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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 23, 2016

Mon, 05/23/2016 - 16:21

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 23, 2016

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:49 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hello, sorry to be a little late. Happy Monday to everyone. That’s an oxymoron.

QUESTION: That was a long --

MR TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: Long two minutes.

MR TONER: I said – I came out and owned it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: But good to see you, Arshad. Some new faces here from Bloomberg; is that correct? Welcome.

Well, welcome to the State Department, everybody. And also we have some interns. Is that what we have in the back? Great, welcome to the State Department. Just a couple of things briefly at the top.

First of all, the United States extends its deepest condolences to the people of South Asia, who are still recovering from the significant flooding and landslides caused by Cyclone Roanu. Our hearts go out to the victims and families of this natural disaster, and we applaud those assisting recovery and relief for the victims.

The United States Government is in touch with local and regional disaster relief services, local militaries, and international aid partners to coordinate the donation of most urgently needed items, and we’re going to continue to work with our partners in the region to help strengthen local disaster preparedness and mitigation capacities.

Switching to Somalia, the United States fully supports Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s May 21st presidential decree on the 2016 Somali electoral process. This decree implements the April 12th electoral model that was unanimously endorsed by the speaker of parliament, the president, the prime minister, and the participants of the national leadership forum after months of consultations. This decree does set in motion technical preparations that will enable a timely political transition this year in line with the constitutional mandates and timeframes for the legislator – the legislature and the executive.

The United States urges all Somalis to unite and work together to implement the presidential decree. We stand ready to help facilitate implementation of a transparent electoral process without further delay.

And lastly, I wanted to just mention something we call the Consular Fellows Program. And this being May, college graduation season is upon us, and new graduates may want to check out a special public service opportunity at the Department of State. It’s called our Consular Fellows Program. The Consular Fellows Program offers candidates a unique opportunity to serve their country for up to five years, utilize their foreign language skills, and develop valuable skills and experience. They will gain exposure to the world of diplomacy, serve U.S. citizens abroad, and foster U.S. border security and international travel and exchanges. Foreign Service Consular Fellows serve at our U.S. embassies and consulates overseas and work side by side with career diplomats and other members of our missions. Benefits include salary, housing, educational allowances for eligible family members, and also they also qualify for recruitment incentive and may qualify for a student loan program – repayment program.

That’s it. I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Can we go to one thing you didn’t discuss, which is Syria?

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: And the statement that you’ve just put out?

MR TONER: Sure thing.

QUESTION: What makes you – you say that the Secretary urged Foreign Minister Lavrov in a phone call today to put pressure on the Syrian Government to cease its offensive attacks on civilians. What makes you think they’re – that the Russians are (a) actually going to do that today, and (b) that it would actually have any effect on the Syrians if they did?

MR TONER: Well, it’s a fair question, Arshad. Also, as you noted, we’ve seen a deterioration over this weekend, and as we mentioned in our statement, given the Assad regime’s attempt to seize territory in the besieged Damascus suburb of Darayya. As we came out of the ISSG last week, Russia was there, obviously, and signed onto what was among all the members of the ISSG a reaffirmation and agreement to strengthen and put in place the cessation of hostilities.

And by doing that – and we’ve talked about this a lot – and all of this, what happens in – happened in Vienna last week was only words on paper, but where the rubber hits the road is their ability to influence the parties on the ground. It’s incumbent on us and others, parts of the ISSG, to put that pressure on the opposition forces. But it’s incumbent on Russia and to a certain extent Iran to put that pressure on the regime, and we haven’t seen it. And we’re very concerned that we’ve, frankly, if anything, seen an uptick in violence over the weekend, and we’re fully aware of the fragility of the cessation of hostilities. And frankly, we’re working and engaging with Russia to try to reinforce it and try to put it back in place.

QUESTION: But what makes you think – since you said that we haven’t seen it, and clearly, when you say we haven’t seen “it,” you’re referring to Russian pressure on the Syrian Government, correct?

MR TONER: Or, rather – or –I mean, there’s two parts to that. There’s (a) whether Russia is applying the kind of pressure necessary and (b) whether the regime is even listening.

QUESTION: Are they applying pressure, to your knowledge?

MR TONER: They have conveyed that they are. And again, I don’t want to speak for – on behalf of the Russian Government. That’s for them to speak to. But again, they were in Vienna last week. They took part in the ISSG. They even took part – Foreign Minister Lavrov – in a joint press avail with Secretary Kerry. In all of that they expressed their commitment to implementing this.

QUESTION: Well, I saw that, and I read the transcripts and so on. But what I don’t understand is you can’t say yes they’re applying pressure. You say they say that they have. Why do you think that they are likely to apply pressure now in response to your call and the Secretary’s literal phone call? What makes you think they’re going to do that?

MR TONER: I’m sorry, what makes us think today’s any different is what you’re saying?

QUESTION: Yes, right.

MR TONER: Or why they’ll change their pattern? Look, I think what we’re seeing on the ground – and I am hesitant to wade too much into operational details, but clearly what we’re seeing is an attempt by the Assad regime to gain tactical advantage. That they’re doing it with airstrikes, that they’re attacking civilians in the process is, frankly, barbaric, but we believe that that’s what they’re doing.

And so what we’re looking to is to see whether Russia is able to, again, provide the necessary pressure, influence, whatever you want to say or however you want to call it, in order to get them to reconsider the fact that, if this keeps up, we may be looking at a complete breakdown of the cessation. And I think all sides will agree that the cessation of hostilities did bring about a credible reduction in the level of violence, allowed humanitarian assistance to get into all besieged areas – or not all besieged areas, some besieged areas; let me rephrase that – and frankly, as we’ve said many times, sets the kind of environment we need in order for negotiations to begin again in Geneva.

QUESTION: Just one last one from me on this.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: You said, “If this keeps up, we may be looking at a complete breakdown of the cessation” of hostilities. When you say “this,” you’re referring specifically to --

MR TONER: Continued attacks and violations by the Assad regime of the ceasefire, or the cessation.

QUESTION: Mark?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: The Russian readout said that you guys discussed joint operations. Is that true?

MR TONER: Kirby spoke to this. There are no – we’re not talking about --

QUESTION: This happened today, so Kirby did not speak to it.

MR TONER: No, no, I understand that. But he spoke about – what he spoke about was joint operations and the fact we’re not looking at joint operations. What we’re looking at – I mean there’s no agreement, and that’s what the Russians had said previously and what they – what their readout also stressed today, to conduct joint airstrikes with the Russians.

QUESTION: Did you – so did you discuss joint operation – did the Secretary discuss --

MR TONER: What we’re discussing them is – are proposals for sustainable mechanisms to better monitor, enforce the cessation of hostilities. We’re not talking about joint operations.

QUESTION: The Russian statement also said you spoke about the ways that the United States would exert pressure on rebel groups to separate themselves from Nusrah. Is that correct?

MR TONER: Yes. I mean, I don’t – honestly, I’m fairly aware that that came up in the call today – I’m fairly certain, rather, not aware. But that’s been an ongoing commitment of ours. I mean, we’ve talked about that a lot, is that it’s incumbent on us to exert that kind of influence on the opposition groups on the ground to – not to affiliate themselves with – and we’ve talked a lot about the intermingling or however you want to talk about it on the ground.

QUESTION: Why haven’t you been able to stop that?

MR TONER: It’s a challenge. And that’s one of the reasons, coming out of the ISSG, the language in the communique talked about the facts that – the fact that if certain opposition groups continue to take part in repeated violations or affiliate themselves with groups that continually violate the cessation of hostilities, then they run the risk of being excluded from the protection provided by that.

QUESTION: Would you say that Nusrah is more embedded with other opposition groups at this point than at any other point in the civil war?

MR TONER: Boy, I just don’t want to make that – I can’t --

QUESTION: Can you name any time at all where you thought, ooh, it’s even worse than it is now?

MR TONER: I’ll just say that certainly in and around Aleppo especially – and we’ve talked about this – is that there is a certain amount of overlap, commingling, whatever the heck you want to call it, among these groups; and it’s incumbent on them and absolutely vital that they separate themselves so that we can clearly delineate where Nusrah is and where the credible opposition is.

QUESTION: Do you think as long as they’re commingled Russia should not and Syria as well should not strike at Nusrah because they should get a free pass or something because they’re mixed in with others?

MR TONER: Well, this is part of the ongoing debate. They continue to carry out these strikes and we continue to say you’re hitting opposition forces.

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: I would say it’s a --

QUESTION: But it sounds like you’re admitting as well that you’re failing. That’s partly your problem because you haven’t been able to separate them.

MR TONER: I would say it’s our challenge, and we recognize it’s a challenge that – and we’re working to meet and address that challenge.

QUESTION: But how do you --

QUESTION: Mark.

QUESTION: How do you effectively combat Nusrah, which is a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- if you’re saying not to strike them when they mingle with other groups that are involved in the violence?

MR TONER: So a couple of thoughts on that. One of the things or one point is to – what we’ve seen over the weekend is deliberate attacks in and around Damascus and elsewhere that were targeting, we believe, the opposition as well as civilian populations. And that’s another thing: we recognize that as vile as Nusrah is and as much as they should be targeted legitimately by Russia, by everyone, and they do represent a terrorist organization, we do have to be mindful of civilian populations, we do have to be mindful of – frankly, of overlap. But again, it is our challenge and I accept that.

QUESTION: I’m not asking about the hospital strikes, I’m asking about when --

MR TONER: Yeah, you’re talking about the comingling, yes, or whatever.

QUESTION: Yes. I’m talking about various militant groups.

MR TONER: I mean, again, ultimately it’s going to be incumbent on these groups to separate themselves from Nusrah. All we can do is deliver that message.

QUESTION: Mark.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: I just want to – I haven’t heard you mention anything about the attack in Tartus and Latakia today. I mean, like, maybe 200 people were killed during --

MR TONER: I apologize. I apologize. That was in the statement. So we released – I released a statement just before coming here and I’m happy to --

QUESTION: If you could from the podium.

MR TONER: I’m happy to condemn it from the podium as well. We do strongly --

QUESTION: Okay. Do you think, in your opinion, that ought to give the regime forces and the Syrian army sort of the leverage to strike back at these – at the sources of this terrorism?

MR TONER: Well, again, the --

QUESTION: Shouldn’t that be the case in any – like, in any other country in the world?

MR TONER: Well, again, Said, so we did obviously strongly condemn Daesh’s horrific attacks today in the towns of Tartus, as you noted, and Jabla, which are in the northwest province of Latakia, and I think some 60 civilians were killed in these attacks, multiple bombings that have targeted bus stations and included a hospital. We’re obviously going to continue efforts to destroy Daesh in the region. We understand that Daesh represents a threat that is palpable to all in Syria and in Iraq. And it – I think what it highlights, frankly, Said, is the need – urgent need to get a political process moving forward that can resolve the civil war in Syria so that all parties can turn their attention to Daesh and destroying Daesh.

QUESTION: Yeah, but that is related to the point that Brad was raising. I mean, this sort of intermingling and giving a pause, so to speak, and being targeted and being struck by forces, be it Syrian or Russian and so on, gives them a great deal of latitude to commit to that kind of – I mean, to move around and be able to have access to towns and villages and so on under regime control and to strike such as this. So why not, in this case, should not let’s say be – should not the Syrian regime have that ability to strike and continue striking these groups --

MR TONER: So a couple of thoughts on that --

QUESTION: -- with intermingling notwithstanding?

MR TONER: Sure, couple of thoughts on that. One is, we have been working hard, and we’ve talked about the fact that we beefed up our operation in Geneva in order to provide around-the-clock monitoring of the cessation of hostilities and really look at working with Russia, working with other members of the ISSG but primarily Russia, in trying to delineate who is where. That process continues. We get that it’s a hard process to do. It’s hard to map these out – which group is where in Aleppo. Again, that’s primarily our challenge and other members of the ISSG’s challenge to address that. It’s also incumbent on the – for the groups on the ground to also disassociate themselves with Nusrah. We get that. But again, what we’ve seen repeatedly by the regime are attacks on supply lines, on other tactical pieces or parts of the opposition, tactical strikes to gain the advantage, strategic advantage on the ground not necessarily aimed at Nusrah.

QUESTION: And my last question on this issue.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Should there be, like, a deadline for these groups to separate themselves from Nusrah or ISIS?

MR TONER: Well, we’ve talked about that and that was one of the things in the ISSG’s communique is that – well, there was no deadline, but what we talked about was if groups are repeatedly violating the cessation of hostilities, then basically they are selecting themselves to no longer be a part of that.

Please, Pam.

QUESTION: On that subject.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: On that very subject.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: McClatchy wrote that the group’s – Ahrar al-Sham group’s foreign affairs director, Labib al Nahhas, was allowed into the United States for a brief visit six months ago. The outlet cites four people with direct knowledge of his visit to Washington, D.C. Were U.S. officials aware of this visit?

MR TONER: I’m not sure that we were aware of it. I don’t believe he had any meetings here, certainly, but – and I can’t speak to visa records. It’s a privacy consideration, so I don’t have much detail I can share with you regarding whether he received a visa to come here. But I can look into it. I just don’t have any more detail to --

QUESTION: But one of the leaders of a group with known ties to al-Qaida comes to the United States and you can’t say anything about it?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have the details in front of me. I just don’t have – if I get more information, I’ll share it with you.

QUESTION: Just a few more about this group. Does the U.S. apply pressure on Ahrar al-Sham to adhere to cessation of hostilities?

MR TONER: Do we what? I’m sorry, I --

QUESTION: Apply pressure to this group, Ahrar al-Sham, to adhere to the cessation of hostilities?

MR TONER: We apply pressure on all members of the credible, vetted opposition, and that’s part of the HNC group that was --

QUESTION: Do you consider Ahrar al-Sham a vetted opposition group?

MR TONER: Again, we consider – well, we apply pressure on all members of the HNC to adhere to the cessation of hostilities that exists right now. Whether they do or not, that’s self-selecting.

QUESTION: But what do you think about this particular group?

MR TONER: I – I don’t have any information to share with you about – what are you looking for exactly?

QUESTION: Well, to what extent they care about the cessation of hostilities? Two weeks ago, when they attacked an Alawite village of al-Zahraa, a photo emerged in social media that showed militants from this group standing above – actually stepping on – corpses of several women. The group later said that the women were killed in combat, but they were attacked in their homes. And I wonder, to – do you think this group cares much about the cessation of hostilities?

MR TONER: I don’t know about that particular incident. I can look into it. What I would say, again, is we support those members of the HNC who have been vetted by the Saudis in large part, who are part of the negotiating a political process, and we’ve also said very clearly who we believe to be part of or be terrorist organizations, which is Daesh and al-Nusrah and a couple of others that have been identified by the UN.

QUESTION: Mark?

MR TONER: Please, yeah.

QUESTION: Just on a slightly different topic --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- in Syria. After the CENTCOM commander’s visit to Syria, there are – there’s a lot of reporting and commentary that Raqqa could be the priority of the United States, not Mosul, for now. So my question is: On principle, does the United States believe that Kurdish forces are a credible partner to retake Raqqa?

MR TONER: Again, I just would say, first of all, I don’t have a priority list in front of me. I mean, this is in part – you saw that there’s – they’ve begun an offensive today, the Iraqi Government announced, to retake Fallujah. Obviously, Mosul is also a priority as well. I think we have every confidence in the Kurdish forces’ ability to be an effective partner in the battlefield and to be able to defeat ISIL forces. They’ve been – they’ve proven that time and again as a part of the Iraqi military and under Iraqi Government command and control.

QUESTION: In Syria, the Kurdish force in Syria – do you depend on them – to what degree, would you depend on them to retake the predominantly Arab city of Raqqa?

MR TONER: Well, with regard to the Kurdish forces in northern Syria, we’ve worked with a variety of groups and we’ve talked a lot about the YPG and the other – and the Kurdish forces on the ground, and they’ve been effective partners in going after and, frankly, dislodging Daesh from many parts of northern Syria. That cooperation continues. It’s also – we provide the same assistance to other groups, Syrian Turkmen and Syrian Arabs who are also on the ground fighting Daesh in parts of northern Syria.

QUESTION: Even if that alienates Turkey, your major ally in the region? Because all assessment says or points to these groups --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- to be able to attack Raqqa rather than go ahead and start the process all over again, which would take years to --

MR TONER: So – yeah. So we’ve talked about this a lot. We obviously are in close dialogue with Turkey. We understand their concerns regarding Kurdish forces in northern Syria. And we’ve also made it clear to these Kurdish forces as well that they should not seek to create autonomous, semi-autonomous zones, that they should not seek to retain the territory that they liberate, rather that they should make sure it’s returned to whatever civilian authorities there are and able to – so that all displaced people can return there. This is – but we also recognize the fact that these are effective fighting forces and that they are willing to take on and dislodge Daesh.

QUESTION: But while you’re saying that you don’t recognize their autonomy, one could say in practice you kind of have recognized it. For example, Brett McGurk has visited Kobani and met with the leaders of those autonomous government – that autonomous government for the Kurds. And now we have the CENTCOM commander also visiting Kobani and other Kurdish cities meeting with the leaders of that autonomous government. Isn’t that in practice a recognition of that government?

MR TONER: I don’t believe so. I mean, it’s a recognition that we want to cooperate with these forces and see, obviously, through close contact that we can get an assessment – their assessment for a first hand of what their needs are and what their challenges are on the ground. I think it’s part of our ongoing cooperation, but it’s not to imply any kind of recognition of their sovereignty or whatever.

Please, Pam.

QUESTION: I have a couple on different issues.

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: First, Vietnam.

MR TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: Concerning the U.S. arms agreement with Vietnam, is there State Department concern that this new agreement could essentially end up straining U.S. relations with China, especially considering the tensions surrounding the South China Sea.

MR TONER: No, I – look, the President addressed this today in Vietnam. It was not based on any kind of effort to apply pressure on China or to send a message to China. It was simply based on our desire to normalize relations with Vietnam and, frankly, a reflection of our changing and evolving relationship with Vietnam.

QUESTION: I know it wasn’t directed at China, but is there concern that as a consequence of this there could be strained relations with China?

MR TONER: I think so. And look, we support close relations between China and Vietnam and all of its neighbors, frankly. I mean, this isn’t about trying to apply, as I said – or send a message – apply pressure on China. This is about deepening our overall relationship with Vietnam and certainly our security relationship with Vietnam.

QUESTION: You said “I think so,” or “I don’t think so?”

MR TONER: I can’t remember what I – (laughter) – sorry.

QUESTION: You said “I think so.”

QUESTION: I think you said “I think so,” but then your answer seemed to say the opposite, so --

MR TONER: I apologize if I – I’m not sure what I said. I – what I was – I think I said what – “I don’t think so.” (Laughter.) I’ll have to go back and look at the transcript.

QUESTION: But bottom line is to just clarify --

MR TONER: Anyway, my bottom line is --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: -- that it’s not meant to send any kind of message to China. It’s not meant to do anything towards China at all. It’s simply to deepen our relationship bilaterally with Vietnam.

Thanks.

QUESTION: Can I ask you --

MR TONER: One more – yeah, and then we’ll --

QUESTION: Yes. On a different topic, on South Sudan.

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: President Bashir, of course, has applied for a U.S. visa to attend the UN General Assembly. Where is State on his visa request? Are you considering it? Is it something that has a possibility of being granted, first of all?

MR TONER: Well, this is something we – this is kind of an annual rite of passage where he puts out this announcement that he’s going to apply or is about to apply for a visa to attend the UN General Assembly in September. The United Nations, as we all know, does extend an invitation to heads of state and government annually. I’d refer you to them for more details about who they send to.

Obviously, there’s a number of considerations at play when we look at these kinds of requests, and we’re going to act consistently with our relevant legal obligations. We can’t talk about the details of any individual visa cases, as you know. But we strongly support – even though we’re not members of – party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, we do strongly support its efforts to hold those accountable – excuse me, hold accountable those responsible for war crimes, especially crimes against humanity in – and genocide in Darfur.

So we’ve seen this happen before, this threat or this gesture, that he’s going to apply for a visa. We’ll look at it, obviously, and address it within our legal obligations.

QUESTION: Is there – you can’t talk about individual requests, but is there any reason to believe that the outcome will be any different this time around?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’ve never – he’s never actually attempted to arrive in – as far as I know, in New York. I think we’re just going to – we’re going to take it one step at a time. We do believe he should be held accountable for his crimes, though.

QUESTION: If he did --

QUESTION: Can I ask you one more on a related --

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

QUESTION: No, please. No, go ahead.

MR TONER: Thanks.

QUESTION: A related issue and --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: If the – if --

QUESTION: Well, if he --

QUESTION: If he did – if he did actually go through with it, would you grant him --

QUESTION: No. Well, my question was different. My question was --

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: If he arrived in New York, would you feel obliged to arrest him --

QUESTION: Arrest him --

QUESTION: -- even though you are not signatories to the Rome Statute?

QUESTION: I was getting there.

MR TONER: So there are – (laughter). So there are --

QUESTION: You started the line of questioning.

MR TONER: There are also – how do I put it? There’s also legal obligations that we take on as host country to --

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: -- the United Nations. I’ll just say we’ll look at a variety of considerations and act consistently with our obligations – our legal obligations. I don’t want to --

QUESTION: They really tied you – they really didn’t give you much on this one, did they? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: I don’t want to – well, Arshad, look, I mean, this is – look, I mean, this is what it is. I mean, it’s like every year we face this and we face this with a variety of bad actors around the world, not just Bashir. Again, we’ll do what we have to do if he actually follows through.

QUESTION: But this case is slightly – you’ve had other state sponsors, the heads of government, State Sponsors of Terrorism.

MR TONER: Right. This – I understand that.

QUESTION: Isn’t the United States --

MR TONER: I understand the distinction.

QUESTION: In this, you have a difference because of the charges of crimes against humanity --

MR TONER: I understand the distinction. No, I understand the distinction. Look, we take our – this is – this is a complex legal situation because we do, as I said, have certain obligations, responsibilities, as a host country to United Nations. So watch this space.

QUESTION: Can I ask --

QUESTION: Sorry.

QUESTION: -- one more on the same topic? There are also reports that Bashir has been deliberately starving people in the Nuba Mountains region, possibly as a tactic to suppress the insurgency in that region against him. First of all, is the U.S. aware of this, and then if so, what is the U.S. response?

MR TONER: Pam, we may very well be aware of it. I’m not aware of it, so let me try to get more information about that and get back to you, okay?

Lalit.

QUESTION: On the attack – airstrike on the Taliban leader --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- has Pakistan officially responded or protested to the U.S. on the strike?

MR TONER: Has – I’m sorry, I missed your last part of your question.

QUESTION: Has Pakistan officially responded or protested against this strike – against this strike on the Taliban leader inside Pakistan?

MR TONER: Right. Well, again, I’d refer you to the Pakistani Government to tell – to say whether they responded or not. I don’t have any readout to provide or anything like that.

QUESTION: Pakistan says that by doing so, U.S. has violated Pakistan’s sovereignty and also has violated the respected UN Charter.

MR TONER: So a couple things about that. First of all, this was a strike directed against this individual, Mansour, in the Afghan-Pakistan border region. We certainly do respect Pakistan’s territorial integrity, but as we’ve said before, we will carry out strikes to remove terrorists who are actively pursuing and planning and directing attacks against U.S. forces.

QUESTION: One question that falls from that, if I may.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Sure.

QUESTION: Was that the motive of this attack or did it perhaps also have a political motive to try to influence the lack of peace talks?

MR TONER: Well, I think – I mean, that’s – it can be – there can be multiple reasons for it, but I think the primary, and the President spoke to this earlier today when he confirmed the success of this strike, that this is about removing someone who was actively pursuing, planning, carrying out attacks against U.S. and Afghan forces in the region.

QUESTION: And then one other one.

MR TONER: But also – I’m sorry, just to finish – it also sends a clear message that those who target our people and the Afghan people are not going to be given a safe haven, and then also that it – that there’s only one option for the Taliban, and that is a – to pursue a peaceful resolution to the conflict. So, sorry.

QUESTION: No, no. There are reports that – that – and they’re not definitive as far as I can see, but that a passport was found near his body but in someone else’s name, and that that passport had been used to travel into Iran. Do you know if Mullah Mansour traveled to Iran, and if so, do you have any idea why?

MR TONER: I don’t. I’ve seen those reports, but no further clarification, no further information, about that.

QUESTION: Mark, can --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: One more. You said that – when he mentioned Pakistan’s complaints about violation of sovereignty, you said it happened in the Af-Pak border region.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Are you denying that it happened on Pakistani territory?

MR TONER: I don’t have any more clarity of where the actual strike took place. What I can say was in that border region. I just can’t say on which side of the border it was.

QUESTION: So you don’t know if – so are you doubting the claim from Pakistan that it was in their territory?

MR TONER: I’m not going to speak – I mean, the Pakistani Government is able to speak on behalf of itself. I’m not going to doubt its claim. I’m just saying the information that we have right – are able to share.

QUESTION: But this was a – this is a --

QUESTION: So you don’t know where you targeted him? You just guessed? I mean, how could you fire something out of the sky and blow something up and kill people and not know what country it’s in? Come on.

MR TONER: I understand what – your question, Brad. All I’m saying is what we’re able – I said what we’re willing to share is that it was in --

QUESTION: You check these things before you fire, usually, right?

MR TONER: -- the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. We certainly do.

QUESTION: On that, what impact this has on the Taliban itself? Can you say it’s defeated now?

MR TONER: No, by any means I wouldn’t say that, and I don’t mean to imply that if I said that. What I think it does send is a clear message, as I said, that if you’re going to carry out attacks, if you’re going to lead attacks against our forces and against Afghan’s forces – Afghanistan’s forces – then you’re going to be targeted and you’re not going to have safe haven. And I also think that it sends the message that the Taliban must decide what its future is going to be and whether it’s going to be part of a peaceful political future for Afghanistan. And there is a path towards that. They can sit down with the Afghan Government and begin negotiations and talks. We’ve encouraged that; we support an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led process.

QUESTION: But how can you expect someone to come to peace talks when you have just killed their supreme leader?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think it presents them with a clear choice. And Lalit, you know that there’s ways to engage and identify the fact that you’re willing to engage in a peaceful way. And, frankly, Mansour showed no – absolutely no predilection towards engaging in any kind of peaceful political process.

QUESTION: From the public statements that’s coming from Pakistan, it’s very much evident that they are very upset with your action. Do you see any kind of retaliatory measures coming out of Pakistan?

MR TONER: No, we – look, Lalit – I mean, I’m – again, I’m not going to speak on behalf of the Pakistani Government, what they may or may not do. We have been in touch with them, obviously. We’ve talked about this airstrike. We continue to talk to them about how we can collaborate and cooperate on rooting out these terrorist organizations and these organizations or these groups that continue to use Pakistanis – Pakistan’s territory to carry out attacks.

QUESTION: Can we move on to --

QUESTION: One more quickly. Was --

MR TONER: One more and then – okay.

QUESTION: Was Mullah Mansour on the terrorist designated list, the --

MR TONER: I don’t believe he was, no.

QUESTION: He was not.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

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

QUESTION: Okay. Very quickly to the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

MR TONER: Oh, sure, yeah. Please.

QUESTION: I have a couple of quick questions. First of all, on – last week Secretary of State Kerry said that he is going to go to the meeting in Paris on June 3rd. Well, the prime minister of Israel in his meeting with the prime minister of France, Manuel Valls, said that – rejected the idea. Did that cast any doubt on the Secretary’s plans to attend this meeting?

MR TONER: I’ve seen his comments – Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments. I don’t have any more details about what he may be proposing. I know he talked about --

QUESTION: I understand. I’m saying --

MR TONER: No, we’re – look, we’ve committed, and the Secretary spoke about it last week in Brussels. He plans to attend the French conference – the French ministerial, rather – on June 3rd. And I think, as he expressed very clearly in the press conference at NATO when he got the question, he wants to work with the French, he wants to work with other partners in the coming days to ensure that this is as productive and constructive a process as possible.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. So would this – from the Secretary’s point of view, would this be like an alternative to past efforts on the sort of bilateral talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis? Is there something – an alternative to that in his mind?

MR TONER: I think what we’re trying to do is – and what the Secretary is certainly engaged on – is setting the right conditions. Look, we’ve all said we – and we haven’t changed our position, which is that ultimately we want to see direct negotiations that results in a two-state solution. That has not changed. We don’t want to see negotiations for the sake of negotiations. We want a clear path forward, and we need the – set the right climate or right environment for those negotiations to proceed. And we want – if direct talks were to proceed, we’d want to see both sides come to the table – and again, Secretary Kerry spoke to this – ready to really talk about the tough issues and address those issues and reach consensus. And so if they’re willing to do that, then certainly we’re not going to stand in the way, but we believe that there’s got to be more groundwork laid before that process can go forward.

QUESTION: Let me ask you just one more question on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Israeli settler bulldozer and bulldozed an agricultural area. They have been doing it for the past week. They leveled agricultural area in the village of Jaloud and the villagers or the – in the surrounding villages as well the farmers have received notices from the Israeli Government over the past – since April that roughly about 1,500 acres have been taken away or designated as government land.

MR TONER: You’re talking in the West Bank?

QUESTION: Right. In the northern West Bank.

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, Said, our position on settlements hasn’t changed. We strongly oppose all settlement activity. We think it’s corrosive to the cause of peace. We continue to look to both sides, frankly, to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution, and actions like this, frankly, just do the opposite.

QUESTION: I have a couple on various --

MR TONER: Sure. I’m so sorry, I did say you were next. Can I get back to you, Brad? And then I – Brad is the last question because I’ve got to run. Please (inaudible), I apologize.

QUESTION: Well, sir, I know you said that you don’t know much about Ahrar al-Sham and what they did in al-Zahraa. I have the photograph that I mentioned. I was reluctant to show it because of how graphic it was, but now I think I will do so and maybe this will prompt you to look into this group. And I want to ask you why should this group have protection under the cessation of hostilities when they clearly don’t care about cessation of hostilities?

MR TONER: Look, I’m just not aware of this incident. I’m not – I was not casting doubt or not trying to – I just am not aware of it. That said, we hold all parties, whether they’re parties to the cessation of hostilities or not, accountable for actions that target civilian populations, and frankly, are barbaric acts against civilians. I just don’t have the specifics in this particular incident. I’m not trying to say in any way that it’s not true or it didn’t happen. I just don’t have on my end the information.

QUESTION: I have a couple. They’re really quick.

MR TONER: Please. Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I have one really quick one.

MR TONER: Okay, let’s go.

QUESTION: The case of Kamal and Mohamed Eldarat in the United Arab Emirates – both of them are U.S. citizens. I think a final decision expected on the 30th. Has there been any high-level contact between American and Emirati officials?

MR TONER: I think we – that remains – I don’t know if there’s been any recent contact, but I think certainly that we’ve been following this case quite closely, as you know. We’re concerned about several aspects of it – their health, their prior lack of access to legal representation, the absence of formal charges against them in their first hearing, and frankly, the lack of consular access. So we continue to raise all these issues with the UAE Government.

QUESTION: Okay. And then --

MR TONER: I don’t have any – I don’t have anything – any update to provide.

QUESTION: Well, we’ll have a couple days to readdress this one.

MR TONER: Exactly, exactly.

QUESTION: U.S. permanent resident Nizar Zakka in Iran – apparently, a judicial official said something about speeding up the proceedings. Do you see that as good or bad in that case?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’re very concerned about reports of – that Nizar Zakka is being unjustly held in Iran since 2015. We don’t provide, as I think we’ve made clear, consular assistance to non-U.S. citizens; however, we would ask for any effort to speed up and provide him with a free and fair trial, if that’s the case.

QUESTION: And then Zainab al-Khawaja in Bahrain – if you remember, she’s imprisoned with her, I think, one-year-old daughter.

MR TONER: Yeah, I’m aware of the case. I don’t --

QUESTION: And it was about, I don’t know, five weeks ago the Secretary stood on the stage with the Bahraini foreign minister and he promised that he would release her. She is not released and, apparently, she’s sick and her family can’t get the one-year-old out of prison. Is this an issue, or is that okay with you guys?

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: It’s been a lot of weeks.

MR TONER: I understand that. I understand that, Brad.

QUESTION: You got this promise and you hailed him, I think, at the time for this.

MR TONER: I understand that. And of course it’s --

QUESTION: So it’s a little silly at some point.

MR TONER: Of course it’s an issue, and let me see if I can get an update for you on that.

QUESTION: That was – that was my question, Zainab al-Khawaja.

MR TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) On Okinawa, according to the U.S. Embassy, Ambassador Kennedy is considering going to Okinawa. We were wondering if she will go, when, as well as if the purpose will be to address the recent incident and if she’ll meet with the governor of Okinawa.

MR TONER: I don’t have any information on Ambassador Kennedy’s travel plans, so I’ll have to take that question. As we – I think John mentioned this last week, our heartfelt sympathy and condolences go out to the family and friends of this victim of this terrible attack on Okinawa.

Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:31 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Thu, 05/19/2016 - 16:01

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 19, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:39 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody. I do not have – I guess for the second straight day, maybe the third, I don’t have any opening statements, so we’ll get right at it.

QUESTION: Can we start with – and I know this has already been addressed from the White House podium, but – the EgyptAir crash?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that there were no U.S. citizens or dual U.S. citizens on board? Do you have any information about the kind of help the U.S. Government has offered for the investigation? And have you had any communications from the Egyptians requesting assistance?

MR KIRBY: Okay. There’s a lot there. So we still don’t have any indications at all that there were American citizens on board. Obviously, we’re still working our way through this, but at this time, we know of no American citizens that were on board the plane.

As for help, I think my colleagues at the Defense Department have already spoken to the fact that they have helped with respect to maritime patrol aircraft to help in the search for wreckage and potentially survivors. And as for investigative help, I’m not aware of any specific investigative help that’s being provided. Now that said, we have made it very clear that the United States stands willing to do that. But I’m not aware of any specific investigative help right now.

QUESTION: And are you aware of any acceptance – I mean, even if they accepted it, there might be a little bit of a delay between --

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- when you could – the investigators get there. Have they accepted your offers?

MR KIRBY: I’m not, honestly, aware of any specific requests for investigative assistance by Egyptian authorities. But again, we’ve made it clear that we, certainly, are willing to provide that. You might want to check in with the FBI or NTSB later today. I’m just not aware.

QUESTION: And just on the – I’m blanking on what I wanted to ask you. I apologize.

MR KIRBY: Nic. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. I know that it’s difficult to say, it’s maybe too early to say, but do you have reasons to believe that it could be a terror attack or that it could be an accident?

MR KIRBY: It’s just too soon to know. It really is. Investigators are just getting to work on this. And I don’t think it would be prudent for us to speculate one way or the other right now.

QUESTION: Sorry. I remember what it was.

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: Regarding the DOD’s offer of – I think it was EP-3 or P-3 aircraft to look for survivors --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- has there been any – and I know this is their question, but it wasn’t clear to me from what I saw out of them whether those aircraft might have, for example, have had surveillance of the area when the crash occurred.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. We are not aware that there was – we’re not aware that there was any recognition or received transmission of any indications at the time of the accident in terms of what might have happened. So I’m not aware of any sensors that the U.S. military has or deploys – air or maritime – that picked anything up on this.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Well, wait, I think Arshad’s got one.

QUESTION: Sorry.

QUESTION: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: Just one on this. Just leaving aside sensors picking up communications --

MR KIRBY: Or --

QUESTION: -- or video or anything else --

MR KIRBY: -- video or – I’m not aware of any capturing through electronic means – let me try to be as expansive as I can – any capturing through electronic means of either imagery, audio, or any other electronic transmissions that would lead us to have any greater clarity about what happened.

QUESTION: Does that include satellites, and actual technical readings?

MR KIRBY: As far as I know, it includes --

QUESTION: Everything?

MR KIRBY: -- everything. We don’t have --

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Now, but that said, Arshad, again, this just happened this morning. And so I would refer you to DOD for more detail about that. But just before coming out here – because I asked – I’m not aware that we have – that we recorded, saw, photographed, or have possession of any electronic indications about what happened. So again, it’s just now getting started, but I would – DOD would probably be a better place to go.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Can I have one more on Egypt?

QUESTION: Because the Secretary just issued a – on EgyptAir?

QUESTION: Sorry. Can I have one more on Egypt?

QUESTION: Sure. Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up.

MR KIRBY: He’s being such a gentleman today.

QUESTION: I’m always a gentleman. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: You are.

QUESTION: I really appreciate that.

MR KIRBY: You are. I apologize.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: You are. You are. We’ll give you credit for that.

Go ahead, Nike.

QUESTION: Yes. Will today’s incident be taken into consideration for the travel alert to Egypt by the State Department?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any – again, this just happened. So there’s been no updates that we’ve issued in terms of a travel alert. I’m not aware of any intention to do so right now. But we’re going to, obviously, follow the investigation as closely as we can. And if we feel there’s a need in the future, we’ll certainly do that. But I’m not aware of any intention to do so right now. Okay?

QUESTION: Yeah. I want to move to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Because the Secretary just gave a statement saying that he would attend the ministerial meeting in Paris, France, apparently, on June 3rd. He said I don’t know whether it’s June 3rd or when, but he will attend. My question is will the Secretary go in there to explore or would you go there with certain ideas that have accumulated over, let’s say, your past efforts or as a result of your past efforts? Because he did acknowledge that – in his statement, he says we made a great deal of effort, we made some progress, and so on. So will you go in with some sort of parameters or certain ideas and so on?

MR KIRBY: Well, I can assure that the Secretary’s not going to attend the meeting with the expectation that he’s just going to be in the audience. He certainly fully expects to be a participant in these discussions. And as he has said many times, and I think said it again today, we’re not going to close down any good ideas that can help try to create the conditions for the leadership there, by the parties, to get to a two-state solution. So I would fully anticipate that the Secretary’s participation will be very active and energetic, as it has been.

QUESTION: Now he – when he was asked about the failure of the U.S. policies, he says we have not failed, the countries have failed. Now is he suggesting that the Palestinians are a country that have failed or is it just Israel in this case?

MR KIRBY: He was talking – no. No.

QUESTION: Or was he talking about recently?

MR KIRBY: No. He was talking about the international community together has got to continue to do more.

QUESTION: Okay, let me ask you a couple questions on other issues. The Israelis have added more restrictions on Palestinian passages and checkpoints, added many checkpoints and so on. It is becoming really very difficult for them to traverse an already sort of burdened geography. Do you have any comment on that? Would you call on the Israelis to sort of maybe ease the restriction rather than increase them?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have – I’m not going to comment on specific measures that the Israeli Government may or may not be putting into place. So I’m going to refrain from commenting on that specifically. That said, in general, as you know, we continue to support freedom of movement in general.

QUESTION: Okay. And also the Palestinians have arrested a student today because he – the Palestinian Authority – because he posted on Facebook a comment stating that – or expressing his opinion about the Palestinian Authority being corrupt. Now the Palestinian Authority is one of – you are its largest benefactor. These kind of abuses go on day in and day out, the human rights abuses. They arrest people at will; they do all kinds of things. Will you raise this issue with the Palestinian Authority? Would you raise this issue with the Palestinian Authority?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of this particular incident, so I can’t affirmatively say that we will, in fact, raise it, but we’ll obviously follow it as best we can. And just what I would say writ large is we’re going to continue to stress to leaders of both sides here to take the necessary actions to reduce the tensions. And obviously, when it comes to expression, you know where we are in terms of our belief in the freedom of expression.

QUESTION: But this is not the first time, John, that the Palestinian Authority has taken very draconian measures against journalists, people who are Palestinian journalists, people who are expressing --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- their point of view and so on. They are being arrested at will and so – and the United States seems to be looking the other way, because --

MR KIRBY: No, no. I totally disagree with that. We’re not looking the other way. I mean, we routinely – publicly and privately – raise our concerns about freedom of expression and freedom of the press in particular. And you know that better than anybody, sitting here every day as you do. This is not something that we’re turning a blind eye to. And we – we’re not bashful. No matter who it is, or in what country it is, we’re never bashful about raising these concerns, and we’ll continue to do so. I just don’t have any specific information about this incident. You have information I don’t have, but I can tell you that we routinely raise our concerns there and elsewhere around the world.

QUESTION: And my final question: A group of Belgian parliamentarians want to – they’re gathering support and some sort of signatures to offer the peace prize to a Palestinian political parliamentarian who is in prison, who’s been in prison for a dozen years – Marwan Barghouti. Is that something that you would not look too kindly on, would you support, or anything like this? Or would you rather wait until this comes to light, this issue?

MR KIRBY: I’ve not heard about this particular decision or this group’s desire to nominate this individual. So I think I’m going to refrain from commenting on that until we can get a little bit more information about it. I just have not heard about it, Said.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. So the governor of --

QUESTION: Can we stick with Israel and Palestine? Sorry. Just to get it out of the way. I realize that Prime Minister Netanyahu has not yet formally formed his governing coalition or his new governing coalition. But it seems fairly clear that Avigdor Lieberman is going to be in the cabinet. Do you have – and likely as defense minister. Do you have any comment on this expected coalition formation and whether it is likely to be even further to the right than the existing one?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think it won’t come as a surprise to you that because this – there’s been no formal formation, we’re going to refrain from commenting at this time, particularly on a – what’s an internal Israeli political matter. That said, as we say elsewhere, we look forward to working with the prime minister’s government no matter who he selects, and to looking for ways to continue to deepen the very close, very strong bilateral relationship that we have with Israel. And I’m quite confident that we’ll be able to do that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. So the governor of Kirkuk, Najmiddin Karim, is in – has been in Washington for a few days. Has he met anybody at the State Department?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of it.

QUESTION: And he has talked in the media calling for more autonomy for his governorate, for the province of Kirkuk. And do you – does the United States support autonomy for that province?

MR KIRBY: We support the central government in Baghdad and Prime Minister Abadi and his efforts to continue to govern Iraq through a unity government, and that support and that policy is not going to change.

QUESTION: Okay, and just one more question. The Kurdish members of parliament in Iraq, they haven’t been back to the parliament since the protesters stormed the parliament building, and that’s led to the virtual dysfunctional – dysfunctioning of the parliament. Do you call on the members of parliament to go back to their normal duties?

MR KIRBY: Look, these are individual decisions that these members are making. What we are going to do is continue to support the Iraqi Government – the central government in Baghdad – as it, under Prime Minister Abadi’s leadership, continues to make the reforms they know they need to make to move Iraq forward. And some of those include, obviously, the security sector, and so we’re going to remain committed to our mission of trying to improve the competency and capability of the Iraqi Security Forces.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On Japan, do you have any comment on the murder case in Okinawa, where a former U.S. Marine employed at Kadena Air Force Base was arrested?

MR KIRBY: Yes, I do, if I could just get to it here.

We’re aware of the arrest of a U.S. citizen civilian – in Okinawa and we’re obviously following the case very closely. As Ambassador Kennedy has indicated earlier, our heartfelt sympathy and deepest condolences go out to the family and the friends of the victim, Rina Shimabukuro. This is a terrible tragedy and it’s obviously an outrage. We’re treating this situation with the utmost seriousness, and the United States military is cooperating fully with local authorities in their investigation. And for more details on that, I’d refer you to DOD.

QUESTION: Are there any concerns that – given the timing that this might have a negative effect on the – next week’s G7 summit?

MR KIRBY: Well, I know that we very much look forward to the G7 summit – the United States does – to participating. And as you know, the President will be going. There is an awful lot to discuss, a lot of very significant business before the G7, and we look forward to participating in that. And I can’t tell you to the degree to which – that this will be brought up or discussed, but as I said earlier, we take it very, very seriously and so does the Department of Defense. And nothing’s going to change about the gravity with which we move forward on this case and do whatever we need to do to help local authorities as they investigate it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: A follow-up question. Do you think that this – this matters angers Okinawa people really now, and so do you think that --

MR KIRBY: It angers us.

QUESTION: Yeah. Now, do you think that this fear influence to the Futenma relocation plan? And also, do you think – Okinawa governor want to be reversed the SOFA, so do you think it – United States is think about that changing to the SOFA (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I would refer you to DOD for discussions about the Status of Forces Agreement. That is for them to speak to. But did I understand your first question to be about the impact on the Futenma replacement facility?

QUESTION: Yeah, Futenma plan, replacement plan. Yes.

MR KIRBY: Look, nothing’s changed about our commitment to moving forward on the Futenma replacement facility, and nothing’s changed about the Japanese Government’s commitment to that. And we’re going to continue to work towards that end. As dreadful and as tragic as that – as this is, it’s not going to change our commitment with the Government of Japan to moving forward with the FRF. As I said, we’re going to work as closely as we can – and I’d refer you to the military for more details – with local authorities as they investigate this horrible crime.

QUESTION: Can we stay in China?

MR KIRBY: China?

QUESTION: In Asia. Do you have anything on the – what DOD claimed to be unsafe intercept of a U.S. military aircraft by two Chinese flight – fighter jets over the South China Sea? Has there been any diplomatic communications between these two countries after this incident?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any specific communications about this incident. This was a – obviously, we share the concerns that were expressed by the Defense Department over these unsafe maneuvers. They’re not doing anything to lessen tensions and to decrease – to do anything to decrease the possibility for miscalculations and perhaps put people in real harm’s way. So we absolutely share the concerns that were expressed by Defense Department leaders about these maneuvers. I just don’t have any specific diplomatic conversations to read out. This is something that we routinely have raised in the past when it’s happened, and I’m quite certain that we’ll continue to raise our concerns about this going forward.

QUESTION: Could you give us a sense of the current mechanism between these two countries to prevent miscalculation or incidents like this?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, say that again?

QUESTION: The current mechanism between U.S. and China to prevent incidents like this and to prevent miscalculation.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’d refer you to DOD to talk about specific mechanisms. But this is not a military with which we don’t have a relationship. It’s not a military in which we don’t have avenues for communications. We do routinely on many, many levels. So there’s certainly plenty of vehicles available for the United States military and the PLA to have appropriate communications on these kinds of incidents. That’s not the problem. The problem isn’t are you talking or not. The problem is this kind of behavior, this very unsafe, dangerous behavior in the air, which puts people’s lives at risk unnecessarily.

QUESTION: John?

MR KIRBY: Samir.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary talk to any Egyptian officials today about --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any conversations with Egyptian officials by the Secretary to read out to you, but if that changes I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we stay in the same region, Sudan?

MR KIRBY: Sure. Sudan.

QUESTION: Sudan. Yes, sir.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Today The Washington Times quotes the Sudanese ambassador to Washington, Maowia Osman Khalid, as having said that the United States, that his country and the United States are cooperating in the fight against ISIL and that they provide intelligence, they do all kinds of things, and they are willing to do more – in fact, give some sort of, I guess, base or something to – in the fight against ISIS in exchange for the lessening of the sanctions and so on. Is that something that would be considered by this Administration?

MR KIRBY: You’re going to have to let me take that. I haven’t seen those – I haven’t seen those comments and so I’m not --

QUESTION: Okay, it’s in The Washington Times and if you take the question --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I haven’t seen those comments.

QUESTION: But generally --

MR KIRBY: I’m reticent to speculate about --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- what we will or will not do. Obviously, there’s a shared threat of terrorism there --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- in the region. And we are working with many governments in the region to help them deal with this threat. I don’t have anything specific with respect to Sudan.

QUESTION: Well, he was quite forward or – in his explanation that they can cooperate on Somalia, on --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- on Libya and many others. They are --

MR KIRBY: The other – so let me take the question, Said. I just don’t have any details on what we may or may not be willing to do going forward. I suspect part of the answer to you will be to consult with DOD since it is DOD that really manages government-to-government relations with respect to specific counterterrorism activities.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen will take office as the new president of Taiwan tonight. What are the U.S. comments on her presidency?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that the American Institute in Taiwan has announced that it has organized a delegation representing the American people to attend the inauguration. The lead will be former United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk. He’ll be joined by Ambassador John Negroponte, AIT Chairman Ambassador Raymond Burghardt, and AIT Director Kin Moy, and Mr. Alan Romberg. Okay, so we’ll have a delegation there.

QUESTION: I would like to follow up on Taiwan. When Tsai Ing-wen, before she got elected, she was visiting Washington, D.C., and met with Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Was there any plan – is there any plan for him to issue maybe a phone call or congratulation or a letter, like that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any, and we – and if we have further comment on it, we’ll let you know, but I’m not aware of any right now.

QUESTION: The fact that she is the first female president of Taiwan, what does that say to the democracy in Asia? Is that a good example?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think, look, we’re going to – the delegation will congratulate the president-elect on her inauguration and reiterate our strong support for Taiwan’s vibrant democracy, the importance the United States places on its relationship with the people of Taiwan, and our strong interest in continued cross-strait peace and stability.

Okay? Yeah, ahead.

QUESTION: In light of the investigation that the U.S. opened into Russian officials and athletes believed to have been involved in doping, I want to ask you if other countries should expect that their athletes can be prosecuted by the United States if there is evidence of doping and if they competed in the U.S.

MR KIRBY: That’s a great question for the Justice Department.

QUESTION: But that involves – I ask you – I just --

MR KIRBY: Goyal.

QUESTION: That involves foreign nationals, and also the question is what other countries should expect.

MR KIRBY: I understand. I understand that your question involves other foreign nationals, but you’re asking about a law enforcement investigation for which I won’t speak. And it’s really a question better placed to the Justice Department.

Goyal.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Two questions. One, as far as U.S. and Nepal relations are concerned, recently Nepal’s deputy prime minister was here across the street at the U.S.-India – the USIP, and he was talking about that the international community and the U.S. should help more after one year of earthquake in Nepal, and people are still waiting for shelter, food, medicine, and so forth. But some of the NGOs that I were talking in the same audience are saying that most of the money going from the U.S. or donations from the international community, much of it goes in the pockets of the corrupt politicians, not reaching to the people.

MR KIRBY: Well, I think our longstanding position about corruption is well known and the Secretary has spoken very firmly about this, as recently as just a couple of weeks ago in Oxford about the corrosive effect that corruption can have on entire societies, if not regions, and certainly across the world. So without speaking to specifics on these incidents you’re talking about in terms – in Nepal, I mean, this is something that we routinely discuss with our counterparts around the world about the need for governing structures to be accountable to the people that they represent and to marshal their resources and their behavior to comport with those responsibilities. So it’s something we take very, very seriously.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. – moreover is happy with the current government in Nepal?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re watching the situation there. We’ve talked about this before. We’re certainly watching that closely and we continue to have frank and honest discussions with leaders in Nepal about the responsibilities of governance, of good governance.

QUESTION: One on Bangladesh, please. As far as Bangladesh, much is going on there after the attacks and – against the minorities and including LGBT and the U.S. also – this official there. There was a demonstration at Dupont Circle by the minorities – a vigil, actually, it was a candle vigil also standing by with the minorities and also against – and against the attacks – minorities in Bangladesh. And there was a official from the Bangladesh embassy also. He said that the Bangladesh Government is doing the best and also bringing to justice those in 1971 and other terrorists and they are standing and need U.S. help.

So what sort of help they are seeking, or what’s going on between U.S. and Bangladesh as far as stopping all these attacks against the minorities, including Hindus, Christians, LGBTs, and others?

MR KIRBY: Well, obviously, we’re deeply concerned by this violence, Goyal. We’re very troubled by this. They appear to be carried out by a small group of terrorists who seek to stifle independent thought and to attack violently anyone who disagrees with them and their thoughts. We’re pretty confident – no, not pretty confident – we are confident that these attacks do not represent the views of and are rejected as abhorrent by the overwhelming majority of people in Bangladesh. Bangladesh, as you know, has a proud tradition of being a pluralistic society that values diversity, welcomes the free exchange of ideas, and these are the values that these violent extremists are ultimately attacking.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: Can I have a quick one on Syria?

MR KIRBY: Got time for just a couple more.

QUESTION: Really quick, just give us an update of what’s going on, I mean, with the – there seems to be a total absence of clarity on what is happening on Syria and --

MR KIRBY: Oh, on Syria.

QUESTION: Right, regarding Syria on the talks, on the --

MR KIRBY: Well, I don't know if I --

QUESTION: -- the ceasefire status and so on. You’re --

MR KIRBY: I don’t think I agree that there’s been a total absence of clarity. I mean, the Secretary addressed some of this today in Brussels at his press conference and then he, of course, addressed the international community after the ISSG meeting in Vienna.

Look, what’s going on is the ISSG – now up to 24, 25 different nations, so four more nations added – has come together yet again in Vienna – and I encourage you to look at the communique – reaffirmed that what we’re trying to get is a transformation from cessation of hostilities that tend to be in localized areas to a nationwide ceasefire. And everybody signed up to that.

Number two, that for those parties who show a persistent reluctance to participate actively in abiding by the cessation, that they will no longer be allowed to be considered parties to it.

Number three, that humanitarian access, though it has improved, is still woefully behind the need, and that if things don’t get better by the 1st of June, the ISSG will urge the World Food Program to conduct more airdrops to places in need, and that the ISSG will support those efforts.

And number – and number four, and not inconsequentially, is a strong affirmation by the ISSG about the need to get the political talks back on track and resumed. And Special Envoy de Mistura said himself that he recognizes the clock is ticking here. We’ve got Ramadan coming up in the first week of June and he’s mindful of the calendar, and he’s also mindful of the need to get the parties back together to resume the very necessary, very important political dialogue that has to occur to try to get to this transitional governing body. You know well that in three sets of meetings – or three meetings, there hasn’t been as much progress made towards that as anybody would like, and Special Envoy de Mistura knows that he has to do that.

So there was a very substantive set of discussions on Vienna. Did it solve every problem? No. But it did advance a set of common concerns. It did provide more structure and I think a heightened sense of urgency about certainly the humanitarian access and violations of the cessation that I think speak clearly and affirmatively about the concern that the international community continues to view the situation in Syria.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Okay, thanks, everybody. Oh, listen, by the way, a programming note – there will not be a briefing tomorrow. There won’t be a spokesperson in the building. Two of them are traveling back and I’m traveling over tonight, so there will be no briefing tomorrow.

QUESTION: Can I have two quick on the Western Hemisphere, please? Really quick.

MR KIRBY: Okay, really quick.

QUESTION: Right. One is on Venezuela. Do you have anything on the decision by the embassy to not to take new appointment for a visa application to the United States in response to the government’s refusal to give U.S. personnel visas?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that effective the 18th of May and until further notice, there’ll be no appointments available for first-time applicants for tourist visas at the embassy. Our current inability to schedule appointments for first-time tourist visa applicants is a direct result of lengthy Venezuelan Government delays in issuing visas for incoming U.S. diplomatic personnel assigned to our embassy to replace those officers who have departed. So it’s very much tied to a manning issue, a staffing issue. Okay?

QUESTION: And then in Nicaragua, do you have anything with the governments issued a electoral calendar without provisions for a electoral observation mission?

MR KIRBY: As we’ve said and made clear, allowing internationally recognized election observers to freely monitor elections will only strengthen Nicaragua. We urge the Nicaraguan Government to issue a timely invitation to credible international observation missions. Countries from the United States to Burma regularly invite electoral observation missions to validate the strength of their democratic institutions and to provide constructive and respectful recommendations on how to further improve the process and empower their citizens in determining the future of their country. We believe it’s important for Nicaragua, and again, we urge them to make that kind of an invitation.

Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:12 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 17, 2016

Tue, 05/17/2016 - 17:49

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 17, 2016

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TRANSCRIPT:

2:12 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR KIRBY: Okay, I got a couple of things here at the top I want to hit. First, on the attacks in Baghdad, I think it can go without saying that the United States strongly condemns the barbaric terrorist attacks in Iraq today that deliberately and specifically targeted civilians. Initial estimates right now project something over 70 people have been killed, many more injured, in what we now know are three separate attacks. Of course, we extend our deepest condolences, our thoughts, and sympathies to all those affected by this terrible violence.

These attacks are the latest reminder of the danger that this group continues to pose to all Iraqis and the importance of Iraqi leaders from all communities to continue to work together so that progress against Daesh can continue to be made. It’s a very serious threat still in the country. For our part, the United States and our coalition partners will continue to provide the training and support to the Iraqi Security Forces that they need so that they can continue to defend and to protect the Iraqi people.

I want to also add a note on the Trans Adriatic Pipeline project and note that the United States welcomes today’s groundbreaking of that pipeline project. TAP, as it’s known, is the final link in the Southern Corridor project, which will bring gas from Azerbaijan to other areas of Europe. As we’ve said before, we remain committed to energy diversification on the European continent, which will increase Europe’s energy security and advance regional stability and prosperity. And we look forward to watching this important project proceed, which will strengthen, we believe, the economies of Azerbaijan, Turkey, Greece, and Italy specifically.

And then finally, on Burma, I know you all have been tracking the news today out of the Treasury Department as today the government announced steps to support the success of Burma’s new democratic government, including the recalibration of sanctions on Burma. And we did this to demonstrate support for the new government’s democratic reforms and to promote broad-based, inclusive economic development. These steps are intended to support trade with Burma, facilitate the movement of goods within Burma, allow certain incidental transactions related to certain individuals residing in Burma – U.S. individuals residing in Burma, and to allow more – most transactions involving designated financial institutions in Burma. To incentivize further democratic reforms and to maintain pressure on targeted individuals and entities and the military, the basic sanctions architecture will remain in place.

And I know you’ve been following that. Of course, the Treasury Department is available to answer more specific questions about it, but I did want to make clear that here at the State Department, we welcome this recalibration of the sanctions regime.

Arshad.

QUESTION: Can we start with Syria?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: What did you achieve out of today’s ISSG in terms of halting the violence and further – furthering the effort to get a political solution?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think the Secretary addressed the progress that was made today in the press conference. And I think it was not insignificant that – and he said this himself – that with respect to the cessation of hostilities, all the members of the ISSG, which now includes four additional countries – all of them agreed to transform the cessation of hostilities to a true ceasefire nationwide and that can be enduring.

In keeping with that, they also agreed that if – two things. One, they provided a process by which systemic or persistent violations can be brought to the ISSG writ large, as a group, to adjudicate. And two, that those – that persistent violations would render the violator ineligible to be – to have the ceasefire applied to them. And I think that’s the first time that the ISSG was so specific in terms of repercussions that could accrue – or be applied to, is a better word to put it – to people that violate the cessation of hostilities.

So I think – did the meeting today stop all the violations? Well, of course, not. And we’re still concerned about violations that continue. But it did provide more clarity in terms of what we’re trying to get the cessation to be, nationwide and enduring; and two, provide some clarity and some accountability, quite frankly, for members of the ISSG on how they can deal with and hold accountable people that – I shouldn’t say people – groups that persistently violate.

QUESTION: Hasn’t it been clear since February the 27th that it was indeed your desire for the cessation of hostilities to be nationwide and enduring?

MR KIRBY: Yes, it has always been the case.

QUESTION: So did you really need clarity on that point?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would say that given the violations that we had seen over the last several weeks, and given the fairly time-limited and geographic – geography-limited nature of some of the understandings – not by all members but by some members – I think yes, it was important to have a broader, deeper discussion, to revisit the issue today of what the cessation really was intended to be back in the winter and what it needs to be going forward.

QUESTION: Can you envisage the United States or Russia actively targeting groups whom you believe are persistent violators of the ceasefire?

MR KIRBY: I don’t want to get into hypothesizing about specific military operations. I think you know that I’m reticent to do that. I would point you back to the language in the communique today, which makes it clear that those violators that persistently violate and that the ISSG determines has persistently violated will find themselves no longer a party to the cessation, and they do that at their own peril. Now, what exactly that means in terms of kinetic activity I’m really not at liberty to discuss.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, the reason I’m asking is that the utility of that threat or the threat of consequences or repercussions, to use your word, rests largely on the credibility of the threat. And if you’re not even willing to say that you could see this country or Russia directly going after the people you regard as responsible, I don’t see why they should take this – why should they take this threat of repercussion seriously?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think just by dint of the kinds of strikes that have been done in the past in Syria, what we’ve seen certainly by the regime and also by the Russian military in the past, should be enough all by itself to indicate to those who would consider being persistent violators of the risk they’re putting themselves and their forces under.

Again, I don’t want to try to get ahead of tactical decisions that haven’t been made yet. And obviously, the purpose for today’s discussion was to try to prevent that from ever happening, to make it clear that they do this at their own peril and that there’s going to be a limit to the international community’s patience for persistent and consistent violations of the cessation. But we have seen – we have seen times in the past when groups have put themselves at risk by some other activity, and if they need – I would find it surprising that they would need proof that that risk is real, given what we’ve seen happen in the past.

The other thing your question raises is the – and you may have seen it in the communique or in the Secretary’s discussion – is that we – and I’ve said it from the podium that we urge – we know there’s commingling happening, physical commingling. Some of that’s unavoidable, given the dynamic, fluid situations, and particularly in places like Aleppo. But the communique specifically calls attention to that and actively urges groups to avoid putting themselves in greater peril by putting themselves close to groups – in this case there’s still only two – that are not party to the cessation.

So again, I think today’s communique does provide more clarity, given what we’ve seen happen in the last several weeks, provides more clarity to the situation on the ground and to our expectations of all the parties who are actually on the ground and engaged.

QUESTION: Do you regard it as a setback that no date has yet been agreed for resumption of the Geneva talks?

MR KIRBY: Of the talks? No, I wouldn’t call it – I don’t think that anybody regards it as a setback, Arshad. You may have seen Special Envoy de Mistura’s comments after that. He recognizes that they need to resume the talks as soon as possible. But even in the lead-up to today’s meeting, we knew that there would be not – there would not be another set of talks until there was another ISSG meeting. So I think we all recognize that today’s meeting was an important step to getting to another round of talks. I don’t think that anybody – well, I shouldn’t say anybody. I can only speak for the Secretary. The Secretary didn’t go into the ISSG today with the expectation that he would come out with a date on the calendar that the talks would resume.

But the special envoy, Mr. de Mistura, also made clear that he’s mindful of the clock. Ramadan’s coming the first week of June. There is now – there’s a renewed sense of momentum here to try to get this ceasefire truly transformed and humanitarian access better delivered. So there is a sense of momentum coming of Vienna, and I think that Special Envoy de Mistura understands that sense of momentum and made it clear that he’s going to be working hard to try to get something on the calendar as soon as possible.

But no – and I know this is a long answer, but no, there was no expectation so that there’s no reason why the Secretary would feel disappointed that he’s coming out of Vienna without a specific date.

QUESTION: Just one more from me. Do you – the Secretary, in response to a question about how much leverage --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- he does or does not have said there’s leverage standing to the right of me, meaning Foreign Minister Lavrov.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: There’s leverage in Iran, which, of course, is a part of the ISSG. But do you see any --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- evidence whatsoever that Russia or Iran is interested in exercising such leverage as it has to stop the ceasefire violations?

MR KIRBY: The – I think the best thing for me to do would be to point you to what Foreign Minister Lavrov himself said today in answer to those questions about their vision for Syria and the goals they’re trying to achieve inside the ISSG. They made it very clear that the – that they continue to support the communiques – now we have four after today – and the UN Security Council resolution and that they continue to believe in a political transition that is determined by the Syrian people and a whole, unified, sectarian Syria. So when the Secretary says you have leverage right here in Foreign Minister Lavrov and in Russia, I think he has reason to believe that that leverage exists.

Now the question is --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) exercise it?

MR KIRBY: -- are they exercising it. And I think – I’ve said before that at times it hasn’t been clear either that the leverage is as significant as once thought or that they were willing to exercise it as much. We certainly hope that they do. We know they have leverage, as does Tehran. And we hope that that – that they use that leverage in a constructive way, in keeping with the UN Security Council resolution and the political process that the ISSG has agreed on. And all I can do is point you back to what Mr. Lavrov said today, which was that they had every intention of exercising that leverage and to participating constructively to trying to get the regime to do the right thing.

QUESTION: But what makes you think they’re going to do that today, after a fourth piece of paper, when they didn’t do it after three pieces of paper, all of which they signed up to?

MR KIRBY: Well, we have seen them exercise leverage in a constructive way, though, Arshad, in the past. I mean, you remember back when the cessation was first agreed to after Munich, we saw a dramatic decrease in attacks on civilians and on the opposition. Did we see a perfect end of the violence? No. But we did see a dramatic decrease in the violence, and we know that that had – that that was a direct result of influence by Moscow on the Assad regime. So we know that that influence is there.

It was a clear and unequivocal message that Moscow sent to the Assad regime when President Putin made the decision to withdraw some – obviously not all, but some – of his military forces, largely in the form of aircraft, tactical aircraft, from Syria. And that clearly had an impact on the Assad regime. So we know that that leverage exists.

We also know that Russia has agreed to all the foundational elements of the political process enshrined in the Security Council Resolution 2254 in Syria. So they have agreed to the same consensus initiatives that the international community has. They have used that influence on Assad to effect constructive behavior in the past. So the short answer is yes, we – I think we have good reason to understand that they have and can use that influence in a positive way.

As I’ve – but again – and I don’t want to drag this on longer, but as I’ve also said from the podium, it at times – particularly in the more recent past, it hasn’t always been evident that they have been willing to use that influence in the most constructive way. We hope, coming out of Vienna today, that there will be a renewed push by all parties – by them, by Iran, and by other members of the ISSG who have influence on other parties in Syria to use that influence constructively.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Mark admitted from this podium a couple of weeks ago that there has been an intermingling, as he put it, of the so-called moderate opposition and extremist and terrorist elements in and around of Aleppo. Do you think it’s still the case? What is the U.S. Government estimation of the situation at this point? Because you promised to --

MR KIRBY: Well, I think --

QUESTION: -- send a signal to the opposition to stop doing that.

MR KIRBY: Right. So a couple of thoughts: I think clearly, Aleppo remains a fluid dynamic environment, and I’m certainly not in a position to rebut the notion that there remains, to use your phrase, an “intermingling problem.”

QUESTION: That was Mark’s.

MR KIRBY: Okay, to use Mark’s phrase, an “intermingling problem.” We certainly recognize that that’s still a concern. And that is why, if you look at the communique today, the ISSG specifically calls on those who are parties to the cessation to physically – and it says that – physically avoid proximity to groups that are not party to the cessation.

QUESTION: John.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, let me go here, then I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: It’s not Syria. It’s Saudi Arabia.

MR KIRBY: It’s not Syria. Are we staying on Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead, Michel.

QUESTION: John, you were talking about the message that Russia has sent to President Assad after – when they withdrew some of their troops in Syria. What was that message? And what changes did you see in Syria after this message?

MR KIRBY: I think it was – the message, we believe, was a clear frustration with the Assad regime’s continued violations of the founding elements of UNSCR 2254, and an aggression, certainly with respect to the opposition and to territory that was not in keeping with the direction that the international community wanted to go in in Syria. So I think it was a message of frustration. And as I’ve said in my answer to Arshad, we saw after that decision decreased activity by the Assad regime very tangibly. So we have seen evidence, we have seen it work when the Russians use the influence they have over Assad.

QUESTION: And my second question is: In a testimony in the Senate today, there was a question about Russia, if the – or the Russians, if they can or they want to exercise their leverage on the Syrian regime. Do you have any answer to this question: Do they want, or they want but they can’t?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think I kind of dealt with this in my questions – my answers to Arshad. I mean, look, first of all, your question is better put to officials in Moscow. I can’t predict what Russian leaders will or won’t do. I can only point you back to what Foreign Minister Lavrov said today about the seriousness with which Russia is taking the situation in Syria. Their commitment, again renewed today, to the founding elements of the UN Security Council resolution and to the now four communiques put out by the International Syria Support Group. I can only point you to what they have said verbally and what they have said in writing about their commitments going forward. But as to their future decisions they might make with respect to the leverage and the influence they have, I mean, that’s – that’s questions that are better put to officials in Moscow. We have seen when they use their influence, when they exercise that, we have seen that it does have an effect on Assad, unquestionably.

QUESTION: But do they what --

MR KIRBY: And we want them to continue to do that.

QUESTION: Do they do what they say, or --

MR KIRBY: Again, I can’t – and I’m not going to get into a day-by-day parceling out of every decision Moscow makes or doesn’t make. We have seen examples in the past where they use their influence where it can have a constructive effect, productive effect on the violence in Syria. We have seen the cessation work. We have also seen it fail in certain areas and over certain periods of time. What we want to see coming out of Vienna is that it becomes a true nationwide ceasefire, that it becomes enduring, that it’s not tied to the clock on the wall, and it’s not tied to a spot on a map, that all Syrians can live in peace.

We know – and Russia’s but one country in the ISSG – obviously an important one because they have unique influence over Assad. We know that when the members of the ISSG truly use the influence that they have – and we have some influence, too; not on Assad, of course, but on some of the groups on the ground – when that influence is being used, it can have a positive effect on the violence. And all we’re saying – and you can, again, look at the communique today – all anybody’s saying is we want to see that influence be continued to be exerted in the most constructive way possible.

So if you’re asking me can they, absolutely they can, because we’ve seen it in the past when they have. If you’re asking me will they, that’s a question you got to pose to leaders in Moscow. All I can do, again, is point you back to what Foreign Minister Lavrov himself said today about their – the seriousness with which they are taking the situation in Syria and their commitment – again, stated in writing and in word – to the communique that was signed today.

But the last thing I’ll say on this, Michel – and maybe it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, and the Secretary has said many times – words on paper are important. They are commitments. But what matters more are deeds and actions and the actual exertion of the influence. And that’s what we’re going to be looking for from Russia, from Iran, and from every other entity, organization, and nation that was represented there today in Vienna, including ourselves. We’re going to hold ourselves to a high standard of compliance as well.

Samir.

QUESTION: What about Iran? I mean, they continue to fight the war in Syria through their proxies and their military, and they are members of the ISSG.

MR KIRBY: That’s right.

QUESTION: I mean, how does this work?

MR KIRBY: That’s right. It’s the same. The same principle applies to Iran as applies to Russia or to any other nation. They have influence over Assad, you’re right; they do have – I mean, they do support proxy elements there in Syria. And our expectations are no different for Iran as they are from any other nation who has equities there in Syria – that they use that influence to back up and to support the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and to the now four communiques that lay out what the process needs to be to get to a political solution in Syria. Our expectations for Tehran are exactly the same.

QUESTION: So this statement about the consequences of not sticking to the cessation, of not observing the cessation, I’m having a hard time understanding which violators that statement refers to.

MR KIRBY: All violators.

QUESTION: So does that include – because people from the podium there have – you – (laughter) – have talked about violators including the Syrian Government, including the Iranians, Hizballah, the Russians. And I’m trying to understand, how are they going to – I mean, when you talk about violators, earlier today you were talking about – you were saying, well, if they’re violators, then they’ll be – we’ve seen what the Syrian air force and the Russian air force has done, and this is the kind of thing that they would face. So are you saying that the Iranians and the Syrians and the Russians are going to face the same kind of consequences?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate about specific consequences. But the short answer to your question is yes. If you look at the communique, it doesn’t delineate one violator from another. And again, this is about persistent violations. This is about systemic violations. This is about people that violate the cessation in a manner – in a consistent, persistent way. And it doesn’t delineate in there one from another. A violator of the cessation is a violator of the cessation, and if those violations persist, if they continue, and the ISSG has determined that they have done so in such a consistent, recalcitrant manner that they are no longer going to be considered a party to the cessation, then that’s the decision the ISSG will make. And then puts them at greater risk.

QUESTION: But the ISSG includes Iran and Russia, right?

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And we’re expecting them to – the ISSG as a group, including Iran and Russia, to say possibly that Russia or Syria has been a persistent violator if that happens?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to hypothesize about future violations. Again, I’d point you back to the language today, that it doesn’t discriminate. It says all violations that are persistent in nature and that the ISSG determines should no longer – whoever that group is should no longer be allowed to consider themselves a party to the cessation by dint of their own actions against the cessation.

QUESTION: But hasn’t the problem been so far that the – members of the ISSG don’t agree on that? Why would they agree on that in the future?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’d point you to the communique today, which makes – which they’ve all signed up to. I mean, they did all agree. That language is not U.S. language or Saudi Arabia language or Qatar language or Russia language. It’s ISSG language. Everybody agreed to that – to taking that approach with respect to persistent violations going forward.

QUESTION: And is there a mechanism separate from the U.S.-Russian monitoring mechanism that’s part of this ISSG --

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of a new mechanism created by this. There is, however, a robust task force that we have made more robust in recent days that the U.S. and Russia co-chairs. The cessation of hostilities task force will continue to do its work, in terms of trying to collate the information as best they can, analyze what’s going on, and then share that information broadly. That effort has already been boosted in terms of staffing and resourcing and effort, and I think that will continue. I’m not aware of any new mechanism created by this.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Saudi Arabia?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: So the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act passed the Senate, as you probably heard --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- and will go to the House and almost certainly pass there, and, in fact, may get two-thirds – enough – two-thirds support so that it would override a veto possibly. How much concern – I know the White House has expressed concern about the legal precedents and risks that this could entail for Americans overseas, but how much concern here in this building, particularly with regards to how this affects relations with Saudi Arabia?

MR KIRBY: Well, let me just first we continue to have concerns with the bill. And --

QUESTION: So the changes haven’t --

MR KIRBY: They have not assuaged our concerns about the broader issue here with respect to national immunity. So we still have, as I said, concerns about the potential unintended consequences that are represented in this bill. And as my colleague at the White House said, we’re going to continue to work with members of Congress to do the best we can to have those concerns addressed. So we’re going to continue to express those, and we welcome opportunities to engage with the Congress in that discussion as the bill continues to go forward. And there are steps to be had yet.

As for the relationship with Saudi Arabia, it goes without saying that our relationship is very close and we have benefited from Saudi Arabia’s leadership and constructive efforts with respect specifically to what’s going on in Syria. They are a member of the ISSG; they were there – represented there in Vienna. And it was the Saudis, as you might recall, who hosted the meeting in Riyadh in December that led to the first sort of coalescing of the opposition. So they have been a key member of this effort from the very beginning. They are also a key partner in the fight against terrorism in the region writ large, and I see nothing that will prevent us from continuing to broaden and deepen that relationship, which is so vital not just in the region, but around the world.

QUESTION: Do --

MR KIRBY: And again – and we’ve made clear our opposition to this bill.

QUESTION: Is this something the Saudis regularly raise with you when Mr. Kerry sees them?

MR KIRBY: I think I’d be hard pressed to say that this particular issue is raised each and every time there’s a conversation with Saudi leaders, as you might expect, given the press of issues going on in the region. Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov speak very, very frequently. Has this come up in the past in those conversations? Absolutely it has. And the foreign minister has made clear his government’s opposition to the bill on – from their perspective. So it has been discussed. I suspect as it goes forward, I can’t rule out that it would continue to come up as an agenda item in those conversations, in those bilateral discussions. But is it dominating every discussion; is it looming over every single issue that the Secretary and the foreign minister or the Secretary and foreign leaders in Saudi Arabia talk about? No. No.

QUESTION: John, I think you said Foreign Minister Lavrov instead of Foreign Minister Jubeir.

QUESTION: Oh, yeah, you did. Yeah, you did.

MR KIRBY: Jubeir. I’m sorry. Sorry. Foreign Minister Jubeir. Thank you. I apologize.

QUESTION: Well, did – did --

MR KIRBY: We’ll correct that for the transcript.

QUESTION: Since you mentioned the conversation between Secretary Kerry and Saudi officials, was this topic a matter of discussion during the last visit of Secretary Kerry to Jeddah?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that this particular issue came up, Nic. The discussion in Jeddah was really focused more on regional security and stability issues. I’m not aware that this particular issue came up. Again, we have made very clear our opposition to the bill. The Secretary has testified to that. And as I said in my previous answer, we’re going to continue to look for opportunities to discuss this with members of Congress.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yesterday, apparently you have been listened by the French president, because after your statement the French decided to postpone their meeting scheduled later this month in Paris. So one, do you have a date – I mean, did you offer a new date to the French to organize this meeting? Or do you think that your message has been heard by the French that you are not really excited by the prospect of having a meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Paris?

MR KIRBY: We – I have nothing to announce today in terms of timing. As I said yesterday, we continue to engage in conversations with the French about a date that might work better for the Secretary to attend. I’m not aware that such a date has been arrived at, so I don't have anything specific to announce on the schedule. But as the Secretary said when we were in Paris just last week, that we welcome all manner of discussion and all constructive ideas that can help lead us to better prospects for a two-state solution.

QUESTION: But given the fact that the Israelis are opposed to this conference, given the fact that the U.S. has always led the international effort on the conflict, are you – I mean, do you think that it’s a good idea that the French and the Europeans organize this kind of conference?

MR KIRBY: Again, I think the Secretary made clear that we welcome – we’re not going to turn up our nose at any opportunity to have a constructive dialogue and to perhaps come up with ideas and solutions to get us to a two-state solution. I mean, it’s that important. It’s that important to us. It’s that important to the region, certainly to many other nations around the world. And so we welcome a good, meaningful, constructive dialogue to help us work through this problem and to try to help us come up with better solutions. I don't know how else to put it. I mean, we’re interested in continuing to talk to the French about their proposals and their ideas. And as I said, when we have a better sense of what the timing could be in terms of the Secretary’s participation, we’ll certainly make that known.

QUESTION: And is Secretary Kerry still hopeful to try to restart a direct dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians before he leaves office?

MR KIRBY: I would just say that I don’t think you’re going to see the Secretary – the Secretary’s interest or energy diminished at all for as long as he is Secretary of State with respect to trying to get to a two-state solution.

QUESTION: John, on this, do you feel that he U.S. bears responsibility for delaying or rescheduling this conference or this meeting?

MR KIRBY: These are decisions that the – this is a French initiative and decisions that the French are making with respect to timing and organization of it. We’re certainly grateful that they were willing to take into account the Secretary’s scheduling issues. And again, when we have a better sense of timing, we’ll have more to announce on that.

Are we staying on this? Any more on this issue?

QUESTION: Change of subject.

MR KIRBY: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- what is the U.S. position on the talks that’s going on between Government of Afghanistan and Hezb-e-Islami of Afghanistan faction by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar? Is the U.S. also involved in the peace talks?

MR KIRBY: Well, as we’ve said all along, that we support an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process for a negotiated solution – sorry, resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan. All relevant groups, including Hezb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, should be a part of such a political dialogue so that Afghans can talk directly to other Afghans about the future of their country. So in this regard, we would welcome political negotiations that have been taking place. Among the Afghan Government, the Afghan High Peace Council, and the representatives of HIG – otherwise that’s the – an acronym for that group – we’re going to continue to seek reconciliation conditions, including that any reconciled group must end the violence – these are end conditions, not preconditions – that any reconciled group must end violence, break associations with international terrorism, and accept Afghanistan’s constitution, as we’ve said many times, which includes the protections for women and for minorities.

So we don’t have preconditions going into this, but this is an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process.

QUESTION: And was the U.S. involved in these peace talks in any way, even as a observer?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any participation by the United States in this. Obviously, we’re watching this and we’re interested in it and we’ll continue to monitor it, but this is at its core, and we believe needs to remain, an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led process.

QUESTION: And do you also have any idea where is the peace talks with Taliban? What’s the status of that?

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

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: I’m sure you saw that former Ambassador Ryan Crocker published an op-ed in The Washington Post yesterday opposing efforts to limit the number of special immigrant visas for Afghan citizens. Do you agree with Ambassador Crocker’s position?

MR KIRBY: Well, we have seen the ambassador’s opinion piece, and we note that he urged Congress to approve the additional visa slots that we had asked for, so in that regard, we certainly welcome his support for the additional visas that we would like to see get approved.

QUESTION: And then --

QUESTION: How many – sorry.

QUESTION: Are you aware that officials in the U.S. embassy in Kabul were among those who raised concerns about the structure of this visa program?

MR KIRBY: No, I’ve not seen reports about that.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on this.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: How many (inaudible) visas you have asked for the Congress?

MR KIRBY: It’s an additional 3,000.

QUESTION: 3,000.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. But back to your – I haven’t seen those reports, but I do want to underscore how important we believe our obligations are here at the State Department and inside the United States Government to continue to look after those who so carefully and skillfully looked after us both in the military and in the diplomatic corps. We know we have an obligation to them, and that’s why we’re going to continue to work with Congress to see if we can’t get more opportunities for them to avail themselves of this program.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: I came to you before; I’ll come back.

QUESTION: A new topic?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: CSIS yesterday released a bunch of photos on satellite image showing that Vietnam has been constructing on 10 islands and reefs in South China Sea for the past two years. Do you have a response to that? And can you confirm that the U.S. has asked Vietnam to halt those constructions, but Vietnam has rejected?

MR KIRBY: What I would say is that publicly and in private discussions we’ve consistently called on all claimants, including Vietnam, to publicly commit to a reciprocal halt to further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, and new militarization of disputed features. So this is something that we have made clear to all claimants.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel recently just visited Vietnam. Has this – the South China Sea issues – been brought up?

MR KIRBY: Has – in his meetings --

QUESTION: In his meeting with Vietnamese official during his --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a specific readout of his discussion. I’d refer you to our East Asia Pacific Bureau, which we could probably get you a better sense. So I can’t answer the question specifically. That said, it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if issues of what’s going on in South China Sea come up. They always do when we’re talking to our friends, allies, and partners in the region.

QUESTION: But obviously, Vietnam hasn’t answered your call to halt the construction, so will the United States, to further bring pressure --

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of speculative or hypothetical actions one way or another, or decisions that we might make or the Vietnamese might make. We’ve made clear what our expectations are for all claimants and what our – more broadly, what our expectations are for security and stability in the region, and how best we think that that can be pursued.

I’ve already got you. Way in the back there.

QUESTION: Thank you. I would like to get back to yesterday’s meeting in Vienna, where the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair country high-ranking representative, including Secretary of State John Kerry, met the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: John, according to your information, was there any progress made over there regarding the initiative that actually comes from the United States to install --

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, look --

QUESTION: -- special equipment and to investigate the violations that may occur in Karabakh?

MR KIRBY: So a couple of things here. I mean, I’ll give you a little bit of thoughts here, but I encourage you to go on our website and look at the joint statement that everybody issued at the end. I mean, that makes it very clear what was discussed and the constructive attitude and demeanor of all the participants in this meeting. Both presidents committed themselves to respect the ceasefire, to put in place important confidence-building measures, and to begin negotiations next month that can lead to a comprehensive settlement. They demonstrated what we believe to be political will to move beyond the status quo and to take steps that can benefit all the people in the region. And so as the Secretary made clear, the United States, for our part, will stand ready to assist them in that regard whatever they – in whatever way they can.

So look, it was a positive meeting and a step in the right direction. And now everybody has to do the hard work of implementing the things that they committed to.

QUESTION: John, according to various sources – and I have Stratfor’s article in front of me – Armenia and Karabakh have been open to the idea of installing these gun detectors. Russia too has been receptive. Azerbaijan, though, has flatly rejected it, end of quote. Would you elaborate on this?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that article so I’m not going to respond to everything you’re seeing there. I simply would point you back to the joint statement that was issued yesterday in which both presidents acknowledged a commitment to the ceasefire and to moving the process forward and to starting to have more discussions next month, which we think is a positive development.

QUESTION: According to best of your information, has Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh agreed to this initiative prior to Vienna meeting?

MR KIRBY: I can – sir, I can only point you back to what was discussed yesterday and the commitment that both presidents made. And I think that really speaks for itself.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Iraq?

MR KIRBY: Iraq? Sure.

QUESTION: In the wake of another bloody day of carnage in Baghdad, is the attack by ISIS a sign that the terror group is not as close to being wiped out, despite claims by members of the Administration saying that ISIS is shrinking?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s – I’m not sure what you mean by shrinking, but – so let me just --

QUESTION: Or making --

MR KIRBY: Let me try to dissect this because it’s a great question. There’s no question, no doubt at all, by almost any measure, that this group is under increasing pressure and has been forced increasingly on the defensive. They haven’t – they haven’t grabbed any new ground or acquired new territory of any significance since May, since almost a – well, yeah, a year ago, May of last year. They are having trouble recruiting. They’re having trouble retaining. And we’re learning more and more from defectors about their dissatisfaction in the ranks. And it’s becoming – they are resulting to more extortion, for instance, in order not just to try to make up the revenues they’re losing, but to exert the influence over local populations that they are now starting to lose. They have definitely lost, by some accounts, a third, if not more, of their revenues from – simply from things like oil. So this is a group that’s very much under pressure. And we are – as we look at them, we’re not – you’re not seeing them operate, communicate, resource themselves at all like they were even six, eight months ago. So there’s no question that this group is under more pressure.

One thing we have seen – and again, this isn’t about – this isn’t a subject of analysis; it’s true – one thing we’ve seen, as they have continued to come under more and more pressure, they continue to resort to tactics like we’re seeing in Baghdad and elsewhere, even in places in Europe – more targeted, more individualistic terrorist violence, whether it’s vehicle-borne explosive devices or suicide bombings. And so we are seeing them resort more and more on those kinds of tactics where they can, in their view, achieve some matter of success and particularly get attention for their efforts through these very dramatic, very violent acts.

That said – and I really want to underscore this, because I said this at the outset – they still remain a dangerous group. Nobody’s turning a blind eye to their capabilities. Nobody’s walking away from the fact that the pressure has to continue to be applied. There has been success by the coalition, but that is not – it’s not to be taken lightly and it’s certainly not to be considered foregone if we don’t keep it up. We have now 66 nations in the coalition, now that Afghanistan has joined, and the work against this group exists on many lines of effort, not just military. And I can assure you that, for our part, the United States is going to continue to keep the pressure up on them, because they have proven resilience in the past.

So we are seeing them weaker. We are seeing them use more traditional terror tactics to strike out, in part because they’re weaker. They can’t operate the same way. They don’t have the same quasi-military capabilities that they once had. But it doesn’t mean that they aren’t still dangerous.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria and these airdrops that are being considered --

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: -- if the aid convoys continue to be blocked? How is that going to work and who’s going to conduct them and provide security?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think – again, I’d point you back to the communique. It said very clearly that if, by the 1st of June, we haven’t seen an improvement in – a significant improvement in humanitarian access, the World Food Program would be enlisted to conduct more airdrops. They have done airdrops in the past. This is not a new thing for the World Food Program. They’ve done it successfully in the past in Syria, so we know they can do it in the future. And again, the communique said that the members of the ISSG would work together and in unison to help create the conditions for which – or under which those airdrops can be successful.

QUESTION: So who’s going to provide the security for those airdrops?

MR KIRBY: Your question presumes that there has to be a measure of security for each and every airdrop. There have been successful airdrops in the past that didn’t require, quote/unquote, “physical security” accompanying them. And I wouldn’t get into speculating about military operations one way or the other in the future. What, again, I would point you to is the language in the communique, which says the members of the ISSG will work together to create the conditions so that those airdrops can be successful. But they have – again, it’s not like it hasn’t happened in the past. WFP have done this in the past and done it successfully.

Gordon, way in the back there.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Two quick --

QUESTION: Oh --

MR KIRBY: No, not you, Goyal. Gordon. (Laughter.) I’ll come to you. I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: John, I just wonder if you could --

MR KIRBY: I’m going to a former Pentagon colleague.

QUESTION: -- put your answer about Iraq in the context of the Abadi government and talk for a minute about the – your current assessment of the government and how – if these sustained casualties the ISF are taking undermine its popular support and undermine its ability to kind of manage this – what seems like maybe a new phase by ISIS in Iraq.

MR KIRBY: I don’t think we’ve seen any indication thus far that casualties incurred by Iraqi Security Forces are undermining popular support for the effort against Daesh. This is a very real, substantial threat to the Iraqi people that the Abadi government is taking seriously, and frankly, the Iraqi people are taking seriously. And that’s why our advise and assist mission is so important there. So I’ve seen no indications that there is an erosion necessarily of public support for the mission in light of the casualties taken by Iraqi Security Forces. I think the Iraqis know all too well and too sadly that the fight against Daesh is a dangerous, lethal fight, and that their forces are going to come under fire and face – and be put in harm’s way.

I would tell you that we continue to see Iraqi Security Forces fight bravely. We are going to continue to stay committed to making sure that they have the competence and the capabilities they need to continue to do so. They have had recent successes – you’ve covered this well yourself – recent successes, particularly out in Anbar. And it’s our expectations that those successes will continue – with coalition support, no question about it.

But the last thing I’ll say is that we continue to support Prime Minister Abadi in his reform efforts, in his efforts to form a unity government to move the country forward, and to continue – and he has stayed committed to this – to continue to properly resource, to properly lead, and to properly man and staff Iraqi Security Forces that can remain competent and capable to the threat.

Goyal. I’ll come back to you, Arshad; you’ve been very patient. Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: Two quick questions, one on India. As far as Prime Minister Modi’s upcoming visit is concerned, are there any discussions going on between the U.S. and India what will happen during his visit? And also, how this – his visit will be different than he made several in the past?

MR KIRBY: Well, Goyal, I’m not going to speak to the specific agenda or schedule for a foreign leader. That’s really for Prime Minister Modi and his staff to speak to. I’ll just say again, like we said before, this is a very special relationship. It’s one that we – excuse me – that we’re very committed to, and we look forward to continuing to work with Prime Minister Modi on all the different areas in which the United States and India will and must work together.

QUESTION: And Burma. Anything new as far as State Department is concerned? Because the President has issued a – some declaration on Burma and --

MR KIRBY: I addressed this --

QUESTION: -- how much trust do you think the Secretary has in this new government, and what --

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: -- as far as sanctions and others are going to --

MR KIRBY: Well, I addressed this at the top. Obviously, we’re very supportive of the decisions made by the Treasury Department with – in terms of recalibrating these sanctions. It’s an indication of how far Burma has come. It’s also a frank assessment that they still have progress that they need to make. The Secretary looks forward to visiting in the next few days. We’ve talked about that. So he looks forward to having direct conversations with leaders there about the situation in Burma and where things are going. We look forward – we look very much forward to that.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR KIRBY: Arshad.

QUESTION: One on Chile. And I apologize; you may not have seen this. I only saw it a couple of minutes before the briefing began. The Chilean supreme court has asked the United States to extradite three Pinochet-era – three people who worked for Pinochet’s security services and who were accused of having killed a UN diplomat in 1976. Do you have any comment on their request for extradition?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that report. But as a matter of course, and I think you know, we don’t discuss the specifics of extradition cases.

Nic.

QUESTION: Not far from Chile – Venezuela. What’s your take on the political crisis, which is deepening in Venezuela? And you may have seen that, but President Maduro accused the U.S. military to have sent an aircraft last week over Venezuela.

MR KIRBY: Well, I think I’ll let the military speak to the second part of your question. I don’t have any information on that. But just broadly speaking, I would note that we continue to stand with the international community in expressing our concerns about the difficult conditions the Venezuelan people are experiencing, including worsening shortages of food, medicine, electricity, and basic consumer goods. We believe the solution to these challenges are – is going to require the inclusion of all interested parties, and now, we believe, is the time for leaders to listen to diverse Venezuelan voices and to work together peacefully to find solutions.

The last thing I’ll add is that we continue to call for respect for the will of the people, the rule of law, the separation of powers within the government, and the democratic process there.

I’ve got time for just one more. Do we have one? Okay. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:08 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 16, 2016

Mon, 05/16/2016 - 16:09

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 16, 2016

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:38 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR KIRBY: Just a couple of program notes for you at the top. As you know, the Secretary is in Vienna today and they just not a little bit ago wrapped up the – a multilateral meeting of some 24 entities – 20 countries and four international organizations – on Libya. You probably saw the Secretary’s comments at the press avail after that. Following that, the Secretary met bilaterally with Foreign Minister Lavrov. That meeting, as I understand it, just wrapped up and I think our Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner, who is out on the road with the Secretary, will have a readout of that meeting. I do not have a readout of it. It literally just wrapped up. And then later today, the Secretary will meet with the presidents of both Armenia and Azerbaijan, where they will discuss, of course, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, including confidence-building measures and the need to resume negotiations on a comprehensive settlement.

You may have also seen we just put out a note a little bit ago announcing that the Secretary will on the 18th, on Wednesday, make a short trip to Cairo where he’ll meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues. He’ll do that, again, Wednesday. Tomorrow, as you know, is the next iteration of the International Syria Support Group there in Vienna as well, so a busy few days early in the week for the Secretary.

Then I just want to make a comment on Yemen. We continue to believe that the success of the ongoing peace talks in Kuwait remain critical for achieving long-term peace, security, and stability in Yemen. And the United States commends the parties for their engagement in these talks and for the important steps that they’ve already taken. In particular, we welcome news that the delegations have agreed in principle to an exchange of half of all the prisoners and detainees held by both sides, and that this exchange would happen before or by the beginning of Ramadan, which is the first week of June. We continue to offer our full support to the efforts of the UN special envoy, of course, and as he himself has said, these talks are a historic opportunity. We echo his calls for all the parties to make the hard choices and compromise that will lead to a final agreement there in Yemen.

With that --

QUESTION: Can we start with Libya?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: As I – well, a simple question: Do you expect any imminent arms transfers to the Libyan Government?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know – and I don’t want to parse the word “imminent,” so I’m not sure what you mean in terms of imminent. But as the Secretary said himself, the embargo that’s in place does allow for the GNA to request exemptions, and that we would certainly consider and certainly look upon favorably on requests made by the Libyan Government, the GNA, in terms of material that they might need. As far as I know, there’s been no such request yet, so it’s difficult to say how quote-unquote “imminent” the provision of any arms or material or training might be. We just – this was just decided on now by the international community today that they would do this, that they would look favorably on this, and I think we just need to let the process take effect.

QUESTION: The reason I asked it is there’s been a bunch of reporting on this suggesting that the international community stands ready to do this, but that’s been the case, as you point out, for quite some time. And I realize “look favorably” is kind of a – one further step, but I thought it might be helpful for people to understand whether or not this was likely to happen anytime soon. I mean, as you point out, you haven’t actually gotten a request; and presumably, after you get a request, you’re going to have to study it very carefully, not just in terms of the armaments but also in terms of making sure that whoever gets them uses them responsibly. And --

MR KIRBY: And that it’s appropriately resourced, right? I mean, depending on what they ask for, the international community would have to, through the UN, decide how would – (a) does that request – can we grant it; (b) sort of how would we resource it, staff it, logistically provide for it. So there’s a lot of decisions that have to get made.

I don’t want to – however, in my reticence to describe the word “imminent,” I don’t want to indicate that the international community won’t take these requests seriously and move with as much alacrity as the system will permit them to move. But as the Secretary said himself, and as you noted I think in your last question there, there’s a balance to be achieved here, because we obviously need to make sure that whatever is provided is provided in such a way that it can’t end up in the wrong hands, which is the purpose for the embargo to begin with, which was in place since 2011.

QUESTION: It isn’t happening anytime soon, is it?

MR KIRBY: I just don’t know. I mean, it’s an extremely fair question, Arshad. I just don’t know the answer. I mean, we have to get a request. It has to be, as you said, carefully considered – I would agree with you on that – and then processed. But I just don’t know.

And when you – the real nub of your question isn’t so much the when, but when you said “it.” So what is it? And I think we have to work our way through that – what is the support that would be provided. And that has to start with a request from the GNA, which we just don’t have yet.

QUESTION: John, on Secretary’s trip to Egypt, it would be the second meeting between the Secretary and the Egyptian president in less than a month. And Egyptian foreign minister was here on Friday too. What’s going on?

MR KIRBY: You’re – there’s --

QUESTION: Lots of meetings with the Egyptians --

MR KIRBY: There’s a lot going on, Michel. I mean, I’m not quite sure how to answer your question here.

QUESTION: Regarding Egypt only or Libya or Syria or peace process?

MR KIRBY: As I said, as I said at the top, I mean, they’re going to discuss a range of bilateral U.S. and Egypt issues as well as regional issues. And there’s plenty on that plate to talk about, and the Secretary himself has talked about the importance of Egypt in the region. He’s talked about the importance of our relationship with Egypt and looking for ways to keep that relationship vibrant and healthy. And we’ve also talked at length about the growing threat of terrorism that Egyptians are facing, as well as a spate of other political and economic and security challenges inside the country itself. So there’s an awful lot to discuss with Egyptian leaders, and I think the Secretary looks forward to continuing those kinds of – that kind of dialogue.

QUESTION: And any readout for the Secretary’s meeting with Sameh Shoukry on Friday? Did they discuss the human rights issue in Egypt?

MR KIRBY: They discussed a wide range of issues, as you might expect they would. There hasn’t been a meeting that we’ve had with Egyptian officials in many months where we did not raise our concerns over human rights, and the meeting last week with Foreign Minister Shoukry was no exception to that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: John, I’ve got a couple of Syria questions. Brett McGurk briefed reporters in Jordan on Sunday --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and among other things he talked about the Iraqi military’s determination to take al-Rutba. We saw that operation begin this morning. I’m wondering --

MR KIRBY: To take what?

QUESTION: Ar Rutba. Could you just tell us a little bit about why the specific focus on that town?

MR KIRBY: I’m really reticent to get into tactical operational discussions. Those are better questions to put to the coalition, to Colonel Warren out there in Baghdad. But I did see Special Envoy McGurk’s comments from his press conference, and I think he made clear that the Iraqi Security Forces are making gains against Daesh inside the country, that taking back more and more ground and territory from Daesh is important. On the face of it, it’s important, obviously, to further degrade and defeat them and their capabilities. But it’s also important to counter this narrative they have of this so-called caliphate, so every town and village that Daesh holds is important on its own right simply because it’s being put under the jackboot of this terrorist group. But as for the specific, more operational considerations that were put into place, I’m just not at liberty to get into that.

QUESTION: Okay. He also spoke about the very good information that you guys are getting out of Mosul, from inside Mosul. And I realize this is a sensitive area, but I was wondering if you could talk to us a little bit about the kinds of information you’re getting or perhaps how you made these contacts or – and/or the value of this information to the operations that you’re conducting.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m reticent to talk about intelligence matters from the podium. You know that, and I’m certainly not going to get into, again, specific, tactical military discussions here. I would just – I would just reiterate a couple of things. One, we are gaining a lot more information about this group. There’s a lot of ways in which that information is coming in, and I think you can understand why we wouldn’t want to talk publicly about that – those sources of information. But we are gaining a much better sense of clarity about how they operate, how they organize, how they fund themselves, how they manage their own resources. That’s valuable information and has helped us further shrink the territory they hold and further put them under pressure.

And we have been – the second point I’d make is that we have for some time now been conducting what we call shaping operations in and around Mosul. Everybody recognizes the importance of Mosul and taking it back. They know that – and by “they” I mean Daesh. They know how seriously the coalition, and of course, a major contributor to the coalition is Iraqi Security Forces – they know how important Mosul is. So yes, there’s information. As we have conducted shaping operations we’ve gained a better sense, a heightened sense of situational awareness about what’s going on in Mosul. And we obviously want to see that information continue to flow and continue to help inform what would be future operations there. But again, I’m just reticent to get into the details of what we’re learning and how we’re learning it.

QUESTION: Okay, my last Syria question. There was a report over the weekend --

MR KIRBY: These were all Iraq questions, by the way.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR KIRBY: At least the first two have been.

QUESTION: Okay. There was a report over the weekend about al-Qaida leadership in Pakistan sending senior officials, operatives, to Syria to work with al-Nusrah to try and establish an emirate. Just wondering how concerned the department is about that. And given that a lot of the U.S. and coalition focus seems to be on ISIS, could you give us a sense of how much you do focus on Nusrah?

MR KIRBY: A couple of things. And so al-Nusrah is an offshoot of al-Qaida, so for all intents and purposes, because of their connection with al-Qaida, there’s been an al-Qaida presence in Syria embodied by them because there is a relationship there. And again, without getting into intelligence matters, I don’t think it should come as a surprise to anybody that al-Qaida would, as al-Nusrah did and as Daesh has done, look to exploit the total lack of governance in areas inside Syria. So do we take it seriously? Absolutely.

As for the second question in terms of what we’re doing about it, I mean, again, I’d point you back to the Munich communique, which put the cessation of hostilities in place in the first place, and that – and that excluded al-Nusrah and Daesh from the cessation. More critically, what it really – what it did, if you look at the specific language, it excluded any group designated as a terrorist organization by the UN as party, and al-Nusrah and Daesh are obviously so designated. So is al-Qaida. So to the degree that al-Qaida proper decides to make a showing in Syria, they will, as al-Nusrah and as Daesh, become legitimate targets. And as we take them seriously elsewhere around the world, we will take them seriously if and when and to what degree they try to advance themselves in Syria. But again, let’s not throw – in this discussion about al-Qaida in Syria, let’s not overlook the very serious, very real, very tangible connection between al-Nusrah and al-Qaida. They are, in many ways, one and the same.

QUESTION: Has there been any success in getting the U.S.-approved rebels to separate from Nusrah?

MR KIRBY: I think those are discussions we continue to have. It obviously remains fluid and dynamic and that there is commingling. Some of it’s intentional; some of it’s not. It still remains an issue.

QUESTION: John –

QUESTION: Syria, on the same issue – same issue.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Last week you were asked about the attack on an Alawite village, al- Zahraa. You said you didn’t have specific information about who was responsible. The Ahrar al-Sham group admitted to participating in the attack. The group’s spokesman told Reuters, quote, “Civilians were not targeted. On the contrary, factions made great effort to spare civilians and deal with prisoners humanely,” end quote. RT went to the village and the residents there described a massacre where militants killed women and children and abducted dozens of people. Why does the U.S. insist that this group Ahrar al-Sham should not be blacklisted along with al-Nusrah?

MR KIRBY: We’re – as I said at the outset, out of Munich, the decision by the International Syria Support Group, of which Russia is a member, and a communique that Russia signed up to agreed – and this was more than 20 nations – agreed that the only groups that would not be party to the cessation of hostilities would be those designated as terrorist organizations by the UN. And of all the groups – no, let me finish before you interrupt me – all the groups – of the groups that are represented in Syria fighting, the two that meet that criteria – a criteria that was agreed to by everybody in the ISSG, not just the United States, ma’am – were al-Nusrah and Daesh.

QUESTION: Why did the U.S. fight their inclusion last week at the UN?

MR KIRBY: This was a decision made by the International Syria Support Group. Everybody agreed that al-Nusrah and Daesh, because they’re designated by the UN as foreign terrorist organizations, would not be party to the cessation. And so that’s where we are today.

QUESTION: The U.S. fights at the UN not to include this group in the --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into internal deliberations one way or the other.

QUESTION: But why?

MR KIRBY: I’m telling you – look, you’re putting – I love how you do this, try to put everything on the United States. The International Syria Support Group is an international – it represents the international community. Iran is a member. Russia is a member. Saudi Arabia – I could go on and on and on. All of them collectively made this decision. And so your question should be posed to all the members of the ISSG. Bottom line is that even Russia agreed that the only groups that would not be party to the cessation are members designated by terrorist organizations of the UN. I’ve said that now three times in response to your follow-ups.

The only other thing I would say is regardless of who was responsible for this attack, there’s no excuse for killing innocent civilians, none whatsoever. The whole reason why we wanted the cessation of hostilities put in place was so that violence against innocent Syrian people would not occur. And sadly, it is still occurring and we’re working very hard – the Secretary has been working very hard to try to get it to be held more in place in more places in an enduring fashion. And one of the things I think you can – I can assure you will be a major topic of discussion tomorrow in Vienna is exactly that: How do we get the cessation of hostilities to be observed by everyone?

QUESTION: Do you think this particular group cares much about the cessation of hostilities?

MR KIRBY: What we care about is the cessation of hostilities. And every member of the ISSG cares about the cessation of hostilities. And what we’ve said all along is we want all those who have influence over groups in Syria to use that influence in an appropriate manner to get them to abide by the cessation. So look –

QUESTION: Does the U.S. have influence over this Ahrar al-Sham group?

MR KIRBY: -- nobody’s turning a blind eye to what happened and, as I said last week, that those kinds of attacks are inexcusable.

QUESTION: What does the U.S. do to address what happened last week in al-Zahraa?

MR KIRBY: We are working with all the members of the ISSG, which, as I said, includes Russia --

QUESTION: Is the U.S. in touch with this group, Ahrar al-Sham?

MR KIRBY: We are working with all members of the ISSG to use the appropriate amount of influence that they have – some of that influence is influence we have – over groups in Syria to get everybody to abide by the cessation. Attacks against innocent civilians are absolutely inexcusable no matter who they’re from.

Michel.

QUESTION: John, Mr. Riyad Hijab has said today that the opposition has received promises from the West to receive sophisticated weapons. Any update on this?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, on the --

QUESTION: They will receive – the Syrian opposition will receive sophisticated weapons from the West or from the support – the Syrian Support Group.

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments and I don’t have an update on – in terms of assistance provided – specific direct assistance provided to Syrian opposition groups. I just haven’t seen those comments.

Yeah.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Nic, go ahead. We’ll go back to you, Nike.

QUESTION: Do you have an update on the possibility Secretary Kerry would participate to the meeting the French want to organize later this month on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update. Obviously, we remain interested in – as the Secretary said, in advancing a two-state solution and to listening to ideas on how to do that. We’ve made it clear that the May 30th date originally proposed by the French was – would not work for the Secretary and for his schedule, but there’s been no decision made yet about an alternative date that might work or his possible attendance.

QUESTION: Yeah, because the presence of Secretary Kerry is so critical that the French foreign minister, who was in Israel over the weekend, he said that he is ready to postpone the meeting to accommodate Secretary’s schedule. So is it just a question of schedule or is it also matter of principle?

MR KIRBY: As I said, the 30th won’t work and we’ve made that clear. And I think we’re in discussions right now with the French about any possible alternative date that might better work for the Secretary. I just don’t have anything further to go on today in terms of a decision one way or another, either by the French to come up with a new date or whether that would work for the Secretary.

QUESTION: Does the 30th not work because the Secretary is going to be traveling somewhere else that day, or does it not work because it’s Memorial Day and he doesn’t wish to travel on a federal holiday?

MR KIRBY: I think there were a number of factors that led into our view that the 30th of May wasn’t going to work for the Secretary and some of that has to do with his travel schedule as well. I think you know how jammed he’s going to be for the rest of the month of May. But again, we’re in discussions with the French over this. I just don’t have any decisions to announce today in terms of his participation.

QUESTION: Just one more. Can I – does the U.S. (inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: No. No, no, no, no. Nike.

QUESTION: John, as you mentioned on top of the briefing, Secretary Kerry is going to meet with the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: What’s – what are the expectations of that meetings?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think one of the things they want to definitely discuss – the Secretary definitely wants to discuss is how we can better lower the tensions there, de-escalate the violence that has sadly continued. There was a 1994 ceasefire put in place that obviously is not being adhered to. And so the fragility of the security situation there is something of deep concern to the Secretary, and he wants to explore ways in which we can ratchet down that tension.

QUESTION: By exploring ways, are you saying that the United States is taking a more active role in facilitating the negotiation process of the peace there?

MR KIRBY: We’ve always been interested in seeing a peaceful solution there. That’s not new. This isn’t about arbitration or mediation, but it’s important to us to see the tension de-escalate, to see the violence stop, to see the ceasefire observed, and to see the parties start to work towards some – to see the parties work towards a better outcome through political dialogue and discussion, and that’s really what he wants to help foster.

QUESTION: John, do you have --

QUESTION: When is the last time Secretary Kerry met with both presidents and for the peace process?

MR KIRBY: Met with them face to face? I don’t know. We’d have to take that question and get back to you. I think I read out phone calls that he had done – he’s done in just the last couple of weeks, but in terms of a face-to-face meeting, I just don’t have that data in front of me.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow on that.

MR KIRBY: Yeah --

QUESTION: I think you addressed this a few weeks ago, but does – have you taken a position on why – whether one or the other side was more responsible for the flare-up that happened last month in Nagorno-Karabakh?

MR KIRBY: I think what – I think what I’d say is my answer to Nike, that we’ve seen the violence increase, we’ve seen the tensions increase, and our job here is to try to help find ways going forward to get that tension to decrease. And that’s why he wants to meet with the leaders of both countries.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On Japan. The governor of Okinawa is currently in town. Is anybody from the State Department planning on meeting with him?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a schedule update for you on that.

QUESTION: He’s apparently discussing alternative plans to the Futenma relocation facility. Is – are you guys done exploring options given your --

MR KIRBY: Nothing’s changed about our position on the Futenma replacement facility. We still believe that that’s the right approach going forward. We’re going to continue to work with the Japanese Government to that end. So there’s no change to our view in terms of the importance of the replacement facility. And again, I just don’t have any specifics with respect to his schedule, but we’ll take that question too and get back to you.

In the back there.

QUESTION: South Africa. The Sunday Times is reporting a former U.S. vice consul and possible CIA officer has admitted that he was the one who tipped off the government in – the apartheid-era government to arrest Nelson Mandela. It’s going to be in a new documentary. Do you have a response to this admission and are you concerned that this could impact relationships with Pretoria?

MR KIRBY: Well, our relationship with the government in Pretoria is very strong and we look forward to continuing to enjoy that close relationship going forward. I’ve seen the press reports on this. I don’t have anything to comment on one way or the other.

QUESTION: John?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: You guys issued a very – an unusually detailed and blunt travel warning for North Korea.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: What prompted that?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think, first of all, it’s a – it was done in routine fashion in terms of procedure. It’s time to do – well, you know we do these every six months. And oh, by the way, what you’re going to see now going forward is them being done every 90 days. There’s now legislation that – I’m sorry, policy that requires we’re going to do – every 90 days now you’re going to see updates on DPRK. And I think that that – that makes a lot of sense because of the increase in tensions that we’re seeing there on the peninsula and because of the provocative activity by the regime there. I mean, just – I want to just check. I want to just check one thing. I said “policy,” but I was right the first time – legislation. The North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016 stipulates that the State Department update the travel warning for North Korea every 90 days, so it’s law. I wanted to correct myself on that.

QUESTION: Is there any other country that --

MR KIRBY: So – not that I’m aware of. I’m not – I don’t know how – I don’t know of any other nation that we’re required to do it every 90 days. But so you’re going to start seeing these every three months. That’s point one.

Point two, yes, it is more detailed in some ways in terms of laying out what we’ve – the kinds of – and it’s not an exhaustive list, by the way, but it is an – a list of examples of activities for which we have seen foreigners be given unduly harsh sentences.

So yes, it was a little bit more specific and a little bit more blunt in some ways, but again, I think that’s reflective of the increased tensions that we’re seeing there on the peninsula and certainly the way – the manner in which the regime has acted out against foreigners on travel to North Korea.

So we take our responsibilities very seriously to travelers so that we give them as much information as we can before they travel, before they go overseas, and this is, I think, very much in keeping with our responsibilities to do that. But the frequency will – I just want to make sure you all are aware – the frequency will now be every 90 days instead of six months.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Okay, thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: One --

MR KIRBY: Whoa, I have one more.

QUESTION: Iran has begun a new crackdown on social media by arresting people, women, who were modeling clothing on photo-sharing websites. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen those reports about this social media crackdown. As we’ve said before, we support freedom of expression and freedom of information all around the world. If these reports are true, we would certainly be concerned about such a crackdown and we’d call on Iranian authorities to respect the rights of its citizens to freely express themselves both on and offline. But right now we just have press reports about it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody. Have a good day.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:08 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Fri, 05/13/2016 - 15:14

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 13, 2016

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TRANSCRIPT:

12:41 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Friday to you. Thank you. I appreciate your flexibility on the timing of the briefing today. We’re going a little early and we’re going to have to keep it a little shorter than normal. This – I’m afraid I’ve got to be elsewhere here a little bit after 1:00.

So just a couple of things at the top. I do want to note that the department’s disappointed that the Senate Armed Services Committee did not extend or authorize new visas for the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program, which enables, as you know, Afghans who have worked alongside our troops and our diplomats to seek refuge in the United States. Thousands of Afghans have performed this vital work often at great personal risk, and many, as you also know, have lost their lives doing it. Many are continuing to face threats to themselves, to their families, to their livelihoods. These Afghan civilians have been essential to accomplishing our mission in Afghanistan. And we thank Chairman McCain and Senator Shaheen for their longstanding commitment to this issue, and we look forward to continuing to work with them to ensure that those who bravely stood with us in Afghanistan are not abandoned.

On a travel note, and I won’t read the entire travel note – I know we’ve put that a little bit ago so you’re aware, but I do want to just hit the top lines. The Secretary will leave this evening for a trip to Saudi Arabia, Austria, Belgium, Burma, and Vietnam, and that trip will go till about the 26th of May. His first stop will be in Jeddah, where he’ll have meetings with Saudi Government officials to discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues.

He’ll then go to Vienna, Austria, where he will co-host a ministerial meeting on Libya with the Italian foreign minister, and that – we expect that meeting will focus, again, on security issues. He’s also going to co-host the ministerial meeting of the International Syria Support Group also there in Vienna, which will be designed to reaffirm, of course, and strengthen the cessation of hostilities, to discuss ways in which we can better ensure humanitarian access, and of course, to expedite a negotiated political transition there. Then together with Russia and France, he will also co-host a meeting on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with the presidents of both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

He’ll then go to Brussels, Belgium – this will be from about the 18th to the 21st – to participate in the NATO Foreign Ministerial, which will be really focused on preparations for the Warsaw NATO Summit Heads of State and Government in July.

On the 22nd he goes to Burma to meet with key leaders there to signal U.S. support for the new democratically elected civilian-led government, and then to Vietnam, where he’ll accompany President Obama on the President’s trip to Hanoi and to Ho Chi Minh City. And I’m sure that we’ll have more and more detail as the trip unfolds, but I did want to just hit that right at the top.

Matt.

QUESTION: Right. Well, since this is kind of trip-related – the ISSG meeting – I want to start with Syria. A couple of things about it: One, this will probably be brief because I don’t think you’ll have a lot to say about it. But you probably will have seen reports that Hizballah’s top military guy was killed in Syria. I’m wondering what you make of that, what you know about it, if anything.

MR KIRBY: Don’t know a whole lot of detail. Have seen those reports. Certainly, in no position to dispute them, but we don’t have a lot of information regarding his reported death.

QUESTION: All right. The foreign minister – well, over the course of the past two, two-and-a-half years, Secretary Kerry has forged a personal relationship with the foreign minister of Iran, Mr. Zarif. Is it troubling at all that in response to the death of this Hizballah commander, Foreign Minister Zarif, according to the – Iran’s official news agency, sent his condolences to Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hizballah, saying that he hoped the martyrdom of this great commander will further strengthen resistance forces against the Zionist and terrorism.

The Secretary was just in Europe trying to encourage banks to do legal business with Iran. They are balking. They’re resistant because of other Iranian – non-nuclear Iranian policies. What’s the view of the Secretary, if you know, or of the Administration more generally, about --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- notes of condolence for a guy who was accused of murdering dozens at least – more probably – of Americans sanctioned by successive U.S. administrations for links to terrorism and is accused of murdering Rafik Hariri?

MR KIRBY: Well, you’re right. I mean, he was, in fact, convicted for his role in the 12 December 1983 bombings of the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait which killed five people. And as you know, Hizballah is a designated foreign terrorist organization. So I’ve seen those comments. We certainly do not share in them one bit, and it’s disappointing to see that Foreign Minister Zarif would feel that way.

That said, we also have – know that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and that they have continued to support this particular group which is a designated foreign terrorist organization. And that is exactly why, when the Secretary was in London speaking with European banking institutions, on more than one occasion in that meeting he raised very specifically our continued concerns about what Iran is doing in the region. And to be clear, many of these bankers expressed that as a source of some of their skittishness that here you have a country which, while living up to their commitments under the JCPOA, are certainly still conducting any number of destabilizing activities in the world and in the region. And we understand that and the Secretary was very clear about that.

But we do not share the comments attributed to Foreign Minister Zarif and we continue to hold Hizballah as a foreign terrorist organization. And you’re right; this individual was a deeply committed terrorist.

QUESTION: All right. Well, do these kind of comments give you pause about having such a close relationship or close part – I don’t want to say partnership, but close – the Secretary and the others in the Administration, the White House, has talked about how the Iran nuclear negotiations opened up this new channel between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif.

MR KIRBY: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: I mean, are you guys at all uncomfortable with --

MR KIRBY: We are – certainly, we would not associate ourselves with the foreign minister’s comments with respect to the death of Mustafa Badreddine. We wouldn’t associate ourselves at all with that. We have – because of the Iran deal there is an open channel of communication through the foreign minister that Secretary Kerry does use and will continue to use because --

QUESTION: Okay. Do you --

MR KIRBY: Will continue to use. I mean, look, Iran is a member of the ISSG so it’s our expectation --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- that Iran will be represented in Vienna. The channels of communication are open and will probably stay open. That doesn’t mean by any means that we’re turning a blind eye to what Iran is capable of doing or to these comments.

QUESTION: All right. The second issue on Syria is you will have also seen reports from numerous people – Government – Syrian Government as well as opposition groups that I believe yesterday or very recently – Ahrar al-Sham, a rebel group that you guys have fought with the Russians to keep off of the banned list, to keep them included in the ceasefire, along with al-Nusrah fighters, stormed this Alawite village.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: How is it that – I mean, they look like they are operating as one and the same, a group that you insist is not a terrorist group and a group that you insist is a terrorist group. How do you explain that? And when, if ever, are you going to tell them that they’re in danger of being unincluded in the cessation of hostilities?

MR KIRBY: There’s an awful lot there. Let me try to break this down. First of all, we’ve seen these reports and the initial reports are very, very troubling indeed in terms of the violence that were perpetrated on these families. We don’t have a whole lot of specific information about these attacks right now. Obviously, it’s reprehensible, unacceptable for any of this kind of violence to occur, particularly if, as early reports indicate, it was – it was based on religious affiliation. So we’re looking into this very, very carefully. Can’t say with great specificity at this time who we – who was responsible or who we believe was responsible.

Number two, Ashar al-Islam[1] is not, as you pointed out, not a designated foreign terrorist organization and therefore is a party to the cessation. And our expectation of them is the same expectation we have for everybody else who is a party to the cessation, that they will observe it, that they will abide by it. So we’re going to look into this and we’re going to see what we know about it. And based on the facts, then we’ll deal with it. But we expect all parties to the cessation to abide by it and we have repeatedly said that. That’s why we’re got the task force stood up. That’s why we’ve plussed up the resources. That’s why we’ve intensified the effort to be able to better monitor the violence in Syria. But this is – obviously, these are very troubling, disturbing reports that we’re taking very, very seriously.

The second – the third part which you also were getting to were the potential collusion between a group like al-Nusrah and this group. And we’ve said all along that we’ve seen some comingling, and we have seen even to some degree some troubling cooperation between certain opposition groups and al-Nusrah. Again, I’m not specifically talking about this attack, because I just don’t know enough about it to say that that’s what happened here. But our message to the armed opposition with respect to al-Nusrah and to any perceived or real cooperation or collusion has been, again, consistent. And we’ve made it clear that our expectation is that they won’t do that.

QUESTION: But have you told them that if they don’t stop doing this kind of stuff, that they’re going to be excluded and they will become legitimate targets?

MR KIRBY: We have not – I don’t want to get into --

QUESTION: And if you haven’t, why haven’t you?

MR KIRBY: I don’t want to get into specific conversations or allusions of threats here. We have certainly made clear – and done so consistently – our expectations for the opposition groups. Those that are part of the HNC and the armed opposition, we have made very clear our expectations for their behavior and conduct with respect to the cessation of hostilities. And they have seen with their own eyes what happens when they are near or operating close to al-Nusrah, when some of the opposition groups have been – have fallen victim to attacks against al-Nusrah because of their close proximity. So I think they’re very well aware of the risks inherent in operating in or near a group like that. But we’ve made very clear what our expectations are in terms of their conduct with respect to the cessation.

QUESTION: Just one simple one on Syria, sticking with the first topic. To put a fine point on it, does the U.S. Government have any information about who may have been behind the attack that killed him?

MR KIRBY: We’re going back to the Hizballah official.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Hizballah --

MR KIRBY: I do not have additional information about it. I don’t.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: Syria.

MR KIRBY: Syria. Let’s stay on Syria for a little bit.

QUESTION: Yesterday Staffan de Mistura said that he would await the results of the ISSG meeting before announcing the next proximity talks meeting. Considering this group has met three or four times now, the ISSG, from the U.S. perspective, what results need to take place in this upcoming meeting?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of a meeting that hasn’t occurred yet, and I’m not going to preview specific outcomes. But as I said in my opening, and as I think we actually have in our travel note, there’s really three big items that will be discussed, and I suspect in a more comprehensive manner. And one is the cessation and trying to make sure that we can get this cessation better footed, and frankly, better observed and implemented throughout the country. And we’re very focused on that, as you know, because it continues to be fragile.

Number two, better delivery of humanitarian assistance. I mean, just today there was a convoy that was being prepared to go to Daraya to deliver much-needed food, water, and medicine supplies – had to be aborted because the regime stopped it and started pulling out the medical supplies, which they’ve done in the past. So now we have a – we have a town here who has not received a crumb of food from the UN since about 2012. So humanitarian assistance obviously is going to be, I think, a key part of the discussions.

And then lastly, of course, is the – to go right to your question, is getting the political process back on track. We all recognize that the first three rounds didn’t result in dramatic progress in terms of getting towards a transitional governing process, and we want to make sure that the next round can be more successful. So I think you’re going to see them talk about that quite a bit in terms of how that needs to be organized – not just the when and the where, but sort of how it’s going to be organized and what kinds of things need to be focused on.

QUESTION: I guess that’s what I’m getting at. The cessation, the focus on the political talks, and the humanitarian component have been part of all of the ISSG meetings up to now. What’s going to be a new approach or will there be a new approach to sort of breathe life into these issues and move this process forward?

MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t preview or predict a, quote/unquote, “new approach” here, but obviously not all the trend lines in Syria are going in the right direction. I’ve talked about humanitarian access. We’ve talked about the cessation continuing to be under threat and not to – and not to be uniformly observed. And of course, we know there has to be more progress made on the political front.

So there’s plenty of work to be done in the ISSG on all three of those fronts, and the Secretary is very mindful of the challenges still ahead. That’s why this next iteration of the ISSG is so important, and we respect and understand Special Envoy de Mistura’s desire to have the ISSG meet one more time and, perhaps as a result of that, come out with some guidance and some guidelines that he can take into the next round.

But let me just step back for a second and remind that nobody ever predicted or thought or expected that this was going to be a very clean, linear, or quick process. The war has been going on for five years and there has been an awful lot of bloodshed and suffering experienced by the Syrian people. And obviously, that has embittered the opposition to a fare-the-well, and that’s understandable. So we all understand – we know that this was going to be hard from the beginning. It’s going to remain difficult, and that’s why the Secretary is so committed to continuing to stay involved like he has.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia?

MR KIRBY: Can we go to Saudi Arabia? Okay. All right.

QUESTION: A former member of the 9/11 Commission, John Lehman, said the commission had been aware of at least five Saudi Government officials who were strongly suspected of involvement in the terrorist support network. He said that the 9/11 investigation was terminated before all the relevant leads were able to be investigated. While I know that U.S. officials usually cite the 9/11 Commission Report, which says that there is no evidence that the Saudi Government as an institution or senior Saudi officials were involved – were – had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks – well, what about lower-level Saudi officials? Can you say the same about lower-level Saudi officials?

MR KIRBY: Well, our position hasn’t changed in terms of our view of any official, high-level Saudi involvement. There’s been no change --

QUESTION: High-level.

MR KIRBY: -- no change in our view on that.

QUESTION: What about lower level?

MR KIRBY: Look, there’s a process that’s underway right now to consider those 28 pages, which, as I know, is what gets to this, and to determine how much, if any, of those documents can be declassified and released. There’s a process for this. I’m going to refer you to Director Clapper’s office for an update on where it stands. All of the work, including the contents of the 28 pages, fed into 9/11 – their commission’s work. And I’ll say it again: We believe that that work, the 9/11 Commission’s work, provided a definitive statement about the nature of support that came from Saudi Arabia and other countries with respect to al-Qaida financing. Obviously, it did not determine that the Saudi Government had any intent to support al-Qaida.

So our position hasn’t changed on that.

QUESTION: Well, can you say with certainty that no Saudi Government resources were used to help the 9/11 hijackers?

MR KIRBY: I would point you back to what the 9/11 Commission’s work found, which we believe is still relevant today. That’s what I’d point you back to.

QUESTION: Well --

MR KIRBY: Go ahead, Lalit.

QUESTION: -- in March – in March – actually I had one more. In March, Iran was ordered by a U.S. judge to pay over $10 billion to families of 9/11 victims. Do you believe that Iran had more to do with the 9/11 attacks than Saudi Arabia did?

MR KIRBY: I would point – there’s a long history here in terms of what happened on 9/11. It’s all available publicly, and we fully support the work of the 9/11 Commission. I’d point you to that work. It’s very clear. It’s all laid out for you right there. I don’t really believe that it’s a valuable use of our time here today to re-litigate all that history. We fully support the work done by the 9/11 Commission and it’s been very clear about the responsibilities.

QUESTION: Recently, Saudi Arabia told the Obama Administration and members of Congress that it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of its U.S. assets if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi Government to be held responsible in U.S. courts for any role in the 9/11 attacks. Do you see it as extortion?

MR KIRBY: We’ve also talked about this many times here in the briefing room. I don’t really want to revisit it all again. We’ve talked about this. We’ve responded to it. As I said, we remain committed to assisting the families of all the 9/11 victims. We share in the grief that they have had to endure. We do have concerns about this bill specifically, and the Secretary testified that specifically with the precedent that it could set going forward for us and other places. So we’ve made very – very clear our own concerns about this bill. But other than that, again, we’ve reacted to this, we’ve talked about this before. I don’t have anything more to add.

Lalit.

QUESTION: There’s news reports according to which China is blocking India’s membership to a Nuclear Suppliers Group, and you know U.S. has said that it is committed to help India become a member of NSG.

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: So do --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: So what steps U.S. is taking in that regard?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, I’m going to refer you to the governments of China and Pakistan with respect to their positions on India’s membership. Deliberations, as you know, about the prospects of new members joining the Nuclear Suppliers Groups are an internal matter among current members. And then I’d point you back to what the President said during his visit to India in 2015, where he reaffirmed that the U.S. view was that India, quote, “meets missile technology control regime requirements and is ready for NSG membership.”

QUESTION: So what are the hurdles that India become a membership of – member of NSG?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, I did not understand.

QUESTION: What are the hurdles, what are the problems in --

MR KIRBY: What are the what?

QUESTION: Hurdles.

MR KIRBY: Hurdles.

QUESTION: Hurdles.

MR KIRBY: Again, as I said before, the – this – the discussion of membership is an internal matter between those members and I’m going to refer you to the governments of China and Pakistan.

QUESTION: Do you know what state it is – the membership is right now?

MR KIRBY: I do not.

QUESTION: Application for membership is --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

Samir.

QUESTION: What’s on the agenda in the meeting between the Secretary and the Egyptian foreign minister today?

MR KIRBY: There’s a range of bilateral issues that the two intend to discuss. Certainly, security concerns in Egypt and in the region, our shared concerns about the counterterrorism threat, and as he always does, I would fully expect the Secretary to once again raise our concerns over human rights in Egypt.

QUESTION: Israel-Palestine?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Have you got any calls to read out with Mr. Abbas any time in the past few days? Has Secretary Kerry spoken to Mahmoud Abbas? And any update on the decision about whether to join the planned French meeting in Paris on May 30th?

MR KIRBY: He did speak with President Abbas yesterday. I don’t have a specific readout of it. I mean, I – as I’m sure you can imagine – first of all, he speaks frequently with President Abbas. Obviously the main purpose and topic is to continue to reaffirm our desire to see both sides take affirmative steps to get us into a position to create the kind of conditions where a two-state solution can be better pursued. I don’t have any update with respect to the French meeting at the end of the month.

QUESTION: When was the last time he spoke to President Abbas? You have that?

MR KIRBY: I do not, but he does – it’s not an infrequent thing, Arshad.

QUESTION: No decision yet regarding the participation in the conference in --

MR KIRBY: No.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Afghanistan. Nazira Karimi, Afghan journalist.

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: My name is Nazira Karimi. I am from Afghanistan, Ariana Television.

MR KIRBY: I think we’ve met before. (Laughter.) Welcome back.

QUESTION: Yes. So what do you think about President Ghani’s statements yesterday in London – international --

MR KIRBY: Which ones?

QUESTION: The one that he rejected the David Cameron’s statement that Afghanistan and Nigeria is number one on the drug and corruption and everything, but President Ghani said that the root is came from different reasons. Like, for example, drugs – consumer in Europe, in Western. So now how should Afghanistan fight against those? Because as I mentioned and Mr. Ghani mentioned, that the consumer of the drug in Afghanistan is European people.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, a couple of thoughts. I mean, first of all, the narcotics trade in Afghanistan obviously has been a longstanding problem. We know that the Taliban continues to profit and to resource itself off the narcotics trade, so this is not a new concern. And the second thing I’d say is that – and the Secretary met with President Ghani privately yesterday – we support his efforts at reform and at building a unity government. His work with Chief Executive Abdullah remains important, and we know that he’s very focused on the issue of corruption in Afghanistan and we fully support those efforts.

QUESTION: Follow-up on the same meeting. President Ghani also said that Afghanistan is fighting an undeclared war with Pakistan. Do you agree with his assessment?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t see those comments, but look, what we continue to believe and continue to see is that Afghanistan and Pakistan still face a shared threat from terrorist networks – terrorist networks which continue to still use the spine between those two countries as safe haven. That’s why we still have a counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan. It’s why we continue to work with the Government of Pakistan as best we can to help share information as appropriate to help all sides go after this shared threat. This is a shared, common enemy to the people of Afghanistan and to the people of Pakistan, and they have been working and communicating together, and we want to see that kind of dialogue and cooperation continue and to improve.

QUESTION: And linked to that is one of the Afghanistan minister has asked Pakistan to immediately open the Torkham border crossing, which has been closed by Pakistan for quite some time now. Afghanistan thinks that it is a retaliation by Pakistan because the tension between the two countries.

MR KIRBY: I – just before coming out here, I got updated that the gate was open, so as far as I know – and, I mean, I could be wrong here, this was an update I just got out – before coming out here – was that the gate had been reopened. Obviously, we want to see – we want – if it’s open, we want to see it stay open, obviously. If I’m wrong about that and it technically hasn’t been opened yet or it’s not open yet, obviously, we want to see both sides work – to work through these differences and to get it open because --

QUESTION: And one more.

MR KIRBY: -- it’s an important – go ahead.

QUESTION: Quickly on the Pakistan’s foreign advisor to Pakistan’s prime minister, Sartaj Aziz, in the parliament today said that the relationship between Pakistan and U.S. has been under stress for the last few months. What is the reason for that stress?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t see his comments, so I’m going to refrain from responding specifically to that sentiment. I will say again what we’ve said before: It is a important, vital relationship that we strongly believe in. Is it complicated at times? Absolutely, it is. And do we see eye-to-eye on every issue with Pakistan? No, we don’t. But that’s why the relationship matters so much, because we have shared threats and shared concerns, shared interest in the region, and we’re going to continue to work at it.

QUESTION: But do you agree that at this point of time, you don’t have the best of the relationship with Pakistan?

MR KIRBY: We have – it is an important relationship that we continue to work at very, very seriously, and we are – we’re going to remain committed to. And I would not share that characterization of it.

QUESTION: I have got two very brief ones, one on Brazil. You will have seen the interim government has been formed or is pretty close to being completely formed and there are no women on it, very few if any minorities. I’m just wondering if you have any thoughts about the inclusivity or lack thereof in this new – in this new government and if it causes you any concerns.

MR KIRBY: We obviously are continuing to follow political developments there. These matters of the government and the composition of it are internal matters for the Brazilian people and Brazilian authorities to decide and to speak to. What we are confident is that we’re going to – that Brazil (a) will work through the political challenges that they’re facing in a democratic way, and that we will continue to look for ways to work with the new government going forward.

QUESTION: Well, okay. That’s – I mean, okay, but this Administration – when Secretary Clinton was the secretary and Secretary Kerry as well – has put great emphasis when they go abroad to talk about particularly including women in positions of government. The phrase, “No country can perform to its full outcome if -- ”

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- “50 percent of the team is on the bench” has been – I mean, that’s been a recurring theme --

MR KIRBY: We’re --

QUESTION: -- in countries all over the place. So I’m a little bit surprised that you don’t – does that not apply to Brazil?

MR KIRBY: We’re not walking away from that sentiment at all, Matt. I mean, the – you’ve heard the Secretary speak much about the power of diversity here at the State Department and in – and democracies overseas. And we still believe that for a democracy to achieve its full potential, it does need to include and represent all manners of society.

QUESTION: Okay. So why wouldn’t you be concerned about this situation in Brazil?

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is that they’re going through a period of significant political challenge now. We’re watching this and following it as closely as we can. We believe that Brazil has a strong enough democracy to work through all this, and we’re also convinced that because the relationship is so important, that we will continue to have a strong bilateral relationship with Brazil. But I’m – largely but generally speaking, obviously, more diversity is always a better thing.

QUESTION: And then the last one is completely unrelated but it goes back to the subject we’ve been talking about for several days this week, which is the glitch, the quote/unquote “glitch” in the briefing video, that we were told there’s a look into what happened, how this happened, if it was done intentionally, if it was content-related, if it was audio gap-related, whatever.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: Has – have you guys come to a determination of how exactly this happened?

MR KIRBY: No, we haven’t, Matt. But I can tell you – and I say this as not just the spokesman for the department, but the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, that I’m very concerned by this, and I have every intention of making sure that we look into it thoroughly and try to get answers as best we can about what happened here. We have an obligation to be transparent and to be fully so, and I take that very, very seriously. So we are still looking at it. I don’t have an answer for you as to what exactly happened.

QUESTION: But from what you know so far, is there – do you have any reason to believe that this was done intentionally because of the content of what the – what the (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I do not – I don’t have enough information right now to say one way or the other.

QUESTION: All right. Any idea --

MR KIRBY: And I’m not – and I don’t want to get ahead of a process.

QUESTION: Any idea when this – when you might be – when whoever is looking at it might be finished with it?

MR KIRBY: I do not. I don’t.

QUESTION: Two quick ones, please. One, do you have any comment on the plans announced by the Chinese Government today for China and Thailand to begin doing some military exercises on May 18th and --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- sorry, May 19th to June 20th?

MR KIRBY: Seen those reports. Obviously, national militaries have a right, if not a responsibility, to exercise their capabilities. And I’d let China and Thailand speak to the scope of the exercises, the purposes for it, the outcomes that they’re trying to achieve. We exercise bilaterally and multilaterally all the time. There’s no reason why those two nations shouldn’t also have the opportunity to exercise their militaries.

QUESTION: Are you worried that the Chinese are filling a gap or a vacuum left by the United States, which, as you well know, has suspended its military exercises until – with Thailand until there’s a democratic election?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’d let China and Thailand speak for the outcomes that they’re seeking in this exercise and for the purposes behind it. I would strongly rebut any characterization that we somehow ceded opportunities in the Asia Pacific. As a matter of fact, quite the opposite. The United States military – and I don’t want to get into too much military issues here, but we have from a military perspective alone – and not just military, but from that perspective alone – dedicated a lot more resources, time, energy, and talent into the Asia Pacific region.

QUESTION: And then last one from me: Do you have any comment on the Myanmar Government’s proposal to keep some of the prior government curbs on protests and limitations on freedom of speech?

MR KIRBY: Just seeing these reports. Obviously, you know where we stand on the right of peaceful protest and freedom of expression. This is something that we endorse all around the world and certainly there as well. So just seeing these reports. Obviously, it’s concerning, but again, our position with respect to peaceful protest and expression are long, longstanding.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to wrap it up.

QUESTION: Just one last one --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- on this GAO report into your arms sales to Egypt. Apparently you didn’t follow through on your own controls on who got the weapons. Have procedures been improved since the period covered by the report?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, we welcome the work of the GAO and we’re obviously – we take the report seriously. We accept the GAO’s recommendations for strengthening end-use monitoring, and we intend to utilize available programs to help improve the completeness and timeliness of responses from the Egyptian Government. And I’d also note that we’re – are in complete compliance with requirements for end-use monitoring in Egypt. But review and monitoring are an integral component of the process, and this is to make sure that U.S.-origin defense articles are being used in the manner intended for and are consistent with our legal obligations, foreign policy goals, and values. But we take the report’s finding seriously and, again, we accept their recommendations.

Okay, thanks.

QUESTION: But if you’re in complete compliance, why is there a report in the first place?

MR KIRBY: It doesn’t – well, because you can always improve. It doesn’t mean – being in compliance doesn’t mean that you can’t always improve.

QUESTION: I mean, it’s a pretty damning report. It basically says that you’ve have been falling down on the job completely --

MR KIRBY: And look, we take it --

QUESTION: -- not in complete compliance, but in --

MR KIRBY: We take the report seriously and we’re going to accept their recommendations.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:18 p.m.)

[1] Ahrar al-Sham


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 12, 2016

Thu, 05/12/2016 - 16:13

Elizabeth Trudeau
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 12, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

2:05 p.m. EDT

MS TRUDEAU: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. I don’t have anything at the top. Tomorrow you get Mr. Kirby back at the podium, but it’s been a good week. So with that, I turn it over to Matt.

QUESTION: Right. What do I have? I can’t read my writing. Oh, oh --

MS TRUDEAU: But wait. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, I’ll defer to Arshad. I really honestly can’t read my writing here.

QUESTION: Can we – let’s just do one quick one to get it out of the way --

MS TRUDEAU: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and then maybe then we can turn to Syria. But with – do you have any comment on the suspension of Rousseff as Brazil’s president?

MS TRUDEAU: So thanks for the question. We continue to follow political developments in Brazil. We are confident Brazil will work through its political challenges democratically in accordance with its constitutional principles.

QUESTION: And then going to Syria --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the cessation of hostilities seems to have unraveled with the expiration of the 48-hour time period north of Aleppo. What are you doing to try to restore that, if anything?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So we’ve talked about it extensively this week. We believe the nationwide cessation of hostilities remains in place, remains open-ended. Again, as we’ve said repeatedly, we know that there are these areas of violence. We understand that these attacks continue in some of these places. However, as we said on Monday with our joint statement with the Russian Federation, we remain committed to advancing this and creating that space for a political dialogue and transition.

QUESTION: But are you actually doing anything? I mean, it’s all very well to say that a theoretical construct remains in place and is open-ended, but if it has unraveled, as we have seen repeatedly since it was originally imposed or agreed to, are you making any fresh efforts to --

MS TRUDEAU: So we are. Both the United States and the Russians are currently focusing in those areas that you’re mentioning – making efforts to continue the confidence-building measures, speaking to people on the ground to continue the cessation as we move forward.

QUESTION: Who’s doing that? And is the Secretary himself doing anything on this? Has he talked to Foreign Minister Lavrov or --

MS TRUDEAU: Well, as we take a look at the ISSG moving forward, we continue to have these conversations. We’re speaking on the ground. This is part of the process that we have structured. This is something that happens day to day, hour to hour. So the commitment’s there.

Matt. Could you read your writing?

QUESTION: Right. Okay. So what I couldn’t read was Brazil.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Because --

MS TRUDEAU: Good chat. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. But I have another B question, and it has to do with Bahrain.

MS TRUDEAU: Yes.

QUESTION: Very recently, I think over the course – over the past weekend, the head of the commission that they set up to look into the protests and the violence there said that all of the recommendations of its – of the commission had been implemented. I’m wondering if you – if the Administration takes that view, or do you think that there – this is still a work in progress, needs to be – needs more to be – more needs to be done?

MS TRUDEAU: So you’re speaking about the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry?

QUESTION: BICI.

MS TRUDEAU: Yep. And Professor Bassiouni. So we are aware of media reports attributing statements to the chair of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, Professor Bassiouni. We’d refer you to the Government of Bahrain or Professor Bassiouni for any questions about his recent visit to Bahrain and to his assessment of Bahrain’s implementation of the commission’s recommendations.

I’d note Congress has requested a report on the Administration’s assessment of Bahrain’s implementation of the BICI recommendations. We’re currently finalizing that report. As we’ve said, the government has implemented a number of important reforms, including key recommendations made by the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry. These include human rights training for police, establishing institutions of oversight and accountability, and rebuilding mosques that were destroyed in 2011. We continue to both privately and publicly raise our concerns with Bahrain regarding several areas covered in the BICI report, including limitations on peaceful assembly and political activism, the criminalization of free expression, and the importance of reconciliation.

QUESTION: So in other words, whether it was this guy saying everything had been implemented or anyone else, the Administration does not think that everything has been implemented, judging by --

MS TRUDEAU: We continue to raise some concerns. So we believe some have been done --

QUESTION: But some have not been done?

MS TRUDEAU: We continue to raise concerns on that --

QUESTION: Okay. And when do you – that report, I believe, is several months overdue now. No?

MS TRUDEAU: So I asked this exact question. I’m told soon. It is due to Congress. We’re very aware of that. We’re committed to getting it.

QUESTION: When was it due?

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t know when it was due.

QUESTION: Was it February?

MS TRUDEAU: I am not sure on that, Matt.

QUESTION: I believe it was. So we’re now in May.

MS TRUDEAU: Was that a hypothetical question, Matt?

QUESTION: No. No. But --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. So we are committed to getting it to Congress. So we’re working on it now.

QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t have a timeframe?

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: And am I correct in thinking that when the report is sent to – when it’s completed and sent to Congress, it will have a more definitive finding than what you’re --

MS TRUDEAU: I believe that it’ll have a comprehensive finding. We’ve had a number of State Department representatives working to finalize a thorough, accurate report that includes information from a variety of sources.

QUESTION: I’m sorry if this has happened and I missed it, but we’ve – the question of the Bahraini activist who was --

MS TRUDEAU: Zainab al-Khawaja.

QUESTION: Exactly. Zainab al-Khawaja. Has she, indeed, been released?

MS TRUDEAU: So we’re aware that Bahrain’s ministry of foreign affairs announced on Monday – this past Monday – that Zainab al-Khawaja would be released. However, to our knowledge, she remains in prison – in detention with her child. We’ve closely monitored the case since her arrest and incarceration. We’ve discussed this issue with the Government of Bahrain. I don’t have further information to do – but for a status on her case, I’d refer you to the government.

QUESTION: Well, do you know if the Secretary plans to raise this personally? Because the commitment was made to him in person while he was visiting Manama.

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t speak to the Secretary’s conversations, but this is a case where, as you know, we’ve been closely monitoring.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Hi.

MS TRUDEAU: Hi.

QUESTION: Marcelo Ninio from Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo.

MS TRUDEAU: Thank you for joining us.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. I wanted to ask about Brazil first. It’s – what the State Department and the U.S. Government expect about the relationship with the interim governments? And has there been any communication yet with the new government?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I can’t speak to our embassy communication there. As you know, we maintain a strong bilateral relationship between our two countries. As the two largest democracies in the hemisphere, Brazil and the United States are committed partners. We cooperate with Brazil on a number of issues – trade, security, environment. We expect that’ll continue.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up --

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: -- about the protocol of the President’s call to newly – new governments or new presidents. Can you explain how this – when – how does it work?

MS TRUDEAU: If you’re asking a presidential question, I’m going to refer you to the White House on that. Okay. Thank you though.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Turkey.

MS TRUDEAU: Turkey.

QUESTION: The Turkish president says his country is ready to take unilateral action against ISIL in Syria, saying that Turkey hasn’t received the support that it wants from its allies. What do you think about Turkey taking unilateral action in Syria?

MS TRUDEAU: So I’ve seen those reports. We’re going to refer you to the Turkish Government to speak to that. We view our NATO ally Turkey as a key partner in the coalition to counter ISIL. As we do with all of our partners, we continue to discuss with Turkey our – strengthening our cooperation. I would, again, refer you to Turkish authorities on any operation they may be planning.

QUESTION: Yeah. Erdogan – well, he says that the allies are not supporting Turkey the way it wants. Has the U.S. received a request for support from Turkey? And what kind of support does it want from the U.S.?

MS TRUDEAU: So we’re in constant dialogue with Ankara on this. And as I said, our cooperation and our relationship with Turkey is one of allies and partners and friends.

QUESTION: Well, what do you think about Ankara’s complaint?

MS TRUDEAU: Again, I’d refer you to Turkish authorities to speak specifically to the president’s comments.

Ma’am.

QUESTION: What’s your reaction to the Sudanese president slipping into Uganda today, in defiance of an arrest warrant, and slipping back out again without being arrested?

MS TRUDEAU: So --

QUESTION: And was anyone from the U.S. Embassy present at the inauguration of the new president? And if so, how did they react?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Thank you very much for the question.

QUESTION: Re-inauguration of the old president.

MS TRUDEAU: So the United States has made its position with respect to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s travel very clear. We’re concerned that President Bashir has been able to travel to Uganda as well as Djibouti in the past. In Kampala, President Museveni made disparaging remarks about the ICC in front of attendees, including other heads of state. In response to President Bashir’s presence and President Museveni’s remarks, the United States delegation, along with representatives of the European Union countries and Canada, departed the inauguration ceremonies to demonstrate our objection.

We believe that walking out in protest in an appropriate reaction to a head of state mocking efforts to ensure accountability for victims of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, particularly when his country has committed to accountability as a state party to the Rome Statute. While the United States is not a party to the Rome Statute, which is a treaty that established the ICC, we strongly support the ICC’s efforts to hold accountable those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur.

QUESTION: What did he say?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m – I don’t have the exact transcript in front of me. It was my understanding he spoke to – you know what? I’m going to have you take a look. I’m not going to extrapolate here.

QUESTION: Can I ask a couple on this?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS TRUDEAU: I’ll come to --

QUESTION: Prior to the actual inauguration, was there any contact between the U.S. and the – the U.S. and Ugandan governments about the appropriateness of President Bashir attending?

MS TRUDEAU: When U.S. officials who were present at the ceremony learned of President Bashir’s arrival, we relayed our concerns immediately to the Ugandan prime minister and foreign minister in light of President Bashir’s status as the subject of ICC arrest warrants for genocide and other atrocity crimes in Darfur.

QUESTION: And did – I mean, I’m not – was the decision made that it was – even though he did arrive, they didn’t – basically they ignored your complaint and presumably the complaint of – complaints of Europeans. But why did they even then go to the ceremony if President Bashir was going to be --

MS TRUDEAU: So Uganda is – we do have bilateral ties with Uganda. However, they found that President Museveni’s comments about the ICC with President Bashir there – the two issues together. And --

QUESTION: So – but they went, so – they obviously went, because they walked out.

MS TRUDEAU: They did, they did.

QUESTION: But why was it appropriate for them to even go in the first place if your concerns about President Bashir were ignored?

MS TRUDEAU: So considering our bilateral ties with Uganda – it was the presidential inauguration – we did make our concerns known. However, when President Museveni did make those comments, we found it appropriate to leave.

QUESTION: Okay, but I mean – so, first of all, who was the U.S. delegation? Was that --

MS TRUDEAU: Which was Arshad’s question.

QUESTION: Yeah, sorry.

MS TRUDEAU: It was Ambassador Malac as well as our Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Bruce Wharton.

QUESTION: So there was someone from Washington.

MS TRUDEAU: Washington, yes, there was.

QUESTION: But here’s what – I mean, why is it okay to sit in the VIP section with President Bashir, or wherever it was they were – why is that okay or it was deemed to be okay and then it was only when President Museveni made his comments that – against the ICC that it was determined that they shouldn’t --

MS TRUDEAU: So we raised our concerns, as I mentioned --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS TRUDEAU: -- with Uganda, as we did when he was previously in Djibouti. And consistent with our bilateral relationship with Uganda, we did feel it was appropriate to attend.

QUESTION: Well – so there was no walkout at the Djibouti inauguration, correct?

MS TRUDEAU: No there was not.

QUESTION: Is that only because the president – the --

MS TRUDEAU: We did not --

QUESTION: -- re-inaugurated president of Djibouti didn’t make any disparaging comments about the ICC?

MS TRUDEAU: So we had no interaction with the Sudanese president at the inaugural ceremony in Djibouti, but they did feel at this time, considering both President Bashir’s presence as well as President Museveni’s comments, that it was appropriate to show --

QUESTION: Right. I --

MS TRUDEAU: -- to show our concern.

QUESTION: But I’m just trying to find out – maybe this is a protocol question, but why is it okay to sit with him, but – and it’s only when another leader insults the ICC that it’s --

MS TRUDEAU: I think it was – I think it was the two issues together, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, but, I mean, why did they go in Djibouti?

MS TRUDEAU: So again, we have bilateral relations with Djibouti.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS TRUDEAU: We have a strength of relationship with both Djibouti and Uganda on this. What we found is what happened with President Museveni’s comments as well as the presence of President Bashir.

QUESTION: Right, but do you understand what I mean?

MS TRUDEAU: I --

QUESTION: My question is: Why is it – why is it only appropriate to walk out if the – if President – when President Museveni makes comments, when they were perfectly happy to --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. I’d refer you to President Museveni’s comments, as we mentioned, mocking the --

QUESTION: Yeah. And I can understand why they would walk out if that happened. What I don’t understand is why they were there in the first place after the Ugandan Government ignored your concerns about President Bashir being there in the first place and President Bashir showed up and participated or attended.

MS TRUDEAU: Again, it was a bilateral decision to attend the inauguration of an important U.S. partner.

QUESTION: Here’s something I don’t quite understand.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: Your decision to walk out was a function of dismay at Museveni’s comments about the ICC or Bashir’s presence or both?

MS TRUDEAU: It’s both. This goes back to Matt’s question.

QUESTION: Okay, so it’s both. And then secondly, was there – I know you said that as soon as you learned of his presence at the ceremony – do you mean, like, that he had actually shown up at the ceremony, or rather --

MS TRUDEAU: So it was after President Museveni’s comments that our delegation left, as well as other delegations.

QUESTION: No, no, no, I get that.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: But what I didn’t understand was at some point you were asked – and I believe you said that as soon as you learned of President Bashir’s presence, you raised your concerns.

MS TRUDEAU: As soon as we learned about his planned travel and his presence, we did raise our concerns with the --

QUESTION: And how did you do that?

MS TRUDEAU: We raised our concerns with both the prime minister and the Ugandan foreign minister. I’m not sure if it was a demarche or --

QUESTION: Can you check that?

MS TRUDEAU: I can. If I have anything to add --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS TRUDEAU: It’s a question of detail on that. But if I do have something to add, I’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: And following on that, apart from your concern about President Bashir presence and the Ugandan president comments, are you concerned also about the fact that the Ugandan president is starting his fifth term as president?

MS TRUDEAU: So the United States and Uganda have a longstanding and strong partnership. We are concerned the Ugandan Government’s recent actions could endanger the economic and political process that has allowed our strong bilateral relationship to grow. We do urge the government to take steps to reverse this troubling trend.

QUESTION: On the Sudan – the Sudan Government held a referendum last month in Darfur and they said it was very successful and it’s going to end the crisis in Darfur. Do you accept that?

MS TRUDEAU: We actually put out a statement, I think you remember, on April 9th that specifically spoke about our concerns with the referendum in Darfur. We spoke about our concerns with the timing of the Darfur referendum due to conditions on the ground not being right for holding a vote – a widespread insecurity currently exists, there are millions of internally displaced individuals still. Again, we thought that the referendum posed a risk of setting back efforts to secure a monitored cessation of hostilities and humanitarian access in the conflict-afflicted areas, so --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Lalit.

QUESTION: Yeah, on Bangladesh --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- there was a demonstration yesterday near Dupont Circle on rise in extremist violence in Bangladesh. I know assistant secretary was in Bangladesh last week. Do you think the government is doing – there’s enough to take care to protect religious minorities in the country?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So we’re troubled by the recent spate of extremist attacks in Bangladesh. We’re confident, however, that these attacks do not represent the views of and are rejected by the overwhelming majority of Bangladeshis. These attacks are being carried out by a small group of terrorists who seek to stifle independent thought, to violently attack those who disagree with him. We believe the government is working to address this problem. Our focus is on supporting their efforts to do so effectively while still respecting human rights.

Bangladesh has a proud and historic tradition of being a pluralistic society that values diversity and welcomes the free exchange of ideas. These are the very values that these extremists are attacking.

QUESTION: To what extent extremist organization like al-Qaida or ISIS have established their foothold in Bangladesh? Do you have a list?

MS TRUDEAU: I believe the Government of Bangladesh has spoken specifically to your question. I’d refer you there to speak about that as well as their own counterterrorism efforts. We continue to stand with the Government of Bangladesh as they take a look at violent extremism across the spectrum.

QUESTION: Staying in the region?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: So there is a report which cites as its original source the Facebook page of Myanmar official Shwe Mann that U.S. Ambassador Scot Marciel told him that he would be careful in future about how he – about saying things that displease the Myanmar people. Is there any truth to – this is all obviously over the use of the word “Rohingya” – is there any truth to that report? Is that what Ambassador Marciel told this gentleman?

MS TRUDEAU: So I can’t speak to that meeting specifically.

QUESTION: You – you don’t – have you tried to find out?

MS TRUDEAU: So I can speak to the use of the word “Rohingya,” but I can’t speak to that meeting specifically. I’m sorry, Arshad.

QUESTION: Well, is it the policy of the Administration that officials will be careful in using the word “Rohingya” from --

MS TRUDEAU: No.

QUESTION: -- going --

MS TRUDEAU: It is – the United States supports the ability of all groups to self-identify. If members of a population identify as Rohingya, we respect their ability to self-identify by using the term “Rohingya.”

QUESTION: And there is no reason to believe nor reason to think that Ambassador Marciel had strayed from that position, correct?

MS TRUDEAU: I believe that Ambassador Marciel has expressed that view. I can’t speak to this --

QUESTION: He has expressed what – he has expressed the position of --

MS TRUDEAU: The Administration.

QUESTION: But you can’t speak to whether he was misquoted, for example, or whether he said maybe he’ll be a little more careful?

MS TRUDEAU: I haven’t seen the Facebook post, I --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS TRUDEAU: So no, I can’t speak to that meeting.

QUESTION: And then one other one. I mean, in his – in the Q&A that was widely reported, he – what I’ve seen him saying was that the Rohingya get to decide what they’re going to be called and that’s the U.S. practice. So why is it that the United States has for so many years referred to a country that at least the previous government preferred to call Myanmar as Burma, a term they didn’t like.

MS TRUDEAU: So that’s the U.S. position that that’s what we call them.

QUESTION: So you call people what they want to be called, except in the case of Burma?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m going to leave that where it is.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yesterday Turkish minister of foreign affairs told that – I mean, he was talking about the struggle against ISIS, and he told we don’t even have a strategy to destroy ISIS. Our strategy is in pieces, and many of those pieces didn’t work. We are powerless, that we hope for help from some radical groups on the ground. Is there a strong strategy against ISIS, I want to ask, after his remarks?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Well, I’m not going to speak to the remarks of a foreign leader. I think your colleague has asked this already. We believe we’ve made important progress on the counter-ISIL coalition, certainly along the military line of effort in the last two months. Josh Earnest spoke about this yesterday too from the White House. This is not a fast fix. This is a long fight. This is day-to-day taking ground. And not only the military, but also fighting back against the different areas of effort: the foreign terrorist fighters, the financing, countering the messaging that is online. So yes, we do think we’ve made progress, but on those specific comments, I’m not going to discuss those.

Yes.

QUESTION: Which are, do you think, the radical groups that they hope help?

MS TRUDEAU: Again, I’m not going to speak to a foreign leader’s comments. I’d refer you to him to speak to that.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I have one more on Turkey about Syria?

MS TRUDEAU: You know what; we’ll come back to you if we have time.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS TRUDEAU: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the South China Sea, China again spoke out against the arbitration process and saying that they wouldn’t accept it. Do you have a response?

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t. We’re very clear where we are on that.

QUESTION: And they also said that the arbitration process opens up a Pandora box of possible counter-litigation. Do you see that as a threat?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to respond to that comment. We’re very clear on where we are on that.

Lalit.

QUESTION: I have one on Pakistan. The House Armed Services Committee last week passes – passed NDAA 2017, according to which they have increased the condition for the release of U.S. aid to Pakistan.

MS TRUDEAU: The Coalition Support Funds?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: By 450 million until, unless you certify that Pakistan has taken appropriate action against the Haqqani Network.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay.

QUESTION: And in connection with the F-16s commitments (inaudible), do you consider those considerations – what’s your take on that?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So we’ve spoken about our view on the Haqqani Network from here before. So Coalition Support Funds are a Department of Defense matter. For details on that, I’m going to refer you to the Department of Defense. I will note key members of Congress have been clear they’re not prepared to support U.S. military aid to Pakistan absent some specific actions. I would direct you to Congress, those specific members, for anything further on their position. As always, we’re committed to working with Congress to deliver security assistance to our partners and allies. It furthers U.S. goals by building capacity to meet shared security challenges.

QUESTION: But is the State Department willing to certify that or say that the Pakistan is taking enough action against Haqqani Network?

MS TRUDEAU: So we’ve spoken about our views on Haqqani quite a bit as well as what we view Pakistan needs to do. Pakistan has spoken that they will not discriminate against groups. We could encourage them to continue to live up to that.

QUESTION: So on this issue, you and the Congress are on different page on --

MS TRUDEAU: So we continue to work with Congress, as I said.

Okay, Nike.

QUESTION: Right. Do you have anything on Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Gottemoeller’s meeting with her counterpart?

MS TRUDEAU: The China meeting?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS TRUDEAU: I do.

QUESTION: Is that today or yesterday?

MS TRUDEAU: It was today. Under Secretary Rose Gottemoeller hosted the U.S.-China Security Dialogue at the Department of State today. She was joined by Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation Countryman, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Anita Friedt, as well as other interagency officials from the National Security Council and the Department of Defense. Discussions focused on a range of bilateral and regional security issues, including arms control, nonproliferation, missile defense, and disarmament.

QUESTION: Did she also attended yesterday’s meeting on cyber security or outer space?

MS TRUDEAU: So the lead on that was actually the Coordinator for Cyber Issues Painter. I’m not sure the under secretary’s participation in the cyber meeting.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a follow-up to that?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: How does the so-called Senior Experts Group on cyber issues differ from the Working Group on Cyber Issues that China ceased attending in 2014?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. So just for clarity point because I think you guys know this, for others watching at home, these are different meetings. So I do have some information on the cyber meeting. So the governments of the United States and China held the first Senior Experts Group, which was your question, Arshad --

QUESTION: No, my question was: What’s the difference between the two groups?

MS TRUDEAU: And I’ll get there.

QUESTION: Okay, yeah.

MS TRUDEAU: To international security and cyber space on May 11th. This new meeting – and it is a different meeting from previous meetings – was an element of the cyber commitments made by Presidents Obama and Xi in September 2015. I can go on and read it out, but I do want to note that this was different. This was based on the commitments made in September 2015 – different people.

QUESTION: How is it different?

MS TRUDEAU: So it’s my understanding different people, different scope, different process of meeting.

QUESTION: So is it two levels of people? Is it more junior-level people, for example? And scope – is it a narrower scope or a wider scope?

MS TRUDEAU: So I can’t speak to the scope. I can say that they spoke about international security and cyber space – the international law on state behavior in cyber space, voluntary international norms of state behavior, cyber confidence-building measures. It was led by the coordinator for cyber issues here at the department, but I am told it’s a different group than the previous.

QUESTION: Could you take that question? Because I’d actually like to know how it differs in --

MS TRUDEAU: -- in the detail?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS TRUDEAU: We can look into it.

QUESTION: I mean, it shouldn’t be that hard. You had people at the original meetings and you’ve had people at different meetings --

MS TRUDEAU: I am told that this is a different group.

QUESTION: Yeah, I get that.

MS TRUDEAU: It actually came from 2015.

QUESTION: Yeah, I get that.

MS TRUDEAU: And Matt Lee.

QUESTION: I have a question on both of them.

MS TRUDEAU: Hold on one second, Nike. Do you want to --

QUESTION: She can go.

MS TRUDEAU: Do you want to go then?

QUESTION: This is a different subject.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, Nike. Is this a follow-up?

QUESTION: Right. Is there any – is there any indication like that China has actually followed through the cyber commitments from last fall that no – what’s the word – the cyber-enabled theft should be used for commercial gains? Is there any indication that the commitments was actually --

MS TRUDEAU: So I’m not going to – I’m not going to grade China on its commitments. What I would say is that we continue to have this dialogue. This meeting on May 11th is a good indication that we stay engaged, we stay in discussions, we talk about these international norms.

QUESTION: When you mentioned that this is a good mechanism for confidence building --

MS TRUDEAU: It is.

QUESTION: -- how exactly is that going to work? Is that going to be worked through constant meetings or would that be under the umbrella of the Strategic & Economic Dialogue?

MS TRUDEAU: So we understand that the senior group will be meeting twice a year now.

Okay, Matt.

QUESTION: I wanted to go – ask – to ask you a general question. Twice in this briefing so far you’ve been asked about comments of foreign leaders, and you declined to. You referred us back to them. And the one time when you weren’t asked about the comments of foreign leaders --

MS TRUDEAU: I volunteered.

QUESTION: -- you did speak out on them. Where is – where do you draw the line? Why is it that it’s the department or the Administration deems it appropriate to criticize President Museveni for his comments about the ICC and you don’t see the need to comment on the --

MS TRUDEAU: We view President Museveni’s comments were mocking the victims of genocide and seeking accountability – we view that that was appropriate for us to speak out.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MS TRUDEAU: Good.

QUESTION: When was the last time that U.S. diplomats staged a protest like that to the --

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t know, Carol, and I’ll look. I’m not even sure how we would start to look at that, but let me find out. If we’ve got anything, we’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on reports that dozens of Russian athletes from the 2014 Olympics, including 15 medal winners, were found to be part of a state-run doping program?

MS TRUDEAU: I do not.

Sir.

QUESTION: On Japan.

MS TRUDEAU: Yes.

QUESTION: There have been reports that the U.S. Government discussed the purpose of President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima with the Korean Government. Can you confirm those reports?

MS TRUDEAU: I cannot. For questions regarding the President’s travel, I’d direct you to the White House.

Matt.

QUESTION: A follow-up from yesterday.

MS TRUDEAU: Sure.

QUESTION: Just wondering if you were able to find out whether or not U.S. officials had raised the situation of Omar Barghouti directly with the Israelis or if you are just going to stick to the public comments that you made yesterday.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So thank you for that. Today is a holiday in Israel. I have no updates on our conversations with the Israelis, however we will discuss this with the Israelis, as we do a range of other issues. Our strong opposition, of course, to boycotts and sanctions of the state of Israel is well known, however I would reiterate, as a general principle, we support the freedom of movement as well as freedom of expression even in cases when we do not agree with the political views espoused.

QUESTION: Okay. And is it – is it safe to assume, for lack of a better word – assume, that that will be the message that you – that is delivered to the Israelis as well as --

MS TRUDEAU: As we say this publicly, we say it privately.

QUESTION: Right. You said – okay, so that one was --

MS TRUDEAU: That’s great. Thanks – whoops.

QUESTION: No, no, no.

MS TRUDEAU: Not --

QUESTION: Not getting away so easily.

MS TRUDEAU: But we’ve been doing so well, Matt.

QUESTION: I need to ask you one more time: Have you all gotten to the bottom of the glitch in the video of the – of the briefing?

MS TRUDEAU: So we continue to take a look at it. We take this seriously. What we’re doing is not only reviewing what happened in the past but also ensuring that we can guarantee that transparency going forward, so we’re in discussions now. I don’t have a final readout to give you guys.

QUESTION: And has – in the course of the review or whatever you want to call it, however you want to describe it, has – have there been any other similar instances?

MS TRUDEAU: We have not located any similar incidents.

QUESTION: But have people looked?

MS TRUDEAU: So people are continuing to review it. It’s a big archive, yeah.

QUESTION: Right, no kidding. I know.

MS TRUDEAU: But no, we are.

QUESTION: It’s --

QUESTION: And have you – have you – is it still your view, as it was yesterday, that it was a glitch?

MS TRUDEAU: At this stage we know – and as Fox News pointed out – that there was – there were minutes missing on that. As soon as we found out, we flipped it over. As I said before, the transcript was available, the video was available on other U.S. Government platforms. I can’t speak to what happened. I’m not at that point yet, but --

QUESTION: No, no, I know. But yesterday and the day before --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- you told us it was a glitch, and I’m wondering if that’s still your view.

MS TRUDEAU: It’s still my view right now.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS TRUDEAU: So – but again, we continue to take a look at it. We take it seriously.

Okay, thanks.

QUESTION: Can I – I’ll just wait.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Thank you, guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:39 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 11, 2016

Wed, 05/11/2016 - 15:55

Elizabeth Trudeau
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 11, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

2:01 p.m. EDT

MS TRUDEAU: Hi, everyone. We’ll keep it short today, but I have a few things at the top. Okay. First, on the attacks today in Iraq. The United States strongly condemns the barbaric attacks in Iraq today claimed by Daesh, including one in Sadr City that killed scores of civilians and wounded many more. We wish a speedy recovery to the wounded and express condolences to the families of those victims, many of whom were innocent women and children who were in an open market. These cowardly attacks only harden the resolve of Iraqis and the international community to utterly destroy this group and its warped ideology.

We are committed to the united and global effort to help Iraqi forces remove Daesh from its territory and suffocate its financial foreign terrorist fighter and propaganda networks. The recent spate of attacks by Daesh is the latest reminder of the danger this group poses to all Iraqis and the importance of Iraqi leaders from all communities working together to quickly resolve differences so the progress made against Daesh continues.

Next, on Yemen. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon met with UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed in Kuwait to discuss the ongoing U.N.-mediated Yemen peace talks and how the U.S. can help end the conflict in Yemen and best continue to support a return to a peaceful political transition in Yemen. Under Secretary Shannon met with Yemeni officials and other parties in the negotiation.

Under Secretary Shannon underscored the U.S. strong support of the peace talks and the UN Special Envoy’s efforts and thanked Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah for Kuwait’s role in hosting the talks. The Under Secretary welcomed the stated commitment of the parties to continue the cessation of hostilities that began April 10th and which has been broadly holding despite some violations. He also welcomed the incremental progress made on detainee and prisoner issues.

Under Secretary Shannon and the UN special envoy reaffirmed the need for all parties to continue engaging in the talks in good faith even while difficult discussions continue as parties tackle challenges that will return Yemen to a peaceful, political transition supported by all communities.

And, Matt.

QUESTION: Since I was late, I will punish myself. I’ll defer to either Arshad or Nicolas. I do have questions, but I’ll wait.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Shannon, Mr. Shannon. Did he meet with the Houthis?

MS TRUDEAU: He met with a variety of Yemeni.

QUESTION: The Houthis are one of the --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to comment specifically on that. I have no information on that.

QUESTION: Was Mr. – or former president Abdullah Saleh representatives – did he see any one of them?

MS TRUDEAU: So I have no information on who specifically he met with besides the people I mentioned. So he did meet with a broad range of Yemeni officials.

QUESTION: Can you take that question?

MS TRUDEAU: If I have anything to add, I will.

QUESTION: Please, thanks.

QUESTION: Why wouldn’t he meet with the Houthis considering that they really are the primary opponent of the government forces? I mean, if he went to talk to bring --

MS TRUDEAU: So he was there primarily --

QUESTION: Right.

MS TRUDEAU: -- to meet with the UN mediator. He did meet with Yemeni officials. If we have anything to add, I’ll come back to you guys. And since Matt ceded his question, I’ll let you guys wrestle it out.

QUESTION: Cher monsieur, cher monsieur. It’s not his question.

MS TRUDEAU: Ceding. He has postponed his question.

QUESTION: Okay. Okay, so thank you. Thank you, Matt and Arshad. (Laughter.) Can we start with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: As you know, the French – not me, but the French Government is very keen on organizing a meeting later this month in Paris on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Secretary Kerry was in Paris a few days ago. He remains vague about his participation. I think Deputy Secretary Blinken was in – is in Paris today. Do you – you have made your – have you made your decision about a U.S. participation and at which level?

MS TRUDEAU: So we continue to discuss this proposal with the French and other key stakeholders. There has been no decision made yet on whether we can participate on May 30th. However, we are interested in working cooperatively to pursue our shared goal for a two-state solution.

QUESTION: But is it a good thing to organize this kind of meetings and conference?

MS TRUDEAU: So Secretary Kerry actually spoke to that. I think he said, “We welcome all good ideas.” We remained concerned about the continued violence on the ground, and we welcome all ideas on moving this forward. On this specific conference on the May 30th event, no decision’s been made on participation.

QUESTION: And what do you think of the fact that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians would attend this conference?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, we continue to look to both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. I won’t speak specifically about this conference. We haven’t made a decision on our own participation yet, so I’d refer you to them to speak to that.

QUESTION: Is America --

QUESTION: Wait, wait. Why can’t you make – why can’t you tell the French that May 30th is a really bad day, it’s a national holiday in the United States and the Secretary won’t be there?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, we’ve traveled before on national holidays.

QUESTION: I know.

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t get ahead of that. We just haven’t made a decision.

QUESTION: I know, we were in Vienna for July 4th (inaudible) --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, you would know, it’s true.

QUESTION: But will the – would the – I mean, you said you welcome all good ideas. Do you think this is a --

MS TRUDEAU: And that’s what – that’s what the Secretary said.

QUESTION: And this is a good idea?

MS TRUDEAU: Well --

QUESTION: Having this meeting on May 30?

MS TRUDEAU: -- what we’re saying is we haven’t made a decision on this particular event.

Said.

QUESTION: Why is it so difficult, Elizabeth, to take such a decision?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not saying it was difficult.

QUESTION: It’s taking time.

MS TRUDEAU: I’m just saying that decision hasn’t been made.

QUESTION: Elizabeth, is it a good idea to hold this meeting on May 30th?

MS TRUDEAU: So what we would say is that we welcome all good ideas. We haven’t made a decision on this.

QUESTION: So you can’t say that it is a good idea.

MS TRUDEAU: We still remain in consultations with the French and other international partners on it.

Said.

QUESTION: Not this issue, but on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

MS TRUDEAU: We’ll stay there.

QUESTION: Okay. The Israelis have imposed a travel ban on the BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions founder, or co-founder, Omar Barghouti.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on that, they’re preventing --

MS TRUDEAU: So we’ve seen the reports. We would refer you to the Israelis for comments.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I tell you what, because last month, earlier last month, there was a conference to – actually to counter BDS, a conference that was attended by the American ambassador and so on. And in fact, one of those present giving speeches by – from the Israeli side basically threatened Mr. Barghouti directly, and he implicitly called that maybe they ought to be targeted and assassinated and so on. Do you – you don’t find this a bit disturbing that Israel is using – uses whatever tactics to prevent this activism that is largely peaceful?

MS TRUDEAU: So I can’t speak to those comments. I haven’t seen those specific comments. I know we talked about this conference before.

QUESTION: Right.

MS TRUDEAU: I would say, as a general principle, we support freedom of movement for Palestinians and permanent residents of Israel.

QUESTION: Okay. Because Israel seems to be doing this against journalists, against activists and so on. Do you call on them not – to sort of cease and desist?

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t think anyone should question the U.S. Government on freedom of expression.

QUESTION: Okay. I have to a couple more. Sorry, I have a couple more questions on Palestinian-Israeli issue.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: Also --

QUESTION: Can you just stay with Barghouti for one second?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, of course.

QUESTION: So when you say that you – in principle, you support – what was it you said?

MS TRUDEAU: It was freedom of movement for Palestinians and permanent residents of Israel.

QUESTION: Including Mr. Barghouti?

MS TRUDEAU: As a general principle.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you don’t have --

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t speak specifically to this case. For that, I’m going to refer to the Israelis. However, I would say as a general principle, yes.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, is this something that you’ve brought up with the Israelis?

MS TRUDEAU: To my knowledge, at this --

QUESTION: Or is this only something that you’re responding to Said’s question with? I mean, I’m just trying to figure out --

MS TRUDEAU: At this stage, I don’t know if we’ve raised it with the Israelis.

QUESTION: I’m just trying to figure out if this is an issue that the U.S. is concerned about.

MS TRUDEAU: So freedom of movement for Palestinians --

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MS TRUDEAU: -- and permanent residents is a concern. I don’t know if we’ve raised this specific issue.

QUESTION: And is it – would it be possible to find out?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I can definitely check.

QUESTION: Because, I mean, there’s two arguments here. One is from the Israeli perspective that this guy is running a campaign that basically – that they see as a threat. But then there’s the other side --

MS TRUDEAU: Which is freedom of movement.

QUESTION: Right, and whether – and you oppose – you say you oppose the BDS tactics. You don’t like boycotts; you think that they’re – you’re – you think that they’re bad, and so the question is: If you basically agree with the Israelis on this --

MS TRUDEAU: We support freedom of movement.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know, but in this specific case --

MS TRUDEAU: But let me check and see if we’ve raised this specific case.

QUESTION: Could I follow up --

MS TRUDEAU: Yep.

QUESTION: -- on the home demolitions.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: So the Israelis yesterday demolished a home in Walaja. It’s a village in southern – in south – southern – the West Bank, south of the West Bank. (Inaudible.)

MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry, where is it?

QUESTION: And they have – it’s called Walaja.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay.

QUESTION: It’s located in the south part of the West Bank. And they have orders to demolish nine more homes and so on. I wonder if you have any comment on that.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. I’m not aware of those specific reports. However, we’re always concerned, as we’ve said repeatedly from this podium, about demolitions taken by Israeli authorities that continue throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem. These actions are indicative of a damaging trend of demolition, displacement, and land confiscation, and alongside settlement-related activity and continued construction, continue to undermine the prospects of a two-state solution. We’ve spoken about this.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Matt, let’s go back to you.

QUESTION: To me?

MS TRUDEAU: I can move around. It’s going to be a short one today.

QUESTION: Sure. Well, let’s go to Syria for a second.

MS TRUDEAU: Sure.

QUESTION: There seems to be a renewed interest from some of the – some members of the ISSG – not you, not the United States, and certainly not your allies in the ISSG – to have the UN add at least one of the groups – Ahrar al-Sham – onto the list of groups that are not included in the ceasefire. You in the past have opposed such a move, and I’m just wondering if there is anything – there seem to be new allegations that they are pretty much interwoven with Nusrah, which is not covered by the ceasefire. And I’m just wondering if there’s any – if there’s any revisiting of this position.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. There’s no change in our position. We do note the reports that Russia’s proposed placing we believe both opposition groups – Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham – on the UN sanctions list that includes ISIL, the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group. Russia is publicly attempting to designate groups that are parties to the cessation of hostilities. Such actions, we continue to believe, would have damaging consequences to the cessation just as we are trying to de-escalate the situation on the ground.

QUESTION: But is that a – is that – is your position based on just simply trying to preserve the cessation of hostilities, or is your position based on the fact that you think that the Russians are wrong when they say that these two groups are inter – they’re woven together with al-Nusrah?

MS TRUDEAU: We’ve spoken before – and when you say “woven together” you’re talking about co-located, or the Russian allegation that --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I think that there’s some who say that they’re co-located and they intermingle, but there are others, the more stronger case, is that they are allied with or are essentially the same as al-Nusrah.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. But these are parties to the cessation, so our position on that is that we believe that they are still covered under the cessation. We disagree with that assessment at this time. We continue to reach out to these opposition groups to ensure that they are adhering to the cessation and continuing to create the environment for a political transition.

QUESTION: Which allegation do you disagree with? That they are allied with or essentially the same as al-Nusrah?

MS TRUDEAU: Yes.

QUESTION: Or that they are inter --

MS TRUDEAU: No, we are very aware that there’s some – there’s some co-location. We’ve spoken before about both Russia and our role to try and identify – we’ve --

QUESTION: Okay. But from your point of view, the Russians are – the Russian position is wrong, these guys are not terrorists, and they should continue to be --

MS TRUDEAU: At this stage, our position is --

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: -- is that they continue to be parties to the cessation.

QUESTION: Can we just follow up on --

MS TRUDEAU: Sure.

QUESTION: -- on this issue? Both Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam – I mean, they have exactly the same bylaw, almost the same bylaws. They don’t have a constitution. They have what they call internal document. They espouse the same dogma, they believe the same thing, they practice the same practices as Jabhat al-Nusrah and as al-Qaida. Why shouldn’t they be designated as a terrorist organization?

MS TRUDEAU: So we constantly review information. We are constantly assessing these groups. At this stage our position is that these groups are members of the cessation of hostilities. We continue to have dialogue with them. If our position changes, we’ll make that assessment then. But we are in constant review of this.

QUESTION: So you’re not bothered by the fact that some of their leaders actually – they go from one place to the other and back and forth and so on? In a leadership capacity --

MS TRUDEAU: We’ve talked about the intermingling on the ground. We have talked about, especially in areas of Aleppo, where it’s very difficult to tease that out. This is one of the commitments that we made when we released the statement with the Russians on Monday, that commitment to try and differentiate. So we are aware of this. As we get more information, as we assess, we continue to look at it.

QUESTION: And I promise, my last question on this. I mean, you always say that you want to support the secular opposition. There is – according to their statement, there is nothing secular about these groups. In fact, they want a very strict Islamic caliphate in Syria, both --

MS TRUDEAU: At this stage, they are parties to the cessation. We’ll leave it there.

Matt, did you have more, or are we moving around?

QUESTION: No.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Yeah.

QUESTION: There’s this website in Ukraine called Myrotvorets. Its header says, “Information for law enforcement authorities and special services about pro-Russian terrorists, separatists, mercenaries, war criminals, and murderers.” That website has just published personal data of around 4,000 journalists who are working or worked in eastern Ukraine – their phone numbers and email address. These are journalists from all over the world, not only from Russia. But last year, shortly after the website did a similar thing with publishing personal data, a Ukrainian journalist, Oles Buzina, who had expressed pro-Russian views, was murdered. What do you think about this leak of journalists’ personal data?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. We’re aware of the reports of the hacking of personal information of some reporters who had worked or are working in parts of eastern Ukraine. These are international outlets, some of which are represented in this room. The United States fully supports the fundamental principle of press freedom. Journalists play a critical role, particularly in countries where civil and political rights are fragile and in areas of conflict where the hazards of reporting are at their most extreme. So we are concerned.

QUESTION: Would you call the hacking – you called it a hacking.

MS TRUDEAU: We did call it a hacking.

QUESTION: Would call that hacking a criminal, maybe --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to make a criminal determination, but I – we did call it a hacking and we are concerned.

QUESTION: And it is wrong for them to do that?

MS TRUDEAU: We are very concerned about the hacking and the posting of personal information of members of the press who are already on the frontlines.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Back to Yemen. General Asseri is in town this week, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition. And he said that if the peace talks fail, that they are going to retake Sana’a and --

MS TRUDEAU: I saw that. That was Foreign Policy’s report.

QUESTION: It was, it was. So do you have a response to that?

MS TRUDEAU: So we’re committed to the peace talks, we’re committed to the UN effort. For the Saudis’ comment, I’m going to refer you to them, okay?

QUESTION: Is this something that the U.S., as a member of the coalition, would partake in?

MS TRUDEAU: So where we are is we’re committed to those peace talks. As we said, the cessation is largely holding. The peace talks continue. Under Secretary Shannon met with the mediator today; that’s where we’re focused.

QUESTION: So the Saudis say that they support the peace talks as well, but if they happen to fail, then they have this plan B, which is, of course, a large city with about 2 million people and it’s interwoven with pockets of Houthi support. The U.S. supports the peace process. Would it be supportive of a plan to retake Sana’a?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m going to refer you to the Saudis for those comments, which I just saw. Okay.

QUESTION: Can I ask about this?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is it not your understanding that the position of the Saudi-led coalition has, for a long time, been that they have a two-track strategy of a political one – diplomatic talks – and a military one?

MS TRUDEAU: So what I would do is not delve into the Saudi strategy. It’s not for me to speak to that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. a member of the coalition?

QUESTION: Yeah --

MS TRUDEAU: We support the Saudi-led coalition.

QUESTION: But you’re not a member.

QUESTION: No, I know, but you’re not a member of it.

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t – I’m – I believe --

QUESTION: I mean, do you have any – you don’t have any planning or financing role in it, do you?

MS TRUDEAU: No. We support them, I believe, through sharing of information, but I do not believe we’re a member of the coalition. If I’m wrong, I’ll correct myself.

QUESTION: Are you aware that there may be some arm directly sent to Saudi Arabia for use in this conflict?

MS TRUDEAU: For that?

QUESTION: For use in the ongoing conflict in Yemen.

MS TRUDEAU: If you’re asking about sort of operational details and cooperation --

QUESTION: Right. No, no. I’m saying they are --

MS TRUDEAU: -- with the Saudis on that, you know for – I’m going to --

QUESTION: Let me ask you – maybe you know. There are some arms that are – that go to Saudi Arabia, but they’re – they actually are taken immediately to the battlefield so they go – including cluster bombs – or some – some say including cluster bombs.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I’m not aware of those reports.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: On South China Sea. So yesterday several times you referenced the international law.

MS TRUDEAU: Yep.

QUESTION: And I just wonder within it is the term “excessive claims” defined.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. So the United States was among the nations that participated in the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea, which took place from 1973 to 1982 and resulted in the international treaty known as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The – this – while the United States recognizes the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, I will note we haven’t ratified it. The definition is actually in there.

QUESTION: Yeah. So I just – I was wondering: Under which specific international law authorize the U.S. to use warship to patrol in the sea?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so this is freedom of navigation and we’ve spoken about this before. If John Kirby was up here, he would use the famous phrase that I told him I would use yesterday, which is freedom of navigation is not just for whales and icebergs. The United States will continue to exercise that in accordance with international law.

QUESTION: How about penguins?

QUESTION: Yeah, but how do you --

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t speak to penguins, Matt.

QUESTION: Really?

QUESTION: So how do you correlate it – I mean, with the use of warship to patrolling the sea to the innocent passage?

MS TRUDEAU: So this is freedom of navigation. This is allowed under this international convention. So thank you. And – yeah.

QUESTION: But the fact remains is that the United States is not a party to this treaty. It’s not --

MS TRUDEAU: That’s true. We do recognize it, though, but you’re correct.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but you also recognize lots of things you don’t – but that doesn’t mean that – that doesn’t give you – I mean, you don’t have any standing to bring or make a determination that means anything on the definitions or what is prohibited inside that treaty unless you’re a party to it.

MS TRUDEAU: So we believe --

QUESTION: It’s like you telling – trying to tell the International Criminal Court what it – who it can or cannot prosecute. You just – I mean, you can say all you want to, but it doesn’t mean anything.

MS TRUDEAU: So we believe – and we’ve said this before – that our freedom of navigation operations that challenge maritime claims that are inconsistent with the Law of the Sea – ours are conducted in accordance with international law and applied evenhandedly across the --

QUESTION: I don’t think anyone’s disputing that. I’m just trying – wanting to make the point is – I mean, where do you – how is it that you think that you have standing to make a determination that someone’s maritime claim is excessive --

MS TRUDEAU: We believe --

QUESTION: -- under the definitions provided by – in a treaty to which you’re not a party?

MS TRUDEAU: So we believe that our freedom of navigation operations are consistent.

QUESTION: Yeah, but that’s not what I – I’m talking about the excessive claim part, not the freedom of navigation. I mean, that doesn’t enter into it. What gives the United States the right to make a determination that something is an excessive claim using the definition of a treaty that it’s not a party to?

MS TRUDEAU: So because we believe that our actions are consistent with the international --

QUESTION: I’m not asking you about your actions.

MS TRUDEAU: I understand.

QUESTION: I’m asking about your determination that other people’s claims are excessive and therefore should not be recognized.

MS TRUDEAU: I’m going to leave it where we were.

QUESTION: All right.

MS TRUDEAU: Nike.

QUESTION: This is just a quick follow-up. Yesterday you mentioned the 12 nautical miles for the freedom of navigation.

MS TRUDEAU: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are you – you can take the question if you want. Are – is the United States identifying the reef as a rock or island? Because --

MS TRUDEAU: So Fiery Cross Reef?

QUESTION: Right. Because – the reason I ask --

MS TRUDEAU: It is a high tide elevation and entitled to a 12 nautical mile territorial sea under international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea convention. So our ship transited inside the 12 nautical miles of the feature in a professional manner, exercising the right of innocent passage consistent with international law.

QUESTION: So that elevation – does that entitled to the territorial sea or not?

MS TRUDEAU: It is a high tide elevation and is entitled, and we went through in innocent passage.

Okay. Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more on the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course. Yeah.

QUESTION: An Israeli court convicted a 13-year-old Palestinian boy of attempted murder. They have not revealed the sentence yet, but there is also scores of Palestinian children that are in – I wonder if you have any kind of comment, if you’re aware of this issue.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. This was the 13-year-old who was involved in the stabbing attack in Jerusalem.

QUESTION: Right, yeah. He was – yeah, Ahmad Saleh Manasra. He was involved in an attempted – I guess stabbing back in October.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. We – we’re aware of that report. If you remember, we condemned the attack at the time. We continue to remain deeply concerned about the violence.

More broadly, we have an ongoing dialogue with the Government of Israel. It’s also in our Human Rights Report, talking about minors in prison.

QUESTION: I’ve got more.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course, Matt.

QUESTION: Yesterday you intimated that there would be some kind of looking at or review – you didn’t want to use the word “investigation,” but – into what happened with this video – the video of the briefing in question. Has that – have you determined – have you been able to figure out what exactly --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, we’re still looking into it. We continue to take a look at our process at that time and also making sure that something like that obviously never happens again. I would reiterate video is – was always available. It’s back up now on state.gov. We annotated it on our YouTube channel, so it’s been resolved, but we do take it seriously and we’re looking.

QUESTION: Well, is – I mean, is there any suspicion that you’re aware of that this was not some – it was not simply a “glitch,” quote-unquote --

MS TRUDEAU: Thanks for the air quotes.

QUESTION: -- that you --

MS TRUDEAU: At this stage we believe it was a glitch, but we’re double-checking and making sure because we have that commitment.

QUESTION: Okay. So do you have any idea how long it will take?

MS TRUDEAU: To be honest, I think people are talking about it now. As soon as I have an update, I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:26 p.m.)

DPB #81


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 9, 2016

Mon, 05/09/2016 - 16:37

Elizabeth Trudeau
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 9, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

2:00 p.m. EDT

MS TRUDEAU: Hello, everyone. Happy Monday. Welcome to the State Department. We will keep them sharp this week, so I have no – nothing at the top.

So Matt, I turn it over to you.

QUESTION: Right. I just have one brief logistical thing and then to Syria, and the logistical thing is about the whole email issue and a court filing that you guys just presented today. It says that you have been unable to find any email records responsive to a request from the RNC for Mr. Pagliano’s email. I’m just wondering, how – do you know how that is?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So thanks for the question. I have quite a bit to say on this, so bear with me.

As a standard, the department does not comment on matters in litigation. However, the department disagrees with a number of assertations made in today’s filing and will be responding in court. We will say, however, that this matter was reported in the press back in December 2015. The department has searched for Mr. Pagliano’s email PST file, and has not located one that covers the time period of Secretary Clinton’s tenure. To be clear, the department does have records related to Mr. Pagliano and we are working with Congress and FOIA requesters to provide relevant material. The department has located a PST from Mr. Pagliano’s recent work at the department as a contractor, but the files are from after Secretary Clinton left the department. We are continuing to search for Mr. Pagliano’s emails which the department may have otherwise retained.

When it comes to FOIA, I think as you know, the State Department works diligently to produce all responsive records in our possession. The department does acknowledge we must work to improve our systems for record management and retention. As part of the ongoing effort, the department is now automatically archiving Secretary Kerry’s emails as well as the emails of numerous senior staff.

QUESTION: So in other words, these – because he was not a senior official, they just – they just – they’re now in the ether someplace?

MS TRUDEAU: So what I would --

QUESTION: I mean, you think – I mean – you can’t find them, so he clearly didn’t spend four years here and never send an email, right?

MS TRUDEAU: No. It’s --

QUESTION: So --

MS TRUDEAU: It’s not required for employees to save every email they have sent and received. However, they must preserve federal records. Each employee is responsible for preserving his or her emails that are required to be retained under the Federal Records Act. The topic of records management has been discussed previously, exhaustively, from this podium. We have work to do to improve our records management.

QUESTION: Does that include – so you’re – the search continues; is that what you’re saying? You haven’t --

MS TRUDEAU: So --

QUESTION: To be responsive to this request, you --

MS TRUDEAU: We are conducting a thorough search right now.

QUESTION: But it’s not over? You haven’t just thrown your hands up in the air and said --

MS TRUDEAU: No, we are conducting it.

QUESTION: -- you can’t find – you are continuing?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. A PST is that when you archive your emails and it makes that little folder – and sometimes it’ll ask you on Outlook – that’s a PST.

QUESTION: And so when – I mean, if I understand it, is it the case that you have not found a single email related to Mr. Pagliano’s service while Secretary Clinton was here?

MS TRUDEAU: So that’s accurate that we have located a PST from when his recent work with the department as a contractor, but not – those were from after when Secretary Clinton left the department.

QUESTION: Is it conceivable that he might have deleted every single email he sent during the period of Secretary Clinton’s service?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to speculate on that. I cannot say how or whether he stored records.

QUESTION: And is it conceivable that nothing he committed to email during the time he was here rose to the standard of a federal record?

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t say on that. What I will say is the department’s conducting a thorough search. At this stage, I just don’t have any additional details to provide.

Okay, Matt.

QUESTION: Syria.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: So I know that this has been discussed by a senior official, or by official on a background call, but I want to try and pin you down on this thing about the joint statement from United States and Russia.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: It is still unclear to me whether or not you think that this joint statement today extends and expands and reinforces the nationwide cessation of hostilities so that incremental extensions of local truces and sort of – like Aleppo, like Latakia, like – so that those don’t need to be extended anymore. Is that the Administration’s position? And if it is, is that your understanding of – that’s the Russian position and also the Syrian Government position?

MS TRUDEAU: So there’s a lot there. I’m going to address some of it and then we can talk about what those incremental ceasefires were actually doing. So in this joint statement today, the United States and Russia reaffirmed the commitment to the nationwide cessation of hostilities that went into effect February 27th across Syria. That includes Aleppo. Full stop. We have been cognizant of the strains to the cessation in Aleppo in recent week, but the cessation of hostilities in Aleppo remains in effect and will continue. We’re fully committed to making sure it remains in place. Each side – the Russians and the United States – have communicated with commanders, saying the other side is called upon to honor the cessation and they should reciprocate.

Both the United States and the Russians are currently focusing on particular areas of the country where we’ve seen tensions in recent week, obviously including Aleppo, and making these incremental steps to getting the cessation back on track. The goal is to get to the point where we no longer have to rely on these 24-hour, these 72-hour, and that the cessation of hostilities is fully respected across.

QUESTION: Right.

MS TRUDEAU: Speaking specifically to this – so the use of these 24-hour, the 48 hours, were because the exchanges of fire on both sides – they had become intense in Latakia, in Eastern Ghouta, in Aleppo. These small – these short-term cessation of hostilities were a means to get local commanders to be assured of the other side’s readiness to renew the implementation of cessation. With our statement today, we do believe that the cessation is in place. We do believe that this was what’s called a confidence-building measure that the cessation then will be across. We’re not ruling out scattered violence; we’re not ruling out that there could be attacks either way. But we do believe that this is now in place.

QUESTION: So you think that this puts you now at the point where you don’t need another 24 or 48-hour or 72-hour extension in Aleppo, for example.

MS TRUDEAU: So --

QUESTION: You think that that’s covered by --

MS TRUDEAU: -- we believe that it’s covered, but what we’re also very cognizant about is that these are small, isolated areas, that the violence flares up there. We’re committed; the Russians have said today that they’re committed. We’re in touch with the commanders on the ground, so we believe yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay.

QUESTION: Elizabeth, on this one.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course, Michel.

QUESTION: The statement said that Russia and the U.S. are committed to undertaking efforts to develop a shared understanding of the threat posed and territory controlled by ISIL and the Nusrah Front and to consider ways to deal decisively against the threat posed by ISIL and the Nusrah Front to Syria and international security. Does this mean that Russia will be part of the international coalition now – will join the effort?

MS TRUDEAU: I wouldn’t read into it. Russia’s been a member of the ISSG. We continue --

QUESTION: Yeah, we know that, but after this --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, but we continue to talk about that. One of the things we’ve spoken out extensively from this podium is the issue of having parties to the cessation intermingled with Nusrah. This was that conversation on how we have a shared understanding of the territory controlled by Nusrah and making those efforts to tease that out.

QUESTION: But when you say that or the statements says “consider ways to deal decisively against the threat posed by ISIL,” what ways are you talking about?

MS TRUDEAU: As I said, this is the idea that we share information, that we understand where Nusrah is, where they’re mixed in with parties to the cessation, and then we have conversations there about how we can deal with them. I wouldn’t get ahead of this in talking about your primary question.

QUESTION: That means there will be more cooperation and coordination with Russia now to fight ISIL and al-Nusrah?

MS TRUDEAU: What I would say is we’d leave it where it is, where it is – we are building a shared understanding of where the territory controlled by Nusrah and then steps we could take to do that, but I’m not going to get ahead of where the statement was.

QUESTION: What about the timing of the statement? It came out before Paris meeting.

MS TRUDEAU: Yep.

QUESTION: Anything about the timing?

MS TRUDEAU: No. I would say that this is a conversation that we have been having with the Russians. We are very cognizant of the impact on the ground that the cessation of hostilities has had very positively for the Syrian people – not uniformly, not covering all areas – and the idea that a reconfirmation right now is vitally important for the Syrian people.

QUESTION: And why the U.S. didn’t wait for the – for Paris meeting to issue the statement?

MS TRUDEAU: So the Secretary today, it’s our understanding, is briefing those individuals who will be at the Paris meeting. But remember that this is a build-on from a previous Russia-U.S. statement.

QUESTION: And is the U.S. and – or are the U.S. and the European and Arab states at the same page regarding Syria?

MS TRUDEAU: I would say that we all have the same goal. We all have the same view. Suffering has gone on too long; the political transition is the only solution for the people of Syria.

QUESTION: There is no difference between --

MS TRUDEAU: I think with any sovereign state, of course there’s going to be differences in views on there, but we all have the same end goal.

Okay --

QUESTION: But Foreign Minister Ayrault said that there would be a meeting of the ISSG next week. Is there --

MS TRUDEAU: I’ve got nothing to announce on there, but I would – if the foreign minister --

QUESTION: Would the U.S. like to see one?

MS TRUDEAU: I think that we are committed to using the ISSG as the platform to continue this dialog forward.

Barbara.

QUESTION: Yeah. The U.S. official who spoke on background said that the fighting southwest of Aleppo city was not a truce violation because it involved --

MS TRUDEAU: Nusrah --

QUESTION: -- the government versus al-Nusrah. But there are reports that, in fact, it involves Jaysh al-Fatah, which does include parties to the truce like Ahrar al-Sham. So are you aware of these reports, and if you could shed any more light on that? And if so, are you pressing those parties, probably through your allies – Saudi Arabia and so on – to stop fighting?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so I haven’t seen particularly that report, but I would say your question actually illustrates perfectly why it’s so important to have that shared understanding of where Nusrah is, where they’re operating; where Daesh is, where they’re operating. They’re not parties to the cessation, as you exactly said.

Let’s stay on Syria. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Elizabeth, ISIL attacks to Turkey’s border town Kilis have claimed tens of lives, civilians’ lives since mid-January. And following the last week’s attacks Erdogan yesterday said that Turkey has been left alone in its fight against ISIS, and he says that unlike the attacks in the European countries, the attacks to Turkish towns are not being taken enough seriously by the coalition forces and the U.S. And I was wondering if U.S. or coalition forces are going to take any further steps in order to secure the Turkish towns.

MS TRUDEAU: So I’m not going to speak specifically to President Erdogan’s comments. What I will say, though, is Turkey is a NATO ally. It is a friend. It is a key partner in the fight against ISIL. We stand by our ally Turkey. We have said that routinely and strongly and positively from this, and our coordination continues.

QUESTION: And also – sorry.

MS TRUDEAU: Wait, wait. Are we on Syria or Turkey?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS TRUDEAU: Because sometimes it gets a little blurry with you guys. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay, Syria. There are some reports suggesting that Turkey and U.S. have agreed on helping Syrian Democratic Forces to take control of that 98 kilometer of Manbij pocket. And also the same reports claim that Turkey have demanded in change of leadership of Syrian Democratic Forces, bringing the Turkmens and Arabs into the leadership of Syrian Democratic Forces as well. I was wondering if you can confirm those report.

MS TRUDEAU: So I’m not going to speak to those comments. I haven’t seen that report. We have spoken, though, extensively about the importance of that stretch of border in supporting Turkey’s efforts to making sure that that border is closed. We actually spoke to that in the statement today with the Russians and the importance of helping and intensifying our efforts with regional allies to making sure that Daesh is not getting the financing, the people. So that’s actually in the statement. I’d refer you there.

QUESTION: Does Turkmens and Arabs – are they also part of the plan to bring into Syrian Democratic Forces?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, you’re asking me about a report, like I mentioned, I haven’t seen. I’m not going to speak about that – that component.

QUESTION: Elizabeth, on this --

MS TRUDEAU: Syria?

QUESTION: No, Turkey-Syria. Turkey has said today that it will deal with the PYG forces in Syria in the same way that it’s dealing with ISIL in Syria. Are you aware of that, and do you have any comment?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, I hadn’t seen that. As you know, our view is very clear on both the PKK as well as the YPD. Our view on that has not changed.

QUESTION: I’m not talking about the PKK.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: I’m talking about Turkey --

MS TRUDEAU: The PYG --

QUESTION: -- dealing with the PYG in the same way that it’s dealing with ISIS.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I have not seen those comments. I have not seen those comments, Michel.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: About the resignation of the Turkish prime minister --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Syria, please?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course. And then I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: It’s a Turkish question. There are several reports quoting rebel and opposition sources in Aleppo have complained that from this podium and others the U.S. Administration has exaggerated the extent to which Nusrah is present in the city of Aleppo as a way of giving cover to the Russians and the Syrians in this attack. What proportion of the city of Aleppo do you think is under Jabhat al-Nusrah control?

MS TRUDEAU: That’s an operational, on-the-ground report, Dave. I’m sorry, I really can’t give a figure on that.

QUESTION: What about the allegation then that you have --

MS TRUDEAU: I would say that we don’t underestimate the impact of Nusrah or Daesh on that area. These are terrorist organizations. When you see ungoverned space like that, terrorist organizations thrive. So that’s why I can’t give a specific figure or make a guess on the percentage of Aleppo that’s been controlled by that, we take it very seriously.

Let’s go to Turkey.

QUESTION: Yeah, about that decision, a lot of people see the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who is widely seen as a relatively kind of reformist leader, as a push – as being – he’s being forced to resign by President Erdogan. What do you make of that? Do you have anything to say?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Well, we’ve – we spoke to this last week. Obviously, we’ve seen the reports, we’ve seen the prime minister’s comments that he’ll be stepping down as the AKP chair, and there will be an extraordinary congress on May 22nd to select new party leadership. Mark spoke to this last week. This is an internal matter for Turkey. We will continue to work with the Government of Turkey as – and you guys can say it with me – as a friend, a NATO ally, and a partner.

QUESTION: So – but when a prime minister resigns, there should be a reason, and nobody knows the reason. I mean, prime ministers are pushed --

MS TRUDEAU: Well, that would be for the people of Turkey to speak to and not from the U.S. State Department podium.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you – does the United States share the views of a lot of people, critics, who believe Erdogan is a creeping authoritarian leader?

MS TRUDEAU: I think we’ve spoken extensively about our views on media freedom in Turkey, as well as the very real threats that Turkey faces along its border, as well as Turkey’s exceptional generosity in hosting so many refugees.

QUESTION: Do you --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m – there’s really nothing that I can add to that.

QUESTION: Do you believe he’s a democrat, Erdogan?

MS TRUDEAU: I believe that he is the leader of our friend and our NATO ally.

QUESTION: Can I go to Iran?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more on Turkey before we leave?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. Do – we’ll do that, and then, Matt, I’ll go to Iran.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is there a concern that with the prime minister’s resignation, there may be a setback in efforts to fight the Islamic State, that this may be a hindrance to the overall effort considering that he had relatively warm relations with the U.S.?

MS TRUDEAU: What I would say is that Turkey is not blind to the threat that it faces on its own – its own soil along its border, so Turkey is very aware. It’s a strong partner in the counter-ISIL coalition.

Matt.

QUESTION: So you’ve – I’m sure you’ve seen these conflicting – or I don’t know about – I guess they are, yes, conflicting claims out of --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, they are conflicting.

QUESTION: -- out of Tehran today – the first report being that they had test fired this ballistic missile, okay, with a 2,000-kilometer range; second report from the defense minister saying the range was not 2,000 kilometers, but he didn’t deny that a missile test had taken place. So what’s your read on this?

MS TRUDEAU: So we’ve seen – we’re aware of Iranian comments on an additional ballistic missile launch. We’re working to gather additional information at the time – at this time. We remain concerned about Iran’s ballistic missile test launches, which are provocative and destabilizing. These launches are inconsistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2231 in which the Security Council called on Iran not to undertake launches of ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: So you can’t speak to, one, whether or not you think that they actually did launch a missile of any range --

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t, no.

QUESTION: -- or two, whether or not it was this range?

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t. I can’t confirm either.

QUESTION: So if and when – in the past, when you have confirmed launches, you have taken it to the Security Council, where your --

MS TRUDEAU: And if this launch is confirmed, we will do so again.

QUESTION: Okay. But when you have done this in the past and sought additional Security Council action, you have not been successful, correct?

MS TRUDEAU: So we would say that as we raise it at the UN under 2231 that we will continue to have those conversations there if this is confirmed – and again, we’re not saying it is.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know. But it is correct that you have not been able to get the Security Council to take any action on previous tests in part because the language in the current resolution that replaced all the previous resolutions is less stringent than what it used to be.

MS TRUDEAU: So --

QUESTION: Is that not correct?

MS TRUDEAU: The language is “is inconsistent with,” and I think we’ve talked about this before.

QUESTION: I understand that, but you – but I just want to make sure that you acknowledge that the reason that you have not been able to get action at the Security Council in the wake of the previous tests, these most recent previous tests, is because the language in this new resolution is different than the language that was in the previous resolution as it regards ballistic missiles.

MS TRUDEAU: So the new resolution, 2231, continues to call on Iran specifically not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.

QUESTION: Well, do you agree that that is different from the previous resolution language, which said “shall not?”

MS TRUDEAU: I think there are nuances – I think there are nuances in words, and we will continue to vigorously press the case for UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

QUESTION: But you do accept that there is a difference between a commandment – “shall not” – and a “call upon” --

MS TRUDEAU: We will continue --

QUESTION: This is the argument – I’m not making it.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: This is the argument that the Russians have made. This is the argument that the Iranians have made. And when you start saying that it’s not a violation, but rather it is inconsistent with, it just seems like it’s playing at words. I’m trying to find out if the Administration will at least acknowledge that the new language is less stringent than the old language.

MS TRUDEAU: No.

QUESTION: No?

MS TRUDEAU: The UN Security Council resolution continues to call on Iran specifically not to undertake any activity.

QUESTION: Yes, but before it did more than just “continue to call upon.” It said it shouldn’t – it “shall not” do these things. So if you’re – if you say that the language is exactly the same, then it shouldn’t --

MS TRUDEAU: It’s not exactly the same.

QUESTION: Ah, okay.

MS TRUDEAU: We believe we have the tools.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Samir.

QUESTION: Oh, wait, wait. I had one more --

MS TRUDEAU: Wait. Are we staying on Iran?

QUESTION: I have one more on Iran, but it’s a different --

QUESTION: Iran. Iran for --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- 200. (Laughter.) Sky News has reported --

MS TRUDEAU: You have to pose it as a question. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, then you have to come up with the right answer. (Laughter.)

MS TRUDEAU: Snap. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: How would you respond to the Sky News report that Secretary Kerry plans to meet with British bankers to discuss sanctions lifting on Iran and presumably to encourage them to lend their depositors’ funds to the Iranians?

MS TRUDEAU: Thanks for the question, for 200. While we don’t have anything specific to announce today, the Department of State and Treasury are always looking for ways to engage relevant parties on the implementation of the JCPOA. So nothing to announce today.

QUESTION: Okay. And is he meeting any – is he meeting any French bankers, for example, to discuss this?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. I – if I have more information in the coming days, I’ll do that.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS TRUDEAU: And Matt, you had an Iran too, and then I’ll get to you, Samir.

QUESTION: I did, but go – I can’t remember what it is at the moment. Ask --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m here all day.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS TRUDEAU: Samir. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Twice on Saturdays.

QUESTION: Do you have an update about the status of the Yemen peace talks in Kuwait?

MS TRUDEAU: I do. Thank you for that question. So we are pleased that the Yemeni peace talks that began April 21st continue in Kuwait. As the UN special envoy for Yemen noted today, he continues to hold meetings with the Yemeni parties in order to reach an understanding on contested issues and to find a way to move forward. Thus far, parties have agreed upon a general framework for the talks and began meeting in working groups to focus on a variety of political and security challenges. The United States encourages all parties to continue to attend the talks in good faith and to continue to build upon the important progress already made in order to find a comprehensive solution to the crisis in Yemen.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: You’re welcome.

QUESTION: On Ukraine.

QUESTION: Can I --

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS TRUDEAU: Hold on one second.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to the – finish the – they’ll be very brief, because I think you’re going to have to take both of them.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay.

QUESTION: One is there’s also – you saw the reports about a bunch of IRGC officers being killed in Syria --

MS TRUDEAU: I did see those.

QUESTION: -- and some being captured. I don’t know if there has been an official claim of responsibility for this action, but there is talk in Iran now that there is going to be some kind of a large-scale offensive in the area where that incident happened. Do you know anything about that? Have you – would you – if there was to be, would it be an issue with the joint statement that you put out with the Russians earlier? Or is it your view that whoever did this would not be covered by the ceasefire?

MS TRUDEAU: So I’ve seen the reports. I don’t have a lot of details on that, and I haven’t seen a claim of responsibility.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the second one, which you may not also know, is that a group, very much like the opposition to the Iran deal in Congress here – which there has been some – there is also opposition to it in Iran, in the Iranian parliament. And there – I guess more than 100 members of the Iranian parliament have written to say that they should stop – say that Iran should stop complying with the JCPOA and go ahead and do as much enrichment as they want, as they’re allowed to under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Do you have anything to say about that? Is that --

MS TRUDEAU: I would refer you to the Iranians to speak to their own political process.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Ma’am, and then we’ll go back.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you, Elizabeth. I have a question about WHO’s invitation to Taiwan last week.

MS TRUDEAU: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Margaret Chan, the general secretary of WHO, sent a letter – invitation for Taiwan to be an observer this May. But in the letter he – he’s recalling the UN Resolution 2758, and in line with the “one China” principle as reflected within. Therefore, he invited Taiwan to lead delegate to WHA. I wonder, do you have any comment? Because I remember U.S. has a “one China” policy, not a “one China” principle. So since you’re a supporter of Taiwan’s participation in WHA --

MS TRUDEAU: We are.

QUESTION: -- I wonder do – yeah.

MS TRUDEAU: We are pleased that Taiwan has received an invitation to this year’s World Health Assembly taking place May 23rd through 28th. Taiwan has participated as an observer in the WHA for the past seven years. The United States strongly supports such WHA participation and Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the work of the World Health Organization-related activities. We note Taiwan has made important contributions to global health, and its participation in the WHA and in the work of the WHO contributes to a safer, healthier world.

QUESTION: But how about the “one China” principle? Does that contradict the --

MS TRUDEAU: The United States remains committed to our “one China” policy based on the three joint communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act.

QUESTION: And I remember too --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- a quick – just one last question.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: In 2011, I remember the secretary of health from the U.S. said in Geneva no UN organization can unilaterally decide, determine Taiwan’s status. Do you think this time, by sending this invitation, WHO trying to redefine Taiwan’s --

MS TRUDEAU: No. As I noted, we’re pleased to see them participate.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MS TRUDEAU: Go ahead. You know what? Let me go to the gentleman behind you and then I’ll come to you.

QUESTION: On North Korea, the Workers’ Party congress ended and with Kim Jong-un being named the party chairman. Do you have any comments on that? Is this a --

MS TRUDEAU: I do not.

QUESTION: Do you have any comments on the reporters being kicked out, the BBC reporters being kicked out of North Korea?

MS TRUDEAU: I think our position on press freedom is pretty well known. It’s an opaque regime. It’s – I think that we’ll leave it there.

Sir.

QUESTION: So that I’m wondering that the United States agree on WHO’s move to mention the “one China” principle in its invitation for Taiwan to participate in WHA.

MS TRUDEAU: I’m just going to leave our comments where we put them.

Sir.

QUESTION: On Egypt.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: Last Saturday an Egyptian court recommended death penalty against three journalists, including two from Al Jazeera, Ibrahim Helal and Alaa Sablan. What’s your reaction to this, and was there any kind of communication with the Egyptian authorities over the weekend about this issue?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Thank you for the question. It’s an important story. We understand an Egyptian court is seeking the death penalty for two journalists affiliated with Al Jazeera. Apparently they were tried in absentia, which we understand automatically leads to the maximum allowable sentencing per Egyptian law. As we’ve said, we’re concerned about the deterioration in respect for freedom of expression and association in Egypt, and we continue to have very frank conversations with the Egyptians on this.

Ma’am.

QUESTION: Ukraine. In the recent days there have been lots of reports about possible appointment of the new ambassador of the U.S. to Ukraine, Mary Jovanovich. Could you please confirm this or give more details of this?

MS TRUDEAU: No, I can’t. I have no personnel announcements.

Sir.

QUESTION: The Philippines.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: Yes. Mr. Duterte is the likely winner of the presidential election in the Philippines.

MS TRUDEAU: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What is your response? And he will call for a summit to solve disputes over the South China Sea, which would include the United States and Japan. What is the U.S. reaction to his proposal?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so first on the Philippines and the election, the United States congratulates the Philippines on holding inclusive and democratic elections. Our two nations have strong and enduring ties based on our shared respect for democratic values. We look forward to continuing those ties. We do understand, however, official election results have not yet been released. We’ll wait for the official results from the Government of the Philippines before providing further comment. That would extend to any proposals that would be made by one of the candidates.

QUESTION: I had another one on South China Sea.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, a representative of the Chinese foreign ministry rejected any participation in the arbitration. Do you have any response to that?

MS TRUDEAU: As we’ve said before, the United States supports peaceful resolution of disputes including through the use of international legal mechanisms such as arbitration.

QUESTION: One more on the Philippines?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Mr. Duterte’s long service as Davao – if I’m pronouncing that right – mayor and the many allegations by human rights groups that he condoned or actively encouraged extrajudicial killings by death squads?

MS TRUDEAU: At this stage, because the election results are still coming in, I’m not going to speak to that. I understand it’s still in flux. I understand the question. Thanks, Arshad.

QUESTION: On the disputed island distribution.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, Japan and Taiwan recently has a territory dispute on a small island --

MS TRUDEAU: Which island?

QUESTION: I forgot, it is --

QUESTION: Senkakus.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, we don’t have a position on those.

QUESTION: So Taiwan’s president said that he might bring it to the international arbitration for the dispute. Does the U.S. --

MS TRUDEAU: As we’ve said in the past, we do welcome efforts for international involvement in this including through arbitration. But on this particular one we have no position on the sovereignty on those islands.

QUESTION: Staying in the region --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- but slightly different. On Japan. There’s been some sort of mixed speculation on the U.S. position on this, so I just wanted to give you a chance to clear the record. Does the State Department have any reaction to Prime Minister Abe’s meeting with Vladimir Putin last Friday?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So we consult regularly with the Government of Japan on a range of regional and global issues. Continued unity among our partners including the EU and the G7 remains vital in our approach to Russia. We would refer you to the Government of Japan regarding Prime Minister Abe’s visit and his discussions with his counterparts.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS TRUDEAU: That’s it. Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: One quick --

MS TRUDEAU: Oh, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, a quick one on Saudi Arabia.

MS TRUDEAU: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any comments on the appointment of the oil minister?

MS TRUDEAU: We are aware of reports that the Government of Saudi Arabia has appointed several new ministers. We’d refer you, obviously, to the Government of Saudi Arabia for specific question. They remain a strong, vital partner of the United States. We continue to work with them on a range of fields including economic issues.

QUESTION: Wait, wait.

MS TRUDEAU: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: You’re aware of reports?

MS TRUDEAU: We know. Thank you, Matt. That’s an important thing.

QUESTION: I mean, the Secretary of State did meet with the Saudi foreign minister today in Paris.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, it is. Yeah, that’s --

QUESTION: Are the --

MS TRUDEAU: No.

QUESTION: Did this not come up at all? You haven’t --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, thank you. Thanks, guys.

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


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 6, 2016

Fri, 05/06/2016 - 15:27

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 6, 2016

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TRANSCRIPT:

.1:06 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. I do not have any announcements at the top, so we can get right to questions.

QUESTION: Can we start with Turkey?

QUESTION: David, you had a --

QUESTION: I was just going to launch in halfway through, but --

MR KIRBY: You’re going to what?

QUESTION: Going to Turkey, Turkey’s (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: All right. You had your hand up. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Today, just this morning or a couple hours ago, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet daily, Turkish daily, attacked by a gunman. Do you have a comment, first of all, on this?

MR KIRBY: No, look, I’m just seeing press reports about this myself, and so it – I think we’re just going to watch this as closely as we can, but I don’t have an official comment on it right now.

QUESTION: But you have seen that the incident happened? Do you think that --

MR KIRBY: I have seen press reports about an incident. I don’t have operational reports to speak to about it, so I’m going to refrain from specific comments until we have more information. I just don’t have anything more for you.

QUESTION: Do you have operational reports on the fighting in Hama prison in Syria?

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen reports of that as well and we’re certainly concerned about that. We would urge the regime to refrain from actions that could escalate the violence and the tension. And I understand that there’s already been some violence here. I’m not saying there hasn’t been. And as always, we call on Russia and other partners that have influence on the regime to press them for restraint.

And I might take this opportunity to simply say that we also call on the regime to treat appropriately those people that are being detained. There’s a – you could easily have a fundamental debate about whether they should be detained or not, and certainly, we have concerns over the detentions. But separate and distinct from that, there’s an obligation – if you’re going to have people detained in a prison, there’s an obligation that a government incurs upon itself in terms of assuring their well-being. And so we’re – we certainly call on them to respect that obligation.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the alleged bombing of the IDP camp in northern Syria? I gather the Syrians and the Russians have denied having anything to do with it, but it’s apparently an airstrike.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I would tell you that we’re still processing information about that incident and there’s the – we don’t have perfect knowledge about what happened. So we’re still doing the best we can to try to get more information and more accurate information about what happened.

QUESTION: Well, what is the status of the ceasefire – of the truce?

MR KIRBY: The cessation of hostilities in Aleppo – that’s what you meant to ask, I think.

QUESTION: No, I meant to ask – I don’t like the words “cessation of hostilities -- ”

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

QUESTION: -- because I’m not sure it doesn’t – it doesn’t – it apparently doesn’t mean “cessation of hostilities.” It means --

MR KIRBY: No --

QUESTION: But it doesn’t mean (inaudible).

QUESTION: -- keep fighting.

MR KIRBY: It does – it does --

QUESTION: No, that’s why I said “truce.”

MR KIRBY: It does – well, it does mean that, though. It does mean that. And it --

QUESTION: But anyway – anyway --

MR KIRBY: And that’s what we’re trying to achieve. And so to answer your question --

QUESTION: So it’s supposed to – so by your count if you – since yesterday, you guys accepted or Mark accepted that it was 48 hours that the Syrians had agreed to. And by your definition of when that started, it would have been over last night at midnight local time. By their definition, the Syrians’ definition, it would be over tonight, midnight time.

Is it still, on according to you? Because according to you, it would have been over last night and it hasn’t (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: Well, what we – right. So obviously, what we want and desire is for these cessations to be enduring. And what I can tell you is (a) we continue to watch the situation in Aleppo. It does appear as if the violence has decreased since it came into effect a couple of days ago and that seems to be the case today. I can’t tell you that it’s perfect in every neighborhood of Aleppo, of course not. And obviously, the right number of violations is zero. That’s what we want. We’re still concerned about reports of violations.

But in general, since the – it went into effect two days ago, we have seen a decreased level of violence in Aleppo, and we’d like to see that continue.

QUESTION: Okay, right. But are there active efforts underway now to extend it beyond what the Syrians say would be the end of it?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of diplomatic discussions. I can tell you that we very much – the United States very much would like to see it endure and go beyond what were – what were stated time limits.

QUESTION: Well, based on what you know, what are the chances of that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I think I don’t want to – I’m not going to speculate in terms of the chances of being able to go forward with it. I think – I don't know that would be useful to do. What I can tell you is we’re committed to seeing it endure --

QUESTION: I understand that, but I’m --

MR KIRBY: -- and we’re going to continue to have discussions with the partners in the ISSG to try to see that it can endure.

QUESTION: Okay, but I’m not asking you to speculate about it. I’m saying based on what you know --

MR KIRBY: Well, you said what are the chances.

QUESTION: Based on what you know, or what this building knows from people in Geneva and potential conversations that the Secretary or other officials may have had with the Russians, what are – are you optimistic that there will – that you’ll be able to get an extension?

MR KIRBY: I would say that we’re committed to making it endure and we’re very focused on trying to see if that reduction in violence can be sustained.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

QUESTION: Have the Russians said whether they’re going to – it’s going to endure? The Russians announced it as a 48-hour ceasefire.

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any additional comments out of Moscow. You’d have to talk to them about that.

QUESTION: They have – when was the last time Secretary Kerry spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. The last call I have on record was Monday, the 2nd of May, before it went into effect.

QUESTION: John?

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: Can I just quickly follow up? Now, your counterpart at the Russian foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, said today that basically it was the terrorists, what she calls the terrorists, that time and again broke the ceasefire before. And she noted what happened on May 1 and May 3rd and so on, and she’s saying basically it is Jabhat al-Nusrah and others who have been trying to frustrate or to break the hudna, the cessation of hostilities, since it went into effect on – last February. Do you have any comment on that? Because she has said --

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s an interesting comment to make because they’re not parties to the cessation of hostilities.

QUESTION: I understand that.

MR KIRBY: Designated terrorist groups are not parties to it.

QUESTION: So but --

MR KIRBY: So nobody ever expected them to observe it.

QUESTION: Okay. But so – then she says that that made them a fair target by government forces and so on. So when you say that they are not part of the cessation, then they are fair targets, then the government has or everybody else – much as like the coalition or the Russians and so on – has every right to go ahead and bomb them, right?

MR KIRBY: They’re not a party to the cessation, so they are – they are fair targets for kinetic strikes, yeah.

QUESTION: Right, okay, okay. And that includes the areas that may not be delineated between this group or that group, and so on?

MR KIRBY: If – we’ve talked about this before, Said.

QUESTION: I understand. I’m trying to --

MR KIRBY: I mean, I --

QUESTION: -- to get a grasp of it.

MR KIRBY: I know. But I feel like sometimes we’re retreading the same ground over and over again.

QUESTION: Right, right.

MR KIRBY: I’m not disputing the fact that in Aleppo these groups can be intermingled. In fact, sometimes it’s by design, especially by groups like al-Nusrah that want to help try to protect themselves by being geographically close or intermixed with groups that – either civilians or opposition groups that they know are parties to the cessation of hostilities.

I’m also not saying and never have said that there haven’t been violations of the cessation by certain members of the opposition. There has been. That said, by and large, the violations have been as a result of the regime. And what we’ve asked certainly in our conversations with Russia particularly is that if they are going to undertake strikes, which they have, against al-Nusrah and against Daesh, that they do so with as much precision as they can so that they are just hitting those groups and not anybody else. I can’t say with certainty that that has always been the case, that there haven’t been in these strikes also strikes against the opposition and against civilians. And on the regime side we can say definitively we know that the regime has not abided by the cessation particularly there in Aleppo and has deliberately, on purpose, gone out and struck civilian targets and opposition targets. But it’s a very --

QUESTION: Now the --

MR KIRBY: It’s a very fluid situation there, very dynamic, which is why, quite frankly, it was so important for us to get this reaffirmation in place a couple of days ago in Aleppo.

QUESTION: Now, I can do one quick follow-up on what – something that Mark said yesterday that it was unacceptable to have the regime retake Aleppo and so on, something to that effect. Does that mean there ought to be some sort of lines or demarcation between the different – between government troops and the other groups that ought to be recognized by those involved, like you, like the Russians, like whoever is involved in this process?

MR KIRBY: We’re not looking at the cessation in terms of lines of demarcation, no.

QUESTION: Different --

QUESTION: John?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about the – so has this issue of the 48 hours been cleared up? If the military said that it was 48 hours and the State Department said it’s open-ended, can we assume that this truce continues?

MR KIRBY: I think that was sort of the line of questioning that I just went through with Matt. We would like to see it endure. I understand what some of the understandings were at the outset, and again, I’d say over the last two days we have seen a reduction in the violence, and I think that gives us some reason to be encouraged that if it can endure, we may continue to see even more of a reduction in the violence. But I couldn’t possibly predict that certainty or for how long that might be able to go. What we would like to see – and we’ve said it from the very beginning when the cessation was first put in place – that we – that our goal, our objective, our desire would be to see that it be enduring, that it be long-lasting, permanent, sustainable. I mean, obviously that’s what you want. You want to see the violence come down.

QUESTION: So was this a lack of communication between you and the Russians?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think it was a lack of communication. I mean, I think there were pretty serious discussions that went on between us and the Russians with respect to getting this latest reaffirmation of the hostilities, the restoration, if you will, in Aleppo – getting that in place and trying to get it to stick. And in the process of doing that, it’s natural to – especially because you’re looking at a specific geographic area, it’s natural to want to – to try to bound that in some way so that you can get a deal in place that can be enforced. And we did. And there has been, as I said, a reduction in the violence.

But we – for our part, we – and we’ve said this from the beginning. I’m not saying something different to you that what we’ve said in the room – we want to see this be enduring. Ultimately, we don’t want to see time limits on this.

QUESTION: So when we look at this as outsiders and we evaluate whether this truce is holding or not, we look at the levels of violence. Is that what you’re saying we should do?

MR KIRBY: The levels of violence, yes. I mean --

QUESTION: Overall?

MR KIRBY: And when I – yeah, overall, but most specifically the – and I hate to put adjectives on it, but the organized violence that you would see from – where you see the cessation not happening or not succeeding. It’s this – it’s the regime against opposition or against civilians. It’s – and it’s violations of other groups that are causing these deaths and these injuries.

QUESTION: And can I ask one more question? With the task force and evaluating the violations, is – does the U.S. and Russia coordinate and – I mean, would you have to show your hand as where the opposition is based, and they would have to show their hand where the government is based? Is that not kind of --

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t think there’s any question about where the government is operating out of. But – and I don’t want to get into the tactical-level detail here of how – of the information flow. But it is true that the U.S. side and the Russian side are in direct communication around the clock now about the situation, particularly in Aleppo, and the purpose of that round-the-clock communication is to do exactly that – to make sure that violations don’t occur and then when they appear to be or appear to maybe be in the future, to try to forestall that by sharing information as appropriate to keep it from happening.

QUESTION: If the 48-hour ceasefire or cessation of hostilities is not renewed at midnight Syrian time, so in a few hours, does that mark a failure for this policy and of the mechanism that you’ve chosen?

MR KIRBY: What I would say is, number one, we want to see it continue. We want to see it be sustainable and enduring. That it has led to, for the first time now in weeks, a reduction in the violence in Aleppo is a good thing, and again, we’re encouraged by that.

QUESTION: But you’ll be disappointed --

MR KIRBY: And it tells us – it tells us that it is possible to get to a better outcome in Aleppo. It tells us that it is in fact possible for Russia to exert the appropriate kind of influence on the Assad regime so that regime attacks can stop. So it certainly is an indicator that this approach can work, and I think what – I would say it gives us hope that it’s worth continuing to try to pursue that and to keep it going.

QUESTION: But if the regime is listening to you now – I assume they are – they might see this as proof that they can string you along for 48 hours from time to time, and you continue to say that you believe the process has got potential.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, you do what you have to do to stop the bloodletting, particularly where you see it in places like Aleppo. But that doesn’t mean that we’re interested in some sort of long-term plan to do this piecemeal. What I’ve said from earlier is we want to see all of Syria to be a peaceful environment. We don’t want to see any Syrians --

QUESTION: How long --

MR KIRBY: -- come under attack from their own government.

QUESTION: How long are you prepared to tolerate the piecemeal approach?

MR KIRBY: We are – we certainly are prepared to keep working this very hard for as long as it takes to try to get --

QUESTION: But you just you wouldn’t tolerate a long-term – but now you say as long as it takes.

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. Your question was how long are we going to work towards keeping the cessation in place, and we’ll do that for as long as it takes. What we want to see is the cessation of hostilities endure nationwide and to be sustainable over the long term. I’m not going to speculate from here about what happens in another 12 or 18 hours if, in fact, the Syrian regime considers the timeframe started later than what we did. What I can tell you is --

QUESTION: I don’t think it’s 12 or 18; I think it’s about six, isn’t it?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you – oh, whatever. What I can tell you is we’re committed to keeping this in place as long as possible. That’s the focus. And not just in Aleppo, but throughout the whole country.

QUESTION: John, I have three questions on Syria. On the IDP camp, Russian military official said that judging by destruction of the refugee camp, Nusrah Front militants could have deliberately or accidentally fired on it. Do you have any information that confirm this statement?

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: And do you think that al-Nusrah was behind the – behind firing on the camp?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any information that indicates that. As I said at the outset, we’re still gathering information right now and are not in a position to definitively say exactly what happened there.

QUESTION: Second question.

MR KIRBY: No, you already asked two.

QUESTION: No, this was one. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: No, that was two.

QUESTION: The first one was a question; the second was a follow-up. Now, the second question: The Syrian coalition issued a statement today saying that the massacre perpetrated by the Assad regime against civilians in the IDP Kamouna Camp in rural Idlib could have been prevented had U.S. President Barack Obama approved the establishment of a safe zone in northern Syria. What do you think about this statement?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, we’re still trying to get better information about what happened in the Idlib camp. So I’m not going to go any further on the circumstances there. We just don’t have perfect knowledge right now.

The issue of safe zones, buffer zones, whatever you want to call them – we’ve talked about that for quite some time, Michel. I don’t have anything new to add to what we’ve said in the past, that we continue to examine and consider all manner of options and all alternatives. It would be irresponsible not to. But there’s no change to our view at this time that safe zones or buffer zones are not the appropriate response to take right now. And there are risk and resource-intensive issues that must be considered before you enact an approach like that, and we have to be mindful of it.

QUESTION: My third question is: Will the Secretary participate in the meeting on Syria on – in Paris next Monday?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates to offer on his schedule for next week.

QUESTION: Because French – France foreign ministry has announced that United States will be part of the meeting, and Britain, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Jordan, and Turkey will be there too.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates to his schedule to announce right now.

Pam.

QUESTION: One on Syria and two on Iraq. Syria – this is a follow-up to David’s question. I understand that the U.S. is interested in a broad nationwide ceasefire in Syria as a whole, but as you do these localized agreements such as what you have in place in Aleppo, the ones that were enacted last week in Latakia, is there a limit on how long you’re willing to consider trying with these localized ceasefires? Is there are a point that you get to where these localized ceasefires with 48-hour deadlines just – it becomes futile and difficult or too difficult to maintain?

MR KIRBY: I think this gets – it’s the same question that Dave asked, okay? I mean, I don’t know how I can approach this any differently. We’re – so let’s back up just a little bit here. We want to see the entire country safe and secure for the Syrian people. We want to see the cessation of hostilities, which applied to the entire country, actually executed for the entire country – implemented across the entire country.

We knew the day after it was implemented that there were going to be violations, and there have been. We’ve been very open and honest about that. We’ve tried very hard to prevent them where we can, and there have been some that have been prevented. And where they occur, we try as best we can to analyze the information, share it, and then try to use influence – both on the opposition and on the regime – to keep them from happening again.

Now, you’re right, there were some smaller reaffirmations of that or efforts to restore that over the last couple of weeks. And I’m not in a position now to say with any great certainty that that approach is going to be pursued in the future. I wouldn’t rule it in, I wouldn’t rule it out. What I can affirmatively tell you is that the Secretary is committed to keeping the cessation of hostilities in place as much as possible. Obviously, the goal here is zero violations – that’s what we want. And he will continue to work this very, very hard, certainly with Foreign Minister Lavrov, but also with other leaders in the ISSG going forward. And if that means that we have to take a look at more localized efforts in order to do that, then we’ll do that.

Obviously, the ideal approach is one that’s nationwide and it’s enduring and it’s sustainable. And I appreciate the desire to get me to speculate about another 48 hours or another 72 hours or whatever it is, and I’m simply not prepared to do that. And I don’t think it would be wise to try to hypothesize about the manner in which we might pursue additional efforts to keep the cessation in place. What matters – and I think – and I wish I had said this the first time you asked this question, but what --

QUESTION: Well, this is why we’re asking again.

QUESTION: There you go. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Okay, I can’t argue with that. What matters is that we have seen a reduction in violence and that – and I’m not overstating this by any stretch, because Syria remains a dangerous place and there’s still a lot of suffering – but that for some Syrians in some places, life has gotten better. Not perfect – they still have a government that is, obviously, showing a propensity to continue to kill them. But life has gotten measurably better for some Syrians in some places, and I don’t think we should lose sight of that. There is more work to be done, but I can tell you the Secretary is committed to being as flexible as he needs to be to keep the cessation in place.

QUESTION: And then a couple on Iraq, if we can transition.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. increased military personnel at the U.S. embassy as a result of security concerns – brought in additional Marines? Can you confirm those reports? And secondly, if this is the case, is this a permanent increase in the number of military personnel who will be there for security reasons or a temporary up-staffing?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think you know we don’t talk about security posture at our embassies, and it’s a dynamic situation. We constantly evaluate our security posture, and, frankly, we routinely and constantly change that posture as appropriate. That is what we expect the good people in Diplomatic Security to do. I won’t talk about it one way or another. I will – I do think it’s important to remind, however, that our embassy in Baghdad continues to operate normally.

QUESTION: John?

QUESTION: Is there – one more – is there ongoing – is there concern in this building concerning the ongoing friction between the Iraqi Government and Muqtada al-Sadr’s followers? I know that you’ve said before that this is sort of inside baseball, an issue that Iraq has to work out, but is there concern that these tensions may be destabilizing to U.S. interests such as the overall fight against the Islamic State?

MR KIRBY: We want, obviously, to see the reforms that Prime Minister Abadi is putting into place – we want to see them succeed. And we know that he knows how important it is for him to continue pursuing these reforms in keeping with Iraq’s constitution. And Iraq is an important partner in the region. They are certainly an important partner in this fight against Daesh. Our support inside the coalition remains and will continue. That support is being done by, with, and through the Abadi government in Baghdad.

But you’re right. Look, these are political challenges that the Iraqi people have to work through and Prime Minister Abadi has to lead them through. And as I said earlier, a few days ago, we’re confident that he can do that and that he’s well aware of the significant challenges he’s facing.

QUESTION: Kirby, can I have a follow-up on that, please?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Are you concerned, though, about the security around that embassy?

MR KIRBY: We’re concerned about the security of our embassies all over the world, everywhere.

Samir.

QUESTION: Yes. You said you talk daily to the Russians about Syria. Can you help us understand, how do you assess their behavior in Syria? Because it doesn’t seem they are using their influence very much on Assad, because he keeps continuing bombing and violating ceasefires. I mean, can he keep doing this without an orange light from the Russians?

MR KIRBY: Without a what?

QUESTION: Orange light.

MR KIRBY: Orange light?

QUESTION: It’s not a green – orange light at least.

MR KIRBY: I’ve never heard that phrase before. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yellow light.

QUESTION: Yellow light.

MR KIRBY: Look, I talked about this the other day, that we know that Russia’s influence can matter, that it does matter to the Assad regime. Because when we’ve seen them exert that influence, it has worked. And I think the reduction in violence in and around Aleppo over the last couple of days is yet another indication, another bit of evidence that – but when they exert their influence, it can have a meaningful impact.

The question that we’ve asked ourselves is how much – how willing are they – and how strongly are they using that influence at times, and whether or not Assad has developed any antibodies to some of that influence. That has not always been clear. But again, if you just take a look at the last 48 hours – and the fact, Samir, quite frankly, that in many other places around Syria the cessation has held. I mean, Aleppo gets a lot of attention, rightly so – no question about that. But there are a lot of other communities around Syria that we’re not talking about, you’re not asking me about, because the cessation has held and the violence has stopped. So we know they can have influence and that that influence can have an impact. We want to see that continue.

QUESTION: Idlib, for example. The firing on the camp. It’s in Idlib province, not in Aleppo.

QUESTION: I asked about Hama.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. So --

QUESTION: So we are asking about other places.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. You’re asking about other places where the cessation may not be holding. We’re not talking about the places in Syria – which is what I was referring to – where it is holding. Because I recognize that’s not necessarily newsworthy – at least maybe not to some members of the media – but it certainly is to us, because it shows that the cessation can in fact be put in place and held.

Now, your question about Idlib, in the question itself, you’re calling it a firing. As I said, we’re still trying to assess what happened, and I don’t have great – we don’t have any more specific knowledge about what happened there, and so I think it’s just too soon to say.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MR KIRBY: Yes.

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

MR KIRBY: To the what?

QUESTION: Palestinian-Israeli issue?

QUESTION: Guess. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Could I ask you --

MR KIRBY: Said asks about other stuff.

QUESTION: Madagascar.

QUESTION: I ask about other stuff.

MR KIRBY: He does, he does. You’re not going to ask about --

QUESTION: I can ask about North Korea if you --

MR KIRBY: -- but you’re not going to ask about Madagascar today, are you?

QUESTION: No.

MR KIRBY: Because I really don’t have anything on that right now.

QUESTION: It’s a big island. Anyway. I wanted to ask you for the third day straight – or confrontations along the Gaza border. Are you concerned that this may escalate out of hand? Hamas is saying that they don’t want – or they don’t want for these hostilities to accelerate in any way, but the Israelis are not holding off. Are you talking to them about the need to --

MR KIRBY: Well, we – look, we always talk to our Israeli counterparts about security there, and certainly --

QUESTION: I understand. But on this particular issue, have you spoken to them?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – I won’t detail specific conversations that we’re having with Israeli leaders. Let me just say a couple of things, and I think it’s probably the same thing you’ve heard us say over the last couple of days. I mean, it is a developing situation. We obviously do not want to see it escalate. And certainly, we condemn mortar attacks and other attacks from Gaza into Israel. And I would also say, as we’ve said before, we support Israel’s right to defend itself and to defend its citizens. And no country should have to be under threat that comes from attacks based on tunneling. So – and there’s a legitimate security concern here for the Israeli Government. What we would like to obviously see is the tensions decrease and it doesn’t get worse.

QUESTION: Is there a line beyond which you expect the Israelis not to go in affirming their self-defense?

MR KIRBY: All I will say to that, Said, and what we’ve said before is we want to see the violence come down, we want to see calm restored, we want to see both sides take affirmative steps and show some leadership to try to get us to a situation where you can have a meaningful discussion about a two-state solution, and that’s really – that’s really what this is about or needs to be about.

QUESTION: I have a couple more questions. The Israelis keep holding bodies of Palestinians that are killed at the checkpoints – really kind of macabre. I mean, the brother and sister, for instance, that were killed on the 27th, their bodies are held there, some – something like 14 or 15 others that are being held, and in a way, just to punish and torment the families. Do you have any comment on that? Is that a practice that should cease or should stop immediately? Because obviously, it doesn’t seem to have any kind of investigative value.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, without talking to the specifics of any case here, what I would tell you is that we would welcome steps from the parties that would help to reduce the tensions and restore calm, and I just – I think I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Including the release of the bodies of dead people --

MR KIRBY: If a step like that --

QUESTION: -- to their families?

MR KIRBY: If a step like that could help reduce the tensions and restore calm, then obviously, we would welcome that.

QUESTION: Let me ask you one more question. Congresswoman Betty McCollum from Minnesota’s Fourth District drafted a letter and she’s trying to collect signatures and so on from her colleagues. It is addressed to President Obama, copied to Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry. And she calls for the establishment of a special envoy for the protection of Palestinian children. Is that something – have you – first of all, have you seen this letter?

MR KIRBY: We have not received the letter. I’m aware of it.

QUESTION: You are aware of it?

MR KIRBY: But I have not – we’ve not received it here. I certainly wouldn’t speak for the White House and the manner in which they would respond. Obviously, when the Secretary gets congressional correspondence, we try to respond appropriately and as expeditiously as possible. We don’t talk about the specifics of that. And I’m not going to speculate about this particular proposal. I mean, I’m aware of what’s in it. I’m – although I have not seen the letter, we haven’t received it, I’m certainly aware of the purported contents of it. And I just wouldn’t get ahead, speculate on a proposal like that at this time.

Broadly speaking, we don’t want to see any children under any threat. Children should be allowed to live freely and grow up to live normal, productive, healthy, happy lives.

QUESTION: That’s a very controversial policy. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Yes. But it’s true.

QUESTION: Going out on a limb.

MR KIRBY: It’s true, it’s true. And as I said, we want to see affirmative steps by all the parties to restore the calm and to move us forward here.

QUESTION: But she also suggests that this, of course, will be under your auspices, so to speak, the – whatever, special envoy and so on. And she cites reason for engagement, knowing exactly what’s going on on the ground; she cites that generation after generation of Palestinian children have grown up under occupation, a sense of despair, no opportunities, all these things – things that you really agree with, it’s things that you would sort of, in fact, fall in place or mesh with your outline and your policies and so on for anywhere, as a matter of fact.

Would that – so why – would you look sort of positively at such a suggestion?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, as far as I know, we haven’t gotten this letter, and I’ve seen reports of it and reports of this proposal. So I really don’t think it’s wise to speculate about the specific proposal that is purportedly in this letter. We haven’t gotten it. It’s – as you said, it’s not addressed to the Secretary; it’s addressed to the President.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of how the White House would respond to this. But in general, obviously, we want to see the kinds of conditions there that can move us forward to a two-state solution, a productive path forward here and leadership on all sides to help us get there, so that children on all sides can live normal, happy, healthy lives. I mean, obviously, that’s the whole reason why we still consider or still favor moving towards a two-state solution so that there can be a more peaceful future for kids.

QUESTION: Right. So now that we’ve nailed down that you’re pro-child, which is always good to know, can we move on to something else?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: And that is: The Secretary has often, when asked about the current political campaigns, demurred or only made very brief comments related to what he has heard from foreign leaders. This morning he, in his commencement address, went a bit further than he has in the past. He made a joke about the diverse graduate – graduating class being Donald Trump’s worst nightmare. He alluded to carnival barker-type campaigning. And I’m just wondering, has he decided that he is going to weigh in or – on the campaign, or in general on the season?

MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary was simply trying to enjoy a light moment with the graduates and it was really nothing more than that. He, as you know, has made it a point to stay out of the political fray as Secretary of State, and I don’t see that changing.

QUESTION: So this was it? It was just a one-off kind of joke? Because he did get – it wasn’t just the joke. It was – there was more serious --

QUESTION: Hiding behind a wall.

MR KIRBY: Well, in terms of – what’s that?

QUESTION: A carnival barker hiding behind a wall.

QUESTION: But he only mentioned Trump’s name once.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean --

QUESTION: As a racist.

MR KIRBY: What’s that?

QUESTION: He only mentioned him once to refer to him as a racist.

MR KIRBY: He has repeatedly talked about the concerns that he hears from foreign leaders when we’re traveling around the world, the concerns that they have expressed about the rhetoric on the campaign and the anxiety that some of that rhetoric is causing foreign leaders around the world. I mean, he’s talked about that quite a bit. I mean, he’s not living in a bubble. He sees what’s going on in there --

QUESTION: No, I understand that, but --

MR KIRBY: -- and he’s obviously concerned about some of the tone --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- and the effect that that’s having on foreign leaders. But if you’re asking me, is because he enjoyed a lighthearted moment with students today, is that going – has he changed his calculus now to more aggressively jump into active debates about what’s going on on the campaign trail, the answer is no.

QUESTION: Okay, so we should not expect him to carry on with --

MR KIRBY: You should not expect him to change his view that as Secretary of State, he needs to stay --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- and will stay out of the political fray.

QUESTION: If that was a lighthearted moment, he thinks that Donald Trump’s campaign is still a suitable subject for humor?

MR KIRBY: It was a joke intended to lighten up an audience of students that were graduating from college.

QUESTION: Let me follow up on Trump because he also said that England would be better off without being a member of the European Union. Does that complicate your policies or your efforts in this regard? Would the president of the United States --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to respond to – no, as I --

QUESTION: Or is that just part of the campaign rhetoric?

MR KIRBY: I have and will continue to scrupulously avoid engaging in a tit-for-tat for every comment made by every candidate for political office. That’s not appropriate discussion from this podium and I’m not going to engage in it. The Secretary has said himself he believes in a strong UK in Europe and in the European Union. President Obama has spoken very clearly about our views in that regard, and I don’t have anything more to add.

Yeah, Janne.

QUESTION: John, thank you. Do you know that – UN Security Council press statement on North Korea, why they delayed it?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update for you on that, Janne. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Did you – can you take the question?

MR KIRBY: I’ll take a look. I’m not aware of a specific delay, so you’re going to have to let me get back to you on that.

QUESTION: All right, thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Today several dozen armed men raided a mosque in Crimea and captured almost a hundred Crimean Tatars. Later the Tatars were freed but they were told to come to police. Are you aware of that and do you have any reaction of such kind of religious persecution in Crimea?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of those reports. I think before I issue a comment here from the podium you’re going to have to let me go back and get some more information on that. So I think I’m just – if you don’t mind, I’m going to just take your question and we’ll get back to you on that. I’m going to refrain for right now until we can get more information about what happened here.

Guys, I’m going to have to get going, I’m afraid. Thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:46 p.m.)

DPB #78


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Thu, 05/05/2016 - 17:34

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 5, 2016

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TRANSCRIPT:

2:13 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the State Department. What a crowd of Cougars back there that we have with us today. Is that a – yeah, that’s right, the Cougars, BYU Cougars. So in that vein, I’d like --

QUESTION: Okay. Are you --

QUESTION: No.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) Matt, don’t even go there. (Laughter.) First I would like to welcome --

QUESTION: Go where?

MR TONER: -- Ambassador Cho, who I met yesterday. Where are you, Ambassador Cho?

AMBASSADOR CHO: Right here.

MR TONER: Hey, good to see you, sir. He is the spokesperson for the ministry of foreign affairs of the Republic of Korea, and I had the pleasure of sitting down with him and meeting with him yesterday, as well as other colleagues from the ministry of foreign affairs. I don’t know if there’s anybody else there. Thank you. Welcome. Also, as I said, I want to welcome the group from – of students from Brigham Young University, hence the --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: -- go Cougars. Welcome to the State Department today.

A few things at the top. So first of all, we’re pleased to announce two leadership updates for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs in the State Department. First, the President has designated former Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte as acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. She will assume her responsibilities effective today. Mari Carmen Aponte is an experienced and distinguished attorney and diplomat, recently serving as our ambassador to El Salvador. In 2014, she was nominated by President Obama to be the U.S. permanent representative to the Organization of American States. She’s an entrepreneur, cofounding one of the first minority-owned law firms in Washington, D.C.

And then additionally this morning, we’re very pleased that the Secretary was able to swear in Roberta Jacobson as our new ambassador to Mexico, and we congratulate Ambassador Jacobson and we welcome acting Assistant Secretary Aponte in her new role.

Also, just an update on the Secretary’s travel to France and the United Kingdom. The U.S. Secretary of State will travel to Paris, France and the United Kingdom on May 8th through 12th. While in Paris, on May 9th and 10th, Secretary Kerry will meet with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault for bilateral discussions on a range of issues, including Syria and Ukraine. Secretary Kerry will then travel to the United Kingdom, May 10th through 12th, where he will head the U.S. delegation to the Anti-Corruption Summit in London and visit Oxford University. He’ll also hold bilateral talks with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

That’s all I have. Matt, over to you.

QUESTION: Great. Where did I want to start? Oh, right. Syria. First, just a couple logistical things.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: When you guys announced the ceasefire yesterday --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- shortly thereafter the Syrian military announced that they would be doing the ceasefire, but they said that it began only at midnight last night – or today – and it was only going to last 48 hours. You guys had it beginning Wednesday midnight and being open-ended – i.e., not 48 hours. What’s going on here?

MR TONER: Well, you are right to note a little bit of a discrepancy there as – in terms of the start time. Look, we stand by that – our statement, that it went into effect May 4th at 12:01 local time in Syria. As to why the regime said otherwise, you’d have to ask them. There may have been coordination issues on the ground. I don’t have any other clearer explanation than that.

QUESTION: Well, that’s really the lesser of the --

MR TONER: But the most important – right, the most important issue, obviously, Matt, is that – is whether they comply. And it appears that, today at least, there’s a decrease in the level of violence. There have been, obviously, some incidents of violence or of attacks, but – and as to your thing about the deadline or the --

QUESTION: End.

MR TONER: -- the end, rather, yes – it is our hope – and we’ve expressed this, beginning with the reaffirmations last week in Latakia and East Ghouta – we want these to be open-ended.

QUESTION: Well, I know you want them to be open-ended, but did you try to get them to be open-ended and they said, “No, we’re only going to do it for 48 hours?”

MR TONER: Again, they have given it a 48-hour time limit. We’ll let that time limit proceed, but what we would like to see is, obviously, this continue and be as open-ended as possible.

QUESTION: So whoever was negotiating this for your – with you and the Russians were pushing for longer, for open-ended, not – you didn’t take 48 hours and say – they didn’t say 48 hours only, and you didn’t say, “Okay,” did you? You pushed for longer?

MR TONER: No, we want this to be longer.

QUESTION: All right. And then I realize that this is not covered by the Aleppo COH, as it were, but have you seen the reports of this refugee camp further north being bombed?

MR TONER: Yeah. We’ve seen the reports, Matt, including accusations that these were regime strikes. We’re looking into them and try to get more details on what happened. But there’s absolutely no justification for attacks on civilians in Syria – we’ve said this many times, unfortunately, over the last week or so – but especially on a – what appears to have been a refugee camp, so really targeting the most vulnerable citizens in Syria.

QUESTION: Doesn’t this kind of an attack bolster the case that the Turks have been making for a long time, calls for – and even people here – for – if not a no – if not no-fly zones, but real safe zones beyond just what you were talking about in terms of Aleppo, neighborhood by neighborhood safe zones?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, again, before I get all the – I don’t want to speak before we have all the details on what exactly happened.

QUESTION: Why?

MR TONER: But let me just finish. Look, we don’t want to set up specific no-fly zones. What we’re working towards and what we’re trying to get in place here is a nationwide cessation of hostilities that we believe can endure and be strengthened over the long haul. That’s been our aim here. It continues to be our focus, versus a no-fly zone, which we have talked about before the reasons logistically why we feel that that’s a nonstarter.

QUESTION: So I don’t want to say that you’re okay with these kind of attacks, because I know you’re not.

MR TONER: No, we’re not okay.

QUESTION: But why don’t you act – why aren’t you doing something to – why don’t you support taking measures that would presumably prevent or at least minimize the chances of this kind of thing happening?

MR TONER: Well, I think we’re always looking at what measures we can be – we can take to prevent these kind of attacks in the future. As of today, I don't have any updates for you in terms of a no-fly zone. That remains, as I said, something we’ve said before is a challenge logistically and for many reasons are deciding not to pursue it. But we are pursuing, as I said, the cessation of hostilities throughout the country. We’re going to focus on that right now.

QUESTION: Well --

MR TONER: But again, also --

QUESTION: -- does it not bolster the case for – of those who say that something like this would be good and an effective way of preventing dozens of civilians, refugees, from – I mean, you’re trying to halt – you and the Europeans are trying to halt refugee flows out of Syria and into Europe. If the people are getting bombed like this in camps, they’re going to be more likely to go. So why – I don’t – I just don’t understand why this – how you can still have a good argument that it’s out of the question and logistically impossible. It doesn’t seem to be logistically impossible for the regime or for whoever to bomb these places.

MR TONER: Sure. Well, Matt, I mean, look, we’ve talked about this before. And frankly, the Department of Defense has addressed a lot of the challenges in terms of instituting and maintaining a no-fly zone. Look, I mean, nobody is tacitly condoning – in fact, we’ve been condemning these kinds of attacks on civilians, including --

QUESTION: Yeah. But you’re not --

MR TONER: -- as I said today’s most vulnerable. What we need to have happen is for the regime, if indeed it did carry out these airstrikes, to stop these attacks. And it’s incumbent on Russia, who has influence over the regime, to make that – or convey that message.

QUESTION: Okay. But that just seems like very weak beer, as it were. I mean, calling for them to stop when they’re not stopping and they’re continuing to do this kind of thing – and you do have the ability – regardless of how difficult it might be to save or to at least mitigate these kind of attacks, it just – you seem to be doing virtually nothing, except for trying to --

MR TONER: That’s not true, Matt. You know what we’ve given in terms of humanitarian assistance we’ve – we’re the leading provider to refugees.

QUESTION: Well, that’s --

MR TONER: And we’re working to establish --

QUESTION: And that’s great, Mark. And the government is to be – the Administration is to be commended for its support. But these – this isn’t a question of people not getting food. This is a question of people being --

MR TONER: I understand that. I understand that.

QUESTION: -- being killed --

MR TONER: Being targeted.

QUESTION: -- by bombs from the sky, which there is a technical ability for the United States and its allies to do. So I don’t understand why there isn’t new thoughts since this or any new support for the idea.

MR TONER: I don’t have anything --

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: -- obviously to announce. But we look at all of the options in front of us, and especially when we’re confronted with this kind of information. But we’re going to continue to condemn these attacks and push to have them stopped.

QUESTION: Mark, can I follow up, please? I also don’t understand this 48 hours. I mean, is it in effect a 48 hours one? Has there been – what is the message that Russia has given the commanders on the ground? Is it 48 hours or isn’t it?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, Lesley, you’ll have to certainly ask the Russians to --

QUESTION: But Mark, you guys signed the agreement.

MR TONER: -- explain why they convey – or what they’ve conveyed to the regime. I mean, you heard – you saw the announcement. We all saw it, where they said the 48 hours. Our focus is obviously on extending that past that 48-hour window. But it’s also – we want to see a cessation – a reaffirmation of the cessation take hold. And then from there, we can prolong it.

QUESTION: So have you --

MR TONER: That’s their own unilateral interpretation.

QUESTION: Have you asked them --

QUESTION: But you know what the Russians said to the regime. The ministry of defense in Moscow says it’s a 48-hour truce as well. They said exactly the same thing as the Syrians. You say that maybe the difference between the – what you’ve announced and what they’ve announced is a lack of coordination. But is that a lack of coordination between Washington and Moscow or between Moscow and Damascus?

MR TONER: To be clear, I said a lack of coordination in terms of the start time. That was what I was addressing there. In terms of the 48-hour window --

QUESTION: But yet, is that lack of coordination between you and the Russians?

MR TONER: In terms of the – no, in terms of getting that down to the – filtering down to the combatants on the field.

QUESTION: But you accept that it was 48 hours, yeah? Even though you don’t like it, you accept it?

MR TONER: We do – we – precisely.

QUESTION: Okay. So going by your timeline, that 48 hours expires in about four hours. Is that really good enough? I mean, if you go by the Syrians, if you go – if it started just today at midnight --

QUESTION: You got another 28.

QUESTION: -- then there’s another 28 hours. But if you go by your start time, it’s over soon.

MR TONER: Matt, so, one, you have to start somewhere.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: So if we get 48 hours and we can extend it past 48 hours, that’s what we’re going to do.

QUESTION: So you’re right now trying to – to get it – because your – if you accept 48 hours and it started at your time, when you say it did, it’s over in four hours. So are you trying now to get it extended beyond that four – beyond the four hours?

MR TONER: We’re always trying to get it extended.

QUESTION: But is that being --

MR TONER: I was very clear: We hope it’s – we hope and it is our goal to make it as open-ended as possible.

QUESTION: But is that being clarified? When we look at a cessation of hostilities, are we looking at an open-ended one or are we looking at the next 48 hours? Because certainly, probably the airstrikes and the --

MR TONER: So – sorry, I didn’t want to talk over you.

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m just trying to think what --

MR TONER: That’s okay. So what we’ve seen – last week we saw the same thing with Latakia and East Ghouta, where they started out with a specific timeframe or a specific time – yeah, timeframe – but then were extended. This doesn’t speak to the overall cessation of hostilities that went into effect a couple months ago. That had no – that was open-ended. But what we tried to do with these reaffirmations of the cessation in these problem areas – Latakia, East Ghouta, Aleppo – is we’ve tried to reassert the cessation of hostilities, and clearly, there have been put a timeframe on that. Again, our intent is to work towards extending that to make it as open-ended as possible, but we have to start somewhere. That’s what I was explaining to Matt. So we want to see it take hold first and then we’ll look at extending it going forward.

QUESTION: And then the – Bashar Assad’s comments today that in a telegram that he sent Vladimir Putin that was discussed on state media, he says that he would accept nothing less than an outright victory against rebels in Aleppo and northern Syria. Does this sound like somebody who wants to adhere to a ceasefire – a truce?

MR TONER: No, to put it frankly, it does not. But it’s also not surprising that Assad would put it that way and would express his intent to keep pushing forward to, quote-unquote, “crush the aggression.” Again, this is someone who carried out airstrikes on a hospital last week, a pediatric hospital, and has carried out unspeakable brutalities against the Syrian people. We call on Russia to urgently address this totally unacceptable statement. And this is clearly an effort by Assad to push his agenda, but it’s incumbent on Russia to exert influence on that regime, or on the regime, rather, to maintain the cessation of hostilities.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I go back to --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure, Michelle.

QUESTION: -- the incident on the IDP camp?

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: You said you were looking into it. Do you have doubts that it was the Syrian Government that was involved? Who – when you say you’re looking into it, who actually decides we think it was them and what are the consequences?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, first off, it’s – I mean, it just – it was reported a short time ago. We don’t have eyes on the ground – we’ve talked about this before – within Syria, many places in Syria. So we’re still trying to garner initial – or additional details as to who’s responsible. We’ve seen early claims that this was a regime strike, but we just want to be absolutely sure before we level blame at somebody. But it’s totally in keeping with the types of strikes, airstrikes that the regime has carried out, unfortunately, against innocent civilians.

But this would be our own effort to establish who’s behind this attack.

QUESTION: Well, who else --

MR TONER: I mean, we’re also going to vet this, obviously, through the task force that’s been up and running in Geneva.

QUESTION: Who else would it have been?

MR TONER: I – Matt, we’re just trying to figure that out. I just don’t want to speak --

QUESTION: Do you think the Russians --

QUESTION: I mean, do you think the --

MR TONER: I’m not trying to lead --

QUESTION: Do you think the Russians might have --

QUESTION: It’s either the Russians or the regime.

MR TONER: I understand that.

QUESTION: Well, or a horrible – an accident.

MR TONER: I understand that. I said – look, Matt, I said early accusations or allegations that these were regime strikes. I just don’t definitively have all of the information in front of me yet, so it would irresponsible for me to say that definitively.

QUESTION: Right. But while you condemn it and express your outrage, you also say that it’s not a surprise. So I don’t understand why it is that you still – you think that anything that the Russians say to Assad or any promises that the regime might make to the Russians about this hold any water or are credible at all. I mean, if you’re not surprised by attacks on civilians, then why should you expect them to --

MR TONER: Adhere to the ceasefire?

QUESTION: Yeah, exactly.

MR TONER: I mean, we’ve talked about this a lot over the past weeks. Look, I mean, it’s – ultimately this is a test of whether the combatants or the parties on the ground will adhere to the ceasefire or this cessation of hostilities that we have in place. If they don’t, then it’s worth nothing.

QUESTION: Well, right.

MR TONER: So clearly this is a test. And if that happens --

QUESTION: That test has not – has anyone --

MR TONER: But Matt, if --

QUESTION: Have they passed the test at all, anybody?

MR TONER: Well, there was – initially, yes. In the initial weeks following the establishment of a cessation of hostilities, let’s be very clear: We saw a general, significant decrease in the level of violence. It was never clean, it was never 100 percent, and we also – that allowed us to get desperately needed humanitarian assistance to those who were – who had been besieged.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: It’s not been perfect, Matt, and I will never argue that from here.

QUESTION: Are there any --

QUESTION: May I? I mean --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- you said – okay, so what happens if they fail the test? You said we’re going to vet this through this task force, but, like, what is this monitoring of this task – this sophisticated monitoring that you have, what good is it if there are absolutely no consequences for either side, particularly the regime, given that it’s backed by the Russians, if they violate it? I just don’t understand what the point of this sophisticated monitoring center and task force is when they’re unable to put forth any consequences for a violation.

MR TONER: It’s – I understand your question. It’s about enforcement. And --

QUESTION: Or consequences --

MR TONER: Or consequences. I --

QUESTION: – or accountability.

MR TONER: And accountability – all very good points. And we have talked about this as well. Look, I mean, if the regime is under the delusion that it can somehow force a military solution to what is happening in Syria today, then it’s going to pursue that. And if the Russians can’t influence the regime to stop that kind of behavior, to stop these attacks, then we’ll see the situation devolve into what we had before – before the cessation, before the political process, before the political negotiations. That’s a fact. So it’s incumbent, as I said, on both sides – on the opposition as well as the regime – to commit themselves to a political transition.

And we’ve also talked about it’s incumbent on the U.S. on one side and Russia on the other side to exert what influence we can on the combatants on the field.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, just let’s play --

MR TONER: That’s just predicated on that.

QUESTION: Let’s just play this out. So your task force vets this and finds that there’s a violation by one or both parties. Then what?

MR TONER: Again, then it --

QUESTION: Then you shame them? You say, “Bad you”? I mean, I just --

MR TONER: Well, it’s more than that, Elise. I mean, let’s look at – I mean, Russia yields influence on the Assad regime. They basically came in since October, September with increased military support that really bolstered the regime. And so they do have leverage here.

QUESTION: And they’ve been continuing to do it for the last two months since your ceasefire has been (inaudible)--

MR TONER: Well, again, we’ve talked about how – we’ve talked about that this is a test. And I understand we use that a lot. This is a test. We have --

QUESTION: I understand it’s a test, but what are the consequences if they fail the test? And what are the consequences for Russia if they don’t – if they are unwilling or unable to put the pressure on the regime?

MR TONER: Well, two thoughts on that. For the regime, they could lose Russian support, which, frankly, would be a serious blow to their ability to carry out an ill-conceived military campaign. For the Russians, if this backslides into an all-out conflict, then they’re going to pay a price because they’re already – they’ve got, quote-unquote, “skin in this game.” So it’s in – again, it’s in their interest to see a cessation of hostilities, and they have expressed this to us. This is something that they have told us. The Secretary, when he spoke to Lavrov – they have discussed all of this. It is in their interests, as well as our interests, as well as the other members of the ISSG, to see this play out with a cessation of hostilities that endures and is durable and also a political process that leads to a transition. There’s no military solution here, and I think all members of the ISSG have committed to that.

QUESTION: So basically you’re saying that the consequences of any violation are that it won’t be in that party’s best interests.

MR TONER: Yeah, strategically. And – yeah. I mean, that’s – but that’s not --

QUESTION: And their kind of willingness or determination to enforce the – to enforce the ceasefire – really the only incentive that they have is that it’ll be for their best interests.

MR TONER: Well, again, it’s not only for their best interests, but it’s – as I said, strategically it’s in their long-term interests. And again, it’s --

QUESTION: So why even bother to have a kind of ceasefire monitoring task force? I just don’t understand what it does.

MR TONER: Elise, because it allows us to quickly exert that influence on the parties who we believe are behind the latest violations. Otherwise, if we just said, eh, let’s let it roll out and play it like it – as it happens, there’s – if there’s no, as you put it, shaming but also identifying who’s responsible for what violation, and then to go to that party – mostly it’s been the regime, let’s be honest here – and to say you cannot do this and to – again, to exert the influence that Russia has over the regime.

QUESTION: And have you seen any examples in the last seven days of six – targeting of --

MR TONER: Well, I mean, we – yeah.

QUESTION: -- medical facilities, of the task force has been able to put pressure on one of the parties and for that to have actually been effective?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to the specific example about medical facilities, because we have seen incidents that are just horrific and we’ve condemned those, obviously. What we have seen though is we have seen a reduction in the level of violence. And this does take time. We saw it last time with the cessation, with the full cessation of hostilities. But going forward – we have seen a decrease. And again, this isn’t perfect. I understand that and I’m not going to argue that it’s perfect. But if it can bring out a significant reduction in violence, if it can bring about a de-escalation in the violence that then ultimately can get the opposition back to Geneva and the regime back to Geneva, then that’s very much worth it.

QUESTION: Mark, what about the flip side of that? Now that you’ve enhanced this U.S.-Russia task force and you’re bringing in higher level officials, is there going to be an effort to enhance the types of penalties that may be imposed when either side violates these agreements?

MR TONER: Look, I think, Pam, that’s always something that’s – that we’re looking at. I don’t, again, have anything to announce or to specify, specifically point to, but I think we’re looking at all of these. We’re aware that we don’t have an effective stick in this operation other than, as I said, to exert what influence we do have over both sides of this conflict. So we’re looking at ways to do that. We don’t – as I said, we don’t have anything concrete to point to.

QUESTION: Mark?

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: The goal of the regime is to remain in power and the purpose of the political talks is to proceed to a transition. So why are they delusional to think that military force is the only way they achieve their strategic goal?

MR TONER: Well, because, again, we’ve said – sorry. Because there’s no military solution to this. I understand that it might be about survival and preservation --

QUESTION: If Bashar al-Assad wants to stay in power, that’s his only – if he goes to Geneva, it’s to discuss how he leaves. So he’s going either way. Why is it delusional to think that military strength is the only option he has?

MR TONER: Well, again, that’s really for Assad to speak to and for Russia to speak to. What we want to see is a political transition. We’ve talked about how that could look in a way that preserves certain institutions of the Syrian Government to provide that continuity. We have always said that Assad cannot be a part of that future. That’s to be worked out between the negotiating parties. I really can’t speak to what that will look like at this point in time. But there’s a certain amount of self-preservation that goes into Assad to looking at a possible exit.

QUESTION: So your explanation of the --

MR TONER: But no, what I’m saying, like --

QUESTION: -- consequences mechanism of the ceasefire --

MR TONER: What I’m also saying is if I’m Assad, I’m weighing my options. There’s no way out of this militarily; then you look at other options.

QUESTION: Well, no, there’s no option that preserves him in office.

MR TONER: I understand that.

QUESTION: In light of the ceasefire, what do you do with al-Nusrah, and who is expected to go after them?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, I mean, we continue to go after al-Nusrah.

QUESTION: In Aleppo.

MR TONER: I understand that. Look, we’re aware that al-Nusrah is not part of the cessation of the hostilities, but we also are fully aware that the regime uses al-Nusrah as an excuse to target opposition groups. And again, we’ve talked about this at length, that they continue to hit civilian targets, opposition groups on the ground, who are party to the cessation, under the guise or veil of attacking Nusrah. If they wanted to solely go after Nusrah and Daesh, that’s another story altogether. But I talked about this yesterday. Around Aleppo, which is frankly such a hot zone in terms of conflict right now, what we want to see overall is a de-escalation.

QUESTION: About 10 days ago Steve Warren of the U.S. Military, he said that it is primarily al-Nusrah that holds Aleppo. As I understand, the U.S. has leverage with the rebels. Did you get them to separate themselves from al-Nusrah in Aleppo?

MR TONER: So what we have said is that – and I said this just yesterday – is Aleppo – there are areas controlled by the opposition and there are areas controlled by Nusrah. And we’ve --

QUESTION: And those lines are fluid, as you say.

MR TONER: And the lines are fluid and that’s our challenge, in part, to make sure that those lines are more clearly delineated and that we have – we have conveyed that to the opposition.

QUESTION: Now, what is the – what are the results of that?

MR TONER: Well, we’re working on it. It’s a work in progress.

QUESTION: I guess that’s what I was going to ask.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: So that was not a part of the agreement between U.S. and Russia, was a clear delineation of the lines of where --

MR TONER: Well, I think it is, and it’s part of this enhanced monitoring mechanism that we set up in Geneva, and it’s not going to be an overnight success.

QUESTION: A – I’m sorry.

MR TONER: Or an overnight – the idea of – we talked about this before I came --

QUESTION: In Aleppo?

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: Not the no-fly thing?

MR TONER: No, no.

QUESTION: Okay. The enhanced monitoring gives you the ability to say – an enhanced ability to point out where strikes are, but, I mean, the – is there a list someplace?

MR TONER: A list of what? Areas and --

QUESTION: Violations.

MR TONER: I’m sure there is.

QUESTION: Well, okay. If you’re going to try and publicly --

MR TONER: It’s not publicly --

QUESTION: Well, why not? If you’re not – if you’re going to --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: If you – if the only weapon that you have to enforce this is to publicly shame those who have violated it and you’re not doing that, then what is the point?

MR TONER: So a couple of thoughts. One is – actually, I won’t even say “With all due respect.” I was going to preface my remarks. The Syrian – the--

QUESTION: Well, we all know that when you start something, “With all due respect,” that you rarely do.

MR TONER: The – now, but I – and it’s certainly not a laughing matter. The regime, I don’t think, can be shamed into doing anything. I think that they must act out of their own self-interests and own – and their own self-preservation. And so what I think is incumbent on Russia to do is to make that very clear --

QUESTION: But don’t --

MR TONER: -- and – sorry, yeah.

QUESTION: But don’t you see that that just doesn’t – it doesn’t work. You can’t – the regime – you’re saying the regime must act in its own self-preservation, but it is. That’s what it’s doing.

QUESTION: That’s – that was quite a --

QUESTION: I mean, that --

MR TONER: I know it was. But look, Matt, I mean --

QUESTION: I mean, its --

MR TONER: I’ll get credit for it in the final exam.

QUESTION: Its response to the threat of transition --

MR TONER: I understand, Matt, but --

QUESTION: -- from its point of view --

MR TONER: -- but – and if I’ve been unable to make the case here, then it’s my own failure, but what I’m trying to say here is that it is incumbent on Russia to make clear to the Assad regime that its pursuit of a military victory or whatever Assad said today, complete – anyway, I don’t have it in front of me – victory is an illusion, that it’s not --

QUESTION: All right. Well --

MR TONER: -- it’s not a legitimate way out of this. And they have leverage here. They have considerable leverage. I’ll leave it there. Let’s go – you’ve already --

QUESTION: One more on Syria, please.

MR TONER: Okay, sure. That’s okay.

QUESTION: I don't know if you saw this. Russia’s Mariinsky Orchestra just held a concert in Palmyra. Do you think it is – do you see it as good news?

MR TONER: We were – and we talked about this before – the city of Palmyra has suffered enormously. We’re happy to see Daesh driven from there. What we said before is that for it to be replaced by the regime – the Assad regime is not the best outcome, but we’re just happy that there’s some measure of relief, at least to the citizens of Palmyra. As to the orchestra playing there, I don’t have any comment.

QUESTION: Why not? Do you think it’s a good --

MR TONER: I don’t --

QUESTION: Do you think it’s a propaganda tool for the Russians and for the Syrians, or do you think it, as some people would argue, other people have argued that it’s good to show that with everything going on with ISIS and everything that Palmyra is – people are trying to rebuild Palmyra and appreciate its cultural heritage.

MR TONER: I will never denounce an orchestra playing to the citizens of a beleaguered city. I just – it’s fine. It’s good.

Please.

QUESTION: I have a couple on North Korea.

MR TONER: Okay, yeah. Okay. So we’ll see – you go first and then we’ll see if you have any follow-ups. Great.

QUESTION: Tomorrow, of course, is the Workers’ Party Congress and it’s coming at a time when James Clapper is in the region. He’s in Seoul this week. First, is the U.S. anticipating any provocations from Pyongyang?

MR TONER: Well, I’ve talked about this before. I don’t have anything, obviously, that I can point to, but we have seen a consistent trend of provocations from North Korea over the past months. So let’s just say that our – it wouldn’t be surprising.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. working closely with its allies in Asia on any possible additional steps that will be taken if there are provocations?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, that’s always something when we – every time we have a provocation, certainly we did take significant – excuse me – steps with the new sanctions that were passed by the UN Security Council last month. And now we’re in the implementation phase and we’ve already seen signs that these sanctions are having an effect, that the regime in North Korea is feeling the effects of these sanctions. But obviously, they have not done enough or taken enough concrete steps, really, to fulfill their commitments and their international obligations to denuclearize.

So we’re going to continue to look at ways that we can apply increased pressure on them at the same time as we ensure that the security of the peninsula is kept ironclad.

QUESTION: Mark.

MR TONER: Please. Oh, I’m sorry. Can I – Samir, I’ll go to you. He has an additional question. I think we – unless you’re going to stay on North Korea.

QUESTION: No, no, no.

MR TONER: Let’s finish with North Korea.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, are you --

MR TONER: I apologize.

QUESTION: Have you put out any – is the U.S. at all on any heightened alert, in the face of the upcoming congress?

MR TONER: Again, it’s hard to say what – I mean, look, we’re always – and we’re always on heightened alert with regard to North Korea, given its actions over the past weeks and months. It’s a highly unpredictable regime. We’re looking at ways, as I said, that we can continue to apply the kind of pressure that convinces the regime to refrain from actions and rhetoric that only escalate tensions and destabilize the region. And we’re going to continue to do that.

QUESTION: Sorry, one more.

MR TONER: Yeah. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Is there any particular – are there any expectations or is there anything that you’re focusing on that might come out of the congress in --

MR TONER: No. I mean, look, it’s a pretty opaque regime in that regard. I don’t know if we’re looking for any great outcomes from the congress. We certainly would welcome some kind of sign that they are willing to, as I said, de-escalate, refrain from, as I said, actions that destabilize the region, and really pursue steps that fulfill its obligations, international obligations to denuclearize.

Please, Samir.

QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the closing of the Al Jazeera office in Baghdad by the Iraqi Government?

MR TONER: Yes. Well, as you can expect, we made clear our view that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are obviously critical components of any free society, an open and democratic society at that. And closing down any media outlets is a serious matter. And we believe this kind of – these kinds of actions will not serve the fight against Daesh as Iraq moves forward and begins to attempt to reconcile its diverse communities.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV. Sir, Mr. Kirby the other day said that United States gives very much importance to its relations with the Pakistan. And when Pakistan is in the need of foreign military aid, it is blocked by the Congress. So how much do you think this affects the counterterrorism efforts and the relation between the two countries?

MR TONER: Well, look, we’ve – as you’ve heard us before, look, we’ve made the case that we continue to support the proposed sale of these eight F-16s to Pakistan to assist in Pakistan’s counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. We believe that these F-16s have supported these kinds of operations to date. We think that they reduce the ability of certain militant groups to use Pakistani territory as a safe haven for terrorism and a base of support for the insurgency in Afghanistan. And so preventing those kinds of groups from establishing that foothold in Pakistan is clearly in not only Pakistan’s interest but also in the national interest of Afghanistan as well as in the interest of the regime – or the region, rather – excuse me.

But as you note, key members of Congress have made it clear that they object to using FMF funds – foreign military financing funds – to support this sale. And as I think John mentioned the other day or made clear, that given these objections, we’ve told the Pakistanis that they should put forward national funds for the purchase.

QUESTION: Sir, this is not the first time that the sale of F-16s to Pakistan is halted. I mean, we have seen it in the past too. Sir, is there any kind of executive actions Secretary Kerry or President Obama can take? I mean, can they veto Congress actions for the release of funds?

MR TONER: Well, in this case – look, we – I mean, in the balance of power, if you will, in the United States, in checks and balances, Congress does control the purse strings. We have argued or made the case to Congress why we believe that the purchase of these F-16s is in our national interest. We’ll continue to make that case. In the meantime, we’ve offered Pakistan an opportunity to purchase these out of their own funds.

QUESTION: Sir --

QUESTION: Well, wait a minute. So in other words, you do not agree with the concerns expressed on the Hill about this. And if you had your druthers, FMF would be used, could be used to pay for it. Is that correct?

MR TONER: I think we believe it’s important to maintain the flexibility to provide assistance to Pakistan that advances our U.S. interest.

QUESTION: So – yeah. So is that a yes or a no? Or are you just using Congress as an excuse?

MR TONER: No, that’s not true.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, so you agree?

MR TONER: I mean, we – yes. We --

QUESTION: So you --

MR TONER: We have made the case for FMF funds to be used.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Sir, when we talk about the counterterrorism efforts in that region, Pakistan alleged that Indian intelligence agency RAW is involved in few terror attacks in Pakistan while they are keep sponsoring some militant groups there. Sir, Pakistan also rescued an Indian spy who confessed sponsoring terrorist networks in Pakistan. Sir, how are you distressed watching these reports of sponsored terrorism by the state actors in that region?

MR TONER: You’re referring to India?

QUESTION: India, sir, Indian intelligence agency.

MR TONER: Well, look, we’ve said many times that there is – and there is a level of counterterrorism cooperation between India and Pakistan. There is some dialogue there. We want to see that, obviously, that kind of discussion or dialogue augmented or increased. And again, this is something that’s in both Pakistan and India’s interest to pursue a closer counterterrorism cooperation for the region. It’s good for the region.

Please.

QUESTION: On Turkey?

QUESTION: The --

MR TONER: It’s okay. Samir had his – and then I’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: Go for it.

QUESTION: The Secretary will be in Paris on May 9, the same day when the French Government is hosting this meeting about Syria. Is he going to participate in that meeting?

MR TONER: So the details of the Secretary’s schedule are still being worked out. I do know that he spoke to Foreign Minister Ayrault earlier today. I don’t have a readout for that. But we don’t have anything to announce at this point. He’s still – we’re still finalizing the schedule.

QUESTION: It’s the same day.

MR TONER: I understand that.

QUESTION: It’s the same day.

MR TONER: I understand that, but we’re looking at --

QUESTION: Is it possible (inaudible) --

MR TONER: Again, looking at his schedule, he’s obviously in close touch with the French.

QUESTION: Well, what’s your opinion of this meeting that they’re holding? I mean, do you think that there are too many kind of disparate groups and the ISSG should be the primary vehicle, or do you support the French efforts and regardless of whether Secretary Kerry attends, you’ll be participating?

MR TONER: Well, I – look, we would support any effort to look at – especially with our partners and allies – to look at the situation in Syria and additional measures or steps that could be taken to try to move the political process and the cessation of hostilities along. We welcome those kind of efforts. I can’t say that right now – as I said, that the Secretary himself will be participating. I can imagine we’ll have some level of participation. But we do believe that the ISSG still plays a primary role, but we certainly don’t – we’re certainly supportive of these kinds of efforts as well.

QUESTION: Mark, on the Paris agenda, you mentioned I think Syria and Ukraine?

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: What about the Middle East, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and in light of the fact that the French have proposed a conference?

MR TONER: Aware of their – yeah. I can imagine – again, without predicting what is going to come up in their bilateral meeting, I can certainly imagine it’ll be a topic of discussion.

QUESTION: Well, can you --

MR TONER: I know I did say that; I know. So --

QUESTION: That is actually predicting what’s going to be in the meeting.

MR TONER: I know. That’s why I’m saying – which I’m hesitant to do.

QUESTION: So – all right. And so – and your view of the French proposal is what?

MR TONER: Well, I think I said this just yesterday to – in response to a question from Said. Look, we’re still talking about it, discussing it, looking at it.

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: I’m sure that they probably will discuss it in Paris next week. We’ve said before that we’re looking at steps that both sides can take to, obviously, de-escalate from where they’re at now in terms of violence and then get to a position where we can talk about some kind of peace process beginning again.

QUESTION: Okay, and then – to wrap that up --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- that part, the escalation – I think you were asked yesterday about the escalation of violence in Gaza, or along the Gaza-Israel border. Do you have anything to say about that, the discovery of the – of a new tunnel, apparently? And then the fighting that’s been going on --

MR TONER: So we have seen – you mentioned the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. We’ve seen those reports. We understand it’s still a developing situation, so at this point we can’t confirm anything. We’ve seen additional reports of some skirmishes along the border, but we condemn any violence, especially condemn mortars and other attacks from Gaza into Israel, and support Israel’s right to defend itself, including against Hamas’s use of tunnels for attacks in Israel.

QUESTION: I’m going on to Turkey now. When --

MR TONER: Okay. And then I’ll get to you, sir, I promise.

QUESTION: So --

MR TONER: I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: -- you’ve seen the resignation of Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister. Does this in any way affect – have an impact on relations, given the mess in Syria?

MR TONER: We have seen reports that he is stepping down. I don’t think anything’s been finalized, at least that I’ve seen before coming out here – stepping down as AKP party chairman. We’ve also seen that there’ll be an extraordinary congress held on May 22nd to select new party leadership. This is, of course, an internal political matter for Turkey. In answer to – or response to your second question, we obviously had a strong relationship with Prime Minister Davutoglu, but we also have a very strong and enduring relationship with Turkey as a NATO ally and a partner in our efforts to destroy and degrade ISIL in the region. And that work’s going to continue.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that this will only – now that he’s – now that Prime Minister Davutoglu, who is very popular in his own right, although didn’t necessarily have his own base, but that this will further allow President Erdogan to consolidate his own power? Because the prime minister was against him kind of amending the constitution and working towards an executive presidency. Are you concerned that this will --

MR TONER: I’m going to repeat what I said to Lesley. We view this as an internal political matter for Turkey. I’m not going to weigh into or attempt to analyze what this means for the political environment in Turkey.

QUESTION: More on Turkey?

MR TONER: Let’s stay on Turkey. I promise I will get to you, sir.

QUESTION: The Armenian National Committee of America – it’s a lobby group in Washington, D.C. – has called upon U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass to publicly voice official U.S. concern regarding the safety of Garo Paylan, an ethnic Armenian elected to the Turkish parliament. So what we have is Garo Paylan, who is representing Turkish Armenian community and a member of HDP Kurdish party, has been both physically and verbally attacked by members of AKP ruling party in the parliament. Do you follow the situation, have any comment, or any concerns regarding his safety?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t have the details of this particular individual or his case. I’d have to look into it, to be frank. I mean, obviously, the member of any political party who is being harassed or beaten or detained in any way would be of concern to us. But I don’t have the particulars here, so I’m going to refrain from further comment.

QUESTION: A member of any political party being beaten or harassed anywhere?

MR TONER: No, in Turkey.

QUESTION: Oh, just in Turkey?

MR TONER: Well, no, Matt.

QUESTION: Can I ask a related question?

MR TONER: I’m just saying – I’m sorry, I thought you were talking about this particular case.

QUESTION: No, you said --

MR TONER: Let me just – to clarify, to clarify, we are concerned with any form of political harassment that involves, obviously, violence against an individual, but I just need to know what the particulars are of this case.

QUESTION: Somewhat related to this --

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: -- do you have anything – apparently there are some plans or some talk in Armenia about --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh. Do you have anything about that – have anything to say about that? Or is that also an internal Armenian matter that you will not get your – stick your nose into?

MR TONER: No, actually, I think I can speak to that, if I can find the darned thing here.

QUESTION: So Brexit and --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: So Brexit and Nagorno-Karabakh --

MR TONER: Well, wait a second.

QUESTION: -- are off limits for you guys – are not off limits for you guys, but Turkey is?

MR TONER: Yeah, but you know what?

QUESTION: It’s okay, if you can get it written later.

MR TONER: I’ve got it. You’re talking about this Armenian parliament’s vote to – yeah, okay. I’m on it. The United States, along with the rest of the international community, does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh. Nagorno-Karabakh’s final status will only be resolved in the context of a comprehensive settlement, so we urge the sides to come to the negotiating table in good faith in order to reach a settlement that achieves those goals.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, Mark, but relative to that last question --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- the main principles that the United States supports for the final status of Karabakh, one of those principles is the self-determination. It remains in place – no use of force and then self-determination and territorial integrity. You have always been supportive of these main principles, right?

MR TONER: Right, but we’ve also very much said that all of this needs to be worked out within the context of the Minsk group. There is a process here, and that process needs to be returned to by all sides.

QUESTION: Israel-Palestine?

MR TONER: Let me get to this gentleman and then I’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from Tunisia.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: $2 billion is the cost of counterterrorism for our country since four years. What are the U.S. – what can the U.S. do for that? And also, what are the major new economic assistance program to Tunisia? And I’m certain that you know tomorrow is the starting of the Joint Economic Commission. I think probably Tunisia is the first country having a JEC with the United States. So what are the perspectives?

MR TONER: So you’re right, and you mention that – you mentioned that tomorrow is the start of this U.S.-Tunisia Joint Economic Commission, which the Secretary announced last November. This is the inaugural meeting of the commission, and we actually put out a media note earlier today about it. During – or rather – and we’ll also put out a joint statement, I think, at the end of the meeting tomorrow with some more on what was accomplished.

But broadly speaking, I can say that tomorrow’s discussions are going to focus on ways to support initiatives that – Tunisia’s economic reform agenda, competitiveness and overall growth through both policy discussion as well as looking at assistance and assistance programming. We already have an important economic relationship with Tunisia and the Joint Economic Commission will, we believe, facilitate further growth.

So what we’re hoping to accomplish is to finalize joint efforts to bring opportunities to Tunisia’s agriculture sector, strengthen its small and medium enterprise – small and medium businesses and enterprises, and help expand its information and its communications technology sector. As I said, we’re going to release a joint statement that lays out the progress we make after the meeting tomorrow.

In terms of what you asked about security assistance, the United States has provided more than $750 million to Tunisia since the revolution, including $300 million in economic growth-related support; $250 million in, as you asked about, security assistance; as well as 90 million in democracy, governance and related activities. And we plan to do more in the future. And also through U.S.-backed loan guarantees in 2012 and 2014, the Government of Tunisia has been able to borrow nearly 1 billion at a very low interest rate to help stabilize government finances. So that’s also helped the economic situation as it stabilizes in Tunisia.

QUESTION: A new guarantee coming in?

MR TONER: You said that – oh, the new guarantee? Well – so during President Essebsi’s visit to Washington last year, we did say that we would consider a loan guarantee of up to 500 million to advance the Government of Tunisia’s ongoing reforms program. And last November, Secretary Kerry signed a declaration of intent to initiate steps to enter negotiations. So we started the technical discussions on that earlier this month. So we’re not there yet, but those discussions continue.

QUESTION: What do you have to say on the impact of what’s going on in Libya on Tunisia – the impact?

MR TONER: Well, obviously we’re concerned about the fighting and – or the instability – let’s put it that way – in Libya. The United States and other international partners have answered Libya’s call for – or rather to prevent – or let me put it this way: Our goal right now is to support the Libyan Government of National Accord, which has just begun its work in Tripoli. We’re going to continue to work with Libyan civil society, but we’re also going to work at bolstering Libya’s own security forces, in order that they develop the capabilities to address some of the instability that exists in Libya.

We’re well aware that this has a spillover effect into places like – countries that neighbor Libya like Tunisia, and we’re going to continue our work also with Tunisia’s security forces to try to bolster their efforts as well.

QUESTION: There going to be strikes?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, where are you talking about, in Libya? I mean, we have said this before and we’ll say it – I’ll say it again: Where we have an opportunity to strike at senior al-Qaida or ISIL leadership, we’re going to take those opportunities.

You, sir.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from JTA. Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: The – over the weekend, I think it was, the Security Council met, or perhaps just after the weekend, and they were discussing the stabbing intifada. And Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, appeared to liken Israel – Israeli forces to Nazis. He said, “All colonizers, all occupiers, including those who suppressed the Warsaw uprising, labeled those who were resisting them as terrorists,” in response to the Israel ambassador. Do you have anything on that?

MR TONER: You know what, I’ve not seen those remarks. Obviously we would condemn anti – any, rather, anti-Semitic remarks very forcefully. And again, until I actually see the remarks, I’m hesitant to pronounce on them. But if what you say is true, it’s deeply concerning.

QUESTION: It’s not just anti-Semitism, it’s also likening Israel to --

MR TONER: I understand that, and that’s also deeply concerning.

Is that it, guys?

QUESTION: No, no.

MR TONER: No.

QUESTION: Sorry. Have you seen these latest comments by the supreme leader --

MR TONER: So close. What’s that? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: The latest comments by the supreme leader --

MR TONER: I have not. Well, go ahead. Try me out.

QUESTION: -- accusing – well, saying that the – that the one constant or defining quality of American foreign policy is anti-Islam, anti-Iran, and anti-Shia.

MR TONER: I have not, but I reject it.

QUESTION: You reject it.

QUESTION: Why are you willing to reject these comments without having seen them, and then so many other times we read comments to you verbatim and you say, “I’m not going to say anything about comments that I haven’t seen”? I’m just noting that you’re setting a precedent. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: What do you think of Elise’s comment? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: I support Elise’s right to exercise her journalistic freedom and to criticize our posture up here at the podium.

QUESTION: I have one more.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Have you – did you guys take note of the interview with the – or several interviews, actually, with the hacker who claimed to have or got into Sid Blumenthal’s email account and says that he also managed to get into former Secretary Clinton’s account?

MR TONER: I’m aware of the reports. I mean, I can’t – and we’ve done this before – we can’t comment on the security of the server. There’s various investigations underway. We’ve talked about those before, and so it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this point in time.

QUESTION: Well, would you even know? I mean, it – you weren’t aware --

MR TONER: Whether he – whether --

QUESTION: Well, this building says that it wasn’t even aware of the private server arrangement until it came out in – what? – in last – early last year.

MR TONER: You’re saying would we have been aware that he was able to hack onto the server?

QUESTION: Well, if it – yeah. Do you have any reason to believe that his claim of being able to get in --

MR TONER: No, we don’t, but as – again --

QUESTION: He might not have ever gotten in.

MR TONER: -- all of that – all of those issues are being looked at. So, I mean, I don’t want to interject myself or say something on the record and commenting on one way or the other, except to say that we’re not aware of – that that’s true. I mean, we weren’t – and we’ve said that before.

QUESTION: And would you be in a position to know if it was true?

MR TONER: Again, I’m going to refrain from comment on – specifically on an issue that is being looked at and investigated by other entities, as we’ve talked about before.

QUESTION: So this claim is being actively investigated?

MR TONER: No, the security of the server is being looked at in general.

QUESTION: Not – you’re not saying that this guy’s claim to have successfully hacked into it is being investigated; you’re saying that in general the whole security of it is being investigated.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Okay. But do you have any reason to believe that it might be true, or do you have any reason to believe that it is – it’s just some fantasy of this guy?

MR TONER: We don’t have any reason to believe that it might be true.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR TONER: Yep. Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:10 p.m.)

DPB # 77


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Wed, 05/04/2016 - 16:34

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 4, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:48 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. In the interest of time, since I do have to be up and down fairly quickly this afternoon because there’s a bilat I’ve got to be at, I will not – I will refrain from any toppers and go right to your questions.

Matt.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR TONER: Yep.

QUESTION: The announcement of the enhanced, reaffirmed cessation of hostilities that you just put out –

MR TONER: Yep.

QUESTION: -- you say since it went into effect at one minute or one second past midnight local time in Damascus, I’m just – that’s what it says, “Since this went into effect today.”

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: But if you had – if fighting continues, how can you say it went into effect?

MR TONER: Well, because – I mean, look, that was the agreed upon start for this, as you put it – or as we put it – this enhanced cessation of hostilities reaffirmation. It began at 12:01 this morning Damascus time. It --

QUESTION: But did it really?

MR TONER: Well, there have been – and we say that in our statement. We’ve seen an overall decrease in violence, but there have been incidents, of course.

QUESTION: Well, so in other words, you have an agreement but it really hasn’t taken hold yet?

MR TONER: It’s not complete.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: And that’s – frankly, that has been the case throughout the cessation, frankly --

QUESTION: Right. Yes, right.

MR TONER: -- writ large.

QUESTION: Okay, and then --

MR TONER: We’ve seen overall a reduction but – yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. And then my last one on this.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I’m just curious, it says that you’re coordinating with – closely with Russia to finalize enhanced monitoring efforts of the renewed cessation and that you look to the Russians to press the Assad regime for compliance and that you’ll do your part with the opposition. I’m just wondering, do you have an agreement with the Russians that they will do this? And what exactly does it mean, “enhanced monitoring efforts?”

MR TONER: Yes. I mean, that’s – otherwise, we wouldn't have this statement out saying that we have an agreement with Russia to –

QUESTION: Well, I mean it says --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- it’s critical that Russia redouble its efforts against the regime.

MR TONER: We have –

QUESTION: Do you have an agreement with them?

MR TONER: -- reached an agreement with Russia.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: And as the Secretary alluded to, and I preface my next part of my comments by saying I don’t have high-level – or I can’t get into the minutiae of how this new structure will look. But the Secretary spoke about it the other day in Geneva, that we’re looking at enhancing our personnel in Geneva, the Russians are doing the same, and with the goal or aim of really intensifying our efforts to look at these areas where the ceasefire is being reaffirmed – or the cessation.

QUESTION: Go ahead. Thanks.

QUESTION: On the ceasefire?

MR TONER: Go ahead. Go –

QUESTION: Did the rebels –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) That’s how it happens, I think.

MR TONER: Okay. Go ahead, Lesley, and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: So you probably saw today that France called a special meeting of Friends of Syria in – for next week.

MR TONER: Yep.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. attending that?

MR TONER: Nothing to announce at this point. Obviously, the Secretary has been in touch with his counterpart in France, Ayrault, Foreign Minister Ayrault, for – this week. I’m just looking to see when they last spoke, but – I always look at the wrong date of these. But in any case, we’ve been in consultation with them over the last weeks and days and – but nothing to announce in terms of our attendance next week.

QUESTION: And then you say that the ceasefire is not complete, and that’s how it’s always been. Today you’ve seen some pretty serious assaults going on and fighting in Aleppo. How many days or how long do you believe that it will take effect?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, we have also said, and the statement said as much, that there has been a decrease in the fighting, in the violence in these areas, specifically in Aleppo. But it has not been, of course, complete and that’s what we’re striving towards. That’s the goal here, and not just in Aleppo but throughout Syria. And in fact, we said that in our statement. We’re not – our aim here isn’t to just simply establish a bunch of truces, if you will, in various parts or hot spots around Syria. Our aim here, ultimately, is to get this cessation back into credible enforcement or a credible state in the next coming days and weeks so that, ultimately, we can (a) reduce the fighting, increase humanitarian assistance to those parts – and the Secretary spoke to this yesterday – those parts that have not received it, and then get negotiations back on track.

QUESTION: So you believe that by tomorrow there would be – the fighting will have stopped in that area? Or you don’t think that?

MR TONER: I can’t predict that right now, Lesley.

QUESTION: And so --

MR TONER: And of course, that’s a – and look, I mean, that’s a reality of this. I mean, we’re going to put influence on the parties who – over which we have influence. The Russians are going to do the same on their side. But ultimately, neither side, neither Russia or the United States, can predict fully that that’s going to have an effect, an immediate effect.

QUESTION: But today Lavrov said that Bashar Assad is not an ally for Russia. Do you really expect him to have that kind of influence on the ground?

MR TONER: Look, Russia has, we believe, influence on the Syrian regime, of course, most notably through their military support of the regime over these past weeks and months. I can’t speak to what Foreign Minister Lavrov meant by his comments. Certainly, you know where we stand on Assad’s future.

Please.

QUESTION: On Lavrov’s statement --

MR TONER: Let me take her question. I’ll get to you, Said.

QUESTION: Did the rebels that the U.S. is in contact with in Aleppo agree to separate themselves from al-Nusrah there?

MR TONER: Again, that’s – this agreement or reaffirmation is predicated on the fact that – that both the regime and the opposition, who have signed up to the cessation, will act accordingly and in good faith --

QUESTION: Did they even tell you --

MR TONER: Let me finish, let me finish.

QUESTION: -- that they’ll distance themselves?

MR TONER: No, no, let me finish. So in order to maintain this cessation or this renewed cessation of hostilities, it’s incumbent on them and it’s what our message is to them that they cannot interact with those parties on the ground who are not part of that cessation. Let me finish. And that’s what – that’s been a consistent message with – from us.

That said --

QUESTION: What was their response?

MR TONER: That said, we are – let me finish. We also are cognizant of the fact that, and the Secretary himself has spoken to this I think in Geneva and we’ve said it before, that the situation on the ground in Aleppo city in particular is very fluid and very complex, and there’s – there has been, quote/unquote, “intermingling” of some of these groups. We need to separate them. We need to clearly delineate who is where going forward in order for this to – the cessation to have effect.

QUESTION: I understand your message to them.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: What is their response to you, though?

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, I don’t have their immediate response to this latest reaffirmation today, but we are going into this believing that we can influence them to abide by it.

QUESTION: Sir, if the U.S. has hard time separating the rebels from al-Nusrah in Aleppo, do you expect Assad forces to do a better job, or do you expect them to stop attacking al-Nusrah in Aleppo altogether?

MR TONER: What we need now is a complete de-escalation of the violence, and that’s what we’re looking for all sides. What we have seen over the past several days certainly, but weeks, is on the part of the regime is – and again, the Secretary spoke to this much better than I will be able to – but just blatant attacks on civilian populations, on hospitals, on medical facilities, and again, targeting civilians that are unacceptable no matter how you justify them, whether you’re going after al-Nusrah or whatever. However you justify them, it’s just simply unacceptable. It needs to stop. And the Secretary spoke yesterday that attacks from both sides on civilians need to stop. So what we’re looking for now is a cessation, a credible cessation, in and around Aleppo.

Please, Said.

QUESTION: Mark, just to follow up the Lavrov, he also said that the United States wanted to extend areas under the control of al-Nusrah as part of the truce and that the Russians actually rejected that. Could you confirm or deny that?

MR TONER: That’s inaccurate.

QUESTION: That is completely false?

MR TONER: It’s inaccurate, yes.

QUESTION: Would you say that is completely --

MR TONER: That is inaccurate.

QUESTION: Would you say it’s inaccurate?

MR TONER: Yes, I would say it’s inaccurate.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you one thing on this comment that he made about Assad not being an ally? Does that sound any different to you than what the Russians have been saying for the past four years?

MR TONER: I mean --

QUESTION: I mean, Putin himself has come out and said that Assad is not an ally and that it’s not up to the Russians to stick up for one leader or another, it’s up to the Syrian people to decide. And I just --

MR TONER: I mean, the Russians have – what the Russians have said, and in publicly as well as privately, is that they don’t want to see a power vacuum exist in Syria. And hence --

QUESTION: Right. But I’m not asking you --

MR TONER: No, but I’m saying that’s how they – that’s how they are justifying their support for the regime.

QUESTION: Do you see – yeah, but --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: But do you see this comment today as any change in the Russian position?

MR TONER: I – again, I don’t want to necessarily signal that we see it as any kind of significant change. Frankly, to me, it sends a message to Assad that we think is a helpful one.

QUESTION: Let me just go back to my question.

MR TONER: Sure thing.

QUESTION: He also said that this leads them to believe that you are either manipulated or influenced by forces that don’t wish to have al-Nusrah attacked. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: I truly don’t. I don’t know what he was --

QUESTION: Alluding to.

MR TONER: -- alluding to. Thank you.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: Thanks – alluding to in his comments.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: Please, Pam.

QUESTION: Can you clarify with this new cessation in Aleppo, the U.S. and Russia of course are spearheading this, but has either side received assurances from the Assad regime and as well as from rebels on whether or not they’re buying into this and are ready to comply with it?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think – so two things. One is this all hinges on the fact that – or the idea that we as well as Russians – the Russians can influence the main combatants on the ground to uphold a cessation of hostilities. We’re in very close touch with the Syrian opposition. We know that the Russians are in very close touch with the regime. So it’s a certain test, if you – if I could put it that way, that they’re going to abide by this cessation of hostilities. They’re the ones who need to ultimately abide by it if it’s going to have any effect. But we believe we can --

QUESTION: I guess what I’m asking is --

MR TONER: Sorry, but we believe – we believe we can exert the necessary influence on them and that we can get – and we have their buy-in on this effort.

QUESTION: But neither side has said – the Russian – the regime or the opposition has stated to you, “We’re going to agree with the cessation at this point”?

MR TONER: Well, again, I’ll let them speak for themselves, but we believe that, at least on the opposition side, that we have their buy-in.

Please.

QUESTION: Does the Administration consider sending MANPADS to the rebels in Syria or approving the delivery of MANPADS by coalition partners?

MR TONER: No.

QUESTION: Can I --

QUESTION: On the enhanced monitoring.

QUESTION: Mark?

MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: You’ve said before that – you seem to be very confident --

MR TONER: I apologize, the first part of your – on the enhanced – I apologize.

QUESTION: On the enhanced monitoring.

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: Previously you’ve expressed a lot of confidence in your ability to monitor. There has never been any talk about monitoring shortcomings; where you’ve acknowledged shortcomings is that there’s no enforcement at all. So what is the enhanced monitoring actually going to do? What haven’t you been able to do, and why are you not doing anything on the enforcement side?

MR TONER: Again, I can’t go back and look at all – everything we’ve said about our monitoring efforts to date, but I think we’ve --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: -- but I think we’ve – but I --

QUESTION: You were very praiseful of it.

MR TONER: -- I hope we didn’t oversell it, because there’s always room for improvement, and I think we’ve recognized, especially in and around Aleppo where, as I said, it’s very complex, there’s intermingling, it’s very difficult to define exactly who is where, that we need to do a better job. And I think that this is a recognition that we need to do a better job coordinating, again, where we believe the Syrian opposition is and then communicating that to the Russians and then – and through the Russians to the regime so that we can, again, de-escalate the violence there.

QUESTION: I don’t think the complaint on either side has been that you’re not monitoring well enough. It seems to be that nobody gets in trouble for doing – for killing people. So what are you doing on the enforcement side?

MR TONER: Well, look, we’ve talked about this, again, before and on the enforcement side, it’s ultimately incumbent on the parties who adhere to the cessation to, obviously, uphold it. And if they give up on – no, let me finish. Don’t give me the quizzical look. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: This is self-enforcement.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, in a sense, yeah. Yes, Brad. Because – well, listen, but --

QUESTION: Well, after 500,000 people die, that seems to have been a failing effort; hasn’t it?

MR TONER: But Russia has influence on the regime. Russia can send a message to the regime that they are not in this for the long haul and that there is no military solution, and that any such belief in a military solution is, an ultimate military victory in Syria, is fantasy. We also need to convey that same sentiment to the opposition so that both sides recognize that it’s incumbent on them to uphold this reaffirmation and that it’s incumbent on them to go back to Geneva and engage in serious political negotiations to find a political solution.

Please, Michael.

QUESTION: Foreign Minister Lavrov --

QUESTION: Can you explain this enhanced monitoring? Does that mean NGOs or --

MR TONER: I’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: -- or electronic --

MR TONER: I just – yeah, that’s okay. I’ve given you what I have. So it’s basically – the Secretary spoke to this – increasing the personnel on the ground – I don’t have exact numbers – but on both sides so that they can do a better job in closer contact, in closer coordination.

Please.

QUESTION: Foreign Minister Lavrov said he was actually satisfied with U.S.-Russian efforts on this, and he said because no one expected the level of violence to reduce – be reduced as much as it did. Do you agree with his assessment?

MR TONER: I’m sorry, you’re talking about his assessment to date or to --

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: -- or since the reaffirmation came into effect?

QUESTION: The reaffirmation.

MR TONER: Again, I mean, the ultimate goal in any of these things, Michael, is to have zero percent violence or zero cases of violence, but I think looking at the overall picture, we are – I don’t want to say “satisfied” because that implies that we’ve reached our goal. We have not. But we have seen a significant reduction in the level of violence, so we believe that this is worth pursuing.

QUESTION: I have one more question on --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure, Michael.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the hospital bombing – have you reached out to the opposition about the hospital bombing in Syria and --

MR TONER: I’m aware – I mean, we’re obviously in near-constant contact with them or in frequent contact with the opposition. And I’m sure that what we said publicly, what the Secretary stated publicly, was conveyed to them in our private conversations as well, but --

QUESTION: What he said – Secretary Kerry said he urged both sides --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- and a lot of time when it – when the regime does it, you call out Assad specifically. Why won’t you specifically --

MR TONER: Michael, we’re trying to get more granularity on what exactly happened. That’s part of the process here. But I don’t have anything to add at this point.

Michel.

QUESTION: Mark, I have three questions. One, in your statement, you said, “We welcome today’s reaffirmation of the cessation in Eastern Ghouta for the next 48 hours.” That means the cessation will stay only for 48 hours? What did you mean by that?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, you recall that when this Latakia and East Ghouta cessation came into effect that there was actually a timeframe that was 24 hours, I think, in Latakia and 48 hours initially in Eastern Ghouta. And forgive me if I have those reversed; I apologize. But as it went forward and appeared to at least have some purchase or have some effect, that we’ve seen this extended throughout the week. And ultimately, as I said, our goal here is to have it in place permanently, but we’ve kept extending the time limit for the cessation so it solidifies and strengthens.

QUESTION: And same --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- timeline for Aleppo too, 48 hours?

MR TONER: You know what? That’s a good question. I’m not aware that there’s – and forgive me, I’m not aware that there’s a specific timeline for Aleppo, like a timeframe or a deadline or whatever.

QUESTION: When you announced the Ghouta or Latakia ceasefires, did you announce a timeframe for those or was that the Russians who announced the timeframes?

MR TONER: It was the Russians and the Syrians who said they would recognize that certain timeframe, but it was with our understanding that that was the --

QUESTION: So your communications up to date haven’t included the timeframes. You’ve just said there was a reaffirmation of ceasefire.

MR TONER: No, and I said we welcome the reaffirmation of the ceasefire for the next 48 hours. So I apologize that’s – if that was unclear.

QUESTION: So was that the first time you’ve acknowledged that these were time-limited? Previously --

MR TONER: I think we have, David. I think we have.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: I think we have, but --

QUESTION: Mark, do you know, was there an effort to get the Russians to sign off on this statement and make it a joint statement so that it’s not just yours?

MR TONER: Not necessarily. I mean, we – we obviously coordinated closely with them, but --

QUESTION: You guys are taking turns in announcing these things? Is that what-- Well, no, I’m not meaning you. I’m not trying to be funny. It’s just that --

MR TONER: No, okay. I’m sorry. No, no, okay. I mean --

QUESTION: -- the first one was announced by the Russians.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: This one’s announced by you guys. Why don’t you do it together to show some kind of solidarity here?

MR TONER: We’ll take your suggestion under advisement.

QUESTION: Two more questions, Mark.

MR TONER: Please, Michel.

QUESTION: On the MANPADS, Saudi foreign minister has asked the international coalition to provide the MANPADS to the opposition. What can you answer on?

MR TONER: I would refer you to the Saudis.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you asked the international coalition who’s fighting ISIS --

MR TONER: I’m just saying our --

QUESTION: -- to provide the opposition with MANPADS, and you are --

MR TONER: Michel --

QUESTION: -- leading this coalition.

MR TONER: The question to me was whether we have. We have not. And the question was whether we would condone it. Our position’s been clear to date on providing actual weaponry to the opposition on the ground.

QUESTION: And my third question was: You’ve been relying on Russia to press the regime to comply with the cessation of hostilities. What can the U.S. do without Russia if the regime doesn’t comply with the cessation of hostilities?

MR TONER: Well, it works both ways, and frankly, I don’t want to exclude the other members of the ISSG, all of whom wouldn’t be at the table of the ISSG – the International Syria Support Group – if they didn’t exert some kind of influence with the parties on the ground who are part of the conflict. So, I mean, it’s incumbent on, as I said, everybody who’s part of that group. I’m talking in terms of the U.S. and Russia, certainly, in and around Aleppo, and this renewed effort. But as we see France and others are meeting next week about the cessation of hostilities, there’s more relevant parties and stakeholders to this than just the U.S. and Russia.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Mark, yesterday, the Secretary said a target date for transition in Syria is 1st of August --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and he said, “So either something happens in these next few months or they are asking a very different track.” And I was wondering if you can elaborate on that different track.

MR TONER: No, I won’t at this point. We’re committed right now to the cessation, getting it in place – or getting it renewed or reaffirmed, and then also pursuing political negotiations and a political process that leads to a transition in power. So I don’t want to talk about what-ifs or what-nexts. The Secretary was alluding to – or not even alluding to, but talking about the fact that there is this August deadline, if you will. It’s a timeline with target dates that was already built into the political process, and that was in both the ISSG joint statements as well as in UN Security Council Resolution 2254. And again, the idea behind these deadlines is sometimes they can be forcing mechanisms; they can help clarify to the parties involved the need to – and the urgency of the situation and the need to engage.

QUESTION: Can you clarify what they have to achieve by August the 1st?

MR TONER: I think it’s to – well, it’s to establish the framework for a political transition, as well as a draft constitution.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Iran. I just have a quick one.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) one more on Syria?

MR TONER: I have very limited time now. I mean, I just don’t – I apologize. If we have time – let me take a look – few more questions, I’ll come back. I apologize, but go ahead.

QUESTION: I just want to know if you saw the comments by this deputy IRGC commander about closing off the Straits of Hormuz to the U.S. The Iranians have said this in the past, or made this threat in the past, and you guys have always brushed it off. But that was before you had this new relationship with Iran, or this rapprochement, at least, around Syria and the ISSG and the nuclear deal. And I’m just wondering, what do you think of this threat now in the context of the – in particular the nuclear deal? This kind of a threat doesn’t seem – well, it doesn’t have anything to do with the nuclear deal; it doesn’t seem to comply with the spirit of this new rapprochement.

MR TONER: Well, Matt, I mean, we’ve talked a lot about – that we hope in the spirit of the deal that that will spread into other aspects of our relationship with Iran, or Iran’s relationship with the rest of the world. We can’t predict that that’s going to happen, and frankly we’ve still seen Iran continue with statements and behaviors that are not helpful and not constructive.

QUESTION: So it remains that it’s pretty much all hope and no change?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, that’s – I mean, let’s dial back and look at the fact that the JCPOA was about preventing Iran from acquiring or developing a nuclear weapon. That’s its main goal. If other aspects of the relationship improve as a result of that --

QUESTION: It’s nice.

MR TONER: -- then that’s great.

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: So much for the better.

QUESTION: But you haven’t seen that yet, right, in any – in anything other than maybe them joining the ISSG?

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean --

QUESTION: Is that right?

MR TONER: I mean, that, and we do have, I think, improved access with Foreign Minister Zarif. But beyond that we’ve seen a continuance of some of the same behaviors.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) new topic for a second?

MR TONER: Yeah. We’re in – we already changed; we’re in Iran.

QUESTION: Okay, all right. May I change topics to the Palestinian-Israeli issue very quickly?

MR TONER: Quickly, yeah.

QUESTION: There are some reports that the Israelis have gone into Gaza, eastern Rafah in Gaza – I mean, just like a few hours ago and so on. Have you heard anything about that?

MR TONER: I have not, Said. I apologize. I don’t have any update on that.

QUESTION: Okay, all right. Okay. And very quickly, there are also reports that the Obama Administration is going to issue a – like a some sort of a statement or fact sheet on the efforts that they have done since 2008 and so on, and some suggestions on what to do next in the context of --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- turning down the Paris – or the French initiative. Have you heard anything about that?

MR TONER: So I’ve not – no, I’m not aware of those specific reports about a summation or, as you put it --

QUESTION: Summation, right, yeah.

MR TONER: All I can say is that – I mean, I – you do know the Quartet is in fact preparing a report on the situation on the ground that will include recommendations on how to change current trends. I don’t know if that’s what you’re referring to. And also, just to clarify, too, we haven’t made any decisions; we’re still looking and discussing the French proposal. And we’re always looking at options on how to get both parties to take steps that we believe will get them back into an environment where serious negotiations or peace talks can restart.

QUESTION: And finally, there are 10 Palestinian journalists that are being held by Israel – six without charges. Do you have any comment? I mean, considering yesterday was Free the Press Day and so on. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t know their specific cases. Certainly you know where we stand on freedom of the press; the Secretary spoke to it yesterday. I don’t know – I don’t have any details. Any specific cases, I’d refer you to Israeli authorities.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Over the last year, Congress has appropriated specific sets of funds to help the State Department comply with document production requests for the Benghazi committee. Do you know how much that figure was, and can you tell us the status of the document review unit?

MR TONER: So I don’t have a specific dollar figure. We can try to get that for you. I apologize; I just don’t have it in front of me. Speaking broadly, I mean, we’re very much committed to cooperating with the Benghazi committee. I think since the committee was formed we’ve provided some 48 witnesses for interviews and some 95,000 pages of documents.

Look, we have an open line of communications with the Benghazi committee. When they make requests, we do our utmost to comply with them in a speedy manner. We want to make sure that we’re providing the right type of documents that they need as well as briefings and interviews that match their priorities, and we’ll continue to do that. So I think we’ve made a good-faith effort overall to comply and to – with the committee’s requests and to get them the information that they need, and we’re going to remain committed to doing that.

QUESTION: It’s our understanding that some of the State Department personnel were – who were evacuated from Yemen were supposed to staff this document review unit. Has that happened?

MR TONER: I don’t know. I mean, we did look at – I don’t have that level of detail. What we did look at was – in terms of our FOIA requests for the Clinton emails, we did ramp up our efforts and our staff and personnel who were looking at both that as well as – we’ve talked about this before – the sharp increase in FOIA requests. Now, I don’t know if that same approach has been applied to the Benghazi committee. I’ll just have to take the question.

QUESTION: Okay. And then was the Benghazi committee staff helpful to the State Department in securing these funds from Congress? I know you didn’t give us a figure, but --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- for this purpose.

MR TONER: You know what? I don’t have – again, I apologize. I don’t have clarity on that, so I’ll try to --

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR TONER: Yeah, please. In the back.

QUESTION: Hey.

MR TONER: Hey, Felicia.

QUESTION: Just back to – sorry, back to Syria really quickly.

MR TONER: That’s okay. Sure.

QUESTION: Are there going to be efforts to look at other cities for partial ceasefires? Like I heard from an aid organization that the fighting in Homs has gotten very intense and they’re having trouble getting access there. Are there other places that you’re kind of looking to extend this in the coming days?

MR TONER: I mean, we’re really trying to take a systematic approach. We began in Latakia and east Damascus. We’ve now attempted to apply the same reaffirmation to Aleppo. Ultimately, yeah, we want to see this spread throughout Syria, this reaffirmation of the cessation of hostilities, because we have seen pockets of instability, we’ve seen pockets of violence continue. And we need to, as I said, systematically go try to address these pockets where they exist.

QUESTION: Just – yeah, like Secretary Kerry and others spent a lot of time saying this needs to happen in Aleppo. Are there other sort of, like, high-priority --

MR TONER: Yeah – I mean, I don’t have a list in front of me.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MR TONER: I mean, we’re looking at – and as I said, there’s other areas of concern, I guess, is – I’d put it that way. And we’re going to continue to look at this. I don’t have like another --

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MR TONER: -- next on our list, but I think what we’re trying to do is get these two areas under a solid cessation of hostilities and then continue to look at where else it needs to be applied – or reapplied, rather.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I have Syria.

QUESTION: I have one more too here.

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

QUESTION: Can you show the public that the money that was reprogrammed – the funds for it that Congress set aside for this purpose – has actually been used for this purpose and not other things?

MR TONER: The funds reprogrammed for --

QUESTION: For the --

MR TONER: -- the Benghazi committee?

QUESTION: -- document production requests.

MR TONER: Yeah. I’ll look into that. Again, I don’t – I – if they were reprogrammed for that or that funding was provided, I’m fairly certain that it would have been used for the purpose for which it was set up for.

Yeah.

QUESTION: For the ceasefire to hold in Aleppo, do you expect Assad forces to stop attacking al-Nusrah, given that, as you said, the lines between rebels and al-Nusrah there are fluid?

MR TONER: Again, it is a very fluid situation. Nusrah is not party to the cessation. We all know that. But we have not seen the regime’s actions specifically targeting Nusrah; in fact, we’ve seen them targeting civilian populations as well as opposition groups. So what we want to see is them to comply, the regime to comply with the cessation of hostilities, which only applies to those who have signed up to the cessation of hostilities.

Please.

QUESTION: Mark --

MR TONER: Yeah, quickly.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mark. Do you have any information about North Korea preparing a fifth nuclear test soon or tomorrow or --

MR TONER: No, I don’t, and I don’t know that we would preview that.

QUESTION: I’ve got two brief ones on Bahrain.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I’m wondering if you – or if the embassy is planning to send anyone to the verdict – scheduled court verdict tomorrow for this opposition guy who’s been in prison for a while. His name is Khalil al – hold on, I’ve got his name now – Halwachi, Halwachi.

MR TONER: We’ll take it, Matt.

QUESTION: And then secondly, tomorrow is also the month anniversary of the date of when the Bahraini foreign minister told Secretary Kerry, standing next to him, that this woman would be – the other woman that we were talking about --

MR TONER: And we’ll use this anniversary, one-month anniversary, to urge the Government of Bahrain to follow through with its publicly announced plans to release her.

QUESTION: So as far as you know, she – that pledge that the foreign minister made while he was standing next to Secretary Kerry has not been fulfilled?

MR TONER: As far as I know, yeah.

QUESTION: Wasn’t that court-ordered as well?

MR TONER: I’m not sure about that.

QUESTION: Although dressed as a humanitarian gesture?

MR TONER: I’m not sure about that. Sorry.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on this back-and-forth between the U.S. and Venezuela on visas, please?

MR TONER: Back-and-forth? You mean the comments by Venezuela that we somehow withheld visas for --

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, it really started last year, didn’t it?

MR TONER: Yeah. Look, I mean, we’re aware of the reports that Venezuelan officials were denied U.S. visas. You know we can’t talk about visa records; they’re confidential under Section 20 – 222 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. So – but more broadly speaking, as a host country for many international meetings and conferences and summits, et cetera, I can assure you that we facilitate all requests by foreign governments’ government officials for travel to the United States for multilateral meetings in accordance with U.S. immigration laws.

QUESTION: Mark, I want to make this a point again. It is not 100 percent always the case that visa confidentiality is – requires – means that you can’t say nothing. If the person in question comes out and publicly says or complains that his or her visa has been revoked or he has – she has been denied a visa, it has been in the past, and I think should be and is allowable under the law, for you to confirm whether that’s true or not. Just putting that out there.

MR TONER: You just undercut my --

QUESTION: Yeah, well.

MR TONER: -- witty retort there. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Is there a part two?

MR TONER: No, that’s it. Look, I mean, I would refer you to the Venezuelan Government, but I will not uphold the accuracy of those comments. How about that?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah. Thanks, guys. I’m sorry, I’ve got to run.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:21 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 05/03/2016 - 17:09

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

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TRANSCRIPT:

2:50 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Okay, everybody. I don’t have a topping statement or an opening statement, so we can get right at it.

Anybody else? Pam?

QUESTION: Following up on what the Secretary had to say about Syria, first, a couple of questions concerning this – the teams that are working for this new ceasefire agreement in Aleppo. What’s different about this agreement in terms of teeth? What’s there? Has either side received any assurances that the Assad regime is buying into this and willing to acknowledge terms of this agreement? In other words, what makes this different from what was negotiated in February?

And then secondly, Foreign Minister Lavrov earlier today in his news conference with de Mistura mentioned that there was a U.S. monitoring center in Geneva, an enhanced center that was going to be looking at ceasefire violations. Can you elaborate on this new agreement? And how is it different from what had been in place previously?

MR KIRBY: Okay, there’s a lot there. As the Secretary indicated, our two teams – U.S. and Russian teams – are working right now to try to get the modalities here in place for additional cessation compliance in other places in Syria. And as he said, Aleppo is very much part of that discussion. I don’t want to get ahead of that meeting or decisions that they may or may not make. I think when they’re done and when we have an agreement on the way forward, we’ll be able to speak to it with more specificity, so it just wouldn’t be wise for me to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been inked at this point.

It is – as the Secretary indicated, it is a continuation of the cessation efforts that have been in place now for a couple of months. And we’ve seen it break down in certain places and obviously Aleppo’s one of them, and so we want to make sure that we are adding renewed energy to the effort to get it restored where it needs to be restored. And that’s what this is really about. When the modalities have been finally set into place, then we can talk about what that means and with more specificity, but again, that work is still ongoing. I won’t get ahead of it.

On Geneva, I think you heard the Secretary speak to this idea himself in the last couple of days when he was in Geneva about having a more concerted effort and perhaps additional resources applies to a 24-hour ability to better monitor – more effectively monitor – the status of the cessation. That is all, again, part of this discussion that’s going on literally today. So again, I don’t want to get ahead of it. When we have all the details worked out, we’ll certainly lay those out for you.

QUESTION: John --

QUESTION: Following up, but just --

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second, Said.

QUESTION: Following up if I can, with this new U.S.-Russia team, are there consequences for violations? You have more people – a higher level of people involved in monitoring, but then what’s the next step when violations are identified? Is there something different there?

And then secondly, looking at the team that’s going to – that’s meeting today, can you shed a little bit more light on who’s on this team and exactly where they’re meeting?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I think the Secretary indicated, part of the effort will be in Geneva. I don’t have additional details in terms of who exactly is on the team.

On the first question, I mean, we’ve actually talked about this many times. I mean, this isn’t about enforcement in sort of a kinetic, physical way. It is about monitoring and being able to analyze compliance and then, when able – and there have been times in the past couple of months when the task force has been given the information that they’ve been able to receive to actually prevent violations from occurring. Largely it’s about analyzing the data and the information we get on reported violations. And as you might suspect, some of these are parallel reports, and so you might get two or three or four reports on the same violation. That doesn’t mean you had four violations. You had one, but it was observed from different corners.

And so this will give us a better – this will enable us to do it better, more effectively, more efficiently, and we – as the Secretary indicated in his conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov, there’ll – we also to intend to redouble our efforts at using our influence – Russia using their influence on the Assad regime; the United States using its influence on certain opposition groups – to keep them in observance of the cessation of hostilities.

QUESTION: John.

MR KIRBY: Said.

QUESTION: Follow-up. Now, the Secretary talked – he basically warned the Syrian regime that this war will not end. Is he basically saying that if the – in the event that the ceasefire collapses, that we will implement plan B, which is basically to go and arm and maybe aid militarily directly to the opposition?

MR KIRBY: What the --

QUESTION: Is that he was saying? Because he was very strong.

MR KIRBY: He was, but what he was saying was that the whole process has to succeed or the war won’t end, not just the cessation. The cessation and the humanitarian delivery all are key components, but so to – and he talked quite a bit about the political process and getting the political talks back on a productive track. And they have – obviously, they have stumbled. They have not been enormously successful so far. So that’s the real key here, and what he said was if those things can’t happen, particularly the political process, then the war won’t end. There won’t be any incentive for it to end, and that’s what he’s really focusing on.

Now, your question about plan B – we’ve talked about this. The focus is on the process that’s in place because – I think the Secretary said it very well for himself. I mean, he still firmly believes that that is the right approach and that’s the approach that we’re putting our energies into. It would imprudent, it would be irresponsible if there weren’t other places in the U.S. Government that were thinking through options and alternatives to that. We have to do that. And the Commander-in-Chief has made it clear that he wants everybody to do that. But that – but even he has said that whatever alternatives there may be to, quote-unquote, “plan A,” they’re not good ones. They’re not great. They’re not the ones that we want to pursue. We want to pursue this particular track, and the Secretary still believes firmly that (a) it’s the right thing to do, and (b) that it can succeed.

QUESTION: Now, also the Secretary used the term “carve out” – if Assad keeps trying to carve out a – some land in Aleppo and so on. I mean, Assad is really the president of Syria; it’s the government that is recognized by most everybody in the world. While you have whatever opposition that is aided by foreign governments, by all accounts – I mean, even the Secretary himself mentioned countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and so on. So is he saying that there is some sort of equanimity between, let’s say, the Syrian Government that is recognized by you guys and by those opposition forces? And if not, then why don’t you recognize them?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think that’s at all what he’s saying, Said. I mean, I think, again, I can’t say it better than he did, that Assad has – and we’ve said it before – has lost legitimacy in his own country, and it’s clear from what’s going on – the civil war over five years, the growth and the influence of Daesh in the last two years – all are strong indications that there is no legitimacy coming from the regime, and you can’t call yourself a government and gas and barrel bomb your own people, starve them to death, which is what he’s doing.

So this isn’t about recognizing legitimacy at all. Quite the contrary, it’s about trying to get us – the international community, but more importantly the Syrian people – to a government there that is responsible, responsive to their needs, and can be recognized as legitimate throughout the country.

Yeah, go ahead. I’ll come – Margaret, I’ll come right back to you.

QUESTION: The cessation of hostilities that the U.S. and Russia are now working to establish or re-establish, particularly in Aleppo, will it involve not attacking al-Nusrah?

MR KIRBY: Will it involve not attacking al-Nusrah? No. Al-Nusrah – the Secretary talked about this – they are not party to the cessation. They are a recognized terrorist organization by the UN and are not party to the cessation.

QUESTION: Sir, last week a U.S. military spokesman, Colonel Steve Warren, said that it’s primarily al-Nusrah who holds Aleppo. I know that the U.S. and Russia have been working to delineate terrorists from rebels. How is that work going?

MR KIRBY: So a couple of points there. As I – I think I got asked this question too, and as I said at the time, we still – and I think you heard the Secretary talk about it today – I mean, Aleppo is a very mixed, fluid, dynamic environment. And we have seen examples where groups like al-Nusrah and Daesh intermingle themselves with others so as to help protect themselves from attacks. So it’s very fluid, very dynamic. Aleppo remains that way.

Your second question, in terms of how it’s going – I think, again, I’d point you back to what the Secretary just said. I mean, the – we continue to work very closely with the Russians towards a better application of the cessation of hostilities and better compliance throughout the country. That’s why these teams are meeting today, and hopefully later today – hopefully – we’ll be able to lay out with more detail exactly what the progress is that’s being made in terms of reaffirming the cessation in additional places throughout the country.

QUESTION: So the FSA put out a statement saying, “We, the armed groups from across Syria, will form a single bloc. Any offensive that takes place in an area where our units are present will be regarded as an attack against all the units throughout the Syrian territory and we reserve the right to respond to it.” Thirty-seven military units endorsed this statement. Given the fact that some of these units are in Aleppo and they are known to be difficult to separate from al-Nusrah, what do you think about their position that if any one of them is attacked in Aleppo, that the whole cessation of hostilities across Syria is out the window?

MR KIRBY: Well, I haven’t seen the comments, but let me just --

QUESTION: It’s a quote.

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not disputing that. I haven’t seen it, but I’m happy to address the issue. It is – their frustration is understandable given the constant attacks that they’ve been under by the regime, particularly in Aleppo. But you heard the Secretary say himself in his opening comments that we want all parties – and that means all parties – to abide by the cessation of hostilities and to not look for opportunity to escalate the violence either there or elsewhere throughout the country. We want everybody to abide by it, and that’s why he went to Geneva the last couple of days, that’s why he had – he talked so intently with Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday, and it’s why our teams – the U.S. and Russian teams are right now working on trying to get this cessation reaffirmed in other places.

QUESTION: But do you support this particular position expressed by the other side?

MR KIRBY: I think I would just point you back to what the Secretary said himself, which is we want all parties – everybody – to abide by the cessation of hostilities, and when we are able to come to an agreement on some additional modalities, to agree to that. And as the Secretary said, we, the United States, we have a responsibility here too because we do have influence over some groups and we – he is going to hold us to account. And his expectation is that we will use that influence in an appropriate way on those opposition groups that we have influence on, just like our expectation is that the Russians will use their influence to appropriately shape and mold the conduct and behavior of the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Just one more. The FSA said that they support the decision of the High Negotiations Committee to withdraw from the Geneva talks. What is the U.S. communicating to the FSA with regard to this?

MR KIRBY: Well, we obviously want the talks to continue, and our message has been consistent and the same – that we want to see the UN-led peace talks resume and to achieve some success here. As the Secretary said when we were in Moscow, we agreed with the Russian Government that we would set 1 August as the timeframe to do that. So we obviously want to see that succeed. Our message has been the same to the opposition, the HNC, and all opposition groups: We want to see them back at the table.

We also recognize their frustration. We recognize the concerns that they expressed during this last round, and why, out of frustration, they stopped talking – because the regime had been violating the cessation so blatantly, so overtly, in particular in Aleppo. So there’s obviously more work to be done here, but our message is exactly the same.

QUESTION: Kirby, the Secretary talked a lot about press freedom. Can you tell us if the Assad regime is still holding Austin Tice, is he still alive, and what his status is?

MR KIRBY: The truth is I think there’s still more information that we need. Austin is never far from our minds and I can tell you that we continue to very energetically try to get more information about his whereabouts and to stay in touch with his family as much as we can about that. But there’s still a lot we don’t know. I can just tell you that it’s very much – very much and very close on our minds here.

QUESTION: Syria?

QUESTION: So it’s still unknown if he is with the Assad regime, just that he remains in Syria?

MR KIRBY: I think – I think we’re still trying to get better information about his whereabouts and his condition. I think I have to leave it at that.

QUESTION: Syria?

QUESTION: I have a question on Iraq but I don't know if you need to come back to me on that.

MR KIRBY: Are you going to go to Iraq?

QUESTION: Syria.

MR KIRBY: Syria, okay.

QUESTION: Yeah. We were not --

MR KIRBY: All right, we’ll stay with you and then we’ll come back.

QUESTION: There are some local media reports – I don't know if you have seen them – in the Middle East that they’re suggesting there are talks between the United States and the Assad regime, and some media reports are also hinting at the possibility of a meeting between – of a talk between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Walid Muallem of Syria. Is that – does that have any truth to it?

MR KIRBY: No, they’re not true.

Margaret.

QUESTION: On Iraq, Baghdad seems to be in the middle of a major political crisis at the same time that you saw this fatality of a U.S. serviceman today. And I’m wondering what the assessment is as the U.S. tries to get diplomatically engaged here – I mean, how much that crisis imperils the combat mission.

MR KIRBY: Well, so a couple of points there. You referenced getting engaged diplomatically. I would argue that we have remained engaged diplomatically with the Abadi government. I mean, the Vice President was just there; Secretary Kerry was there just a couple of weeks ago. We very much continue to support the political reforms that he’s putting in place and we recognize the political challenges that he’s facing in Iraq. But he is trying to enact reforms that are in keeping with the Iraqi constitution, and again, we’re going to continue to support him in that effort.

And I think the Pentagon spoke to this earlier today and I will just restate it – that there has been no impact on the military mission to go after Daesh inside Iraq as a result of the political challenges that Prime Minister Abadi is facing right now. We continue to – at least the United States continues to be a major contributor to the coalition. Just over the weekend, nearly 60 airstrikes were conducted against Daesh targets. So that effort continues apace. It doesn’t mean that we’re – it doesn’t mean that we’re not continuing to engage with Prime Minister Abadi, not continuing to talk with him, not continuing to watch the situation there closely, but there’s no impact on coalition operations.

QUESTION: But he’s the commander-in-chief and his political stability seems to be in question. So at what point does that not imperil the ability or the mission to shore up his government, which is what the U.S. is doing fighting alongside his military?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t --

QUESTION: I mean, if he can’t keep his government together, doesn’t that hurt the U.S. effort to support his military to try to fight ISIS?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think it would be valuable to speculate right now in terms of what might happen in the future or what the effects might be on the military effort. What I can tell you is that he is working through these challenges and they are difficult, but we continue to support him as he does that. And the reason why, Margaret, is because we believe and have believed from the outset that the best antidote and the most sustainable antidote to a group like Daesh in Iraq is good governance and it is political reform, the kinds of reforms that he’s trying to pursue. So there is a linkage here in terms of being able to sustain a defeat of a group like this, but I don’t believe we’re at a point now where I can say with great specificity that while this is the line, this is where it – this is where it impacts it. Thus far he continues to work these challenges through the constitution with the support not just of the United States but other coalition members. And the Iraqi Security Forces continue – even as you and I are talking today continue to – the fight against Daesh in places out in Anbar and, as a matter of fact, just recently secured some success in Haditha.

So they are, even for all the challenges he’s facing in Baghdad, elsewhere in the country – not everywhere but elsewhere in the country – the Iraqi Security Forces are doing a good job and they’re going after – going after these guys. We’re certainly helping that effort. You mentioned the casualty today as a stark example of that, that advise and assist mission. But we have not seen a diminution of the effort to go against Daesh as a result of these political challenges, and I don’t think it would be wise to try to speculate as to at what point one way or another you would see that happen.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. trying to mediate between the Sadrists, the Abadi government, and all these other fractured parties to try to keep Baghdad together?

MR KIRBY: We’re not inserting ourself into internal Iraqi politics in that way. Obviously, our ambassador there, Stu Jones, is in contact with the Abadi government, as he has been, as we have been for a while now in terms of supporting the kinds of reforms that Prime Minister Abadi is putting in place. But we’re not taking a mediation role.

Yeah, Nike.

QUESTION: Yes, I have a quick question on Aleppo and some other questions. We see some reports on the safety zones inside Aleppo. Could you explain how that work and does the United States support that?

MR KIRBY: Actually, Nike, I think, again, the Secretary talked about this quite a bit at the top of the briefing today. I don’t know that I’m going to elaborate much more than that. This is – it’s about reaffirming the cessation of hostilities in places where it is working and maybe can work better and in places where, obviously, it has fallen down and broken down, such as Aleppo. It’s not about – it’s not about safe zones. It’s about a nationwide cessation of hostilities. As I said yesterday, what we’d like to see is the entire nation of Syria be safe so that the millions of refugees can come home and they can have a government that’s responsive to their needs and they can earn a living and raise their kids in safety and security. That’s what we want to see.

And so the focus here is on a nationwide cessation of hostilities. Yes, there is some effort now to try to specifically get it in better condition in certain places where it has proved challenging lately, but it’s not about – it’s not about zones.

Okay? You had another question?

QUESTION: Can I ask about World Press Freedom Day? Do you have another journalism to – journalist to feature since today is the day? And I remember last week, according to a press release, the State Department is going to feature every reporter until today.

MR KIRBY: We did. Yesterday was the last day of that, and then today being World Press Freedom Day, we brought the Secretary out to talk about the initiatives and what we’re doing to support press freedom around the world. That was the schedule. I wasn’t – I mean, we – yesterday was the last day we had planned to identify a single example. Obviously, there are many more than the six that we profiled over the last week, but we chose those six based on their specific circumstances.

QUESTION: Can I also ask about Ukraine? Do you have anything on the congressional efforts to tighten sanctions in – on Russia and not recognizing the annexation of Crimea? It was introduced by Congressman Eliot and some leadership from the Congressional Ukraine Caucus last week.

MR KIRBY: Well, so, as you probably expect, we’re not going to speak specifically to this recently introduced pending legislation. Broadly speaking, our existing sanctions were imposed on Russia to pressure the Russian Government to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including the restoration of Ukraine’s control over eastern Ukraine. And we’re committed to maintaining the sanctions that are in place until Russia fulfills its commitment under – commitments under the Minsk agreements. Sanctions related to Crimea are going to remain in place as long as Russia’s occupation and purported annexation continues.

QUESTION: Do you think that will increase or – whether or not – one way or the other will increase the leverage for Washington to deal with Moscow?

MR KIRBY: Well, all I can say is we’re going to continue to consult with Congress going forward here, but I think I’m going to leave my answer where I left it for right now.

QUESTION: One final question: Last month you put out a statement to condemn the Honduras activist – the murder of her, Berta Caceres. And yesterday arrests has been made regarding her case.

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, we welcome the announcement of the arrests in her murder. We’re going to continue to closely follow the matter as the investigation continues and as the judicial process moves forward, but I think I’m going to leave it there for right now.

Yeah, Tejinder.

QUESTION: On Pakistan.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: After your statement yesterday, Pakistan is saying they are disappointed, but they are also saying if they cannot get the F-16s from U.S., they will find jets from other places. They’re indicating from China. Do you fear that this will strain your relationship with Pakistan?

MR KIRBY: These are sovereign decisions that nations make with respect to their defense needs, and I wouldn’t – it’s up for – it’s up to Pakistan to speak to how they’ll fulfill their defense needs. As for the relationship, as I’ve said many, many times, it’s an important one. It’s critical; it’s vital in that – particularly in that part of the world; and it’s a relationship we have absolutely no intention of losing focus on or diminishing in any way. But these are obviously sovereign decisions that Pakistan has to make.

QUESTION: A Pakistani minister of a cabinet rank has described the U.S. aid to Pakistan as “peanuts.” Do you think this is appropriate description of U.S. aid to Pakistan?

MR KIRBY: I would just simply say that, again, it’s an important relationship. We’re going to continue to support that relationship. We are – we fully stand behind the kinds of support that we have provided Pakistan over the last many years with respect specifically to their counterterrorism capabilities and counterterrorism needs, and we’re going to continue to look for ways to improve that cooperation as best we can.

QUESTION: But you don’t have anything to say on the peanuts comment? It is peanuts, orange, apples --

MR KIRBY: I think I’ve answered the question.

QUESTION: World Press Freedom Day. This question was going to be for Secretary Kerry, but now to you. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: But I didn’t call on you.

QUESTION: John, over the last three, four years during the Secretary’s tenure here in this building, Turkey’s freedom records in every aspect, whether press freedom or freedom of assembly or minorities and all that, have been backsliding very badly and dramatically. Do you think that this administration could have done something different or better, or do you see any responsibility on your aspect to make Turkish administration handle these issues better than they have been handling?

MR KIRBY: Well, a couple of points there. We’ve talked about before that the trend we’re seeing in Turkey is not a good one. It’s not going in the right direction. I think I’ve described it as worrisome, and I think we still believe that. We don’t believe that restricting freedom of the press is healthy for any democracy, and yet, we still believe that Turkey can live up to all its democratic principles, the ones that are enshrined in its constitution, and we want to see them do that and we want to see Turkey succeed. We don’t believe the path to success, democratically speaking, is by harassment or – of the media or restricting their ability to do their job, and we’ve said that many, many times.

We’re going to continue to make that case as clear and as concise as we can privately and publicly with Turkish leaders. I don’t think you’re going to see that diminish. I don’t think you’ll see, as long as there’s issues of press freedoms there, you’ll see me shying away from it here from this particular podium either because it matters to us, not just because it matters to us – and the Secretary talked about how much it does – but because Turkey matters to us, and we want to see, again, Turkey succeed. They are a vital partner and a vital ally on some very significant regional issues, and we believe that a strong relationship, strong bilateral relationship with Turkey, which we have, is made stronger by having this trend – this press freedom trend that we talked about – improve.

Okay.

QUESTION: Turkey again, follow-up.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Another violence erupted yesterday in Turkish parliament. The representatives of HDP Kurdish party – one of them was actually, I think, Armenian but member of the Kurdish party. They were attacked by the majority party, AKP Party. Do you have any comments on this?

MR KIRBY: I’m afraid you’re going to have to let me take the question. I haven’t seen those reports, and so because I haven’t seen them and I’m not in a position to verify them, I think you’re just going to have to let me take that one.

Yeah.

QUESTION: I have a question. I have two questions, actually. The first one is about that military service member who was actually killed near Erbil a while ago. So how is the U.S. DOD is engaged in the fight against ISIS other than advisory and training roles?

MR KIRBY: Say – I’m sorry, say that question again. How are we what?

QUESTION: So the U.S. military presence in Iraq, how they’re – are they engaged directly in the fight against ISIS? Other than advisory and training roles, what other role they will – they’re actually playing? And if you could just tell us why he was killed. Was he engaged directly in the fight? That’s the first question.

And my second question was – is about the visit of the HDP leader, Selahattin Demirtas, the Kurdish member of the Turkish parliament who was here last week. There were some reports he had meetings here at the State Department. Could you confirm that, please?

MR KIRBY: So let me take your second question. I don’t think I have anything on that.

On the first one, first of all, our thoughts and our prayers, our deepest condolences go out to the family of the service member who was killed today in Iraq. And I think all of us should just pause and remember that there is a family out there that’s grieving right now and I think we all should keep that foremost in mind.

I’m going to refer you to the Defense Department for more specifics about the circumstances under which that service member was killed. That’s – they would have better information than I would. Broadly speaking, and again, I’m only going to stay at a very tree-top level on this because this is really a better question for the Defense Department, but broadly speaking, our central role – we have two central military roles in Iraq: One you’ve obviously seen is supporting coalition efforts through airpower. Number two, it’s an advise and assist mission. The Pentagon spoke to this. I believe Secretary Carter spoke to this this morning with respect to this particular U.S. service member who was killed, that he was involved in the advise and assist mission when he was killed. But again, as for the specific circumstances, I think I’d point you to them, okay?

QUESTION: But if the situation deteriorates because of the local problems in Baghdad today, do you think that the U.S. will need to actually be more engaged just to make sure that ISIS does not gain more territories or the Iraqi army will not leave other territories to ISIS?

MR KIRBY: What’s important is that the Iraqi Security Forces execute their campaign plan to defeat Daesh. That’s what’s really critical. We’ve talked about this many, many times. And again, I don’t want to veer out of my lane here, but the forces that matter most in Iraq are indigenous forces, Iraqi Security Forces, and that is why we are supporting them from the air and that is why we are supporting them in an advise and assist capacity. And the United States has been very engaged in this effort, but we want to do this smartly and we want to do this through, by and with the Iraqi Government and Iraqi Security Forces. They are the ground forces that matter most.

And they are having success. They are pushing back on this group in Iraq. And Daesh has lost territory. They’ve lost fighters. They are struggling to recruit now. They have certainly lost territory and they are losing a significant amount of revenue in just – just since the fall they have lost a significant amount of revenue, about a third of what they once had total and more than half of once – what they were getting from oil revenues. So there has been success against this group.

I’ve got time for one more and then we’re going to have to call it.

QUESTION: John.

MR KIRBY: I’m going to go here to Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, John. Long time. (Laughter.) On South Korea – I just (inaudible) South Korea.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: As you already know that South Korean President Park visited Iran and met with Iranian President Rouhani, would you please some comment on normalization of relationship of – between Iran and South Korea.

MR KIRBY: I – Janne, I think I’d refer you to officials in Seoul to speak to their – excuse me – to speak to their bilateral relations. That’s not for us to speak to and certainly the president’s --

QUESTION: The U.S. --

MR KIRBY: The president’s travel is for her and her staff to speak to.

In terms of the U.S., we do not have diplomatic relations with Iran. I am not – I know of no plans to change that. We have engaged with Iran to secure the Iran deal and we engage with Iran specifically and limited to their participation in the International Syria Support Group, but there’s no efforts to broaden that at this time. I mean, Iran still is capable of and continues to conduct destabilizing activities in the region. They are still a state sponsor of terrorism. We have significant differences with Iran. And would we like to see that change? Would we like to see their conduct change? Absolutely, but we see no indication that even as a result of the Iran deal that it is. And so we are going to continue to maintain the kinds of pressure on them and in that arena as we have, and certainly reserve the right to increase that pressure as appropriate going forward.

Guys, I’ve got to go. It’s getting late.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on this program that you’ve talked about it being a good thing to relocate people who are under threat?

MR KIRBY: Oh, I don’t have an update for you on that, Matt. It remains an option, but – and we’re still discussing this inside the interagency, but I don’t have a decision for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: 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 - May 2, 2016

Mon, 05/02/2016 - 17:41

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 2, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

2:08 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR KIRBY: Just a couple of things at the top here. We finish our Free the Press Campaign today, and for that campaign, in honor of World Press Freedom Day, which is, as you know, tomorrow, we’re going to highlight today a man named Sergei Reznik, a journalist and blogger from the city of Rostov-on-Don who was – who has been, I’m sorry, imprisoned since November of 2013.

Before his imprisonment, Reznik’s writing routinely criticized municipal and regional authorities in Russia and uncovered local corruption and abuses. The series of unrelated charges pursued against him include insulting a public official, bribery, and deliberately misleading authorities. A month before his conviction, Reznik was also physically attacked, when two unidentified men beat him with baseball bats and shot at him. Although he was not hit by bullets, Mr. Reznik suffered head and neck injuries from the beating.

While he sits in jail, authorities have made no progress in investigating the attack against him, consistent with a broader pattern of impunity in Russia for those who attack journalists. So again, we call on the Russian Government to release Sergei Reznik immediately.

I also want to note that, as you know, the Secretary is returning this evening from a couple of days in Geneva, where obviously high on his agenda of topics to discuss with foreign leaders was the situation in Syria and the continued fragile cessation of hostilities there. He also spoke today with Foreign Minister Lavrov by phone. Both ministers again talked predominately about the cessation, acknowledging that it is in fact fragile, and talking about ways in which it can be restored throughout the country, quite frankly. And they did talk about the potential for another ISSG meeting sometime in the near future. I don’t have any specifics to read out in terms of dates, locations, but they did talk about the possibility of another ISSG meeting. They also spoke about Nagorno-Karabakh and the conflict there and the need to continue to try to restore a better sense of calm between the sides.

With that.

QUESTION: Thank you, John.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Since you mentioned Syria, before leaving Geneva, Secretary Kerry and Special Envoy de Mistura gave a press conference, and Secretary Kerry said that the situation is out of control in Syria, and he said also that they are working on new mechanism to control the ceasefire. So how – what are your expectations to restore the ceasefire, and what are these new mechanisms they were talking about?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think the Secretary was asked specifically about that and said that he wasn’t going to get ahead of the discussions since not all the mechanisms and modalities have been worked out. So I am surely in no position to go into more detail about it today. But they did talk about some ideas of how, in certain areas in Syria, it can be restored and in other areas bolstered and made more secure than it is now. I would note that over the weekend, we did see in areas around Latakia and in areas around Damascus, we did see a restoration of the cessation of hostilities. We have always been focused on areas like Aleppo and that was certainly a topic of the discussions that the Secretary had in Geneva, and with Foreign Minister Lavrov today.

So Aleppo is obviously the starkest example of where the cessation is most at risk and continues to be violated by the regime, but there are other areas in the country too that we’re concerned about.

The other thing – and I didn’t mention this in my readout, and I apologize for that – but they did talk also about humanitarian assistance and the need to continue a sustained, unimpeded avenue of delivery of humanitarian assistance to so many areas in need. Now, I know that – I think the ICRC reported today that they were able to get to some areas, but there are so many others where the needs are desperate, and this is another area where we really do need Russia to use its influence on the Assad regime to allow that access.

QUESTION: And are you sure that Aleppo will be included in the new ceasefire, cessation of hostility agreement you are looking for? And do you trust Russia to put pressure on the regime to make this agreement possible?

MR KIRBY: The short answer to your – both questions is yes. That said, I do want to make it clear that Aleppo was never not on the table. Aleppo was never not part of the cessation. Remember, the cessation of hostilities when agreed to was nationwide and that’s what – and when we say “nationwide,” we mean nationwide. Now, we knew that there were going to be violations even on day one, but we’ve been up here talking about the situation in Aleppo now for some – a matter of weeks. It’s obviously of deep concern. And so, obviously, we’re going to stay focused on that. I don’t want to convey by saying, “Yes, it’s going to be a part of the new – of new efforts” – it would intrinsically be anyway simply because it is such an important part of Syria and because we have seen so many violations of late.

But to – and I’m not saying your question is doing this, but I want to take the opportunity: to argue that it was never part of renewed efforts is not accurate. It’s always been – particularly in the last couple of weeks, it’s always been a topic of discussion and concern and emphasis for the Secretary.

QUESTION: John, the UN Security Council on Syria has set a timetable for the political process which is two years. Do you think that this timetable is still respected?

MR KIRBY: Look, the timetable that we’re operating off of is the one that has been codified in the UN Security Council resolution, which itself codified the Geneva process. That is still the timeline. That is still the goal and the objective of the political process.

QUESTION: But this resolution talked about six months to establish a transitional body in Syria. Now four months has – have gone and there is nothing yet.

MR KIRBY: There’s not nothing. I mean, it is correct --

QUESTION: But the talks in Geneva didn’t --

MR KIRBY: It is correct that the talks have struggled and nobody’s arguing anything other than that. But to say there’s been nothing, I think, doesn’t exactly accurately characterize the amount of --

QUESTION: On a political --

MR KIRBY: -- effort and progress that has been made. Now, I understand – do we have a transitional process fully baked now and in place or a transitional body that’s been designated? No. But we do have – we’ve had now three rounds of talks on the political front. Much more work needs to be done – we fully agree – but we do have at least a common set of principles that both the regime and the opposition have agreed to. As I said at the top, I think you can expect the ISSG to gather again soon to help work out what the next best steps are on the political process. But again, nobody’s arguing that the political process hasn’t struggled, and we’re certainly not indicating that we’re satisfied that things are exactly on track. We understand that they’re not but there has been discussion. And after five years of brutal violence and just vicious atrocities perpetrated on the Syrian people by the Assad regime, nobody expected that the political process was going to be easy or linear.

So I recognize that there’s a timetable. We all recognize that. And timetables are a good thing because they can be forcing functions. And maybe you don’t meet every single wicket, but the work towards that is important and the Secretary fully supports this – the timeframe that was set out. You saw when he – when we were in Moscow he and Foreign Minister Lavrov, in fact coming out of their meeting with President Putin, said that by August we hope to have some sort of political framework in place, and that is still very much the goal.

QUESTION: Do you expect this body to be created by August? Do you --

MR KIRBY: I can’t be perfectly predictive, Michel. What I can tell you is the Secretary fully expects that the ISSG will continue to work very hard to meet the goals set out in the UN Security Council resolution which itself codified the Geneva process around which the ISSG was formed and operates. We’re 100 percent committed to that.

QUESTION: Iraq?

QUESTION: Do you – same subject.

MR KIRBY: Abby.

QUESTION: I believe Secretary Kerry was the one who mentioned that there would be an increase in staff on both the U.S. and Russian side on the ground in Geneva. Do you have any more details on that and what the numbers are now or how that would increase?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional details. Again, we’re still working through the specifics on this, but it would stand to reason – I mean, look, we’ve been – the task force has been monitoring the cessation of hostilities since the beginning, and as it has proven increasingly fragile and more and more at risk, it would simply make sense and I think logically follows that we would, that the Secretary would want to look for ways to enhance that effort and to make it more effective, including making the cessation more effective. So I don’t have additional details, and when we do and we can speak to them, we will. But I would simply point back to what the Secretary said, which is that we are looking at ways to increase the resourcing and the physical effort of monitoring the cessation.

QUESTION: One of the ideas that’s been discussed in reports is the idea of creating safe zones within the area of Aleppo. Is that something that’s on the table or being discussed at the moment?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I mean, I’ve seen reporting on that. Again, I’m going to refrain from getting ahead of the specifics here. Some of these modalities that the Secretary talked about with Foreign Minister Lavrov and, frankly, with Special Envoy de Mistura are still being fleshed out, and I think it’s just a little too soon to get into the specific details of them. What we would obviously like to see is that the whole nation of Syria be a safe zone where people are not being gassed and barrel bombed by the regime. What we would like to see is the cessation of hostilities be enacted and be fully observed by all parties all throughout the country. That’s what we’re really after here. The specifics of how we’re going to try to help restore it where it has fallen down, again, we’re still working through.

QUESTION: Iraq?

QUESTION: Syria?

QUESTION: Syria?

MR KIRBY: Are we on Syria? I want to stay on Syria right now. Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: John, do you have anything on the hospital bombings by the Assad regime?

MR KIRBY: The hospital from last week?

QUESTION: Right, weekend. And I think one more hospital was bombed yesterday, right, or Saturday.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I don’t have anything additional. I mean, obviously we’ve seen these reports. I think you saw the Secretary speak to this in Geneva before he left to come home. I mean, those kind of attacks are unconscionable. They need to stop. And it is in keeping with what we’ve seen as a pattern out of the regime to target innocent people, and now going after people who are trying to help innocent people and first responders. And that’s just absolutely reprehensible.

I don’t have additional details. I’ve seen press reports now of more such attacks, but I’m not in a position to confirm or deny them.

QUESTION: And you said the cessation of hostilities is most at risk in Aleppo, and in last 10 days hundreds of civilians are killed in Aleppo by the Assad regime. And does your suggestion imply that the cessation of hostilities is holding in Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: No, I think we’ve been very honest that there have been many violations in and around Aleppo. We’ve been nothing but candid about that, and Aleppo remains of deep concern. It has – as I mentioned in my answer to Nick, it has always been a part of the discussion, particularly in the last couple of weeks. It remains a very dangerous area. We understand that.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. Do you have --

QUESTION: On the task force, please, John, do you have any details how does this work? Who’s represented in this task force?

MR KIRBY: The task force is co-chaired by the United States and by Russia, and they meet constantly to talk about reported violations of the cessation of hostilities, to compare data and analyze the information, and then to work hard to try to get the parties who are – who we believe are culpable to stop those violations and to heed the cessation of hostilities. And without going into great detail, I can tell you that there have been occasions throughout the work of the task force where actual potential cessation violations have been prevented or stopped. So there has been – it has helped at least increase a sense of situational awareness.

What the Secretary talked about today was what can we do bilaterally with Russia specifically as a co-chair – what can we do bilaterally to help boost this effort and to make it even better going forward – because we all recognize that the cessation has not been observed in every area of Syria, that there have been significant violations, that Aleppo is still very much under threat. And we – the whole reason he went to Geneva was to be able to have meetings directly and specifically on this because it is such a serious matter.

QUESTION: That means that Russian, Americans, and UN personnel only work on this task force and – or all the ISSG members --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a list of every person that sits on the task force. It’s co-chaired by the United States and Russia. As I understand it, there are participants by the UN and other members of the ISSG involved, but I don’t have the manning list of exactly who’s there. But it is co-chaired by the U.S. and by Russia.

QUESTION: John, just a clarification: Reaching an agreement, a fresh agreement on the cessation of hostilities – is it a condition for organizing the ISSG meeting in the near future?

MR KIRBY: I think there’s no question that any future meeting of the ISSG is going to discuss the cessation of hostilities and where we’re at, and hey, look, it’s going to depend on when and where this meeting happens in terms of what’s to be discussed about the cessation. Hopefully we don’t have to wait for another gathering of the ISSG to make progress on the cessation of hostilities, but will it be a part of the discussion? I can’t imagine that – any other scenario, I mean, that it certainly would be. It would be everybody’s hope, the Secretary first and foremost, that we can get the cessation into a better position now, immediately, such that any discussion by the ISSG in coming days or weeks is looking back at a much more successful story than what we’ve seen in just the last week or so.

So again, I don’t have anything specific to announce in terms of a place or a date. I just think that, as I said in my readout of the call, they certainly talked about the potential and the potential good that can come from another gathering of the ISSG.

Are we still on Syria? No?

QUESTION: No, Iraq.

MR KIRBY: Okay, we’re going to go to – he’s on Iraq, and then to you, okay? Go ahead.

QUESTION: So do you have anything to say about the recent protests in Iraq? They broke – they stormed the parliament building and there was some violence reported inside the parliament building as well.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, so let me go through this because there’s a lot, obviously, that went on in Iraq. I want to state right up front that we continue to strongly support Iraq and the Iraqi people in their fight against Daesh. Attacks over the weekend on Shia religious pilgrims, for instance, in Baghdad, in Samawa, underscore that Daesh remains a very determined enemy intent on using violence to stoke sectarian tensions, even as Iraqi Security Forces continue to make progress defeating them on the battlefield.

Importantly, the events in Baghdad over the weekend have not impacted our own counter-Daesh operations. The U.S. and our coalition partners conducted another 59 airstrikes and six artillery strikes against Daesh targets in northern Iraq and Anbar province just over this weekend, and we continue to support Iraq Security Forces in our train, advise, and assist mission there.

I would say also that we welcome the ongoing efforts of the Iraqi Government and political leaders to come together to quickly restore security in Baghdad so that Iraq can move forward on critical priorities which include the urgent need for sustained progress in the fight, obviously, also further efforts to mobilize international economic support for Iraq both as it seeks to stabilize Anbar and other territory liberated from Daesh and to control and promote economic reforms there.

These are long-term challenges for Iraq. We’ve talked about that before. And they must be worked, as we’ve said before, within the context of the Iraqi political system and in accordance with the Iraqi constitution. So we’re going to – we join with the UN and the EU in urging all sides to exercise restraint and to work within the political process to advance the interests and the aspirations of all Iraqi people. And as we’ve said before and as Secretary Kerry said when we were in Baghdad not long ago, we continue to strongly support Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi people as they work to advance these very objectives in line with our longstanding commitment to the strategic partnership between our two countries.

QUESTION: On the protest itself, do you see it as a genuine reform movement? Because a lot of people, especially among the Kurds and the Sunnis, they see it as a demonstration driven by Muqtada al-Sadr personally himself and nobody else, probably by Haider Abadi as well, to push through a specific political agenda which is not inclusive, which doesn’t include the Kurds necessarily or the Sunnis.

MR KIRBY: I’m going to refrain from trying to characterize the nature of this. I mean, again, we watched this very closely over the weekend, and I think I’ll let my statement speak for itself in terms of where we are as a government with respect to those protests.

QUESTION: And especially just – sorry, just I want to stay on this for one more question.

MR KIRBY: I’m surprised. Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. So because if you saw what happened inside the parliament, there was some degree of violence. All the violence was directed at Kurdish and Sunni politicians. The deputy speaker of the parliament, who was Kurdish, was assaulted by the protesters. The Shia parliamentarians who are especially allies with al-Sadr, they were cheering with the protesters. So don’t you see that message making sense that --

MR KIRBY: Look, again, I think I’m going to leave my statement – I’m going to leave things where I stated it before in the answer to your first question. Obviously, we don’t want to see protests turn violent against anybody. And you’ve heard me say many times up here that we support the right of peaceful protest and freedom of expression around the world. Nobody wants to see anything turn violent regardless of who the victims are. But again, I think it’s important to pull back a little bit and remember that what’s – what the long-term answer in Iraq is is good governance. We’ve said that many, many times. That’s the way to sustain a defeat of Daesh. They are being defeated on the battlefield. They will continue to be defeated on the battlefield. But when you – but to sustain that defeat, you’ve got to have good governance. And Prime Minister Abadi is working hard on political reforms to do just that. And we’re going to continue to support him in that efforts. And obviously, violence against anybody in Iraq as a result of protest activity is something that we’re concerned about.

QUESTION: How do you respond to criticisms by some analysts that the Administration is focused too much on the battle against ISIS and not enough on diplomatic efforts, specifically helping Abadi shore up this broken and corrupt government?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those criticisms, but let’s just assume that I have. I think we would obviously reject that, that argument. We have obviously been a major contributor militarily to the fight against Daesh, but we have very much been working closely – and our ambassador, Stu Jones, in Baghdad in particular, working very, very closely with the Abadi government as they – and it’s important that it has to be “they” – they continue to work these political reforms and to try to get at a government that is more inclusive and more focused on good governance and good policy rather than sectarian differences. And Prime Minister Abadi is to be commended for his efforts to do just that.

Nobody – and look, the Vice President was there recently, Secretary Kerry was there recently. I don’t think that anybody can reasonably look at the level of engagement, both in terms of frequency and how high up it goes in our government – to look at that and to argue that we’ve turned a blind eye to supporting Prime Minister Abadi. But we also need to remember that this is a sovereign country. Sometimes when we talk about Iraq, a lot of us, we get drawn into talking about it through the prism of 2003, 2004 when the United States was much more heavily engaged militarily and had invaded the country and, obviously, toppled the government there. This is a sovereign government, Iraq is a sovereign country, and Prime Minister Abadi is the head of that government. And these are decisions that he has to make, that he has to pursue, and that he has to advocate more strongly and more vociferously than anybody, and he is. He is working through that. Obviously, we’re supporting them in that effort, and again, our ambassador is engaged on a daily basis.

QUESTION: I mean, if the U.S. effort against ISIS depends on a reliable partner in Iraq, it’s a huge problem for the United States, even if Iraq is a sovereign country.

MR KIRBY: Is the tenor of your question suggesting that he’s not a reliable partner? Because I think that’s kind of the way I thought it went, and if I’m wrong, if I’m wrong, correct me. But if that is the tenor of the question, that he is somehow an unreliable partner, we would obviously reject that implication as well. There are political struggles in Iraq, there’s no question about that, and there are tensions. That’s the way democracy works. And look, I mean, even here in the United States there’s political tensions, right? There’s not universality of opinion on everything that the United States Government itself is doing. So we shouldn’t expect that there would be unanimity of opinion and purpose there either. These are difficult times for Iraq economically, certainly from a security perspective, and obviously there are political challenges. But Prime Minister Abadi is working very hard to surmount those difficulties. And it’s not just the political challenges he’s facing. He has – as we’ve talked about, he has challenges in other sectors. He’s working very hard to do that; we’re going to continue to support him in that.

If you’re asking, do we find him to be a reliable partner, the short answer is yes. And because we believe he’s a reliable partner, we’re going to continue to support the work that he’s doing. And it’s work that he’s doing inside the context of the Iraqi constitution and inside the political process in that country. Okay?

Yeah, Abbie.

QUESTION: One more on that. Being that you’re saying you support – continue to support Abadi and his ability to create a new cabinet that is inclusive of all these different groups, do you dispute the reports, then, that there was an agreement between him and others that allowed this – or – and the security forces actually let the protesters into the parliament?

MR KIRBY: I would let the prime minister and his office speak to those kinds of tactical-level issues. I don’t have information one way or the other to corroborate that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: New York Times called Abadi a weak prime minister, and do you think all these change he’s actually claiming for would be possible to gain in Iraq of today?

MR KIRBY: Say the last part again.

QUESTION: The New York Times article calls --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, no, I got that part. The last part.

QUESTION: Do you think those changes that Abadi is actually hoping to accomplish in Iraq – is it even possible given the facts, what happened during the weekend in Iraqi parliament?

MR KIRBY: Yes, we do. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. As I said at the outset, we continue to support Prime Minister Abadi and his efforts at political reforms, and we believe that he’s – that these reforms are headed in the right direction, that they are good for the country, and that’s why we’re going to continue to support him in his efforts.

QUESTION: But --

MR KIRBY: But what?

QUESTION: -- from a journalist perspective, I don’t think it would be even possible that – because nobody is actually supporting them for a few around him. Even including the Kurds, they don’t want to go back to Baghdad. That’s what some reports say, and --

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: -- some people even ask – raise the question of his survival in the cabinet himself, Abadi. What do you think about that?

MR KIRBY: Those – look, now you’re getting into internal politics inside Iraq, and I’m simply not going to get into a discussion of that. Again, nobody thought here that the kinds of reforms he’s trying to seek were going to be easy. Nobody just cast off the notion that there would be contrary views. That’s the way democracy works. But he is trying to enact political reforms that are in keeping with Iraq’s constitution, and that’s not unimportant that he’s working inside the system to try to enact these reforms. And as I said at the outset, we’re going to continue to support him.

Now, you’re saying some people don’t think it’s possible, some journalists think it’s impossible – they’re entitled to that opinion. Again, that’s what democracy is all about. But the important thing to remember is that he recognizes reform is necessary, that he recognizes a more inclusive government that is more representative of all Iraqis is the best path forward to securing the country against an enemy like Daesh. And let’s not forget what the real enemy here of the Iraqi people is – it’s Daesh. It’s not any other party, it’s Daesh, and that he recognizes he needs these political reforms to better create a government that can defeat a group like that, and just as importantly – more importantly, in fact – sustain a defeat against a group like Daesh.

QUESTION: John, one security question: When the protesters went into the Green Zone, were there any concerns here that given the fact Muqtada al-Sadr has been a self-described anti-American figure, there was some concern that the protesters might switch to attack the embassy? Did you increase security around the embassy?

MR KIRBY: I never talk about security specifics around our posts. I’m not going to start now. I mean, obviously the safety and security of our posts and our personnel remain a high priority for the Secretary. It’s something we’re always looking at and always monitoring, but I won’t talk about the specifics here. There was no – over the weekend there was no specific danger posed to our post, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t watching these things with an eye towards security. We always do.

QUESTION: John, Egypt? Do you have any comment on the arrest of two journalists from the security forces? And there is a sit-in now organized by the syndicate.

MR KIRBY: I – so I’m aware of reports concerning the arrest of two journalists at the journalists syndicate on Sunday by the Egyptian police. As before, we continue to urge Egypt’s leadership to uphold the people’s basic rights to freedom of expression, which we believe, again, is the basis of a democratic society.

QUESTION: Have you discussed this issue with the Egyptian authorities? Anyone from this building called?

MR KIRBY: What I would tell you is we continue to have very frank discussions with the Government of Egypt over these very issues. That hasn’t stopped and I don’t anticipate it stopping going forward. I don’t have any specific diplomatic conversations to read out to you, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t routinely have discussions about our concerns there.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Bangladesh. Last – on Friday afternoon, there was a readout that said the Secretary urged Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina to ensure, quote, “thorough investigation of all these incidents,” the hackings of the LGBT advocates and other folks, and to, quote, “redouble law enforcement efforts to prevent future attacks and protect those who are at risk.” This comes just before another report of another hacking over the weekend. Are you confident the Bangladeshi Government is doing enough to protect those folks, LGBT advocates and others who are facing these sorts of attacks in the country?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would say that our focus remains on urging the Government of Bangladesh to provide a more secure environment for all of its citizens, one that nurtures the spirit of the people of Bangladesh and the pride with which they guard their own traditions of tolerance, peace, and diversity. And you’re right; we have raised our concerns over recent problems there. We’re going to continue to do that, and I don’t have more specific initiatives to lay before you, but I can tell you we’re watching this very closely and we are in touch.

Abbie.

QUESTION: Portugal.

MR KIRBY: Portugal.

QUESTION: Well, sort of. Can I – (laughter).

MR KIRBY: “Portugal,” “Well, sort of.”

QUESTION: Yeah. Can I ask you about the case of ex-CIA officer Sabrina de Sousa, who may be extradited from Portugal to Italy this week? She’s claiming that she asked the U.S. to invoke diplomatic immunity and they refused despite her holding a job at the time at the Milan consulate.

MR KIRBY: Well, as a general matter, you know we don’t talk about extradition cases. I don’t have anything specific on this for you for right now. Sorry.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: On India. There’s a news report about India and U.S. planning to track submarine activities in the Indian Ocean.

MR KIRBY: To – I’m sorry, to?

QUESTION: To track submarine activities in the Indian Ocean.

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: Are you planning to do that?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) I think you need to talk to our colleagues at the Defense Department.

QUESTION: No, but in policy – it also involves foreign policy, right? Also --

MR KIRBY: No, it involves submarine warfare. That’s a Navy equity and I’m not going to speak for the United States Navy. I’ll just say, look, again, we have a very close relationship with India which covers a lot of sectors. Security is one of them, and there is a very mature military-to-military relationship. But for the specifics of that, you really need to talk to the Defense Department.

QUESTION: But do you see any unusual Chinese submarine activities in the Indian Ocean that would disturb the economic activities of – free flow of navigations in that area?

MR KIRBY: You’re right, there’s a very robust economic relationship between the United States and India. But for specific impacts on that under the waves, I would refer you again to the Navy. I’m not qualified to speak to that.

QUESTION: My question was Indian Ocean has a very robust economic flow of economic trade through ships and marines in that part. Are you concerned that the more Chinese activity in that part of the world would affect that economic trade?

MR KIRBY: Again, you’re --

QUESTION: It’s a huge flow of economic trade in that part of the world.

MR KIRBY: No, I recognize that, and again, I think your questions are better placed to the Defense Department about Chinese naval activity in those or any other waters. I’m simply not prepared to speak with any great specificity to that. We value our trade relationship with India. We very much want to see it continue to grow and improve and mature. We also value our military-to-military relationship with India and we want to see that grow and mature and improve as well. But I don’t have anything specific to say with respect to Chinese naval activity in and around the region. Our U.S. Navy – again, I’m not going to get into specifics, but obviously, the United States Navy takes very seriously its role and its commitment to protecting freedom of the seas so that commerce can flow safely, effectively, and efficiently around the world, and that’s a very serious responsibility of our naval forces, and they’re very capable of doing that.

As for the specifics in any given part of the world, you really should talk to them.

QUESTION: There’s always very strong interagency dialogue in the various (inaudible) of the U.S. Government. Do you think this is being discussed? Has the Navy consulted the State Department on this issue to make sure that this – these – the free flow of maritime activities, economic activities --

MR KIRBY: There are healthy interagency discussions routinely about the value of free trade and freedom of navigation around the world. So if you’re asking are we – at the State Department are we in touch with or in communication with the Defense Department about these issues writ large, the answer is obviously yes, routinely. Again, I’m just not going to be able to comment specifically about the nature of the question with respect to Chinese naval activity there. Our Navy exists for many purposes, but one of them is to help ensure freedom of navigation and freedom of the seas. And they do that job masterfully and very competently and the particulars of how they accomplish that mission is really for them to speak to.

QUESTION: I have another question on Pakistan F-16. A few months ago, Senator Bob Corker had written a letter to Secretary Kerry that he would put on hold U.S. government’s decision to sell eight F-16 to Pakistan. Has Secretary responded to the letter?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn't speak – I won’t speak to the specifics of congressional correspondence.

QUESTION: I understand there’s no change in your position about selling F-16 to Pakistan. But there’s currently – there’s a hold for last several months. How do you want to resolve this situation?

MR KIRBY: I would just say – point you back to what Ambassador Olson said in his April 27 testimony that effective engagement with Pakistan, we believe, is critical to promoting the consolidation of democratic institutions and economic stability, and supporting the government’s counter-terrorism activities and capabilities. As a matter of longstanding principle, the Department of State opposes conditions to the release of appropriated foreign assistance funds. We believe that such conditions limit the President and the Secretary’s ability to conduct foreign policy in the best interest of the United States. So while Congress has approved the sale, key members have made clear that they object to using FMF to support it. Given congressional objections, we have told the Pakistanis that they should put forward national funds for that purpose.

QUESTION: But are you looking for other options? Are there alternatives to give F-16 to Pakistan?

MR KIRBY: I think I’ve answered the question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: In the back there.

QUESTION: Yes. On Taiwan. There was a question last week about Okinotorishima and now Taiwan has dispatched two coastal patrol boats to challenge Japan’s claim to the island which now President Ma of Taiwan is saying that they’re rocks as opposed to islands. Do you have a comment on this dispute?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those reports, so I think you’re just going to have to let me take that and get back to you. I just don’t – you’ve got more information than I do right now on that particular case.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Just one on Saudi Arabia. I wondered if you could respond to comments by the Saudi foreign minister after his meeting with Secretary Kerry saying that the proposed 9/11 law, if passed, would erode global investor confidence in the United States.

MR KIRBY: The proposed --

QUESTION: Could erode – would erode global investor confidence in the United States if the law is --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the comments but you have – you’ve heard what we said about this legislation, and I think I would just point you back to those comments.

Yeah.

QUESTION: TTIP. You have seen probably that Greenpeace has leaked most of the documents of the negotiations between the U.S. and the EU.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: So I’d like to have your reaction to this leaking. I know that the Department of Commerce has done – or has reacted already. Do you think that it could undermine the negotiations? Do you still believe that a deal could be closed by the end of this Administration?

MR KIRBY: I won’t speak to the specifics regarding leaks, though we just tend – we’re just not going to change our position on refraining from speaking to the veracity of leaked documents. What I can say is that the United States and the European Union have a broad and deep economic partnership, the largest trade relationship in the world, and TTIP is an opportunity to fine-tune that relationship in a way that will unlock opportunities that will – and support jobs and fuel growth on both sides of the Atlantic. We also believe it’s an opportunity to ensure that the United States and Europe remain jointly competitive in an increasingly competitive world and that we work together to shape change. Indeed, we believe TTIP can be a strategic pillar of the transatlantic community.

Now, obviously there’s skepticism out there about TTP – TTIP, and we understand that. But the bottom line is globalization is a reality, and TTIP gives us the opportunity to shape global commerce in ways consistent with our values. So we very much still support it. And the bottom line to your question is yes, we still believe it’s possible to get there, and we’re going to work very hard to that end.

Goyal.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Two questions. One, freedom of the press --

MR KIRBY: I’m in favor of it.

QUESTION: John, thank you. Thank you, sir. Recently a report came last week by the Freedom House and other freedom press-loving agencies, including Newseum. But press people are at stake or they are in trouble many part of the world, doing their job.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And they are harassed, even killed and stopped, including in – its campaign, during campaign here.

MR KIRBY: You mean here? Like, here here?

QUESTION: No, no. (Laughter.) During even in the U.S., during campaign and all that. So when Secretary meets all these world leaders or foreign ministers or prime ministers or even presidents, how does this issue come, sir, in those part of the world that free press will help the civil societies and the people in those countries?

MR KIRBY: That is exactly the message that the Secretary sends when he speaks to foreign leaders about freedom of expression issues and press freedom issues. That’s exactly the message that he sends, that a free press makes a nation stronger, that it – rather than detracting from power and authority, it – through the transparency that a free press can provide, it enhances credibility in a government. So that is exactly the message that he sends routinely all around the world. And it’s one that we firmly believe in here at the State Department.

QUESTION: Have you ever come up any – across any leaders or any counterparts that they want to learn from the U.S. as far as free press is concerned?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think – I think on a lot of issues, and press freedom is one of them, the United States does stand as an example. And yes, there are some other leaders in other countries who greatly admire how we have enshrined a free press into our system and how much we value that. Obviously, others feel differently. But we’re going to continue to make the case and continue to talk to them about that.

QUESTION: Second issue I may – if I may. Mr. Fareed Zakaria of the CNN on GPS, he’s working on “Why they hate us.” He’s talking about Muslims and people who are against the press or freedom or democracy and all that. If – any comments from the Secretary as far as why they hate us? I mean, it’s – why they hate the West or the U.S.?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary has spoken to this quite a bit, Goyal. And I don’t know that I could be any more eloquent than he’s been in terms of how certain groups are – as he says, it’s not a clash of civilizations; they’re clashing with civilization itself, that in many ways they have an extraordinarily backward view of history and, frankly, of the future. And whether it’s driven by fear or hate or an extreme, perverse view of religion, it nevertheless encourages people to self-identify themselves and then look for excuses to identify as a threat others who believe differently, who look differently, who live in different places. And that’s what this struggle against violent extremism is really about. It’s about this core idea of the way in which some groups are trying to escape modernity through these sorts of brutal tactics.

And ultimately, it – as he says, it will fail. Because you can’t stop progress; you can’t stop time. You can’t stop modernity. And groups like this which attempt to do just that have nowhere to go. And we’re already seeing that in a group like Daesh, where they’re having trouble recruiting. They’re certainly having trouble retaining territory and ground. But their ideology is under attack, and frankly – and it’s under attack from the international community. But frankly, it’s also under attack from disgruntled people who have now left the group, defectors. And we’re seeing more and more of them. And now they’re becoming more and more vocal, and they’re out there telling their stories about what it was like and about the perversion and the brutality and how the promises made by Daesh leaders were, in fact, empty, hollow, and in fact, contrary to what was – to what were the original ideas that lured them into the group.

So they’re going to continue to be put under pressure, and frankly, some of the pressure is self-created because of – because there’s nothing behind this ideology, there’s no foundation. And more and more people are seeing that.

QUESTION: And finally, Mr. Zakaria in his series or documentary is bringing or brought Mr. Imran Khan, who is now leading a major political party leader in Pakistan. And what they are saying is that what he said that Pakistan is the one of the countries really hate the most – hate the U.S. most. Why is that, even though after billions of dollars in aid to the Pakistanis for their development and also for – but still, that society or part of the society hates the U.S.?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think that we certainly don’t believe – I mean, I don’t think – I know we don’t believe that Pakistan hates the United States. Pakistan is a partner here in the effort to go after extremists there in the region. They themselves have said that they’re not going to distinguish or discriminate between terrorist groups, and the Pakistani people themselves have fallen victim to this brutal, violent extremist ideology and the terror tactics behind it.

Nobody has ever alleged that we’ve agreed with Pakistan on every issue, but that we can have candid, frank discussions with Pakistani leaders about these topics speaks, I think, to the maturity of the relationship and to the recognition that it’s an important relationship on both sides.

QUESTION: I think he must have been talking about certain groups inside Pakistan. That’s what really hates the U.S.

MR KIRBY: Well, there’s no question that extremist groups inside Pakistan hate the Pakistani Government, and you’re seeing that play out. But they – yes, do they also hate Westerners? Do they also hate what the United States stands for – some of these extremist groups? Of course, they do, which is why the relationship between the United States and Pakistan is important, and it’s why we need to continue to look for ways to work together to go after these groups where they are.

I’ve got time for just one more. Ma’am, you’ve had your hand up for a while. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Turkish Government is planning to lift the parliamentary immunity of the opposition deputies, including Kurdish ones, and there is a commission to talk about this – these cases, but the meeting of the commission is canceled for the third time because of the arguments even the fightings. Do you have something on that?

MR KIRBY: And what – where was this? I’m sorry, I missed the first part of your question.

QUESTION: Turkish Government is planning to lift the immunities, the parliamentary immunities of the opposition deputies.

MR KIRBY: Okay, I’m sorry. I got you. Well, again, as a parliamentary democracy, Turkey has well-established democratic procedures in place that will determine who has immunity and what circumstances that it can be lifted and how it’s going to be – how it’s going to be lifted. And we would expect that Turkey will follow its own democratic procedures in that regard. As I understand it, the parliament has taken up this bill and it’s an ongoing process, and I don’t want to get out ahead of that process right now.

QUESTION: Yeah. But the process is being canceled because of the harsh arguments on the fighting, so even the parliament can’t discuss about it right now.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, we would like to see and would expect that Turkey will follow its own democratic procedures in that regard. And again, I’m not going to speak to the specifics of an internal process there inside Turkey.

Gotta go, thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you for your attention.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Fri, 04/29/2016 - 17:32

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 29, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

2:13 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello. That was two minutes somewhere, maybe on Venus or something.

MR TONER: Is that how we’re starting this? I needed a last minute --

QUESTION: I think we’d be grateful if --

MR TONER: Espresso and – what’s that?

QUESTION: -- if the two minutes could be closer to two minutes.

MR TONER: Apologize, guys. No, honestly, sorry. I needed a clarification on something. I apologize for that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: Very briefly at the top, I did want to note that as we’ve been doing all week, we’ve been highlighting different cases for the Free the Press campaign, and today we’d like to highlight Woubishet Taye, who is an Ethiopian journalist, who authorities arrested on June 19th, 2011. According to an NGO, he had written a column critical of the ruling party before his arrest.

On January 19th, 2012, a court in Addis Ababa found him guilty on terrorism-related charges and for receiving payment for terrorist acts. He was subsequently sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment and fines. And he’s reportedly being held in Ziway prison and has suffered from poor health.

For today’s fifth Free the Press campaign case, we’d also like to highlight the case of Madeeha Abdalla, who is a Sudanese editor-in-chief, who was targeted by authorities for criticizing official policies.

On January 13th, 2015, Madeeha was arrested by security forces and on charges of conspiracy, undermining constitutional order, urging the opposition to use violence and force against the government, and publishing false information. These charges carry up to the death penalty if the defendant is found guilty. No court trial has been scheduled, and her case remains open.

We encourage the Government of Ethiopia to release Woubishet Taye and the Government of Sudan to drop its charges against Madeeha Abdalla, and we further call on both governments to ensure that anti-terrorism laws are no longer used to undermine freedom of expression and an independent media.

Over to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can we start with Syria, I guess? I realize this has been discussed already --

MR TONER: No, of course. Happy to.

QUESTION: -- all over the place today --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- including at the White House. But I’m just wondering if you can offer any details on the Secretary’s call with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

MR TONER: Well, the call actually – excuse me – finished only a few minutes ago or moments ago. I do know --

QUESTION: Really?

MR TONER: -- that they spoke --

QUESTION: Is it --

MR TONER: Sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s 2:15 in the morning where Foreign Minister Lavrov is.

MR TONER: It’s a --

QUESTION: He’s a late – a night owl, I guess.

MR TONER: I imagine so. I don’t know. I don’t know where he is, actually.

QUESTION: He’s in China, I believe.

MR TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: Anyway --

MR TONER: Anyway, I can say that I’m not making that up. They did speak.

QUESTION: So you weren’t later than the two minutes because you were getting a readout of the call to give us?

MR TONER: No, unfortunately, it was not. It was another matter but --

QUESTION: I’m disappointed.

MR TONER: No, look, I mean, broadly speaking, they talked about the cessation of hostilities, about some of the efforts that are underway that were talked about on a background call earlier about the reinforcement of that cessation of hostilities in parts of Syria, and also about the political track as well, the political negotiation track as well. I don’t have much further to add beyond that.

QUESTION: All right. Well, can you --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Unfortunately, the call that you referred to left me with, and I think others, with numerous questions. You call this a “reinforcement of the cessation of hostilities” for two specific areas, but in fact, why is it not like a retrenchment of the existing cessation of hostilities, which covered the – I mean, you’ve gone from having agreement on a cessation of hostilities in the whole country to now having a cessation of hostilities in places that are largely just held by the government.

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: It seems to be a retracting rather than reinforcing.

MR TONER: No, that’s not the intention at all. I think what it is --

QUESTION: Well, I know it’s not the intention, but that’s what it is.

MR TONER: Let me – look, I mean, that’s not – and that’s not the impression, certainly, that we want to give. I think, rather, this is a recognition that in some parts of the country, including the two parts that we’ve identified – North Latakia as well as Eastern Ghouta – that there has been, however you want to put it, a weakening of the cessation of hostilities. There have been numerous incidents on the ground of fighting, renewed fighting between the various groups – the regime and the opposition, armed opposition, who had signed up to the cessation of hostility.

So I think this is an effort to not to simply focus on the cessation of hostility there. Certainly, we recognize it’s a much broader issue and that – but that these are trouble areas, if I could put it so bluntly, and that we want to focus on strengthening the cessation of hostilities, renewing it, reaffirming it so that we can quell the fighting or the violations, the ongoing violations in these areas, with, as I think the senior State Department official alluded to earlier, with the expectation that it would be also applied to other trouble spots, if I could put it that way.

QUESTION: Well, isn’t Aleppo a trouble spot?

MR TONER: Of course. And I think that he --

QUESTION: It would seem to me that you would --

MR TONER: I think that the senior State Department official who spoke earlier --

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: -- recognized – we’re fully aware that Aleppo is a trouble spot. But we’re starting here; we have to start somewhere. We’re starting in North Latakia and Eastern Ghouta with the expectation, if this goes well, that we can then again reinforce it elsewhere.

QUESTION: Well, I just – I just – I mean, I realize that you want to say it’s reinforcing, but it just seems to a – an outside observer that it’s shrinking.

MR TONER: No, I mean, I think – look, Matt, I mean, the cessation of hostilities is still – in many parts of where it applied to in Syria, was holding. I mean, we talked about this the last weeks. But there were areas, such as Aleppo but other areas as well, where we did see numerous violations.

QUESTION: So --

MR TONER: I mean, attacks on civilians, airstrikes against armed opposition, but also involving civilians as well. So recognition that it was breaking down.

QUESTION: So --

MR TONER: Everybody’s spoken to this.

QUESTION: So in your view, this is progress?

MR TONER: Not at all. I would not term this as progress. I think it is an awareness and a recognition of the fact that there are parts of Syria where the ceasefire is, for lack of a better word, deteriorating, and that we need to address those problem spots. And this is an effort to do that.

QUESTION: Mark?

MR TONER: Go ahead, yeah.

QUESTION: Who agreed to what exactly in Latakia and Eastern Ghouta?

MR TONER: So this is an agreement within the task force, but certainly on the part of U.S. and Russia, that there would be a reinforcement of the cessation of hostilities in these specific areas – again, as a start, with the expectation that this reaffirmation, if you will, or recommitment, would be then extended elsewhere.

QUESTION: Did the Syrian Government agree to this?

MR TONER: The answer to that question is this is an agreement between the U.S. and Russia, with the expectation that as it worked in the original ceasefire, the cessation of hostilities came into effect, that both – that the U.S. and Russia would exert influence on those parties to comply with the cessation of hostilities. And it did, in fact, work originally. And we hope to see that renewed.

QUESTION: But it is not correct, then, to say that the Syrian Government has agreed to this?

MR TONER: Again, I – not that I’m – I have not seen that they have come out publicly and said that they agree to it. The expectation, again, is that, as we’ve talked about all along, when the cessation of hostilities was put into effect, that the ISSG members would then exert influence on the various parties on the ground so that they comply.

QUESTION: Okay. We have a statement from the Syrian army that says that the new, quote, “regime of calm,” close quote, which they say would begin at 1:00 a.m. on Saturday – it is different from what the senior State Department official said --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- would last just one day in Eastern Ghouta and three days in Latakia. Have you seen that statement, and do you regard that statement as an agreement to a one-day halt to fighting in Eastern Ghouta and three days in Latakia, or do you not – or have you not seen it? Or if you’ve seen it, do you not regard that as agreement?

MR TONER: So I don’t – I have not seen that. But that does – with exception of the start time, 1:00 a.m. versus what we said is --

QUESTION: 12:01.

MR TONER: -- 12:01, exactly – it does concur or comply with what we understood, that there are initial, if you will, time limits on the cessation, on this renewed commitment to the cessation of hostilities. Again, though, it is our hope and our belief that if we can get this – the situation quieted back down, if we can end the – these incidents of fighting and attacks, that we can extend it.

QUESTION: Do you have any – so to ask the question that I asked about the government now to the opposition: Has the opposition agreed to stop fighting in those two areas effective midnight, or 1:00 a.m.?

MR TONER: So we are in touch with, obviously, the opposition right now. I can’t report on what they’ve said, but is it our expectation that they will comply.

QUESTION: So I’ve seen the tweets that --

MR TONER: Otherwise, obviously, this – if we don’t go into it with the expectation that they’ll comply with it, then of course the whole premise is undercut.

QUESTION: Yeah. So I’ve seen the tweets that Mr. Hijab has put out and they make no mention of agreement, or at least what I have seen reported of it. So if I understand things correctly, basically what you’ve got is an agreement between you and the Russians to call for a cease to the fighting in these two particular areas, but not anywhere else, and no – you guys don’t have any agreement from either side that they’re going to stop. Is that right?

MR TONER: So I’d frame it a little bit --

QUESTION: Do you have indications? Do you have indications, even if you can’t call it an agreement or --

MR TONER: I think it’s safe to say we have indications. Because this is something, as the senior State Department official spoke to, we’ve been working on for some time over the past weeks.

QUESTION: And you have indications then of what? That --

MR TONER: That this – that they will indeed comply.

QUESTION: And what --

MR TONER: And again, it’s – sorry to – just to finish.

QUESTION: No, no, please.

MR TONER: Again, this is in keeping with the previous cessation of hostilities, which at the time was basically agreement among the ISSG that the cessation would begin at 12:01 on – I forget now the date.

QUESTION: 27th.

MR TONER: 27th, thank you – and in fact, it happened. So again, this – all of this hinges on our ability – the United States, other members of the ISSG, and especially Russia – to exert influence to convince all parties to adhere to the cease – cessation.

QUESTION: Okay. And you have those indications that they will indeed comply from both sides?

MR TONER: We have been working on this. We have been in discussions. I can’t speak for the Russians with the regime, obviously, but – so I won’t attempt to speak on behalf of them. But we have been engaged with the opposition.

QUESTION: So the only indications that you, the United States, have are from the opposition? You, the United States, do not have indications from the government even via the Russians?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t know what the Russians have said about – but we are – we wouldn’t – we believe that they will be able to exert this.

QUESTION: Okay, and then one more.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Why is it that you have not tried – I mean, everybody is aware of – you describe it as the trouble spot, which is rather Orwellian. Everyone is aware of the severity of the violence in Aleppo, and particularly on civilians this week. So why didn’t you try – and maybe you did and you just couldn’t do it – but why didn’t you try to get a halt to the violence everywhere? Or did you try and you couldn’t get indications from either side that they would entertain that thought?

MR TONER: I think in part, Arshad, it’s a recognition that Aleppo is very complex – and we’ve talked about this, and the fighting around there is indeed, as you put it, alarming. But a sense that we need to start somewhere – we’re going to start in Latakia, in East Ghouta, and as we can reinforce the cessation of hostilities, it’s our intention to extend it elsewhere.

QUESTION: But did you try to – did you try to get a halt to the violence in Aleppo?

MR TONER: Well, I think – sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I think, again, the senior State Department official who spoke before addressed this and said we are absolutely trying to get a similar recommitment in Aleppo. We’re just not quite there yet.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: What’s the problem?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to get into the battlefield assessment of what’s happening in and around Aleppo other than to say it is very complex, it’s very fluid. We’ve talked before about the fact that there is, for lack of a better word, intermingling among these different groups. A lot of this hinges on the fact that you can separate out and clearly delineate, for lack of a more sophisticated term, the good guys from the bad guys – those who are part of the cessation and those who aren’t, namely al-Nusrah and Daesh.

QUESTION: So --

QUESTION: But as far as I know, Jabhat al-Nusrah and Daesh do not have aircraft. The only --

MR TONER: Of course, yeah.

QUESTION: The only parties that we can reasonably assume that would have been flying sorties in Aleppo and dropping bombs would be either the Syrian military or the Russian military or both.

MR TONER: Without doubt.

QUESTION: So --

MR TONER: I don’t object to that. I know --

QUESTION: So what is so complicated --

MR TONER: No, we have --

QUESTION: -- about trying to, one, stop the fighting in Aleppo, and then, two, the larger question, which has never been satisfactorily answered since the ceasefire took effect back on February 27th: How are people who are violating the ceasefire being held accountable for what they’re doing? Is it enough to just catalog for an eventual war crimes trial? Are people going to face some sort of punishment now?

MR TONER: So, Ros, first of all to your first question, I absolutely don’t have an argument with your point that any airstrikes that are carrying – that are being carried out targeting civilians or targeting the Syrian opposition have to be either the regime or the Russians. And we have been very, as you know, over the last few days especially, very clear in condemning those continued airstrikes. Certainly, what we saw over the last couple of days, strikes on first responders, strikes on hospitals, were beyond egregious. And we’ve been very clear, as I’ve said, about calling for an immediate halt to those airstrikes.

In response to your second question, there is a process in place, and I’ve talked about this before. There isn’t – let me phrase it this way. There is an incentive to keep the cessation in place for all sides. We recognize that there have been pockets where it has broken down due to, as I said, tensions on the ground, breakdowns in – exchanges of fire, but also, as you point out, airstrikes against some of these opposition groups. So I’d rather rephrase it to say what your question is, what is being done to punish those who break the cessation of hostilities, I would rephrase it slightly and say, well, it’s in everyone’s interest who believes that an end to the fighting is to their benefit – and we hope that’s everyone, including the regime – that it’s in their interest then to cease these incidents, these attacks on various armed groups on the ground.

QUESTION: Can you confirm--

MR TONER: And that – and frankly, that is the whole – if I could put it that bluntly, that is – the cessation of hostility hinges on that understanding or that commitment to the fact that when you have an end to the violence, an end to the fighting, all sides, frankly, benefit. And then you can get the political process on track.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary make that point very clear about the airstrikes to Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR TONER: I know that they spoke about recent incidents of violence, including over the past several days. He has raised before – I just – I haven’t gotten a full readout of the call, so I apologize. I know he’s been very clear in the past, as you well know, publicly speaking about it, and he has conveyed those concerns directly to Foreign Minister Lavrov.

QUESTION: This is my final one.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Isn’t it concerning or worrisome that the possibility that the airstrikes were carried out by the Russians and not just by the Syrians, doesn’t that even call into question whether or not Russia should even be part of the process of trying to establish and maintain a ceasefire as well as be supportive of a political process?

MR TONER: Well, again, we spoke about this earlier. This is – what we have unfolding in Latakia, in East Ghouta, is a test. And I know we’ve talked about this before; it’s probably a less than satisfactory answer to many of you, but this is a test of their commitment. And so we had a cessation of hostilities that largely was holding for several weeks. It brought about a real reduction in the violence, allowed humanitarian assistance to be delivered to many parts where it wasn’t able to get to before. And now we’ve seen a deterioration of that, so this is a recommitment. And it’s a test for the Russians and for the regime as well as for the Syrian opposition. I can’t leave them out of it. I mean, it’s a two-way street to recommit themselves to this.

QUESTION: Mark, there is a report --

QUESTION: But Mark, this is another thing you’re talking about. You’ve been talking --

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

QUESTION: You’ve been talking about this being a test since February 27th when the cessation began.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: And in the meantime, the Syrians and the Russians seem to be laying the groundwork to continue to take more territory in eastern Syria. There’s new, fresh troops that arrived near Aleppo recently. They’re working. They’re talking about cutting off Aleppo’s supply lines to Turkey. They’re talking about beefing up their supply lines, their own supply lines to Aleppo, the Syrian regime. And meanwhile, this partial localized ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta and in Latakia is freeing up troops for the Syrians potentially to go to – to go east to fight in Aleppo. And it’s looking like the American approach is to go along with that – with that strategy, and, I mean, a lot of people are interpreting this as an American acquiescence with the Russian and Syrian strategy, which is to retake the country.

MR TONER: Not at all, and I – and this is a mutually agreed-upon strategy with the Russians out of a recognition that we have a cessation of hostilities that is, in many parts of the country, facing serious challenges. We’re starting in Latakia, we’re starting in East Ghouta. Those are problems areas as well, but again, with the expectation that we can enforce this elsewhere if we have success, and fully recognizing – and we spoke to this earlier – that the situation around Aleppo is urgent.

And so we need to address that and we have been trying to address that on the ground – and again, we spoke to this in the backgrounder we did earlier today – this is not part of any acquiescence at all. And while I certainly won’t speak for Russia’s intentions, as I said, this is in many ways a test of their commitment to this whole process that we have now in place, which is a cessation and concurrently a political dialogue or negotiations in Geneva. We have to test the premise here. We have to test this. We – I know we’ve been this – we’ve been there before and we’ve said this before. We don’t believe it’s time to give up on this, but we need to renew our commitment to it.

QUESTION: So I want to ask about this dialogue in Geneva --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- as this – as the Syrians and the Russians with their Iranian allies are moving around and into Aleppo, further into Aleppo. Are the – I mean, what is the – I guess I’m wondering, what is the message that you’re giving to the opposition, whose people are in Aleppo, with regards to the – to this dialogue in Geneva? Because they’re up against a decision over whether Assad will continue to be a member of this process, a participant in this process. The United States has been on record saying that he shouldn’t be or that he should – that he should step aside earlier. He’s saying that’s not going to happen and the rebels don’t think that that should happen either. Is – are they – should they – do they need to acquiesce to what Assad is saying? Because you’re also – the Americans also – I mean, no one’s also --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- providing them with the equipment to protect themselves with in Aleppo.

MR TONER: Well, look, we’re in very close contact via our special envoy, Michael Ratney, with the Syrian opposition. We’re communicating them – communicating with them on an hourly, if – or daily if not hourly basis. We’ve always said there should be no preconditions to the process that’s underway in Geneva. However, we certainly recognize that the strain that the ceasefire or the cessation is under now, the acts of violence and the terrible attacks that we’ve seen over the past several weeks, don’t create a very – an environment that’s conducive to these talks moving forward.

That said – and the Secretary spoke with Staffan de Mistura, I think, last night – that said, he did say after his previous – the previous round ended last week that he was encouraged – and I get that these are incremental steps here, there’s no – there’s not going to be any eureka or breakthrough moment with these talks – but he was encouraged that the talks ended last time with actual – the actual issue of political transition, how to get there, on the table. Before, it was mostly logistics, it was mostly talking about actually the process of the talks themselves. He believes that they did make an advance and he wants – we – he and we, of course, want to see that work continue.

But again, we’re under no illusions that if the fighting continues on the ground, if the ceasefire or the cessation continues to be under threat, that’s going to complicate things considerably.

QUESTION: Can you clarify something on this?

MR TONER: Let me get to David first, then I’ll get to you, Tejinder. If you have – yeah, sorry.

QUESTION: Your answer has been kind of implicit, but I’m just going to see if I can get it clear. You – the new agreement in Latakia and Ghouta is that the Russians will pressure the regime to have a ceasefire there --

MR TONER: Pressure, exert influence, however you want to put it, yeah.

QUESTION: Influence the regime, and that you will try and influence the --

MR TONER: Precisely.

QUESTION: -- opposition.

MR TONER: Along with the other members of the ISSG. I don’t want to make this to be a binary thing, but go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. But doesn’t that imply, then, that you have no agreement with the Russians to influence the regime not to strike anywhere else, like Aleppo?

MR TONER: No, I think – no, I don’t want to – again, I don’t want to give the impression that we’re somehow saying, “Hey, guys, green light on everything else in the country.”

QUESTION: Are you confirming that you currently don’t have Russia’s agreement to influence the regime to not strike Aleppo?

MR TONER: We have clearly expressed our concerns to Russia about the violations.

QUESTION: You’ve said that you’ve expressed your concerns --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- but did they accept your concerns? Have they agreed --

MR TONER: You’ll have to talk to them, but I agree that it’s – I would agree with you --

QUESTION: But in saying that you have their agreement to pressure the regime in Latakia and Ghouta, you’ve confirmed what they said.

MR TONER: Again --

QUESTION: Can you confirm that – what they said about Aleppo?

MR TONER: Again, David, I’d go back to the fact that we view this as a test – clearly as a test of everyone’s commitment to the cessation – Russia’s and certainly the regime’s.

QUESTION: You keep saying that you don’t want to leave the impression --

MR TONER: Leave the impression, yes.

QUESTION: -- that you’re giving them a green light everywhere else, but I – you don’t want to, but that’s – unfortunately, that’s the impression that it leaves.

MR TONER: I mean --

QUESTION: I think that that’s – I mean, you do realize that, right?

MR TONER: Well, again, I – no, I don’t, because we’re not simply saying that no holds barred in the rest of the country. Where – what we’re focused on, if I could put it this way, are areas that we have seen the cessation under threat or weakened – pick your adjective – that need to be addressed. We’re starting in Latakia and we’re going to spread out from there.

Please, Tejinder.

QUESTION: A few points. One, you say that at the moment U.S. and Russia is agreeing. That means you are not blaming Russia for the recent bombings.

MR TONER: You mean the attacks on facilities?

QUESTION: The attacks, yeah. So you have cleared them and then you are making an agreement with them. And then can we call it a proxy agreement between two powers who are controlling two sections which are fighting there?

MR TONER: I mean, I’m not going to tell you how to put it. I – what I explained to Arshad or David – this is the ISSG, and that is in part this International Syria Support Group – that’s part of the function of the group, is to get all the various stakeholders on Syria together so that they can, again, exert whatever influence they may have on the various parties to the conflict in Syria to get this peace process in place.

QUESTION: And the last one: Has the U.S. spoken to or reached out to any of the European allies?

MR TONER: Well, of course. We’re always consulting closely with them and many of them part of the ISSG, absolutely.

QUESTION: That’s a generic answer. In this particular – before this agreement, have you spoken to anybody in particular?

MR TONER: Again, I would – yes, we are consulting with them frequently.

QUESTION: Mark?

MR TONER: Are we ready to – do we want to stay on Syria, or --

QUESTION: Syria.

QUESTION: I’ve got one on Syria, so --

MR TONER: Okay, Arshad and then – are you Syria as well, or – okay.

QUESTION: Mine’s very small.

MR TONER: Yep.

QUESTION: I read you what the Syrian army had said – the Syrian army statement said with regard to the duration of --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: So I want to make sure: Is it your understanding that – are their figures correct? In other words, 24 hours, at least initially, in Eastern Ghouta and 72 hours in Latakia – Northern Latakia?

MR TONER: I’m – I believe that is correct. And I apologize; I’m just looking now to see if I have it written in front of me, but that is indeed my understanding, yes.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MR TONER: Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, Mark. Yesterday a video was surfaced on internet showing that U.S.-supported YPG forces was transporting dead bodies in Afrin in an open trailer truck after a clash with the oppositions, and some of the bodies didn’t even have a head on them. And I was wondering if you are following the case and if you have comment on that.

MR TONER: You’re talking about the video allegedly by the Afrin Kurds --

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: -- forces, Kurdish forces. No, we’ve seen the video, obviously, and while we can’t authenticate it 100 percent, we, without hesitation, strongly condemn this kind of behavior that it depicts, and believe that it only serves to heighten tensions between those groups in western Syria. And we – while we haven’t provided any support for the Afrin Kurds, we do continue to express publicly and privately our serious concerns when the YPG and Syrian forces – opposition forces come into conflict west of the Euphrates. This fighting has to stop. It’s destabilizing, to say the least; it’s counterproductive, and I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: And last year, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also raised the same concerns about YPG, and the State Department said that they are investigating the issue. And I was wondering if you came to any conclusion on that.

MR TONER: I don’t have any update on that. I apologize. Just – I don’t have it in front of me. I’m not aware. But I do know that we take any allegations of human rights abuses – serious allegations and credible allegations – very seriously, and we have expressed the same concerns to the YPG as well.

In the back, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Sir, the U.S. Administration reportedly decided to not contribute U.S. fund towards the F-16s deal to Pakistan on the directive of Foreign Relations Committee. So can you update on the – can you update us on that?

MR TONER: Can I update you on the sale of?

QUESTION: F-16s, sir.

MR TONER: Well, you know where we come down on that. We believe the F-16s – I mean, we believe they’re the right platform to support Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts, and have been a part of the successful pushback, if you will, or in past operations against some of the militant groups that are active in Pakistan.

QUESTION: Sir, what about the Foreign Relations Committee decision to not contribute U.S. funds for the F-16? Are you aware about that?

MR TONER: I am aware that some members of Congress have stated their concerns about how to finance this sale. I’d refer you to them for comments about their concerns.

QUESTION: Sir, it is also reported that – sir, the American military aid to Pakistan, like $742 million, has also been put on hold by the Congress. So, I mean, how do you see this situation?

MR TONER: Your last question was about that all --

QUESTION: Some military aid, $742 million, yeah.

MR TONER: -- military aid has been put on hold.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: I would have to take that question. I don’t know the – I don’t have any details on that.

QUESTION: Mark --

QUESTION: I think the deal with this, if I understood it, is that a license has been granted for the sale of the aircraft --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- but has not been granted for the foreign military financing to fund it, correct?

MR TONER: That is – so that is – again, I would refer you to Congress, but there have been concerns, at least, raised by some members of Congress about using FMF.

QUESTION: Mark, I have a question. Mark?

QUESTION: Yeah, but can I follow it up?

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: So from the State Department perspective, who is paying for this F-16? The government – U.S. Government is paying or the Pakistan’s – Pakistani Government is paying for the F-16s?

MR TONER: Again, I’d refer you to the White House because they probably have the latest on that.

QUESTION: Mark, I have --

QUESTION: Why White House? It was – the notification to the Congress was sent by the Department of State.

MR TONER: I understand that. I would refer you to the White House.

Please, Nike.

QUESTION: Can we move on to a different topic --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- Ukraine and Belarus?

MR TONER: Sure thing.

QUESTION: On Ukraine, we have seen reports by OSCE monitors that violations of ceasefire in eastern part of Ukraine has reached alarming numbers in recent months – alarming numbers not seen in recent months. Given that situation and in your estimation, how likely it is to have a election by July?

MR TONER: Well, we are certainly concerned about the level of violence in eastern Ukraine, that it’s the highest we’ve seen since the September 1st ceasefire went into effect, with, I think, some 30,000 ceasefire violations, which is a huge number, in April alone. And OSCE reporting does confirm that separatists are largely responsible for these violations. We again call on Russia and the separatists that it supports to fully comply and observe the ceasefire.

You asked about the elections. Assistant Secretary Nuland was in the region, was in Ukraine, and while there, she said that we don’t – we have put no date on when elections need to happen. What we’re more concerned with and made absolutely clear that Minsk requires that there be sufficient security and OSCE access and the ability of candidates to ballot and the ability of citizens to hear from candidates before you can hold any kind of election.

QUESTION: Fair enough. And then while – with the pro-Russia separatists still in control of majority part of eastern Ukraine and with some pro-Russia members in the – deputies in the parliament, does the United States share some of the concerns or even fears that this will weaken Kyiv’s control in other parts of the country?

MR TONER: Look, I’m not – I mean, not necessarily. I mean, we’re always concerned that having this kind of situation in – with Russian-controlled and Russian-supported separatists in eastern Ukraine does require a great deal of focus and effort by the government itself and the security forces. Clearly, it’s been a strain on Ukraine’s government. It’s been a strain on the Ukrainian people. It’s been a strain on Ukraine’s economy. But we’ve also seen the government make a real effort to institute economic, political reforms, anti-corruption efforts. They need to do more, certainly, but we have seen progress.

So it’s our view that the government is making an effort, that it is making progress – needs to do more, certainly, but I would say – I don’t want to create the impression that the rest of the country is somehow in flux or in transition. That’s certainly not the case at all. But to have a conflict like that in your – in part of the country, part of Ukraine’s sovereign territory, is certainly destabilizing to say the least.

QUESTION: Can I ask on Belarus?

QUESTION: Mark --

QUESTION: Can we – my question is in that region too, so --

MR TONER: Okay, sure, let’s finish with Belarus, and then I’ll go to you and then Arshad.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Mark, do you have anything on the announcement from today that U.S. will continue to suspend sanctions on entities – nine entities from Belarus?

MR TONER: Yep. So we are extending, as you noted in your question – we are going to extend temporary sanctions relief to Belarus beyond April 30th, I think for up to six additional months. And this is – we view it as an incentive for the Government of Belarus to take additional steps in terms of respect and – for human rights, media freedoms, civil society freedoms, and democratic elections – especially, I think, the upcoming 2016 parliamentary elections. And we also are providing this relief in part to support Belarus’s economic independence and as well as its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

QUESTION: You mentioned --

QUESTION: So you’re extending the suspension of those sanctions?

MR TONER: We’re extending the suspension of the sanctions.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: And then you said --

QUESTION: What – sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I get one?

QUESTION: You mentioned that this is an incentive for Belarus to continue to improve on human rights for the coming six months, but in the past six month, given what was described in the annual Human Rights Report in the – by the State Department, the U.S. remains concerned and there continue to be problems in human rights violations in Belarus. Can you elaborate more about the reasoning behind today’s decision?

MR TONER: Sure. I certainly didn’t want to paint a picture that suddenly there’s no concerns about human rights in Belarus. It’s been a mixed bag, if I could put it that way. I mean, we have – we’ve seen some steps, certainly, and – but we need to see more. Again, I would frame it this way: that it’s an incentive for Belarus and the Belarussian Government to take additional steps. If it continues to demonstrate progress, then certainly we can take additional steps. If it doesn’t, then we always have the – retain the option to reinstate sanctions if needed.

QUESTION: Just a --

MR TONER: Please, you and then up – I’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: Just a quick one here.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: And if you don’t have anything else, if you could take it --

MR TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: -- I’d be grateful.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: So Russia’s Yamal, Y-a-m-a-l, liquefied natural gas project has secured a loan from Chinese lenders worth $12 billion. The loan is denominated in euros and Chinese yuan. My question is: In the U.S. Government’s point of view, is such a loan – does or would such a loan violate any sanctions that have been imposed on Russia because of its actions in Ukraine?

MR TONER: Ukraine. Yeah, let me take that question, to be honest.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MR TONER: I wouldn’t want to attempt to answer it without specific details.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have anything on the reported sentencing of – by North Korea of an American, Korean American, to 10 years of hard labor?

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, as always with these kinds of cases, we’re aware, we’ve seen the media reports that a U.S. citizen has been sentenced to, as you pointed, 10 years of hard labor. I can’t, because of privacy considerations, speak to it in detail. We’ve seen this – these types of actions on the part of North Korea in the past. We will certainly work, continue to work with the Swedish embassy to provide whatever support we can provide to any American citizens detained in North Korea. But --

QUESTION: Have you been able to confirm the sentencing?

MR TONER: I’m not able to at this point.

QUESTION: Not able to because of privacy concerns, or you haven’t been able --

MR TONER: I’m not able to speak to it. No, I’m not able to speak to it. We’ve seen the reports is all I can say.

QUESTION: I have a question.

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

QUESTION: Thank you. Mark, Armenian army attacked Azerbaijani village with heavy weapons on Thursday, killing two civilian and wounding at least eight civilians in Terter and Aghdam. And this is photos. Over 50 --

MR TONER: These are? I’m sorry. These are pictures of the attacks?

QUESTION: Yes, Armenian attacked – Armenian army attacked Azerbaijan civilians.

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, look, we --

QUESTION: Over 50 houses have been destroyed as a result of heavy shelling. I would like State Department comment on latest escalation on Nagorno-Karabakh.

MR TONER: We don’t want to see any escalation in the violence. We abhor such attacks by either side, and we need to see a return to the process that is in place to bring about a peaceful settlement to Nagorno-Karabakh. We call for all sides to de-escalate and to return to the peace process.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Yes, the question is on Mexico. Assistant Secretary Jacobson finally got confirmed last night. Do you have details on the call the Secretary – sorry, the foreign minister from Mexico made to her yesterday, last night? And when do you expect for her to arrive in Mexico City, considering all the time she spent here?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, first of all, as the Secretary himself noted, we are very happy that she has been confirmed by the Senate and we believe she’s going to make an excellent ambassador. Mexico is our third largest trading partner. We work together on a variety of issues – energy, border and security challenges. We confront challenges like narcotics trafficking. So we absolutely are delighted that we now have an ambassador there to represent our interests. And again, we are very pleased that she has been confirmed.

You asked about – I’ll try to get you details about her phone call with the foreign minister. And I don’t have a precise date on when she might arrive in Mexico. I’m sure she’s very much looking forward to beginning her tenure there as ambassador. And – but as soon as I have a firm date I’ll share that with you.

QUESTION: Excellent. A quick follow-up?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: I understand there is a Travel Warning for Mexico issued in April the 15th and later it was reviewed. But there’s been some acts of violence happening in the port city of Acapulco, which, as you know, it’s a very popular destination for many Americans. Do you have any specific additional warning specifically to Acapulco for American citizens to visit or not?

MR TONER: I believe that Acapulco is part of the area that is mentioned in our Travel Warning, our existing Travel Warning. Certainly, as we get more specific – and this is true not just for Mexico but for any country. If we have more specific information on certain areas or cities or events writ large that we believe may pose a threat or a concern to visiting American tourists or even expats who live in a country – and again, I’m not talking specifically to Mexico – we would update our website and travel.state.gov, which we always ask that Americans who are traveling check that and get real-time information on wherever they’re going to. But I believe – specifically to your question – that Acapulco is contained in that Travel Warning.

Please.

QUESTION: On Bangladesh?

MR TONER: On Bangladesh.

QUESTION: Secretary’s call to the prime minister. I believe there are some differences between the U.S. and Bangladesh and who are responsible for the attacks, recent attacks. Was this discussed during the phone call?

MR TONER: Well, I know that he offered U.S. support for the ongoing investigation into these recent attacks, certainly the one that killed our own employee and human rights advocate, as well as his friend and colleague earlier this week. And the Secretary did urge the prime minister to ensure a thorough investigation into these and other attacks, recent attacks, and to redouble efforts by law enforcement to protect these individuals who we believe are at risk.

QUESTION: ISIS and Taliban have been claiming that they were responsible for these attacks. How serious the situation is inside Bangladesh? Because the Bangladeshi Government says it’s the opposition parties who were responsible behind this.

MR TONER: I’m aware of some of these claims, and it’s – it’s a very complex situation on the ground. Look, I mean, what we’re asking for is that the government conduct, as I said, an investigation into these attacks, these brutal attacks and these brutal murders, that identifies who the perpetrators are. I don’t think we can say with certainty – I mean, as you said, there’s been various claims of responsibility. We have no reason to – not to believe those claims of responsibility. But what is clear is that there is a threat on the ground. I mean, we’ve seen several now murders, brutal murders, over the past several weeks. And we want to see the government there take every step possible to protect its citizens.

QUESTION: Sir, I have one more on Pakistan, if you’ll allow me.

MR TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: One more.

MR TONER: One more.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Thank you.

MR TONER: One more, and then we’ll free people for the weekend.

QUESTION: All right. Sir, Pakistan right now is having a military operation against the – all terrorist networks across the country. And they keep saying that the American military aid and F-16s are much needed for the capacity-building of Pakistani security forces. So now when Congress is halting the military aid, in your opinion, how much this affect the war against terrorism?

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, we – look, I thought I spoke to this before when I said that we do believe the F-16s are helpful. We recognize that Pakistan is trying to make efforts to fight against the terror groups that threaten all Pakistanis. And we do believe, frankly, that Pakistan’s relations with its neighbors and with the region – frankly, there’s been some ups and downs, but we believe it’s trending towards greater dialogue to resolve differences. We want to see that continue. And in all types of these arms transfers, we do take into account regional security and a range of other factors. We believe our security assistance does contribute to a more stable and secure Pakistan and region.

I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: Can I just follow it up for a quick question? Do you know how much U.S. military aid to Pakistan is being held up because the Congress? Do you have that figures?

MR TONER: I don’t. I don’t have a firm – I just don’t have the figure on that. I apologize.

QUESTION: Okay. Yesterday Donald Trump on a Fox interview said that if he becomes the president, he will get Dr. Afridi freed in two minutes. I know you have been asking Pakistan to free Dr. Afridi, but can you tell us what steps you have been taking to get him free?

MR TONER: Well, you’re right to say we believe he’s been unjustly prisoned, and we have clearly and repeatedly communicated our position to Pakistan the Dr. Afridi case, both in public and private, our opposition to his imprisonment. We continue to raise this issue at the highest levels in any discussion we have with Pakistanis’ leadership. The Pakistani Government has assured us that Dr. Afridi is being treated humanely and is in good health, but again, we don’t believe he’s being – or we believe he’s being unjustly imprisoned.

QUESTION: Have they given any signals to you on he being freed any time in the future?

MR TONER: No, we don’t have any kind of firm commitment. Again, we don’t have any firm commitment about his release or any firm details about his possible release. But we continue to press his case.

QUESTION: I’ve got --

QUESTION: Can you take a question? You just referred us to the White House for the F-16 details. They have – NSC has responded: “Tejinder, we would refer you to State on this.” (Laughter.) So --

QUESTION: That’s called being jerked around in real time. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And I had mentioned that you have referred us to --

MR TONER: Have we mentioned that we’re cutting off Wi-Fi for this briefing room? (Laughter.)

Look, I mean, Tejinder, I don’t have specifics.

QUESTION: You can take the question and give us the details.

MR TONER: I can possibly take the question, but I wasn’t doing that insincerely. My understanding was that the White House wanted to handle those questions. If they refused to answer them, then --

QUESTION: No, they have referred us back to the --

MR TONER: -- or push them back to us, then we’ll try to get you information.

QUESTION: I’ve got – I got three extremely brief ones. One is: A video surfaced earlier this week which purports to be an – from Iranian – it’s Iranian video that purports to promote children going to Syria to fight, but it --

MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: Anyway, I’m just wondering if you guys are aware of that and if you --

MR TONER: I’m not. No, we’ll look into it.

QUESTION: Thank you. And then secondly, is there any update at all – have you gotten any update from the Emiratis on the case of the father and – the American father and the son?

MR TONER: Oh, let me check. I don’t know that we have much new. Let me check on that, though.

QUESTION: How about the lady who was arrested at the airport? There was a U.S. citizen arrested in February, I think, at the airport for insulting the prince.

MR TONER: In the Emiratis or – wait, he’s asking about the --

QUESTION: It was Abu Dhabi, I think – one of the Emirates.

MR TONER: But you’re asking about, I thought, the Eldarats.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: Yeah. Let me just see if I have anything new rather than repeat all the things we’ve already said.

I don’t, so let me see if I can an update for you on that, Matt.

QUESTION: Can you get – can you check and see also if you have anything on Ms. Khawaja, who was – when the Secretary was in Bahrain, the Bahraini foreign minister said she would be freed.

MR TONER: Yeah. No, that, actually, I did get an update on it because Matt asked about that the other day. You’re talking about – yeah --

QUESTION: Zahrah Khawaja?

MR TONER: Yeah, yeah, Zainab --

QUESTION: Zainab.

MR TONER: -- al-Khawaja. So you’re right, foreign minister of Bahrain announced the government’s decision to release her at a press conference with Secretary Kerry on April 9th or – I forget what exact – the exact date was, but during his visit to Bahrain. But we understand that she still remains in detention with her infant son – or infant child. We would urge the Government of Bahrain to follow through with its publicly announced plans to release her as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Beyond the statement that you just made now that you would urge the government to do this, have you actually --

MR TONER: I urge, we urge.

QUESTION: Have you actually urged them, though, or are you just saying this now?

MR TONER: I can only imagine that we have been in touch with them through our embassy. I don’t know that we’ve – at what levels, but I would imagine through our embassy we’ve continued to follow up on her case and continue to watch it.

QUESTION: Can you check on that to make sure?

MR TONER: I will, yep.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: And the last one: Yesterday I asked Kirby to take this question on the disputes or scandal, some might call it, in the UK Labour Party.

MR TONER: Yeah, no, it’s actually --

QUESTION: You guys – have you taken note of this? What – if you have, what do you think?

MR TONER: Sure. We have. We condemn any – we categorically deplore and condemn anti-Semitism and racism in any and all of its forms. We were glad to hear, frankly, that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn did state definitively that his party will not tolerate anti-Semitism. And I’d refer you for more details to the Labour Party, but we condemn those kinds of remarks.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR TONER: Yep. Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Thu, 04/28/2016 - 16:05

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 28, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

1:06 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon.

QUESTION: Welcome back.

MR KIRBY: Thank you. Thanks very much.

A few things to start with. And as I – you know, we’re doing this Free the Press campaign this week, so for today’s case for World Press Freedom Day we’re going to highlight Mohammad Sedigh Kaboudvand, a journalist and human rights activist from Iran who’s been held in Evin prison since July 2007. He reported on torture in Iranian prisons, women’s rights issues, and cases of human rights abuses against Iran’s ethnic minorities.

In July of 2007, Kaboudvand was arrested and charged with acting against national security and engaging in propaganda against the state. A Revolutionary Court ultimately sentenced him to 11 years in prison. Kaboudvand was reported – has reportedly suffered several heart attacks while in custody and has suffered from serious kidney and intestinal problems. Prison authorities have reportedly denied requests to transfer him to a hospital where he can receive treatment appropriate for his illnesses.

Kaboudvand has now served nearly nine years of his sentence. Iran’s penal code allows for early release after prisoners have served more than half of a sentence over 10 years. He has also reportedly been recommended for release by the warden of Evin prison. We call on the Iranian Government to release Mohammad and all other Iranian journalists and citizen journalists who are imprisoned simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

On Cote d’Ivoire – I’m sorry, Cote d’Ivoire – today in New York --

QUESTION: You can say Ivory Coast if you’re not comfortable with the French.

MR KIRBY: No, I’m going – I have to get this right. I have to – (laughter) – I have to work at the – I appreciate the pass you were going to give me, but I’m going to hold myself to a higher standard.

Let me start that again. On Cote d’Ivoire – how’s that? This is – and this is actually --

QUESTION: Cote d’Ivoire.

MR KIRBY: Is that okay? Cote d’Ivoire?

QUESTION: No, no, Cote d’Ivoire.

MR KIRBY: Cote d’Ivoire.

QUESTION: Yeah, but give him – yeah, but he’s trying, right?

MR KIRBY: D’Ivoire.

QUESTION: Cote d’Ivoire.

MR KIRBY: All right, we’ll try --

QUESTION: Don’t worry, you get points.

MR KIRBY: We will try this again. This is actually good news. On Cote d’Ivoire, today in New York the UN Security Council adopted two resolutions that reflect the significant progress that has been achieved toward restoring peace and security in Cote d’Ivoire. The council agreed to terminate UN sanctions on Cote d’Ivoire that were first imposed in 2004 in response to political turmoil and violence. The council also adopted a resolution that continues the downsizing of the UN peacekeeping mission there and endorses its final closure in June of next year, 2017. Today’s resolutions are notable example of how multilateral tools are an effective vehicle that can contribute to promoting our shared peace and security interests.

Now just briefly before we start, I want a quick note on this airstrike, which I know many of you have covered or have asked about, in Aleppo on a Doctors Without Borders hospital. And I want to preface this by saying I think you’re going to hear something more specific from the Secretary soon on this. But I didn’t want to relinquish the podium at the outset without mentioning that we’re obviously – find this attack reprehensible in every possible way. We’re looking at dozens, if not several dozens, of casualties in this strike on what was clear that was a medical facility. The details and the circumstances of the attack are still coming in, but it sure bears all the hallmarks of the kinds of strikes that the regime has done in the past on treatment facilities and, frankly, on first responders.

So once again, we call on the regime to cease these absolutely senseless attacks, which are, of course, violations of the cessation of hostilities. And we continue to call on and urge Russia to use its influence on the Assad regime to bring these kinds of strikes to an end. But again, you’re going to hear more from the Secretary on this very shortly, but I did want to just put that out there right at the top since I know you’ve all been interested in it and it just happened.

QUESTION: Right. Well, let’s start with Syria and the cessation of hostilities more generally. I mean, it really appears to be dead now. What – last night, the UN envoy, Mr. de Mistura, issued an urgent appeal for both Russia and the United States to do something to save what’s left of it.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: I presume when he says something like that, he’s referring to Secretary Lavrov and Minister – I mean to Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: What have they – have they been in touch? What does the United States intend to do, if it does intend to respond to Mr. de Mistura’s request?

MR KIRBY: Well, actually, a couple of things there, Matt. We certainly share his deep concerns about where things are going in Syria with the cessation of hostilities and with the difficulty now in terms of the political process. So we absolutely share his concerns about the violence and where things are going.

I don’t have any recent discussions between Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Secretary – recent, by in the last few days. I think that you know there was one a few days ago. There hasn’t been one since, but I certainly couldn’t – wouldn’t rule it out one way or the other. As you know, they speak frequently, so I would fully expect that there will be a conversation soon between the foreign minister and the Secretary regarding Syria. I have no doubt about it. I just don’t have one to read out to you.

As for – and I know you didn’t specifically ask for this, but I’ll say it anyway. As for the statement by Mr. de Mistura about needing another urgent meeting of the ISSG, what I can tell you is that while I don’t have one on the schedule to tell you about or to announce today, that the Secretary has talked quite a bit in recent weeks about the need to get the ISSG back together again and it’s our expectation that they will, that there will be another ISSG meeting. I just don’t know where or when. I do think that it’s something that’s very much on the Secretary’s mind and he agrees with Mr. de Mistura that it’s probably time to start thinking about when would be the right time to do that and what would – and working out an agenda. We just don’t have it nailed down yet.

QUESTION: Has he been in touch with – I realize not Lavrov, but has he been in touch with other members of the ISSG in the last day or so to try to organize something?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any specific phone conversations or other conversations with ISSG members in just the last day or so.

QUESTION: Well, can I follow up? Beyond the calling for an ISSG meeting, I mean, it seems as if Mr. de Mistura has really --

MR KIRBY: Before – I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I wanted to just correct my answer to Matt, because I – I’m glad I pulled this out, but he did speak on Tuesday the 26th with Mr. de Mistura. So while no ISSG calls to read out, he – I just – I do want to flag that as the discussions in Geneva were coming to a close, he did reach out and talk to Mr. de Mistura. So we’re not just reacting to his press conference. There was a private conversation with him, and obviously the special envoy relayed the same concerns to the Secretary as he has relayed to all of you through his press conference.

I apologize, Elise, but go ahead.

QUESTION: That’s okay. I mean, I’m just – Mr. de Mistura, in addition to calling for an ISSG meeting, I mean, he made – it seems as if he made a pretty desperate call to the United States and Russia for help in terms of stopping this cessation of hostilities from completely falling apart. I mean, he basically said that talks are hanging by a thread and that a Syrian is being killed in Syria in the last 48 hours every 13 minutes. And I mean, he seems pretty desperate at this point, Mr. de Mistura does.

MR KIRBY: I think we all share the same sense of deep concern and urgency about what’s going on in Syria. And again, I don’t have any U.S.-Russia bilateral meetings to announce here today or to speak to. But back to what I said to Matt, even though he – the Secretary spoke very recently with Foreign Minister Lavrov and I certainly wouldn’t rule out another discussion in the near future. I mean, this is a topic of frequent conversation between the two men, and I fully expect that there’ll be another one and probably soon. But I think more broadly, we believe the ISSG continues to have value. We agree with Mr. de Mistura that the ISSG can continue to provide some structure and hopefully help reinvigorate a sense of momentum here. But I don’t have a meeting right now on the schedule, but I do think that the Secretary is interested in gathering the ISSG again together.

QUESTION: Okay, but how is an ISSG meeting of 17 nations going to stop a cessation of hostilities that largely it seems as if what the Secretary said last week to The New York Times and what you’ve said from this podium – I mean, it’s largely seen as being violations at the hands of the regime and the Russians.

MR KIRBY: Well, the short answer is the ISSG by itself can’t do that. It has to be Assad.

QUESTION: And the Russians.

MR KIRBY: Well, that’s what I was getting to – and the Russians using their influence on Assad to get to a better outcome here, because it is the regime that is causing by and large the vast majority of violations of the cessation. So the ISSG meeting in and of itself? No, that can’t stop the violence simply by gathering, but it can result – as it has in the past, it can result in some consensus views and some initiatives and imperatives that can be put forward through the UN to try to bring about more progress and a better sense of momentum on the political front.

So while gathering 17 nations, as you put it, in Geneva isn’t necessarily going to stop the bombs from flying, it can certainly help lead to better outcomes, as it did at the outset. I mean, we readily admit that the cessation is very much in peril. We don’t disagree with that statement at all, but let’s not forget that it was put in place after an ISSG meeting and then followed up by the UN and it held – it has largely held for quite some many weeks now.

QUESTION: Right, right. But at the time, cynics would say that the Russians and the Syrian regime were just playing for time in order to kind of regroup and re --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- look at the map and see where they want to go next. And given the fact that these cessation – these violations continue, I mean, some would say that that – that that belief has a lot of credibility. And I mean, I’m just wondering, like, at what point – like, what kind of pressure can you bring to bear on Russia and the regime at this point? Would you say it’s time to consider new options in terms of what the U.S. is willing to do in terms of helping the opposition? It just seems as if you’re back to kind of square one.

MR KIRBY: I don’t think that we would agree that we’re back to square one. Certainly we’re not where we’d like to be with respect to the cessation of hostilities, and we’re certainly not where we’d like to be on the political talks. No question about that. But I wouldn’t describe it as back to square one.

On your second point about what options, the Commander-in-Chief has made clear that he – that he wants the cabinet to continue to think through options and to think through alternatives. But he has also said – and so has Secretary Kerry – that – (phone rings). Wow, that took me right back to my Navy days. (Laughter.) That scared the bejeebies out of me.

QUESTION: You almost fled the room.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. That’s the “jump overboard” siren. (Laughter.) Which actually would’ve been convenient right in the middle of this answer.

QUESTION: Yeah, then you could have an out.

MR KIRBY: Oh man, I forgot my train of thought now.

QUESTION: You were trying to say that you’re not back to square one.

MR KIRBY: We’re not back to square one.

QUESTION: You’re back to square, like, zero --

MR KIRBY: Oh, Plan A, Plan A. Yeah, right.

QUESTION: -- or square negative one. (Laughter.) Look, if you’re going to --

MR KIRBY: Now, wait a second. Now you got me going now. I can remember.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: So --

QUESTION: Yeah, but can I follow up?

MR KIRBY: The Commander – no – the Commander-in-Chief and the Secretary have made clear that our commitment is on what we’ve colloquially called Plan A, which is the political process, and trying to keep it alive and to get it moving in the right direction. It doesn’t mean that it would be imprudent not to consider other alternatives. And again, there’s been – it’s been made clear to cabinet officials that alternatives should be considered and thought about. But that doesn’t – but if you’re asking me – and I think you are – are we sort of at that point now, the Secretary would tell you no, that we aren’t, that Plan A, the Geneva process, and getting to a political solution is still the preferred path. Because the other alternatives, whatever they --

QUESTION: Well, it would be the preferred path if Assad really wanted to negotiate. But I have to bring you back to the Secretary’s comments, like, the first day he took office, was that until you change the calculation of Assad on the ground, nothing’s going to change. And it seems as if maybe temporarily he said he was interested in a political process, but can you point to anything that indicates – whether it’s engagement at the talks, or on the ground with the continued violations – that he’s really willing to have a political solution?

MR KIRBY: It’s certainly on the face of it – and particularly when you look at what happened there in Aleppo today against this Doctors Without Borders hospital – on the face of it, it would certainly appear that to – that Assad is not showing a willingness to contribute in a constructive way to Plan A, if you will, to the political process. I mean, you have to but assume that when you look at dozens dead and a hospital being bombed.

That said, let us also not forget that after the UN Security Council resolution and the Munich meeting, we did get a cessation in – largely in place. And as I’ve said many times, we freely admit that even on day one there were violations, and there were violations virtually every day. But largely it held. And up until the – just the last several days, I think we would still maintain that it had largely held. But it’s obviously very, very fragile right now and of deep concern to everybody.

QUESTION: John --

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up, please? Can I have a follow-up, please?

MR KIRBY: Okay. We’ll go to Lesley, then Pam, and then Dave. Okay?

QUESTION: So if you’re saying Assad is not showing a willingness to contribute to a political process, does that mean that you believe that the Russians don’t have that influence over him right now, given what’s going on --

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t think – I – no. I don’t think we’re at the point where we’d say they don’t have influence over Assad. They still do. Of course they do. And look at the message they sent when President Putin decided to withdraw some of those aircraft. I mean, there was – it was an unquestioned message to Assad about the limits of Russian patience with respect to Assad’s willingness to contribute to the political process. So yes, they have influence. What’s curious is to – and I think what we’d like to know more of is to what degree are they actually assertively, aggressively using that influence right now. Because again, on the face of it, when you look at what the Assad regime is doing, again particularly today in this absolutely reprehensible attack, it would appear that that influence isn’t being exerted as energetically as we believe it could be.

QUESTION: Or at all.

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, it’s hard to know the degree to which this is either not enough influence being applied or not enough attention being given to the influence being applied. Or maybe it’s a combination of both. It’s just difficult to know. I don’t – we’re not inside that decision loop, so it’s hard to know. So it’s one of – it’s one or the other or both, either they’re not applying enough or what – Assad is ignoring what’s being applied, or a combination --

QUESTION: It sounds like --

MR KIRBY: In any event – in any event though, regardless of what is the case, the trend is not moving in the right direction, and that’s worrisome. And that’s certainly putting in – undermining the political process and the cessation of hostilities, and that’s obviously not what we want to see happen.

Pam.

QUESTION: You keep saying Plan A. What is Plan B? What is Plan B?

MR KIRBY: We’ve talked about this before.

QUESTION: You say Plan A. Does that mean that Plan B could involve some sort of changing your strategy --

MR KIRBY: I’m not --

QUESTION: -- to include some sort of military action?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, this mythical Plan B.

QUESTION: I mean, what is the alternative?

MR KIRBY: I mean, I don’t think there is a --

QUESTION: Well, then stop saying Plan A.

QUESTION: Yeah, because you keep saying Plan A.

MR KIRBY: Well, I did that because you guys say Plan A. I was trying to make it understandable to you.

QUESTION: Let me just --

QUESTION: You guys are the ones that came up with Plan A.

QUESTION: -- let me just follow up on this, because now --

MR KIRBY: Look, whether we call it Plan A or Plan One, Plan C-2 – look, what I’m saying is our focus is on the political process. And the Secretary still believes that that is the best way forward. And that while we – it would be irresponsible to not think through options and alternatives, should it fail completely – I mean, that’s what you’re supposed to do, is think through options – those options are not – they’re – none of them are great. And I’m not going to detail the various options here from the podium. I think you can understand why I wouldn’t do that. But none of them are great and none of them are preferred. And frankly, we --

QUESTION: Plan A isn’t going so great either.

MR KIRBY: Well, but that doesn’t mean – just because it’s not – the trends aren’t moving exactly how we’d like them to, doesn’t mean we should just give up and throw away on it. I mean, because look – but look, I mean, keep it in perspective, guys. I mean, we’re – over the last, what, seven weeks or so the cessation largely held. And there are still areas – as you and I talk here, Said, there are still areas in Syria where life is less violent and where the cessation is holding. I agree it’s fragile. We don’t want to see what we’re seeing in Aleppo. But the political plan that’s being pursued, the Geneva process that’s being pursued, we believe still can have traction, can still work, and still requires – demands our full energy and attention. And that’s where the Secretary’s headspace is.

QUESTION: Would you say that the deployment of the 250 Special Forces in Rmelian, which is in the north near Hasakah and the Kurdish areas and so on – is that like the prelude for Plan B? Is that like in anticipation, that maybe the truce will completely collapse --

MR KIRBY: Well, again, you --

QUESTION: -- the cessation of hostilities, and you want to be ready to help and assist and so on?

MR KIRBY: You know I don’t like talking about military issues, but --

QUESTION: But it’s --

MR KIRBY: But on this one, I am going to correct you. I mean, no. The answer – short answer is no, because, as the President made clear when he announced this additional – these additional deployments, they are there to advise and assist in the counter-Daesh fight. This is not about them assisting or participating in issues resolving the civil conflict in Syria. This is about the counter-Daesh fight and about advising and assisting forces in Syria that can be and – are and can be more effective against going – going against that group. So it has nothing to do with the Geneva process, in terms of getting to a political solution in Syria.

Pam.

QUESTION: John, two questions. First of all, a minute ago you said that the U.S. continues to believe that Russia has influence with the Assad regime. But is it safe to say that the U.S.- Russia relationship with Syria has deteriorated – continuing these types of strikes, like this one in Aleppo, continue and the fact that U.S. and Russia are co-chairs of the ceasefire taskforce, which outwardly doesn’t seem to be having an impact on these types of activities?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would say no in terms of has the U.S-Russia relationship deteriorated as a result of these recent violations. We are co-chairs of the cessation task force. That work continues. And there’s constant daily communication inside that task force and between the U.S. and Russia every single day. So no, I would not say that at all. And I think U.S.-Russian leadership is still required inside the ISSG with respect to the Geneva political process.

QUESTION: And one more on – this is a follow-up on Said’s question about the Special Forces. In light of the situation in Syria, is the U.S. looking at perhaps expanding the amount of support that it has been giving to the Syrian Kurdish fighters who have been very effective in some regions?

MR KIRBY: I’ll let DOD speak to that. I think Secretary Carter already talked a little bit about that recently, in terms of the manner in which we were intensifying the effort against Daesh. I’m not aware of any specific additional proposals, but really that’s a military equity to speak to, not us.

Michel.

QUESTION: Could I --

QUESTION: Following up on the --

MR KIRBY: Oh, I’m sorry. You already – I promised to go back to you, Dave.

QUESTION: Yeah. So the --

MR KIRBY: You’ve got to wait. Sorry.

QUESTION: -- Russians have asked to add Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam to the list of terrorist organizations that are eligible for strikes. Obviously they’re currently represented by the HNC, so I assume you’d oppose that call, since these are groups that are apparently attempting to observe the ceasefire. But does it not suggest that Russia is planning to expand its target list, not in fact to enforce the ceasefire?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’d leave it to Moscow to determine – to speak to why they would want those groups added on to the list, but --

QUESTION: They are the backbone of the armed opposition.

MR KIRBY: In many ways and in many places, that’s right. And there’s – nothing’s changed about our position here that the only two groups that need to remain on the outside of the cessation of hostilities is – are Daesh and al-Nusrah. Nothing’s changed about our view on that.

QUESTION: And also on Russia, often you and Mark from the podium have said that you don’t want to daily read out the allegations of ceasefire violations that the ISSG group is working in private to develop --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- to develop reports. The Russian ministry of defense website however just put up a daily update from their reconciliation center in English and Russian.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Are you not worried that they appear more open about this than you do?

MR KIRBY: No. I mean, that’s – if they want to do that, they can. We have just determined that we don’t find that useful. What we want to put our energies into is to working through the cessation of hostilities task force to properly analyze and account for violations, and then try to work within that process to get them to stop. It’s not an enforcement mechanism. It’s not capable of physically impeding or standing in the way of violations. But it is useful in terms of analyzing it, collecting the data on them, and then rapidly sharing that information so that those who have influence on the violators can hopefully use that influence in the most constructive manner.

And I get the argument that, well, gee, in Aleppo that isn’t going go well, and I’ve just spoken a long time about how we recognize that trends there in Aleppo are not in the right direction. But there are other areas in Syria – and there have been examples where the work of the task force has actually de-conflicted and prevented, in some cases, violations from happening. And that’s the goal. It’s – from our perspective, this work should be done at that level, and we just continue to not find it helpful to read out every single violation.

And again, I also – I haven’t seen the database that they’ve put up, but I’d be careful assuming that that is somehow the sole, definitive source of violations.

QUESTION: They say it’s their take on the situation.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: But if you’re worried that they put out their take every day and that you’re refraining from giving your take, they obviously find it useful to get their side of the story out there.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Well, we find it more useful to work inside the task force to get these things to stop as best we can. And look, I mean, we’re up here every day answering questions about this and doing the best we can to communicate, so I don’t – our – I’m not saying you are arguing that we’re not being transparent, but I would fundamentally --

QUESTION: Just that Moscow’s being more transparent.

MR KIRBY: I’m sure you would love for everything about the U.S. Government and the State Department to be more transparent, but we’re as transparent as we believe we can be and should be. And we stand up here every day and answer these questions. We’re not bashful about doing that.

QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday, Mark said that the State Department did not share the Russian and Syrian assessment that Aleppo was under Nusrah control. So are you saying to the Russians – is the message to the Russians that it’s bad to attack Aleppo, even if there are pockets of Nusrah there, that they should just not be attacking – Syrians should not be attacking?

MR KIRBY: No, I think what Mark was – he was restating a simple fact, which I’ve talked to myself, which is that we know it’s a very fluid, dynamic environment, that there are – that there is intermingling between the groups. Some of that is by design because they want to be near one another and some of it is by happenstance. And it is why strikes in and around Aleppo become a more problematic issue, because it’s very difficult to separate some of these groups from one another geographically in order to – and then to be precise enough that only the group that you’re trying to go after is going to be hit.

QUESTION: But given the fragility of the ceasefire, would it be the view here that those strikes on Aleppo, even if there is a Nusrah element there, should stop because of the civilians and the other rebel groups in place?

MR KIRBY: No. So a couple of things here because I think we need to unpack this. If you are not party to the cessation – and al-Nusrah is not – and there is a legitimate opportunity to hit al-Nusrah, even if it’s in Aleppo, that wouldn’t be in opposition to what everybody has signed up to. They are fair targets. What we’re seeing, however, is that they aren’t being that precise, these strikes against al-Nusrah groups. And in fact, in many cases, such as the one I just talked about today, there’s blatant disregard for the cessation at all by the regime. I mean, they’re deliberately going after opposition groups and civilians, and now doctors and first responders. So that’s what we want to see stop. And I’ve also said – we’ve also said, with respect to Aleppo, the expansion of Assad regime control inside Syria is not a good thing for the people of Syria writ large. And so talks about this liberation, if you will, of Aleppo are – it’s a falsehood.

QUESTION: Just finally, the Secretary mentioned in The New York Times piece last week – he talked about an absolute line, the possibility of trying to draw an absolute line in Aleppo beyond which one side shouldn’t fire on the others. Is that something that’s being discussed?

MR KIRBY: I think without getting into any more detail than the Secretary did, I would just tell you that we’re – we are going to continue to talk to the Russians about ways to keep the cessation going and to get it into a better – to get it into better condition and to get it to be more sustainable. So we’re looking at ways in which we can do that, but I won’t go into any more detail.

QUESTION: Sorry, and Colonel Warren said a couple of days ago when he was talking about Aleppo – he said that Aleppo is primarily in the hands of al-Nusrah. Is that a view you’re (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think, again, Mark talked to this. I mean, our view of Aleppo is that it’s a very mixed, very fluid environment and that the – and the groups are intermingled, and that’s our view of it.

QUESTION: John?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: So are you confirming that the Russians are not enabling the Assad regime to do these attacks?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not. In fact, I’ve said from the podium that we know that some of their military moves in and around Aleppo have been supported by Russian airpower.

QUESTION: But you don’t know that particularly this one today?

MR KIRBY: But this one, as I said, the facts and circumstances are still coming in. The indications that we have now – and again, this just happened – are that these were – that these strikes were conducted by the regime.

QUESTION: Not with the backing --

MR KIRBY: Solely by the regime.

QUESTION: Solely – but not with the backing of Russia?

MR KIRBY: Not from any measure we can tell at this point. But again, this just happened; we’re trying to get details and circumstances surrounding it.

QUESTION: And then the Russians today have said – are blaming – according to our information, on the evening of April 27th for the first time after a long break, there was a plane over Aleppo that belonged to one of the so-called anti-Islamic State coalition countries.

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

QUESTION: John?

QUESTION: They said that the coalition was operating there today and the Russians were not.

QUESTION: That’s --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, again, I’d refer – I just don’t have that level of tactical detail.

QUESTION: Yeah, they put that out in a statement.

MR KIRBY: Are you – is the suggestion that it was a coalition aircraft that --

QUESTION: Yes, that’s the suggestion.

MR KIRBY: I have seen absolutely no indication that the coalition was in any way involved in this airstrike that we’re talking about on the Doctors Without Borders facility. As I said, the facts are still coming in. Every indication we’ve seen so far would point to the regime.

Yeah.

QUESTION: John?

QUESTION: Secretary Carter today seems to have suggested that there was a direct link between the YPG forces in Syria and the PKK, which you designate as a terrorist group. It – that was in response to a question by Lindsey Graham in today’s hearing. He said, yes, that – when Graham asked him whether there was a link. So is there a mixed message sent out from this building and the Pentagon about the nature of the group YPG, whether --

MR KIRBY: You mean – you’re talking about Deputy Secretary Blinken?

QUESTION: No, no, today – Secretary Carter.

MR KIRBY: Oh, Carter. I thought you said Kerry.

QUESTION: Yeah, Carter, he was at the hearing and then he was asked by Graham, Senator Graham --

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: -- whether there was a link between YPG and PKK. He said yes. And I wonder – because you described the YPG as an independent group from the PKK in the past, and that’s why you’ve supported them militarily and politically, one could say, but – so is there a mixed message sent out from this building and the Pentagon about the YPG?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not – I didn’t see Secretary Carter’s comments. I’d let them – let him speak for his views and the Pentagon views. Nothing’s changed about our take here. The PKK is a foreign terrorist organization. That hasn’t changed. And as I’ve said before, those Kurdish fighters who are effective against Daesh in Syria – while we’re not providing direct arms, which as I – once again, I think your question sort of implied that. That’s not – that’s not what’s happening, but --

QUESTION: In Kobani, for example --

MR KIRBY: But --

QUESTION: -- you air-dropped weapons to them clearly, openly, publicly.

MR KIRBY: They do benefit – when fighters are being effective against Daesh, they do benefit from air power, and as I’ve said before, that support will continue. But it’s not just Kurds. And I know you love to bring everything back to that group, okay? But there are other effective counter-Daesh fighters in Syria which continue to benefit from coalition air power, and they will as long as they’re being effective.

And that is why the President approved additional Special Operations Forces to go into Syria to do advise and assist, to help those forces that are being effective against Daesh become more effective against Daesh.

QUESTION: So can you say, again, that the YPG is not linked to the PKK?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I’m going to tell you clearly, as I’ve said before, our position on the PKK and the YPG have not changed.

QUESTION: What is --

QUESTION: Can we move to North Korea?

QUESTION: John --

QUESTION: Can you say, just again, it’s not linked to the PKK – you support it. If it was linked to a terrorist group, you wouldn’t support it otherwise?

MR KIRBY: We don’t – YPG’s not a designated foreign terrorist organization. PKK is. Nothing’s changed about that.

Michel.

QUESTION: John, on the deployment of U.S. forces in Syria, the Syrian foreign ministry has strongly condemned the deployment today and said this intervention is rejected and illegitimate, it happened without the Syrian Government’s approval, and it’s a blatant act of aggression that constitutes a dangerous intervention and a gross violation of Syria’s sovereignty. The defense – the Iranian defense minister has said that the U.S. decision to send more troops to Syria is a flagrant aggression too. Any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, he’s right. We didn’t seek the Syrian Government’s approval before making this decision, and I find it the height of irony to call this a blatant act of aggression when they continue to gas and barrel bomb their own people and are reportedly now bombing a hospital in Aleppo. That and those are blatant acts of aggression against their own people, their own citizens.

This is – and I’ll say it again, as I’ve said several times today – this is an additional increase of Special Operations Forces that will be doing advise and assist missions to help those fighters who are going against Daesh become more effective in the field. That’s it. That’s their job.

QUESTION: And what about Iran defense minister’s statement too?

MR KIRBY: What about Iran’s --

QUESTION: Iran defense minister has said the same thing and he --

MR KIRBY: Well, why would my answer be any different to Iran if they said the same thing?

QUESTION: Because you didn’t say anything about Iran. You said about the regime.

MR KIRBY: Well, yeah, but it still stands. I mean, I don’t know why my answer would be any different.

QUESTION: There are Iranian forces in Syria --

MR KIRBY: That assessment – you’re saying the Iran defense minister said it was a blatant act of aggression for us to put Special Operations Forces --

QUESTION: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Well, my answer would be the same. It’s not. It’s not.

QUESTION: Isn’t it a breach of sovereignty, though? Is it a breach of Syrian sovereignty, as you recognize that sovereignty?

MR KIRBY: This is a – we have had this discussion so many times, Said.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Another topic?

QUESTION: We’ve only been doing this 40 minutes.

MR KIRBY: We have – the President has the authorities he needs to go after Daesh, and that’s what this is, and this is part of a coalition effort. We’re not the only ones involved in this fight. There’s 66 other nations in the coalition and there’s plenty – there is legal authority to do this.

Yes, go ahead. North Korea.

QUESTION: Yeah. North Korea launched two – tested two midrange missiles today.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: It looks as if the UN Security Council is going to be meeting later. What is the purpose of the --

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen – certainly seen the reports; no reason to doubt them at this point, and again, another example of their flagrant violations of international obligations and putting the peninsula in a more unstable condition. We once again call on these actions to cease, and as I think I indicated in a response to this earlier, we have every intention of having this discussion in the UN, and to look for ways to continue international solidarity to hold the North to account for these kinds of provocative actions.

QUESTION: Well --

MR KIRBY: I can’t predict now where that discussion’s going to go or what this means in terms of additional sanctions or measures. I don’t think we’re at that point in the conversation.

QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Blinken just said – I think it was yesterday; I’m not sure if he repeated it today – but he basically said that sanctions were not working and the day is approaching where – because North Korea’s missile and nuclear program continues unabated, that the day will – as a result, the day is approaching where North Korea will have the capability to launch a nuclear-tipped missile either against the United States or one of its allies. So, I mean, if sanctions aren’t working, what are your other options, either to get them to the table to negotiate something to curb their nuclear ambitions or, if you can’t do that, to do something to prevent a nuclear attack from happening?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, we’re focused right now on implementing the new set of sanctions, which are tougher --

QUESTION: But he just said they’re not working, though.

MR KIRBY: He was referring to sanctions over a long period of time obviously have not dissuaded the regime’s desire to continue to pursue dangerous nuclear capabilities. We’ve just got a new set implemented and we obviously are going to focus on continuing to enforce them. They are stronger than ever before. So sometimes sanctions take a little time to have an effect.

QUESTION: Take a long time.

MR KIRBY: Sometimes they can take a long time, that’s right. But that doesn’t mean that after just enacting them you throw them out the window because you get another test.

QUESTION: I didn’t say throw them out the window, but like, what are --

MR KIRBY: We --

QUESTION: -- it seems as if maybe the sanctions will work over the long term, but the warnings by both the Chinese president, the deputy secretary of state, military commanders that have spoken over the last several months – I mean, the situation does seem to be getting more grave as the weeks go on.

MR KIRBY: Look, we’re certainly – we take the threats that he poses seriously, and we’re going to continue to work with the international community, we’re going to continue to consult with the UN about the best ways forward here. I don’t have specific measures or alternatives to proffer here today for you, nor would I necessarily think wise to do so from the podium. But I can tell you that we’re going to continue to work with the international community to try to find ways to hold them to account for obviously what appears to be recalcitrance at best in changing their direction.

QUESTION: They don’t seem – I understand, but they don’t seem – obviously the sanctions are tougher than they’ve ever been.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: So – but they don’t seem --

MR KIRBY: Well, let’s see how they do.

QUESTION: It definitely doesn’t seem that they’re deterred. It seems as if, in fact, since the sanctions have been implemented, they’re increasing their --

MR KIRBY: So we need to let the sanctions regime continue to play out, but we also need to continue to explore ways to hold them to account, and we’re going to do that. I just don’t have any specific decisions or alternatives to speak to today.

QUESTION: Follow-up on that?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So President Xi Jinping in China said that, “As a close neighbor of the peninsula, we will absolutely not permit war or chaos on the peninsula,” referring to the Korean peninsula, obviously. Do you have a specific comment on that, a response to --

MR KIRBY: We don’t want to see war on the peninsula either.

QUESTION: And so do you see this as a sign that China is going to be taking stronger measures against North Korea?

MR KIRBY: We certainly hope that China will use its significant influence and its leadership in the region to help the international community hold the North to account and to work with the international community to that end. That’s what we’ve said all along.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Stay in China?

QUESTION: Stay on DPRK, real quick?

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Couple questions. Has the Secretary talked with his counterparts in the region yet, or does he plan to?

MR KIRBY: About this --

QUESTION: About this test.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any phone calls or conversations to read out.

QUESTION: And just a second question: How does State view how well China’s been enforcing the sanctions?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, they’re new, and they’ve just recently been implemented. China signed up to it, and they’ve been clear that because they share a border and because there has been historic commerce between China and the North, that these sanctions would be felt in China. And yet they still signed up and agreed to do it. Our expectation is that they’re going to enforce the sanctions just like we want everybody else to. I’ve seen no indications that they aren’t, in fact, enforcing them.

QUESTION: One more on China.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any comments on the passage of a new Chinese law that targets foreign NGOs?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I think this is another one where I think you can expect to hear from us a little bit later this afternoon with a more detailed reaction to it, but obviously it’s very concerning to us, because we believe that the work of civil society in China benefits not just the world and the global community but China itself. So we have concerns about this law, and again, I think we’ll have a more detailed reaction here later this afternoon.

QUESTION: Just one more. Now that the law has passed, is it still going to be an issue in the U.S.-China dialogues following?

MR KIRBY: This law, because it’s not a new development, that has been an issue in the dialogue between the United States and China. And the issue of the role of civil society and human rights in general is always a topic of discussion in our bilateral relationship. As I said, we’ve got concerns about this law. You’ll hear from us later this afternoon with a more detailed reaction.

Do I think it’s going to tear asunder the relationship and rip everything apart? No. This is the most – one of the most consequential relationships we have in the world, and we’re not always going to agree with China on everything. And when we don’t, we’ll say so. And we have. But it doesn’t mean that you let that one thing rip it all down. It’s an important relationship that we want to continue to work on and continue to improve. There are lots of other areas where we do cooperate with China, and those are important too.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that topic? Will you be issuing any kind of new or revised guidance to organizations operating in China as a result of this law?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any new guidelines. If – certainly if we do that as a result of the law, we’ll keep you posted on that. Again, it just passed, so as I said, you’ll hear I think more from us a little later today.

QUESTION: Well, it just passed, but there’s been drafts circulating for the last year.

MR KIRBY: I understand. I understand. But drafts don’t necessarily mean final product, so let us absorb it, and if we have changes or things to announce as a result of it, we’ll certainly – it would be irresponsible for us not to make that public.

QUESTION: May I change the topic to the Okinotori in the West Pacific Ocean?

MR KIRBY: The what?

QUESTION: The Okinotori in West Pacific Ocean.

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: Yeah. The tension between Japan and Taiwan seems escalating regarding the dispute in the Okonotori in the West Pacific Ocean. Are you aware of that?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to have to take that question. I wasn’t – I just don’t have enough – I’m not steeped enough in that issue, so you’re going to have to let me take that question.

Yeah. Tejinder.

QUESTION: India. The Indian Foreign Secretary Jaishankar is here. He met yesterday the – Susan Rice, and do you have anything, update on – from this building?

MR KIRBY: Well, I believe he already did meet with the national security advisor. I’d point you to the White House for a readout of that. He is expected --

QUESTION: We had a readout of that.

MR KIRBY: Hmm?

QUESTION: Anything from this building?

MR KIRBY: He is going to meet with Deputy Secretary Blinken today. As far as I know, that meeting hasn’t happened yet.

QUESTION: And from that readout, what we understood it was all very generic. Was there a visit of Prime Minister Modi, fourth visit of Prime Minister Modi in two years, came up, or is there – are there plans?

MR KIRBY: Again, you’d have to talk to the White House to read out that meeting. I won’t speak to that. The meeting with the deputy hasn’t happened yet, so I can’t speak to that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: And as for Prime Minister Modi’s travel, as I’ve said repeatedly, I make it a point of not speaking to the foreign travel habits or plans of foreign leaders.

QUESTION: Yeah. I have a question on – which you might be able to. One is --

MR KIRBY: No, don’t be so surprised. I --

QUESTION: One is that for last three visits, was he given one visa or every visit he gets a separate visa? That you can answer, State Department. And for the fourth visit, has he applied for a visa?

MR KIRBY: Visa records are confidential. We’ve said – (laughter).

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Multiple-entry.

QUESTION: Okay. And what is not confidential – who else is other head of state of any other country who has come to the U.S. more than thrice or twice, thrice, four times, in two years after being denied a visa for 10 years?

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: That’s not confidential.

MR KIRBY: I mean, you might want to try Google, but --

QUESTION: I tried. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Look, I don’t know. We’ll see. I don’t know if we have that kind of data, but if we do, we’ll see what we can get and get back to you. I’m going to have to go here in just a couple minutes.

QUESTION: On Turkey?

MR KIRBY: Really? Surprising. Turkey, out of you. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: John, I know you had a statement about the Iranian journalist in the beginning. I don’t know if you had a statement for Turkish journalist who sentenced to two years jail for publishing Charlie Hebdo cartoons. This was – just happened today.

MR KIRBY: Let me see. I think I might have something on that. While I’m looking for that --

QUESTION: I’ve got a whole bunch of little ones.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Well, then let’s wait.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Turkey.

MR KIRBY: A follow-up? I haven’t even answered the first one on Turkey. (Laughter.) What are you following up on? Holy cow. (Laughter.) Following up on me saying I’m going to look. All right.

So we continue to defend freedom of speech, as you know, and freedom of expression in Turkey and around the world. We also understand and respect that some have strong feelings about depictions of religious figures. We’ve said that before too. As Turkey’s friend and NATO ally, we urge the Turkish Government to ensure that official bodies, law enforcement and judicial authorities, are not used to undermine the Turkish democracy.

Media organizations should have the freedom to use their independent professional judgment when determining what they publish. These are complicated issues – of course we know that – but ultimately ones that journalists have the right to make themselves. And frankly, that’s what we’re doing here every week is kind of reminding all – not that you need reminding, but reminding everybody else in the world that we stand by that principle.

QUESTION: I wonder if you still think that the Turkish democracy – if you still think the Turkish democracy is vibrant as you --

MR KIRBY: We still think that it is fully capable of living up to its own constitution and to the aspirations of the Turkish people, and we want to see it succeed. We want to see Turkey succeed. And the reason why we worry about freedom of expression issues and press freedom there is because we don’t believe that’s the best path to success is to repress the freedom of journalists to do their jobs.

QUESTION: Are you finding new ways to convince Turkish Government to change this course since it seems like it is failing very badly?

MR KIRBY: We continue to raise this at every juncture, as appropriate. And as I’ve said in the past, this is a worrisome trend that we see there, which is all the more reason why we continue to speak out.

I’ve really got to go. I’m going to --

QUESTION: One follow-on.

QUESTION: One more on Turkey please.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Monday, the chairman on the parliament told that secularity mustn’t be a part of the new constitution. Are you concerned about that? I mean, after that, there were a lot of protests all over Turkey and the police attacked the protesters very harshly. I’m wondering if you have comments.

MR KIRBY: Is this about – is this – is this about lifting the immunity of parliament?

QUESTION: The speaker of parliament said secularism should not be part of the constitution.

QUESTION: Yeah, part of the new constitution, because you know now Turkey is talking about changing the constitution. I mean, AKP, the ruling party, is talking about that.

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those particular comments so I’m going to refrain from a reaction on those particular comments. Again, we want to see Turkey live up to the constitution that it has, which enshrines many of these principles.

QUESTION: Do you think secularism should be in constitution?

MR KIRBY: Do I think what?

QUESTION: Secularism should be in Turkish constitution?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to respond to that comment since I haven’t seen it, and I’m just not going to be able to say much more than that today.

QUESTION: All right, I’ve got about four subjects, but they’ll all be very brief. One, on Iran, is it the Administration’s view that if this $8.6 million purchase of heavy water does not – of Iranian heavy water does not go through per Senator Cotton’s amendment, that the Iran deal will collapse? Is it that important to spend $8.6 million for this heavy water?

MR KIRBY: Well, remember, the – the short answer is no, Matt. I mean, it’s not --

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MR KIRBY: The deal won’t --

QUESTION: So someone else could buy it just as easily, correct?

MR KIRBY: Look, what matters is that they meet their obligations, and the sale of heavy water will help them do that. It also, we believe in this case, helps us accomplish some research and scientific goals.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you could buy it from elsewhere and they could sell it elsewhere; is that not correct?

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on heavy water procurement.

QUESTION: All right. Secondly, on --

MR KIRBY: But is it going to rip the JCPOA up if it doesn’t happen?

QUESTION: No.

MR KIRBY: Of course not, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t want the sale to go through.

QUESTION: All right. On the S-300s, a while ago you said there was a review going on to see if that transfer destabilized – was destabilizing and thus sanctionable under U.S. law.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything. I think we still believe it’s worthy of reviewing for the potential use of U.S. sanctions.

QUESTION: So there’s no decision.

MR KIRBY: But no decisions. We still oppose the sale.

QUESTION: All right. Israel: The Israeli Government today came out and said it has rejected the French proposal for a broad peace conference, but also, more specifically, for a foreign ministers meeting to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on May 30th. What does the Administration think about that?

MR KIRBY: About --

QUESTION: The French idea.

MR KIRBY: -- the prime minister’s rejection of it or about the French proposal?

QUESTION: No, about the idea in the --

MR KIRBY: Well, the same as what we’ve said before. I mean, we want – we’re reviewing the French proposal. We’re certainly interested in talking to all our partners about ways in which we can try to get to a two-state solution. But I know of no judgment rendered about this so-called French proposal.

QUESTION: Okay. And you don’t have any comment on the Israeli decision?

MR KIRBY: That’s for them to speak to.

QUESTION: All right. And then May 30th, does the Secretary not have other plans on May 30th?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) I don’t have anything on the calendar for May 30th to speak to one way or the other right now.

QUESTION: It’s Memorial Day. It’s a national holiday here. Would the Secretary be willing to spend his Memorial Day in Paris for – at a peace – at (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have travel – I don’t have travel for the Secretary to read out, but he --

QUESTION: I know. It would seem to rule that date out though, no?

MR KIRBY: Well, he obviously, like all veterans, takes Memorial Day very, very seriously. I just don’t have anything on his schedule to read out.

QUESTION: Okay. I got two more. Ambassador Lute last week made some comments in London that have gotten some prospective NATO applicants a little worked up. He said that the situation in Russia and with Russia precluded more NATO expansion at the time, which some thought to as – some took to suggest that Russia essentially has a veto over new NATO membership. Do you have anything you can say about that?

MR KIRBY: I would just say that the United States remains committed to NATO’s open door policy, and we continue to support Georgia’s aspirations for integration into the Euro-Atlantic institutions, including NATO.

QUESTION: Okay. And last one on the UK. I’m just wondering if this whole situation involved – that’s (inaudible) with the Labor Party now has raised any – or has gotten anyone’s attention here with the suspension of two members for anti-Israel or anti-Semitic comments. Has that hit your radar at all?

MR KIRBY: Let me take that one. I don’t think I have anything on that.

Thanks, guys. I really got to go. Sorry.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:01 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Wed, 04/27/2016 - 17:46

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

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

.2:15 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Let’s start off – I have a few things at the top. First of all, as you know, we started yesterday our Free the Press campaign. The case we’re highlighting today comes from Uzbekistan, where a newspaper editor named Muhammad Bekjanov has remained in prison since 1999 – and that’s the longest ongoing incarceration of a journalist in the world, by many accounts.

Mr. Bekjanov, whose newspaper called Freedom, or Erk in Uzbek language, published articles advocating for democratic reform, is thought to have been arrested for his public criticism of President Karimov’s administration as well as his affiliation with a peaceful political opposition party. Mr. Bekjanov has reportedly suffered serious health problems since his incarceration.

We call on the Government of Uzbekistan to release Mr. Bekjanov, and to take steps necessary to create space for independent journalists to work free – or without fear of violence. We also urge the Government of Uzbekistan to allow international observers to visit prisons, and to grant all citizens access to full due process in accordance with international commitments.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- something very briefly about that?

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: That picture --

MR TONER: Yeah, I know. I apologize.

QUESTION: I mean, he was – last year he was also part of this.

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: Because I recognize that picture.

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: So just – do you know: Have any of the people who have previously been highlighted by – in this campaign --

MR TONER: Been released?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: I’ll check. That’s a good question, actually.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering if it’s had --

MR TONER: I don’t have that in front of me, but that’s a very fair question.

QUESTION: -- if you know what the effect is.

MR TONER: We’ll check on that, absolutely.

And then, as many of you probably have already heard, it’s 100 days until the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. So to mark that auspicious date, the first ever – these are the first-ever games held in South America – the U.S. Department of State announces its #USinRio campaign to help U.S. citizens prepare for travel to Rio de Janeiro this summer. To help them prepare for their trip to Brazil, we also published a fact sheet on travel.state.gov, which is a one-stop shop for travel information, and there you’ll find links to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program – so-called STEP – as well as U.S. and Rio smartphone app and other resources to ensure that U.S. citizens remain informed and connected. The campaign also launched an interactive blog as well as a video series showcasing American athletes in action.

On Equatorial Guinea, the United States is concerned about the political environment in Equatorial Guinea both before and after its April 24th presidential election. There’ve been numerous credible reports of government security services using excessive force, obstructing and dispersing opposition rallies, and intimidating civil society activists. We’re especially concerned that the security services violently attacked the headquarters of the opposition party, Ciudadanos por la Innovacion, on April 22nd – two days before the presidential election – causing serious injuries among those inside. Members of Ciudadanos por la Innovacion have since had their freedom of movement restricted in Malabo, in Bata, and more than 60 people remain detained without charges. We call on the government to permit its citizens to exercise their democratic rights and for all in Equatorial Guinea to address political differences through peaceful and consensual dialogue.

SYRIA1">And then last thing – and this is about the attacks that occurred, I believe yesterday, on the Syrian Civil Defense station in al-Atareb, Syria. The United States is appalled by Monday’s multiple aerial strikes, reportedly by the Assad regime, on a Syrian Civil Defense station in the town of, as I noted, al-Atareb in Aleppo province, where at least five members of the civil defense are believed to have been killed and many more innocent people were injured.

This attack fits with the Assad regime’s abhorrent pattern of striking first responders, over 100 whom – of whom have been killed in action. Many are killed in so-called double-tap strikes, where warplanes return to a strike zone after first responders have gathered to assist victims, and the Syrian Civil Defense station in al-Atareb was reportedly hit five times on Monday.

We condemn in the strongest terms any such attacks and we urge Russia to use its influence and press the Assad regime to fulfill its commitments under UNSCR 2254 and immediately stop any further attacks of this nature. We also commend the heroic members of the Syrian Civil Defense who’ve saved more than 40,000 people by serving as impartial emergency responders on the front lines performing search and rescue missions following brutal attacks often perpetrated by the Assad regime and its allies. And the United States will continue to support this group and their courageous and tireless efforts to protect the Syrian people.

That’s it. Matt.

QUESTION: On the last one --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- you commend this group, you’re going to continue to support them, and yet you revoked the visa of their leader. I don’t – that makes zero sense to me.

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: What – what’s exactly going on?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, this group, and I would precisely make that --

QUESTION: Yeah, but this is the guy who is the leader of this group who the head of USAID lionized in a – and her – that she lauded him --

MR TONER: Sure. Sure.

QUESTION: -- in a speech at the event that he was supposed to be accepting --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- an award that he couldn't get here for because the State Department canceled his visa while he was in the middle – while he was in midair, presumably, over the Atlantic so that when he arrived at Dulles, he was promptly thrown on the next plane back to Turkey. And now here you are talking about how wonderful his group is. I just don’t understand how it works.

MR TONER: So a couple responses. One is, unfortunately, we can’t speak to individual visa cases. I think broadly speaking, though, on any visa case we are constantly looking at new information, so-called continually vetting travel or records. And if we do have new information that we believe this – an individual --

QUESTION: But --

MR TONER: -- let me finish – would pose a security risk, we’ll certainly act on that. I can’t speak again specifically to this case, but what I can talk about is this group. And this group, as I said, has saved some 40,000 lives, that are first responders, they operate in a combat zone, and the fact that they’re being singled out and hit by the Syrian regime is, frankly, cause for a concern. And we do support this group. We do support their efforts to save lives in what is admittedly a very complex and convoluted battlefield scene.

And to speak to your broader – to say that this group’s – which I think is the implication of your question, that they somehow have ties to --

QUESTION: No, I’m not suggesting that at all.

MR TONER: Then – okay.

QUESTION: I’m saying that it just strikes me as a bit odd that you’re saying that this group is wonderful and does such a great job and you’re commending them for their heroism, and yet, this – you’re doing this just 10 days after the leader of this group, who was supposed to be – who got his visa revoked and wasn’t allowed to travel here. I understand there was an attack that killed some of its members, and I know that that’s the immediate cause of it --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- but it just strikes me as being a bit inconsistent if you say that this group is wonderful, and yet, you also ban its leader from coming to the States to collect an award for which – and you say you’re going to continue to support the group. I mean, if you have reason to revoke his visa, that he could be a security threat or something like that, why would you continue to support --

MR TONER: But again – but again, I’m trying to separate this individual from the group, which we believe is --

QUESTION: All right. So the guy is – you’re saying that basically he is suspect but his group is not?

MR TONER: Well, again, I can’t speak to the specific allegations against him, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, not if I --

MR TONER: No, I’m sorry, I – my hands are tied too but --

QUESTION: All right. The other thing --

MR TONER: -- but yes, we’re not condemning the group in any way whatsoever.

QUESTION: Off --

MR TONER: We believe it’s doing good work.

QUESTION: Could I --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: If he is the leader of the group, how do you support this group and he is not allowed to get into the States? This is the question.

MR TONER: I understand that and all I can say is that --

QUESTION: How can you separate the leader of the group from the group?

MR TONER: Well, he’s one individual in the group.

QUESTION: But the leader of the group.

MR TONER: And any individual – again, I’m broadening my language here for specific reasons, but any individual in any group suspected of ties or relations with extremist groups or that we had believed to be a security threat to the United States, we would act accordingly. But that does not, by extension, mean we condemn or would cut off ties to the group for which that individual works for.

QUESTION: Okay. It just seems a little odd.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up on the group? Which group is --

MR TONER: Sophisticated. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I mean, they are a civil defense group, right? They are --

QUESTION: The White Helmets?

QUESTION: Who are --

MR TONER: The White Helmets. So this is a group --

QUESTION: White Helmets. Okay, I understand.

MR TONER: So, yeah, this is the Syrian Civil Defense Group. Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you know – I understand about the White Helmets. Do you know who finances them, how they operate, who are they supported by, what kind of organization they have? How do you get your information from them and so on?

MR TONER: Well – well, I can say we provide them with --

QUESTION: We – you do know a little bit.

MR TONER: Well, I can tell you that we provide, through USAID, about $23 million in assistance to them.

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: I can say that they’ve saved over 40,000 lives, as I just mentioned at the – in the topper by acting as first responders. They go into combat zones, they save people after attacks. We’ve seen no action on the part of this group writ large that indicates in any way that they’re nothing but an impartial group that – like any humanitarian organization – works across lines of control and is in contact with a range of groups to facilitate their life-saving efforts. And that’s – again, we’ve talked about this the last couple days. Aleppo is --

QUESTION: I understand that.

MR TONER: -- a very complex situation. We understand that. And for these groups to operate, they have to be able to operate within the milieu on which they’re working.

QUESTION: Mark, but can you ask for some – I mean, this just seems bizarre to me. You’re giving this guy and his group $23 million. Yes, they do good work, they save lives, but you’ve revoked his visa for some reason and you won’t say why and it just doesn’t make any sense. Why is the U.S. taxpayer supporting a group whose leader you have banned from coming to the States?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, I’m always willing to try to get more information.

QUESTION: Please.

MR TONER: In this case, I’m a bit restricted by the fact that this is --

QUESTION: Just – well, I know, but it just --

MR TONER: I can’t talk about a specific visa.

QUESTION: To the average person, I don’t think this makes any sense. Anyway, I wanted to ask you about something else that you started with --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and that is on the – that Olympics thing. Do you have – is there any kind of an estimate about how many Americans – non-athletes – are going to be – plan to go? Or is that not your --

MR TONER: No, I mean, we – I don’t think we have a firm number yet. I wish we had kind of previous numbers here.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, based on what you’ve seen --

MR TONER: Yeah, no, I’ll get that for you.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: It’s a fair question.

QUESTION: And then one other thing. It’s unrelated, but this is just a housekeeping item about a question I asked yesterday on --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- this email that Judicial Watch has highlighted as – and they say that it shows that you guys hid this email which would have shown two years earlier than we – which would have uncovered or would – which would have shown the existence of former Secretary Clinton’s private email --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- two years before we actually did learn about it.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: I understand that there is an answer, there is an explanation.

MR TONER: There is. So we don’t generally comment on matters of litigation, but in this case, there has been some confusion about – or rising from what was an administrative error in the correspondence in which the department said that the document in question was withheld on November – in November 2014, and that date was incorrect. So all the facts in this case or this – the complete facts, rather, surrounding this document are actually in a court filing, a public court filing from July 2015. And we would recommend that folks who are interested would look at that court filing.

But in summary, it describes that the department received the documents in June 2015 from members of former Secretary Clinton’s senior staff and did not withhold it until that time. So there’s a pretty big discrepancy in the dates there and we regret, obviously, any confusion that was caused by our error in correspondence.

QUESTION: So what was the – so the correct date instead of --

MR TONER: Correct date was June 2015, so – they said withheld. We – the original correspondence that we received the document – or was withheld, rather, November 2014. So a difference of 10 months --

QUESTION: Well, yeah --

MR TONER: -- or less than that.

QUESTION: -- except that --

QUESTION: Eight months.

MR TONER: Eight months, thank you. Clearly not a mathematician.

QUESTION: Well --

MR TONER: What’s the matter, Matt?

QUESTION: So you --

MR TONER: So --

QUESTION: So I don’t understand what --

MR TONER: Yeah, that’s okay. So in which --

QUESTION: I just don’t get what --

MR TONER: So the department --

QUESTION: That’s – not – so not only did whoever wrote this letter get the year wrong, but they got the month wrong.

MR TONER: Right. They just had the date wrong. They said that – they said – the department said that the document in question was withheld in November 2014. That was just incorrect. It was actually received in 2015 and I think withheld in July 2015.

QUESTION: Okay, but I mean, that seems like a pretty --

MR TONER: It is. It’s a --

QUESTION: -- egregious clerical error --

MR TONER: It’s a mistake. I mean I --

QUESTION: -- especially on something that you know is sensitive and that – and with a group that we know, the Judicial --

MR TONER: Again, we apologize for the mistake and we own it.

QUESTION: Right, but – okay, so have you told them? Because they were – they made some pretty – they made some pretty big allegations about this yesterday.

MR TONER: Well, we did. We let them know. I believe we sent them a correspondence admitting --

QUESTION: Have they --

MR TONER: -- this mistake and --

QUESTION: Have they acknowledged it?

MR TONER: I don’t know.

QUESTION: I mean --

QUESTION: (Off-mike)

MR TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: I’m just curious because it doesn’t – November 2014 – I mean, they don’t even have the same letters in them – June, November and – June, I mean, unless they have an E and an N --

MR TONER: I don’t – Matt, I don’t think it was – I don’t think it was a matter of misspelling the month or --

QUESTION: I know, but how do you mix it --

MR TONER: -- flubbing the year. I think they simply --

QUESTION: -- on something this sensitive that --

MR TONER: No, no, no. I think what --

QUESTION: -- you know that’s going to attract so much --

MR TONER: I mean, look, I’m conjecturing here, purely conjecturing --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: -- which is always dangerous to do from the State Department podium, but I’m thinking that they just – whoever was writing the letter just simply was looking --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: -- at a different date and put that date in the letter, it wasn’t picked up, and it was just blatantly an error and we own it.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: Okay? I don’t think it was a matter of May versus March or something like that.

QUESTION: Well, then, I mean – well, no, you could find some – okay.

MR TONER: It just wasn’t – it wasn’t – it wasn’t a spelling error or anything like that.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, clearly.

MR TONER: But go – yeah.

QUESTION: I wanted to go to Libya.

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Regarding this ship that you believe is carrying oil illicitly exported from eastern Libya, one, do you know where the ship is now?

MR TONER: No. I mean, I – what I had heard was it – what I heard is that it attempted actually to arrive or to – I don’t know what – to make port in Malta but was prevented from doing so. I don’t know where it is at present. I just don’t have a --

QUESTION: And what are you doing now to try to prevent or to ensure that the oil – if, as you suggest, it is – it has been illicitly removed from Libya – that the oil does not – that the ship can’t dock anywhere and that the oil does not get sold to anyone?

MR TONER: So the Libyans have actually notified the UN Libya sanctions committee that there was this attempt to export Libyan oil illicitly, so the UN Security Council obviously condemn attempts to do this, to export crude oil from Libya, and it does permit the council to designate vessels involved in these oil – illicit oil exports and authorizes member states to inspect these kind of – these vessels on the high seas. I’m unaware that that has happened yet.

QUESTION: Either one? The possibility of a designation --

MR TONER: Right, exactly. Exactly.

QUESTION: -- or --

MR TONER: Or that.

QUESTION: Or boarding?

MR TONER: But, I mean, I believe this is currently being vetted in the Security Council.

QUESTION: And do – so do you need – do – you basically need a Security Council vote to vote on designating it, or you can unilaterally designate it?

MR TONER: I’m – well, this is – it’s actually in the sanctions committee. I’m – again, process-wise, I’m not sure that it needs an actual vote, but I think that action rests with the sanctions committee.

We, for our part, have just been in touch with international partners on this issue, and we’re continuing to monitor it very closely. But I don’t have – and I’ll try to get that for you, where the ship is actually currently.

QUESTION: Okay. A couple more on this.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: As you’re I think aware, the Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation has said that the company that initiated this shipment – it’s called DSA Consultancy, which is registered in the UAE.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Have you reached out to the UAE to ask them who this company is and why they’re buying what you regard as – why they’re making what you regard as an illicit transaction to buy this oil?

MR TONER: Right. So we are – as you noted, this is an Indian-flagged vessel, but we have also seen reports that it was chartered by a UAE-based company. I know, as I’ve said, we’ve been in touch with other governments in the region. I don’t know that we specifically raised with the UAE why this is – whether this is a UAE-based firm or what their information – or what they have in terms of information about this firm. I can take that question.

QUESTION: Why wouldn’t you ask them?

MR TONER: I would assume we would, I just don’t know. I just can’t confirm it, that’s all.

QUESTION: And then one other one from me: The company itself issued a statement today saying that the – it didn’t – that it believes the shipment is legitimate and that it has not been notified otherwise. And it – in its statement it says that the, quote, “ultimate beneficiary,” close quote, of the contract for the oil was the central bank of Libya. And it goes on to say that it will, quote, “always work strictly within the local and international legal frameworks. As of today, the company, DSA, is not in receipt of any legal basis for challenging the cargo’s legitimacy,” close quote. Have you gone to this company or tried to find them to make your argument to them that it’s not a legitimate transaction?

MR TONER: Yeah, I don’t know that we have, and I frankly think it would be incumbent on the Libyans to do so. The – our – as we said yesterday, we believe that all purchase of Libyan oil must continue to be through the National Oil Corporation which is based in Tripoli, and that’s to maintain the stability of the markets and the credibility of Libya’s oil in international oil markets. We maintain that, but I don’t know that the – if the Libyans themselves have raised it with these – with this company. I don’t know that we have directly.

QUESTION: Can we move on? Can I go to another topic, if I may?

MR TONER: Sure. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: I mean, on the auspicious occasion of Press Freedom Day, there are two Palestinians – one, a Palestine TV journalist that was arrested a week ago, Mujahed al-Saadi, in Hebron; and then yesterday – a couple days ago, Omar Nazzal, who is the head of the Palestinian Journalists’ Association, was on his way to a conference and was arrested. I mean, you began by imploring a certain government to release a certain journalist. Would you call on the Israelis to release Palestinian journalists?

MR TONER: Said, I don’t have the specifics of either of these cases in front of me, so I – it’s hard for me to be able to speak to the --

QUESTION: I have asked you about this for the past week.

MR TONER: I just don’t know the allegations. I don’t know – sure.

QUESTION: I have asked about this for the past week.

MR TONER: I understand, Said.

QUESTION: Could you please look into it?

MR TONER: We can certainly look into it. I think generally speaking, until we know the specific facts surrounding the case and the allegations against these individuals, it would be premature for us to speak about it.

QUESTION: Okay. It’s not only these two individuals. It is actually an accelerated effort to arrest journalists, Palestinian journalists, all throughout the occupied territories. So perhaps you could also look into that.

MR TONER: We’ll certainly take a look at it.

QUESTION: I also have a question about a Palestinian astrophysicist that was arrested on his way to Jordan, Imad Barghouthi. He’s a U.S.-trained – in fact taught at U.S. universities, worked on a NASA program and so on.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Could you look into that?

MR TONER: We sure will. I don’t have – I mean, I also would encourage you to speak to the Israeli authorities about his arrest.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. So – okay. Well, then let me go on to another topic.

MR TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: Today a Palestinian young woman, 23 years old, and her 16-year-old brother were shot, and even if you take the Israeli narrative, the Israeli side of the story saying that they were coming towards the checkpoint and then they turned back, but they were shot dead – I mean, would you consider that to be excessive use of force? I mean, the young woman was pumped with 15 bullets. And even the Israeli spokeswoman said that they were going back, and apparently they mistook the road. I mean, they were – they got on the motorway instead of the pathway through the checkpoint. Do you have any comment on that? Is that an excessive use of force?

MR TONER: Well, we’ve seen the reports and obviously we’re gathering more information about the incident and looking at the various accounts. We remain concerned about ongoing violence. We continue to urge both sides, all sides, to restore calm, reduce tensions, and to end the violence. In terms of use of excessive force, of course that’s always a message that we convey in these kinds of cases. We certainly support the right of Israeli security forces to defend Israeli lives, but they should always show moderation in terms of use of excessive force, or use of force in general. We’ll look into this particular case and try to get more facts about it.

Please.

QUESTION: I have several on Ukraine, and this is in reference to Assistant Secretary Nuland’s trip. First of all, if you could clarify a couple of things that she said in a speech today. One was that it’s time to start locking up people who have ripped off the Ukrainian population for too long, and time to end the corruption. Can you elaborate on who she’s referring to there, and has the U.S. been encouraging the Ukrainian Government to prosecute corrupt individuals?

MR TONER: Well, we’ve certainly been, as we do in many countries but specifically with respect to Ukraine, we’ve certainly been encouraging the Ukrainian Government to combat what has – had become or has become pervasive corruption over the past years. I think the Ukrainian people, frankly, and those who protested on the Maidan demanded that as well. And so – and frankly, the government has tried to pass reforms, has tried to go after some of these corrupt individuals, and that work continues. So I think it was simply – she was simply highlighting the fact that corruption continues to be a major concern to average Ukrainians who are seeking or looking for stronger political institutions, and that includes law enforcement and stronger attempts to really bring that corruption under control. Again, these are I think aspirations that they have expressed since the Maidan in attempting to build stronger democratic institutions within Ukraine.

QUESTION: She also said that one of the decisions made at Hanover is the U.S. will now accelerate its own diplomacy in close coordination with the Normandy format leaders, with Germany and France, to see Minsk implemented. What did she mean by that?

MR TONER: Well, as you said, she said one of the decisions made at Hanover was that they’re going to accelerate their own diplomacy in close coordination, as you note, with the Normandy Format leaders to see Minsk implemented – implemented, rather. And this means restoring security and fundamentally – or one of the fundamental parts of that is OSCE access across the Donbas, the return of hostages, preparations for Ukrainian elections in Donbas that meet international standards and that are in accord with the Ukrainian constitution, and then, of course, the withdrawal of all heavy weaponry and foreign forces. And the ultimate goal here is to restore Ukraine’s border and sovereignty. These are all parts of the Minsk agreement that have yet to be fulfilled. And so I think she’s simply – was stating that we, the United States, working within the Normandy Format, are going to redouble our efforts to move that process forward.

QUESTION: And then a couple more if I can.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: First of all, regarding the elections in Donbas, is the U.S. pushing for the elections to be held by July?

MR TONER: Fair question. I don’t have a specific timeframe or date. I’m sure she spoke to this. I think that our major concern here is that they be held within – or that meet – that they meet, rather, international standards and are in accord with the Ukrainian constitution. If they can be held by July, as long as they meet those requirements, then I think we would welcome that. But those are the fundamental, I think, things we’re looking to see.

QUESTION: Okay, and then last one --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- concerning Minsk. Is the U.S. insisting on a sequence in which Russia has to first meet its obligations and then Ukraine – secondly, Ukraine would then have to do its part?

MR TONER: No, I mean, I – look, all along we’ve said that both sides need to fulfill the commitments that they made under Minsk. We have seen and we’ve talked about the fact that Ukraine has made some serious steps and serious progress on meeting its own commitments with regard to Minsk. We’ve yet to see the separatists, the Russian-backed separatists, take those same steps. And again, some of the things I’ve just outlined, which are continued violations of the ceasefire along – or along the ceasefire line; frankly, the presence of Russian troops still in eastern Ukraine – again, these are all things that need to be addressed by the separatists and by Russia in order to fulfill their Minsk commitments.

So I don’t know if we’re – I wouldn’t say necessarily we’re looking for a tit-for-tat kind of exchange here. I think we’re looking for progress on both sides. We have seen the Ukrainian Government make progress. We’ve not seen that same level of progress by the separatists and by Russia.

QUESTION: Can I go to Iran?

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: I’ve got a couple. One is that for the last month there’s been all sorts of talk around town about how Treasury, in coordination with State, would be moving to ease or clarify rules having to do with transactions with Iran. The Administration has said repeatedly over and over not to expect anything in terms of new access for Iran to the financial system or direct access to U.S. dollars. Secretary Kerry met on Friday with Foreign Minister Zarif (inaudible). Well, just minutes ago – at 2:39, according to my phone – the Treasury Department released new FAQs on doing business with Iran, so my – which seek to clarify the rules. So I want to know: Is this something that was worked out with Secretary Kerry and Secretary Zarif? I realize this is a Treasury issue, but did he tell Foreign Minister Zarif that this was going to be coming when they met on Friday?

MR TONER: Matt, I wasn’t in New York. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t inside the room when they met. I think if I had to characterize it, I mean, the Secretary was very clear that we were going to continue to meet our obligations under the JCPOA and make clear or set forth as clearly as possible to foreign banks and other businesses interested in doing business with Iran what they could do or what they had to do in terms of complying with existing sanctions. So this sounds like that’s in that vein.

QUESTION: Well, okay – wait.

MR TONER: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m just asking because Treasury doesn’t do a briefing --

MR TONER: No, of course. It’s okay.

QUESTION: -- and so I want to ask here. But I want to know if this is it. Is there more coming in terms of trying to ease the fears of foreign businesses and the Iranians or --

MR TONER: So nothing --

QUESTION: Or --

MR TONER: Sure. Nothing specifically to announce, but of course we’re going to continue to, as we’ve said, consult with foreign governments, foreign banks, as well as other financial institutions and try to, as I said, just clarify what the rules are.

QUESTION: The second one on Iran has to do with this – Senator Cotton --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- has put an amendment in some bill – I can’t remember what it is exactly – but that would stop or prevent the Administration from buying this heavy water from – your colleague at the White House said that the President would veto it – the bill if it got to him with this language in it. And he said that it was an ideological amendment – I can’t remember what his exact words – ideological provision.

MR TONER: I think he said “oppose ideological policy riders,” is the --

QUESTION: Got you.

MR TONER: You can quote Josh.

QUESTION: Ideological policy riders.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: And then your – he also noted that Senator Cotton – or had – he said that Senator Cotton is doing everything he can, or has vowed to do everything he can to try and stop the implementation of the nuclear deal. My question is this: Does the nuclear deal require the United States to buy Iran’s excess heavy water?

MR TONER: No, I don’t believe it does.

QUESTION: No.

MR TONER: I mean, I think this was just a, frankly, a – if I could put it this way – it was a win-win. I mean, we needed heavy water and we were able to buy it off of them as an outcome or a byproduct or whatever from the nuclear deal – the fact that they had this heavy water on hand to sell in the international market.

QUESTION: Right, but what I’m asking about is --

MR TONER: But I don’t believe – no, I don’t believe it’s – I certainly don’t believe --

QUESTION: Right. I mean, if he --

MR TONER: My understanding is that it’s not incumbent on --

QUESTION: So if this bill were to become legislation and the President didn’t veto it, Iran could still sell its heavy – excess heavy water elsewhere, right?

MR TONER: That’s my understanding, yes.

QUESTION: So how is this – how is this – how does the Administration make it the case that this is an ideological attempt by Senator Cotton to destroy --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- the JCPOA if, in fact, it doesn’t? I mean, you – the United States would not be violating its end of the deal if it did not buy Iran’s excess heavy water, right?

MR TONER: Sure. Again, I think that – and again, without – I’ll – I mean, Josh certainly and the White House can speak for – speak to this issue better than I can but --

QUESTION: Yeah. They can, but I don’t think that they got that question that I’m asking you right now.

MR TONER: No, no, that’s okay. I think that – no, no, that’s okay.

QUESTION: Maybe they did and I missed it. But my question is: How can the Administration say – I mean, maybe it is his intent to try and destroy – do everything he can to destroy it. But – the deal. But preventing the Administration from buying Iran’s heavy water does not mean that – make Iran – make the United States in violation of the JCPOA, right?

MR TONER: My understanding is it is not required under the JCPOA.

QUESTION: Okay. So where is this argument coming from?

MR TONER: So I am again conjecturing that I think that the idea is that Iran does have this byproduct from its implementation of the JCPOA and that it – if it is prevented from selling this heavy water on the open market to some countries, such as the United States --

QUESTION: But this doesn’t prevent it from – this doesn’t prevent it --

MR TONER: -- no, I said just the United States – that it would be a hindrance to it complying with the JCPOA. But I don’t have any more detail to provide.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, there are many other countries that are --

MR TONER: There are other – there are other buyers.

QUESTION: -- possible purchasers of --

MR TONER: There are. I don’t have any more detail.

QUESTION: Sir, I have --

QUESTION: So this would – so this is – so that argument is not correct? It’s not rooted in fact, right?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to speak to whether it’s --

QUESTION: Sir, I have a question --

QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria?

QUESTION: I have a follow-up on that. Has that transaction yet, which I believe briefers said last would take a couple of weeks --

MR TONER: I think it is taking a couple of weeks, yeah. I think I have --

QUESTION: So it has not yet been consummated?

MR TONER: It hasn’t arrived in Oak Ridge yet, which I believe was its ultimate destination.

QUESTION: Right, but my question is less whether it’s arrived there --

MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- but – sure, no – but whether the transaction has been consummated – in other words, whether you’ve taken delivery of it wherever and you’ve paid the Iranians for it.

MR TONER: I don’t believe that’s taken place yet.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria? Back to Syria a little bit?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Let me just go back for a minute to the White Helmets.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Do they operate in, let’s say, rebel-controlled areas freely? I mean, do they move about in that area? Are they just targeted by the regime or --

MR TONER: So my understanding is that – sure. My understanding is that, like I said, like many of these humanitarian organizations that operate in that environment --

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: -- that operate in that environment --

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: -- that they cross lines. So if it’s Nusrah-held territory, they will go in the Nusrah-held territory, again, to help civilians, to aid civilians in the aftermath of attacks. And so, again, I don’t know beyond that that they – but they do move within the various factions on the ground certainly around Aleppo.

QUESTION: And to the best of your knowledge, are there any other government or groups that are aiding them beside USAID?

MR TONER: That’s a good question. I don’t have that in front of me. I can take that question.

QUESTION: Okay. And on the --

MR TONER: We’ll get more detail for you on that.

QUESTION: Okay. On the negotiations that are ongoing, Mr. de Mistura said yesterday that actually there seems to be, like, some movement or positive movement between the groups and there seem to be the opposition that is supported by Russia, that it seems to – sort of getting its act together and they’re trying to coalesce with the others. Can you update us on what is happening on that score?

MR TONER: Well, I don’t have a lot to add. Obviously, as you mentioned, U.S. – UN Special Envoy de Mistura is going to – or he is actually going to brief the Security Council later today, and I believe he, after that, is going to have a statement to the press and take some questions. So we look forward to his assessment.

We did talk about that last week that he did say this round of talks did progress in the fact that it got beyond issues of process and logistics and actually put the subject of political transition front – sort of front and center in the talks, and he viewed that legitimately as progress. So he was encouraged by that. I think that – I’m referring back to his comments, I think, last Friday. We still don’t have a date for the restart of talks. We obviously want to see the parties get back to Geneva as quickly as possible, but as we said yesterday – as I said yesterday, the security situation and the fragility of the cessation of hostilities right now on the ground is a strong – strongly hinders that from – that process from moving forward because the opposition, rightly so, is asking, well, how it can participate in talks in Geneva when its forces are coming under attack.

So what we need to see at the same – we need to see very soon is the ceasefire, the – all sides that are party to the cessation of hostilities to restrain from ongoing combat or ongoing actions against other groups, most of what we’d seen, as we talked about with the regime carrying out airstrikes and carrying out other strikes against opposition groups. So we need to see all sides refrain from further action. We need to see the cessation of hostilities regain traction, if you will, and then we can get the Geneva talks back on track.

QUESTION: Mark, have you seen --

QUESTION: Mark --

QUESTION: -- Michael’s – Michael Ratney’s statement on the cessation?

MR TONER: I have seen Michael Ratney’s statement.

QUESTION: What’s the main message? Is he calling the Syrian opposition groups to fight al-Nusrah groups or to leave their positions and go far from al-Nusrah’s positions?

MR TONER: No, I don’t think he was – I think --

QUESTION: What’s the main message?

MR TONER: Sure, sure, that’s – it’s a fair question. I think he was trying to speak to the fact that there was the misperception among some of these opposition groups that we were somehow trying to paint Aleppo as under – that some of these opposition groups were in league with al-Nusrah and other terrorist organizations. And I think he was simply trying to clarify to these groups – and it was a statement in Arabic, as you note, with the intended audience being the Syrian opposition – to just clarify the fact that Aleppo is not under the exclusive control of Nusrah. And there is the perception, and certainly this is something that the Syrian regime and the Russians have supported, that Aleppo is under Nusrah control; therefore, they can simply attack it, and they’re going after known terrorist organizations.

So what he’s trying to clarify there is that is not our belief. Nusrah does control areas of Aleppo without doubt, but there are parts of Nusrah – of Aleppo, rather, that are controlled by those groups that are party to the cessation of hostilities. And so I think that was the major point he was trying to make – to clarify to those groups that we do not have the same or share the same assessment that it’s under Nusrah’s control.

QUESTION: But didn’t he call these groups to fight al-Nusrah or to leave their positions and be --

MR TONER: He said they need to – he said, and I’m quoting here, “The Syrian people and revolutionary factions must continue to reject terrorism in all its forms and distance themselves from the terrorists to the maximum degree possible.”

QUESTION: What does he mean by that – by that phrase that --

MR TONER: Well, I think – I mean, look, what I think he means is that given the fact that the regime is, frankly, looking for excuses to lump all of these groups together under the flag of Nusrah, if you will, that these groups need to very clearly delineate their differences and their separation from Nusrah. And look, we’ve talked about this before, and the Secretary’s spoken to this, is – and frankly, it’s a huge challenge for us when you’re dealing with a situation like Aleppo – is you’ve got a group here, you’ve got another group here, al-Nusrah on the ground, there needs to be a clear delineation between the groups so that you don’t have a Syrian opposition party that is party to the cessation of hostilities being hit by the same airstrikes that might be hitting al-Nusrah.

QUESTION: Last question for me on Syria.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Russia has proposed placing Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham on the UN sanctions list for ISIL. Do you agree with them?

MR TONER: No, we think that that would have damaging consequences to the cessation, and frankly, at a moment when we’re trying to make sure that it’s – we’re trying to de-escalate the situation on the ground. This has been something they have raised before. They’ve – it’s two opposition groups – Jaysh al-Islam, as you note, and Ahrar al-Sham. And they want to try to designate these groups that, frankly, are right now party to the cessation of hostilities. So we don’t want to see that happen. We don’t believe that that’s constructive.

QUESTION: But they are targeting them in Aleppo and elsewhere.

MR TONER: I agree, and that’s why they need to refrain from targeting these groups that are parties to the cessation of hostilities, and we call on them to do so.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I ask you on more on Russia and Syria?

QUESTION: I have --

MR TONER: Of course. Yeah, of course. I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: These seems to – there’s some criticism coming from the Russian foreign ministry concerning the U.S. plans to put the additional troops in Syria, basically saying that the U.S. does not have, quote-unquote, “permission” for these troops to be there. Is there any effort underway to address these concerns that are being presented by Russia?

MR TONER: By “permission,” they mean international --

QUESTION: Syria – consent from Syria.

MR TONER: From the Syrian Government?

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: I mean, look, we’ve talked about this before. We have the – we do believe we have the legal authority to use military force against ISIL in Syria. We have the 2002 AUMF that’s still in place that we feel strongly provides for – or provides the legal authority, rather, for military operations against ISIL both in Iraq and in Syria. The President has made efforts to encourage Congress to pass a new AUMF, the authorization for the use of military force – forgive me for using an acronym – and that really is up to Congress to take on that task. But we believe the current one passed in 2001 does cover us --

QUESTION: Well --

MR TONER: -- and provides justification.

QUESTION: I don’t – that’s --

MR TONER: Is that not what she was asking?

QUESTION: Well --

MR TONER: Or what are you asking me?

QUESTION: Look, this is not a new – this is not a new --

MR TONER: It sure isn’t.

QUESTION: -- position of – from the Russians and this is not a new explanation from you guys, but that – what you’re referring to is a U.S. law.

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: It doesn’t have universal application. You guys say it does, but what the Russian point is here is that you do – don’t have permission from the Syrian Government nor do you have authorization from the UN Security Council, which would be the two ways that they say that such an operation would be legitimate or legal. That’s correct, is it not?

MR TONER: So what we have said in response is that --

QUESTION: I mean, that’s like saying because --

MR TONER: -- we’re using – but we’re using force – no, no, I understand what you’re saying, Matt. I’m giving you the --

QUESTION: That’s like me – if I’m from Delaware and I say that, “Well, my state has no sales tax,” so I go to New York and I’m going to say, “Well, you know what? I’m going to play by Delaware’s rules and I’m not going to give you your sales tax.”

MR TONER: So in response to that --

QUESTION: Right?

MR TONER: -- we have notified the Security Council that we are taking action consistent with Article 51 of the UN Charter, and more broadly speaking, we’ve said that our actions are using force against ISIL and al-Qaida in Syria in the collective self-defense of Iraq and in the U.S. national self-defense. We’re doing so as the Syrian regime has shown it is incapable and possesses neither the will nor the capability to confront these terrorist groups effectively.

QUESTION: But – well, you’re complaining about them confronting them right now.

MR TONER: Matt, we both know what --

QUESTION: Okay, but I mean --

MR TONER: We can argue that one too. I mean, welcome – welcome to --

QUESTION: No, I don’t want to argue it. I just --

MR TONER: No, what we’re --

QUESTION: You’re – no, my question is --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: So you’ve told the Security Council that you’re doing this under Article 51.

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: And that’s – and that, according to you guys, is the --

MR TONER: Yeah, legal basis --

QUESTION: Okay. That and the AUMF.

MR TONER: Yes.

Please.

QUESTION: Armenian armed forces have once again --

MR TONER: I’m sorry, I missed just the first part of your question. I apologize.

QUESTION: Armenia.

MR TONER: Armenia, okay.

QUESTION: Armed forces have once again broke a ceasefire in the front line for the last two days. As one of the member states of the Minsk Group, how is the attitude of the United States towards sabotage?

MR TONER: Well, look, we’ve seen the fragile ceasefire put in place. We were encouraged initially that it appeared to be holding, but obviously tensions remain on the ground. The Secretary has reached out to leaders of both countries, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Our chairman of the Minsk Group – co-chair, rather – has visited the region. We have remained in contact with both governments, all sides in this conflict, and our message has been consistent, which is that we condemn in the strongest possible terms any violence along the Nagorno-Karabakh line of conflict and we need to see the peace process back up and running and as soon as possible. There is no military solution to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Thanks, all.

QUESTION: Oh, wait.

QUESTION: One more? I have one more.

MR TONER: Oh. No, wait.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: Just one more on North Korea.

MR TONER: Trying to sneak it in there at the end. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: North Korea announced that the Workers’ Party Congress will be held on May 6th, next Friday.

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Blinken said in a Senate Foreign Relations hearing this morning that there may be another missile test or nuclear test around this date. Is this your expectation?

MR TONER: You said – I was watching Deputy Secretary Blinken’s testimony. You said – but you said – what did you say? He said he --

QUESTION: He said that there might be another missile test or nuclear test around that date.

MR TONER: Well, yes. Yeah, no, okay. Well, look, I mean – and I spoke to this a little bit yesterday, and obviously the Republic of Korea – the president spoke to this as well, is that we continue to be concerned about the possibility of ongoing missile tests from the DPRK, from North Korea. The fact that there’s this major event coming up, as we’ve seen in the past, that the regime often uses these events or wants to showcase their capabilities, I guess. So yes, it is a concern, a very real one.

QUESTION: I have one --

QUESTION: One more. I don’t think you were asked about Trump --

MR TONER: No.

QUESTION: -- at the start, which I missed. Are you willing to comment on any aspect of Trump’s speech regarding U.S. foreign policy?

MR TONER: I mean, not really. Thanks for the opportunity. I mean, he is a candidate for the President of the United States, and he, as a candidate for the President of the United States, is perfectly free to express his viewpoint on foreign policy and what he would – his foreign policy would look like.

QUESTION: Even not – even people who aren’t candidates for President of the United States --

MR TONER: Exactly right.

QUESTION: -- are free to do that, but --

MR TONER: Thank you, Matt, for clarifying that. No, but I’m just saying I don’t have anything to parse about – out of his speech, no.

QUESTION: Well, let me ask you on one point --

MR TONER: Yes sir, of course.

QUESTION: -- that he mentioned. He said that you’re basically giving your partners in the Middle East a free ride, and in fact that you are not naming the enemy. He says you need to name the enemy to defeat it, and he said that enemy is radical Islam. You have any comment on that?

MR TONER: I mean, we --

QUESTION: This is not a term that the Administration has used.

MR TONER: I mean, I – honestly, I --

QUESTION: Why do you shy away from using it? I’m just asking.

MR TONER: Again, what our enemy is or who our enemy is in the Middle East – or, frankly, not just the Middle East – is the bankrupt ideology of ISIL/Daesh and the threat of extremism around the world and the kind of insidious infiltration or influence that that kind of extremism has on people in Europe and other countries. We’ve seen ISIS or ISIL attempt to extend its tentacles into other countries in the region. I couldn’t imagine how we could possibly be more clear in our expression of concern and determination to defeat and destroy that enemy. And so I would express confusion at his comments in that regard.

QUESTION: This is not about that. It’s about Bahrain. Not so long ago, the Secretary was there – was that 10 days, two weeks ago?

MR TONER: Gosh, it seems longer than that, but sure. You’re right.

QUESTION: Anyway, he – right; it was a --

MR TONER: It all blurs, but yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- it wasn’t extremely recent.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: And while he was there, the foreign minister – the Bahraini foreign minister – talked about the case of this woman who’s been detained, Zainab al-Khawaja, and said that she would be soon granted bail. And I’m just wondering if you followed up on that. Has she been, in fact, released?

MR TONER: Let me follow up on that case, because I remember that, and we have been watching that case closely. So let me get back to you on that. Okay?

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR TONER: Thanks, Matt. Thanks, guys.

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


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 04/26/2016 - 18:10

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

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

2:22 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Welcome, everyone, to the State Department. Happy Tuesday. Just a few things at the top and then I’ll get to your questions.

First of all, I did want to introduce – with World Press Freedom less than a week away, the department is launching its fifth annual Free the Press Campaign. And beginning today and over the course of the next six days we’re going to highlight emblematic cases of reporters from around the world who are imprisoned, harassed, and otherwise targeted for doing their jobs, just by reporting the news.

To mark the fifth anniversary, the department will highlight journalists and media outlets that we have identified in previous years that were censored, attacked, threatened, imprisoned, or otherwise oppressed because of their reporting whose situations have not yet improved. And we’re going to spotlight these various cases in three ways: one, by raising them from behind the podium at the top of each daily press briefing; two, by spotlighting them on www.humanrights.gov and social media; and then third, by using the hashtag #freethepress to spread the word and message on Twitter.

And the campaign’s goal is straightforward. It’s to call the world’s attention to the plight of these reporters and to call on governments to protect and promote the right to promote – to – let me do that again – call on governments to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression.

For our first case for World Press Freedom Day, we’d like to highlight Jose Antonia Torres, who’s a journalist for Granma, the official communist daily newspaper in Cuba. And he was arrested on February of 2011, after Granma published his report on the mismanagement of a public works project in Santiago de Cuba, and subsequently sentenced to 14 years in prison for allegedly spying.

This is the kind of reporting that promotes transparency and makes government accountable to its people. We take this opportunity to call on the Government of Cuba to release him. You can learn more about this case and others involved in Free the Press on our website, again, www.humanrights.gov.

I know John got the question yesterday. We did want to note and congratulate the people of Serbia on holding national, provincial, and local elections on April 24th, and the OSCE international observer mission and the U.S. embassy observers assessed that election day procedures were conducted in accordance with the law.

Through this election, the Serbian people have expressed a clear support for Serbia’s path toward further integration with Europe, so we look forward to continuing our close work with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and his government on efforts to reach this goal, including justice reform, the normalization of relations with Kosovo, regional reconciliation, and on strengthening, of course, bilateral relations between the United States and Serbia.

And then lastly – apologize for all this at the top, but one last item. It’s on South Sudan. The return of Riek Machar to Juba and his swearing-in as first vice president today represents an important step towards formation of a transitional government of national unity and a second chance to reclaim the promise that this young nation deserves. We welcome the statements by President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar calling for cooperation, reconciliation, and peaceful coexistence.

South Sudan’s leaders now need to complete formation of the transitional government, fully respect the permanent ceasefire agreement, facilitate humanitarian access to all areas of the country, and begin implementing the reform agenda of the peace agreement according to the timeline established by the parties. We express our appreciation to the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission Chairperson President Festus Mogae as – of the African Union, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, and the member-states of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development for their efforts to support the implementation of the August peace agreement.

Over to you, Brad.

QUESTION: I wanted to – I think we’ll maybe get back to South Sudan, but I wanted to ask you about the reports out of Korea that the North is prepared for a fifth nuclear test. One, does this square up with your understanding of the activity in North Korea right now? Two, what is your message to the North as it considers undertaking this?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, obviously we’re closely monitoring the situation on the ground, on the Korean peninsula to be more specific, in coordination with our regional allies. I mean, in terms of President Park’s specific comments, I would refer you to him and to the Government of Korea.

But specifically, you asked what is our assessment. I mean, we have seen a pattern here over the past several weeks. I believe just last week, on April 23rd, we had another missile launch or attempted missile launch by North Korea. So we take these kinds of threats or comments very seriously. We call on North Korea to refrain from actions that further destabilize the region and focus on what it needs to do, which is take concrete steps toward fulfilling its commitments and its obligations to denuclearize. The United States remains steadfast in its commitment to the security of the peninsula and to its allies, the defense of its allies, and we’re going to continue to coordinate with Japan, with South Korea, and our other allies and partners.

QUESTION: What is the consequence that you’re laying out for North Korea if they go ahead and do this?

MR TONER: Well, we did pass, just a month or so ago, really the most stringent set of sanctions that we’ve ever had in place before on North Korea, obviously – which is always the case with sanctions. The real punch, if you will, comes with implementation and stringent implementation of those sanctions. And so we’re working to, in fact, implement those to make sure that North Korea feels them – the regime in North Korea.

QUESTION: But you’re going to do that anyways.

MR TONER: Exactly.

QUESTION: So what’s the --

MR TONER: I don’t have anything further to announce. I mean, you obviously saw last week we did – when the DPRK foreign minister was in New York, we restricted his movements right after the previous missile launch. That was partly out of an abundance of caution, given the circumstances of his trip. But we’re going to look at other options as we move forward if North Korea continues with this kind of behavior.

QUESTION: On Iraq?

MR TONER: Yeah. Sure, Michel. Iraq it is.

QUESTION: Do you have any (inaudible) the partial cabinet reshuffle today and the demonstrations by the followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr?

MR TONER: Well, I’ll start with the protests. And we obviously – we support the Iraqi people’s freedom of expression and assembly, just so long as these are peaceful protests. Peaceful protests are an integral part of a functioning democracy, and it is our understanding that, up till now, these protests have been, in fact, peaceful. Moving forward, the security for the international zone is the Government’s of Iraq’s responsibility, so they can probably answer best any further questions about security around these protests. But we obviously support the Iraqi people’s right to express themselves nonviolently.

In terms of the cabinet reshuffle, I’d obviously refer you to the Government of Iraq to comment on the specifics. But Secretary Kerry said when he was in Baghdad just a few weeks ago that it’s important to have political stability, to have a unified and functioning government as rapidly as possible, in order to move forward so that Iraq’s efforts to combat and defeat ISIL are not affected and not interrupted. So we urge all parties to work in tandem and work together to move the political process forward in ways that advance the interests and the aspirations of the Iraqi people and in accordance with the Iraqi constitution.

QUESTION: Mark --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Mark --

MR TONER: It’s fine. Let’s stay on Iraq.

QUESTION: No, I wanted to go back to North Korea.

QUESTION: Actually --

MR TONER: Is that – no, I don’t know how that – we usually – let’s finish with Iraq and then I’ll come back to North Korea for you. Thanks.

Yeah, man.

QUESTION: About – thanks, Mark. Regarding Muqtada al-Sadr --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- is there any concern at this point in this building about his influence in Iraq? On multiple occasions in the last three months, he’s been able to swiftly get well over 100,000 people into the streets of Baghdad. He’s also overseeing one of the more influential and successful Shia militias in the country in the fight against the Islamic State. He seems to have reemerged as a major player there. I wonder if you can comment on that and whether that’s a good thing or are there concerns here.

MR TONER: Well, I think, just answering your last question first, I mean, it’s a perfectly fine thing, as long as he wants to be a part of the political process and not work against it. I would just – you’re certainly right that he is able to still wield tremendous influence within Iraq. That’s clear by these current protests. And again, as we often say about these kinds of environments is that, if you’re willing to quote/unquote “play by the rules” and be a voice for positive change within a society, then that is part of the democratic process and we support that. So certainly we, again, recognize his influence. We recognize that he’s still an influential figure in Iraq, but we just encourage that his influence remain, as I said, positive and peaceful.

QUESTION: Is there some indication that it’s not at this point?

MR TONER: No, I just – I mean, look – I mean, just in the past we’ve had concerns. And going forward --

QUESTION: We actually had a target on his head for a few years.

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: And he was – I don't know if he was ever indicted --

MR TONER: I’m not sure about that either. But all I’m saying is --

QUESTION: But his forces at one time were at war with U.S. forces occupying Iraq.

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: I know that was a long time ago.

MR TONER: No, I understand that. That’s why – and partly – that’s part of my caveat. I mean, that’s why I say what I say, is that I think as Iraq evolves politically there is, in many countries that are evolving politically, an opportunity for some of these individuals to transition, if you will. But we view always this transition with caution.

QUESTION: Another on Iraq?

MR TONER: Yeah. Please, let’s stay on Iraq.

QUESTION: There was some confrontation between the Shia militias and the Iraqi Security Forces and the Peshmerga in Diyala. Do you have anything on that?

MR TONER: I don’t. I – well, I mean, a little bit. We don’t have much details. We’ve been obviously watching it closely. There have been ongoing, I believe, skirmishes between Kurdish Peshmerga forces and these, as you said, the Popular Mobilization Forces in the northern Iraq town of – forgive me, I’m going to mispronounce it, but Tuz Khurmatu. Both these forces have played important roles, frankly, against – in the fight against Daesh. When we view this kind of infighting, to put it that way, we view it with concern, because we obviously want to see the focus on the real enemy in Iraq, which is Daesh. And Iraqis forces, whether it’s Peshmerga, whether it’s Popular Mobilization Forces, need to stay united.

QUESTION: Can we go back to North Korea?

MR TONER: We can go back to North Korea.

QUESTION: I just want to pick up on what you said earlier about the U.S. will consider other options if North Korea does go ahead with the next missile launch. What other options are you talking about? Were you specifically talking about the high-altitude area defense mechanisms --

QUESTION: THAAD.

QUESTION: -- THAAD?

MR TONER: Well, I mean – THAAD you’re talking about. I mean, look, that’s – those are ongoing consultations that we’re having with the Republic of Korea. We’re committed to the defense of the peninsula. I don’t have anything particular to announce. We’re always looking at, as I said, strengthening our sanctions. We did a big lift in that regard at the UN. But I think it’s pretty clear that as North Korea continues to make decisions that we believe are counterproductive, that we’ve got to also continually look at what our options are in terms of response and – both, one, to ensure the security and safety of our allies and protect the peninsula – security of the peninsula, but also to make every effort that – to convince North Korea to come back to serious discussions about its program.

QUESTION: So you’re talking about options other than sanctions when you said “other options”?

MR TONER: I don’t want to – again, I’m not – I don’t want to get in front of any processes that are – or any discussions that we’re having. I’ll – I just don’t have anything to announce at this point.

QUESTION: So you are --

MR TONER: We’re always looking at --

QUESTION: So you are considering options other than sanctions?

MR TONER: I mean, again, we talked about THAAD --

QUESTION: THAAD, yeah.

MR TONER: -- and I don’t want to, again, lean too far forward on this, just only to emphasize that our concerns here and our aim here is twofold: again, how do we put additional pressure on North Korea to come back to the table, so to speak; and then secondly, how do we ensure that our allies are protected?

QUESTION: Go to Syria?

MR TONER: We can go to Syria. I’m happy to go to --

QUESTION: Can we stay on (inaudible)?

MR TONER: Oh yeah, I’m sorry. I apologize. Sorry, David.

QUESTION: Hello. Last week, Deputy Secretary Blinken was just in Asia, and then he had a – he said in Tokyo, quote, “We are certainly looking at what additional steps could be taken in the event of further provocation from North Korea, including another nuclear test,” unquote. So after he said that, we see another test from the North Korea. Could you elaborate, what other steps are you considering?

MR TONER: Well, again, I didn’t elaborate in my answer to Lesley because – (laughter) – and she was kind enough not to push me too hard on it. But --

QUESTION: I mean, when you say other “other” --

MR TONER: No, I understand what the point is. I just – I mean, we don’t want to announce anything before it’s been fully formed and fully vetted, except to say the fact that we always are consulting with our allies and partners in the region and fellow members of the Six-Party Talks about ways we can increase pressure on North Korea. There’s a number of ways to do that. I mean, you all know the various means. One, obviously, are sanctions; one are increased security measures. But I don’t have anything particular to announce at this point.

QUESTION: What else can be done? I mean, in your estimation, do you think China is losing its influence or leverage, or what else can be done?

MR TONER: Well, that’s – that’s for the pundits to debate. We have been very clear in our discussions with China that they need to exert whatever influence they have on North Korea. They have, as you know, historically had a measure of influence on the regime in North Korea. To date or recently, we have seen actions on the part of the North Korean regime that appear to indicate that that’s – again, that it’s under no one’s influence or that it’s acting on its own accord. That’s of concern, obviously, to us. It’s of concern to China. It’s of concern to other partners and allies in the region. So I think we’re all looking at how do we convince North Korea through various means and methods that it needs to address seriously the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program.

QUESTION: But Mark, it does sound like – I mean, you keep repeating and it keeps bringing up more questions, because you’re saying you don’t want to announce anything before it’s been fully vetted. So there --

MR TONER: I’m just – I sorry, I’m not trying to --

QUESTION: There seems to be other --

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: There seems to be some plan that seems to be in an advanced stage.

MR TONER: Again, I do not want to indicate that there’s some kind of – we’re about to pull the curtain off of a brand new plan or approach to North Korea. All I’m simply saying is that when we talk to our allies and partners, when we look at the problem of North Korea, we’re looking at different ways to approach it. Deputy Secretary Blinken spoke to this last week, as Nike noted. I don’t have anything to announce, and it would be irresponsible for me to announce anything before it was – that’s what I meant by fully vetted or fully --

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Syria, then. The --

MR TONER: Well, let’s go to Syria and then I’ll go back to Japan.

QUESTION: Yeah. The President said over the weekend that the cessation of hostilities needed to be reinstated. Is there a cessation of hostilities today?

MR TONER: That’s a very good question. I think in all honesty it has – we recognize that the cessation of hostilities has undergone a number of challenges in the past week or so, especially in and around Aleppo. That said, in other parts of the country it does remain in place, and what I think we need to see moving forward is that the cessation needs to be reinvigorated and solidified, and that’s going to be the focus in our discussions with the other members of the ISSG in the coming days, is to – how can we work with the various parties on the ground – and Kirby spoke to this yesterday – to do just that, to get them to pull back, to get them to restrain themselves, and to get them to abide by the cessation of hostilities. But without doubt, it’s been severely weakened over the last week or so, especially, as I said, in and around Aleppo.

QUESTION: Do you – but do you consider that the cessation of hostilities is holding in some places but not in others?

MR TONER: I mean, it’s our assessment – again, and I’m not --

QUESTION: What point in the war has every place in the country been under attack simultaneously? I don’t understand the notion that --

MR TONER: Yeah, I --

QUESTION: -- you can’t attack every place at the same time simultaneously --

MR TONER: I understand what – I --

QUESTION: -- so you can never have the cessation of hostilities broken ever --

MR TONER: No, that’s --

QUESTION: -- by that definition.

MR TONER: No. And nor, Brad, have we ever said that this is a 100 percent legitimate ceasefire. I think what we have said is that we – and we saw and credibly report that there was a significant cessation of hostilities. I think we talked about 70 percent reduction in violence in the country. Again, I – you’re right in the sense that you can never have or we have not had a full cessation of hostilities. We never had that since this came into play, but with that 70 percent reduction, it allowed Syrians to live more safely and allowed humanitarian aid to get to --

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: -- some of these places that have been besieged. So all in all, it’s been a good thing and we want to see --

QUESTION: And now that – and now that the violence is back up, do you still consider this – I mean, what point does the cessation of hostilities have to (inaudible) --

MR TONER: No, no. But my point is – I understand what you’re – I understand your question. I guess my --

QUESTION: -- for you to consider it broken?

MR TONER: I guess my point to Dave was we’re just saying that it’s not – it has not broken down all across the country, that – but that especially we have seen a degradation – I don’t know how else to put it – in and around Aleppo where there has been a sharp increase in violations and in fighting.

QUESTION: But you consider --

QUESTION: The regime has chosen Aleppo as its --

MR TONER: But I don’t think we’re ready to --

QUESTION: You consider it a living --

MR TONER: No, I don’t think we’re ready to declare the cessation dead.

QUESTION: You consider it a living agreement?

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: If the opposition were to make any attacks, and actually have made attacks --

MR TONER: We would call on --

QUESTION: -- you would consider those violations?

MR TONER: We would – yes. And we would call on all sides to show restraint and to abide by the ceasefire – or the cessation, rather.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, but Aleppo has been – is the city the regime has chosen as its current target. It could choose another one.

MR TONER: It could, that we don’t – I mean, or we can hopefully see a return to restraint, and as I said, an end to the violence. And there’s a, obviously – and we’ve talked about this before – it’s up to the task force and it’s also up to the various parties – Russia, namely – to exert whatever influence it has on the Syrian regime, just as it is on us and other members of the ISSG who have influence on the opposition to ask them to abide by the ceasefire, otherwise it doesn’t hold.

QUESTION: Given that Russia reportedly is involved in some of these attacks by providing air cover and launching airstrikes, who is investigating this reported ceasefire violation? Does that go to the task force of which Russia is co-chairing?

MR TONER: It still goes to the task force, but that task force is made up of all members of the ISSG. There is a process in place.

QUESTION: How do you – how do you – what’s the process for --

MR TONER: I honestly can’t --

QUESTION: Do you ask them to self-investigate themselves? Is that the process?

MR TONER: I would imagine that’s not the case. I think – but again, I don’t --

QUESTION: I wouldn’t be so sure.

MR TONER: Look, Brad, I don’t – I don’t have a window inside. What I understand it to be is that these allegations, credible allegations, are vetted among the various members of the ISSG, and then there’s decided that – what action will be taken. Okay?

QUESTION: Has the --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- task force to date come up with any certified conclusions about violations and provided adequate response? Has it done anything, essentially? You’ve talked about it a lot, but --

MR TONER: Well – no, no, I understand and it’s a fair question. In terms of whether it has publicly reported or given out a list of, it has not in my understanding.

QUESTION: Has it done it privately?

MR TONER: It has, I believe, vetted these and then, again, approached the culpable parties, I guess, whether it’s the regime or whether it’s opposition forces. Again, we’ve seen the preponderance of these kind of violations on the part of the regime, but that said, what happens is then they are taken – they are – go to these various parties and then they speak to them and try to get them to, again, abide by the cessation of hostilities. And we talked about this – look, this is what it is. I mean, you can --

QUESTION: I just don’t understand what the value of it is.

MR TONER: You can decide tomorrow that if you’re a party to this cessation of hostilities, whether you’re the regime or the opposition --

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: -- you can decide tomorrow, “The cessation be damned, we’re going to begin fighting again.” Then you clearly are not party to that cessation. It’s self-policing in that sense.

QUESTION: But it seems like they’re doing that anyhow, but they’re just not saying that. So --

MR TONER: I understand your point.

QUESTION: -- you’re left saying, well, we think you’re abiding by – except in the cases you’re not, and we can’t do anything --

MR TONER: I guess, Brad, how I would put it is we’re not ready to declare this thing dead. We believe it is, outside of Aleppo, largely holding. We acknowledge that within Aleppo and around Aleppo that there have been multiple or ongoing instances or incidents that, frankly, cause us grave concern. That’s why we’re trying to coordinate with Russia; that’s why we’re trying to coordinate with other members of the ISSG; and that’s why we’re trying to convey to the parties involved that they need to back off.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: I was looking to change topic, unless somebody has a follow-up on this.

MR TONER: Happily. Yeah, sure. Unless it’s a difficult one, then I don’t want to. No, I’m just – (laughter).

QUESTION: In Bangladesh, Kirby addressed --

MR TONER: Oh yeah. Yes.

QUESTION: -- a question yesterday about whether or not this was considered a terrorist attack or a hate crime, or how you might want to characterize this. And today an al-Qaida affiliate apparently claimed responsibility for the attack. So does that change your description or analysis of what occurred here?

MR TONER: Sure, Justin. So what we have seen is, as you note, a claim of responsibility by Ansar al-Islam, which does identify itself as an al-Qaida affiliate in the Indian subcontinent. And it does state that its attack was motivated out of hatred and out of intolerance against these individuals because of their activism on LGBTI issues, and was directed against the LGBTI community in Bangladesh. We don’t have any reason to believe this was not the case. We don’t, obviously, have any reason to confirm it absolutely at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. And then on something separate: The story in the Daily Caller about Secretary Kerry and wife Teresa Heinz and their offshore investments through Teresa’s trust.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: And the allegation here essentially is that the Secretary is taking advantage of tax havens. I’m sure you’ve seen the story.

MR TONER: Sure. I have seen the story.

QUESTION: What would you like to say about it?

MR TONER: Well, I appreciate you raising it, because – and I like the way you framed it, because you noted that he has not, nor has he ever been, a beneficiary of Heinz family and marital trusts. He doesn’t have any offshore investments. He has no decision-making power over these trusts, since they’re entirely controlled by independent trustees. And I think that was completely misconveyed in the story, to be honest. As I said, he is – I would just add that his – all of his finances – as you guys all know in this room, he’s not new to the political world or to the government, so all of his finances are a matter of public record, and he and his family have worked pretty diligently, I think, to ensure complete transparency in that regard.

QUESTION: And it’s safe to assume that the trusts have paid all applicable taxes and are not evading taxes in these over-shore – overseas investments?

MR TONER: That is correct. And again, it’s – all this stuff, as I said, he’s been – I don’t know how to say it more – he’s been thoroughly vetted as a public official, as an Administration official, but also as a politician. And again, all of his – none of these – what the article refers to, none of them are his investments. They’re all controlled by the Heinz family.

QUESTION: None of this – just to be clear --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- came as a surprise to the State Department or the White House, these --

MR TONER: No, not at all. Not at all.

QUESTION: Yeah. Nobody was alarmed by this?

MR TONER: Not – categorically not at all. Nobody is surprised by it. And only surprised by, as I said, kind of the misleading slant of the story.

QUESTION: And there’s no suggestion here that anything here is immoral or --

MR TONER: No, uh-uh. Or illegal, no.

QUESTION: -- or illegal?

MR TONER: Not at all.

Yeah, please, in the back.

QUESTION: The mayor of Ginowan, Okinawa --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- was meeting with representatives here in this building today. Do you have a readout of that meeting?

MR TONER: I do, I do. Well, I can confirm that he was here in the State Department today. And he met with the Office of Japanese Affairs Director Joe Young. And in the meeting we did express our gratitude to the people of Okinawa – of Ginowan, rather, apologize – as well as all those on Okinawa for their contributions to the U.S.-Japan alliance and for the warm reception or greeting or – sorry, friendship, rather, that they’ve extended to so many U.S. servicemen and women. And we also underscored that both the U.S. and the Japanese Governments remain committed to the relocation of the Marine Corps base Futenma to Camp Schwab on Henobo Bay – Henoko Bay, rather, excuse me.

QUESTION: Was there a sense of urgency in terms of closing the Futenma facility that was discussed? I mean, because it’s on hold now given the court decision earlier this year or the – abiding by the --

MR TONER: I don’t know if it’s a sense of urgency. I mean, we obviously want to move forward with this project and we’re committed to moving forward with this project, and that remains our position even before the court ruling and certainly now. We believe it’s in the best interests of Japan and we believe it’s supported by the Japanese Government. Now as to, frankly, the local politics, we respect the people of Okinawa, we respect the local government of Okinawa, but those are internal issues for the Japanese Government.

Please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The mayor is – of Ginowan also demand that they reduce the U.S. military base in Okinawa. So could you tell me what the Japan – the answer that this – his request?

MR TONER: How to answer his request about what? I apologize. I missed just the first part.

QUESTION: He requested that they reduce the U.S. military burden in Okinawa.

MR TONER: In Okinawa?

QUESTION: Yeah. He also – he --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: And he also requested to the --

MR TONER: (Laughter.) That’s my wife.

QUESTION: -- Futenma should be returned as – as soon as possible, so --

MR TONER: You’re talking about – right, whether there was specific discussion about – what, about downsizing – is that what you’re talking about – the military presence?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: I’m not sure, frankly, that that came up. I will check. Again, we’re committed with maintaining good relations, obviously, with the local communities on Okinawa, and we certainly listen to them and listen to their concerns and try to address their concerns as best we can to mitigate the impact of our military presence. We’ve done things like aviation relocation out of the training – rather – have relocated that, relocation of assets and to bases not on Okinawa and the return of land and the commitment to early return of additional pieces of land. Those are all kind of steps that we’re – are all steps that we’ve been taking along the way. I’m not sure anything specifically was put forward to that.

Please, sir, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV. Sir, Pakistan has terror suspect Abdul Rehman, a member of al-Qaida who allegedly assisted Ahmed Omar Sheikh in the killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl. Sir, how much you appreciate this arrest? And will United States ask Pakistan to hand over him to --

MR TONER: You’re talking about the arrest of one of the individuals involved in the death of --

QUESTION: Daniel Pearl. Sir, Daniel Pearl, the American --

MR TONER: Oh, Daniel Pearl, yeah. You know what? I – honestly, I apologize. It’s the first time I’m hearing of that news. I mean, obviously, his murder was a terrible act. We condemn it and continue to condemn it as an act of terrorism. So certainly, we would welcome any announcement that there was progress in this case in bringing the perpetrators to justice. I just need more specifics on what exactly happened and whether this was indeed – they found or they’ve arrested the man who was guilty.

QUESTION: Sir, they just announced that U.S. Department of State launched Free the Press campaign to mark the importance of free and independent media. So, sir, if we talk about Pakistan and journalists continue to be targeted by radical groups, Islamist organizations and few others – so how United States watching the situation regarding the free media in Pakistan?

MR TONER: Well, Pakistan obviously has a very free and independent and vital media. It’s absolutely critical to covering culture, politics – politics, rather, and life in Pakistan. And certainly, these individuals are under threat – we’ve seen this throughout the years by terrorist organizations – and prevented from doing their work. We obviously watch very closely and make every effort to protect these individuals, and certainly would encourage the Government of Pakistan to do likewise.

But the fact is, is given the climate in some parts of Pakistan in order to cover this story – and that speaks to, frankly, journalists around the world who take tremendous risk just to cover the story and who go beyond where they can be safe in order to get the truth and report the facts to the people. And there are Pakistani journalists who do that, there are U.S. journalists who do that, there are journalists from every country around the world. That’s something we take very seriously. We look at how to protect journalists better in the field when they’re in combat situations, but as I said, also in places where they’re under threat from radicals or terrorism or extremists. We all need to do better and that’s one of the reasons why we’re trying to highlight some of these cases moving forward.

QUESTION: Sir, one last question about Afghanistan, please, if you allow me, sir.

MR TONER: One --

QUESTION: One last question.

MR TONER: One last question. All right.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, sir. Sir, a couple of days ago, a delegation of Taliban from Qatar reached Islamabad to participate in the fifth round of peace talks soon to be held in Pakistan somewhere. Sir, can you say, despite Taliban deadly attacks, the international partners are yet not ready to give up their efforts for the peace process? So what are the new hopes, or any new strategy for that?

MR TONER: You’re talking about the --

QUESTION: Afghan peace process, sir. The meeting is going to be held next week, I think in Islamabad.

MR TONER: Right. I mean, our policy hasn’t changed. I mean, we want to see an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process. We welcome Pakistan’s role, the positive role that Pakistan has played in trying to get these peace talks started. For us, it is – and we believe, and I believe the others who are part of this believe the same thing, which is if we can get a credible peace process going, talks going, that this is ultimately the – going to be the solution to Afghanistan’s ongoing conflict. It’s in the interests of everyone in the region to do that. So we would encourage these talks to move forward. Thus far, it’s been really the Taliban who have lagged behind in leading the efforts for these or in participating in these talks, so we’re going to encourage them. It’s their decision; the ball is in their court – however you want to put it. But this is ultimately the way forward, we believe.

Please.

QUESTION: Can we stay in Pakistan, just one more quick follow-up.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: I wonder if you have anything to respond to Afghanistan president’s remarks recently. He said that he’s calling the Pakistan to battle the Taliban rather than bring into the peace talks. Do you think it --

MR TONER: He called on the Taliban – I’m sorry, I missed that.

QUESTION: He’s calling on Pakistan to battle against Taliban rather than bring into the peace talk. Do you think such remarks is – do you have any comments? Do you think it’s a deviation?

MR TONER: So I have not seen his actual remarks, so I’m hesitant to react to them. We have also called on Pakistan to go after Taliban or terrorist groups that are using its soil to launch attacks on Afghanistan. That’s been an ongoing conversation or dialogue or discussion that we’ve had with Pakistan, and we’ve tried to enable them to have the kind of capabilities that they can to take the fight to these groups.

QUESTION: I got one about Afghanistan. What about the Afghan vice president who can’t get a visa? What’s up with that?

MR TONER: What’s up with that? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Why can’t he get a visa?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. (Laughter.) Well --

QUESTION: What is up with that? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: Sorry, I --

QUESTION: Thank you. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: It sounds like a – anyway, sorry. All right, you’re talking about the Vice President Dostum, right?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: Yeah. Okay. Well, first of all, I have to put out there that I cannot talk about – I cannot tell you what’s up with that, because these records are confidential under U.S. law, so we can’t comment on individual cases. That said, I understand that he did put out a statement or spoke to the media and said that he chose not to travel to – at this point, given the security situation in Afghanistan. So I’d refer you to him to – frankly to talk about --

QUESTION: Is he welcome in the United States?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, we work with him as needed. He is the vice president of Afghanistan. We obviously work with him as needed in his official capacity --

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: -- as the democratically elected vice president of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: But is he welcome here?

MR TONER: Again, he is the vice president of Afghanistan. We will certainly work with him in that capacity. I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: Mark, can we turn to Libya?

MR TONER: Yes, sir. Yes, ma’am – sorry.

QUESTION: I wonder whether the ship carrying oil – I know that John Kirby has reacted to it. I know – he’s basically said he’s concerned about it. But have you specifically – has there specifically been a message put out that nobody needs – should be buying this oil that is illegally shipped in the eyes of the U.S.? And also, what can you say about the UAE’s involvement in – given that the company – I know it’s an Indian flag tanker, but the company – it’s ordered by a company called DSA Consultancy, which is registered in the UAE.

MR TONER: So first of all – yes, so we do understand that Libya’s permanent representative to the United Nations has expressed to the UN Libya Sanctions Committee the Government of National Accord’s objections to an attempt to export Libyan oil illicitly via this, as you note, Indian-flagged vessel, the Distya Ameya. I’m sure I’m mispronouncing that, I apologize. We’re closely following the situation. We have engaged with our partners and allies in the region, and we certainly support the Government of National Accord and Libya’s legitimate institutions. We are very concerned about purchases of Libyan oil that are outside of these legitimate channels.

Now, your question talked about the UAE’s role or possible role in that. I don’t have any more clarity on that. If we get more clarity, I’m happy to speak to it. I just don’t have any more details on that right now.

QUESTION: And then what is the – what is the possibility of somebody buying this oil?

MR TONER: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: Or have you told – I mean, it’s on its way to Malta.

MR TONER: That’s correct, but I --

QUESTION: Would you – would you then expect that they don’t --

MR TONER: Again, and I’m not – sure.

QUESTION: -- that they don’t allow the oil to get onto land with that or (inaudible) --

MR TONER: So I’m unclear. I mean, this is obviously --

QUESTION: -- transferred?

MR TONER: This becomes a UN Security Council issue. I’m unclear what the next steps would be in terms of this illicit transportation of oil. We would again call on all those in the region to refrain from enabling this kind of activity, but I don’t have details on what next steps might be in terms of stopping this or actually any way voiding it or stopping its transfer of oil to another – to a buyer. I’ll just get more – if I get more details, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Have you --

QUESTION: (Sneezes.)

MR TONER: Bless you.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea what – is there any clarity yet what the money from the purchases of this oil is going to be used for or anything?

MR TONER: No.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on South Sudan as well?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: You said earlier that the – that Machar is – he’s now the vice president and that his return is a important step towards the formalization of the unity government. Do you – what gives you confidence that this actually is going to become a real thing, this unity government, given the long problems that this country has faced?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, I mean, look, I don’t want to be over optimistic about – as you note, this has been a difficult process, to put it mildly. I think, though, that we do see this as an important step. I mean, there was – as we saw over the last few days, he was prevented from returning at one point. So he has made it back to Juba and he was sworn in, so that’s a significant step forward and we’re obviously welcoming that step.

But it’s important now for the south – for South Sudan’s leaders to take additional steps, which is form the Transitional Government of National Unity, to make progress on the core agenda of peace – of the peace agreement, according to the timeline that was established by this commission, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission. So there’s additional steps that need to be taken in the coming days. We’re going to keep encouraging them to take those steps. We’ve also seen – we also have a – as I noted in my statement at the top of the briefing, the African Union, the United States – or United Nations Mission in South Sudan and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development are also on the ground and helping encourage the various parties to take these steps and to solidify today’s progress.

QUESTION: What kind of response is the U.S. – I mean, as you know, there’s a lot of famine in that area. There’s, I mean --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the economy is in collapse. What kinds of steps is the U.S. going to take to try to help this government on its feet once it’s formed, if it’s formed?

MR TONER: Sure. I’m looking right now just in terms of what we’ve been able to do. I mean, we have, obviously – we are the lead donor to South Sudan. We’ve provided almost 1.5 billion in emergency assistance since the conflict began. And clearly, as you noted, the humanitarian situation there remains dire, and so we’re going to continue to work with them.

Forming the transitional government’s not going to be easy, but it is the best hope for the people of South Sudan achieving peace. We’ll – we’re going to work closely with them on the reforms, as I’ve noted, in the first several months of this transition. We’re going to review the security sector. They’re going to lay the groundwork for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and they’re going to establish the parameters for a hybrid court in collaboration with the African Union as well as increase accountability in terms of South Sudan’s economic governance.

So I guess you’re asking how we’re going to help, and we’re going to help them take the kind of initial steps as much as we can and as much as the other actors on the ground – the international actors on the ground – can help them take these kind of initial steps to solidify the transitional government in the economic sphere, in the political sphere, and certainly on the security sphere – and then obviously provide whatever we can in terms of immediate humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: But obviously you first want to see the unity government form before anything else goes on, right?

MR TONER: Of course, of course. Of course, yes. Of course that’s the first --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Increasing the transparency and accountability of South Sudan’s economic governance.

QUESTION: Okay. But you’re not interested anymore in accountability for the people that were killed.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, it’s always obviously – no one – I’m not trying to bury that or gloss that over. I mean, certainly – and it’s in the long-term interests of the South Sudanese people to have that kind of understanding or reconciliation.

QUESTION: But there’s no – you don’t think there’s a – there’s no need for Machar or Kiir or anybody else who led all these forces that did all the killing --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- to see some sort of justice?

MR TONER: Well, no. I mean, I would – look, part of the peace agreement is this creation of a commission for truth, reconciliation, and healing, and that will look at the root causes of the conflict and lead a national effort to reconciliation. And I’m not trying to in any way diminish that. There’s a lot of work that – or steps that need to be taken, as Lesley noted, before we get to that point.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Hey, Andre. Hi.

QUESTION: Hi. A similar question in a different context, in the context of Ukraine.

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: May 2nd marks the second anniversary of an atrocious event in modern history in Ukraine where some peaceful protestors were driven into a administrative building and basically burned alive – 48 people lost their lives, hundreds were injured; the U.S. condemned the event. My question is, first, what has been done, if anything, to make sure that those responsible are brought to justice?

And then the second question is about the commemoration this coming May 2, but that’s the next question.

MR TONER: Okay, no worries. No, obviously, there is the – we are coming up on, as you note, the two-year anniversary of the fire and the deaths that killed I think more than 40 people. And we – first of all, we can extend our condolences to the people of Ukraine on the second anniversary of this horrific event that, as you note, occurred on May 2nd, 2014. We did, obviously, condemn it strongly at the time. I believe Secretary Kerry condemned the violence and said that that includes the violence of anyone who lit a fire and caused the death of those 38 people or more in the building in Odessa, and that “all of this violence” – and I’m quoting Secretary Kerry – “is unacceptable. And Russia, the United States, Ukrainians, Europeans, and the OSCE, all of us bear responsibility to do everything in our power to reduce the capacity of militants and extremists to carry out these kinds of violent activities and terrorist activities.”

In terms of – as you note, we did call for a thorough investigation, as did other governments at the time, into the – those actions on Odessa. I would refer you and have to refer you – I can’t speak on behalf of the Ukrainian Government – on how that investigation has proceeded and who ultimately has been found culpable for the actions in Odessa.

QUESTION: I’m afraid not much has happened about that, and my question was what, if anything, the U.S. could do to speed the process along --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: -- or maybe to bring it to a resolution that would be at least understandable to the victims --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- to the relatives of the victims.

MR TONER: Well, sure, Andre. Well, in any case like this, as I said, it’s – it was a horrific event, and in any kind of event like this there needs to be a resolution, there needs to be closure. And so that’s what an investigation and, again, bringing those who were – carried out this act to justice would bring to the victims of the attack and the families of the victims of the attack. We’ll continue to make that message or convey that message to the Ukrainian authorities, but I would refer you to them for more details on that investigation.

QUESTION: All right. And then secondly, the coming up anniversary will be marked by people there who just remember those who they lost. But the opposite side, quote-unquote --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- the people who do not want those commemorations, are already threatening that they will disrupt the proceedings. They will physically prevent the events from happening. My question to you is: If – is the U.S. Government ready to do anything – to do anything in its power to prevent another outburst of violence in Odessa on May 2nd? And what can you do? You have diplomatic presence, right?

MR TONER: In Odessa? No, we don’t.

QUESTION: You don’t. No consulate?

MR TONER: I don’t believe so. No, I don’t believe so. I’ll double-check on that, but no, we don’t.

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MR TONER: But that said, we do have, obviously – look, Andrei, I mean, broadly speaking, over the past several years we’ve had an ongoing partnership with law enforcement authorities in Ukraine where we’ve done extensive training with them on how to handle, among other things, civil unrest. But look, the most important thing to stress here is that we would obviously support any commemoration of this event, but as with any commemoration, it needs to be done nonviolently and we would certainly condemn any threats in the run-up to this – these events or this commemoration and call on all sides to show restraint.

Please, in the back. Last question.

QUESTION: If I may, just --

MR TONER: Yes, last question.

QUESTION: If I – I just wanted to – yes, to end on this subject.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Are you aware that the group of human rights and antiwar activists are traveling there from the U.S. as well as from other countries? Will – do you support --

MR TONER: I’m not aware.

QUESTION: Would you support such a mission?

MR TONER: I don’t know anything about the group, Andrei. I’d have to find out more details about what – who they are and what their intent is before I would comment on it.

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MR TONER: Yeah, let’s make this the last question, guys.

QUESTION: I got --

QUESTION: Today Russian --

MR TONER: Ten or twelve?

QUESTION: No, they’re short.

MR TONER: Okay, good. Fair enough.

QUESTION: Today, Russian authority in Crimea declares the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People as an extremist organization and banned its activities. The Department of State previously paid attention to this issue, but there is no positive decision from the Russian side. What is your reaction now and what specific steps are you going to do?

MR TONER: I apologize. You’re talking about the ban on Crimean Tatar’s --

QUESTION: Mejlis.

MR TONER: Mejlis, right, exactly. Well, we did put out a statement on April 21st and we called on the Russian Federation to reverse its – the ministry of justice’s recent decision to designate this – the Mejlis, as you note, as an extremist organization as well as a decision by de facto authorities in Crimea to suspend this democratic institution. We’re obviously disturbed that – by the reports banning the Mejlis council because, frankly, it removes what little representation and recourse that the Tatars have left under Russian occupation. The Tatars face oppression, they face repression, they face discrimination in Russian-occupied Crimea. Almost 10,000 of them have been forced to flee their homeland and those who remain have subjected – been subjected to abuses, beatings, arbitrary detentions, et cetera. And these brutalities and human rights abuses must end.

As to what next, you know that we have sanctions in place. We do not accept Russia’s occupation of Crimea. Those sanctions will remain in place until Crimea ends its occupation of Crimea.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Russia.

MR TONER: What did I say? I apologize.

QUESTION: “Crimea ends its occupation.”

MR TONER: I apologize. Until Russia ends its occupation of Crimea. And we also reaffirm our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Please, Matt. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Two brief ones on Iran --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- and then another – a different subject. One, you may have seen that the Iranian foreign ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador to hear a complaint. Did – you didn’t go over this while – I missed it (inaudible)?

MR TONER: No, I didn’t – no, you didn’t.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m just wondering if you’ve heard back from the Swiss yet about what --

MR TONER: We have not. No, I was actually trying to monitor this before. We’re just – we’ve obviously seen the media reports that they did summon him in, as you note, but we don’t have any kind of readout yet. I – we can certainly try to share what they convey, but I’m not sure how much I can share.

QUESTION: Right, okay. And then I don’t know if you saw this interview with Zarif that was published in The New Yorker yesterday --

MR TONER: Yeah, read a little bit of it.

QUESTION: But in it, he said that he and Secretary Kerry are talking two to three times a day about implementation of the nuclear deal. Is that accurate?

MR TONER: I don’t want to --

QUESTION: I mean, that’s an awful lot of phone calls.

MR TONER: I don’t want to – no, I don’t want to --

QUESTION: I mean the question was, “What, do you talk two to three times a week?” And he said sometimes two to three times a day. Now, my understanding was that they did speak like two or three times a day during the whole incident with the sailors, but I don’t --

MR TONER: Correct. I mean, there have been --

QUESTION: But the impression that’s left though --

MR TONER: So – yeah.

QUESTION: The question that he left though is that he and the Secretary are talking on the phone sometimes two to three times a day on implementation of the Iran deal. And I just want to know if that’s accurate.

MR TONER: No, I mean, look, as with any – there are certain points, as you note, with the sailors and also late last week when he was in New York where they might have consulted. I don’t know if it’s ever been two to three times a day. Again, I’m not trying to --

QUESTION: All right. I’d just be kind of curious --

MR TONER: -- counter his --

QUESTION: -- because that seems like an awful lot.

MR TONER: What he said – but no, I don’t think --

QUESTION: I mean, maybe it’s necessary but it seems like an awful lot.

MR TONER: I think that’s a – maybe a bit of an embellishment.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: But look, they have – they’re able to reach each other when they need to and talk.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: And then the last one is have you seen this statement from Judicial Watch about the emails? One email in particular that was – that they just got a hold of it, you just put it out.

MR TONER: I did. This is with – involving Secretary Clinton?

QUESTION: Correct.

MR TONER: Yeah, I did. And I’m sorry, we just found out about it before coming out here.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, the specific question --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- that I’d like answered is --

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- the allegation is made that the State Department was hiding this email or had hidden this email --

MR TONER: Yeah. I’m aware of that allegation.

QUESTION: -- because it would have led to the discovery of the – of former Secretary Clinton’s private email server well before it became public. And I’m wanting to know, one, if this is an accurate – is an allegation that has – that you accept, that you think has substance to it; and secondly, how was it that this email was not turned over --

MR TONER: So to your first question, I would, without knowing all the details yet because we just found out, be highly suspect that there’s any truth to this allegation that we were trying to bury this or somehow hold it back, hold it – keep it from getting out because it would somehow lead to a discovery of her private server.

QUESTION: Right. But the whole thing is highly suspect, is it not?

MR TONER: The second – the second part of your question, I don’t know what the – and I was looking into what the delay was caused by. So let me get more facts and more details about that and I’ll share that with you.

QUESTION: Okay. It doesn’t look like it was a delay. It looks like it was being held back.

MR TONER: Being held back, yeah. No, so let me get more details on what happened.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

QUESTION: Mark, one up – follow up that last thing --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) because the State Department never released a single email during her four years that ever had her email address on there. I mean, this was --

MR TONER: Again, let me get – let me get more details. This was – yeah.

QUESTION: This is throughout the entire four years, not one email ever.

MR TONER: During --

QUESTION: She had not one responsive email --

MR TONER: During her tenure --

QUESTION: -- to any FOIA request that was responsive.

MR TONER: During her time at the State Department is what you’re saying?

QUESTION: During her time at the State Department.

MR TONER: I’m just trying to specify. Okay. Well, I mean, partly that she was a sitting secretary of state at the time, so --

QUESTION: And – so?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, there are --

QUESTION: There’s nothing in the FOIA procedures that says sitting secretary of state’s private emails are censored. That’s not – it’s not a FOIA category. I’m sorry.

MR TONER: But they might have been, I mean, I given the subject matter. I don’t know what the subject matter is. I mean, you’re asking me to definitively answer a question that I don’t --

QUESTION: You – if you can take the question.

MR TONER: I will, thanks.

QUESTION: Mark, may I ask one last thing (inaudible)?

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: On Ukraine, I’m a rare guest. I’m glad to see you too. You look great.

MR TONER: Please, hurry up.

QUESTION: Mark, Nuland and so forth --

MR TONER: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: -- are supposed to be talking on Ukraine. Have they had a meeting lately? And if not, are they planning to have a meeting shortly?

MR TONER: Nothing to announce on that front. I’m – obviously, they have met in the past but nothing new to announce on that, Andrei. Thanks, man.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:21 p.m.)

DPB # 70

   


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Mon, 04/25/2016 - 17:32

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 25, 2016

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TRANSCRIPT:

2:15 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR KIRBY: Hope everybody had a good weekend.

Okay, couple things here at the top. Today, I think as many of you know, marks the first anniversary of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated central Nepal, killing an estimated 9,000 people. It also injured about 25,000 more and left more than 6 million homeless. As we did then, today too on this anniversary we commend the courage of the many individuals who provided assistance to those in need, and we pay tribute especially to those who lost their lives doing so, including the six United States Marines and their Nepali counterparts that were killed in a helicopter crash while trying to help victims.

The American people continue to offer our sympathy to the families of all those who perished in the earthquake and we continue to stand right – right beside the people of Nepal. Since the earthquake, in fact, we have provided approximately $130 million for relief, recovery, and reconstruction operations which include search and rescue deployments, emergency shelter, drinking water, food aid, and support to protect survivors against gender-based violence and human trafficking.

Secretary Kerry and Under Secretary Shannon met today with Nepal’s deputy prime minister, who was here in Washington. The Secretary and the under secretary encouraged Nepal to keep up the pace on earthquake reconstruction. While recognizing the significance of Nepal’s constitution, the Secretary urged Nepal to continue working as well to ensure it meets all the aspirations of the Nepali people.

On Bangladesh, I think some of you have seen these press reports. Suffice it to say we’re outraged by the barbaric attack on Mr. Xulhaz Mannan, a beloved member of our embassy family and a courageous advocate for LGBTI rights – human rights, actually. As you know, brutally murdered in his home alongside another fellow activist. An act like this simply is beyond words, unjustifiable, inexcusable, and our heartfelt condolences of course go out to his mother, to his family, to his friends, and to his colleagues, as well as all those who knew and loved the other individual who was also brutally murdered with him.

As we mourn his death, we celebrate Xulhaz’s life and everything he contributed to Bangladesh, to the United States, and to the global struggle for human rights and dignity. And we pledge our support to Bangladeshi authorities to ensure that the cowards who did this are held accountable. Bangladesh is justifiably proud of its history as a moderate, tolerant, inclusive society that values the diversity of its people, culture, and religions, and this attack fundamentally seeks to undermine all that Bangladesh stands for and all that the Bangladeshi people have strived to bring about in recent years. And I think you’ll see that we’ll have more to say about this later in the day – another statement – but I just wanted to say that right at the top.

AZERBAIJANARMENIA">Finally, by way of readout, the Secretary did speak today separately with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and Republic of Armenia President Serzh Sargsian. They discussed – in both calls, he discussed and these leaders discussed the need for the sides to strictly adhere to the ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and to enter into negotiations on a comprehensive settlement. The Secretary also reviewed ongoing bilateral cooperation with both leaders.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Thanks. Can I just start briefly on Bangladesh?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: There was some talk a week or so ago, or maybe it was even longer than that, about possible – the U.S. possibly offering refuge to people who have been threatened --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- with attacks like this one.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, this is humanitarian parole.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Has that gotten anywhere?

MR KIRBY: It is still an option under consideration. It’s really the Department of Homeland Security, as you know, that actually makes the determinations on this. But the – but in the cases of a select number of individuals who remain in imminent danger, that is one option under consideration, and we certainly haven’t closed that door.

QUESTION: Okay. But from this building’s point of view, is it something that you’re advocating with DHS or with other branches of the Administration?

MR KIRBY: Without getting into specific cases, which I can’t, we certainly --

QUESTION: Not specific cases, no. I just want to know, in general, does the State Department think that this is a good or wise thing to do?

MR KIRBY: We think that this is a valuable tool that should be considered. It’s obviously up to DHS to make the final determinations, but it’s a door that we would like to see stay open.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but do you want it to be open? I mean, do you want – does the State Department – is the State Department encouraging DHS to go ahead and do this?

MR KIRBY: We are in consultations with DHS about the value of this tool, this vehicle, and we – suffice it to say we’re – we think it’s – it has value. We would like to see it considered on a case-by-case basis as needed. We certainly would encourage DHS to consider using it as appropriate, but it’s ultimately up to them.

QUESTION: Okay. So it’s not just leaving the door open. You’re actually asking them to consider using --

MR KIRBY: We encourage – we’re certainly encouraging them to continue to evaluate that as a possible vehicle, yes.

QUESTION: And --

QUESTION: Can you say how many cases there are?

MR KIRBY: I cannot.

QUESTION: And what do they call it?

MR KIRBY: It’s called humanitarian parole.

QUESTION: All right, I want to move on if I could.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just on North Korea and the travel restrictions that were put on the foreign minister and his delegation.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you go through that one more – or go through it now, what exactly you did? And do these restrictions apply only to the foreign minister and his immediate delegation, or are they going to be extended? Do they extend to the whole North Korean mission in New York?

MR KIRBY: They were – it was really applied to him and his delegation. It was for while they were in New York for the UN. The restrictions were simple in terms of he could travel to the UN, he could certainly travel to his hotel, he could travel to the airport, and he could travel to their mission there. Beyond that though, there were – his movements were restricted and it was – it was a decision that we made in the wake of the weekend’s missile tests.

QUESTION: Right. But it only – it doesn’t apply to the North Korean delegation at their mission to the UN? They’re --

MR KIRBY: No, it was applied to him --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- during his stay.

QUESTION: And does that mean – I mean, how strictly was it enforced? I mean, was he allowed to go to dinner?

MR KIRBY: I’m sure we didn’t prevent him from eating while he was in New York.

QUESTION: Well, I mean --

MR KIRBY: But his movements were restricted to those – in those four areas. I’m pretty sure that his hotel I’m sure offered dinner options. But --

QUESTION: I know. Well, but I mean, technically he wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere other than the places that you just mentioned.

MR KIRBY: Yes, that was --

QUESTION: His hotel, the North Korean mission to the UN --

MR KIRBY: His mission, the UN, hotel, the airport. Those were the four limits. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. And it’s – now that he’s gone --

MR KIRBY: That’s right.

QUESTION: It doesn’t apply to anyone else?

MR KIRBY: It was applied just – given his circumstances in New York in the wake of the test.

QUESTION: All right, thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yep.

QUESTION: That’s it?

QUESTION: That’s it --

QUESTION: On --

QUESTION: Could – can we go to Syria?

MR KIRBY: Lesley, did you have something?

QUESTION: Syria?

QUESTION: I wanted to change the subject to something else from New York, on the meeting between Kerry and Kabila of the DRC.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: I was wondering if the Secretary actually raised with Kabila, President Kabila, the issue of him possibly staying on longer for another term and wondering whether that was in fact discussed and whether – what Kabila told him.

MR KIRBY: Well, what I can tell you is they –acknowledging that the DRC is heading into an historic transition, the Secretary did emphasize that the U.S. stands ready to be a partner to all those that are committed to timely, credible elections as called for by the DRC’s constitution. He also emphasized that the future of the DRC must be shaped by the Congolese people, all of whom must have the right to assemble and speak free of intimidation. So it was a discussion about the electoral process in DRC and quite frankly about the role played by President Kabila and his family in establishing the DRC as a strong constitutional democracy. And again, the Secretary stressed that a peaceful transition there in the DRC will allow President Kabila to cement his legacy.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary get the feeling that the president was going to – was moving in the direction of staying another term?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I wouldn’t speak specifically to President Kabila’s side of the conversation. I can just tell you what the Secretary said, which is – and made it clear what our expectations are in terms of the country moving forward in accordance with its own constitution, which calls for credible elections that, again, allow for all Congolese people to have their voice –have their voices and their votes heard. And I think I’d leave it at that.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: Bangladesh?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead. Syria.

QUESTION: Bangladesh? He wants to go --

MR KIRBY: Bangladesh? You want to still stay on that? Okay.

QUESTION: You said something about that he was working with the embassy. The reports from there are saying that he was working with the USAID. Can you confirm that? And what about the security of other staff? I’m not talking about the ambassador level, but the local staff and all that, because there’s a rampant hacking going on and so Benghazi is still --

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of anybody else associated with the U.S. embassy involved in any other violent acts other than --

QUESTION: No, you’re not. But what about their security?

MR KIRBY: Well, we don’t talk about the details of force protection and security. I can just assure you that all our embassies overseas take security – physical security very seriously. The degree to which it’s been adjusted in light of this I wouldn’t speak to publicly. We’re always revising, modifying our security posture as appropriate to keep our people safe. And the last thing we’d want to do is detail what that might be. Certainly, we’re mindful of the recent violence there in Bangladesh. And again, as I said at the outset, it absolutely stands in stark contrast to the direction that Bangladesh has been moving as a country.

QUESTION: How many --

QUESTION: John, would you --

QUESTION: Can we --

MR KIRBY: It’s okay. We’ll get to everybody. Just – everybody just relax.

QUESTION: Can you give us a breakdown of how many people are there who are locals and are in danger because --

MR KIRBY: If you’re asking me how many locally employed staff we have, I don’t know that number. And frankly, I don’t even know if we give that number out.

QUESTION: But you can confirm --

MR KIRBY: And then your question about how many are in danger, I mean, we don’t know --

QUESTION: There’s --

MR KIRBY: But look --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: -- the question presumes that the motivation for his killing was that he was associated with the United States. We don’t know the motivation here. Nobody has claimed responsibility for this. So there’s a lot of work that has to be done, and I’m not going to leap ahead of an investigation here and try to represent outcomes or intent here. What we do know is that he was a staunch defender of LGBT rights – that’s beyond dispute – and that he was brutally, viciously murdered in his own home, and that’s just atrocious and barbaric. And we want to do what we can – what’s appropriate – to help the Bangladeshi authorities investigate this and bring the perpetrators to justice. That’s what we know right now.

QUESTION: So can you confirm that he was with USAID or with the embassy, in what --

MR KIRBY: He was affiliated with the U.S. embassy family, and as far as I know, he did some work for USAID.

QUESTION: John --

QUESTION: In fact, John, you don’t provide security to locally employed staff, do you, I mean anywhere? The U.S. Embassy is not obligated to provide security for those locally employed?

MR KIRBY: To the degree that they work inside our post and embassies, they are --

QUESTION: Right, inside the embassy but not --

MR KIRBY: They enjoy the protection, the physical protection --

QUESTION: Once they go to their homes and businesses, whatever, they’re not --

MR KIRBY: But do – it – I’m not – again, it --

QUESTION: I’m not aware of any situation where the – actually, the U.S. embassy or diplomatic post – they don’t provide it.

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on diplomatic security issues, but obviously, we take physical security of our people and our employees very, very seriously, and it changes from country to country and even inside a country it will change based on physical location because sometimes we have consulates that are in – obviously in areas that are different than the actual embassy, and it changes in a temporal basis on the threat stream in any given place around the country. And Diplomatic Security takes their job very, very seriously. The modify and change as appropriate; again, all of the mind to keeping our people as safe as possible.

QUESTION: John?

QUESTION: John, would you characterize this murder attack as a hate crime or a terror attack? Because there was a report that previously also (inaudible) was murdered and then some extremists claimed responsibility.

MR KIRBY: I just don’t think we’re in a position right now to speak with any authority about the motivation here. We don’t have a claim of responsibility and we don’t know what the motivation was. So I’m simply not able to speak to that right now. And again, I would – this is really a question for Bangladeshi authorities to speak to more than me anyway, but I don’t think they’re in a position right now. This just happened. They’re working their way through that. We need to let the investigators do their job before we jump to any conclusions one way or the other. Again, I think it’s important for us to just take a step back and realize that there’s a family right now and a lot of friends and loved ones that are grieving. This was absolutely horrible. And we need to keep them in mind first and foremost before we start jumping to any conclusions.

Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: On Egypt. Do you have any comment on the demonstrations there and news reports said that tens of people were arrested?

MR KIRBY: Certainly, I’ve seen some of those reports. I don’t have anything specific with respect to arrests. As we’ve said all along, and we’ve said it not just with respect to Egypt but places all over the world, but we believe in the right of free expression and for peaceful protests. And we think that’s healthy for any democracy. So again, we’re watching this closely, but I just don’t have additional comment one way or the other. And I certainly wouldn't speak to specific arrests. All we have are press reporting on this right now.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Pam, did you have something?

QUESTION: I do. It’s not Syria. It’s --

MR KIRBY: It’s not Syria? We’ll go to Syria first. Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wanted you to comment if – first of all, if you’re aware of reports that the rebels bombarded an area of Aleppo that is under government control killing, like, 19 people and wounding 120 others, and maybe – some say that it may have been Jabhat al-Nusrah. Do you have any information on that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. As you know, I try to steer away from battlefield assessments.

QUESTION: Right, right. But this has been widely reported and attributed to the same monitoring group that actually you rely on --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- in many information. And my question to you: If al-Nusrah is obviously in certain areas of Aleppo and they keep bombarding other areas, would that – should that give the government or government troops the right to go ahead and respond or defend itself and attack it?

MR KIRBY: So look, let me say a couple of things here. I mean, Aleppo, it’s no – it’s certainly no surprise to anybody, I mean, that in Aleppo there – it’s a very fluid, dynamic environment and you have interspersed and intermingled, frankly, in neighborhoods in Aleppo groups like al-Nusrah which are not party to the cessation and are legitimate targets, and you also have opposition groups that are party to the cessation, and there is a lot of intermingling that’s happening because it is such a fluid, dynamic environment. And we’ve talked about this before. Nobody is underestimating how difficult it can be in a place like Aleppo with respect to trying to separate the groups – a very tough task, a very tall order. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t doing the best we can to work with those who have influence over the opposition groups to encourage that kind of separation, but it’s very difficult to actually implement. What we – and so that’s point one.

Point two, I mean, obviously in and around Aleppo we continue to see violations of the cessation. Most of them still are being conducted by the regime. That’s just, as the math goes, a mathematical fact. We want to see all parties to the cessation – all parties – abide by their obligations under it because it’s still fragile, and in and around Aleppo we definitely are seeing more and more signs of it not holding, obviously, and that’s not where we want things to go in Syria. We certainly don’t want things to go there in Aleppo that way.

So it’s very difficult, but we have been – we’ve been very clear working through our contacts with opposition groups as well as those countries who have influence over other opposition groups to maintain their obligations under the cessation; and two, to do the best they can to avoid the intermingling, which we know makes it difficult.

QUESTION: Could I follow up on just a refugee issue related to Syria. Because in the fiscal year, which is halfway through, you guys are supposed to take in 10,000 --

MR KIRBY: Right. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- 10,000 refugees. I think the numbers now are about 1,500. The year is halfway through. Could you update us on that?

MR KIRBY: We – we’re still very committed to meeting the President’s goal of 10,000. We’ve talked about this before. I understand that with the fiscal year half over here and with still a small number of those admitted, that there’s a lot of work left to do. But we have taken steps to increase the staffing and resourcing that we’ve applied in places like Jordan in particular to screen as many potential refugees as possible – those that are referred to us by the UN, of course. But we have increased the number of staffing – numbers of staff dedicated to this and the resourcing that goes along with it to try to advance the vetting in ways that we haven’t been able to do in the past. So we’re still committed to the goal, recognize that the clock isn’t necessarily in our favor right now. I – we all get that. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to stay committed to it.

QUESTION: Can I – I just want to follow up directly on the Aleppo question from before. This morning Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia suggested that it had been America’s responsibility, in his understanding of the cessation, to persuade the HNC rebels to physically distance themselves from Jabhat al-Nusrah to make the offensive easier. Is it – was that your understanding, that in some way the United States is responsible for ensuring that separation?

MR KIRBY: The way I would put it, Dave, is that we’re all responsible for trying to make sure that the cessation is observed and recognized by all parties. Everybody has a responsibility here.

QUESTION: There’s an implication in the way you put it, though, that if the rebel – if the moderate rebels can’t get out of the way, they’re just going to get steamrollered.

MR KIRBY: Well, steamrolled by whom?

QUESTION: Well, by the Russians and the regime.

MR KIRBY: So again, I go back to what I said before. We want to see the cessation observed by all parties. As I said to my answer to Said, we’re not blind to the fact that it’s a very dynamic situation in Aleppo and that there is intermingling. We’ve said that for a while now. And we knew weeks ago, before the regime started to move on Aleppo, that in Aleppo in particular it was going to be a challenge. And it obviously has proven to be the case. So we’re going to continue to work with those opposition groups that we can influence, and we’re going to keep working with those countries on the opposition groups that they influence to do the best we can to get everybody to observe the cessation. And to the degree that the – that separation can be had between opposition and al-Nusrah, obviously that’s beneficial to preserving the cessation of hostilities, which I know has seen many violations now in Aleppo. I’m not saying that it’s held, okay. But to the degree that that intermingling can be avoided, that obviously assists in the situation, but it’s a very difficult, very fluid situation because the regime continues to move on Aleppo. And again, what we’ve said in the past is that the extension of Assad regime control over additional territory in Syria is not a good thing for the future of Syria.

QUESTION: Well, have you told them?

MR KIRBY: Have we told who?

QUESTION: Have you told, for lack of a better phrase, your guys? Have you told them to get out?

MR KIRBY: We have certainly communicated our concerns about the situation in Aleppo and the cessation and the very fluid nature of the situation there. We certainly have relayed that to opposition groups that we’re in direct contact with. We’ve also --

QUESTION: And is it your understanding that they have heeded your advice or your calls? Or are they --

MR KIRBY: Well, I think you can just see by what’s going on that there continues to be – there continues to be an intermingling.

QUESTION: So they’re not listening. So they’re not listening to you.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to say that. I’m just saying that --

QUESTION: Well --

MR KIRBY: -- you continue to – we continue to see a very fluid, dynamic situation on the ground. Obviously, we’d like to see the intermingling avoided.

QUESTION: Right, but it’s not just – it’s not just the Russians, then, who are not being successful in convincing their people to abide by the ceasefire. You are also admitting that you’re having problems doing that.

MR KIRBY: I think we all recognize the challenge of keeping the cessation in place --

QUESTION: All right. Can I --

MR KIRBY: -- particularly in Aleppo.

QUESTION: Can I just – on a broader Syria story? Back in 2014, the Syrian regime crossed the President’s red line on using chemical weapons, and he ended up – after saying that he would strike, ended up not. And now today he has announced 250 more troops going to Syria after saying for months and months and months that there would be no boots on the ground. I’m just curious if this is like part of some kind of devious grand strategy to say one thing and then do the complete opposite of it. And if it is, what exactly does – are you hoping to accomplish with this?

MR KIRBY: Well, I – I’m going to – obviously, I’m going to be careful not to speak to DOD equities here. But --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) strategies.

MR KIRBY: DOD? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: They – yeah, they do the devious grand strategies.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: But let me – but let me talk about what this is. It is --

QUESTION: You don’t need to talk about what specifically it is that they’re doing. The fact of the matter is and the point of my question is that the Administration is doing the exact opposite in these two cases of what it said it was going to do or said it wouldn’t do.

MR KIRBY: I just – I don’t see it that way, Matt. So if I could just – just – if I could just --

QUESTION: Did the President or not say that --

MR KIRBY: If I could just tell you what it is, then we can maybe – maybe we could have a better discussion about it. It is capitalizing on what we know works, and what works is advise and assist missions, which we’ve been doing for a long time. It is not mission creep if it’s the same mission. And it’s the same mission. And he introduced about 50 Special Operations Forces on the ground. They have had a positive impact on our ability to go after Daesh inside Syria. And because it has been successful, we want to intensify – I’ve stood up here I don’t know for how many weeks and talked about the fact that we want to intensify our efforts against Daesh. This is a process which has worked, so the President has decided to increase it to the tune of 250. And there was never this – there was never this, “No boots on the ground.” I don’t know where this keeps coming from.

QUESTION: But yes there – well, yes, yes, there was.

MR KIRBY: There was no – there was – no there wasn’t. There was --

QUESTION: More than --

QUESTION: What?

MR KIRBY: We’re not going to be involved in a large-scale combat mission on the ground. That is what the President has long said.

QUESTION: Are --

MR KIRBY: We have three – wait a minute, wait, wait, wait. We have 3,000-some-odd troops in Iraq already in advise and assist capacity at bases throughout the country. Don’t tell me and don’t tell them or their families that they’re not on the ground. They are very much on the ground.

QUESTION: I’m not – that’s not my – that’s not my --

MR KIRBY: But they aren’t involved in large-scale, conventional ground combat.

QUESTION: That’s not the point. The point is is that for months and months and months that the mantra from the President and everyone else in the Administration has been, “No boots on the ground” and now --

MR KIRBY: No, that is not true.

QUESTION: What?

MR KIRBY: It’s just not true, Matt.

QUESTION: It is.

QUESTION: Mr. Kirby --

MR KIRBY: It’s just not true.

QUESTION: It’s true.

MR KIRBY: No, it’s not. I just flatly, absolutely disagree with you because I’ve been speaking to this when I was in uniform for over two years on this.

QUESTION: Okay. Your predecessor up here – it was, “All options are on the table except boots on the ground.” That was the --

MR KIRBY: I never said that. And --

QUESTION: Well, that was the whole line from the President on down.

QUESTION: The President said that --

QUESTION: Anyway – anyway, are you saying that this is not the same thing as saying one thing and then doing the other completely?

MR KIRBY: I’m absolutely rejecting that thesis, yes.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: So within 24 hours – may I quickly follow up on his question?

MR KIRBY: Well, it doesn’t look like I have a choice because you’re going to talk no matter what. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So it’s to that question. Within 24 hours, we have seen two headlines, one of them being President Obama rules out ground troops to Syria, and it was – he told the BBC – I can give you an exact quote; and then shortly after, President Obama to deploy 250 more Special Forces troops to Syria. My question is: What is the difference between the troops that the President ruled out and the troops that he’s going to send to Syria?

MR KIRBY: That’s actually an intelligent question. That’s a good question and I appreciate that you asked it because it’s very relevant. When we talk about boots on the ground in the context that you have heard people in the Administration speak to, we are talking about conventional, large-scale ground troops that are designed to actually engage in, plan, coordinate, integrate, and engage in combat operations on the ground as units. We’re not doing that. We’ve never done that in Iraq or in Syria, and we’re not going to do it now.

QUESTION: Can --

MR KIRBY: Let me finish, let me finish. Introducing additional advisors and assistance troops in the form of Special Operations Forces, which we’ve done now – we’ve had 50 or so on the ground in Syria for a while; we’re adding another 250 – that’s very much in keeping with the mission – one of the core missions that the U.S. military was designed to do from the outset in the fight against Daesh, from the very outset – and I know because I spoke about it myself in my prior life – which was to help improve the battlefield competency and capability of indigenous ground forces. In Iraq, that’s the Iraqi Security Forces, and of course the Pesh up in the north, and in Syria, it was about trying to get opposition fighters more capable and competent to go after Daesh in Syria.

Now, as you know, the Pentagon started a train and equip program on – which was not on the ground in Syria, but took fighters out of Syria and tried to get them prepared and equipped. That didn’t meet with much success, so they started to do the same mission but do it in Syria with Special Operations Forces. That has shown some success – let me finish. That has shown some success, so why not capitalize on that success?

So we can have a nice, little debate about boots on the ground, but I – I’m telling you, having been in the military, there is a big difference between saying, “No boots on the ground” – we’ve all recognized since almost the outset we’ve had U.S. troops in Iraq, which are very much on the ground – and the colloquial meaning of the term, which is what many people, when they say, “No boots on the ground,” are referring to, which is large-scale, intentionally combat ground troops engaged in combat operations that they themselves are conducting independently and integrating and coordinating that way. And that’s not happening and that’s not going to happen.

QUESTION: So can the President send any number of Special Forces without calling them ground troops?

MR KIRBY: They are not ground troops in the sense that they are not conventional ground troops conducting combat operations on their own.

QUESTION: Are you saying --

MR KIRBY: There’s a big difference.

QUESTION: Are you saying --

MR KIRBY: Am I saying – am I saying that there are no boots on the ground in Syria? Of course, I’m not saying that. I’ve never said that, nor have I ever said that there’s no boots on the ground in Iraq. You guys are getting way wrapped around the axle on the phrase, “boots on the ground.” Yes, there’s boots on the ground. We’ve got pilots that have been flying airstrikes since August of 2014. Don’t tell me and don’t tell them or their families that they’re not involved in actual combat over Iraq and Syria. But that’s a big difference between that and saying we’re going to involve ourselves in conventional ground troops and ground force operations on the ground, which we have not done and there are no plans to do it.

The other thing I’ll say to this is – and we’ve said this all along – the way you defeat a group like this – two things, two really key important things. One is good governance. That’s the way you sustain a defeat against a group like Daesh. That’s why it’s so important that Prime Minister Abadi be able to continue to work through the political reforms that he’s trying to put in place, fill out his cabinet, and deliver for the Iraqi people the kind of good sectarian governance that they haven’t previously enjoyed. Number two, that’s why in Syria we’re trying to get to a political transition so that a government that is responsible to and responsive for the Syrian people are in place.

And second, second main point is the other way you sustain a defeat against a group like this is through competent, capable, courageous, well-trained, well-led indigenous forces. That’s how you keep it – you keep their defeat sustained and done. You don’t do it with large-scale U.S. or large-scale foreign troops because you can’t keep a group like that down forever doing it that way. You’ve got to have good indigenous security forces that can take away the territory, defeat these guys, and then keep them defeated over the long term. Nothing – nothing has changed about that essential core mission set of U.S. military in Iraq or Syria, absolutely nothing.

QUESTION: Sir, are the Special Forces being sent to Syria going to be engaged in combat?

MR KIRBY: I think the Pentagon has already spoken to that, that their job would be in keeping with the original 50, which was advise and assist.

QUESTION: But in Iraq too you said they were not going to be in combat, and then a serviceman died in a hostage rescue operation.

MR KIRBY: Once again, once again --

QUESTION: And he clearly was in combat.

MR KIRBY: Once again you are --

QUESTION: How can you say that they are not in combat?

MR KIRBY: Once again you are oversimplifying what we’re saying. I never said, we’ve never said, that troops wouldn’t be engaged in combat. Talk to these combat pilots that are flying missions over Iraq and Syria and tell them that they’re not involved in combat. What we said is – again, I’ll say it again because apparently I need to – there’s not going to be any large-scale conventional ground combat operations performed by U.S. soldiers. That’s a big difference in saying no boots on the ground and it’s a big difference of saying they’re never going to be involved in combat. And we had a Marine, as we’ve all noted – in fact, General Dunford went to visit the fire base where he was killed by a rocket attack. Don’t tell that family that he didn’t die in a combat situation, because he certainly did. But that doesn’t mean that we’re involved in some sort of large-scale ground combat operation.

QUESTION: Well, if that’s the case, then why didn’t the Administration come out and say there will be no large-scale combat ground --

MR KIRBY: Not – we did say that.

QUESTION: -- instead of saying no boots on the ground, which is what they said over and over and over again? These people, unless they’re not wearing boots, are boots on the ground.

MR KIRBY: Matt, I can’t – listen, on this point I totally agree with you. They are wearing boots and they are on the ground. But that doesn’t mean that they are –

QUESTION: So that’s totally --

MR KIRBY: But that doesn’t mean that they are in large-scale ground combat operations. And I can’t speak for every other Administration official, Matt, but I can certainly speak for what I’ve said from this podium and the other podium.

QUESTION: Well, you know what? Then you can’t say that you’re setting a redline on chemical weapons and then not act on the redline, and you can’t say no boots on the ground and then send boots onto the ground and say that you’re not doing the opposite of what you intended.

MR KIRBY: We’re not --

QUESTION: I just don’t --

MR KIRBY: The mission set of these troops is very much consistent with the mission set of those that have gone before.

QUESTION: Can I just have one --

QUESTION: Can I ask you something? Who came up with --

MR KIRBY: And you guys are --

QUESTION: I have --

QUESTION: -- the term boots on the ground---

QUESTION: No, hold on a second a second.

QUESTION: -- to describe a soldier --

QUESTION: For God’s sake, who cares who came up with it?

QUESTION: -- living breathing soldiers that are in combat and in harm’s way?

MR KIRBY: Wait a minute. I’ve got --

QUESTION: Who came up with that term?

MR KIRBY: You two were both yelling at me, so let me just – say your question again because I couldn’t understand.

QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to say – “boots on the ground, boots on the ground,” these are soldiers. They are in combat and harm’s way and so on. It’s somehow like throwing that term around, I don’t know, it seems to mitigate or to lessen whatever involvement --

QUESTION: Look guys – guys, first of all, this is an interesting debate for the State Department and I’m not sure why this discussion isn’t happening elsewhere in town. But I mean, there’s no point in arguing the “boots on the ground” rhetoric. It’s absolutely no point. And I am not disputing the fact that we have troops on the ground and they’re wearing boots. I got that.

QUESTION: There we go. Okay. On Aleppo --

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up --

QUESTION: I just need to go back to Aleppo for one second.

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Are you saying that when you talked about moving them to de-conflict or to remove themselves from the proximity of Nusrah – the bad guys, I’m talking about your – the rebels that you guys support – that you are telling them that they should move away from Aleppo, they should abandon their positions there?

MR KIRBY: We are --

QUESTION: And basically – and essentially allow al-Nusrah to --

MR KIRBY: It’s not like we can order them around, Matt, but we have influence over some of them and we are reminding them of the inherent dangers of intermingling and being close to those who are not party to the cessation.

QUESTION: Right. But that – doesn’t that --

MR KIRBY: Because al-Nusrah is a legitimate target.

QUESTION: Fair enough.

MR KIRBY: We don’t want to see our guys get hurt.

QUESTION: Fair enough. But doesn’t that, in effect, mean – or not effect. Doesn’t that mean that you’re telling them to give up ground, to surrender?

MR KIRBY: No, not at all.

QUESTION: If you’re telling them to move out of places that they hold in Aleppo --

MR KIRBY: That doesn’t – that’s a far cry from saying give up and walk away.

QUESTION: Well, not give up --

MR KIRBY: It’s simply making sure they understand the risks.

QUESTION: Well, now you’re saying --

MR KIRBY: And some of them may be willing to take that risk. I can’t speak for all of them.

QUESTION: But now you’re saying that you’re telling them that they should move away but that that’s not telling them to move away. You’re saying – again, it’s like this --

MR KIRBY: You can still --

QUESTION: It’s like some bizarre --

MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, I don’t want to get into military tactics with you guys.

QUESTION: -- alternate universe.

MR KIRBY: But you can still fight people without being in the same block of houses with them. I mean, there are ways to continue to press what advantages. But we want them to --

QUESTION: So you --

MR KIRBY: We want them to abide by the cessation.

QUESTION: I understand that, but, I mean, so you’re telling them just to move a little bit away?

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: Or to take --

QUESTION: Look, Matt – Matt, you’re --

QUESTION: Like to the next --

QUESTION: -- overthinking this, Matt. I mean, we’re just simply advising them of the dangers of the – of being intermingled with groups that are not party to the cessation. They have to make their own decisions.

The other thing that we are asking them to do and advising them to do is two things: to abide by the cessation – and Said noted press reports that would indicate that not all of them are – and number two, to continue to work towards the political process, to continue to be a participant in the talks that unfortunately --

QUESTION: They’re doing neither.

MR KIRBY: -- did not happen – did not finish in Geneva.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: So you’ve had the 200 – announcement of 250 --

MR KIRBY: I did not. The President made that announcement.

QUESTION: The President. You – the United States. So – and he’s just come from a – the President has just come from a visit to Saudi Arabia, Britain, and Germany. Is it your understanding this could be part of an announcement of others contributing to this? Is – has there been discussions with the Saudis, maybe, of – because there was a discussion previously of the Saudis contributing to a force like this.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. We have publicly and privately encouraged other coalition partners to contribute more to the fight against Daesh, to intensify their efforts in the same manner or – that we have, not necessarily matching every contribution we’re making, of course. But we’ve encouraged other nations to contribute more. That’s a discussion that we have with them – with coalition partners – routinely, regularly. And as a matter of fact, Brett McGurk’s in the region right now, in Kuwait, in a – having a discussion with key coalition partners about the fight against Daesh and about contributions that we can all make.

I wouldn’t speak for other nations and what decisions they’re considering and what they may do. Last week we announced that the – that Denmark was going to contribute F-16 fighters now to the – to strikes in both Iraq and Syria. The UAE contributed additional funds now for stabilization in Iraq. Not every contribution has to be in the form of kinetic military action, but these are decisions – these are sovereign decisions that states have to make, and we’ll let them speak to it.

So I’m – short answer is I’m not aware of any pending announcements by other nations coming out of the President’s meetings. Again, those are decisions that only they can make and only they can speak to.

Yeah, back there.

QUESTION: It’s a different topic.

QUESTION: No, no, no.

QUESTION: When you say “large-scale ground operation,” how many troops does that involve? 10,000, 20 --

MR KIRBY: First of all, that’s a great question for the Defense Department to go to specifics than me, but I’m not going to put a number figure on it. Large-scale means large-scale, and we are not operating large-scale units inside Iraq or inside Syria. And I – you can go to the Pentagon for a more specific number, about whether they peg it to a number. That’s something for military tacticians to speak to. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that we are not now and have no plans to be involved in large-scale conventional ground operations in Iraq or in Syria.

Michel.

QUESTION: John, I have two questions. Any readout on Secretary Kerry’s conversation – phone conversation with Minister Lavrov today?

MR KIRBY: They did have a phone conversation today. It was, as you might expect, largely about the situation in Syria with respect to both the cessation of hostilities and the need for better and more sustained humanitarian access for so many Syrians that are in need now. So it was largely focused on Syria, and again, I think that shouldn’t come as a surprise given recent events.

QUESTION: My second question is: Secretary Kerry has said on Saturday to New York Times that the U.S. has proposed a 24-hour truce monitoring system to Russia. Can you elaborate on this proposal? And Minister Lavrov has said today that this proposal is a simplistic approach when the task of principal is still the fight against terrorism. Any comment on that too?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, the Secretary is constantly looking for ways to try to make sure that the cessation of hostilities can hold in place, recognizing how fragile it is. I’m not going to get into the details of specific ideas or proposals that he is considering or that he’s putting forth, and I’ll let Foreign Minister Lavrov speak for himself and his opinion of it. The bottom line is that the Secretary remains fully committed to seeing the cessation stay in place and he’s not afraid to think of new ideas and new options to try to make that a reality. And I think he would welcome, as he always has, other ideas by other members of the ISSG and the international community to likewise come up with proposals and ideas. We all should be looking for ways to keep the cessation in place, which obviously still is very fragile.

QUESTION: But some people saw that this proposal is a kind of partition of Syria between the parties.

MR KIRBY: Well, let me just kill that idea right out front. He’s not talking about a partition of Syria, at least in terms of what you’re talking about in terms of what people think politically. We remain committed, as we always have, to a whole, unified, nonsectarian Syria, and every member of the ISSG, to include Russia, has signed up to that very goal as members of the ISSG, in not just one but three communiques and of course a UN Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Pam.

QUESTION: I have two on different topics. First, Iran. What is State’s response to the new threat from Iran from Foreign Minister Zarif to take the United States to the International Court of Justice? And this is in relation to Iran’s unhappiness with the Supreme Court ruling last week that Iran would pay about 2 billion in frozen assets to American families of those killed by terrorism sponsored by Tehran.

MR KIRBY: The foreign minister can speak for himself and speak for his government in terms of their intentions going forward. All I would say is what I said last week, that we certainly sympathize with the families who have fallen victim to terrorists that were supported by Tehran in the past. The decision by the court marries very closely with our own statements when the legislation was passed back in 2012, and we’re supportive of the court’s decision. As for what Iran may or may not do, they can speak to that, but we stand by our position with respect to the kinds of suffering that American families in the past have suffered as a result of terrorism supported by Tehran in the past.

QUESTION: Can we stay --

QUESTION: Has there been any --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: I just want to make sure that this – that deal, the heavy water agreement went – actually went through as planned on Friday.

MR KIRBY: What do you mean “went through as planned”?

QUESTION: Well, that the deal was done and that the numbers stayed the same and --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know – I mean, if you’re asking do we have – have we actually taken delivery of the 32 tons, I don’t know. But we are through DOE – through the Department of Energy, we’re making a license purchase of those 32 metric tons of heavy water. Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you know if any money has been disbursed?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. You’d have to talk to Energy and to Treasury about that. I don’t know.

QUESTION: So in their statement when they were talking about this on Friday, DOE said that the United States is not going to be Iran’s customer for heavy water, presumably, forever. So how long are you willing to be Iran’s customer for heavy water? I mean, this is another – they just made another 8 million – more than $8 million off this, which I realize --

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: -- is not much in the grand scheme of things. But, I mean, if they keep overproducing heavy water and want to sell it on the market, are you going to continue to – is the United States going to continue to buy it? You saw that – today maybe that the Russians are talking about buying some.

MR KIRBY: There’s no plans that I know of to keep this --

QUESTION: So this was a one time only?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to speak for the Department of Energy or Treasury on this, but there’s no intention that we’re aware of to keep this going on some sort of recurring basis. This met a specific need for both their compliance with heavy water possession and some of the research and scientific needs that we’ve had here in the business community, so it made sense to do it. And I just found a note in the – in my talking points, before I forget, that we expect the heavy water to be delivered to the United States in coming weeks. So it’s not here yet. So there’s no – but back to your question, I know of no intention to keep doing this on a recurring basis.

QUESTION: All right. Are you aware of any other areas, any other parts of the JCPOA that the Administration or that the United States is willing to help Iran meet its obligations under by making purchases, multi-million-dollar purchases?

MR KIRBY: I’m not specifically aware, but I’m also not an expert in the JCPOA.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Pam.

QUESTION: Can I --

MR KIRBY: I already got you, Pam. Let me go over here.

QUESTION: I had two questions and I only got one in.

MR KIRBY: You got more than one in. You had, like, two.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: All right, go ahead.

QUESTION: A quick one on Serbia, and that is: What is State’s reaction to the overwhelming victory of the pro-EU prime minister’s party in the elections?

MR KIRBY: Let me get back to you on that. What’s your next one?

QUESTION: That was it.

MR KIRBY: That – you said you had two more.

QUESTION: Can --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a reaction on that. I’m going to have to get back to you on that.

QUESTION: Turkey?

MR KIRBY: Go ahead, Turkey.

QUESTION: Thank you. There’s a American journalist today denied entry at Istanbul airport. This is the fourth foreign journalist within the last week.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: In addition to another Dutch-Turkish journalist who visited Turkey, but his – her passport confiscated in Turkey, so she cannot leave from the country. These are very new trends. I wonder if you have any comment specific to American journalist.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, without getting into each and every case, we’ve seen the press reporting on this, and you know where we are on media freedoms and the treatment of journalists, not just in Turkey but around the world. Nothing’s changed about that from our perspective. We continue to raise the issue of media freedom in Turkey and we’ll continue to do that. But I don’t have specifics with respect to each and every case that you’re citing. Obviously, you’re seeing these reports; we’re concerned by them, as we would be anywhere. And again, what we want to see is for Turkey to live up to its own constitutional principles, enshrined right in its constitution, to include freedom of expression through the media.

Okay?

QUESTION: Do you have a readout of the U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue this morning? And then how does that pave the way for President’s travel to Vietnam next week?

MR KIRBY: I won’t speak to the President’s travel. I don’t think I have a readout of that – do I? I do. (Laughter.) I’m told that I have it. Oh yeah, here it is. There’s just so many tabs here. Thank you for that reminder, Elizabeth.

So I guess we’re going to – we do have a readout here. The – it was held today, with --

QUESTION: “Ask the Vietnamese.”

MR KIRBY: -- I have it right here; I just had to find it – with Tom Malinowski, our Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, as well as the Vietnamese ministry of foreign affairs, their department of internal organizations director. So there was – those are the leads of the respective delegations. It covered a wide range of human rights issues, including the importance of continued progress on legal reform efforts, rule of law, freedom of expression and assembly, religious freedom, labor rights, disability rights, LGBTI rights, multilateral cooperation, as well as individual cases of concern. The promotion of human rights, as you know, remains a critical part of U.S. foreign policy and a key aspect of our ongoing dialogue within the U.S.-Vietnam comprehensive partnership.

I won’t get ahead of presidential travel or agenda, but we’re glad to have this discussion today.

QUESTION: Were any high-profile cases being discussed?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Were there any high-profile cases, such as --

MR KIRBY: As I said, they were – they discussed individual cases of concern. I’m not going to detail any more than that.

QUESTION: Q quick one on Nepal?

QUESTION: John, can I do another topic? I think you called me before.

MR KIRBY: When did I call on you before? In, like, another day?

QUESTION: Just before we went to Syria again.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Just – hang on. We’ll go --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: We’ll go to Nepal, then I’ll go to – what do you want to talk about?

QUESTION: The – okay, we talked about the earthquake and how the deputy prime minister is here. The situation, the political situation in Nepal is quite – what’s going on, there is a journalist whose – there’s anti-India --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- there’s a lot going on. So can you give us any readout, anything that this department talked to him about on the political side?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think I discussed this at the top in terms of the scope of the discussion. As you might it expect, it covered a wide range of bilateral issues between our two nations. Obviously, in light of the anniversary, then we wanted to make it clear that we continue to stand ready to support Nepal as it recovers and reconstructs from the earthquake. I just don’t have a more detailed readout than that.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, John. So a group of international experts presented its final report on the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico yesterday.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: The topic has been on the front page of The New York Times for the past two days, I think Saturday and Monday. What is the U.S. take on this? Does it – does the U.S. agree with the condemnation of the Mexican justice system contained in the report?

MR KIRBY: Here’s what I’ll say. We note the role of international experts working under the auspices of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and commend their efforts to assist Mexican authorities in seeking resolution on this tragic case. We trust that the Mexican Government will incorporate findings outlined in the experts’ report to bring the perpetrators to justice and will continue to ensure the safety of the families of the victims. And again, we call for the completion of a full and transparent investigation of the students’ disappearances and the prosecution of all those responsible. Okay?

QUESTION: A quick follow-up: Have you heard anything regarding the confirmation of under secretary – Assistant Secretary Jacobson to the Mexican embassy from the Hill? You heard anything, any progress in the negotiation for --

MR KIRBY: What I would just tell you is we – the Secretary continues to believe firmly that she should – that she should be voted on her nomination, her nomination should be voted on, and it’s important to get her – he continues to believe it’s important to get her confirmed and get her in Mexico City to be ambassador to a country that’s very, very important to us. I don’t have any updates from the Hill to provide you. We are, as you might expect, in constant consultation and communication with members of Congress with respect to all outstanding nominations but certainly none of any less concern than the one we have over Assistant Secretary Jacobson.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Catherine, way in the back there.

QUESTION: I just have a quick email question. The Code of Federal Regulations requires damage assessments when classified information is outside secure government channels. Are any damage assessments being done at the State Department, or are you aware of damage assessments being done by other agencies?

MR KIRBY: I won’t speak for other agencies and to the degree to which they are or they aren’t. As I said, and as I’ve talked about before, the issue of classification at the time is a subject of review and investigation – several reviews and investigations which have not been completed. I won’t get ahead of that. I’m not aware of a damage assessment here at the State Department, and I won’t speak for the intelligence community and to the degree to which they are or they are not doing that. As we’ve said in the past, none of the email traffic was marked classified at the time. The degree to which it was in fact classified when it was sent is all party to reviews and investigations that are ongoing.

QUESTION: My only sort of additional point on that would be is that it’s clear from the ICIG letter that the top secret emails are not in dispute. You’ve agreed to withhold them. So this is not a classification issue any longer. This is a closed matter.

MR KIRBY: Again, we’ve had this discussion before, Catherine, so I don’t know that we need to revisit it. There are reviews and investigations going on about this email traffic.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the 22 still the subject of review?

MR KIRBY: Sorry? I’m sorry?

QUESTION: The 22 that are withheld --

MR KIRBY: We’ve already spoken to those 22 --

QUESTION: Right. So there’s no disagreement then on --

MR KIRBY: -- and we’ve been very open and honest about the decision we made now. We weren’t – in doing that, Catherine, as you know, we had an obligation through FOIA to produce this – these documents and to do so carefully and in a measured way. And some were upgraded, no question about that, and I spoke from this podium about those particular top secret ones. And we’ve been nothing but honest about that.

That was a determination that was made at the time through the process of public disclosure. It wasn’t meant when we made that determination to indicate classification at the time or damage done at the time. There are reviews and investigations that are ongoing looking at that, and we want to make sure that those reviewers and those investigators are able to do their job cleanly without interference from us. So our determination – we stand by those determinations, but they were made in the process of releasing them through FOIA for public disclosure.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR KIRBY: Ma’am. Ma’am.

QUESTION: Can I go back quickly to the Special Forces? I mean, can we consider the additional Special Forces to an additional help support for YPG units?

MR KIRBY: They are on the ground to support – to assist and to advise counter-Daesh fighters. And there are many groups fighting Daesh and not all of them are Kurdish. Kurdish fighters have been brave. They’ve been courageous. They have been successful. Our goal is to provide advice and assistance to all those who can effectively go after Daesh. Okay?

I’ve time for just one more and then I’m really going to have to go.

QUESTION: I promise to be very quick.

MR KIRBY: Really? You promise?

QUESTION: On the Palestinian issue – very quick, I promise.

MR KIRBY: All right, let’s see.

QUESTION: Wonderful. Last week the Israelis arrested a journalist named Mujahid Assad. They accused him of consorting with the enemy. And yesterday they arrested the head of the Palestinian journalist’s union, Omar Nazzal and they accused him of incitement. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I have a very quick answer for you. We’ve seen those reports. Obviously, we would refer you to Israeli authorities to speak to them. I just don’t have additional detail at this time.

Okay, thanks everybody.

QUESTION: They issued a statement on freedom of the press.

MR KIRBY: 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 - April 22, 2016

Fri, 04/22/2016 - 15:49

Elizabeth Trudeau
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 22, 2016

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TRANSCRIPT:

.2:05 p.m. EDT

MS TRUDEAU: Hi, everyone. It’s Friday.

QUESTION: Hi. It is.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. I have to apologize, we’re going to --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS TRUDEAU: Well, of course, Said, if you want to move up. (Laughter.) I have to apologize, the Secretary will be speaking at 2:30 so we’re going to do this quickly so you can all watch that. So I have a few things at the top, then we’ll get right to your questions.

So first, on Syria. Today Special Envoy de Mistura said he’s continuing his discussions with the regime over the humanitarian situation in Syria, and that he plans to continue the current round of talks in Geneva into Wednesday. Over the last several days, Mr. de Mistura has held daily technical meetings with the HNC delegation and cited his discussions with the Syrian opposition as useful and productive. The HNC will have technical teams in Geneva until Tuesday. Mr. de Mistura said he plans on continuing working with the regime and other Syrian groups until next Wednesday. Mr. de Mistura highlighted that after three-plus years of efforts, the discussion of a political transition is now at the center of the process.

On Libya. The United States welcomes the continued and positive steps in Libya since the Government of National Accord entered Tripoli on March 30th, including early progress on peaceful, orderly transition of authority over key ministries and institutions. However, we are concerned by reports this week that spoilers again blocked a vote in the house of representatives on endorsing the cabinet of the new government through tactics that included physically blocking access to the building. As they did in February when the hardline minority also stood in the way of the democratic process, a majority of the house of representative members responded by endorsing the new Libyan Government through a written statement. We stand with those house members who are working to advance the political process despite intimidation. We continue to condemn efforts to undermine the Government of National Accord and the implementation of the Libyan political agreement. We urge all Libyans to continue facilitating a peaceful handover of power so Libya’s new leaders can move forward with the hard work of restoring stability to their country.

And with that, I’ll go to Nicolas.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can we start with Iran --

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: -- and the announcement that the U.S. Government is going to buy 32 tons of heavy water to Iran?

MS TRUDEAU: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Could you just elaborate – what’s this contract about?

MS TRUDEAU: Sure.

QUESTION: And just a technical question: What exactly is heavy water? And is it part of the JCPOA? And don’t you fear that politically at home, it will – you will be – the U.S. Administration will be accused again to please the Iran Government given the reaction of the Republicans this morning to this – to this deal?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so there’s a lot there. So let me start with some sort of broad information. I’ll answer your question on what is heavy water, because I had to – I had to get a little research on that, and then we can go on further.

So you’re correct, the U.S. Government, via the Department of Energy, is making a license purchase of 32 metric tons of heavy water from a subsidiary of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. This heavy water will fulfill a substantial portion of the U.S. domestic demand this year for industry and domestic research applications. This material is not radioactive and does not present safety concerns. This transaction provides U.S. industry with a critical product while also enabling Iran to sell some of its excess heavy water, as contemplated in the JCPOA. Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA meant this material had already been removed from Iran, ensuring it would not be used to support the development of a nuclear weapon.

Our purchase of the heavy water means it will instead be used for critically important research in non-nuclear industrial requirements here in the United States. We expect the heavy water to be delivered to the U.S. in the coming week, initially stored at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and then resold to – at commercially reasonable prices to domestic commercial and research buyers.

So on technical details about what heavy water is and details on its implementation, I’m going to refer you to the Department of Energy, but I will say heavy water is used in the development, production, and sale of compounds used in chemistry, biomedical and diagnostic research, environmental analysts, and physics.

So I know you had a question too on U.S. domestic reaction, and our response would be no. This was actually an allowable event that happened. So the U.S. was under no obligation to purchase heavy water from Iran, nor is it obligated to do so in the future, but the JCPOA required Iran to reduce its heavy water inventory below the 130 metric ton limit. One way to do that was to sell the excess to countries or companies. And I’d just note in the future it’s possible other countries may wish to purchase that. This was a purchase that was arranged through the Department of Energy for that.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course you can, Pam.

QUESTION: Thank you. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce was – is among those who have been critical, saying the deal actually encourages Iran to produce more heavy water to sell. House Speaker Paul Ryan also had some criticism, saying it seemed to be part of an effort to sweeten the nuclear deal with Iran and would directly subsidize Iran’s nuclear program. Is there a State concern about this criticism in that the U.S. may be seen as enabling Iran with this purchase?

MS TRUDEAU: No. This limit ensures Iran cannot stockpile heavy water for use in a covert reaction. The IAEA’s monitoring and verification measures will ensure that we know if Iran attempts to exceed the limit or divert any of the heavy water for illicit production of plutonium. So, no.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary discuss this with Saudi officials and with other GCC members ahead of the purchase? And if so, what was their reaction?

MS TRUDEAU: So I’d say the discussions regarding this commercial transaction have been ongoing for some time, primarily between the Department of Energy and their Iranian counterparts. And while the contracts were signed today in Vienna, this was a bilateral transaction between the U.S. and Iran.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: No, stay on this topic.

MS TRUDEAU: Wait, are we done on Iran? And then we’ll go. Yeah.

QUESTION: Elizabeth, aren’t you concerned, though, that you – the United States is subsidizing Iran’s nuclear program?

MS TRUDEAU: No. This was a commercial transaction. It actually met a U.S. need, as I outlined in this, and it also helped Iran meet its obligations under the JCPOA.

QUESTION: How much money are we talking about for this?

MS TRUDEAU: It’s under 10 million.

QUESTION: But aren’t you concerned that some of this “under 10 million” will fund terrorist activities in the future?

MS TRUDEAU: So we’ve talked about this quite extensively from this podium, as well as elsewhere, Lucas. No one’s blind to Iran’s unhelpful activities in the region. On this, what we can say is this was a commercial transaction, it was allowable, it fills a need here in the United States.

QUESTION: Will this transaction happen with U.S. dollars or U.S. taxpayer dollars?

MS TRUDEAU: So on that I’m going to refer you to the Department of the Treasury.

QUESTION: But why can’t you answer that question? It’s a simple yes or no.

MS TRUDEAU: Because that’s a question for Treasury.

Thanks. Said.

QUESTION: And what about the sanctions, Elizabeth?

MS TRUDEAU: So this is actually allowable under the JCPOA. If you’re talking about future decisions on sanctions, I’m not going to preview that. Okay.

Said.

QUESTION: Can we go Syria real quick?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: But by the way, who is transporting the heavy water? Is it U.S. transports or --

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t know that. Why don’t I have – I’ll have our technical people look at that. I think it’s probably a question for Energy, but we can take a look.

QUESTION: I want to go to Syria.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: You mentioned at the top what Staffan de Mistura said. He also said that the cessation of hostilities is facing a looming danger that it could collapse at any moment. And now, I know Mr. de Mistura is not someone who has a penchant for being hyperbolic or anything.

MS TRUDEAU: Sure.

QUESTION: So he gave it, like, a three-day window, till Wednesday and so on. Can you share with us any information that you might have on this issue, or how to go forward --

MS TRUDEAU: So the President just spoke to this as well, from London. As we’ve said several times on this, as the President just said, as Mr. de Mistura just said, the cessation of hostilities faces serious threats due to persistent violations by the Assad regime. This is something that we continue to see, we continue to raise. President Obama has stressed to President Putin the importance of pressing the Syrian regime to halt its offensive attacks on that. I’m not going to give a timeline. I don’t think I can from this podium. Mr. de Mistura has spoken on this. But we are absolutely concerned.

QUESTION: Okay. How is this, in your opinion, juxtaposed against reports that say that the Syrians, the Russians, and with the help of Iran, are poised to attack Halab, Aleppo in the next --

MS TRUDEAU: In terms of the battlefield movement or these --

QUESTION: So it’s almost imminent that --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- they are going to move in to liberate Aleppo. Do you have any information on this? Or this could be tied to it in any way?

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t say that. I can’t say that there’s a grand strategy, taking a look at this. I would say the cessation of hostilities, though it has certainly not been perfect – and no one is blind to that – has improved the life for tens, hundreds of thousands of Syrians on a daily basis, which is what we wanted to happen. Is it under threat? Absolutely. The President spoke to this today, as did Mr. de Mistura. Do we think its continued – that there’s validity that we continue to press it? Absolutely, because there’s no alternative. This provides the ability, as Mr. de Mistura said, where the political transition finally is in place to talk. Okay.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS TRUDEAU: Syria.

QUESTION: Thank you. The tensions between the Kurdish forces and the Assad regime have recently built up. And over the past two days, there have been clashes, resulting in the deaths and wounding of a number of people. Does the United States have a position on that, on this new tension between Assad and the Kurds, who have remain neutral, more or less, towards each other?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, certainly we would say the Peshermga – the Kurds have been some of the most effective fighters on the ground against ISIL, and that’s something that we welcome, we’ve supported, that we have highlighted repeatedly. In terms of these new tensions, I can’t speak to that specifically, but I would say certainly the Pesh have been very focused where we need them to.

QUESTION: I’m talking about the Syrian Kurds, not the Peshmerga in Iraq.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay.

QUESTION: The Syrian Kurds who’ve --

MS TRUDEAU: Is the fight between --

QUESTION: The Assad forces and the Syrian Kurds. It’s in Syria.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. Okay. So on that, I’m aware of those reports. I don’t really have anything to add on that. This is yet again a concern as we take a look at the cessation of hostilities. Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: I know I want to go to Lalit here.

QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to ask you about the Kabul terrorist attack this week.

MS TRUDEAU: Yes.

QUESTION: Voice of America today ran a big story about quoting presidential spokesperson from Kabul saying that this attack has a hallmark of Taliban and the Haqqani Network and they are putting the blame on the Pakistani establishment because they have direct links with the Haqqani Network.

MS TRUDEAU: And I’m sorry, where was that spokesperson from?

QUESTION: Sorry, Afghanistan’s presidential spokesperson.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. I haven’t seen that --

QUESTION: Dawa Khan Menapal.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. I haven’t seen that direct statement, but what I can say is that attacks such as this clearly undermine U.S., Afghan, and Pakistani efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. We have consistently expressed our concerns at the highest level of the Government of Pakistan about their continued tolerance for Afghan Taliban groups such as the Haqqani Network operating from Pakistani soil. And we did again – after this week’s attack, we have pressed the Government of Pakistan to follow up on its expressed commitment not to discriminate between terror groups regardless of their agenda or their affiliation by undertaking concrete action against the Haqqanis.

QUESTION: But your tolerance with Pakistan’s tolerance of this network is not a new thing. You have been tolerating these – Pakistan’s tolerance with Haqqani Network for quite some time.

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I direct you back to what Pakistan authorities have said themselves. They’ve reiterated their commitment that they will not discriminate against those groups. And we continue to call on them to live up to that commitment.

QUESTION: But do you see the words match with their actions?

MS TRUDEAU: I think words matter and we continue to encourage them to have their actions match those words.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On peace process?

MS TRUDEAU: Yep.

QUESTION: French foreign minister has said today that an international conference in Paris on May 30 is unable to relaunch talks between Palestinians and the Israelis. Did you get more information from the French about this conference? Are you coordinating with them now, and do you support such a conference?

MS TRUDEAU: So we actually just received specifics regarding substance and timing of this conference. We continue to be in touch directly with the French and other stakeholders to discuss the substance on there. We obviously remain concerned about the situation and continued trends on the ground, and it’s why we continue to look at both sides to demonstrate with actions and politics a genuine commitment to the two-state solution.

QUESTION: And --

MS TRUDEAU: In terms of details, content, who’s attending, I just don’t have that level of granularity.

QUESTION: But based on this information, the U.S. will attend this conference?

MS TRUDEAU: Again, with scheduling and who’s going to attend – attendance at all, I don’t have that granularity. We’ve just received that information, so we’ll continue to look and maybe I’ll have an update for you later on.

QUESTION: But you’re --

QUESTION: Is it a good idea to have an international conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or do you still favor direct negotiations as --

MS TRUDEAU: Our position on direct negotiations hasn’t changed. But on this, as we’ve just received the information, literally, we’re taking a look at it and we’ll be in touch with the French, and hopefully have an update for you guys as well.

QUESTION: Does this conference contradict the bilateral talks between --

MS TRUDEAU: I wouldn't say contradict. But without getting too far ahead of taking a look at that information, I don’t want to make a decision on that from the podium.

I’m going to go to --

QUESTION: Let me just – can I just follow up on this issue here very, very quickly.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course. Of course, Said.

QUESTION: I’m just – because the French also said it should have guarantees, it should just not be just be another meeting, because they have had so many meetings on the Middle East. Do you agree with that concept or that premise?

MS TRUDEAU: I’d agree – I’d say that we agree with the concept that we need to see progress. In going back to Lalit’s question, again, this is one of those things where words matter and actions need to match words. As you know, we continue to call for the reduction of tensions, the reduction of rhetoric. I can’t speak specifically to this because, again, we’re just seeing the context on this. We’re taking a look at the details. I don’t have anything to share on that.

QUESTION: Could I get you to comment on a report that Israel has confiscated 115 dunams of land, which is about 40 acres and so on, for settlement building today?

MS TRUDEAU: And I actually did the math on that to see exactly what a dunam was. So we are aware of the reports. This appears to be the latest step in what appears to be an ongoing process of land seizures, settlement expansions, and legalizations of outposts that is fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution. As we have repeatedly made clear, we continue to look to both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies that commitment to a two-state solution.

I’m going to go to the gentleman in the back because – one second, Michel – because he was here yesterday and we didn’t get a chance to call on him.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you, Elizabeth.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS TRUDEAU: Yep.

QUESTION: Thank you, Elizabeth. Last Friday heavily armed gunmen from South Sudan crossed the Ethiopian border into Gambela region and killed 208 innocent Ethiopians, including women and children. And they also kidnap more than 100 children. As you probably heard, Ethiopia declared two days of national mourning for the 208 people killed. Ethiopia also announced that on Wednesday that its military force entered South Sudan and surrounded the attackers who abducted the children. My question, Elizabeth: What is the United States position regarding this attack on Ethiopian soil?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So first I’m going to say there’s a lot there. So first, our condolences and our thoughts are with the victims and those impacted by this. We are concerned by the reports of the attacks in Gambela region of Ethiopia.

At this point we don’t have information on the motive of attack. We’ve been informed that the Ethiopian authorities are responding to the immediate needs of those affected communities. They’re carrying out the investigation. I’ve also seen reports that the Ethiopian forces are pulling out the children in that; for that I’m going to refer you to the Government of Ethiopia and South Sudan, because I just don’t have clarity on what’s going on on the ground.

Okay. Yep. And you guys – you’re going to hate this. I can take two more, because I want to get you out before S goes on.

QUESTION: Sure. The foreign minister of North Korea spoke at the UN yesterday, and essentially he blamed the U.S. for failure in progress on talks and said that the only way to meet the threat from the U.S. was for them to have nuclear weapons. Do you have a response to that?

MS TRUDEAU: We disagree.

QUESTION: And --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- he also had a chance to speak with Foreign Minister Zarif. Is there any concern, given the history between North Korea and Iran, that they might be talking about any illicit --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I can’t speak to a meeting of two foreign leaders like that.

Sir.

QUESTION: Thank you. Elizabeth, the Armenian American lobby groups learned from a representative of Administration that President Obama won’t call the events of 1915 as genocide during his statement that will come out soon. The question is --

MS TRUDEAU: It actually came out.

QUESTION: It already came out today?

MS TRUDEAU: Yes, sir, it did.

QUESTION: Okay. And then, obviously, there – we learned – as we learned before, there is no genocide term in the statement. Can you please tell why this Administration avoids using the genocide term when about already 30 countries – approximately 30 countries, starting from allies like – democratic allies like Germany and France to not most democratic, maybe, country like Venezuela, has already called the events of 1915 as genocide? And President Ronald Reagan in 1981 as President also called the events of 1915 as genocide. Why can’t this Administration do the same? Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. In terms of the President’s statement, you know I’m going to refer you to the White House. What I would say, though, is read this statement. It’s a very powerful statement; came out just about an hour ago. He marked – he remarked on – he actually termed it the first mass atrocity of the 20th century. He noted the 1.5 million Armenian people who were deported, massacred, marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. The President also remarked on the remarkable resilience of the Armenian people. So I would refer you to the White House to speak specifically on this, but I would say read the statement, because it’s very powerful and he speaks.

Pam.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, can I follow up really quick --

MS TRUDEAU: I just – actually, let me go one more, and then I’m happy to talk.

QUESTION: Okay, come back to me, please. Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Hi, Pam.

QUESTION: Two quick ones, if I can.

MS TRUDEAU: Sure.

QUESTION: The first one: What’s the State perspective on the widening political crisis in Macedonia, which, of course, has resulted in the massive pro and anti-government demonstrations this week?

And then secondly, do you have an update concerning U.S. relief for the earthquake victims in Ecuador?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So on Macedonia, we and the EU have made our concerns known about the importance of credible elections in Macedonia. Time is short. Much remains to be done. We strongly urge President Ivanov to rescind his decision and let the special prosecutor’s office and the courts do their job. I would refer you to some of the statements that we’ve made on that.

Quickly on Ecuador – and thank you for the question, because I think sometimes things move very quickly on, and the people of Ecuador are very much in our thoughts. The United States is responding to the humanitarian needs in Ecuador in several different ways. USAID has deployed a team of disaster experts to assist the Government of Ecuador by assessing damage, identifying priority humanitarian needs, providing information and analysis of the situation on the ground.

They have also deployed a small team of structural engineers with urban search-and-rescue partners from the Los Angeles County Fire Department; Fairfax, Virginia Fire and Rescue. They’re surveying buildings and critical infrastructure in the most affected areas.

They have also deployed a small support team to work with UN’s Disaster Assistance and Coordination Team to help coordinate the flood of international rescue activities. They provided an initial $100,000 to support the distribution of emergency relief supplies to communities impacted and they’re contributing $500,000 through the UN World Food Program to provide food vouchers in especially hit areas. Additional U.S. Government assistance may be forthcoming based on assessments and also the Government of Ecuador’s request.

One more. You’re it, my friend.

QUESTION: Thank you. What do you tell critics who say that the United States is rewarding Iran’s behavior for producing excess plutonium or heavy water that could be used to produce plutonium?

MS TRUDEAU: So I think it’s important to realize that actually Iran was below the 130 metric ton threshold before this was purchased.

QUESTION: And why can’t you say whether this is Iran’s sanction money or new U.S. dollars or U.S. taxpayer dollars being used to purchase this heavy water?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry, I don’t think I understand your question.

QUESTION: What kind of dollars are being used to purchase this heavy water from Iran?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so this was actually facilitated through the Department of Energy, so I’m going to refer you there.

QUESTION: And --

MS TRUDEAU: Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Okay.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:28 p.m.)

DPB #68


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Wed, 04/20/2016 - 15:49

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 20, 2016

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:27 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: All right, just a couple things here at the top. On the counter-Daesh coalition and the fight against Daesh, the United States welcomes the vote yesterday by the Danish parliament and the announcement by the United Arab Emirates to expand their contributions to the coalition to counter ISIL. Denmark’s vote to increase authorized personnel on the ground and the redeployment of F-16 fighter aircraft for operations in both Iraq and Syria will complement their existing contributions to the coalition and will certainly complement the broader coalition kinetic efforts as well.

Also, again, yesterday, as I alluded to, the United Arab Emirates announced a $10 million contribution to the UNDP’s Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilization, otherwise known as FFIS, to help accelerate the rehabilitation of civic infrastructure and community development initiatives in areas that have been newly liberated from Daesh. As part of Denmark’s vote, they also committed to strengthening civilian efforts by increasing support for stabilization efforts in Iraq and Syria and to counter Daesh’s propaganda.

We obviously appreciate these additional steps that we believe will help ensure the coalition continues to both seize and sustain the momentum that we have already gained in this campaign. Defeating Daesh is a top priority of the United States and we are going to continue to work with countries like Denmark and the UAE and a broad range of partners across the international community to further degrade and obviously destroy this barbaric group.

I also want to highlight that the Secretary did reach the Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida by phone earlier today to express condolences, of course, for the loss of life and the injuries as well as the damage and devastation sustained from recent earthquakes there in southern Japan. He, of course, reiterated our commitment to continue to support the Japanese Government’s relief efforts. I talked a little bit about that support yesterday; that will continue, and the Secretary made sure that that was clear that we would continue to do that and also reaffirm the course that we, as always, stand firmly beside the Japanese people in this time of need.

Just a quick travel note, and I think all of you know this already, but the Secretary will travel to New York City on Friday. He’ll be coming straight from Riyadh to New York City to represent the United States at the signing of the Paris agreement. This is a historic climate agreement that was reached in Paris last December, as you know, by the 196 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The signing ceremony is hosted by the UN and will take place at the UN headquarters. The Secretary will also participate in an event along with representatives from a number of other nations that are committing, as the United States, China, and others have, to join the agreement this year.

He’ll also take advantage, as he always does, to have bilateral meetings in New York City, which we will be able to announce tomorrow once the schedule is a little bit more finalized. And I think as you know, we often do readouts or provide opportunities for media access at the beginning of these meetings. I would expect a similar amount of openness and transparency for these bilateral meetings on Friday. And again, we’ll have more information probably tomorrow about who they are and when they are.

QUESTION: A real quick point on that. Didn’t the Secretary indicate yesterday that he would be meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif on Friday?

MR KIRBY: He did. He did, and I would expect that when we’re able to give you the full list of bilateral meetings, that you will very likely see one with Foreign Minister Zarif on that schedule, yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: That’s very much his expectation.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we – can we just start with a quick one on Syria?

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And I know we’ve addressed this, or you’ve addressed this, to some degree in recent briefings, but the head of the Syrian delegation to the talks in Geneva is arguing that the departure or suspension of the participation of the opposition groups in the talks could be a good thing, that it may remove an obstacle to actually reaching an agreement. And he’s continuing to push this notion of a broad-based government of national unity, which, although it doesn’t explicitly – doesn’t explicitly say this, seems to be a way of ensuring that the Assad regime, if not Assad himself, continues to play a part in the – in a transitional government. Can you address not just your views about Assad himself but also your views on such a national unity government that might include large portions of the current governing structure?

MR KIRBY: Sure. Well, obviously our views on Assad and the degree to which he can be part of the long-term future of Syria have not changed, Arshad. Nothing at all has changed about our views of him or his lack of potential to continue leading the Syrian Government. So no change there. I’ve seen these comments. Frankly, we would not associate ourselves with them. We do not believe that the answer, that the way forward is any removal by the opposition from these talks; in fact, quite the contrary. As I said yesterday and we have been saying, we want to see all parties actively participate in these talks. We understand certainly the frustrations expressed by the opposition as they asked for a pause, and we respect the decision by Special Envoy de Mistura to grant that pause. But we still want to see the talks continue. We still want to see them get going again, and we believe that, in fact, is the best way to get to a political transition inside Syria.

Now, on the third point about this broad-based unity government or however he phrased it, I think I’d leave it to them to describe what they exactly mean by that. What I can tell you is that we remain firmly committed to using the Geneva process to describe and to articulate and to flesh out what a transitional government and governing body should look like, and that’s really what these talks are designed to do. In fact, when Special Envoy de Mistura started them in this round, he specifically said that one of his goals – in fact, his chief goal – was to have – to start to have a dialogue and a discussion about the political transition itself and about what a transitional governing structure could look like. He didn’t say that he thought that in a couple weeks’ time they were going to get at it and necessarily have the final answers, but he wanted to start having that conversation. And we agree with him. We think that it is time to start having that. But it has to be ironed out between the parties. It can’t be dictated at the outset of talks by one or the other. We want them to sit down and to have a dialogue and a discussion about what it should look like.

The last thing I’ll say on this – and I know it’s a long answer, but your question was a good one – the last thing I’ll say is that as the Secretary has maintained all along, this has to be determined between the parties, but also that we recognize that through the transition process, in whatever form it takes, that there will have to be some preservation of some institutions of government to keep order and stability in the country as we work through a transitional period. Transitions are very difficult and they can be very uncertain, and they can certainly lead to unintended consequences and outcomes if you’re not careful. And one of the things we want to do is be careful and thoughtful. And so we recognize that some institutions of government, particularly the security forces – we’ve talked about that – would have to stay in place in some form or fashion. That doesn’t mean that they’re all going to be led by the same individuals, but that the – but that we don’t tear down every root and every – and rip every fabric of government as we work through the transition.

So it’s a long answer, but I hope that got it.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up on this very point? I just want to understand you correctly. You certainly want to maintain the structure that you have now because, after all, the opposition really did not have or does not have much experience in terms of governing and running institutions and so on. Syria has been around for a very long time, these government institutions and so on. You don’t want to see them go in any way?

MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I understand completely what you’re asking.

QUESTION: Let me ask you --

MR KIRBY: But let me just take a stab at it and then you tell me if I got into the ballpark. I mean, what we’ve said is we recognize that some governing institutions, certainly some levers of government have got to stay in place, so that order of stability and security can be maintained as you go through a transition process, which is a very difficult, very trying, very uncertain time. We don’t want to rip everything down and then have to start over again and build up again. And we’ve seen how that doesn’t work in the past. And the Secretary has also said that any role for Assad in that process has got to be determined by the parties. We’re not going to legislate it from – externally. But that clearly, he can’t be the answer to the long-term future of Syria, and that’s why we believe it’s so important to have, as the end product of this transitional process, elections – elections with the diaspora being able to vote, the millions and millions of Syrians that have fled that country, so that they have a voice and they have a vote. And we believe that if they do, there’s no way that they’re going to vote to keep Bashar al-Assad in power.

QUESTION: Independent of Assad, I mean, you keep saying that some must stay, some must go. That’s the assumption. How do you decide which government agencies should stay or which government agencies should go? Because --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- we’ve learned the lessons from Iraq. I mean, you can’t just collapse the government. I understand that you may not want the same leadership in these institution, whether it’s the ministry of interior or defense or the security agencies or even the ministry of electricity, as they call it, and water and so on or agriculture.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: You want these institutions to remain in place --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- while you may not want the leadership to be there, correct?

QUESTION: Does that include the political parties?

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: Is everyone who’s a Baathist going to be kicked out in a transitional government?

MR KIRBY: Again, these are the kinds of decisions that we want to be hashed out between the parties through these talks. That’s why we want the talks to continue. That’s why we want to see all sides continue to participate. They’ve got to decide that. It’s not – the ISSG isn’t going to sit down and have a meeting and issue a decree and say the following ministries have got to stay in place with the following individuals in certain leadership positions. That’s – we want them to work this out.

But clearly – I mean, just common sense would tell you that we certainly want to see some security force apparatus in place, obviously, and certainly institutions and levers of government that can deliver basic services like electricity and water, medical support, and some economic foundation, obviously. I mean, some of the very essential elements of government we’d like to see in place, and I think they’re pretty obvious. But the – but what it’s going to look like exactly and who’s going to lead them and how they’re going to be administered – that’s what we want the parties to work out. That’s why these talks are so important.

Justin.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you about Saudi Arabia quickly, the – and the 9/11 bill and just try to button this up. Have the Saudis formally expressed to the State Department, to the U.S. Government, that they intend to sell off their assets, their – in U.S. treasuries should the 9/11 bill pass in its current form? Or is that just something that the press has cited officials from Saudi Arabia having said?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak for Saudi officials, Justin, and I would encourage you to ask them about their views of this legislation. I can only go back to what I’ve said the last couple of days and speak for our views of it and point you to what the Secretary said himself in testimony to Congress and our concerns about the legislation as it’s currently written. And again, there’s no change to our views on that, but I wouldn’t speak for Saudi officials and their views.

QUESTION: All right. I wouldn’t want you to. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Thank you.

QUESTION: But wouldn’t --

MR KIRBY: Then you shouldn’t have asked.

QUESTION: Well, that’s --

MR KIRBY: Because you actually --

QUESTION: But he wasn’t asking --

MR KIRBY: Because you actually did want me to.

QUESTION: But he wasn’t asking the views of Saudi officials. He was asking if they’ve raised this with you. Can you not address that?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I know, and I’m not – I’m just not going to --

QUESTION: And you don’t want to do that either.

MR KIRBY: I’m just not going to speak to that, and I – as you know, we don’t talk about the details of diplomatic conversations.

QUESTION: Do you see it as a real – as a threat? Do you see it as a possible outcome?

MR KIRBY: What?

QUESTION: That – this massive selloff of U.S. assets.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate one way or the other.

QUESTION: Would you express to Congress, to members of Congress considering the bill, that aside from the risks that the Secretary has spoken about, that this also could be one ramification?

MR KIRBY: I think I would just leave it the way the Secretary left it in testimony to the Congress in terms of our concerns.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Change topic. I wonder if we can get your reaction to the political developments in Havana, in Cuba, where, as you know, Raul Castro and others at the top of the Communist Party have announced that they’ll stay in those positions for the coming five years. Was this something that was expected in this department, and was it a disappointment, and does it cast a dark cloud over the Administration’s pursuit of rapprochement with Havana?

QUESTION: Or a pall, or a shadow? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Shadow – yeah. Just – what have you got to say?

MR KIRBY: No, I think I got the gist of the question. First of all, we didn’t have and didn’t set expectations for the Cuban Communist Party Congress, and this is for Cuban officials to speak to the results of that congress. We’ve long said that our aspiration is that the Cuban people be able to decide their future and to make choices for themselves. And we recognize the difficulties that they face right now, and in terms of that sort of future. For our part, we’re going to continue to work with Cuba through the bilateral commission, where we are prepared to discuss a wide range of issues with the government, including some of the issues that President Castro mentioned in his comments. Other issues include – and we’ve talked about this before, but economic, cultural, social areas, as well as the more difficult challenges of human rights and outstanding U.S. claims, and of course, the return of fugitives.

So look, there’s a long process of normalization that we are just now embarking on. We believe and have maintained that the best way for us to try to bring about a brighter future for the Cuban people is to engage and to have a dialogue, and to have an embassy, and hopefully one day normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba. And that’s what we’re focused on.

QUESTION: So this doesn’t derail the pursuit of those things in any way?

MR KIRBY: I would not describe it as derailing. I would – we didn’t set expectations for the congress, and we didn’t – we didn’t head into it with expectations one way or the other. The only expectations are the ones we’re placing on ourselves, which is to work towards normalization. And we still believe that that engagement, having – being able to have a dialogue, is the best way that we can help the Cuban people see a brighter future long-term.

But look, it’s going to – we recognize it’s going to take a little while and – to get to full normalization. And there are still real issues that our two governments do not agree on. And the policy in the past of not talking and not having an opportunity to work through those issues obviously didn’t produce anything really good for the Cuban people. We believe that dialogue and a relationship can.

QUESTION: This – sorry. This is one of the things that our governments don’t agree on, is the idea that the Castro brothers stay in power for life. Is that --

MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, again, I’m not – I appreciate the third now attempt to get me to talk specifically about what they decided at the congress.

QUESTION: Yeah, no, I’m trying to get a --

MR KIRBY: I mean, we didn’t have expectations for them going into the congress, and there certainly were no expectations that there was going to be an overnight change in the way the island is governed. There’s never been that expectation. We – our aspiration – and I said it at the outset – our aspiration is that the Cuban people can determine for themselves their future. Obviously, that’s difficult for them to do right now given the governing structure on the island. And there – but there were no expectations that by opening up an embassy – their embassy here and our embassy there – that it was all – that the way Cuba’s governed is going to change overnight. And this isn’t – this has never been about some sort of forcible regime change. This has been about normalization of diplomatic relations and having a discussion and a dialogue, and trying – we believe, through engagement – to be able to help the Cuban people meet their aspirations.

Said.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Question on Iran?

MR KIRBY: Let me go to Said and then we’ll --

QUESTION: Yeah, I have very quick questions on the Palestinian issue. May I?

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. First of all, the Haaretz reports that the Palestinian Authority is leaning towards not submitting or not – or a call for an anti-settlement resolution at the United Nations. Are you aware of that, and do you have any comment? There was much talk – in fact, there was an agreement among the Arab group in Geneva that they will submit a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council – we talked about it last week – calling on a resolution that condemns the settlements. Haaretz now says that the Palestinian Authority is leaning toward not submitting that. Have they talked to you about that? Have you spoken to them about this? Do you have any comment on this?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any discussions that have taken place between the Palestinians and the State Department or the United States Government with respect to now not being in favor of a UN Security Council resolution. Our position on this hasn’t changed. Again, we – as I said the other day, we’re going to consider all options that can lead us to a two-state solution. But I don’t have anything further. I’m not – we’re not going to comment a draft resolution one way or the other.

QUESTION: But would you encourage the Palestinians not to submit such a resolution?

MR KIRBY: I think I’m going to leave it where I left it before, Said.

QUESTION: Also, overnight the Israeli authorities raided a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, Issawiya, and arrested like 32 people, mostly children. I wonder if you have any comment on that. They have this new practice of what they call flying checkpoints where they go from place to place basically making life impossible for a lot of people to go to school --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that report. Why don’t you let me get a little bit more information before I comment on it?

QUESTION: And finally, will the Secretary of State meet with Mahmoud Abbas? You said he’s going to have some bilateral meetings on Friday.

MR KIRBY: He is.

QUESTION: Is he likely to meet with Abbas?

MR KIRBY: And I said I think we’ll have more to say tomorrow in terms of who he’s going to be meeting with. I’m not in a position right now to give you the full list. As I noted earlier to Ros, he did indicate that he has every intention of meeting again with Foreign Minister Zarif. But beyond that, we’re still developing his schedule, and when we have a better sense of it, we’ll certainly let you know.

QUESTION: Yeah, a couple of questions on Iran. First, does the U.S. Government have any more insight into some sort of missile launch that may have been conducted in Iran on Tuesday, yesterday?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen these reports of another missile launch in Iran. I’m not in a position to confirm those reports, confirm the veracity of them. Obviously, we’re watching this as best we can. Certainly if it’s true, and we’re talking about a ballistic missile launch or the testing of ballistic missile technologies, that’s obviously of concern to us. It’s not consistent, as we’ve said before, with the Security Council resolution, and so we’ll just have to – I don’t want to speculate about any future actions one way or another. We’ve just seen these reports, and again, we’re just not in a position right now to speak to them with any great detail.

QUESTION: Okay. And then in the past couple of hours, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 6 to 2 that families of victims of Iran-sponsored terror attacks, including the 1983 bombing of the marine barracks in Lebanon, will be able to collect money from frozen Iranian assets to the tune of $1.9 billion. Does the U.S. Government have a reaction to the court’s decision that these families can collect from money that had been frozen during the sanctions regime?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, so a couple of things, I think, on this. First of all, we continue to sympathize with the families of the victims, of those lost loved ones in terror attacks that have been supported by Iran. And as we have before, we continue to condemn Iran’s past and continued support for international terrorism. And as I’ve said many times from the podium, we don’t turn a blind eye to their continued willingness to do exactly that. I would say that this ruling was not unexpected, and it’s consistent with the position that we took when the legislation calling for this compensation was actually signed into law by the President back in 2012, and we have supported consistently compensation for the families in this case.

QUESTION: Do you have any – and I realize you may not – but there are some questions that are outstanding about what happens from here in terms of who actually has custody of the frozen assets right now. Is it – I presume it would be the Treasury Department. But I don’t know if it’s them or State or who has control over the accounts, who would actually make the disbursements, and whether the nuclear agreement itself has or had any influence on the availability of these monies to be transferred to the families of the victims. Do you have any info on any of that?

MR KIRBY: I’m probably going to end up referring you to Treasury for these more detailed questions. But because I don’t know for sure, I’m going to take those questions and we’ll research it and get back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: It may not be that we can answer them, Arshad. But if we can’t we’ll certainly point you to the right place.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: John, I’ve got one on Russia and Turkey. Turkey banned Sputnik’s bureau chief from entering the country. As you know, it comes a week after Sputnik’s website was blocked. And I understand, broadly speaking, your position about – that you had expressed concerns about Turkey’s crackdown on media. But do you object or are you concerned about this specific incident that the bureau chief --

MR KIRBY: We’ve just seen reports on this ourselves. So I’d refer you to Turkey to speak to this. I’ve only really – all I’ve seen are press reports on this. So rather than wade into this one, I’m going to refer you to Turkish authorities. But you’re right, I mean, we have been nothing but clear about our broad concerns about media freedoms in Turkey in particular.

QUESTION: All right. Now that the – do you have any other comment on the website now that days have passed and you’re more than aware of the reports, or --

MR KIRBY: No, I’m – I’m not – I don’t really have additional comment on it.

QUESTION: The reason I bring this up is a Russian lawmaker said today that the U.S. often specifically condemns or calls out Turkey related to specific media organizations when it happens, and he felt that there’s a double standard out there, which raises the question: Is the U.S. reluctant to comment on these specific incidents, be it blocking the Sputnik website or this banning of entry because it’s a Russian news agency, a Russian news agency is --

MR KIRBY: We don’t – look, I mean, we support – we support more aggressively and more assertively than any other government in the world press freedoms. And I would challenge you to go find another government anywhere in the world that talks about it as aggressively as we do, as openly as we do, and frankly, as proudly as we do. Our – I stand 100 percent by our record when it comes to talking about the rights of freedom of expression and the freedom of the press and the job that all of you do and how much we value that, and how important that we believe it is not just to our own process of governing but to the process of governing, of governments all over the world. And we’re not bashful about calling it like we see it.

So I reject any implication that we’re somehow pulling punches here because in this particular case these outlets are Russian. What we want to see is a free and independent media, and I mean that in every sense of the word. It’s not just the responsibility of governments to allow for free and independent media coverage and to recognize that scrutiny applied by journalists is not a sign of weakness of a government, it’s a sign of strength; but it’s also incumbent upon all of you as reporters and journalists to be likewise objective and fair and balanced and aggressive in your scrutiny and the scrutiny that you’re applying. And you and I both know that that’s not always the case with every single outlet.

So media freedom we continue to believe in, but it has to truly be free, and it isn’t always. So I think I’d – I didn’t mean to preach, but I think that’s where I’m going to leave it.

QUESTION: Turkey – Turkey also – they also banned a German state TV reporter from entering the country. Are you aware of that report?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’ve seen that particular press report. I just --

QUESTION: And I was going to ask: Are you concerned by this new tactic?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, I – I’ve seen that press report too. And we – regrettably, we could probably have this discussion and this back and forth almost every day, and regrettably, that discussion almost every day could involve countries like Turkey that we have said that – and I’ve said publicly – that what we’re starting to see is a worrisome trend here in terms of allowing media, independent media, to do their jobs.

So I don’t – I mean, I – again, I don’t think we can be more clear and more transparent about our concerns with respect to media freedoms, particularly in Turkey. I just have seen this one press report, and I mean, I would just say that our concerns with respect to media freedoms there in Turkey are longstanding, they’re well-known, and absolute – and sadly, unchanged.

QUESTION: Just two – two quick ones. The Secretary --

MR KIRBY: I’ll come back to you in a second.

QUESTION: The Secretary said in his remarks after meeting President al-Sisi that he had committed to the president that he would return very soon. Do you have a date for that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

QUESTION: Okay. Second --

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

QUESTION: And I’m – I read his remarks, including the one sentence that made reference to internal events in Egypt. Can you provide any greater detail on the extent to which the conversation touched on or focused on what human rights groups say have been quite significant human rights violations in Egypt since President Sisi came to power?

MR KIRBY: I’m a little reluctant to go beyond the Secretary’s own comments. I think they do speak for themselves in terms of the scope of the discussion that he had with President al-Sisi today in Cairo. But you’re right; he did allude to the issue of human rights, which is an issue that we routinely discuss with Egyptian leaders because we do have concerns with the human rights situation there. I mean, just last week, we put out our Human Rights Report, which I think laid bare in more detail those concerns.

So certainly, they were on the agenda, that as an issue was on the agenda for the Secretary in his discussions. I – but I’m not going to, just as I wouldn’t in any other case, I’m not going to read out more detail than what the Secretary provided. But I can assure you that it was on his list of topics to discuss and that he did bring it up.

QUESTION: And you probably can’t, then, address this, but I want to ask because there was a court decision on this: Do you know if he specifically raised the case of officials from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Arab Network for Human Rights Information who have been subjected to some sanctions, they say, as a result of their work to promote human rights? And I believe the court case has been postponed for them. Do you know if those came up?

MR KIRBY: I do not know if that particular case came up.

QUESTION: Okay. And then last one for me: Do you have a readout on Under Secretary Shannon’s meeting with the Brazilian lawmaker this morning?

MR KIRBY: I think I do, actually. Don’t I? Let’s see if I can find it in here.

QUESTION: It would be under B, right?

MR KIRBY: One would think so. But you’ve seen these tabs in here.

QUESTION: Is it under W for WHA?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, the – WHA is in the back. It’s all alphabetic. And Brazil is right at the top of the subgroup of WHA issues.

I can confirm that Under Secretary Shannon met today with Senator Aloysio Nunes, the chairman of the Brazilian Senate’s foreign affairs committee. This meeting had been planned for months and was arranged at the request of the Brazilian embassy. I don’t have, unfortunately, a greater readout than that, but they did meet and I do want to stress that this was long on the schedule.

QUESTION: Okay. So as --

MR KIRBY: And not thrown on because of --

QUESTION: Recent events?

MR KIRBY: -- because of recent events.

QUESTION: There’s been speculation in Brazil that the meeting occurred so that the senator could explain sort of why the processes unfolding in Brazil are fully in line with their constitution. Do you – that’s just not the case because this was on the books for months?

MR KIRBY: This was – yeah, this was at their request and had been scheduled for quite some time. I would not deign to speak for the senator’s agenda and what was on his mind and I don’t have a more detailed readout of that.

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah, thanks.

MR KIRBY: Yes, back there.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up on the call with Foreign Minister Kishida. Is the U.S. providing any additional relief efforts to Kumamoto? And what else came up in the call? Did the possibility of another missile test come up?

MR KIRBY: The possibility of another?

QUESTION: Missile test in North Korea.

MR KIRBY: The discussion was a brief one and it was, as I said in my comments, really centered around the earthquakes and restating our condolences and our firm support for Japanese Government relief efforts and whatever we can do.

As I said yesterday – and I would let DOD speak to this with more detail – but the bulk of our assistance so far has been in terms of air support, which is obviously, as you know, in the wake of a natural disaster, that’s critical just in terms of getting information and having – being able to see more of what’s going on. So we are still providing that air support. I don’t know of any additional requests by the Japanese Government or any additional resources that we’re applying at this time.

But again, the Secretary stressed that we’re willing to stay in touch – not willing – we will stay in touch with Japanese authorities. And if there’s other ways in which we can be helpful that they feel is appropriate, we certainly will consider all those kinds of requests.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Turkey?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: As my colleague was pointing out, the situation on the ground for journalists is much worse than it’s all really coming out. And it seems in Europe and Brussels and – they feel that after the – Erdogan’s visit and meet with President Obama, he’s become bolder, and really, the noose is tightening around the journalists. So are you just – are you in touch? What is the highest-level touch? Have you brought this – the journalists are really suffering there, so what is – is it just a statement? Is it something more than this you can do?

MR KIRBY: I think, again, we have been nothing but clear and assertive in terms of our views of the importance of media freedoms there in Turkey, and we also – look, we – Turkey is an ally and a good friend and a key contributor to the coalition against Daesh. And we want nothing more than to see Turkey succeed and to see their democracy reach its full potential. And we want to see Turkey itself and in its policies live up to its own principles – the principles enshrined in its own constitution. When I say – when I’ve said it in the past, sometimes it’s met with an eye-roll or an eyebrow-raise or something, that Turkey’s democracy matters to us. But it does matter to us and we want to see it succeed, and again, be the best it can be for the Turkish people.

So that’s why when we see, as I’ve described, as a worrisome trend of a limit on press freedom in Turkey, why we say it, why we call it like we see it. And we don’t just do that here from the podium. We do that privately with Turkish officials as well. As I’ve said before, Turkey has no greater friend than our ambassador, John Bass, there. These things matter to us. They matter to us all over the world, but they certainly matter to us in what we’re seeing in Turkey.

Now, I can’t speak to President Erdogan’s motivations, and I wouldn’t do that. I would only say that – I’d only repeat what I said before, and that’s that we value our relationship with Turkey. We certainly value our alliance with them through NATO. And we’re appreciative of the efforts that they’re making as a member of the coalition against Daesh, which are not insignificant – not to mention the fact that they’ve got millions of refugees on their side of the border that they’re taking care of.

But it’s because we value this relationship and it’s because we are – we count ourselves as such good friends that we’re willing and able to have these kinds of very open, frank discussions with them about something like media freedom that concerns us.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the – sorry.

QUESTION: But when you say the most troubling thing on the ground and in – is – that when you call them ally and friend, how do you react to the statement saying that they are your friends and you’re turning a blind eye to what is going on on the ground?

MR KIRBY: How do I – I’m not sure I understand your question.

QUESTION: That they’re your allies --

MR KIRBY: Right, yeah.

QUESTION: -- and friends, and everything they are cooperating on, on different levels.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: On this, why not a stronger message is being sent? Or what is – when you ask them, what is the reaction they give you?

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: Don’t they answer? Or they just keep quiet?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize their side of the conversations. I mean, they can do that. But I – in the root of your question, there’s this – I guess this idea that because you count yourself as somebody’s friend or an ally, that you aren’t ever going to disagree on things, that you aren’t ever going to see things differently or from a different perspective, or that you are, on either side, going to be afraid to speak up when you see something that concerns you. It’s the sign of a mature friendship and relationship that you can have these frank discussions, and we have, and we will continue. And if you’re asking me are we happy that there hasn’t been a demonstrable change in terms of treatment of journalists --

QUESTION: That’s the question.

MR KIRBY: -- of course not. Of course not. That’s not what we want to see. I wouldn’t get up here every week and talk about this and express our concerns if we were content with what we’re seeing with the way journalists are being treated there. We’re not content. And because we’re not content, because we don’t believe that this is in Turkey’s best interest – not just your best interest but Turkey’s best interest and the region’s best interest and the Turkish people’s best interest – it’s because of that that we’re going to continue to raise this.

I got time for just one more and then I got to get going.

QUESTION: India?

QUESTION: Syria – just very quickly, because I wanted to ask about this. The United Nations is saying that they are beginning to evacuate about 500 people from 4 villages in Syria that are besieged by the regime. So do you consider this as a goodwill gesture, or is that what you want the government to do as part of allowing humanitarian aid to go back and forth? Because --

MR KIRBY: Evacuations?

QUESTION: Because the talks broke down on the premise that the Syrians were obstinate in terms of allowing humanitarian aid.

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the specific reports about evacuations, but let me just go to a larger point. What we want --

QUESTION: I mean, they have the towns, like, Zabadani and Madaya, Kefraya, and so on.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I haven’t seen these reports about evacuations. It – but if the regime was doing what they should be doing for their own people, there would be no need for evacuations. If the humanitarian aid and assistance, the food, the water, the medicine was getting to where it needs to get to in a sustained and unimpeded way, then people will be able to stay home. And if they weren’t being – if they didn’t have to worry about being barrel-bombed and gassed, there’d be no need for evacuations. Again, I haven’t seen these reports, so I can’t speak specifically to it. But we’ve been nothing, again, but clear about what our expectations are of the regime in this process.

Last one.

QUESTION: One on --

MR KIRBY: Last one.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yesterday four congressmen, including Ed Royce, chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan. As for the content of the letter, the Indian Prime Minister Modi is expected to visit the city on June 7th and 8th. Do you have that information? Is he expected to visit?

MR KIRBY: I would ask you to talk to the prime minister about his travel plans. I don’t have anything to announce on that.

QUESTION: But is this something from – this is the kind of information which only the Congress has? The State Department doesn’t have information?

MR KIRBY: No, it’s not about correspondence we have or we don’t have. I just make it a habit not to speak for the travel plans of other foreign leaders. I can really only speak for the Secretary’s travel plans, and Arshad has already stretched the limits of my ability to do that today. So I just don’t have anything for you on this.

QUESTION: Just a quick one.

MR KIRBY: Thanks everybody.

QUESTION: Just a quick one.

MR KIRBY: I’ve got to go.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:09 p.m.)

 


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