that – again, if we get a ceasefire or a cessation of hostilities in place, that requires both sides – the regime and the moderate opposition – to not attack each other.


QUESTION: Before the intense strikes that you were talking about when Russia and the U.S. brokered the ceasefire deal, the second largest rebel group, which is Ahrar al-Sham, came out and very directly said that they’re not going to comply with the ceasefire nor are they going to separate themselves from al-Nusrah. That was before that. So other than calling on the rebels to separate themselves from terrorists, which hasn’t worked, apparently, what has the U.S. done to make that happen?

MR TONER: Well, again – and I’m not going to get into all the details of our diplomatic engagement with various groups within the moderate Syrian opposition, but we do, trust me, remain very engaged with them. And part of that was previewing with them and explaining to them aspects of and responsibilities on them within the Geneva agreement. And that was an outreach that we engaged in, really, slightly before we reached agreement, but then, of course, in the days and week or so that followed that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: And we’ve always – sorry, just to finish – and we’ve always owned that. I mean, we’ve always said it’s incumbent on us, just as it’s incumbent on Russia to exert influence on the regime also to abide by the cessation of hostilities. It’s just very difficult to even get to that point where you’ve got a seven-day – we couldn’t even get there. We couldn’t get seven days of reduced violence, so we couldn’t get to the next stage, as I talked about with Said, where you’ve self-identified if you’re a member of the moderate opposition. Either you’re disengaged with Nusrah or you’ve said, “I’m not going to abide by that,” in which case, again, you’ve self-identified. Does that make sense somewhat?

QUESTION: What – they rejected it right away. They didn’t even wait for a few days before --

MR TONER: Again, I’m not – I am aware of the statement, but I’m also aware that they make a lot of statements, but with the understanding that words are words but actions are actions. And just as we look at the regime to show by its actions that it’s serious, we look to the moderate opposition to show by its actions that it’s serious about a cessation of hostilities. But what – again, I’ll make the point that when you’ve got the kind of ongoing military strikes on Aleppo, that only exacerbates what’s already a complicated dynamic.

QUESTION: Something else. So Russia – the Russian foreign minister said while the U.S. is hitting ISIL, it spares al-Nusrah, even though it is al-Qaida. He said the U.S. is not hitting al-Nusrah --

MR TONER: I’m sorry, who said this? I apologize. I didn’t hear the first part.

QUESTION: The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

MR TONER: Okay, go ahead. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: He said the U.S. is not hitting al-Nusrah at all in Syria. Why is that?

MR TONER: I’m not aware. We’re carrying out strikes against ISIL continuously as part of the coalition. Where al-Nusrah sits somewhat would determine if we would be able to strike them or be in the airspace. I mean, that’s part of the de-confliction, frankly, that we’ve talked about before, where – and again, to refer back to Geneva, if we can get to a point where we’ve grounded the Syrian regime, whether we have seven days of reduced violence, then we can set up this Joint Implementation Center. And the whole idea behind that was, at that point, we would work with Russia to strategically target Nusrah. Now, we’re far from that right now.

QUESTION: So if this agreement fails, is the U.S. not going to target al-Qaida in Syria?

MR TONER: Oh, we’re – trust me, we’re going after – and we’re going after Nusrah in a very strategic way. We’re not just indiscriminately bombing where we believe Nusrah is and also striking civilian targets as well as moderate Syrian opposition. There is a way to do this. There’s a way to do this --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Just let me finish. There’s a way to do this – and we’ve shown this by taking out senior ISIL or Daesh leadership – there’s a way to do this very – and I would refer you to the Pentagon to talk more detail about this – that’s strategic, that’s pinpointed to destroy their leadership, to destroy their infrastructure, but not in a haphazard or in a heavy-handed way that puts at risk civilians and, frankly, the moderate Syrian opposition.


QUESTION: An al-Nusrah commander – I just have one more.


QUESTION: An al-Nusrah commander told journalist Jurgen Todenhofer with German Focus magazine that the group received weapons from the U.S., including TOW anti-tank missiles. This al-Nusrah commander was quoted as saying, quote, “The missiles were handed over directly to us. Americans are on our side,” end quote.

MR TONER: Nusrah? That’s complete – I don’t even know.

QUESTION: How do you --

MR TONER: That’s complete poppycock, complete --

QUESTION: By who? By the journalist who is quoting this commander or by the commander?

MR TONER: By the commander, I would assume. I don’t want to challenge his journalistic integrity, but whatever he’s saying, no. We’ve absolutely not provided – I can’t say that as – vehemently enough, that we would never provide Nusrah with any kind of assistance whatsoever. We view them as a foreign terrorist organization, we view them as an affiliate of al-Qaida, and we’re going to seek their continued destruction.

QUESTION: Well, Mark, so --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: But how do you feel about al-Qaida thinking --

QUESTION: What exactly is poppycock?

MR TONER: (Laughter.) I was trying to think of a better word there, but I went for my British --

QUESTION: That may be the first time it’s come up in here --

MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: -- come up. I just wanted to ask one thing.

MR TONER: I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: In one of your responses to Arshad --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- you resurrected the legendary Plan B --

MR TONER: I did.

QUESTION: -- without prompting and you said we’re not there yet. Does this thing exist or is it a myth?

MR TONER: No. I mean, Matt, I raised that specter, if you will, because I think people are saying what next or what’s – what are you going to do. The Geneva agreement, the Geneva – the implementation of the Geneva agreement is failing, so what’s next? What do you have? What are you looking at? And what I wanted to make clear in my answer to Arshad was that we’re looking at and we continue to have discussions because there are other options out there, and I think we all know what those options are.

QUESTION: Is that – there is a Plan – there’s a Plan B?

MR TONER: There’s --

QUESTION: Is there a Plan C too?

MR TONER: There’s not a Plan B. What we – what I wanted to make clear was we still consider the Geneva agreement and implementing that and trying to push that diplomatic process as the best way forward.


QUESTION: Are you --

QUESTION: So can I --

MR TONER: Sorry, I’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: I just have a couple on this. So if there’s the period of reduced violence but then the moderate opposition doesn’t separate from al-Nusrah, would that mean that you would no longer consider them the moderate opposition, you would then bomb them?

MR TONER: I mean, we’ve talked about this before. I mean, the cessation of hostilities – it’s incumbent on all the parties to – themselves to adhere to it. And so after a certain period, if an opposition group refused to, again, disaffiliate or disconnect itself with al-Nusrah and we’re going after al-Nusrah --

QUESTION: Then they would --

MR TONER: Ipso facto or whatever.

QUESTION: Okay. So then --

MR TONER: I’m using Latin now, probably wrongly – incorrectly. (Laughter.) But you understand my point --

QUESTION: Oh, yeah, certainly.

MR TONER: -- is at a certain point, you’re either with the moderate opposition or you’re with Nusrah.

QUESTION: Okay, and then the second one is just do you now believe, after what you’ve seen in the last week or so, that Russia does not have the influence to bring the Assad regime --

MR TONER: Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that. I mean, it’s either one or the other. It’s either they’re choosing to continue to allow the regime to carry out military offensive or they’re unable to influence them from pursuing a military offensive.

As for the regime, I think Assad has spoken to this himself. I think he still believes that there’s a military solution to this conflict and, again, just as it’s incumbent on us to persuade the moderate opposition to abide by the ceasefire and to say that there’s only a political way forward, it’s incumbent on Russia to say the same thing to Assad’s regime or Assad’s cronies or his backers to say, “You’re not going to win this militarily.”

QUESTION: So – and then the last one is just --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- on the issue of Assad himself. I mean, the Administration has sort of walked back from its proclamation, I think in 2011, saying he had to go. Can you – would you consider a scenario now where Assad would stay on, not only during a transition period, but even afterwards?

MR TONER: What we’ve said, Nick, and just to clarify, is we believe Assad could never be the legitimate leader of Syria given what he has wrought against his own people, but that ultimately, that’s something for the Syrian people to work out through a political settlement – or political negotiation process, sorry, in Geneva. And what we’ve also said is we don’t believe that, if there is this political transition and democratic elections, it’s our opinion that Assad wouldn’t be elected and there would have to be some kind of transition. But I guess my point broadly speaking is it doesn’t mean that Assad would need to go – although, we’d like to see him go – tomorrow or the next day, but that as part of a political transition he could remain in power somewhat until there was a democratic election and then a transitional --

QUESTION: If there were a transition process and the result was, after an election, that he remained in power, would you guys --

MR TONER: Look, and ultimately, that’s a decision for the Syrian people. It’s difficult for us to imagine that that would ever be the case; that he would be democratically elected as Syria’s leader.

QUESTION: But you would be willing to see a transition whereby the end result was a democratic election --

MR TONER: Well, so this is --

QUESTION: -- in which he was a candidate?

MR TONER: So this is – well, again, that’s part of the both sides, all the parties to work out in Geneva, and I don’t want to speak to that process or influence that process.

What we want to see is, though, a democratic process, a democratic transition. What we’ve talked about before, and this is something that, obviously, Russia has talked to before too is we don’t want to see a vacuum created. So how that transition looks in terms of certain institutions with – of the old regime staying in place or in some measure be able to provide security, services, that kind of thing is – does make some sense.

QUESTION: Hey, Mark?

MR TONER: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Just to be clear, I think the language you used to use – one formulation of it was that Assad has lost legitimacy --


QUESTION: -- to lead Syria, right? But --

MR TONER: Yes. What did I just say? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But the President – no, it’s okay.


QUESTION: But President Obama also said in August of 2011 quote, “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” I mean, that’s not just he’s lost legitimacy --

MR TONER: Understood. No I --

QUESTION: -- that’s he should – he needs to go.

MR TONER: I understand the evolution. But ultimately, again, this is – that’s a step that he’s not chose to make – chosen to make. And that’s also an action that’s the moderate opposition or the opposition’s been unable to make him make.

QUESTION: But is that still your view that he has to go, whether it’s of his own volition or of somebody else’s, or at the metaphorical point of some else’s bayonet?

MR TONER: So, again, I think that – I think what we would say is it’s our belief it’s that he’s lost all legitimacy. He should not be the leader of that country. How he goes through a transition, through a political transition, that’s up to the Syrian people to work out. But we still don’t believe he can be the legitimate leader of Syria.

QUESTION: So I don’t know if you saw the statement by Senators McCain and Graham earlier today, but in it they said, quote, “Diplomacy in the absence of leverage is a recipe for failure. At best, it offers the Obama Administration a fig leaf to cover the abject failure of its Syria policy and the fact that there is no Plan B. Putin and Assad will not do what we ask of them out of the goodness of their hearts, or out of concern for our interests, or the suffering of others. They must be compelled, and that requires power. Until the United States is willing to take steps to change the conditions on the ground in Syria, the war, the terror, the refugees, and the instability will all continue,” closed quote.

How do you answer that criticism?

MR TONER: Well, I’ll answer it in a few ways. First of all, and I would refer you to – it hasn’t been published yet, but the Secretary spoke a little bit to not that specific statement from Senator McCain but an earlier statement made by Senator McCain. First of all, if – and what the Secretary said, if Congress wants to give us other authorities or options, then Congress is able to do that and they do have a certain leverage themselves in this process. But I think, more broadly speaking, about why or how do we do this without any leverage, it is – first off, it behooves any country looking at the humanitarian catastrophe that exists today in Syria to do something to stop it, to end the fighting and allow people to live in peace.

But even if you don’t have those kinds of motives in your foreign policy, it is – there is a leverage in the fact that there will be no military solution to the fighting in Syria. And if we walk away from a diplomatic process, and the Secretary’s alluded to this before in his comments, this could go from very bad to much worse. And Russia is in a position now where they’re supporting the regime and that could expose them to a greater involvement and more of a burden sharing in order to prop up that regime if the fighting became worse.


MR TONER: So I mean, there’s – I’m sorry, just to finish. So I mean, there’s – if you’re just looking at broad strategy with regard to Syria, there’s a logic that would compel Russia, I think, to pursue and enforce a diplomatic solution.

QUESTION: And what if the Russians and the Iranians and Hizballah are all willing to invest more in Syria, certainly than the United States has thus far, that they – what if they are just going to pursue a military solution – so if they continue the bombardment of Aleppo, they can then retake Aleppo. As the Secretary said, that’s what they’re trying to do. It’s the largest or it was the largest city in the country. What is to stop the Syrian military with its external support from prosecuting and achieving a military solution and retaking big chunks, if not most or all of the country eventually --

MR TONER: Well, look, I’m --

QUESTION: -- if you don’t do something other than pursue a diplomatic solution?

MR TONER: Well, look, I’m not a military expert. I’m a diplomat, and so I think Secretary Kerry is playing the hand he’s been dealt, and that is to pursue a diplomatic process to bring about a peaceful end to the conflict and a peaceful transition to democracy in Syria. I think that those who may be deluded into thinking there’s a military solution also have to realize, and we’ve alluded to this before, that there are those – and not the United States – but there are those who back various groups and opposition groups within Syria who also may seek to arm them. And again, what you have as a result is just an escalation in what is already horrific fighting. As I said, things could go from bad to much worse.

QUESTION: Mark, just --

MR TONER: I’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: -- you are aware that the portion of Aleppo that is under opposition control is actually the smaller portion of Aleppo. There is a larger segment of Aleppo that is under regime control where actually, as far as normal is concerned in that case, or can be considered --

MR TONER: But that they’re not --

QUESTION: I know, but --

MR TONER: Again, I --

QUESTION: -- I mean, it’s life goes on and so on. So it’s not – it’s not all of Aleppo that is being bombarded.

MR TONER: Agree.



QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Do you rule out the possibility that U.S. allies are giving weapons to al-Nusrah?

MR TONER: I’m not going to – again, I think I’ll leave it where I left it with Arshad, which is that there are countries – and we’ve spoken about this before – who will also seek to support and back some of the opposition and may provide them with assistance. I mean, that’s – again, that’s not – I’m not speaking on behalf of the – I’m not saying the U.S. is going to do this, but that’s – that’s just looking at the scenario that exists in Syria if the regime does pursue a military strategy and if the ISSG falls apart. Then that’s – could happen. That’s a possible scenario.

QUESTION: And that’s bad? You don’t want that to happen?

MR TONER: We don’t want that to happen, no. I’m saying --

QUESTION: Well, if it happens --

QUESTION: So you would ask your colleagues not to? Sorry.

MR TONER: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: You would ask your allies who might be responsive to --

MR TONER: We – what we want to see happen – you’re asking me what’s – so first off – and I’m responding to a hypothetical, which is always dangerous. But what I want to – what I want to make clear is the stakes, which is why, in spite of the challenges, in spite of the lack of progress, we continue to pursue a diplomatic solution.

QUESTION: Earlier in your response or non-response to the statement from Senators McCain and Graham, you suggested that Congress, if it so – if it deemed appropriate, could give you additional authorities and that – to act. I mean, are you saying that the Administration is constrained right now from doing it – from doing more in Syria because Congress won’t act? Because there was only one time that I remember specifically related to Syria that the Administration was going to go to Congress, and then – and that was when the red line was crossed and then the decision was made not to. And so --

MR TONER: So – sorry.

QUESTION: So I’m just curious what exactly is it, if anything, that you would like Congress to give you?

MR TONER: I’m simply saying that if Congress has criticism of our Syria policy --

QUESTION: It’s their fault?

MR TONER: Not at all. But they can --

QUESTION: But I mean – so you’re not suggesting that a lack of action by Congress --

MR TONER: No. I mean, they can --

QUESTION: -- is responsible for where we are now? Is that what you’re saying?

MR TONER: Not at all. No.

QUESTION: But if Congress has – if you would finish the sentence.


QUESTION: If Congress has criticism of your policy on Syria, they can?

MR TONER: I mean, they’re Congress. They can, again, push for a change in policy.

QUESTION: I think they are --

QUESTION: That’s what they’re – I think --

QUESTION: -- doing that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, that statement would seem to be --

MR TONER: But it’s a statement. I mean, there’s other ways to do that. My point is, is that we within the interagency – and I’ll go back to what I said earlier – have these discussions all the time about different options. It’s part of what that process is. But we are where we are and we remain where we are.


QUESTION: Can we change the subject?

MR TONER: I’d love to.



QUESTION: Do you have anything on the four Chinese individuals and one Chinese companies that was designated regarding facilitating money laundering for – on behalf of a North Korean company?

MR TONER: Sure, I have a little bit. This was obviously today. You’re talking about today the U.S. Department of Treasury added four Chinese nationals and one Chinese entity to their Specially Designated Nationals list for evading U.S. and UN sanctions with regard to – or imposed on North Korea. And I think it was Department of Justice that actually unveiled or unsealed the criminal complaint, so I would have to refer you for any detailed questions to the Department of Justice.

What I can say is it was necessary to take these actions to maintain the integrity of the sanctions that were imposed by the United Nations and by the United States. And the United States and the international community will not stand idly by while North Korea continues to flaunt – or flout, rather, its international obligations as outlined in numerous UN Security Council resolutions.

So I don’t know if you need anything more.

QUESTION: One of the individual – she’s a chairwoman of the company Hongxiang – she was also detained last month and her company was also investigated by the Chinese authority. Do you welcome such Chinese investigations on this matter? And then could you tell us if there’s any information or intelligence sharing between Washington and Beijing regarding this case?

MR TONER: Well, we regularly consult with the Chinese Government on a wide range of issues, including these kinds of activities. And when action is consistent with our obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 2270 and our domestic sanctions laws, we do take action. We do cooperate. We coordinate on sanctions, other measures to counter North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons, and we’re going to continue, obviously, to work with China and urge them to use their leverage – and they do have leverage over North Korea as their largest trading partner – to fully implement all the current UN Security Council – or, yeah, Security Council sanctions. All this, obviously, the broader aim here is to convince Kim Jong-un that really his only viable way forward is to pursue a path of denuclearization.

So this shows that we can work cooperatively with China where we both see it as in our interest to apply greater pressure on North Korea.

QUESTION: Do you welcome such a Chinese investigation on Dandong Hongxiang, the company, the Chinese company, DHIH?

MR TONER: So I don’t have all the details in front of me, Nike. I’d probably refer you to the Department of Justice to talk about specific actions against that company.

QUESTION: Can we stay in Asia?


QUESTION: This happened last week, but amid all the maelstrom around UNGA in New York, where we were – I don’t think it’s been asked about or responded. And that’s Vietnam on Thursday, I believe, sentenced these two bloggers to prison. Do you have anything on that?

MR TONER: Let me check. Yes. We’re concerned by the September 20 conviction of land rights advocate Can Theu – Can Thi Theu – I apologize if I’ve mispronounced that – under Article 245 of Vietnam’s penal code. We’re also concerned by the September 22 decision by an appeals court to uphold the convictions of the bloggers you mentioned, Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, also under Article 2 – or rather, under Article 258 of Vietnam’s penal code.

The use of criminal provisions by Vietnamese authorities to penalize individuals for exercising their right to freedom of expression, which is provided by Vietnam’s constitution and also under Vietnam’s international obligations, is, as I said, troubling, and we call on the government to release these three individuals, as well as other prisoners of conscience, and allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their political views and assemble peacefully without fear of retribution.

QUESTION: Do you know if that message has been made directly to the Vietnamese, or is it just in this form?

MR TONER: So I can say we regularly raise these issues. I’ll have to take the question of whether we’ve raised these specific cases with the Vietnamese Government. We raise these issues regularly with Vietnam and President Obama did during his visit in May 2016. But I’ll have to check on whether he – we’ve raised these specific cases. My guess is that we probably have.

QUESTION: Staying in Asia.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: The Philippines’ President Duterte today said that he was going to visit Russia and China this year to chart an independent foreign policy and to, quote, “Open alliances,” close quote, with Russia and China. He also said that the Philippines was at, quote – was at the, quote, “Point of no return,” close quote, in its relations with the United States. Does that concern you at all given that the Philippines is a treaty ally?

MR TONER: Well, look, so a couple of thoughts here. One is: We’ve also, obviously, seen the reports regarding President Duterte’s statements. I guess I would refer you to his office --

QUESTION: For what you --

MR TONER: -- for any comments. I think what I would say in terms of our reaction is that we continue to work closely with and focus on our relationship with the Philippines in the many areas of mutual interests, including counterterrorism and including working with development – economic development. And we continue to pursue those activities.

We’ve not been officially contacted by Philippine authorities regarding any of the things that President Duterte has said. With regard to them pursuing alliances or partnerships with China and Russia, they’re a sovereign nation and we’re certainly not going to hold them back from pursuing closer relations with either of those countries. And it’s not a zero-sum game. We believe that we can remain a close friend and partner with the Philippines. It’s one of our most enduring bilateral relationships within the Asia Pacific region and it’s been a cornerstone of stability for 70 years. And again, we’re going to keep up that cooperation until we hear otherwise.

QUESTION: Two things on this.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: One is: Our story says that he ruled out the Philippines participating in a maritime conflict if it was initiated by the United States despite the 1951 treaty. Is that what you expect of an ally?

MR TONER: Well, again, I haven’t seen those specific comments, so it’s hard for me to react to them. I guess I would say, arguing with the premise, is that the United States has a strong security presence in the Asia Pacific region, but we’re certainly not looking to start military action against anyone, so I’m unclear about what he’s referring to.

QUESTION: And one last thing. I mean, the president of the Philippines has in – has been reported, at least, to have sworn at the President. He has insulted your ambassador. He’s questioned the U.S.-Philippine alliance, which goes back, what, 65 years. He’s suggested that he wouldn’t come to your assistance in a military conflict if you started it. Is there nothing that he can say that will deflect you from your insistence that you’re going to keep on doing business as usual with the Philippines?

MR TONER: I did say a couple weeks ago, especially after his remarks with – or alleged remarks regarding President Obama, that words do matter. We’re not deaf; we do hear what he says. And yet, I would just say that our cooperation with the Philippine Government remains strong and unabated, so we continue to engage in close cooperation, as I said, on a number of areas of interest. And that cooperation continues, so I don’t know what to call it – a disconnect or what – but we continue to work with the Filipino Government.

QUESTION: Well, are you not at all concerned that his area of interest does not appear to be – does not appear to --

MR TONER: Well, I guess my point is --

QUESTION: I mean, your area --

MR TONER: No, but I guess my point is --

QUESTION: He doesn’t seem to have the same areas of interest as you do.

MR TONER: I guess my point is, again, he makes public statements. We’ve not, though, seen anything with regard to our relations with the Philippines, that would indicate a shift, if you will, or a turning away.


QUESTION: Can we stay in Asia? Do you have anything on Taiwan being boycotted from participating in the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is going to meet tomorrow in Montreal? I understand the State Department supports the meaningful participation of Taiwan in the ICAO.

MR TONER: Right and that is – so we do remain committed to supporting Taiwan’s meaningful participation, as you put it, in the ICAO. Aviation safety, security, and efficiency are clearly matters of global importance, and all interested stakeholders should and can play a positive role in ensuring that standards and regulations are met around the world. But, speaking to your question, in keeping with our “one China” policy, we support Taiwan’s membership in international organizations that do not require statehood. Now, in organizations that require statehood for membership, such as the ICAO, the United States supports Taiwan’s meaningful participation.

QUESTION: But they were being boycotted from even be – participate as observer. Do you have anything on that?

MR TONER: Again, I just – that our position is that we do support their meaningful participation.

QUESTION: Secretary --

MR TONER: That would speak to their – our – where we stand on their involvement.

QUESTION: Secretary of State was required to develop a strategy to help Taiwan become observer for ICAO by a public law, which was signed three years ago. My question for you is: Is there such strategy and how do you help facilitate the meaningful participation?

MR TONER: Well, again, I – we work, obviously, closely with Taiwan in helping them to pursue this – as I said, the meaningful participation. We support their membership and all international organizations that don’t require statehood. But this is about our “one China” policy and – with regard to that, so I would just say our strategy is we want to see improvement in cross-strait relationships and we want to – we’ve seen improvement, rather. And we want to see that continue – that trend. And as much as we can, we’re going to continue to promote Taiwan’s meaningful participation in organizations such as ICAO, but I don’t know. I can’t give you a ten-point strategy, except that we support their meaningful participation.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Could I go to the Palestinian issue?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: And I also have a question on Jordan even before I get into the Palestinian issue.

MR TONER: Yep, okay. Go ahead, sure.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, a Jordanian writer – a Christian Jordanian writer was shot dead by an extremist Muslim. Now, Jordan has been one of your allies. It has been spared this kind of violence in the past. Are you concerned that it may be headed towards a very difficult path in the future?

MR TONER: Well, certainly we join the Government of Jordan in condemning what was a very ugly crime. We extend our condolences to Nahed Hattar’s family and his loved ones. We’ve seen and welcome, of course, statements by the Government of Jordan that this crime will be fully investigated and the perpetrator, or perpetrators, will be brought to justice. Goes without saying, we condemn any kind of attempt to use violence to limit or suppress freedom of speech or expression that might differ from one’s own belief. In terms of whether we see this as a trend, I don’t think we’re – we can assess that at this point. Let’s let the investigation play itself out and see who’s behind it, but obviously, a very tragic circumstance.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that this killing in the name of defaming the prophet is cyclical? I mean, like, it happens every two or three years, I mean – and so on.

MR TONER: Said, I just don’t have the analytics or the background to really make that kind of assessment. We do see it periodically. Again, any time where we see, whether it’s religion – politically based or religiously based, any kind of effort or – to squelch freedom of expression, and especially in a case like this, to do so violently, we condemn it.

QUESTION: Do you hold your allies, whether in Saudi Arabia or in the Gulf state or in Jordan, in the Islamic world and so on, do you hold them – are they shirking their responsibilities in not coming out and speaking against this kind of thing?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, we – this is an issue we raise regularly with – in – you mentioned Saudi Arabia, but with other countries, other governments in the region. We recognize that --

QUESTION: Well, I mentioned Saudi Arabia (inaudible) Islamic (inaudible).

MR TONER: No, no, of course. I understand, but I’m just saying that while we certainly have and pursue strategic interests with, for example, members of the GCC, but other countries and governments in the region, that doesn’t mean we don’t raise these kinds of issues – human rights issues, freedom of expression, and push for greater democratic reforms.



MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry, you --

QUESTION: I’ll go – I’ll go after.


QUESTION: Finish. No, no, go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask on the Palestinian issue after you --

MR TONER: Doesn’t matter, I just – I didn’t realize I cut you off there.


MR TONER: Go ahead, Tejinder. We’ll get to you and then I’ll get back to Said.

QUESTION: Two subjects. First is, is the State Department considering putting more resources about the release of Clinton emails before the election date? The --

MR TONER: So with regard to that, and I know we’ve spoken about this before, we’ve already invested, trust me, considerable resources in trying to move through all the FOIA and deal with and respond to all the FOIA requests that we have regarding Secretary Clinton’s emails. And as you know well, that we were able to go through the 55,000 that she presented to us. We’ve also said that our resources are rather stretched. We continue to work through these emails, those that we’ve received now from the FBI. We’re going to be as responsive as we can as quickly as we can, but there is a process we need to conduct in order to fully vet these emails during the interagency to make sure if there need to be any redactions or upgrades.

So that’s what’s driving our timeline.

QUESTION: I was asking because there were reports that the – out of these 5,600, some of them are duplicates and you – the department has said that you can do, say, 1,000 emails by Election Day. So it seem there are reports that you are putting some resources from other – diverting them into it to release more.

MR TONER: Well, this is something, again, that we’ve got – we’ve been working quite hard at this, getting through – and I said we were able to get through the 55,000, post them all publicly. Obviously, some were redacted, some were upgraded classification. But we’re working as diligently as we can. I think you’re referring to the – though, the – that we came out on Friday and said that we were able to at least conduct an initial review of these FBI --


MR TONER: Yeah. And out of the, I think, 14.9 thousand – is that right? yes – documents, we’ve been able to establish less than half – some 5,600 – were work-related. And we’re now processing them through the FOIA process. But that doesn’t mean we can just simply post them or share them through the FOIA process tomorrow or the next day. We still got to go through and share them with the interagency, but also evaluate them with their own people to make sure, again, that we redact where necessary or we upgrade the classification where necessary.

QUESTION: And the second subject was on the --

QUESTION: Can I ask more on this?

MR TONER: Sure. Let’s finish emails, then I’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: Oh, yeah. Okay.

MR TONER: Thanks.

QUESTION: So Politico is also reporting that there had been a court hearing today suggesting that State might dedicate more resources to disclosing some of these emails prior to Election Day under sort of an agreement mandated by a judge overseeing some of the Vice News reporter, Jason Leopold’s, FOIA requests. Is that something – has your thinking changed in line – following that hearing today?

MR TONER: Yeah, I’m not aware of that. But what we’ve talked about before is we have already taken on additional personnel or shifted personnel and resources in order to adequately respond to the incredible increase in FOIA requests over the past couple years. But what you’re saying is that this would be in response to or by Election Day?

QUESTION: Correct.

MR TONER: I’m not aware of that. I’ll have to --

QUESTION: I mean, not fully, but partially. And that there would be a shift in resources --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- as a result of discussion – a hearing today.

MR TONER: Yeah. I’ll have to look into – I mean, again, I – I think I’ll stay where I just was, which is that we’re not being driven by Election Day as a deadline, but we’re working to be as responsive as we can as we go through these emails to post them or to share them through the FOIA process. If that’s changed, I’ll get back to you guys.

QUESTION: The other question is – the other subject was on the – you saw – heard last week in the UNGA and India talking about Balochistan, Pakistan, talking about Kashmir. And there’s a heightened tension, as you can see, on the ground there. But – so are you worried, or is this just words and like there won’t be – what is your assessment of it?

MR TONER: So I think – seen the rhetoric, heard the rhetoric. I think our longstanding position is that we believe India and Pakistan really stand to benefit from the normalization of relations between them and practical cooperation between them, and we encourage both India and Pakistan to pursue and engage in direct dialogue that is aimed at reducing tensions.

QUESTION: And is there a kind of – like, what do you say about the – there is a U.S.-India joint military exercise that has been going on? There’s one, first time in history Russians are having a military exercise with Pakistan. So do you have any comments on that?

MR TONER: Well, if the insinuation is that there’s some kind of tit-for-tat or Great Game being played out here, that’s not at all the case. Look, we’ve long said with regard to Pakistan, with regard to India, with regard to the region, there’s no zero-sum game here. We are pursuing very close relations with India. We have a deep and broad bilateral relationship and multilateral relationship, but – or work our multilateral issues with India. They are the world’s largest democracy and we share, I think, a very similar vision of the world. And we obviously have very close trade and economic ties with India, and also that extends to security cooperation.

Similarly, with Pakistan, we want to see Pakistan better able to respond to the threat that terrorism poses both domestically for Pakistan but also the fact that there are terrorist groups on – that seek refuge or asylum or shelter in Pakistan’s territory that --

QUESTION: And just a quick last one on that, that there is a petition being signed by Indian Americans here to the White House asking to declare Pakistan a state sponsor – sponsor or state – state terrorism kind of thing. So do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: Well, look, that’s a very specific process and determination that involves a legal process and assessment. Our focus with Pakistan is to enhance their capability, as I just said, to deal with a terrorist threat on their soil. They’re fighting a serious and sustained campaign against violent extremism. We do believe that they’re making progress, that they’re taking steps to counter terrorist violence, but at the same time we’ve been very clear that they need to target all militant groups, including those that target Pakistan’s neighbors, and close all safe havens.

I think I’ll leave it there. A couple more questions, guys. It’s – yeah.

QUESTION: A couple just very quick ones, just very quick.

MR TONER: Please, and then I’ll get back to you and we’ll end it on Israel, I promise.

QUESTION: Yeah. So Oman has ordered the permanent closure of a newspaper, which had reported on corruption – alleged corruption or corruption by the Omani judiciary. And witnesses at the court say that the editor-in-chief and another person were jailed for three years and fined for this, and a third journalist who was jailed for a year. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: We’re concerned – you’re talking about the Omani court decision regarding the indefinite closure of Al Zaman?


MR TONER: Yeah. And also the sentencing of three of its staff, including the editor-in-chief. We’re very concerned. We have conveyed that concern. I can confirm the ambassador’s engaged the Omani Government at a senior level to express our concern. I can also say that embassy staff attended today’s hearing. Why are we concerned? Because we support freedom of expression and maintain that societies are strengthened when their citizens are able to voice their opinion.

QUESTION: Do you have who the ambassador (inaudible)?

MR TONER: I don’t have that, no. I don’t have who. I’ll just say senior levels.

QUESTION: And then one other quick one for me if I may.

MR TONER: Please, sir, yes.

QUESTION: Iran’s supreme leader is reported by Iranian state-owned media as having told former President Ahmadinejad not to run again for president. From your point of view, is this a good thing because you guys did not have the best of relations with Ahmadinejad, or is this a bad thing because the supreme leader shouldn’t be telling people who can and can’t run?

MR TONER: I’m just not going to attempt to – well, I’m not going to comment on internal Iranian politics except to say that we’d like to see political reform, democratic reform in Iran, greater democratic reform in Iran. But with regard to who should run in their next presidential campaign, I’m not going to go there.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Can I ask a quick question on the Palestinian-Israeli issue? According to Al Haaretz, the Secretary of State last Monday in a closed meeting – he said that Israel and the Palestinians are for a binational state. And then he said, quote, “Either we mean it and we act on it, or we should shut up.” He’s talking about the creation of a Palestinian state. My question to you is: First of all, what does that mean? And does it mean that maybe the Secretary of State has something to offer in the next few months and so on?

MR TONER: I – look --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR TONER: I’ll let his remarks speak for themselves. We continue to call on both sides to demonstrate through actions and through policies that they’re genuinely committed to a two-state solution. But the remarks are available on our website.

Thanks, guys.

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

DPB # 163

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 16, 2016

Fri, 09/16/2016 - 18:06

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 16, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:13 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello. Happy Friday.

MR KIRBY: Yes, it is Friday, Friday before the UN General Assembly.

So, just a couple of things at the top. I want to say that the department is thrilled with the success of the Secretary’s Our Ocean conference so far. As you know, it’s still going on today. More than 90 countries have participated. More than 3.4 million square kilometers of ocean has been newly designated now as protected. And while the conference isn’t over yet, already just during this conference alone, more than $5 billion has been committed for ocean conservation efforts, and earlier this morning, $1 billion was put forward by philanthropic leaders over the course of a single panel discussion.

So we applaud those contributions. We’re grateful for those as well. We applaud everyone for coming and participating so actively. We also applaud our Bureau of Oceans, Environment, and Science who helped put this conference together, assembled it, developed the agenda, worked it so hard, as well as our major events and conferences staff, who have done such a marvelous job. So not over yet, still more work to do, but a very successful conference indeed and we’re delighted to see that.

On a sadder note, I’d like to, on behalf of the department, would like to note the passing of a career Foreign Service Officer by the name of John Buzbee. Some of you may know John. He joined the Foreign Service in May of 1998, was part of the 87th A-100 class. A former journalist, he brought a reporter’s curiosity to the Foreign Service and the ability to create imagery out of words. He was fascinated by the Middle East and all of the issues there, and he served across the region, including in Iraq and in Egypt, and in various positions here at headquarters inside the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. We mourn his loss. We pray for his family and we wish them our deepest condolences. And I know I can speak for everybody here at the State Department when I say that he truly will be missed.


QUESTION: Thank you. And thank you for those kind words. Let’s start with Syria. I’ll bet you weren’t expecting that, were you?


QUESTION: So the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov had another call this morning.


QUESTION: Your readout of it said that – essentially the Secretary said, look, if you don’t get Assad to start allowing aid into Aleppo, you’re not – we’re not going to move ahead with the JIC. The Russian version of it, I guess, is slightly different in tone. And one of the things that the Russian version said was that Foreign Minister Lavrov once again implored Secretary Kerry to make the deal that they had – that they reached a week ago today in Geneva public so that everyone can see and know what the – what it is and what the baselines are for success or failure. So did that, in fact, come up in the call? And if it did, what did the Secretary say? Because Foreign Minister Lavrov isn’t the only one who is saying publicly that this should be put out there.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any more detail to read out than the one I provided. So I’m not in a position to say one way or the other whether that particular topic was raised. I’ll tell you what, though. I’ll take the question just to make sure. I don’t want to just guess about the degree to which they spoke on that. So let me find out.

What I can tell you is our view hasn’t changed, and I think Mark talked about this yesterday, but our view on that issue hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: And that means that you’re not prepared to make it public? Because there’s a meeting this afternoon of the Security Council on this and the – I think that some of your fellow members of the Security Council, I mean, apart from the Russians, obviously, who know what’s in it already, want to know what’s in it. So are you guys prepared to at least show it, give the document to the other members of the Council?

MR KIRBY: Well, what I can tell you is – and I think, again, Mark addressed this yesterday – we certainly have and will continue to brief our partners on it. There’s no problem with doing that. But our position with respect to making it public and whole at this time has not changed.

QUESTION: At the – your colleague at the White House was asked about the leverage that you have in trying to get the Russians to come through and press Assad to allow the aid into Aleppo and other areas, and he said – and it was more than a suggestion – he said, well, our leverage is that if they don’t do it, we’re not going to form this JIC. Can you – I don’t understand how that is leverage. Can you explain that?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think what he was referring to was the degree to which the Russian side very much wants to see the Joint Implementation Center established. I mean, this was something that they – I mean, as you know, Matt, I mean, they’ve been stressing for many months now a desire to have a deeper level of cooperation with the United States military and the JIC was conceived with that objective in mind. So they’re very much interested in seeing that established. And as the Secretary said in the call this morning, as – it was in my readout that unless we see the arrangement with respect to humanitarian access and with respect to reduced violence implemented, there will be no establishment of the JIC.

QUESTION: Right. But they have been – there is no JIC now.


QUESTION: There has never been a JIC or anything close to it. There has only been this kind of de-confliction discussion.

MR KIRBY: Correct.

QUESTION: And the absence or the lack of a JIC, or a whatever you want to call it, has not stopped the Russians at all from pursuing their – what they’ve been doing for almost a year. I remember it was at the General Assembly last year when this whole thing began.

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So I don’t get why it is that you think that that’s some kind of stick that you’re able to use as leverage.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that I would describe it as a stick, and that’s certainly not the way the Secretary would describe it. You asked me why would we think the establishment of the JIC would be conceived by the Russians at leverage, and my answer was because we know they want it, and they have wanted a deeper level of cooperation with the U.S. military for quite some time, but that is not – it wasn’t conceived in the arrangement, it wasn’t designed to be a stick, as you described it. It was designed – and we support the establishment of the Joint Implementation Center – it was designed to better focus Russia’s military efforts against Daesh and against al-Qaida in Syria. That’s the whole purpose. So we have something to gain in the establishment of a JIC as well.

I think, though, to your broader question, if I could, I mean, this arrangement isn’t about carrots and sticks. Yes, it is a transactional arrangement. I’m not going to dispute that. We want to see reduced violence, we want to see humanitarian access, and then when we see that to everyone’s satisfaction, we’ll establish the Joint Implementation Center. And we want to see – as a result after that, we want to see, obviously, Assad’s air forces not flying in those areas.

But as we’ve said all along – we said in Geneva and we said since Geneva – if we don’t get there, if we don’t get to the arrangement being fulfilled, then there’ll be no arrangement, there’ll be no JIC, and what we agreed to in Geneva won’t happen. So it’s not about carrots and sticks. It’s not about forcing Russia one way or another. Russia has – they have decisions to make about the influence that they have on Assad and the degree to which they’re going to use it or not. And if they choose not to use that influence or if they apply it and it has no effect, then the arrangement doesn’t come into being, and we’re back to, regrettably, where we have so long been, which is innocent civilians being barrel bombed and gassed.

QUESTION: But John, let me just follow up on the humanitarian aid. Now, UN sources say that these trucks have no UN markings, for instance – that the UN has hired many drivers that have no licenses, no IDs, no passports, that there are – they’re refusing to sort of delineate which trucks are which, which are – really carry humanitarian aid and so on. I wonder if you have a response to that. Because this seems to be what is holding the aid from going through. I mean, of course, there are some – there’s violence going on, but also these logistics are not taken care of. If they are not, why not?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen reports that we don’t have driver’s licenses on these guys, Said. The Secretary spoke to Staffan de Mistura today and we know that there are trucks that are waiting to go in --


MR KIRBY: -- and the UN is supervising that process. I won’t speak for the UN in terms of accreditation of drivers and vehicles. That’s them for – to speak to. But we know those trucks are ready, they’re loaded up, and they’re ready to go. And even if we weren’t talking about the arrangement, which obviously called for sustained humanitarian access – let’s just for a second pretend we weren’t talking about that. There’s – those trucks should be going in --


MR KIRBY: -- and that aid should be getting delivered with or without the arrangement that was arrived at in Geneva. And it’s the regime that is blocking that movement – the regime – and again, that was one of the reasons why it was important --

QUESTION: Forgive me, but it’s not only the regime.

MR KIRBY: -- for the Secretary to talk to Foreign Minister Lavrov.

QUESTION: Sorry, but it’s not only the regime, but the local committee, the local council – there is something called the local council in eastern Aleppo that is also preventing or not agreeing to these trucks going through.

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of that.


MR KIRBY: What I’m aware of is that these trucks – you talk about going through. They’re not even in the country, Said.

QUESTION: No, I understand. They are – they are in this --

MR KIRBY: They’re not even in the country.

QUESTION: I understand.

MR KIRBY: And it is the regime that’s blocking that.

QUESTION: They have not consented. Let’s put it this way --

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I don’t have that report.

QUESTION: -- they have not consented.

MR KIRBY: I’m not disputing it. I just don’t have that report.

QUESTION: Let me just – let me just follow up.

MR KIRBY: I do know, however --


MR KIRBY: -- that those trucks are being prevented entry into the country from the regime.

QUESTION: Okay. But let me follow up on a couple of things on the Castello Road, because it has historically been the main artery for supplies to the rebel forces in terms of arms and so on, foreign fighters going through and so on. So the regime has always had sort of – a bit of a suspicion on that. Do you feel that the Syrian Government has some sort of a right in saying that we want to ensure that no foreign fighters, no equipment is going through, these trucks and so on? From their point of view, do they have that right?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, rather than say they have the right or they don’t, the – part of the arrangement that dealt with Castello Road – because we agree it is a main artery --


MR KIRBY: -- of sustenance to Aleppo. And because it is a main artery, it has been used by one side or the other for other purposes than getting food, water, and medicine to the Syrian people. That is why, as part of the arrangement, parameters were set about opening up that road, properly – putting a mechanism into place to properly monitor traffic so that people who wanted to leave could leave safely; food, water, or medicine that needed to get in could get in. And again, I mean, I’ve seen press reporting about bulldozers on the road today and then regime troops moving in, moving out. And I’m not going to get into a tactical blow-by-blow of what the road looks like right now, because whatever I say is probably not going to be correct in a little bit of time.

So all I can tell you is we want to see the agreements regarding Castello Road, the ones that both Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Secretary talked about in Geneva – we want to see that put in place.

QUESTION: And lastly – my last one on this – do you have any information on the Syrian army pulling back like two kilometers yesterday and then going back --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I just said – I – in my answer to you, I’ve seen those --

QUESTION: So you confirmed that they did --

MR KIRBY: No, I cannot. I said I’ve seen press reports about that, but I’m not in a position to confirm tactical movements by small units. I wouldn’t even do that for the U.S. military; I’m certainly not going to do that to try to characterize what Syrian regime – or regime forces are doing. Again, what we want to see is we want to see the proper amount of access to get the food, water, and medicine to the people in Aleppo and for those that want to be able to leave and leave safely so that they can do that.

QUESTION: What the Russians are also saying is that the reason that these purported moves happened with the Syrian troops was because the U.S.-backed rebels have been violating the ceasefire and that most of the violations of the ceasefire are because of these moderates, and that it’s the responsibility of the U.S. to get them to lay down the arms. What’s your assessment?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think we need to be reminded of our responsibilities with respect to the opposition. We know very well, and the Secretary has spoken to that. And as I think my colleague said here even as – yesterday, we acknowledge that there have been – over the last several days there have been acts of violence committed by all sides here. We acknowledge that. In fact, even in Geneva, before the arrangement technically kicked off, the Secretary acknowledged that there were going to be things happening that we didn’t want to see. Obviously, the – we’d love to see no violence. But we recognized even before that there would be some. And as I said, we’ve acknowledged that all sides here have – probably not in full – committed to no violence, and we want to see all sides continue – or we want to see all sides comply with it and to keep the levels down.

QUESTION: And do you have anything on this Reuters report quoting Western diplomats that the UN had come to the conclusion that the Syrian military had been responsible for the dropping of chlorine that came out a couple hours ago?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the press report, but I’m not going to – I can’t speak to the veracity of it. That said, we’ve talked about this before, about the regime’s use of chlorine as a weapon of war, an industrial agent that can be weaponized by dropping it from aircraft in barrels, and the damage that the gas does. We’ve said that a long – we’ve known that for a long time that they have proven willing to do that. No, I got you. I got you. Don’t worry.

But – and I think we saw recently – what, a couple weeks ago – a report from OPCW saying the same thing, which had reinforced what we had long believed and what we’d been long saying. I can’t speak to this specific new one.

QUESTION: You’ve got nothing on it today. Okay.

MR KIRBY: I just – as you noted, it’s a recent press report, only a couple hours old. And I’m just not in a position to confirm the veracity of it.

QUESTION: Is it – every day this week you have said that you and the Russians felt that it was worth continuing the ceasefire even though the cessation of hostilities – even though it was imperfect and even though humanitarian aid had yet begun to flow. Is it the U.S. Government’s point of view that it’s worth doing that ad infinitum? If you never get a perfect ceasefire and if you never get humanitarian access, are you willing to continue with this just because the significant reduction in the violence is worth it in and of itself?

MR KIRBY: No. No. And I think the Secretary has been very honest about what we’re doing and the ultimate goal, and that our patience here isn’t infinite. This arrangement, I think it’s important to remember, was designed to get the levels of violence down, the humanitarian access up to such a degree that we could revitalize a cessation of hostilities and create the conditions necessary to get the political talks back on track, which we all know hasn’t happened. That’s what this was designed to do, because of – but – largely, but not solely – largely because of the siege of Aleppo, which still remains sort of the centerpiece here. But the – and that’s a long answer to your question, but I didn’t want to answer it glibly. But the real short answer to your question is no.

QUESTION: So what do you then do?

MR KIRBY: What do we then do --

QUESTION: When your patience runs out.

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know, Arshad, and I don’t know that it would be valuable to try to speculate about that. I think in terms of this arrangement, as I answered to Matt, if we don’t see the humanitarian access, if we don’t see reduced violence of a continuous nature, then there will be no establishment of a Joint Implementation Center, therefore there will be no sharing of information of a targeting nature with the Russian military and we will be back where we were before this arrangement was put into place, which is obviously not a place any of us want to be. But I don’t think it’s helpful while we’re in the middle of trying to get this to continue to move forward to speculate or talk to outcomes if it doesn’t. I mean, our focus – and it’s, frankly, the purpose for the phone call this morning with Foreign Minister Lavrov – is to see it succeed, is to get it to work so that we can get Staffan de Mistura back at the table.

QUESTION: If one week you – the Secretary in Geneva set and the agreement sets seven days as the period of time after which you would begin to establish the JIC if there had been the – the reduced violence and the increased humanitarian access. If seven days was a sufficient period to judge whether the arrangement was working, is seven days a sufficient period to judge that the arrangement has failed to work?

MR KIRBY: I think we’re going to have to make those kinds of decisions if and when we get there. What we are looking for is the seven days of reduced violence, but it also says that we need to see sustained humanitarian access. Both conditions have to be met and both are not being met right now. We continue to see reduced violence. I’m not saying we’re content with the violence we have seen, but we jointly agree that the violence has been reduced thus far. But the humanitarian access hasn’t been had, and so we have to see both. And I couldn’t begin to tell you what that’s going to look like on a calendar, but it’s something that we’re going to have to continue to work at and to discuss with our Russian counterparts, and we’re literally taking this day by day. I --

QUESTION: You said “if and when we get there,” though. I just want to make sure – I mean, Monday is going to come whether this agreement is working or not, so are you suggesting that if we get – when we get to Monday that there will be a judgment made that, okay, we haven’t had the seven days, let’s try it again for another seven days?

MR KIRBY: Well, remember – I used if and when quite deliberately, because there’s no guarantee that the JIC is going to be established. There are two things that are important to get to the establishment of the JIC.


MR KIRBY: There is the seven days of reduced violence and there is the sustained humanitarian access. Now, I couldn’t --

QUESTION: For seven days as well – both are seven days. But I’m – my question is, look, Monday is going to come.

QUESTION: If that (inaudible) over seven days --

QUESTION: There’s no way you can stop this coming Monday from happening. It’s just – it’s going to – and my question is: Are you going to make a judgment on Monday that either yes, the conditions have been met and we’re going to go ahead and set up the JIC; no, they haven’t been met, so no JIC ever; or let’s try it for another seven days?

MR KIRBY: Well, your question assumes that by Monday --

QUESTION: My question only assumes that Monday is actually going to come, that there is going --

MR KIRBY: – that Monday we will have – yes, Monday will come.

QUESTION: Yes, it --

MR KIRBY: It always does. I know that, Matt. I’m well aware of the --

QUESTION: It will, so – that’s the only assumption – that is the only assumption --

MR KIRBY: I’m well aware of the flow of the week. What I’m trying to tell you is --

QUESTION: (Laughter.) That is the only assumption that is in my question, though, that Monday is going to show up. Okay?

MR KIRBY: And you know something?

QUESTION: And everything else --

MR KIRBY: You know something?


MR KIRBY: It’s our assumption too. Monday is going to come, but we’re going to – and we are going to – but I can’t tell you – (laughter) – I can’t tell you – I mean, but look, we’re taking this literally day by day. And we’re not going to get into a daily grade or assessment here. I know what you’re getting at. I don’t know the answer to your question. I think we have to continue to watch this and work this hard.

And look, if we weren’t concerned about – I mean, obviously – so we see reduced violence so far, and that’s – it’s not perfect, but it’s better than what it was before. What we haven’t seen is the sustained humanitarian access, and that’s why they spoke this morning. That’s why the Secretary wanted to talk to Foreign Minister Lavrov, because that is a key component of this arrangement and it has not moved at all.

QUESTION: Okay. So is the answer to my question then you don’t know whether – if it hasn’t – if it is judged on Monday that you haven’t – the conditions haven’t been met, you don’t know yet whether you’re just going to say all right, the hell with it, that’s it; it’s done and there’s not going to be a JIC, or let’s give it another seven days or another X amount of time?

MR KIRBY: Let me put it this way, and maybe this will answer it. If by Monday we have continued to see reduced violence and no humanitarian access, there will be no Joint Implementation Center.


MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: That’s it.

MR KIRBY: Not --

QUESTION: I mean under this agreement. It’s done?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make – call the end here. I’m just saying that if we haven’t seen both --


MR KIRBY: -- there is not going to be a Joint Implementation Center. And I think this gets to Arshad’s question, I mean, how long. I’m not prepared to say how long we’re going to continue to evaluate this. But obviously, we didn’t enter into this arrangement that it would go on – how did you say it – ad infinitum? Is that how you say that? That wasn’t – that certainly wasn’t the intention of it.


QUESTION: The – sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: The Twittersphere was reporting with video and now it’s in the British press as well that Turkish-backed FSA forces have chased U.S. Special Forces out of the Syrian town of al-Rai. Do you have any concern that the forces that Syria is – that the forces that Turkey is supporting in Syria may not be so moderate?

MR KIRBY: Do I have concern that the forces they Turkey is supporting in their --

QUESTION: These are rebels that accompanied Turkish forces into Syria to have, like, Turkish influence in certain parts, on the border towns in Syria. And this is the town of al-Rai and they had some issue with the U.S. Special Forces that were with them. They chased them out very dramatically, shouting Islamic slogans, calling them dogs, pigs, American agents. So it raises the question of just what kind of people, what kind of rebels, is Turkey supporting. Are these guys truly moderate or people you want to see in control in Syria?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, on the incident itself I’d refer you to my colleagues at the Defense Department. I’ve not seen this video and I certainly wouldn’t speak to what is so clearly a defense issue. So I can’t confirm the video that you’re referring to so – and that means I also don’t know of the slurs that you’re saying were uttered. Obviously, if that’s true, that would be concerning, of course.

But what we said before about the work that Turkish forces have done along that border, which was work, with the exception, of course, of the clashes that were had over a period of several days with Kurdish forces – what I’m talking about is the reason for Turkish forces to be there was one that the coalition was in favor of and was supportive of, which was to help clear that stretch of border – not clear it, but secure that stretch of border against the flow of foreign fighters’ support and supplies to Daesh. And we knew all along that as they did that that they would be teaming up with some opposition forces, and they have been successful in largely doing exactly that. So let’s keep in mind the greater goal here, which was to choke off that stretch of border so that Daesh can’t use it to sustain itself and to support its terrorist activities.

And we recognize – broadly speaking, we recognize that the opposition forces fighting Daesh in Syria are not a monolith, and some of them have more extreme views than others. And even amongst – even inside certain groups you’re not always going to find a coherent view about the fight that they’re engaged in. So we’ve always recognized that. But again, what we’ve said before is that that stretch of border was important. We support Turkey’s efforts to secure that stretch of border, and thus far we believe it’s been successful.

QUESTION: And you’re not concerned about this business of cursing these Special Forces and calling them American agents, dogs and pigs?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, again, I haven’t seen the video, so I can’t say with certainty – I just don’t – I’m not in a position to confirm the veracity of that video or that report and I’d refer you to DOD. But I mean, if you’re asking me as an American and a veteran myself if I’m – if this is true, if I’m comfortable with it, of course not – if it’s true; I don’t know that it’s true – especially when – my discomfort exists especially, if it’s true, because we all should be focused on the common threat and the common enemy, and that’s Daesh.

QUESTION: But we don’t want to be replacing Daesh with some other anti-American, anti-Western group, do we?

MR KIRBY: I think what we are concerned about is degrading and defeating Daesh and removing their capability to operate effectively, as they have proven to do so in the past, although I will say, we have made progress against this group. And it’s not about replacing them. We want them degraded and defeated, period.


QUESTION: I mean, in addition to this incident in the al-Rai* there’s also a report from NBC saying that U.S. Special Forces were actually fired on by these opposition forces. And I just want to go over some of the phrases that are attributed to these forces are, “Get out you pigs, dogs, agents of America.” “Go away you coalition of crusaders.” What message are these forces trying to send?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I can’t confirm the reports about this, but let me be clear: If it’s true, obviously that kind of rhetoric is not acceptable as part of what should be a coalition designed to go after a common enemy, which is Daesh. And we certainly wouldn’t condone that kind of bombastic and pugilistic rhetoric against, frankly, our forces or anybody else that is designed – or, I’m sorry, engaged in the fight against Daesh. I just don’t know, not seen it, and I would refer you DOD to speak to the specifics of the actual video.

QUESTION: And this is a change in tone for the Syrian opposition? They don’t normally talk this way?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. You’d have to talk to the Syrian opposition about the way they talk.

QUESTION: Okay, and --

MR KIRBY: But I – as I said before, this is – let’s not talk about the opposition as a monolith, okay. It’s not one organization with one worldview or even one perspective and point of view about the fight going on in Syria. And we have long acknowledged that there are groups that are more moderate than others. I mean, that is – that’s not a new idea.

QUESTION: And is --

MR KIRBY: But look, if it’s true, obviously it’s reprehensible language.

QUESTION: And is it in the interest of the United States to align with such forces?

MR KIRBY: It is in the interest of the United States to continue to press the fight against Daesh in Syria, and there’s a coalition now of 66 countries that are doing just that. And we will continue to support the – those moderate opposition forces – those moderate forces, I should say, because they’re not – it’s not just about opposition – it’s not really about the opposition to Assad, it’s about the fight against Daesh. So we’re going to continue to support those forces in Syria that are able and willing to press the fight against Daesh.

QUESTION: And if the Syrian Government were to fall, forces with that kind of perspective would get a lot stronger, wouldn’t they?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I don’t want to engage in hypotheticals here. And you have to understand you’re – now, we’re talking – we’re starting – you’re starting to blur here a little bit. The – we don’t believe that there’s a military solution to the civil war, and that is why we’re working so hard to get the political talks back on track. Against Daesh, obviously, military efforts have and will continue to be used. And there are forces arrayed against Daesh in Syria that we will continue to support as they continue to prove to be willing and able to do that. But that is a – that fight is separate from the diplomatic track that we’re trying to pursue, in terms of bringing about the end of the civil war in Syria. Okay, is that --


QUESTION: Not to beat a dead horse, but the – this very group --

MR KIRBY: But you’re gonna.

QUESTION: -- is – the Free Syrian Army, which you have touted all along as the moderate or the model of the moderates and so on. And not only are they saying no Americans and they call them all these pejoratives and so on. They also are saying no Christians in Syria. And these are – could they at least be the groups that you are trying to sort of disallow, either the regime or the Russians and so on from bombing in and around Aleppo, because they are unable to delineate the delineate themselves from Nusrah?

MR KIRBY: Again, let’s not – let’s not mix it here. We’re talking about – look, I haven’t seen this video. I can’t confirm that this incident even happened. I’ve already said that if it’s true that these slurs were thrown at American troops or, frankly, any nation’s troops that are in there trying to degrade and defeat Daesh, that that’s unacceptable and it’s reprehensible. But I can’t confirm that it happened. And, yes, there has been coalition support for free Syrian armies as they fight against Daesh. And as I’ve also said, we constantly review and evaluate the situation in Syria, and the fight that’s being waged against Daesh, and the coalition supports it appropriately, especially in support of groups that are proving to be capable fighters at going against Daesh.

But what we would – what I would say here is what I’ve said many times before: We want everybody that’s involved in this effort, whether it’s a nation state in the coalition or it’s groups in Syria that are engaged against Daesh and are not designated by the UN as foreign terrorist organizations, we want that focus to be squarely put against that group. We all have – the coalition against Daesh has a common purpose, has a common enemy, has a common end in sight with respect to that group. And that’s where we’d like to see the energies directed, not at one another or other members of the coalition. That’s counterproductive to the effort writ large.


QUESTION: John, when the U.S. forces work with Syrian forces, they’re vetted forces that, to the best of your ability, you people have decided are helpful in the fight and moderate enough to work with. These forces that we’re talking about today in the video you haven’t seen were vetted by the Turks, who are your ally, and you support the Turkish operations that part of the border. Are you happy with the Turks vetting their own allies or do – does everything have to come through you to be counted as part of the coalition?

MR KIRBY: Well I don’t know the specific answer there, Dave. I think it’s a better question for my colleagues at the Defense Department to speak to. As I said, we were in support of this operation that the Turks were going to conduct, we’re mindful that they were going to do this with some local opposition forces, and again, we were supportive of that effort; but on specific vetting procedures, that is – that’s really beyond me to speak to. I’m afraid I just can’t.




MR KIRBY: Wait, are we will still on Syria?


MR KIRBY: You’re not.


MR KIRBY: No? You’re going to be asking me a Syria question, Janne? I would love to see that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Maybe similar.

MR KIRBY: I don’t think so. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. So, about the visit by Tony Blinken to repeal, to you have a readout of his meetings?

MR KIRBY: About the visit of --

QUESTION: Deputy Secretary of State, Tony Blinken.

MR KIRBY: Oh, Tony Blinken. I’m sorry, I didn’t --

QUESTION: And McGurk to Erbil. Do you have any readout of the meetings with Barzani and other officials there?

MR KIRBY: Let me see. I don’t know that I do. Do I? I do, I do. She says I do.

QUESTION: Good. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I’ve just got to find it here. Hang on a second. Oh, look at that. It’s on page one. I’m going to put my glasses on because the font is not big enough. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Yesterday the deputy secretary was in the Iraqi-Kurdistan region, where he met with President Barzani and other senior regional government officials to continue discussions on efforts to degrade and defeat Daesh, support for the Peshmerga, as well as the response to the urgent humanitarian internally displaced person crisis in Iraq. Those discussions also addressed Baghdad-Erbil cooperation ahead of the liberation of Mosul. Okay?

QUESTION: Brett McGurk tweets that apparently some other issues were discussed as well. He encourages unity between the two ruling parties, KDP and PUK, in one of his tweets. I want to know that – what the assessment of the United States is to – about the unity or disunity among Iraqi Kurds at the moment.

MR KIRBY: Well I’m not going to get ahead of the deputy secretary here. I think, look, we’ve long been talking about our desire to see the parties working together for the betterment of Iraq. But I’m not going to get any more detailed than what I just gave you.

QUESTION: But are you concerned that they are disunited to a degree that could be problematic for the broader goals you have in --

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to – I mean, I could tell you what we want to see, and that hasn’t changed. And I don’t think it’s helpful to try to speculate about that not happening. I mean, that’s the reason for our constant engagement with leaders there. We want to see Baghdad and Erbil continue to work out issues for the betterment of the country and for all Iraqis everywhere. But I’m not – I wouldn’t begin to speculate about it not happening. I mean, that – I think what we can say broadly is that disunity is not going to be productive to that end. It’s not going to be helpful, and that’s why, again, we continue to stress unity.

QUESTION: Staying on the subject of readouts, do you have any – (laughter) --

MR KIRBY: Whoa, whoa, hang on a second. (Laughter.) When was the topic readouts? Because I don’t think – I don’t think that’s how the table of contents of the briefing is going to go. Syria, Iraq, readouts. (Laughter.) But I think Arshad’s right; that was a deft play. And I’m still going to give you the question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Assistant secretary met with some visiting Indian officials. Do you have any readout?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. Elizabeth, do I have a readout of that too? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Which assistant secretary?


QUESTION: There are several assistant secretaries.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, there’s a lot of them. The font’s better here. Yes, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal hosted a meeting with the delegation from the Indian state of Gujarat – did I say that right?

QUESTION: Yeah, correct.

MR KIRBY: -- led by resident commissioner Bharat Lal and accompanied by the Indian charge d’affaires Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu on the 15th of September. The assistant secretary praised the resident commissioner for his efforts to make the state of Gujarat a model of innovation and sustainable economic growth and reform for India. She also announced the United States intent to participate as a partner country in the 2017 Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit, the government of Gujarat’s biannual investors’ summit that brings together global business leaders, investors, corporations, thought leaders, and policy makers.

How’s that for a readout?

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR KIRBY: Is that good? All right.

QUESTION: Japan, Okinawa.

QUESTION: I have one on --

MR KIRBY: Japan? Japan. Go ahead.

QUESTION: And India?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll tell you what. He wants to talk India. That’s kind of the same region and the same folder here. (Laughter.) It’ll kind of keep me in the same --

QUESTION: Kind of? It is – it’s the same country.

MR KIRBY: That’s what I mean. Kind of the same thing. It keeps me in the same – it keeps me in the same part of the book. Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Madam Hillary Clinton was meeting and greeting and speaking on U.S.-Indian relations at Silicon Valley recently, where she said that U.S. and India should fight against the evil of terrorism, violence, and poverty which is creating a – killing thousands of people. What I’m asking you is also Mr. Rajnath Singh, who is the home minister of India, will be in Washington soon – next week, I believe – where he will be talking the same issue of U.S.-India fighting against terrorism. What I’m asking you is also next week of course the UN will be meeting, global leaders will be meeting at the UN. They will be also fighting about – or talking about terrorism.

So where do we stand now as far as U.S.-India is on the fighting against terrorism?

MR KIRBY: The same place that we’ve been, which is that we recognize that it’s a common threat not just to India and to the United States, but to all the nations there in the region. And we’re going to continue to work closely with India to address that. And I – you’re right. I mean, counterterrorism will be a significant agenda item at the UN General Assembly next week. The Secretary looks forward to going and to having meaningful discussions about how together the international community can continue to combat that threat.

QUESTION: And what do you think home minister’s visit to Washington that his mission will be only because against – terrorism against India across the border? So what message you think you have for him before he comes to Washington, or what two countries will be talking about?

MR KIRBY: Well, let me not get ahead of another foreign dignitary’s travel. That’s for them to speak to. What I would say broadly is, as we will do next week in every opportunity that we have to talk to Indian counterparts, the challenges of counterterrorism in the region remain front and center, and they will next week. And I am sure that in every engagement we have with Indian leaders, whether they’re here or they’re there, we will always continue to press the case for deeper cooperation, better information sharing, and better capabilities.

QUESTION: And, sir, finally, as far as India’s membership to the United Nations is concerned, where do we stand now, because before this Administration goes away, you think this issue will be solved at the United Nations, which U.S. had supported --

MR KIRBY: You’re talking about the Nuclear Suppliers Group?

QUESTION: Nuclear Suppliers and also UN membership –

QUESTION: The Security Council.

MR KIRBY: Oh, the Security Council. Is that --

QUESTION: Security Council membership and also --

MR KIRBY: You said their membership at the UN, and I kind of thought that they already were.

QUESTION: Both issues.


QUESTION: Both issues and even Nuclear Suppliers Group.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Look, our positions are long known and I know of absolutely no change to those.


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Japan? Japan. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. A question about Okinawa? Okinawa.

MR KIRBY: You didn’t have your hand up before.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry that you guys are learning how my book is built. Go ahead.

QUESTION: We missed you.


QUESTION: I have a few questions on Pakistan. First is about the situation in Karachi where several leaders from MQM have been arrested, detained, and they’re saying that the Pakistani forces are indulging in extrajudicial killings, human rights violation against them. Their offices are being demolished by the forces. What’s your assessment of the situation in Karachi?

MR KIRBY: We’re monitoring those events very closely. We’re aware that Pakistan security forces – Pakistani security forces, excuse me, have arrested some MQM members allegedly involved in violent protests and that these operations have included the closure and the demolition of offices deemed to have been illegally constructed. But I’m going to refer you to the Government of Pakistan for the latest information about these events.

QUESTION: Have some members of the MQM offices in U.S. approached the State Department with their concerns?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that there has been specific concerns relayed to us by members of the MQM.

QUESTION: But have you spoken to the Pakistani officials on this?

MR KIRBY: We routinely communicate with our Pakistani counterparts about issues like this.

QUESTION: I have one more on Pakistan itself. As you know, Pakistan is --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: It’s okay. It’s all right. All right, we’ll get there. This is your last one, though, because I think Janne’s getting upset so we’ve got to move on.

QUESTION: Okay. I promise this is my last one.


QUESTION: As you know, Pakistan is your ally, ally of the U.S., and Pakistan prime minister recently said that they want to raise the issue of Kashmir at the United Nations. Your policy on Kashmir is that it’s for India and Pakistan to decide on the pace and scope of --

MR KIRBY: It’s for the --


MR KIRBY: It’s for the sides to do that.



QUESTION: So do you support – how do you view Pakistan effort to raise this issue on international forums?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, that’s for them to speak to. What we’ve said – nothing’s changed about our view that we want to see India and Pakistan work this out bilaterally.

QUESTION: Recently, Pakistan prime minister appointed several Kashmiri envoys --

MR KIRBY: I thought you said that was your last one.

QUESTION: It’s part --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: You’re done. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Question on Okinawa. And thank you. Japanese court ruled Friday that Okinawa Governor Onaga’s revocation of the landfill permit for U.S. military base on Okinawa was illegal. That decision is (inaudible) to the Japanese central government plan to go ahead. So – but Okinawa say it will be upheld at high court ruling to the supreme court. Do you – are you welcome to this decision? And also, I need your own United States comment. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Yes, I’m aware of this ruling. What I would say is this: The United States and Japan remain committed to the plan to construct – excuse me – the Futenma replacement facility at the Camp Schwab Henoko area and adjacent waters. Construction of the FRF is the only solution that addresses operational, political, financial, and strategic concerns; permits the operational readiness of our forward-positioned Marine forces; and avoids the continued use of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. We remain in close communication with officials from the Government of Japan. That will not change. But as for further comment about this specific decision, I’d refer you to the Government of Japan.

QUESTION: Are you encouraged that with this – this was sort of the main obstacle for the FRF moving forward. Aren’t you encouraged that now it can move forward?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to weigh into local judicial decisions there in Japan. That wouldn’t be appropriate. Our position on the importance of the FRF, the Futenma Replacement Facility, has not changed. We still believe, as I just said, that it’s the right decision, it’s the right move forward. We have remained in close contact with the – with Tokyo on this and will stay so, but I’m not going to weigh into making a characterization or an assessment one way or another of a specific judicial decision there.

QUESTION: Have you discussed with Tokyo specifically about this ruling and what that means?

MR KIRBY: We are – broadly speaking, we’re in constant communication with our counterparts, both from a diplomatic and a military perspective, in Tokyo about the importance of moving the FRF forward. Okay?

QUESTION: Okay. So an email has recently come to light, an exchange between Jeffrey Leeds and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, in which he acknowledges that Israel has, quote – has – he says 200 nuclear weapons. And the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has not been signed by Israel. Under U.S. law, the United States should cut off support to Israel because it’s a nuclear power that has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty according to Colin Powell. Correct?

MR KIRBY: Shouldn’t you ask Colin Powell that? I’m not going to speak to this particular traffic and I’m certainly not going to discuss --

QUESTION: So you’re saying Israel doesn’t have nuclear weapons?

MR KIRBY: I’m certainly not going to discuss matters of intelligence from the podium and I’m not – I have no comment on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, the email says, “The boys in Tehran know Israel has 200, all targeted on Tehran, and we have thousands.” I mean, that seems to indicate that there’s a knowledge of an Israeli nuclear program, which would make U.S. aid to Israel illegal.

MR KIRBY: I think I’ve answered your question.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, let me ask: Is that – am I – do I have the correct understanding of U.S. law, that we are not allowed to support a nuclear power that has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty?

MR KIRBY: Look, we obviously support the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. I’m not a legal expert on all the tenets of it and I am certainly not going to speak about the details that you’ve revealed here in this email traffic. That would be inappropriate for me to discuss one way or the other. I’m not going to do it.


MR KIRBY: Yeah, Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, Josh. Oh, I’m sorry. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: I thought it’s the White House. Sorry. Next --

MR KIRBY: I take it as a compliment. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. Sorry about that. Thank you, John – because I just come over from White House. That’s why I thought Josh.

MR KIRBY: No, no apology necessary.

QUESTION: Well, on --

MR KIRBY: He’s smarter and better looking.

QUESTION: On North Korea, United – U.S. take strong sanctions to North Korea. Is these sanctions included humanitarian aid to North Korea?

MR KIRBY: What sanctions, Janne? I didn’t quite understand.

QUESTION: These tough sanctions you got after fifth nuclear test – U.S. --

MR KIRBY: Well – after this most recent one?

QUESTION: Yes, most recent.

MR KIRBY: As I said, we’re in discussions with our UN counterparts about the potential for additional sanctions. I’m certainly not aware that any have been enacted, and therefore I wouldn’t get into speculating about, if there are additional sanctions, what they would look like and what they would entail.

QUESTION: Did North Korea ask United States humanitarian – for the humanitarian assistance – their country for --

MR KIRBY: For the --


MR KIRBY: For the flooding?


MR KIRBY: No, there’s been no request for assistance from the United States.

QUESTION: If North Korea asked the United States, how will the U.S. --

MR KIRBY: I simply couldn’t speculate one way or another. I can tell you we don’t foresee a request coming.

QUESTION: Okay. One more on North Korea.

QUESTION: You don’t?

QUESTION: Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho --

QUESTION: You have reason to think there won’t be one?


QUESTION: Other than the fact that there hasn’t been one yet?

MR KIRBY: There’s never been one ever and this is a regime --

QUESTION: Well, there has been. They have asked for assistance in the past.

MR KIRBY: -- hasn’t – I’m not aware --

QUESTION: But you’re not --

MR KIRBY: I’m not – there’s no request for assistance.


MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate about what we would do if there were one. We aren’t expecting one. Okay? Let me just be clear about that.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said that North Korea have completed the attack on United States.

MR KIRBY: They’ve said what? That --

QUESTION: Completed – they completed the --

MR KIRBY: They completed?

QUESTION: Yeah, the attack to U.S.

MR KIRBY: An attack on the U.S?

QUESTION: And also he said that – he mentioned that there’s three more nuclear test until the end of this year. What are your comments?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments. I’m – obviously, I wouldn’t speak to intelligence matters one way or another in terms of the potential for future tests. I would simply say what we’ve said before, that this provocative activity needs to stop for the betterment of the peninsula, for the betterment of the region, and that the United States takes all the threats seriously and will continue to engage with our partners in the region to increase the pressure on the regime. And I didn’t understand the other one about completed an attack on --

QUESTION: Yeah, they already have completed attack to United States and --

MR KIRBY: I’m not --

QUESTION: -- are ready to – whatever time they’re going to attack the United States (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any information on that, I’m afraid.

QUESTION: You don’t have that? (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: No, I – sorry.

QUESTION: Follow-up on North Korea?

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Follow-up on North Korea? So there are sanctions imposed on North Korea in response to their nuclear proliferation. There were sanctions put on Iran in response to allegations of nuclear proliferation. And now we have this email from Colin Powell saying that Israel has 200 nuclear weapons. Why is Israel not facing any consequence for this?

MR KIRBY: That’s a very colorful way of getting back to the same question you just asked me, but I’m going to refer you back to the transcript when you see it this afternoon to what I said before to your question.


QUESTION: Can I just ask: You are familiar with this email, right?

MR KIRBY: I’m not.


MR KIRBY: I have not seen it. I’m not – I can’t speak to it, the email, and frankly, even if I had seen it, sir, I wouldn’t engage in that kind of a discussion from the podium.

QUESTION: Can I stay on Israel/Palestine for a minute? First of all, could you confirm that you – well, you issued a statement, but could you tell us why you designated Fathi Ahmad Mohammad Hammad, a Hamas official, an international terrorist? Was he planning anything against the United States of America in Gaza?

MR KIRBY: The State Department designated Fathi Ahmad Mohammad Hammad under section 1(b) of Executive Order 13224, which targets foreign persons and groups committing or posing a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism. The consequences of this designation include a prohibition against U.S. persons engaging in transactions with Hammad and the freezing of all of his properties and interests in property in the United States or which come within the United States or the possession or control of U.S. persons. We took this action in consultation, obviously, with the Justice Department and the Treasury Department.

So why was he designated? He was engaged in terrorist activity while serving as a senior member of Hamas, a U.S. State Department designated --

QUESTION: Against the United States?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Against the United States?

MR KIRBY: Let me get through this part. He was engaged in terrorist activity while serving as a senior member of Hamas, a U.S. State Department Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially Designated Global Terrorist Organization. Hammad has served as Hamas’s interior minister where he was responsible for security within Gaza – a position he used to coordinate terrorist cells. He established al-Aqsa TV, which was designated in March 2010 by the Treasury Department as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under the executive order – same executive order – 13224. Al-Aqsa TV is a primary Hamas media outlet that airs programs designed to recruit children to become Hamas armed fighters and suicide bombers upon reaching adulthood.

QUESTION: Let me follow up with a couple of other quick questions. There is a small fleet of two vessels – all women – to break the siege of Gaza, including an American woman and a former colonel in the United States Army. One, do you advise them not to go? And second, what will the United States do if, let’s say, Israel had a repeat of what they did back in May of 2010, which is board the vessels and inflict some fatalities?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not – let me not speculate and get ahead of something that hasn’t happened yet, Said.


MR KIRBY: We’re aware of the reports of these boats. In general, while we underscore the need for international support for Gaza’s recovery and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, we remain of the view that assistance and goods destined for Gaza should be transmitted through legitimate crossings and through established channels.

QUESTION: And there is – the Israeli forces forced the Palestinians in East Jerusalem – evicted them, made them homeless and so on. Do you have any comment on that? Are you aware of the report first of all?

MR KIRBY: I have. Yes, I’m aware of it. And again, in general we’re concerned by forcible evictions, which have the potential, as we’ve said many times before, to further increase the already heightened tensions in Jerusalem and elsewhere, and we continue to urge all parties to take affirmative steps to maintain calm.

QUESTION: And more broadly, today marked the 34th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Three days ago marked the 22nd – the 23rd anniversary of the Oslo Accords that called for a Palestinian state. Do you think the time has come for the United States, which holds the ultimate moral and political and economic authority and power, to really put its leverage behind creating a Palestinian state and ending this occupation that has gone on for 50 years?

MR KIRBY: Said, I think – I would – I can say affirmatively that the United States continues to very strongly be in favor of reaching a two-state solution, a viable two-state solution. And that is why the Secretary will continue to work on this very, very hard right up until the moment he is no longer Secretary of State. Your question implies that we’re not interested in it or we’re not – we’re not pursuing it with energy, and that’s just not the case.

Now, there was a time – and the Secretary is – talked about this candidly. There was a time earlier, not long ago, when it was clear that the sides were not interested at all and there was no – there was no possibility for movement where the United States allowed for some breathing space, if you will. But we have clearly been engaged on this topic and I can assure you will be right up to the end.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: I’ve got to go, guys. Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:11 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Thu, 09/15/2016 - 16:00

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 15, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:09 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. That’s actually a really cool new camera angle that we have now from the – focuses on Matt and then the rest of – everyone else is --

QUESTION: Oh, great.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) So we’re watching you. Anyway, as apropos of nothing. Anyway, welcome to the State Department. Happy first day of Our Oceans conference.

QUESTION: Thursday.

MR TONER: And happy Thursday, as well. I don’t have anything to lead off with, so over to you Matt.

QUESTION: Really? I thought you were going to start off with a long and very comprehensive review of what has happened so far at the ocean conference. But since you’re not, let’s start with --

MR TONER: No, it’s – there’s – was an exciting morning with the President here and everything and a great kickoff, but nothing to add.

QUESTION: Let’s start with Syria.


QUESTION: Surprise, surprise.


QUESTION: So, it seems as though there continue to be violations and there continues to be no aid getting through to Aleppo, with various people making various accusations about who is responsible for that. And de Mistura coming out and basically saying there’s a serious problem here. So what is the U.S. take of the situation? Why is this not working the way it’s supposed to be working? Do you have any way or any plans to fix it and – well, let’s start there.

MR TONER: Sure. So first of all, in answer to your first question, or first part of your question rather, levels of violence are still far below what we had been seeing prior to September 12th. We continue to receive reports of incidents from both sides. And by both sides I mean both sides – that includes the regime. And we continue --

QUESTION: And – so it includes the regime and the opposition --

MR TONER: And the opposition.

QUESTION: -- that you support.

MR TONER: That’s correct. As I said, both sides. And obviously, both we and – both the United States and Russia have to do all we can do to further pressure or influence the respective parties to this cessation of hostility to reduce these incidents. But we still believe that, by and large, the cessation of hostilities is holding, it’s not perfect. We expected a somewhat uneven start to this, but from what we’ve seen so far, and what I said yesterday is it’s worth continuing.

QUESTION: Okay, but that --

MR TONER: Right, you also spoke about – sorry, the second part of your question. I apologize. The second part was about humanitarian assistance. And you’re right, that is important element – an important element. We talked about if there’s two pieces to this as we move towards the next step, which is the establishment of the Joint Implementation Center, you’d have to have the seven days, and then you also – of reduced violence – and then you also have to have the humanitarian assistance. And up ‘til now, we have not seen the humanitarian assistance being delivered.

QUESTION: And – who --

MR TONER: It’s a concern and --

QUESTION: Yeah, but who’s – who is it that is responsible for that?

MR TONER: Well, so what we understand is that the UN is obviously prepared, poised to deliver humanitarian assistance to priorities – priority areas, including Aleppo – we’ve talked about that – as soon as it receives the necessary authorization from the Syrian authorities. So, again, it’s incumbent on the regime and those with influence on the regime to ensure that all measures are in place so that these humanitarian supplies can be delivered.

QUESTION: All right, and then you just – you --

QUESTION: Could I just follow up on that quickly?

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: So de Mistura has apparently said that the process for delivering humanitarian aid under the terms of the ceasefire is different from normally. Normally you would need formal letters of authorization, but under the ceasefire, it’s just – it’s not nearly as bureaucratic as that. Is that your understanding?

MR TONER: You know what, I don’t have the detailed knowledge that – to say yes or no to that. My understanding is that there still needed to be some kind of authorization granted, so I don’t want to speak incorrectly on this matter. But there does, I think, need to be some kind of understanding reached, obviously, for these convoys, or these aid convoys to get the access that they need. There needs to be some kind of --

QUESTION: And is that the main obstacle?

MR TONER: -- accordance with the regime to allow them to enter.

QUESTION: And that’s the main obstacle. Is it?

MR TONER: That’s what we’ve seen.

QUESTION: And any suggestion as to why three days – what’s today, Thursday – four days into the ceasefire, this very key element of it, which seems sort of obvious to follow up on, is not being done?

MR TONER: I don’t have much to add beyond what I just said, which is that it continues to be held up and the UN is indeed, as I said, poised to deliver this aid, but they need the necessary authorization to move forward. And absolutely right to say that it’s a key element of this agreement moving forward.

QUESTION: I just wanted to --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: You used again that you – phrase that you have used since this deal took effect --


QUESTION: -- four – three or four days ago, depending on how you’re counting, and that is that you always expected there was going to be an uneven start to it. But we’re now halfway towards what was supposed to be seven days of – when is it no longer an uneven start but rather a failure?

MR TONER: Well, certainly we’re not there yet. I would just say that it has not been ideally – or clearly, the goal here is to reach 100 percent reduction in violence. We’re not there and we’re not claiming to be there. We’ve seen incidents. I know that there’s been various reports about the numbers of incidents and violations that have been out there in the press. I’m not going to categorize or give a number to what we’ve seen except to say that we’ve seen incidents by both sides. And we need to do better, but it’s our consideration, our assessment up till now that it’s still continuing to hold largely and there’s been what we would deem a significant reduction in the level of violence.

QUESTION: So you’re comfortable with uneven as still the adjective to describe --

MR TONER: Well, we’re not – I don’t want to say – right. We’re comfortable in that it’s – in that there’s – in saying – I’m comfortable in saying that that’s the current state of play, that it’s not perfect, it’s not complete. But obviously I’m not comfortable with saying that that’s the goal here. The goal is a complete and nationwide cease – cessation.

QUESTION: Understood. My – last one, please.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: What exactly are you doing on your side to get, for lack of a better word, your guys in line and complying with the agreement?

MR TONER: Well, we are continuing – excuse me – with very close outreach to the opposition forces on the ground, trying to get them to adhere to what they agreed to adhere to, which is to pull back – to pull back from their positions where they’re in areas where Nusrah is operating. They need to pull out of those positions and they need to, obviously, abide by the cessation of hostilities. We’re almost hourly contact with them to work on issues as they arise, and then we’re going to continue to do that, because as I said before, that’s on us. We need to – it’s on us to convince the opposition, the moderate opposition to comply with the cessation.

QUESTION: Mark, I have a --

QUESTION: The use --


QUESTION: You say that “we” have an understanding of the situation that the violence is down but not all disappeared. Is – do you still share the opinion of the Russians? Do you have the same outlook on this or have your views begun to diverge? We’ve seen complaints from the Russian military that you haven’t done enough to rein in your rebels, as it were.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) No, I mean, look, we – two things. One is I want to be very clear that we’ve seen violations on both sides. Two, we also own that our responsibility in this agreement moving forward is to get the opposition to comply with it, just as we have been very clear that it is incumbent on Russia to convince the regime to comply with it. So far we haven’t – we’re not perfect on either side, so we want to get there, move towards it.

QUESTION: If the situation is like this in three days’ time, will you form the JIC?

MR TONER: So we haven’t seen the humanitarian access, and that’s a piece of this as well. So I’m not going to put a – say we’re at day two or day three on this. What I can say is that it continues to be our assessment, and I think Russia’s assessment as well, although Secretary Kerry and Lavrov – and Foreign Minister Lavrov haven’t spoken yet today – but it continues to be our assessment that this is worth pursuing, it’s worth continuing, that it’s – we’ve seen a significant reduction in violence. But we need to see the humanitarian access begin to take hold, because that’s an integral part of this. And then, again, if we get to seven days, then we can move forward with the JIC.

QUESTION: If we get to seven days, but you can’t tell us how far through seven days we are?

MR TONER: I don’t want to give that today.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, the French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, complained today that the French haven’t seen the detail of the document. Obviously we’ve asked for it here as well, and you’ve said that there are reasons why you don’t want to give the detail of the document. Is there a reason why your allies can’t see the document, and would you share it with them before an ISSG meeting so at least they know what they’re talking about?

MR TONER: So, in answer to your second question first, certainly we’ll be talking to all members of the ISSG who are in New York next week. I can’t formally announce there’s going to be an ISSG meeting next week yet, but certainly we’ll be talking to the other members of the ISSG in New York next week. And the topic of that conversation will be in large part walking them through the arrangement and making sure that they understand clearly and have a good comprehension and grasp of the arrangement. In response to your first part of your question, look, this was a – the text as it was worked out was a bilateral U.S.-Russia arrangement. And as such, we haven’t had the opportunity yet to fully share it with all members of the ISSG, but that’s our intent to do it.

QUESTION: So Mark, you said you’re going to be talking to all the members. That’s not the same as sharing the document with them, which is what they’re looking for.

MR TONER: I can’t say that we’ll share the full text of the document at this time, but we’ll certainly, obviously, be there to answer all their questions and to walk them through in great detail.

QUESTION: Why don’t you want to share the text with your allies? These are people that are --

MR TONER: I understand that.

QUESTION: Isn’t – aren’t they all part of the coalition against ISIS?

MR TONER: They are, they are. And I’m not ruling out that we won’t, I just can’t categorically say we will. But what I can categorically say is we’ll be sitting down with them next week in some shape or form. I can’t formally announce that the ISSG will be meeting yet, but we expect to be sitting down with each of them next week and walking them through in great detail the arrangement.

QUESTION: And Mark, on humanitarian aid.


QUESTION: Is this a deliberate – do you think that this is a deliberate effort by the Syrian Government to stop the aid or do you think it’s just the issue of this is a war, you’re trying to get the message through to the different parts of the country? What is that you really --

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, I honestly – I can’t say with complete certainty. It may be a little bit of the fog of war, but again, it’s – it needs to be dealt with and addressed before we can move on with the next stage of the agreement. And so it’s day one, okay; day two, okay, but a little bit more serious concern; now we’re in day three and we still haven’t seen this access really begin, so it’s of increasing concern.

QUESTION: Are you questioning whether the Russians really have that influence over the Syrian Government to persuade them to open up these corridors?

MR TONER: Corridors? Sorry, I didn’t mean to finish your question for you.


MR TONER: No, look, I mean, this agreement is based on our belief or our understanding that Russia is able to deliver with regard to the regime complying with the agreement, and that includes cessation of hostilities, but it also includes humanitarian assistance. I don’t have a clear understanding why that second piece of it has become or is – has been so difficult. But we expect that the Russians will be able to convince the regime to comply, whether it’s whatever logistical problems, fog of war – whatever it is, we need to see that assistance flow.

Yeah, Nick.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) just to go back to Lesley’s question.


QUESTION: I know Secretary Kerry had addressed this, but it still doesn’t feel like we’ve gotten a complete answer. What is it about this agreement that makes you not want to share it? I mean, we had the U.S.-Israel agreement yesterday; you come out with a fact sheet that sort of gives blow by blow what’s going on there. I know there are security issues to deal with, but it’s just so strange that we have this really big, important agreement and you’re not willing to share the text.

MR TONER: Well, a couple of things to say about that. One is that it’s – it is a bilateral arrangement. It is – it does deal with sensitive issues that we believe, if made public, could potentially be misused or misinterpreted or used by – I know Secretary Kerry talked about the spoilers or would-be spoilers of this – but also could put some of these opposition groups, moderate opposition groups, at risk.

But all that said, we have done our best both with the media but also with the other members of the ISSG to talk them through and answer their questions about the agreement or the arrangement, and we’re going to continue to do that. And at some point, we may very well make this thing public. It’s just we’re not at that point yet.

QUESTION: Do you regard --

QUESTION: Does that – does that --

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) as a would-be spoiler or is an enemy to the moderate opposition?

MR TONER: You’re talking about – I’m – I missed the first part.

QUESTION: The Government of France, is that a would-be spoiler?

MR TONER: No, of course not, of course not. And as I said, we’ll --

QUESTION: So those two --

MR TONER: As I said --

QUESTION: -- explanations don’t apply to --

MR TONER: I understand that.

QUESTION: -- to the question of the French foreign minister.

MR TONER: And I said that we’re obviously going to be sitting down with other members of the ISSG next week in New York walking them through in painstaking detail and answering every question they may have about the agreement.

QUESTION: Does that mean --

QUESTION: Would you object if Russia shared it with more people?

MR TONER: I mean, that’s ultimately a decision for Russia. I’m not going to speak on behalf of them.

QUESTION: But does that mean that you don’t trust the other members of the ISSG to keep this confidential?

MR TONER: Not at all, not at all, not at all. I just think we’re at a point now – and it’s true as well with our engagement with the opposition – it’s a complex agreement. We’re trying to lay it out as clearly and as fully as we feel we can given the sensitivities of parts of it or elements of it. But we’re working with the opposition and we’re working with the other members of the ISSG. And frankly, it’s in our interest that the other members of the ISSG understand – and we’ve been engaging with them on this – what this agreement’s about, because it’s – again, this hinges on their ability to convince the groups that they support within the moderate opposition.

QUESTION: Can you --

QUESTION: And just the last thing, does the --

MR TONER: Please, and I’ll --

QUESTION: Do the spoilers include the U.S. Defense Department?

MR TONER: No, that’s not at all what I meant and not at all what the Secretary meant.

QUESTION: Can you be – as generally as possible, what – because I know you – because to say it would give it away.

MR TONER: That’s okay.


MR TONER: What sensitive information --

QUESTION: What generally is the threat to the moderate opposition?

MR TONER: I think it has to do with what we talked about, within the designated area where some of these forces lie or where they’re located at. And we’ve even talked about this in terms of even with the Russians that we’ve been not fully sharing information until we get to the point where we’re setting up this Joint Implementation Center.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but this is the agreement beforehand, which the Russians already know. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: I understand that. I understand that.

QUESTION: Presumably they --

MR TONER: But I’m just saying that there’s – I understand that, but what I --

QUESTION: Okay. So when it does come out – this is my pledge to you, Mark – when it does come out, because it will --

MR TONER: Yeah. Yes, it will.

QUESTION: -- we’re going to go line by line through it. And I want to know, when we go through it line by line, what exactly was so sensitive --


QUESTION: -- that posed a threat to the opposition or that could have been used by spoilers.

MR TONER: Okay, okay.

QUESTION: Just one other --

MR TONER: Understood. I think Kirby’s briefing that day. (Laughter.) Sorry.

QUESTION: Have you – is there a deadline for this separation --

MR TONER: That’s right, perfect.

QUESTION: -- of al-Nusrah from opposition? Have you said to the moderate opposition what – is there a deadline for that, or is the deadline when the areas have been designated and if they’re not out of them, then they’re targets?

MR TONER: Well, once we declare and stand up the JIC, then that’s when, as we’ve laid out, that this joint coordination or joint effort to target Nusrah would begin. At that point, it’s incumbent on the moderate opposition, if they haven’t done so yet, to disengage with the – with areas – or the – from the areas where they’re with Nusrah or cohabitating with Nusrah.

QUESTION: So essentially, the deadline is once the JIC is ready to go; then if the moderate opposition is in the designated areas, they – they’ll be targeted.

MR TONER: Obviously, we want to see that sooner rather than in the eleventh hour for them to do that, but that would be the quote/unquote “deadline.”

QUESTION: Just one last thing.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: So you talked about the – on the humanitarian aid front about --


QUESTION: -- you don’t know whether it’s logistical problems or fog of war that’s holding this stuff up, but surely you have to take into account the possibility that the government, the Syrian Government just simply doesn’t want the aid to go through. And in that case, I mean, it sounds like – I mean, logistical reasons --

MR TONER: Well, in that case --

QUESTION: -- or fog of war seems like – seem like excuses.

MR TONER: No, but in that case – no, I’m not trying to deflect that in any way. In that case, that’s an integral part to the agreement and that would be a --

QUESTION: I mean, they didn’t sign on to it.

MR TONER: -- a possible deal breaker, but we’re not there.


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Yes, but I’m going to go with you first since I’ve --

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Could you give us a readout on the meetings that Deputy Secretary of State Blinken is having in Erbil today?

MR TONER: Yep, sure thing. Hold on one moment.

So as you said, he is in the Iraqi Kurdistan – Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken, Tony Blinken, is in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region today. He did meet with President Barzani and other senior regional government officials, and they continued discussions on efforts to, obviously, degrade and defeat Daesh and also support for – ongoing support for the Peshmerga. And as well they talked about the response to the urgent humanitarian IDP crises in Iraq. And finally, they also addressed ongoing preparations and cooperation between Baghdad and Erbil ahead of the liberation of Mosul.

QUESTION: I know that the Kurdish report – press reports are saying that President Barzani raised the issue of a post-ISIS Mosul, how it’s going to be politically governed and administered. Do you have any details on that?

MR TONER: I mean, I don’t other than what we’ve said always all along, which is that whenever these cities, towns, regions are liberated, what we want to see as quickly as possible – obviously, we want to see the area made safe, and that’s a huge challenge in many of these areas because there’s land mines and ongoing threats to citizens or civilians who may be returning. But the other thing is we want to see is services restored, government – local government restored. We want to see as quickly as possible structures put back in place that will allow civilians, those who have been displaced or those who’ve endured living there under ISIL control, be able to resume normal lives. So local governance is what we want to see back in place.

QUESTION: An emphasis on what the local people want?

MR TONER: That’s what I’m saying, yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.



MR TONER: Turkey and then you. Sorry.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: U.S. Ambassador John Bass has been under fire for his statement a couple days ago he issued regarding southeastern cities of Turkey recently taking from local government and giving to government-appointed trustees. And the U.S. ambassador issued a concerned statement. Do you have a comment regarding his situation in Turkey?

MR TONER: Regarding his situation in Turkey? Yeah. He remains our ambassador to Turkey, and I’d let his comments and statements speak for themselves. But obviously he enjoys the full confidence of the President and the Secretary of State.

QUESTION: So his statement regarding concern over these local government, most of them in southeastern of Turkey, taken as he is intervening Turkey’s internal affairs. There are Turkish ministers who came out to condemn his remarks or statement, including foreign minister and other ministers. What’s your response to this argument that he is intervening Turkey’s internal matters?

MR TONER: We would disagree. And again, his comments stand. We support his comments. And as we’ve said all along in our relationship with Turkey, where we do – and we have a strong relationship with Turkey obviously across many aspects, but when we do have disagreements with regard to human rights or the state of Turkey’s democracy, we feel we have a strong enough relationship to make those concerns public.

QUESTION: So you are saying this statement is not ambassador’s personal initiative? This is your government’s also?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, any time an ambassador speaks it’s on behalf of the U.S. Government.

QUESTION: So can we stay with the U.S. ambassadors in uproar for – or causing uproar, furor?

MR TONER: Okay. (Laughter.) Where’s that? Where’s the next one?

QUESTION: There’s two, actually; two others.


QUESTION: Maybe you’re not aware of them. Italy and Romania.

MR TONER: I believe I’m aware of --

QUESTION: Are you familiar with either of the situations?

MR TONER: Go ahead. I think I’m aware of the Italy --

QUESTION: I was going to ask this yesterday but we didn’t have time.



MR TONER: Why don’t you ask me the question first?

QUESTION: Well, I just want to know what you have to say about the situation with the – your ambassadors in Italy who’ve been (inaudible) --

MR TONER: With regard to our ambassador to Italy, Ambassador Phillips – I think you’re talking about comments he may have made about the – or he made, rather, about the referendum.


MR TONER: Well, I’m not going to parse his comments, which I understand were made at a think-tank event. But I will say that the United States solidly supports Italian efforts to streamline and modernize political institutions in Italy and put the country on a path to long-term political stability and economic growth.

QUESTION: All right. And you know – are you familiar with the issue in Romania, which is – yes?

MR TONER: Yes, I can go to that one next.

QUESTION: The flag, the photo.

MR TONER: Yeah, I do know what you’re talking about of – yeah. So as our – I think our embassy has already put out a statement about this. But Ambassador Klemm is our ambassador to all of Romania. He regularly travels throughout the country meeting with diverse groups from all parts of Romanian society. And as an ally and strategic partner of Romania, the United States supports and applauds Romania’s democracy and its efforts to consolidate democratic institutions with the full, equal participation of all segments of Romanian society.

QUESTION: So more broadly, that’s three ambassadors we’ve just gone through here who have --


QUESTION: -- who have been at the center of something. And then, of course, there is Ambassador Goldberg in the Philippines who was also recently the subject of a bit of controversy. Are you concerned at all that there seems to be a – I mean, this isn’t two – this isn’t the age-old saying two’s a trend. This is four now.

MR TONER: No, look, Matt. I mean, it is – and I think the Secretary would agree that our ambassadors, wherever they serve, are our frontline diplomats. We want them to be as engaged on the issues that are in our interest and in the interest of human rights and the ideals that we hold dear as a nation as they can possibly be. And if that’s being out there within the population or working with different segments of the societies or speaking on where they see or have concerns, speaking out about those concerns, we support them fully.


MR TONER: Yep. In the back.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. Tejinder, I can go to you, I promise. Yeah, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Didn’t mean to slight you, sir.


MR TONER: Yeah, and we got – so 10 minutes. Go.

QUESTION: Okay. So the first question is – I have just two questions. One is the Senator Warner and along with another senator has written a letter to Secretary Kerry about the Guardian, this system, aircraft system sale to India. The question is: Has the Secretary received the letter? Has he responded? I know you won’t talk about the sale and all that, but has he received the letter? Has he responded?

MR TONER: So I’m not sure – I can’t confirm that he’s received the letter. We will get an answer for you on that because we can do that.


MR TONER: But like any piece of congressional correspondence, once we do, we would obviously assess it and respond accordingly.

QUESTION: I was just wondering because it says here that – I have the copy of the letter, September 2nd, and today is 15.

MR TONER: I just can’t --

QUESTION: So how long it takes to travel --

MR TONER: I’m sure it’s a matter of days, if not a day, but I just don’t have confirmation that we’ve received it and the Secretary has read it.

QUESTION: And the second question is I had earlier asked about – there’s a delegation of Indian members of parliament visiting Washington, D.C. I had asked about their – if they are going to visit this – have a meeting with this building people. And nothing has come to date, so have you --

MR TONER: This is a – I’m sorry. I apologize. What is --

QUESTION: An Indian – a delegation from the Indian parliament, members of parliament, is in town. I was told that – there were two questions. Who is paying for it? That they clarified that U.S. is not paying. And the second: Was there meetings in this building?

MR TONER: Let me take that and get back to you.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: I have a question.

MR TONER: Just quickly, and then I’ll get back --

QUESTION: Do you want to go ahead?

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

QUESTION: I have a few questions on Afghanistan. The president of Afghanistan is asking Pakistan to include India in the transit trade agreement. I am asking this question because this agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan was signed as a result of tough negotiations done by late Ambassador Holbrooke. At that time India was not included in the agreement. Now Afghanistan is asking that India should be included so that it can import --

MR TONER: So you’re talking about – I apologize. You’re talking about a meeting with – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: I’m talking about Afghanistan’s – Afghanistan is asking about including India in the transit trade agreement it has with Pakistan.

MR TONER: With Pakistan.


MR TONER: And what our position is on that?

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah.

MR TONER: I would just say, speaking broadly, that we would support stronger trade relations within the region. And we’ve long said that it’s a priority for the United States at least, but it should be a priority for the countries in the region to all work more cooperatively and constructively together. And a trade agreement would be part of that.

QUESTION: So do you – you support Afghanistan’s viewpoint that India should be included in that --

MR TONER: I think we would encourage, as I said, stronger trade relations between all the countries of the region.


QUESTION: At the same time, Afghanistan has also said that if India is not included, Pakistan denies (inaudible), it will deny Pakistan the right to transit its goods to Central Asia through Afghanistan. How --

MR TONER: Well, look, those are – I’m not going to weigh in on the negotiations between – bilateral negotiation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan is a sovereign country and it has its own rights – it has rights to make its own decisions with regard to who it decides to allow trade relations with. But broadly speaking, again, it’s in the interests of the region, it’s been a consistent goal of ours strategically to promote stronger relations between all the countries.


QUESTION: I have one more quickly. President of Afghanistan was in New Delhi meeting Prime Minister Modi this week, and India has announced 1 billion aid to Afghanistan. What do you say about that? Do you have any thoughts on it?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, this is something – we obviously support India’s generosity and focus on Afghanistan and willingness to help Afghanistan become a stronger, independent country that has the stronger economic growth, certainly, but also has the capacity to defend itself and provide for the security of its people. The fact that India is willing to invest in that future we view as a very positive sign and we appreciate India’s effort.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Please, Nike.

QUESTION: Quickly on Libya, do you have anything on the --



MR TONER: Libya, okay.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the report put together by a panel of British lawmakers in which it’s saying that the military intervention by Britain in 2011 is based on, quote, “erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding?” First of all, I would like to get your take on that.

MR TONER: Well, so we’ve talked a little bit about this. I know that there was – our own President, President Obama, made some remarks in an interview he gave several months ago talking about how after the fall of Qadhafi, there wasn’t enough done in the immediate aftermath of his downfall to help Libya become secure, to help it – a new government get on its feet, and those were errors, I guess, in the sense that we didn’t do enough. And that obviously includes the United States but obviously other partners as well, including the UK – that we weren’t there when – that immediate aftermath to provide Libya with the support that it needed at that juncture to deal with the continued security concerns it had and security situation that it had on the ground.

But let’s look at where we are today and the effort that’s been made to establish a political party and a government, a new government that is able to begin to build the institutions that will provide for Libya’s security and provide economic prosperity to Libya. So I think we recognize that, again, in the immediate aftermath of Qadhafi’s downfall, not enough was done to secure Libya and to help the new government stand on its feet. But since we’ve – since that time, there has been tremendous focus, and certainly Secretary Kerry has led many of these efforts in order to set up a new government – the GNA – but also to go after and help it cope with threats from ISIL and really consolidate power within Libya.

What we need to see more progress on is exactly that. We need to help the government stand alone as the legitimate government of Libya and we need all the various sects and parties to come together underneath that government. And only then can the GNA provide for Libya’s long-term security.


QUESTION: Because --

MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll get – I promise. I promise --

QUESTION: Because U.S. also took part in the bombing. So are you saying that the report find – found by those British lawmakers are correct?

MR TONER: I’m not sure. I haven’t read the full report. What I was told was that it pointed or had concerns about the fact that not enough was done in the immediate aftermath of Qadhafi’s downfall to support Libya. Now, if that’s my – if that’s not correct, I’m not sure what else you’re pointing to out of that report.

QUESTION: Are you seconding the finding that the intervention is based on erroneous assumptions and incomplete understanding?

MR TONER: The intervention that – to stop Qadhafi?

QUESTION: The intervention – yeah.

MR TONER: Not at all, and we’ve spoken very strongly about that. I mean, we had, at the time, statements that Qadhafi was making that he was going to go into various cities that were held by – or rebel-held cities, that he was going to hunt people down like dogs from house to house and kill them. Basically, he was predicting or pledging that he would carry out mass killings. And so based on that, we had every right, we believe – the international community – to do what we did, which was carry out airstrikes.

QUESTION: Mark, we --

QUESTION: Of course, Assad said the same thing.

MR TONER: Yes, he has essentially said – well, he’s made many of the same threats, but --

QUESTION: And he actually carried them out.

MR TONER: Well, we acted before Qadhafi was able to carry those out, but --

QUESTION: Right. But you didn’t act in Syria.

MR TONER: Well, we’ve got a plan in place for Syria that we’re trying to – anyway, last question.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, Mark, we have a story on the wire saying that Tom Shannon met with a Houthi team in Oman this week with a proposal on Yemen. Can you confirm that, that he was actually in Muscat and presented a U.S. proposal to them and that they’re going to go back to Sana’a with this proposal to discuss it?

MR TONER: Sure. What I can say is – and certainly Deputy Secretary Shannon is at the forefront of this. But these efforts to get a cessation of hostility in place in Yemen – and that does include, obviously, convincing the Houthis to abide by that cessation of hostilities as well as – and you saw we put out a statement about this I guess last week – that Saudi Arabia would also be on board, as long as the Houthis lived up to the same requirements or the same standards.

QUESTION: So was he there this week?

MR TONER: I can’t confirm his travel. That’s why my second part of my answer was --


MR TONER: -- I can’t confirm that this meeting actually took place, but we’ll try to get you that confirmation.

QUESTION: And is this the same proposal that John Kerry was discussing with the Saudis a few weeks back?

MR TONER: It is part of the same effort.


QUESTION: Two things on this. Isn’t it under secretary?

MR TONER: Did I say – I apologize. Under Secretary Tom Shannon.

QUESTION: And you can’t confirm his travel, but can you confirm that he was, in fact, in this building yesterday signing the MOU with the Israelis?

MR TONER: Yes. Yes, he was, but she said last week.

QUESTION: I know, but --

MR TONER: Okay. Yeah, I can. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:47 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Wed, 09/14/2016 - 16:20

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 14, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:21 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: All right, I don’t have anything at the top. So I will turn myself to your questions.

QUESTION: Okay, Syria. Let’s start with Syria.


QUESTION: Russians have today, once again, complained that the opposition is not respecting the cessation of hostilities and that you guys, meaning the Americans, and your partners are not doing enough to, one, stop them from firing; and two, to not doing enough to get the guys that you support to get away from Nusrah – well, what was Nusrah. So, I’m just curious how you respond to that.

MR TONER: Sure. Well, I can start off by saying that the Secretary did speak with Foreign Minister Lavrov earlier today. It was – I guess I would describe it as a signals check, where we stand in terms of the cessation of hostilities and the seven days that’s required before we move to the next stage. And I think there was agreement between the two of them that as a whole, despite sporadic reports of violence, as a whole the arrangement is holding and violence is, I’d say, significantly lower in comparison to previous days and weeks.

I’m not – I can also just add that as part of their conversation, they agreed to discuss and agreed to extend the cessation for another 48 hours, obviously with the goal being that this would last seven days and then we would move, as I said, to the next step, which is the establishment of the JIC.

In response to your question on who’s responsible and some of the comments we’ve seen out of Russia, I – we are not going to be in the habit of saying, this many, this many. We’ve seen violations by both sides. I’m not going to give a – attach a number to each side, but we’ve seen violations by both sides. And look, we’ve always been clear, just as we have said that Russia’s responsibility is to exert influence or put pressure – however you want to put it – on the regime to abide by the cessation of hostilities, it is incumbent on us to persuade, convince the moderate opposition to also abide by the cessation of hostilities, and ultimately, that’s a decision they’re going to have to make.

So we’re going to – we’re continuing to monitor this very closely. We’re continuing our outreach to the Syrian moderate opposition – that’s been ongoing – and trying to explain the arrangement to them, answer their questions. And again, we’ve seen, as I said, sporadic reports of violence, but in large part we think it’s holding.

QUESTION: Okay. So that means that you have not seen enough of – I don’t know if “enough” is the right word. You haven’t seen anything that would cause the clock to reset on the seven days?

MR TONER: Right. Right. We would say it’s broadly holding --

QUESTION: So you’re in --

MR TONER: -- and worth – and for the – and we want to see that continue, the status quo continue.

QUESTION: So we can say we’re in day two now of the seven; is that right?

MR TONER: Well, I mean – so that’s a completely fair question, and the answer I’m going to give you is probably not satisfying, but as we talked a little bit about yesterday, the other component we need to see and, frankly, we haven’t seen yet, is the humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: Right. And so then this may not be enough to count as day two what you have seen so far, right?

MR TONER: Right. So we continue – as I said, we continue to closely consult with the Russians to work towards and assess where we’re at in terms of the cessation of hostilities. I think what I can say is that we agree that it’s worth extending this and moving forward.

QUESTION: Is there a way to catch up, so to speak, on aid deliveries to make up for the fact that there wasn’t unimpeded access yesterday and so far today?

MR TONER: Sure. I – and again, that’s a good question as well. I think with – in terms of humanitarian access, we want to see obviously the absolute goal here is full, unimpeded access to all besieged areas. We don’t – what we want to see over the next seven days is increasing access. We don’t need to hit 100 percent – six days, sorry.

QUESTION: Wait, wait, can I follow up on this?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Because this is something that I had raised with you last night and I don’t feel like we’ve gotten a clear answer on it.


QUESTION: You – having read what the Secretary said in Geneva carefully and then again released in Washington, if the standard for moving to set up the JIC is seven days of both reduced violence and increased humanitarian access, then as I understand it right now you’re at day zero counting toward that goal, because there’s been no significant increase in the humanitarian access. Correct?

MR TONER: I’d say we have yet to see a marked increase in humanitarian deliveries. And I think Staffan de Mistura spoke about this yesterday. It was a convoy of some 20 countries he mentioned that were unable to get access yet.


MR TONER: So absolutely. So --

QUESTION: So you’re at day zero?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t – I apologize, but I don’t want to get into “it’s day zero, it’s day one.” We’re about to go to day two. What I would say --

QUESTION: But you set these – but you set these markers, Mark. You set the markers. I think it’s incumbent on you to explain to us --


QUESTION: -- since you set the markers yourself to explain in a reasonable fashion what they are. I mean, what he said, assuming it’s correct, is both increased – decreased violence and increased access.

MR TONER: So the markers --

QUESTION: You haven’t had any increased access as I understand it. Right?

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: And last I heard that --

MR TONER: I just said that.

QUESTION: -- yeah, right. And the – right. So in fact, unless you’re playing games here, I think you’re at day zero. Right? Because you want both.

MR TONER: Again, I’m just not going to – I’m not going to say it’s day zero, it’s day one and a half, it’s day one. What I am going to say – and I’ve said before – is – and you’re absolutely right, it’s a twofold deal here. We’ve got to see sustained reduction in violence and we have to see humanitarian access. We haven’t seen the humanitarian access yet, so we’re still continuing to assess this. We’re talking to the Russians. We’re looking at this. We’re pressuring them to pressure the Assad regime. But at this point what I will say is from what we’ve seen thus far, it’s worth continuing, it’s worth extending this and moving forward.

QUESTION: I get that. One more.


QUESTION: Is it correct that you need to see both for seven consecutive days, or not?

MR TONER: In terms of the reduction of violence, yes. In terms of the humanitarian access, I don’t want to hold up that marker as full, complete humanitarian access. But what we want to see is increased humanitarian access over the course --

QUESTION: Over seven days.

MR TONER: -- over the course of the seven-day period. So I guess my answer to Matt’s question, which he said “Can you catch up” – absolutely. We can make up that by allowing these trucks to get in to deliver foodstuff and humanitarian assistance to these besieged areas, and every day after that by increasing those deliveries. But we haven’t seen it yet.

QUESTION: So it’s not seven days then.

QUESTION: But now you just said over the course of seven days. So in other words, if all of a sudden, I don’t know, every single aid delivery that had been held up during the course of the first six days, if every single one of those is delivered on the seventh day, then it would still be okay? Then you would create the JIC?

MR TONER: No. Again --

QUESTION: See, the problem is --


QUESTION: -- is that when you set out seven days as the deadline for two things to happen --


QUESTION: -- I think that Arshad’s right, that it’s incumbent on you guys to say whether or not you have hit day one or day two, or – I mean, it sounds like you’re not going to be prepared even on day five or the fifth day of this to say whether or not things have gone in. So in fact, it’s not really a seven days where you need to see both, because one of them, the aid, could all happen on the last two days or the last day and it would be all right. Is that correct?

MR TONER: Again, I think I would just say, it’s – what we’re looking for is increased humanitarian access, not full-stop, complete, and nationwide, sustained humanitarian access, although that’s the ultimate goal. And as I said at the start, I know that my answer in terms of where we are with regard to the seven days is going to be unsatisfying. But I think that’s part of what we’re trying to assess and continue to assess – working with Russia, getting input, looking at the number of violations and where these – any of these violations constitute one egregious enough to pause it or to reset the clock, as we talked about yesterday. Again, Secretary Kerry spoke with Lavrov this morning. They agreed that it’s worth continuing. It’s not necessarily a – I’d say a clean process in the terms of judging this. I think we’re trying to look at all the variables here and assess this going forward. I hope at some point to be able to say, “Yeah, we’re close or we’re day five or we’re day seven and we reached it,” honestly, but I don’t want to get into like a daily count.

QUESTION: But Mark --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- if you’re – I mean, I understand – and you just said it’s not necessarily a clean process, and I understand maybe you want to maintain some ambiguity about precisely what you want so that you can plant a flag and declare victory after seven days even if you haven’t gotten seven days of both. But if that’s the case, right – if you’re willing to kind of bend or move the goalposts, right – what incentive do the people on the other side of the table have to actually meet what you really want? I mean, if you’re not going to hold to it, if you’re not going to say, “Yeah, we want seven days of reduced violence, yeah, we want seven days of increased humanitarian access, no, we’re not catching up, we really want to see this,” then what incentive do – does – why shouldn’t the government and the Russians play games with you since you’re not holding firm on what you said you wanted, which was seven days of both?

MR TONER: Sure. So a couple of thoughts, and that’s a completely valid point to make, Arshad. One is that we always anticipated there’d be an uneven start to this, and we said as much and the Secretary said as much. And it has been – it has not been 100 percent reduction in violence, but it has been what we would deem or assess to be a significant reduction in violence, significant enough to keep this moving forward. In terms of what incentive is on – is there for the other side, if you will, to keep up with this, we have always said that at a certain point we’re going to walk away from this if we don’t feel that it’s in our interests. Now, we’re not there yet, but we’re not going to keep letting them or let anyone move the goalposts on us.

And again, ultimately, this is a matter for not just the regime, although last time with the cessation of hostilities, as we said, it was mostly on the regime side – they were carrying out airstrikes that led to the deterioration of the cessation of hostilities – but it is incumbent on both sides; it’s incumbent on the moderate opposition to live up to this too. So what we’ve seen the last 24 hours, a little bit more than 24 hours, a good, substantial reduction in violence and a period of calm. We want to see that move forward. We’re continuing to talk to the Russians, assess it. We need to see much more in the terms of humanitarian assistance; we’re not there yet.

So that’s why I don’t want to say, “Yeah, this is day one but not on the humanitarian assistance.” I’ll try to get a closer and a better read for you tomorrow, but we’re just kind of – we – I understand that the two tracks are not moving concurrently in perfect --

QUESTION: And the problem is you don’t --


QUESTION: It’s not that you’re moving the – well, you could argue that you are moving the goalposts, but you’re now not even willing to state what the goalposts are, that they are in fact seven days of both.

MR TONER: Well, again, I’d say we have been very clear that we wanted to see both a reduction in violence and increased access for humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: For seven days?

MR TONER: Again, I think over a seven-day period we want to see that increase, but we certainly don’t want to – we didn’t expect, to be perfectly honest, to see full and unimpeded humanitarian access from day – from hour one.

QUESTION: Can I ask a couple just very simple things?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Have you seen airstrikes by the Syrian Government in the last --

MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that was a question. Sorry, you caught me mid-gulp.

QUESTION: Have you seen airstrikes by the Syrian Government?

MR TONER: I’ll say we’ve seen – what I can say is we’ve seen --

QUESTION: (Sneezing.)

MR TONER: God bless you, sorry.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: We’ve seen violations on both sides.

QUESTION: Right, but that doesn’t address whether the violations are airstrikes or something else.

MR TONER: I’ll have to look into that. I don’t know if I can clarify that there are airstrikes or not.

QUESTION: And then the last one for me on this --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: I want to see if I can understand what is the ultimate – Secretary Kerry said on Monday that the Syrian Government would not be obliged under the agreement to cease flying over defined agreed areas until joint U.S.-Russian strikes have begun – not until you began setting up the JIC, not until the JIC was up and running, but until there have actually been airstrikes, joint U.S.-Russian airstrikes. Is that correct?

MR TONER: Until – yes, until that – those – that coordinated airstrikes have begun.

QUESTION: Okay. So that means that the Syrian Government, as I understand it – and please correct me wrong – is free to – as of right now, it can strike Nusrah anywhere it wants, correct?

MR TONER: So the only caveat to that is exactly what we’ve just spent the last ten minutes talking about, which is we need to see a period of reduced violence.


MR TONER: And what we’ve seen consistently over the past weeks and months is that the regime airstrikes are hitting moderate opposition. Now, they claim to be going after Nusrah. So we need – we can’t see that kind of – that would be – I think, on a steady basis that would be a, quote/unquote, “deal breaker.”

QUESTION: But right now they’re allowed to hit Nusrah. As long as they’re not hitting the moderate opposition, they’re allowed to hit Nusrah, correct?

MR TONER: That’s my understanding, yes.

QUESTION: Yes. And so they are allowed to continue to hit al-Nusrah, to fly anywhere they want and to hit al-Nusrah, all the way up until the joint airstrikes start, which is when then they have to stop --

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- flying in the defined area --

MR TONER: In the designated area, yes.


QUESTION: Mark, a follow-up.



QUESTION: Yesterday the senior Administration official said that only Nusrah and ISIS were fair game for targeting and strikes and so on. What about the other 21 groups that said they will not abide by the ceasefire? Are they also fair game? Are they also – will they be targeted by either the JIC or by the Syrian regime --

MR TONER: Sure. Right now it’s – right now it’s Nusrah and ISIS. And thank you for – because I was a little bit fuzzy on that yesterday, so actually, just let me finish. So I said – somebody asked me – I can’t remember who yesterday – is it just Nusrah who can be targeted by joint U.S. and – or coordinated U.S. and Russia strikes. I said I thought it was just Nusrah. That was incorrect. It’s Nusrah and ISIL targets, so just for the record. For the record it’s --

QUESTION: Nusrah and ISIS. But you also have 21 other groups that they said they don’t recognize the hudna, the cessation --

MR TONER: Who said this? I’m sorry? You’re quoting --

QUESTION: Twenty-one groups. Twenty-one groups. They issued a statement. There are 21 opposition groups that they said will – they will not abide by the – there are tens, dozens of groups. So they said they will not abide by the ceasefire, or hudna in Arabic; they will continue to strike against the regime; they will continue in their fight to bring whatever Islamic state into Syria. What about these groups? Are they to be targeted by the regime and it’s fine if they do? Is it fine? Are we likely to see – in seven days or when your joint operations begin, are we likely to see those groups are being targeted? And who is the moderate opposition that you keep alluding to?

MR TONER: So, Said, to answer your questions to the best of my ability, right now the focus is on getting the moderate opposition – and you know who the designated moderate opposition is; we’ve talked about it before – to abide by the cessation of hostilities. Ultimately, this is self-selection and we’ve talked about this before as well. If the regime or the – certain groups within the moderate opposition don’t comply with the cessation of hostilities, then they’ve identified themselves as not a part of it.

We’re not there yet. What the focus is on right now is getting the sustained period to seven days, and then at that point setting up the JIC, the Joint Implementation Center, and then coordinating – and this will be done, I understand, pretty quickly. We talked about this yesterday but I got a little bit more clarity on this. It’s not going to be a matter of days or weeks. They’re going to begin this very quickly, realizing the urgency of the situation. But once those coordinated strikes begin, then the regime will have to abide by its obligation to not fly in that designated area.

Now, you talked about this large group of opposition who we said the other day we’ve not seen any opposition party say it would not abide by this agreement. I think there’s a lot of rhetoric out there right now. I can tell you that our special envoy, Michael Ratney, who works very closely with the moderate Syrian opposition, is in touch with them and working very closely with them to explain the details of this and to convince them to support it. We understand that’s our responsibility in this, just as we call on Russia to be – to exert its influence on the regime.

Likewise, within the ISSG we call on Turkey, we call on Saudi Arabia, other members of the ISSG to exert what influence they have on the various parties on the ground. It is, in a sense, incumbent on the stakeholders. This whole thing rests on our ability to exert that kind of influence on the various players on the ground. But we believe that all sides here recognize that this is, as imperfect as it is, an opportunity to get us to the next level.

QUESTION: Has there been any push by some of your allies to include al-Nusrah as part of the cessation of hostilities – your allies in the Gulf, maybe Saudi Arabia and so on?

MR TONER: No, not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: And my last question --


QUESTION: Regarding what the Secretary said today, he said that this is a last chance to keep Syria united. Could you elaborate on this? What does – he meant by that?

MR TONER: I mean, he also said, I think it was in an interview he did with --


MR TONER: -- NPR, National Public Radio. I mean, he also spoke about the fact that this is – and he said this last week in Geneva – this is an opportunity. It’s not a done deal. It’s not a fait accompli. But the alternative is to allow the situation, the current situation, to worsen. You’ve got 450,000-some Syrian civilians who have been killed in the fighting. That’s only going to grow exponentially, and Aleppo will continue to fester and be besieged and possibly be overrun. So, frankly, the alternatives – and that’s something that we’ve made very clear to the moderate opposition – are not in anyone’s favor, not the regimes favor and not the moderate opposition’s favor and certainly not the Syrian people’s favor.


MR TONER: Please, Michel.

QUESTION: News reports talked about differences between --

MR TONER: Whose – I missed the first part of your question, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: News reports talked --

MR TONER: News reports, got it. Sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah, talked about differences between the State Department and the Pentagon regarding this agreement and especially that the Pentagon refuses to coordinate with Russia. To what extent you are on the same page with the Pentagon on this agreement?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think – and the Secretary spoke about this yesterday – what really matters here is that the President of the United States supports this agreement, and our system of government works in such a way that everyone follows what the President says.

QUESTION: They don’t have to be happy about it.

MR TONER: I think, though, that that’s being --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Sorry, just to finish my question – or finish my response, though. I think also, though, I think maybe the interagency differences of opinion are being overplayed a little bit in the sense that I don’t think that anyone in the U.S. Government is necessarily taking at face value Russia’s or certainly not the Syrian regime’s commitment to this arrangement. Just to the contrary, we’ve tried to work into this process signals checks and ways that we can monitor whether it’s really being implemented in the way that we’ve agreed to implement it.

So it’s not that the State Department is on one side and the Department of Defense on another. I also think some of the comments from the Department of Defense were just about speaking to the fact that there’s logistical challenges of setting up the JIC and coordinating these joint or these – coordinating these airstrikes – not joint – and that’s going to require additional effort and additional time. So I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: That means there are differences between the State Department and the Pentagon regarding this agreement?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to – I think that’s --

QUESTION: You say that the President agrees on this agreement. You didn’t say that the Pentagon agreed on this agreement too.

MR TONER: I think there’s – and I’ll leave it here. I think there’s, again, skepticism on the part of many people within the interagency and within the U.S. Government, but that’s to be expected. What’s important is that we continue to try to implement this agreement to the best of our ability. And part of the agreement is built on not just blind trust in the Russians’ actions but on the fact that we expect to see the Russian and – Russia and the regime comply with the agreement.

QUESTION: My second and last question.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Russia has said today that they need to release the content of the agreement, and the Syrian opposition is asking the U.S. to release this agreement. Why are you still saying that you don’t want to release it?

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, we’re talking about that, and I said yesterday we’re continuing to assess whether we’re going to release it or whether we might release aspects of it or – not aspects of it, pieces of it or parts of it. We understand it’s an extremely complex agreement and we’ve tried our best, even through doing a couple backgrounders with some of the senior Administration officials who have worked closely on this agreement – we’re doing our best to explain what is, I think everyone agrees, is a very complex agreement. And we’ll continue to look at whether it’s in everyone’s interest to release the agreement in full or partially redacted or however. We haven’t made that decision yet.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Please, Nike.

QUESTION: Yes, can we move on quickly?

QUESTION: Can I ask one on Syria then follow --


QUESTION: Are there any plans to use the opportunity of UNGA to get an ISSG meeting together?

MR TONER: Looking at that, and that’s under discussion. And certainly, as you note, it’s an opportunity; everybody’s there. So nothing formally to announce, but definitely looking at it.

QUESTION: Yeah, Belarus. After the --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Oh, I’m sorry, he’s had – one more on Syria. I’ll get to you, Nike. I promise.

QUESTION: Do you know if Jabhat al-Nusrah ever committed any terrorism against the United States? The Syrian Jabhat al-Nusrah, the branch of al-Qaida.

MR TONER: Sure. So Nusrah Front is obviously part of the al-Qaida umbrella terrorist organization. And while it has committed, obviously, to ousting Assad, it also is committed to expanding its reach globally and regionally, and that is consistent with al-Qaida’s longstanding approach. So we’ve also seen that Nusrah Front leaders maintain the intent to conduct eventual attacks in and against the West, and there is increasing concern about their ability to conduct these kinds of external operations. And we would also note that they’ve had – in the past, they’ve held – kidnapped and held at least one American hostage. But, so in answer to your question is we believe their intent is to carry out eventually – if they’re able to establish the ability to do so, to carry out attacks against the West.

QUESTION: You still make a distinction between the so-called Khorasan group and the bulk of Jabhat al-Nusrah. The Khorasan group has been targeted before and – by U.S. strikes and has been described as the Khorasan group, but other people regard it as part and parcel of al-Nusrah. Is that one of the reasons why you regard them as terrorists?

MR TONER: I’ll have to check on whether we’ve changed our – I don’t think we have. Yeah.

Please, Nike.

QUESTION: Quickly, Belarus: After the parliamentary election in – on September 11, the State Department issued a statement saying that strengthening the democracy in Belarus will pave the way for better relations between these two. Now, my question for you is: Is there any plan or any discussion to exchange ambassadors between Minsk and Washington? Because the president of Belarus is saying that both country have agreed to do so. Can you confirm that?

MR TONER: So to answer your last question first, I’m aware of some of those comments. We do have increased bilateral engagement with Belarus on a range of issues, but I don’t have anything to announce in terms of re-establishing an ambassador there.

But more generally, taking a step back, we do welcome the peaceful conduct of their September 11th parliamentary elections, recognize – we recognize that there’s been improvements – limited in scope, but improvements in the electoral process. And we also would note that we’ve seen alternative voices that will now be represented in the parliament for the first time in 12 years.

That was the pros. The cons are that elections still fell short of Belarus’s international obligations and commitments to free and fair elections, and that was detailed in the OSCE/ODIHR report or statement, as well as, I think, Council of Europe also had an observation mission there on the ground.

So we’re reviewing the entire process, including pre-election or the run-up to the election, election day, and the post-election period, to assess how it will affect our bilateral relations going forward.

So I guess to cut to the chase, we’ve seen some improvements, and that always allows us to increase incrementally our bilateral engagement with Belarus, but we’re not quite there yet. But we continue to see positive signs.

QUESTION: So I guess is there any implication one way or the other on the 2006 sanction regime? Any discussion to review that?

MR TONER: Well, so those sanctions – that sanctions regime are tied to issues of democracy and human rights in Belarus, and if Belarus does take what we assess to be significant steps in those areas, the U.S. will look at providing additional sanctions relief. Again, I don’t have anything – announced today, but if – conversely, if Belarus takes actions contrary to its international obligations and commitments, then we also retain the flexibility to increase those sanctions or to revoke sanctions relief.

So I think we’re continuing to assess this day by day, week by week. The parliamentary elections we believe showed some promise, but we need to see more.

QUESTION: Final question --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- before the 2 o’clock signing MOU, could you address some criticisms from the Congress for one Senator Graham, who told VOA that the MOU is not binding on Congress and that he is planning to introduce legislation that would have a supplemental appropriation for Israel? Could you address some of the criticism?

MR TONER: Well, I certainly can’t speak to what Congress may or may not do in terms of the MOU, and I can’t say a lot about the MOU signing because there’s going to, as you alluded to or you mentioned in your question, there’s going to be a ceremony at 2:00 p.m., so we actually – we should probably wrap this up. But we did announce, as you all saw yesterday, that the United States has concluded a new 10-year memorandum of understanding with Israel on security assistance, and that’ll span Fiscal Years 2019 I think through 2028. This is a sign of our unshakeable, ongoing commitment to Israel’s security, and it constitutes the single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in U.S. history and includes both foreign military financing, as well as an unprecedented multiyear commitment of missile defense funding. So this is no small matter here; this is a significant pledge to ongoing security cooperation to the state of Israel. But I’m not going to get into – there’s going to be others speaking momentarily about the upcoming event.

QUESTION: Iraq? Iraq?

QUESTION: Really quick, just follow-up – a really quick follow-up.

MR TONER: Really quick follow-up and then David.

QUESTION: Yeah, quick follow-up on that.

MR TONER: Yeah, quick.

QUESTION: Okay. Is it really necessary at this time to give Israel almost $40 billion worth of arms when it’s really prosperous, the state is prosperous; it is not threatened by anyone; it is more powerful, has military superiority over any combination and so on, at a time when these funds could go, let’s say, to infrastructures that are crumbling and so on, on the principle of it? I mean, Israel has an arms industry – an export arms industry that is very healthy and very viable and so on. Why is it necessary at this particular juncture to give Israel $40 billion worth of arms at a time when it does not need it?

MR TONER: I think it speaks to our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s long-term security in a region where we assess and Israel certainly assesses that it continues to be under threat. And again, others will speak to this momentarily more articulately and eloquently than I could, but our relationship with Israel is based on many issues and many areas of common cause, but one of those is a commitment to Israel’s security.

Please, David.

QUESTION: Could I please --

QUESTION: This sum comes out of foreign military financing, which is a --

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- which is a fixed envelope. So given that this is going to be bigger than it was before, who’s losing out?

MR TONER: What do you mean? For who’s not in the – who’s getting --

QUESTION: Given that a greater proportion of this fixed envelope --

MR TONER: Who are we taking from Peter to pay Paul is what you’re actually asking me.


MR TONER: I don’t have specifics on that. I’ll take the question.

QUESTION: That was a very nice biblical reference.

MR TONER: Thanks, guys. I really do have to cut it off because it’s at two.

QUESTION: Could I ask just one question? I’ve been sitting here.

QUESTION: Do you know what the oceans conference costs?

MR TONER: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Do you know what the oceans conference costs?

MR TONER: Oh, I don’t, and I will get you – I’ll get you an answer for that, or I’ll try to. But we looked into that, and part of the problem is – couple quick points to make, and then I know we’ve got to step down. So one of this is – this is – this conference, Our Oceans conference, is back to back with the AGOA, the African Growth and Opportunity Act conference, so in a sense they’re sharing some of the physical facilities for both conferences. So we’re trying to disaggregate and get a clean assessment of what one or the other costs.

But the other thing is that – the other couple points I could make and Catherine Novelli, Cathy Novelli, Under Secretary Novelli spoke to is there’s been a lot of cost sharing that’s gone into this. We are in fact doing it on site here at the Harry S. Truman Building, so that’s a money-saving thing, but also there’s a lot of public and private partnerships involved in this. For example, we’re doing an event in Georgetown, National Geographic’s heavily involved. So there’s a lot of, again, private enterprises or private companies, organizations stepping in to also host events.

And then the other thing is – worth mentioning is the billions of dollars that this has – that these conferences, now the third one, have engendered on the part of the nations and governments participating in them.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) in what it costs and how much comes out of --

MR TONER: Yeah, I get it. (Laughter.) Sorry, that was an overly long answer to your question.

QUESTION: Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 1:58 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 09/13/2016 - 15:23

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

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1:22 p.m. EDT

SECRETARYSSCHEDULE">MR TONER: And I know we weren’t able to answer all your questions about bilats or about possible other discussions, as you mentioned, about – concerning Syria and other – I think all this will take shape over the next few days, so just bear with us.

QUESTION: Are you going to announce them piecemeal or will there be another meeting like this with more details?

MR TONER: We’ll probably put out, for planning purposes only, a media note. But we’ll also – as we get closer to Saturday we’ll let you know what the set-in-stone bilats are.



QUESTION: Really, there isn’t a single one that’s set in stone right now? I just – I don’t believe that.

MR TONER: You find that hard to believe? Well --

QUESTION: No, no, I don’t find it hard to believe. I find it impossible to believe. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: When we have something to announce, as you’ve often heard, then we’ll announce it.

Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: You don’t have anything to start with? How about a preview of the upcoming General Assembly session? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: Check.

QUESTION: Yeah. So as your previous briefer just said, yes, the Secretary did speak quite a bit about the Syria deal yesterday. Unfortunately, not all of it was 100 percent accurate, apparently. I have a couple of questions.


QUESTION: I just want to see how far – how much more we can clarify what this deal does and what it doesn’t do --


QUESTION: -- if, in fact, we get to seven days of reduced violence.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: So the first question is: Under the terms of the deal, as everyone knows, if there is this seven days of reduced violence, the U.S. and Russia will set up this Joint – the JIC.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Does that – is that – does that exist, or will it exist as soon as people have confirmed the seven days of reduced violence? Or is it – does the seven days, confirmation of the seven days of reduced violence, merely mean that the process of getting the JIC stood up begins?

MR TONER: So you are right that we need to see the seven days of reduced violence. At that time, once that assessment is made – and let me just clarify as well, when we talk about seven days of reduced violence, we’re also talking about sustained humanitarian access as well, and too often that’s left off the – left out of the discussion or not emphasized enough. But we need to see both.

At that point in time, my understanding is that the JIC, Joint Implementation Center, will begin to be set up. It’s not – my understanding, again, is that there won’t be an “open” sign hung out on a door immediately; but that once we get to that point in time – seven days of reduced violence and humanitarian access – at that point in time, we’ll set the JIC up. Now, how long that will take before it’s operational, I don’t have a solid answer for you. I’ll try to get you more clarity on that.

QUESTION: Okay, well, what needs to be done – I mean, what needs to be done between you and the Russians should we get to the seven days and the sustained humanitarian access to set up the JIC? Have the rules of engagement or the decisions about how much and what kind of intelligence sharing – have those details been arranged, or is that something that is still TBD?

MR TONER: Sure. I don’t want to get into too much --

QUESTION: And will be still TBD --

MR TONER: Sure. I don’t want to get into too much detail and get too far down this hypothetical road, because we’re just one day into this. But I think, in response to your question, we have been, obviously, throughout the past several months now been talking and coordinating closely and trying to – in trying to reach this agreement with the Russians. So to an extent, these channels are already established. And indeed, as we’ve talked about a lot from this podium and elsewhere, there are these groups working in Geneva already.

So in terms of what needs to be done to set up the Joint Implementation Center after we reach the seven days of calm or reduction in violence, my impression is it’s not going to be a tremendously heavy lift because, again, we’ve already established a lot of this and done a lot of the legwork in just getting to the point of agreement. But there will have to be a certain level or certain degree of coordination ongoing. We’ll have to establish processes. We’ll have to establish a means of communication. And we’ll have to, as you mentioned, talk about the mechanisms by which we share information and intelligence and how that works.

We all know globally how this works, right? We’re going to have an agreed upon area that – and then the regime would not be able to fly anymore within that area, that consolidated area that we’ve talked about. And once we get to that point, then we will begin coordinating with Russia on airstrikes specifically targeting Nusrah in a strategic and a very calculated way.

QUESTION: Well, the reason why the timing --

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- of all this is important is because it is not the creation of the JIC that is the trigger for Assad having to ground his air force over the designated area, correct? It’s actually when the U.S. and Russia begin the joint operations that they will be – according to what was said yesterday and repeatedly over and over again, it is not the JIC being established that is the trigger. It is the commencement of joint U.S.-Russian strikes. And what you laid out just now and noted that it’s taken several months to get just to this point without any of the details of how this cooperation or coordination is going to take place, you’re looking at potentially weeks more where Assad’s air force isn’t grounded while the two sides try to hash out exactly what and how the JIC is going to do – what it – how it’s going to do its job. Right?

MR TONER: So a couple of points on that. One is we all recognize that – the urgency of putting the JIC up and running, getting it up and running as quickly as possible. Once we get to that seven-day mark of a reduction in violence along with sustained humanitarian access, we all recognize that that is a key to the agreement of – or Assad’s forces no longer being able to fly missions within that designated airspace. So I don’t think it’s going to be a matter of weeks. I can’t put a specific day or time on it, but it’s not going to be a matter of weeks.

QUESTION: But is it correct that it’s not the creation of the JIC that stops – that grounds the air – the Assad air force? It is the commencement of the joint operations, or is that not correct?

MR TONER: I’ll try to get clarity on that. That’s a good question. I’m – I believe it’s the former but – or the latter, rather, but I’ll get clarity on that.

QUESTION: The former and the latter?

MR TONER: The carrying out of – no, I said I believe it’s the latter.

QUESTION: The latter. So it is the commencement of the airstrikes that does it?

MR TONER: Let me double-check. I’ll take the question.

QUESTION: So – so in other words, there is another period of time after the seven days during which Assad’s forces can do whatever they want essentially.

MR TONER: Again, nobody is talking about certainly – that was the other point I wanted to make, and thanks for bringing it up, is we are talking about a sustained period where there is – sorry, a period where there is a sustained reduction in violence. What we have seen time and time again – and it’s what caused the last cessation of hostilities to fray and ultimately collapse – was the fact that the regime carried out airstrikes saying it was going after Nusrah but, in fact, was taking out civilian targets.

So to say – to make the claim or to ask the question of whether the regime can continue willy-nilly to carry out airstrikes in the name of going after Nusrah, that’s not the case. We’re already looking at who is abiding by this reduction in violence since yesterday, and we’re already assessing when there’s – when there are allegations of violations who’s responsible for that and whether they’re legitimate violations are not. So that part of that process is already going on.

QUESTION: There are legitimate violations?

MR TONER: I said where there are legitimate violations.

QUESTION: Right. Do --

MR TONER: We haven’t seen that thus far. But I’m saying it’s not like we – sorry, just it’s not like we’re saying to the regime, sure, do what you want for the next seven days or until a JIC is set up. That’s not at all --

QUESTION: Does the clock reset or is it – is this coming Monday a one-time-only deal? In other words, if there is a violation tomorrow, a serious one, do you start again on counting seven days from Wednesday?

MR TONER: So, in theory, how this works is – and I can just say that over the last 24 hours, while we have seen some violations, and I think Secretary Kerry spoke to this yesterday that this isn’t going to be a clean start to this, there are going to be some ongoing incidents of violence. But so we have seen, as I said, some reports of sporadic violence, but thus far the arrangement as a whole seems to be holding --

QUESTION: (Sneezing.)

MR TONER: -- and the violence – God bless you – is lower in comparison to previous days and weeks. But as I said, we anticipated an uneven start to the cessation of hostilities.

So as we move forward, just to answer your question directly, every day we continue to work within the U.S. Government, but also consulting closely with the Russians, assessing, as I just talked about, where there are credible reports of violations. We’re assessing those jointly. If we get to a point then – if we get to a point where we believe that there is a credible series of violations or a credible incident of a violation of the cessation of hostilities, we do reserve the right to make the decision to say we’re setting the clock back to zero.

QUESTION: So the clock can reset?

MR TONER: The clock can reset.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: And then – sorry, just to finish my answer – we also reserve the right, if this goes on and on and on to a point where we believe it’s no longer in anyone’s interest to continue this, to simply walk away and say --

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: -- the agreement is null and void.

QUESTION: Last one.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: A lot of this confusion could be cleared up if you guys would just make this deal public. Foreign Minister Lavrov said earlier today that he saw no reason not to make it public and that, in fact, it should be made public so that people could judge for themselves whether or not it was being violated. And he said that it put the onus on you guys to make it public. So what’s going on? I mean, will you make it public so that --

MR TONER: Well, we certainly appreciate his commitment to transparency. I mean, look, Matt --

QUESTION: Really? Did I sense some sarcasm in that or were you being serious?

MR TONER: Not at all. Look --

QUESTION: Let the record reflect that even the answer, quote, “not at all,” was also sarcastic.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) Thank you, James, for your commentary.

No, look, let’s be very clear. So we were and have been very clear about saying that, given the level of detail of this agreement, there are some operational details, areas of sensitivity that we believe we don’t want – or would not be in the interest of the agreement or in anyone’s interest to share. The Secretary alluded to yesterday the fact that there’s a lot of would-be spoilers out there who want to bring this deal and take it apart and make it fail. We’re mindful of that. So it’s still our assessment that we don’t want to share this thing publicly, but that assessment is ongoing. We’re still continuing to look at it and if we get to a point where we believe we can share the details, we will.

QUESTION: Mark, I have some follow-up.

MR TONER: Yeah. Please, Lesley.

QUESTION: So yesterday we heard the Secretary said that were some violations, but what are you seeing today?

MR TONER: So, as I said, it was an uneven start, but what we saw over the first 24 hours was the fact that – or we believe that the arrangement as a whole appears to be holding and that violence is lower than it was in the previous weeks and months. I’m not prepared to say this is – check the box that this is day one of seven days. I think we’re going to continue to assess that as we go forward and, as I just made clear to Matt, we can always see a significant violation in the days ahead that force us or force the Russians to reset the clock. And so going forward, we’re just taking this day by day, hour by hour really, and assessing that this is meeting the criteria. But the other thing is, just the fact that we’ve seen a reduction in violence isn’t enough. We need to see access for humanitarian assistance. Now, we believe that’s moving. We’ve seen some signs that that’s moving, but we still haven’t seen the access. We need to see that concretely take place.

QUESTION: And are you – for this access, are you talking about Aleppo specifically? Because that seems where it seems to be targeted.

MR TONER: It’s one of the critical areas, but there is many besieged areas in Syria. And I wouldn’t say that it needs to be 100 percent, but we need to see a significant and sustained humanitarian access.

QUESTION: And then I have a follow-up on --


QUESTION: -- what this deal is about. So several senior U.S. officials told us that Assad’s forces had to be grounded. That was the U.S. push. Now, over the last few weeks, things started developing in which we saw the U.S. saying, well, Assad’s forces can continue to fly even after the JIC is formed in certain areas where Nusrah and Islamic State are operating but that the opposition is not there. What happened in between? Was that a concession that happened on the U.S. part?

MR TONER: No, I don’t think so at all. I mean, I think we’ve been very clear how we envision this arrangement to work, which is that the – once the JIC is established, it would cover a designated area. In that area, the regime’s air forces would no longer be able to fly. The intent here is to take that element out of the equation, because what we saw with the last cessation of hostilities – by far, the preponderance of violations of the cessation were on the part of the regime and the preponderance of those violations were the regime saying we’re just striking Nusrah targets when, in fact, they were going after opposition targets and in many cases hitting civilian targets. And as we all saw, what was a credible ceasefire in the initial weeks and even months frayed and deteriorated rapidly because of that.

So we’re trying to take Assad’s air forces out of the equation. That’s the goal here, and if we get there, then we can have coordination between the U.S. and Russia deciding what targets are legitimate targets – are Nusrah targets – and then agreement on who hits those targets between us – the U.S. – or Russia. So again, it’s also about strategically going after Nusrah, and we’ve talked a lot about, in this room – and how previous weeks and even months there was this marbleization, however we want to refer to it, in and around Aleppo, where you may have – regime forces or Russia’s may have said we’re going after Nusrah, but in fact they were hitting opposition forces – moderate opposition forces – who were intermingled. What we’re talking about now is a much more strategic approach.

And at the same time, concurrently, there is an effort to disaggregate these forces. We have made very clear to the opposition that it is in their interests to, where they are intermingled or commingled with Nusrah, to disengage. Sorry for the long answer.

QUESTION: And then – so Assad’s forces can continue to fly in those areas outside that designated --

MR TONER: Designated area.

QUESTION: Even through this week and continuing into the next months?

MR TONER: That’s my understanding, yes.

QUESTION: Mark, well – first of all, will the JIC have like a physical address, like CENTCOM? Is it going to have --

MR TONER: That’s a very good question. I’ll have to look at that.

QUESTION: And who will be in command --

MR TONER: I don’t know. I mean, in this day and age that’s important, but so much can be done, obviously, through the wonder of cyberspace and other connectivity that I can’t say that they’ll actually be cohabitating a specific building.

QUESTION: And this area that is in effect a no-fly zone for the Syrian air force, if, let’s say, a Syrian air – fighter jet violates this rule, who’s going to shoot it down, the Americans or the Russians? Or both?

MR TONER: So fair question. I don’t necessarily want to talk about rules of engagement or how these violations will be dealt with except to say that just as we have taken on the responsibility of ensuring that the moderate opposition abides by the cessation of hostilities, Russia has agreed to take on the responsibility of ensuring that the regime abides by its responsibilities, one of which is to adhere to this no-fly zone.

QUESTION: And my last question on this.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Now as a result of this agreement, are, let’s say, the lines delineated a lot better? Do we know who’s who in what area? Do you have, like, all the groups laid out and so on? Do you have a map of all --

MR TONER: I think there’s a much clearer understanding, and that was – again, a lot of the legwork of the past weeks and months was in trying to establish who was where. But I think also in the coming days, as we communicate with the moderate opposition and they understand that it’s, as I said, not in their interest to remain commingled with Nusrah, we are going to see a separation.

Please, James.

QUESTION: To this point of how only fairly recently we have been able to acquire a better sense of who exactly is where, by what means? Have we placed chips or other electronic tagging devices on the fighters we like?

MR TONER: I would really defer to the Department of Defense to talk about some of the operational aspects, and I’m not even sure to what level of detail they would be able to get into, since it does touch on intelligence assets and other ways and means by which we gather information about who is where. But – but – but --

QUESTION: How is it that our (inaudible) --

MR TONER: Sorry, just to finish my response, but recognizing the fact that this has been a challenge and remains a challenge. And that’s part of the reason why we made an effort to work out with the Russians where – or a mechanism by which we can share information about, if we get to that seven-day period and get to the point of establishing a JIC, whereby we can share information – again, not based on trust but based on a very sober assessment of who is where and located where so that we can avoid, as we – what we saw in the previous weeks and months and indeed years, which is indiscriminate attacks that hit hospitals, hit schools, hit civilians.

QUESTION: I just – I am curious about --

MR TONER: Please, yeah.

QUESTION: -- a state of affairs in which a given conflict involving multiple parties has been underway for over five years, but you are telling us here, now, that only very recently, as in the past week or so, we have suddenly been able to acquire a much better ability to discern one combatant set over another.

MR TONER: Yeah, no, I wouldn’t – and again, if I – if that was what I conveyed, then let me try to put it another way. I think that we have put great effort into trying to delineate because we realize how critical that is to any kind of sustainable cessation of hostilities on the ground. So we’ve put great effort into that through various assets. We also have, obviously, eyes and ears within the moderate Syrian opposition we’ve worked with over the past years.

And again, I think it’s absolutely critical for the success of this agreement – which we’re by no means ensuring the success of – there are a lot of challenges, but one of the big challenges is how do you separate the moderate opposition from Nusrah, where everyone agrees that Nusrah is al-Qaida-affiliated and is a common enemy and threat that we all can target.

QUESTION: Lastly, to Matt’s question --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- about the release of the plan, in addressing that, you cited the remarks of Secretary Kerry, who averred to the existence of some number of concerned parties who are very eager to see the plan defeated and collapse. And I just wonder if that isn’t a recipe for never releasing any policy or any plan because there will inevitably always be individuals who look upon the policies or plans as promulgated by any administration and have a vested interest in defeating them or seeing them collapse.

MR TONER: Well, that’s a fair point to make. I think at this point in this stage, it is still our assessment that it’s too early to release the full details of this plan, but that’s something we continue to assess. I’m – far be it from me to say never will we release it. I don’t think that’s the case at all. And certainly, there’s a case to be made for being as transparent as possible. We’ve made efforts to explain what is, in fact, a very complex plan, but we’ll continue to assess that going forward.

I think the concern is just that it’s a very complex battlespace and we need to be very cognizant of the fact that given that complexity, there are a lot of spoilers, a lot of potential spoilers out there.

QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?

QUESTION: No, let’s do a follow-up --


QUESTION: Syria --

MR TONER: Let’s finish up. Guys, and I apologize. I’ve got about five more minutes. I know there’s a lot of questions. Please, David. I apologize.

QUESTION: Oh. Well, on the subject, then, of transparency, will the JIC, when created, be able to issue joint statements publicly? Or are we still going through the podium if we want to ask about their assessments? When the previous ceasefire came into effect, we were repeatedly told we don’t want to litigate individual allegations of the ceasefire violations --

MR TONER: Right, right.

QUESTION: -- this is going on in private. Will the JIC continue that – with that? Will they – will deliberations of the JIC remain secret?

MR TONER: It’s a good question. It’s my understanding that they won’t issue – become or have a mechanism within the JIC to issue statements, but I don’t have a solid answer on that.

QUESTION: So we still ask you what the JIC thinks of the --

MR TONER: I think that’s the – yeah, I think that’s the – that’s my understanding.

QUESTION: Okay. And --

MR TONER: But if that changes, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: And does it replace the de-confliction body that exists (inaudible) beforehand? Is it a development of that?

MR TONER: No, I would also – I would say it’s somewhat separate because the de-confliction is about de-conflicting the overall airspace in Syria where you have U.S. fighters and other anti-ISIL coalition fighters operating and in that same airspace Russian jets operating. And that, as we made very clear, was simply a very straightforward logistical de-confliction mechanism to ensure that we weren’t operating in the same airspace to ensure the safety of our crews.

QUESTION: But insofar as we – I mean, to follow up from the previous question, we don’t know whether it’ll have a physical address, but if it has one it’s in Geneva?

MR TONER: That would be most likely, yes.

QUESTION: And is there a table with soldiers and spies and generals around it?

MR TONER: I’ll try to get more color and context for you as we go forward.

QUESTION: Is it a buffet? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: I’d love that.


QUESTION: Just some clarification on the targeting. So is the idea that with this no-fly zone the Syrian air force would not have anything to target other than ISIS if it was – if it was airborne?

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: And would the Russians and the Americans also carry out joint operations against ISIS, or are you very much focusing on Nusrah?

MR TONER: In terms of joint operations against ISIS, I can --

QUESTION: Or like this – through this mechanism I mean.

MR TONER: Right. I’m not aware that ISIS targets are on the table. My understanding is that it’s just Nusrah within that designated area.

QUESTION: And just finally, quickly --

MR TONER: I mean obviously, separately, we’re obviously going to continue to carry out airstrikes against ISIL.

QUESTION: Right. But not – but not as part of this JIC.

MR TONER: But my understanding not coordinated and not part of the JIC.

QUESTION: Okay. And in terms of – you keep saying that Nusrah is clearly al-Qaida and therefore it’s beyond the pale, but some of the arguments from the opposition is, A, Nusrah hasn’t carried out attacks outside of the country so it should be looked at differently; and, B, Hizballah is also on the terrorist list of the United States and it wasn’t designated in this – in the way the fighting is going on in Syria, so there are double standards. How do you respond to that?

MR TONER: Well, look, in terms of Nusrah, it’s our assessment that they do have aspirations to carry out attacks on the West. And in response to your second question, I would just say that there is joint agreement that Nusrah poses a threat not just to Syria but also to the region and to the United States. I would also add that --

QUESTION: But there is a joint agreement --

MR TONER: I would also add that with Hizballah and other groups that Iran has signaled that it will abide by the agreement. And that this agreement, as much as it holds, is – it is incumbent on all the members of the ISSG to exert whatever influence they have on the various operators on the ground in Syria to abide by the cessation of hostilities. We’ve always said that. This cessation of hostilities is only as strong as the members of the ISSG, the stakeholders, exerting the influence that they have on the different players and factions and operators on the ground in Syria.

I want to very quickly, if we can just finish, and then I know you have a question and I’ll take your question, Nike. I apologize.


MR TONER: Oh yeah. Yes, James. Yeah.

QUESTION: On Iran, we saw yesterday – we reported yesterday that on Saturday, September 10th, two U.S. Navy reconnaissance planes flying 13 miles off the shore of Iran received a warning from the Iranian military to either alter their course or be shot down by Iranian missile capabilities. First, most broadly, do you have a response to this sudden development?

MR TONER: My response would be in line with what we’ve said, because frankly there have been previous incidents much like this. I think we had one a week or so ago. And they’re concerning, obviously. They escalate tensions – and needlessly escalate tensions, frankly – and our forces within the area or within the region are operating according to freedom of navigation standards. We have conveyed our concerns to Iran.


MR TONER: I know the DOD has conveyed its concerns. First and foremost, I’m doing it publicly. I don’t want to speak to other means of communications that we’ve had with the Iranian Government, but the fact of the matter is it is a matter of concern because we’ve seen a succession of these events over the past month or so. And – go ahead.

QUESTION: To that point, just this year we’ve seen the seizure of our sailors, we’ve seen a doubling according to the Pentagon’s numbers in the number of naval confrontations over this time last year. Now they’re threatening to blow our planes out of the sky. We’ve seen a very aggressive series of ballistic missile tests from the regime. There’s more American hostages in Iran.

And so I just wonder how you can possibly assess the evolution of this relationship in which the landmark moment is the finalization of this nuclear deal and rule out the possibility that, in fact, one of the byproducts of this deal has been to embolden the regime to worse rather than better behavior.

MR TONER: Well, we always were very clear that their objective in reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran was to prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which we, I think, all agree would only exacerbate the threat in the region of Iran as well as exacerbate tensions in the region and pose a real national security risk to the United States. We never said that this was going to solve all of Iran – Iran’s – excuse me – bad behavior. And in fact, we would like – as much as we would like to see Iran’s behavior change in the region, we’ve not seen a significant shift.

QUESTION: In fact, you have seen a shift. It’s gotten worse.

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: Am I correct about that?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t have all the facts and figures in front of me, but we have seen some disturbing, as you cited, trends. And I think – two things. One is that, in our view, it only makes the significance of the nuclear agreement that much more important, because the last thing anyone would want to see in the region is a nuclear-armed Iran. But it also shows that Iran has a choice to make. And if it wants to engage further with the West, following on the engagement that led to the nuclear agreement, more productively and play a more constructive role in the region, or continue with, as I said, its bad behavior. Thus far we have not seen that shift to a constructive engagement.

QUESTION: But you can’t rule out that, in fact, this deal has served as a cause for this more aggressive posture.

MR TONER: I mean, I can’t rule that out. I just – we’ve – Iran, like many countries, has an internal political process that’s defined by a lot of different dynamics. But I can’t give an assessment one way or the other in that regard.

QUESTION: Are three more American hostages --

QUESTION: So is it correct that you’re saying that the nuclear deal is important because Iran would be doing all the same stuff that it’s doing now --

MR TONER: And pursuing a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: -- and with a nuke. Is that what you’re saying?

MR TONER: Right. Or possibly with a nuke, or at least pursuing a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: But I think you’re right that they have shown a willingness to engage with the West, but it’s to engage militarily; is it not?

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, they are a member of the ISSG, the International Syria Support Group. They have signed on to the goal of that organization, which is to end the conflict and lead to a political transition in Syria. We continue to look for signs that they’re willing to engage constructively across the board.

QUESTION: Right. But if that’s the only thing that they’ve done in terms of engagement or – except for the military stuff that you’ve been talking about --

QUESTION: Have you --

QUESTION: -- that’s pretty slim pickings.

MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not here to advocate on behalf of the Iranian Government and their engagement with the West.

QUESTION: Can you clarify if more American hostages were taken? Because James suggested that more American hostages were recently taken.

MR TONER: I don’t have a list in front of me, but there are --

QUESTION: But there are?

MR TONER: -- continue to be detained Americans, and we’ve expressed concern.

QUESTION: And how --

MR TONER: I don’t have a number. We continue to raise their cases, obviously, with the Iranian Government at every opportunity.

Please, Nike, last question.

QUESTION: Yes, Mark, thank you. Myanmar, or Burma. The de facto leader of Myanmar is visiting, Aung San Suu Kyi.

MR TONER: She is.

QUESTION: What will be the focal point, and how should we expect the issues of remaining sanction to be discussed?

MR TONER: Well, you’re right that she – we are very excited to welcome State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on her first visit to the United States in her new role in government after Burma’s significant steps in its democratic transition. I think much has changed over the past several years for the Burmese people, but our goal remains the same with respect to Burma, which is to see a peaceful, prosperous, democratic nation emerge in which all people can live in relative harmony and are able to fully exercise their rights and continue to build a close friendship between our two countries.

So I think we’re going to talk about the gamut of issues – human rights, certainly, concerns, but also continued steps that Burma can take along the path towards a fuller and stronger democracy. Again, we’ve seen progress, but there’s more work that needs to done. So that’s going to be the – I think the focus of our engagement over the next couple of days.

QUESTION: Last time the U.S. announced the ease of some of the sanctions is on May 17. How do you address criticism and urge from the human rights groups that the remaining sanctions are critical to make – ensure the improvement of democracy in Burma?

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, look, we’ve always, as you posited in your question – the lifting of sanctions has always been in response to what we have seen as democratic progress on the part of the Burmese Government. We’re not ready to pull back all those sanctions yet. Some remain in place. And we always retain the right to continue those, as long as we feel that they’re useful.


QUESTION: In the past four months, do you see – what improvement do you see the lowest remain sanctions in terms of thwarting the human rights abuses?

MR TONER: In terms of?

QUESTION: Thwarting human right abuses and punishing the cronies and --

MR TONER: Well, again, I don't have anything to announce in terms of lifting additional sanctions. We continue to remain engaged with Burma. We continue to press them to make continued democratic reforms and certainly with respect to human rights.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thanks, everybody. I appreciate it.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)

DPB #159

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 12, 2016

Mon, 09/12/2016 - 18:05

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 12, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:37 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Okay, everybody. I had to give them time to lower this thing. (Laughter.) I don’t have anything to open with, so Matt, do you have anything more?

QUESTION: I don’t have anything on Syria. So if there’s anyone left who wants to ask about Syria, go ahead.

MR KIRBY: I’m shocked that you want to ask about Syria. Go – why don’t we go to you and then you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, I have two questions on Syria. Russia has said that this ceasefire which the Secretary just discussed, or cessation of hostilities, also applies to the YPG and the Free Syrian Armies. Is that correct, it would also involve stopping the fighting between essentially the Turks and the Kurds in Syria?

MR KIRBY: Again, remember what this is. It’s not changed in character. The cessation of hostilities which was put in place in February applied or supposed to apply to everybody but those groups designated by the UN as terrorists inside Syria, and there are two. There’s Daesh and there’s al-Nusrah, which the Secretary made very clear is al-Qaida. It’s al-Qaida in Syria. And so if the cessation of hostilities is implemented, if it’s observed, then the only two groups that may continue to be targeted by anybody are those two.

QUESTION: So the cessation of hostilities would include Turkish-Kurdish confrontations?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve – we have long said that we don’t want to see – and I said this a couple of weeks ago – that we don’t want to see violence or clashes between Turkish forces and Kurdish forces. What we’ve said, and I’ll say it again today, is that we want them, as members of the counter-Daesh coalition, to fight Daesh, that that’s where their – we want their energies to be applied.

QUESTION: And my – thank you. And my second Syria question is that the Kurdish National Council of Syria as well as the Assyrians have protested a document that was issued by the – put out by the Saudi-backed opposition, the HNC, and that’s their framework for a transitional period in Syria. The complaint is that it’s Arabist-based and Islamist-based and doesn’t take account of the interests of minorities in Syria.


QUESTION: Do you have a comment on that? And are you concerned that leaving so much to countries like Saudi Arabia we’re reproducing the problem that we had in Afghanistan after the 1980s, the war with the Soviets, and Pakistan was in charge and the result was not something very pretty?

MR KIRBY: I’m not quite sure what you mean by the last part of your question, but I will say we continue to be grateful for Saudi Arabia’s leadership here in working with the HNC and the moderate opposition to help them coalesce around guiding principles.

Now, look, I haven’t seen the protest specifically. I’m aware of it. I’m aware of the basic gist of it. I haven’t seen it, and it wouldn’t be right for me to go through it line by line. What I would tell you is this: Nothing’s changed about our view here in the United States, and I think I can say the same for members of the ISSG, that what we want to see in Syria is a country that’s unified, that’s whole, that’s pluralistic, that includes and is representative of all Syrians no matter what their walk of life, no matter what religion they practice or what ethnicity they represent. That’s what we’ve said from the outset, and that is the goal that the United States and the international community is going to continue to pursue.

QUESTION: I guess my question that wasn’t clear, and I apologize – after the Soviet – war against the Soviets ended in Afghanistan in ’89, the United States left it to Pakistan to kind of craft the government for Afghanistan, and we have what we’re all familiar with. And essentially what Pakistan was doing was exporting its own problematic ruling principles to Afghanistan.


QUESTION: And if you let the Saudis do the same thing, you could end up with the same result. And my question is: Shouldn't the United States, perhaps, should be more involved and less left to the countries like Saudi Arabia?

MR KIRBY: I think the United States is very involved here in what we want to see for the future of Syria. We are co-founders of the International Syria Support Group, and the Secretary, you just heard him talk about how deeply engaged we’re going to continue in this process going forward and about having – about trying to reach a political solution here.

So first of all, nobody is talking about ceding American leadership here. Number two, I would say that nobody is talking about having Saudi Arabia as sort of a lone, single custodian of the future of Syria. We want the future of Syria to be determined by Syrians. That’s why we’re working so hard to find a political solution to this civil war, so that the Syrian people can determine what their government looks like at the end of this transitional process.

And an important point that the Secretary made earlier is that the whole reason we’re working through these kinds of arrangements now with the Russians isn’t just to get a ceasefire for a ceasefire’s sake; it is to create the kind of space and the conditions that will allow Staffan de Mistura to bring the sides back to the negotiating table in Geneva and try to get the political process started. We all – nobody wants to see what we’ve seen the last three iterations where nothing got resolved. And why did nothing get resolved? Because there was still violence and innocent people were still being killed. So this isn’t about ceding the leadership or the direction of Syria to any one country, except for Syria itself and the Syrian people.

Okay? Yeah.

QUESTION: Just a few on Syria and also on the Philippines, which I can ask --

MR KIRBY: How many is a few?

QUESTION: -- ask later. Two. Two on Syria.

MR KIRBY: Two. All right, all right.

QUESTION: Two that I came up with --


QUESTION: -- listening to Secretary Kerry. And later on the Philippines, will you take my Philippines questions as well? I just want to make sure.

MR KIRBY: Fire away.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much. So on Syria, how many groups to your knowledge have refused to abide by the ceasefire?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware – at this point, we’re not aware of any groups that have outright refused.

QUESTION: I saw reports that Ahrar al-Sham refused to abide by the ceasefire. Does the U.S. have influence with that group?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I mean, I’ve seen those reports as well. But again, I’d go back to what I said before. We’re in – two points. We’re, as you might expect, in constant contact with the moderate opposition and have been throughout this process, up to the meeting in Geneva and then certainly in the hours and days since then. And again, we’re not aware of any single group that has come out rejecting it or in opposition.

Now, that said – and the Secretary talked about this as well – we understand that certain of them have doubts, have concerns. We recognize that. That’s why we’re in constant contact with them. We also are taking a pretty clear-eyed approach here. I mean, nobody is saying for a moment that this isn’t going to be difficult.

QUESTION: You said you were in contact with moderate opposition. Is this specific group considered to be moderate opposition?

MR KIRBY: The – again, I don’t have the list of every group here. But Ahrar al-Sham is not designated as a terrorist organization inside Syria, and so therefore it is a group that we have maintained a level of contact with in terms of discussing what this arrangement means going forward. Okay?

QUESTION: Actually, I do have one on Syria. Sorry. Based on what the Secretary just said now, is it – he seemed to say – well, he didn’t seem to say, he did say, that if and when you get this weeklong reduction in violence and the JIC takes effect, that the United States and Russia could agree on places where the Assad where Assad’s air force could bomb or go after Nusrah. That’s what he said – he said, “He is allowed and will be able outside of that area if the JIC gets set up to target Nusrah, but that will be on strikes that are agreed upon with Russia and the United States in order to go after them.”


QUESTION: Are you comfortable with that? I thought the whole idea was to ground the air force completely.

MR KIRBY: No, Matt. The idea was not to --

QUESTION: And that the only people who would be flying combat operations after the JIC got set up would be the U.S. and Russia, except for in the areas where ISIS is.

MR KIRBY: No, actually, that was not the understanding and was not part of the discussions throughout the process. The idea was not to quote/unquote, “ground” Assad’s air force everywhere all the time. The objective was to --

QUESTION: Right --

MR KIRBY: -- the objective was to limit their combat operations in such a way that they could not hit opposition targets or civilian targets, but that -- if they were able, willing, intending to target Nusrah, which is outside the cessation of hostilities, that would still be permissible. But the whole person for the JIC is to allow for a measure of compliance and monitoring and pre-coordination of strikes that they would do against Nusrah so that it’s not done without visibility of both Russian and U.S. planners[1].

QUESTION: Yeah, but two and a half weeks ago in Geneva, before the meetings in China, the idea – at least I thought it was the idea and maybe I got this wrong but I – it was that, with the except of ISIS, Assad’s forces wouldn’t be allowed to go after anybody, and that the only people who would go after Nusrah in the safe zone, for lack of a better word, would be the U.S. and Russia. That’s clearly wrong, right?

MR KIRBY: I think you were incorrect in surmising that. I think --

QUESTION: Or someone was incorrect in telling us, not just me, that; correct?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) I --

QUESTION: Or it changed? I don’t know. Maybe --

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t – and I don’t believe --

QUESTION: Maybe something changed between the --

MR KIRBY: I don’t believe there’s been any change to that. I mean, the understanding – well, as we worked through this now for many weeks, the understanding was that – that’s why we wanted maps of designated areas, areas where we knew Nusrah was predominant, areas where we know the opposition is predominant, and areas where they’re marbled and mixed. And inside those three types of areas, Assad would not – that --

QUESTION: Yeah, he wouldn’t go after anyone.

MR KIRBY: He wouldn’t go after opposition and he wouldn’t go after areas where it’s mixed, where – because he’s not capable of discrete, discriminant targeting. But as the Secretary said, in accordance with the JIC and the work of U.S. and Russian planners, it – we’re not ruling out that Assad would be able to strike at Nusrah. Again, Nusrah is a UN-designated foreign terrorist organization. They are not party to the cessation. And so there would – there’s really no grounds, and frankly, little purpose, in trying to completely limit and restrict the Assad regime from hitting Nusrah. The idea, though, is that if and when they did, there would be visibility, there would be transparency over that inside the Joint Implementation Center.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you guys already say that he’s not actually targeting Nusrah.

MR KIRBY: Well, exactly. I mean --

QUESTION: Well, what happens if the Russians come to you and say, okay, here’s a target that we want to hit and the Syrians want to hit it, and you guys say, well, no, it’s mixed? Is it a two-to-one vote, or you guys have --

MR KIRBY: Well, that’s --

QUESTION: -- you can say no?

MR KIRBY: That was the – but that was the purpose for poring over the maps --

QUESTION: So you can stop it?

MR KIRBY: -- and the technicalities of those areas. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay. How exactly do you do that?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I don’t – I’m not going to go through chapter and verse of the way the JIC is going to operate, for one thing because their teams are discussing it, as the Secretary said, right now in Geneva to set up --

QUESTION: Yeah, but basically --

MR KIRBY: -- the kinds of processes and procedures that the JIC would use.

QUESTION: You have no – you have no recourse, though. If they – they could bomb an area that they say is Nusrah and you guys say is marbleized, and there’s zero consequence.

MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t say that at all, Matt.

QUESTION: No, I know you didn’t say that, but that’s what the effect is.

MR KIRBY: No, no it’s not. It’s not. Look, again, I don’t want to get too much in the details here on procedure because, again, those procedures are being worked out. But the whole idea of having designated areas and sharing information, targeting information, in those areas – areas where there’s marbleized and areas where there’s opposition – is to do exactly that, to limit, to restrict, to stop Assad from being able to go after opposition groups where they are.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the whole --

MR KIRBY: And --

QUESTION: My understanding of the entire thing was that you were going to ground Assad’s air force in areas that – in these so-called permissive safe – no-fly zones, and that’s clearly not what’s happened here because they are still going to be allowed to attack in areas that are – that may be opposition-held but with marbleized components.


QUESTION: They won’t?

MR KIRBY: It’s not quite that simple. They will be permitted if – again, if there is consensus here inside the JIC that – to hit a designated, a known Nusrah target. There’s no prohibition under this arrangement for them to do that, but it will be with the visibility of both the United States and Russia beforehand.

QUESTION: Yeah, but already --

MR KIRBY: But on – but wait a minute now. But on areas where they’re mixed and marbleized, where we know there is – we know there is opposition nearby or intermingled with, they won’t be allowed to do that. That’s the whole reason why we’ve got these designated areas where we know Nusrah is dominant, where we know the opposition is dominant, and where it’s mixed. The whole idea for having a discussion with the Russians about this such as we have to this point and will continue to have if the JIC gets set up is to provide a level of certainty and visibility on where Assad would be able to fly. But there was never a point at which we said – at least I can’t remember a time where we said – that they were going to be grounded permanently, forever, and not allowed to fly. It’s about flying combat missions against opposition and civilians that we want to restrict.

QUESTION: It was never that they were going to be entirely grounded.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: It was, though, after the Geneva meeting three weeks ago, unless I was misinformed – and that’s possible – that they would not – they would only be allowed to fly combat missions against ISIS, and that areas where – and areas that are out – and against Nusrah and ISIS outside of these safe zones. But inside the safe zone, the understanding was that they wouldn’t be able to fly at all, that the only people who would be able to strike at Nusrah targets in the safe zone would be the U.S. and Russia.

MR KIRBY: You keep talking about safe zones, and maybe that’s where we’re getting hung up. I don’t know what you mean by “safe zone.”

QUESTION: The area where – that’s held by the opposition, which you say --

MR KIRBY: Or it’s marbled.

QUESTION: -- includes marbleized. Right.

MR KIRBY: Which would – yes, they would not – that’s right. That is correct. They would not be able to strike in areas where we know the opposition is dominant, or opposition-controlled, or where there is marbling, the intermingling, the mixing, because they’re not capable of being discrete and discriminant about that.

QUESTION: Well, then that’s different than what – than what you said before. Because what the Secretary seemed to say was that inside the safe zone – are we – is that the right term?

MR KIRBY: No, it’s not.

QUESTION: What – okay, what’s the right term then?

MR KIRBY: Those are predesignated areas.

QUESTION: The predesignated areas, okay. Inside the predesignated areas, is the Syrian air force allowed to target what – Nusrah?

MR KIRBY: In those areas that we know are Nusrah-dominant and where there is no opposition present, then yes, but it will be – but it will be on a case-by-case basis.

QUESTION: But then they’re not in the predesignated area, those people are not – then that --

MR KIRBY: There are three types of predesignated areas.


MR KIRBY: The whole reason that we’ve had this --

QUESTION: Opposition, marbleized, and Nusrah.

MR KIRBY: And Nusrah. In the areas where we know Nusrah is dominant since Nusrah is a foreign terrorist organization, since they’re not party to the cessation of hostilities --

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, okay.

MR KIRBY: Okay. They’ll be able to – they’ll be able to target Nusrah. But it won’t be without --

QUESTION: But it --

MR KIRBY: It won’t be – it won’t be unilaterally without the – without the visibility of the joint implementation cell.

QUESTION: But you’re – you have visibility now, or at least you say you do, because you – because you claim that they’re not – that they’re hitting the opposition, the moderate opposition, when they claim they’re hitting Nusrah.

MR KIRBY: Exactly. We --

QUESTION: That visibility exists now. I just don’t under – I’m not sure that I understand what the point of this whole thing is. I mean, they can’t --

MR KIRBY: Because – because we can --

QUESTION: They can still fly --

MR KIRBY: That’s exactly --

QUESTION: -- and attack and areas where – that are in dispute --

MR KIRBY: But the reason --

QUESTION: -- and there’s – without any punishment.

MR KIRBY: But right now, Matt, they’re doing it – they’re claiming they’re going after Nusrah and they’re really not. Okay? By and large – and you know this – the bulk of their military activity, whether it’s on the ground or in the air, has been against opposition and it’s been against civilians. And on the rare occasion when they have hit a Nusrah target, because they have been coming under attack by Nusrah so I’m not saying they’re not doing – they’re not hitting them at all. But on the occasions when they have, they’ve been doing it unilaterally or with sometimes the support of the Russian military, and there’s been no – certainly no visibility on our side in terms of how they’re doing it, when they’re doing it, or how accurately they’re doing it.

So what the JIC will allow us to do – again, if it gets set up, and I’m not saying it will. There’s two purposes here, and I think one is the coordination and sharing of information, but the second thing is compliance and enforcement of the cessation of hostilities. So once, if we get a JIC, it will give us, certainly the United States, much more visibility than we have right now into where those Nusrah targets are and what Assad is going to be allowed to do to target them.

QUESTION: How does it give you guys more visibility into what Nusrah targets are?

MR KIRBY: Because we’ll be – because the Russians have influence over the regime, and the Russians will be able to share information with us inside the JIC.

QUESTION: But you know where they are already, don’t you? Or at least you say you do.

MR KIRBY: Which is why we had – which is why we had a discussion about designated areas.

QUESTION: All right. Well, if and when we get to next Monday and the JIC gets set up, I guess we can revisit this when – because I --

MR KIRBY: I would be happy --

QUESTION: Now I’m completely confused. I have no idea what – but anyway.

QUESTION: Just a quick – sorry.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: By visibility, do you mean that you are going to know in advance where the Syrian Government is going to hit?

MR KIRBY: The idea is --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: The idea is to coordinate information, the U.S. and the Russians to coordinate information on targeting, in advance of operations. And while we don’t have, obviously, any communication directly with Assad’s military, nor do we intend to, we know that the Russians have influence over what they – what they do, considerable influence. And I would point you back to what the Secretary said, that the Russians have assured us that Assad will abide by this arrangement. And we’ll see.

QUESTION: And so my last one then. Until – until next Monday, the regime, Assad’s air force, can continue to do what it’s been doing, right?

MR KIRBY: No. No, not at all.

QUESTION: But the penalty is only that the JIC doesn’t get set up if they don’t, right?

MR KIRBY: If we don’t see a mutually satisfactory level of reduced violence – and there’s some discretion in there as the Secretary said – then the joint implementation cell doesn’t get stood up and the arrangement doesn’t get completed.

QUESTION: And that is a consequence for the regime how?

MR KIRBY: Because the civil war --

QUESTION: They want to continue to --

MR KIRBY: The civil war will continue.

QUESTION: -- go after what they say are terrorists.

MR KIRBY: And as the Secretary said, it’s hard to see that that’s in anybody’s interest.

QUESTION: All right. Okay.


QUESTION: Can we change the subject?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Can we change the subject? Are we still --

QUESTION: No, I have some questions. No.

MR KIRBY: Okay, all right.

QUESTION: I’ve got a question about this issue of the Assad regime’s air force or airstrikes and if – first of all, what are the consequences if he does hit some of these marbleized areas and says that he’s going after Nusrah? I mean, what’s the --

MR KIRBY: Well, the idea – the idea of having the Joint Implementation Center is so that that can’t happen.

QUESTION: No, I understand that the idea is to prevent that from happening. But what if it does?

MR KIRBY: Well, then, as we said and is written right in the arrangement that at any time either side here can render the arrangement null and void, and it will be over. And if – and I don’t want to get into hypotheticals here. I appreciate the desire to run through all the hypothetical situations. I don’t think it’s wise here at this very early stage to engage in that.

QUESTION: I mean --

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second.

QUESTION: Will the planes be shot down or prevented from --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to engage in military --

QUESTION: It seems that (inaudible) provision. What is the provision?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to engage in military hypotheticals. What I can tell you is that there is a provision in here where either side, the U.S. or Russia, can pull out of this arrangement if we’re not seeing it genuinely complied with by the other side and by the parties that each side influences. So we’ll see. We’ll see where it goes. But I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals about what if or what if that.

I mean, the joint implementation cell has something for both. For the Russians it would, if implemented, give them a measure of coordination with the U.S. military that they don’t have right now and that they have expressed an interest in. For us, it gives us a real shot at keeping Assad from barrel bombing and gassing his own people as well as the opposition; and more critically, if a cessation of hostilities can be maintained and reduced violence can be established and sustained, and humanitarian access, get the opposition back to the table with the regime in Geneva under the UN – under UN auspices and get a political process started. That’s the real goal here.

QUESTION: Okay. So I also have a question about this issue of the opposition separating from al-Nusrah, because now you’re saying that these marbleized areas, I guess that they can remain marbleized because they don’t have to physically separate. But on Friday, Secretary Kerry said that if groups within the legitimate opposition want to retain their legitimacy, they need to distance themselves in a very – in every way possible from Nusrah and Daesh


QUESTION: And the people in the opposition are saying that in his statements on Friday, he talked about the opposition’s legitimacy but never talked about Assad’s legitimacy or Assad losing – having lost legitimacy, and …

MR KIRBY: We have made – we have been nothing but clear about Assad’s illegitimacy to --

QUESTION: But they’re pointing – they’re thinking that this looks like a shift in a policy, and that now the U.S. is working with allowing Assad – expecting him to participate in this transition deal, and it looks like a policy shift. So is it?


QUESTION: But the problem is, is that if you have this situation where you and the Russians are going to okay – potentially okay Syrian air force strikes, then you’re cooperating with a guy who five years ago – a little over five years ago the President of the United States said no longer had legitimacy to lead. How is that not a shift?

MR KIRBY: We’re cooperating with Russia, which has influence over the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR KIRBY: It’s not that the United States is dictating the Assad air force’s air traffic schedule. Okay? We’re --

QUESTION: No, no, you’re not dictating it, but you’re allowing them – you’re saying it’s okay for them to launch military operations.

MR KIRBY: But Matt, it’s always been okay under the cessation of hostilities that was agreed back in February to target Nusrah. Nobody ever said at any time, that I can recall, that it wasn’t okay for air combat forces, be they Russian or be they Assad’s, to target – solely target a group like al-Nusrah.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you put yourself in a position now where you’re giving Assad the green light to launch military operations.

MR KIRBY: He’s already had the green light to go after al-Nusrah.

QUESTION: So you guys have been cooperating with Assad --


QUESTION: -- for years --


QUESTION: -- while saying that he has lost legitimacy?

MR KIRBY: No. There’s been no cooperation with Assad and there’s not going to be cooperation with Assad. There’s going to be cooperation and coordination with the Russian military, which has influence over Assad.

QUESTION: Right. And there are not – so there’s no link at all. You’ve separated yourself at one degree --

MR KIRBY: I think I’ve responded.

QUESTION: I don’t think I’ve heard a response to the part of my question about the marbleization and whether that was --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, actually, I wanted to come back to you on that. I think the Secretary – he said it again today, and there’s – we’re – we understand that there are places where the opposition are in proximity to Nusrah, and our message to the opposition hasn’t changed at all. Obviously, we’re going to continue to support them in their efforts, but we have been very clear about our concerns about physically co-locating themselves in or near Nusrah locations because Nusrah’s not a party to the cessation, and obviously we don’t want to see harm befall the moderate opposition. And as the Secretary said himself just a few minutes ago, we urge them to think carefully about where they are going to be geographically as – just as much as we urge them to comply by all the particulars of this arrangement.

QUESTION: So to the opposition, that sounds like they need to cede territory to the regime and to the operations against Nusrah.

MR KIRBY: No, it’s not about ceding territory to the regime. It’s about – again, if everybody abides by this --


MR KIRBY: Hang on, just please let me answer one of your questions before you jump in. Okay? If everybody abides by the cessation of hostilities, there’s not going to be any ceding or grabbing of additional territory. What we want to see over seven continuous days is a reduction in violence that does not include territorial grabs or the need for ceding territory. That’s not what this is about. It’s about getting a level of reduced violence that can lead to the standup – the establishment of the joint implementation cell.

QUESTION: So if you have a group that’s marbled with Nusrah and you’re saying basically that they need to either push Nusrah out or back away from that space where they’re marbled because that area will become a target, then if they have to pull back, then they’re ceding – they’re backing up, they’re retreating. Right?

MR KIRBY: If you’re asking are we in support of them removing themselves geographically from where we know Nusrah is, absolutely, and we’ve been saying that for months now. There’s nothing here. But if everybody’s abiding by the cessation of hostilities, that shouldn't be a problem.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: So this is kind of hypothetical, but let’s say that the cessation gets upheld and that the JIC is established. I’m curious about the manner of military cooperation between the U.S. and Russia that’s being proposed. As – I mean, as you certainly know, and as you’ve condemned, the Russians have done some bad things, even in Nursah-controlled territory – I mean, hospital bombings, right?


QUESTION: So what procedures are in place to make sure they don’t do that? Does the U.S. have a say in their targeting decisions?

MR KIRBY: Well, the whole – so a couple of things. Again, as the Secretary said, our teams are now beginning to have discussions about the modalities of how the joint implementation cell will operate, and I’m not going to get ahead of those discussions, and it really is more for the Defense Department to speak to than for us here at the State Department. So they’re working our way through exactly how information – the physical nature with which – how the information is going to be shared and how it’s going to be coordinated, and I just couldn’t begin to speculate about what that looks like. The idea, though, is for two things: One, a level of information sharing and targeting information coordination so that we can be sure that military activities are designed to go against the two groups that the cessation of hostilities has always held outside the cessation, and that’s Daesh and Nusrah, period.

Number two, to also help supplement current ongoing efforts out of Geneva on compliance and enforcement of this arrangement going forward. And as I said, and as the Secretary made clear, and it’s written in the arrangement, that if at any time either side, the United States or Russia, believes that it’s no longer a sustainable arrangement, it’s no longer a sustainable arrangement, and it will cease to exist.

QUESTION: And one quick follow-up. You said that the map that outlines which zones are marbleized, which zones are Nusrah and so on was ironed out – the details – in negotiations. What are the plans for when that gets updated? How does that get updated when --

MR KIRBY: Well, the idea – again, the idea is no one gets a fluid battlefield; that if there’s a joint implementation cell, there will be enough sharing of information in real time so that it’s updated in real time. Okay?

More on this? Are we done with this? Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Philippines. The president of the Philippines has called on the U.S. to withdraw its Special Forces from southern Philippines, saying he fears they will be targeted by Islamist militants. What’s the U.S. response?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the comments. I’ve seen them in press reporting, and what I can tell you is that we’re not aware of any official communication by the Philippine Government to that effect and to seek that result. So we’re going to stay in touch with our counterparts in the Philippine Government. More critically, we’re going to remain committed to our alliance commitments in the Philippines and to that country. We have a long, productive history with the Philippines. I understand that it’s not a history without its past troubles, but we’re committed to our alliance with the Philippines, and we look forward to working our way through that.

QUESTION: Do I understand it correctly: You are not going to respond to this specifically until they make an official request?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t think it’s wise to try to make defense relationship decisions based on press reporting of comments.

QUESTION: Well, it’s a direct quote; it’s not just press reporting. He said it.

MR KIRBY: No, I know that, but what I said is I’m not – we’re not aware of any official request by the Philippine Government for this, and so it would be premature for me to react one way or another to it.

QUESTION: Just a few more. Do you share Duterte’s concern about the safety of U.S. troops in the Philippines?

MR KIRBY: We maintain concerns about the safety of our troops all around the world. It’s one of the prime considerations of American military leadership.

QUESTION: Would it be correct to say that as you share Duterte’s concern about the safety of troops, you think it is not good enough of a reason to withdraw troops from the Philippines?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I don’t want to get ahead of decisions that, as far as we know, haven’t actually been made or certainly communicated to the United States Government. Secondly, this is really more of a matter for the Defense Department if and when such a decision would be transmitted by the Philippine Government, but as far as we know, there hasn’t been. So it really would be premature to get ahead of that.

QUESTION: Just one last one. In the context of offensive remarks made by Duterte, how is the communication between the two countries. Have they affected communication?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that there’s a specific impact on communication. I mean, we have an ambassador there and he stays in touch daily with his Philippine counterparts and with government officials. As far as I know, that communication continues unabated. I think we’ve already talked about, from the podium, some of the unhelpful comments that were made by the president. We’ve been honest about that and forthright as friends and allies should do. But again, this is a – we still believe in the importance of this bilateral relationship. We still believe in the commitments we have from a security perspective under that alliance and we’re going to continue to meet those.

QUESTION: Have they affected relations at all?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that there’s been a tangible, practical effect on relations. I think, as I said, we haven’t been happy about everything we’ve heard and we haven’t been afraid to talk about that and to be frank about it.


QUESTION: There’s --

QUESTION: Could you update us on --

MR KIRBY: I’ll come back to you in a second.

QUESTION: Could you update us on Brett McGurk’s travels? Yesterday, he tweeted a photo of the sun setting in Syria. Was he recently in Syria? And last night, he tweeted that he was flying overseas. Where is he going?

MR KIRBY: That’s a question we ask ourselves every day: where is Brett today? I actually don’t have an update for his – on his schedule, so we’ll see if we can get his staff to give us something we can provide to you. I just don’t have the details on exactly where he is right now.


QUESTION: Yeah, on China and Russia, do you have anything on the joint maneuver between Moscow and Beijing starting this week near South China Sea?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re aware of the exercises that they’re conducting bilaterally. It’s not unusual for nation-states to exercise their militaries or to do so in a bilateral fashion. We do it all the time. The only thing that we’re mindful of is that, as exercises like this take place, they take place in accordance with international law and don’t do anything to raise tensions. But really, these exercises are for the Russians and for the Chinese to speak to.

QUESTION: In your estimation, is – do you see this as an aim to counter U.S. efforts when Washington is pursuing the so-called Asia Pivot Policy?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I think the goal of the exercise is – I would – I’d have to refer you to the Chinese and the Russians to speak to what they’re trying to get out of this. Are we – do we view it as a threat? No. Again, military’s exercise, they exercise sometimes together; as long as it’s done in accordance with international law and isn’t threatening or being provocative to another third party or nation-state, then there’s nothing that precludes them from doing that.

We will and have been and will remain committed to the Asia-Pacific rebalance, which, oh, by the way, Nike, isn’t just about the military. It’s not just about physical security in the Asia-Pacific. I mean, it’s about economic development and it’s about sustainable development goals. It’s about diplomatic and political engagement. I mean, there’s more to the Asia-Pacific rebalance than just moving most of the navy over there and being mindful of our security commitments, which are significant. Five of our seven treaty alliances are in the Asia-Pacific region – we take that seriously – including the one with the Philippines.

QUESTION: Hold on.

QUESTION: If I may --

QUESTION: Just – still on that?

QUESTION: Slightly different subject.

QUESTION: Can I just ask – I wanted to follow up on what you just said about how joint exercises are fine as long as they follow international law, and are not provocative to a third party. Is that right?

MR KIRBY: I think that’s what I said.

QUESTION: So when the North Koreans complain about U.S.-South Korean exercises being provocative, they’re – that complaint doesn’t count?

MR KIRBY: No, it doesn’t, because they’re wrong. Their exercises are not provocative.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) So you decide whether or not --


QUESTION: -- someone else’s complaints about provocation is valid or not?

MR KIRBY: Those exercises – you know darn well, Matt, those exercises --

QUESTION: Well, I just – I think you should be consistent. I mean, if any --

MR KIRBY: Well, there – we would – and it wouldn’t have to be – there wouldn’t – come on, now, there wouldn’t have to be a regular exercising of military capabilities with our allies in the Republic of Korea if the North wasn’t conducting nuclear tests and launching ballistic missiles, and continuing to destabilize not only the peninsula, but the region.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR KIRBY: But they are defensive – they are by nature defensive exercises --

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR KIRBY: -- because unfortunately, that’s what we need to focus on there.

QUESTION: Fair enough, I understand that, but, I mean, so it doesn’t – it’s not any third party? It’s basically any third party, but North Korea, can claim provocation?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think that – I almost can’t even believe you are potentially defending North Korea.

QUESTION: I am not defending anything. I’m just saying the North Koreans consistently say that this is provocative and they – and over and over again. And you just said --

MR KIRBY: And they are consistent --

QUESTION: -- in terms of Russia and China not --

MR KIRBY: And they’re consistently wrong when they say that.

QUESTION: Okay. All right.


QUESTION: If I may, can I --

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?


QUESTION: Right. Do you have anything on the reported arms sale to Taiwan? Do you have anything to confirm the veracity of the so-called HARM, which is a high-speed anti-radiation missile?

MR KIRBY: I know what it is. As you know, Nike, we don’t talk about proposed arms sales one way or the other, so I’m not in a position to confirm that one way or the other.


QUESTION: North Korea?


QUESTION: Secretary Lew said this morning at a Council on Foreign Relations event that, “We are going to do everything we can to try and keep the pressure on North Korea.” Specifically, he was talking about increasing the effectiveness of sanctions. So my question is: What unilateral sanctions are the U.S. considering against North Korea?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any specific unilateral sanctions to speak to. As you know, we’ve raised this inside the UN and we support the UN exploring additional sanctions. But I won’t get ahead of any U.S. unilateral decisions that I’m not aware have been made yet. But we are obviously deeply troubled by this most recent test, and we are going to continue to look and evaluate what options are available to us to increase the pressure on the North.

QUESTION: Are you looking at options just through the UN or are you also looking at unilateral options?

MR KIRBY: I simply am not going to speculate one way or the other. I’m not going to get ahead of decisions that we haven’t made as a government, except to say that we have confirmed that we are going to work inside the UN to consider the pursuit of additional UN sanctions, and we’ll see where it goes. Okay?


QUESTION: So the South Korean defense ministry said that the North could be ready for another test at any time. What is going to be the U.S.’s response if that gap becomes shorter and shorter between tests?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I think you can understand I’m not, first of all, going to get into discussing intelligence matters here. I’ve seen those reports, and we’re monitoring the situation as best we can, as closely as we can. We continue to urge the North to stop these provocative actions and to do what’s right for their people, which is to feed them, to educate them, rather than to spend the resources that they’re spending on these kinds of capabilities. But I wouldn’t begin to speculate about what might or might not happen in lieu of – or sorry, in the wake of any future provocative actions that they might take. It’s just not prudent for me to get ahead like that.


QUESTION: Where does the U.S. stand on Balochistan? Because the Indian prime minister has raised this subject. It is a part of Pakistan, but about human rights there, and about the fight for freedom from there? And this is – has been in the media and everywhere. So what is the U.S. stand on that?

MR KIRBY: The government – U.S. Government respects the unity and territorial integrity of Pakistan and we do not support independence for Balochistan.

QUESTION: And there are people and persons, groups, here who are working towards it. Do you support – do you tolerate them from the U.S. soil?

MR KIRBY: Support for?

QUESTION: Baloch independence.

MR KIRBY: As I said, the government policy is that we support the territorial integrity of Pakistan and we do not support independence for Balochistan.

QUESTION: So do you have any reaction to the Indian prime minister’s statements on that particular subject?

MR KIRBY: I just – I think I just gave you our reaction to events there.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Wait, I got two very – they’re very brief.

MR KIRBY: Almost out. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But one of them does have to do with Syria and it goes back – this is – and this is JIC, it’s a JIC question. You say that you can – if you and the Russians agree, then the Syrian air force can strike Nusrah targets, right? What about Hizballah and Iranian forces?

MR KIRBY: Well, so a couple of thoughts there. The Secretary has been in communication with Foreign Minister Zarif and the Iranians have come out and said that obviously they’re in favor of arrangements that would lead to a political solution – I think is a rough gist of how they put it, which – and they have, as you well know, considerable influence over Hizballah and that group. They are – but purely, frankly speaking, they’re not – they are not – they are – they are not outside the cessation of hostilities, as is Daesh or al-Nusrah, because the cessation of hostilities holds only to those groups that are designated as FTO outside of it. So our expectation is --

QUESTION: Well, wait a second – by the UN, because Hizballah is designated by the UN.

MR KIRBY: The UN – yeah, by the UN. But the agreement under the ISSG is UN-designated FTOs.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah, right, okay. No, I understand that, but what I’m asking --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. But – I know what you’re asking.


MR KIRBY: Hang on. But our expectation is that Iran will use its influence over Hizballah in a way that is support – that is compliant with the cessation of hostilities and more specifically with the arrangement that we’ve reached.

QUESTION: Yeah, but what if Hizballah wants to go after what it says is Nusrah? Is the JIC going to be able – going to say --

MR KIRBY: I don’t believe that that’s --

QUESTION: -- “Okay, Hizballah, you can go ahead and -- ”

MR KIRBY: Again, I don’t want to get in – the JIC is – the modalities are still being established. I don’t want to get ahead of that. I’m not aware that that --

QUESTION: Yeah, but you could be --

MR KIRBY: -- is going to be something that they’re going to coordinate.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the – okay, but the – it goes to the point of whether the JIC is going to – first of all, you’re saying that the JIC could greenlight air force operations by Syria, a country that is a designated state sponsor of terrorism, against another group that you say is a terrorist.

MR KIRBY: Through Russian influence on the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Yeah, exactly. So this goes to whether or not the JIC could also greenlight a military operation by Hizballah, which is a U.S. FTO, against Nusrah.

MR KIRBY: We’re expecting Iran to use their influence on Hizballah to comply.

QUESTION: All right. Last thing – and this is a Mideast-Israel question – Israel-Palestine question. So on – your colleague last week, Elizabeth, was not too pleased with the video that Prime Minister Netanyahu released about ethnic cleansing and saying that the Palestinians wanted a – wanted to ethnically cleanse what would be their future state. Since that has happened, President Abbas has come out and accused Israel of ethnic cleansing, and I’m just wondering if you have any reaction to that, if you think this is kind of – is this just name-calling back and forth or do you have serious concerns about the rhetoric and what it means?

MR KIRBY: I think we would likewise say we don’t find that sort of rhetoric appropriate or helpful, and what we would say – what we have said: We want both sides to refrain from provocative rhetoric and actions that are just taking us farther away from a two-state solution. So, yes, we’ve seen those comments and find them inappropriate and unhelpful as well.

QUESTION: So you do not believe that Israel is ethnically cleansing?

MR KIRBY: Absolutely not.


MR KIRBY: Okay. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:24 p.m.)

DPB # 158

[1] The following information is attributable to Spokesperson John Kirby:

"We have seen reports, based on the Secretary’s comments -- and those of the spokesperson -- this afternoon, that the US and Russia could approve of strikes by the Syrian regime. This is incorrect. To clarify: the arrangement announced last week makes no provision whatsoever for the U.S. and Russia to approve strikes by the Syrian regime, and this is not something we could ever envision doing. A primary purpose of this agreement, from our perspective, is to prevent the Syrian regime air force from flying or striking in any areas in which the opposition or Nusra are present. The purpose of the JIC, if and when it is established, would be to coordinate military action between the US and Russia, not for any other party."

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 9, 2016

Fri, 09/09/2016 - 16:01

Elizabeth Trudeau
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 9, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:03 p.m. EDT

MS TRUDEAU: Good afternoon, everyone. I have a few things at the top then I’ll get straight to your questions.

First, on Libya. Yesterday the last remnants of Libya’s Qadhafi-era chemical weapons program arrived at a specialized destruction facility in Germany for a destruction under international verification by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. We thank Germany for undertaking this important mission, which was part of a robust international effort. The arrival of the chemicals in Germany also marks the final step towards the complete destruction of Libya’s former chemical weapons program and ensures these precursors can never be used as chemical weapons, including by non-state actors. The United States fully supported Libya’s request for international assistance to remove and destroy its remaining chemical weapon precursors through diplomatic support within the UN Security Council, as well as the OPCW. State Department contributed $5 million, along with logistical support, to this international effort. The United States will continue to work with the OPCW and international partners to rid the world of the scourge of chemical weapons.

Next – good news story. The United States is pleased to announce a contribution of nearly $37 million of humanitarian assistance towards the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to support critical education gaps for refugees in 16 countries. This contribution, funded through the department’s Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration, will help support commitments made by refugee-hosting countries to increase the number of children accessing quality education by providing additional resources to UNHCR to work with host countries. This announcement is part of the U.S. Government’s commitment to the President’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees that President Obama is cohosting September 20th, along with our international partners during the UN General Assembly in New York.

Next, I draw your attention to a statement I just released by Secretary Kerry on North Korea’s nuclear test. I won’t go through that; I’m sure we’ll come to that in questions.

And finally, I’d like to wish Matt Lee a very happy birthday.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: And we’ll turn it over to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Happy Birthday.

QUESTION: Happy Birthday.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you. Another year.


QUESTION: I don’t – let’s see where to start here. I guess let’s start with North Korea and the statement.


QUESTION: It’s pretty much the same reaction that everyone has been giving to this --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I would say it was all five parties in the – for the six-party talks condemned. The international community has been very strong on this.

QUESTION: Right. So what is it that the Administration is hoping it will get out of the UN? Does it plan to do anything unilaterally outside of the UN system in response?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of our discussions at the UN. It’s my understanding they meet today at 4:30, so we expect some sort of readout, some reaction from up there. We’ve been consistently clear that we will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state, nor will we accept North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons. The President, in his statement, detailed also our commitment to work with our international partners as – on those lines and also reiterated our support to allies and partners in the region on their defense.

QUESTION: Right, but I mean, are you hoping that today’s meeting at the UN will result in some kind of action? Or are you prepared to let this go on for a while?

MS TRUDEAU: No, we’ve called for action and we’re going to work with our international partners. Let’s see where the UN Security Council goes today, Matt.

QUESTION: All right. And then I’ve raised this point before. You always say this about – you’re not going to accept North Korea as a nuclear power, but you do accept the fact that they just blew up a nuclear device – a nuclear weapon, right?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, we’ve commented on their nuclear tests – the second this year. You remember the last one in January.

QUESTION: Right. Exactly. So, I mean, isn’t it just – I don’t understand how you can say that you won’t accept that. I can see how you can say you won’t accept --

MS TRUDEAU: I – what I would say is --

QUESTION: -- you won’t accept their legitimacy as a member --


QUESTION: -- of the nuclear club, but they clearly are.

MS TRUDEAU: What I would say is that we won’t stop our efforts on working to ensure that they come into compliance with their international obligations. We won’t stop our efforts in working with our international partners to increase pressure on this very opaque regime in reaction to provocative acts like this.

QUESTION: Right, but the very fact that they blew up a – or tested a nuclear weapon means that they are a nuclear power. You might not like it, but when you say you can’t accept it, I just don’t --

MS TRUDEAU: I think it’s one thing – we will not accept it – we will not stop our efforts to work.


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I know we’ve got a lot on DPRK, okay, so why don’t we go, Janne?

QUESTION: Thank you, Elizabeth. Is there any communication with the United States before North Korea has the nuclear --

MS TRUDEAU: Between the United States and North Korea?



QUESTION: Because they usually a notice to U.S. and China that they’re doing the test.

MS TRUDEAU: I have nothing to read out on that, no.

QUESTION: But do you no ever talked with Chinese Government (inaudible)?

MS TRUDEAU: The Chinese Government would speak to their own communication.

QUESTION: They have something – have with --

MS TRUDEAU: I could not speak to that. The Chinese Government would speak to that.

QUESTION: Why are the U.S. intelligence didn’t know about this significant nuclear test?

MS TRUDEAU: Janne, as you know, we would never speak to intelligence matters from this podium, so I would dispute even the premise of your question.

QUESTION: But you knew about the (inaudible) --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to speak to intelligence matters. We’ve been very clear, as the entire international community has, on our reaction to this very provocative action.

QUESTION: Do you know what size of this --

MS TRUDEAU: I know that there’s been a lot of discussion; there’s been some independent think tankers speaking about that. I’m not in a position to exactly characterize the size of this.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry, Goyal. Go ahead, Oren.

QUESTION: There have been reports recently that kind of lay out the extent of procurement of nuclear material through China by North Korea through companies – North Korean companies – that are operating in China. And I guess I’m wondering whether – what the United States is ready to do to prevent that or to stop that from happening.

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I would talk about the sanctions program that we recently put in place, which are the hardest sanctions that have been put in place in decades against this regime. As I said to Matt at the top, we are committed to ensuring those sanctions are in place and actually those sanctions work in this. We’ll see where the UN Security Council goes this afternoon, but we are very aware that North Korea continues to seek, as we could tell, to develop this program and we’re very committed, along with our international partners, to take steps against it.

QUESTION: So the launcher that the North Koreans use for their – for some of – a lot of their missiles is a launcher that’s provided by China, and it’s – I mean, it’s like a – it’s a truck that’s a missile launcher. Doesn’t seem to have much of a dual-use there. So what’s the – these sanctions – China signed onto these sanctions also.

MS TRUDEAU: They did.

QUESTION: But they’re obviously – appear to be providing equipment to the North Koreans that they could use in this way, so what’s the United States – what kind of leverage does the United States have to affect the Chinese behavior?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I would say a couple things on that. One, I would point you exactly to the statement the Chinese released themselves after this test, a very strong condemnation of this activity. As we seek to make sure that these sanctions work, we remain in close contact with our partners not only in the region but around the world. In terms of specific procurement actions, specific equipment, I’m just not going to speak to that.

Lesley on DPRK.

QUESTION: There was – yeah. Wasn’t U.S. aware of – were there any signs ahead of time that North Korea was preparing this kind of thing?

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t speak to intelligence matters.

QUESTION: Because there was a – what they call a sniffer radiation spy plane. There were tweets overnight about this saying that they were flying over the peninsula at the time. So – but were there any signs that you had, not speaking to your intelligence, that this was a possibility?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I’m just not going to speak to that, Lesley.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in Norway said that China bears responsibility for these developments. Is that an assessment that you agree with at this time?

MS TRUDEAU: So I haven’t seen the Secretary’s remarks. I’d let the Pentagon speak to that. As we’ve said, we remain in close contact with all of our partners on this. We are committed to making sure that the sanctions that we have in place are implemented and enforced. We will continue to have those discussions. We will discuss it at the UN this afternoon and then we’ll move forward.

QUESTION: Well, it seems the Secretary Carter – I mean, the frustration with China seems pretty palpable. Is that something that you see in this building, as well, that there is a frustration --

MS TRUDEAU: I think what we see is an opaque regime undertaking provocative actions in violation of its international commitments. What we continue to do is have the discussions with our partners internationally to take steps to close the space through sanctions, through cooperation, through dialogue, and so that we can reduce the possibility of these actions happening.

QUESTION: How would you assess --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry, hold on. Let’s go to Nike.

QUESTION: Thank you. Quick follow-up, Elizabeth. Secretary Kerry mentioned that he spoke to his counterpart from Japan and South Korea --


QUESTION: -- and clearly he was speaking to Lavrov. So my question is: Did he speak to his counterpart from China? It’s just a little bit that he speak to all the members from Six-Party Talks but --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I don’t have a call with his Chinese counterpart to read out as of right now. Okay.

QUESTION: And then in the statement that he just issued that U.S. is open to authentical and credible talks, is there any discussion in the building that to maybe adopt a different approach?

MS TRUDEAU: No. We’ve consistently remained clear that we believe that we are open, as you mentioned, to authentic and credible negotiations. We believe that’s the path forward, but underlining authentic and credible within the Six-Party framework.

QUESTION: And then Secretary Kerry also mentioned that DPRK repeatedly violates its obligation under the UN Security Council resolution, which is required by the UN Charter that any member should abide by the resolution. Is there any discussion to kick them out of the UN?

MS TRUDEAU: I have nothing to preview on that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Going back to China’s role in all of this, I mean, how would you assess China’s pressuring of North Korea and the fact that what – their cooperation so far hasn’t allowed for prevention of these types of provocative actions?

MS TRUDEAU: We’ve spoken about this a lot from this podium. I think we’ve spoken with you a lot about this. The Chinese came out very strongly after this incident, condemned this action. We will continue to engage in dialogue with our Chinese counterparts, both up at the UN this afternoon, as well as bilaterally. The international community is united on this, so let’s see where we go this afternoon and then hopefully we’ll have more to read out to you soon.

Matt, are we going to switch?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS TRUDEAU: Yes, sir. I’m sorry. Michel, are we still on DPRK?

QUESTION: No, switch to Syria.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, let’s finish up DPRK.

QUESTION: One more DPRK very quick.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, are you DPRK too?


MS TRUDEAU: Okay, we’ll do these two and then we’ll switch.

QUESTION: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. UN Security Council resolution has existing sanctions against North Korea. There are so many sanctions every time they launch the – a missile, so which one is which and can you expect United States by themself more strong sanctions against the North Korea that as --

MS TRUDEAU: Janne, we never preview our sanctions actions before they happen. And specifically at the UN, as I said, they’re meeting today at 4:30. We’ll have that discussion there. Let’s see where that goes.


QUESTION: So Kyle Cardine with Fuji TV. So with some timing, the Special Representative for North Korean Policy Sung Kim --


QUESTION: -- is going to be in Japan and South Korea this weekend.


QUESTION: Obviously, this recent test is going to be on the table for discussion --

MS TRUDEAU: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- but what else is going to be discussed at those meetings?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, well, thank you for that. I’d also point out that Assistant Secretary Russel is also in Tokyo, as well. So as you mentioned, our Special Representative for North Korea Policy Sung Kim is actually traveling in the region, both Japan and the Republic of Korea. He is specifically there to discuss North Korean policy, so full-stop.

QUESTION: Okay. Is there going to be any discussion about the no-first-strike policy at all from --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, it’s – he’s going to be there speaking about North Korea writ large. I’m not going to get into, before those meetings, the exact details of those conversations.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Thank you.

Okay, are we going to go to Syria? Is that where you’re going?

QUESTION: Syria, yeah.

MS TRUDEAU: Go ahead, Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah, any update from Geneva? Any --

MS TRUDEAU: I do not.


MS TRUDEAU: Because I would say that the talks continue. As soon as we have a readout, we’ll provide that with you.

QUESTION: And do you have any idea if they were able to solve the main (inaudible)?

MS TRUDEAU: Again, Michel, I’m not going to get ahead of the discussions of the Secretary in Geneva. We hope to have something to offer soon, but it’s not for me to get ahead of that.

QUESTION: And they will continue tomorrow or --

MS TRUDEAU: Michel, again, the talks continue. I don’t have a timeline. I don’t have a decision or resolution. We’ll see where they go and then we’ll have something to read out for you.



QUESTION: No, no, can we stay on --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry. We’re going to do that. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Did you see this happen – at least I think it happened yesterday. A group of about 70, or more than 70 actually, agencies have said that they’re stopping – they’re halting their cooperation with the UN in Syria due to concerns about the UN – I don’t know if “complicity” is the right word, but due to the ties between the UN and the Assad regime. Do you have anything to say about that?

MS TRUDEAU: We do, and thanks for the question. We take very seriously the concerns raised by Syrian non-governmental organizations in their open letter. We recognize the mechanism – they referred the whole-of-Syria mechanism is far from perfect. However, we do believe it is an essential tool for coordinated humanitarian response in Syria.

We remain focused on the leading driving factor of this crisis. Many of the very serious concerns raised by these NGOs are directly attributable to the Assad regime’s blatant disregard for the humanitarian crisis it helped create. In our assessment, non-participation in the whole-of-Syria approach is counterproductive to efforts to deliver aid to the millions of people across Syria. We’d note that over the last five years, the UN’s staff and the partners have done extraordinary work in a very complex, a very dangerous situation. They’ve worked tirelessly to deliver this aid to the millions of people in Syria.

They also must operate with the permission of the host government, as we’ve talked about many times here. The whole-of-Syria mechanism helps the UN coordinate these operations. It also helps mitigate the dangers that these humanitarian workers face.

QUESTION: Right, but are you concerned that this is going to have a significant impact on deliveries?

MS TRUDEAU: I think because the letter just came in, we’re still assessing really what that impact would be. Of course, we’re concerned when you have frontline NGOs speaking about this, raising concerns, saying that they’re not going to cooperate. Our focus, as we’ve said many times from this, is getting the aid to where it needs to go.

QUESTION: Right, but you said that this was counterproductive not – for them not to participate.


QUESTION: Does that mean that you’re telling them that they should – that you think that they should change their minds and should resume --

MS TRUDEAU: We think that the whole-of-Syria approach, while it has flaws that we fully recognize, is the best way to get the aid to the people who need it.


MS TRUDEAU: So we do believe it’s counterproductive.

QUESTION: Yes, but so I just wanted to make it clear.


QUESTION: You want them to rescind their decision and --

MS TRUDEAU: We want them to refocus efforts on getting aid to people, yes.

QUESTION: Well, do you want them to cooperate with the UN or not?


QUESTION: So you want them to change their decision?

MS TRUDEAU: We would like them to cooperate back with the UN.

QUESTION: All right.

MS TRUDEAU: Lesley, anything?

QUESTION: I don’t have anything.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. You know what? Let’s go to Sudan.


MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Media reports in Israel stated that Israeli officials urged the U.S. during talks with Under Secretary Shannon in Jerusalem last week to bolster relations with Sudan after it cut its relations with Iran. Do you have any reaction to this information?

MS TRUDEAU: So what I would say is that the U.S. and the Government of Sudan regularly discuss the full range of issues that do impact our bilateral relationship. In our engagements, we primarily focus on U.S. engagement with Sudan, which focuses on our desire to see the end of conflict in all areas of Sudan, ensure humanitarian access, and see Sudan play a positive role in regional stability. So that’s really where our focus is on that. Okay.

QUESTION: But can you confirm the information coming from Israel?

MS TRUDEAU: I’ll just speak broadly on it. I’m not going to confirm that, no.

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

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: You may have seen – I think you have seen this video that Prime Minister Netanyahu has put out today in social media talking about settlements and talking about the Palestinians wanting to have a state that is – that has no Jews in it at all and saying that this is ethnic cleansing. And he also complains that – well, he says that that demand is outrageous, that it’s even more outrageous that the world doesn’t find it outrageous. And then he says some otherwise enlightened countries even promote this outrage.

So I’m just wondering, do you see yourselves – does the U.S., this Administration, see itself as a target of this accusation? And whether it does or not, what do you make of the general thought expressed?

MS TRUDEAU: So we have seen the Israeli prime minister’s video. We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank. We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful. Settlements are a final status issue that must be resolved in negotiations between the parties. We share the view of every past U.S. administration and the strong consensus of the international community that ongoing settlement activity is an obstacle to peace. We continue to call on both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to the two-state solution.

We have repeatedly expressed our strong concerns that trends on the ground continue to move in the opposite direction. Let’s be clear: The undisputed fact is that already this year, thousands of settlement units have been advanced for Israelis in the West Bank, illegal outposts and unauthorized settlement units have been retroactively legalized, more West Bank land has been seized for exclusive Israeli use, and there has been a dramatic escalation of demolitions resulting in over 700 Palestinian structures destroyed, displacing more than 1,000 Palestinians. As we’ve said many times before, this does raise real questions about Israel’s long-term intentions in the West Bank.

QUESTION: So you’re not a big fan of the video, I take it?

MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: So have you made your – not you personally, but has the Administration made its feelings clear to – other than your comments just now to the Israelis?

MS TRUDEAU: Yes. We are engaging in direct conversations with the Israeli Government on this.

QUESTION: And I mean, is there anything that you can do? I mean, he said this; he apparently believes it and it’s a pretty strong sentiment. You – even though disagree with it, I mean, what have you asked him to do? I mean, have you asked him to walk it back at all or --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to get into our diplomatic discussions. What I would say is: unhelpful, it’s inappropriate. We’ll have our conversation with our Israeli allies and friends and we’ll see where that goes.

QUESTION: Do you --

QUESTION: What level is that --

QUESTION: Do you believe --

MS TRUDEAU: One second.

QUESTION: Do you believe that he was referring to the United States when he talked about some otherwise enlightened countries?

MS TRUDEAU: We would disagree with his broad assessment that – or the broad assertation – I won’t say assessment – that members of the international community who have expressed concerns on settlements are somehow expressing this view.


QUESTION: All right, but --

MS TRUDEAU: Oh, I’m sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: But you don’t dispute that you might be otherwise enlightened.

MS TRUDEAU: I am confident in our interpretation of his comments. Nick.

QUESTION: What level are those discussions happening at? Who is doing the discussing?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. I’m not going to read out those, but we are in direct contact with the Israelis.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS TRUDEAU: Are we on this one? Tejinder.

QUESTION: Have you got any official question or request from the EU, because you won’t talk about the diplomatic – about – the most of the destruction that happens by Israel is the EU-funded projects. So EU is really like – so have they officially reached out to you?

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t have anything to read out on contact with the EU on that specific issue, Tejinder.

Are we still on this?

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia.

MS TRUDEAU: Sure. Go ahead, Michel.

QUESTION: Congress passed a bill today letting 9/11 victims sue Saudi Arabia. How do you view this bill? And secondly, how will it affect the U.S.-Saudi relations?

MS TRUDEAU: So we are aware of the House vote. If you’re looking for a specific comment from the Administration, I would refer you back to Josh Earnest’s comments at the White House on May 17th. The White House position has not changed.

While we remain absolutely committed to assisting the families of 9/11 victims and we sympathize with the motivation behind the legislation, we have serious concerns over the potential negative implications for U.S. interests and our national security.

QUESTION: How would the – it will affect or will it affect the relations?

MS TRUDEAU: The U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia is strong. It’s based on a wide variety of interests. We’ll continue to work with the Saudi Government as we work to pursue global and regional shared interests on that. I – we continue to have conversations with the Saudis on this, but our relationship is strong.

QUESTION: Have you heard any complaint from Saudi Arabia after the bill passing?

MS TRUDEAU: For Saudi comment on the legislation, I’d refer you to the government – the kingdom.

QUESTION: Are you in discussion with them?

MS TRUDEAU: We’ve been in discussion. We talked to --


MS TRUDEAU: I have nothing to read out from today. I think this vote just happened.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, are we still on Saudi?

QUESTION: Yeah, one more.

MS TRUDEAU: Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: As we approach this 15th anniversary of 9/11, which is connected or related to Saudi Arabia – well --


QUESTION: -- 15 of the 19 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia. That’s what I meant. What did we learn after 15 years, and what message you think you are sending to those who support terrorists or finance or train in the name of religion?

MS TRUDEAU: It’s a big question.

QUESTION: And first – I’m sorry to bother you, sorry to interrupt you. And first of all, my personal tribute to the U.S. and international community for this terrible 9/11 incident in New York and also to the families and victims: I’m sorry.

MS TRUDEAU: Thank you, Goyal. It’s a somber anniversary – not only the events of September 11th, but we also remember those who were killed in Benghazi. I think we’ll have more to say on the actual anniversary itself.

One thing I think that the President and Secretary Kerry have both spoken about as we take a look at the events of 9/11 is the issue of resiliency – how the American people, together with the international community, reacted and recovered from the events of 9/11. This is something – we remember the victims of that day every single day here at the State Department and certainly across the U.S. Government, and we will work on their behalf as well as on behalf of the American people to fight terror.

QUESTION: You think 9/11 is the part of this – what we see today? ISIL or ISIS came from 9/11, or what – where – people may have not forgotten 9/11, of course, but now they are focusing on global terrorism or threat is from the ISIL, so --

MS TRUDEAU: I would – I think that there’s books written about the genesis of Daesh as well as, certainly, about the attacks of 9/11. Where I would say is that terrorism, as we take a look at both Daesh as well as 9/11, is it comes in many forms. And as the international community, I think what we do find is our strength is standing together as we fight this in whatever form violent extremism comes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Go ahead, Lalit.

QUESTION: I have one question on India’s --

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: -- membership to NSG, Nuclear Suppliers Group.

MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry, one more time, Lalit.

QUESTION: India’s membership to Nuclear Suppliers Group.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry was in China recently on the sidelines of G20. You know China is the only country which has been objecting to India’s membership. Did Secretary Kerry speak to his Chinese counterparts or Chinese leadership on this issue?

MS TRUDEAU: So I don’t have those diplomatic conversations to read out, but I think as you know very well and we’ve been very clear since 2010, the United States has made clear our support for India’s full membership in the four multilateral export control regimes. We continue to believe India is ready for the NSG.

QUESTION: But did U.S. take up this issue with the Chinese?

MS TRUDEAU: In the last meeting, the NSG participating governments, as you know, did not reach a consensus decision – we spoke about it at the time – to admit any new applicant into the group. We were disappointed in the outcome. We continue, though, and will be, continued to work constructively with India and with members of the NSG on India’s accession in the months ahead. But on the particular conversations on China, because I know you’re going to come back and ask, I have nothing to read out on that.

QUESTION: Just last one.


QUESTION: In all, is there any progress made after the last meeting on NSG?

MS TRUDEAU: One more time. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Do you know any further progress has been made on NSG membership application?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, you know that discussions within that group are confidential within that group, so I’m not going to read out. But the United States remains committed. We believe India is ready for full membership. We will work towards that goal.

QUESTION: But based on that conversation, how far you are comfortable that India would get this membership?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to forecast. It’s a consensus decision.

QUESTION: Thank you.


MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: Earlier today, the last remaining residents of Camp Liberty left for Albania. I’m wondering if you – it’s something that you guys have been working hard on, I know.

MS TRUDEAU: We have, and thank you for recognizing that. Today, two aircraft chartered by UNHCR carried the last members of the MEK out of Iraq to safe haven in Albania. The rescue of more than 3,000 MEK members is the culmination of a major diplomatic initiative by the United States in support of UNHCR’s efforts to relocate them. We are grateful to the Government of Iraq for facilitating the departure of the MEK, and we are especially appreciative of the extraordinary efforts of the Albanian Government and the Albanian Prime Minister Rama to welcome these people who are in need of international protection. These actions, we believe, are in the best traditions of the generosity and tolerance of the Albanian people.

And you guys.

QUESTION: On more on --

MS TRUDEAU: One more and then that’s it.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Recently, Donald Trump said that North Korea is the China’s baby, so China should solve the problem. What do you comment on this?

MS TRUDEAU: I wouldn’t comment on comments made by U.S. presidential candidates. Thanks, Janne.

Thank you.

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

DPB #157

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 8, 2016

Thu, 09/08/2016 - 17:49

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 8, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:07 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Happy Thursday, everybody. Welcome to the State Department. A couple very quick items at the top, and then I’ll take your questions.

This falls in the in-case-you-missed-it category, but just wanted to call attention to the fact yesterday in Laos – Laos, rather, President Obama announced a new State Department/Peace Corps initiative called English for All. English for All and its new website, which is, will serve as a resource for foreign audiences interested in learning about the range of English programming offered by and supported by the U.S. Government. It will also be a helpful resource to those Americans who may be looking to serve their country by teaching English abroad. And worth noting that U.S. Government’s English instruction programs provide opportunities to learn English to millions worldwide every year.

Also, I just wanted to make note of the fact that tomorrow on Friday, September 9th, the State Department will team up with foreign diplomats to clean beaches across the United States. This is part – or in recognition, rather, of International Coastal Cleanup Day. This initiative will support the goals of Our Ocean 2016 conference, which is coming up next week. In collaboration with the Ocean Conservancy and its local partners, State Department personnel from the Office of Foreign Missions, together with foreign consular corps – the foreign consular corps, rather, will clean beaches in Chicago, in Galveston, in Kahuku, in Key Biscayne, in New York, and in Santa Monica, as well as Seattle.

And that’s it. Matt, over to you.


QUESTION: You said beaches --

MR TONER: All right. Sorry.

QUESTION: What was that?

MR TONER: Chicago. You know where that is --


MR TONER: -- Illinois; Galveston, Texas; Kahuku, Hawaii --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Great Lakes – the Great Lakes (inaudible) --

MR TONER: Yes, that’s – exactly, yes. Which is – by the way, the Great Lakes have more coastal – more coastline than all of the – or either coast combined. I learned that. It’s a fun fact.

QUESTION: Absolutely fascinating.

MR TONER: So I think I’ve answered all your questions with that. (Laughter).

QUESTION: I think it --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Our Ocean (inaudible) summit.

QUESTION: It’s a very worthy --

MR TONER: You got me.

QUESTION: Very – a very worthy endeavor.

MR TONER: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just on your first one, what is the last letter in the word of the – in the name of the country where this English --



MR TONER: Did I mispronounce that? I apologize.

QUESTION: You can say either, but --


QUESTION: -- you didn’t need to correct yourself by dropping the “s.”

MR TONER: Oh, okay. I didn’t know. I learned the other day, again, that you’re – that you were supposed to drop the “s,” but --

QUESTION: It depends. You can.

MR TONER: Okay. Again, I --

QUESTION: All right. So can we move to matters of --


QUESTION: -- perhaps more urgent substance?


QUESTION: Syria – what is going on? Apparently, Foreign Minister Lavrov has arrived in Geneva already.

MR TONER: Well, I can’t speak for the whereabouts of Foreign Minister Lavrov. All I can say is I don’t have anything to update you on with regard to possible meetings. We continue to – and indeed, the Secretary spoke earlier today with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and we’re continuing to work through some of the remaining issues that we have before we can reach an agreement on a way forward with regard to Syria. And those questions, those issues continue to be discussed. And until we get to a point where we can feel that we can reach a resolution of those issues, we’ll continue to work through them.

QUESTION: Well, does that mean that those issues have to be resolved before there would be a meeting?

MR TONER: No. But I would also – and certainly not. And we’ve seen, obviously --

QUESTION: Because --

MR TONER: -- indicative of the meeting he had last week in China, that certainly Secretary Kerry’s willing to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov to discuss remaining issues. However, I think it’s our belief that – or our – yes, our belief that the remaining issues are at a technical level that need to be addressed within our interagency and also by some of the working groups who have been working on these issues for some time now.

So I guess to sum it up, I mean, we’re just not at a point where we believe it’s – we can confirm, A, a meeting and, B, that it’s worth his while to go have a meeting.

QUESTION: Wait, you just referred to interagency. So is some of the holdup here internal to the Administration, differences --

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, I mean, any agreement that we reach would have to be reached though the interagency. I mean, that’s obvious in some sense.

QUESTION: Right. But in the past, people have spoken – or the reason that there wasn’t – the reason given by an official, perhaps more than one official, for there not being an agreement reached in China was that the Russians had walked back on some things that you all had thought had been previously agreed to. And now – maybe I’m just over-interpreting your comment.

MR TONER: Look, I don’t want to --

QUESTION: It seems as though not only is there a problem with the Russians, there’s also a problem in the interagency in the United States.

MR TONER: I just think, Matt, it’s – these are difficult processes. The Russians have conditions they want to see met and addressed; we have our own. And in reaching our own consensus with regard to a text or a way forward that we can agree on, we continue to have those conversations. We’re just not there yet. I don’t want to put the onus on any one – either side at this point. I just want to – I would just say that when we get there, when we have a reason that we believe a meeting would be – rather, when we’ve reached a point where we believe a meeting would be useful, then we’ll announce that.

QUESTION: Mark, this almost going to happen kind of meeting, I mean, this kind of feeling – does that indicate that you guys are getting closer or farther apart?

MR TONER: I just – I don’t --

QUESTION: Because the Secretary spoke to --

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, it’s a fair question. I just – it indicates that these are complicated discussions --

QUESTION: Right, right.

MR TONER: -- and that – and they’re detailed discussions.


MR TONER: And rather than rush to an agreement, we want to make sure that it meets and addresses all our concerns and all of our goals and objectives going into it. And so it’s painstaking to some degree, but it’s part of the process. I --


MR TONER: So I don’t want to say we’re going back or we’re stepping away. I think that overall we wouldn’t still be in it if we didn’t believe that it was still possible.

QUESTION: I have a couple more.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: What are some of these technical issues that the Russians may have walked away from or walked back from?

MR TONER: We’ve been fairly circumspect about talking about those in detail, partly to protect the confidential discussions that we’re having with Russia. Once we reach an agreement, we’ll talk about the – all the aspects of that agreement. But until we get there – we’ve been very broad, and that’s deliberate.

QUESTION: And two points if I could have your comment on. One, the Syrian army retook a neighborhood of Ramouseh in Aleppo earlier today. It gives them a broader sort of base from which to attack. And second, the Turks are saying that they veto basically any participation by Kurdish forces to liberate Raqqa. Your comment on those issues.

MR TONER: The second question again. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: The second question – the Turks --

MR TONER: About the Turks.

QUESTION: The Turks want to have some sort of a veto power over the participation of any Kurdish forces in the upcoming effort, whenever it happens, to liberate Raqqa.

MR TONER: Raqqa. Okay. First – and the first part of question. See, I’ve already forgotten what that is. (Laughter.) So sorry, Said. It’s been a long week.

QUESTION: The Syrian army retook the neighborhood of Ramouseh.

MR TONER: Oh, right. Exactly. Look, I mean, it’s not for me to really talk about, at a tactical level. We’ve seen those reports. I would just broadly state that we don’t see any kind of military solution to the situation in Syria. And that also pertains to the situation in Aleppo. It’s why we’re pushing so hard for a political resolution. And we’ve seen tactical shifts from day to day. We’ve seen these latest reports. It only raises our concern that the civilians within Aleppo continue to suffer.

QUESTION: But doesn’t that (inaudible) the agreement?

QUESTION: The reason I asked this was because they had --

MR TONER: I’ll let you and then I --

QUESTION: No, no, finish.

MR TONER: It’s okay.

QUESTION: They – it was the opposition that basically, through a sort of a blitz attack about a couple weeks, three weeks, four weeks ago, took this area, including --

MR TONER: Exactly.

QUESTION: --a military academy and so on.

MR TONER: And I think --

QUESTION: And at the time, you did not express a great deal of concern that there was an attack by the opposition.

MR TONER: Well, I just think there’s a – again, it’s just – it’s a complex battlespace. We’ve said that many times. And it’s also a very intense battlespace and there’s a give and take. And so I’m also not going to say that this is somehow some sea change tactically. I just don’t know, for one. And two, it just – we’ve seen these shifts take place over a period of months now.

Please, Barbara.

QUESTION: Yeah. Just because this whole area, Ramouseh area, is part of the ceasefire talks in terms of how you would get aid into Aleppo --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- does this not affect the negotiations? It surely must have some ramifications there.

MR TONER: Without getting into specifics, not necessarily, because if we were to reach an agreement, there would obviously be – and we’ve talked about this in broad terms – certainly a pause in the conflict or in the fighting before a cessation could take place, and we’ve – so I mean, no in the sense that there – the fighting would cease, if that’s what you’re talking about. If your broader question or your question is whether this complicates that Syria or the regime, rather, would think that it can somehow take Aleppo, that’s really some – a question I can’t answer. We’ve seen the regime continue to press the fight to take Aleppo. What we would say to that is there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria, and it’s up to Russia to convince the regime that that’s the case.

QUESTION: Just a quick question on the --


QUESTION: -- interagency. Is that objections from the Pentagon with regards to --

MR TONER: I’m not going to characterize it.

QUESTION: -- joint operations with Russians given how --

MR TONER: All I’m trying to say is --

QUESTION: -- Carter talked to the Russians the other day?

MR TONER: And I also don’t want to say that there’s – sorry, I don’t mean to talk over you, Barbara. I don’t want to say that there’s some kind of interagency battle. All I’m saying is as we look at the remaining issues, that’s going to be a discussion that we have with the interagency. And that just makes sense because it touches on the equities of the interagency.

QUESTION: Mark, how much --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- of a complicating factor is the comment today by the Turkish foreign minister that for a deal, Turkey will not accept under any conditions any transition deal that leaves Assad in power?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think we’ve – and our own position is that we don’t believe that Assad can be a legitimate leader in the long term for Syria. I think ultimately that – sorry – I think ultimately this is a question that Syrians needs to answer and – through the negotiation process that we want to see restarted in Geneva. And ultimately how that transition takes place, how long Assad steps in – stays in power before a government can – or a transitional government can take power – those are all questions that need to be answered.

Our own belief is that he doesn’t – he lacks all legitimacy to be the leader of Syria. But ultimately that’s a question that the Syrians themselves are going to have to address.

QUESTION: Could you --

QUESTION: I have a follow-up on Syria.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: If the reports are true that Lavrov is in Geneva, is this in any case – does the U.S. feel that this could be a propaganda issue by the Russians to kind of have one up on what the U.S. – and show that the U.S. maybe is not trying to get a deal on this?

MR TONER: I just – again, I won’t speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov’s travel, his schedule, his itinerary. All I can say – speak for is our own goal and our – and that is to try to settle the remaining issues that we have in reaching an agreement. And once we feel like we’re closer to a settlement and a meeting would be valuable, then we’ll have that meeting.

QUESTION: And are there issues – John Kerry, when he was in China, spoke about a couple of tough issues. Are these the same issues that – that are preventing this deal right now? Or is it something else?

MR TONER: I think, broadly speaking, they’re the same issues.

QUESTION: Mark, can I ask you about the Turkish foreign defense minister? Fikri Isik said that --

MR TONER: Oh, about Raqqa?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MR TONER: I mean --

QUESTION: They want to work with you to liberate Raqqa, but they will not accept the popular defense committee, Kurdish committee. So do you have a position on that?

MR TONER: Yeah I haven’t seen those comments. We’ve been supportive of those Kurdish groups in northern Syria who have been really effective in taking the fight to Daesh. We’re going to continue that support. But I don’t – I haven’t seen his comments.

QUESTION: But in principle, you do reject any kind of veto by the Turks on the liberation of Raqqa?

MR TONER: Look, we continue to have discussions, a regular dialogue with Turkey. We are working closely with Turkey, and indeed we’re supporting its recent offensive around – to secure its own border with Syria. We’ll continue those discussions going forward.



QUESTION: The KRG prime minister led a delegation to Baghdad last week. And among the topics that he discussed with the Iraqi prime minister was the KRG’s intent to hold a referendum on independence, and reportedly the Iraqi prime minister didn’t object. So if the Iraqi Government accepts that the KRG will hold a referendum on independence, does the United States also concur in that view that that is acceptable?

MR TONER: I have not seen those remarks. I’m unaware of that meeting. Certainly these are discussions at the core that need to take place between the Kurdish regional authorities and the Government of Iraq, but our position hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Is your position that if the Iraqi Government accepts a Kurdish – a referendum on Kurdish independence, that that’s also acceptable to the United States contingent on the approval of Baghdad?

MR TONER: Again, I think these are – what our emphasis is on is the sovereignty, territorial integrity of Iraq. These are discussions that are ongoing, but we don’t have any comment.


QUESTION: Afghanistan?


QUESTION: Do you have any word on the fate of the American professor kidnapped near the American University in Kabul last month?

MR TONER: Unfortunately I don’t have a lot to say. You’re talking about the U.S. citizen who was kidnapped in Kabul? Yeah. We’re limited in what we can say because we don’t have a Privacy Act waiver in this case. Obviously the safety and protection of U.S. citizens overseas is our top priority and we’re going to continue to monitor this incident very closely, but I can’t really speak further to it.

QUESTION: Has next of kin been notified? Can you tell us that?

MR TONER: Again, speaking broadly, certainly – and I’m legally bound not to speak specifically to this case, but that would normally be – standard operating procedure is we would reach out to the family of missing Americans and work with them in – and provide any support we could and answer their questions, et cetera.

QUESTION: And then have any U.S. diplomats participated in any decision-making councils relating to a possible rescue attempt of the professor?

MR TONER: So there I would not speak to any possible efforts that might be taken to secure his release. That’s not something I would address.

Please, Michael. Hey.

QUESTION: One on Russia.


QUESTION: According to foreign ministry – Russian foreign ministry – Foreign Minister Lavrov in his phone call with Senator Kerry, or Secretary Kerry, the other day --

MR TONER: (Laughter.) Sure.

QUESTION: -- brought to Secretary Kerry’s attention an open letter from pilot Yaroshenko’s mother that she had sent to the – to President Obama, actually. But Lavrov said he brought this to Kerry’s attention during their talks and expressed hope that it would be resolved in a positive manner. Do you know – has Secretary Kerry read the letter?

MR TONER: One more time – the letter pertaining to --

QUESTION: Yaroshenko’s mother sent an email to President Obama expressing concerns about her child imprisoned. And then --

MR TONER: Right. I – I’d have to look into it.

QUESTION: -- Lavrov --

MR TONER: I wasn’t aware of the letter or that it was raised in the bilat, so I – I’ll have to take the question.

Please, in the back.

QUESTION: My name is Kausan Javid, Dunya News (inaudible) in Washington, Pakistan.

MR TONER: Okay. Welcome.

QUESTION: The relation of Pakistan and United States is at lowest level. What really are the challenges?

MR TONER: Well, I would refute the premise of the question. I don’t believe they’re at their lowest level. I would say that our relationship with Pakistan is strong and in our mutual interest, and also in the interest of the region. It’s not to say it’s not sometimes a challenging relationship, but we have a range of issues, including counterterrorism, that we work quite closely with Pakistan on. And we believe, again, our relationship is strong.

QUESTION: Sir, Secretary Kerry recently visited South Asia. He went to Bangladesh and India, but skipped Pakistan. It clearly indicates the interest of United States in that region. Sir, what really was the reason for skipping Pakistan in that important visit?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, it doesn’t clearly indicate any – anything about our relationship with Pakistan. The Secretary has, I think we would all agree in this room, a very intense travel schedule. He’s been to Pakistan recently; he speaks often to senior Pakistani leadership. Specifically, he was in India for the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue and took the opportunity to also visit Bangladesh – I think the first time he’s been there.

But as we’ve said many times, there’s no zero-sum game here. We need to have a very strong and robust relationship with India and we do – the world’s largest democracy. And we also want to have a strong relationship with Pakistan. It’s in the interests of the region to do so.

QUESTION: Sir, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee today rejected the proposal of putting sanctions on Pakistan for not taking actions against Haqqani Network, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and Lashkar-e Tayyiba. Sir, what kind of discussions are being – are going on with Pakistan regarding these terror groups?

MR TONER: Well, our discussions continue to focus on the fact that we’re urging the Government of Pakistan to take concerted action against safe havens and terrorist groups that threaten other countries in the region and we’ve been very clear about that. And we have seen them attempt to address it. We want to see more action taken, but it continues to be a topic of conversation with them.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: I want to go back to --


QUESTION: -- Russia – well, kind of Russia.

MR TONER: Kind of Russia.

QUESTION: You will have seen probably that the Russians say that both the Israelis and the Palestinians have agreed in principle to have a meeting to try to get things started again in Moscow.


QUESTION: What – what’s your take on this?

MR TONER: Well, my – our take, not my take – our take is --

QUESTION: Well, “your” meaning the royal you.

MR TONER: That’s right. That’s exactly right, thank you. Look, it’s obviously up to the parties to decide if – if they want to do a meeting and when and where that meeting takes place. So obviously, I’d refer you to them for comment. As we made clear in the Quartet report, we continue to call on both sides to demonstrate their commitment to a two-state solution and to lay the groundwork for a successful negotiation.

I think we’re concerned that things might be moving in the opposite direction given, on the one hand – and we’ve expressed our concern about this – ongoing Israeli settlement activity. But equally, we’ve been troubled by the fact that – or by the incitement to violence – I think most recently the Fatah Facebook post that glorified the terrorist attacks on the Munich Olympics where 11 innocent Israelis – athletes were killed.

So we are concerned and remain focused on encouraging all sides to take the necessary actions and steps that will allow for a meaningful progress toward a two-state solution. So, I mean, we welcome talks. It’s up for the – both sides to decide if those take place. But it’s also about laying the groundwork so that any talks would be successful and be able to lead to negotiations.

QUESTION: Yeah, but basically, since the Clinton Administration – Bill Clinton – the U.S. has had a monopoly on hosting, mediating, getting involved in the peace process. And you have successfully beaten back attempts by other countries, Russia included, to – and then France to have – to host their own meeting. So I’m just wondering if you’re – you don’t have the same opposition to this? You’re not concerned at all that you’re --

MR TONER: Look, I don’t --

QUESTION: -- that the U.S. might be losing its primacy and --

MR TONER: Not at all, and the Secretary remains fully engaged in this effort. He speaks to Prime Minister Netanyahu frequently. We speak to the Palestinian Authority frequently. He speaks to leadership in the region, which is also vital to any eventual peace effort. But I think it’s – again, it’s up to the parties to decide when and where they meet.

I just would reiterate that we think there needs to be groundwork laid before effective and fruitful negotiations can take place.

QUESTION: In other words, you think that this is not – this is going to go nowhere?

MR TONER: I’m not going to say that. I’m just saying what I said.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds like it because you say that --

MR TONER: Well, I said --

QUESTION: -- one, that you say that the groundwork needs to be laid before you can have a meeting that amounts to anything. And at the same time, you say that things are looking – moving in the opposite direction, which this all suggests to me – maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I don’t think I am – that you don’t think that this is – this Moscow meeting is necessarily a good idea.

MR TONER: I won’t --

QUESTION: It’s not ripe.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) I’ll leave it where I just left it.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) as a Quartet member or – and when you say “we,” you’re referring to the United States in your previous answer.

MR TONER: Right, right.

QUESTION: So Russia is a Quartet member, but it’s hosting --

MR TONER: They are.

QUESTION: And it’s hosting this thing, but not in its role as a Quartet member.

MR TONER: Don’t believe so. If that’s wrong, I’ll correct it.

QUESTION: And would you be observers at this meeting?

MR TONER: I’m not sure what our level of participation would be. I’m – so I’ll hesitate – and again, it’s not set in stone yet, that I understand, but obviously we’ll be following it closely.

QUESTION: And does taking this decision to host the conference that wasn’t premised in the Quartet report in any way call into question Russia’s role within the Quartet, if it’s having an independent initiative on the same topic?

MR TONER: I wouldn’t say that, and I don’t want to cast too much aspersion on this effort, not at all. I just – all I was saying in my response to Matt was we need to make sure that any talks – face-to-face talks – have the right climate in which to succeed in.

QUESTION: So what are the – what is the groundwork that needs to be done? Like what?

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, I gave two examples of actions that are having the opposite effect. So we want to see de-escalation by both sides in the process, and there’s any number of things that they can – steps they can take that would lead to that. I’m not going to give them a step-by-step roadmap to that. That’s up for them to decide to do and undertake. But it’s our belief that – and this speaks broadly to any peace negotiations, but certainly in this case – if you’re not – if you don’t have the right climate for them to be successful, then it’s not worth having them.

QUESTION: I have a couple more questions on the issue.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: First of all, do you have any comment on the reports suggesting that the president of the Palestinian Authority may have been a KGB agent?

MR TONER: None whatsoever.

QUESTION: I mean --

MR TONER: I mean, we --

QUESTION: -- in all fairness, he was the head of the Palestinian-Soviet friendship for a long, long time.

MR TONER: I think those are questions you can ask him or the Palestinian Authority.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Let me ask you a couple of other things. The Palestinian supreme court in Ramallah postponed a municipal election. Is that something that you encourage or frown upon? What is your position on this?

MR TONER: Our position – and you’re right; I mean, they froze preparatory work for the municipal elections. I think they have to – two or three election-related issues to decide on. Look, we’re monitoring it; we’re following it closely. It’s not for us to litigate this matter on behalf of the courts. In general, we support democratic process and we’ve been active in supporting the development of Palestinian democratic institutions, but this is a matter for them to resolve.

QUESTION: And finally, the IMF issued a very abysmal report on the situation of Palestinian development, saying that growth has been stalled because of settlement activities and closures and all these things, and Israeli practices in the West Bank. Do you have any – have you seen their report, first of all?

MR TONER: I have not read the report. I’m aware of it.

QUESTION: Okay. You’re aware of it.

MR TONER: But I mean, look, we highlighted our same concerns in the Quartet report, and those concerns specifically relate to constraints on Palestinian economic development and growth. And generally speaking, we remain committed to seeing strong economic development in the West Bank and Gaza.

QUESTION: And will these – these English schools will also cover places like Gaza and the West Bank and so on that you started --

MR TONER: Oh, that I started off – I would assume so, yeah.


QUESTION: Mark, you just said --

MR TONER: Please. What did I say?

QUESTION: -- about the Russian initiative – you said you didn’t – excuse me – you said you didn’t want to cast too much aspersion on it. Does that mean that you only want – you want – only want to cast some aspersion on it?

MR TONER: I just – fair point.

QUESTION: I’m trying to figure out your level of unhappiness with what --

MR TONER: No, I’m not – aspersion, yes – no, I’m not trying to – I – look, I don’t want to – all I’m simply saying is that we want to see any negotiations, any talks going forward, begin on the right footing in the right climate. That’s all I’m saying.

QUESTION: Okay. And then --

QUESTION: And that footing does not yet exist.

MR TONER: We’ve seen --

QUESTION: So these talks are inopportune.

MR TONER: Again, I’ll stop where I said – stopped.

QUESTION: And then just the Israelis have started building this underground barrier to prevent tunneling from Gaza. Do you have anything to say about that?

MR TONER: I don’t. This is to stop what --

QUESTION: Tunnels.

MR TONER: What’s that? Tunnels, right. I mean, look – I mean, we’ve said before that obviously Israel has a right to take steps to protect its citizens, and we respect that right. And as long as these tunnels exist and are used to carry out attacks on innocent Israelis, we support efforts to address those concerns.

QUESTION: Yeah, but – I mean, on the same issue, Mark, the Israelis, in the last just few days, they killed an unarmed Palestinian who did not threaten them. In fact, they said they killed him by mistake. They shot today someone who was coming back from school in a refugee camp outside Ramallah. They shot someone in Gaza who was also walking – a teenager and so on. So it’s – Israel is taking some – almost on a daily basis an unprovoked attack, committing unprovoked attacks against the Palestinians and so on.

MR TONER: So Said, I don’t – yeah --

QUESTION: And I understood that you began by pointing to the Fatah post, for instance.

MR TONER: But I also spoke about ongoing settlement activity.


MR TONER: I think with respect to these incidents that you mention, I don’t know the particulars. We’ve always said that while we understand and respect the right of Israeli security forces to take action to protect Israeli citizens, we would always call on them to exercise restraint as they carry out their duties. That said, I think it also speaks to something I referred to as well, which is that we don’t want to see escalating tensions. And right now, I think we’ve got an atmosphere of tension, and that obviously exacerbates the situation.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Yes. On North Korea.


QUESTION: A quick one on Israel, please.

MR TONER: Oh, sure. Go ahead and then I’ll get to you. I promise.

QUESTION: Have you seen – sorry, have you seen --

MR TONER: It’s okay.

QUESTION: -- any change in – I mean, there have been a couple of major issues that have prevented Netanyahu and Abbas from meeting, and one of them is this issue of no preconditions and the stopping of settlement building. Have you seen any change in – I mean, you’re talking about other – I think slightly other issues in terms of laying the groundwork. But have you seen any change in their positions that would make it seem like this meeting would actually happen?

MR TONER: Certainly with regard to settlement activity, it’s been frankly to the contrary. In terms of no preconditions, I think – at least I’ve seen from the Israeli Government their continued commitment to that. So I would refer you to them to speak to whether there’s any change in that.

Please. Oh, North Korea, right.

QUESTION: Yes. Several Japanese lawmakers arrived in North Korea today under the premise of conducting sports exchanges. Given sort of the tensions in the region and with North Korea, do you think this is inappropriate?

MR TONER: They arrived where? I apologize.

QUESTION: In North Korea.

MR TONER: Japanese --

QUESTION: Japanese lawmakers.

MR TONER: Okay. And this is – these are sports exchanges?

QUESTION: So they arrived with the intent of conducting sports exchanges and – but they might be meeting with higher-level officials.

MR TONER: I’m not aware of these meetings. Certainly it’s up for the – up to the Japanese Government to decide its level of engagement with North Korea. Our only concern is that this is a pretty opaque regime that has showed no effort to address in any way, shape, or form the international community’s ongoing concerns about its nuclear program. And while we don’t discount the effect of people-to-people exchanges, which it sounds like this falls under that category, it certainly doesn’t address the broader concerns we continue to have about North Korea. And we continue to work closely with Japan, with other allies and partners in the region, to address those concerns.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yes, Tejinder.

QUESTION: Sir, at a press conference in Athens, Greece, the EU has announced that there’ll be an EU-Arab summit on November 3 and 4. They have already said 35 participants confirmed. Will there be a U.S. presence, and at what level?

MR TONER: Nothing to announce in terms of U.S. presence. And I’d have to refer you to the Greeks. I just don’t have any details or any reaction to it thus far. I’ll have to look into it.

QUESTION: Now, have you received the invitation to participate?

MR TONER: I’m not aware that we have.

QUESTION: Nothing? Okay. And the other on India?

MR TONER: Sure, of course.

QUESTION: Have you got any update on the trilateral summit that was announced soon – India, Afghanistan – during Secretary Kerry’s visit in India?

MR TONER: It’s tentatively scheduled, I think, for September 21st on the margins of the UN General Assembly. But I don’t have any further details.

Yes, sir. Oh, go ahead, Matt, and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: No, you can go first.


QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: He ceded to the floor to you, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Sir, I was talking about the Foreign Relations Committee meeting today chaired by the Senator Bob Corker. Sir, the committee observed that Pakistan is expanding its nuclear program just to deal with the Indian aggression and there’s a threat of nuclear war between two countries and U.S. Government should play its role of mediation to normalize the tensions between the two countries.

Sir, what really is troubling the United States to act as a mediator?

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, I don't know what kind of formal – if he’s talking about some kind of formal mediation role. I mean, we act as --

QUESTION: Sir, the senators were observed in that meeting today. The U.S. senators --

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean --

QUESTION: -- said U.S. should play the role of mediator between the Pakistan and India.

MR TONER: I mean, we strongly encourage in all of our dealings with either India and/or Pakistan stronger relations between the two countries. It’s clearly in the security interests of the region that they work to de-escalate tensions and that they have dialogue. And that’s something we constantly encourage for just that – or out of just that concern, which is that we don’t want to see tensions escalate, spiral out of control, and lead to some kind of incident. Again, it’s important for the two countries, the two governments to maintain strong, cordial, and productive relations.

Yes, sir. You were --

QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?

MR TONER: Yes. I’m sorry. (Laughter.) Do I have to consent or --

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR TONER: What’s up?

QUESTION: The IAEA’s latest report on Iran is out today.

MR TONER: Its confidential report, you mean? Its --

QUESTION: Well, it’s not so confidential.

MR TONER: No, I --

QUESTION: I just read it, so it’s not particularly confidential.

MR TONER: Yes, but – go ahead.

QUESTION: And I’m sure that you have read it, or if you haven’t read it, the people in this building have read it and know what it says. And it basically says that, in general, they’re sticking to the terms of the agreement. But it also points out a potential problem, and that is that the Iranians have begun manufacturing rotors that can be used in centrifuges, which they are allowed to do, but within limits. And I’m just wondering if this – the report points this out as a area of potential concern. Is this a concern for the United States too?

MR TONER: So the report does remain confidential until the IAEA releases it.

QUESTION: Well, it can’t remain confidential if I’m --

MR TONER: Let me continue – which I think is – will be during the Board of Governors meeting September 19th to the 23rd. So I don’t want to get into the details. As you note, though, it accurately portrays the status of Iran’s nuclear program, we believe, and including the fact that, as you note, Iran continues to meet its commitments under the JCPOA.

As for the specific concern that you raise, I’ll try to speak to it in greater detail. At this point, we’re still looking at the report, assessing it. As you said, it’s not prohibited, so I can’t say to this point, without having looked at the report, whether we’re concerned about it and to what degree we’re concerned about it. So I will ask for your patience on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah.

MR TONER: Is that it?

QUESTION: Could I – on Iran? Just a follow-up on Iran?

MR TONER: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Today in Cairo, the secretary-general of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, accused Iran of meddling in Arab affairs and destabilizing the region and so on. I wonder if you saw the comments and I wonder if you would comment on that. Do you think that Iran does play that kind of meddling role that destabilizes the region?

MR TONER: I mean, I haven’t seen the specific comments he made. I know there’s been a bit of a war of words between Saudi Arabia and Iran --


MR TONER: -- this past week regarding – well, stemming from concerns over the Hajj.

QUESTION: Yeah, the Hajj, yeah.

MR TONER: And we’ve spoken to that. I think broadly speaking – and we’ve been very clear about this in the wake of the JCPOA, the nuclear agreement – while that agreement addressed a very serious but specific concern about Iran’s behavior, one that would have caused, without doubt, greater tension in the region and posed a real risk to the region, we haven’t seen any kind of sea change in Iran’s broader behavior in the region. We would hope that it would play a more constructive role, but to this point, we haven’t seen any indication that it is pursuing that path.

That’s it? Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:46 p.m.)

DPB # 156

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 7, 2016

Wed, 09/07/2016 - 18:01

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 7, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:04 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey guys. Welcome. Always a pleasure, James.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mark.

MR TONER: Is Reuters going to join us? Or maybe they’re doing this remotely. Anyway, can’t hold up any longer.

Welcome, everyone, to the State Department daily press briefing. Just at the top, I know the question foremost on everyone’s mind, so I’ll address it right away.

QUESTION: Where is Notre Dame (inaudible)?

MR TONER: (Laughter.) No, not that, although that’s certainly foremost in my mind.

I can confirm that Secretary Kerry did speak by phone with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov earlier today. I don’t have any travel to announce at this time. I can say that the Secretary remains committed to continuing efforts to try and resolve the remaining or outstanding issues in order to reach an arrangement on Syria that will put in place a durable cessation of hostilities, provide humanitarian access to all areas, and lead to a resumption of talks between parties in Geneva. We hope to get there, but we won’t agree to an arrangement, as we’ve said before, that does not meet our core objectives. But at this point, as I said, nothing to announce or confirm in terms of travel.



MR TONER: Yeah, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: So your big announcement was no announcement. Is that correct?

MR TONER: Indeed, yes, at this point.

QUESTION: So was the Russian foreign ministry just wrong, premature, misinformed?

MR TONER: I’m not going to speak to what their motivation or what their intentions or what their mindset is. All I can say is, speaking on behalf of Secretary Kerry, at this point we don’t have any travel to announce.



QUESTION: So does that mean that he might not – there might not in fact be a trip?

MR TONER: Yep. I mean, that’s what I’m saying right now, is that we don’t have anything to confirm.

QUESTION: Or is this going to be one of these things that by the time the briefing is over you might have something else to say?

MR TONER: All I can say is what I just said, Matt. Sorry.

QUESTION: All right. I want to get into Syria, but I want to start --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- with a logistical question first.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: And that is the – you will have seen that Treasury yesterday confirmed that – or came out and said that the 1.3 billion in interest on the 400 million --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- was in fact paid to Iran in cash in two tranches. I thought, when we started asking about this in earnest in – last month, that you weren’t going to – that you wouldn’t talk about how that money was transferred because it would undermine the confidentiality of the arrangement and the confidentiality of your international partners. Is that no longer the case, or what changed?

MR TONER: Well, so as you noted, there was a closed session with Congress yesterday. It was a multiagency briefing to provide a full accounting of the Hague Tribunal settlement. And this was a briefing, frankly, that had been offered several times in the past, but again, it was an effort to answer congressional questions around the settlement. And as you saw, subsequently this information or some of the information from this closed session did make its way out into the press. Treasury did --

QUESTION: Make its – well, it didn’t just make its way out into the press. Treasury put out a on-the-record statement.

MR TONER: Well, Treasury – so Treasury did confirm that it was indeed two cash payments to Iran.

QUESTION: What was two cash payments?

MR TONER: The $1.3 billion part of the settlement that was in fact a compromise on the interest of the settlement that we did through the Hague Tribunal with Iran – that was done through cash payments.

QUESTION: So was it – what changed --

MR TONER: And I don’t have anything to add to what Treasury’s already said.

QUESTION: What changed --


QUESTION: I’m not asking you to add to what they said.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I want to know what changed about the privacy and confidentiality of the whole process --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- where that you couldn’t talk about it in August, but all of a sudden now it’s okay to talk about? And the reason --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- that I’m asking this --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- is because for an administration that prides itself on being so transparent, the most transparent, this has been anything but. Trying to get – find out what happened here has been anything but.

MR TONER: Well, so you’re right in that our --


MR TONER: You’re right in that – (laughter) – not globally right – (laughter) --

QUESTION: That’s “a-h-a, exclamation mark,” for the transcribers. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: -- in that our international partners did ask us not to publicly talk about their roles in this transaction. And what we always have said is that no direct transfer was made from any U.S. account to Iran. And we’ve talked the aspects of how this transaction took place – that we had, because of sanctions, because Iran was not connected with the financial institutions – the international financial institutions – that we had to make certain exceptions in order to get them the money that they were owed as part of this settlement.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR TONER: But again – and so we are continuing to look very closely at what we can release publicly and talk about publicly while, at the same time, respecting the confidentiality of the partners who we work with to carry out this transaction. And I understand that it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating to me and it’s frustrating to many who want to be more forthcoming because we were always forthcoming about how this deal went down in the sense of we were very forthright from the very – from the day this was decided – or that the day this settlement was reached, at the same time as the JCPOA was finalized and Iran reached implementation day, that this was the culmination of several efforts.

But as we said at the time, this was a settlement process that was worked out over decades that was fulfilled here and we were always totally transparent about the fact that this money was what we owed to Iran through this Hague Tribunal.

QUESTION: Well, no one is claiming that you weren’t transparent about the fact that a deal was – a settlement was reached. The issue has been – was in January, and was up until August, the beginning of August – how the money was paid. And I don’t – just I don’t understand how it was dangerous or a potential breach of confidentiality to say how it was transferred – i.e. in cash – and not just the 400 million, but the rest of the payment – how it was somehow a breach of confidentiality to say that in August when you first started getting questions about it and why it isn’t now. What’s the difference? Why? Just because you --

MR TONER: Well, again, I think that --

QUESTION: It’s – basically, it seems as though the Administration got caught and so now it’s coming out ex post facto that – but I just don’t understand why it’s this constant drip, drip, drip, drip, drip and just – if you didn’t do anything wrong, if you maintain that everything was above board, why this constant slow-walking?

MR TONER: As opposed to, quote-un-quote, “ripping the Band-Aid off?”

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know. As opposed to when you first come out – when you’re asked about it say, “Oh, yeah, okay, well, so the rest of the 1.3 billion was paid in cash as well.”

MR TONER: Yeah. Look, I think --

QUESTION: And if it’s not – if there’s not anything wrong, if it didn’t violate any rules, if what you did was perfectly legitimate and legal and appropriate, I don’t see why this would be --

MR TONER: Sure. Well --

QUESTION: Why keep it a secret?

MR TONER: Look, I mean – understand, again, some of the frustration over the level of detail that we were able to divulge or talk about or discuss openly with regards to this transaction. I think it was done out of an overabundance of caution with regard to the confidentiality of these financial transactions. But point of fact is that we’re coming – we’re trying to be as transparent as possible now in talking about the fact that we did, in fact, pay this interest settlement in cash.

QUESTION: All right. Well, it would just be nice if it was – if you’re not just being transparent now, if it had been transparent from the – anyway --

MR TONER: Point taken.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you now recognize the precedent you have set, whereby there shouldn’t any longer be any presumption that for spokesmen at this podium to discuss payments made to the judgment fund and the mechanics thereof, will not, in fact, jeopardize any confidentiality?

MR TONER: Not sure I understand the question. You’re saying that now I’m going – when we speak about this, we’re going to --

QUESTION: In other words, when we ask you about judgment fund payments --


QUESTION: -- in the future and the manner in which they are made, it would seem to be no longer valid for any spokesman at that podium to claim that to answer the question substantively would be to jeopardize confidentiality because you did it in this case. The only way in which that would make sense going forward is if you were to assert – and if you’re of a mind to do so, we’d appreciate it if you did so explicitly – that the confidentiality of Iran’s interests is to be exalted above those of other countries.

MR TONER: Not at all. And this is --

QUESTION: Or less so?

MR TONER: No, James. And just to respond to your question now that I understand it is, look, I mean, we were very upfront all along with why we reached this settlement, how we reached this settlement, and if we were reluctant to share all of the details of this settlement, it was out of respect to the confidentiality of our partners, not out of any kind of responsibility to protect Iran’s interests. To the contrary. But this was, as I’ve said before and as others have said before, money that we owed Iran. And let me remind anybody listening in America that Iran has similarly paid out tens of millions if not billions of dollars to American citizens and U.S. companies through this same mechanism.

But just to clarify, as I said to Matt, part of this was done out of an overabundance of caution to protect that confidentiality. Going forward with regard to whether we’ve set precedent or not, I’ll leave that for others to judge going forward, but we’re always going to make efforts to, with regard to financial interactions, respect the privacy of our interlocutors or our partners.

QUESTION: There were two --

QUESTION: So the partners (inaudible) partners that provided you with pallets of Swiss francs and euros?

MR TONER: The ones with whom we worked with to provide the cash payment.

QUESTION: There were two aspects to the Administration’s explanation which seem not to take account of facts that have previously been established --


QUESTION: -- in examination of this whole affair, and I want to pursue those with you now with the hope that you will not see fit simply to punt us to Treasury, (a) because Treasury will not respond, as you well know; and (b) because after all, the Department of State is the agency on behalf of which these Judgment Fund payments were made. And so this is very much within the purview of the spokesman to address.

MR TONER: I’ll do my best.

QUESTION: First, I want to ask about statutory authority. I read to you now from the Code of Federal Regulations, specifically Title 31, Part 256.52, which states, quote, “Pursuant to 31 CFR Part 208, Judgment Fund payments are to be made by electronic funds transfer, EFT. Fiscal Service will issue an electronic payment to the payee’s account as specified on the appropriate Judgment Fund form. If a submitting agency determines that a waiver, in accordance with 31CFR Part 208, to the requirement for payment by EFT is appropriate, Fiscal Service will issue a payment by check,” end quote. As you --

MR TONER: So the missing – so the missing noun there is “cash” is what you’re saying?

QUESTION: Well, there is no provision in what I just read to you contemplating that any payments to be made by the Judgment Fund shall be converted to cash. Rather, the regulation seems explicit on the point that if the agency on behalf of which the payment is being made desires to avoid using an EFT, it must request a waiver and receive one for the payment to be made by check. Were any such waivers sought in this case?

MR TONER: I’ll have to take the question. I don’t have an answer. I would assume so because, as we’ve said before, the team of lawyers who have been working on many of these Hague Tribunal settlements have been working on these issues for decades and I’m sure are well aware of the policies in place and the regulations in place, but I’ll check on that.

QUESTION: Lastly, the website on which it was visible that 13 payments were drawn from the Judgment Fund, each roughly in the amount of $100 million, on that same website it was visible that under the same controlling case file number, there was a 14th payment made in the approximate amount of $10.4 million. The obvious inference is that this $10.4 million payment was part and parcel of the other 13 payments because they’re all listed under the same controlling case file number.

The evidence is, moreover, that the payment of $10.4 million was made at or around the same time as the other 13 payments. It would be undeniable that the addition of $10.4 million to the total number of – total set off payments would take us over $1.7 billion, which is the amount that you claim to have been so forthright in detailing all along. So what is this other $10.4 million?

MR TONER: I’ll have to look into that as well, James, but it’s worth reminding everyone in the room that the interest – or the settlement that we reached on the interest that we owed to the Iranian Government in this settlement was favorable, to say the least, to the American taxpayer, and in fact potentially saved us billions of dollars or saved taxpayers billions of dollars that we would have owed without a settlement. But with respect to that specific line item, I don’t have an answer for you. I’ll see what I can get from Treasury to respond to that, okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Mark, can I just follow up?

MR TONER: Please. Yeah, of course, Arshad.

QUESTION: Have you disclosed the names of the foreign countries that helped you accomplish these payments?

MR TONER: We have not.

QUESTION: How, then, does disclosing that the payments were made in cash compromise the – their confidentiality?

MR TONER: It doesn’t, and I acknowledged as much that I think, as I said, that part of this was done out of an overabundance of caution in that regard, but certainly we’re acknowledging it now.

QUESTION: Mark, can I ask you --

MR TONER: Are we --

QUESTION: Very quickly.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: You said that the Iranians paid similar amounts or even more millions of billions even --


QUESTION: -- to American companies. Do you have a figure on how – over what period of time this was paid and for what?

MR TONER: Well, this has been over – since 1979, and the rough figure that I have is 2.5 billion to U.S. citizens and U.S. companies.

QUESTION: Okay. And what kind of mechanism it was paid through?

MR TONER: I don’t have the specifics on how those transactions took place except to say that they were a long time ago and before the current sanctions regime that we had in place because of Iran’s nuclear program, which really, in fact, tied our hands with regard – and we talked about that – insofar as how we could deal with them and get them the money that we owed them.

QUESTION: Mark, mine’s just a quick one.

MR TONER: Yeah, of course.

QUESTION: How many cash installments were there? I’m unclear on that. We know the first one was 400 million on January 17th. How many --

MR TONER: Yeah, let me – sorry.

QUESTION: -- subsequent installments were there? Just one or a number?


QUESTION: Two. So three total.

MR TONER: Three with – yeah, three in total.

QUESTION: Three total installments.

MR TONER: Yeah, with the initial – right.

QUESTION: And do you have the dates for those installments?

MR TONER: I do not in front of me, no, but I think I – I mean, I --

QUESTION: Does that include the additional 10 million that James has just --

MR TONER: But I mean, I think they’re out there in terms of that document that – they’re both referred to up on that – I can’t remember it off the top of my head, Justin. I apologize.

QUESTION: Okay, okay.

QUESTION: But does that include the 10.4 million that James has just --

MR TONER: I have to look into that. It’s the first time I’m hearing about that.

Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just want to make sure I understand the – your response to Arshad’s question is basically that it does not compromise the confidentiality or the privacy, as it were, of your international partners in this to say or to confirm that the payments were – on the interest were also made in cash. Is that correct?

MR TONER: Well, I think the fact that we’ve said that and not divulged their names --

QUESTION: Well, then why – why?

MR TONER: I tried to answer the --

QUESTION: Did people get up at this podium last month and say that to reveal or to discuss, to disclose, how the payment was made would – how can you get up and say that it would breach the confidentiality and now say, well, no, sorry, it didn’t? I mean, I just – that’s not transparent.

MR TONER: Look, Matt, I don’t know how to answer any better than I attempted to before, which is that --

QUESTION: I think you should get one of your colleagues from Treasury over here to --

MR TONER: -- which is that --

QUESTION: -- stand up at this podium and --

MR TONER: -- which is that this was a complex deal and we were limited in what we could say about it due to the fact that we had intermediaries acting on our behalf to help this transaction take place. So the fact that we didn’t divulge all the details, or we’ve put some of the details out piecemeal, just speaks to that, I think, effort --

QUESTION: Well, it speaks to something. I’m not sure it speaks to --

MR TONER: -- to safeguard the confidentiality of these intermediaries.

QUESTION: Hey, Mark?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Can you address the question, which has been asked here before, but how do you address the question of – or the suggestion that the reason that you guys really withheld many of the details was that you thought it would look bad?

MR TONER: Well, look, I would not accept that. I have acknowledged before, and I think we’ve acknowledged before, that the optics – and in fact, we did so at the time that we reached – the optics of having three different lanes – or lines of effort culminate at the same time did, obviously, raise questions in some people’s minds. And by three lines of effort, I mean the JCPOA, implementation day; the Hague settlement; and the release of American citizens detained by Iran. We tried, I think, to be very transparent about why that happened, but we also were very adamant and have been adamant that there’s no connection between them.

With regard to the, as I said, the piecemeal way in which we’ve divulged the details of the financial transaction with the 1.3 billion, all I can say is that that was done out of a – as I said, out of a sense of we wanted to preserve the confidentiality of their intermediaries.


QUESTION: There are several legislations on the Hill that are being considered. Two of them are as a result of this same payment made to Iran – one by Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the other one was by Senator Rubio. They want to stop any payments to Iran until further transparency on the part of the Administration, and the other one wants payments to Iran contingent upon payment of reparations to American citizens who have been hurt as a result of terrorist acts that Iran may have been behind.

Number one: Are there any outstanding claims on the part of Iran against the United States for this – these legislations to be actually any – of any use in the future? And do you think any reparations that have to be paid to U.S. citizens should be linked to any diplomacy that the U.S. is involved in with Iran?

MR TONER: So I would just say at the outset that we’re in the process. I’m aware – we’re obviously aware of both pieces of legislation, and we’re reviewing them both – both Senator Rubio’s as well as Representative Royce’s proposed bill. We’re in the process of reviewing that. I don’t have a specific comment.

Your question, however, was – the second part of your question was – one more time, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Should any reparations paid to U.S. citizens hurt as a result of any acts – terrorist acts related to Iran or attributed to Iran be linked to any diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran?

MR TONER: Well, what I would say about that is – what I think the linkage is that we – that the Hague settlement and that process should be linked to that, and we’ve always been clear that there is no linkage between the Hague settlement. The Hague settlement is what it is. It is a separate mechanism that’s been in place since 1979, and it exists primarily to – for both countries to find a way to resolve outstanding issues or requests, outstanding commitments to each other for a payment of outstanding bills. So it’s not linked in any way to the reparations, which is a separate matter altogether that we obviously take very seriously.

QUESTION: Right. And as you know, the Iran sanctions bill is going to expire at the end of this year, and Senator Corker has his legislation up for its renewal and he wants to include sanctions against Iran for its testing of ballistic missiles after the deal. Is this something that the State Department would – or the Administration would agree with?

MR TONER: Well, we’re looking at all that, and we’re – obviously, talking with Congress about it. Secretary Kerry said before that we believe we still have the mechanisms in place to take action if Iran does exhibit bad behavior bilaterally through sanctions regime – unrelated, obviously, to the JCPOA, but other bad behavior – that we still obviously have that ability in place. But we’ll obviously continue to consult with Congress.


QUESTION: Well, wouldn’t we need this bill to be renewed?

MR TONER: Again, we’ve said that we believe we currently and still have retained the right and the ability to sanction Iran if we believe its behavior merits sanctioning.

QUESTION: Wait, you’re saying that you have the – you – one could make the argument that you have the --

MR TONER: So the Iran sanctions --

QUESTION: One could make the argument that you have the ability now because of the Iran sanctions, but you’re saying that – or the Iran Sanctions Act. You’re saying that even if you didn’t have that, you still think you have the --

MR TONER: Well, he’s talking – she’s talking about a renewal of the Iran Sanctions Act, yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know, but you’re saying if it – even if it was allowed to lapse or it expired just on its own, you’re – what I think the argument you’re making is is that --

MR TONER: That we would retain the ability.

QUESTION: -- you would still have the ability to do the sanctions. Is that correct?

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: So just to be clear about this, even though you have maintained that the Administration at all points has been very forthright about this resolution, it was decided to release information about it in piecemeal fashion, chiefly in response to news reports and questions in this setting after you had first exercised an overabundance of caution and then decided to jettison that caution. And so I just wonder if, in light of the fact of how much time this subject has consumed at these briefings, how much bad publicity the Administration has suffered as a result of it, and now the introduction of legislation in both houses of Congress stemming from the manner in which all this dribbled out, is it plainly discernible to the Secretary and his team that that overabundance of caution was a mistake and, in fact, this information should have been released more swiftly and not in piecemeal fashion?

MR TONER: James, in response to that, I’m going to go big picture on you, which is the fact that last February, we were able to achieve an agreement, the JCPOA, that will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, something that would – that is clearly in the national security interests of the United States but also in the region.

QUESTION: That was July 2015, correct?

MR TONER: I’m talking about implementation day.


QUESTION: Which was January --

QUESTION: January 16th.

MR TONER: January. I apologize. January 16th. I apologize. Did I say February?

We also, at the same time, were able to reach an agreement on this outstanding claim through the Hague Tribunal that we would have had to go to settlement on, and we believe that we did so in a way that was favorable to the American taxpayer on money that, again, as I’ve said, we owed Iran. And ultimately, we were also able to return home those American citizens who were detained in Iran, an effort that, while separate and apart from our work on the JCPOA, was something that the Secretary of State pursued at every possible juncture with the Iranians. We believe those three successes were in the national security interest of the United States and were among the core priorities of the Department of State, and we have nothing to be ashamed about about any of those actions. So I want to be very clear on that point.

With regard to how we talked about the details of the financial transactions with regard to the settlement and specifically the payment of interest, it’s important to note, I think, that until a story surfaced in mid-August, there were no questions regarding the specifics of those payments.

QUESTION: Because the specifics weren’t known until that story appeared.

MR TONER: But no one was asking those questions, and we --

QUESTION: Well, actually, Mark, we asked about the specifics of the payments in January and were told that there was never, ever going – no one would ever tell us.

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, what you got was our standard answer, which is true, that we protect the confidentiality of these arrangements.

QUESTION: You don’t --

QUESTION: I’m just asking you if --

MR TONER: Well, look, Matt --

QUESTION: -- from the communications piece of this alone --

MR TONER: So Matt --

QUESTION: -- if you had it all to do over again, you’d do it exactly the same way? Or was there a mistake made in this overabundance of caution and this dribbling out of details?

MR TONER: I wouldn’t call it a mistake. In fact, I would say that it is always our – look, this is important and delicate work that we do in terms of messaging and also in terms of talking about the details of what are complex and sensitive diplomatic transactions. And so if we operate sometimes out of an overabundance of caution, it’s for good reason.

QUESTION: Well, but the messaging, as you termed it, I mean, it really – this has been kind – has been a disaster for the Administration, how you’ve been quiet, quiet, quiet, refusing to say anything, and then only when pressed and then only when hauled up in – up to the Hill are you willing to answer pretty basic questions that even you yourself say don’t violate the confidentiality of your partners or any kind of – and if you had nothing to be ashamed about, as you said, then – I mean, it just – I don’t know. It just boggles my mind a little bit. Crisis management 101 this is not. Anyway, I’m done.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: Mark, was this the last – are --


QUESTION: Do you know if there are any more claims by Iran against the U.S. at the Hague, or was this the last one?

MR TONER: Good question. I believe there are, but I’ll double-check that.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Okay. I know that you mentioned no confirmation on a meeting between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov, but reports insist or persist that there is a meeting tomorrow or the day after. So could you once more clarify what’s going on in terms of --

MR TONER: I can’t. I mean, all I can – as I said, and I confirmed he did speak I think some 45 minutes with Foreign Minister Lavrov, talked about – excuse me. They talked about some of the remaining challenges that they need to overcome in order to reach accord on this arrangement that we’ve talked about. Not there yet, but as the President said in China the other day, that the expectation is that they will meet again in order to continue discussions over how we get to an arrangement or an agreement. But at this point in time, I’m not able to confirm anything and I’m not able to confirm anything tomorrow.

QUESTION: So would you say that these – this --

QUESTION: Yesterday, you said “very soon.” Are we still talking “very soon?”

MR TONER: Excuse me.

QUESTION: Or are we still soon or at some point?

MR TONER: (Laughter.) Look, these are – again, these are negotiations, and by definition, negotiations are – you can never predict how they’ll turn out or when they’ll reach their culmination.

QUESTION: Would you say that --

QUESTION: No, but yesterday, you used the term “very soon.” Do you stand by “very soon?”

MR TONER: Well, what I would stand by is the fact that Secretary Kerry is working this issue very, very hard and wants to resolve this, if it’s possible, as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Mark, would you say that the 45-minute conversation could possibly be a substitute to this one face-to-face meeting because they could have discussed the same issues?

MR TONER: I won’t say that either, no.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me just follow up with, very quickly, also the Friends of Syria meeting --

MR TONER: Of course, yeah.

QUESTION: -- that just – I think just concluded in London. The opposition issued like a whole set of points and so on on what they want and what they would like to see and so on, and among them is a six-month transition that begins once a ceasefire or countrywide ceasefire is implemented. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think that the High Negotiation Committee, as you noted, presented its vision and its roadmap, if you will, for a peaceful political transition in Syria. I will note – I think I talked about this yesterday – the Secretary was able to join the meeting by VTC and stressed to the High Negotiating Committee, the HNC, the importance of its support for unity and its commitment to moving forward with discussions on building a free and democratic Syria.

With regard to the transition plan laid out by the opposition – excuse me – we hope the Syrian delegations are able to resume UN-mediated political process soon, because ultimately that’s the key here. They need to reach agreement in Geneva. But we’re not going to try and critique that process. That’s really for the parties themselves to negotiate that transition. What we’re trying to do and what we’re engaged in right now with regard to Russia is try to set the conditions so that that political process can take place in Geneva and lead to, we hope, a resolution to the conflict.

And that’s our goal right now: durable cessation of hostilities in place nationwide; full, immediate access for humanitarian assistance. And then, again, that we think will set the climate – or create the climate, rather – where talks can resume in Geneva.

QUESTION: In this transition process, do you expect the regime to be part of it?

MR TONER: Do we expect the regime --

QUESTION: During the talks themselves – right.

MR TONER: I think the regime – we’ve talked about this – representatives of the regime have to be a part of that.

QUESTION: I understand. Okay. But also at the end, after the six-months process ends, do you expect the regime to be a part of whatever future Syria might have?

MR TONER: Well, again, there will be some kind of transitional body, is what we’ve talked about. That probably does include elements of the regime as well as, obviously, elements of the HNC or the opposition. How that looks is for them, the parties, to negotiate.


MR TONER: Please, yeah. Hi, Nick.

QUESTION: On the negotiations, is there a point at which – I mean, do you have a time limit where you say, “Okay, the Russians are not coming around, we’re just going to walk away from this”?

MR TONER: I don’t know if we have a date certain or a time limit. I think, though, there will come a time – and we’ve talked about this – where we’ll decide that it’s no longer in our interest to pursue a possible arrangement with Russia. We’re not there yet.

QUESTION: And there was a story in The Washington Post today saying that as President Obama was meeting with President Putin, the U.S. offered a sort of final offer on Syria, a sort of take-it-or-leave-it proposal. Can you comment on that?

MR TONER: I wouldn’t and that’s not my understanding. Again, there continue to be a discussion – and certainly in the presidents – in President Putin’s meeting and President Obama’s meeting, there was a discussion – a detailed discussion about Syria, but also the – what came out of that, as you well know, is the sense that it’s still worth pursuing this arrangement and it’s for the foreign ministers – Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry – to do that, and they’ve committed to doing that. We just don’t have anything immediate to announce in terms of their next meeting.

QUESTION: So would you say that you’re now further apart – the Russians – than you were in Geneva?

MR TONER: No, I would only say that there’s still issues or challenges to be resolved. We’re working hard to resolve them. We wouldn’t still be doing it if we didn’t believe there was some hope for success, but I can’t say that there’s a big hope for success. We’re just continuing to work at it.

QUESTION: Because in Geneva, when Secretary Kerry spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov, he really was describing these as technical discussions and seemed very confident. And then in China, his tone seemed to shift some. He said these were now tough issues. He hadn’t used that word. He said there was sort of a move from technical to tough. So it certainly looks from the outside like you guys are getting further apart.

MR TONER: I think that – I wouldn’t necessarily say that, Nick. What I would say is that these technical issues are complex and we have not been able to reach a clear understanding between us and Russia on the way forward. And until we get there, we’re not able to say one way or another whether we are going to get there. I think that – we’ve talked about this, as – I said this yesterday, is we still believe it’s in our interest to pursue these discussions. Certainly, if we get there, it does provide a way to bring an end to the conflict and that’s worth pursuing at this point, but our patience isn’t infinite.

QUESTION: And do you think that the Russians are negotiating in good faith? I mean, every day that passes sort of helps them achieve their ends more. Do you feel like they’re stalling for time?

MR TONER: I don’t, but again, I can’t speak to what their motivations may be or what their strategy may be. All I can say is that they have a particular set of issues or positions that they want to see through this agreement. We have our own. We – as we’ve said all along, this is not going to be, if we do reach an agreement, based on trust, but verifiable steps going forward, and I think achieving an understanding of a way forward that we’ve unable to – been unable to reach thus far.

So bottom line, we’re still pursuing these talks, hard to put a confidence level on whether they’ll be successful or not, but they’re worth pursuing given the stakes.

QUESTION: And the last one, sorry the --

QUESTION: Can you confirm that Russia has requested the meeting that it’s announced?

MR TONER: Again, I just can’t confirm any meeting, and I think what I would say is --

QUESTION: Well, you can’t confirm you’re going to it. Can you confirm they’ve requested it?

MR TONER: Right, but what I would say is we expect Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lavrov to meet again on this issue. I can’t put a date or time certain on it.

QUESTION: So do you think that – last one from me.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Do you think, on the reports from the Russian foreign ministry that said definitively a meeting would take place, is that the result of miscommunication or is that – is there something else going on from the Russian side?

MR TONER: Again, I can – all I can say, Nick, is what I’ve said thus far, is that we’re not able to confirm a meeting tomorrow.

QUESTION: On these Syrian --

MR TONER: Are we still on – are we still on one --

QUESTION: I wanted to go to South Sudan.

QUESTION: This is Syria.

MR TONER: Okay, so let’s – okay, yeah. Okay.

QUESTION: On the Syrian opposition, the HNC --


QUESTION: -- Kurdish representation there is minimal, to put it mildly. Yet the Kurds are doing a big part of the fighting in Syria against ISIS.

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: Do you see some contradiction there? I mean, they’re doing all this fighting but they’re not – it doesn’t seem that there’s very much being offered to them.

MR TONER: So as you note, they are one of several groups – Syrian Arabs, Turks, and others – Turkmen, rather – who are engaged very effectively in taking the fight to ISIL, or Daesh, in northern Syria. And they’ve sacrificed greatly. They have performed very well. They have put enormous pressure on Daesh in northern Syria, driven them out of many of their strongholds and continue to do so. I do know we’ve talked about this before. While they’re not strongly represented within the HNC, we do encourage the HNC to consult closely with the Kurds as we move forward in this process.

QUESTION: Have you gotten a positive response on that from the HNC?

MR TONER: I’m not going to characterize their response, but it’s something we raise with them.


MR TONER: Please, yeah.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up. The Russians are complaining that the Turkish operation, I think it’s called Euphrates Shield, into Jarabulus and so on, compromises Syrian sovereignty. So they were talking about some legal issues and so on, they might take it to the UN and so on. Are you aware of that? Are you in discussion with them over this issue, or do you know how much territory it has acquired in Syria and so on?

MR TONER: I mean, I’m not going to necessarily speak on behalf of the Turkish Government with regards to the legality of its actions except to say that – as we have made the case before, that actions that we carry out against Daesh or ISIL in Syria is, we believe, in the national security interests of the United States and our allies and our partners. I think Turkey would also make the case, if I’m guessing, that it’s also in their national security interest to protect and drive ISIL away from their border.

QUESTION: So you still recognize Syrian sovereignty over territory that it has claimed, let’s say, while you had an ambassador there back in 2011?

MR TONER: We – and the ISSG --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR TONER: -- has always said that we support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria.


MR TONER: Yeah, Justin. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: South Sudan.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Do you have a response to reports that seven American diplomats traveling in a convoy in Juba, South Sudan, were fired on by government troops? This was – apparently happened on July 7th --

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- just days before that brutal attack on the hotel, the westerners at the hotel there.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And that in this shooting on the convoy, one of the cars was disabled and had to be essentially rescued by a Marine reaction force. What happened there?

MR TONER: Sure. So – and John Kirby spoke to this in the immediate days after the – this incident, and I would just reiterate from the top our condemnation of this attack on what was a U.S. embassy convoy by South Sudanese Government troops. I can walk you through the events as we understand them to have happened, but I can say that we do not believe our vehicles and personnel were specifically targeted in the attack. It’s our assessment that the attack was connected to the breakdown of command and control among South Sudanese Government forces, and we have demanded that the Government of South Sudan investigate this incident and punish and hold accountable those responsible for it.

But just to walk you through the events, again, as we understand them: So on the evening of July 7th, I think at around 2100 local time, two embassy vehicles were returning to the residential compound and passed, as part of their route, the presidential palace. About an hour earlier, forces that were loyal to the government – or rather, to Machar, rather – had clashed with forces loyal to President Kiir. And government troops stationed near the presidential compound, to put it mildly, were very tense. So the two embassy vehicles approached the soldiers on the road outside the presidential palace. When they moved toward the vehicle – they, the troops, moved toward the vehicles and tried to open their doors – the vehicles, the embassy vehicles appropriately, we believe, began to speed away from the scene. And at that time, the soldiers opened fire. Fortunately, the vehicles were armored and no one was injured. And the next day, July 8th, Ambassador Phee met with President Kiir and demanded that the government carry out a full investigation of the incident and hold those responsible for the incident accountable for their actions. President Kiir, it’s worth noting, did make clear that U.S. embassies were – embassy vehicles were not specifically targeted, and he vowed at that point in time to stand up a committee to investigate the incident.

Now, I don’t have anything to read out to you in terms of what that committee may have found or may be investigating or what the deadline is for them to reach an end to the investigation.

QUESTION: And you’re not saying that the – that the troops didn’t know who they were firing on. It was clear they knew they were firing on Americans. You’re just saying you don’t believe it was ordered by --

MR TONER: No, no, what I would say is just --

QUESTION: -- Kiir to shoot American --

MR TONER: No, no, what I would say is we don’t believe that they necessarily knew. I mean, there were some – and I – we know --

QUESTION: Why do you not – why do you think that? I mean, it --

MR TONER: It’s just in our assessment. I mean, this is not something that we --

QUESTION: Yeah, but what is that based on? Because it would seem if they got close enough to try to open the doors that they would probably know who they were dealing with at that point.

MR TONER: Well, first of all, the windows were tinted as they often are in these kind of – in these vehicles.

QUESTION: And marked with American flags likely as well?

MR TONER: A very small laminated flag, and it’s not clear whether they would have even recognized the plates. I know that’s another thing that the story states.

Look, all I can do is offer our assessment of the situation. We’re not forgiving it and we’re certainly not overlooking it or saying, “Hey, not your bad. It was your” – look, we’re talking about here is the fact that they opened fire on an embassy convoy, and that is inexcusable. But what we believe were the factors of the environment around that was that they – there had been an altercation, fighting in the run-up to this convoy passing, and that they were very tense, and if I could say it, a little trigger-happy.


QUESTION: So your investigation concluded that these soldiers made a mistake. Did the investigation conclude anything about the advisability of driving through a republican -- presidential palace checkpoint?

MR TONER: So we did – we did and conducted, as you note, an internal investigation, and that – an after-action review is in progress, but we have modified our procedures around the travel of convoys of our personnel.

QUESTION: Because it was a mistake to drive in between two opposing forces within an hour of a clash.

MR TONER: That’s – clearly, that’s – we have made modifications to our security posture.

QUESTION: What – what have you changed?

MR TONER: Well, we, for one thing, adjusted our curfew and we also adjusted the rules for the movement of embassy vehicles in light of the event, and obviously, in light of subsequent violence in Juba.

QUESTION: So it’s an earlier curfew now?

MR TONER: That’s my understanding, yeah.

QUESTION: And how are the rules for the movement of embassy been changed?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to that. I just can’t. I mean, that’s talking about our security posture, which we don’t do.

QUESTION: Why was it appropriate for them – this was a checkpoint, correct?

MR TONER: Not 100 percent sure. I – my understanding is that they passed in front of the presidential palace. Obviously, there were forces out there. I don’t know that it was a formal checkpoint.

QUESTION: Okay. And why was it appropriate for them not to open the doors?

MR TONER: Because they believed that – their assessment was that these forces were, again, trigger-happy, or shall we say – I’ll put it more diplomatically and say tense, and they felt threatened, clearly. And one of the standard procedures is if you feel threatened is to get the heck out of dodge.

QUESTION: So you stated that an after-action review is still in progress?

MR TONER: This is within – yeah, this is – so we’ve – so two points here. One, we’ve asked the government, obviously, to carry out a full and complete investigation. That, I believe, is still ongoing. I may be wrong there, but I don’t have anything here in front of me that says that it’s been concluded. But we also, as we would in any case like this, conducted our internal review.

QUESTION: And is that still in progress?

MR TONER: That’s in progress, but I was able to say out of that review we have obviously, and frankly immediately, adjusted curfew times and other --

QUESTION: And no other people in the convoy were physically hurt, but obviously it’s a very stressful --

MR TONER: Indeed.

QUESTION: -- night for them.


QUESTION: Has anyone been evacuated from station? Has anyone received counseling?

MR TONER: We did – and we’ve talked about this before. I believe we’re on authorized departure from Juba. I believe that’s correct.

QUESTION: But do you know if any of the seven people involved in this have left?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to whether they’ve left or not.

QUESTION: Who or what entity is conducting the State Department’s after-action review?

MR TONER: That would be Diplomatic Security.

QUESTION: Okay. And from your account provided here at this briefing today, if I understand it correctly, you really cannot determine how much knowledge the presidential guard members had of who exactly was in this car. You really can’t make a determination whether they knew that there were Americans in this car or not, correct?

MR TONER: Again, I think I said we do not believe that, and I said we assess that the attack was connected more to a breakdown in command and control and not to a specific targeting. But I can’t categorically say one or – that it wasn’t.

QUESTION: Do you --

QUESTION: But you – so you can’t rule it out?

MR TONER: I can’t – yeah, as I was saying, as I – I qualified it. I said it is our assessment that --


QUESTION: Do you have – is in there about roughly how long this incident – the duration of this incident? How long did it last?

MR TONER: I don’t. Sorry, Matt.

QUESTION: But it does --

QUESTION: Can you confirm that three separate presidential guard units opened fire on the two cars?

MR TONER: I cannot. I’ll try to get – see if I can get more details about the duration and the number of --

QUESTION: It didn’t – this was quite quick. It didn’t happen over a course of hours.

MR TONER: Exactly. No, no, that I can --

QUESTION: This was something that – like, less than --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- less than several minutes? I mean --

MR TONER: I’d say, yes, within the realm of several minutes to 10 minutes. I have no idea. I can’t put a specific time to it, duration.

QUESTION: So this happened almost exactly two months ago. How long does it take to investigate or to look into a 10-minute – let’s just assume it’s 10 minutes – incident?

MR TONER: Are you talking the --


MR TONER: -- government’s or the – look, I mean, I --

QUESTION: And are you pushing the South Sudanese Government to --

MR TONER: Yes, we are. Yes, we are. I mean, as I said, Ambassador Phee immediately the next day went to the president and demanded an investigation and we’ve been following up on that.

QUESTION: But that was July 8th.

MR TONER: I understand.

QUESTION: It is now September 7th.

MR TONER: I understand. And with regard to --

QUESTION: What’s the temperature, Matt.

MR TONER: With regard to – (laughter) --

QUESTION: In South Sudan? Hot.

MR TONER: With regard to our own internal investigation, clearly we made adjustments, immediate adjustments, to our security posture in light of that attack. But I think they’re still looking at other details.

QUESTION: You stated --

QUESTION: Any personnel involved being disciplined – U.S. personnel?

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.


QUESTION: You stated that at least one of these cars was struck by fire but fortunately was --

MR TONER: Armored.

QUESTION: -- armor-protected. To your knowledge, has Diplomatic Security, as part of its after-action review, or any other U.S. personnel, made a physical inspection of these vehicles?

MR TONER: I would imagine, but I don’t – I can’t confirm that. I just don’t have that level of detail.

QUESTION: And the personnel – the U.S. personnel, presumably they have been interviewed as part of this after-action review, correct?

MR TONER: That would be – that would be expected, yes.

QUESTION: And that interview process took place overseas or here in Washington?

MR TONER: I don’t know. It could be either. It could be both. I just don’t have that level of detail.

QUESTION: And did anyone decline to cooperate with the after-action review?

MR TONER: Again, I can’t speak to that either.

QUESTION: It was James Donegan in the car, correct? And the car was disabled and had to be rescued by a Marine force. Is that all correct?

MR TONER: So there is – yes, so that’s an important – and I apologize I didn’t – so there was a small embassy security team basically that traveled to the vehicle and was able to recover our personnel. This happened when the vehicle was no longer under fire and there were no longer hostile forces present, when the team arrived.

QUESTION: Did any U.S. personnel discharge their firearms?

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION: And you don’t really have any problems with how the – Foreign Policy wrote this timeline of events, right?

MR TONER: I think our concern was that it made the assumption or allegation that there was a specific targeting of our diplomatic vehicles. And again --

QUESTION: Right, which – yeah.

MR TONER: -- it doesn’t in any way, either if it was or wasn’t, it doesn’t in any way excuse the behavior or the incident. But that’s just our assessment that we don’t believe it was.

QUESTION: So you’re making excuses, but it doesn’t excuse --

MR TONER: We good? Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have some preferred outcome for the South Sudanese investigation? Do you want to see people disciplined? Is that the --

MR TONER: Yes, unequivocally.

QUESTION: What would you think would be an appropriate discipline?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, that’s something for the South Sudanese Government to speak about, but this was clearly a serious incident that, to put it mildly, put at risk the lives of American diplomats and American citizens. So we take it very seriously and we want to see the appropriate people held accountable.

Please, Nike.

QUESTION: Can I just --

MR TONER: A couple more questions, guys. Yeah, please, of course.

QUESTION: Kyrgyzstan Uighur. Kyrgyzstan authority came out and identified the organization behind the recent bombing against Chinese Embassy is – are – were Uighur members of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, ETIM. And my question for you is was ETIM came up in a discussion in Hangzhou between United States and China recently?

MR TONER: I’m not sure. I wasn’t, obviously, in the President’s – you’re talking about it in the President’s bilateral conversation or --

QUESTION: Or generally any conversation between Secretary Kerry and his Chinese counterparts.

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of. And Secretary Kerry actually did not have a bilat with his Chinese counterpart while in China for the G20 --


MR TONER: -- because he was there, obviously, having bilats on the side with Foreign Minister Lavrov. He did participate in many of the President’s bilats or in several of the President’s bilats, but I can’t say that the specific concerns about this organization came up.

QUESTION: ETIM was designated under Executive Order 13224 --

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- as a terrorist group, but then it was not listed under the Foreign Terrorist Organization.

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: What is your position on this organization?

MR TONER: So as you said, we designated the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity. That was in 2002. As – with regard to the difference between designating them under an EO or as an FTO, a Foreign Terrorist Organization, I would refer you to – I can go through it, but I would refer you to the fact sheet that we issued I think on May 19th of this year that talks about an explanation of why – what the two designations mean. It speaks to how we can sanction them, how we can limit their funding other elements, the way we can put pressure on them and go after them, but they’re two different designations.

QUESTION: So has the United States changed its position toward this group since 2002?


QUESTION: Okay. And was there any --

MR TONER: I’m sorry, Nike.

QUESTION: Sorry. Was there any discussion between this building or between the United States and China to put ETIM under FTO?

MR TONER: Well, so there’s no – any – there’s no kind of agreement that we’re going to designate them as an FTO. I wouldn't go beyond that to discuss the deliberations of our designations process. What I can say is the United States and China have had and continue to have a very active discussion and dialogue on counterterrorism issues, and we, of course, always welcome any additional information from China on active terrorist organizations.

QUESTION: Just one final question.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Just to clarify I’m understanding completely, so is that correct you said there is no new deal between the United States and China regarding the status of ETIM’s status?

MR TONER: No such agreement, no.

QUESTION: Can I have a short time to squeeze in a couple of questions on the Palestinian-Israeli --

MR TONER: Of course. I’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: Really, really quick.

MR TONER: Yeah, let’s bing, bing, and then hopefully done. Oh, and Arshad. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The Israeli authorities today forced a Palestinian family in East Jerusalem, the Old City, to basically destroy their own home. Now, I know you’ve spoken against this kind of practice before – these kind of practices before, but basically there is an intensive drive to sort of push the Palestinians out of the Old City. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: Nothing beyond what we’ve said many times before that we want to see, obviously, an end to escalatory behavior. You know where we stand on settlements. Nothing’s changed in that regard.

QUESTION: Do you think that the Israeli occupation authority ought to give the Palestinian sort of the – enough latitude, the leeway to sort of expand their homes so they can accommodate their large family?

MR TONER: Again, that’s a question for --

QUESTION: Because this is something that they hold against the Palestinians.

MR TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: Well because, obviously they’re --

MR TONER: In terms of building or expanding their --

QUESTION: They are disallowed the benefit of expanding their homes to accommodate their – their sons, their kids, their grandkids, and so on.

MR TONER: Again, I mean, that’s really something for the Israeli authorities to speak to. You know where we stand on – with regard to settlement activity. I’ll leave it there.

Please, sir, Tejinder.

QUESTION: 2008 Mumbai attacks mastermind, Hafiz Saeed, has said that the U.S. and India have joined hands against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and also for working against the Muslim world while we are asking Pakistan to hand over or do something about these attacks. And what is your reaction to this statement?

MR TONER: You’re saying this is one of the architects of the Mumbai attack --


MR TONER: -- who made this statement? I mean, I would dismiss it outright. We have a strong bilateral relationship with Pakistan, but one that is premised on counterterrorism cooperation and as – as part of that conversation, or that dialogue and that cooperation that we have on counterterrorism issues, we made it very clear that Pakistan can’t pick and choose which terrorist groups it goes after and it has to go after those groups that seek to do harm to its neighbors and may seek refuge on Pakistani soil.

QUESTION: Just real quick --

MR TONER: Yes, sir. I promise, you’re last.

QUESTION: I’m sure that you’ve seen the comments by the – Saudi Arabia’s top religious authority saying that Iran’s leaders are not Muslims. And this is sort of an escalation of the war of words between the Saudis and the Iranians. Is this kind of rhetoric helpful and does the U.S. Government regard Shiites as Muslims? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: I would say that the rhetoric that we’ve seen over the past couple days is certainly not helpful. While there may be concerns around safety issues, and very serious concerns given past events around the Hajj, by no means do we want to see this kind of rhetoric that we’ve seen over the past couple of days that will only escalate tensions in the region.

And – yes?


QUESTION: And then one --

MR TONER: I think was your second question.

QUESTION: Well, on that, why --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: I asked about this exact same thing yesterday. Why couldn’t you --

MR TONER: Did I not --


MR TONER: Did I dismiss it? I’m sorry. (Laughter.) Maybe I was just --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) were dissing you.

QUESTION: Probably.

MR TONER: That’s not at all.

QUESTION: Probably.

MR TONER: I thought I answered it much as – I thought I said we don’t want to see escalatory remarks. I’m sorry if I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: Can I ask one other one?


QUESTION: Just on Syria. Excuse me, not on Syria, on Iran. I should have asked you this before.


QUESTION: I think you’ve not answered it in the past, but --

QUESTION: Maybe Matt did. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- do you have any – yes, maybe you didn’t answer it then.

QUESTION: Do you have any visibility into what happened to the cash of the payments to Iran once it got to the Iranians? Do you know where the money went?

MR TONER: No, not categorically, but we’ve talked about this. What we have said about that is that we believe – it’s our assessment; again, without being able to say 100 percent that it’s the case – that the money that was returned to Iran as part of the settlement has gone primarily to bolster the economy, which has been in many senses, debilitated by years of sanctions. Again, that’s our assessment, but --

QUESTION: And can you – can you rule out --

QUESTION: Did you mark the bills, or at least in sequential order? I mean, you could trace them, no?

QUESTION: Could – can you rule out that some of the money may have gone to the IRGC or groups that you regard as --

MR TONER: Again, I --

QUESTION: -- foreign terrorist organizations?

MR TONER: I would say that I – by saying that we can’t categorically say 100 percent the money’s gone to bolster the economy or for economic reasons, that I – that I can’t categorically rule out that it’s gone to the IRGC or other groups. And more largely on that point or broadly on that point, we continue to have concerns about Iran’s behavior, apart from the agreement that we reached on the nuclear deal. Iran continues to exhibit bad behavior in the region.


QUESTION: Now wait a – wait, wait. Have you in fact said in the past that this money, the 1.7 billion, you believe has gone to --

MR TONER: Yeah, I’ve said – we’ve said it --

QUESTION: -- good works? I thought it was the money that they were getting back under the sanctions relief that you believe is going towards infrastructure and building preschools and hospitals and things like that, and bridges and that kind of thing. I wasn’t aware, maybe it’s my bad memory, that you had that the 1.7 – that the settlement was going to that. You have? Is that what you’re saying?

MR TONER: I believe we have.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Okay. I just want to return to Russia, this possible meeting between Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov and the sanctions. Firstly, the U.S. Department of Commerce informed that they approved the new package of the sanctions against the Russian companies, as I understand – tell me if I’m wrong – that it was 11. Can you comment on that?

MR TONER: I can. So the actions that you mentioned were carried out by Department of Commerce – and we’ve talked about this before – were a form of maintenance, if you will. What – how the sanctions process works is even for existing sanctions, we’re constantly working to close loopholes and ensure that the sanctions are still able to be maintained at their current level. They do not represent an escalation of existing sanctions. They’re simply measures that we take on existing sanctions to ensure that they’re still able to be implemented in full force.

QUESTION: Secondly, can one speak about any connection between the dates when the sanction was approved and the future negotiations? What I mean – the first package was adopted by the U.S. Treasury just on the day when President Obama have to – had left to China. Right now, we got the new package of sanctions adopted to --

MR TONER: Absolutely no connection, I can assure you.

QUESTION: Thank you, and one more question. So speaking about the Executive Order 13660, the so-called Salvation Committee of Ukraine has designated, and it’s on the list of the sanctions approved by the U.S. Department of Commerce. As I understand it, they’re not the commercial organization, not the firm, but the organization created by the former prime minister of Ukraine just for propaganda – created by Mr. Azarov. How he or this organizations or the members of the organization will be affected by the sanctions? Can we speak about a possible visa ban? Can we speak that their property or their accounts will be affected?

MR TONER: Apologies, you’re talking about – sure. You’re talking about sanctions, part of the Commerce package that was --

QUESTION: Yes, sir.


QUESTION: So this organization is the part of the Commerce package.

MR TONER: Okay. And it – but it’s a Ukrainian organization?

QUESTION: Not exactly, sir. It is the organizations – so-called Salvation Committee of Ukraine created by the former prime minister, the part of the Yanukovych team who left to Moscow. They’re using this organization not for trade but for propaganda. So I’m just trying to understand how this sanction in the commercial package will affect them personally or just their assets, which are not only in Russia but hopefully in Europe or --

MR TONER: Yeah, I mean – look, I mean, my understanding – are you talking about more broadly the sanctions against Gazprom’s media holdings, is what I understand this – the sanctions were directed at, along with other sections or subsidiaries of Gazprom Bank. Is that what we’re talking about here? Because I don’t have details of the sanctions beyond that. Sorry.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a simple question? The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, today is quoted as saying that the expanded U.S. sanctions on Russia – and I realize you regard these sanctions as maintenance and not as an expansion --


QUESTION: -- are not consistent with talks over possible cooperation between Russia and the United States in other areas. He doesn’t say exactly what other areas he’s talking about, but surely the most prominent one is Syria.


QUESTION: Are the Russians, to your knowledge or – trying to get you to ease up on sanctions over Ukraine or Crimea in the talks on Syria? Is that a tradeoff they’re trying to achieve?

MR TONER: Again, not that we’ve seen. They obviously want sanctions lifted. That’s a priority for them, and we’ve always made it very clear that the best way to get sanctions lifted is to fulfill Minsk, and that’s a clear path. And that’s what – where our focus is and where it remains.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thanks, guys.

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

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 6, 2016

Tue, 09/06/2016 - 18:37

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 6, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:12 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Welcome, everyone, to the State Department. Happy Tuesday. I’ll wait a moment for Arshad to join us here. Hey, welcome.

QUESTION: Thanks. Sorry I’m late.

MR TONER: No, no. No worries. I’m not even teasing. Anyway, welcome, everyone, to the State Department. A couple things at the top, and then I’ll open it up to your questions.

First of all, we strongly condemn the Taliban attacks on the ministry of defense yesterday in Afghanistan as well as today’s attack against CARE International, which is an institution dedicated to helping Afghans build a better future. We commend the courageous actions that were taken by the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces in the aftermath of these attacks. They responded quickly and decisively to the incidents. And we’ll – we’re going to stand strong with our Afghan partners as they strive to improve citizen safety and security and work towards building a lasting peace in that nation.

Also, just wanted to briefly express the fact that we are deeply troubled by the Russian Government’s decision to designate the Levada Center as a so-called “foreign agent.” The Levada Center is an internationally respected public opinion and polling organization known for the rigor and quality of its work. Polling is, as we all know here in the U.S., is an important tool in any country that seeks to live by democratic standards of openness, accountability in government, and freedom of scientific inquiry. These are principles Russia should seek to promote, we believe, and not silence.

The Russian Government has designated now 141 organizations as so-called “foreign agents.” They’ve targeted nongovernmental and business associations working to protect the environment, fight the spread of HIV, and promote transparency, good governance, and freedom of expression. These organizations are essential for Russians to achieve transparent and accountable government – governance, rather, equal treatment under the law, and the ability to exercise their rights without fear of retribution.

With that, I will open it to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Welcome back.

MR TONER: Thanks, Matt.

QUESTION: I wanted to start with Syria --


QUESTION: -- but since you brought – raised the Levada Center first, let me just – so is your issue with the designation of this specific group, or is it with the foreign agent law in particular?

MR TONER: Well, we’ve expressed our view and our concern at multiple levels about the foreign agent law, and I spoke to, a little bit at the end of – we’re obviously believe that the action taken against the Levada Center is unwarranted, given their function, but more broadly we’re concerned about the scope of a law that seems to put at risk NGOs and other democratically minded civic organizations within Russia.

QUESTION: So it’s both that --

MR TONER: It’s both.

QUESTION: -- you have an issue with. Because, I mean, you don’t – do you take issue with the designation’s claim that they are – they would be, given their sources of funding, that they would be required under the law to be registered as a --

MR TONER: Well, no. I mean, I – look, I mean, it’s our understanding, first of all, that the Levada Center is, in fact, independent and it’s self-sufficient.


MR TONER: But I mean, we have worked with the Levada Center, as have other governments and organizations. It has an excellent reputation. We’re just worried about the – more broadly, the scope of a law that, again, appears to target many of these civic and NGO groups that, frankly, we believe are in the long-term interests of Russia’s democracy.

QUESTION: And I got – just to tie --

MR TONER: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- this up, then, in a bow.

MR TONER: Yeah, Matt.

QUESTION: I mean, you were – you expressed concerns about a similar law in Israel --

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: -- not so long ago. But both people in Israel and in Russia say – make the argument that these laws are very similar, if not identical, to FARA laws here in the U.S. You don’t agree with that?

MR TONER: We don’t. And again, we – our concern is based in part on the fact that what we’ve seen, and particularly Russia, as I just mentioned, which is it seems that many groups that we consider to be very worthwhile in terms of the work they’re doing on the ground in Russia to have been targeted.

QUESTION: So just to understand --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- your objection is not to the law itself, but to the fact that this law is being applied to this particular organization? I don’t understand.



QUESTION: Didn’t he just answer that by saying both?

MR TONER: I did.

QUESTION: I’m trying to understand that.

MR TONER: So what our concerns are – and we’ve spoken, as Matt said, about similar laws elsewhere – is that they’re being used as a pretext or as a way to target NGOs – international NGOs, many of them, but nongovernmental organizations that are, in fact, playing what we believe to be a very constructive role in the civil society of many of these countries. I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: So can we move to Syria, unless there’s more on --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: I just --

MR TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Kind of a philosophical follow-up on that one.

MR TONER: I’m very jetlagged. I don’t know if I can get philosophical with you.

QUESTION: I can’t --

QUESTION: The (inaudible) answer.

MR TONER: No, go ahead. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yes. Is there not a danger that you stand at the podium and defend Levada, that that will reinforce the Russian administration’s opposition to it?

MR TONER: Point taken, but I don’t think so. I mean, look, we, the United States, are adamant about belief in the integrity of civil society and the fact that it’s a cornerstone for any democracy. So – and you know where we stand on the value of democracy as a political system. And so we believe that it’s in Russia’s long-term interest, if it is trying to build a strong democracy, to support these kinds of organizations and the work that they do.

QUESTION: Do you believe Russia is trying to build a strong democracy?

MR TONER: Well, that’s for Russia for answer, but the Russian people, we believe, deserve one.


MR TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So what happened over the weekend? It seemed when --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- on Friday that things were looking up, that the deal might be within reach. And then all of the sudden – poof. What happened?

MR TONER: Well, so I’m not going to get into the details of what happened, except to say that we continue to have this discussion with Russia on how to put in place a stronger nationwide cessation of hostilities that will allow humanitarian aid to access all besieged areas and to get a political process back up and running in Geneva. These are all steps, as we all know in this room, that we believe we have to get to in order to get to what the common goal, at least what we believe the common goal to be, which is a political transition in Syria.

We continue to work at that with Russia. There were ongoing talks between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov in China over the weekend. But we’re not there yet. We’re not resolved. And I would just say that we continue to feel like we’re making progress and believe we’re making progress on some of the remaining issues, but we’re not going to settle. And we feel like, given – or we believe, rather, that given the importance of this arrangement that we’re seeking and the impact of this arrangement that we’re seeking, we believe it’s absolutely essential that we get a clear understanding of the way forward.

QUESTION: Sorry. You’re not going to settle for what?

MR TONER: We’re not going to settle for a less-than-ideal deal or –

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: What are you – what’s confusing --

QUESTION: People always settle for less than the ideal. It’s the risk of sacrificing the good for the perfect if the perfect is kind of – is impossible. So --

MR TONER: Well, I understand that. I mean, in any kind of diplomatic give-and-take, of course there’s --

QUESTION: Yeah, but the ideal – that ideal is perfection, right? So --

MR TONER: Of course.


MR TONER: But that doesn’t mean you settle for something that we don’t believe is going to get us to where we need to go.

QUESTION: Which --

MR TONER: Which again is a nationwide cessation of hostilities, a clear understanding of who’s part of that cessation of hostilities --

QUESTION: Let me just make sure I understand right.


QUESTION: From Geneva, where we all were last weekend or the weekend before last --

MR TONER: Weekend before.

QUESTION: -- until China, this weekend, you’re saying that there was progress made during that week? Because it sounded as is there – what progress that had been claimed to have been made in Geneva or at the time of the Geneva meeting was either eroded or if not wiped out completely.

MR TONER: I just – and again, I mean, it’s important to understand that this has been a discussion that we’ve been having over the course of several months now with Russia. We continue to make progress overall, but we’re not there yet. And I think that there’s still work to be done, and particularly about how we would go about implementing any agreement that we did reach. And I think that clearly what happened in China and Secretary Kerry’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov is – we weren’t quite to the finish line on this, so we need to go back and – to capitals and do more work. And hopefully we’ll reach an agreement, but no promises.

QUESTION: Well, that seemed to – and I’ll stop after this, but --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: With this going back to capitals thing, the capitals were all in Hangzhou.

MR TONER: No. But, Matt, what I’m talking about is there are --

QUESTION: So what’s the next – so what --

MR TONER: But to be clear --

QUESTION: So this is a long way of getting at: What’s the next step here?

MR TONER: No. To be clear, I understand your point about the capitals all being in Hangzhou. But some of these questions are at a very detailed tactical level. And that requires, frankly, some of the groups that have been working on this out of Geneva, many of them, but others who have a certain expertise to settle some of these remaining issues.

In terms of next steps, the President spoke to it yesterday. We’re going to – he said that Secretary Kerry is going to continue to work with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and the expectation is that they’ll meet again very soon, but we don’t have a specific time or place to --

QUESTION: Are the technical teams meeting today anywhere, Geneva?

MR TONER: They are continuing to work, yes, out these – again, I mean that’s a given that coming out of the meetings over the weekend that these technical teams are looking at the remaining issues and trying to resolve them.

QUESTION: In Geneva?

MR TONER: And then we’re working – I believe in Geneva, yes.

QUESTION: When – so when you say they’re working --


QUESTION: -- are they actually meeting or are they just working separately and not actually meeting?

MR TONER: I believe both, is what my understanding is.

QUESTION: And can you – when you said the expectation is that they will meet very soon – that is, Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov – do you expect them to meet this week?

MR TONER: I just can’t say definitively. And I think part of that is just we’re waiting to hear back from some of the work that these technical groups are doing and we’re waiting to hear back from the Russians about where they are on their work, just to make sure that we’re at a place where it’s beneficial for foreign minister – for Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov to get together again.

QUESTION: Can you shed any light on what were the couple of sticking points?

MR TONER: I can’t, and I apologize for that, but we’ve been very disciplined, I think, about not oversharing the details about this arrangement that we’re pursuing with them for a lot of reasons, but these are delicate diplomatic conversations that we’re having and we believe at this point in time it’s best to keep those discussions in large part confidential.

Let me – but we all know – again, I mean, I’m not – I know I said this in response to Matt, but we know the – what the basic architecture is, which is how do we stop the fighting, how do we get back in place a cessation of hostilities that’s sustainable in what has become, as an understatement, a very complex battlespace. I mean, it’s – there’s different groups and factions fighting in and around Aleppo, including the regime and with Russia’s support. So it is extremely delicate, extremely sensitive, but we wouldn’t still be in this conversation if we didn’t think it was still worthwhile.

QUESTION: You said that you weren’t going to settle for anything less than an ideal outcome.


QUESTION: Although it’s very hard to imagine what that would look like in Syria right now.

MR TONER: No, no, that’s okay. I – let me – let me just go back to that. What I was trying to say, and I’m sorry if I didn’t convey that properly – what we’re looking for is not, obviously, the perfect, but we definitely want to make sure that we have a clear understanding on the way forward, how to implement this arrangement if we do come to agreement on it, what the clear steps are going forward to implement it, and to make sure that it’s in our interests and in the interests of the Syrian opposition as well as the Syrian people. And that’s a vital element too, is the fact that – I mean, we talk about it all the time, but the ongoing suffering of the Syrian people and the inability to get humanitarian assistance in to them is a key part of this.

QUESTION: So on – I realize you’re kind of backing away from the word “ideal,” and I understand that --


QUESTION: -- but you emphasized right at the outset the desire to restore the cessation of hostilities. Are you willing to accept anything that doesn’t start with, as a principle, a nationwide cessation of hostilities? Are you willing to start with localized cessation of hostilities, for example, and hope that it builds, or do you really feel like if you’re not going to settle, you need to have an agreement on a nationwide cessation of hostilities?

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, it’s a fair question. What we need – and I’ll answer it somewhat vaguely and I apologize again for doing that, but I don’t want to get into the details of what we’re talking about with the Russians – but I think what we’re looking at is certainly a clear path forward to a nationwide cessation of hostilities. Now, whether that’s going to happen overnight or whether that’s going to happen over a period of days, that’s a question to be resolved.


QUESTION: The UN Security Council voted for the --

MR TONER: I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: -- to endorse the cessation of hostilities on February 27th. So even if you do get a deal, it’s a step back from a cessation that was already declared and hailed.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, to some extent, we don’t argue that. I mean, we did have a cessation of hostilities in place that saved lives and that did bring a brief period of calm to Syria. We want to get back to that point, because that allowed us to do a lot of valuable things like get humanitarian assistance to those places that need it and it allowed us to get at least talks going in Geneva that have now since stalled for obvious reasons.

QUESTION: But if the stall continues, is there a point where there’s no point going on? Or the costs – diplomatic costs in keeping Russia’s profile so high outweigh the potential future benefits?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, I think that we’re obviously always trying to be clear-eyed in our assessment of the prospects of an agreement and a way forward that is in our interests but also in the interests of the region and in the interests of the Syrian people. We’ve talked before about what happens if this – we don’t get there in a political process, and frankly, it’s not – the prospects aren’t good. There’s – we’ve said all along there’s no military solution to this, and what – the last thing we want to see is Syria to slide into even more horrific warfare.

QUESTION: Mark, just so I understand.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: So what you’re – the deal you’re looking at now is a cessation of hostilities and humanitarian access to the besieged communities, no more than that? Because before the weekend, one expected that there – a grand deal – I mean, really ideal deal --

MR TONER: Well, we’ve – I mean, we’ve talked beyond – look, I mean --

QUESTION: -- was in the offing.

MR TONER: I can lay out all the elements that we’ve talked about, and we all, I think, have a grasp of what’s the ideal way forward: cessation of hostilities nationwide; talks to begin again in Geneva under the auspices of the UN and Staffan de Mistura; humanitarian assistance access to all besieged areas, administered by the UN; and then what we’ve talked about, if we get these steps along the way – we have talked about the possibility of working in some fashion with Russia to carry out strikes specifically targeting Nusrah and Daesh, who are – we have a common understanding who are the clear enemy that we share in Syria.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, two weeks from today, the debates at UNGA, the United Nations General Assembly, begin.

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: Do you expect to arrive at this deal together with the Russians by then? Do you expect that?

MR TONER: We’re working to make progress --

QUESTION: Taking into consideration the --


QUESTION: -- the President’s statement and statements by --

MR TONER: I mean, I’m not going to predict because that’s a dangerous thing to do in foreign policy and diplomacy, but we’re working full-stop to try to get there.

QUESTION: Okay. I want to ask you about the two airplanes today, P8-A – American airplanes – Poseidon, that were over a Russian base in Syria. Can you confirm that?

MR TONER: I cannot. I’d have to refer you to the Department of Defense. First time I’m hearing about it.

QUESTION: Okay. And my final question.


QUESTION: You said that Nusrah and ISIS are still the fair game, but they’ve changed their name since then and you have been accused time and again that ever since they changed names, you have not targeted them.

MR TONER: We’ve been accused of that? I would argue just the opposite.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Well, the Russians are saying that --

MR TONER: I would say just the opposite. Sure.

QUESTION: -- ever since they became Fateh al-Sham, that you guys have ceased targeting them.

MR TONER: Have ceased targeting them? No, I would argue just the opposite. We’ve spoken from this podium. I’ve said – look, they may try to rebrand themselves, but we still view them as the same.

QUESTION: Mark, on Syria?

MR TONER: Are we – stay on Syria?


MR TONER: Okay. I’m sorry – Michel, and then I’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: A couple of questions.


QUESTION: Foreign minister – Saudi foreign minister has said today that Syria ceasefire deal could be agreed within 24 hours. Do you share the same statement?

MR TONER: Again, I just don’t want to be overly optimistic. We’re working to get there with them.

One more?

QUESTION: Second thing: There is a meeting in London tomorrow for Friends of Syria --

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: -- foreign ministers. Will the Secretary participate at this meeting?

MR TONER: I’m not sure what his involvement will be. I mean, he’s certainly not – doesn’t plan to be there in person, but he --

QUESTION: Who will be there?

MR TONER: -- but he may join in some fashion. Who will be there? I think Michael Ratney will be there.

QUESTION: He may join in some – you mean like video?

MR TONER: I think so, but it’s not confirmed. I just understand that’s what may happen.

QUESTION: And my third question is: News reports coming from Syria saying that the government dropped suspected chlorine bombs Tuesday on a crowded neighborhood in Aleppo. Do you have anything on this? Can you confirm?

MR TONER: No. I mean, we’re – obviously we’ve seen the reports, Michel. It’s terrible. We condemn these kinds of attacks. We’re looking into it, investigating the incident, but I can’t confirm who was behind it. Obviously, we’ve seen the government, the regime carry out these kind of attacks before. It just speaks to the horror of what’s continuing to happen there.

QUESTION: Will there be any consequences?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’re looking into it and trying to assess who’s responsible.



QUESTION: Thank you, Mark. Over the weekend, I believe Ambassador McGurk was again in Kobani and some reports also say he visited Qamishli as well. Is there any way you can tell us how were the meetings and the reason of the meeting?

MR TONER: Sure. I don’t want to give you a travel log, but very quickly: So he went to Germany, he went to Syria, and also went to Turkey – broadly to speak about our efforts to defeat ISIL; specifically, the focus of the trip was on disrupting and destroying ISIL’s external operations and its networks. But obviously, given the timing, it was also an opportunity for him to – both in Turkey, as well as in Syria – to talk to our partners on the ground who are carrying out attacks and assaults on Daesh or ISIL on the ground.

In Turkey – or rather in Germany, he did meet with senior German officials. He also met with Interpol Secretary-General Jurgen Stock to talk about ways we can collaborate better – again, talking about ISIL’s external networks, ways we can collaborate better with Interpol in detecting the movement of foreign fighters.

In Syria, he met with a diverse group of Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF leaders; talked about the – and frankly welcomed the recent liberation of Manbij from ISIL. He also ensured ongoing U.S. support for the SDF in their fight against ISIL and he also emphasized the need for strict adherence to prior commitments made by the SDF. But in all of his meetings he encouraged unity of effort and de-confliction.

In Turkey he met with Senior Turkish officials to discuss U.S. support for ongoing efforts to clear the border region between Syria and Turkey. And they also discussed and welcomed progress to date in that regard, and then talked about – a little about the planning for the Mosul campaign, for the campaign to eventually, to liberate Mosul in Iraq, and more broadly about closer cooperation with Turkey on anti-ISIL.

QUESTION: President Erdogan, after the G20 meeting, said that since the Syrian Kurdish force left Manbij now that Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army’s forces can go and get into Manbij. Is this your understanding? Do you think these Turkey-backed FSA forces now may proceed to go in Manbij?

MR TONER: Well, look, I – I mean, to your first question, we do believe that Kurdish elements within the SDF that took part in the Manbij operation have lived up to their commitments and have moved back to the east of the Euphrates River. Speaking more broadly about who should be in Manbij – look, what we’ve talked about all along here is the fact that, as quickly as possible, we want local authorities and local government to re-establish control of these cities and towns that are liberated from ISIL, because the ultimate goal here is to get the people who have been displaced, or the people who are there and living under ISIL’s terror, back up and running as a functioning city.

QUESTION: Related question to that.

QUESTION: But is the FSA – is the FSA --

QUESTION: Related question to that, please. These Turkey-backed forces in Syria are saying that for any safe zone, not only does the United States and Russia need to have an agreement, but also Turkey. How much of a complicating factor is that going to be?

MR TONER: Steve, I’ve seen those reports. I don’t have much to say about them, except that Turkey is always a part of the conversation. Of course they are. They’re part of the ISSG, the International Syria Support Group. As I said – just said, Brett McGurk was just there consulting with them on operations. So nothing is going to be done without Turkey’s awareness and consent.

QUESTION: But the Turks seem to have their own set of rebels, the FSA, which they’ve brought into Manbij, and they want to say that these are representing the local people. How do you decide who’s representing the local people?

MR TONER: Well, we have a sense of who’s representative of the local people. I mean some of these – and we’ve talked about this quite a bit as these operations have continued through northern Syria, that local fighting forces have been frankly some of the most effective groups to fight and take on and defeat ISIL. It’s Syrian Arabs in some cases; it’s Syrian Kurds in other cases. What we have always stressed, though, is that no one should try to use this as a pretext for holding and gaining territory; that we need to get local forces, local populations – or rather, local governance back up in place in these places that are liberated so that those who have been displaced by the fighting, or those who live in those cities through the fighting, can get back up and resume their normal lives.

QUESTION: It seems that the Manbij - -

MR TONER: But there’s – but there’s always – sorry, I didn’t mean to – but I mean, the President spoke about this the other day at the G20. It is a complex, to say the least, array of forces that are fighting in northern Syria. Different groups are in common cause, if you will, to defeat ISIL and dislodge them and destroy them. We recognize that. We’re working with those groups, but it is a difficult process to manage going forward. But that’s what we’re aiming to do, is how do we harness the efforts of these groups in common cause. And that to some extent also includes Turkey and its efforts to clear its border. We’ve got to all work, and we talked about this – sorry, just to finish, (inaudible) – talked about this last week when there was reports of conflict between Turkish forces and some of the Syrian Kurds, that we need to de-conflict, we need – there needs to be an awareness within that space of who is where and that, again, prior commitments need to be honored.

QUESTION: Correct me if I misunderstand, but it seems what happened – because since last week, U.S. officials, yourself and the Pentagon, both been saying the SDF left Manbij as promised and there was this military council established. It seems that the Turkish Government did not like the idea of having a – an element in Manbij running the place that was sympathetic to the SDF, so it pushed them out and came in with its own set of rebels. Is that a reasonable understanding of things?

MR TONER: Look, I would just leave it at the fact that the goal of the Manbij operation was to expel ISIL and to return the city to the control and the governance of the local population. That is what we’re working towards.


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- news coming out of Ankara says that there is a delegation from the Justice and Development Party coming over to Washington to talk or discuss the extradition of Fethullah Gulen. Are you aware of that?

MR TONER: First time I’m hearing about it, so if we get any details of it --

QUESTION: They’re en route.

MR TONER: Yeah. I just don’t – I don’t have a reaction. I’ll look at the reports and see if we have anything to get back to you.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject, please?

QUESTION: Can I finish Turkey?

MR TONER: We’ll finish Turkey/Syria – it’s kind of – and then I swear I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Thank you. President Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said that there were two meetings between President Erdogan and President Obama at the G20. Do you have any readout about the second meeting spokesman talking about?

MR TONER: I do not. I’m aware of the – obviously the meeting that they had yesterday, but we in fact had already gone wheels up. We’d already left before that meeting ever – while that meeting was starting, so I don’t have any readout. It might have been a pull-aside, what they call a pull-aside. They may have briefly met. I just – I would refer you to the White House.

QUESTION: Final question on Turkey: Both the Vice President Biden – his visit to Ankara two weeks ago, and a couple days ago President Obama – when they met with President Erdogan, they did not talk about the journalists that – in jail that you have been telling from this podium that you really care deeply about, and many other human right abuses. I was wondering what the Turkish people should understand that both the Vice President and President Obama not mentioning any of these human rights problems in Turkey when they meet with President Erdogan.

MR TONER: Well, I would want the Turkish people to understand that we don’t shy away from talking about human rights concerns and the protection of journalists. As you know and as you mentioned, I speak about it often from this podium. We do it on a bilateral – through our bilateral relations with our ambassador there, Ambassador John Bass. We raise these issues consistently and often when we do have concerns, and we have had concerns about the treatment of some journalists in Turkey.

QUESTION: But if you have concerns, why would President Erdogan not talk about this when he meets with the President? Doesn’t it give the impression that you don’t really care about it, although you have been saying that you care about it?

MR TONER: Not at all. And again, I’m not going to speak to – it’s really for the White House to speak to what the President discussed with President Erdogan – President Obama has discussed with President Erdogan. But there should be no impression taken that we somehow don’t take these issues seriously.

You had your – and then I’ll --

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. As you mentioned, so many people has been killed in Afghanistan this two, three days. It’s really, really tragic and very bad, and Afghan people has a high expectation from the U.S., and they wants the U.S. bring more pressure to Pakistan to change their policy towards Afghanistan.

Number two, UN General Assembly is very close. Do you think that U.S. has any roles to Afghanistan or Pakistan policy to take an action against Pakistan?

MR TONER: Well – and I would point you to his remarks – Secretary Kerry spoke to this during his trip to the region, to his trip to Bangladesh and India last week, that we have had very frank conversations with Pakistan’s leadership and military leadership about the need to focus more efforts on those terrorist groups – all the terrorist groups, rather – that are operating from within Pakistani soil – or territory, rather. We continue to have that discussion with them. We have seen some efforts to make progress in that regard. We’re going to continue to have those conversations with them as we move forward. And it’s in Pakistan’s interest, it’s in Afghanistan’s interest to go after these terrorist groups, to root them out, and to destroy them. The ultimate goal is we want to see peace and stability in the region, and so that’s going to involve efforts on Pakistan’s part, as well as the ability of Afghanistan and the Afghan Government to provide the stability and security to its own people. And that’s what our efforts are focused on.

QUESTION: And the UN, do you think --

MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry, yes. Look, absolutely, it’ll be a topic of discussion in terms of what’s going on, the continued insecurity that plagues Afghanistan. As yesterday’s terrible attacks showed, we still have to work to go after those entities on the ground – Taliban and other – and root them out if they’re going to continue to carry out these kinds of attacks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I follow again?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: The former U.S. ambassador to the UN and Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said that – has recently said that since Pakistan is not taking enough action against these terrorist network at this time, that the U.S. should consider taking some kind of sanctions against Pakistan. What is the State Department view? Is that an option for the State Department?

MR TONER: I don’t think we’re even at that point. I mean, we continue to have, as I said, conversations with the highest level of the Government of Pakistan. And our basic point in all of these conversations is that Pakistan must target all militant groups, including those that target Pakistan’s neighbors, and eliminate all safe havens. And that’s what I was trying to convey to you, as well.

What we’ve received in terms of response from Pakistanis – from Pakistan authorities is that they’ve assured us of their intentions to do so. We have been encouraged by some of the steps they’ve taken, some of their recent counterterrorism operations along the border of the Afghan – Afghanistan. And we’re going to continue to work with them to increase those efforts and apply more pressure on these groups.

But the suggestion of any kind of sanctions, we’re not there.

QUESTION: I have one more question on Afghanistan.

MR TONER: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: About the Loya Jirga, you know when it was – it was due to Secretary Kerry that President Ghani and CEO Abdullah had an agreement on a unity government.

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: And as part of this agreement, within two years, they used – there should have been a Loya Jirga to approve that agreement between the two. That hasn’t happened yet. What is Secretary Kerry’s view on it?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, we continue – there’s been challenges, obviously, to the new government. We continue to work closely. We believe in the current power-sharing arrangement that exists in Afghanistan. I don’t have a specific comment on the delay in having a Loya Jirga, except to say that we continue to support the Afghan Government as it seeks to both enact certain reforms – economic and other reforms, but also to increase the capability of the security forces.

QUESTION: And one more on Secretary Kerry’s remarks?

MR TONER: One more. Okay. Sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah. I hope you had a nice trip in Delhi – extended nice trip --

MR TONER: Thank you. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry’s remarks on terrorism in Pakistan – he said that he spoke to Prime Minister Sharif and General Raheel Sharif on these issues. When is the last time he spoke to them?

MR TONER: Let me see if I can get that for you. I don’t have a specific date.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Nicolas and then you, I promise. Nicolas.

QUESTION: Staying on Afghanistan.

MR TONER: Staying on --

QUESTION: Afghanistan.

MR TONER: -- Afghanistan or India?

QUESTION: Pakistan.

MR TONER: Okay, Pakistan. Split the difference.

QUESTION: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry – and this is more important because you were there – that he mentioned the highest level you just mentioned, we are meeting, talking on highest levels and all, and we are not at that point. So he mentioned about his bringing U.S. efforts to bring to justice Mumbai attackers, where are six Americans were also killed.


QUESTION: So after that point, where – what is the next point where the U.S. has engaged Pakistan? (Inaudible) just that statement? It was a one-sided statement from Secretary Kerry.

MR TONER: You’re talking about his statement during this trip?

QUESTION: Yes, during the visit that – and then after that, he said – you said that – saying that it’s not at this point. When will be – it’s 2008, it’s 2016 – when will be at that point when --

MR TONER: Oh, you’re talking about --

QUESTION: -- seeing some evidence --

MR TONER: I’m sorry, okay. Sorry, I’m trying to get what your question is here. I apologize. Look, I mean, we’ve been very clear that we want to see accountability and justice in the case of the Mumbai attacks, and as you noted, there were American citizens who lost their lives in that – those terrible attacks. We’ve long encouraged and pushed for greater counterterrorism cooperation, and that includes the sharing of intelligence between India and Pakistan in that regard. That continues; those efforts continue. As I said, we want to see full accountability for these terrible attacks.

QUESTION: But if the same six Americans were killed in any other country, we would have had sanctions, we would have – talk more tougher. Why aren’t we doing that with Pakistan? There’s – where is the talk? Where is the – it’s only the statements from the podiums.

MR TONER: Well, again, you’re asking me – and the question was whether we’re looking at sanctioning Pakistan. No. The answer is that we’re working with Pakistan, we’re making our concerns clear that they need to go after all the terrorist groups that are operating or seeking safe haven on their soil. And that’s been our clear objective for a long time now. We’ve seen progress, but we need to see more.

You, Nicolas, sorry. I lost you.

QUESTION: A few words about the Philippines.


QUESTION: You would probably refer us to the White House, but could you tell us whether there will be consequences for the Philippines, whose president is – I mean, keeps insulting the United States?

MR TONER: I mean, Nicolas, what I could say is the consequence is that the decision was clearly made that they couldn’t have a productive and constructive conversation, so there was no meeting between the President and President Duterte. That’s a consequence. We value our relations with the Philippines. They are a – I mean, it’s one of our most important relationships in the Asia Pacific region. They’re a treaty ally of ours. It’s a significant and important relationship, and so the fact that our two leaders now don’t have the possibility of meeting is unfortunate. I’m not going to say more than that.

QUESTION: But there won’t be any consequences on the military aid or on the alliance you have with this country? Is there a point (inaudible) --

MR TONER: I don’t have anything – no, I mean, I don’t have anything to announce in that regard. I think we continue – and the President said this – fighting that kind of drug war that they’re fighting right now is difficult. It’s a significant burden. And that’s just not for the Philippines but in places around the world. But we’re going to continue to say that there must be due process, there must be ways to fight against drugs that are consistent with international standards and norms. And that’s going to consistently be our message going forward. And of course, with any assistance and any cooperation that we have with Philippines in that regard, we’re always going to keep an eye on assessing that, whether they’re living up to that obligation.

QUESTION: Do you know, was the State Department involved in any follow-up conversation with Philippines officials about the comments?

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, Matt.

QUESTION: So it was all handled – all of that, as far as you know, was handled --

MR TONER: I can’t rule it out; I just don’t know.

QUESTION: And does the State Department believe that the Philippines shares the U.S. view that the United States and the Philippines are strong and great allies?

MR TONER: I was in Manila I guess now months --


MR TONER: -- a couple months – that’s right, you were. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. And that was --

MR TONER: And there was --

QUESTION: And it’s interesting that you mention that – go ahead.

MR TONER: No – and it was – the – Secretary Kerry did have a productive initial meeting with President Duterte over lunch, and they talked about all these issues and talked about the importance of the relationship. But clearly there has been a tone in some of the rhetoric coming out of the Philippine Government that has raised questions, as I said, of whether we can have a productive conversation with them on many of these issues where we have long shared strong cooperation, among – rather, on the security sphere, counterterrorism, as well as drug trafficking.

QUESTION: Okay. So trying to unpack that --


QUESTION: -- long – you are not 100 percent certain that the Philippines shares your view of the strength of – and the resilience of the relationship?

MR TONER: I mean, it’s for – it’s for the Government of the Philippines to show that.

QUESTION: I know that. I’m not --

MR TONER: And to illustrate that.

QUESTION: And they have not, or at least the president has not. Because you brought up – is that correct? You --

MR TONER: I’m not going to pass judgment. I’m not going to make a pronouncement today. But as I said, words matter, and we want to see an atmosphere that’s cordial and open to strong cooperation.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: And then you mentioned how the Secretary was just in the Philippines. And shortly after that trip, though, President Duterte had some rather insulting comments for Ambassador Goldberg as well --

MR TONER: Unfortunate – yeah – comments. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- for which you sought clarification. I’m just wondering if – did you ever get that clarification? And if you did, what was it? And is it acceptable? I mean, the President was, until these latest comments, ready to meet with him, and then he didn’t.

MR TONER: So Matt, what I’ll say about it is – and I’m not sure what we, in fact, received from – the response was from the Government of the Philippines. I’d just have to look into it. I don’t have the answer in front of me. But what’s clear is that there has a been a pattern here or a couple of incidents that, again, speak to the tenor of the new administration that, frankly, raise concerns. But that doesn’t undermine the fact that we have had 70 years of strong bilateral relations with the Philippines and we want to see that continue.

QUESTION: Yeah. But do you think that the president is a responsible leader?

MR TONER: He was elected by the Filipino people. We believe he’s got to live up to their mandate. It’s for them to decide whether he’s a responsible leader or not. What we want to have is a constructive engagement with the Philippines, of the kind that we’ve had for the past 70 years.

QUESTION: Which you don’t have at the moment, correct?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to overplay this or over-amplify this, but it’s clear that he’s made some unfortunate comments --

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: -- whether about our ambassador or about our president.

QUESTION: All right. And then just related to this trip and another little incident that happened, I’m just wondering if there was any State Department follow-up on the issue of the stairs in Air Force One on the plane?

MR TONER: No, not that I’m aware of. And I don’t think we also want to over-amplify that. I mean, there was some misunderstandings on the ground about some of the press movements. I’ll let the White House speak to that. And about – as to the stairs, I’ll let the Chinese speak to that as well. Sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah, I get that it’s a White House thing, but I want to know if anyone from this building or this – from the department or the embassy was asked to follow up with the Chinese on this.

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MR TONER: Can we move on from – China? I guess we’re in China now.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) China.

MR TONER: Sorry. I’ll get to you. I promise.

QUESTION: President of Philippines, he actually just apologized for his remark. I wonder if you --

MR TONER: Well, I don’t know. I’ve seen the comments that the Duterte administration statement supporting the U.S.-Philippines relationship. And that’s helpful. I don’t know that he has specifically apologized. I haven’t seen those reports.

QUESTION: He said he regret.


QUESTION: He regret too.

MR TONER: Okay. Well --

QUESTION: So another question related to Philippine is: To maintain the constructive relationship just talking – you just talked about, will you, in the future, soften your tone regarding your criticism of abuse of human rights and drug issues?

MR TONER: Soften our criticism about human rights concerns? I think if we have concerns about human rights we’re going to state those concerns. That’s a conversation that we’re willing to have. President Duterte may disagree with us strongly on that, and that’s part of the conversation of – between allies and partners that take place on – with a number of countries around the world. That’s normal. So that’s part of what we believe to be a healthy bilateral relationship, where we can express those kind of concerns, as we do with countries around the world and governments where we believe there are credible reports of human rights abuses.

QUESTION: And the last question on China. Do you have the evaluation on the summit between President Obama and President Xi? On one hand, we have the incident Matt just mentioned at Hangzhou Airport. On the other hand, two leader just reached the agreement, both joined the climate change agreement. So is that summit a success?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, yes, it was. And the small incidents that took place on the periphery or – shouldn’t be indicative of the strong cooperation that we’ve had with China on a number of fronts over the past several years of this administration, whether it’s climate change, as you mentioned, but also on – in terms of cooperation and concern over North Korea’s actions in the region and as well as with Iran’s nuclear program. So China has been a strong partner in many issues, and we want to seek to strengthen that partnership where we can. We also have areas of disagreement with China, and going back to what I just said, those are the issues that we’re also going to keep talking with China about. We can’t shy away from those. But overall, it was a very successful summit.

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

MR TONER: I’ll get to him and then I promise I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Can I bring this thing home?

MR TONER: Back home to the U.S.?

QUESTION: Here to the U.S. Yes.

MR TONER: Let me just say he really was next. I promise I’ll get to you. I promise. I’m sorry.


QUESTION: Very quickly --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- I just want to move to the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: First of all, are you aware of some airstrikes that the Israelis have conducted in Gaza today?

MR TONER: In Gaza today? I’m not, frankly. No.

QUESTION: Okay. Then let me ask you – the Israelis shut down a Palestinian radio station in Hebron.

MR TONER: I’m aware of that.

QUESTION: I believe that it is financed by the U.S. Are you aware of that? Do you anything --

MR TONER: I’ll have to look into it whether we finance the radio station, but obviously --

QUESTION: I may be wrong, but I --

MR TONER: Yeah, I mean --

QUESTION: I heard that it’s --

MR TONER: Sure, I’m sorry --

QUESTION: -- subsidized by USAID.

MR TONER: But any – we’d – we would always be concerned about – about any effort to violate the free speech of Palestinians.

QUESTION: And my second one is the EU over the weekend condemned the approval of 463 housing units and Israeli settlements across the West Bank. I wonder if you have a similar statement or have a position on the --

MR TONER: Well, we saw the – yeah, we saw the EU statement. I think we talked about it last week, but we remain deeply concerned about ongoing Israeli settlement activity. The expansion or significant expansion, even, of settlement enterprise poses a serious and growing threat to the prospects and even the viability of a two-state solution. And that’s a position that was reflected in the Quartet report and it’s a position we’ve held for some time now.

QUESTION: And finally --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- there was talk that President Putin of Russia might host a meeting between Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Are you aware of that? Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: I mean, we’re following it closely. We’re obviously in regular touch with the Israelis and the Palestinians and the Russians on this. It’s up to the parties to decide if and where they want to do this meeting, but we would be supportive of any kind of effort to get the parties together to talks through some of the issues.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Now your turn. Sorry.


MR TONER: Thanks. Yeah, sorry about that.

QUESTION: There were 13 devices used by Secretary Clinton while she was secretary of state that are now unaccounted for. What is the department’s policy for the retention of devices used for government business and is this in conflict with the current regulations?

MR TONER: Well, so I can’t really speak to how many devices she may or may not have had in her possession. What I would say is, and we’ve said this before, is that she never had or possessed or was provided with a State Department BlackBerry. But as to what personal devices she used, I’m going to have to refer you to her or her staff to speak to that. We just don’t have --

QUESTION: But if those devices were used for business that were secretary-of-state related – if they’re missing, is that a potential security risk?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think that it’s something for her and her staff to answer. All we can say is that she was never provided with a State Department BlackBerry. But of course, we always take these kinds of reports seriously, we always take security, obviously, very seriously, but I just don’t have any more information to share about what may or may not have been contained on those personal devices.

QUESTION: And then you worked with her while she was here. Since almost every network had a story about her coughing fit, would you have any reason to worry or wonder about her health? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: I could only speak from my personal experience with her and she seemed very vital and dynamic and a healthy person.

QUESTION: Mark, on Egypt.

MR TONER: Please. I’ll get to you in a second.

QUESTION: A video has been circulated on social media showing one of Egypt president guards asking Secretary Kerry at office meeting with President al-Sisi in India if he had a phone with a camera. Are you aware of this fact?

MR TONER: I think I’ve heard about the question, but I mean, he went into the meeting and they had a very productive meeting.

QUESTION: But what about the phone? Was the Secretary surprised by – by this question?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, he meets with an array of world leaders and all of them have their – or their teams rather have specific security concerns. I would let the Egyptians to speak to what theirs are, but I don’t think it – it wasn’t a disruption and they certainly had a good, productive meeting talking about a range of issues.

QUESTION: And was there any request from the Egyptians for Secretary Kerry not to carry on a mobile phone or a camera?

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: And do you consider this as a breach of protocol or respectful?

MR TONER: Not at all. I wouldn’t read too much into it. Sometimes security staff can be overzealous. Maybe that’s the case here.

QUESTION: Yes, Mark.


QUESTION: I was wondering if there were any discussions between this building and your counterparts, either in South Korea or Japan, about concerns over a possible nuclear no-first-use policy recently?

MR TONER: Well, I think the White House spoke a little bit about this in – and I would refer you to some of the comments made I think on background about that. And we’ve been very clear that the security guarantees we have in the region are ironclad, and that hasn’t changed. And he – President Obama met with President Park I think today and indicated again that we always – or we continue to embrace the concept of extended deterrence as it relates to the region and certainly to the Republic of Korea.

QUESTION: Mark, on Ukraine.

MR TONER: Ukraine and then I – yes, sir.

QUESTION: Just two short questions about the Ukraine.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Firstly, speaking about this continuous dialogue between Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov, you mentioned Syria a couple of times. I perfectly understand they will speak about the Syria, but what about Ukraine? Will Ukraine be topic of the discussion or they will concentrate on Syria only?

MR TONER: Not at all. Ukraine was brought up in the conversation yesterday, and I think it was read out after the meeting that they did talk about Ukraine. I think that it was also discussed in the meeting that was held between the U.S., Germany, and France on the sidelines of the G20 as well. And essentially, what was conveyed in both meetings was the need for all sides to move forward in implementing Minsk and that that offers the best way to quell the violence and to bring stability and peace back to the region. And so I think that the priority going forward is how quickly we can move on implementing the remaining Minsk commitments on both sides. And we’re working close with, as I said, France and Germany – part of the Normandy Group – but also with – directly with the Russians as well and, obviously, with Ukraine.

QUESTION: And secondly, have you seen the reports from Kyiv, where this Sunday the news office of the largest Ukrainian television channel was burned, a number – numerous of staff persons got smoke intoxication. Any comments on this?

MR TONER: Well, we are – we would urge the office of the prosecutor general to conduct a full and transparent investigation of what happened and hopefully bring those who carried out this attack to justice. We’re always concerned when we see a media outlet targeted in this way.


MR TONER: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah, you issued a statement earlier today expressing continuing concern about the situation in Gabon since the election.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Around about the same time, the European Union observers announced that there was a – they discovered what they described as an anomaly in the results from – with the provisional results from the election. It seems like they’re not endorsing them as a free and fair poll. Is – has the United States got – I don’t know if you’re – you’ve received the EU observer’s report or if you have your own concerns.

MR TONER: Well, I think we’re very concerned right now about just the overall situation in Gabon and would call on all parties to refrain from violence, as well as their supporters, and that includes escalatory or inflammatory language as well as other aggressive actions. We want to see all sides, and that includes security forces, exercise restraint and respect for international standards.

I know that the African Union has expressed a willingness to send a delegation to assist the parties in Gabon in their efforts to – toward a constitutional resolution in the post-election situation – on – to the post-election situation. And we strongly support that initiative and call on the Government of Gabon to work with the AU to arrange the visit of such a delegation as soon as possible.

QUESTION: But do you have any concerns about the provisional results themselves?

MR TONER: I don’t. I mean, I – I mean, we – look, I mean, we’ve called on the government to release the results for each individual polling station so that the Gabonese people can assess the credibility of the vote tallies. And we would urge anybody attest – rather, contesting or challenging the results to do so peacefully. But we don’t have any – we haven’t reached any conclusion about the results themselves at this point.

QUESTION: Mark, can you look into --


QUESTION: -- the particular question of the – one of the things that the EU mission’s report highlighted was results from the upper O-G-O-O-U-E province, where Bongo officially won 95 percent of the votes amid a 99 percent voter turnout. Can you check to see if – and the opposition has claimed that the vote tallies in that province were vastly inflated. Can you check on whether you guys have specific concerns about that?

MR TONER: Sure, I can look into it.


QUESTION: I think that’s the anomaly the EU are referring to.

MR TONER: Yeah, yeah. No, look, I mean – but to go back to what I just said is it just – what the EU has found is just – obviously underscores the importance of full transparency in the process. People should be willing to challenge the results, but they just need to do so peacefully.

Yeah, Matt, do you have --

QUESTION: I’ve got a couple on Iran and one on Bahrain. Which one do you want to go – which one do you want first?

MR TONER: Can I pass? (Laughter.) Iran.



QUESTION: Is that going in reverse alphabetically or --


QUESTION: -- do you think they’re going to be quicker answers?

MR TONER: I have no idea.

QUESTION: Your colleagues at the Pentagon have talked about yet another incident with Iranian ships. This is really – they’re picking up pace, happening with a lot more frequency than they ever had before, and this is at a time when you guys have hailed, or in the months since you have hailed the idea that you have a new – a direct conversation – conversational route with the Iranians. Is that being used at all or does the Secretary plan to raise this with Foreign Minister Zarif or does he think that Foreign Minister Zarif, this is not really his area? I mean, the reason I ask that --


QUESTION: -- is because when the sailors were taken, that was the communication channel that was used and everyone talked about how wonderful it was. So I presume it’s still an open channel, and if it is, is he going to use it?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, we’re just getting reports about this latest incident, and clearly, these kinds of actions and incidents are of concern. And as you note, they can unnecessarily escalate tensions between Iran and the U.S. and escalate tensions in the region. As to whether he will raise this, I mean, I don’t know when he’s planning next to talk to – speak with Foreign Minister Zarif. I can’t exclude that it won’t be a topic of conversation put within the larger context that we want to see and we believe that Iran has an opportunity to change its behavior and play a more constructive role in the region. We never – I don’t think we ever said anything other than that they have an opportunity to do so, and we’ve never said that they necessarily are.

Up till now, we’ve seen it’s been a mixed bag, and I could see it possibly coming up. I just can’t predict that he’ll definitively raise it or that he’ll have a chance to speak to Foreign Minister Zarif.

QUESTION: It’s been a mixed bag? That means some good, some bad. What can you --

MR TONER: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: We know what the bad is. What’s the good?

MR TONER: No, I mean, look, I mean, Iran did join the ISSG and they’re a part of that process. The stated goal of that group is to bring about a peaceful political transition to the situation in Syria. But we’ve not – we’ve seen very little positive behavior in other areas and other --

QUESTION: I mean, I think you could say that the ISSG has not produced much of anything positive in the way of – not so far.

MR TONER: Let’s not open up that argument.

QUESTION: I mean, I just --

QUESTION: On the ISSG front, there are photographs today of Qasem Soleimani in Aleppo. Does that come under the ISSG’s – Iran’s cooperation with the ISSG --

MR TONER: Well, look, we know that Iran is actively supporting the Syrian regime. It’s no secret. I don’t know about these photos, but again, this is all part of why the ISSG is what it is, which is the – all the stakeholders with regard to Syria.

QUESTION: So does that --

QUESTION: And then --

QUESTION: Hold on, I got more on Iran.

MR TONER: Oh, sure.

QUESTION: Two more. One is that in light of this regional – this opportunity that they have to play a more constructive role in the region, have you been watching, and if you have, how – with any concern this rather sharp escalation in rhetoric between the Iranians and the Saudis?

MR TONER: We are obviously watching it, and we’re always concerned by escalations in rhetoric between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean this is – the Iranians accusing the Saudis of treason, of murdering – intentionally murdering the Hajj --

MR TONER: You’re talking about – you’re talking about the comments regarding the Hajj.

QUESTION: Yeah, but then the ones that have come after that as well. I mean, they’re both attacking each other for being --

MR TONER: Those are the only ones that I’m --

QUESTION: -- un-Islamic and – anyway, could you see if --

MR TONER: I mean, I’ll look into it. I mean, look, I mean --

QUESTION: -- there’s any concern about that?

MR TONER: But I can – what I can say is that obviously any escalation in the tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia are of serious concern to us. So --

QUESTION: And then --

QUESTION: Can I ask you on the boats, the – is – do you think that’s --

MR TONER: On the what? I apologize, I didn’t hear --

QUESTION: On the incident with the U.S. ship.

MR TONER: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you think that Iran is doing this deliberately? Are these deliberate provocations?

MR TONER: It’s unclear, and I would, frankly, refer you to the Department of Defense to speak more definitively about what they’ve seen in these incidents, but they’re very dangerous.

QUESTION: So there’s been some discussion in Iran and some opposition to the potential for them to do a deal with the FATF, the Financial Action Task Force. Have you – that would basically help them along the way to getting removed from their money-laundering blacklist. Do you know anything about that? Have you been watching it?

MR TONER: I don’t. I’ll look into it.

QUESTION: All right. And then a last one, moving to your second choice --


QUESTION: -- Bahrain. You will have seen over the weekend – well, maybe you didn’t because you were in China --


QUESTION: -- and then trying to watch football, but this letter that was published in The New York Times, this op-ed piece by Nabeel Rajab.


QUESTION: Well, so the Bahrainis now have charged him with an additional crime or additional crimes, plural, because of this letter. What do you make of that?

MR TONER: Well, we’re very concerned both about his ongoing detention and about the new charges filed against him, and we call on the Government of Bahrain to release him immediately. We have concerns about the state of human rights in general in Behran – Behran --

QUESTION: Bahrain.

MR TONER: I’m sorry – Bahrain. I’m sorry – Bahrain. This is what happens when you --

QUESTION: Well, it may be Behran – (laughter).

MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: That was --

MR TONER: Did I remind you that I’m – changed like eight time zones yesterday? Bahrain --

QUESTION: So we can get a clean clip, can you stop – start at the top?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, we’re obviously concerned about Nabeel Rajab detention and the charges filed against him, and we call on the Government of Bahrain to release him. We have concerns about the state of human rights in general in Bahrain, and we’re engaging with the Government of Bahrain on all of these issues.

QUESTION: Did you say --

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: -- they needed to release him the first time?

MR TONER: I did.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Mark, very quickly on Syria, Turkey-backed forces now moving to Al-Bab. Is the coalition forces giving any air cover to this Turkey-backed --

MR TONER: I don’t know. I’d refer you to the Department of Defense on that.

QUESTION: And on the same issue about the President Obama not mentioning about any of the human rights issues, given fact that this is the final – most likely the final meeting between the President Obama and President Erdogan. I get – I got so many harsh reactions now on social media, that you said you don’t shy away from mentioning these issues, yet you just shied away. Can you tell me one reason why Turkish democrats should feel that you did not sell out Turkish democrats in this final meeting by not mentioning 115 journalists are sitting in Turkish jails across Turkey now?

MR TONER: Look, I think the President spoke to this, or spoke to the situation in Turkey – the post-coup-attempt situation in Turkey – and about our concerns about some of the actions that have been taken on the part of the Turkish Government in response to that. We’ve been very clear from this podium for the --

QUESTION: Not at the meeting.

MR TONER: I’m talking about – but you’re trying to get me to specifically talk about the President’s meeting with President Erdogan. I’m going to refer you to the White House to speak to what they discussed in that meeting. But I can be very clear that we don’t shy away from discussing concerns about freedom of the press in Turkey when we have those concerns.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: That’s it. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:20 p.m.)

DPB # 154


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Thu, 09/01/2016 - 18:22

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 1, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:20 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody.



MR KIRBY: I don't have anything to start with today, so we’ll just get right to it.

QUESTION: I think there’s various questions regarding American citizens, but I guess we’ll get to them later. I wanted to ask first about this good ISIS report, the Institute for Science and International Security, specifically on various changes that were made to the JCPOA by the joint commission. I gather you’ve had a chance to read it. Can I just ask you, one, has there been any loosening to the low-enriched uranium stockpile rule, as written down in the agreement?


QUESTION: No. So 300 kilograms, that’s defined in the agreement, remains the stockpile limit for Iran and they have never crossed that?

MR KIRBY: It does, and yes, they’ve never crossed that.

QUESTION: So do you agree with the report – and also I think there was a media report by Reuters – that these amount to secret agreements that have changed the nature of the JCPOA in any way?

MR KIRBY: No, we wouldn’t agree with that characterization at all. I think as many of you know – and it’s written right in the JCPOA, which established the joint commission – that the work of the joint commission would be confidential unless the joint commission decided otherwise. It’s right there in the JCPOA itself. I mean, it’s designed that way.

QUESTION: Do you consider – and then I’ll let my colleague ask some follow-up questions. But the LEU that’s in the system, as it were – do you not count that as part of the stockpile?

MR KIRBY: Well, what I would tell you is that, according to the JCPOA, Iran is limited to a stockpile of 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium that is usable for the making of fissile material or usable to be able to obtain a nuclear weapon. And that limit hasn’t changed; they’ve not exceeded that limit. And beyond that, I’m just not able to get into additional detail.

QUESTION: Why don’t we step back a second and just ask what is your broad reaction to this report?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve read the report. I’ve looked at it myself. What I can tell you is that Iran’s nuclear commitments under the JCPOA have not changed. There’s been no moving of the goal post, as it were. The joint commission has always been intended to address implementation issues when they arise. That’s the whole purpose for it. And as I said, the work of the joint commission, as stipulated in the agreement itself, is to be confidential. I also would assert that the joint commission has not and will not loosen any of the commitments and has not provided any exceptions that would allow Iran to retain or process material in excess of its JCPOA limits that it could use in a breakout scenario.

And as I think I answered in Brad’s questions, the notion, which I’ve seen in the report mentioned several times – the beginning, middle, and end – that there was some untowardness here about the confidentiality of the work of the joint commission is not founded. And any suggestion to the contrary is just false, and you can read it right in the JCPOA.

QUESTION: Putting aside whether it would require an exemption from the English language to use an alleged word like untowardness, the question it seems to me is if the work of the joint commission is by definition confidential, how then is appropriate oversight over the joint commission ever to be exercised by the U.S. Congress or any other interested party?

MR KIRBY: Well, the Congress has been fully briefed on the JCPOA and has been – and we have maintained regular contact with members of Congress about the work of the joint commission.

QUESTION: In other words, to put it plainly, the joint commission has not provided any exemptions for Iran’s requirements under the JCPOA or anything that could be construed as an exemption. That’s your position?

MR KIRBY: Well, okay, you don’t like the way I used untoward. I’m not going to quibble with you on what construes or who construes what. What I can tell you is, James, as I said in the past – and I’ll be happy to repeat it – the joint commission has not and will not loosen those commitments. There’s been no loosening of the commitments that Iran is responsible for under the JCPOA. And it has not provided any exceptions that would allow Iran to retain or process material in excess of its JCPOA limits that it could use in a breakout scenario.

And I will just remind you, if you will allow me, that as you and I sit here today, that breakout timeline is about a year long. And before the JCPOA we were talking about a few months.

QUESTION: Have there been any briefings to members of Congress on the work of the joint commission?

MR KIRBY: Yes. As I said, the Congress has been kept informed.

QUESTION: You said on the JCPOA.

MR KIRBY: And we have briefed – no, I did not. I said both. But I’ll say it again: The Administration has briefed Congress frequently and comprehensively on all the joint commission’s work.

QUESTION: When was the last such briefing?

MR KIRBY: I’d have to get a date for you. I don’t know. And what – I would also add that for members of Congress that continue to have questions and may have questions in light of this report, we are more than happy to continue to conduct those kinds of briefings.

QUESTION: Last one from me. The White House issued a background statement to Fox News earlier today, referring to the allegations in this report that have to do with Iran’s production of heavy water. And that statement noted that Iran had swiftly addressed its overproduction of heavy water to the satisfaction of the IAEA. When was Iran not in compliance with its overproduction of heavy water?

MR KIRBY: I think I addressed this back in March. And I don’t know the exact date, but we were very open about it at the time – in fact, I know I was from the podium – that they had exceeded the – I think it’s a 130-ton limit. The IAEA caught it, and Iran corrected it and they corrected it fairly expeditiously.

QUESTION: I don’t want to play semantics with you, but I am concerned that I ask you a question of whether or not the joint commission has enacted any exemptions for Iran or anything that a reasonable observer would conclude to be an exemption, and by way of answering you talk about the loosening of commitments. And so I just wonder if you can address my question on its own terms.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about the specific work of the joint commission, James. I’m not going to do that. And I can’t do that, because, by the agreement itself, it’s confidential. So I’m not going to get into that.

QUESTION: So what permits you to --

MR KIRBY: Wait – now wait a second. I understand where you’re going here. I’m not going to talk about that. But what I can assure you and everyone else is that there has been no loosening of Iran’s commitments and there have been no exceptions given that would allow them to exceed the limits, whether it’s the limits of LEU or the limits of heavy water, that would allow them to have a useable amount of material in excess of what they’re supposed to have towards the production of fissile material.

QUESTION: So if you can say there’s been no loosening and there’s been no exceptions, what is it that prevents you from using the word “exemptions” – there have been no exemptions granted?

MR KIRBY: The joint commission has provided guidance on implementing the JCPOA. That’s what it’s for. It’s designed to do that. None of that guidance allows Iran to have more than 300 kilograms of LEU that it can use to enrich further. And as the IAEA has said themselves, Iran is implementing on that commitment.

QUESTION: Do you regard David Isis as a reputable figure --

MR KIRBY: David Albright?

QUESTION: Excuse me, David Albright of the good ISIS. Do you regard David Albright as a reputable figure in this kind of analysis?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize the – look, Mr. Albright can speak for his own work. We certainly respect his intelligence and respect the position that he holds. We certainly respect the work of I-S-I-S. This isn’t about – I’m not going to get into characterizing one way or another. But --

QUESTION: But he’s not some partisan foe of the Iran deal, correct?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. You’d have to ask Mr. Albright what his views are about the Iran deal. I’m not going to characterize his own proclivities with respect to the deal.

QUESTION: Kirby, I’d just like to return to the exception/exemption issue. As James points out, every time he asks you about exemptions and whether or not the joint commission has issued any exemptions, you say there’s no loosening and they did not provide any exceptions. Can you tell us – well, not can you tell us. Did they provide any exemptions?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is the work of the joint commission is confidential and I’m not privy to it, as I shouldn’t be. And even if I was, I wouldn’t be at liberty to discuss it. What I can assure you of is the same thing I assured your colleague of, is that there’s been no loosening of the commitments and Iran has not and will not under the JCPOA be allowed to exceed the limits that are spelled out in the JCPOA.

QUESTION: So just for the last time, you’re not going to address the question of whether or not exemptions were issued?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to address the work of the joint commission because I cannot address the work of the joint commission.

QUESTION: Okay. Second --

QUESTION: You see, but you are. You’re standing there and telling us there was no loosening, there were no exceptions made. So you are very materially discussing their work in those sentences, aren’t you?

MR KIRBY: I’m telling you what is not happening, which is Iran is not being permitted under the JCPOA to exceed it, James. Look, I understand the wordplay here too, okay? And I get what you’re trying to do. But I’m not going to speak for the work of the joint commission and what – and the deliberations that they have worked through in order --

QUESTION: All I’m saying is --

MR KIRBY: -- to make sure that they are properly supervising Iran and the JCPOA.

QUESTION: But you expose yourself to this, John, because by telling us what is not happening, and here is X and Y is not happening with the work of the joint commission, and then declining to do so on the specific question we keep asking you, in essence you appear to be confirming that that is what is being done.

MR KIRBY: I don’t think I’m exposing myself, James. I think I’m trying to do the best I can to answer your questions. And I think, again, if I might, what’s important here for people to remember is that Iran is meeting its commitments under the JCPOA. Iran, under this deal, cannot possess a nuclear weapon, cannot threaten its neighbors with nuclear bombs. And the breakout, as you and I talk here, is one year. Before this deal, it was a few months. Before this deal, Iran had 12,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium. Now they have less than 300. That’s the most important fact to remember about all this, not whether or not I’m going to go into detail in describing for you and getting into a definition of exceptions versus exemptions of the joint commission’s work.

QUESTION: I’m just trying to get you to be consistent in your practices from the podium, John. I’m just trying to get you to be consistent in your practices.

MR KIRBY: I appreciate all the help I can.

QUESTION: One – one --

MR KIRBY: My mom also gives me great advice every day.

QUESTION: One more --

MR KIRBY: I’m telling you everything I can tell you, and I am not able to go into the work of the joint commission.

QUESTION: I’d like to go back to the issue of the 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium. The JCPOA in point seven explicitly states that Iran, quote, “will keep its uranium stockpile under 300 kilograms of up to 3.67 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride, or the equivalent in other chemical forms.” The Albright report says that one of the exemptions that it says was in effect on implementation day allowed Iran to have more than 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium in the following forms: low-level solid waste, low-level liquid waste --

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the report.

QUESTION: -- sludge waste.

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the report, Arshad.

QUESTION: Do you – can you state unequivocally that Iran never had more than 300 kilograms of LEU in uranium hexafluoride or any other chemical forms, including the three that I just named?

MR KIRBY: What I said – I’ll say it again: Iran is allowed under the JCPOA to have no more than 300 kilograms of LEU in its stockpile, material that it could enrich further if it were not for the JCPOA. And they are not above that limit, and they have not exceeded that limit of 300 kilograms of usable LEU which could be used to enrich further. They have not exceeded that limit.

QUESTION: But what the agreement says – and I just read it – it doesn’t say “usable.” The word “usable” ain’t in there. It’s point seven, it’s explicit in the agreement, it’s in black and white, and it doesn’t say “usable.” It says “will keep its uranium stockpile under 300 kilograms of up to 3.67 enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6), or the equivalent in other chemical forms.”


QUESTION: No word “usable” in there. So that’s the question: Did it ever go above it?

MR KIRBY: I answered the question, Arshad. Iran --

QUESTION: You said “usable”; you didn’t say --

MR KIRBY: Iran --

QUESTION: That – which caveats it. It’s quite possible they can go above 300 if it’s not in usable form.

MR KIRBY: Iran has not exceeded its stockpile limit of 300 kilograms of LEU.

QUESTION: Thank you. In any form?

MR KIRBY: Do you want me to put the punctuation point on the end of that?


MR KIRBY: Oh, you did. Okay.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) You asked if I did, and I told you I did.

QUESTION: So that’s in any form, including those forms that Arshad spelled out?

MR KIRBY: Gents, I’ve answered this question. I’ve answered the question.


MR KIRBY: They have not exceeded the stockpile limit set – stipulated under the JCPOA of 300 kilograms of LEU.

QUESTION: And just to --

QUESTION: In any form? As listed --

MR KIRBY: I answered the question.


QUESTION: When you say the JCPOA, you mean the original text of it, not anything that’s been adumbrated or modified later, correct?

MR KIRBY: Look, I don’t know that there’s been any modifications later. The joint commission’s work goes on as supervisory in terms of ensuring implementation. But the text hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: The guidance that you referenced the joint commission providing on implementation, is that guidance conceivably of a nature that could be decisive in how the deal gets implemented in one respect or another? Could it conceivably change the actual understanding of the original deal?

MR KIRBY: The joint commission’s job is not to change the text of the agreement. You can’t do that. It is designed to regularly consult and provide guidance on implementation, but it can’t change – it does not change the agreement itself.

QUESTION: Do you know, for --

QUESTION: John, can I have one?

QUESTION: Do you know, for example --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know if you can, actually. I’m not sure.

QUESTION: All right. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just want to – just to clarify. You said that Iran has not exceeded its limits on the JPOA, but are you saying at no time have they exceeded it or you’re saying that they’re not exceeding it currently?

MR KIRBY: No. I think Brad asked this. Since implementation day, they have not exceeded the 300-kilogram limit of LEU. Now, as I said, we did note and we were open about the fact that for a short period of time, they exceeded the quantity of heavy water that they were allowed to have, and they corrected that. The IAEA caught it, addressed it with them, and they got it back to within limits. But as far as LEU is concerned, since implementation day they have been in compliance.

QUESTION: Can I just ask, this term you’re using about usable for fissile material creation – what substances – do you have, like, a codification of what forms are usable? Is this a – this was not agreed to in the JCPOA. Where is this determination being made?

MR KIRBY: I’m not a nuclear expert, Brad.

QUESTION: Well, you said it, not me. I mean, so --

MR KIRBY: I know I said it --

QUESTION: So where is it coming from?

MR KIRBY: -- but that doesn’t make me an expert on nuclear energy. There are obviously forms of the material that are – cannot be further enriched and made into fissile material for a bomb. That’s – as I understand it, that’s a fact.

QUESTION: And the U.S. and Iran are in agreement on these as well as the entire P5+1?

MR KIRBY: I believe that this makes it very clear that the P5+1 is in agreement on all the commitments that Iran must make.

QUESTION: On the four – because you’re using this term that’s not in the document. I’m just trying to figure out how we can actually check that or understand what it means. If you say some things are usable but some things aren’t, but I don’t know which are which, you don’t – you’re supposed to – that’s not spelled out in the document. That seems to be a new idea here.

MR KIRBY: It’s not a new idea. I don’t – look, I don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay, then show me where it is if it’s not a new – no.

MR KIRBY: I don’t. Brad, Brad, no, I’m not going to go through this with you at the press conference here on chapter and verse in here.

QUESTION: You don’t have to. He already did.

MR KIRBY: The point is – the point is that there is a limit of 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium that can be further enriched for fissile material to produce a nuclear bomb. That’s the limit that they’re allowed to possess.

QUESTION: Well, that’s what --

MR KIRBY: They are – they have not --

QUESTION: That’s not the limit. He just read it out.

MR KIRBY: They have --

QUESTION: It doesn’t say that. You’ve just changed it again. It does not say that in the agreement. This sentence you just said does not exist in the JCPOA. You’ve just invented it.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know how to address it any further, Brad.

QUESTION: Well, think about it after the briefing.

QUESTION: For the joint commission --

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not going to think about it, Brad. I’ve answered the question as best as I can.

QUESTION: Well, you should.

QUESTION: For the joint commission to issue its guidance, do the various members of that commission have to agree unanimously on that guidance?

MR KIRBY: The work of the joint commission is very collaborative and the deliberations are obviously shared with all the members, and it is a – their oversight duties are done as acts of consensus. I mean, they deliberate and talk and come to conclusions amongst themselves.

QUESTION: My concern about the guidance, if I can make a rough analogy, is that no judge here in the United States after the fact can change the text of a law that is brought before the judge for interpretation, but the way the judge interprets the law can have a very significant impact on how that law is administered. Correct?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I defer to your superior knowledge of the law.

QUESTION: And so perhaps the joint commission can’t change the text of the agreement, but the guidance they issue can potentially have a very serious impact on how the implementation is actually administered. Correct?

MR KIRBY: It’s a complicated agreement. I think it would be – it would have been foolhardy to not set up a process by which the P5+1 could implement this very complicated agreement. There’s a lot of good sense in having a commission to supervise and provide guidance on implementation. But that doesn’t change the fact that they can’t change the agreement itself and the tenets of it.

QUESTION: John, just a big-picture kind of question on this. I mean, part of the criticism here is that perhaps you feel as if Iran has adhered to the spirit of the agreement, but the question is: Are they adhering to the letter of the agreement in all its points? And that some critics are charging that, even if you feel that they’re adhering – that it’s enough for them to adhere to the spirit of the agreement and you’re willing to cut them some slack on a few kilometers here or a few kilometers there to make sure that they’re adhering in general to the agreement.

MR KIRBY: There’s been no cutting of slack, Elise, and the IAEA has certified – I’m aware of at least once, probably more than once – that Iran has been in full compliance of their JCPOA commitments. I don’t believe they refer to it as the spirit of their commitments. They talk very explicitly about Iran being in compliance with its commitments, and the Secretary himself has certified that to the Congress.

QUESTION: So this issue of what exactly constitutes the low-enriched uranium that is – that they’re not allowed to – that they’re only allowed to keep up to 300 kilograms of, is kind of important because there have been – through this process of negotiating this deal there was issues – there were these issues of Iran being able to change – to convert this material to other – to other forms, but that that conversion process can be reversed. So when you – when you, I guess, caveat or describe it as saying 300 kilograms of material that can be further enriched, it – I think we’re all trying to understand whether there’s other forms of LEU that they can – of low-enriched uranium that they can keep in some other kind of form, that – that would be allowed.

MR KIRBY: I’m certainly not enough of a nuclear power energy expert to address that specific question. What I can tell you is that the – the JCPOA has set the limit for low-enriched uranium to 300 kilograms and that since implementation day, Iran has been in compliance with holding to that limit. And as I said, before the deal they had 12,000, now they’ve got less than 300. They went from having a few months break out time to a bomb to now having about a year. And --

QUESTION: Would they have --

MR KIRBY: And oh, by the way – oh, by the way – and this is something that we’re, I think forgetting: that as a result of this, there is now in place the most stringent, strident inspection regimen ever put in place in a deal such as this on a nation that has nuclear power capabilities. And the IAEA themselves have said that they’re comfortable with the access that they have, the information that they have to make their certifications, and thus far, they have made clear that Iran is in compliance. Yeah.

QUESTION: Change of subject.


QUESTION: Do you have --

QUESTION: John? Same topic?

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Secretary’s --

MR KIRBY: I don’t think we’re done with this right now.


MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Julian Borger from The Guardian. What about these 19 extra hot cells that were bigger than the limits prescribed by the JCPOA? The significance being that you can separate plutonium in these if you line up these hot cells together.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Again, not an expert here, but regarding the hot cells and without getting into specific discussions, which I am not able to do, the JCPOA specifically permits the possibility of larger hot sales – hot cells, excuse me – approved by the joint commission. And I can quote right here from the JCPOA: “Iran will develop, acquire, build, or operate hot cells with dimensions beyond 6 cubic meters in volume and specifications set out in Annex I of the Additional Protocol only after approval by the joint commission.” So if the joint commission approves larger hot cells, it’s – it’s possible for them to have larger hot cells.

QUESTION: So that figure is correct? There are 19?

MR KIRBY: I cannot speak to – as I said at the top of my answer to you, I’m not going to speak to specifics here. I can’t.

QUESTION: And on the question of the joint commission’s work being --

MR KIRBY: About the what?

QUESTION: On the question of confidentiality. Can you explain the rationale for that confidentiality, other than it’s in the agreement? In the – one of the virtues of JCPOA was it was a public document. Is there a rationale why these – this interpretation should be confidential?

MR KIRBY: I’d say in general diplomatic discussions are confidential in nature unless all the parties agree otherwise.

QUESTION: One last question, maybe taking this from a different approach. Is it the position of the department that Iran can only have been judged to be in compliance by implementation day by virtue of guidance that was, in fact, issued by the joint commission?

MR KIRBY: I – again, you’re asking me about the deliberative discussions that I’m not privy to and I couldn’t answer. What I could tell you is that since implementation day, they’ve been in compliance, with the exception of that one time when there was an excess of heavy water.

All right, are we done with this?

QUESTION: Can I – one follow-up on this? In – I think it was Annex IV, not Annex I, where it describes in detail how it is that the joint commission can permit larger hot cells if it wishes. It also says that the joint – and it describes that the joint commission’s deliberations and decisions are confidential, but it says that they can be made public. Why didn’t the joint commission – and I’m fully acknowledging that under the agreement it has the right to keep things confidential. Why not make its decisions public so that the public at large and the nuclear specialist community can understand precisely what is being decided and agreed to and permitted here? Why not make those things public?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, in diplomatic discussions, particularly multilateral diplomatic discussions, that they’re confidential in nature unless all parties agree otherwise. And the joint commission continues to work under the --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: -- work under the practice that these will be – that these deliberations, these discussions, their work will be maintained confidential.

QUESTION: Does the United States Government, as a member of the joint commission, believe that all such things should be confidential, all of its deliberations?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak – I’m not going to speak for specific --

QUESTION: I’m not asking a specific – I’m just saying, do you think their deliberations should be confidential or not? I’m not asking you what the – what it is.

MR KIRBY: We respect the – we respect the consensus view of the joint commission, of which we’re a member, and that consensus view thus far has been to keep their work confidential.

QUESTION: So consensus – “consensus,” as you know, means unanimous in diplomatic terms. Every member of the joint commission has opposed making public its work?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – I don’t know the answer --

QUESTION: You just said “consensus,” that was a consensus position. The word “consensus” means everybody agrees to it. Does that – so I want to make sure you’re saying something accurate here that every member of the joint commission has decided it’s better to keep its deliberations and decisions secret, or if you’re using the word “consensus” in some other non-precise way.

MR KIRBY: Arshad, don’t insult me and don’t stand up there and try to lecture me on English, okay? Let’s get beyond that. Let’s be grownups here. In diplomatic discussions, particularly multilateral ones, as I said, those discussions are confidential unless all parties agree otherwise. So the joint commission – and I don’t know who voted for what, and frankly, it’s irrelevant. The join commission has decided to keep their work confidential as they are expected to do, unless they choose otherwise, in accordance with the JCPOA. That’s where we are. And I understand that you may not appreciate that and may not like that, but that’s the decision of the joint commission. And the information has been shared and briefed to members of Congress, as it has been shared and briefed to members of other legislative bodies and other members of the P5+1.

QUESTION: In classified setting, correct?

MR KIRBY: As far as I know, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. So it’s not a consensus decision, it’s not a unanimous decision. You can’t say it was a unanimous decision?

MR KIRBY: I do not know.


MR KIRBY: I do not know.

QUESTION: Fine, thanks.

MR KIRBY: I can tell you that, again, they’re confidential unless all other – unless all parties agree otherwise.

Are we off this?

QUESTION: Yes, change of --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have something on Secretary’s schedule in Delhi? He’s still in Delhi. I read one news report by Al Arabiya English that he met the Egyptian president there. Did he have any other official meetings in Delhi today?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know of any. He attended the senior staff meeting this morning by VTC and he’s made some phone calls, but I don’t have a readout of that meeting.


QUESTION: Okay, thank you.


QUESTION: About 65 House lawmakers wrote to President Obama, calling on him to withdraw his request for congressional approval for more than a billion dollars in arms sale to Saudi Arabia until Congress can more fully debate American military support for the Saudis. They cited increasing reports of civilian casualties in Yemen. I’m wondering if you’re aware of this letter. Are you in discussions with the White House about delaying the sale? And is there concerns that U.S. weapons to Saudi Arabia are increasingly being used in the war?

MR KIRBY: I’m only recently aware of the letter, Elise, and I can’t – wouldn’t speak to congressional correspondence, certainly not that goes to the President of the United States. It’s really for my colleagues at the White House to speak to.

What I can tell you is that Saudi Arabia remains a key ally and partner in the region. The United States continues to support a defense – a strong defense and security relationship with Saudi Arabia. The Secretary talked about this a little bit when we were in Jeddah a week or so ago. And we obviously understand and share concerns by members of Congress about the damage to civilian infrastructure and to innocent civilian lives in Yemen as a result of Saudi-led coalition operations. And that is also something that the Secretary raised with counterparts in Jeddah when we were there.

QUESTION: Well, particularly --

MR KIRBY: But we will obviously respond to their concerns in kind, and that means responding appropriately to their correspondence.

QUESTION: But particularly if there’s a concern about damage to civilian infrastructure and civilian casualties, there must be also a concern that that could be being done in the hands of U.S. weapons by the Saudis.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I can’t speak to the specifics of every tactical strike or mission that the Saudis take and what equipment and material they’re using. Obviously, we have a strong defense relationship with Saudi Arabia, which results in foreign military sales of quite a bit of articles of defense-related equipment. There’s no question about that. And there are – as you well know, there are what we call end-use agreements on these kinds of things. We do – we stipulate, and when we have concerns, we express those concerns.

And we have had concerns with the conduct of some coalition operations in Yemen and we’ve not been bashful about expressing those privately or publicly. And as I said, I can assure you that the Secretary raised those concerns with Saudi leaders when we were in Jeddah. But this is – we’re aware of the concerns. Actually, we share some of those concerns. But I couldn’t speak for the exact manner in which there will be or won’t be any changes to the defense relationship. That’s something that we have to work out, so --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Can we ask about some of these American citizens in various trouble around the world? I’ll try to go through some of them quickly.

MR KIRBY: Just going to have to give me time to move around the book, because --

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s fine.

MR KIRBY: -- it’s big.

QUESTION: Firstly, on these reports that the Kurds have returned some remains to the United States of three Americans who apparently were killed in the last two months – can you confirm that and any other details?

MR KIRBY: All I can say is I don’t have anything more additionally than what I said earlier. We have been working to help facilitate the return of the reported remains of private U.S. citizens killed in Syria. We remain in close contact with local authorities and we stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance, but I’m just afraid I don’t have more information than that at this time.

QUESTION: Okay. And I missed a couple days because I was away, but – so if there’s no update on some of these from what you’ve already said, just tell me that. On the American citizen in Turkey who is in custody, do you have an update on that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. And I did talk about that individual yesterday.

QUESTION: Okay. And then on the individual, Mr. Holt, in Venezuela?

MR KIRBY: No update.

QUESTION: No update. And then on the --

MR KIRBY: But we did address that. We can point you to the transcript that --

QUESTION: Yeah, I’ll look. Okay. And then there was the latest video of the Coleman family. Do you have a comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. All I can tell you is that we’re still examining that video, and I don’t have additional information on that case right now.

QUESTION: So you’re checking its veracity and --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I mean, we’re examining it, as you would expect that we would.


QUESTION: Can we go to Gabon?

QUESTION: Sorry, can we just do one more American citizen? Do you have anything new to say about Sandy Phan-Gillis? Her husband today said – accused China of suppressing evidence that weakens its case.

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. Here it is. I don’t really have much in terms of an update for you. We remain deeply concerned about Ms. Phan-Gillis’s welfare. We continue to monitor her case closely. Consular officers from the consulate there have visited her on a monthly basis since she was detained back in March of last year. We have repeatedly pressed Chinese authorities to provide further details of the case and to give our consular officers full and unrestricted access to her, as required by the Vienna Convention. We urge the Government of China to review and consider seriously the way – I’m sorry – the views expressed by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, including its recommendation to release Ms. Phan-Gillis.

QUESTION: Just one more on this, and you may well not have anything else, but I got to ask. Her husband has asked for President Obama to ask President Xi for her release. Obviously, that’s a White House question, but to your knowledge, has her husband asked the State Department or Secretary Kerry to directly seek her release?

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

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Yeah. So yesterday you expressed concern for the results of the vote in Gabon. Since you expressed concern, the parliament has burned down, there’s been 1,000 arrests, opposition headquarters has been raided, and Ban Ki-moon has called for the release of political prisoners. Have you any update from the U.S. position? And are U.S. citizens in Libreville safe?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve issued – as you might expect, our embassy in Libreville sent a security message out today to inform U.S. citizens of the widespread violent demonstrations throughout Gabon in the aftermath of the presidential election. The embassy urges Americans there to remain at home and off the streets. I don't have any information specifically about the welfare of individual Americans. Obviously --

QUESTION: Have you been in touch with --


QUESTION: Have you been in touch with the government or the electoral commission about the provisional results? I noticed in your statement yesterday you called for more transparency and polling-station-by-polling-station results. Obviously, you haven’t received that. Are there any --

MR KIRBY: We are certainly in touch with the Government of Gabon in the wake of the election. And I do want to stress that we deplore the escalation of violence following the release of those results. It’s provisional election results by the government. We urge all parties to come together peacefully in this critical time to halt a slide towards further unrest. We call upon the security forces to respect the constitutionally guaranteed rights of all Gabonese citizens and of all residents of Gabon. The international community is watching these events closely and will consider appropriate actions going forward.

QUESTION: And the UN specifically asked for the release of some of the prisoners. Is that something the U.S. associates itself with yet?

MR KIRBY: I don't have – I don't think we have a position on necessarily that. Obviously we don’t want to see – we’ve been very clear, we don’t want to see anybody illegally or unjustifiably detained. But I’m not familiar with this particular call.


MR KIRBY: But clearly we would want the release of anybody who is being illegally detained or jailed for freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, being part of a political discourse.

QUESTION: North Korea?

QUESTION: John, more on Gabon?

QUESTION: On Turkey?

MR KIRBY: More on Gabon. Let me stay on Gabon, and then we’ll come around.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Right. Does the United States agree with France or – and EU by calling on the results of election of all polling districts should be announced before an official winner is declared? And then will the United States ask for a recount of the ballots?

MR KIRBY: So what I – as I understand it, no permanent results have been declared. What was released yesterday were provisional results that still need to be certified by the constitutional court. And as I said I think to Dave’s answer, we are encouraging the Government of Gabon to release the individual polling station results. We are asking that the legal procedures for certification of the results be followed according to Gabonese law in a fair and transparent manner.

QUESTION: But does it mean that a recount will be asked?

MR KIRBY: What we are asking for is that the legal procedures for certification be followed according to Gabonese law.

QUESTION: Given the close cooperation between the United States and Gabon, because it’s a – in the effort to fight against terrorism, how will this election affect future cooperation?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s too soon to say. We’re obviously closely watching this situation unfold. We’ve made our concerns known. We’ll continue to do that. But I’m not going to get ahead of any decisions on bilateral cooperation one way or the other.

North Korea.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Two on North Korea, and I think fairly quickly. First, one of the world’s most renowned academic experts on North Korea, Dr. Bruce Bechtol of the Arizona State University, has suggested that the recent ballistic missile testing by North Korea indicates – or at least the weight of the evidence indicates – that China may have supplied a submarine-launched ballistic missile to the DPRK. Is that your understanding?

MR KIRBY: James, I think you know that I am not able to speak to intelligence matters here from the podium.

QUESTION: And nothing further on that subject?

MR KIRBY: I’m afraid not.

QUESTION: And secondly, the South Korean ambassador has given an interview to VOA in which he stated that further provocations by the North would lead the ROK to seek restrictions on North Korea’s membership at the United Nations. Is the United States planning to seek any restrictions on North Korea’s membership at the UN?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the interview or those comments and I’m not aware of any such move or desire by the United States at this time.

QUESTION: And lastly, would the provision of a submarine-launched ballistic missile to North Korea violate relevant UN Security Council resolutions?

MR KIRBY: To the best of my knowledge, yes, but I’m not an expert on all the resolutions. It certainly would seem to me to be a yes. I mean, obviously we’ve got in place pretty stringent – the most strident now in the last 20 years or so – sanctions on the North and the kinds of things that they are able to procure or obtain.

QUESTION: And allow me just to say for the record and take the liberty of speaking for Arshad when I say that I think everyone in this room respects your intelligence and would never seek to lecture you on English or anything else, and that reflects not only your work in this room to date but also your entire career as a public servant.

MR KIRBY: I appreciate that. Thank you.

QUESTION: John, can I follow up on (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: Oh, I’ve already gotten you. Go to Abbie.



QUESTION: Do you have any information about U.S. citizen David Sneddon, who is reportedly – reportedly disappeared in 2004 in China, but there are some reports that he has since appeared in North Korea?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, the embassy in Beijing and the consulate in – and I hope I pronounce this properly – Chengdu have been in regular, ongoing contact with local authorities since David Sneddon was reported missing in China in August of 2004. As you know and I’ve said many times, one of the highest priorities of the U.S. Department of State is the welfare of U.S. citizens overseas. This includes providing all appropriate assistance in welfare and whereabouts cases for U.S. citizens. When a citizen is believed to be missing abroad, we work with local authorities who are charged with investigating disappearances within their country. In June of 2012, the department invoked the health and safety exception to the Privacy Act and released to the Sneddons all information that we had regarding his case. We continue to closely monitor this matter and we continue to raise it with Chinese authorities.

I cannot speculate for the reasons of his disappearance. However, I can tell you that we have seen no verifiable evidence to indicate that Mr. Sneddon was abducted by North Korean officials. Okay?

QUESTION: Turkey, Turkey?

MR KIRBY: Turkey. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. A few questions, if I may. Earlier this week --

MR KIRBY: It’s okay, I’m going to get to you. I can see the exasperation on your face. We will work ourselves around here, it’s all right.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: What about my face?

QUESTION: Earlier this week --

MR KIRBY: Your face – you can hold your cards pretty close. (Laughter.) It’s hard to tell what you’re thinking, James.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: It’s hard to --

QUESTION: Or if I’m thinking at all. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I didn’t want to say that. (Laughter.) I can just smell the smoke.

QUESTION: Earlier this week, U.S. CENTCOM spokesman Colonel John Thomas said there was a loose agreement between Turkish and Kurdish forces to stop fighting each other in Syria. Turkey summoned the U.S. ambassador to criticize the U.S. for making such a statement, and Turkey’s EU affairs minister said they do not accept any compromise or a ceasefire with the Kurds. Was there or was there not an agreement?

MR KIRBY: I think we’ve dealt with this before.

QUESTION: That was my question yesterday.

QUESTION: No – well, but the confusion still exists --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, we’ve already kind of talked about this.

QUESTION: -- in the media. So was there an agreement or was there not?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I don’t think I can give you any better answer than I did earlier on this. First of all, I want to correct the record. Our ambassador was not summoned in over this. So the press reporting on that was false, and I checked that with Ambassador Bass myself.

QUESTION: Was there a phone call or --

MR KIRBY: You said he was summoned in. I mean, he regularly talks to --

QUESTION: Right, that is what the – what the – what Turkey reported, and here’s what the Turkish foreign minister said.

MR KIRBY: I don’t want to get dealt into this. I’m just telling you that the reports that he got summoned were wrong. He talks to his counterparts in the Turkish Government pretty much every day, so I’m not going to say that he isn’t on the phone with them. And I have no problem believing the fact that Turkish officials might have expressed, as they continue to express, various concerns about the situation in Syria with Ambassador Bass. But the reporting that he was summoned is just wrong.

Now, on the agreement, I would refer you again, as I said, to our counterparts in the Defense Department. I --

QUESTION: But was there or was there not?

MR KIRBY: I – you’d have to talk to the parties about whether there was a, quote/unquote, “agreement,” and I’m not even sure I understand what you mean by “agreement.” What I did say and what I’ll say again today is that we saw calm, we continue to see that calm persist. That’s welcome, that’s good, and we continue to call on everybody to focus their efforts on Daesh inside Syria. Now, Turkey is inside Syria for a purpose, a purpose we’ve talked about, which is to secure that stretch of border, which has remained a major avenue for foreign fighters and for material to reach Daesh inside Syria. And we’re obviously supportive of that effort by Turkey to secure that stretch of border, and those are the conversations that we’re having with them.

QUESTION: Yeah, just to clarify, it was the U.S. CENTCOM spokesman who said there was a loose --

MR KIRBY: So, right --

QUESTION: -- agreement – a ceasefire agreement between Turkish and Kurdish forces.

MR KIRBY: You’re asking me to confirm something that the Pentagon confirmed themselves on the record. I – I’m in no position to – to say whether that’s right or wrong. They should speak for their own comments, and if they’re comfortable saying that on the record, then you can take it or accept it or not.

QUESTION: They speak for the U.S. and you do too. Is that – isn’t that right? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: A lot of people speak for the U.S., as I’m beginning to learn.

QUESTION: You speak for the same – actually, so to your response: Do you think the fact that the clashes between Turkish and Kurdish forces diminished in the past few days, relative --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- to the weekend, speaks to the U.S. being right about this loose ceasefire agreement and Turkey being misleading?

MR KIRBY: Being right about it in what way?

QUESTION: That there has been a loose – I’m quoting the U.S. CENTCOM spokesman --

MR KIRBY: I can appreciate --

QUESTION: -- ceasefire agreement --

MR KIRBY: I can – I do appreciate the effort to try to get me to confirm something that the Pentagon has already confirmed themselves on the record. I – I’ll let them speak to whether there was an agreement and what form it took. I – from the State Department perspective, we’re much less worried about whether something was inked on paper or not and much more concerned about the fact that those clashes have ceased, because as we said at the time, it was doing nothing to help us focus our efforts against Daesh. So that those clashes stopped and have remained – that there has – there’s been no renewal of that violence between Turkish forces and Kurdish fighters is a good thing. But it’s only half of a good thing, right? The rest is we need everybody to continue to focus on fighting Daesh.

QUESTION: So from the State Department perspective, there is a ceasefire in place?

MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t – I – Gayane, I didn’t say that. I’m not – I don’t know what led to the – what specifically led to the end of the clashes, but we’re glad to see that.

QUESTION: I understand that you will not confirm the agreement --

MR KIRBY: Now whether – and frankly, I’m not sure how relevant --

QUESTION: -- but the ceasefire. Do you confirm the ceasefire?

MR KIRBY: -- it is whether there was an agreement, as you’re couching it, or not. Clearly somebody agreed to stop the fighting, and that’s a good thing, so I’m not walking away from the fact that there was some meeting of the minds here to stop fighting one another. That’s a good thing. And I’m also not saying that we were just passive bystanders here. We obviously have been trying to – and we have stayed in contact and dialogue with everybody on this and, as I said yesterday, looking for ways to keep the channels of the communication open so that that dialogue can persist, so that we don’t see a renewal of those clashes.

QUESTION: About the dialogue --

QUESTION: Could we have a --

QUESTION: -- do you think that U.S. and Turkish officials, leaders understand each other well? Because it is one event that they’re commenting on and one side says one thing and the other says that’s not what happened.

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for the level of understanding of another individual, much less another nation. I can just tell you that our focus has not changed, our understanding of the – of concerns that the Turkish Government has about terrorism and about their views of fighters on the other side of the border with Syria are well known. We continue to have these discussions with them. Do we agree on everything? No, but I don’t know of another nation in the world where the United States agrees on every possible thing. So, I mean, we’re going to continue to work through these issues and we want the focus to be on Daesh.

QUESTION: Could we move on?

QUESTION: Could – I’d like to ask about a suggestion from David Ignatius, the Washington Post columnist, about the need for a political strategy to accompany the military strategy in fighting Daesh, particularly in Syria. And he highlighted two elements. One was the need to reconcile Ankara with its own Kurdish population by having negotiations between the PKK and Ankara, which KRG President Masoud Barzani has also called for. And the second part of the suggestion was a political vision for Syria – he suggested federalism, but something that addresses Kurdish political aspirations there, otherwise their motive to keep on fighting against ISIS is limited. Do you have any comment on those two points?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would just say this, that we do have a strategy, we do have a political view of the future for Syria. That’s why Secretary Kerry has been working so hard inside the International Syria Support Group, to get us to a point where the opposition and the regime can renew talks to work on a transitional governing structure for the future of Syria. We’ve long said – nothing’s changed – that we believe in a whole, unified, pluralistic Syria that has in place a government that represents the voices of all Syrians and can be responsive to them and to their needs so that this civil war can end. Now, the issue of federalism is something that the Syrian people would have to determine. What we’ve said – the large umbrella of what we want is a whole, unified, pluralistic Syria.

QUESTION: Would something like the Iraqi model be something the United States would consider?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – that is for the Syrian people to determine, not the United States.

QUESTION: John, a whole, pluralistic, unified Syria – what country in the world do you not want to see whole, pluralistic, and unified? That’s not a vision of anything. That just means you want a country. I mean, that’s nothing.

MR KIRBY: That’s a – that – no. I disagree. Brad --

QUESTION: There’s 193 countries in the world. You don’t think any of them should be divided or disunited or at civil war. Is that correct? Which ones do you want in civil war?

MR KIRBY: Come on, Brad. Look --

QUESTION: No, but that’s not – you said they had a vision.

MR KIRBY: I absolutely take – I take real issue with your statement that it’s nothing. It’s not nothing.


MR KIRBY: And it’s not nothing to the millions of Syrians that have been suffering over the last five years.

QUESTION: It’s nothing to the 500,000 who have died.

MR KIRBY: It’s an awful lot, and it --

QUESTION: It isn’t.

MR KIRBY: I couldn’t disagree with you more.


MR KIRBY: I couldn’t disagree with you more. A whole, unified, pluralistic Syria that’s not at war with itself, that doesn’t have a government that’s barrel bombing and gassing their own people --

QUESTION: Which doesn’t exist. It --

MR KIRBY: Doesn’t exist now, and that’s why we’re working so hard --

QUESTION: So why does that mean a whole lot?

MR KIRBY: -- on trying to reach it.


MR KIRBY: I could not disagree with you more about that. I absolutely, stridently think that that is a --

QUESTION: That is a bold and progressive agenda. Okay, fine.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that – I said --

QUESTION: I don’t – it means nothing, John.

MR KIRBY: -- it is a vision for Syria, and I take great issue with the fact that it wouldn’t be.

QUESTION: Well, it’s shared by everybody, so great.

QUESTION: What about Turkey’s own Kurds and some kind of lessening of the conflict there, negotiations between the PKK and Ankara?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, we have long called on the PKK to renounce violence and terrorism and return to negotiations. I mean, we’ve – I’ve said that many, many times. There’s nothing changed about our position on that.

QUESTION: So you would support an initiative too for negotiations between the Turkish Government and the PKK?

MR KIRBY: We have long said that we want the PKK to renounce terrorism, stop the violent attacks against innocent Turkish citizens, and renew talks. I mean, we’ve been very honest about that, but they’ve got to stop the violence. They got to renounce terrorism.

QUESTION: Change of topic?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) accusations that because you supported the YPG in Syria, that’s emboldened the Kurdish movement and that’s one of the reasons why the PKK feels it has cover to engage in more attacks?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to ask PKK terrorists whether they feel emboldened or not and why. They’re a designated foreign terrorist organization.


QUESTION: Just one more on the subject. Just one --

MR KIRBY: No, I want to move on. Go ahead.

QUESTION: This is a different topic, but the Russians are talking about the possibility of hosting the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in October with an attempt to kind of give a revival of some kind to a peace process. How would the U.S. view that?

MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary has said many times that he welcomes all ideas and all initiatives that can explore and hopefully get us closer to a viable two-state solution.

QUESTION: But this would be a different scenario, or one that hasn’t happened so far. It would be another world power mediating in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which is something the Americans have done till now. You’ve – you always talk about direct negotiations in an American-sponsored peace process, so this would be a departure.

MR KIRBY: The Secretary’s view is that – the Secretary’s view that any new idea, initiative, or option that can get us closer to a viable two-state solution is worth exploring.


QUESTION: One quick one on Afghanistan. This – have you seen this news report about the Chaman border on AfPak border – Chaman gate on AfPak border being closed for some time, and now Pakistan has said there is – they are going to reopen it? How do you see this development?

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen those reports and those statements and, of course, we welcome that.

QUESTION: Couple of quick ones?


MR KIRBY: Wait. Let me work around and come back. Abbie, did you have some?

QUESTION: It’s on Syria.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) that okay? Kerry and Lavrov spoke today, and then the Russian readout says that they – Lavrov urged the need of separating the Syrian opposition from terrorists. Has there been any progress on that point since the two of them met?

MR KIRBY: They did talk today and they did talk about Syria and the work that our two teams are doing in Geneva this week to try to work out some of the technicalities on these proposals for a better cessation of hostilities. The issue of marbling, if you will, of opposition groups or opposition fighters that co-locate themselves, for whatever reason, with groups like Nusrah and Daesh remains a problem. It certainly remains an issue that the Secretary and the foreign minister have talked about, will continue to talk about, and certainly it’s part of the context of the discussion between the two teams that are working out these technicalities.

QUESTION: One more. The UN envoy and the UN advisor on humanitarian aid gave a press conference today. It was a fairly impassioned speech by the humanitarian advisor, saying that he felt that we had all failed the people of Daraya. I wondered if you had any comment on that reflection.

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments, but again, I can tell you that everybody continues to be extraordinarily frustrated by the situation on the ground in Syria, the Secretary no less among them, and that’s why we’re working so hard to try to get a cessation of hostilities. But let’s be honest here. While the international community certainly continues to have obligations and commitments to try to end this war, to try to create a home for the Syrian people that they can live in peaceably, it is Bashar al-Assad who is – with support from Russia and Iran; I understand that – but it is he who is the one killing his own people. He’s the one gassing them. He’s the one barrel bombing them. He’s the one besieging their cities. He’s the one who’s ordering his forces to take out medical supplies when those few humanitarian convoys can get into places like Daraya or Homs, or even Aleppo on a rare occasion. It’s Bashar al-Assad who has failed the people of Syria.

Yeah, Nike.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can you please take the question regarding North Korea: Article 25 of UN charter said that all members are implementing United Nations Security Council resolution, are duties of all members. Given North Korea continue to violate the resolution, and it’s been six months after 2270 was adopted, does the United States believe the DPRK should be kicked out of the UN, or at least there should be some restriction?

MR KIRBY: I’m – I don’t need to take that question, Nike. I know of no such effort by the United States. These – this – the last resolution is the most – represents the most stringent sanctions on the regime. And as I said then – I mean I recognize we’re six months into it, but sanctions do take time. They take time to have an effect. And each and every time that the North Korean regime behaves provocatively, it really only galvanizes the international community that much more.

QUESTION: Wait, can I follow up on that? So if South Korea were to present a proposal for revoking DPRK membership in the UN, would the U.S. consider that positively?

MR KIRBY: That’s a great hypothetical question that I’m not going to entertain.



QUESTION: I want to follow up on a statement the State Department made last month regarding security trainings for former Secretary Clinton. The statement was that the secretary and senior staff in office of the secretary received in-person orientation on handling of classified information, and then worked daily with qualified professional staff. So my question is: Who are the people who actually would brief someone like Secretary Clinton, when one of those in-person briefings happened, and do you have any dates of when those briefings happened?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I don’t have the dates on when those briefings might have happened or if they happened, but that is not an uncommon practice, particularly for somebody at that level. And it’s usually people that work inside the administrative bureau here at the – at the State Department.

QUESTION: So they’re State Department employees that would --

MR KIRBY: That provide --

QUESTION: Do you have any more specifics, I guess?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I don’t. Yeah.

QUESTION: Just one question. Last week, about 10 days ago, the State Department, with the DOJ, sent a team Turkey for extradition request to work with Turkey in Ankara. I was wondering if you have any feedback on those meetings from Ankara.

MR KIRBY: They did have a – a joint team of State and Justice Department employees did go visit Ankara to talk through the process and process issues. I’m told that those were constructive meetings. I don’t have a specific readout for you. As I said at the time, issues of extradition can often be lengthy in terms of the process and how long it takes, and I just don’t have an update for you.


QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Treasury sanctions that were issued today in relation to Ukraine? And also, did that come up in the call with Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR KIRBY: The call with Foreign Minister Lavrov was about Syria. I don’t know – let me see here. Okay. Sanctions. The text on these pages is not – I still – I’m finding me using my glasses even when the font is big.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated and identified a range of individuals and entities today under three executive orders, to maintain the integrity of the current sanctions imposed on Russia. This sanctions maintenance action is designed to check attempts to circumvent existing sanctions, strengthen sanctions implementation, and provide additional information to assist the private sector with compliance. It also demonstrates the United States commitment to link sanctions to Russia’s complete implementation of the Minsk agreements and an end to the occupation of Crimea, as well as our solidarity with the European Union’s decision to extend its sectoral sanctions through January 31st, 2017. But any further details on this, you’d have to go to the Department of Treasury. These are their sanctions.

I’ll take one more.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can you have --

QUESTION: Would you characterize this as maintenance of the current regime or are you toughening your stance?

MR KIRBY: More maintenance. Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you make sure that we get updates on Secretary Kerry’s engagements in Delhi and any readouts of the meetings?

MR KIRBY: We’ll pass that on to the traveling team. We’d be happy to do what we can.

QUESTION: One final one. The Secretary has gotten a little bit of criticism online for a comment he made the other day about – it was kind of an offhand comment about how it would be nice if reporters maybe didn’t report as much about terrorism. I don't know if you saw --

MR KIRBY: I did. And I addressed this the other day.


MR KIRBY: I mean, I did address it. I’m happy to restate it today. He was simply referring to the fact that there are often more than one purpose for acts of terrorism, that the violence and destruction and death and fear itself that they can instill, but also the notoriety that can come with the press coverage of them.


MR KIRBY: Obviously, I think you all know the Secretary well enough to know that – how much he values the work of a strong, independent press and having you ask the tough questions and cover the tough issues.

QUESTION: I was personally greatly dismayed by – no, I wasn’t. But I just didn’t know it had come up. But thank you.

MR KIRBY: But I did – I said the same thing just a few days ago.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:25 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 31, 2016

Wed, 08/31/2016 - 18:56

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 31, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:25 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. Sorry to make you wait a little bit today.

A couple things here at the top. On Burma: The United States welcomes the opening ceremony today in Burma of the Union Peace Conference – 21st Century Panglong and commends all participants for their willingness to engage in an inclusive dialogue for national reconciliation and unity. This is an important process towards a lasting peace and the first step in an inclusive political dialogue that can help transform the country into a more democratic union in which the rights of all – the people of Burma are fully respected. As a nation that has worked hard to draw strength and harmony from ethnic and religious diversity, the United States of course recognizes that this will be a long and challenging process that requires commitment from all people and institutions inside and outside the conference hall. The United States will continue to support this process and those who work in good faith, which includes dedication to the articulation, the consideration of different points of view to bring an end to civil conflict in Burma and to achieve a durable peace that benefits and empowers all of its people.

SECRETARYSTRAVELINDIA">As a schedule note, I think you realize now the Secretary is in New Delhi today as he concludes his participation in the U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue. This morning he spoke to an audience of students, academics, business leaders, and journalists on U.S.-India relations at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. His remarks were followed by a short Q&A with the students. He also met today with opposition party leaders, and later at the American embassy school where he met with our embassy staff and family members. Finally, the Secretary met with Prime Minister Modi to discuss climate change and the next steps for implementation of the Paris Agreement as well as the deepening partnership between our countries.

I think you may have also seen from Mark Toner out there that the Secretary is extending his stay in New Delhi by a couple of days as he prepares to join the President for the G20 in China later this weekend.

And with that, I’ll go to questions.

QUESTION: One question. Does he have any official events in New Delhi over the next couple days?

MR KIRBY: His schedule over the next couple of days is still forming up, and as we have more detail, we’ll certainly provide it to you.

QUESTION: Why is he staying if he doesn’t have official events?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that he didn’t have official events. His schedule is still forming up, and as we get more information about that, we’ll certainly provide it to you. But he wanted to be able to attend the G20, and so it just made practical sense from a logistical perspective, particularly as we had to finalize arrangements as far as for his ability to join the President, to stay there in New Delhi while those arrangements were made.

Your hand shot right up.

QUESTION: Can we – can we start with --

MR KIRBY: Did you have another one?

QUESTION: Yeah. No, I have a subsequent one.

MR KIRBY: Okay, then I’ll go to you.

QUESTION: Mexico. As you’re well aware, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is going to – is traveling to Mexico today. Did the U.S. State Department have – play any role in arranging or facilitating that trip? Did you provide any briefings to him prior to his trip? Will the embassy play any role in his visit there?

MR KIRBY: The only contact between the campaign and U.S. officials there was within the Secret Service and security personnel there in Mexico City to arrange the appropriate security requirements. The U.S. embassy was not asked to provide any support or briefings for the visit, and so there’s – there is no expectation that our ambassador or our – any embassy personnel are going to be participating in the visit in any way.

QUESTION: And just so we’re clear, the Secret Service protects presidential nominees. Is – to my knowledge, and maybe – there may well be Secret Service personnel in the U.S. embassy, although I would guess they deal more with counterfeiting and stuff like that – is it DS, Diplomatic Security, that’s liaising with the Secret Service to make sure that his protection is appropriate and so on for this trip?

MR KIRBY: I’m given to understand that the conversations over security were largely between Secret Service personnel. I’m not aware of any Diplomatic Security personnel role. I’ll check on that just to be 100 percent sure, but I’m given to understand that it’s – this was largely Secret Service --


MR KIRBY: -- intra-Secret Service. And again --


MR KIRBY: -- I can’t speak for that agency. You should certainly feel free to contact them. But to the larger issue, the U.S. Embassy, our ambassador, Ambassador Jacobson, is not participating in the visit. There was no request by the campaign for any support or any briefings.

QUESTION: And last one from me. And it’s obviously not unprecedented for presidential candidates to travel abroad during their campaigns; President Obama did it as a candidate in 2008 to Israel and to France and to Germany. Do you have any concerns, given the comments that the Republican nominee has made in the past about Mexico sending rapists and murderers to this country, his assertions that Mexico will pay for building the wall that he intends to build along the southern U.S. border despite Mexico’s president saying that Mexico will not pay for any such wall – do you have any concerns that such a visit can or would interfere in U.S.-Mexican bilateral relations?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would answer that by saying a couple of things. First, our bilateral relations with Mexico are very strong and very healthy, and we look to continue that strong relationship. It’s why the Secretary was so eager to get Ambassador Jacobson installed down there in Mexico City and he believes that she’s doing a terrific job. And so we look to that relationship continuing strong and strengthening. And we believe that the relationship is strong enough to be able to weather comments that are made by candidates running for political office here in the United States or, frankly, candidates that are in elected office in Mexico and things that they might say. Our relationship is strong enough to weather those kinds of things.

And so here at the State Department our focus is on not just our bilateral relationship with Mexico but our multilateral relationships across the hemisphere to the north and to the south of us and trying to make sure that we’re staying engaged on issues that matter to all of us, and migration is but one of those. It’s an important one, but it’s but one of those and so is counterterrorism. So are the concerns caused by narcotrafficking. I mean, there are plenty of things for us to stay engaged with and to have dialogue with – meaningful dialogue with leaders across the Western Hemisphere.

QUESTION: Sorry, one more on this. I realize you said that the embassy was not asked to provide any briefings or other assistance. Other than the intra-Secret Service dialogue, and you said you would check, I think, on whether DS had anything to do with that –

MR KIRBY: Yeah. In fact, we can do that before the end of the briefing. Maybe we can get an answer before the end of the briefing.

QUESTION: Yeah. Other than that, can you state that nobody from the U.S. Embassy, not the ambassador, is going to be involved in this visit? I mean, given that they’re all – given that one could construe this as a campaign-related event, I’m guessing that they may be barred from taking part anyway, but that basically not the ambassador, nobody else other than Secret Service is going to be involved in this event in --

MR KIRBY: I am not aware of any participation by embassy personnel from the ambassador on down in this visit.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, let’s stay on – I’m assuming we’re to stay on this, the Mexico visit?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, we’ll stay on that and then I’ll go to you, I promise. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So you said that his – that the U.S.-Mexico relationship is strong enough to weather comments by U.S. presidential candidates.

MR KIRBY: I said comments by any elected officials either here or there.

QUESTION: By any elected officials. So you’re not saying –

MR KIRBY: Or people running for elected office I think is how I said it.

QUESTION: Sure. Putting it that way kind of makes it sound like such comments are kind of a nuisance or some kind of problem for relations. But is that what you meant to imply? Or --

MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t say that. If I wanted to say nuisance, I’d have said nuisance. I said it’s a relationship that’s strong enough to weather the comments and rhetoric that you often hear on political campaigns. And as you know, I’ve made it a stringent practice not to engage in a debate from this podium with anything that’s said by any of the candidates in this election or any other election. That’s not our focus, and we’re not going to engage in the politics. We are engaged in the policies and the foreign policy agenda that this Administration is pursuing in the hemisphere.

QUESTION: Okay. It’s just that saying it has to be weathered implies that it’s some kind of problem. That’s not what you meant?



MR KIRBY: I mean, I wasn’t troubled by my use of the verb “weathered,” but I mean, I think because --

QUESTION: I was – I just wanted to clarify.

MR KIRBY: -- I was simply trying to convey – we’re not ignorant here. I mean, I read the coverage just like you guys do. I mean, we see the comments that are made. And as I’ve said many times from this podium and the Secretary has said himself, foreign leaders around the world do frequently ask the Secretary about some of the comments that are made by candidates in this election. That’s not of surprise. And some of those comments concern them. Some of them concern them quite deeply. And so when I used the word “weather,” it was to express the fact that some comments made on the political campaign trail do cause our allies, our partners, and our friends around the world concern, and those are concerns that are expressed to us because we’re the ones out there visiting them, talking to them, engaging with them on a wide range of issues.

So I’m okay with the way I used the word “weathered.”

QUESTION: Thank you for clarifying. And then just a last one: Is it typical of visits like this for the contact to be purely focused on security? In previous visits by candidates for – major candidates for president to other countries, have U.S. embassies in those countries played more roles in terms of, I don’t know, participating in the visit, or is it usually just focused on security?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I can’t speak for every past foreign visit by a candidate for office, but there are some basic guidelines, and Arshad sort of alluded to this in his question, which I think I have here somewhere. Hang on a second. Here we go. Nope, that’s not it. Maybe it’s in the front. See, I have to go to Elizabeth to figure out where it is. (Laughter.) There are some basic guidelines that we have to – that embassies are allowed to do. And again, in this case, the – there wasn’t any ask of support, and I’m not aware of anything other than on the security front. But in the past, we have been able to provide some support like providing support to a Secret Service protective detail, providing assistance on security matters as necessary for conditions in that particular country – and every country has different security parameters, as I think you might understand. In the past, we have been able to brief the candidate with appropriate information before any meetings in accordance with U.S. interests, ensuring that, as an important visitor from the United States, he or she is knowledgeable about recent developments, important issues, and U.S. positions on those issues. But as I said to Arshad, there was no such request for that kind of support or briefings in this particular case.

So there’s a limited amount of things that we can do, but again, and Arshad alluded to this, I mean, there’s obviously restrictions as well because we cannot engage in inherently political activities during an election season.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Are we still on this?


MR KIRBY: You’re still on this?


QUESTION: Still on this.

QUESTION: Still on this.

QUESTION: Still on this.

MR KIRBY: How many people are still on this? Raise your hand if you still want to stay on this issue. Okay. So we’ll go here and then over here, all right? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sure. So you said that the embassy is not helping out at all during the visit. Did they advise against the visit at all? There were --

MR KIRBY: There was no recommendation by embassy personnel or the ambassador one way or the other with respect to whether this visit should occur. No recommendation made whatsoever.


QUESTION: Yes. If a candidate is talking to a foreign leader and makes some kind of diplomatic breakthrough, do you expect to be briefed on that when he gets back? You said that in the past leaders have complained about being offended. If he manages to mollify the Mexicans, would he be coming to the State Department to (inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t even begin to entertain speculation about what the outcome of this visit would be. That is entirely for the Trump campaign to speak to, not the State Department. I wouldn’t even begin to speculate about that. Again --

QUESTION: If a U.S. national is talking to a foreign leader, that would be of interest to you if anything substantive came out of it.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that we – that we weren’t aware of the meeting and wouldn’t be interested in it. I’m just saying that this is between the Trump campaign and in this case President Nieto. And how they characterize their discussion today is up to them, and the State Department isn’t going to get in the middle of that. Our focus is on the --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) afterwards (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: Our focus is on the relationship now and getting – and continuing to look for ways to strengthen it going forward. We’re not going to get into any kind of speculation or conjecture about what may be discussed or what the impact of what may be discussed going forward. That is for these two gentlemen to discuss.

QUESTION: And on this visit, you haven’t – you didn’t receive any prior request for assistance. Have you from any of the candidates received any request for future trips?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any, and I – I’m not aware of any.

QUESTION: That would be up to the campaigns to announce --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, that would all be for campaigns to speak to, but I’m not aware of any.


QUESTION: When did you learn of the request of the – not of the request. When did you learn of the visit?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know exactly when the embassy was informed. I’ll have to take that question. I don’t know.

QUESTION: You talked a lot about before – what is happening before the trip, and you just alluded to what will happen after the trip. What about --

MR KIRBY: No, no, no. I did not allude to what’s going to happen to the trip. Dave did.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. But what is happening during the meeting? Will there be a presence from --

MR KIRBY: That is a great question for the Trump campaign and President Nieto’s office. I have – I have no idea, and we’re not concerning ourselves with that.



QUESTION: So there will be no State Department representation in that meeting?

MR KIRBY: No. I’ve said that three times today.


MR KIRBY: Three times. Are we still on this? Nope?


MR KIRBY: Everybody’s satisfied on this. I promised this young lady we would go to her next. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Gayane. My name is Gayane. Reuters and CNN quote unnamed U.S. officials who say Russia’s claim that its airstrike killed ISIL leader Abu Adnani is a joke. Does the U.S. officially dispute Russia’s claim?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. Can you say the question again?

QUESTION: Yes. So Reuters and CNN quote unnamed U.S. officials who say Russia’s claim that its airstrike killed ISIL leader Abu Adnani is a joke. Does the U.S. officially dispute Russia’s claim?

MR KIRBY: First of all, this is an issue for the Defense Department to speak to, and I think they already have. And I believe what they’ve said is that they conducted an airstrike. This individual was the target of that airstrike. They’re still determining and assessing the results of that strike and that they have not made a determination yet about the success of it, and I think that’s where they’ve left it.

QUESTION: I know, but these unnamed officials are quoted as disputing Russia’s claim. So the U.S. does not officially dispute Russia’s claim? Is that what you’re saying?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – again, the Defense Department has spoken to this. It’s not for the State Department to speak to the results of a specific airstrike. I can only point you back to what they’ve said. And I know you all would love me to make comments about every unnamed official that says things to media outlets. I don’t know who these people are. I don’t know how much information they have, and I’m simply not going to entertain conjecture about the accuracy of anonymous quotes by officials from who knows where.

I can only – all I can – all I can do is tell you what I know. And what I know is based on conversations I’ve had with my colleagues at the Pentagon and what they’ve told you themselves. There was a strike. This individual was the target of it. They’re still assessing the results. They don’t know yet whether it was successful or not.

QUESTION: But if the U.S. and if your colleagues, although they are unnamed officials, dispute Russia’s claim, then they presumably know who killed Adnani. Do you? Do you?

MR KIRBY: I do – I know – again, I can only tell you what I know. This individual was the target of a strike, strike occurred, they’re assessing it, they don’t know the results of it. I can’t go beyond the facts. Those are the facts as we know it right now.

QUESTION: Understood. There’s a lot of confusion in the media over who did this, and that confusion is based on conflicting reports from U.S. and --

MR KIRBY: From unnamed officials. There’s a shock --

QUESTION: -- from U.S. and Russia.

MR KIRBY: -- that unnamed officials are causing confusion in the media. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Why this confusion? Are the U.S. and Russia coordinating their strikes?

MR KIRBY: The confusion is because you guys are reporting unnamed officials, who we don’t know – we don’t know who they are. We don’t know how accurate the information is that they have. That’s the confusion. Gayane, is that how you say your name?

QUESTION: Yes, Gayane.

MR KIRBY: That’s the confusion, Gayane.

QUESTION: I agree with you.

MR KIRBY: The – not between you and me, but between people quoting these unnamed officials. Again, I think the Pentagon has been as clear and concise about this as they can be at this stage. And it’s not unusual for there to be a time lag between when a strike is taken and when you can make an accurate assessment of the results, particularly when a strike is targeted at an individual, and that can be a difficult process to identify BDA, battle damage assessment. So we just have to let the Pentagon do their work, and when they have a conclusion, I’m sure that they will speak to it one way or the other.

QUESTION: More of a policy question: Are the U.S. and Russia coordinating their strikes? Because it seems both the U.S. and Russia were targeting the same person. Wouldn’t it be something that the two countries would coordinate?

MR KIRBY: Our – there’s no coordination of airstrikes between the United States and Russia. That hasn’t changed. And your question, wouldn’t it be nice, that’s really for the militaries to speak to. What I can tell you the Secretary’s focused on – and today our two technical teams have resumed work in Geneva – and the Secretary’s very intently focused on that effort, which, as you know from the press conference last week with foreign – excuse me – Foreign Minister Lavrov, both he and Secretary Kerry made progress with trying to solidify proposals that would allow us to get an enduring cessation of hostilities across the country, which would keep the regime from violating that cessation by killing their own people and going after opposition groups and trying to reclaim territory, as well as providing for better mechanisms for the United States and for Russia to share information about tactical issues there in Syria and targets. But that hasn’t been solidified yet. That’s why our teams are meeting again today – starting to meet today. Okay?

QUESTION: Is this disagreement over who killed this propaganda chief for ISIS – will that possibly derail that conversation about tactics, common ground that we’re leading towards? I mean, couldn’t this hurt it?

MR KIRBY: I can’t see any way that it would.

QUESTION: You – there’s this – I mean, your colleague at the Pentagon half hour ago basically pushed back, disputed the Russian claim, said it was probably propaganda. And – so we’re disagreeing about who gets to claim credit for taking out one of the leaders of this group. That’s not going to derail the conversation?

MR KIRBY: No. I answered the question the last time you asked it. I can’t see any way that it would. These discussions are important. Both governments are committed to them. As I said, the teams have resumed work today in Geneva, and we look forward to seeing that work progress.

QUESTION: Perhaps this’ll give us an impetus to move faster towards that.

MR KIRBY: Move faster towards what?

QUESTION: Toward sharing information on tactics and targets.

MR KIRBY: Well, I think everybody shares the impetus to getting there based on the terrible imagery you saw coming out of Syria a week or so ago with that young boy and then the images that followed later about what’s happening in Aleppo. I think there – as the Secretary spoke to, a real sense of urgency here about the violence and the bloodshed and the need to stop it. That’s the impetus --

QUESTION: We’re talking about whether or not the Americans and the Russians are coordinating --

MR KIRBY: -- for getting these two teams back together again in Geneva. Huh?

QUESTION: We’re talking about whether or not the Americans and the Russians are coordinating their kinetic attacks on the Islamic State.

MR KIRBY: They are not coordinating, as I said.

QUESTION: They’re not. And would an incident like this or a disagreement over who actually killed a top leader --

MR KIRBY: If you’re asking --

QUESTION: -- would that lead to possibly moving faster towards agreeing?

MR KIRBY: There’s already enough sense of urgency to get these technicalities worked out and to have these discussions and to try to reach agreement. And that’s what’s driving us forward. It’s the need to end the bloodshed. It’s not this – these news claims one way or another about who killed this particular terrorist and whether or not he’s dead, in fact. I mean, I haven’t – I’ve seen no confirmation that he is. So I find the whole thing – the whole kerfuffle rather quizzical given that we are talking about the potential of a very dangerous individual now being removed from the fight, and hopefully the Earth. And we still have a very significant diplomatic effort going on now in Geneva to try to more solidify a process by which the United States and Russia can begin to cooperate more effectively inside Syria against groups like Nusrah and groups like Daesh.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) about coordinating. Are you also not de-conflicting?

MR KIRBY: I think the work of de-confliction is still ongoing. I think the Pentagon spoke to that, but I’m not an expert on what that entails.



QUESTION: TV Globo, Brazilian television. I wanted to ask you about any reaction of the U.S. Government to the decision of the senate in Brazil today?

QUESTION: Stick with Syria? Can we finish Syria?

MR KIRBY: I just turned over to Brazil. All right, we’ll stay on Syria, because I know where this answer actually is.

QUESTION: Oh, can we go – can we go back to Syria? I don’t mean to --

MR KIRBY: No, no. I’ll tell – can you wait --

QUESTION: Can we stay in Brazil and then you’ll go back to Syria?

MR KIRBY: -- because we’ll go to – we’ll stay in the region and then I promise I’ll come back to you. I actually – I know where the answer is to your question – (laughter) – unlike Mexico.

QUESTION: I’ll ask quickly so it’s not – you don’t hurt your hand. But a Turkish official said today that there was no ceasefire between Turkey – Turkish and YPG forces in Syria. That was ostensibly rebutting a U.S. claim from yesterday. So my question: What is the situation in terms of Turkey versus the YPG forces? Is that conflict still ongoing?

MR KIRBY: What exactly did their comment refute from yesterday?

QUESTION: Yesterday a U.S. official --

MR KIRBY: Oh, another unnamed official.

QUESTION: No, no, no, he – it was a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve said that there was a ceasefire.

MR KIRBY: He said, I think, there – he said there was an agreement.


MR KIRBY: But look --

QUESTION: And then today, a – the – Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs said that that was not true, there was no agreement or ceasefire, and so my question was what is the situation? What has the U.S. been doing to try and end the fighting between these two allies?

MR KIRBY: What – I think it’s exactly the way I described it yesterday. We’re still seeing calm between the two sides and we welcome that. We want to see that continue. As I said yesterday, we’re – we are in communication with both sides and working to establish communication channels between them to help de-conflict operations and maneuvers in a very crowded battle space. But nothing’s changed about, aside from that, what we want to see, which is every member of the coalition – all of these parties we’re talking about are members of the coalition – to focus their efforts on Daesh.

QUESTION: And you feel you’re having success in this effort at kind of calming --

MR KIRBY: To the degree that there has not been clashes now in the space of a couple of days, we certainly welcome that. We think that’s positive. But we recognize that it – those tensions, as they were before, need to be continually discussed, worked out, and nurtured so that we can try to keep the kinetic activity aimed at Daesh and Daesh only.

QUESTION: John, just on that answer right there, you talked twice about both sides and talked about how you’re trying to get them to talk to each other. You – in the answer you put the two sides on a kind of parity, and that has offended Turkish officials in the past. Yesterday they came out and said they refuse to be talked to as if they were just two parties on equal standing in the way American officials talk about them. They regard the YPG as a terrorist group, and they say they’re a sovereign nation and your NATO ally; they don’t want to be talked about in that way. Do you accept that criticism of the language you use?

MR KIRBY: We understand that concern, and I’m not – by referencing it that way, I’m not at all equating the YPG with the sovereign nation of Turkey, who, as you noted, is a full member of NATO and as a sovereign state – as a state a member of the coalition. Obviously, that is a significance that we certainly recognize. I was simply using terms and words to reflect the fact that we’ve got two sides here that were, as of a few days ago, actively shooting at one another instead of coordinating in their activities and shooting at Daesh. That’s all. But absolutely, we recognize that Turkey is a sovereign state.

We on this?

QUESTION: Brazilian television.

MR KIRBY: Still on this?

QUESTION: Do you have any information about a U.S. citizen who was arrested in Turkey?

MR KIRBY: Who was arrested in Turkey? Yes. I can confirm that U.S. citizen Lindsey Snell was detained in Turkey on the 7th of August, 2016. She is currently being held in a prison facility in Hatay Province. I believe that’s how you say it. Consular officers from the consulate in Adana visited Ms. Snell most recently on the 26th of this month and are providing all possible consular assistance. The embassy and the department are following this case closely. State Department officials have been in contact with Turkish Government officials regarding this case.

QUESTION: Can you spell her name?

MR KIRBY: Lindsey. L-i-n-d-s-e-y. Snell. S-n-e-l-l.

Did you have more?

QUESTION: Yeah. Is – was the arrest at all related to her profession as a journalist or in any case – any way associated with that?

MR KIRBY: What I – what we understand is that she has been charged with violating a military zone, but I can’t speak to her reasons for being in Syria, for traveling there. I can’t speak to that. What I can tell you is that we’ve been informed she was charged with violating a military zone.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) that she entered a military zone that she wasn’t supposed to, or --

MR KIRBY: That would be my interpretation of that, Arshad. But that’s a better question for Turkish authorities since they’re the ones that issued the charges.

QUESTION: Did you say she was arrested in Syria and is held in Turkey? I’m sorry, I just didn’t hear the details exactly.

MR KIRBY: She was --

QUESTION: I thought you said she was --

MR KIRBY: She’s been – she was arrested – detained in Turkey --


MR KIRBY: -- and has been charged with violating a military zone.

QUESTION: I thought the word “Syria” came out of your mouth, and I just wanted to make sure that there wasn’t --

MR KIRBY: Yes. Yes, I did. As I understand it, she journeyed to Turkey from Syria, and I – what my answer was, I couldn’t speak for why she was in Syria in the first place. The question was was she doing the business of journalism, and I don’t know.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, John. On North Korea. President Obama recently mentioned on NFU, no first use of nuclear. But North Korean Kim Jong-un continue to threat North Korea use a nuclear preemptive attack United States. What is your comment?

MR KIRBY: I’d say what I’ve said before. It’s long past time for the North to stop these provocations, to abide by their international obligations, do right by the people of North Korea, and cease these – the pursuit of advanced ballistic missile activity and nuclear capabilities. It’s doing nothing to provide security and stability to the peninsula, and doing nothing to enhance security and stability in the region writ large.

QUESTION: Can I follow up --

QUESTION: But – follow-up again. We know the United States is strong supporter for safety and security of U.S. allies in South Korea with the nuclear umbrella. But this wrong signal may send mis-concept message to North Korean Kim Jong-un.

MR KIRBY: What wrong signal?

QUESTION: I mean, is – the no use – no first use mean --

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ve seen some press reporting about this alleged policy shift. And I have nothing for you on that, and that’s --

QUESTION: What about the North Korea using first?


QUESTION: First using of nuclear weapons, but still U.S. cannot use this.

MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I understand your question.

QUESTION: I’m a little confused --

QUESTION: First use – North Korea perhaps having a first use of nuclear weapons policy.

MR KIRBY: About North Korea having a first use --


MR KIRBY: Well, I think my answer to that would be exactly the same, Janne. We’ve seen the bellicose rhetoric; we take that seriously. We have to take that seriously based on the actions that we’ve seen coming out of the North, which is why we are going to remain just as committed as we always have been to our alliance with the Republic of Korea. It’s why there are the discussions about the potential deployment of a THAAD system there. And it’s why we’re going to continue to exercise and operate with defense forces from the Republic of Korea to make sure that we have the capabilities ready at all times to protect the people of South Korea. That – this kind of – these kinds of comments and the kinds of activities that the regime in the North have conducted are all the more reason why we’re going to stay committed to our alliance requirements.


QUESTION: But this suggestion, Obama’s suggestion, but that Secretary Kerry and the Defense Secretary Carter didn’t accept his suggestions.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about rumors and interagency discussions one way or another. The United States has serious security commitments on the Korean Peninsula, and we’re going to continue to meet them, period.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

QUESTION: Also on Korea.


MR KIRBY: Wait, I – this gentleman has been waiting for a long time. Let me go to you and Brazil. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Your reaction of the decision.

MR KIRBY: Now you have to give me a second to find it.

QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: The reaction’s here, I just have to get to it.


MR KIRBY: Look, we’ve seen reports that the Brazilian senate, in accordance with Brazil’s constitutional framework, has voted to remove President Rousseff from office. We’re confident that we will continue the strong bilateral relationship that exists between our two countries as the two largest democracies and economies in the hemisphere. Brazil and the United States are committed partners. We cooperate with Brazil to address issues of mutual interest in the 21st century’s most pressing global challenges. We plan to continue this very essential collaboration.

QUESTION: Is there any communication after the decision between the U.S. Government and Brazil that you know?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I don’t have any diplomatic discussions to speak to today. Again, this was a decision made by the Brazilian people, and obviously, we respect that.

QUESTION: Do you know if now that President Temer and President Obama are in the G20 if they are going to have any bilateral meeting? Do you have any request from the Brazilians to do that?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to consult my colleagues at the White House for the President’s discussions at the G20. That’s not for us to speak to.

QUESTION: Finally, the last question. And do you know if there is any arrangement for President Temer to come and visit President Obama in the next month?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’d have to ask you to consult my White House colleagues. I’m not aware of any, and it wouldn't be for us to speak to the travel schedule of another foreign leader anyway.


QUESTION: North Korea again.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Brazil before --


QUESTION: The – would it be normal to send a letter of congratulation to a new president?

MR KIRBY: Would it be --

QUESTION: Temer has been – apparently has been – you noted President Rousseff has been moved out, but I understand new President Temer has been officially nominated. Would it be normal to congratulate him?

MR KIRBY: It’s not uncommon for us to congratulate new leaders.

QUESTION: Are you aware that that’s happened?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any correspondence at this time, Dave.

QUESTION: Did you have any concerns about the impeachment process? Did the U.S. have any concerns? There’s evidence that the key promoters of the – of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment process wanted to shield themselves from investigations of corruption. Was that of any concern to the U.S.?

MR KIRBY: I would say two things. This is an internal Brazilian matter and I think I’d refer you to Brazilian authorities for more information about those concerns raised. What I would say is we believe that Brazil’s democratic institutions have acted within its constitutional framework.

QUESTION: And I know that over 40, if I remember that correctly, members of Congress wrote a letter to Secretary Kerry asking the U.S. to express concern over the proceedings. Has the U.S. – has the Secretary --

MR KIRBY: Over these proceedings?

QUESTION: Impeachment process overall. I believe they sent a letter three weeks ago. Has Secretary Kerry responded?

MR KIRBY: I’ll have to check on that. I’m not aware of the correspondence, so let me see if, in fact, we have received something. And – but as always, when we do get congressional correspondence, we respond appropriately, which is back to the requesters. That’s the form, that’s the right way to do it. And if we did get such a letter, I’m sure we’d be preparing a response along that process, but let me just check to see. I don’t know.

QUESTION: But do I understand it correctly? Just to clarify, there was no concern? The U.S. had no concern over the way – over these proceedings, over this process?

MR KIRBY: As I said, we believe that Brazil’s democratic institutions have acted within its constitutional framework.


QUESTION: Two issues on North Korea. First, it’s been now about six months since the UVA student Otto Warmbier has been – since he was sentenced there. We’re now understanding that he hasn’t had consular access in quite a while. Are there any concerns that these calls from the U.S. for him to be released on humanitarian grounds are falling on deaf ears in North Korea?

MR KIRBY: Well, you’ve seen, I think – you may have seen comments from me on this. We do understand that the DPRK court has convicted Mr. Warmbier. He’s reportedly charged with, quote, “hostile acts against the DPRK” and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor. We believe that sentence is unduly harsh for the actions that Mr. Warmbier allegedly took. Despite official claims that U.S. citizens arrested in the DPRK are not used for political purposes, it’s increasingly clear from its very public treatment of these cases that the DPRK does just that. This underscores the risks associated with travel to North Korea. We continue to strongly recommend against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea. We urge any U.S. citizen considering travel to get on our website,, and read the Travel Warning.

Now that he has gone through this criminal process, we urge the DPRK to pardon him and grant him special amnesty and immediate release him – immediately release him on humanitarian grounds.

QUESTION: Have you gotten any signals that that’s likely?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that – of any such signals, and as I think I noted earlier, our protecting power, Sweden, last was able to visit him in March. So it’s been a while.

QUESTION: And then separately but still on North Korea, there are reports that a education official was executed recently, two other officials were sent to these re-education camps, and now just even since I’ve been here I’ve seen a report that another official was executed for falling asleep during a meeting that Kim Jong-un was presiding over. Is this turmoil, this shakeup going on in the North Korean regime of concern to the U.S.?

MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t verify the accuracy of these reports. I’ve seen some media reporting along those lines in the last several days myself. But if it’s true, it’s just more examples of the brutality, the depravity of this regime, and certainly gives no one any comfort about the direction that the regime is going in or would give us any reason to be anything but continuously vigilant about our security commitments on the peninsula.

QUESTION: Can I ask --

QUESTION: Is it confirmed that North Korean prime minister of education, Kim Yong-jin – his execution?

MR KIRBY: Again, Janne, I’ve seen the reports. I’m not able to independently verify them. I mean, we’ve seen this tragically before, these – reports of these kinds of executions.


QUESTION: Go to India?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Two questions, South Asia?

MR KIRBY: Well, okay, let me go here and then to you, Goyal. What do you want to ask about?

QUESTION: Iran, another American arrested in Iran.

MR KIRBY: Okay, let’s go here.

QUESTION: Okay. So you mentioned about the Secretary Kerry staying back in India. Now, when he landed, he – there was a one-hour delay due to traffic or rain problems. Then he had to cancel his visit to three religious sites because of traffic problems. He arrived one hour late at the IIT Delhi. Are you concerned about that when – but knowing that in Delhi, when the prime minister or the ministers travel, the roads are just empty. They’re – so was there any security risk by – can you confirm all these delays which are being reported in the media? What is the reaction of the State Department to this kind of treatment of the U.S. Secretary of State there?

MR KIRBY: It’s rain. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, it’s not just rain. That’s --

MR KIRBY: I would love to complain about the weather, but – (laughter) – I’m not sure that’s going to get us anywhere.

QUESTION: It is rain the first time they were ill-prepared. But what about the repeated --

MR KIRBY: The Secretary has had a terrific couple of days in India and he’s grateful for the support, the courtesies, the time of Indian officials as he wraps up the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, as well as, quite frankly, the time and attention that was afforded him in the bilateral discussions that I have now read out to you for the last couple of days. Yeah, there were some delays because of rain, and not even the prime minister, who we have great respect for, can do much about that. It’s weather, and that it caused some delays I think would be expected. As I understand it from talking to Mark, my deputy, who is out there, that this wasn’t just a sprinkle. This was pretty significant rain, right up to the top of the tires on the cars. You want to be safe more than anything.

So you’re asking me are we concerned about security – that was your second part. Absolutely we are. Part of being safe and secure is being careful when you drive in the rain. I grew up in Florida; I know a little bit about that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It’s a very good answer diplomatically. But on this --

MR KIRBY: Oh, no, no, no, no. It was a very good answer, period. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: On the ground, first time is acceptable. What about the second, third times? Like, it’s --

MR KIRBY: The relationship that we have with India is exceptionally strong and getting stronger --

QUESTION: I was not questioning relationship.

MR KIRBY: -- under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership.

QUESTION: I was questioning the way this happened.

MR KIRBY: And I think I’ve answered the question. I – the Secretary was very grateful for the support and the courtesy and the time that he was afforded by Indian leaders over the last two days. I – I’m a little befuddled that you want to make a diplomatic row out of this, the fact that some of the meetings didn’t start on time. Welcome to the State Department. (Laughter.) That just happens. And --

QUESTION: It just happened for this briefing.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I was late for the briefing, and that wasn’t even – (laughter) – and that wasn’t even weather-related. Thank you. (Laughter.) It – but look, it’s been a great couple of days. And as I said, we’ve been very open about the progress. You’ve seen his remarks, his public comments and remarks, and he was very glad to be able to be in New Delhi and to have these discussions, and we look forward to continuing that deep relationship going forward.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: You again?

QUESTION: No, on a different --

MR KIRBY: No, not you. Him.

QUESTION: Separately --

QUESTION: Yeah, me again, absolutely.

MR KIRBY: On this same issue?

QUESTION: No, different issue.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Well, let’s stay on India and South Asia for a while.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. As far as your relationship between the U.S. and India is concerned, my question is that so many agreements and meetings and greetings took place in Washington and also in Delhi. My question is that because of this relationship, special on security and economics and commercial and strategic and defense, but at least China and Pakistan across the border are not very happy and they’re opposing all these special relationship agreement between the U.S. and India. Anything that where we go from here because of their opposition?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I – it’s hard to get too specific on the answer there, Goyal, because I don’t know what agreements you’re talking about that are causing angst by Pakistan or China. But broadly speaking – we’ve said this before, I kind of dealt with it a little bit yesterday with a question about whether or not President Putin was going to go to Japan – we don’t view relations with other countries as zero-sum games. And I can’t speak for why one sovereign nation or another might have a concern about a bilateral relationship that we are working to advance and improve. All I can tell you is that those relationships are important and the United States remains globally engaged on a scale that no other nation in the world is. And the Secretary’s committed to staying engaged as much as possible, and there should be no reason why in this particular case that any other nation should view the deepening and strengthening of our relationship with India as a threat or a challenge. This is a relationship that’s decades and decades old, and we expect that it will remain strong and – going forward decades and decades to come. There’s no reason to view it as a threat or a challenge.

QUESTION: Maybe one more quickly on the region. As far as G20 and China is concerned, many nations in the region are fear that China is building some fear for some smaller nations in the region. But as far as G20 is concerned – and some of the nations will be in G20, including India – what do you think – how serious is this Chinese fear in the South China Sea and the G20 meetings they are hosting?

MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I understand the question. That --

QUESTION: How the G20 leaders will take this, China’s fear in the South Asia Sea?

MR KIRBY: China’s fear in the South China Sea?

QUESTION: Yeah, building up against the smaller nations in the region.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I’m not going to get ahead of the G20 agenda, but obviously, when we are engaging particularly partners in the East Asia Pacific region – and I can’t speak for other nations, just for us – the tensions in the South China Sea routinely come up, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised that those tensions are discussed over the course of the G20 summit. But nothing has changed about our views here. We’re not taking a position on individual claims. We do take a position on coercion. And we want to see disputes resolved peacefully, diplomatically, and in accordance with international law. That’s not going to change. The President has spoken, the Secretary of Defense, certainly Secretary of State Kerry. We are and will remain a Pacific power in the United States, which means that from a military perspective we have a presence there and that – and we’re going to maintain that presence. But that’s only one element of the Asia Pacific rebalance. There’s a lot more to that, and I also expect that over the course of the coming days at the G20 that other aspects tied to the rebalance – economic aspects, diplomatic aspects, political aspects – will also be on the agenda.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: There’s reports that the Revolutionary Guard in Iran have charged an Iranian American with national security charges. And they didn’t name the individual, but the details they gave seem to fit Robin Shahidi – Shahini. And I just wondered whether you had any information.

MR KIRBY: I – all I can tell you is we – safety and security of U.S. citizens remains, obviously, our top priority. We have seen reports of detentions of U.S. citizens and we continue to raise our concerns about that, continue to use all the means at our disposal to advocate for their release. I just can’t go into any more detail than that.


MR KIRBY: Sorry.


QUESTION: Do you have a comment on the first U.S. commercial flight to touch down earlier today in Cuba, first time in 50 – over 50 years?

MR KIRBY: I think what I would say – seen – certainly seen the reports of that, and look, I think it’s a positive step forward in the normalization of diplomatic relations between our two countries. So we welcome this first scheduled passenger flight from the U.S. to Cuba. Indeed, it’s historic, and again, the President’s policy is simple – the goal of it. It’s to improve the lives of Cubans and to advance the interests of the United States, and we believe that the best way to achieve that goal is by facilitating more interaction between the Cuban and the American people, including through travel and commercial opportunities and through more access to information, which – all of that culminated, of course, in the President’s trip to Cuba.


QUESTION: Subject change to the emails yesterday. Do you know how many of the – Secretary Clinton’s emails were about the 2012 incident in Benghazi, and do any of those contain classified information?

MR KIRBY: As we’ve said, the department agreed to search the materials that we received from the FBI in response to several pending Freedom of Information Act requests and, to the extent that responsive records are identified, produce them using broad search terms. We have identified approximately 30 documents that are potentially responsive to a Benghazi-related request, and I want to stress the words “potentially responsive.” That doesn’t mean that they definitely are. It means they are potentially responsive. At this time, we have not confirmed that the documents are in fact responsive or whether they are duplicates of materials already provided to the department by former Secretary Clinton back in December of 2014. And I’m not aware of – because we’re still working our way through that, I’m not aware of potential classification.

QUESTION: Now, today a spokesman for the Clinton campaign said, quote, some, not if – or “some, if not all” of those emails are duplicates. Is that right?

MR KIRBY: As I said, we’re still working our way through it. We have not confirmed that either they are actually responsive to the Benghazi-related request or that they are duplicates of materials that we have already had. We’re still working our way through that.

QUESTION: And we still don’t know if there’s – any contained classified information?

MR KIRBY: I have no information on that right now.

QUESTION: And then why did the State Department ask for five weeks to review roughly, like, 30 records?

MR KIRBY: Because I think you need to keep in mind that this isn’t the only FOIA request we’re staffing right now. And we’ve talked about over the last three years a dramatic increase in FOIA requests, not just in the number but in the scope of the information that they’re seeking. It’s a major undertaking, and the FOIA staff is working as hard as they can. But to prepare even one document for release through FOIA, it requires work and it requires effort. We have a responsibility to be responsive. We also have a responsibility to protect sensitive information before it’s released to the public.

So I’m not going to speak to the specific filing here. You talked about the timeline. What I can tell you is that you have to understand that this is but one of many, many FOIA requests that we’re staffing, and very few of these FOIA requests that we see are simple and direct and only – and asking for very discrete information. They’re often asking for lots of information over a long period of time, and that takes effort.

QUESTION: So one of the emails that has been – at least before; it’s a 2013 email – shows that she shared classified information after she left the State Department. Is that appropriate? Is there any sort of administrative action you believe your office should --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, so I would say a couple of things to that. We are responsible through FOIA of preparing documents for release today. And we’re not in that process; we’re not concerning ourself whether it was classified at the time, so I want to just get that off the table. So our job is to prepare them for release today. And sometimes that does mean making redactions, and some of those redactions go along with and are tied to security upgrades. And the reason why this document is included was – even though it was – I can’t speak for the reason it was sent post-her time at the State Department. That’s really for her and her staff to speak to, but it was – as I understand it, sent to people who were here still working at the State Department, which means then that we possess that as a record and, therefore under the Freedom of Information Act request in this particular case, we’re responsible for – being responsive to that request, responsible for preparing it for release, and so we did that.

QUESTION: Okay. Is there any – but is that unusual for her to be emailing about classified information after she’s left the post?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I can’t speak for former Secretary Clinton’s email practices after she left her post as secretary of state. Is it unusual for prior secretaries of state to communicate with current staff, particularly – and not long after they’ve left? Absolutely, that’s not unusual at all.

And then your question about classification – I just want to be clear – this information was redacted for release, according to the Freedom of Information Act, which is our responsibility. And it was classified at the Confidential level which, as you know, is the lowest level of security classification. I’m not going to speak to the content, but I would point to you that one of the FOIA exemptions here that we used was 1.4(b), which is foreign government information. And as we’ve previously explained, while foreign government information may be protected from public release, both the executive order on classification and the Foreign Affairs Manual acknowledge that foreign government information often can be maintained on unclassified systems. And yet we have a proscription to – if – in order to release a document that contains foreign government information, it has to be redacted. And right now our – the rules that we’re operating under require that that redaction be accompanied with a Confidential classification. I’m not, again, speaking to the specific content, but I just wanted to make clear because you’ll see in the document that the exemption was 1.4(b), and that’s foreign government information, and there are some limits in terms of how we can treat that when we prepare it for a redaction. Does that make sense to you? Okay. I know it’s a fairly complicated process.

QUESTION: Can I check, because I want to make sure I understand that right. Are you saying that under your current rules, all foreign government information must be, not just redacted, but redacted and classified as Confidential?

MR KIRBY: That’s not what I said, Arshad. I’ll read it again.

QUESTION: No, no. I’m just trying to understand it. You don’t have to read it again, just help me understand it.

MR KIRBY: It doesn’t – it may be – while foreign government information may be protected from public release, according to the executive order and the Foreign Affairs Manual, it can be maintained on unclassified systems, so --

QUESTION: Yeah. I get that.

MR KIRBY: I got that. So when we decide that foreign government information being asked for in a FOIA request needs to be redacted, we have to redact it. But according to the rules that we are under now, it’s redacted with a Confidential classification marking. That’s the rules. We’ve asked for an exemption to that and we don’t have it. So right now, when we exempt foreign government information, it is exempted with a Confidential marking. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that the information redacted is in fact Confidential, the rules require a Confidential marking when it’s redacted and released for the public.

QUESTION: Okay I get it. I get it now.


MR KIRBY: Does that make sense?




MR KIRBY: Let me go to Abbie. Let me go to Abbie.

QUESTION: Venezuela?

MR KIRBY: Venezuela.



QUESTION: Do you have any information regarding reports that several journalists attempting to go into Venezuela to cover the upcoming anti-Maduro rally were turned away at the airport? And along with the seeming increase in arrests of opposition activists ahead of the rally, are you concerned that this is part of a widening crackdown?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen any report of arrests at the airport, so let me get back to you on that. And look, we are – our concerns about freedom of assembly and freedom of speech there in Venezuela are long known. I just don’t have any information on that particular question.

On Iraq?

QUESTION: Human Rights Watch says Iraqi Government-backed militias have recruited children in preparation for an offensive to drive ISIL from Mosul. They call on the Iraqi Government to take action to demobilize child soldiers. Has the U.S. raised the issue with the Iraqi Government or are you going – aware of the issue?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of that report. Obviously, we would strongly condemn the use of children as soldiers in any armed conflict, but I’m not aware that – of this particular report.


QUESTION: Jackson Proskow with Global News from Canada. I wanted to ask you about Caitlan Coleman --

MR KIRBY: Look at that. Thank you for introducing yourself. That’s very nice.

QUESTION: I’m a newbie, so --

MR KIRBY: That’s – no, but nobody else does that. That’s great.

AFGHANISTANPAKISTAN">QUESTION: Caitlan Coleman, the American held in Afghanistan with her Canadian husband and their two young children.


QUESTION: There’s a new hostage video out apparently yesterday in which she is – presumably at the behest of her captors – urging the American Government to press the Afghanis to adjust their policy with respect to executing Taliban prisoners.


QUESTION: Just wondering what actions are being taken to secure their release. Is the U.S. taking the lead? Is Canada taking the lead?

MR KIRBY: I can’t – let me do it this way, and I talked about this a little bit yesterday. We’re certainly aware of reports of this video featuring U.S. hostage Caitlan Coleman and her husband, Joshua Boyle. We are aware that that video’s been released. As I understand it, that video is still being examined, and I don’t have an update for you on it. We obviously remain concerned about the welfare of Caitlan and her family, and we continue to urge their immediate release on humanitarian grounds. We are regularly engaged with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan at the highest levels to emphasize our commitment to seeing our citizens returned safely to their families. We are going to continue to work aggressively as we have in the past to bring all U.S. citizens held hostage overseas home. Okay.

QUESTION: You specifically mentioned Pakistan in that answer. Do you expect the group holding them are linked to the Pakistanis?

MR KIRBY: We have long – we have said that – before that we believe that they are somewhere in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

QUESTION: I’ve got a couple of quick ones, if you can do them. They’re all substantive.

MR KIRBY: Are they going to require me to keep flipping me back and forth all over this?

QUESTION: They are, and that’s why you work out every morning, so you have the strength to --

MR KIRBY: Can we do it in alphabetical order so that I can just go through the book that way? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, then we’d have to do it in State Department alphabetical order by bureau, right?

MR KIRBY: By bureau, let’s do that.

QUESTION: Okay, for 400. All three are within NEA.

MR KIRBY: All right. Well, hey, give me a second. Let me get to the NEA tab.


MR KIRBY: All right, I’m there.

QUESTION: The first one concerns Israel and the Palestinian territories.

MR KIRBY: Okay, give me a second – I. All right, I’m ready.

QUESTION: So there’s a report that the – Israel’s military – runs civil administration in the West Bank – has approved today the construction of 284 new housing units in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Do you have any comment on that approval? I can give you the names of the settlements if you need them.

MR KIRBY: We’re – I do actually have comment. We’re deeply concerned by the government’s announcement to advance plans for these settlement units in the West Bank. Since the Quartet report came out, we have seen a very significant acceleration of Israeli settlement activity that runs directly counter to the conclusions of the report. So far this year, Israel has promoted plans for over 2,500 units, including over 700 units retroactively approved in the West Bank. We are particularly troubled by the policy of retroactively approving unauthorized settlement units and outposts that are themselves illegal under Israeli law. These policies have effectively given the Israeli Government a green light for the pervasive advancement of settlement activity in a new and potentially unlimited way. This significant expansion of the settlement enterprise poses a very serious and growing threat to the viability of the two-state solution.

QUESTION: Can you read that one sentence again – the final one about the – “in a potentially unlimited way”?

MR KIRBY: Yes. These policies have effectively given the Israeli Government a green light for the pervasive advancement of settlement activity in a new and potentially unlimited way.

QUESTION: Second, Syria. There are reports of three American citizens who have been killed in Syria, apparently while fighting with Kurdish forces. What can you tell us about those three men?

MR KIRBY: I had to go back to the American citizens tab because I don’t have them in my Near East/Asia tab.

QUESTION: I can’t answer for that.

MR KIRBY: We’ve been working to help facilitate the return of the reported remains of private U.S. citizens killed in Syria. We remain in close contact with local authorities and stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. I have no additional information right now on this.

QUESTION: Can you provide any other kinds of information about whether you know the fate of these three men, whether it is in fact three men, whether you have any understanding of how they may have perished? Can you provide anything on that?

MR KIRBY: I’m afraid I can’t right now.

QUESTION: Okay. Nothing on names or anything else?

MR KIRBY: I’m afraid I can’t go any further than that right now.

QUESTION: Yep. And then the last one is on Yemen. We have --

QUESTION: Okay, can I just follow up on --

QUESTION: Oh yeah, sorry. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Just more broadly – obviously you have an existing travel advisory for Syria and Iraq. These are private citizens, not military personnel. Do you have any particular concerns about U.S. citizens traveling to take part in the conflict over there, whether as adventurers, mercenaries, or sympathizers with the Kurdish cause? Do you have any idea of broad numbers of Americans who may have done that? And do you have any particular message for them?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an idea of numbers. I can – I think you can understand we don’t – we’re not able to keep track like that. But since 2011, we have urged all U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to Syria, and we strongly recommend those who remain in the country to depart immediately. The government does not support the activity – the travel to Syria to participate in the conflict in any way whatsoever. We don’t support that activity, and our ability to provide consular assistance to individuals who are injured or kidnapped, or to the families of individuals who die as a result of taking part in the conflict, is extremely limited.

QUESTION: And this is probably a question for your Pentagon colleagues, but I’ll try in case you remember the rules: If any of the – some of these people I understand are veterans. They’re no longer serving U.S. military. But if they’re reservists, could they be breaking military rules?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to definitely refer to the Defense Department.

QUESTION: Yeah. Okay, thanks.

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I don’t know enough to do that.

You had one on Yemen.

QUESTION: Last one on Yemen. We have a report that the Saudi Arabian-led coalition conducted an airstrike that killed at least 16 members of the extended family of a Yemeni imam, and one of the photographs that we have showed – taken by our photographer shows the body of a child being dug out of the rubble. You’ve often spoken about the need for all sides to avoid civilian casualties in Yemen. Do you have any information on this particular incident and have you raised it with the Saudis or others?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve seen reports of the strike, and we express our deepest condolences to the families of the victims. As the Secretary made clear when we were in Jeddah just last week, attacks that kill and injure civilians actively undermine the attempts to peacefully resolve Yemen’s challenges. We have repeatedly expressed our deepest concern about the ongoing airstrikes and the heavy humanitarian toll that’s being paid by the Yemeni people, and again, that’s why the Secretary was in Jeddah – to try to find a way forward to put an end to the conflict. We are urging – continue to urge all sides to return to a cessation of hostilities which can create the conditions necessary for a return to peace talks, and that’s really the way we think this is going to get resolved.

QUESTION: And have you raised this particular incident with the Saudi Government or with other members of the coalition?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware – because this incident is so new, I’m not aware that we have raised this in diplomatic channels, but it is not uncommon at all for us to have routine conversations with the coalition about the kinetic activity, the airstrikes, and the precision. It’s not unusual at all. But I just – in these hours after, I just don’t have any conversations to read out.

Okay, I’ve got to go. I’ll take one more. You, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just two questions on Syria.

MR KIRBY: No, I said one more and then you --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Not a two-part one question. Just one question.

QUESTION: Exactly. (Laughter.) I mean, the U.S. says that, I mean, PYD forces have been withdrawing to the east of Euphrates River. However, Turkey, I mean, says that there are not enough evidences to confirm that. I mean, it seems there are two different claims on that issue. I mean, PYD forces have been withdrawing or not? What would you like to say on that?

MR KIRBY: I think – look, I think General Votel spoke to this. I’m – again, I’m going to be wary of speaking to operational maneuver. That’s not our role here. But General Votel spoke to this yesterday and he made clear that the arrangement had been after Manbij, Kurdish forces would move back to the east of the Euphrates and that they have met their commitment. I can’t go into any more detail than that. As I said yesterday, I am not capable of counting ears and noses, but I can only point you to what the Defense Department said yesterday.

Okay. Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it.

Oh, wait a minute, I’m sorry, before we leave --

Thank you. Sorry. Sit. (Laughter.) In answer to the question I promised before the end of the briefing, Diplomatic Security did not – did not – provide assistance to the U.S. Secret Service on Mr. Trump’s visit to Mexico today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yep. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:38 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 30, 2016

Tue, 08/30/2016 - 17:27

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 30, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:10 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MR KIRBY: That’s a nice response. I like that. Okay, just a quick scheduling note. I think you know the Secretary arrived last night in New Delhi to participate in this year’s U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue. This morning he met with Indian National Security Adviser Doval and the Minister of Power Goyal. He met later with the Minister of External Affairs Swaraj. And together with Secretary of Commerce Pritzker and her Indian counterpart, they chaired the second S&CD. The Secretary’s visit to India will continue tomorrow and will include meetings with senior officials and a speech at the Indian Institute of Technology on the U.S.-India relationship and its importance to global peace and prosperity.

With that, we’ll start. Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: Can we start with Turkey and Syria? Both President Erdogan and the Turkish chief of general staff have basically signaled that they’re going to continue prosecuting their operations. What success, if any, have you had in persuading your YPG allies to vacate those areas and in persuading your Turkish allies from pursuing their operations against the YPG?

MR KIRBY: Well, the first thing I’d say is it still remains a pretty dynamic, fluid environment. That’s one. Two, we’ve seen largely, over the last 12 to 18 hours, that there has been calm. And of course, that’s welcome. As we said yesterday, we don’t – that we don’t believe tactical operations between members of the SDF and Turkish forces or Turkish – or forces supported by Turkey to be productive in terms of the fight against Daesh.

The third thing that I would say – and I think General Votel spoke to this over at the Pentagon this morning – that Kurdish forces have, in fact, moved to the east of the Euphrates. And so what I – again, I can’t speak for Turkish leaders and what they’ve said they’re going to do or not do, but certainly – and again, General Votel talked about this this morning – we see Turkish operations in that area. And to the degree that those operations are designed to secure that stretch of border, as was always the plan, well that’s helpful; that’s constructive.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that all Kurdish forces have moved across the river?

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on the tactical laydown. I would point you to my colleagues at the Pentagon. All I can do is repeat what General Votel said today, which was that he – he said that Kurdish forces had met their obligation to move to the east of the Euphrates. I can’t count every nose and every pair of ears, but I would just point you back to what the Pentagon has said about it.

QUESTION: John, is there any ceasefire between Turkey and YPG? Because an American official has said there is a ceasefire now and there’s an agreement between the two parties. Turkey has denied and that YPG has confirmed.

MR KIRBY: I would point you to both sides to speak to where they are in terms of these clashes we’ve seen over the last couple of days. As I said in my first answer, we would note that over the last 12 to 18 hours or so, there’s been calm, that there have – there have been no clashes between those two sides. And that’s a welcome development. It’s one that we strongly encouraged even yesterday.

QUESTION: And are you mediating between the two parties to --


QUESTION: Why not? Do you want them to fight?

MR KIRBY: Again, there’s been a period of calm here over the last 12 to 18 hours. That’s a welcome thing. We’ve made clear to both of them what our desires are in terms of the focus being on Daesh. But if you’re asking me are we in some sort of negotiating role or mediating role between them, the answer is no.

QUESTION: The YPG has said that they are working through the coalition in order to talk to the Turks. Are they wrong?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not – you’re asking me for details here on conversations that really are better placed over at the Defense Department. I can tell you that we – I’m not denying that we have communicated to both sides our desires to see the clashes between them stop, and we welcome the last 12 to 18 hours where that has appeared to be the case, and to refocus all of our efforts on Daesh. It wouldn’t surprise me if, because they’re all – because we’re all members of the coalition, because we all should be focused on going after Daesh, it wouldn’t surprise me that conversations were happening in the context of the coalition. I just can’t speak to the details of it.

QUESTION: Well, would you welcome a mediation role, or do you think the two sides should discuss their differences directly?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, so far the clashes have stopped, so that’s the outcome that we wanted to see. We want to see that continue. I’m not sure that there’s a role for the United States here in terms of mediation. We have made our position quite clear privately, and then again publicly yesterday and again today, so we’ll see where it goes.

QUESTION: But do you --

QUESTION: So you’re not calling that a ceasefire though, this – you’re just describing what happened. You’re not saying that there’s a ceasefire.

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s 12 to 18 hours and we’ve seen calm. We’ve seen the clashes stop between the two sides. And again, that’s the outcome that we want. We want – we don’t want to see them fighting each other. We want to see everybody in the coalition – and we all are – focus our efforts on Daesh. You can call it what you want, but what – I can tell you what we want to see is focused efforts against Daesh.

QUESTION: But you’re not aware of an agreement that there would be an end to the violence that would last sort of longer than what you’ve seen?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to the sides on that. Again, we made clear what our hopes and expectations were. We welcome the fact that the clashes have stopped at least over the last day, day and a half, and we’d like to see that continue.

QUESTION: But first the news came from a U.S. official confirming that there is a ceasefire agreement between the two parties. Why don’t you want now to --

MR KIRBY: Who’s the U.S. official?

QUESTION: I don’t know.

MR KIRBY: Oh, you don’t know. So it’s an anonymous source.

QUESTION: That’s what I’m asking. I know. I didn’t ask it --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Oh, so we should just – yeah, so we should just take that all to the bank. Look, I’m not going to speak for anonymous sources here. And you’re asking me why shouldn’t we mediate. And there’s – since the clashes have stopped – and that’s a good thing, and we want to see that continue – I’m not so sure that there’s a need for any kind of mediation by anybody. And that’s point one.

Point two, we, again, made clear privately to both sides our concerns about these clashes and about the need to refocus on Daesh, and we’re going to continue to do that. We’re going to continue to have those conversations as necessary. Hopefully, Michel, they won’t be necessary. Hopefully, this can be – this reduction in the tensions here can be more enduring and we can all do what we’re supposed to do inside the coalition, and that’s degrade and defeat Daesh.

QUESTION: One last question for me. Latest reports coming from Syria said that ISIS spokesman got killed in Aleppo. Do you have any confirmation?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: On the same subject.

MR KIRBY: I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Last couple hours, Turkish press reports that U.S. Ambassador Bass, John Bass, summoned to Turkish foreign ministry in Ankara for the statements coming out from U.S. officials regarding this truce or ceasefire. Do you have any comment or --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen reports that he got summoned, so I just – I have nothing to say on that. I haven’t seen that.

QUESTION: One more. Have you been informed or do you have any information regarding Turkey-backed FSA forces, next step for them? Do you know whether they are going to go to westward or – you’re not coordinated? You have not been informed about their coordinates?

MR KIRBY: I think General Votel spoke to the fact that Turkish operations along – just on the other side of that border have – are continuing, in terms of going west. And I think the general said that – and this was something that we’ve been long in discussions with the Turks about – that that’s a good thing, that the whole idea here is to secure that border to prevent the flow of foreign fighters across it. It’s a stretch of the border that the Turks have long been concerned about and that we’ve been in communication with them about those kinds of operations.

But if you’re asking me where they are today and how far they’re moving and where they’re going, you’d have to talk to Turkish officials about the movement of their troops. That wouldn’t be something that the State Department would speak to one way or the other. Again, I’d point you back to what General Votel said this morning at the Pentagon and the way he characterized it.

QUESTION: There are reports that the U.S. has not been informed or not coordinated regarding Turkish incursion into Syria. Would you be able to comment whether you are dissatisfied with --

MR KIRBY: Again, that’s a better question for the Defense Department to speak to. I think General Votel also talked about that a little bit today. They – I’ll just repeat what I said again yesterday. The operations by Turkish forces to secure that border, including some operations on the Syrian side, is something that we had been in discussion with them about and supportive of. Yesterday, we were talking specifically about the clashes between Turkish forces or Turkish-backed forces and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, Kurdish fighters. And I said yesterday that those are uncoordinated, they weren’t being supported by the United States, and in terms of notification, there was very little at all. That’s different than the purpose of Turkish forces being in Syria at the outset, which was to help secure that border. Okay?


QUESTION: Just to follow up with Michel saying a U.S. official had talked about a ceasefire, the – Colonel John Thomas, Central Command spokesman, said there’s a loose agreement to stop fighting. Is that --

MR KIRBY: Is that a different official than his anonymous official?

QUESTION: I don’t know.

MR KIRBY: Is that the one you were quoting, Michel? Is that a different guy?


MR KIRBY: Different guy?

QUESTION: No, but you said who said it. That’s what I’m saying, that that’s what – that’s a named person.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I can’t – I – those are comments that are attributed to a military official, and the Pentagon should speak to that. Again, call it what you will. What we’re saying is we welcome the fact that there has been calm over the last 12 to 18 hours, that these clashes have ceased. We want to see that continue. We want to see that endure. And you can put whatever label you want on it. What we want is a focus on counter-Daesh operations by all members of the coalition. And when we had clashes of the sort that we had over the weekend, as I said yesterday, that they were not productive to that effort, they were not helpful, they were not moving us in the direction that we think all members of the coalition need to move, and that is to focus military activities against Daesh.

QUESTION: Where is Ambassador McGurk today?

MR KIRBY: Ambassador McGurk --


MR KIRBY: -- is on travel in the region.

QUESTION: He’s in the region?

MR KIRBY: He’s on travel in the region. That’s as much detail as I have today.


QUESTION: Different subject. I wanted to ask you about some comments that Secretary Kerry made when he was in Bangladesh. He seemed to suggest that perhaps the media shouldn’t be covering terror attacks quite as much as they do. He said, “Perhaps the media would do us all a service if they didn’t cover it quite as much. People wouldn’t know what’s going on.” Can you offer any clarification on --

MR KIRBY: Well, I’d say a couple of things. I mean, first of all, the Secretary’s views about the media, press freedom, and certainly the strength and the power of independent press reporting of events around the world are well established and well known by all of you. I think you all know how much he appreciates the work that you do and the importance of the light that you can shed on so many issues. What he was referring to in that statement was simply that – an acknowledgment of the fact – and it’s a fact that all of you know – that often in acts of terrorism there’s more than one purpose. There’s the violence itself and the havoc that it can wreak and the fear that it can instill and the damage that it can cause. And there’s also the notoriety that comes with the press coverage from it, the glorification of that through amplification in the mass media. And I think he was just referring to that as a fact and something that we all have to be mindful of as these events happen.


QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: At the risk of amplifying an attack, do you know what’s happening in Bishkek?

MR KIRBY: Bishkek. I can tell you that we’re aware of a – of what appears to have been a vehicle-borne IED that exploded there. As I understand it, it was near the Chinese embassy. I don’t have all the particulars. I know it’s being investigated by officials there. I can tell you that we’ve been in touch with our embassy and all U.S. and embassy personnel have been accounted for. So we’re not aware of any injuries at this time. And the embassy will be closed tomorrow for independence day observances there, but it’s our expectation that they’ll be able to pick up right after that.

QUESTION: Sir, India and Pakistani media --

QUESTION: Sorry, there was --

QUESTION: -- is reporting --

QUESTION: -- there was a previously scheduled closure tomorrow?


QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: For the independence day celebrations observance.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Sir, India and Pakistani media is reporting that Pakistani Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani has been reprimanded by White House due to his anti-Indian activities. Sir --

MR KIRBY: By his what activities?

QUESTION: Anti-Indian activities. Anti-Indian activities.

MR KIRBY: He’s – can – I’m sorry, you went really fast there. Can you just try that one again?

QUESTION: All right. All right. Sir, Indian and Pakistani media --

MR KIRBY: No, I – just – just let me try – let me just try it again.

QUESTION: Sir, Indian and Pakistani media is reporting that the White House – that the Pakistani ambassador, Jalil Abbas Jilani, reprimanded by White House due to his anti-Indian activities. Do you agree with these media reports?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen a report of that. I would refer you to the White House to speak to that. I’m not – I’m not aware of that.

QUESTION: Sir, I’ve just seen Secretary Kerry’s statement in India. He just said that Pakistan in recent months taken strong actions against Haqqani Network. But if we see Pentagon, they have different views about the Pakistani action against Haqqani Network. Why State Department, Pentagon are not on the same page?

MR KIRBY: Well, I – I’m not going to just presume that your implication is correct there, that we’re not. I don’t know what comments you’re talking about from the Pentagon that differ from what we’re saying here at the State Department. Look, I’d just say that we all recognize that the continued security threat that is posed by the Haqqani Network and by other terrorist groups that operate inside Pakistan and along that border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the Pentagon is obviously well aware of that, as we are here, and it’s a conversation that we continue to have and will continue to have with our partners in the region. I’m not aware that there’s any dissonance here in terms of the way we’re seeing it.

Is there a particular comment that you’re referring to?

QUESTION: Yes, sir --

MR KIRBY: What is it?

QUESTION: It’s a BBC report about – and said that John Kerry has said that --

MR KIRBY: No, I know what my Secretary said. You’re saying there – that’s a difference opinion that’s expressed at the Pentagon.

QUESTION: Pentagon – sir, Pentagon --

MR KIRBY: So what’s the Pentagon say?

QUESTION: The Pentagon withheld the – refused to issue the certificate for the military assistance to Pakistan, saying that Pakistan is not doing enough against Haqqani Network.

MR KIRBY: There is a constant conversation that we are having with our Pakistani partners about the threat posed by Haqqani and by other extremist groups there in the region and certainly operating inside Pakistan. And we make these decisions routinely and they’re based on active, fluid, dynamic conversations that we have with Pakistani leaders. I don’t know of any difference. I think the United States Government is viewing this very much all in the same – in the same light.

QUESTION: Stay on the region?

QUESTION: Can we continue in the region?

QUESTION: Continue in the region?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you want to go first?

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. In his press conference, Secretary also said they recently spoke to Prime Minister Sharif and General Raheel in Pakistan. Do you know when they talked last, what this was about?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know – let’s see if I have a recent call. I don’t have a recent call to read out, so I’d have to find out when the last discussion was.

QUESTION: Okay. And he also announced resumption of trilateral dialogue with India and Afghanistan. Why it was stopped in the first instance? He did explain why the reasons for resuming this dialogue. Why it was stopped in the first instance, and at what level this will be held next month?

MR KIRBY: I think the movement forward – I think we have to work through those details. And I think what matters is that, as the Secretary said, those discussions are important and they are going to continue. And he talked about the constructive role that India has played inside Afghanistan and wanting to see that – see that role continue. So we’re focused on the future here. I’m not going to get into a debate or a discussion about what happened in the past and the degree to which those talks didn’t continue. What matters is they are going to continue going forward, and that’s why – one of the reasons why the Secretary’s there in New Delhi today.

QUESTION: At what level this will be held?

MR KIRBY: As I said, I don’t have that kind of detail right now. I think that kind of stuff needs to be worked out.

QUESTION: Continue in the region – thank you, sir. As far as U.S.-India relations are concerned, a lot going on this week. Secretaries of State and Commerce, of course, are in Delhi, and defense minister of India is in Washington, where U.S. and India – they announced yesterday that India is a major defense partner of the United States. So out of these meetings in Delhi, what are we expecting this time more or any other major partnership between U.S. and India is expected --

MR KIRBY: I think there’s – there’s already a tremendous partnership between the United States and India, which cuts across quite a few sectors. And it’s not just security and defense related; it’s economic, trade, and information and technology sharing. I mean, there’s a – it’s a pretty full and complete, comprehensive relationship and it’s one that we are committed to deepening and strengthening, and I think that’s why the Secretary of Defense’s counterpart is here, it’s why the Secretary and the Secretary of Commerce Pritzker is there – are there in New Delhi, to continue this Strategic and Commercial Dialogue. I mean – so if you’re asking me are there major announcements to be had, I’m not aware of any. These kinds of discussions – and this is where we want to be, right? We want to be able to have these kinds of bilateral discussions that cut – that really do cut across all the sectors of a bilateral relationship to deepen it and grow it and to keep it going forward.

QUESTION: And is there major talks going on about threats in the South China Sea, and also any regional terrorism threats?

MR KIRBY: You mean in the discussions in New Delhi?

QUESTION: During this meeting, yeah.

MR KIRBY: Well, certainly as part of the S part of it, right – strategic. I mean, they talked about strategic regional issues. I don’t have a specific readout on each and every one of these, but discussing tensions in the Asia Pacific region is something that’s not uncommon when we’re meeting with our Indian counterparts, and there’s certainly a lot there because India is – India does have a purpose and a presence in the Pacific that’s important.

QUESTION: And finally, Secretary’s visit to Bangladesh – you have anything – any major things were discussed or announced between the two countries? Because Bangladesh still needs U.S. help in many areas, including fighting terrorism.

MR KIRBY: I would point you to – I mean, my deputy spokesman, Mark Toner, was on the trip and issued a series of readouts from each of the bilateral meetings, and the Secretary did a press conference. I’d point you to the transcripts of those readouts and that press conference for the kinds of things that the Secretary discussed and advanced while he was in Bangladesh.

But by and large, and if you look at – again, I don’t want to spoil the read for you, but I mean, they talked about counterterrorism, they talked about climate change, they talked about Bangladesh’s progress on democracy and human rights. And the Secretary certainly made clear our expectations that that kind of progress would continue and deepen and grow and be better than it is right now. So it was a wide-ranging set of discussions, but again, I encourage you to go look at our website and you can see all the things that were discussed in Bangladesh are there.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I had a quick follow-up --

QUESTION: Thank you ,sir.

QUESTION: -- on this defense thing.

MR KIRBY: Whoa, whoa, whoa. One at a time. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a quick follow-up on defense. This – yesterday China – in fact, today China had expressed concern about India and U.S. signing a logistic agreement, and they have said it will not make India safe. What is your comment on that?

MR KIRBY: On the what? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yesterday India and U.S. signed a major logistic agreement which the two countries were working for last 10, 12 years. China has reacted strongly to it. They are saying that – they expressed concern and saying that this will not make India safe.

MR KIRBY: So a couple of things. I haven’t seen the details of this agreement and I haven’t seen a reaction to it by China, so I’m going – you’re going to have let me get back to you on the specifics about this. Broadly speaking, a deepening, stronger, more cooperative bilateral relationship with India is nothing that anybody should fear or worry about. We both are democracies; we both have incredible opportunities and influence on the global stage, and a better relationship between the United States and India is not just good for our two countries, not just good for the region, it’s good for the world.


MR KIRBY: Barbara. You’ve been patient.

QUESTION: I just wondered if you had any comment on the EU decision for Apple to pay 13 billion euros in back taxes. I know the White House and Treasury have made some critical responses; does the State Department have anything to --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything to add to that today. You’ll have to let me take that question. I suspect that that’s really going to be something more for the Treasury Department to speak to than the State Department. I just don’t have anything on it.

QUESTION: The Afghan Taliban has released a video of a kidnapped North American couple – one American, one Canadian – Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle. They are forced to appeal for an end to executions of Taliban prisoners by the Afghan Government. Do you have anything you can say on that publicly?

MR KIRBY: I do. We’re aware of recent reports that a video featuring U.S. hostage Caitlan Coleman and her husband Joshua Boyle has been released. I would tell you that the video is still being examined for its validity. We remain concerned, obviously, about the welfare of Caitlan and her family, and we continue to urge for their immediate release on humanitarian grounds. We are regularly engaged with the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan at the highest levels to emphasize our commitment to seeing our citizens returned safely to their families. And I think as you know, and I’ve said many times, the welfare of U.S. citizens overseas remains one of our highest priorities here at the State Department. We continue to work aggressively to bring all U.S. citizens held hostage overseas home to their families.

Okay. Abbie and then you.

QUESTION: Congressman Mia Love has sent, I believe, a letter to the State Department regarding Joshua Holt, who is being held in Venezuela.


QUESTION: The letter is asking that the State Department put more pressure for the Venezuelan Government to release Josh. Do you have any response to that or to some of the frustration that’s been expressed by the family?

MR KIRBY: Well I’m not – I won’t – as I don’t – we’re not going to respond to congressional inquiries or correspondence here from the podium. We’ll respond to the congresswoman in the appropriate way. What I can tell you is that – a couple of things, just broadly speaking. We can now confirm that a U.S. citizen, Joshua Holt, was arrested in Venezuela on June 30th of this year on weapons charges and that he’s currently being held in a prison in Caracas. Consular officers from the United States embassy in Caracas visited Mr. Holt most recently on the 16th of this month and are providing all possible consular assistance.

We call on the Venezuelan Government to respect due process and human rights and guarantee a fair trial. State Department officials have been in contact with Venezuelan Government officials regarding this case. The embassy and the department are following it closely. And again, the embassy has visited Mr. Holt on a regular basis and intends to continue to do so as he awaits trial.

QUESTION: I believe his trial is September 15th. Will the State Department have any representation there?

MR KIRBY: It’s typical for us to do that, and I can tell you that certainly would be our desire. I just don’t have anything specific to say to be able to confirm it, but obviously that’s – that is – it’s a very common practice for us to be there, to be represented there. Yeah.


QUESTION: This is just a quick follow on to the Apple question, because House Speaker Paul Ryan just added a statement saying that the decision is awful and it’s also in direct violation of many European countries’ treaty obligations. Is that anything that you’d be able to confirm?

MR KIRBY: Does that make it easier for me to then talk to? No. I just – look, I just don’t have anything --

QUESTION: But if you could look into it, that’d be --

MR KIRBY: As I said, I’ll have to look into it and see. I suspect this is something really for the Treasury Department to speak to. But you guys got me unawares here, so I’m just going to have to take the question, and we’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: And then just the only other thing I had is that the Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency has reported that IS spokesman and external operations manager, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, has been killed. Any confirmation?

MR KIRBY: Nope. In the last ten minutes, I have no more confirmation than when I answered the question from Michel.

QUESTION: Oh okay. Got it.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Turkey. On Turkey.

MR KIRBY: Turkey.


MR KIRBY: Shocker. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Today another 35 journalists – there is a new detainment list about another 35 journalists in Turkey.


QUESTION: It is now about 150 journalists, according to estimates, since we don’t know the exact numbers, but this should be around that number. This more than combined of China, Iran, and Egypt. I was wondering if you have any comment on this.

MR KIRBY: I mean, we’ve seen these reports, and as we’ve said before, we – and frankly, what I’ve said earlier in this briefing, we obviously continue to support independent, free media reporting and freedom of the press all over the world, including Turkey. And we’ve talked a lot over the last several months about our concerns, about a growing trend in the wrong direction with respect to press freedoms and freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in Turkey. Those concerns remain valid today.

Now, look, we understand, there was a very active and serious coup attempt in Turkey and that the Turkish Government has an obligation in looking after its own citizens to also fully investigate this coup attempt and to hold those responsible accountable. And so, as we’ve said before, we simply urge Turkish leaders, as they work through that process, they do it with all due respect for rule of law and for international obligations and human rights.

QUESTION: But you cannot imagine about 100 journalists will be involved in the coup. Is there a justification in your imagination that these (inaudible) journalist --

MR KIRBY: We’re not going to characterize the – every decision they make in the process of conducting this investigation, and you’re asking me to speculate about who was involved and at what level, and we simply don’t have the information to make that kind of an assessment, nor would it be appropriate from this podium.

QUESTION: Last week Vice President Biden, after he left Turkey – I think he was in Latvia – and he was asked about why he withheld criticism regarding crackdown in Turkey, and Mr. Vice President said that since nobody has been tried or executed, there is no need for speak up; when that happens, we can speak up.

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: Is this the policy, that you are waiting for someone to be executed, then the speak up more --

MR KIRBY: Our views, our perspective on these events in Turkey have not changed, not one bit. And I think I just articulated them in the answer to your last question. We understand they have an obligation to investigate. We have – we understand and we appreciate they also have an obligation to their own citizens to hold those accountable for this. This was a potentially – well, it wasn’t potentially. It was a violent and precarious, dangerous coup attempt, and real people suffered as a result of it. So they have an obligation to look into this and get to the bottom of it and to try to prevent that kind of thing from happening again. We understand that, and that hasn’t changed, and the Vice President wasn’t saying anything different than that.

We also, though, urge Turkey, as they work through that process, as I said before, to observe rule of law and due process in accordance with their own constitutional principles, and to observe international obligations and human rights as they work through that. And we’re in close touch with them and we will remain in close touch with them as they continue to work through that process. But there’s not – no change at all in terms of the approach that we’ve taken here. We condemned it that very evening – the coup attempt, that is. And again, we’ve – we were and we remain in close contact with Turkish authorities going forward.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) condemn these kind of a Turkish administration approach the freedom of press in Turkey and jail in these many --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Would you condemn also jailing this many journalists in Turkey?

MR KIRBY: As I said before, Michel – I’m sorry, Michele. (Laughter.)


MR KIRBY: Yeah. You guys look so much alike. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the habit of characterizing each and every decision or each and every statement that comes out of Turkey.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) not about a statement.

MR KIRBY: No, it is.

QUESTION: This is being --

MR KIRBY: You’re asking me to --

QUESTION: -- happening for about two months.

MR KIRBY: You’re asking me to say whether I’m going to condemn the jailing of journalists.


MR KIRBY: They are conducting an investigation. I can’t begin to speculate here who was or who wasn’t involved in this and it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to do that. They’re doing this investigation and we understand they have to do that. We simply have urged them, in terms of process, how to go about doing that in a way that is thorough and complete, but also transparent and fair. And so we’re going to stay in close touch with them as they go forward, but we haven’t yet, and I’m not going to begin to make a judgment here from the State Department podium in Washington about every single decision that they’re making as they conduct that investigation.

QUESTION: So this is not about single decision. This has been going on for almost two months --

MR KIRBY: And we have --

QUESTION: -- and jailing for hundreds of journalists.

MR KIRBY: We have talked about – I said it earlier – our concerns about a worrisome trend in Turkey, before the coup, about limiting press freedom and about shutting down media outlets or detaining reporters. We’ve been nothing but honest and open about that, and in fact, I said the same thing again today to your first question. But if you’re asking me to condemn this specific decision, what I’m saying is we’re not going to get into characterizing each and every move they make as they investigate this. We’ve talked to them about process and what our hopes and expectations are for that going forward. And we’re going to stay in close touch on this. We’re watching it as closely as possible.

Yeah, Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, John. In the Clinton email documents, 2012 former President Clinton was planned to visit Kaesong Industrial in North Korea. That is the former Secretary Clinton asked him to visit that Kaesong Industrial. Do you have anything how that happened, who invited him? I mean, North side or South side?

MR KIRBY: I don’t, and I wouldn’t speak for invitations or decisions that were made by the previous secretary of state. I think you’d have to talk to her staff about that. I don’t have any information on that.


QUESTION: The organization Human Rights Watch is calling on the UN Security Council to impose further sanctions on the Government of Syria. Is this something that the State Department supports?

MR KIRBY: So I would just say that we’re aware of the reports of that and I’d have to refer you to the UN specifically.

QUESTION: And then a follow-up: How important is it to hold the Assad regime accountable for the use of chemical weapons in Syria?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: A follow-up would be: How important is it for the international community to hold the Assad regime accountable for the use of chemical weapons in Syria?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, without speaking to this specific report --


MR KIRBY: -- obviously, the international community did and I think remains committed to limiting or effectively trying to pressure the Assad regime to stop using chemical materials as weapons. Now, as we know, we got most of the material out, and we’re grateful for the international partnership, and it really was an international partnership that got that material out. But clearly, we know and we’ve seen in this most recent OPCW report that Assad continues to barrel bomb his people and use chlorine to do it.

So I think there’s a strong international community mandate to see that end, and that is why – again, not speaking to UN decisions. I think that – I’d refer you to them. But that is why the Secretary is working so hard inside multilateral fora, not just the United States unilaterally but inside a multilateral structure, to bring an end to this war so that – so that the regime can’t continue to use chemical materials against their own people. And one of the things that our two teams, the U.S. and Russian teams, are going to continue to try to work through after Geneva on Friday is the technical modalities to get a cessation of hostilities that is enduring across the nation that would effectively prevent the regime from being able to conduct those kinds of missions.


QUESTION: Any update on the meetings between the Russians and the U.S.?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any update today, no.


QUESTION: Cuba. Nine Latin American countries have sent a letter to the Administration saying that U.S. policy, its wet foot/dry foot policy which guarantees citizenship to Cubans who make it to U.S. soil, is creating an immigration crisis for those countries through which they pass, and asked the Administration to review that policy. Do you have a response to that, and is there any review likely to be made?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll tell you a couple things. So we did receive the letter that you’re referring to signed by nine foreign ministers from Latin America about what is known as the Cuban Adjustment Act. Obviously, we are concerned for the safety of all migrants throughout the region, including migrants seeking to journey northward through South and Central America and Mexico. Irregular migration often involves dangerous journeys that illustrate the inherent risks and uncertainties of involvement with organized crime, including human smugglers and trafficklers – traffickers, excuse me, in attempts to reach the United States.

We continue to encourage all countries to respect the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers, and to ensure that they are treated humanely. And we’re going to continue to, obviously, engage governments in the region on this issue going forward. So we did receive the letter. I’d refer you to the authors of the letter for any more specific information on its content. I have no meetings to announce at this time, and the Cuban Adjustment Act remains in place and wet foot/dry foot remains U.S. policy regarding Cuban migration.

I can take a couple more. I haven’t gotten to you yet.

QUESTION: Russia has announced that President Putin will visit Japan in December. Do you welcome this visit? Do you have any response?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen reports of that. I would let officials in Moscow and in Tokyo speak to official travel by themselves or by foreign leaders. Obviously, these are sovereign decisions that countries have to make in terms of their bilateral relations, but I – we don’t –

QUESTION: Can you --

MR KIRBY: We wouldn’t have a comment, one way or the other.

QUESTION: Can you speak a little bit more broadly then on whether you would welcome closening ties between Russia and Japan?

MR KIRBY: I mean, look, those are decisions for the people of Russia and the people of Japan to make, in terms of bilateral relations. We have bilateral relations with both Russia and obviously we have a very strong bilateral relationship and alliance with Japan that we take very, very seriously. But these are decisions that these governments have to make about their bilateral relations. Certainly, the United States is – we’re not concerned or worried about bilateral relations between Russia and Japan, and we leave it to them to define what that relationship is going to be.


QUESTION: So in that context -- sorry, just one more follow-up on that.

QUESTION: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Sure, sure.

QUESTION: In the context of the Minsk agreement, U.S. has previously said that you don’t want to see a return to business as usual in engaging with Russia. In the context of that, do you have anything to add --

MR KIRBY: We still have concerns about, quote/unquote, “business as usual” with respect to Minsk implementation. Now, there’s been some progress towards implementation of Minsk, and that’s a good thing – progress by both sides. There needs to be more. The Secretary has spoken to that quite openly.

But again, you’d have to talk to officials in Moscow and Tokyo in terms of this visit. I can’t even confirm for you that it’s going to happen. I don’t have any information on it. They should speak to whether there’s going to be a visit and what the agenda is going to be and what they’re going to talk about. That’s for them to speak to. But nothing’s changed about our view that it’s still not – it’s still not time for, quote/unquote “business as usual” with Russia across a wide variety of sectors, given the concerns that we still have about their actions in Ukraine, the occupation of Crimea, and the tensions that still exist as we try to get Minsk implemented.

QUESTION: Sir, the Indian defense minister was here in United States. So did the U.S. side take up the situation of Kashmir with the Indian defense minister?

MR KIRBY: The defense minister’s meetings were at the Pentagon. You should talk to my colleagues at the Defense Department on that. He didn’t meet us with – here.

Thanks. Appreciate it.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:52 p.m.)

DPB # 151

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 29, 2016

Mon, 08/29/2016 - 16:47

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 29, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:12 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hi, guys.


MR KIRBY: You’re the only one that said hi. Thank you. Thank you. (Laughter.) Okay, a couple of things at the top and then we’ll get right at it. Happy Monday to everybody.

On Yemen, the United States condemns today’s suicide bombing claimed by Daesh in Yemen that left more than 50 people dead and scores more injured. Obviously, we express our condolences to all those affected, to the families of the victims, and everyone else affected. Today’s attack underscores the urgency of a full and comprehensive settlement that will shrink the political and security vacuum that’s been created by the ongoing civil war there. In the absence of a political solution, we remain concerned that Daesh and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula will continue to take advantage of the instability, and innocent people will regrettably continue to suffer.

Last week in Jeddah, I think you all know, the Secretary laid out a path for a full and comprehensive settlement, and we urge parties to seize this opportunity and work constructively with the UN special envoy as he begins his consultations.

On Crimea, as we have said in the past since he was first taken into custody, we are extremely concerned by the detention of Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov. We understand that his health condition is now critical and that he remains in a forced psychiatric detention. This tactic of detaining dissidents in psychiatric wards is deeply troubling. We join the international community in calling on the Russian Government to release him now.

Then, on the Secretary’s schedule, I think you know he spent the day in Dhaka for his first official visit to Bangladesh. While there he met with the prime minister, expressing his condolences on recent terrible attacks there in Bangladesh and discussing our growing cooperation on a broad range of global and bilateral issues. He also met with the foreign minister to review our partnership on a broad range of issues, including democracy, development, security, and human rights.

Following their meeting, the foreign minister, Minister Ali, hosted a lunch with key government officials to focus on our growing partnership and regional security and in countering violent extremism. And he met with American and Bangladeshi embassy staff to thank them for their hard work and to express his condolences on the recent tragic loss of two of their colleagues.

The Secretary also met with Khaleda Zia, the leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Today, now – or I’m sorry, this evening, he has landed in New Delhi where he will participate in this year’s U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, and we look forward to providing more details on the dialogue in the next couple of days as events unfold. But it is evening there in New Delhi, so his day starts bright and early tomorrow in that dialogue.

So with that, I’ll take questions. Arshad.

QUESTION: Can we start with Syria? I have seen the tweets that Brett McGurk has put out. What I want to ask you about is the Turkish advance further into Syria and its operating – the Turkish military now operating in areas where Islamic State is not believed to be present. How concerned are you by the deepening operations, one? And two, why is it that the Assad government is not likely to ultimately be the beneficiary here if --

MR KIRBY: Why is Assad not the beneficiary?

QUESTION: Likely to be a beneficiary if the Turkish military is going after – potentially going after your allies, the YPG fighters who have been so effective against Assad’s forces.

MR KIRBY: Well, so the couple – there’s a lot there. Obviously, we’re closely monitoring these reports, the ones that you’ve suggested. And of course, you’ve seen Mr. McGurk’s Twitter activity which confirms all that. So we’re watching this area south of Jarabulus and north of Manbij where ISIL is no longer located, and the clashes yesterday and those today between Turkish armed forces and some opposition groups and Kurdish units that are affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces.

These actions were not coordinated with the United States and we are not providing any support to them. As I think the Pentagon noted yesterday, we’re going to remain closely engaged with Turkey and with the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Forces, and other coalition-supported actors on the ground in Syria to facilitate as best we can de-confliction. We call on all the armed actors on the ground to maintain a focus on Daesh, or ISIL as they’re otherwise known, which remains a lethal and common threat.

So we’re watching this closely. And as we said, as the Pentagon said yesterday, uncoordinated actions like this really aren’t getting us further along the path of defeating Daesh inside Syria.

Now, as for the benefit to the Assad regime, I mean, he has taken full advantage of the vacuum that his lack of leadership and governance has caused, particularly in the northern part of the country. Now, I don’t know if he has a reaction to these recent clashes or not, but we’ve long said that his lack of legitimacy to govern has allowed Daesh to grow and to fester inside Syria, that – and the Secretary has noted that there are if not deliberate, certainly consequential benefits that he has gained from what Daesh has been able to do.

So any effort that is taking away from our ability to defeat Daesh is certainly going – is certainly not helping the international community. It’s not helping the Syrian people. And it could be perceived by some as a potential benefit to Bashar al-Assad. But I mean, I think we’re two days into this. I think it’s a little too soon to sort of try to measure significant benefits to the regime at this point. But obviously, it’s not helping us as a coalition team and effort to do what we’re really designed to do militarily, what all of us are dedicated to doing militarily inside Syria, which is go after Daesh.

QUESTION: Do you have any influence, do you think, over Turkey and its military actions in Syria given that they didn’t even consult you most recently?

MR KIRBY: Well, Turkey is a NATO ally and Turkey is a member of the coalition to counter Daesh. And in the context of those two multilateral relationships as well as our bilateral relationship, we certainly routinely have discussions with Turkey about how efforts can be coordinated to go against Daesh inside Syria. I don’t know the degree to which there was prior consultation to these operations. As I understand it, there wasn’t much in the way of any advance notification, but I would refer you to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: I thought you said there was none. I thought you said these were un --

MR KIRBY: Uncoordinated.


MR KIRBY: Right. But you’re asking about – coordination is different than consultation or information.


MR KIRBY: As I understand it, and I would refer you to the Pentagon, but as I understand it, there was very little in the way of advanced notification. That’s a difference than saying coordination.


MR KIRBY: In any event, we are in – as you might expect, given the events of the last two days, we certainly have been in contact with Turkish officials about these actions and, quite frankly, about the concerns we have in regard to the diminishing of an effect on Daesh and efforts to try to refocus everybody’s activities in that regard.

QUESTION: Could I ask about another potential beneficiary of this? The situation where your one ally is fighting the other when they are both supposed to be fighting ISIL and other terrorists, do you think this helps terrorists?

MR KIRBY: Do I think it helps terrorists? As I said to Arshad, I mean, if the terrorists we’re talking about is Daesh, and that’s principally the terrorist group that military efforts by the coalition are aimed at, these clashes that we’ve seen over the last two days are not helping us degrade and destroy Daesh as an entity any faster.

QUESTION: But the U.S. – just a few more, actually, on this topic --

MR KIRBY: I figured there’d be a few more.

QUESTION: On this very topic, yes. But the U.S. supports Turkey’s operations in Syria, doesn’t it?

MR KIRBY: We have certainly supported their efforts to contribute to military activities against Daesh. And with respect to the activities on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey, along that 98-kilometer stretch that we’ve been talking about that we’re talking about here today, yes, with respect to their efforts to try to better secure that border from access to terrorist groups like Daesh. We’ve been supportive of that as the effort.

QUESTION: Of that just – some rebels threatened to advance to Manbij --

MR KIRBY: I would say, though --


MR KIRBY: But before I leave that, because I want to make it clear we also continue to support the Syrian Democratic Forces, who have been brave and courageous fighters. And again, I think the Pentagon spoke to this yesterday, but we continue to support their efforts as well to go after Daesh. And they have been effective against Daesh in that part of Syria.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Some rebels threatened to advance to Manbij. Does the U.S. support that kind of advancement of Turkish-slash-rebel forces?

MR KIRBY: What we support is an effort to go after Daesh inside Syria, and as part of the broader coalition, Turkey’s efforts have in the past and continue to be very productive. As well, we continue to support Syrian Democratic Forces, the SDF, as they put pressure on Daesh. So if we’re talking about efforts on that side of the border and in that area that are designed to better speed the defeat of Daesh, then obviously we’re supportive. These clashes that we’re talking about over the last couple of days weren’t coordinated with the United States. We are not providing support to them, and as I said, we’ve urged all parties in this regard to refrain from fighting each other and focus their efforts instead on Daesh. That’s what we want to see happen.

QUESTION: Yeah. Turkey says it seized 10 villages from Kurdish control in Syria. There are reports of multiple casualties. Are the Syrian Kurds on their own now?

MR KIRBY: As I said, we continue to support the SDF, and that support’s going to continue.

QUESTION: Yes, the U.S. had – as you’re saying, the U.S. had supported Kurdish fighters, fought with them, trained them. Is Washington now doing anything or going to do anything to protect them from Erdogan, who openly states that one of his objectives in going into Syria is to go after Kurdish fighters, whom he considers terrorists?

MR KIRBY: The support to the SDF is going to continue as they continue to press the fight against --

QUESTION: Even protection from Erdogan and Turkey?

MR KIRBY: -- as they continue to press the fight against Daesh. I’m not going to speak about military hypotheticals one way or another in terms of rules of engagement. What we want to see is that these clashes between the Turkish forces and SDF forces – we want to see that come to a close because that’s not advancing the overarching goal that everybody should be focused on, which is Daesh.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) to stop Turkey from going after --

MR KIRBY: Again, we’re engaging consistently and regularly with Turkish officials about this situation, as we are with our counterparts in the SDF.


QUESTION: Do you --

QUESTION: Just one --

MR KIRBY: No, I think I’ll go to him, and then to you, Dave.

QUESTION: The Turkish Government from the highest level, including President Erdogan – they have openly supported FSA’s attacks on the YPG. Erdogan has said the YPG should wait for the worst to happen to them, and the YPG and SDF in general are your effective partner. Do you at least condemn Erdogan’s remarks?

MR KIRBY: This – look, this isn’t about condemnation. This is about a genuine concern that we have that the effort against Daesh is not being assisted, not being helped, not being advanced by these clashes between Turkish forces on one hand and Syrian Democratic Forces on the other when all of us agree that Daesh is and needs to be the real enemy to be challenged and to be defeated. Everybody agrees that this is a group that needs to be stopped, including the Turks, and so we’re going to continue to consult with all sides to urge that the focus be put on Daesh and not one another.

QUESTION: So you’re not condemning what the Turks are saying, encouraging FSA to attack the Syrian Democratic Forces?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make a habit of getting up here and responding to every bit of rhetoric, as I said, that comes out of Ankara. I’m just not going to do it. We’ve made our position very clear. The United States has been nothing but consistent about the focus that we want, which is on Daesh in Iraq and in Syria. And as a member of the coalition and as a NATO ally, we obviously want to look for continued cooperation by Turkey toward – to that end. And as I said, we also will support – have supported, will continue to support the SDF in their efforts to go after Daesh. These clashes – and look, I’m not – I don’t want to get into the history of the animosity and why it’s there. I think that’s self-evident. But they’re not doing anything – this energy that’s being applied to one another isn’t doing anything to help us as a coalition team and effort go against Daesh.

QUESTION: While the United States is openly telling the Kurdish forces to go to the east of the Euphrates River, otherwise they will not receive U.S. support. That’s what Joe Biden said in Turkey. On the other hand, you’re not willing to even condemn what the Turks are doing or encouraging – the --

MR KIRBY: I appreciate the effort to rephrase the question in another way. I’m not going to answer it any differently than I have in the past.

QUESTION: Do you get a sense that a separate war is starting within the war in Syria, and that by supporting Turkey’s operations in Syria, the U.S. may be – perhaps unintentionally is supporting the beginning of that separate war within a war?

MR KIRBY: What we’re – okay, so there’s a lot there. What we’re supporting in terms of Turkey intervention in Syria is efforts to go after Daesh and to help preserve that section of the border – not preserve it, but to secure it, that section of the border up near Manbij, that 98 kilometers – against the flow of foreign fighters and terrorist activity, which has long been a problem. We’ve talked about this many, many times here in this room, and we’ve certainly talked about it with our Turkish counterparts, about the importance of securing that stretch of border, and their intervention in Syria was designed at the outset for that purpose.

And so yes, are we supportive of that purpose and that effort? Absolutely we are. As I said, these clashes over the last two days were not coordinated with us, and we aren’t supporting them in any way. And then – I’m sorry, you had another question there. Was – I missed it.

QUESTION: No, do you get a sense that a separate war is beginning within the bigger war in Syria?

MR KIRBY: Oh, thank you for – yeah. Look, I mean, the effort – there’s two primary efforts that everybody – we believe the international community needs to focus on in Syria. One is the fight against Daesh. We’ve talked about that now over the last 10, 15 minutes of the briefing. The other one is, of course, the diplomatic effort to end the civil war. And as the Secretary has said – we were just in Geneva having a day-long meeting with our Russian counterparts about how to advance towards that goal – but as the Secretary has said himself, there are many conflicts that are happening inside Syria. There is the international fight against Daesh. There has been tensions between Turkey and Russia. There have been – obviously, there’s tensions between Turkey and the Kurds. There’s Shia/Sunni tensions. Not every opposition group espouses all the same objectives. And then you have al-Qaida in Syria, represented by al-Nusrah, that continues to pose a significant challenge to our ability to advance a peaceful solution.

So there are many conflicts inside the broader war inside – in Syria. And we’re as focused as much as we can on working our way through that. And again, militarily, we believe the focus has got to be on Daesh. There’s not going to be a military solution to the civil conflict in Syria, but there can be military solutions applied to that terrorist group. And politically, diplomatically, we’re focused on ending the civil war by finding a political solution that advances a transitional government structure.

That unfortunately can’t be advanced until we can get a meaningful cessation of hostilities applied nationwide, we can get better humanitarian access to more Syrians who are in desperate need. That can’t happen until the siege of Aleppo has been lifted. And again, that’s where the Secretary’s focus has been over the last several days.

QUESTION: With the situation being already complicated, as you described, do you think Turkey’s operations are making it even more complicated?

MR KIRBY: As I said earlier, the – these clashes over the last couple of days are not helping us advance the efforts against Daesh. Okay?

QUESTION: But you continue to --

MR KIRBY: Michel.

QUESTION: -- support both sides.

MR KIRBY: Michel.

QUESTION: Is that correct?

QUESTION: Yeah. Most of the headlines in the last two days said that U.S.-backed force in north Syria are fighting each other. Where is the problem here? It looks like the U.S. is backing two parties fighting each other.

MR KIRBY: Michel, the support that we’ve been giving to fighters inside Syria has been in the realm of helping them as they fight Daesh. And so you’re talking about a dynamic here that’s just developed over the last several days. And – but prior to that, were we supporting groups of fighters that were going against Daesh in Syria? Absolutely we were. And we’ve talked about that many, many times. And as I – I think I answered quite a few times here, we were in support of efforts by Turkey to help secure that stretch of the border in Syria. But these clashes that we’ve seen are not helping us as a coalition advance the efforts against Daesh.

QUESTION: And my second question on Syria: After Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov meeting on Friday, is there any update on other meetings that happened during the last 48 or 72 hours between the two parties?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have any – I don’t have any additional updates for you. Those meetings occurred, as you know, all day Friday. I’m not aware that there was any follow-up meetings over the course of the weekend. Our two teams, technical experts are supposed to meet again very soon in Geneva, but I don’t have an update for you.

QUESTION: And on Daraya, the Syrians, or the people of this village have left on Friday. And they’re talking now about al-Waer in Homs, the same scenario will happen in this village. Are you doing anything to prevent the same – the same Daraya scenario?

MR KIRBY: We’re doing everything we can to try to find a political solution to this conflict so that the people of so many Syrians – Syrian towns and villages don’t have to leave their homes, don’t have to abandon their businesses, don’t have to disrupt their lives, and either become victims or refugees. So we’re working very hard on that. Again, the Secretary has been laser-focused on trying to find an end to this civil war to prevent those kinds of conditions for so many millions of Syrians. And look, a big part of that is, in fact, the discussions that we’ve been having with Russia, who is – has been supporting the regime. And that’s why the Secretary was so engaged in Geneva on Friday, and I fully expect you’ll see him continue to stay very, very engaged going forward. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: In the discussions with Russia that have occurred --

MR KIRBY: Who are you?

QUESTION: Trey Yingst with One America News.


QUESTION: Has there been --

MR KIRBY: Just wondering. I’ve never seen you before. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, sure. Yeah. Nice to meet --

MR KIRBY: I’m John Kirby, nice to meet you.

QUESTION: Nice to meet you as well. Have there been increased discussions about the use of chemical weapons in the civil war in Syria? We’ve seen reports this month of napalm-like substances and chlorine being used that have been --


QUESTION: -- supported by the Assad regime and the Russians. What sort of conversations have taken place with --

MR KIRBY: We have raised our concerns about the use of chemical material as weapons with Russia routinely, even since we got the vast majority of chemical materials out of the country. We recognize and we know, and I think last week you probably saw OPCW issued a report that confirmed what we’ve been long saying – that we believe that, at least in the case of chlorine, an industrial agent that has peaceful purposes, the regime has used as a weapon of war, which is obviously a violation.

And we’ve been very clear in our conversations with our Russian counterparts about how unacceptable that is and have urged them to use the influence that we know they have on Assad to get those kinds of attacks to cease. Sadly, that hasn’t happened. Now why? I couldn’t tell you that, but we – nothing has changed about our deep concern about this and nothing is going to change about our deep concern or our efforts to try to get it to stop.

More critically – and I’m not saying – I’m not at all diminishing the terrible effect that these chemicals can have on people, obviously. But more critically, we’ve got to get a cessation of hostilities in place around the country so that the Assad regime can’t fly those kinds of missions against innocent civilians and drop barrels of chlorine on their own people, but it’s – it goes even beyond that. We want to see all attacks by the regime on the innocent people of Syria and, frankly, on groups that are party to the cessation of hostilities to stop. Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.



MR KIRBY: Iraq. Stunned. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. Today a high-level KRG delegation, led by the Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, visited Baghdad and met with the Iraqi prime minister.


QUESTION: What is the U.S. view on this? And did the U.S. play any role in trying to solve the problems between Erbil and Baghdad?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re in routine discussions, as you know, with the leaders from both Erbil and Baghdad. The Secretary was in Iraq not long ago. He met with leaders from both sides, as you have rightly asked me about in the past. Certainly, Brett McGurk, whenever he’s in the region, makes it a point to talk to both sides.

We strongly encourage dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad to try to work out these internal Iraqi issues, and so we’re aware of this particular meeting and we’re very supportive of them having that kind of a discussion and that kind of conversation to try to work this out between them. Did we set it up? No. Are we supportive of the fact that they did meet? Absolutely, we are.

QUESTION: Did you get any advance notice about it? Did they tell you they were going to have this meeting?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware. We can take that question for you and see if our embassy had any advance knowledge of it. I’m not aware that we did. But look, I mean, frankly, I’m not so sure that that’s all that important anyway. This – these issues are Iraqi issues. And sometimes I think we forget, because American forces were in Iraq for so long, that Iraq is a sovereign country and they should be working these issues out between them, themselves. And so, again, we – we’re pleased that this discussion happened. We’d like to see more and more of these kinds of conversations happening to try to resolve some of these differences, and we’re supportive of that. Whether we knew about it or not, again, I don’t know. Again, I also – not really sure how critically important that is that we did.

QUESTION: The prime minister met the ambassador as well – U.S. ambassador. Do you have a readout of his meeting?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I don’t.

QUESTION: On the Syrian refugees, the White House has announced today that he fulfilled his promise on bringing 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. --


QUESTION: -- by this afternoon. Does that mean that in the months that it rests in the – before the end of the fiscal year, will you be able --

MR KIRBY: We got one month before the end of the fiscal year, my friend.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know.


QUESTION: That’s what I’m saying.

MR KIRBY: You said “the months.” I think there’s one.

QUESTION: One month.


QUESTION: Are you able to bring more Syrian refugees to --

MR KIRBY: I suspect you’ll see what we think will be a continuation of the pace that we have set thus far. So I would fully anticipate that we will exceed – I mean, you’re right. We met the – we will meet the 10,000 figure today, and I would fully expect that you’ll see additional Syrian refugees admitted into the United States between now and the end of the fiscal year. How many I couldn’t predict, but it will be roughly on the same pace that we have achieved over the course of the late spring and summer, which has been about 2,000 per month. But again, I couldn’t give you an exact figure.

QUESTION: And when is the decision made on whether to continue that pace until the end of the Administration? Is that like a new – does the same pace remain in place until there’s a presidential decree?

MR KIRBY: Well, the President has set – he’s already set a goal of 85,000 total by the end of this fiscal year. We believe that we’re going to be on track to meet that. He has set a goal for Fiscal Year ’17 of 100,000 total, but he has not set a specific goal for next fiscal year of Syrian-specific refugees, and I certainly wouldn’t get ahead of any decisions he may or may not be making. But we --

QUESTION: But does he have to make a decision on that, or is it – does the current pace stay if no other order is made?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, our – the charge has been to bring in 10,000 in this fiscal year. We’re going to do that. As part of the larger effort to bring in 100,000 – the goal of 100,000 in Fiscal Year ’17, I think you can reasonably assume that some Syrians will be part of that, but I’m not – actually, I’m not – it’s not that I’m not aware. I know the President hasn’t made a decision about exactly how many Syrians will make up that 100,000. But I think, if I understand your question correctly, post October 1st --

QUESTION: Well, because I know that he makes a ruling once a year --

MR KIRBY: -- do you – do we anticipate bringing in additional Syrians? I think yes, as a part of the 100,000 goal that the Secretary – I’m sorry, that the President set for Fiscal Year ’17. I just couldn’t tell you what – whether there’ll be a goal specifically set for that. That’s really a decision for the President to make, and I certainly wouldn’t get ahead of that.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. Government proud of its record in resettling Syrian refugees in the United States since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011?

MR KIRBY: I think the short answer to that question is yes, absolutely. But I’m not sure in what way you’re sort of referring to that effort.

QUESTION: Well, it’s – the numbers taken in, and I don’t remember them now – I know I had them at one point – but were quite low for a long time.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And the --

MR KIRBY: You mean in terms of getting to the 10,000.

QUESTION: In terms of – well, in terms of just bringing Syrian refugees in, period.


QUESTION: And I’m quite cognizant of the effort reached a month early now to bring in the 10,000, but there were a number of years where the U.S. was not resettling a whole lot of Syrian refugees despite the numbers of refugees that have gone to other countries. Obviously, neighboring countries is where they logically go.

MR KIRBY: It’s a little different situation there in Europe.

QUESTION: No, I know. I know. But – and I’m just wondering how, looking back over the last five years, the U.S. Government feels it’s done in terms of addressing this problem.

MR KIRBY: So it’s a great question, Arshad. I – absolutely, we’re proud of the efforts that we have – that we have expended towards the resettlement issue, particularly with Syrian refugees. And we’ve been able to do this while preserving a very stringent, strict vetting process. In fact, as I said before many times, the Syrian refugees are vetted more stringently than any other refugee to the United States.

Just as critically – and this is a really important point – resettlement is one option, but it is not the ideal option. It’s not the best option. And we focused our efforts on these 10,000 on the most vulnerable, the ones who are in most need of refuge. And again, the President set a pretty high bar with the 10,000, and again, we’re proud that we brought them in. But we’re equally as dedicated to our efforts to end the civil war in Syria so that people don’t have to flee, so that when this over they’ll have a home to go back to, whether it’s returning to Syria from the United States or from any other country that they’ve sought refuge in. That’s the goal here, because many of these people want to do that. They want to be able to pick up their lives. They just can’t right now.

Secondly, we remain the single largest donor to humanitarian assistance for refugees specifically in the region. And it wasn’t long ago that the Secretary announced even more funds for that effort. So we are – and part of the reason that’s important is because it’s designed to help care for them close to home so that, again, the expectation is that when you can find a peaceful end to the war in Syria, they can go home.

Okay. Thanks, everybody. Look, we’ve got one more. Go ahead.

QUESTION: All right, real quickly. On Russia and Iran, there are reports that Iran has deployed the S-300 advanced missile batteries outside the Fordow nuclear plant. I was just curious if you were aware of that and had any comment. And did the topic of these advanced weapons sales from Russia to Iran come up in the Secretary’s discussions with the foreign minister last week?

MR KIRBY: The focus on the meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov and his team yesterday was obviously on Syria. They did discuss other issues in the Middle East – Libya, Yemen. They certainly --

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I was going to get there. Thanks. (Laughter.) Obviously, they discussed Ukraine. I’m not aware that this particular issue came up on Friday. That said, it is an issue that the Secretary has been very clear with Foreign Minister Lavrov about in the past on numerous occasions that we’re concerned about the provision of sale to Iran of sophisticated defense capabilities such as this S-300.

Now, we’ve seen the reports of this deployment. Obviously, that’s of concern to us because we have long objected to the sale of Iran – of these kinds of capabilities. So as we get more information, obviously, we’re going to stay in close consultation with partners going forward.

Okay --

QUESTION: May I ask one refugee follow-up?


QUESTION: So I’ve just checked the statistics, and unless I’ve got them wrong, which maybe I do, in FY13 the U.S. Government admitted 36 Syrian refugees; in FY14 it admitted just over 100; and in FY15 it admitted 1,682. And then obviously for FY – for the current fiscal year it’s going to be a big jump. I just want to make sure that you’re proud of that record.

MR KIRBY: We’re proud of the efforts that we have undertaken to try to bring an end to the war in Syria so that there doesn’t have to be refugees. The President noted himself when he set the 10,000 goal that, obviously, we can’t slam the door in the face of these desperate people. I wasn’t suggesting that in any of the given years that we couldn’t do more; and, in fact, we realized we could do more, which is why the President set that goal and why we met it, as you noted yourself, a full month early. And I fully expect we’ll exceed that goal before October 1st.

But what we remain dedicated to, and I believe the Secretary is proud of, is the larger, more comprehensive effort that the American people and this government has expended on trying to end the war in Syria, trying to degrade and defeat ISIL in Syria, and trying to provide the kind of humanitarian assistance – more than any other country – that can provide for the basic needs of those refugees who are in the region, who are very vulnerable because they’re still in the region but also close to home in the hope that they’ll have a home to go back to where they can live safely and securely.

Okay? Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:47 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Thu, 08/25/2016 - 16:12

Elizabeth Trudeau
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 25, 2016

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2:02 p.m. EDT

MS TRUDEAU: Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to the last briefing of the week.

Secretary Kerry met with King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the foreign ministers of the GCC, Minister Ellwood from the UK, and the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed in Jeddah to discuss a way forward to restart peace talks in Yemen with the goal of forming a unity government.

During his visit, Secretary Kerry announced nearly $189 million in additional humanitarian assistance in response to the crisis in Yemen, bringing the total U.S. humanitarian assistance for Yemen to more than $237 million in Fiscal Year 2016. This contribution will help meet urgent humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable people in one of the Middle East’s poorest and most food-insecure countries, as well as Yemeni refugees in neighboring countries.

As you’ve seen in the remarks that we just released on the transcript, Secretary Kerry emphasized that the bloodshed has gone on for far too long and needs to stop. We need to return as quickly as possible to a ceasefire that can lead to a permanent end of this conflict.

Next, I’d like to welcome a group of 15 Afghan diplomats who are joining us today in today’s daily press brief. We do extend our deepest condolences to them and the family and friends of those who were injured in yesterday’s attack on the American University of Afghanistan. I think you’ve seen the Secretary’s statement, which he also just released. We are committed to continuing our work to help the people of Afghanistan build a more peaceful, stable, and prosperous future, which our visitors today represent.

This program – for the room – provides entry-level Afghan diplomats with diplomatic statecraft training in the United States and in China. Yesterday, Under Secretary Shannon welcomed and congratulated these special guests on being selected for the program, which highlights the continued U.S. commitment to build a more peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan. We’d also like to thank and recognize the Chinese Government for its partnership in sponsoring this program. Welcome to the briefing.

And with that, Matt.

QUESTION: Really? The Chinese sponsored the program?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. It’s actually – it’s a partnership that we have had with the Chinese for quite some years working with the diplomatic corps of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, sounds interesting. Can we just start with a brief update on American citizens in three places --


QUESTION: -- Afghanistan in the wake of the attack, Italy, and Burma after the quakes? Can you give us a brief update on any of them?

MS TRUDEAU: Sure. I would say first for Italy as well as Burma, we continue to account for all U.S. citizens in those areas. We do ask U.S. citizens who may have been impacted to check in with family and friends on social media. We are pleased to say in Afghanistan that we have accounted for all U.S. citizens who are at the university, and we have no reports of any U.S. citizens killed or seriously injured in that attack.

QUESTION: Okay. And have either the Italians or the Burmese taken you up on your offer of assistance?

MS TRUDEAU: I have nothing to read out on that. We have extended our help. We stand ready to support.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. And then I was going to move on unless someone --

QUESTION: Well, let’s do one more on the American citizens.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: I think you will by now have seen the report that American Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte is going to be summoned to return to Brazil to give testimony. This is different from an extradition request, but – and so I’m hoping you can actually perhaps comment on it, whether this has been raised to the State Department, whether there are any kind of diplomatic issues in the Brazilians seeking his return to offer testimony.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So we’ve seen those reports as well. Due to privacy considerations, I don’t have information to offer. I would say, speaking broadly, we do encourage U.S. citizens, as always, to cooperate with law enforcement.


QUESTION: Do privacy considerations apply even for public figures, people who are clearly in the public domain already?

MS TRUDEAU: Privacy considerations apply to every U.S. citizen.


MS TRUDEAU: Except me, because I’m standing up here right now. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay, Iran.

MS TRUDEAU: Yes, Matt.

QUESTION: A couple. One, in the Secretary’s comments in Jeddah that you just referred to, he said the following – it’s just two sentences, I’ll read: “We were deeply troubled by the photographs which were shown to me early on by His Royal Highness Mohammed bin Nayef showing missiles that had come from Iran that were positioned on the Saudi border.” This is obviously the Saudi border with Yemen.

How early on were you guys shown that the Iranians were supplying the Houthis with missiles?

MS TRUDEAU: So I don’t have a specific date to read out on that. What I would say is what we’ve said many times from this, which the Secretary points out, is we’re certainly not blind to Iran’s activities – destabilizing, unhelpful activities in the region. In terms of a specific date, let me see if I can get that for you.