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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 19, 2017

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 17:28
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 19, 2017

Index for Today's Briefing


    2:15 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: I really appreciate the Secretary coming in like that and for all his support. I do have a couple of things, if you’ll just stick with me, that I want to say as well, on my last day at the podium. I don't have any news toppers to give you, so if you’ll just allow me to close out by thanking you as well for the work that you do, for the context you provide to the popular understanding of complex foreign policy challenges, and for the difference that you make on a daily basis, not only in the education of the public but to the work that our diplomats do around the world.

    The truth is – and it took me a little while to understand this when I came over here – that diplomacy doesn’t lend itself to clear and definitive headlines. It doesn’t explain itself. As Secretary Kerry noted in an op-ed piece this morning, which you might have seen in The New York Times, and I quote, “Diplomacy requires creativity, patience, and commitment to a steady grind, often away from the spotlight. Results are rarely immediate or reducible to 140-character bites.”

    Very often the good work that our diplomats do in some pretty trying circumstances isn’t something that they necessarily want told in the first place. A delicate deal with a foreign leader, for example, whether it’s designed to bring a hostage home or improve human rights or advance trade – they can be undone, those delicate deals, with a mere word. So when that story is told, it matters greatly that it be done with skill and with precision by correspondents, independent reporters, who truly comprehend the intricacies, the risks at play, the historical setting, the cultural fabric of that time and this place. So look at the Iran deal, the situation in Syria, tensions in the South China Sea, climate change, refugee flow, Middle East peace. You know – all of you know – that these issues are not simple, and that’s why you work so hard to get it right. It’s why some of your colleagues are in harm’s way, as we speak, out there trying to pursue leads. That’s what good reporters do.

    Now, I can’t say that I have always agreed with everything you’ve filed any more than you can say that you’ve always appreciated my efforts up here. I know I’ve fallen short many times. I’ve been slower to get back to you than I would have liked on occasion and have certainly been less clear than I should have been on others. I have struggled to find the right words, and I haven’t always had proper command of the information. When I showed up here at State, I couldn’t find Burundi on a map of Burundi. (Laughter.) I didn’t know the difference between INL and EAP. And I didn’t fully appreciate the difference between “deeply concerned” and “gravely concerned.” (Laughter.) Frankly, I’m not sure that I do yet. (Laughter.)

    But I can say that in my short time here I have come to genuinely respect and admire the vital role that you play in scrutinizing and explaining American foreign policy. Indeed, I believe you do far more than just scrutinize. It’s a notion that was summed up well by a man named Thomas Bailey in a book that I have here today called The Man in the Street. And I’d like to read, if I could, just a small portion of it to you. I promise it won’t be long.

    “The foreign correspondent is an ambassador-at-large of the American public, for he is ready” – I’m sorry – “he is reporting not only to his superiors but to the people as a whole. He provides the facts upon which the newspaper bases its editorials and the news stories upon which the readers form opinions and as a result of which they may bring pressure to bear on Washington. It would be impossible to name a single trait desirable in the ideal ambassador which the ideal correspondent should not also have, including an ability to write incisive and readable English.” Man, I wish that last part was true. (Laughter.)

    But this book was written in 1948, The Man on the Street. And there’s not a single word in there that I just read – and actually, there’s a lot of great words in here – that isn’t also true today. Except – the only thing I would disagree with is it’s not just the American public that you serve. It’s a global audience you inform, global conditions that you labor to improve. As the Secretary noted, yours is a profession under strain right now, whether it’s media consolidation and shrinking budgets or online competition and fake news propagandists. You face intimidation, harassment, jail, even threats to your lives. And that’s just Mark Toner on a bad day. (Laughter.) It’s not – (laughter) – actually, that’s – he does that to me too. (Laughter.)

    It’s not just – it’s not easy being you, and I get that. But I hope you never let it be easy for us. I hope you never stop serving that public and facing those dangers. Democracy doesn’t function without a free and vigorous press, and a free and vigorous press doesn’t function without thoughtful, intelligent, thorough reporters – and Matt Lee. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Whoa.

    MR KIRBY: I didn’t know it at the time – (laughter) --

    QUESTION: Boom.

    MR KIRBY: I didn’t know it at the time, but I first fell in love with the idea of journalism when I worked as a sports clerk at the St. Pete Times, my hometown newspaper. The buzz in the newsroom, the excitement of the story getting called in – and yes, that’s – I had to – that’s how I learned to type, was taking dictation from reporters who were out in the field. The infectious humor that those sports writers exhibited late into every night, it captured me, and I never forgot it. I got fired soon after for goofing off – (laughter) – but when I heard a few months later that the sports department needed help, I begged to get that job back, not just because I needed gas money, but because I really did miss being around reporters.

    Now, the job I have now I can’t get back – (laughter) – I know that. Today is the last day. But I’m extraordinarily grateful to Secretary Kerry for taking a chance on me and trusting me and teaching me. He has given me a front-row seat to history and he has been more gracious and more generous than I deserve. And he didn’t fire me when I goofed off and I had – he had plenty of chances to.

    I also want to thank Jon Finer, who, as chief of staff, has also been a great friend, adviser, and teammate. You all know how brilliant and hardworking he is. What I also think we can all agree on is he is – that he is a good man who has doggedly pursued and informed our foreign policy agenda.

    I’m grateful to my predecessors – Jen Psaki, Toria Nuland, Marie Harf – who welcomed me and then stayed with me throughout, checking in on me from time to time and giving me great advice and counsel. All of them are professionals of the highest sort and they’re the finest of individuals.

    I will miss the great people here at the State Department – everyone in my bureau, the Public Affairs Bureau; my principal deputy, Susan Stevenson; Mark Toner, of course, who I shared many, many days with even before I got to this job and who has shared this podium with me and been just a terrific sounding board and friend. Of course, the tireless Elizabeth Trudeau, who downs about ten Diet Dr. Peppers a day – (laughter) – just to face the daunting task of prepping me to face you. And of course, the senior staff, diplomats, and Civil Service employees who make possible everything that American diplomacy makes possible for millions of people around the world.

    But I will miss all of you dearly as well. I will still miss being around reporters. This is the best part of my day, and you and --

    QUESTION: Really? (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: Not today.

    QUESTION: Wow. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: That is so pathetic. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: If this is the best part of your day, my God --

    QUESTION: That is – (laughter) --

    MR KIRBY: What I meant was --

    QUESTION: -- what is the rest of it like? (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: What I meant was the briefings are the best part of the day, not necessarily right now. And I believe that you are one of the best parts of this or any other democracy, so I’ll be cheering you on from afar. Thanks very much. (Applause.)

    Okay, Matt. Over to you.

    QUESTION: Thank you for those very kind words. Thanks to the Secretary as well. I’m just – I’ll be brief, because I know other people are probably going to want to say something too, but on behalf of the Correspondents Association and the people in this room, I want to say thank you, and it’s – you should be, I think, honored – take it as an honor and a privilege to be the last spokesman/briefer for the Obama Administration of any agency. So this is it, and I just want to say that your tenure here has been a good one, a great one, and a pleasure for all of us. You’ve always been professional, even when our exchanges got contentious, which was often – (laughter) – I would have to say.

    MR KIRBY: Thank you.

    QUESTION: But you were always professional and always acted with integrity, and I think even people who would disagree with the policy can’t – with policies that you were trying to explain can’t deny that.

    MR KIRBY: Thank you.

    QUESTION: So best of luck to you and --

    MR KIRBY: Thank you, Matt.

    QUESTION: -- as you go forward and Mark next week and beyond until – (laughter) – and even to the person who – he or she who eventually replaces you.

    MR KIRBY: Thanks.

    QUESTION: It’s been – it has been a wild ride with this Secretary over the course of the last four years, and of course, with you for the two or so years that you were here. So thank you for your service --

    MR KIRBY: Thank you.

    QUESTION: -- in the Navy, at the Pentagon, and in this role.

    MR KIRBY: Thank you.

    QUESTION: And it’s been much appreciated.

    MR KIRBY: Appreciate that. Thanks, Matt.

    QUESTION: Thanks. Does anyone else want to say anything?

    QUESTION: I’ll just --

    QUESTION: May I?

    QUESTION: I’ll just – I just want to echo what Matt said, and especially the fact that sometimes you came up there with not a lot to say – (laughter) – but that didn’t stop you from – you never shut it down; you never said “I don’t have anything for you.” You tried to offer something to help us understand what was going on and why, and that wasn’t – that isn’t always the case at the podium. And so you’ve been a true gentleman and you’ve always gotten back to us – maybe not in the most timely manner – but you’ve been available to us 24 hours, seven days a week, as you all are. And I just also want to thank you on behalf of the association for what you’ve done for us, what you’ve helped us understand – the foreign policy – and wish you luck.

    MR KIRBY: Thanks.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Do – does --

    QUESTION: Yeah, I want to say a couple words. Well, thank you for everything. Thank you for your service and thank you for being available. You have always been naturally courteous. You’re the perfect gentleman. It was really a pleasure to come and engage you day after day. I know all the issues we discussed are really difficult issues and those were very difficult times, and you handled yourself amazingly.

    MR KIRBY: Thanks.

    QUESTION: So I want to thank you for always being there, for always taking my questions, and as much as you can try to respond to them. And good luck. Godspeed.

    MR KIRBY: Thanks very much, Said. I appreciate that. Thank you.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: Fire away.

    QUESTION: Enough with the thanks. Enough of this.

    QUESTION: And let me just add a thank you to your team and all those who are leaving with this Administration as of noon tomorrow. It’s all been, as I said, a wild ride.

    So I have a – just a very small bit on – that I want to ask about transition, because, as you I am sure are aware, they – transition team announced today that Tom Shannon will be staying on. Presumably, he will be the interim secretary until Mr. Tillerson is confirmed. And as well as him, Brett McGurk would be staying on and Susan Coppedge would be staying on. They’re among 50 – they are the State Department people who were named among about 50 that the transition said are – they want to stay on to ensure continuity.

    MR KIRBY: Right.

    QUESTION: Do you know, are there any others at the State Department? Are there assistant secretaries that are – or other under secretaries that are going to be remaining in place? Do you have a list of who has been asked to stay in their current position?

    MR KIRBY: No, I don’t. And these would be discussions that would occur between the incoming team and these individuals, so it’s not likely that we would have a list, because these are individual decisions and discussions that are happening. So there could be more, but I’m not aware of any others.

    QUESTION: Do you know – and I was – if the Secretary had taken questions, I would have asked him this, but do you know – does he have – has he met in the – this morning or this afternoon or plan to meet today or any time in the near future, that you know of, with his designated successor?

    MR KIRBY: He has not met with Mr. Tillerson. Of course, he’s – stands by and is ready to meet or even just speak with him over the phone, if that’s desired, as he – he’s made clear that he’s willing to do that at Mr. Tillerson’s convenience and interest.

    I think you may have seen some reporting this morning that Under Secretary Shannon did have a brief meeting with Secretary-designate Tillerson this morning in the transition offices out in town, not here at the State Department. I don’t have a readout of that meeting. I was told it was brief and cordial. Obviously, coming out of that meeting, we did get confirmation that as of noon tomorrow, in the assumption that Mr. Tillerson is not confirmed as the incoming secretary of state by noon tomorrow, Under Secretary Shannon will serve as the acting secretary of state until such time as that confirmation is finished.

    QUESTION: Okay. And have you gotten any – the incoming White House spokesman, Mr. Spicer, said that a decision would be made soon on the Syria meeting in Kazakhstan. Are you aware if this building has gotten any direction from them about whether to attend, and if so, at what level or who?

    MR KIRBY: No, I’m not aware that we’ve received any direction or guidance with respect to representation at the meeting in Astana. Our embassy in Moscow did receive an invitation delivered to them from the Russian foreign ministry, which they duly passed on to us here at Foggy Bottom, so we are aware that there is an actual invitation for the U.S. to participate.[i] But as far as I know, no decision has been made, and this is – as the Secretary said last week, this is something that would be up to the incoming team to decide; not him. I would remind you of what he said last week, which was that he encouraged the United States to be present at the conference, but ultimately, again, that’s the incoming team’s decision to make.

    QUESTION: Can I – can I ask one? On the whole idea of the transition and a lot of the career ambassadors, or most of the career ambassadors have – the political appointees, as we’ve talked about at the podium, have been asked to leave by tomorrow. Given the fact that, obviously, there’s a senior career person acting as charge, could you just talk a little bit about the operations that are going to go on at embassies? I mean, obviously, it’s business as usual for some functions, but can you just walk us through a little bit about what it – the life of an embassy is going to be until an ambassador is confirmed at these political posts?

    MR KIRBY: Well, obviously, each and every embassy in each and every location has different demands on it based on the countries that they’re working with and the leaders they’re working with. So no two embassies are ever perfectly alike. What I can tell you is that for those embassies who will not have an ambassador in place as of noon tomorrow, work will go on. In whatever form it has gone on today, it will go on tomorrow. We have exceptionally talented and professional deputy chiefs of mission who are career Foreign Service officers, who are trained and experienced to do exactly that, to step in for the ambassador when the ambassador is unavailable. And in this case, there won’t be, obviously, an ambassador available in many of these places come noon tomorrow. So they will step in as they have stepped in in the past to run the embassy, to perform all the functions that they – that are previously going on, and to perform the roles of the ambassador.

    So it will be very seamless; this isn’t the – this isn’t at all new to State Department professionals. They do this all around the world almost every day; it’s just that in this case, there will be many of them that will lose an ambassador come tomorrow. But again, there will be no stoppage, no change, no --

    QUESTION: Well, there will be some stoppage. I mean, look, there is going to be – obviously, the visa and consular functions will continue. But like, are decisions about business affairs and cultural affairs and – obviously, political affairs will be made by the next administration. So where’s the line between, like, the embassy holding events and continuing to function if there’s someone that’s – where are the decisions being made?

    MR KIRBY: Well, so you’re right, all the functions will continue. There will be some – obviously, when you have a new administration --

    QUESTION: So there’s some stoppage.

    MR KIRBY: No, no, no, I wouldn’t – not stoppage, but certainly, some of the foreign policy agenda items will change, of course, under a new administration. They’ll have, perhaps – perhaps – in some places, a different worldview, a different approach to bilateral relations with that country based on the president – President-elect and soon-to-be President Trump’s agenda and initiatives, and they’ll execute that as they always do.

    So some of the focus of the policies may change, but the work will go on. And a deputy chief of mission is – does and will continue to serve as the ambassador until an ambassador, in those instances where it’s going to happen, until the ambassador is confirmed and in place. The deputy chief of mission can represent the United States of America perfectly well.

    QUESTION: One more. Like, I mean obviously, there – that an ambassador may be confirmed, yes, in a while, but there’s not really even much of a foreign policy that – I mean, I think in some of these countries, particularly where there is a political appointee and they’re expecting such a radical change or there’s been some tension, such as – well, just name them.

    But there’s a long list of countries that have a political ambassador, that there have been issues during the campaign, and these countries are very anxious to have an interlocutor to deal with. But I mean, is the charge d’affaires really going to be empowered to have political consultations on a policy that hasn’t been formed and that they don’t know anything about? I mean, traditionally even, there’s been – while there may be some difference on tactics and stuff – largely throughout administrations, foreign policy has been pretty much consistent. And here, I think countries are expecting a kind of wholesale difference.

    MR KIRBY: Well, certainly, in those countries where perhaps policies may change and no chief of mission who is going to be acting as the ambassador is going to get ahead of the next White House. They know that. Functions will continue, work will continue, support to the bilateral relationship will continue, but to the degree there are questions over policies, obviously, our ambassadors and our deputy chiefs of mission know to check back with Washington and get guidance. And if there is no guidance, then obviously, you don’t make decisions and you don’t pursue initiatives until you’re sure you’ve got healthy guidance. And that will come in time; this is not a new thing. There have – whenever administrations change there’s a period of where you have a change out in personnel and you have also changes to policies that are being crafted and formulated and disseminated, and that will happen. But in the intervening time, the bilateral relations will continue and our deputy chiefs of mission will represent, fairly and appropriately, the United States and our interests.

    QUESTION: Kirby, I wanted to follow up, but also wanted to say personally, I will miss you.

    MR KIRBY: Thanks.

    QUESTION: Integrity was the word to describe you.

    MR KIRBY: Thank you.

    QUESTION: And also, thanks for respecting our role as the press and what we do, so --

    MR KIRBY: Thank you.

    QUESTION: The – a follow-up to what Elise is asking about. Who will actually make the decision on the Astana talks? Would it have to be Tom Shannon? I mean, those talks are next week, so who would make that decision and does --

    QUESTION: They’re Monday, aren’t they?

    QUESTION: Yeah, and does Ratney stay on in the position as envoy --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- and he’s the likely person --

    MR KIRBY: Well, he is obviously still serving as the envoy. I don’t know of any changes to that position going forward. As for who decides who’s going to attend, obviously, my understanding of this would be that Ambassador Shannon, as acting Secretary of State, will consult appropriately with the new National Security Council leadership, because they will certainly – I would expect will certainly want to have a vote and a say in whether we participate and at what level. So I’m sure that Ambassador Shannon will consult appropriately with the new White House about what they would like to do.

    And then, if the answer is yes, participate, then they’ll have to decide who and at what level and how that’s going to be and whether Mike Ratney is the person or not. I just – I know of no change to his status, but I don’t want to get ahead of the new team. Okay?


    QUESTION: One on --

    QUESTION: And – can I just follow up? You don’t know if Shannon – if Tom Shannon spoke to Mr. Tillerson about this today?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t. I know that they discussed, as I said, and were able to confirm the transition team’s desire that Ambassador Shannon stay on in – as acting in the interim, but I don’t have any more details from the discussion. And as I understand it, it was a short, cordial meeting. I don’t – I think it was more a chance to meet one another and to --

    QUESTION: Are you aware that – if the Secretary sought a meeting with Mr. Tillerson and we couldn’t – you couldn’t make that happen?

    MR KIRBY: As I said, the Secretary made very clear that he was willing to meet with Mr. Tillerson and, as I understand it, they just weren’t able to get it on the schedule. So – but he did speak to him on the phone once. I think I read that out to you. And I – I’m sure the Secretary remains ready, willing, and able to have conversations with Mr. Tillerson even after tomorrow if it’s so desired.

    QUESTION: If I might on that, so they couldn’t get it on Secretary Kerry’s schedule?

    MR KIRBY: I think there was just --

    QUESTION: Because obviously Ambassador Shannon met with him this morning, so did Kerry – the Secretary not have time on his schedule this morning?

    MR KIRBY: I think it was trying to work both men’s schedule. As you know, the Secretary also went on a week-long trip, so he – they worked to try to – to make it happen, and they just weren’t able to get it on both men’s schedule at a time that was mutually convenient for both of them. But --

    QUESTION: So you’re just emphatic that this was an issue of scheduling and not that Mr. Tillerson was not interested in meeting with the Secretary?

    MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for Mr. Tillerson or the incoming team and their view of the meeting. I can tell you that the Secretary was ready, willing, and able to have such a meeting --

    QUESTION: Was he ready, willing, and able to meet him today?

    MR KIRBY: -- and they were trying to get one scheduled and they weren’t able to. I won’t characterize what the other side’s view of scheduling the meeting was. As I understand it, it was – they simply were not able to work out the --

    QUESTION: Well, was the Secretary available to meet with him this morning?

    MR KIRBY: He remains willing and able to have discussions with Mr. Tillerson.

    QUESTION: I – I hear that, but was he able to meet with him this morning?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have any more detail about the Secretary’s schedule to read out with respect to today.

    QUESTION: Could you take the question?

    MR KIRBY: No, I don’t think – look, he’s had a full day today, and the – Ambassador Shannon had a chance to meet with Mr. Tillerson. Secretary Kerry remains willing to speak with Mr. Tillerson going forward, even after inauguration, if it’s so desired.


    QUESTION: Yeah, let me go to your favorite topic --

    QUESTION: Hold on, Said, I got one more transition question.

    QUESTION: Sure.

    QUESTION: But this is extremely brief. So Senator – either – I can’t remember which one it was, either Corker or Cardin – during Mr. Tillerson’s confirmation hearing made mention of the fact that they were trying to work out some kind of a compromise or something on political appointed – politically appointed ambassadors who were seeking extensions for personal reasons in office. Do you know if any of those were – if there were – if any resolution was found to that for some or all --

    MR KIRBY: To do extensions?

    QUESTION: -- of the ambassadors who were seeking to stay at posts a little bit beyond?

    MR KIRBY: I am aware of one case where a politically appointed ambassador who asked to extend was granted. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t more; I only know of one. But that was an example of a case-by-case – individual case that was approved.

    QUESTION: Which case was it?

    MR KIRBY: Costa Rica.

    QUESTION: Okay. So in other words, that there was follow – do you know, was that done between the committee – the Foreign Relations Committee – or a specific senator, or was it --

    MR KIRBY: No. As I understand this, this was done --

    QUESTION: It was done between the transition and --

    MR KIRBY: It was done between the ambassador and the transition team.

    QUESTION: Okay. So --

    MR KIRBY: That was the – the request was made to the incoming team, and they approved it.

    QUESTION: Right. Okay. So no extensions for anybody then did not stay the --

    MR KIRBY: Well, if you have one exception, it’s hard to say that --

    QUESTION: Exactly. Right.

    MR KIRBY: -- it’s hard to say that it’s a hundred percent.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: But --

    QUESTION: Do you know how long?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t. And that’s an individual decision and an individual discussion that the ambassador had with the team. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to speak to it.


    QUESTION: Yes, sir. Yesterday, the President in his last press conference – President Obama – said that the moment may be passing for the two-state solution, echoing what the Secretary of State has been saying in the last couple – few weeks and so on. In retrospect or in hindsight, would it have been more effective – these steps that were taken and these statements that were said – would they have been more effective, let’s say, had they been done or said or taken back in 2014 during the long negotiation session, the nine-month and so on?

    MR KIRBY: Well, no --

    QUESTION: Or thereafter? Is the feeling in this building – or your own feeling as you go through the – could it have been more effective and maybe saved the two-state solution?

    MR KIRBY: The Secretary has already spoken to this, and his answer was no, that it was clear after the 2014 discussions that leadership in the region were not ready to move beyond where they were, and that trying to do this would have – would not have been more successful at the time because of the tenor of the discussions themselves.

    QUESTION: And, moving forward, does the Secretary feel or do you feel that these steps that were taken lately and so on will have some sort of an impact on the policies of the coming administration and so on?

    MR KIRBY: Well, that’s hard to know, Said. I mean, the incoming administration will have to determine for itself how they want to approach the issue of Middle East peace and the tensions that continue between Israelis and Palestinians and where they want this to go in terms of a viable two-state solution.

    All I can tell you is that this Administration and certainly Secretary Kerry worked very hard to try to get us there, because he fervently believes that a two-state solution is the right answer, and that where – and that the direction that leadership has taken in the region is not getting us any closer to that. But it’s very difficult to predict or to know what the work this Administration has done, what Secretary Kerry has tried to do, and the decisions that – and frankly, the framework that he laid out in his speech over the holidays – it’s difficult to know what impact that will have on the incoming administration’s chances and opportunities.

    We – what the Secretary would tell you is that we did everything we could to try to get – to try to get to that outcome, to try to see a two – a two-state solution better realized. But in the end, even as in 2014, the leadership there in the region wasn’t willing to make the right decisions and to move forward in the appropriate manner.


    QUESTION: In the last few hours, Senegal and Nigeria have confirmed they’re moving troops into The Gambia on behalf of the newly sworn-in President Barrow to try to dislodge the defeated President Jammeh. Does the United States support this military intervention?

    MR KIRBY: We do support it, and we support it because – and we’re in touch with officials in Senegal. And we support it because we understand that the purpose is to help stabilize a tense situation and to try to observe the will of the people of The Gambia. Obviously, we’re going to stay in close touch. This just – as you rightly pointed out, Steve, this – this decision was just recently made. So we’re going to be watching this very, very closely.


    QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? There’s – what’s your understanding of the ground situation? I mean, are there actually Senegalese troops there? And also, I see the State Department has just put out a warning for U.S. citizens of what they should be doing.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah. I don’t have a lot of tactical information in terms of what’s going on on the ground. Obviously, it’s very, very tense. And you’re right; we have advised all U.S. citizens to shelter in place due to the risk of armed conflict, the risk of armed conflict, and we – and carefully – ask them to carefully evaluate the security situation before attempting to resume any normal activities. We also stated very clearly that U.S. citizens who are able to leave The Gambia are advised to do so. The embassy is temporarily closed to all non-emergency services as of noon yesterday. It remains closed today and it will be closed tomorrow. And again, we have a number for any citizens requiring emergency services. They can call the embassy at 220-437-5270.

    QUESTION: And just out of curiosity, I mean, the ambassador there, I assume, is a career person, so he’s not – he or she is not – is still there?

    MR KIRBY: That’s my understanding. Yeah.

    QUESTION: John.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah. Go ahead, Dave.

    QUESTION: Okay, just to follow up on that one. You say the United States supports the intervention. That’s diplomatic support at this stage. Do you – if they request any logistical or military support in this operation?

    MR KIRBY: This is an ECOWAS decision and an ECOWAS mission. I know of no request or desire for U.S. military assistance. When I did say “support,” thank you for asking me to clarify that. Yes, I meant diplomatic support for this; I didn’t mean to indicate that the United States military was getting involved in any way. I know of no such plan to do that.

    QUESTION: And in previous ECOWAS deployments of this sort – I remember I was in one in Liberia once – there were – transport aircraft were provided to help the ECOWAS mission. It was civilian aircraft organized by contractors paid by a U.S. Government agency. I’m not sure whether it was this one or one over the river. That’s not the case in this deployment?

    MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of, no.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: And again, this just started. So we’ll monitor it closely, we’ll stay in touch with Senegalese leaders, and we’ll see where it goes.

    QUESTION: John?

    MR KIRBY: Laurie.

    QUESTION: Yeah. I first of all would like to join in the appreciation that others have expressed for you. And I’d like to add appreciation of your unusual thoughtfulness and trying to consider and look beyond the noise of daily events, so thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Thank you.

    QUESTION: My question: A Turkish prosecutor has asked for a prison term of 142 years for the leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP. And the EU has called that outrageous. What’s your comment on that?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, we have seen reports, and we’re deeply concerned that the prosecutors requested the sentence of 142 years in prison for the leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP. We’re obviously going to follow this issue closely as well. We’re also concerned by the aggressive use of judicial inquiries to curb free speech and political discourse in Turkey. So again, we would note the importance of transparency and respect for due process as Turkey investigates allegations related to the dissemination of terrorist propaganda. The United States continues to support freedom of expression there in Turkey, and we oppose any action to encroach on the right of free speech.

    QUESTION: And --

    MR KIRBY: Pardon?

    QUESTION: And a second question. A leader of the Syrian PYD told the Russian press that the PYD, the pro-Kurdish PYD in Syria, would open an office in Washington, and there were negotiations about that. And we --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- we asked you that earlier this week and you didn’t have any information, but I wondered if you had any information today on that.

    MR KIRBY: I’m afraid I don’t, and I’d have to refer you to PYD representatives to discuss that. I don’t.


    QUESTION: The Trump transition has named their third ambassador nominee or designate, Woody Johnson, to the UK, to the Court of St. James. I don’t imagine you have a specific reaction to his appointment, but can you say anything about how important that appointment to the UK is? We’ll all probably be writing about it today.

    MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, you’re right, I won’t comment on the incoming team’s nominees. That wouldn’t be appropriate. These are obviously decisions for them to make and to discuss. But the special relationship is special, and we talk about it being special for that very reason. Our bilateral relationship with UK is perhaps the closest one we have with any other nation anywhere in the world, and for good reason. We share common values, common interests. We have shared many hardships together, and we’ve known many successes together in our bilateral relationship. By and large we share the same language. So there’s – it’s a very deep, very long, very strong relationship, and therefore the individual who represents the United States in London also has a special place and special responsibilities to safeguard that relationship and to keep it vibrant going forward.

    So it is one of the most consequential ambassadorial posts that an incoming administration can make. Obviously, there are many others, but that is certainly right up there at the top of the list as one of the most consequential.

    QUESTION: And with the Brexit vote, is it a particularly difficult or consequential time in that relationship?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, certainly there’s no question that at least for the next several years Brexit is going to – the relationship is going to be done in the context of that, no question. But our relationship is much bigger than this and much bigger than the UK’s decision to vote for Brexit. As we said at the time, this is a decision that the British people made, and we respect that, but it’s not going to change the fundamental, strong, and vibrant nature of our bilateral relationship.

    QUESTION: Can you characterize, John, on your last day, the strength of this transition with the incoming Trump administration – how many people you have had in that transition office, how strong the communication has been? You all obviously were prepared with a bunch of memos from the incoming administration. How many of those memos actually got read? How confident are you that, come Monday, many of the tasks that have been routinely done here will get done? For instance, do you expect there to be a briefing on Monday or Tuesday?

    MR KIRBY: A press briefing?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know. Ask Mark. (Laughter.)

    So look, I’ve been very scrupulous about not characterizing our communications with the transition team or describing or characterizing their efforts, Gardiner, so I’m going to keep – I’m going to stay there today. There is a team here at State. As far as I know, it’s been a pretty consistently manned team. In other words, I don’t know that there’s been a lot of turnover or changes in their numbers. But they’ve been here since very soon after the election. We have literally daily interaction with them, and it takes the form in many different ways – face-to-face briefings, the passing to them of information papers, and obviously, plenty of phone calls and email. So there’s a very vibrant communication with the team.

    What they have done with the information that they have been provided or the context that we have given them is really for them to speak to, and the degree to which they feel prepared and ready for duty tomorrow, again, is really for them to speak to.

    What I can tell you is this: that Secretary Kerry was clear we were going to do everything we could to make it seamless and effective for them, and he leaves office tomorrow knowing that he did that, that he opened up this building to them and to whatever they needed and made it very clear that we were going to be open and transparent with them. And we were.

    The second thing that I can say is that the incoming team – it’s not like this building’s just going to go away and everybody in it. The incoming team will inherit an unbelievable cadre of career Foreign Service officers and civil servants and contractors that are here at the State Department that are just as dedicated to seeing them succeed as they were when Secretary Kerry came in and Secretary Clinton before him. They’re an amazing bunch. I mentioned them a little bit in my opening comments because some of them work for me, and I can tell you that you won’t find finer patriots or more dedicated Americans than the people that work here, and they’re ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work tomorrow.

    QUESTION: One last thing, John. The Secretary couldn’t find time or they couldn’t find time together to meet with the incoming secretary-designate. He’s – Secretary Kerry is also not going to the inauguration tomorrow. How do we not sort of put these dots together to suggest that there’s hard feelings there?

    MR KIRBY: There’s no hard feelings. Look, I don’t – on the schedule – meeting with the secretary-designate, they did speak on the phone. I think that’s important to remember. They actually did have a phone conversation.

    QUESTION: Once.

    MR KIRBY: They tried – they tried to meet face-to-face, and the schedules didn’t align. That’s – and again, I don’t want to characterize Mr. Tillerson’s view of that. I can tell you that the Secretary remained willing and able to do that, and the schedules didn’t align.

    As for the inauguration, I think you guys know it’s – there’s no expectation that the outgoing Cabinet is going to attend the inauguration of an incoming administration. So I think I’ve seen some press coverage on the fact that the Secretary’s not attending, and I think – to be quite blunt, I think it’s been a little bit overblown. I mean, he never had any expectation of going. That’s really for the incoming administration and for their cabinet and for their officials, and what he wanted to be focused on was making sure that the incoming team was ready to go on day one.

    And I think as he gets ready to leave here – leave office tomorrow – he’s confident that he did that and that the team here did that and that the team here will continue to do that going forward. But again, on the inauguration, there simply was no expectation from either side that he or any other Cabinet official from the outgoing Administration would be in attendance.

    QUESTION: What about the (inaudible)?

    QUESTION: Where will he be at noon tomorrow?

    MR KIRBY: He’ll be enjoying personal time – (laughter) – as a free – as a private citizen.

    QUESTION: In D.C. or Boston?

    QUESTION: John. Just --

    MR KIRBY: John.

    QUESTION: Just as a comms pro, do you have any parting wisdom to your future successors? You’ve obviously had a lot of experience in communications in an age of diplomacy that is increasingly digital in nature, and is probably only going to be increasingly digital, given the habits of the future president.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Just parting words about dealing with sensitive geopolitical issues in – to pass down?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t – I won’t take it upon myself to give advice or counsel to the incoming team or how they want to communicate. What I will say though, John, is when I first got this job, I came from the Pentagon, where we brief twice a week. And usually the briefings are much shorter there than they are here. And I – Mark will tell you – I actually asked the question, should – and I asked Matt and Elise when I met with them: Should we continue the daily briefing? Is it necessary? Because it seemed to me, when I first got here, that it was a little excessive. They’re almost an hour long, and it’s every single day. There’s an awful lot of churn that goes into getting this book ready – I mean, look at the size of this beast. So I asked the question. And the resounding opinion I got back was, “Yeah, they’re important.”

    So I decided to let it go for a little while and just see what – how that transpired. And obviously, I didn’t make any changes, because it was – I very quickly learned and appreciated the importance of this interchange. Now, obviously, we talk to you on email and phone calls and we answer your questions in many other ways, but the briefing’s really important, because it’s live, it’s on camera, and it gets transmitted all around the world, and it’s digested almost in real time. And it shows that we are not afraid to be held to account for our policy decisions, even when they’re complicated, even when they’re hard to answer, even when the questions are very, very tough. So I would – if I may be allowed to say this one thing, I would hope that the daily briefings continue and that they’re just as open and fair as the ones we’re having right now. I think that’s really --

    QUESTION: Maybe not as long.

    MR KIRBY: Maybe not as long, but I’m – but I think it’s really, really important to have – to be on the record. And I’m proud that the State Department and the White House do this every day. And there’s not many governments that do that, that hold themselves to account and open themselves up to this scrutiny. The scrutiny that you provide, the critical analysis that your stories offer to these very complex challenges – that makes the pursuit of the agenda more credible. The idea that you can be more credible by going around the press is false. It’s not borne out by reality. By working with the media – not through, but with – and allowing for your policies, when they’re written about, to have quotes and anecdotes from people who don’t believe in it and who don’t think it’s right – that balance, that nuance, provided in a given piece, I think makes the policy agenda actually more credible and authentic.

    QUESTION: Could you hold that book one more time? (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: I think they’re calling me to quit.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

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

    QUESTION: John?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: We certainly hope your successor will be making the briefing room fun. You know your sense of humor is very well received among Asian media. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Who have difficulty understanding American sense of --

    MR KIRBY: Especially when I was not trying to be funny.

    QUESTION: (Laughter.) They think you make the briefing room fun. So my question for you: What is the most memorable point – memory that when you travel with Secretary to China and in your dealings with a Chinese official?

    MR KIRBY: I think with – when I traveled with Secretary Kerry the last – the second to last time we were in Beijing, we had a lengthy back and forth with Foreign Minister Wang Yi over North Korea and trying to get these new sanctions on board. And the give and take and the sheer honesty of it was refreshing. Everybody thinks that when you sit down with the Chinese it’s formulaic, and there’s probably – there’s a little script to it; there’s no question about it. But when you get down to the brass tacks of an issue as complicated as the DPRK, and watching the Secretary and the foreign minister really have an honest, unscripted discussion – and they didn’t agree on everything when they had initial discussions about sanctions. Obviously, China signed up to those sanctions. But it was really refreshing to see that.

    QUESTION: John?

    MR KIRBY: That there’s passion on both sides.

    Yeah, Janne. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Can I follow that? Some (inaudible) issues, okay.

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: First of all, you have worked hard as our State Department spokesperson. I give you hard time sometimes – (laughter) – are you okay? But I appreciate --

    MR KIRBY: You give me a hard time every day.

    QUESTION: I deeply appreciate it, okay. So you are free from your stress for North Korean issues.

    Now I ask two questions for you. South Korea and then United States intelligence report said that North Korea is ready to launch two new ICBM. Can you confirm on that?

    MR KIRBY: No, I can’t. And you know I wouldn’t discuss intelligence matters, one way or the other.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: I leave here knowing that I have continued to leave you unsatisfied.

    QUESTION: Okay. One more. I’m sorry. One more. North Korea has restarting a plutonium production reactors. Do you have anything on this? So --

    MR KIRBY: I mean, look, we’ve seen reports of that too, Janne, and I’m not going to confirm intelligence matters or speak to that one way or the other. I would just, again, reaffirm our call that it’s time for the DPRK to stop these provocative actions and to do the right thing for the region and for its people.

    QUESTION: One last one. China is threatening with economically and military retaliations against the South Korea THAAD deployment. How will the United States response on this?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I wouldn’t get ahead of responses at this time. That would be premature. Let me just remind that there will be no reason to have the consultations with the Republic of Korea about the THAAD system if the DPRK wasn’t engaged in these provocative actions in pursuing ballistic missile technology and a nuclear weapons program. And I would also remind that THAAD is an air defense system and a defensive system only. But there would be no reason to have these consultations if the North would stop these provocative activities.

    I’ll go here, and then – and really, I got to go. One more.

    QUESTION: Okay. May I follow the U.S.-China relation? As we know, this is the last press briefing of State Department during Obama Administration. So how do you evaluate the relationship between U.S. and China in the past eight years? If the full mark is ten, what kind of score would you like to give, based on the performance of --

    MR KIRBY: Of my performance?

    QUESTION: -- U.S. cooperation? Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: No, look, the President and Secretary Kerry both said it’s one of the most consequential bilateral relationships in the world today, and I think we leave office realizing that it is. And there have been many areas where we have cooperated very productively with China – on climate change, for instance. And China was at the table for the Iran deal. There are other areas where, obviously, we don’t see eye-to-eye. There are still tensions over activities in cyberspace. And obviously, there are still tensions in the area of the South China Sea.

    So it’s a complicated relationship. It covers a broad range of issues, not just regional issues. We continue to welcome the rise of a peaceful, productive China. And we continue to believe that having a meaningful and effective and cordial bilateral relationship with China is important going forward. But we’ll – the next team will have to make a decision for themselves on how they want to manage that relationship.

    QUESTION: So that’s a – that sounds like a six. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: As for the “one China” policy, are you going to give any advice to the next administration, as for the “one China” policy?

    MR KIRBY: No, I’m not going to give them advice. But I was just – on one China, obviously we continue to believe that that policy is relevant and right. And for our time in office, we have abided by that. We think that it is appropriate for moving that relationship forward, as well as regional security and stability. Okay?

    QUESTION: John --

    MR KIRBY: I got to go.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Thus ends eight years of Obama Administration foreign policy from the State Department podium. Thank you and good luck.

    MR KIRBY: Thanks, Matt. Thank you, everybody.

    QUESTION: Thank you.


    (The briefing was concluded at 3:05 p.m.)

    [i] The invitation was officially extended by Kazakhstan.

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 17, 2017

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 16:44
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 17, 2017

Index for Today's Briefing


    2:14 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody.

    QUESTION: Hello.

    MR KIRBY: A couple things at the top, and then we’ll get right at it.

    We want to extend, on behalf of the State Department of the United States, our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed and injured in a plane crash – I’m sorry – Sunday outside Bishkek. We, of course, stand with the people of the Kyrgyz Republic as they observe a national day of mourning, and we offer our support to the government as they recover from this tragedy.

    On the Green Climate Fund – and you’ll see a statement from me after the briefing as well – but today, the United States is announcing that it has made an additional $500 million grant to the Green Climate Fund. This grant follows last year’s initial grant of 500 million as part of the $3 billion pledge to the GCF made by President Obama in 2014. The GCF, the global climate – I’m sorry – the Green Climate Fund is a critical tool that helps catalyze billions of dollars in public and private investment in countries dealing not only with the challenges of climate change but the immense economic opportunities that are embedded in the transition to a lower-carbon economy. The United States is pleased to have played a leading role in the establishment of the GCF, and we are also pleased to be making this significant grant.

    With that, Matt.

    QUESTION: Well, that’s a bit of a surprise. I was going to start with something else, but since the incoming administration, which will take office in three days, is adamantly opposed to the Green Climate Fund and thinks that it’s a waste of money, why on – and you guys say you’re committed to a smooth transition, why would you do this $500 million now?

    MR KIRBY: Well, it’s – first of all, it’s a continuation of --

    QUESTION: In the last --

    MR KIRBY: -- an initial 500 grant of a $3 billion pledge.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Right.

    MR KIRBY: Okay. So it – this is a continuation of this Administration’s --

    QUESTION: I understand.

    MR KIRBY: -- policy support and financial support to climate change initiatives.

    QUESTION: When was the – the initial payment was made on, what, January 17th last year? Is it that? Is that why it’s coming today?

    MR KIRBY: I’ll have to get to you the exact date of --

    QUESTION: It just seems a bit surprising to offer up or to give out a pretty significant amount of money that people on the Hill, as well as people in the incoming administration, have said they’re not going to --

    MR KIRBY: There’s plenty of support on the Hill as well for climate change initiatives and this fund in particular. I’m not saying that everybody in Congress obviously supports --

    QUESTION: Well, there’s been some pretty strenuous objections from Republicans, and they now control Congress.

    MR KIRBY: And there’s also been some strident support from the other side of the aisle, Matt.

    QUESTION: Yes, but now – they’re in the minority now, and --

    MR KIRBY: But this Administration has committed to this fund, in fact helped stand it up, establish it. And it is entirely in keeping with the work that we’ve been doing across the interagency to try to look for ways to stem the effects of climate change. And this fund helps other economies, other countries, develop their own initiatives and help them deal with this.

    QUESTION: Right. I understand that. And your reaction to my question is that you think that I am taking this personally. I’m not. I’m just wondering --

    MR KIRBY: No. (Laughter.) I don’t think you’re taking it personally.

    QUESTION: -- how it is – I’m not – but the fact of the matter is, is that this Administration is leaving office on Friday and this is a program that the incoming administration has raised serious questions about, if not outright opposition to.

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: And it doesn’t seem to be fitting, in the spirit of a smooth transition, to put – make this kind of an outlay three – two and a half days, three days before --

    MR KIRBY: Well, it’s not being – it’s not being – it’s not being done to try to provoke a reaction from the incoming administration or to try to dictate to them, one way or the other, how they are going to deal with climate issues.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: But I mean, to take your argument to the extreme – and I’m not taking it personally, but to take it to the extreme that would me that we – for the entire time that this Administration is in office we simply don’t start – we don’t continue to execute and implement our own policy agenda items, and this is one of them. I mean just like we continue to --

    QUESTION: Well, right. But --

    MR KIRBY: Just like we continue to meet our commitments under the Iran deal.

    QUESTION: Right. But this is really kind of the question of timing. I mean, there’s – was there something preventing you from doing this in, say, November or December? Why wait until January 17th?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I – there was no concerted effort here to wait until two or three days to do this. It is a continuation.

    QUESTION: Okay. Because --

    MR KIRBY: This is an investment that had been long planned. I don’t --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t believe there was any nefarious desire or intent to do it just two days before.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well --

    QUESTION: John, was this permitted under the – was this legitimate in any way under the continuing resolution for the last budget? Was there any – wasn’t there some attempt to try to prohibit continued spending on this? Or am I wrong?

    MR KIRBY: No, actually. Congress provided $4.3 billion in funding for the Economic Support Fund, that account in Fiscal Year 2016, which is used to fund environmental programs and many other foreign assistance programs and is a primary account through which the Administration requested this particular funding. So while over one-half of the account is earmarked for specific programs or activities, the remainder is available for other programs to carry out the ESF authority in the Foreign Assistance Act.

    So for the Global – for the Green Climate Fund – I keep saying – want to say – I keep wanting to say global. For the Green Climate Fund, the Administration is using a portion of the Fiscal Year 2016 ESF account, not earmarked by Congress and is consistent with past president for – past precedent for providing funds to support this particular fund.

    QUESTION: So last year, it came from the same pot of money?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, it’s from the – it’s from the Fiscal Year 2016 appropriation. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Past precedent.

    MR KIRBY: What did I say?

    QUESTION: President.

    MR KIRBY: Precedent.

    QUESTION: You’re not the only one who --

    MR KIRBY: Thank you for the enunciation assistance.

    QUESTION: You’re not the only one who’s made that – and just last thing.

    MR KIRBY: That was not a Freudian slip.

    QUESTION: So is this money – is this – this money is out the door? It can’t be taken back, should the next administration decide it does not like this program?

    MR KIRBY: Well, that’s certainly a decision that the incoming administration could – they can discuss it. I can tell you though that the funds have been obligated and expended to the trust fund, the GCF trust fund.

    QUESTION: So it’s gone?

    MR KIRBY: And now they are controlled by the GCF board --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: -- which includes the United States, to decide how to use them effectively.

    QUESTION: Well, okay. Do you know – does the board – could the U.S. representative to this board say, all right, no, you can’t have this money anymore?

    MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, the United States is represented on the board and therefore has a voice on the board. I can’t speak to what board discussions or what administration discussions might occur after the 20th. Certainly, this is something they can discuss. But the money has been provided to the board now for use.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: And did you pay it at the same time last year?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know, Carol.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: I’ll have to get back to you on that.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Said.

    QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

    MR KIRBY: Wait.

    QUESTION: No. Well, that was just this one issue. I want to – kind of about Syria but also just about transition in general, has there been a decision made on who will be the acting or interim secretary, should the president-elect’s nominee not be confirmed by Friday?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that --

    QUESTION: Or Friday afternoon?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that there’s been that decision made. That’s a question really better put to the Trump transition team.

    QUESTION: Okay. And then along that line and having to do with Syria, has there been a decision made on participation in the Kazakhstan conference on the 23rd?

    MR KIRBY: Again, that’s a decision that should be posed to the Trump transition team. I’m not aware that they have made a decision --

    QUESTION: Okay. But so the – on neither of those there has – or there – yes or no? Has there been any contact between the current Administration and the transition team on either of those issues?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not – well, as you know, I try not to talk about our communications with the transition team. I’m not aware of any specific discussions or where those discussions have fallen out.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: Obviously, the – I’m given to understand – excuse me – that the transition team is certainly mindful of succession responsibilities come the 20th, should the nominee not be confirmed. But I’m not aware that they’ve made any final decisions with respect to that, and that’s really for them to speak to.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: On the conference, again, I’m not aware that there’s been any specific communication with the incoming team about this. But as you know, the conference begins next week, and so therefore it would be entirely up to them to decide whether to participate and at what level.

    QUESTION: Right. Now, you – has this Administration been in any contact with the Russians or the Turks about whether – the Russians say that they have invited the new – the incoming administration to participate. The Iranians, on the other hand, have said basically over my dead body; they don’t want any U.S. participation in this. Has there been an invitation that you’re aware of, through this building, to the occupants of the offices in this building post-January 20th?

    MR KIRBY: What I – I think the Secretary spoke to this over the weekend. We are certainly aware of reports of an invitation to the incoming team. And again, that makes perfect sense, given the calendar and when this conference starts. I’m not aware of any specific communication to or with us now with respect to attendance at the conference. But this is a decision that has to be made by the incoming administration.


    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Have you encouraged the next administration to participate should they --

    MR KIRBY: Well, the Secretary --

    QUESTION: -- issue an invitation, like he said --

    MR KIRBY: The Secretary said so publicly over the weekend that he would absolutely encourage them to participate in the discussion. But again, it’s their decision to make.

    QUESTION: I want to ask you about what --

    QUESTION: Could I --

    QUESTION: -- is going on, the assault on Deir al-Zour at the present time. There is – ISIS is conducting an assault on the Syrian town of Deir al-Zour.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: They’re saying that this was made possible because many of the fighters fled Mosul and they were actually basically – they go in essence that you did not attack them on – en route or anything like this. Do you have any comment on that? And could you update us on what the status is as far as the Deir al-Zour assault is?

    MR KIRBY: Well, no. Actually, Said, I can’t give you an update on the status of Deir al-Zour or what’s going on on the ground. I simply – we don’t have great visibility in terms of tactical operations one way or another. Certainly mindful that ISIL has a presence there, mindful of reports that the regime, backed by their supporters, is trying to deal with that. But I would refer you to the regime and to their Russian backers to speak to specifically what’s going on on the ground there.

    QUESTION: But you reject the notion that you looked the other way and basically allowed them? You reject that notion, that you looked at these fighters flowing from Mosul to Syria, you looked the other way, the coalition fighters or airplanes did not attack them?

    MR KIRBY: I think any suggestion that – any suggestion that the coalition has not taken seriously opportunities to continue to pound Daesh from the air and to continue to support effective fighters on the ground who are going after Daesh is – obviously flies in the face of facts. The fact is that Deir al-Zour has been in an ISIL-dominated area of Syria for quite some time. It’s not new that they’re there. And we’ve had this discussion about Mosul in the past. And yes, we knew that ISIL fighters would leave Mosul as the campaign started. Not at all surprised that some of them would run away. And the coalition has – and you’ve seen the reports out of the Pentagon – has taken advantage of opportunities when they can to hit these guys. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get every single one, and I can’t say definitively that none of them fled to Deir al-Zour. But to say that that hasn’t been part of previously ISIL-dominated areas in Syria, again, is just not – it doesn’t comport with facts.

    QUESTION: And my last one on this one. Foreign Minister Lavrov said that you – that the United States tried to utilize the emergence and the attacks by Daesh as a way – as a useful tool, maybe, to bring down the regime in Syria. Do you have any comment on that? Can you respond to that?

    MR KIRBY: There’s --

    QUESTION: You probably saw the --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, no, I saw his comments. We have talked about this before.

    QUESTION: But this is also new today.

    MR KIRBY: What we want to see in terms of the civil war in Syria is a political solution, and that’s why the Secretary worked so hard in his tenure to try to get a transition in place, a ceasefire that can be meaningful, humanitarian aid, and political talks resume, so that we can have a political solution actually discussed and realized.

    The fight against Daesh – there is a military component against that, against Daesh. And that is the purpose of it, to go after Daesh. We’ve long said in terms of the civil war, there’s not going to be a military solution; it’s got to be political. But the activities that the coalition conducts in Syria is against Daesh and Daesh alone. And any suggestion that we have in any way used that effort to try to spur some outcome, a separate outcome in the civil war, again, just doesn’t jive with the facts on the ground.

    QUESTION: Can – as long as we’ve – we’re talking about what Lavrov said, he also said that the United States had tried to convert some of its diplomats here in Washington to spies --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- at one point dropping $10,000 into a car. And it denied that there had ever been any harassment of U.S. diplomats, said it found no evidence of that.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, look, I --

    QUESTION: Can you respond to that, please?

    MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is – I mean, I’ve seen the foreign minister’s comments, and I think he can speak to allegations all he wants. I’m not going to – I’ve got nothing more for you on that. The only thing I would say, and is what we’ve said so many times before, that over the last year or plus we have seen an increase in the harassment of our diplomats. You saw the very dramatic video yourself of one of our employees literally being assaulted as he was trying to enter the embassy grounds.

    And it is because of that increase in harassment, one of the reasons why, the President just in the last couple of weeks sanctioned some additional entities and individuals in Russia and declared persona non grata on some 35 Russian diplomats, and shut down two facilities which we know where we – which we know were – had intel – some intelligence purposes to them. So we’ve laid pretty clear, and it’s been – at least in – you’ve – in terms of the incident I just talked about, you can see for yourself the harassment that our diplomats have faced. But I’ll let Foreign Minister Lavrov speak to the specifics of whatever allegations he wants to make. But again, I think we’ve been very clear about where we are.

    QUESTION: Is that a denial that you attempted to turn diplomats into --

    MR KIRBY: I’m – I’m going to leave it – I’m going to leave it where I did.


    QUESTION: John? Another version or stories also involve $10,000 while the other – the version is involve the medicine and apology from Secretary Kerry. Was there any apology from Secretary Kerry in regard to that?

    MR KIRBY: Look, again, you can talk to Foreign Minister Lavrov about his views and what he said. I’ve made clear. The harassment that our diplomats have been facing for more than a year has been obvious; you’ve seen it for yourself. The President took action a couple of weeks ago; and again, I’ll leave it there.

    QUESTION: So there’s absolutely no apology from Secretary Kerry on this?

    MR KIRBY: I think I’ve answered the question.

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    MR KIRBY: Yes.

    QUESTION: Iran has appointed a new ambassador to Iraq and the Kurds seem to like him better than the previous ambassador for various reasons. Do you share that view about the new ambassador or have a different view or any view on him?

    MR KIRBY: We actually don’t have a view on this. These are decisions that sovereign nations make and they should speak for them.

    QUESTION: Well, what if they appointed a terrorist to be ambassador? Would you have any problem?

    MR KIRBY: Again, this is an issue for these two nations to speak to. We’re not going to take a position on every ambassador by every nation to some third-party nation.

    QUESTION: And a question on Turkey. They arrested the shooter in the night – New Year’s --

    MR KIRBY: The alleged shooter, yeah.

    QUESTION: The alleged shooter in the New Year’s attack on the Istanbul night club. Turkey’s deputy prime minister said that it appears that that attack was quote, “not just a terrorist organization’s action, but there was also an intelligence organization involved.” Do you know anything about that? Have any more --

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional information on the investigation into this attack. We condemned it very, very, very clearly when it occurred. And our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to all of those that were affected by it. But this is a Turkish investigation; Turkish authorities need to speak to what they’re learning at whatever pace they’re comfortable doing.


    QUESTION: John, there are reports suggesting that the Syrian Kurdish group PYD will open an office here in Washington for its representative. I was wondering if you’re aware of this or if this topic came up in official meeting – the diplomatic --

    MR KIRBY: Not aware of it. Haven’t heard anything about it, no.

    QUESTION: Okay. But if they open, there is no restriction on that, right? I mean --

    MR KIRBY: I haven’t heard anything about it. I just don’t have any information for you guys on that, I just don’t. Never heard it.


    QUESTION: The Balkans. Can you confirm that U.S. imposed sanctions on Mr. Milorad Dodik, who is president of smaller entity in Bosnia Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, the embassy – its embassy in Belgrade said something about that, but not too openly. And I would like to know, can you confirm that please?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, let me --

    QUESTION: And why?

    MR KIRBY: Give me one second. Okay, Elizabeth, where is it? I’m going to take the question for you, okay? I’ll have to get back to you.


    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: A WikiLeaks question. Has the State Department ever asked Britain or Ecuador to take action against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks?

    MR KIRBY: I think I addressed this back in October, Catherine. There was some reports out there that Secretary Kerry had asked – specifically asked Ecuadorian officials to, quote/unquote, “shut down” his – Mr. Assange’s access to the internet, and we were – and we denied that, obviously, very clearly. It wasn’t – just the allegations weren’t true. So then we – Secretary Kerry and the State Department – did not take any overt action in terms of shutting down his access to the internet.

    That said, we have been nothing but clear since WikiLeaks started several years ago, in many diplomatic channels, on many levels, and over the years in many instances about our concerns about the harm that continues to come from the information that is – that WikiLeaks obtains and WikiLeaks then publishes to – certainly to our national security interests. So this is an ongoing issue for us, and we are certainly engaged and continue to be engaged diplomatically on it.

    QUESTION: I just want to decode that a little bit.

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: So is that senior State Department leadership speaking through backchannels to their counterparts in Britain, Ecuador, other countries?

    MR KIRBY: Well, without getting into the details of diplomatic discussions, I think you can safely assume that on many levels here at the State Department – and I would venture to say across the interagency – there are constant, ongoing discussions about – and it’s not just WikiLeaks, but since we’re on WikiLeaks, certainly about the harm that continues to come from the information that this organization gets and then publishes.

    QUESTION: Just one more follow-up.

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: Do you think that’s been effective? Because for 10 years and to this day, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange continue to release information that the U.S. characterizes as harmful to national security.

    MR KIRBY: Who I think – I think we would all admit that we’d like to be able to find better solutions here. And it’s not that we aren’t frustrated by the ability of this organization to continue to leak harmful information, information that hurts not only our national security interests, but in some cases, the national security interests of our allies, friends, and partners. And it is damaging, and I think it is not just an American problem; it’s an international problem. And we continue to have discussions, as I said, with our allies, friends, and partners about how to deal with this. But obviously, the group’s ability to obtain information and to publish it persists, and that’s a problem, and we have worked on it.

    QUESTION: I just have one more follow-up there. Has – do you think the most significant damage has been to the relationship between the United States and other countries, in terms of other nations losing trust that the information is safe?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I would let, I think, other countries speak to that themselves. I can’t characterize how each and every other nation may have been affected or may have reacted to leaks of information. And I think you can certainly look, in recent years, to the way Germany reacted, for instance, in one case. And they’re really better postured --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: -- to speak for their own. Certainly, there have been instances when these leaks have caused tensions. There’s no doubt about that. But I think, as we get ready now to transition to a new administration, that we’re comfortable that whatever tensions had been caused have been worked through, and we’re going to – and we continue to have strong bilateral relationships with many of these nations, and we expect that that will continue.

    QUESTION: Just one final if I could: With hindsight, do you think more pressure could have been brought to bear by the United States?

    MR KIRBY: I think this is a global – this is an international problem, Catherine. It’s not – it isn’t just about the United States. And we continue to take this very, very seriously. We continue to have meaningful conversations with international partners. But obviously, you can’t control each and every individual or actor, whether it’s a state actor or a non-state actor, from providing information to Mr. Assange, who then he determines to publish.

    It is damaging. It’s harmful. And we’d all like it to stop. And we’ve worked hard with our partners to do the best we can. And some of that stems from trying to have better cyber security methods in place. It’s a dangerous dynamic realm, and it’s not perfect. So I think, obviously, we’d be the first to admit that we’re not happy to continue to see leaks of harmful information being provided to him – information of a harmful nature being provided to him, which he then publishes. And I think we would all agree that, certainly, more should be and should continue to be done. Okay?

    QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Yeah. Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Can we go to West Africa? First, Gambia or the Gambia – the outgoing president has declared state of emergency. I’d like to have your reaction to that. And he’s accusing of foreign interference. To your knowledge, which countries is he talking about?

    MR KIRBY: He’s – I’m sorry. Say that last part again.

    QUESTION: The outgoing president is accusing of foreign interference. To your knowledge, is --

    MR KIRBY: Foreign --

    QUESTION: Interference.

    MR KIRBY: Oh, interference.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, he’s – President Jammeh is losing opportunities to respect the will of the Gambian people and to peacefully hand over power to the president-elect, which is supposed to happen on Thursday. Doing so would allow him to leave office with his head held high and to protect the Gambian people from potential chaos. Failure to do so will put his legacy – and, more importantly, the Gambia – in peril, and we have been clear about this.

    I don’t know what interference he’s referring to, but we obviously want to see the Gambia succeed and we want to see the president-elect properly installed and to have in place a government which is responsible for and responsive to the needs of the Gambian people.


    QUESTION: And – sorry, another one – another country in West Africa: Nigeria. Are you aware of this bombing by accident by the Nigerian air force against a camp --

    MR KIRBY: All I saw was press reports on that. I would refer you to Nigeria for more information. I don’t have anything on that. All I saw was a headline here before I came out today.

    QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on that?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Do you have any information about what support the U.S. is still providing the Nigerian Government as far as going after Boko Haram? I know in the past that there had been logistical, equipment, training.

    MR KIRBY: We do continue to provide some counterterrorism assistance, but Abbie, let me have the bureau get back to you with details on what that looks like. I don’t – I just don’t have that handy.


    QUESTION: John, the Government of Belarus has arrested Israeli-Russian blogger Alexander Lapshin based on request from Azerbaijan because the Government of Azerbaijan accuses this blogger for visiting Nagorno-Karabakh and also for some public statements that were not favorable for the Azerbaijani Government – particularly, as they phrased it, because there were public calls against the state by Lapshin. Now the Government of Azerbaijan also demands the extradition of Lapshin.

    Israeli Government resisted this. Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov again resisted extradition today in his public statement. And the Committee to Protect Journalists from New York also called for unconditional release of the blogger. I was wondering if the Department of State follows the situation with arrest of the blogger.

    MR KIRBY: First, I’d say this is really something for the relevant countries to speak to, especially when you’re talking about extradition requests. That’s really for them to speak to. Obviously, press freedom is important to us, and we talk about it all the time. I don’t have any specific information with respect to this case, but I’d refer you to the relevant countries to speak to that.

    QUESTION: But you are concerned with the issue of free journalist movement --

    MR KIRBY: We are always concerned with the issue of press freedom. That is something that we speak to almost every day, sadly. We have to speak to it every day. So certainly, our concern over the freedom of journalists to do their jobs remains very robust, but I don’t have any specific information on this case. And as for – you’re talking about foreign extradition requests. I don’t have – I just don’t have any knowledge of it, and that’s really not something that would be appropriate for the State Department to speak to anyway.


    QUESTION: Very quickly on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. But first of all, could you inform us of any kind of other content of the conversation between the Secretary of State and the prime minister of Israel in terms of maybe whether the Secretary of State requested that the Israeli Government refrain from excessive, let’s say, activities that may hinder the peace process as he laid it out in his vision, which is to accelerate settlements, maybe enforce more checkpoints, and so on?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional detail from the conversation that the Secretary had with Prime Minister Netanyahu. However, he did speak in broad terms to it when we were in Paris, and he made clear that the conversation was largely to provide some basic information about the conference as --

    QUESTION: About the conference itself.

    MR KIRBY: Huh?

    QUESTION: Yeah, about the conference.

    MR KIRBY: About how the conference was proceeding, and also to assure the prime minister that, as we have so many times in the past, that we were going to work to make sure the communique was properly balanced. And we felt that it was.

    QUESTION: And are you disappointed that the British Government seems to have lobbied against the adoption of the communique by the European Union?

    MR KIRBY: That’s something for the – that’s for the UK to speak to, Said.

    QUESTION: Okay. I have just a couple more. The reason is because today, despite the objection of the attorney general of Israel, the Israeli Knesset passed a law allowing for the West Bank Military Court verdict to be admissible in Israel. Some think that this is really a prelude to annexation. Do you have any comment on that?

    MR KIRBY: Actually, I do not. We’re – we don’t have a comment on this.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: Okay.

    QUESTION: Oh, wait, wait. I got one – I got two questions on the same thing, same country: Bahrain.

    MR KIRBY: How is that the same country?

    QUESTION: What? I have two questions about Bahrain.

    MR KIRBY: Oh, about the same country. Oh, okay.

    QUESTION: Bahrain and Bahrain. Those are the two countries.

    MR KIRBY: All right, I thought you were talking about Israel.

    QUESTION: No, no, no, no.

    MR KIRBY: And that’s why I was confused how a question on Bahrain – how that has to do with Israel, but now I understand.

    QUESTION: Right. One is: Do you have any reaction to the execution of three prisoners that happened, I believe, either yesterday or the day before?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, we – we’ve seen the Bahraini Government’s announcement that it executed three people. Violent attacks against the police, such as the one that took the lives of the three officers in this case originally are reprehensible, of course, and deserve condemnation. We’ve also seen allegations that the individuals facing execution were victims of torture, and that the evidence used against them in court was extracted, in part, through coerced confessions.

    So we’re concerned that these executions occurred at a time of elevated tensions in Bahrain. We continue to call on all parties to show restraint and to contribute to a climate that is conducive for dialogue and reconciliation. And again, we call on the Government of Bahrain to return urgently to the path of reconciliation, and to work collectively to address the aspirations of all Bahrainis. This, we believe, is the best way to marginalize those who support violence and bring greater security and stability to the region.

    QUESTION: So your concern is that they would – that the executions took place at a moment of tension?

    MR KIRBY: We’re concerned that we’re – as I said, we’re --

    QUESTION: But you don’t have a problem with the reports of the – of the forced confessions of --

    MR KIRBY: No, I think we have expressed our concerns about these executions and the way in – and way – and the information in which we have about the way these individuals were detained and were coerced into confessions.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: And we have raised those concerns repeatedly with the Bahraini Government.

    QUESTION: Right, but it sounded like – maybe I did not hear it correctly, but it sounded as though your main concern was that the execution – not that the executions took place, but that they took place at a time when there was heightened tensions.

    MR KIRBY: We are concerned that they took place. We’re certainly also concerned about the context in which they took place.

    QUESTION: All right, okay. And then the other one is the closure of the opposition newspaper.

    MR KIRBY: Opposition newspaper. You’re talking about Al-Wasat Online?

    QUESTION: Mm-hmm, the online version, yeah.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah. We are concerned by the decision of the Government of Bahrain to suspend the online version of the independent newspaper, Al-Wasat, as we’ve consistently maintained – and I just talked about this a minute ago – a free press that is allowed to peacefully voice criticisms of the government plays a vital role in inclusive pluralistic governments and societies.


    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Said.

    QUESTION: A quick one on Yemen? Sorry, very quickly. The UN yesterday said that 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since the start of the war, that half the population has no food security, aid is not getting in nor medicine, and so on. Do you have any comment on that? Is the Secretary doing anything?

    MR KIRBY: I can’t confirm the UN report of casualties. Clearly, the issue of civilian casualties, the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Yemen has long been a concern. That’s why the Secretary has spent so much time --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: -- and effort on this issue as well. I can’t confirm those numbers, but obviously, what we – nothing changes about what we want to see there, which is a peaceful resolution to this conflict so that Yemenis don’t have to fear the potential for attacks on them or their infrastructure, and we can get humanitarian aid to so many Yemenis who are still in need.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:49 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 12, 2017

Thu, 01/12/2017 - 18:44
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 12, 2017

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAQ
  • CUBA


    1:44 p.m. EST

    MR TONER: Hey guys.

    QUESTION: Hello.

    MR TONER: Welcome to the State Department. My name is Mark, and I’ll be your hostess tonight. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Seriously, that’s the way you want to --

    MR TONER: No. Welcome to the State Department. I don’t have anything at the top, so I’ll turn it over to your questions. Matt?

    QUESTION: Okay. I don’t really have a lot either because things seem to be in a big state of flux. (Laughter.)

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: And I’m not exactly sure why --

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- but in a week or so I think we’ll know. I do have one small thing, and that is --

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: -- or it’s not small necessarily, but I don’t know how much you’ll be able to say about it. Yesterday you guys announced the Secretary’s travel, his --

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- presumably his last trip as Secretary of State. And I’m interested in particular in the stop in Paris and the Mideast conference that the French are hosting there. What is it that you guys expect to get out of this meeting, given the fact that there’s only – at that point there will be less than a week left in your holding of the reins --

    MR TONER: Yeah, I mean --

    QUESTION: -- or of this Administration’s holding of the reins.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: And less than a week, presumably, of – given comments from the president-elect and his team, less than a week of the current policy.

    MR TONER: Sure. Well – sorry, I don’t mean to talk over you.


    MR TONER: Obviously, we recognize the short amount of time remaining in this Administration’s tenure. That said, this conference is going to take place with us or without us; and I think the Secretary, given his dedication and commitment to Middle East peace process and his engagement on the issue, feels obliged to be there because we have an interest in advancing a two-state solution, and we also have an interest in ensuring that whatever happens in this conference is constructive and balanced.

    QUESTION: Constructive and --

    MR TONER: And balanced.

    QUESTION: -- balanced. How so?

    MR TONER: Well, I think in terms of – we’ve said this before – we don’t want to certainly see anything come up that attempts to impose a solution on Israel. We want to see a constructive approach. And I’m not trying to predict that this is going to go one way or the other; I’m just saying we need to be at the table, and we need to be part of that discussion to ensure that our concerns with regard to whatever emerges on a two-state solution is aligned with our ideals or our concerns.

    QUESTION: Are you saying – you’re saying then that the Secretary, the Administration more broadly, feels obliged to go to protect Israel from a one-sided statement? Is that --

    MR TONER: I think we just – again, I think we feel obliged to be there, to be part of the discussions, to help make them into something that we believe is constructive and positively oriented towards --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: -- getting negotiations back up and running, and doesn’t attempt to in any way kind of dictate a solution or --

    QUESTION: Right. It’s just – I don’t know, it’s a little bit odd --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- to hear you say that you want to be there to make sure that it’s not one-sided, because critics of the Administration – including the man who has been nominated to succeed Secretary Kerry – have been very critical of the Administration’s most recent actions, the abstention at the UN on the Security Council resolution and then the Secretary’s speech saying that that – they say that it was a betrayal, that you stabbed Israel in the back. And now you’re saying that you want to go to this conference, or you feel like you have to go to this conference in order to protect Israel from a one-sided result. Do you see that there is a bit of a dissonance there?

    MR TONER: So – no, let me – I’ll attempt to respond to several different aspects of that question. First of all, we stand by our abstention. We’ve made very clear the reasons why we did it; that it wasn’t, we believed, one-sided against Israel; that it did, in fact, call out Palestinian actions that are also – run counter to what our ultimate goal is, which is a two-state solution. And we don’t want – I don’t want to re-litigate that now, but we stand by that decision.

    Also, I don’t want to attempt to – forgive me if I was trying to – if I sounded a little bit too negative about this conference. I think we just want to be – any time there is this level and this type of gathering, I think it’s important that the U.S. be at the table. And certainly, the Secretary feels this way, given the importance of the issue and, as I said, his level of engagement on Middle East peace. And I think he wants to be there to ensure that U.S. interests and concerns are addressed. And I don’t want to – I’m not trying to prejudge the outcome of this.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, you would acknowledge though that those U.S. interests and concerns that he is there to preserve and are – seem that they’re going to change significantly after next Friday at noon, right?

    MR TONER: Again, though, I mean, I don’t think that just because we’re in the waning days here --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR TONER: -- doesn’t, I think, allow us to abdicate our responsibilities.

    QUESTION: All right. One – French officials --

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- have said that one reason that they want to have this now and have it before the inauguration is to send a message to the incoming administration. And they have suggested that in whatever document this conference produces, in the final document, that there could be a reference or a warning about – to the incoming administration about moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Is that something that this Administration is prepared to support if it does, in fact, come up?

    MR TONER: I mean, first of all, our position on moving the embassy to Jerusalem is – hasn’t changed and is very well known.

    QUESTION: Yeah --

    MR TONER: Secondly --

    QUESTION: -- but you can concede --

    MR TONER: But secondly – secondly, I don’t want to also deal with what may or may not come out of this conference. I think we just have to wait and see. And let’s wait and meet and see what comes out of it. We’re not going in there with any kind of intent to in any way box in the incoming administration. Again, our goal writ large with the new administration coming in is to be helpful in the transition. That said, we’ve been very clear where we stand with that issue.

    QUESTION: But just two very brief things on that.

    MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: You would concede, though, that that that longstanding position of yours on the embassy, if you judge by the statements that have been made by the president-elect and members of his team, is not – is going to change on Friday, right?

    MR TONER: Again, that may very well be the case, just judging by what he has said publicly.

    QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, to take it out of the realm of the hypothetical and perhaps put you more on the spot in a position where you actually have to – can’t duck the question because it is a hypothetical: Would the United States block an attempt to include a warning about moving the embassy in the final statement?

    MR TONER: Still technically a hypothetical.

    QUESTION: No, it’s not.

    MR TONER: (Laughter.) Look, Matt – let’s let – and I’m not trying to --

    QUESTION: I distinctly avoided the word “if.” (Laughter.) That means that it is not a hypothetical.

    MR TONER: It’s conditional, I guess. Look --

    QUESTION: Will the United States --

    MR TONER: I don’t want to attempt --

    QUESTION: How about – forget about “would.”

    MR TONER: Yeah. Will the United States block --

    QUESTION: Will the Administration – will Secretary Kerry, speaking on behalf of this Administration, block an attempt to warn the incoming administration against moving the embassy to Jerusalem in a final document that is produced by this conference?

    MR TONER: I think Secretary Kerry, as have others in this Administration, been very clear on their views about moving the U.S. embassy, relocating the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and the possible implications that could have on Palestinian-Israeli peace but also on tensions writ large. I am not going to attempt to either characterize what may or may not come out of this conference before they’ve actually met or prejudge it or to attempt to say that this is something that’s going to come out of it. I think we’ve been very clear on where we stand with regard to relocating the embassy. But I’m not going to, like, say – I’m not going to in any way affirm some of the actions that may come out of this conference. Let’s let it happen.

    QUESTION: It’s going to be interesting when I ask you the same question on January 23rd what your longstanding position has been, but I’m not sure I understand why it is you can’t --

    MR TONER: I’ll have a different hairstyle. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: -- why you can’t say that you would or wouldn’t block it.

    MR TONER: I just – partly, Matt – look, it’s not – I mean, we know what our --

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

    MR TONER: We know what our position is.

    QUESTION: But you have evinced two competing ideas here. One is that the Administration’s longstanding position and previous administrations’ longstanding position is that moving the embassy is – would be a bad thing.

    MR TONER: Correct.

    QUESTION: And at the same time, you’ve said – take that, one. Two, the incoming administration, the president-elect and his team, have said that that’s not their position, that they are going to move it, and that it’s going to happen. And then you also say – part two of this is that you don’t want to do anything to box in the incoming administration. So if you want to do two, number two, I don’t see how you can --

    MR TONER: The only thing I’m saying, Matt, is that we --

    QUESTION: -- cannot block – how you can stay true to --

    MR TONER: There’s only one president at a time.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR TONER: And as of January 20th, there’s going to be a new president.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR TONER: Till the end of this Administration, it will be our policy that moving – relocating the embassy to Jerusalem would be a mistake, would be --

    QUESTION: So --

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: So does that mean that you would not see a document that comes out of this that warns the incoming administration against moving the embassy – you would not see that as boxing them in?

    MR TONER: I – again, it depends on what the document looks like and what comes out of this. That’s partly my reluctance, is I don’t know what’s going to come out of this meeting.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: I think what we want to see come out of the meeting – if I could put it this way and try to put it in a little bit different manner, but what we want to see come out of this meeting is constructive and balanced.

    QUESTION: Well, going into the meeting --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- would you be willing to support a warning to the incoming administration that --

    MR TONER: I don't have an answer for you on that.

    QUESTION: All right.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Well, to follow up on that, given that you feel that you – obliged and you need to be at the table, what exactly is the Secretary’s message to the meeting going to be? Don’t do anything rash? Wait for the new administration? Talk to them? What exactly --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- would you see is his --

    MR TONER: Well, again, I feel like so much of this has already been – I mean, the Secretary’s views on where the Middle East peace process stands and the challenges that are facing it are, as we all know, very public, coming out of his speech a couple weeks ago. I think that, as I just explained to Matt, he’s going to Paris to participate in this conference because he believes it’s worth our while to have a seat at the table when any large group of leaders, his counterparts, are sitting around to talk about the future of the Middle East peace process to make sure, as I said, that U.S. views are expressed and heard.

    I just don’t want to prejudge the outcome of this conference. We just don’t know what’s going to come out of it. I think we’re looking for – and we’ve said this many times about this Paris conference, because it’s been, frankly, talked about for some time – is that we just want to see whatever comes out of it to be constructive and balanced and not try to prejudge any kind of outcome. And so --

    QUESTION: Is there --

    MR TONER: Yeah, please.

    QUESTION: I mean, the way you put it now, I mean, is there a – what exactly is your concern, that they could rush off and impose things that might change the dynamic without a proper conversation?

    MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, I think that the Secretary just wants to make sure – I mean, we – look, we’ve got – we’ve been very clear, and it was talked a lot about in the context of this abstention from the UN Security Council resolution, that we don’t want to see any action in the UN Security Council, for instance, that would attempt to impose a solution on Israel. We don’t know if that’s the plan coming out of this. We don’t know what the plan is for further action. I think we’re going to listen and to provide our viewpoint.

    QUESTION: Also following up on what Matt just said, I mean, would you stand – would the U.S. take a hard position if there were indications from the Europeans that they could move on such things, such as sanctions against Israel if they continue with the settlements?

    MR TONER: I think that, as a friend and ally of Israel, we always have – we’re always aware and will oppose any one-sided actions against Israel.

    Yeah, Steve.

    QUESTION: On the Secretary’s travels --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- Vietnam is also on the agenda. There are reports that ahead of his arrival there --

    MR TONER: He’s there. Sorry, go ahead.

    QUESTION: -- that a dozen or so activists have either been put under house arrest or detained. I believe this has happened previously. What’s this department’s response on that? And does the Secretary plan to meet with any opposition figures in Vietnam?

    MR TONER: So we’re not aware at this time of any arrests or detentions of activists in conjunction with his visit to Vietnam, but of course, we continue to urge Vietnam – and I’m sure the Secretary will do so in his meetings – to make continued progress on human rights, and that includes releasing all political prisoners. And as I said, he’s going to make a point of this, as he does everywhere. But certainly in Vietnam, he’ll make a point of raising our concerns with Vietnamese leaders.

    QUESTION: Is he only meeting with government officials or anybody from civil society?

    MR TONER: That is a – that’s a very good question. I believe he will, but let me take that question and get back to you.

    Wait, I’m sorry. I’m looking at both of you. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Two questions, one on shutting down an NGO called the Yazda organization, which is supported by Nadia Murad – I don’t know if you’re aware of – in Dohuk by the Kurdish Government. I don’t know if you are aware of that and if you had any statement. It’s been, like, a couple weeks. They just closed and shut it down for no obvious reason. That center is providing service for IDPs, and I think it’s something political, the Kurdish Government closing --

    MR TONER: This is in the Kurdistan region of --

    QUESTION: Yeah, Kurdistan region. They closed down the Yazda organization office, and the facilities, they’re taken over by the Kurdish KRG forces in Dohuk. I don’t know if you can also take the question and --

    MR TONER: Apologies. And this is --

    QUESTION: The Yazda organization. It’s supported by Nadia Murad.

    MR TONER: No, I apologize. I don’t have anything on it. I’ll take the question --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR TONER: -- if we have any comment on it.

    QUESTION: So the second one is on the Syrian refugees. I know that in the Fiscal Year 2016, you got – you increased your manpower and also the budget to bring more Syrians, that as a result you brought, like, 12,000 of them, and this year also until now, you brought over 3,000 of them. My question is going to be: Is the money allocated for this fiscal year – is going to the program, is going to continue to bring Syrians to United States? Or it’s up to the incoming administration to continue?

    MR TONER: Sorry, is the – your – the last part of your question? I apologize. I didn’t catch it.

    QUESTION: Is --

    QUESTION: The numbers that were announced by the White House --

    MR TONER: The numbers that were announced by the White House are going to continue through this fiscal year?

    QUESTION: Yes. Will – or is it up to the incoming administration to --

    QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

    MR TONER: Well, I think it – I mean, I think it’s ultimately up to the incoming administration as to whether they’re going to maintain or fulfill those numbers. As you know, we increased the number of refugees writ large, but also Syria, and obviously, last fiscal year – and we met that challenge, but – and it was a pretty intensive effort, frankly – all the while ensuring that these – all of these refugees, Syrian included, were fully vetted through all the various security aspects of that process.

    But as for what will happen as of January 23rd, I can’t predict whether they’ll change the number in terms of target of refugees that are coming into the United States.

    QUESTION: And you haven’t got anything from their transition team --

    MR TONER: No.

    QUESTION: -- if they want to continue it, anything like that?

    MR TONER: No, no. Nothing I can announce or speak to, no.


    QUESTION: Yeah. I have several questions on Syria, Turkey, and the Kurds in Syria.

    On Tuesday, you said that the PYD should be part of any political settlement in Syria. And yesterday, the Turkish deputy prime minister responded to you, “And what business does a terror group have at the peace table?” Do you have a response to him?

    MR TONER: Sure. Look, I saw that there was a lot of commentary about some of my remarks – I guess it was Tuesday. We’ve long said that there needs to be a political solution to the Syrian crisis and that that is a Syrian-owned and Syrian-led process that can bring out – bring about a more representative, peaceful, and united Syria. And that’s the only reason and the only context that I was trying to put in my remarks of Tuesday. UN Security Council Resolution 2254 says very clearly the Syrian people will decide the future of Syria. And we believe that all Syrians – and that speaks to Syrian Kurds, Syrian Arabs, Syrian Turkmen, all groups – will have to have a say in that process. So I wasn’t speaking about necessarily who would be at the table should there be follow-on discussions or should the negotiations in Geneva get back up and running. I was simply stating the fact that whatever comes out of this political process will need to be something that is accepted by all Syrians. All Syrians will have to have a voice in that. That’s my only comment.

    QUESTION: Are you – was this a change in the U.S. position?

    MR TONER: Not at all.

    QUESTION: Not at all.

    MR TONER: We’ve been saying this for months.

    QUESTION: And on Tuesday you also said the U.S. was, quote, “poised to provide additional support to Turkey’s offensive on al-Bab.”

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: Is there anything new in that?

    MR TONER: Not at all. We talked about the fact that we’re now providing ISR – what we call ISR, which is intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support to our Turkish partners, and we’re poised to provide additional assistance to them in and around al-Bab as needed.

    QUESTION: Okay. And there have been numerous reports of human rights abuses in PYD-controlled territory in Syria. The Washington Post in a recent story mentioned them in general terms, in December there were three missing members of the Kurdish National Council who were found burned to death. What is your comment on such behavior?

    MR TONER: We’ve seen those reports – I think you’re specifically talking about these individuals who were burned. Obviously, it goes without saying we’re concerned by those kinds of reports. I don’t have anything to confirm them. At this point in time we would condemn any human rights abuse by anyone operating in that area.

    QUESTION: Would that cause you to question whether they qualify as a legitimate party to the Syrian political process if they’re engaged in such abuses?

    MR TONER: I just don’t think we have enough detail or granularity on who was behind this attack – and I looked into this before coming out here – that we would be able to make any kind of judgment on who was behind it. So we’re watching it closely, we’re obviously concerned by it, and, frankly, disgusted by it, but if we get more information, we’ll make a judgment.


    QUESTION: I just wanted to ask a question about the sanctions that came out today on the Syrian regime for association with chemical weapon use. Is there any more as to the timing of these sanctions, why it is that these sanctions are being brought now instead of --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- in October when the report came out?

    MR TONER: Sure. I mean, I think it’s – and I – frankly, I saw Josh got this same question over at the White House. It’s – as you know, shocking news here, but we are a bureaucracy. But in any kind of sanctions-related activity, there’s a process that needs to take place, and certainly Treasury is the one who handles that. But in order to fully vet these and to ensure that these individuals – that there is a case to be made against them, and also to move to designate them for sanctions, takes a little bit of time. But what I think it shows just overall is that – is a positive thing, which shows that we’re holding individuals and entities that we believe are behind both the weaponization of chemical weapons, but also the use of chemical weapons in Syria, accountable for their actions. And we’re going to continue to do that and a lot of this is a result of the so-called JIM – I think it’s the Joint Investigative Mechanism – at the UN that’s also produced very strong evidence of this kind of behavior.

    So there’s nothing to the timing; I wouldn’t link it to the fact that we’re all trying to – the fact that there’s only one week left in this Administration. I think and I would hope that the next administration would continue these efforts. I mean, use of chemical weapons by the regime in Syria is inexcusable, and I think that it’s a nonpartisan issue and, frankly, it’s a global issue of concern.

    QUESTION: Another Syria question?

    QUESTION: Hold on. Just on --

    MR TONER: Yeah, please.

    QUESTION: It doesn’t mention – I was just reading it now – it doesn’t say that this is necessarily related to chlorine attacks or attacks with chlorine. Is that what this refers to or is it more – is it more broad?

    MR TONER: It’s going – I think it’s broader than that. It’s going after this – the Organization for Technological Industries, which is this state-run entity --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: -- that’s looking – that’s behind some of the – excuse me – the weaponization of these materials. I don’t think it’s specifically focused on chlorine, although that’s one element of it.

    QUESTION: Okay, well --

    MR TONER: But I think it’s coming out of the JIM report.

    QUESTION: Yeah, but if that’s the case that it’s not specifically related to chlorine, that it’s related to broader use of chemical weapons, doesn’t that call into question again the Administration’s consistent line that the deal that was done to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons didn’t work?

    MR TONER: So I’m just looking, and I’ll get to that question in a second, because Secretary – because Ambassador Power also I think released a statement. But I’m also looking at some of the materials that I have in front of me that this – out of these findings that the Syrian regime used industrial chlorine as a weapon against its own people. So it does look like it is focused on --

    QUESTION: Okay. That’s in her --

    MR TONER: -- specifically the use of industrial chlorine.

    QUESTION: That’s in her comments. That’s not in the --

    MR TONER: It’s in – I apologize. It’s in the Treasury release on this.

    QUESTION: Oh, okay. All right.

    MR TONER: I apologize. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Obviously, in the State Department. Okay, thank you.

    QUESTION: On Syria, the talks in Astana are supposed to begin on the 23rd of January. Will you have a role in them?

    MR TONER: I don’t know if we’ll have a role in them, and I’d refer you for any details about that to the organizers, who are Russia and Turkey. We haven’t gotten an invitation yet.

    QUESTION: Have they told you anything about these talks?

    MR TONER: Well, I think the Secretary’s in – as he’s said himself, is in contact with both his counterparts in Russia and his counterparts in – counterpart in Turkey, talking about the situation in Syria. So of course, he’s up to speed on what’s happening with regard to these talks, but we are not an organizer of these talks.

    Yes, sir.

    QUESTION: Are the talks actually taking place? I thought I saw --

    MR TONER: I think they – I think I saw the Russians actually announce them, but – announce the date. That’s my understanding.

    QUESTION: I thought I saw yesterday they have been postponed.

    MR TONER: I think that’s my understanding. I think they gave a date for January 23rd. But I mean, again, as we’ve said before, we would support any kind of talks that attempt to get a political process, negotiations back on track. And if we can see the ceasefire be strengthened and sustained, that’s a good thing.


    QUESTION: Yes. Prime Minister Abe is in the Philippines, and I was wondering if you were coordinating at all in terms of messaging and trying to rebuild relations with Philippines given the tensions that the two countries have had.

    MR TONER: I’m sorry, you – I missed the first part. Who is in the Philippines?

    QUESTION: Prime Minister Abe of Japan.

    MR TONER: Oh, Abe. Okay. I’m sorry. I missed it. I mean, we’re obviously always in close coordination with Japan and – on a range of regional matters. I can’t say as to whether we’ve consulted with him prior to his visit to the Philippines.

    With regard to our own bilateral relationship with the Philippines, we still continue to work on a government-to-government level, on a military-to-military level with the Philippine Government, and are going to continue to do so. It’s an important bilateral relationship for us.

    Yeah, Steve.

    QUESTION: Just if I can go – apparently, there’s been a fresh security message issued for U.S. citizens today in Gambia. Do you have a readout on that? I’m just seeing it that – dated January 12th.

    MR TONER: Don’t think I --

    QUESTION: Citizens not advised to travel east of the Denton Bridge into central Banjul.

    MR TONER: No, I don’t think I have that update with me. But obviously, it’s a very sensitive situation right now in the Gambia, and it sounds to me, hearing it from you, that there is some kind of information that the embassy is aware of about a disturbance or some kind of unrest, and that’s perfectly typical that we would send out a security message to resident U.S. citizens there.


    QUESTION: Wondered if you had any readout from the U.S.-Cuba meetings that were being held today, and also whether or not --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR TONER: Think they are. In fact, I think they’re – well, it’s today. They’re being held today. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Whether or not --

    MR TONER: It’s the government-to-government on claims.

    QUESTION: -- you had heard anything from the Cubans regarding the comments made by Secretary of State nominee stating he was going to review the criteria for placing – or removing Cuba from the state sponsor of terror list. Has there been any expressions of concern to this building after that statement?

    MR TONER: So I don’t have a readout of the meetings. As I said, they’re ongoing. The U.S. delegation to those meetings is being led by our legal adviser, Brian Egan. I mean, the intent of these meetings is to build upon previous discussions, exchange views on technical details and methodologies regarding outstanding claims, which is one element of our restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

    I don’t know – I just don’t have a readout – whether other views or other opinions have been shared with that group. If I get anything, I’ll obviously let you know.

    QUESTION: Can I have one more on that?

    MR TONER: Yeah, of course.

    QUESTION: Are you hoping to button up or finish these discussions on claims and human trafficking, other such discussions, before the end of this Administration?

    MR TONER: I – without being in the meetings, I think it would be highly unlikely that we would resolve all these outstanding claims by the end of next week. I think we’re going to continue, as I said, up to January 20th to pursue our foreign policy agenda across many different fronts, but certainly on Cuba, and with the hope that the incoming administration will see the merit in those efforts and continue them.

    QUESTION: I’ve got a couple related to the nominee’s testimony yesterday – separate issues, but not (inaudible). One, on China, Mr. Tillerson made some rather strong comments about China and its behavior in the South China Sea, and said that China should – at one point said that China should not have access to these manmade islands that are going up. I’m just – I’m not going to ask you to speak on his behalf or on behalf of the next – the incoming administration, at least until you are up there representing the new administration. (Laughter.) But I want to – I mean, I’m curious to know if you – if this current Administration, if your embassy in Beijing or here at the department, if you’ve heard anything from the Chinese about those comments.

    MR TONER: I don’t believe so, but I will check on that.

    QUESTION: And then two other things. Senator Rubio, among others, repeatedly pressed Mr. Tillerson on two topics: one, on whether the – Russia, and in particular President Putin, is guilty of war crimes for Russian military activity in Syria. I know that the department – and he got no response; the nominee was not prepared to say that. He said he needed more information. But to your knowledge, beyond the accusation that war crimes may have been committed in the – in certain bombings of hospitals and civilian areas in and around Aleppo, has this Administration actually made a determination that the Russians committed war crimes?

    MR TONER: To my knowledge, we have not made that determination. We have condemned strongly their indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure and civilians. But we have not made that determination, no.

    QUESTION: But you have – but you have suggested that they may have happened?

    MR TONER: I believe – well, I believe – not to borrow a line from our – from the secretary of state designee, but I believe that’s a process, that’s a legal determination --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: -- that involves detailed analysis and investigations. Yeah. So we have not made that determination.

    QUESTION: Okay. So you would say – and again, I’m not asking you to speak for him --

    MR TONER: Yeah, please.

    QUESTION: -- but you would say that his position is – from what you heard yesterday, is not dissimilar to that of what this Administration has come to, at least in terms of definitive conclusions?

    MR TONER: Without attempting to speak on his behalf, I would say that, while we strongly condemn Russia’s actions, especially in and around Aleppo, we have not made the determination yet that they would constitute war crimes.

    QUESTION: Okay. And then the other issue that Senator Rubio and some others pressed him on was the Philippines --

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- and whether or not President Duterte and his government have committed human rights abuses in their war against narcotics and other drugs. And again, as with – in the case of Russia and Syria, Mr. Tillerson said he was not – he didn’t have enough information to make that determination. Has this Administration, this building, made a firm determination that, in fact, human rights abuses are being committed in the Philippines in this war on drugs?

    MR TONER: So, no. We are very concerned by reports of extrajudicial killings by or at the behest of the Philippine – or government authorities in the Philippines. And we have called for thorough and transparent investigations into these allegations, these credible allegations – any allegation of extrajudicial killings, we believe, and strongly urge the Philippine authorities to ensure that its law enforcement’s – law enforcement officials act in a way that’s consistent with international norms and laws. But we have not made a determination yet that this is indeed what’s happening.

    QUESTION: Okay. So --

    MR TONER: That said, we’ve been very concerned by allegations, credible allegations of --

    QUESTION: Okay. So in other words, on these two issues – and specifically on the Philippines --

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- and Russia-Syria, the nominee’s testimony yesterday is not at odds with what this current Administration has concluded?

    MR TONER: I – again, I’m --

    QUESTION: Based on what you heard. Now, don’t tell me you didn’t watch. (Laughter.) I know you did – all nine hours of it. (Laughter.) Based on what you heard in your very careful listening, which I --

    MR TONER: Yes. With regard to those issues --

    QUESTION: His responses do not --

    MR TONER: -- directly oppose or run counter to --

    QUESTION: -- or run counter at all to --

    MR TONER: -- to --

    QUESTION: -- what this Administration has come to in terms of conclusions about human rights abuses in the Philippines and about war crimes in Syria. Is that correct?

    MR TONER: It is – from what I heard, it appears that they were consistent.

    QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

    QUESTION: Can I ask about the war crimes thing too?

    QUESTION: I have a follow-up (inaudible) --

    QUESTION: The follow-up is --

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

    QUESTION: -- have you actually begun to look at assessing whether it is a war crime? Is that an ongoing process, or is it something that somebody has to direct?

    MR TONER: That’s a good question. I mean, I know that there are entities out there. And I know part of the work that the JIM and other types of investigative bodies have been looking at is amassing the evidence. I mean, what we’ve long said about this with regard to Syria is that ultimately these are determinations that we believe are in the interests of the Syrian people to make.

    Some – at some point, we hope to be – and partly we’re at a stage now where we’re collecting, and by “we” I mean collectively the UN, as well as separately the United States, are in the process of collecting this information, of collecting evidence, of gathering evidence, so that in the future we can hold these people accountable.

    But as we’ve said in other instances, we believe these kinds of determinations have to – let me back away from that and come at it a different way – that it’s up to the people who have been affected by these terrible acts to make the determination of how and for what crimes these – the guilty perpetrators should be held accountable.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MR TONER: Yep, please.

    QUESTION: Can I get back to China? Yeah.

    MR TONER: Back to China.

    QUESTION: Yes. Mr. Tillerson didn’t mention about the three joint communique, but Taiwan Relation Act and six assurance during hearing yesterday. And then, Chinese has already claimed that what he said is inconsistent with the “one China” principle, their “one China” principle. I’m just wondering, do you get – does current Administration get complaint from Beijing from your counterpart?

    MR TONER: I’ve just seen – I’ve seen the same public comments that you have. I’m not aware that we’ve received any private – or through diplomatic channels any such complaints. But I am aware of the public remarks, certainly.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

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

    QUESTION: Sure. Just staying on the Tillerson hearing. Apologies for --

    MR TONER: No worries.

    QUESTION: -- being late. I don’t know if you addressed this, but he also spoke of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and so on belong to a – what he described radical Islam. And later on in that evening, a new law was – or a new proposal was submitted by Senator Cruz and so on to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. I know that you guys have looked at their past activities in the past when this came up, and you said that there was no evidence that they had departed – moved away from their stated anti-violence position.

    I wonder if you would comment on this. Has there been anything, from your view, that the Muslim Brotherhood has done to basically make it – or to list it under the – as a terrorist organization?

    MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, I certainly don’t have anything to forecast that we’re going to change our assessment. As you know, when – any kind of determination like that, it is – it is a process to reach that conclusion. And it’s not just – it is a legal determination, and so it takes some time and takes analysis. I’m sure that we’re constantly looking at Muslim Brotherhood in that regard, but I don’t have anything certainly to announce.

    QUESTION: And one other thing. I know you talked about the Palestinian-Israeli issue, but that was --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- regarding what he said. He put the blame basically, or mostly, on the Palestinian leadership that it was not able to reduce the violence and so on. Do you share that assessment that the Palestinian Authority did not coordinate? Because I thought they were coordinating on security matters with Israel to prevent violence. Do you share that assessment?

    MR TONER: What we’ve talked about before is, with regard to Palestinian actions, that they could take positive, affirmative actions that they could take to calm the situation as well as to avoid escalatory actions and to avoid the kind of rhetoric that leads to incitement. That’s always been our beef. And we were actually – one of the reasons that we abstained rather than veto the UN Security Council resolution was because we felt it did contain that element. So I think our view writ large is that, just as we’re concerned about Israeli actions with regard to settlement activity, we’re also concerned about Palestinian actions with regard to incitement, with regard to inflammatory rhetoric and actions such as that that only exacerbate tension.

    QUESTION: But he seems to suggest that there was – or maybe he’s unaware – that there is some sort of security coordination between the PA and the Israeli Government. To the best of your knowledge, they have not stopped coordinating on security matters.

    MR TONER: To the best of my knowledge, they have not stopped coordinating.

    Please, sir, in the back.

    QUESTION: Sir, thank you. Sir, yesterday, a State Department spokesperson talks about the missing of professors, journalist, and human rights activist in Pakistan. It’s now been a week that these bloggers are missing. Sir, many of the Pakistani’s journalists know where these missing persons are, but, sir, you always talk about the freedom of speech. Will you send any strong message to Pakistani authorities on this?

    MR TONER: Well, we’re very concerned by reports that several Pakistani bloggers and activists have been reported missing and we’re going to continue to monitor the situation. We of course welcome that the interior ministry, I believe, announced that it’s going to investigate the disappearance of one of those individuals, Salman Haider, and we also appreciate the fact that both members – or, rather, members of both houses of parliament have voiced their concern and called for an investigation into all four disappearances.

    Of course, we value freedom of expression. That’s something we take very seriously and are going to continue to monitor the situation in Pakistan.

    QUESTION: Sir, a couple of days ago, the Secretary of State John Kerry has said that Pakistan was among the countries in which the United States built state-of-the-art security operations center --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- the tactical security operations center. Sir, what really is the function of this security center, then? Who is heading this center? Thank you, sir.

    MR TONER: Sure. It’s – I think he referred to tactical operations centers, yeah. And there’s one of them – there are several, I think, in – of our embassies worldwide. It’s an embassy operations center. I don’t know if you’re aware of what the operations center does here at the State Department. I’m a veteran of the operations center. It’s basically monitoring worldwide activity 24/7 in order to – if something happens in anywhere in the world that affects our people or affects American citizens or is a crisis that it has to involve the Secretary of State or, rather, the interagency, the operations center is, if you will, the first responders to any kind of activity like that, to any kind of crisis.

    These function along the – kind of along the same lines. They are – the embassy operations center are kind of a central location – is a central location to kind of coordinate security and emergency events as well as monitor threats to the embassy or its personnel and it allows for real-time communications with Diplomatic Security and department officials in Washington. It also allows us a way to connect directly with host government officials. So we have one of these in Pakistan, we have them elsewhere in the world as well.

    QUESTION: Sir, I have one more question --

    MR TONER: Yeah, of course.

    QUESTION: -- about the Guantanamo Bay prison. Sir, despite his promises, President Obama failed to shut down the Gitmo. You know about it. But he’s still trying to release as much as he can before January 20. And it feels like it’s a race against time, but the question is that here – that in different surveys, it said that 30 percent of the released prisoner are back into the battlefield and joined the bad guys. So the question is there, sir: Whenever you release a prisoner from Gitmo, who is responsible for the security of those and – the country releasing them or the country where they transferred?

    MR TONER: So, to the first part of your question, as you noted, the President has made clear – everyone knows this – that he believes that a continued operation of Gitmo or Guantanamo Bay detention facility weakens our national security. It does that by draining our resources, but it also does that by damaging our relationship with key allies and partners, and we believe emboldens violent extremists. So we’ve been taking steps to reduce the detainee population at Guantanamo Bay, and we’ve been doing that steadily throughout the past eight years. I think I’m looking at the current numbers since --

    QUESTION: Fifty-five?

    MR TONER: Right, but I’m looking at – so when President Obama took office, the detainee population at Guantanamo was 242. Since that time, we have moved 183 detainees to 42 countries for repatriation and resettlement, and also for prosecution. So that’s a significant reduction.

    With respect to what you said – re-engagement of some of these and who watches that – we work, we take any kind of incident of re-engagement very seriously, we work very closely through military intelligence, law enforcement channels, and diplomatic channels, of course, to mitigate re-engagement and to take follow-on action when necessary.

    So in short, what we try to do is first thoroughly vet any detainee that we’re going to release to a third country and we’re, let me just say, very grateful for the many governments around the world who have stepped up to take these detainees and relocate them. But we also are going forward very closely with the governments, as I said, through all the channels I just mentioned to try to prevent any kind of re-engagement by these individuals. We recognize and certainly these governments also take steps to prevent that as well, but it’s something we always try to stay vigilant about.

    QUESTION: Sir, do you have any details of how many prisoners are going to be released before Jan 20?

    MR TONER: I don’t. I cannot predict that. I know that they’re hard at work until the transition takes place.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR TONER: Thanks. Yeah, man.

    QUESTION: I’ve got a really quick question on the --

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: -- Palestinian-Israeli issue.

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: There’s been a marked increase in home demolitions and so on in the last few days especially in the aftermath of the attack in Jerusalem. I wonder if you have any comment on that or have you been in touch with Israeli authorities to urge them to scale back or not to do such?

    MR TONER: Yeah, Said, I – first of all, we – and I put out a statement on Sunday, I believe, condemning the very terrible truck attack on Israeli soldiers. But we’ve been very clear that we have seen – and I don’t know, it might – I don’t know if it’s increased since Sunday, but we have seen the acceleration of demolitions of Palestinian structures in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, and we’re very concerned about it and we’ve made those concerns clear to the Israeli Government.

    QUESTION: There has been an increase today, I mean, in the amount – in the amount of violence on --

    MR TONER: I’m aware, but I – anyway – I mean, we’ve – they’re aware of our concerns.


    QUESTION: And I have one last question.

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: Also, Israel is trying to pass a law to prevent BDS activists from entering the country, including Palestinian Americans. Do you have a point of view on that?

    MR TONER: Well, we’ve discussed this legislation before. A couple points that I think I’ve made before – one is that our strong opposition to boycotts and to sanctions of the state of Israel is well known, hasn’t changed. That said, as a general principle, we value freedom of expression and believe that even when we don’t agree with the political views necessarily that are expressed, we believe that individuals should have the right to peacefully protest.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: So wait a second, just – I want to follow up on that, because I – when --

    MR TONER: This always gets you. I knew he was waiting.

    QUESTION: No, no, no, no, when the question --

    MR TONER: Sure, I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: -- when the question was raised the first time – I think it was several months ago – I asked the same thing. But you also would not – you would not argue or even quibble with the idea that Israel can decide who it wants to – or any country can decide who it wants to allow into its country.

    MR TONER: I mean, ultimately, it is a sovereign state and we can only express our view that people should be allowed to – excuse me – peacefully protest.

    QUESTION: Right, I understand that, but I mean, it is their prerogative to decide who they want to come in and into the country --

    MR TONER: Ultimately, yes. Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- just as it is the United States’s prerogative.

    MR TONER: Of course, of course, yes.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

    MR TONER: Thanks, guys.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:35 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 10, 2017

Tue, 01/10/2017 - 15:49
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 10, 2017

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAQ


    1:37 p.m. EST

    MR TONER: Greetings, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. A couple of things briefly at the top, and then I’ll move on to your questions, if you have any.

    First off, I just wanted to note the United States is deeply saddened by the passing of former German President Roman Herzog. Doctor Herzog led Germany with foresight and courage, helping to bring economic modernization and social change to make German reunification successful. His commitment to the rule of law and the pursuit of justice was evident in his approach to facing Germany’s past as well as his long service to Germany’s constitutional court. The United States extends its condolence to Doctor Herzog’s wife – or widow, rather, Alexandra, as well as his two children, as well as the German people.

    Also, I wanted to note our strong condemnation of this morning’s terrorist attack on the parliamentary buildings in Kabul that killed 38 Afghans and wounded more than 70 people. An attack on parliamentarians is, frankly, an attack on democracy. We extend our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those killed and injured.

    We’re also – and you’re probably all of you tracking as well – we’ve also seen reports of an additional attack in Kandahar. We’re still gathering all the facts, looking into it. I don’t have anything to confirm at this point, but as we do get more information in, we’ll obviously share that with you. But in short, I can say that the United States stands strongly with the people of Afghanistan and remains firmly committed to building a secure, peaceful, and prosperous future for Afghanistan.

    Please. Hey.

    QUESTION: Yes, hey.

    MR TONER: Hey. How are you?

    QUESTION: Secretary Kerry said today in his remarks that he had not met with Rex Tillerson yet, but he sort of implied that he would soon. Do you have any indication of whether that meeting would be this week or next week, or when that might happen?

    MR TONER: I don’t. I think they’re still looking into it and looking at the logistics, frankly. The Secretary’s been very busy himself, and obviously Mr. Tillerson’s in town for his confirmation hearing tomorrow. But obviously, both individuals – well, I can’t speak on behalf of Mr. Tillerson, but I know Secretary Kerry’s very willing and eager to sit down with him and talk more. They’ve spoken once by phone already. So I don’t have anything to confirm. Obviously, when we do, we’ll let you know.

    QUESTION: Is there – so there’s nothing on the books right now? No --

    MR TONER: Nothing on the books right now. Still trying to figure it out.

    QUESTION: Okay. And what would Secretary Kerry hope to accomplish in a meeting with Mr. Tillerson? What does he kind of want to impart?

    MR TONER: Sure. I think in – I know Secretary Kerry’s spoken about this. I think it’s just a chance for him to have a one-on-one conversation to consult with him on what he views as the major issues, and to share with him his viewpoints on some of these major issues. I mean, all of you have heard how he feels about some of the major muscle movements of this Administration in terms of foreign policy, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s the Iran nuclear deal. But I think the Secretary certainly would value the opportunity to sit down one on one with Mr. Tillerson and really talk about some of the challenges that he sees going forward.

    QUESTION: Is it simply a question of scheduling, or is there some reluctance --

    MR TONER: No, I think it’s – I mean, as far as I know, it’s simply a matter of just aligning the two schedules.

    QUESTION: But if there isn’t a meeting today, it won’t happen before the nomination hearing?

    MR TONER: Without divulging the Secretary’s schedule, he may be out of town for a few days, so they would have to align all of that. We may have more to say about that in – later today, but at this point it’s just trying to align the schedules of two very busy individuals.

    QUESTION: Do you have any plans to divulge the Secretary’s schedule?

    MR TONER: (Laughter.) As soon as I have something to announce, I will forthrightly announce it.

    QUESTION: Thanks very much.

    MR TONER: Yeah, no worries.


    QUESTION: Afghanistan.

    MR TONER: Afghanistan.

    QUESTION: I have one on Kerry real quick.

    MR TONER: Oh yeah, sure. Of course. We’ll stay on it.

    QUESTION: If that’s okay.

    MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead. Of course, sorry.

    QUESTION: He mentioned at the talk that there hasn’t been a lot of high-level exchange between the transition team and the State Department. Is the Secretary worried about that, about the transition, how smoothly it might be going?

    MR TONER: I don’t think, John. I think you saw from his response he didn’t seem particularly concerned about it. I think he was just remarking that – which is not uncommon with these kinds of transitions. But as a nominee is confirmed and certainly that process is moving forward – as I said, he’ll have his hearing tomorrow – then the rubber hits the road and transition in earnest can – those kinds of exchanges can begin. I think what we’ve seen thus far – and I’m hesitant to speak in too much detail; I’d refer you to the transition team itself – but what we’ve seen thus far is the transition team trying to get a sense of the breadth and scope of what the State Department does in terms of personnel, in terms of budget, in terms of different bureaus and what activities and programs they’re doing. But I think you’re going to see that obviously intensify over the last 10 days or so – or next 10 days or so.

    Yeah, Steve, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Following up on your comments about the --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- attacks in Afghanistan, I’m assuming you have no reports of any U.S. personnel wounded in either of these attacks. Looks like we have some dead diplomats in the Kandahar blast and this apparent targeting of parliamentarians and a guest house where there were diplomats. Does this seem to indicate a further escalation in the sophistication of the attackers? And are you more concerned now about the safety of diplomats and NGO workers and others in Afghanistan?

    MR TONER: Sure. And I can, I think, without being able to speak to the situation in Kandahar, I believe all chief of mission personnel are accounted for and were not harmed in the Kabul attack. To my knowledge, there was no – there were no – chief of mission personnel, rather, on the ground in Kandahar. But again, if that – any of that changes or as we get updates, we’ll certainly let you know.

    And in response to your broader question, I think we’re always concerned. Look, there has been a consistent trend of these kinds of senseless acts of violence on the part of the Taliban. I know they’ve claimed responsibility for the attack in Kabul earlier today and we don’t have any reason, frankly, to question that claim. But we’re always mindful of the security threats not just to chief of mission personnel, not just to diplomats, but certainly to any NGO personnel or individuals who are living and working in Afghanistan. Can’t speak to any change in our posture. That’s something we’re always assessing, always fine-tuning, certainly mindful of these attacks. But it is concerning, to be frank.

    QUESTION: The war in Afghanistan’s --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- gone into its 16th year and for eight of those years, President Obama has been President. He leaves office now. How content is he with the situation on the ground in Afghanistan? Is this in the success column?

    MR TONER: I think it’s in the work in progress column and I think the President and indeed the Secretary have spoken frankly about the fact that we don’t want to see Afghanistan slide back into what it was. We – and by “we,” I mean not just the U.S., but the international community, NATO, and its partners on the ground, and indeed, the Afghan Government and the Afghan people have worked far too hard to see those gains slip away. It’s about building the capacity of the Afghan security forces and consolidating their strengths. I mean, ultimately, much as we’re trying to do now in Iraq, we’re trying to build the capacity of the Afghan security forces to determine and to provide for the security of the Afghan people, we’ve also, as you know, worked hard to foster a Afghan-led peace process, which, again, ultimately is, we believe, the way forward, and we encourage that.

    Are we always – I don’t think that we can possibly look at it, though, and say mission accomplished. We would certainly not say that. But at the same point, we’re not going to say – we’re not going to encourage any kind of walking away from the situation there.

    QUESTION: And you say you don’t want to see it slide back into what it was. Do you mean in the sense of a threat to United States interests outside of Afghanistan because of a base of terror?

    MR TONER: I think you could – look, you can make the argument --

    QUESTION: Or do you want it to be --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- a stable, nice place for Afghans to live in?

    MR TONER: I think the two are mutually reinforcing. I think we don’t – from purely a national security viewpoint, we want to see a strong, stable, democratic Afghanistan that can never again be – provide a safe haven for al-Qaida or any other terrorist organization.

    QUESTION: Just to follow up?

    MR TONER: Yes, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Mark, these attacks are coming just weeks before the new administration comes in. You think somebody behind them or the terrorists are sending some kind of messages to the current Administration – I mean this building – and also to the upcoming administration?

    MR TONER: It’s a fair question. I just can’t get in the minds of the kinds of people who carry out these senseless attacks. I don’t know if there’s been – I’d have to look in – whether there’s been an uptick in these attacks coming up to inauguration. I think you’ve still got at least a segment of the Taliban who are dead-set on carrying out terrorism as a way to achieve political gain. And again, it speaks to, I think, the importance of our resolve, of the international community’s resolve, and the Afghan Government’s and security forces’ resolve to not let that happen.

    QUESTION: Any message for the upcoming administration as far as these attacks in the region are concerned?

    MR TONER: Well, I have no doubt that the – that the incoming administration understands the stakes in Afghanistan. I don’t think any American who’s been around for the last 15 years cannot be aware of the stakes in Afghanistan.

    Yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    MR TONER: We’re going to stay in Afghanistan. Okay, let’s finish up.

    QUESTION: Okay, so Government of Afghanistan say that these terrorists are able to strike at whenever they want to because of the existence of safe havens – terrorist safe havens inside Pakistan. And do you agree with their view? And secondly, do you acknowledge that even after eight years from this podium U.S. has been insisting Pakistan to close down these safe havens, they continue – that U.S. hasn’t been able to convince Pakistan further?

    MR TONER: Well, it continues – so the short answer to your first question is yes, and I think we’ve been very frank and very open about publicly saying to – to Pakistan that it needs to not provide any safe haven to groups that will or are intent on carrying out attacks on Afghanistan. We’ve seen some progress, we’ve seen them take some steps to address these safe havens, but clearly the problem persists and it’s something that’s part of our ongoing conversation, our ongoing dialogue, our ongoing cooperation with Pakistan. We’re willing to help them. I mean, it’s part of – and again, we’ve talked about this before – the realization that Afghans – Afghanistan’s security, Pakistan’s security, indeed India’s security, they’re all interconnected. And so as much as they can work in tandem or work in a partnership on counterterrorism operations, I think it’s for the betterment of the region.

    QUESTION: But given that the Pakistan’s reluctance to act against these safe havens, do you think there’s need for the – to review the U.S. policy itself towards Pakistan because it’s not working?

    MR TONER: I don’t want to – I’m certainly not going to announce anything. I don’t have anything to – in that regard to speak to except to say that it is an ongoing issue of concern. It’s something we raise regularly with Pakistan’s leadership. Part of it is, one could argue, the difficulty of going after some of these safe havens given the remote areas that they’re in and providing – or ensuring that the Pakistan military has the capabilities to do so, but it’s a persistent problem.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: On Friday, we discussed here the U.S. guarantee of a $1 billion loan to Iraq. And you very helpfully clarified that it was a loan guarantee and not a loan, so thank you for that.

    MR TONER: It was Kirby who did that.

    QUESTION: Well, I mean in general.

    MR TONER: He’s smarter on that stuff than I am. No --

    QUESTION: The – the plural you. Okay.

    MR TONER: Yes, that’s right. (Laughter.) The royal you.

    QUESTION: Yes, because you’re royal folks. Okay.

    MR TONER: Go ahead, I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: But the second part of the question, there was – there’s a problem in the answer, because it is – and that question, just to remind ourselves, was what assurance was there that the Kurdistan region would receive its fair share. And the answer assumed an agreement on budget sharing, but Iraq’s national assembly – Kirby explained that this budget law had referred to sharing revenues, but there is no real agreement on the budget sharing, because when the national assembly passed that law, it changed the language in such a fashion as – so as the Kurdistan region will receive more revenue if it does not reach an agreement with – does not abide by this agreement with Baghdad. If it just sells oil on its own it’ll get more revenue from that. So why get less money from Baghdad? So there is in reality no agreement about budget sharing, which means that the Kurdistan region won’t see any part of any loan that the Iraqi Government might conclude which the U.S. has guaranteed.

    So my question: Are you involved in any effort to resolve this dispute between Baghdad and Erbil and are you hopeful of a resolution?

    MR TONER: So these discussions between Baghdad or between – well, frankly, Baghdad and the KRG on budgetary issues are an internal matter – an internal Iraqi matter – and so, I have to refer you to the Government of Iraq. I think we’re encouraged by what we would view as the unprecedented cooperation that’s been shown between Baghdad and the KRG in the fight – in the overall fight against Daesh and the liberation of Mosul, which is ongoing, as you know. And we believe that the sovereign loan guarantee will help the Government of Iraq meet its – the needs of all Iraqis, and by all Iraqis I mean including those in the Kurdistan Region.

    So to sum up, internal matter for them to discuss, but we hope that this – as I said, this arrangement would benefit and meet the needs of all Iraqis, including those in Kurdistan Region.

    QUESTION: Well, if one had a less benign view of the – what Baghdad might – might do and was not hopeful that it would share the money with the Kurdistan Region, are there other ways to address this problem? Because the need of the Kurdistan Region is not less than that of Baghdad, and maybe something like guaranteeing a loan to – would you consider guaranteeing a loan to Erbil just like you did to Baghdad?

    MR TONER: I don’t think we’re at that point. I don’t think that’s something we’re necessarily looking at. Look, I mean, as I said, we’ve signed this loan. We believe it should be to the benefit of all Iraqis, and that includes the citizens or the people of the Kurdistan Region. But as you well know, the United States has also taken measures to help the Kurdistan Regional Government and the people there. I think we’ve provided over $1 billion in humanitarian emergency assistance through the – our Bureau of Population, Migration, and Resource – or Refugees, rather. And the majority of those funds have gone to the Kurdistan Region.

    But we’re not talking about another loan guarantee at this point that I’m aware of. We expect this to be resolved internally.

    QUESTION: Well, let me formulate – last way of formulating it.

    MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Because, as the United States did guarantee this loan, assuming that Baghdad will, in fact, get a considerable loan from someplace guaranteed by the United States, is it your intent to use your influence with Baghdad to make sure that that money is also shared with the Kurdistan Region?

    MR TONER: Well, as you note, it is an – it is a loan, and that does give us some degree of influence on how it’s used. I think I would just stay where I was, which is I thought I was very clear on the fact that we believe that this money should be shared and should be available to all Iraqis, and that includes the Kurdistan Region. Okay? I’ll stop there.

    Please, sir.

    QUESTION: On Syria?

    MR TONER: Yeah, please. Yeah.

    QUESTION: During yesterday’s briefing on the context of political transition in Syria, Kirby said that it’s a UN-led process, and opposition and the regime begin to have a discussion about what a political transition can look like in Syria. I was wondering where PYD stands for State Department in this process.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: Like, do you consider PYD as a part of opposition? And also if State Department would support PYD to take part in any meeting organized by UN-led process.

    MR TONER: Okay. Sorry, so just to make sure I heard – so you’re talking about how the PYD would fit into any kind of a political process.

    QUESTION: If it’s opposition and the regime --

    MR TONER: Yes, of course. And then the other question was whether we would participate in that.

    QUESTION: Whether you would support PYD taking part --

    MR TONER: -- if we would support --

    QUESTION: -- in this process.

    MR TONER: Ah-ha, of course. I see. Well, look, first of all, as we’ve said very often over many, many, frankly, years, we believe that a UN-sponsored political solution is the only way to resolve the conflict in Syria and end the now six-year-old war there. And our position has not changed. So we would like nothing more than to see this political negotiations back up and running in Geneva, because ultimately, as I said, that’s what’s going to, we believe, lead to some kind of process and political transition that is in the interests of the Syrian people.

    Now, who participates in that, that’s really for the groups involved and the Syrian people to determine. What our position has been, broadly speaking and addressing your specific question, is that the Syrian Kurds – that this process has to include all Syrians, and that includes the Syrian Kurds.

    QUESTION: So you are saying the PYD can take part on the table?

    MR TONER: At some point, they have to be a part of this process, is our consideration.

    QUESTION: And one more question.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Washington Post published an article couple days ago on training program of Syrian Democratic Forces.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: The article points that during the training program, recruits must learn the ideology of Abdullah Ocalan, who is the leader of the terrorist group PKK. I would like to know if State Department aware of how these classes on this training program have been designed.

    MR TONER: Sure. So I’m not aware of the – I’m aware that the – of the article, and the different vignettes or stories conveyed in it. I can’t speak to whether in fact that’s the case or not. I can’t verify that. What I can say is – with regard to the question of whether we provide support to the Kurdish military groups, the YPG and the PYD, we provide some support, but it’s tactical support to Syrian Democratic Forces, and that’s focused on defeating Daesh – nothing else.

    Go ahead.

    QUESTION: But the article also points that during the classes, the American advisers also present the same. So basically, the American advisers that are being sent by the Washington also takes part in the class, during the class.

    MR TONER: Well, again, what I can say is that we do have advisers on the ground. We’ve talked about that before, and they are working – I said, as providing support, some of it tactical support, for these different groups who have been very effective at going after Daesh and destroying it and dislodging it from the territory it’s holding in northern Syria. But – and I think Kirby was very clear on this the other day – we regard the PKK as a foreign terrorist organization, and we support Turkey in its efforts to confront that organization. And we strongly condemn the PKK’s actions to harm or kill Turkish security forces.

    QUESTION: One last one.

    MR TONER: Yeah, please.

    QUESTION: Have you received any report from these advisers that during the classes, very strong anti-Turkish rhetoric is used in these training programs? Have you received such reports?

    MR TONER: I have not. I’m not aware of it personally. I just don’t have that sense of it. Again, I think it’s important, and I just want to make very clear that – because – and it’s not just some of the things in this article, but other things we’ve been seeing circulating – we do not provide weaponry, weapons to the YPG. We provide them with tactical support, air support for some of their operations. We do that out of our belief that they are a very capable fighting force, as are other Syrian groups, like the Syrian Arabs and the Syrian Turkmen, in going after ISIL and going after Daesh. There is no other secondary reason for any kind of support we would offer these groups. And we’re mindful – sorry, just to finish – and we’re mindful of the sensitivities. Obviously, we’re mindful of Turkey’s concerns about this group. Sorry, go ahead.

    QUESTION: And no weapon, but is State Department also aware of the curriculum of these training programs, I mean, what’s being taught to recruits?

    MR TONER: I’m sorry, one more – one last time?

    QUESTION: I was wondering if State Department aware of the curriculum, the schedule of these training programs, what’s being taught to the --

    MR TONER: I wouldn’t be able to speak to that. I just don’t know. It might be a question better directed to the Department of Defense.

    QUESTION: Follow-up?

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

    QUESTION: Thank you. Follow-up. Few months ago, Secretary of Defense, Mr. Carter, was on the Hill. And he was basically telling I think Senator Graham that U.S. ended giving weaponry support to Syrian Kurds. Do you think there is some --

    MR TONER: No, I’m sorry. I don’t have his testimony in front of me. I think what we have done is we’ve provided equipment to some of the vetted Syrian Arab elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces. And that equipment has included ammunition, other tactical equipment, to assist in their counter-Daesh operations. But those are vetted Syrian Arab groups. We’ve not provided that I’m aware of any military hardware of weaponry to Kurdish forces.

    QUESTION: On Syria. Turkish forces and Turkey-backed forces are still sieging al-Bab.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: It has been I think four weeks now. Do you have any update on the coordination with the Turkish forces around --

    MR TONER: Sure. I do – actually, a little bit more detail I think I can provide. As you know and you noted, we have been supporting Turkish operations in northern Syria to help secure its border, to help counter the flow of foreign fighters, and that’s been pretty successful. In fact, the Secretary was citing this in his remarks earlier today. And that’s been through airstrikes, intel – critical intelligence – and we’ve also partnered with Turkish forces on the ground. But specifically with regard to al-Bab, the coalition has now provided intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support – what we call ISR support – to Turkish – to our Turkish partners, but to Turkish forces. And we’re poised now to provide additional support as these operations continue.

    We’re consulting with our Turkish counterparts on this, how to do it on a regular basis and to maximize, I guess, the overall effect of our operations to counter ISIL on as many fronts as possible, because that’s part of it. We want to put as much pressure as we can collectively on Daesh or on ISIL to ensure their rapid military defeat. So we’re committed to defeating ISIL in al-Bab and helping support Turkey and Turkish forces as they conduct those operations.

    Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Final question on Turkey: There’s a – these wide-ranging constitution changes right now are being debated at the parliament. I think so far one or two articles passed, and there is a criticism that this is basically changing the system but also the regime of the country, especially on the separation of powers. What’s your view on those changes?

    MR TONER: I would say that obviously we’re watching it closely as a partner and as an ally of Turkey’s, but I’m not going to wade into what is an internal matter between the Turkish parliament and the people to decide.

    QUESTION: A question about (inaudible)?

    QUESTION: But if the --

    MR TONER: Sure, go ahead.

    QUESTION: The criticism is that basically the regime change in Turkey – the democracy is about values, and as far as we know, the partnership between Turkey and U.S. and NATO and the Western community is based on also the values. If these changes are changing and basically making a different country, isn’t that something about universal values and --

    MR TONER: I mean, sure, and we’ve talked about this before. The value of Turkey’s democracy, as we’ve said, matters to us, and I think it matters to the Turkish people, and we’re mindful of that. And I also don’t want to – we don’t want to attempt to sway what is a democratic process right now, a debate ongoing in the country, but of course we’re mindful of Turkey’s democratic values and our desire to see those maintained.

    Please, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Yeah, just to follow up on the --

    MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

    QUESTION: -- what you were saying before about the support for the Kurdish fighters and the SDF.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: If the PYD is not the PKK, why won’t you arm them? You’re arming the --

    MR TONER: It’s a fair question.

    QUESTION: You’re arming the Arab elements of the SDF --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- but the majority are Kurds. You’re not arming them --

    MR TONER: It’s a fair question.

    QUESTION: -- so you must have concerns about them.

    MR TONER: Sure, sure. Sure, sure. Well, a couple of points, but I think overall – and we’ve said this all along – is that while we believe that the focus of the YPD is on defeating Daesh, and we’re helping them as we – as they take that on, as I said, through tactical support, we’re also mindful of others’ views – and by “others” I mean the Turkish Government’s viewpoint – and the sensitivities around the YPD.

    QUESTION: An additional follow-up to that?

    MR TONER: Of course. Please. I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: Yeah. You answered the question earlier about the PYD involvement in the Syrian political process, and you said there needs to be all Syrians involved in this political process --

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- including the PYD. Are you aware or what’s the position of other members of the Syrian support group, like Turkey, Iran, Russia on that issue of PYD representation? Is it the same or is it different?

    MR TONER: I don’t want to speak on behalf of or on the part of other members of the ISSG. Look, they weren’t part of this vetted Syrian opposition, moderate opposition that was put forward. You remember early on in the ISSG process there was this group that was put forward. But I think it’s always been our consideration – and, frankly, it’s just kind of, if nothing else, a realistic assessment of the fact that the YPG is – YPD, rather – is a force on the ground, is a representative group, and their voice will need to be heard in any kind of long-term solution to the situation in Syria. And it’s in that spirit that we say that if there’s going to be…a political process that leads to a political transition, a more democratic one, that’s going to have to be accepted by all of the Syrian people.

    QUESTION: But have you discussed this with any of the other members of the ISSG yet?

    MR TONER: I mean, I – I can imagine it has been talked about, yes.

    QUESTION: Mark, can you --

    MR TONER: Yeah, please.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

    QUESTION: -- Asia, please?

    MR TONER: Sure, sure.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR TONER: No hurry. I’m here all week. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.) On the China, South Korea, Japan.

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: And over 10 of Chinese military aircraft infiltrated the Air Defense Identification Zone of South Korea and Japan yesterday on violation of Chinese Government. How do you comment on this?

    MR TONER: On – I’m sorry, what were you talking about? The --

    QUESTION: Chinese military aircraft, they infiltrate nation’s – the Air Defense Identification Zones of South Korea and Japan yesterday.

    MR TONER: Yeah, I think we’ve seen reports about this. I don’t have any particular comment on it. Obviously, we’d have to look more into the incident and to determine who was at fault.

    QUESTION: Do you think that this is the military demonstration against U.S., maybe China --

    MR TONER: Do I think it’s what? A Chinese --

    QUESTION: Do you think, yeah, this is a Chinese military demonstration against the United States and Japan?

    MR TONER: Again, I’d have to look more into the incident to find out what exactly happened. Again, I’m aware of reports. Look, I mean, I would hope not. As we’ve been very clear about our operations in the Pacific, we believe in freedom of navigation, we believe in the right for any government to fly, sail, whatever, in international waters, but we also don’t want to see any kind of escalation of tensions in the region. In fact, just the opposite; we want to work with all parties and all governments in the region to try to de-escalate and create mechanisms by which any kind of assertion of territorial aggression or whatever would be determined through a diplomatic process.

    QUESTION: Why United States didn’t look at it clearly? Because this is very serious issue because China is actually --

    MR TONER: Again, I just don’t have – I apologize, I just don’t have details in front of me. I’m aware of it; I just don’t have any reaction for you. If we do, I’ll let you know, okay?

    QUESTION: All right.

    QUESTION: May I have another follow-up?

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: Yeah. There’s also another report said that the Chinese aircraft carrier is heading back to its base, but sailing through, passing through, the Taiwan Strait. Are you aware of it?

    MR TONER: You’re talking about the aircraft carrier that --

    QUESTION: Yes, the Liaoning.

    MR TONER: Yeah. Again, I’m not particularly aware of that. I would just almost say the same thing, which is that the United States recognizes the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea and the airspace that’s guaranteed to all countries in accordance with international law. So provided they’re in accordance with those laws and operating within international waters, we wouldn’t have a problem.

    QUESTION: Do you see this operation as escalating or de-escalating tensions?

    MR TONER: As I said, I hope not. Part of our overall strategy within that area of the Pacific and Asia is to try to de-escalate, is to – we want to, as I said, create mechanisms for governments, for countries, to talk through some of these issues that they have with – regarding claims and whatever, and to try to create, as I said, diplomatic mechanisms to deal with these issues. We certainly don’t want to see shows of force or any kind of escalation.

    QUESTION: Is Taiwan Strait sort of the international sea, from your perspective?

    MR TONER: I’m not sure.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR TONER: Yeah. Please, yeah.

    QUESTION: One final on North Korea.

    MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: At the event this morning that Secretary Kerry spoke at, former Secretary of State Albright, talking about North Korea, referred to Kim Jong-un as, quote, “a nutcase.” How does the current Administration characterize the North Korean leader?

    MR TONER: I’ll refrain from that kind of colorful assessment, but I think, obviously, we’re very concerned about both the North Korean leader’s behavior, but the behavior of his regime writ large, its intent on pursuing nuclear capabilities that is creating instability, to put it mildly, in the region, and raising the concerns – legitimate concerns of not just along the Korean Peninsula, but among other countries, notably China, indeed the U.S., Japan, and others. And so we’re – it’s one of those issues that, when this Administration transitions to the new administration, is going to remain a serious concern and a serious challenge that we need to address.

    QUESTION: India.

    QUESTION: No, one more on North Korea.

    MR TONER: Yeah, sure, go ahead.

    QUESTION: North Korean high-ranking officials, defectors – his name is Thae Yong Ho – recently, he confessioned and have also a news conference in South Korea. He said the Six-Party Talks is not working for the – remove – give up North Korean nuclear weapons. Do you think we need still Six-Party Talks? Is --

    MR TONER: Do I think we need to --

    QUESTION: Six-Party Talks for the result of the nuclear --

    MR TONER: I’m sorry, just the nut of your question: You’re saying do I think we need to move beyond that --

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: -- or to leave it behind as a – as kind of a --

    QUESTION: For – to Six-Party Talks --

    MR TONER: Yeah. I don’t think any – I don’t think we’re quite there yet. I don’t think we’re ready to do that. I think that we’re trying to address the challenge of North Korea along multiple lines of effort, one of which, as you know, is sanctions. We’ve now got the most rigorous sanctions regime in place against North Korea ever, but as we often say too, it’s – they’re only as strong as they are implemented, and so that’s what we’re working specifically with China to address, but with all countries so that these very strong sanctions – they feel the pinch, so to speak.

    We’re still hoping – the Six-Party Talks are a mechanism that could potentially bring North Korea back into discussions about its – addressing international concerns about its nuclear program. So I don’t want to claim that structure as – is dead and needs to be shelved; far from it. But I think – and then again, of course, providing for the security of our allies and partners in the region and sending a clear message that we’re committed to providing that security. I think all of these efforts are worth pursuing. Which of them may ultimately turn North Korea around and convince the regime that it’s in its interest to address the international community’s concerns, I can’t say.

    QUESTION: He also said that Kim Jong-un is the nuclear weapon, so – Kim Jong-un never give up nuclear weapons, never give up to develop the nuclear weapons.

    MR TONER: I mean, again, I just – we’re very concerned about North Korea’s bad behavior and --

    QUESTION: Therefore we have wasting time for the Six-Party Talks because we give them – they have plenty of time to develop nuclear weapons since 1993.

    MR TONER: Well, again, I think we’re – I wouldn’t say we’re wasting time. We’re looking at a variety of ways to make them see the light, but thus far, we’ve been unsuccessful. I agree.

    QUESTION: India?

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: Mark, Madam Nisha Desai is in India meeting with high-level Indian officials, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the President of India Mukherjee. And she praised the U.S.-India relations and also, because of her efforts and hard work as far as relations between U.S.-India, she was today – actually, India time – confirmed or awarded for the highest award anybody can receive under the administration.

    And also, yesterday, at the Indian embassy, Ambassador Sarna and the panelists, they praised the Indian and U.S. relations and also what they said, that Rich – Ambassador Richard Verma also doing a great job. My question here: Any comments as far as her award from the Indian Government and also her efforts or the Ambassador Verma’s efforts? And where do we go from here, after two weeks, as far as U.S.-India relations are concerned?

    MR TONER: I’m sorry. Who received the award? The person – I didn’t hear the first --

    QUESTION: Madam Nisha Desai, Nisha Biswal.

    MR TONER: Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Look, I mean, it’s – that’s wonderful that she was given that award. I think that U.S.-India relations have been strengthened throughout these past eight years of the Obama Administration. It’s obviously a key – a core relationship for the United States. And I think in terms of where that relationship goes, the sky’s the limit, both economically, security, what have you. I think Ambassador Verma’s done a tremendous job as well. And I think the new administration was clearly recognizing – you’ve even seen some comments from the president-elect – of the importance that India plays not just in the region but in the global mix. And as I said, it’s resource-rich. It’s playing an outsized role in global issues. And so I think we’re going to continue to work hard to strengthen that relationship going forward, no matter who’s president.

    QUESTION: And finally --

    MR TONER: Yeah. Let’s --

    QUESTION: -- Ambassador Verma also, in his end of the year or review of the year relations, also he emphasized how important the two countries have gone during this Administration and during his leadership at the U.S. Embassy in India. Any word for him or his leadership?

    MR TONER: As I said, I know Richard. He’s a very good man and a very good ambassador. And I can’t think of anyone who could do a better job at strengthening that bilateral relationship.

    Please, David.

    QUESTION: Yesterday you added a number of names to the Magnitsky list of sanctions.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: The Russians, obviously, protested angrily. The – I don’t know whether you want to counter-protest their protest, but two of the names that you – on the list, Mr. Lugavoi and Mr. Kovtun, were accused by the British Government of having poisoned Mr. Litvinenko, a freelance former spy in London 10 years ago. The British inquiry also named the man who ordered – or it said approved of the assassination – Mr. Vladimir Putin. Was any discussion made about putting Mr. Putin’s name on the Magnitsky list? This is your last chance. (Laughter.)

    MR TONER: So as with all designations, the U.S. Government relies on multiple credible sources of information. Look, I think – how will I put this? – I think we’ll continue to examine this and other cases involving gross violations of human rights, determine whether we have any – enough sufficient information indicating that other individuals linked to these cases meet the Magnitsky Act’s criteria.

    QUESTION: But they’re acting on behalf of a Russian Government, which has --

    MR TONER: I understand. I think I’ll leave it there. I think we’re going to continue to look hard at – and as you noted, we did publish I think five new individuals added to the list yesterday.

    QUESTION: And that’s like an annual update, isn’t it?

    MR TONER: It is. It is.

    QUESTION: So that’s the last --

    MR TONER: It is.

    QUESTION: -- batch that this Administration will put on.

    MR TONER: It is. It is. It is. I mean, I’m tempted to be – to respond to the first aspect of your question, which was – you had mentioned – well, you had mentioned the Russian Government’s – I think the Kremlin’s --

    QUESTION: And the individuals themselves in Moscow.

    MR TONER: -- indignation about the state of U.S.-Russia relations and the kind of implication that we’re just doing this, striking out at Russia, to further harm U.S.-Russian relations. And frankly, I find this kind of like look back in sorrow act and rhetoric a little bit overblown and hard to stomach. I mean, we’re carrying out sanctions – the Magnitsky Act, the actions we took a week ago, two weeks ago, regarding Russia’s cyberattack on U.S. electoral processes and continued harassment of our diplomats, and then going back further, the sanctions that we have about – or have still in place regarding Ukraine and Crimea are all taken for a reason. And it’s not just to poke a stick at Russia. It’s meant to draw attention to some of their actions that we believe run counter to international law and the international community’s standards. And we’re not backing away from any of those actions that we’ve taken. And in fact, it’s been Russia that has taken actions specifically that have damaged bilateral relations, and we talked a little bit about them when we took – when we announced some of the actions two weeks ago – that they’ve closed down all of our American spaces; they’ve harassed our diplomats; they’ve shut down some of our bilateral exchanges, like the Flex Program, which was a hugely successful high school student exchange program, for no reason other than, I think, just to strike back.

    And so I don’t want to overplay this or whatever, but – or overstate this, but I think it’s a bit hard to listen to some of the rhetoric that we’ve heard from various Russian spokespeople about our intentions here. Our intentions, as I said, are to use these sanctions, to use some of these actions, to call attention to Russia’s bad behavior but also to respond to Russia’s aggressive actions in the cyber area and against our diplomats. So I’ll leave it there.

    Thanks, guys.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:24 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 9, 2017

Mon, 01/09/2017 - 17:13
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 9, 2017

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAN
  • LGBT


    2:05 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: Hey everybody.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Hello, Kirby.

    QUESTION: Good afternoon.

    MR KIRBY: Good afternoon. All right, couple things to go through at the top if you’ll bear with me. Some – some logistics, that kind of thing. As you know, the Secretary is up north today. He went to Cambridge, Massachusetts and delivered a speech at MIT on climate change innovation and the global transition to a clean energy future. Following that, he was joined by the deputy secretary and participated in a roundtable discussion with members of MIT and policy experts on the future of work. And as I noted last week, that discussion was focused on how rapid advances in technological innovation can impact the future of jobs and transform economies. The roundtable was part of our Innovation Forum here at the State Department, which convenes senior policy makers and industry experts for discussions on issues at the intersection of foreign policy and innovation.

    He also will be participating in some open press events tomorrow that I want to highlight for you in Washington and in Annapolis. First, the Secretary will lead off the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Passing the Baton 2017: America’s Role in the World event at 9:30 tomorrow morning, where he’ll be discussing our nation’s top foreign policy priorities that – under the Obama Administration and, of course, challenges that could lead into the next administration. Judy Woodruff from PBS’s NewsHour will be moderating his discussion in front of the audience. That’s an open press event.

    Then later in the day, a little after noon, he will go to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he will deliver an address to midshipmen, faculty, and staff at the Naval Academy. He’ll be reflecting on his time in the Navy and what his Navy service – how that impacted his public service throughout his life as well as his views on foreign policy. And I suspect he’ll also talk about some of the challenges that the United States will continue to face in global leadership going forward.

    And then finally, tomorrow night the Secretary will be joined by former Secretaries of State Albright, Colin Powell, and Hillary Clinton as they deliver all remarks – as they all deliver remarks at a reception celebrating the completion of the construction of the U.S. Diplomacy Center’s main pavilion. So if you go down on 21st Street, you’ve probably seen that structure is now done. And they’ll be sort of formally opening that or commemorating the end of the construction. The Diplomacy Center’s not open for business yet; there’s still quite a bit of work on exhibit design and construction that needs to be done. This is just marking the formal completion of the construction of the main pavilion. And that too will be an open press event. As I said, each former secretary, as well as the Secretary himself, will have a chance to say a few words.

    On Portugal. The United States is saddened to hear of the death of former Portuguese president and prime minister Mario Soares, a lifelong champion of human rights, self-determination, and democracy. Soares endured years of imprisonment and exile, but throughout his lengthy career remained committed to fighting for the people of Portugal. Portugal and the United States share a close and longstanding relationship, and we extend our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of Mr. Soares as well as to the people of Portugal.

    And then finally, on Mexico, because I know that all of you have been tracking this over the weekend and I just want to get a couple of comments out of the way at the top. As you know, the Secretary issued a statement yesterday on the arrest of a suspect in the heinous attack against our Foreign Service officer colleague in Guadalajara. Always and continually the safety and security of U.S. citizens and our own diplomatic staff overseas are among our highest priorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family, and we’re wishing him, obviously, a speedy recovery. Given that it’s an ongoing investigation and it’s now being taken up by the FBI, I do not have additional information on the motive, I cannot provide any more information about the victim due to privacy concerns. I’m simply not going to be able to give you much more information on this today. We continue to – obviously, to monitor as best we can the medical condition of our consular officer – I’m sorry, our Foreign Service officer colleague. And if and when there is more information that we can provide, we’ll do that. But right now it is an active, ongoing investigation by the FBI.

    So with that, Matt.

    QUESTION: Just before we get into substance, I want to ask just a logistical – did you say what time that event was tomorrow evening?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t --

    QUESTION: And if you didn’t, can you say what time --

    MR KIRBY: 5:30 p.m.

    QUESTION: Okay, and then --

    MR KIRBY: I did say.

    QUESTION: You did? Okay.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Sorry, I missed it. And then, do you know, were the other living former secretaries of state invited as well?

    MR KIRBY: Yes.

    QUESTION: And they were unable to attend for some reason?

    MR KIRBY: Yes. And I understand, it was scheduling concerns.

    QUESTION: So Kissinger --

    MR KIRBY: Yep.

    QUESTION: -- Rice --

    MR KIRBY: Every living --

    QUESTION: -- they were all – what, Shultz --

    MR KIRBY: -- former secretary of state was invited --

    QUESTION: Okay. And --

    MR KIRBY: -- and not everybody is able to make it.

    QUESTION: Okay. All right. I’ve got a – unless someone has more on that – I’ve got a couple things on Iran, if I could.

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: The first has to do with the passing away of the former Iranian President Rafsanjani. Over the weekend, there was a comment attributable on background to U.S. or a State Department official offering condolences for his passing. Do you – can you put that on the record for us?

    MR KIRBY: Sure. I mean, former President Rafsanjani has been – or was, excuse me – a prominent figure throughout the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and we do extend our condolences to his family and to his loved ones.

    QUESTION: So there have been some people who are highly critical of the Administration on Iran policy in general, but also on this specifically, taking issue or questioning, rather, the appropriateness of offering condolences to Mr. Rafsanjani given activities that Iran was involved in in terms of supporting terrorism back when he was in charge and also in his roles in the Iranian parliament. What do you have to say about that?

    MR KIRBY: Well, look, I – no question, as I said, he was a prominent figure, and the history’s complicated. We’re not going to debate the history, and I don’t think it’s valuable for us to try to comment on the potential internal implications of his death, of the potential impact on Iran today. He was consequential in terms of the recent history of Iran and we send our condolences to the family and loved ones. And whatever there is to say about his complicated history, you’re still dealing with a family that’s dealing with grief and dealing with a loss, and so it’s not inappropriate for us to simply offer our thoughts to a family that’s grieving right now.

    QUESTION: Okay, but – but, I mean, this is a guy who when he was in senior leadership positions repeatedly did and said things that this --

    MR KIRBY: Absolutely.

    QUESTION: -- that this government, whether this Administration or previous administrations --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah. Sure.

    QUESTION: -- have adamantly rejected – his position on Israel, for example – and condemned.

    MR KIRBY: Sure. Sure. Sure. Absolutely.

    QUESTION: And so you don’t see any – you --

    MR KIRBY: But should we – so we should hold the family and loved ones accountable for things that he did in his past that we didn’t like? I mean, the man died; we offered condolences to the family. We went through this, I think, when Fidel Castro passed too. I mean, no question – another individual with a history of actions and decisions and policies and rhetoric that we didn’t approve of in many, many ways, but you still have a family that’s grieving. And again, I don’t think we should make more of this than needs to be made. We offered our condolences, thoughts, and prayers to the family, and we think that’s appropriate.

    QUESTION: All right. Secondly, on this incident that happened on the Strait of Hormuz with the Navy – and I realize this is a Pentagon thing or a Navy thing altogether, but I’m just wondering – previous incidences involving the U.S. Navy and Iranian patrol boats has – have drawn some kind – some diplomatic intervention, as it – shall we say. And I’m just wondering if that has happened in this case.

    MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any specific intervention on the State Department’s behalf with respect to this recent incident.

    QUESTION: Or plans to? Because, I mean, one of the side benefits of the Iran deal --

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- which has been talked about is this channel between --

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif. That has not been or was not contemplated to be used in this case to tell the Iranians to knock it off?

    MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t rule anything out right at this point. I’m not aware of any plans for the Secretary to intervene at this point, but I certainly would not rule anything out. I just know that there’s been no communication on a diplomatic front on this issue, and I think the Pentagon has obviously spoken to the incident itself.

    QUESTION: Okay. And then lastly on Iran, you probably have seen a story that my colleague wrote out of Vienna about the P5+1 procurement committee approving the shipment of 116 metric tons of natural uranium --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- to Iran. People look at this and wonder exactly why it is that this kind of a shipment would be approved. Do you know what it’s for and why it was approved?

    MR KIRBY: Well – so a couple of thoughts there, Matt. I think you know that I’m unable to speak about specific proposals that are subject to the procurement working group confidentiality, so I – there’s a limit here. However, and more generally, the JCPOA does permit Iran to import natural uranium, and such transactions were always anticipated throughout the process of working towards the deal. Natural uranium is an internationally traded commodity. It’s not usable in its natural form for building a nuclear weapon. Iran can use any natural uranium it acquires only within the other limitations of JCPOA, so the – all the limits of the JCPOA still are in place. So I think – and you know this – for example, they cannot have more than 300 kilograms of enriched material, and it cannot enrich that material to a level more than 3.67 percent. And again, natural uranium can – is not in its natural form usable. Any natural uranium that would be transferred to Iran would still remain subject to the enhanced verification and transparency measures of the JCPOA and under the terms of that arrangement for 25 years.

    QUESTION: Yeah, but – okay, which is fine. So if it’s not usable, why would they want it?

    MR KIRBY: Well, again, they’re allowed to bring in natural uranium. I would let – I can’t – sorry, there’s – I cannot confirm these reports. I think you know that. So – but there’s no prohibition on bringing in natural uranium. They are still – regardless of that, they are still held to all the limitations of the Iran deal. That doesn’t change. And we still have the most robust inspection regime in place.

    Without confirming this procurement, I’d refer you to Iranian authorities for discussion of whatever desire they might have to bring in natural uranium. But if you’re going to have a civil nuclear power program, you can see that there might be a need for a product like that. But again, I can’t speak to it specifically.

    QUESTION: Well, is it not correct, though, that after – or tell me, I mean, if they hold onto this, if they store it away for 25 years, can they then not take this 116 tons and then do whatever they want with it?

    MR KIRBY: Well, the – first of all, I really hate – I hate hypotheticals --

    QUESTION: Or whatever the quantity --

    MR KIRBY: -- particularly the ones that go out two and a half decades from now, but --

    QUESTION: Look, the – your whole point is that don’t worry, this is going to be subject to inspection and verification --

    MR KIRBY: Which – which --

    QUESTION: -- under the JCPOA, but those – that expires at some point.

    MR KIRBY: There are – there are --

    QUESTION: So after those limitations expire, is it not correct that they could do whatever they want with it?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate one way or another here about something that --

    QUESTION: I don't know that --

    MR KIRBY: -- may or may not happen 25 years from now, Matt. There’s a strong inspection regime in place --

    QUESTION: Now.

    MR KIRBY: -- to – and for well into the future to prevent Iran from --

    QUESTION: For 25 years.

    MR KIRBY: -- to prevent Iran from ever being able to achieve a nuclear weapon, and that’s on page – by the way, not 25 years. The deal says Iran will never achieve nuclear weapons capability, but let’s get beyond that. I’m not going to speculate about what might or might not happen 25 years from now.

    QUESTION: Well --

    MR KIRBY: I just don’t think that’s a useful exercise.

    QUESTION: Well, it may not be a useful exercise for you, but I mean, if you’re looking at this from the perspective of other countries in the region – Gulf, Arab countries – I mean, 25 years isn’t that long, is it not?

    MR KIRBY: Well, for you and me, it might --

    QUESTION: It might be for us.

    MR KIRBY: It might be for us.

    QUESTION: But we’re talking about --

    MR KIRBY: Look, I --

    QUESTION: -- generations of --

    MR KIRBY: Matt, I do understand where the question’s going. There’s no prohibition under the deal now for them to bring this material in in its natural form. It cannot be enriched – it cannot be used, I’m sorry, for a weapon. There is a very strong inspection regime in place for a very long time. And oh, by the way, in the deal, Iran said they would never achieve nuclear weapons capability. So I can’t – I don’t think either of us can predict what things are going to look like 20 years from now or 25 years from now or what the inspection regime continues to find and continues to be able to see 25 years from now. But we’re confident that the deal makes the region safer, makes our allies and partners safer, will prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability. And I think that’s probably the best place to leave it.

    QUESTION: John?

    QUESTION: Kirby --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: The --

    QUESTION: You’re going to ask on the same thing?

    QUESTION: Yes, on the same thing, yeah. So they’re permitted to bring in natural uranium, as you say, but the Associated Press story that Matt referenced seemed to suggest that this particular batch was – has been permitted by some kind of decision. Now, without confirming that, as you say you can’t --

    MR KIRBY: Right.

    QUESTION: -- do they have to inform their partners in the JCPOA when they do bring in natural uranium?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not – I’m going to have to take the question. I don’t know. As – and again, I want to be clear: I cannot confirm the press reporting on this and I’m not going to speak about the working group’s – anything that would violate the working group’s confidentiality. But as a matter of procedure, I’d have to ask. I don’t know. Okay?


    QUESTION: Can I change the subject to Taiwan?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: So I don’t know if you’ve commented on it over the weekend – I don’t think I saw anything – the Taiwanese president met the Republican lawmakers during a stopover on Sunday. Has there been any formal complaint by the Chinese on this? There was a report in a Chinese state tabloid that’s warning the next administration about it, but as of today, was there any kind of formal --

    MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.

    QUESTION: -- complaint of it?

    MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.

    QUESTION: So --

    QUESTION: And how do you see that visit? I mean, is it – those discussions, does it complicate anything in the last two weeks?

    MR KIRBY: Well, so, a couple of things. First of all, nothing’s changed about the “one China” policy or the United States support for it. Number two, the president’s transit through the United States is based on a longstanding U.S. practice. It’s consistent with the unofficial nature of our relations with Taiwan. These are undertaken, of course – I think I talked about this Friday – out of consideration for the comfort of the traveler, safety, convenience, that kind of thing. But there’s no change to the “one China” policy.

    Now, as for discussions that the president had, I would let those who were party to those discussions speak to them in terms of content. We had no role. We did not – we didn’t encourage, we did not establish, we did not organize those discussions. But again, this was unofficial transit for safety and comfort only, and again, nothing’s changed about the “one China” policy.

    QUESTION: And nothing’s complicated your life?

    MR KIRBY: Nothing has changed about the “one China” policy.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: And again, I think the participants in those discussions should speak to what was discussed.


    QUESTION: Thank you, John. On North Korea, are you ready? (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: I’m always ready for questions about North Korea from you, Janne. I mean, but I’m – as you rightly pointed out Friday – (laughter) – I’m not informed, so I’ll do the best I can.

    QUESTION: All right. She said you’re not an expert.

    MR KIRBY: She’s – that’s right, she said I’m not an expert.

    QUESTION: I’m sorry. Okay. North Korea announced the second time – Kim Jong-un announced the second time this year that North Korea will soon launch the ICBM – intercontinental ballistic missile – anywhere, anytime. What – do you have any comment on this?

    MR KIRBY: It would be exactly the same thing that we have said when they have made these sorts of provocative statements in the past. I mean, now is the time – and we’re well past time for Pyongyang to prove that they’re willing and able to return to the Six-Party Talk process and to stop their provocative moves, their destabilizing moves to develop – continue to develop ballistic missile capabilities as well as a nuclear program. And as we’ve said before, the – that the entire international community is aligned against them in terms of exerting more pressure. We’ll – we take his comments seriously. We have to. Regrettably, we have to. But I’m not going to get into our own estimate or assessment of where he might be with respect to progress on this most recent threat.

    QUESTION: Is the United States ready to shut down North Korean ICBM this time?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate about future tactical developments one way or the other. I would just tell you, as I said last week, that in addition to the international pressure being applied through a very robust sanctions regime, and the fact that we’re not ruling out additional sanctions if required through the UN, that the United States maintains a significant deterrent capability militarily in the region. That’s all been part and parcel of the Asia Pacific rebalance. And we’re confident that we have the capabilities in the Asia Pacific region to protect our interests.

    QUESTION: But a launch of North Korean ICBM is a threat to South Korea and United States. So hopefully U.S. have military action to – this time, so --

    MR KIRBY: Well, Janne, you know better than probably anybody in this room that when I say “our interests,” I also mean the significant interests and commitments that we have on the peninsula itself through a rock-solid defense alliance with the Republic of Korea. That hasn’t changed. And we have – still have a very significant military presence there on the peninsula, all of which is designed to act as a deterrent. But also if – and nobody wants to see this come into open conflict – but of course to be ready should it. And our forces on the peninsula are in fact some of the most ready that we have anywhere in the world.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MR KIRBY: Okay.

    QUESTION: I have a question about Asian missile technology. It’s not North Korea, though, so --

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: All right. Pakistan launched a submarine launch – well, what they said was a submarine-launchable nuclear-capable cruise missile today.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Does this have any concerns in terms of balance in the region or any existing agreements? Is this something that is an issue for the United States?

    MR KIRBY: What I can say is we’ve seen reports of this missile launch – submarine-launched missile. We continue to urge all states with nuclear weapons to exercise restraint regarding nuclear and missile capability testing and use, and we encourage efforts to promote confidence building and stability with respect to those capabilities.


    QUESTION: Can we go back east between South Korea and Japan? So I know you said last week that the comfort women statue that was erected in Busan, like – that the State Department didn’t have a direct comment on that. But last week, they – Japan pulled out the South Korean ambassador because it was erected.

    MR KIRBY: Right.

    QUESTION: I was wondering if you have any response to that action.

    MR KIRBY: We are aware of the – of reports that the ambassador was recalled. I think we would leave it to those two countries to speak to that decision. I mean, as you know, it’s not an uncommon practice with respect to moving diplomats in and out, and I think I’d let those two countries talk about that action. Okay?


    QUESTION: On Syria, President Assad gave a new interview. He made some comments that at peace talks he put everything on the table, even discuss the possibility of elections being held in the country. Does any of this seem realistic or give you any sense of optimism?

    MR KIRBY: I think you have to take his comments in the context of things he has said in the past and even not – in the not so distant past about taking – he also said he was going to take back his whole country and we’ve seen the manner in which he sees fit to do that. So I think it’d be difficult to take any stated commitment to him about elections very seriously. What needs to happen is what we’ve said all along needs to happen, and that’s a UN-led process whereby the opposition and the regime begin to have a discussion about what a political transition can look like in Syria, a transition that incorporates the voice of the Syrian people – all of them. And we continue to want to support that process and that process alone.

    Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Russia. You probably know that the intelligence report, the one that was made public about Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. election through leaks, does not provide any evidence for the public to see. The report claims high degree of confidence. Do you think the public should have the same high degree of confidence without seeing the evidence?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t think that we should be surprised that in an unclassified version of a highly classified assessment and report that we would be protecting sources and methods. And that all our intelligence communities came to the same basic conclusion over and over again, that they testified publicly to those conclusions last week and that they backed up that testimony in private briefings to some members of Congress, as well as to President Obama and President-elect Trump, I think should give people confidence in their assessments. But nobody – I don’t think anybody should be surprised that in an unclassified version, the intelligence communities protected sensitive information, particularly sourcing and methods; that it would it have been irresponsible for them to have provided – to reveal that sort of information. And we rely on them, as we should, to make that determination for themselves in terms of what information was appropriate to put out publicly.

    QUESTION: Sir, it was with high degree of confidence that the intelligence community said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which led to a disastrous war based on that false assessment. Do you think the public does not deserve to see the evidence in the case of Russia?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t think – I don’t think many people would doubt that – the responsibility of the intelligence community to protect sources and methods. I think most of the American people understand that, that they have a responsibility to protect that information for the future. And I don’t think that trying to compare what happened back in 2001 to this assessment is very relevant. The President, Secretary Kerry, as well as every other cabinet official that has spoken on this has spoken to the trust and confidence that they have in the assessment that was made by all 17 intelligence communities. All of them came to the same basic conclusion: That Russia interfered with the U.S. election.

    QUESTION: But that’s about the agencies. What about the public? Should the evidence be relevant for the public to see, or should they just take the agency’s word for it?

    MR KIRBY: There is a fundamental responsibility not to reveal sources and methods and we leave it to the intelligence community when they make unclassified information such as this to make that determination for themselves on what is appropriate to put out there. And I think you and everybody else can understand they have a responsibility to protect our nation’s secrets so that they can continue to protect us going forward.

    Now, you heard the Secretary last week – very clear in his firm admiration for the men and women of the intelligence community in the United States, and the work that they do, and the manner in which they protect the American people day in and day out. And there are hundreds of ways they do that that never sees the light of day, that never gets a headline, and that’s just fine with them. So I think – well, I don’t think. The Secretary believes strongly that they handled this matter in the appropriate way in terms of how it was – how it was analyzed, how it was presented, and how it was briefed to those who needed to see a deeper level of the information. Okay?

    QUESTION: Can I just ask you about – about one thing, not specifically about this. But why is it that you say that what happened in 2001 is not relevant to this? I mean, it seems to me that past performance is an indicator of --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, Matt. Look – I mean, look. Nobody is saying that there weren’t mistakes made in 2000, 2001. But that was, what, 15 years ago and a lot has changed in the Intelligence Community since then. We’ve learned a lot. We’ve become much more integrated. Back then, the intelligence communities, as you well know, were much more stove-piped. There wasn’t the level of cooperation that we – I mean, we have moved on. We have learned a lot from those mistakes.

    I’m not suggesting that the Intelligence Community – that every bit of intelligence is always 100 percent. In fact, you know yourself that oftentimes – and they are appropriately very careful about that – which makes it all the more remarkable that in this case they were so uniform in their opinion and their high confidence in the role that Russia played.

    QUESTION: But in terms of – you say you’re drawing a distinction between then and now because of --

    MR KIRBY: I think it – I think it --

    QUESTION: Because the intelligence agencies have gotten bigger and better?

    MR KIRBY: I think to paint them with the same brush that was used in 2001 is highly unfair and actually wholly irrelevant and inaccurate to the kinds of gains that have been made in intelligence gathering and analysis since then. I mean, we’re talking 15 years.

    QUESTION: Right. So --

    MR KIRBY: I mean, should they --

    QUESTION: Well, you were just talking about 25 years with Iran.

    MR KIRBY: Should that be the benchmark for everything?

    QUESTION: Well, I – I don’t know. I’m asking you why you think it’s not relevant, what happened then is not relevant now.

    MR KIRBY: Because of what’s happened over the last 15 years.

    QUESTION: So the improvements and --

    MR KIRBY: Improvements in integration, coordination, analysis capability. I mean, we’ve moved on.

    QUESTION: All right.

    MR KIRBY: Okay?

    QUESTION: I have another one about history. You said you didn’t want to debate history.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t.

    QUESTION: And I won’t ask you to. But I’m just curious, in light of that, on Iran --

    MR KIRBY: Well, then why are you asking me?

    QUESTION: Well, no, because of this apology that Secretary Kerry put out to the LGBT community.

    MR KIRBY: Right.

    QUESTION: I’m just wondering, 11 days left in the --

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- in his time. Why?

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: Why now? And if he felt this strongly, why not do this early on?

    MR KIRBY: Sure. No, it’s a fair question. Look, I think this issue of what is known as the Lavender Scare was in relatively recent weeks brought to our attention as a matter of concern by some members of Congress, mostly recently Senator Ben Cardin, who I think we talked about his correspondence directly with the Secretary just last week. And so the Secretary appreciated them expressing their concerns over those events in the ‘40s and ‘50s, took a look at the historical record and decided that it was appropriate to issue this apology, and so he did.

    QUESTION: Okay. But it wasn’t until – but the reason for now is because members of Congress were seeking it?

    MR KIRBY: It was – it was because several people brought it to his attention here in recent weeks, to include some members of Congress.

    QUESTION: Okay. So he wasn’t – I don’t want to suggest that he didn’t – was clueless about it before, but I mean --

    MR KIRBY: I think – look, look.

    QUESTION: This wasn’t, like, high on his --

    MR KIRBY: Well --

    QUESTION: -- agenda? Because I mean, in the statement he talks about --

    MR KIRBY: His record.

    QUESTION: Exactly.

    MR KIRBY: His record.

    QUESTION: In the statement he talks about his – his record of support.

    MR KIRBY: His record on these issues, LGBTI rights, is longstanding as a member of Congress as well as Secretary of State. He has done a lot to advance those causes.

    QUESTION: John, now you’re being defensive. I’m not trying – I’m just trying to figure out if he – was this something in the back of his mind that got moved to the front because of what --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah. I mean, he certainly --

    QUESTION: -- what he – the people are bringing it to his attention now?

    MR KIRBY: He certainly knew the basics of the history of the Lavender Scare.

    QUESTION: Okay, okay.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t think he considered himself an expert on it. It was brought to his attention in recent weeks, and he felt it was appropriate to issue the apology.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: On Syria, a couple questions on Syria. One is that President Assad’s claim that he’s willing or he will take back the country, the whole country. So would – in a case of like that or Bashar Assad or any other forces tried to undo what you have done with the SDF or other forces that you’re partners in Syria, would you tolerate any actions against these forces to undo what you have done? Because it’s not just militarily you are helping them. Also there are some humanitarian assistance to these area --

    MR KIRBY: I’m not really sure what you mean by “undo” what we’ve done.

    QUESTION: Like retaking the area. I mean, just kicking out every force, like your partners, SDF, everyone from Manbij, for example, Kobani.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t think it’d be useful for me to speculate or hypothesize about what might or might not happen. The support that the coalition provides to the Syrian Democratic Forces is designed for one goal and one goal only, and that is to defeat Daesh. That’s the effort. We have long said that what needs to happen with respect to the civil war in Syria is a political solution, and that’s what the Secretary has labored so hard for. He will stay focused on that for the next couple of weeks. But I’m not able to predict or speculate what might happen if Bashar al-Assad moves into those areas. What Bashar al-Assad really needs to do is stop bombing his own people, allow for humanitarian assistance to get in, and prove that he’s committed to participating in UN-led political talks in Geneva to end the war.

    QUESTION: On the refugees program, I got some information from the State Department that in Fiscal Year 2016 you have got over 12,000 Syrian refugees to the United States, which was meeting the goal even more than what President Obama said, like, at least bringing 10,000. What is the status for this year? Are you trying to keep the same goal or – because you have allocated money for that program for this year too, so if you --

    MR KIRBY: Well, the President said for Fiscal Year ’17 that we were going to shoot for a goal of 110,000 total refugees – not just from any one place. There has not been a goal set by the President for Fiscal Year ’17 with respect to refugees specifically from Syria.

    QUESTION: So any – do you have any idea that how is the status after – like, since October is the fiscal year – the new fiscal year, so do you have --

    MR KIRBY: I can – we can get that for you. I don’t have an exact number of what’s been brought in thus far in the fiscal year, but we can ask and see.

    QUESTION: Okay. So can I switch to Iraq or --

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Okay. The – couple days ago of Turkish Prime Minister Yildirim visited Iraq and he met with Kurdish and Iraqi leaders in Baghdad and Erbil. One of the topics they talked about is the military and deployment – Turkish military deployment in Iraq and that issue. So if you would just comment on that – on the visit in general and on were you involved in any way, because you – previously you have asked both sides to de-escalate the tensions they had over the --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, we --

    QUESTION: -- Turkish army --

    MR KIRBY: I think I talked about this last week. I’m not going to – I don’t have a readout to offer to you. We weren’t party to these meetings. Certainly, as we’ve said over and over again, we respect the sovereign right of the government in Baghdad to meet and discuss and have dialogue with neighbors and partners in the region, including Turkey. We obviously look favorably on dialogue between Turkey and Iraq on a number of issues, but I’d leave it to leaders from both those countries to speak to what was discussed and what the outcomes were.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: That’s not for us to speak to. But I said all that last week, so that’s – I’m not giving you anything different.


    QUESTION: I’m Kawa from Kurdistan 24.

    MR KIRBY: From where?

    QUESTION: Kurdistan 24.

    MR KIRBY: Okay.

    QUESTION: Yeah, I came on behalf of Laurie. I will ask a question if you allow me about the same case of the Turkish minister while they were talking about the very important and sensitive case, which is PKK in Sinjar. And also, United States also been concerned about this case and ask the PKK to get out from Sinjar, but it looks like from the last information that the PKK are showing a kind of resist and rejecting for getting out. In case if they insisted of getting out from Sinjar, which is a part of threat for the area – and also the United States needs the area to get stable and for the sovereign of Iraq too – what will be the advice of the United States for Turkey and the Iraqi Government and the Kurds to react in this situation?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I wouldn’t get ahead of diplomatic discussions that haven’t occurred and for all I know might not occur, okay, so I don’t want to speculate. That was a long windup in your question. Only thing I would say is that the PKK remains a foreign terrorist organization. We consider them a terrorist organization. We recognize that the threat that they pose in the region and specifically to Turkey, and we continue to support Turkey in their counterterrorism efforts. Okay?

    I got time for --

    QUESTION: I – I have a very brief logistical one, but someone else can go first.

    MR KIRBY: Okay, you and then Matt, and then that will be it.

    QUESTION: Yeah, on the same thing in Sinjar. I don’t know if you’re aware of the situation in Sinjar. There are PKK and there are some other forces which is also they are in conflict with the Kurdish forces, but they have, like, the support of Baghdad – the Yezidi forces there. I don’t know how you are involved, if you are aware of the conflicts or the tensions between the KRG and also these forces that are there in Sinjar, because that situation is very delicate and the residents – the IDPs, they are not returning to their places because of the having multiple forces in the area. If you just – I don’t know if you are aware of anything --

    MR KIRBY: Is there a question there?

    QUESTION: -- anything. Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: I mean, I think I’d refer you to the – to DOD to speak to a specific situation on the ground. Obviously, we’re well aware --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR KIRBY: We’re well aware of the tensions in and around Sinjar. We’re well aware of the PKK’s influence. I’ve already stated our view of the PKK and who they are and what they are, but for specifics about the situation on the ground, I think I’d point you to DOD as a much better source. Okay?

    QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

    QUESTION: Sorry, I just wanted to – the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is in town. He’s going to be up on the Hill later this afternoon. I know the Secretary is not back yet, but he will be back tomorrow, obviously, although it seems like he has a busy day.

    MR KIRBY: He’ll be back this evening, but there are no plans to --

    QUESTION: But I just --

    MR KIRBY: -- meet with the foreign minister.

    QUESTION: Okay, but would anyone else? Do you know if Mr. Johnson – Foreign Secretary Johnson --

    MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any meetings --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: -- that the foreign minister will be having here at the State Department.


    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:44 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 6, 2017

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 18:20
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 6, 2017

Index for Today's Briefing


    2:16 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: What’s on the scarf?

    QUESTION: USA Hockey.

    MR KIRBY: Okay. All right, that’s acceptable.

    QUESTION: It’s from the winter Olympics from --

    MR KIRBY: Really?

    QUESTION: Remember the winter Olympics in Sochi.

    MR KIRBY: I do remember the winter Olympics, yes.

    QUESTION: I had to special order this.

    MR KIRBY: Did you really, Matt? It’s very sporty. That’s okay. So would a NASCAR driver-- that would have been okay as well. USA Hockey.

    QUESTION: Guess you didn’t watch the game, Kirby.

    MR KIRBY: What game? That game? (Laughter.) I grew up in south Florida. So while I can appreciate the athleticism of hockey, I don’t really spend a lot of time watching it.

    QUESTION: You’ve got two teams.

    MR KIRBY: Is there only two teams in all of hockey? (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: No, in Florida.

    MR KIRBY: Two hockey teams in Florida. Yes, I know that, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy watching it.

    QUESTION: Sacrilege.

    MR KIRBY: Look, any sport that has the word “ice” in it is not going to attract my attention. (Laughter.) Can I get on with the briefing? (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Talk about hockey.

    MR KIRBY: So a couple just at the top. One, I’d like to just provide a brief readout. I think you know that the deputy secretary met yesterday with his counterparts from the Republic of Korea and Japan. We issued a fact sheet about that meeting – a communique, if you will – which I can point you to on our website. But the Deputy Secretary, as he said afterward, quote, “We share a common purpose in addressing the region’s most acute threat: North Korea. The United States is committed to protecting ourselves, defending our allies, meeting our treaty obligations, and providing extended deterrence guaranteed by the full spectrum of U.S. defense capabilities,” end quote.

    So since April 2015, inaugural – I’m sorry – since the April 2015 inaugural trilateral meeting in Washington, our three countries have coordinated responses to the growing nuclear ballistic missile threat from North Korea. We’ve joined efforts to address a range of other regional security issues, and we work together to forge innovative approaches to global priorities such as space security, cyber security, cancer research, development assistance, and women’s empowerment. So it was a good full day of discussions. And again, we can point you to our website and the fact sheet for more detail on that.

    A trip note just briefly. On Monday, the Secretary will be heading up to Boston. He will highlight climate change, innovation, and the global transition to a clean energy future during a speech at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That will be at 10:30 on Monday morning.

    Following the speech, he will be joined by the Deputy Secretary to participate in a roundtable discussion with members of MIT and policy experts on what is being called “the future of work.” The discussion will focus on how rapid advances in technological innovation, including digitization and automation, are impacting the future of jobs and transferring economies all around the world. The roundtable was part of the department’s Innovation Forum, which convenes senior policymakers and industry experts for discussions on issues at the intersection of foreign policy and innovation.

    And with that, we’ll go to Matt.

    QUESTION: Are you going?

    MR KIRBY: I will not be making the trip on Monday.

    QUESTION: Because you know what they have in Boston?

    MR KIRBY: A lot of snow and ice. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: A hockey team, too.

    MR KIRBY: Yes, I know. I’ve heard that they play hockey up there, yes.

    QUESTION: That’s probably why you’re not going, right?

    MR KIRBY: It’s not – no, I’m – it’s not because of the hockey. The snow and ice, that’s another issue. That may be factoring into it.

    QUESTION: All right. Listen, I don’t have anything huge to start with, but I did want to follow up on something the Secretary mentioned yesterday when he was asked about Syria by Samir. He essentially said you’re not giving up. You’re continuing to encourage this process that is now effectively being led by the Turks and the Russians. He said that he had still been in contact, and in contact in recent days, with Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Turkish foreign minister. Do you – can you be a little bit more specific about that? And has he also been in touch with Gulf – his Gulf counterparts specifically about the ceasefire that took effect on the 30th and the prospects for getting some kind of negotiation back on the – started?

    MR KIRBY: The – yeah, the most recent discussion that he’s had with Foreign Minister Lavrov was just after Christmas on the 27th, and the last time I show him speaking to Foreign Minister Cavusoglu would be on the 20th of December, so --

    QUESTION: Okay, so this is not that recently.

    MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, if it was – not in the last --

    QUESTION: Like two weeks, but it wasn’t --

    MR KIRBY: -- couple of days but, yeah, in recent days, in recent weeks.

    QUESTION: Okay. And so what is the – in terms of the – what the Administration – we know – I think it’s been explained what the Administration is hoping for, hoping that this can work and that you would be supportive of anything that could bring about a political resolution. But in terms of your – the Administration’s involvement directly in this, how would you describe that?

    MR KIRBY: In the --

    QUESTION: Ongoing --

    MR KIRBY: -- bilateral work that --

    QUESTION: No, not necessarily the bilateral work, the multilateral work that’s going on that the Turks and Russia --

    MR KIRBY: Russia, Turkey, Iran?

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah. We are not actively involved in those discussions.

    QUESTION: Can I --

    MR KIRBY: We’re not actively involved in those discussions. They are being coordinated by those three countries in particular. We’re not at the table. We’re not involved in the planning, and we’re obviously not speaking to whatever outcomes are – that are coming out of these discussions. That’s point one.

    Point two – and I think the Secretary talked about this yesterday – is that while we are not at the table and, by the way, have not been invited to participate – he has and fully intends to stay, at least for the next couple of weeks, in touch with his counterparts on whatever outcomes are being arrived at through these discussions. So he’s staying in touch with that – with foreign leaders with respect to what they’re doing.

    And then the last thing I would say is that while I understand the focus on these multilateral discussions, first of all, we still subscribe to what we believe should be a UN-led political process. And so while he said yesterday and said it again today that we support discussions – if it’s in Astana, that’s fine, support those, but to the – within the context of them eventually leading to and being folded into the Geneva process, the UN-led process by Staffan de Mistura. And that’s where – so nothing’s changed about our policy with respect to that.

    QUESTION: Right, but I guess the question – and this may have been addressed while I was away, but the question is since October, essentially, you guys have ceded what had been a pretty major leadership role in the ISSG and trying to convene – trying to convene the talks that de Mistura was leading. And now it seems as though you’ve just given up, at least in term – not in terms of hoping what the outcome will be, but in terms of your actual participation. Is that a comfortable position for the Administration, for the Secretary to be in as he closes out his time?

    MR KIRBY: Well, a couple of thoughts on that. I would disagree that we’ve ceded anything. It’s not the first time --

    QUESTION: Well --

    MR KIRBY: Hang on, Matt. It’s not the first time that there have been multilateral discussions about ceasefires and humanitarian aid where we weren’t invited and didn’t participate. So we – and the Secretary, I thought, was very forcefully eloquent yesterday about his intention – and again, at least for the time that he’s left in office – of staying fully engaged. And U.S. leadership on trying to find a diplomatic solution in Syria has not stopped, has not waned, and will not while he’s – at least as long as he is Secretary. That doesn’t mean that we don’t acknowledge that there are multilateral efforts going on and discussions that we’re not participating in. The – so we haven’t ceded anything in that regard.

    The other thing I’d say is that if those discussions with or without us can lead to a better outcome on any one of those three things, then we obviously support that.

    QUESTION: Yeah. I guess my question – and I’ll stop after this – is I just don’t understand how it is that if you’re not participating, let alone not inviting – not invited, how it is exactly that you’re showing any kind of leadership role. Don’t you have to be at the table or a part of the --

    MR KIRBY: There --

    QUESTION: -- of the process in order to be able to push things in the direction that you want them to go when the players actually sit down?

    MR KIRBY: Well, we still are at the proverbial table. We may not be at the table in Astana, we may not be at the table in Moscow.

    QUESTION: But you were --

    MR KIRBY: I understand that. But it’s not like we are walking away from Syria. It’s not like we’re stopping our engagement. It’s not like we’re still not part of the ISSG or that the ISSG doesn’t exist.

    QUESTION: It doesn’t exist.

    MR KIRBY: Of course it does. We are still --

    QUESTION: When was the last time it met in any kind of way, shape, or form?

    MR KIRBY: No, it’s been a long time, several months, but that doesn’t mean that it’s been disbanded. I mean, there’s a UN --

    QUESTION: Right, so --

    MR KIRBY: -- Security Council resolution that codifies the ISSG.

    QUESTION: Does that mean that the League of Nations still exists too? I mean, it still --

    MR KIRBY: It still exists.

    QUESTION: It does? (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: No, not the League of Nations. (Laughter.) The ISSG still exists. So, Matt, look, I mean, the larger point is we’re not giving up --

    QUESTION: Can you explain exactly what it is that you’re doing that constitutes leadership in a process that you’re not at all involved in?

    MR KIRBY: We’re not involved in this particular process, but it doesn’t mean that that is the only level of discussion that’s going on on Syria. You’re right; there haven’t been any recent ISSG meetings. You would also be right if you were to say, well, there hasn’t been any political talks in Geneva for a while, and – whether it’s opposition/regime-related or multilateral-related with respect to a ceasefire. Totally, all that’s fair, but it doesn’t mean that we have stepped back off the stage in terms of trying to exert some sort of influence to get to a better outcome. And as the Secretary said yesterday, if we can get to that outcome and the United States is not at the table, then he’s okay with that --

    QUESTION: Right, but that’s --

    MR KIRBY: -- because that’s what --

    QUESTION: -- that’s ceding it. That’s stepping it --

    MR KIRBY: It’s not --

    QUESTION: That’s backing away from the stage.

    MR KIRBY: Well, we’re certainly – first of all, we weren’t invited to the stage, so it’s – you can’t back away from something you weren’t invited to. So it’s not about – and we’re not ceding leadership.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, then you’ve been excluded.

    MR KIRBY: No, but --

    QUESTION: Excluded. Right.

    QUESTION: Maybe you haven’t ceded it.

    MR KIRBY: But you asked the other question, which I want to get to.

    QUESTION: All right.

    MR KIRBY: This is the – is he comfortable? No, he’s not comfortable. Of course he’s not comfortable with where we are on Syria. Is he uncomfortable that there are meetings going on where we’re not in attendance? No, that – as he said yesterday, that doesn’t particularly bother him, because he is staying in touch. We are aware and we are still involved in the process – the larger diplomatic process.

    QUESTION: But --

    MR KIRBY: But is he satisfied with where we are in Syria? Is he at all comfortable with what’s going on? Of course we’re not.

    QUESTION: Okay, and this is the last one, which is the other phone calls like Gulf, Arab.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have any --

    QUESTION: Any – how about any call on Syria --

    MR KIRBY: Well, again, we’re just coming off the holidays, so I don’t have any recent calls to --

    QUESTION: All right, I understand. But you can make phone calls over the holidays.

    MR KIRBY: Yes. So there were – I mean, I’ve got --

    QUESTION: So I’m just wondering if there has been any – this engagement --

    MR KIRBY: There has been.

    QUESTION: -- that you keep talking about.

    MR KIRBY: There has been.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: Over the course of the holiday period, I’m looking at several calls to Gulf allies. Yes.

    QUESTION: Okay, so those have been made.

    MR KIRBY: Yes, over the course of the holidays.

    QUESTION: Kirby, is anyone from the U.S. going to go to the Astana? I mean, are you have – he might not have been invited or --

    MR KIRBY: I am aware of no U.S. participation in those discussions.

    QUESTION: Do you think --

    QUESTION: So – and then de Mistura said – or the UN said today that they were going to go ahead with the February meeting in Geneva. What about those meetings?

    MR KIRBY: Well, they haven’t – we haven’t been a party to them. Those are UN-led, UN-brokered discussions between the opposition and the regime. I think in the past, we have had somebody go as an observer – Special Envoy Ratney, for instance. I don’t – I wouldn’t – I don’t know whether that will be the case in February. We can try to get an answer for you. I would expect that, as in the past, we would have at least somebody there sort of at a distance and observing, but not participating.

    The whole purpose of those talks is to have the opposition and the regime both fairly represented, both involved in some sort of level of dialogue. The farthest they’ve been able to get was what we call “proximity talks” where they’re not actually in the same room, but being – discussions being brokered by Special Envoy de Mistura.

    I don’t know what the format in February is going to look like. That’s really for him to speak to. But I certainly couldn’t rule out that there would be some U.S. attendance as an observer only, not to be participating. That’s never been the design.

    QUESTION: And then as these three countries get together – Turkey, Iran, and Russia – to discuss what’s going on in Syria, and maybe the end product of it, which could be a transition from Assad or maybe he stays. Is – does the U.S. – I think it goes back to what Matt’s saying – does the U.S. not feel uncomfortable that these discussions and decisions are being made about a country where you have an influence – I mean, and you have – you’ve got planes flying – airstrikes going on? I mean, is there not – I mean, how do you – you’re not part of those, those discussions. Is there not some kind of --

    MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, the military efforts in Syria are Daesh-related, not related to the civil war. And to the discussions that happen if it – in Astana or elsewhere without our participation, they have no impact on the coalition efforts to counter Daesh inside Syria. Those are not connected in that way.

    But look, of course we’re concerned by the discussions. Of course we are interested in whatever outcomes. And that is why, as the Secretary said, he’s going to stay in touch with his Turkish and Russian counterparts going forward here – has and will continue to – at least for as long as he’s in office – about whatever outcomes and results and whatever comes out of these meetings, he will certainly stay in touch on that. We are interested in that and we do have concerns about whatever those outcomes are.

    That said, Lesley, we continue to stand solidly behind a UN-led process here, which is enshrined in our UN Security Council resolution which codified itself the ISSG process. And that is still the operative process and that is what we will continue to support. And so, as the Secretary said yesterday, if they want to meet in Astana, that’s perfectly within their right to do it. And if that discussion in Astana can lead us to a quicker result or more progress in Geneva under UN auspices, well, that’s all to the good as well. It’s not like – so it’s not like – while we aren’t connected to this piece of it, it’s not like we’re pulling out from the whole puzzle.

    QUESTION: Yes, but then what do you do if they agree that Assad should stay?

    MR KIRBY: Our policy on Assad has not changed and I don’t expect that it will change for as long as this Administration is in office. That we continue to believe he cannot be part of the long-term future of Syria. As I have said for many, many months, the – his role in a transition will be determined – should be determined by those political talks. We want the Syrians to decide that. That’s the way it’s been set up. Our view, what we want to see as the end result, is not changed, but ultimately the discussion of how and what his role is in the transition is going to be – should be the byproduct – not just the byproduct – the product of those political talks.

    QUESTION: John, let me just follow up. Do you have any comment on this – the apparent scaling back of Russian military presence in Syria? Have you heard those announcements?

    MR KIRBY: I did. I mean, we – I’ve seen the reports that they’re pulling back, I think, some artillery units is my understanding. I can’t confirm the veracity of that. The Russian defense ministry should speak to that. And I also think that whether they pull out these units or not, it’s pretty apparent that they continue to pursue a pretty robust military presence in Syria and continue to pursue military strategies to bolster the Assad regime. And as the Secretary said yesterday, those strategies will only lengthen the war, attract extremists, fling more people into refugee status, and perhaps put at risk and prolong any useful political talks that could lead to a lasting peace.

    QUESTION: How do you read this announcement if it is true? Because we’ve heard months back the Russians also announced some scaling back, but then they went back in again and, you know, bolstered him. So how do you – is this like --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’ve also seen them announce scaling back when it’s really just rotational deployments. I mean, so, again, you’d have to talk to the --

    QUESTION: And is it possible that it is rotational deployment?

    MR KIRBY: It could be. I don’t know. You’d have to talk to the Russian defense ministry. We’ve seen them say, well, we’re pulling troops out, when really all they’re doing is they’re just rotating. They’re pulling people or pulling equipment and units out that need to go back home for refurbishment. So I don’t know what they’re up to here. They should speak to that. If this reduction actually is intended to and does lead to a change in calculus more towards political outcomes than military outcomes in Syria, well, then that would be to the good. But again, it’s just too soon to know.

    QUESTION: Okay. Let me just follow up with a couple of more things on the ceasefire. It seems to be holding. That’s what Jan Egeland said today, but he said that humanitarian assistance – trucks, convoys – something like only 5 of 21 slated convoys got to the people that need it. Do you have any comment on that?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t confirm reports that it’s holding. Again, we’ve – I’ve seen mixed reporting over recent days about the degree to which there is or isn’t a ceasefire, and that should come as no surprise to anybody. First of all, information isn’t perfect coming out of there, and in the past it’s been very difficult to have a ceasefire announced and then maintained for any great length of time because Russia won’t meet its commitments to the international community.

    On the humanitarian assistance, while I can’t confirm those specific numbers, we certainly don’t take issue with the notion that it is still in desperate need and has not reached anywhere near the numbers of Syrian people that it needs to reach.

    QUESTION: And lastly, I want to ask you about comments made by the Turkish Minister of Defense Fikri Isik. And when you say – he described your policy in Syria or your strategy in Syria as a total failure and disappointing, and he said we look forward to the – we hope that the next administration will be able to cooperate and coordinate better on the Syria situation. Do you have any comment on that?

    MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments, Said. Again, I would just say that, obviously, no one is content here by the situation in Syria. But to label it as a U.S. failure is to miss so much of the larger context about what’s going on here. I mean, the Secretary would be the first to tell you, and I think he told you yesterday, that he’s frustrated by what’s going on and by the fact that we haven’t been able to get there. But it’s not for lack of trying and it’s not for lack of U.S. leadership that there has been a general failure by the regime, certainly with its backers in Moscow and Tehran, to do what was required of them – requirements that Russia codified themselves in I don’t know how many communiques and what was in a UN Security Council resolution about trying to reduce the level of violence.

    So yeah, there’s been failings there, but to label – to place it all at the feet of the United States simply doesn’t comport with the facts. And as I said, for the remainder of the time – and we’re all – we all recognize it’s two weeks here – the Secretary’s going to stay engaged. Okay?


    QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on something that Secretary Kerry said yesterday. He argued that Obama had not abandoned the red line set in Syria because – but instead it was the perception that he had abandoned it that really hurt. I just wanted to clarify that a bit because it seems like there was a report released in October of last year saying that there were three chemical weapon attacks in 2014 and 2015, and there wasn’t any U.S. military engagement. So I’m just trying to understand, are you going to argue that it’s just the perception that it was abandoned?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t speak for the specific reports about chemical weapons attacks in – at those times. I mean, we do know that they have continued to use chlorine as a weapon, and maybe that’s what that refers to. I don’t know. But we do know that all of the declared – declared – this was – and we’ve said this all along – the declared chemical weapons stockpiles and chemical material stockpiles were removed safely. We also said at the time – and I think I said this even in my prior hat at the Pentagon – that we knew that there could be undeclared stockpiles that he could have hidden somewhere, and we certainly have been nothing but open about the use of chlorine as a weapon, which they’ve done now. It’s an industrial agent; I get that. But the weaponizing of it, or the using it in an attack, is against international law, and that has still happened.

    The Secretary was – what he was referring to was that the President never took off the option of military options. He went to the Congress, didn’t get the permission to go forward, and decided that that wasn’t prudent at that point. But we still got the result of what – and maybe a better result than had military action actually occurred. And that’s the Secretary’s larger point.

    QUESTION: Very small, very quickly on something that he said yesterday, because apparently with his reference to the British parliament and its role and so on, he’s getting a lot of criticism and flack out there (inaudible) --

    MR KIRBY: Unfairly so, too, if you look at what he said, absolutely unfairly. I mean, he – all he said was that the President’s decision to consult Congress was done in the context of the same discussion that Prime Minister Cameron had with parliament. I mean, that had happened before the President’s decision to go to Congress, but it helped inform the President’s decision to go to Congress. It wasn’t a – the reporting --

    QUESTION: He’s not laying the blame on the --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, the reporting, the shrill headlines I’ve seen coming out of some of the British press on this are – it’s absolutely not founded by what he was trying to say.

    QUESTION: “Shrill?”

    MR KIRBY: Shrill. Shrill and hyperbolic.

    QUESTION: How is a headline shrill?

    MR KIRBY: Oh, come on, Matthew. (Laughter.) You’ve never seen a headline shrill?


    MR KIRBY: No?

    QUESTION: I’ve heard people read a headline in a shrill voice. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: I’ve heard it in a shrill way.

    QUESTION: I’m sure that you’ve heard it lots (inaudible).

    MR KIRBY: I have read headlines in a shrill voice. I am guilty of that. But --

    QUESTION: In italics. Underlined in italics in, like, some weird font, I’m not sure. Is it (inaudible) --

    MR KIRBY: A headline that claims that the Secretary blamed the UK and Prime Minister Cameron for the redline issue is shrill, hyperbolic, and untrue.


    QUESTION: Can I ask one question about Taiwan?

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: So what --

    MR KIRBY: You can ask about anything, not just Taiwan. Is there something else on your mind?

    QUESTION: Hockey. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Yeah. Dr. Tsai will make a stopover in Houston and San Francisco during this week – this weekend about her transit to Central America. Will any current U.S. officials contact with Tsai in any forms, even as private citizens, including personal meeting, phone call, text message, or social media? (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: Post card – look, I don’t mean to make light of your question. I’m simply not able to speak for the details of discussions that might occur.

    QUESTION: But do you encourage the current officials to contact with her?

    MR KIRBY: The – it is a longstanding practice to provide a transit opportunity for the comfort of the traveler, and whatever discussions that that leader intends to have is really for them and their staffs to speak to, not me.

    QUESTION: So will she receive a different treatment or reception at U.S. border and customs from her previous travels?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk for the customs and border service. This is something – this is a longstanding practice that we have provided in the past for her travel, and that’s – there’s nothing unusual about that. It really is for comfort, and I’d let her and her staff speak to how she intends to follow through and implement those comfort stops. Okay?

    QUESTION: So – last question.

    QUESTION: John --

    MR KIRBY: Are you still on this?

    QUESTION: Have you – have State Department proactively given any advice or caution his – Trump’s team about the Taiwanese?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about our communications with the Trump transition team. I’ve made it a pretty hard and fast rule not to do that.


    QUESTION: Excuse me, John, can you explain this --

    QUESTION: John, is there --

    QUESTION: -- situation with the ambassadors, the political appointee ambassadors, the career service ambassadors, and how long they can stay after – or whether they can stay after the January 20th?

    MR KIRBY: So look, I think I can break this down pretty easily, as I’ve seen the press coverage on this as well. All political appointees for the Obama Administration were directed to submit their letters of resignation, and the due date was December 7th, and the resignations are to take effect at noon on January 20th. All political appointees were directed to do that. That is common, typical practice. And when you’re a political appointee for this or any other administration, you have no expectation of staying beyond the inauguration of a new administration. That’s the way it works. For career Foreign Service officers, there this year has been no such directive, no such expectation for them to have to submit resignations at the end of the term.

    Now, I can’t speak for the incoming team, but all political appointees – and frankly, even careers as ambassadors or military admirals and generals – you serve at the pleasure of the president. So the incoming team can make decisions on their own about who they want in what chair and for how long. But all political appointees under this Administration, including a knucklehead like me, you have to submit your resignation and be prepared to have January 20th be your last day in office. You serve at the pleasure of the president, and when your president – his terms runs out, you have every expectation that your term will run out. That’s the way it works.

    QUESTION: And John, in the past there have been exceptions made for personal reasons. This time there was a blanket denial. Why was that?

    MR KIRBY: Well, you’d have to talk to the incoming --

    QUESTION: So the --

    MR KIRBY: -- the Trump transition team to discuss --

    QUESTION: John --

    MR KIRBY: Hang on, please. I’m still in my mid-sentence here with Carol. We will – I got all day, so we’ll get to you, I promise. And I’m pretty sure you’re not going to be asking me about this.

    You’d have to talk to the Trump transition team about why they decided to not be willing to broker exceptions or waivers, requests to extend. I can’t speak to that. That’s really for them. But – hang on. But you’re right that in the past there have been a handful, a small number, of extension requests granted, but that is totally in the prerogative of the incoming team. And for – it’s for them to determine whether they’d be willing to accept or deny individual requests to extend. It’s really for them to speak to.

    QUESTION: So what happens? Let’s say an ambassador leaves. Is the DCM the – or the – is the DCM --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, yeah.

    QUESTION: -- left in charge?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Is that a civil – is that a civil servant?

    MR KIRBY: That’s exactly the way it works.

    QUESTION: Is he a political appointee also?

    MR KIRBY: That’s exactly the way it works. That’s why you have deputy chiefs of mission who are extremely competent and professionals – extremely competent professionals who are trained to be in those jobs and are expected to be able to fill in and step in for the ambassador at other times of absence as well. So yes, in those cases where we have a politically appointed ambassador who will be leaving office of the 20th on the afternoon of the 20th, those duties will fall to the DCM, as appropriate, until such time as a new ambassador can be confirmed and appointed – or appointed, confirmed, and put in office.

    QUESTION: And you’re saying that the extensions in the past have been afforded to only a handful of people?

    MR KIRBY: As my understanding is, looking at the past two transitions, only a very small number. I don’t have the exact number, but I’m told it’s very small.

    QUESTION: Can you get that?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to promise you an exact number. I’m given to understand it’s been a very small number of extensions have been approved by incoming administrations, and typically they are for very specific family reasons. It’s not – it’s not intended to be a stopgap. They’re temporary as extensions are and for extenuating circumstances. But it’s up to the incoming team.

    This is – this is nothing new. This is the way the system works. You serve at the pleasure of the president. When your president’s term ends, your term ends and you are – and you are directed to submit your resignation. That’s the way it works. That’s – frankly, that’s in keeping with the whole electoral process in this country. The American people voted. They spoke. They elected Donald Trump as their president, and therefore they have elected his worldview. And so the incoming team will, by design, be able to fashion that worldview around the staffing of certain individual diplomatic posts, to include ambassadors. That’s the way the system works.

    QUESTION: Can I just ask you for one clarification on this? You said that all political appointees are required to submit their resignation. But career diplomats are political appointees if they are appointed ambassador or assistant secretary or under secretary. You seem to make a distinction by saying that the career – career diplomats who are now serving in ambassador positions were not required to submit resignations, but they are, by definition, political appointees as well.

    MR KIRBY: They are presidential appointees for their job, but they are – so let me be --

    QUESTION: So --

    MR KIRBY: Let me try to be more clear.

    QUESTION: So are you saying that in this year, career Foreign Service Officer Ambassador X serving as ambassador to Country Y was not asked to submit a resignation letter?

    MR KIRBY: That is correct. The ones who were asked this year to submit letters of resignation are political, non-career political appointee ambassadors.

    QUESTION: Do you have the numbers, how it breaks down? How many ambassadors are --

    MR KIRBY: Roughly, roughly, 70 percent of our ambassadorial cadre are career Foreign Service ambassadors. The remaining roughly 30 percent are politically – are political appointees. That’s the lexicon that we use.


    QUESTION: Do you – on Iraq, the U.S. is --

    QUESTION: Can we stay on Ambassador?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, we’ll stay on this issue. I’ll come back to you. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Yeah, a knucklehead like me would like to ask some follow-up questions. So all the politically appointed ambassadors were directed to leave by December 7th. Who directed – who made the mandate? Is that from the White House --

    MR KIRBY: The White House.

    QUESTION: -- or from the transition?

    MR KIRBY: The White House.

    QUESTION: The White House. And so I just want to clarify – so 70 percent are career diplomats and ambassadors. They are --

    MR KIRBY: Roughly 70 percent of our ambassadors are career Foreign Service officers, yes.

    QUESTION: John --

    QUESTION: They were not asked to leave; they can stay?

    MR KIRBY: They were not asked to submit letters of resignation like political appointees were, but as I said, look, the incoming administration also gets to make decisions about how they want to staff embassies and posts. And to Matt’s point, I mean, even career Foreign Service officers as ambassadors are presidential appointees.

    And so the incoming administration will have to take a look at and see if the 70-30 split is what they want or if they – how they want to staff these posts, but I can’t speak for them. All I can tell you is what we’ve done and this year, career Foreign Service officers that are serving as ambassadors were not asked to submit their letters of resignation with the outgoing Administration. Political appointees – purely political appointees – were.


    QUESTION: John, are you going to stay – after January 20th, are you going to still stay here or are you move?

    MR KIRBY: No, I will not be staying.

    QUESTION: So you go different position?

    MR KIRBY: I expect I’ll be unemployed for a little while. (Laughter.) If you have any ideas, I’m open to them, but I’m planning on taking a nice long nap. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: You’re leaving?

    MR KIRBY: Huh? What’s that?

    QUESTION: Sorry. So how we continue? Are you staying in this building or --

    MR KIRBY: (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.) -- up from that podium.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: It’s a fair question.

    MR KIRBY: Well, I mean – I’ll – (laughter) – I’m not sure how to answer that one.

    QUESTION: It is definitely Friday. (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: I will be – I’ll be around for a little while, as I said, sleeping.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR KIRBY: And we could – after this is over, I’m happy to give you my personal contact information. (Laughter.) I don’t want to do that from the – I don’t want to do that from the podium. I will say, though, if you want to call and talk about an issue like the DPRK, I am not your guy, because – (laughter) – I will not be informed. On the 21st of January, all my knowledge will go out the window, so I won’t be much help.

    QUESTION: You are not DPRK expert. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR KIRBY: That is classic. So I’m not even informed now is what you’re saying. I love it. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: I’m not even discussing or talking about – not for DPRK. (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: Okay.

    QUESTION: Well, I – (laughter) – let’s go to Iraq.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, let’s go to something light: Iraq.

    QUESTION: The United States is loaning Iraq – you are loaning Iraq $1 billion.

    QUESTION: After all this time.

    QUESTION: Is there any understanding, formal or informal, about allocating part of that loan for the benefit of the Kurdistan region?

    MR KIRBY: All right. So let me unpack that just a little bit. There wasn’t a loan to Iraq of a billion dollars. What there was yesterday was that the United States signed a loan guarantee agreement with Iraq for up to a billion dollars. And a loan guarantee is much different than a loan. What this does is it makes it more affordable for the Government of Iraq to be able to borrow money from international capital markets. And it will help Iraq achieve its longer-term economic goals and reform goals, quite frankly, that the prime minister has been pursuing.

    On your specific question in terms of allocation – so this – let’s put that off the table, because it isn’t a loan. It’s just a guarantee. It doesn’t put anything, by itself, into the bank. But back in December, just last month, the Government of Iraq did approve a budget that would provide for the KRG to receive federal revenues consistent with Article 121 of the Iraqi constitution and requirements in the budget law. Proceeds from the United States-guaranteed loan – the guarantee – will benefit there for all of Iraq because of their own budgeting law, because of their own budget that they passed. Does that make sense?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR KIRBY: Okay.

    QUESTION: John, I have --

    MR KIRBY: You have another one?

    QUESTION: I have another question on Iraq.

    MR KIRBY: Okay.

    QUESTION: It has to do with the Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki who has been in Tehran, and he’s made several very strong points claiming Iran was the only country to provide arms to Iraq when it needed them, and he’s attacked – Maliki has attacked, while he’s been in Tehran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. He says they’re hatching plots to disintegrate the region, and he attacked Israel. And he also said that the Hashd al-Shaabi should be – could be deployed to Syria if it was needed. What is your comment on this? How do you understand what Maliki is doing? Do you think he’s just appealing to a sectarian audience?

    MR KIRBY: I would refer you to Vice President Maliki’s office to characterize his comments. I couldn’t possibly do that. That’s really for him to speak to. I would just tell you that we remain proud of the support that we are offering to the Government of Iraq in Baghdad – military support, economic support, some of which we just talked about, certainly the political support to the reforms that the prime minister is pursuing. So I mean, I just can’t speak to everything – all the criticism that he made. I can just speak for what we’re doing and how strongly we feel about continuing that level of support going forward.

    QUESTION: Well, it’s – among the things that Maliki said while he was in Tehran was that Israel is the greatest terrorist threat in the region. Is it? The United States is supporting the Baghdad government, and he’s the vice president of the Baghdad government. How do you feel about someone saying something like that?

    MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly don’t agree with the sentiment.

    QUESTION: Do you condemn it?

    MR KIRBY: We certainly don’t agree with the sentiment that Israel is a terrorist threat. I mean, that just flies in the face of fact. And there’s just – but I – I’m not – again, I’m not going to try to characterize everything he said. It’s for him to speak to.

    Look, Iraq’s got lots of neighbors, and many of those neighbors are involved in efforts in Iraq to counter Daesh. Iran is one of those countries. And what we’ve said many times before still holds today: We understand that Iraq’s neighbors would be interested in the security situation in Iraq – whether it’s Turkey or whether it’s Iran, Jordan. And all we require is that those nations who are going to be thus involved, that they do it in a way that supports the legitimate, democratically elected government in Baghdad, and does so also in a way that doesn’t inflame sectarian tensions.

    And again, I can’t speak for the motivation behind those comments. I can just reaffirm, as I said before, our strong view that the government in Baghdad needs to continue to be supported in ways that it has deemed appropriate and fit to the fight that they’re under right now. Some – at least in terms of the United States, we still talk about our presence in Iraq like it’s our decision. It’s their decision. They – the – Prime Minister Abadi, he’s the one who approves whether or not there are foreign troops on his soil and what they’re doing. And that’s the way it should be; it’s a sovereign state.


    QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian issue?

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: On the issue of Jerusalem. The Secretary of State told CBS News that moving the embassy to Jerusalem would be explosive. Is that something that he concluded after conversations with the leaders of the region? How did he arrive at --

    MR KIRBY: I think that’s a conclusion the Secretary came to certainly from – certainly informed by his discussion with the foreign leaders, by their public statements – and there have been some public statements by some foreign leaders in the wake of media reports that the embassy was going to be moved. It’s also informed by the Secretary’s long, long career in public service, and particularly in the Senate, supporting Israel through, I don’t know, countless votes. I mean, the Secretary doesn’t need a primer on the situation there. He’s stepped in it. He understands. Okay?

    QUESTION: Let me just follow up also on his speech. He said that if the occupation continues, millions of Palestinians will continue to live under Israeli rule separate and unequal. And will Israel accept that? Will the United States accept that? Will the world accept that? I mean, I’m paraphrasing, but that’s basically what he said.

    So should there be a sort of a timetable as to when this becomes a point of no return, where – when the occupation ought to end? Should there be, like, saying within five years, 10 years, or something like this before this can happen?

    MR KIRBY: I think that’s a question for the leaders in the region to ask themselves, Said.

    QUESTION: I’m asking --

    MR KIRBY: I know you’re asking me, but that’s a question really that’s better put to them.

    QUESTION: I’m sorry, John, but it was the Secretary that said if the occupation continues, millions of Palestinians will continue to live --

    MR KIRBY: I know.

    QUESTION: -- separate and unequal. I mean, I’m talking about what he said.

    MR KIRBY: I understand that’s what he said, but he didn’t put a timeframe on that.

    QUESTION: I’m saying: Should he?

    MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary was very careful in how he characterized it, and I’m not going to put words in his mouth in terms of timeframe. I mean, I think he was speaking about a fact based on trends. And he wasn’t trying to predict out how long that should or would take.

    But the larger point is the whole purpose of his speech was, as a friend of Israel – and he is a very strong and enduring friend of Israel who believes in the importance of a two-state solution – that to achieve that goal, you need leadership. You need leadership there in the region to move forward. And again, I think the whole – one of the main – the purposes of his speech was to show that there hasn’t been that leadership, and that’s been lacking, and that’s what’s needed.

    QUESTION: Yesterday, the House voted overwhelmingly 342 to 80 to undo – I don’t know how they would do that – take measures to undo UN Resolution 2334. Is that really disappointing to the Secretary of State who, when the President took the decision to abstain and so on, or --

    MR KIRBY: The Secretary is, as I think he’s said many times since the vote, more than comfortable in our abstention. Now look, we also recognize that Congress has every right to express their views, and he respects that. As a former member of Congress, he certainly respects that. But as we’ve said many times, the vote in the UN was about preserving the two-state solution, which we continue to believe is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and a democratic state – living side-by-side in peace and security with a viable and independent Palestinian state.

    QUESTION: And lastly, he also mentioned that he will be making a couple of trips before he leaves office. Are we to expect that he will participate in the Paris talks, the Paris peace conference?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional detail to what the Secretary said. Today I was able to announce his trip to Boston on Monday, and if there’s additional trips and visits to speak to, we’ll do that in due course. I just don’t have anything additional today.

    QUESTION: I wasn’t going to ask about this, but I’m curious about your use of the phrase about the resolution. What does that mean the Secretary was “more than comfortable in our abstention?”

    MR KIRBY: Meaning that he supported the decision by --

    QUESTION: I guess I’m just wondering – I mean, an abstention is not voting at all.

    MR KIRBY: It’s still a decision. You just – it’s a decision to abstain --

    QUESTION: Yes, but I mean, if you support the resolution enough to allow it to go through, why don’t you just vote yes?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t think it’s – I don’t want to re-litigate the decision to abstain, Matt. He’s --

    QUESTION: Well, I just want to know --

    MR KIRBY: My point was that he very much supported the decision to abstain; that we couldn’t, in good conscience, approach it in any other way.

    QUESTION: But – I know, but you talk about leadership and you talk about decisiveness, and an abstention is really – I mean, why isn’t an abstention a cop-out here? You allowed it to go through, yet you didn’t vote, yet you clearly – or it would seem that you supported it, because you didn’t veto it. So why not take a stand for what you apparently believe in and vote --

    MR KIRBY: Well, look I mean, I --

    QUESTION: -- and vote yes? Or no if you disagree with it.

    MR KIRBY: I’ll give you – we – there was a lengthy explanation of vote put out by Samantha Power. I would --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR KIRBY: I would point you to that to justify it. I don’t know that it’s worth us re-litigating that here.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, I don’t want to re-litigate it, I just wanted to – you put on a – you talk about leadership and you’re taking an active role, and then you essentially vote present.

    MR KIRBY: It’s --

    QUESTION: Which is – it doesn’t seem to be taking a leadership position on something. Anyway.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, again, I think --

    QUESTION: I mean, either a for or against – not in between, right? Anyway – I don’t want to re-litigate it, so --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, I don’t either, but look, I – only thing I’d say is we abstained on a resolution that makes clear both sides have to take steps to preserve the two-state solution. You talk about leadership and I just talked about leadership, the leadership in the region that’s important. And we believe the resolution is consistent with longstanding bipartisan U.S. policy as it relates to our opposition to Israeli settlements – and our opposition as well, and condemnation of incitement and terrorists.

    QUESTION: Well, it sounds like you supported it, so why didn’t you vote yes?

    MR KIRBY: Above all – about – well, obviously, we had significant disagreements with the way that things are characterized in the resolution too. I mean, that --

    QUESTION: Then you should have voted --

    MR KIRBY: That’s what led to the abstention.

    QUESTION: Then you – but then you should have voted no.

    MR KIRBY: Well, look, there’s a decision – you have three ways here when you come up with a resolution: You can either vote yes, no, or abstain. We chose – and it was an active choice – to abstain. And again, I’d point you to the explanation of vote.

    QUESTION: I don’t know how brave a choice it is.

    MR KIRBY: I’ll point you to the explanation of vote.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Right.

    QUESTION: You could’ve written your own resolution and you’d be happy to vote for --

    QUESTION: Thank you. (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: I think Matt is done. Matt’s done.

    QUESTION: No, no, no.

    QUESTION: You suggested three options; I was suggesting a fourth.

    MR KIRBY: What’s your fourth?

    QUESTION: You could vote yes, no, abstain; or you can write your own resolution if you have the backing.

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to revisit this whole thing.

    QUESTION: John, do you have a reaction to the installation of a statue commemorating “comfort women” in Busan?

    MR KIRBY: Look, I think our view on this situation has not changed and --

    QUESTION: The installation of a statue in Busan, South Korea?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on the statue specifically. I’m not aware of that. But when it comes to the “comfort women” issue, back in December, I think you know, of 2015, both the governments of Japan and Korea showed – Republic of Korea, excuse me – showed courage and vision in announcing an agreement regarding this sensitive historical legacy issue, which we believe was an important milestone toward reconciliation. We believe that that agreement has served to strengthen relations between the two countries and multifaceted cooperation over the last year, and that these deepened ties will in the future, going forward, help both governments continue to approach historical issues in a way that promotes healing and reconciliation. I don’t have anything on this particular statue issue, but that’s where we are on this particular one.


    QUESTION: Also on South Korea, I was wondering if the meeting between Deputy Secretary Blinken and South Korean Deputy National Security Advisor Cho Tae-yong actually happened today and whether or not you have a readout of that.

    MR KIRBY: They did meet for what is known as the fifth round of the U.S.-ROK Strategic Consultations on DPRK Policy. During today’s productive discussions, the Deputy Secretary and Ambassador Cho reaffirmed the importance of our close coordination in responding to North Korea’s destabilizing behavior. They also discussed the success of breaking new ground together by sustaining the international community’s response to the DPRK’s violations of various UN Security Council resolutions, and they reviewed progress in holding North Korea accountable for its unlawful actions.

    Okay. Thanks, everybody. Have a great weekend.

    QUESTION: I have another one on (inaudible).

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: I was wondering if you have any comment on the Okinawan prefectural government’s opposition to the restarting of retraining – training for refueling for the Ospreys.

    MR KIRBY: No. Have a great weekend.

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

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 4, 2017

Wed, 01/04/2017 - 15:55
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 4, 2017

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAQ


    2:10 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: Well, well, well, look who’s returned.

    QUESTION: I have returned.

    MR KIRBY: Daddy Lee. And how is the little one?

    QUESTION: She’s great, thank you.

    MR KIRBY: You getting any sleep?

    QUESTION: Not a lot. (Laughter.) But more than my wife is. Not a lot.

    MR KIRBY: Well, congratulations again.

    QUESTION: Thank you very much.

    MR KIRBY: And it’s great to have you back.

    QUESTION: Thanks. Happy New Year.

    MR KIRBY: And to you.

    Just one opening set of comments here on Libya. We note with deep concern today renewed fighting between Libyans in the central region of the country, fighting which we believe will only benefit Daesh and other violent extremists there. Obviously, we urge all parties to exercise some restraint here. The truth is that to date, Libyan forces have made progress against Daesh in Sirte and in eastern Libya, and that’s what makes this renewed fighting here of concern.

    So we continue to encourage all parties to support the Government of National Accord – the GNA as it’s known – as it works to address the country’s critical challenges, to preserve its unity, and oversee a transition to a new government through peaceful elections that are stipulated in the Libyan Political Agreement, otherwise known as the LPA.

    So obviously, we also urge all parties to renew efforts for national reconciliation through political dialogue, and we reiterate our strong support for the GNA and the LPA. This is, as we have said before, the time for all Libyans throughout the country to come together for the benefit of their nation and their fellow citizens.

    With that, Matt.

    QUESTION: Right. So I don’t have a lot because I’m still trying to catch up on everything that I missed in December, which apparently was pretty much nothing, right? Nothing happened, no news?

    MR KIRBY: It was very quiet. Do you want to rehash it all?

    QUESTION: No. No, no, I don’t.

    MR KIRBY: We could do a two- or three-hour briefing today.

    QUESTION: I don’t. But I’m still trying to --

    QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on Libya --

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- if you don’t have anything, Matt.

    QUESTION: No, I don’t have anything.

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Yeah. General Haftar said that he received a promise from Russia to receive arms from the Russians. Do you have anything on this?

    MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments, so I’m afraid I don’t have a reaction to them. I just haven’t seen that. But stepping back, as I said in my opening statement, we believe now is the time for all Libyans – all Libyans – to come together and to support the GNA, as the international community has done. That’s really where we want the focus to be. And so fighting each other in any part of the country is counterproductive to the larger effort of going after Daesh. But I don’t have any particular reaction or comment to those remarks because I haven’t seen them. Okay?

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: That would be a breach of the embargo, though, if weapons were sent to Haftar?

    MR KIRBY: Of course it would, right.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: But I just haven’t seen the comments.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: So can I ask you, just to follow up on I guess what was the main topic of discussion here yesterday, on North Korea?

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: Is there anything new to say about this apparent threat?

    MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have anything to add from what we said yesterday. Look, I think you know these were comments he made in an annual New Year’s speech.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: But as we’ve also said, we are forced by his actions in the past to take his rhetoric seriously, and we do. I wouldn’t discuss intelligence issues one way or the other in terms of what we – what assessment we might make of where he is on this particular issue, but obviously, it’s something we’re watching very closely.

    QUESTION: All right. And then I just want to – I have one other thing that I – last month – or last year, the end of last year, did nothing to improve the relations between this Administration and the Israeli Government, in particular the prime minister of Israel. And in light of the fact that peace is not breaking out all over there, and in light of the tensions that do exist, is it safe to assume – with that backdrop, yesterday there was legislation introduced by three senators that would require the movement of the U.S. embassy currently in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and require the Administration to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Given your past – or this Administration’s past feelings, am I right in assuming that this current Administration would oppose that?

    MR KIRBY: Yes, you are correct in assuming that.

    QUESTION: Okay. But given the fact that this Administration is going to be out in two weeks, roughly two weeks, and that Congress will probably – if it does pass, it will be presented to a president, now president-elect who has said he’s in support of those things. And I’m wondering: Would the Administration be prepared to begin preparations to do such a thing if this legislation advances, or is that something that you guys want nothing to do with and you’ll just – it’ll be up to the incoming administration to proceed?

    MR KIRBY: You mean if it passes before we’re out of office?

    QUESTION: No, no, no. No, even if it looks like it’s going to go someplace, or if – and I don’t want to couch this as an “if,” but – because that’s hypothetical --

    MR KIRBY: Right. No, I --

    QUESTION: But should the incoming team say, “Hey, as part of the transition, we want to do this as quickly as possible, and to do that we need to get things going,” is this Administration prepared to help implement what the next administration says its policy will be with regard to the --

    MR KIRBY: Right. The short answer is no, Matt. I mean, you have one president at a time and in our --

    QUESTION: Right. But this is just planning.

    MR KIRBY: I know that. I know that. But we continue to believe – it’s our policy and it’s been – and it was policy of previous administrations as well – that moving the embassy to Jerusalem is not a good idea. It’s not constructive to the overall peace process. It could actually put some of our people, some of our troops, those that work at the embassy, in harm’s way, and needlessly so. So we don’t support that move. We stand by the policy that we’ve been supporting now. And if the next administration wants to move forward, that’s certainly their prerogative, but under President Obama – and he’s still President of the United States – we don’t support that. And we at the State Department here wouldn’t support efforts to move in that direction while we’re still in office.

    QUESTION: Okay. So you wouldn’t – I just want to make sure then that should a request come in to say, as part of the transition, as part of planning for the smooth transition that everyone says they want, including the Secretary and the current President, that the department would not go ahead and --

    MR KIRBY: We would not. That said, I don’t think that puts at risk a smooth transition. The transition is about giving them the context and information that they need to make their own decisions and not necessarily to --

    QUESTION: So you’re saying you would argue against it?

    MR KIRBY: -- move forward with decisions before they’re inaugurated.

    QUESTION: Well, yeah, but you’re not moving forward. It’s just a preparation and planning thing because it’s probably not just as easy as taking a sign that says “Embassy” and putting it on the consulate in Jerusalem, right?

    MR KIRBY: Correct, correct.

    QUESTION: So there’s going to have to be some planning done. Anyway, I think you answered my question. But what --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, the answer is no.

    QUESTION: What did you – what did you mean by “could put our troops,” some of our troops, “in harm’s way”?

    MR KIRBY: I just meant you’ve got --

    QUESTION: Marine guards?

    MR KIRBY: You’ve got Marine embassy guards and --

    QUESTION: How would moving them --

    MR KIRBY: Because again, we think that – we think that putting it there in Jerusalem is not – it’s not constructive and conducive to the peace process, and because it could – a move like that could exacerbate tensions.

    QUESTION: So – but – or do you think that they would be more at – in harm’s way in Jerusalem rather than in --

    MR KIRBY: It could exacerbate tensions not just there but elsewhere in the region too, because it could exacerbate the tensions that already exist between Israelis and Palestinians.

    QUESTION: So in other --

    MR KIRBY: There and elsewhere in the region.

    QUESTION: In Arab countries like in Jordan or Egypt or Saudi --

    MR KIRBY: Perhaps.

    QUESTION: -- you think that there --

    MR KIRBY: Perhaps, perhaps. Correct.

    QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

    QUESTION: Could I follow up on that?

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: In your conversations with your allies like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and so on, the Arab countries, have you been sort of warned or counseled against moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? And why is that --

    MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any specific warning, Said. This has been a longstanding policy even before this Administration.

    QUESTION: Right. But it would be perceived – if such a move would take place, it would be perceived as a provocative action, you think?

    MR KIRBY: Again, I think I’ve answered the question. It could potentially be provocative there and elsewhere in the region. And more importantly, we just don’t believe that it’s conducive to moving the peace process forward.

    QUESTION: Let me ask you a couple more questions on – if we can stay on this issue very quickly. An Israeli court sentenced two 13-year-old boys to two years in prison. There was a stop-and-search, and they claimed that they found knives on them. Do you find this to be a bit severe to sentence two 13-year-olds that were 12 at the time when they were arrested?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have the details on this case.

    QUESTION: Okay. Would that be – in fact, one of the boys has already spent more than a year in prison, so – but they are not going to count that as part of it.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have – I can’t comment on that case, Said. I simply don’t have any information.

    QUESTION: Okay. And my last question – I don’t know if you’re aware, there is the Israeli soldier who was convicted of manslaughter, of killing a Palestinian after he was wounded last year. The person that took the video is claiming that he’s been threatened by the family and so on. Should the Israeli Government give the person who filmed the episode, Emad Abu-Shamsiyah – should they give him protection, do you think, seeing that the – if they don’t give him protection that his life would be in jeopardy? Because he claims that the family of the soldier broke into his house and they demanded that he go back to the court, that he go to the court and change his testimony.

    MR KIRBY: Okay. I’m not aware that that occurred. And really, an issue like that is really one for Israeli authorities to speak to and to make decisions for, not for us.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Staying with Israel, Mr. Netanyahu has apparently told his diplomats that their focus in the next couple of weeks should be to do everything they can to prevent the substance of Mr. Kerry’s speech coming before the UN in a resolution form, and the fear apparently is that at this French conference it might be codified in some way that could then be presented to the UN not by the United States but perhaps by others. Would the U.S. – I know that Mr. Kerry has said there’s going to be no more UN activity, but would the U.S. rule out another abstention especially if it was his policies that was being voted on?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t think it would be helpful for me to speculate one way or the other about potential future actions.

    QUESTION: Can I just --

    MR KIRBY: Dave.

    QUESTION: -- follow up on this? Yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Oh, no --

    QUESTION: No, no, no, no, no, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Mine’s a different thing.

    QUESTION: No, I just wanted to follow up because I think I asked a little bit about this yesterday. But you are not ruling out if there is a conference in mid-month – mid-January there is a conference in Paris – you are not ruling out the participation of Secretary Kerry, are you?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not – I don’t have anything on the Secretary’s schedule to speak to today.

    QUESTION: You’re not ruling in or ruling out?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on his schedule to speak to today.

    QUESTION: Thank you, David.

    QUESTION: This is a procedural thing. I’ve never covered a transition before. Will the incoming Secretary of State be prepared by this department for his nomination hearings at the Senate?

    MR KIRBY: We have – we continue to provide the transition team information and context at their request. As I said earlier, I’m not going to get into what that information is. But he is being prepared for his confirmation hearing by the transition team.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: Okay?

    QUESTION: And that’s typically how it would work?

    MR KIRBY: That’s my – I’ve never been through one of these here at the State Department, but in my past experience, yeah, that’s not unusual.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Assuming a new secretary is not confirmed by Inauguration Day, could you explain how the acting Secretary of State will be chosen? There’s speculation that Mr. Shannon – Under Secretary Shannon would step into that role as the two positions above him, I believe, are likely to be vacant at that time.

    MR KIRBY: Look, the way – I mean, there’s a line of succession – Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources, Under Secretary for Political Affairs – we can get all this to you, Steve. On Inauguration Day, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs Tom Shannon would be the most senior career officer in the line of succession. But ultimately, decisions about that, about if the secretary-designate is not confirmed – ultimately decisions about who would be acting would be really up to the transition team, to the new – at that point they would be the new administration.

    QUESTION: They can appoint someone else outside of the line?

    MR KIRBY: I’m being very precise here.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: I’m telling you that the Under Secretary for Political Affairs Tom Shannon would be the most senior career officer in the line of succession here in the building – will be on the 20th, but ultimately these kinds of decisions about acting, that’s – those are questions the new administration have to answer. Okay?


    QUESTION: Turkey. Related to attack that happened over the weekend in Istanbul, President Obama ordered his team to provide necessary and appropriate assistance to Turkey with regard to this attack. Did Turkey ask for any assistance? If did, what kind of assistance did you provide?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that there has been a request for specific investigative assistance.

    QUESTION: Okay, one more question. Do you have any evaluation in terms of the suspect, whether he’s an ISIS militant or just a person radicalized by the ISIS propaganda?

    MR KIRBY: I think that’s a question for Turkish authorities who are investigating this attack to work out, not for us.

    QUESTION: Staying on Turkey?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: So is it the position of the United States Government to support Turkey’s efforts to recapture al-Bab from ISIS?

    MR KIRBY: I think my colleagues at the Pentagon have already talked about this. We have provided support to Turkey for operations to clear its border area of ISIL, and that includes some support for their efforts in and around al-Bab. There are ongoing discussions about support going forward that the military’s having with Turkey, and I’m not going to get ahead of that.

    QUESTION: And the Turkish defense minister today, I believe, complained that the amount of support for a NATO ally was insufficient. Do – how do you – would you respond to those comments or, I mean, is – do you feel that that characterization is fair?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t think it’s valuable for us to deliberate this in public. We have supported Turkish operations along their border. We have provided some support. With respect to al-Bab, again, the Pentagon has talked about that and there are ongoing discussions now about support going forward. And I think I’m going to leave it there.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Okay.

    QUESTION: Do you have any numbers on the support that you gave, like area strike or ground --

    MR KIRBY: You can contact --

    QUESTION: Can you give some numbers?

    MR KIRBY: You can contact the Defense Department. I don’t do military operations anymore.


    QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you if we can figure out who – which groups are you supporting now in Syria in the fight against ISIS? What – who are the groups, the moderate groups? Are you supporting, let’s say, the Free Syria Army? Are you supporting other groups and so on? Because --

    MR KIRBY: Said, I don’t have – as I’ve said, we’ve talked about this many times. I don’t have an exhaustive list for you. We refer to the Syrian Democratic Forces writ large, and there are many parts to that – to them, and they have proven to be very capable fighters, and again, that’s the – that’s the entity through which – or that the coalition supports.

    QUESTION: Because yesterday, apparently the Fateh al-Sham, who morphed from al-Nusrah, they were saying that --

    MR KIRBY: They didn’t morph from al-Nusrah. They slapped a new name on.

    QUESTION: Right, they just slapped – okay.

    MR KIRBY: So let’s – yeah.

    QUESTION: All right, so they’re – they just put on a new name – and they claimed that they lost 25 fighters as the result of an air raid, but they’re saying that it was the U.S.-led coalition that conducted that air raid. Are you aware of that claim?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, we talked about it yesterday and I pointed you to the Defense Department.

    QUESTION: Any more – any more information on that?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t, no.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: Did you also yesterday talk about – I haven’t read the entire transcript from yesterday. My apologies. It is scintillating reading, however, I can assure you. Did you talk about the – what seems to be violations or beginning of the end of this truce that was negotiated?

    MR KIRBY: We did talk about it. I don’t have any updates from yesterday. It does – as it was yesterday, it appears to be breaking down in areas.

    QUESTION: And this is not a surprise to you, or it is?

    MR KIRBY: Well, as I said yesterday, we wanted to see it succeed. But sadly, we’ve also seen this exact thing happen before many, many times – even ceasefires or cessations of hostilities that we had nothing to do with announcing, they quickly break down, because as we’ve seen in the last 24 to 36 hours, the regime takes advantage of the – of whatever lull in the fighting there is to continue to pound the opposition, and that’s what we’re seeing again happen here.

    QUESTION: Do you have any comment on what Staffan de Mistura said, that he will not attend the Astana negotiations and he would wait --

    MR KIRBY: No, those are decisions that --

    QUESTION: -- he would wait for Geneva?

    MR KIRBY: Well, those are certainly his decisions.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: I would tell you that from our perspective, we continue to support his efforts, which is sanctioned by the UN, to lead the political process forward. He is the designated representative of the United Nations to move the political talks forward, and if he has decided that he’s not going to attend, then that’s certainly within his – it’s in the scope of his responsibilities to do so. We – our support for him and his efforts have not changed.

    QUESTION: Any phone call between Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov?

    MR KIRBY: Nope, I don’t have any more discussions to read out.

    QUESTION: And for clarification too, is the U.S. delegation still in Geneva or Geneva process and the delegation is --

    MR KIRBY: In terms of – in terms of a dialogue and process of moving forward on a cessation of hostilities in Geneva, no. Do we have personnel that work in and out of Geneva? Yes, but nobody is working on this issue from a U.S. team perspective in Geneva.


    QUESTION: The Turkish prime minister is expected to visit Baghdad to mend ties with the Abadi government. Do you support that move?

    MR KIRBY: Do I support him traveling?

    QUESTION: To Baghdad. It’s a rare visit by the Turkish prime minister to Iraq. He’s trying to mend ties with --

    MR KIRBY: Well, I wouldn’t comment one way or another about the travel of a foreign leader to a neighboring nation. Turkey’s a part of the coalition to counter Daesh, and so it wouldn’t – it shouldn’t surprise anybody that the prime minister may want to go to Iraq to have discussions about that fight. And as we’ve said long – many, many times, that we’ve encouraged bilateral dialogue and discussion between Turkey and Iraq on a whole range of regional issues. So there’s no concern here, but it’s not for us to comment or approve or disapprove one way or the other.

    QUESTION: Can I ask one more question about Iraq?

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MR KIRBY: I think the silence gives you the go-ahead.

    QUESTION: Okay, thank you. (Laughter.) So in Mosul, reportedly, the coalition has destroyed almost all the bridges inside the city of Mosul. So this has raised a concern for the – that might restrict freedom of movement for civilians, especially those who wish to escape ISIS. Do you share that concern or --

    MR KIRBY: We have long had concerns about the humanitarian efforts that were going to be required as the Mosul campaign started, and those are – those – we’ve been long in discussions with the Iraqi Government about how to deal with that, and we talked about this at length yesterday in the briefing. I’ll point you back to the transcript in terms of what we’ve done on the humanitarian front. I would remind you – and again, I’m not going to get into a lengthy dissertation here on the military operation itself – but those bridges were avenues of resupply and resourcing by Daesh and so were, in fact, legitimate military targets. That they might impede the movement of internally displaced people is certainly beyond doubt, of course. But we have and have for many months factored in trying to support internally displaced people as best as possible.

    And the other thing I’d tell you is that – and one of the reasons why the campaign to Mosul took as long as it did and was carefully thought through was because they were also – there was also a lot of planning, remains a lot of planning on post-campaign stabilization and rebuilding the infrastructure. So there is a lot of effort on that. It’s not as if people aren’t thinking about not just bridges, but other civilian infrastructure – schools, hospitals, housing, all of that stuff has to be considered and is being considered by the Iraqi Government as it moves forward, okay?

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Okay. Thanks, everybody.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:33 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 3, 2017

Tue, 01/03/2017 - 16:20
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 3, 2017

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAQ


    2:09 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody, and Happy New Year to you. Hope everybody had a good holiday season, a chance to take a break. My break, my gift to you for the New Year, is that I do not have an opening statement. So we will get right after it.

    Go ahead, sir.

    QUESTION: I’d like to start on North Korea. Kim Jong-un, in his New Year’s address, said that North Korea was in preparations for doing an ICBM test, were reaching the final stage.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I wondered if you had any reaction to that and if you’ve any indication that a – that test is – a missile test of some sort is in the works.

    MR KIRBY: Well, as I think you know, generally we don’t talk about intelligence matters or intelligence assessments with respect to specifics about the capabilities that they continue to pursue both on the ballistic missile side and, of course, on the nuclear side. So I’m not going to get into characterizing or confirming the veracity of the comments in his New Year’s speech.

    What I will do though is, as we have before, continue to call on the DPRK to refrain from provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric that threaten international peace and stability. And we want them to make the strategic choice to fulfill their international obligations and commitments and return, frankly, to the Six-Party Talk process.

    There have been multiple UN Security Council resolutions that explicitly prohibit North Korea launches using ballistic missile technology. They are still in effect. And we continue to call on all states to use every available channel and means of influence to likewise make clear to the DPRK and its enablers that launches using ballistic missile technology are unacceptable, and of course, also to take steps to show and to prove that there are consequences to this unlawful conduct.

    So we’re certainly aware of what he said. We’re obviously aware of the capabilities they continue to pursue. And that’s why the United States continues to work with the international community to hold Pyongyang to account for the pursuit of these capabilities and for the instability that they are contributing to.

    I would remind that the sanctions regime put in place recently is the most stringent over the last two decades and that they are being implemented. So I guess we’re just going to have to – we’re going to have to, obviously, watch this going forward. But the international community is clearly galvanized like it hasn’t been before.

    QUESTION: Do you have any way to convey these ideas directly to North Korea at this point?

    MR KIRBY: Well, you know we don’t have direct diplomatic relations with the North. But frankly, I mean, in a sense, I’m – we’re doing it now, as we do when we talk about this publicly. And we certainly have made these exact concerns and these exact statements well known and clear through the UN, though the UN and the UN Security Council.

    QUESTION: Kirby, can I follow up on that one? So Blinken is meeting with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea.

    MR KIRBY: Later this week, yes.

    QUESTION: Those talks were already scheduled before, before the statement.

    MR KIRBY: Yes.

    QUESTION: But is there anything that this – this – is there anything you can do or the way the discussion could go given this latest statement?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, first of all, Lesley, I – I think it’s safe to assume that North Korea will be on the agenda in these trilateral talks. And this is, I think, the sixth round of these deputy foreign minister trilateral talks, and the deputy is very much looking forward to it. No question that tensions on the Korean Peninsula will be a topic of discussion. Where that’s going to take us, what’s going to be said, especially in light of Kim Jong-un’s speech, I don’t know. I can tell you that we’ll obviously be providing a readout of the discussion. And so when it happens on Thursday after it’s over, we’ll be happy to do that.

    QUESTION: And then what is the U.S. assessment? I know you say you don’t talk about intelligence, but what if he’s lying? I mean, what if this is just an empty – empty threat? What is your assessment? I mean, is he close to – is this the last stage, or he is just --

    MR KIRBY: I think the intel – my understanding is that – again, we don’t talk about intelligence issues, so that’s one. Number two, we do continue to believe that he continues to pursue both nuclear and ballistic missile technologies. I mean, that’s pretty apparent. We do not believe that he, at this point in time, has the capability to tip one of these with a nuclear warhead. That’s as far as I’m going to go in terms of assessing. But we do know that he continues to want to have those capabilities and he continues – the programs continue to march in that direction, which is why, quite frankly, that the whole international community is as galvanized as it is to try to deter and to stop that.

    Now, yes, there’s a very stringent sanctions regime in place; no question about that. Sanctions take a long time to work; we know that. Sanctions are only as good as they are enforced, and in past sanctions regimes it hasn’t always been uniformly enforced. China has said they will enforce these, and that’s our expectation that they will, that they will do that.

    I will also remind that we also – we – that there is a military component to the Asia Pacific rebalance that the United States has pursued, and we have the majority of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific region. We’ve moved special radars into place. We have missile defense capabilities of our own in that part of the world. So it’s not as if – it’s not as if we’re relying solely on simply sanctions regimes to exert the proper pressure on Pyongyang. We’ve obviously taken and will continue to take the kinds of measures that we believe is important for our own national defense.

    QUESTION: And since the statement on Sunday, has there been any discussions with China in the meantime about – about this?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have any discussions with China to read out with respect to this particular speech, but if that changes we can let you know.

    QUESTION: John, can we move on?

    QUESTION: John, the apparent --

    MR KIRBY: We’ll stay on --

    QUESTION: -- apparent determination --

    MR KIRBY: I think we’re staying on North Korea. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Yeah. The apparent determination of Kim Jong-un to pursue the ICBM in despite of what you described as a stringent sanctions regime, is that because the sanctions didn’t convince him or because they haven’t been adequately enforced?

    MR KIRBY: I can’t get inside his head and tell you what --

    QUESTION: But do you feel they’ve been adequately enforced?

    MR KIRBY: They are being enforced. And we’re – what I would say is we’re constantly monitoring the enforcement across the international community. I can’t stand here and tell you that they’re being perfectly enforced by every single nation, but the general sense is that they are being implemented. It is a kind of thing that constantly needs to be evaluated, monitored, and discussed at the UN, and I know that it is. For our part, we certainly are and we expect every other nation to do the same.

    What’s – what decision matrix Kim Jong-un is using to continue to explore this technology, I really can’t speak to. But what I can speak to is as he continues to pursue those, the international community is going to continue to stay galvanized against that, because it’s not just destabilizing for the peninsula; it’s destabilizing for the region and the world.

    QUESTION: But if they are being adequately enforced and it hasn’t stopped him, then you need stronger sanctions or another option.

    MR KIRBY: Well, we haven’t ruled out the possibility of additional sanctions. In fact, in light of the most recent test, there were discussions at the UN. And I’ve certainly – and first of all, let’s not – let’s not get ahead of where we are. We’ve seen a speech and we’ve seen some rhetoric. I’m not in a position to say one way or another that that leads to something imminent right now, so we need to stay where we are, where things are. And we know that he continues to pursue this, so we will certainly continue to explore options to increase, if needed, the international pressure on Pyongyang.

    The second thing I’d say is that – and you know this – sanctions take time. He has obviously proven impervious to sanction pressure in the past because he continues to explore these capabilities. But it doesn’t mean that, at least for the United States’ part, that we’re simply relying on sanctions and sanctions alone. As I said, there is a robust U.S. military presence in the Pacific region, in the north Pacific region specifically. We have ironclad security commitments there on the peninsula with Republic of Korea allies that we take very, very seriously. So I mean, it’s – the entire U.S. Government here is rightly, as we should be, focused on this growing threat.

    QUESTION: You called for a return to Six-Party Talks. Obviously, the Iran nuclear deal came out of multilateral talks, but parallel to that, as we now know, the United States engaged directly with Iran. And it was seen by many outside observers that the bilateral ties between Iran and the United States were what bore fruit and brought around the P5+1 deal for the JCPOA. Has there been any discussion about direct contacts between Washington and Pyongyang on this issue?

    MR KIRBY: I would say, just in answer to that, that our focus continues to be on returning to the Six-Party process.

    I’ll go to --

    QUESTION: Six-Party Talks?

    MR KIRBY: You want to go to that? And then I’ll go to you, James. Are you still on North Korea?

    QUESTION: I’m on North Korea. Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: Okay. So Steve and then James.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Following up on Six-Party Talks, you mentioned – you called for them to return to that process. Is that without preconditions?

    MR KIRBY: It has always been. I mean, we want them to return. And the – but the condition is that they have to commit to a verifiable denuclearization of the peninsula. That’s always been the case, if that’s what you mean by preconditions. Nothing’s changed in that regard. They’ve got to be able to commit to denuclearization of the peninsula, and they have proven, obviously, unwilling to do that and unwilling to return to the process.

    QUESTION: Just a few different categories on this subject, if you would. First, is it the view of the department that China is doing all it can do to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions?

    MR KIRBY: Chinese officials have made clear that they intend to implement the resolution, and we’re engaged with an ongoing dialogue with them to that end, as well as our allies and our partners, on how to best curtail the DPRK’s pursuit of nuclear ballistic missile and proliferation programs.

    QUESTION: I didn’t ask if it is the view of the Department that China is doing everything it can to comply with the resolution. I asked if it is the view of this Department that China is doing all it can do.

    MR KIRBY: No, I understand the question. I’ll leave my answer as it is.

    QUESTION: (Laughter.) Is it fair to say that China is doing nothing on the North Korean problem --

    MR KIRBY: No, I would --

    QUESTION: -- as the president-elect tweeted?

    MR KIRBY: I would not – we would not agree with that assessment.

    QUESTION: The Chinese foreign ministry said today, apparently in response to the president-elect’s tweet, that, “We hope all sides can refrain from speaking or doing anything that can aggravate the situation.” Is it the view of the Department that the president-elect’s tweets are, in fact, aggravating the situation?

    MR KIRBY: We’re not taking a position on the president-elect’s tweets with this or any other issue. What we are concerning ourselves with, James, is continuing to see international pressure being applied to Pyongyang to make the right decisions. And as I said, the international community is galvanized like it’s never been before. Does that mean that every country is implementing every single one of the sanctions that are in place on any or every given day? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t want to see that happen. And it doesn’t mean that the sanctions that are being implemented are, in fact, still the most stringent that have been in place in the last 20 years.

    So it is – what I will say about China is that it is clear that they are absolutely concerned about the direction that Pyongyang is taking, and one shouldn’t be surprised by that. I mean, the DPRK is a southern neighbor and they share a border. They have been concerned about sanctions in the past because their southern provinces do direct business in North Korea. But they did sign up to these very robust sanctions, and they have publicly committed to implementing those sanctions, and that’s going to be our expectation going forward.

    QUESTION: Two last questions: To your knowledge, has any official inside the Obama Administration, at any point, taken any steps to initiate direct diplomacy with North Korea?

    MR KIRBY: Not to my knowledge, James.

    QUESTION: Lastly, is it the view of the department that – or let me rephrase that. Does the Secretary of State proceed from the assumption that Kim Jong-un is a rational actor?

    MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) Does the Secretary of State presume that --

    QUESTION: Proceed from the assumption that in attempting to deal with this regime in whatever mechanisms we use, that he is dealing with a rational actor?

    MR KIRBY: It is – it’s difficult when you look at the decisions that he is making, the programs that he is pursuing in the face of international will against him – it’s difficult to understand, as I said to Dave, the rationale in making those decisions and in pursuing those programs, which are clearly coming at the expense of his own people, clearly coming at the expense of security and stability around him and his own citizens and in the region.

    But I don’t believe that we are pursuing the options that we are pursuing based on a litmus test or a view or a personal assessment of his psychology and the degree to which he’s rational on any given day. We are, however, pursuing these options based squarely on what we see in his actions. It’s hard to get inside his head, but it’s pretty easy to see from his actions – I mean, this is a man, mind you, that executes his own officials using antiaircraft gunnery.

    QUESTION: And what does that tell you?

    MR KIRBY: It tells me that – and I think it tells the world that – he is – that he is utterly brutal and continues to rule with an iron fist. And because of what you can gather from his actions and the brutality, obviously, that he’s capable of and continues to demonstrate that we have to take him seriously when he issues threats, and we do. We always do.

    So I know I didn’t perfectly answer your question, because I didn’t – it’s not that we’re looking at this from a psychological perspective, but we certainly are judging him based on his actions, and his actions bespeak utter brutality. And we have to assume that that is the basis of the decisions that – that that is at least a part of the basis of his decisions going forward.

    QUESTION: Can we move on?

    QUESTION: Yeah. Please.

    QUESTION: Sorry, North Korea.

    QUESTION: Can we move on?

    MR KIRBY: Are we done with --

    QUESTION: A different thing.

    MR KIRBY: Are we done with Korea?

    QUESTION: Just one more.

    MR KIRBY: Okay.

    QUESTION: So has this recent statement accelerated anything, as far as THAAD deployment?

    MR KIRBY: I have no operational decisions to read out to you, one way or another. I would refer you to my counterparts at the Defense Department to speak specifically to that, because I’m just not – I’m not really informed enough to know where the discussions are on THAAD. You’d have to talk to the Pentagon.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: Okay. Still on Korea? You have one more?

    QUESTION: John, you mentioned that the U.S. doesn’t believe that North Korea has the capability to --

    MR KIRBY: To tip one.

    QUESTION: -- put a nuclear warhead on one of its missiles.

    MR KIRBY: To tip one. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Does that mean any kind of missile, a short-range missile, a mid-range?

    MR KIRBY: I think I’m just going to leave it at that. I’m going to leave my statement where it was.

    Yeah, Said.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Thanks. I want to go the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: Since we haven’t had a chance to discuss the Secretary’s speech last week, for which you’ve gotten a lot of flak. But I want to ask you, absent any mechanism to --

    MR KIRBY: I would also say, Said, there’s been an awful lot of international support for the Secretary’s comments, including from Arab countries.

    QUESTION: That’s true. That’s true. A lot of international support.

    MR KIRBY: So certainly, in your statement, I know there’s been some criticism. There’s been an awful lot of international support.

    QUESTION: I understand. And I think there’s been overwhelmingly international support, but we’re talking about this town. This town has been very scarce in giving you the kind of support that you --

    MR KIRBY: Well, again, I don’t know that I’d agree with that, but go ahead.

    QUESTION: Okay. Fine. Of course, the speech came in the aftermath of Resolution 2334, which said that the settlements were illegal and so on. But I reviewed all the settlements that preceded it, which is 446, 452, 465, 478, and they are all – they all had much stronger language, but the reasons the settlements went unabated and with such vigor is the fact that there was no mechanism. So would you recommend – either would you take some steps now in the remaining time that this Administration has, let’s say between now and the 20th, to perhaps introduce a mechanism to make these – to make good on these UN resolutions? Or would you recommend to the coming administration – suggest a roadmap on how you can come up with the kind of mechanism to give teeth to these resolutions?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have any future actions to read out or to discuss on this issue. The Secretary’s speech, which came on the heels of the resolution, was very clear about the concerns that we have about the viability of a two-state solution. And he laid out principles in there in that speech about how – a framework, if you will – about how we can better achieve a two-state solution. But specifically beyond that, I don’t have anything to discuss with you.

    QUESTION: Well, you mentioned that the point that he made – and he made six clear points and so on, and in fact they probably find their root in the six points that were made by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton back in 2009. The point is, absent any mechanism or absent the will and the desire to sort of say if you don’t do this, we will do this, as introducing sanctions, whether it’s against Russia or Iran or Iraq and so on – absent that kind of mechanism, what good – the – first, the pronouncements of these principles are or even issuing resolutions at the United Nations is?

    MR KIRBY: Well, Said, I think the resolution speaks for itself and I think the Secretary’s comments also speak for themselves, I mean, in terms of our continued deep concern about the viability of a two-state solution. I don’t – I understand your question. I don’t have any additional actions to speak to today. I think we’re all aware about the calendar and all aware that we’re not going to see a two-state solution achieved in the next three weeks. I think everybody recognizes that. And the next administration will have to make decisions and move forward in the way they deem fit.

    But the President and the Secretary believed it was important to make clear our concern because we want to see peace there. We – it was important for us to lay out – for the Secretary – excuse me – to lay out what he believed were the proper principles for trying to get there. So I think – I know this isn’t a perfect answer to your question, but I think that’s the best way to leave it.

    QUESTION: One last question on this, if I may. Now, we know that the Secretary has always been quite vigorous in pursuing his own initiatives and so on. Are we likely to see anything on his part --

    MR KIRBY: The Secretary pursues the President’s initiatives in foreign policy.

    QUESTION: Absolutely. I’m saying but also the Secretary has in implementing U.S. diplomacy and U.S. vision. So are we likely to see added impetus, let’s say, over the next couple of weeks to see the Secretary perhaps go to this peace conference in France, if it takes place, and so on, or would you have new ideas and so on to discuss at the – maybe at the UN or other forums?

    MR KIRBY: Well, without getting ahead of the Secretary’s schedule or his specific intentions on this or any other issue, I said and I’ve said many times in the last several weeks that until he is no longer Secretary of State, this is an issue that’s going to be important to him and that he is not going to stop focusing on. Last week, you saw that, I think, very clearly and in a very eloquent speech about our concerns over the situation. So I’m not going to speculate one way or another about how he’s going to spend each of the days that he has left in office on this or any other issue, but I can tell you, because I’m confident what I said weeks ago, that until he is no longer in this seat, this will be something that he continues to work.

    Dave, did you have something?

    QUESTION: Well, that answered my question on Paris.

    MR KIRBY: That was your question?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: Okay.

    All right. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: My question is about President Hollande’s visit to Erbil yesterday, and it’s got two parts. First part: The visit was very cordial and President Hollande met with President Barzani and they – President Barzani took the French president to the front lines. He – President Hollande praised the Peshmerga and their fight against Daesh, promised them continued – and promised them continued support. Do you have any comment on this visit of President Hollande?

    MR KIRBY: We typically don’t comment on the travel of foreign leaders of other countries. I mean, what I can say is we welcome France’s contributions as part of the coalition to counter Daesh and certainly welcome the continued support that has been voiced by President Hollande for the fight against Daesh there in the region.

    QUESTION: Okay. And the second part: In these meetings, the Kurdish leadership stressed the enormity of the burden that they bear in hosting 1.8 million displaced people. And President Hollande himself arrived with 38 tons of aid in his plane. Is the U.S. looking into this issue perhaps?

    MR KIRBY: Into the --

    QUESTION: The issue of the burden that the Kurdistan region bears because it has – it’s supporting 1.8 million displaced people from other parts of Iraq.

    MR KIRBY: It’s not that we are looking into it. We have been concerned with this issue for a long, long time. We continue to work closely with the Kurdistan Regional Government in helping to facilitate the well-being of those displaced people – the people that were displaced internally by Daesh. We also work with other Iraqi provincial governments and the Government of Iraq in Baghdad to better foster the conditions that will allow these people to return home safely eventually.

    It’s part of the – it’s all part of the larger effort – I got you, just let me finish, I’m just getting warmed up here – it’s all part of the larger effort to deal with this problem. And we’re mindful of the toll that displaced people do have on local economies and local infrastructure. All of us can do more. I would also remind that the United States has provided more than a billion dollars in humanitarian aid since 2014 alone. We’ve also rallied the international community, other nations, helping secure pledges just this summer of over $2 billion from partners for humanitarian assistance, stabilization, demining, all in the run-up to the Mosul operation.

    And we’re actively working with our humanitarian partners, nongovernmental agencies to prepare for the immediate shelter needs of a large-scale displacement or continued large-scale displacements. And just as of late November, approximately 12,200 is the number I’m given here of shelter plots across eight sites remain ready to receive households that were displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas with additional plots now under construction, all with U.S. help and assistance.

    So it’s not as if we’re just now looking into this. This is something that we have long been concerned with since the very beginning of coalition operations against Daesh, okay?

    QUESTION: But it sounds like despite the U.S. generosity and help with this, it’s not really enough, that more is required, even.

    MR KIRBY: As I said, I think, when we addressed this issue more specifically about Mosul not long ago, we’re always analyzing, always assessing, and always willing to contribute more if more is needed. That’s part of – part and parcel of the discussions that we are actively having with local, regional, and national government figures there in Iraq.

    Okay. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Recently, there was a dialogue held between Russia, China, and Pakistan on Afghanistan – last week. Does the U.S. welcome this dialogue or what are your thoughts about it?

    MR KIRBY: I mean, look, we – I’ll say what we welcome is any international effort to help Afghanistan become secure and more prosperous. And we continue to support, as we always have, an Afghan-led reconciliation process. We still believe that’s the right way to go here going forward. That hasn’t changed. And our support for President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah remains steadfast.

    But nation-states and Afghanistan as a nation-state has every right and every responsibility, quite frankly, for the betterment of their own people to have, whether it’s multilateral or bilateral, discussions with neighboring nations and nations that aren’t neighboring that are interested in the same goals that we are.

    QUESTION: So you are saying that without Afghan Government being present there at the discussion – and they did lodge a protest about it as well, their foreign minister, that --

    MR KIRBY: I wasn’t – we obviously weren’t there either, so I can’t speak to the specifics of this meeting. But to the degree that countries are meeting to discuss the same secure, safe, prosperous Afghanistan that we all want to see and they can come up with ideas to pursue that, in keeping with mandates from the international community and in particular NATO, those can be – they could be constructive.

    QUESTION: One of those efforts with regard to bringing peace in Afghanistan is about the recent deal that the government made with Hekmatyar’s party. And according to some report, the government has sent a letter to the United Nations to remove his name from the terrorist list. What is the U.S. Government’s stance going to be about removing his name from the --

    MR KIRBY: Well, sanctions --

    QUESTION: Is the U.S. going to be okay?

    MR KIRBY: Sanctions committee consultations are confidential and we don’t talk about them, so I have nothing to provide you on that.


    QUESTION: Do you know or do you have some readout about Secretary call or talk with Pakistan’s Finance Minister Dar on Indus Water Treaty?

    MR KIRBY: I can confirm that he did speak on the 29th of December with Finance Minister Dar. I’m not going to read that out in any great detail. The Indus Waters Treaty has served, I think as you know, as a model for peaceful cooperation between India and Pakistan for now 50 years. We encourage, as we have in the past, India and Pakistan to work together to resolve any differences.

    QUESTION: Has the U.S. offered to mediate on this issue between India and Pakistan? As you know, there are some disputes between the two countries on this issue.

    MR KIRBY: As I said, we encourage India and Pakistan to work together bilaterally to resolve their differences.

    QUESTION: Has he talked to the Indians also on this issue?

    MR KIRBY: We’re in regular communication with the Indian and Pakistani governments on a wide range of issues. I just don’t have any more details for you.

    QUESTION: But not at his level, right?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have any more detail for you.

    QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

    QUESTION: I’ve got a small question on the same thing.

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: China recently invited India to be a part of the CPEC. What is the U.S. recommendation or suggestion to India on this issue?

    MR KIRBY: This is an issue between India and China. I don’t have a U.S. reaction to that right now.


    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: I have a quick question on Egypt --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- regarding Ahmed Maher. He is the cofounder of the April 6 Youth Movement. He was arrested a couple years ago and was supposed to be released today. There has been no word about his release. I wonder if you have any comment on that or if you would urge the Egyptian authorities to release him.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything for you on that, Said. We’ll have to take that question and get back to you. I’m just not prepared for that.

    QUESTION: Okay, and the other thing is – since we are on human rights – yesterday, the UN Human Rights Council was formed and elected Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, China, Cuba, Iraq, Qatar, Burundi, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirate to the council. I guess you know they pick members on the basis – on the merits of their own record of human rights. Do you have any comment on that?

    MR KIRBY: I think I would just – broadly speaking, we’re pleased to be a member to the UN Human Rights Council after completing a mandatory year off in 2016. Since joining it, we’ve made remarkable strides toward helping the council realize its full potential, working in partnership with a wide range of member-states, and often in spite of council members that have poor human rights records.

    We’re proud of our successes at the Human Rights Council since we joined the body, including the creation of commissions of inquiry for Syria, North Korea, and Burundi; for country-specific resolutions on Sri Lanka, Iran, and Burma – ground-breaking resolutions that were focused on the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of assembly and association; and the first ever resolution in the UN system which created an independent expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

    So we’re going to look forward to continuing to work with other members of the council to strengthen and protect human rights around the world. And we’re not bashful about calling it like we see it when it comes to human rights violators wherever they sit.

    Okay. Steve.

    QUESTION: Yes, the deputy commander of Russia’s Pacific fleet in Manila has announced plans to hold joint military exercises with Philippines navy, which I think mostly consists of a couple of old U.S. Coast Guard boats at this point. In light of the security treaty between the United States and the Philippines, does the U.S. welcome this sort of cooperation between the Philippines and Russia?

    MR KIRBY: The first thing I would say is that the defense relationship between the United States and the Philippines remains very, very strong. We do have security commitments, alliance commitments that we take very, very seriously. And that defense cooperation has always been provided at the request of Philippine administrations, so our overall mil-to-mil relations remain robust, they remain multifaceted, and that’s the way we want to see it continue.

    I think I’d let the Philippine Government and the Russian Government speak to the degree of their bilateral defense relations and how that is taking shape. I’ve said many times – and this is a good example of it – that foreign relations aren’t binary. Right? And these choices that countries have to make are not binary choices, and every nation-state has the right to pursue bilateral relations of its own choosing. And so again, I would leave it to both of their governments to discuss it. What it – what I can promise you is that it won’t affect how we view the importance of our bilateral relationship with the Philippines.

    Okay. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Do you have any update on Senator Cardin’s letter to the Secretary a few weeks ago about the request to formally apologize to State Department personnel who were fired during the “lavender scare” in the 1950s. Any update on that?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update specifically for you on a response to the senator. We are – we will, of course, respond to the senator appropriately about that. Look, we all recognize that this was a troubled part of our history here at the State Department, but beyond that I don’t have a specific update for you. And when we do and when we can speak to it, we’ll let you know.


    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Syria? Any comment on the so-called ceasefire there and the preparations --

    MR KIRBY: Well, you said it best – “so-called,” right? I mean, look, as before, we wanted to see this one succeed because we think it’s important to get back to political talks – UN-led political talks. And you’re not going to be able to do that if bombs continue to be dropped on the opposition. So we would have liked to have seen this latest ceasefire be a success.

    As far as I know, at least before coming out here, there are areas where it does appear to be holding and there are areas where it doesn’t. That is not at all atypical of what we’ve seen in the past with prior ceasefire/cessation of hostilities attempts, whether we were involved with those announcements or not, and we weren’t always involved with every one in the past. But we sadly have seen this one begin to unravel pretty much as quickly as they have unraveled in the past.

    QUESTION: And is there any coordination with the Russians regarding the Astana talks?

    MR KIRBY: Not that I’m --

    QUESTION: Did the Secretary talk to --

    MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.

    QUESTION: -- Mr. Lavrov?

    MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of, no.

    QUESTION: Has he spoken with him on any issue related to Syria --

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have any recent --

    QUESTION: -- in the last few days?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have any recent discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov to read out.

    QUESTION: Okay. Are you – I mean, seeing that Mr. Lavrov was the person to call for tit-for-tat with the expulsion of the Russian diplomats – it was Mr. Lavrov that called for a tit-for-tat and it was the Russian president that actually held back. You have any comment on that? I mean, considering that --

    MR KIRBY: I’ve seen press reporting on that, Said, but I can’t confirm the veracity of the --

    QUESTION: Can you – you cannot confirm that he had, in fact, wanted --

    MR KIRBY: -- internal Russian deliberations. Hmm?

    QUESTION: He – you don’t have any confirmation that he, in fact, wanted American diplomats to be expelled?

    MR KIRBY: No, I can’t confirm what the foreign minister’s views were about the President’s decisions last week. We all saw President Putin’s statement, which you have to assume speaks for the Russian Government. What deliberations and discussions they had internally prior to the – President Putin issuing his statement, I simply have no idea.

    QUESTION: And there has been no conversation between the Secretary and the foreign minister on the issue of the diplomats?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have – let me just make sure that I’m checking this correctly here. No, I don’t have any recent calls with Foreign Minister Lavrov to read out with respect to the President’s decisions last week.

    We’ll take the last one. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: On Syria. Do you have any information about an airstrike that happened today in the north of Syria in Idlib province? The Fateh al-Sham Front is saying that 20 people were killed.

    MR KIRBY: I’ve seen some very early press reporting on that. I don’t have any update for you. I was just apprised of that myself just before coming out here. I would encourage you to reach out to my Defense Department colleagues for more information on that, okay?

    QUESTION: Fateh al-Sham is the same as Nusrah, correct? So their claim – you don’t take their claims?

    MR KIRBY: Don’t take what claims?

    QUESTION: I mean, they are the ones that claimed 20 people were killed. You do understand that --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, no, I know that and I know who they are and --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: -- al-Nusrah is how we still refer to them. I just don’t have any specific information on this, and again, I think the Defense Department is probably better to speak to it than me.


    (The briefing was concluded at 2:49 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Wed, 12/28/2016 - 11:50
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 27, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing


    2:53 p.m. EST

    MR TONER: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. Okay. I’m sorry, first of all, to be – not even a little late – quite late. I apologize. I can guarantee you it’s not because I was sleeping off my holiday feast. But let’s get started.

    Welcome, everyone, to the State Department. Just – I have one thing to announce at the top, and indeed, it’s been a question on quite a few of your minds over the past couple of days, but I can announce that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will deliver remarks on Middle East peace tomorrow morning, on Wednesday, December 28th, 2016 at the U.S. Department of State. In this speech, the Secretary will lay out a comprehensive vision for how he believes the conflict can be resolved in the Middle East. And all of his remarks, of course, will be open to the press and this event will be livestreamed at

    That’s all I have at the top, believe it or not, for being that late. Where are we starting? Lesley, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Yeah. So – and where is the speech going to take place? Do you have details?

    MR TONER: We’ll get to that to you. We’re going to – we’ll put out a Notice to the Press. I just wanted simply to announce the speech would be tomorrow morning.

    QUESTION: And I gather he’s going to talk about the UN resolution on --

    MR TONER: He will touch on that. I – but I don't want to – so he will touch on that, certainly, but he’ll talk more broadly about, as I said, coming to the end of his term as Secretary of State – but indeed, this is an issue – Middle East peace – that he’s worked on for many, many years, so he’ll talk about his view, I think, on the way forward and where he sees it going.

    QUESTION: Well, the tensions being --

    MR TONER: Where to begin, right? (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.)

    MR TONER: I felt a little bit the same way. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, tensions have been increasing since the UN vote on Friday. I’m sure you’ve seen all the reports and heard a lot of the words. The Israeli officials are now being quoted as saying that they have evidence that they will lay out to the Trump administration of – in which the U.S., specifically Kerry, had discussions with the Palestinians before the vote, a few weeks before, during a visit to Washington where Saeb Erekat was around, and basically that he pushed them to go to Egypt and to move ahead with this resolution. That’s one of the things.

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: So the question is: Was the U.S. hiding behind this other group of countries to submit the resolution? Were those discussions ever taken place? Because the Israelis feel that they’ve got evidence that there was meddling by the Americans.

    MR TONER: Excuse me. Forgive me. (Coughs.) I picked up a cold over the weekend too, unfortunately, so I apologize.

    So you’re right. We’ve obviously seen the same reports, an amalgamation of different allegations that somehow this was U.S.-driven and precooked. What I’ll say – excuse me – (coughs) – is that we reject the notion that the United States was the driving force behind this resolution. That’s just not true. The United States did not draft this resolution, nor did it put it forward. It was drafted and initially introduced, as we all know, by Egypt, in coordination with the Palestinians and others. When it was clear that the Egyptians and the Palestinians would insist on bringing this resolution to a vote and that every other country on the council would, in fact, support it, we made clear to others, including those on the Security Council, that further changes were needed to make the text more balanced. And that’s a standard practice on – with regard to resolutions at the Security Council. So there’s nothing new to this.

    You look like you’re pouncing on me, but go ahead.

    QUESTION: No, we just --

    MR TONER: No, we’ll continue. I can continue, but if you have a – do you have a follow up?

    QUESTION: No, no. Let’s just keep going with this.

    MR TONER: Okay, sure. And this is a really important point. We also made clear at every conversation – in every conversation – that the President would make the final decision and that he would have to review the final text before making his final decision. So the idea that this was, again, precooked or that we had agreed upon the text weeks in advance is just not accurate. And in fact --

    QUESTION: But we know that --

    MR TONER: Go ahead. I’m sorry. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: No, we know that the U.S. didn’t draft it or put it forward. But was the U.S. in any way coaxing on any – another group of countries to move ahead and go and move ahead with this resolution?

    MR TONER: Well, again, these are – I mean, again, I think it’s important to have the proper context, in that all through the fall there was talk about – and we often got the question here and of course we replied that we’re never going to discuss hypotheticals in terms of what resolutions or what is circulating out there – but of course, there has been for some time in the fall talk about this resolution or that resolution with regard to the Middle East peace and the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

    So of course, in the – of course, in the course of those conversations, we’re always making clear what our parameters are, what our beliefs are, what our – what we need to see or what we – in order to even consider a resolution. That’s part of the give-and-take of the UN.

    QUESTION: But surely these countries, before they would move ahead, would want to get the view of an influential member of the Security Council of the UN of who – of what their position would be on this.

    MR TONER: Well, again, I think we – of course, as the draft or the text was circulated, we said to those on the Security Council that – what further changes were needed to make the text more balanced. And in fact, we ended up abstaining because we didn’t feel it was balanced enough in the sense of it didn’t hit hard enough on the incitement-to-violence side of the coin.

    Go ahead. You look perplexed. (Laughter.) Go ahead, Said.

    QUESTION: At what stage did you intervene to try and balance? Was it after Egypt said they’d withdraw it?

    MR TONER: I think it was once – yeah, I mean, once – I mean, I don’t have a date certain. It was once the Egyptians and Palestinians made it clear that they were going to advance this text or bring this resolution to a vote and that, in fact, it would be supported by other countries.

    QUESTION: Does that date predate Mr. Erekat’s visit to the State Department?

    MR TONER: I don’t know the date of his visit. But again, I’m not – I’m not exactly – and I’m not necessarily excluding that when he did visit to the State Department that they didn’t discuss possible resolutions or anything like that in terms of draft language. But again, there was no – nothing precooked. There was nothing – this was not some move orchestrated by the United States.


    QUESTION: Could you be clear what you just said? I heard a double negative in there. You’re not precluding that they didn’t discuss it. Are you saying they – that when the Palestinians were here --

    MR TONER: I don’t have a readout. Yeah, I don’t have a readout of that meeting in front of me. I just – but I said I can imagine that they talked about Middle East peace broadly and efforts to reinvigorate the process. I don’t know that they discussed the possible action at the UN. But of course, as we – as I said in answer to Lesley’s question, that was something that was in the mix for some months now in New York at the UN that there might be some action taken there.

    QUESTION: And what about New Zealand, when the Secretary was there before Antarctica?

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: And also I believe he had a meeting here with Mr. Shoukry at some point in early December.

    MR TONER: Mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: Was the resolution discussed at either of those meetings with those diplomats?

    MR TONER: Again, I can’t specifically say whether the resolution – but certainly, if a resolution or action at the UN was discussed, it wasn’t discussed in the level of detail where there was some final text. We always reserved the right with any text that was put forward, drafted and put forward, to veto it or to not take action or abstain, which is what we ended up doing.

    QUESTION: But you advised them on how to put together a motion that the United States would feel comfortable abstaining or voting in favor of?

    MR TONER: Well, I think what we said is – and this is not just unique to this process, but once a text, a draft text is to the point where it’s going to be put forward to a vote, of course we would provide input on what we believed were – was language that didn’t pass or didn’t allow us to vote for it or --

    QUESTION: You see what I’m saying?

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: You didn’t just say bring whatever motion you like up and we’ll vote however we feel about it. You were encouraging them to bring forward a motion that you would feel comfortable not blocking.

    MR TONER: Well, but we have to be really careful in how we’re talking about this because what the allegations --

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

    MR TONER: No, I know and I understand that. But no, no, but I’m saying that some of the allegations out there, frankly, are implying that this was somehow some – as I said, some orchestrated action by the U.S. to pass a resolution that was negative about settlement activity in Israel, and the fact is that that’s just not the case. Of course, we would always provide, when the final text was going up for a vote, our opinion on where the red lines were. But I think that – I think this is all a little bit of a sideshow, to be honest, that this was a resolution that we could not in good conscience veto because it condemns violence, it condemned incitement, it reiterates what has long been the overwhelming consensus international view on settlements, and it calls for the parties to take constructive steps to advance a two-state solution on the ground. There was nothing in there that would prompt us to veto that type of resolution.

    QUESTION: But there was nothing in there --

    MR TONER: And in fact --

    QUESTION: -- because you told them not to put anything in there that would cause you to veto it.

    MR TONER: But that – but again, not at all. And I said we did not take the lead in drafting this resolution. That was done by the Egyptians with the Palestinians. But again, in any kind of resolution process, of course there’s moments where – or I mean, it’s not like our views regarding settlements or regarding resolutions with respect to Israel aren’t well-known and well-vetted within the UN community. There’s been many times in the past where we’ve not – or we vetoed resolutions that we found to be biased towards Israel. But that’s another point here is that there’s nothing – the other canard in all of this is that this was somehow breaking with longstanding U.S. tradition in the UN Security Council, when we all know that every administration has vetoed – or rather has abstained or voted for similar resolutions.

    QUESTION: But it’s true then that you had opportunities to ask them not to bring it forward at all and didn’t take them.

    MR TONER: I’m not sure what you’re --

    QUESTION: Well, instead of saying why not write the motion this way, you could have said please don’t bring a motion.

    MR TONER: Well, again, I think when it was clear to us that they were going to bring it to a vote and that every other council – every other country on the council was going to support that resolution, that draft text --

    QUESTION: When did it become clear to you that it would --

    MR TONER: I don’t have a date certain for that.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR TONER: I think it was last week or so.

    QUESTION: Mark, give me just a follow-up, please, quickly.

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: Now, you said that everything in the resolution really is consistent with your position, and in fact, it did include language that was very strong against incitement and violence and so on. So why did you vote against it? Why would you not --

    MR TONER: Because --

    QUESTION: I mean, not --

    MR TONER: Yeah, yeah. That’s okay.

    QUESTION: Why did you abstain?

    MR TONER: Yeah. So --

    QUESTION: And why not vote for it?

    MR TONER: No, no, it is – and I think others have spoken to this, but we believe that the resolution didn’t put sufficient emphasis on the violence and incitement and terrorism that is also eroding --

    QUESTION: What would be – in this case, what kind of language? I mean --

    MR TONER: Well, I’m not going to draft it off the top of my head, but we felt it wasn’t sufficiently strong.

    QUESTION: But you must have very clear points at what these terms or these phrases would be exactly for you to vote for it, right? What are they? What are these points and phrases that would have made you vote for it?

    MR TONER: Well, again, I think – and forgive me if I’m not specific enough, but I think our criticism in past draft resolutions has been that they are not – that they’re one-sided, that they unfairly target Israel. In this case, there was language in there regarding incitement and basically making the point that both sides need to do – to do more in order to create a climate conducive to what we believe is the way forward, which is direct negotiations. So what – it’s important to remember what this resolution is and what it isn’t.

    I mean, what it was was simply a recognition that the dynamics on the ground, in particular on the Israeli side with regard to the growth and increase in settlements, the marked increase in settlements, settlement activity, over the past years is making the viability of a two-state solution more and more impossible. It recognized that. It also noted, as I said, the fact that the Palestinian side also is partially to blame for incitement to violence for creating an atmosphere, again, not conducive to what we all agree needs to happen, which is direct negotiation. So this wasn’t in any way an attempt to prejudge or to promote a certain outcome in that negotiation. It was simply recognizing what we believe are dangerous trends.

    QUESTION: Let me ask you about what – seeing how this resolution lacks sanctions, it lacks any kind of really a roadmap to implement it and so on. What should the steps – in your view, and I understand how this Administration is departing – on review – in your view, what steps can be taken to ensure that the spirit and the letter of the resolution is somehow --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- implemented and translated into reality?

    MR TONER: Well, I think that’s, frankly, something that Secretary Kerry will – hopefully will address and make clear in his speech tomorrow. I think he’s going to kind of take that – what we need to see in terms of next steps – in his speech tomorrow. This resolution – you’re right. It doesn’t – it certainly doesn’t have an impact in terms of sanctions or actions that would directly negatively affect Israel. I think what we’ve said is it’s a call to action. It’s a recognition that international opinion is noting the fact that Israeli settlement activity is an impediment to a negotiated two-state settlement.

    QUESTION: Mark, (inaudible)?

    MR TONER: That’s okay. We’ll go to Carol and then you, Michel. We’ve got time.

    QUESTION: There was a – there’s a report in an Egyptian newspaper (inaudible), about the meeting between Secretary Kerry, Susan Rice, Saeb Erekat, and Faraj. And they’re reporting that Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Rice said that they were – the United States was ready to support a balanced resolution in the Security Council, and there also was some discussion about moving the embassy to Jerusalem, and that Saeb Erekat said if that happened that throughout the Arab world, Americans would be kicked out. Is – can you confirm or discuss whether this conversation, in fact, happened?

    MR TONER: I apologize. I can’t, Carol. I just don’t know. I don’t have that level of detail. I just got a roadie note here, though. Sorry. (Laughter.)

    But just an update, because I was deliberately vague because I did not have a readout – but in fact, we did not discuss any language or give any indication whatsoever about a U.S. position on a settlements UNSCR in either the meeting with Erekat or in New Zealand. So that just --

    QUESTION: Let me just take you back to Thursday, because we had --

    MR TONER: Correct the record there.

    QUESTION: -- a great deal of discussion right after the Egyptians went through their drafts of a resolution. And I asked a question at the time whether you were disappointed, because that was the impression that you were giving. So were you glad to see that these four countries had the intention and then they actually, in fact, did submit the resolution once again? If – am I clear in what I’m saying?

    MR TONER: Yeah, I understand what you’re saying. You’re asking whether we, in essence --

    QUESTION: Yeah. Well, I mean, were you actually, because it seems like it’s the last – sort of the last effort or the last conceivable effort.

    MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, Said, I don’t want to attempt to characterize it. I think I’ll just leave it where I thought I put it, which is that there was nothing in this resolution that we could so profoundly disagree with that it would lead us to veto it. It was, in essence, a recognition that, as I said, that – a recognition of the trends that many on the Security Council and around the world have been concerned about regarding the viability of a two-state solution, and that is the marked increase in settlement activity. I mean, you and I, Lord knows, have discussed this in great detail. And you also know that our policy, our public statements about settlements are well known. And so there’s no surprise to the reason that we chose to abstain from this vote.

    QUESTION: Can I follow-up on that one?

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: So what comments – what is your reaction to the news today that a – that a Jerusalem municipality is due to consider a request for construction of new homes – of settlements today?

    MR TONER: I mean, I saw it. We obviously saw the reports of those actions. I’ll go back to what I just said, which is we would hope that the UN Security Council resolution that was passed on Friday would serve as a wakeup call, as a call to action, as an attempt to alert both sides, but certainly Israel, that its actions with regards to settlement activity are, as I said, are a detriment to moving forward with a – toward a two-state solution.

    QUESTION: Has the Secretary, since the vote, spoken to anyone about that --

    MR TONER: Hitting my --

    QUESTION: -- prime minister – about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reaction to it and his anger and his --

    MR TONER: I apologize. What – you’re saying has he spoken with --

    QUESTION: So has he spoken since the vote to Prime Minister Netanyahu?

    MR TONER: He has not. No, not since the vote. No.

    QUESTION: Not since the vote?

    MR TONER: No.

    QUESTION: Mark?

    MR TONER: No, he spoke with him last on December 22nd.

    QUESTION: And would you say this Administration is surprised by his – by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reaction of anger and towards the Administration?

    MR TONER: I don't know if – I don't know if I’d term it “surprised.” I mean, certainly, they feel aggrieved – that’s apparent – by their reaction. But – and I would refer folks in this room who weren’t there to the Secretary’s remarks at the Saban Forum, where he talked in great detail and great personal experience about the fact that we have a relationship with Israel that is so strong and so close that sometimes we need to be able to tell them difficult things. And through our abstention on this resolution, we were conveying our concern about Israel’s future. We want to see Israel succeed and prosper as a Jewish and democratic state. And we believe that if the present settlement activity is allowed to continue and intensify, that it’s – it will render the possibility of a two-state solution, which we all agree is the ultimate goal here, an impossibility. And that was part of the message that we hope was conveyed.

    QUESTION: So the Israelis are saying --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- apart of Prime Minister Netanyahu is that you cannot have a – that actually this resolution makes it more difficult for peace talks to take place, that they feel that the Israelis would not be seen fairly or treated fairly in those discussions. Would you agree with that?

    MR TONER: I wouldn’t. I don't want to delve too deep into hypotheticals, but that’s between the parties. This isn’t something – and we’ve said this very clearly – that we want the UN in any way, shape, or form to decide the outcome of a negotiated settlement. That’s between the Palestinians and the Israeli Government.

    QUESTION: And just a last question.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR TONER: Yeah. Go ahead and I’ll --

    QUESTION: Just a last question on the – is Secretary Kerry or anyone from this Administration going to the Paris talks --

    MR TONER: I don't have an answer for that.

    QUESTION: -- on that?

    MR TONER: Yeah. Not that --

    QUESTION: Did you notify the Israelis ahead of time before you’d vote? And if so, can you tell us when and --

    MR TONER: How we were going to vote?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR TONER: I’ll take that question and see if I can get an answer for you.

    QUESTION: Mark, Israel’s foreign minister has suspended all working ties with the countries that voted to pass the resolution, and it summoned the U.S. ambassador to Israel. Do you have any readout for that meeting? And what’s your reaction to --

    MR TONER: I don't have a particular readout for that meeting. Obviously, you can guess the topic. Look, I don't want to overstate Israel’s reaction. I think that no one – and certainly not the United States, or the United States least of all – wants to see Israel isolated in any international forum. And so, of course, we’re concerned when we see Israel take actions that we fear will further isolate it – proactive steps that will isolate it within the international community. But it’s not for us to really speak any more to what Israel decides to do.

    Again, our – we took the actions we took last week – the action we took last week, rather – in an effort to, along with the others who voted for the resolution – an effort to send a clear message about our concerns regarding settlement activity as an impediment to a negotiated peaceful settlement – no more, no less. We don’t want this to create a diplomatic firestorm, in fact just the opposite. What we want is – are actions that create a climate that is conducive to a return to direct negotiations.

    QUESTION: And my --

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: -- my last question on this: And how do you think this resolution will help the two-state solution?

    MR TONER: Well, again, I spoke about the fact that sometimes – to use a colloquial American expression – you have to call a spade a spade. And when we see activity or actions on the part of Israel or Palestine – or Palestinians rather in this case, with regard to incitement, we call it like we see it and we’ve done that in this case. It is, I think, important for us to have any credibility as a neutral hand, if you will, in any negotiations which we’ve offered to play going forward and we’ve played it in the past. You’ve got to be honest and we’re trying to be honest.

    QUESTION: Mark, the --

    QUESTION: Mark.

    QUESTION: Should we see tomorrow’s speech as the last word from the Obama Administration on this issue, a summary of where we are? Or is this the start of a three-and-a-half-week push to create a new framework for negotiations?

    MR TONER: That’s a very good and a very fair question. I don’t want to predict anything and nor do I have anything to announce coming up. Certainly this Administration is going to continue to work until January 20th.

    QUESTION: The morning of January 20th.

    MR TONER: January (inaudible) 20th – important point. But I don’t want to lean into it that there’s going to be some kind of a push behind this. I think this is, again, his – Secretary Kerry sharing his vision for how we can resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    QUESTION: I have just a couple more. Ben Rhodes noted in the press conference call that this Administration has been probably the friendliest of all administrations towards Israel --

    MR TONER: Yeah, he did.

    QUESTION: -- noting, like, they – most recently given them aid and to the tune of $40 billion and so on.

    MR TONER: Yeah, the MOU.

    QUESTION: Do you – are you disappointed in the kind of rhetoric that is being thrown at this Administration in its final days by the Israelis, by the Prime Minister of Israel, by others in this town who are friends of Israel, some even calling the President of the United States anti-Semitic and things like this?

    MR TONER: Well, I mean --

    QUESTION: How do you react to all this?

    MR TONER: Yeah, Said – I mean, you have to be thick-skinned in this game we call diplomacy, as you know. So I don’t want to say that we’re upset over it, but the facts speak for themselves, as you noted. No administration, no American administration has arguably done more for Israel’s security. As you noted as well, just a couple months ago, we concluded a $38 billion MOU, which is the largest military assistance package in U.S. history, worked on Iron Dome to strengthen that.

    We’ve done a lot of things, the Obama Administration, to strengthen U.S.-Israeli ties, which we – and of course, that’s on the security front, but we also – and this Secretary of State led a very hard-fought effort to get negotiations back on track early in this second term. And of course in the first Obama Administration – or term, we also had a pretty serious effort led by George Mitchell to get these negotiations back up and running.

    So it’s not like we’ve been standing idly by the side and not caring about this issue or simply giving everyone a free pass – far from it. We have been and continue to be a staunch defender of Israel’s best interests and it’s in that spirit that we feel the resolution that was passed on Friday is in that same vein.

    QUESTION: Another thick skin question.

    MR TONER: Another what?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Thick skin question – the diplomacy.

    MR TONER: Oh, thick skin. Yeah, sure.

    QUESTION: President Erdogan accused today the coalition of supporting ISIS. Do you have any reaction?

    QUESTION: Before we – do we have a time for the speech tomorrow?

    MR TONER: I think it will be late morning; I don’t have a time specific. We’ll put that all in the notice to press. It’s a fair point. I deliberately fudged that because I don’t have a certain time. I wanted to announce his speech, but I don’t have it.

    I’m sorry, your question was about --

    QUESTION: President Erdogan’s remarks, yeah.

    MR TONER: Yeah, I mean, it’s ludicrous, to be honest. No basis for truth, as you can all imagine. I don’t think anyone could look at our actions on the ground leading the coalition in northern Syria, in Iraq and say anything other than that we’re 100 percent behind the defeat, destruction of Daesh, and even beyond Syria and Iraq, seeing its networks dismantled, destroyed around the region – or outside of the region around the world. I can give you a rundown on what we’re doing. You don’t need to hear it. You know what we’re doing in terms of the coalition, and in fact, we’re working constructively with Turkey to lead those efforts. And Turkey is playing a part and we have constant dialogue and discussion with Turkey about how we can better leverage both of our efforts.

    QUESTION: Did you contact with the Turkish officials?

    MR TONER: I don’t know – you mean regarding these remarks?

    QUESTION: Regarding these remarks.

    MR TONER: I don’t know. Honestly, I didn’t have time to check on it.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR TONER: I’ll take – I’ll see if we’ve made contact.

    QUESTION: So the point – yeah, the point is al-Bab. I mean, he’s criticizing coalition for not supporting the Turkish armed forces’ offensive in al-Bab. I mean, do you have any reason why the coalition is not support Turkey in this operation?

    MR TONER: Sorry, you’re talking about al-Bab?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: Yeah. Sorry, I’m hitting the mike. I apologize. I mean, a couple of things. First of all, we’re obviously in close contact and discussion, dialogue, near constant with the Turks about their efforts in northern Syria. They’ve been very efficient and very successful. We’re talking about them about how – we’re talking to them about how we can support them more closely. Brett McGurk is in contact with them. I don’t know when he was last in Turkey, but it was fairly recently.

    We’re aware that it’s a tough fight that they’re facing, and that’s all being still discussed. We have provided support to Turkey for operations to clear its border of ISIL, and that support is ongoing. But as I said, they’re now driving on al-Bab. It’s a tough fight. We’re talking about – to them about how we can help them in their efforts. I don’t have anything to announce. I’d have to refer you to the Department of Defense to --

    QUESTION: But would you advise them to hold back from al-Bab until you’re ready to help them? It seems that they’re going to fight --

    MR TONER: That’s their – I mean, look, that’s – David, that’s – far be it for us to provide strategic military advice or tactical military advice to the Turks.

    QUESTION: But you just said you’re members of the same coalition.

    MR TONER: Well, I understand that. But I’m just saying, like, that we support their efforts. We have supported their efforts along the border to clear it of ISIL. We’re in dialogue with them about possible next steps we can take in terms of al-Bab. I mean, and we don’t – certainly don’t want to see them enter into al-Bab without sufficient support. But again, these are discussions we have on a daily basis with the Turks.

    QUESTION: How many --

    QUESTION: Doesn’t that relate to Turkey’s attacks on U.S. – the U.S. ally, the YPG, as in Manbij, and at that point there were all sorts of tensions developed between the United States and Turkey, and the U.S. military let it be known that Turkey had gone past what was authorized in al-Bab? But the core of it was Turkish attacks on the U.S. ally, the YPG, fighting in northern Syria and around Manbij and other areas. Wasn’t that the core of the problem?

    MR TONER: Well, we have – you’re right in that Turkey has – and they’re partner forces, which is I think what you’re referring to – have made progress in securing the border and liberating large swaths of the area, a number of towns and villages. And as I said, they’re driving on al-Bab. We’re mindful, of course, of some of the tensions that exist obviously between these Turkish-supported forces and the YPG and other forces that we’ve been supporting in that area, and those are tensions – again, that’s the reason why we’re working closely, having these discussions, and trying to coordinate with them.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) if you want U.S. support, you shouldn’t attack U.S. allies?

    MR TONER: No, there’s no --

    QUESTION: No lesson?

    MR TONER: No. (Laughter.) Look, no, I don’t want to give that impression at all. Turkey is a NATO ally and a strong partner in the anti-Daesh coalition. I certainly don’t want to give the impression that we’re trying to send a message.

    QUESTION: Can we press you just a little bit on --

    QUESTION: So the President himself (inaudible) then?

    MR TONER: (Laughter.) I won’t touch that.

    QUESTION: Could I just press you on what Erdogan said? I mean, he – he was very clear. He said U.S.-led coalition forces give support to terrorist groups including ISIS, including YPG, PYD. They were accusing --

    MR TONER: Well, look, I mean --

    QUESTION: Wait a minute. They

    MR TONER: Okay. So let’s --

    QUESTION: They were accusing us of supporting Daesh.

    MR TONER: So let’s – let me address that.

    QUESTION: I mean, he was very clear.

    MR TONER: Sure. Let me address that. So we do provide tactical support to the Syrian Democratic Forces. There’s no surprise there. We’ve been very transparent about that. That’s to help us all achieve our shared goal of defeating Daesh. The Syrian Democratic Forces have, as we’ve said many times, proven to be a very capable force against Daesh, and our support for them – again, our tactical support for them will continue. As we’ve also said before, we’ve never provided weapons to the YPG. And we have provided equipment to vetted Arab elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces. This equipment has – (cell phone rings). Someone’s waking up? This equipment has included ammunition and other tactical equipment to assist the coalition’s counter-ISIL operations. But let me be clear that we reject any group providing support to the PKK or enabling its terrorist campaign within Turkey.

    QUESTION: Or Daesh. Because he’s saying that you guys gave support to Daesh.

    MR TONER: Daesh – I said that from the outright. That’s just ludicrous. I don’t know where that comes from.

    QUESTION: Two more questions. Two --

    QUESTION: Okay, is it about Turkey?

    QUESTION: Yes. Same subject. Thank you, Mark. Today there are some reports that Russia in these – gave some air support around al-Bab. Do you have any information on that?

    MR TONER: I don’t. I don’t have any information on that. I mean, I’ll look into it, but obviously the Russians and Turks have been talking, talking about coordination, but I don’t have anything to confirm.

    QUESTION: In the past, very recent past, you defined these Turkey moves around al-Bab as uncoordinated and not constructive. Do you still see al-Bab offense as uncoordinated and not constructive, or what’s your view on it?

    MR TONER: No, I’d say now we’re in regular discussions with Turkey on the operations around al-Bab. We want to help it defeat Daesh. I think there was a recent visit by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs – excuse me – Dunford, who met with Turkish chief of staff – or chief of defense, excuse me. And as I said, Special Envoy McGurk, Brett McGurk, also visited Ankara before the holidays to talk about the overall campaign to defeat Daesh. So I can’t – I don’t want to discuss ongoing operations, but we’re obviously coordinating with them.

    QUESTION: Mark --

    QUESTION: One more talking point, that on Turkey pro-government made very awful news and cited that the President-elect Trump stated that the President Obama and his Administration founded ISIS and supported ISIS, so that the Turkey now repeating this. What’s your respond to this allegation?

    MR TONER: I don’t know where those claims are coming from. Maybe some comments from the campaign. I honestly don’t know what they’re referring to. I don’t think President-elect Trump has ever made that allegation. And as I said, if he did, it was probably from a long time ago, and I don’t think he’s made it again. But again, I can’t speak for the president-elect’s team.

    QUESTION: Mark --

    QUESTION: The final question.

    MR TONER: I’ll get to you next. I promise.

    QUESTION: Turkey, Iran, and Russia are going to convene these new Syria talks in Astana, Kazakhstan --

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- early 2017. Have you been invited?

    MR TONER: I don’t believe so.

    QUESTION: And how do you view those talks?

    MR TONER: So I mean, we talked a little bit about this before when they were first announced. Look, we’re not against any effort to coordinate more closely on the multiple conflicts taking place in Syria – and by multiple conflicts I mean obviously destroying and disabling Daesh but also the civil war and of course the terrible fighting around Aleppo over the past few weeks – as long as it produces results. We talk frequently with the Turks. We talk frequently with the Russians. We’ve also long said that in order to reach some kind of resolution to the conflict in Syria, all the stakeholders need to agree and need to talk to each other. So the fact that Turkey and Russia are holding these kinds of talks is not necessarily something we would disapprove of.

    QUESTION: But the U.S. won’t be on the table and --

    MR TONER: I understand that. But as I said, we’re obviously talking closely with and communicating frequently with both Russia and with Turkey.

    QUESTION: And in this regard, Mark --

    MR TONER: I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: -- Russia’s foreign ministry has said today that Minister Lavrov has discussed a peace plan for Syria with Secretary Kerry today. Do you have any readout for this phone call?

    MR TONER: No, they did speak earlier today. I didn’t get a full readout from that conversation. I’m not sure that – frankly, that they discussed Syria, so I’m not sure if it was today or a previous conversation.

    QUESTION: That what they said, that they discussed --

    QUESTION: That’s what they said then.

    MR TONER: That’s what he said?

    QUESTION: -- a peace plan for Syria.

    MR TONER: I – honestly, I got a very partial readout. I apologize, but I don’t believe Syria was mentioned. If that’s incorrect, I’ll raise it or I’ll --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Well --

    QUESTION: Was it about Syria?

    MR TONER: I think they talked about Libya.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: About Libya? Because this – the ministry had also said that Lavrov informed Kerry that a U.S. decision to ease some restrictions on arming Syrian rebels may lead to more casualties. They’ve also said that it could open the way for the delivery of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.

    MR TONER: Yeah, this is – I mean, look, this is something that was in the – I think the consent was or the language was in the National Defense Authorization bill that they’ve been – is this what we’re – they’re referring to? I believe so.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: That’s right, yeah.

    MR TONER: We’ve been very clear. I can --

    QUESTION: I’ve heard of that (inaudible).

    MR TONER: Yeah, I mean, I – I mean, my point is this is not a new allegation that we’ve seen from them, and the fact is is that we’re not providing any kind of MANPADS or anything to the Syrian opposition.

    QUESTION: And they consider this as a hostile act, as the foreign ministry – Russian foreign ministry has said.

    MR TONER: Right, but again, we’ve seen this before – this language before, or this kind of rhetoric. I mean, our position on MANPADS has not changed. We’re – we would have a very deep concern about that type of weaponry getting into Syria.

    QUESTION: Can we move to Asia?

    QUESTION: No. Well, PKK question – on the PKK. There have been repeated stories over the past month in the Iraqi and Kurdish media that Baghdad is paying the PKK in the Sinjar area to train local fighters, the Sinjar Resistance Units. Today, it’s reported that Baghdad and Ankara are discussing that and Baghdad has agreed to stop paying them and help get the PKK out of Sinjar if Turkey withdraws from Bashiq. Since you’ve said and KGR officials have also said the PKK shouldn’t be in Sinjar, have you pressed Baghdad to stop paying those salaries or providing any support to the PKK?

    MR TONER: So I – excuse me, I apologize – (coughing) – I don’t want to speak necessarily to the direct allegations that they’re somehow – they’re paying these groups. We believe that the PKK, which is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, should have no role in Sinjar. We regard their presence there as a major obstacle to reconciliation, as well as to refugee return, to the return of internally displaced people. And we urge all groups active in Sinjar to facilitate political reconciliation so that these IDPs, these internally displaced people, can return and that the communities that they were driven from can begin to rebuild. And we urge continued close cooperation between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government to defeat Daesh and to resolve any other outstanding issues between them.

    In terms of whether Baghdad supports the PKK – I mean, that’s something – that’s a question you’d have to ask the Government of Iraq. We believe that the government shares our concern over restoring stability in Sinjar and oppose the PKK presence there.

    QUESTION: Asia.

    MR TONER: Let’s go to Asia. Let’s finish up and --

    QUESTION: Mark, just – yeah --

    MR TONER: Okay, one more, and then we’re going back to this patient crew back here.

    QUESTION: Okay, thank you. About these remarks blaming U.S. for supporting ISIS, this debate has started --

    MR TONER: Oh, okay. Sorry.

    QUESTION: -- has started two weeks ago, if you remember. And the Turkish foreign ministry official talked to the Turkish press and he said that U.S. also accused Turkey in the past for supporting ISIS, and then they give some documentations and it’s turned out that those documentation are false, and then Secretary Kerry apologized to Foreign Minister Cavusoglu personally.

    MR TONER: Does this have something to do with the ISIL oil --

    QUESTION: Oil smuggling, yeah.

    MR TONER: Yeah. In fact – and again, I’m an aging man who doesn’t have quite the memory that he used to have, but I felt like we pretty strongly pushed back on the notion that was repeated by some journalists who aren’t here today that this was somehow some conspiracy that involved the highest levels of the Turkish Government, who were buying ISIL oil. And in fact, we had a senior State Department official who is very expert in energy and oil reserves and how this would work and be smuggled come down and basically sit down with some of you in this room, I know, and basically picked that argument apart about how it would make no economic sense. And in fact, most of the oil that ISIL was able to draw from the ground was sold to third parties immediately, and was kept mostly within Syria. And we were pretty adamant about pushing back against the notion that there was some – as I said, somehow that the Turkish Government was aiding and abetting ISIL in selling off the oil that it was extracting from Syrian wells that it had captured. To the contrary, we said that, again, most of the oil that they pull out of the ground immediately goes into the trucks of smugglers who then oftentimes would sell it back to the Syrian Government or the Syrian regime.

    So I don’t know where that --

    QUESTION: The thing is, this debate that you – this – the questions coming from the journalists who are trying to understand what’s going on happened after the Russian jet incident at the end of 2015. But this official is referring to a conversation between the two leaders – to Foreign Minister Cavusoglu and Secretary Kerry at the end of 2014. Because Secretary Kerry gave a testimony in the U.S. Senate and he said that U.S. – ISIS is selling its oil to some neighboring countries to Syria and one of them is Turkey. And then, Cavusoglu asked an explanation from the Secretary Kerry regarding to the Turkish press, and the Secretary Kerry gave some documentations based on these allegations. And then Turkish intelligence looked at this documentations and they turn out it’s something else, not an ISIS facility or oil facility, but totally different – something total different. And then Secretary Kerry apologized for this.

    MR TONER: Well, I’m not aware of that – that he apologized in any way, shape, or form. What I can say is that this is something that we’ve looked at in great detail and I think while we’ve said that you can never say 100 percent that no oil is being smuggled across the border of Syria and Turkey, certainly not in the last several years, certainly not in the last probably – these are centuries-old smuggling routes that are hard to simply shut down completely. But the allegations at the time were that this was somehow condoned or even involved the complicity of the Turkish Government, and I don’t think – across the board we were always --

    QUESTION: But there is no apology?

    MR TONER: I don’t know. I’m unaware of one if there was.

    QUESTION: Asia?

    MR TONER: Yeah. You, sir, in the middle.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Yeah, I’m just going to ask in a moment President Obama and the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are going to attend event at the Arizona memorial. So Abe said that he will not offer apology and the Japanese officials quoted him saying he believed Obama did not offer apology at Hiroshima, so it’s okay for him not to apologize at Pearl Harbor. So the question is how do the U.S. think it’s appropriate, not appropriate to compare these two? And is the U.S. still expecting apology to Pearl Harbor attack from future Japanese leader or are you actually just put an end to this part of history, as Abe said?

    MR TONER: Well, what we’ve long said about these types of – or these events that took place is that since the end of World War II, the U.S. and Japan have forged a very strong alliance and partnership that has, frankly, brought a measure of peace, stability, and prosperity to the Pacific region that’s never been known before. We have built out of the ashes of that terrible conflict a stronger U.S.-Japan relationship and it’s in that spirit that, whether it was the President’s visit to Hiroshima or whether it was – whether it’s Prime Minister Abe’s visit today to the site of Pearl Harbor and the site of the Arizona – the USS Arizona, that we do so in a spirit of looking forward with a mind on what happened, certainly. We remember what happened, but we want to look forward in this relationship and we want to build on this relationship. We want to make it stronger, partly out of – frankly, out of the memory of those who died in that conflict.

    QUESTION: But do you think the past has been settled? Obviously, a year ago, 200 Western historian, many Americans – including, like, Ezra Vogel from Harvard – asked the Japanese Prime Minister Abe to face squarely about history, especially the atrocities in Asia. I mean, so this obviously – and the Chinese foreign minister spokesman also said if Japan does not have a peaceful – peace reconciliation with the China and other victimized country in Asia, Japan can never leave this part of history behind. So what’s your thought on that?

    MR TONER: Well, again, we always --

    QUESTION: Are we putting a period on that or not?

    MR TONER: I mean, we always call for – and it’s not with just respect to Japan, but any country – that we always call for – an historical accounting of past events is always important to moving beyond those events. But look, again, I think the strength of the U.S.-Japanese relationship speaks for itself. We are honored to have the prime minister visit the site of Pearl Harbor, and I’ll leave it there.

    Please. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Yeah. China has sent their first aircraft carrier toward to the South China Sea (inaudible). Are you aware of that? Do you have any comment on that?

    MR TONER: We are aware of this – China’s, as you said, first aircraft carrier in the Western Pacific. I don’t have any particular comment. As we often say, we recognize the rights of – and freedoms and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all countries in accordance with international law. As former Admiral Kirby will say, whales and icebergs – or not just for – what’s his thing? Not just for whales and icebergs. Anyway, sorry. I’m blowing it.

    QUESTION: Freedom of navigation is not just for --

    QUESTION: But this --

    MR TONER: Not just for – freedom of navigation is not – thanks, man.

    QUESTION: And – but this --

    QUESTION: But do you --

    MR TONER: Freedom – I want to say it for the record: Freedom of navigation is not just for whales and icebergs. Otherwise I’ll have an email from him later. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Okay. And this operation is close to the Japan and Taiwan. Do you – is it good timing for operation for the freedom of navigation from your perspective? Do you have any concern for the peace and stability in the region?

    MR TONER: Well, look, I – again, I don’t – I don’t believe that this was – this was in international waters, and again, as we often make the case with our own naval vessels sailing – in all seriousness, sailing in those same waters, that it’s freedom of navigation, that they – if they are in international waters, they have the right to sail there. And so this – if it holds true for the United States, it should hold true for China, it should hold true for other countries as well.

    That it? Last question.

    QUESTION: The 2017 national authorization act actually highlight U.S. military exchange with Taiwan. Could you shed some light why this is so this time given the timing? Is that there is more tension between the mainland across strait and Taiwan?

    MR TONER: (Coughs.) Excuse me. I’m not sure – what was the first part of your question?

    QUESTION: So, obviously, the National Defense Authorization Act this year for 2017 highlights the military exchanges between Taiwan and the U.S. So why you think this is a highlight this time given the tension across the strait?

    MR TONER: Well, I don’t know that there’s a – I mean, we’re not seeking to highlight tensions and cross-strait tensions. Our policy with regard to Taiwan is exactly the same, hasn’t changed. We believe in a “one China” policy. There’s been no change to that policy. I don’t have any particular details to add to your question, though, except that we obviously have a strong security relationship with Taiwan.

    QUESTION: Mark, can I just have a last question on --

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: Just go back to the – Secretary Kerry’s speech tomorrow. What does he hope to achieve through this speech? Is it just things that he felt he hasn’t had time to say or, I mean, is he hoping that it would be picked up and taken forward through – into a Trump administration, which is unlikely?

    MR TONER: Well, I think that’s always – I mean, that’s always the hope. I think – look, I think he feels it’s his duty in his waning weeks and days as Secretary of State to lay out what he believes is a way towards a peaceful two-state solution in the Middle East. And as we’ve said about other proposals, it’s always important to try to keep the process moving forward, to lay out constructive visions for the future, but also to underscore the fact that we haven’t given up on this and we don’t want the Palestinians or the Israelis to give up on this either.

    QUESTION: And lastly – Mark, last one. Can you take this apology question? I mean, can you collect by --

    MR TONER: Yeah, sure. I’ll get back to you if we have anything to say about it.

    Your last one on South Sudan.

    QUESTION: Thank you so much. So the other resolution last week was an arms embargo on South Sudan at the UN.

    MR TONER: Yep, yep.

    QUESTION: I’m wondering if you can give some insight as to why the U.S. wasn’t able to convince any other Security Council members to vote in favor of it, especially Japan which has peacekeeping operations there. And I guess more broadly, how does that vote reflect on the international community and the Security Council as a whole?

    MR TONER: Sure. Well, we did strongly support a Security Council resolution to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan as well as additional targeted sanctions on those who have engaged in actions or policies that threaten the peace, the security, the stability of South Sudan. Obviously, there’s very credible reports of growing violence, refugee outflows of South Sudan, and I think just rising concern over the situation there.

    I think that, unfortunately, certain members of the council made the decision to protect some of the parties to the conflict and send a message that they support the status quo in South Sudan. What we don’t want is that the results of this vote be misinterpreted by the perpetrators of violence in South Sudan. We’re going to continue – we, the United States – to be watching their actions closely. We’ll continue to work and demand their accountability. We’re going to work to stop the flow of weapons, and we’re going to work to help prevent violence against civilians there.

    Thanks, guys.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:50 p.m.)

    DPB # 219

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Wed, 12/21/2016 - 17:12
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 21, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAQ


    2:09 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. We’ll wait for Lesley to get seated – (laughter) – and begin. I don’t have any opening comments, so we’ll hit it over to you, Brad.

    QUESTION: I don’t have a whole lot either, but I did want to ask you about the Kremlin’s remark that U.S.-Russian ties are essentially frozen now --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- or nonexistent, if you will.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Do you have a response to that statement?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know exactly what to make of that comment. Obviously, we don’t agree and have issues with Russia on a variety of issues, but dialogue has not been broken. We talked yesterday about the Secretary and his phone call with Foreign Minister Lavrov after their meeting on Syria in Moscow. The – I think the Defense Department acknowledged earlier today that they too held a de-confliction VTC, as they’ve been doing, with respect to operations in Syria. So certainly on the major issues and the issues that matter most, I mean, there continues to be a dialogue. So I’m just not sure what to make of his comment; that’s certainly not reflective of the way we see communications between Moscow and Washington.

    QUESTION: Given that when there was the period that the United States said it was cutting back bilateral engagement with Russia, you still maintained the de-confliction, is there any other process right now you can point to where there is kind of strong U.S.-Russian engagement? I mean, they’ve excluded you just recently from this latest Syrian effort. Is there something going on otherwise that you can point to?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I would push back on this idea that they’ve excluded us from Syria. Yes, we weren’t in the meeting in Moscow, but it’s not as if we haven’t had communication with them before and then right after that meeting. So there’s been no exclusion of the United States with respect to the issue of Syria. You’re right; DOD keeps the de-confliction channel open, and they just used it again today as I’m given to understand. And then there’s just a range of other issues where dialogue continues with Russia, even on Ukraine and our concerns about where the Minsk agreement is and their implementation of it. So even on an issue like that where clearly we’re not in agreement on everything, we’re still – there’s still dialogue. And then just the normal give and take on a day-to-day basis. We have an embassy there, an ambassador who engages with his counterparts every day and on all manner of issues.

    QUESTION: John --

    QUESTION: Mr. Kirby --

    QUESTION: Just one more, just – and then I’m done. Since we’re on this broader U.S.-Russian relationship and levels of interaction, has there been any recent conversations involving anyone from the State Department on the cyber matter? Whether it was Mr. Painter or someone else, has there been any cyber talks involving the State Department?

    MR KIRBY: By cyber, are you referring to the intel community’s assessment of hacking during the election?

    QUESTION: However you want to categorize it.

    MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any specific bilateral discussions with respect to cyber issues of late. There was, as we said even back in the fall, communications between this Administration and President Putin about our concerns over indications that we had prior to the election that they were involving themselves in cyber issues with respect to electoral confidence here in the United States. I’m not aware of anything in just recent days or weeks.

    I would remind, though, that the President did order a review. That review’s ongoing. He wants it on his desk before the end of his term of office, and so we’re – that’s what our focus is on – on cyber issues with Russia specifically, that’s the focus area.


    QUESTION: Kirby, can I ask, have you sought clarification from the Russians on what he meant by that statement?

    MR KIRBY: No.

    QUESTION: Nothing?

    MR KIRBY: No.

    QUESTION: And --

    QUESTION: Isn’t it self-evident – he’s not talking about break in the relations. He is speaking about a freeze, about how the contacts became pretty minimal. I mean, the Bilateral Presidential Commission is frozen and almost all high-level contacts are gone. He is not speaking about break; he is speaking about how it’s all one nosedive.

    MR KIRBY: I think I’ve answered the question. You have the foreign minister of their country and the Secretary of State of the United States just speaking yesterday, and you have --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR KIRBY: -- let me finish – you have the Defense Department acknowledging that they held another VTC on de-confliction in Syria, what, today, I think. I – as I said at the outset – and maybe you didn’t hear what I said – I said I don’t know what to make of his comments. I think you should ask Mr. Peskov what he means by his comments. What I can tell you is from our perspective, there’s no break in the dialogue and communications are not frozen. That’s not the way we would describe it.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that we agree on everything. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t tension between the United States and Russia on a range of issues. Brad talked about cyber. That’s clearly an issue of tension. Ukraine is an issue of tension. What’s going on in Syria and Aleppo – obviously, an issue of tension. But the dialogue, the communications, haven’t been frozen. That’s not the way we would describe it. You should ask Mr. Peskov what he meant by his comments. I’m not clear I understand what he meant by his comments.

    QUESTION: I’m not trying to argue this point, and I agree with you, and I agree with him. What I’m saying is it’s – I mean, it’s not a big deal, the way I see it, and this is – this is sort of becoming another stumbling block where it’s not even needed. I mean, something seems to be lost in translation, and maybe I’m wrong.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t know if you’re wrong or not. As I said, I don’t know what to make of his comments either. But look, there’s a lot of issues where dialogue and communications between the United States and Russia remains important, and for our part, we remain committed to that dialogue and that communication. Again – and it doesn’t mean that we’re not always going to agree and it doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be tensions. But as far as we’re concerned, communications is – are not frozen and dialogue is still happening. Differences are still being discussed, debated, and there continues to be, obviously, issues of concern. But again, I would point you to Mr. Peskov for a greater clarification of what he meant, because it wasn’t clear to me.

    QUESTION: Could the sanctions that were imposed yesterday have anything to do with that? Do you think that was a reaction?

    MR KIRBY: You’d have to ask Mr. Peskov. I don’t know.

    QUESTION: Well, in your assessment – in your assessment, could the sanctions – I mean, there is a great deal of anti-Russian sentiment that is going around town and so on, and there is added sanctions. Could that, in a way, exacerbated the --

    MR KIRBY: Said, I really couldn’t get inside Mr. Peskov’s head and tell you that. You’d really have to talk to him.

    QUESTION: Okay. Let me just ask you a couple more questions. Can you sort of name a time where the relations between – Russian-U.S. relations have been this bad since the Cold War?

    MR KIRBY: I think we’ve actually had this exchange a while ago.

    QUESTION: We discussed it – right, right.

    MR KIRBY: I’m not a historian to the degree that I can – or to any degree, but certainly to the degree that I can walk you through the history since the end of the Cold War. But obviously, there’s been times since the wall came down that there have been heightened tensions between the United States and the Russian Federation. And there have been times when those tensions have been eased and we have been able to work constructively with Russia on things like climate change and on – like the – on the Iran deal, and up until recently, on Syria. So I just don’t know. I’m not expert enough to tell you that this is sort of the nadir of the relationship between the United States and Russia, and nobody’s looking for that. As tense as things are and can be, we still believe it’s an important bilateral relationship and it’s important to keep working on it.

    QUESTION: And my last one on this: I mean, I am an old-timer and I remember during the height of the Cold War there were still delegations being exchanged in science and other areas. Almost on a daily basis, there were things that are going on. There are – today, they’re just not there, or at least we don’t see them.

    MR KIRBY: I think I kind of touched on this with Brad. I think that’s not necessarily correct, Said. I mean, there are daily interactions. We do have diplomatic relations with Russia. There are exchange programs. There are Russian students here and American students there. I mean, there is – there are ongoing exchanges and interactions between the United States and Russia, between our two governments, and between our two peoples, and that’s healthy. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to agree on everything, and we don’t. But there’s been no break in dialogue, there’s been no break in diplomatic relations, and those things continue.

    Yeah, in the back there, because I’m guessing you’re going to ask about this too, right?

    QUESTION: Well, I’m actually going to ask about Aleppo.

    MR KIRBY: Okay.

    QUESTION: Repeatedly from this podium, when asked about the situation in Aleppo, you have advised people here to turn on their TVs, watch American television. Do you stand by that? Do you still recommend people do that if they want to learn credible reports about what’s happening in Aleppo?

    MR KIRBY: Oh, I think you’re grossly mischaracterizing my comments. I didn’t say that the only way to get informed about Aleppo is to turn on your TV. I was referring to questions about people dancing in the streets. And I didn’t deny – unlike what’s been out there on Twitter, I didn’t deny that there aren’t images of people that were – may have been happy about what happened in Aleppo. I said I hadn’t seen them, which at the time I hadn’t. But I also encouraged people to look at news coverage – the broad swath of news coverage – about what’s going on in Aleppo. And I think you can see that through the imagery that’s being conveyed, mostly by television news coverage but not only, you can see the devastation that’s being wrought on the people of Aleppo and the innocent men, women, and children that are still there, that still are trying to get out, and still haven’t received any humanitarian aid.

    So let’s not oversimplify what I said.

    QUESTION: Well, let me ask you, one of the things that was highlighted on American television was these final messages from people, right? They were tweeting out this is their final message, as soon as the city is liberated we’re going to be killed, and these messages turned out to not be final messages. I mean, not a single one of these people ended up being – being slaughtered. So is it still credible to watch American media?

    MR KIRBY: Boy, talk about a loaded question. So I don’t know, maybe you have specific knowledge about every person that sent a tweet as --

    QUESTION: I have some specifics here if you want to get into that.

    MR KIRBY: No.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: If you’ll let me finish --

    QUESTION: Sure.

    MR KIRBY: -- then we can have this conversation. Maybe you have more knowledge about the individuals tweeting. I don’t. And my goodness, if every single person that thought they were going to die at the hands of the Syrian armed forces with the support of Russia didn’t die, you’re going to – are you claiming that’s a bad thing? I think that’s a pretty darn good thing. So I can’t speak for the fact that some may have survived and some didn’t. But the fact that they believed it at the time and were honestly scared about their lives and the livelihoods of their friends and family seemed pretty legitimate to me based on the social media interaction that I saw. If that didn’t happen to them, then I think that’s terrific, obviously, and we should all be rejoicing in the fact that they were able to survive the onslaught and the siege and the surrender tactics of the regime and its backers.

    Now, as for the American media, yeah, I think – I think the reporting coming out of Aleppo, some of what we’re seeing is pretty darn courageous reporting, pretty brave.

    QUESTION: Well --

    MR KIRBY: And I think it’s pretty important. And I always advocate, whenever anybody asks me about media coverage, to read and digest a broad array of media – not just U.S. media but foreign media as well. Take it all in, take all those sources and make your own judgments. But absolutely, I think it’s important that independent, third-party media coverage of whatever the issue is – we’re talking about Aleppo; it could be anything – is vital. It’s vital to the public so that they can better understand what’s going on. So if you’re asking me if I think that following the U.S. media with respect to what’s going on in Syria is important, the answer is absolutely yes.

    QUESTION: Well, one of the journalists who was – who was quoted and featured across American mainstream media is Bilal Abdul Kareem. Here he is being interviewed. And this individual, we also have some of his other journalism, and here he is with someone – this is what he, in his words, describes as an explosive vest, and this is an interview he did with a fighter in an explosive vest. He reports, “The fighters are now preparing to leave the city. This is an explosive belt. This is what many fighters are wearing because they don’t feel they can trust the regime.” Is this an unbiased, credible source, this person standing next to what looks like a potential suicide bomber?

    MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to speak to every single news account that you can sit there and cite, sir. What I can tell you is, as I said, I think the broad swath of coverage about what’s going on in Syria is worth people paying attention to, and people have to decide for themselves what they’re going to find credible and what they’re not going to find credible. But if you’re – if by the tone of your questioning or by the questions themselves you’re trying to imply that what’s going on in Aleppo is more – nothing more than a liberation festival or a parade of proud, happy people that they’re being liberated, I think that is ludicrous and I think it is not backed up by any stretch of normal, independent reporting that we’ve seen coming out of there.

    Now, I’m not going to debate each and every account with you. I’m not going to get into an argument over each and every story that’s been filed. But I think the – I think the travesty that has become Aleppo is clearly and should be squarely put on the regime’s doorstep as well as their backers in Russia and Iran.

    QUESTION: Now, this man is in an explosive vest --

    QUESTION: No one denies there’s carnage --

    QUESTION: This man in an explosive vest --

    MR KIRBY: Steve. Steve.

    QUESTION: He’s not in charge of the American media. Let’s move on.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: Steve.

    QUESTION: Following up on Aleppo, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that the city itself is now firmly in the hands of Assad’s troops and the last rebels have left the city. A UN official there in Syria says the evacuations are still ongoing and cannot confirm that the last fighters have left. What information do you have at this hour as to the state of Aleppo?

    MR KIRBY: It’s unclear to us as well, so I don’t think we can say definitively one way or another. We have been concerned that UN monitors have not been allowed in to do exactly that, to try to see for themselves what the situation is and who might be left and who might still need to go. So that’s a concern to us. So I don’t think we could go any further than the UN on this. Okay?

    Lesley, did you have something?

    QUESTION: No, I was going to ask a question as well whether you can confirm – the British Observatory is saying that --

    QUESTION: I just want to follow up --

    MR KIRBY: I just can’t. I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: -- on the carnage in Aleppo, and it is visible by all accounts. But going – moving forward, because there was also a statement made by the United States and other governments and so on about somehow in the future addressing some war crimes and so on. How would you go about vetting the evidence on these crimes considering that it seems to be – at least to all this imagery, it seems to be coming out from certain sources related or connected or somehow reporting on the opposition. How could you at the end say this is unrefutable evidence that war crimes have been committed on this day and in this fashion?

    MR KIRBY: I think there is a lot of imagery that I think needs to be part and parcel of whatever accountability measures are taken up, and I think the Security Council is actually talking about this as we speak – about pursuing some sort of measure to ensure accountability, which we obviously would support. But I think it’s going to be, as it would be in any such case, an array – a range of evidence and material that would be collected to be able to provide that assessment.

    QUESTION: And on the humanitarian aid, any update on whether humanitarian aid is being --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’ve seen no reports of aid getting in. I mean, as of coming out here, I’m not aware of any aid still getting in to the people of Aleppo. Go ahead, I’ll give you one more.

    QUESTION: Just one?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Wow, that’s generous. John --

    MR KIRBY: Yes, it is – (laughter) – especially since you’ve already had one and there are people here who haven’t had any.

    QUESTION: Okay. All right. I wanted to go back for a second to an interview that Secretary Kerry gave to The Globe, The Boston Globe, in which he admitted that the deal with the Russians over Syria was basically killed here because of the divisions within the Administration. Who was that – what was the agency that killed the deal? Was it the Pentagon?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t think that that’s what the Secretary said. I think the Secretary acknowledged what we’ve long acknowledged; there was nothing new in this interview. He’s been very open and candid that even amongst the interagency here in the United States we haven’t all agreed on the way forward in Syria. I’m also not sure why that should be shocking to anybody. Every federal agency has a different view --

    QUESTION: I wasn’t saying it’s shocking.

    MR KIRBY: Every federal agency has a different view when it comes to those, or at least with respect to foreign policy issues, that have purview over foreign policy issues. And there is a robust debate that happens, and then the Commander-in-Chief makes decisions. And that’s the way our system works.

    The Secretary was simply acknowledging what he has long acknowledged, that there was a robust interagency debate about Syria and our policy going forward, and we are where we are. So I don’t read it the way you do, and I’m certainly not going to start today making a habit to read out interagency discussions and who held what position or whose advice and counsel was on a particular side of an issue.

    Back here. Yes, sir.

    QUESTION: Yeah, I’m wondering if you can give an update on the transition. It’s been a month now since the landing team was named. What’s been going on in general? What sort of information are the team members asking for? And then, has the Secretary had an opportunity to either meet with or at least talk on the phone for an extended period with the designee by --

    MR KIRBY: The Secretary’s not met with members of the transition team here. Now, as I said, I’m not going to read out our daily interactions with them. I’m going to still hew to that rule. But I can tell you the Secretary hasn’t met with him. However, and I think you saw this, he did speak to the president-elect’s nominee for secretary of state, Mr. Tillerson. They had a nice chat where the Secretary had an opportunity to congratulate him. And there might be future conversations going forward. We’ll just have to see.

    The transition team that’s here at the – I won’t speak for them, but obviously we continue to provide them information and context and material that they are requesting. And I can tell you that having gone through a transition myself a few years ago, without getting into detail I can tell you that the kinds of things, the kinds of material, the kind of information that they are asking for is very much in keeping with what I’ve seen in at least the one previous presidential transition that I lived through when I was at the Pentagon. It’s, again without speaking to detail, very much in keeping, nothing out of the norm, and very much in line with their need to better understand the bureaucracy of the organization that they’re about to lead.

    QUESTION: Okay. If I could follow up just briefly, the – do you know when that conversation with Mr. Tillerson was and approximately how long – and I assume by phone; is that right?

    MR KIRBY: It was – don’t have the date on it. We did a readout of it. We can get you the date or you can get on our website and find it. I don’t have it handy, but it was just in the last few days.

    QUESTION: Okay. And then regarding the types of things that they’re asking for and that they’re in keeping with transitions past, this administration coming in seems to be very interested in finding out what’s been going on with climate change research. Certainly they did at the Department of Energy. How aggressive have they been in trying to find out and ferret out what the Department of State has been doing on that issue?

    MR KIRBY: Again, I really want to be careful not to speak for them and for what information needs they have. That’s really for them to speak to in terms of what they’re looking for. We have been very, I think, strict about not reading out their information needs, and I don’t want to violate that today.

    I would just – let me put it this way: It is – in my experience, it is normal, it’s expected, it’s not at all unusual for transition team members to want to have a handle on the way the organization is staffed, it’s manned, and it’s resourced, because this is a big bureaucracy. And there’s a lot of people here who work hard every day and do a lot of things that may not be obvious on day one. You have to kind of learn more; you have to spend some time soaking in what people do here. And again, nothing that I’ve seen and nothing that we’re aware of falls outside the lines of what would be a normal – normal inquiries about the institution that they are about to lead and take over. I think that’s really as far as I can go.

    QUESTION: Can we go to Asia?

    MR KIRBY: Can we go to Asia? Sure.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Taiwan terminated diplomatic relation with Sao Tome and Principe. So I wondered, do you see any, like, tension escalating between the two side of the Taiwan Strait?

    MR KIRBY: I would say we’re aware of reports that indicate Sao Tome and Principe have announced that they’ll end diplomatic ties with Taiwan. For our part, we have a deep and abiding interest in cross-state – cross-strait, excuse me, stability, and we believe that dialogue between the two sides has enabled peace, stability, and development in recent years. We urge all concerned parties to engage in a productive dialogue that supports cross-strait stability and to avoid destabilizing moves, but obviously, this is a decision that Sao Tome and Principe have to speak to.

    QUESTION: So do you see the status quo has been changed or not?

    MR KIRBY: Hmm?

    QUESTION: Do you think the status quos has been changed or not?

    MR KIRBY: I think I’ve answered the question.

    QUESTION: A follow-up?

    QUESTION: The first time Sao Tome has ever been mentioned --

    QUESTION: Has been mentioned in --

    QUESTION: -- from podium probably ever. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: We have a transmitter, so --

    QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up?

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead, sure.

    QUESTION: Yeah, I just wonder if U.S. has information – this is an effort from China to further isolate Taiwan, or this is independent decision by --

    MR KIRBY: Again, this is a question for Sao Tome and Principe to speak to, not for the United States. I’ve already said what our policy is with respect to cross-strait relations and stability, and that hasn’t changed and this is for them to speak to.


    QUESTION: And for the Taiwan’s president to transit next month in the U.S., do you have any information?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything with respect to travel.

    QUESTION: Not yet?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Just a quick – one follow-up to yesterday’s question. Did you talk with a lawyer to find out which specific international law you were referring to?

    MR KIRBY: I did not, and I said we can try to get back to you on that. But look, I don’t want to revisit this whole dialogue with you. It’s our property. We got it back. That’s all that matters, and there’s – while I can try to see if there’s some sort of specific regulation here to point you to, it’s really not relevant to the larger discussion, okay?

    QUESTION: Can I --

    QUESTION: Can I just --

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead, go ahead.

    QUESTION: A quick follow-up on that, because I actually looked up into UNCLOS, and under Article 95, under Article 96, which actually specify the sovereign immunity, it applies to warships, applies to ships, but not unmanned vehicles. So I would like to seek your definition of the UUV.

    MR KIRBY: This has nothing to do with sovereign immunity; this is about a piece of property. Look, if you were playing with a remote-controlled car out in your street in front of your house and I walked up and saw it and decided on my own that it represented some sort of threat to cars on the street, and I just picked it up and took it and walked away, what would you call that?

    QUESTION: But I need to identify if that --

    MR KIRBY: No, what would you call that?

    QUESTION: -- belongs to you first.

    MR KIRBY: You would call that theft, and I would have no right to take your toy away, right? Well, we were operating an unmanned, controlled – remotely controlled unmanned vehicle underwater in international waters, doing perfectly legitimate oceanographic research, and the Chinese stole it. They took it. Now, we got it back and the incident is over and we’re grateful that it’s over, and I think we all need to move on. I just really don’t see there – much value here in you and me continuing to debate this. Okay?

    QUESTION: Stay in the region?

    QUESTION: Asia?

    QUESTION: Asia.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead, Steve.

    QUESTION: Do you have anything on this security message from the U.S. embassy in Jakarta saying that Indonesian security officials disrupted as late as yesterday multiple terrorist cells and arrested more than a dozen individuals suspected of planning attacks in Indonesia?

    MR KIRBY: I’ve seen those reports, Steve. I’m not – I don’t have any additional information on that and I think I’d point you to Indian authorities for --

    QUESTION: This was a U.S. embassy statement on this. You don’t --

    MR KIRBY: Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I misunderstood. I – yeah, I have seen the security message. You’re right. I apologize for that.

    QUESTION: Do you have a readout?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have additional details on it. And again, this would be the kind of thing that we would point you to local authorities for anyway.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: But I apologize, I didn’t hear your question properly.


    IRAQSYRIA">QUESTION: You’ve recently done some things that fall into the category of the right thing to do, and we’ve discussed some of this here. Like, for instance, criticizing the Turkish Government when there are really bad abuses of democratic principles and suspending some munitions sales to Saudi Arabia because of civilian casualties. And I wondered with Christmas upon us and the end of the Administration --

    MR KIRBY: I’m wondering where this is going. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: It’s going like this, okay: In the category of doing the right thing, the Yezidi victims of genocide, wouldn’t they merit such consideration? Nadia Murad, who suffered terrible abuse from ISIS, addressed the Security Council yesterday. And she pleaded with the council to refer ISIS crimes against the Yezidis to the International Criminal Court. Is that something that you might now be willing to consider doing, referring the ISIS genocide against the Yezidis to the International Criminal Court?

    MR KIRBY: First of all, I would say clearly that Ms. Murad has a powerful and she has an eloquent voice. We support her efforts to hold Daesh accountable for their crimes. Like her, we’re appalled by the atrocities that Daesh has perpetuated in Iraq and Syria. And working with our partners at the UN, we are committed to addressing atrocities in Iraq and elsewhere that involve wide-scale killings and injuries, destruction of cultural heritage, forced displacement, forced conversions, and sexual violence toward all Iraqis and Syrians of all backgrounds – including, of course, religious and ethnic minorities such as the Yezidis.

    As we’ve said in the past, there is no doubt that those who are responsible for these acts must be held accountable. There are a number of venues at national and international levels in which accountability can be pursued, and our focus right now is on supporting the ongoing efforts of Iraqi authorities to hold the perpetrators of Daesh’s atrocities accountable. In both Iraq and in Syria, we’re supporting ongoing efforts to document, to preserve, and to analyze evidence of atrocities that could potentially serve a wide range of future transnational justice purposes, including but not limited to criminal justice.

    QUESTION: Is there really such a contradiction between the national prosecution of criminal acts and the international prosecution of them? Couldn’t you do both, support a referral to the International Criminal Court as well as to let the Iraqis do what they choose to do?

    MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, we are in support of the gathering and the analyzing of information that could support one or both. I mean, I think I said that.

    QUESTION: But what if – what she is personally pleading for is that the Security Council refer this case to the International Criminal Court. Couldn’t you do that as well as let the Iraqis do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it?

    MR KIRBY: Again, I think I’ve responded here. I – we support holding Daesh accountable and we want to make sure that there is enough evidentiary material there to back up the potential for both national and international venues, and there are several and many, to look at this. And I just simply won’t get ahead of that process or prognosticate about a specific outcome at the UN.


    QUESTION: Could we stay in the region?

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: Could you update us on the situation in Mosul? And there are a lot of reports that say the fighting or the effort to liberate Mosul is bogged down. Could you comment on that?

    MR KIRBY: As far as I know, and again, I would refer you to my colleagues at the Defense Department who are obviously tracking this much closer than me, that the Iraqi Security Forces continue to work on the campaign to liberate Mosul. We always said that it was going to be long and that it was potentially going to be slow, that it was going to be very dangerous, and it has proven to be all three of those things. I am not aware of daily battlefield progress, so I’m --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: Again, I’d point you to the Defense Department to speak to that, but I’m also not aware of any reports that it has, quote, “been bogged down.” Have there been times where they’ve made more rapid progress than others? Absolutely, but that’s the way things go on in combat. Every day is not linear and every day you are not going to make the same amount of progress as you made perhaps the day before.

    We have been nothing but candid about the challenges in liberating Mosul and that’s why it’s taken so long to even get to the point where they can move in there. And it’s likely going to continue to be a fight that is going to change from day to day.

    QUESTION: Could you tell us whether Mr. Brett McGurk is in Iraq at the present time because --

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update on Brett’s --

    QUESTION: Because he was supposed to brief us last week and he didn’t, so --

    MR KIRBY: Well, he didn’t --

    QUESTION: -- on the situation.

    MR KIRBY: He didn’t come to the podium because --

    QUESTION: Right. I understand --

    MR KIRBY: -- Secretary Kerry came to the podium.

    QUESTION: -- because the Secretary – right, right.

    MR KIRBY: And the purpose of that was the Rewards for Justice program. He did update the White House press corps last week on progress in the counter-ISIL campaign. I’m not aware of his travel right now.

    Goyal, go ahead.

    QUESTION: India. Two questions, sir. One, if U.S. is following the black market money campaign by Prime Minister Modi in India to clean up the corrupt system in India, and if U.S. is supporting India?

    MR KIRBY: We’ve spoken about this one, Goyal, you and I. This is an internal matter for Indian authorities to speak to.

    QUESTION: And second, if you can – year in review of U.S.-India relations and what is the future under the new administration and what advice do you think --

    MR KIRBY: I think we’ve talked about this one too.

    QUESTION: (Laughter.) Well, what advice do you think the Secretary will give to the upcoming --

    MR KIRBY: I am not going to use the podium to talk about advice that Secretary Kerry may give to his successor. We obviously believe in the strength of our bilateral relationship with India. It is vital and important on so many different levels and we will certainly do all that’s required of us by the transition team to provide them the context and information about that relationship with India for them to make their own decisions. And I simply wouldn’t predict or get ahead of how the next administration is going to interact with India. But I think, obviously, it goes without saying that because India is such an important partner and such an important power that I see no diminution in the strong U.S.-India bilateral relations that we’ve enjoyed to date.

    QUESTION: But let me just quickly --

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: -- on this black market --

    MR KIRBY: You said you only had two.

    QUESTION: I’m sorry. No, because you didn’t answer about the black market money.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t think you are sorry. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: What I’m asking you is, sir, that is other relations between U.S.-India affected because of the black market money, and number two, under the table, the transitions are going on between the --

    MR KIRBY: Well, look, I think the Indian Government has spoken to this. I think that’s where comment is appropriate on this. And again, I also think I’ve made clear the strength of our bilateral relations and the fact that it exists on many, many levels. And I think I’d just leave it at that.

    QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

    MR KIRBY: Ma’am.

    QUESTION: I have a few for you. So we’re looking at data that shows there’s been a gradual increase of terror attacks since the beginning of the Obama Administration, specifically a spike – 2013, ’14, and ’15. What does the Administration attribute that to, if anything?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I haven’t seen that data so I don’t – I mean, I’m not disputing it, I just haven’t seen it, so I can’t speak to the numbers one way or the other. What I can tell you is that certainly over the last two years with the growth of Daesh – ISIL, if you will – in the region, that – and their inertia at the beginning here when they first moved into Mosul and the attraction that they posed to foreign fighters and people that were susceptible to self-radicalization has led to inspired attacks on Western targets, soft targets. We may be seeing exactly that in what happened in Berlin. Of course, the investigation is still ongoing, but it certainly bears all the hallmarks of at the very least an ISIL-inspired attack.

    So while I haven’t seen the data and can’t confirm it, I’m certainly not going to refute the notion that there continues to be very lethal, very dangerous, and very real threats from terrorist networks around the world – not just in Western countries but around the world, which is why the United States did fashion and lead a 67-member coalition to counter Daesh and why that coalition has had some success.

    Now, have we completely eliminated ISIL from the face of the Earth? No, but they are a radically different group now than they were two years ago, under much more pressure, and we knew even before we started to see that pressure having an effect on them as an organization that they were also going to try to branch out, to metastasize, with cells outside Iraq and Syria, and to inspire foreign fighters and to inspire individuals to conduct attacks on their own.

    So we certainly understand real – very well the real threats that terrorism poses, which is again why we continue to work closely not only inside the U.S. Government but with our allies, partners, and friends around the world to beat back this threat. But look, I’m not going to dispute that it’s not still a very real, very dangerous threat.

    QUESTION: Okay. And then a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban says they are ready for peace talks with the U.S. if their demands are met. Do you have any reaction to that?

    MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments either, but I would tell you that nothing has changed about our view that what we support is an Afghan-led reconciliation process. We believe that’s the right approach. We’ve always believed that that’s the right approach. President Ghani, more importantly, also believes in the criticality of that approach, and that’s where our support will go to.

    QUESTION: And if I can move it to Caitlan Coleman and her situation, what agency is leading that effort? What’s being done for her family? Have there been any talks about trading Gitmo detainees as we did with Sergeant Bergdahl?

    MR KIRBY: A couple of things. We obviously continue to be very focused on Caitlan’s case, as we are on others, other American citizens that are being held hostage overseas. We remain in close touch with her family. We remain very focused across the interagency – not any one agency but all of us with a purview in this – I’m sorry, with a stake in this – remain very focused on seeing her and her family returned safely. And I think you can understand, or at least I hope you can understand, that it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to go into the details of that work and that effort. Okay?

    Said, I’ve gotten you a million times. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: I’ve got to ask you --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: But I have other topics, John.

    MR KIRBY: I know, I know.

    QUESTION: I want to talk about the Palestinian issue and Yemen.

    MR KIRBY: And we’ll get to you. We’ll get to you.

    QUESTION: Okay, take your time.

    MR KIRBY: I’m just moving it around a little bit.

    QUESTION: I’ll be the last. Give me the last question.

    MR KIRBY: I mean, it’s not like – well, I didn’t say you’d be the last question. I’ll come back to you.

    QUESTION: I don’t care where I get --

    QUESTION: On Japan, I was wondering if you have a statement on the land return in Okinawa?

    MR KIRBY: The land return in Okinawa. I probably do, but you’re going to have to give me a second. So we’re pleased to confirm the land return of a major portion of the Northern Training Area in two handover ceremonies with Ambassador Kennedy, one involving Prime Minister Abe in Tokyo on the 21st, and another involving Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga in Okinawa on the 22nd. The nearly 10,000-acre northern training area return is the single largest land return to the Japanese Government since Okinawa’s reversion in 1972. This return reduces the amount of land utilized by the United States on Okinawa by close to 20 percent while ensuring our capability to fulfill our security treaty commitments. The return exemplifies the cooperative nature of the U.S.-Japan alliance and advances our commitment to the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

    Said, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Sorry. In terms of the timing of the return, was that done in light of the --

    MR KIRBY: I tried, man.

    QUESTION: -- in light of the court decision?

    MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: Was that done in light of the court decision earlier this week?

    MR KIRBY: This, as I understand, was very – was a long-planned return.

    QUESTION: I’m guessing that the one on the 22nd hasn’t happened yet.

    MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know. They are well ahead of us.

    QUESTION: It’s 3:00 a.m. there or 2:00 a.m. there in Japan.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know. If it hasn’t, it’s going --

    QUESTION: A midnight handover?

    MR KIRBY: If it hasn’t, it’s going to.

    QUESTION: All right.

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead, Said.

    QUESTION: Very quickly – I know you probably don’t comment on visa issuance and so on, but --

    MR KIRBY: That’s right, I don’t. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: -- a young Palestinian girl – so let me ask it --

    MR KIRBY: So are you sure you want to throw this one out there?

    QUESTION: Let me ask it – yeah, exactly. I mean, let me ask it anyway. So a young Palestinian girl – 15-year-old Ahed Tamimi – was slated to be part of the No Child Behind Bars Living Resistance speaking tour that begins on the 15th and she was denied a visa. Is that –because the Israelis have expressed, like, displeasure with someone like her touring the United States and speaking about the occupation – she’s from Hebron. Could that be the reason? Could it be that Israel has requested that such a person should not be issued a visa? (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: As you know, we cannot discuss individual visa cases. In general, all visa applications are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis in accordance of the requirements of the Immigration and Nationality Act and other applicable laws. Do you have another question?

    All right.

    QUESTION: That’s it.

    MR KIRBY: All right, we’ve got to go. Thanks, guys.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:51 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 12/20/2016 - 18:06
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 20, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing
  • DRC
  • IRAN


    2:05 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: Hey, everybody. How are you all doing today?

    QUESTION: Good.

    MR KIRBY: Okay, a few things at the top – first on Macedonia. We are concerned about heightened political tensions in Macedonia following the December 11th parliamentary elections, and we condemn the inflammatory rhetoric from some political leaders which gives license to attacks on democratic institutions and ambassadors accredited to Macedonia. We call on political leaders to stop unwarranted attacks, respect the democratic process, and allow the formation of a credible, stable government committed to the rule of law, accountability, and fundamental freedoms. The United States stands ready to assist such a government to achieve Macedonia’s longstanding goal of Euro-Atlantic integration.

    On eastern Ukraine, the United States is deeply concerned with the recent spike of violence in eastern Ukraine. Over just the last two days, six Ukrainian service members have been killed and 33 wounded in a Russian separatist attempt to seize additional Ukrainian territory – the highest two-day casualty figure that we’ve seen since June of 2015. This is a clear violation of Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreements. And once again, we call on Russia to exercise its considerable influence over the separatists to put a stop to the violence and to allow OSCE monitors full and unfettered access. We strongly support the Trilateral Contact Group’s efforts to negotiate a ceasefire recommitment that will allow Ukrainians on both sides of the line of contact, of course, to live more safe, more secure, and especially at this time of the holidays, we think a propitious time to try to seek that kind of a ceasefire.

    On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United States is greatly disappointed by President Kabila’s failure to organize elections and to state publicly that he will not run again or seek to change the constitution. We continue to believe that an inclusive political agreement is needed to stave off additional violence and instability. We urge both the government and the opposition to participate fully and in good faith with the DRC’s Conference of Catholic Bishops when discussions resume tomorrow. That’s the 21st. The United States condemns the violence that occurred in Kinshasa and other parts of the DRC last night, and again today. We appeal to all sides to exercise restraint and refrain from statements or actions that could incite further violence. President Kabila and leaders of government security forces must ensure that personnel under their command respect the rights of Congolese citizens to assemble peacefully and to express their opinions without fear of retaliation, retribution, or arbitrary arrest.

    With that, Brad.

    QUESTION: I just wanted to ask firstly, given the variety of terror and other attacks in Germany and in the Middle East, do you have any information about any American citizens being affected in any of these?

    MR KIRBY: Right now we know of no American citizens that were affected by the presumed terrorist attack in Berlin or by the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara. We are – in the former case we’re, as you might expect, in constant touch with German authorities. So we’ll keep watching this, but we know of no Americans that were involved or injured or killed.

    QUESTION: And do you believe that applies as well to – I didn’t ask yesterday, but I should have – Jordan and Yemen as well over the weekend?

    MR KIRBY: Don’t have any specific information about Americans caught up in that attack either – I’m sorry, both, Yemen or Jordan. But again, we’re in touch and we’re monitoring as best we can.

    QUESTION: And then I just wanted to ask about the Moscow talks on Syria today, whether you’ve been in touch with anyone – you, the State Department – and have any readout or assessment of what was agreed in this declaration.

    MR KIRBY: Well, as you know, we weren’t a party to the talks, but Secretary Kerry did speak today to both Foreign Minister Lavrov and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu, who were there. And they provided the Secretary a sense of how the discussions went. I think – if you haven’t seen it, we can make sure you get it – there was a joint statement issued by all three countries at the end of the discussion, and I think they did a press conference as well. And as I said yesterday, the Secretary certainly welcomes any effort to try to get a ceasefire in Syria that can actually have meaningful results, particularly for those people that remain in Aleppo, as well as the resumption of political talks. And when he talked to both foreign ministers, he again stressed the need to try to get those political talks back on track as soon as possible.

    QUESTION: Is it your understanding that this declaration – I saw the talk about an expanded ceasefire – actually provides a pathway, a viable pathway toward the resumption of political talks?

    MR KIRBY: I think it’s too soon to know right now, Brad. I mean, that’s obviously what we’d all like to see, that – a meaningful ceasefire expanded – I’m assuming, the way I read that, was geographically larger than just Aleppo. That’s the way I read it.

    QUESTION: That’s how I read it, too.

    MR KIRBY: And if that’s the case, and it can lead to a sense of calm enough in Syria that political talks can resume, then that would be great and that’s what we’d like to see. I just think, given that the meeting just broke up today and given the fact that we have seen repeated promises to appropriately influence the Assad regime in the right way on the cessations of hostilities and seen those fail, I think we all – we just – we really need to await and ascertain the results over the next coming days.


    QUESTION: Can you clarify where Mr. Kerry’s initiative – where this leaves Mr. Kerry’s initiative? Is he sort of out of the picture now in terms of the – I know he’s talked to them, but he hasn’t – he’s not involved in the negotiations or the declaration or anything like that. So is he going to continue in some other way, or just stand back and see if they can get something done?

    MR KIRBY: You know Secretary Kerry pretty well, Barbara. I think it’s safe to assume that he’s --

    QUESTION: Well, it’s been him and Lavrov in the room until now, and now it’s not. So he doesn’t --

    MR KIRBY: I think you can safely assume that he’s going to stay 100 percent engaged on this for the entire time that he’s got left in office. And --

    QUESTION: They don’t seem to want him to be involved.

    MR KIRBY: Well, they can speak for who they want involved or not. I mean, we recognize that we weren’t invited, that this was between Russia, Turkey, and Iran. I think the Secretary would be the first to tell you that if not having us in the room can lead to finally a cessation of hostilities that can actually matter over a period of time and over a greater geographical area than what we’ve seen in the past, that can actually get humanitarian aid to people and can resume political talks, the Secretary is perfectly fine with him not being in the room if that’s the result of this. But it doesn’t mean he’s going to disengage or that the International Syria Support Group goes away or the other multilateral efforts that the United States has been leading are going to stop.

    There have – almost from the outset of this entire process – been many conversations going on at once, and not all of them have we been a party to, even going back a year and a half, two years. So again, if the results announced – if the discussions that they had today in Moscow can lead to real, practical effects, that’s all to the good. That’s for the betterment of the Syrian people and regional stability, and we would welcome that.

    QUESTION: Does it – did Mr. Kerry get a sense in his talks whether they plan to make this part of or liaise with the ISSG or with the UN, what Staffan de Mistura was talking about?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know – again, we weren’t there, so I don’t want to speak for the participants. I don’t – I didn’t get the impression from reading their joint statement that they saw this as something part and parcel to normal ISSG discussions, and the ISSG still exists. It’s been codified by a UN Security Council resolution.

    But again, that doesn’t – nothing inside that resolution or inside that architecture precludes other multilateral efforts from happening, whether or not one particular nation is a part of it. We just have to – as I said to Brad, we just have to kind of see where this goes and where it leads. And if it can get us to a better outcome than the ISSG has been able to produce, that’s okay.

    QUESTION: So Mr. Kerry doesn’t see it as a snub?

    MR KIRBY: No, the Secretary doesn’t see this as a snub at all. He sees it as another multilateral effort to try to get a lasting peace in Syria, and he welcomes any progress towards that. And as I said, he spoke to both Foreign Minister Lavrov and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu right at the conclusion of it, so they provided him a readout of the discussion. They gave him a sense of what the tone and tenor was in the room, and he appreciated being able to get that insight. So I mean, there’s still – I mean, we’re still very much involved in the conversation trying to lead to the same – to the same end.


    QUESTION: But is the U.S. not frustrated that it – especially with its NATO ally Turkey – that it appears to have been left out of this whole process?

    MR KIRBY: Well --

    QUESTION: And at least last week – I know you later said that the U.S. had been aware that this was going on, but it seemed as if on the specifics the U.S. wasn’t quite up to speed on what was happening between Turkey and Russia.

    MR KIRBY: What we’re frustrated by, June, is the situation on the ground – that’s the most frustrating issue – and the fact that we still haven’t gotten humanitarian aid delivered to so many people in need, that there are still people in Aleppo who are trying to get out and can’t or don’t feel that they can do it safely, and that we still don’t have a resumption of political talks. That’s the frustration, not the degree to which two or three other nations are getting together without the United States at the table.

    As I said, if you go back and look – I mean, obviously, this one came with a big joint statement and a press announcement. I get that. But there have – since the outset of international efforts to try to get a better outcome in Syria, there have been smaller multilateral gatherings at which the United States wasn’t represented. The two first rounds of political talks, proximity talks between the opposition and the regime, were led by Staffan de Mistura and the United States wasn’t there. When – back in December, a year ago – Saudi Arabia hosted the first opposition meeting to kind of – that was designed to get them centered around a core set of objectives and priorities, the United States – we had an observer there but we weren’t at the table there.

    QUESTION: There was close coordination.

    MR KIRBY: We certainly knew what was going on. And look, I mean, I don’t know the degree to which we were consulted in terms of the agenda for today. I don’t suspect that we were in any great detail. But the Secretary did get direct readouts from both Foreign Minister Lavrov and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu, so it’s not like it was done in secret. The Secretary doesn’t take it as a snub. Again, he welcomes any kind of effort, whether it’s bilateral or multilateral, that can get us to a better outcome.

    QUESTION: More broadly, I mean, what would you say to criticism or analysis that would kind of show this as a marker of the U.S.’s influence in the Middle East appearing to decline and what that might mean for stability in the region or efforts to kind of bring about or protect U.S. interests, especially considering your close ally, Israel, is there as well?

    MR KIRBY: I think there’s, obviously, two parts to that. First of all, there’s no diminution of U.S. leadership and influence in the Middle East, quite the contrary. I mean, we are as engaged as ever, if not more so, in Middle East affairs. And obviously, Syria is the most crucial, most urgent issue that we all face, without question. But the United States still remains very heavily engaged with our allies and partners and friends in the region on a range of concerns. And the U.S. still has a robust military presence there; the U.S. still has a robust diplomatic presence there. And we are very heavily involved in affairs in the Middle East, and I don't see that changing.

    But to your first question about what does this mean in terms of the perceptions, I – we would obviously refute any notion that the fact that we weren’t at this one meeting is somehow a harbinger or a litmus test for U.S. influence and leadership there or anywhere else around the world. The notion out there that U.S. leadership and influence is waning is simply not supported – and I don’t just mean in the Middle East; I mean around the world – is simply not supported by the facts. We are, in fact, more engaged, more involved, and our leadership is more sought after now than ever before, all around the world.

    Now, I recognize that, as we’ve gone through a very difficult election season here in the United States, that there has been a narrative out there, and some critics will say that others – other foreign leaders have doubted our commitments in certain respects. I can’t dispute that there have been some foreign leaders that have either privately or publicly expressed those concerns. But they’re not borne out by the simple basic facts of our engagement around the world.

    QUESTION: So John, going forward on this very issue, I mean on the Aleppo, what are the practical steps that the U.S. will be taking in the next days, in the next week and so on, first to see that humanitarian aid gets in and, second, to move forward on whatever outcome as a result of the meetings between the Iranians and the Russians and the Turks and so on?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I don't have specific agenda items to announce you to today in terms of activity, but we’re obviously going to say very engaged on this, from a diplomatic perspective, to continue to try to see a meaningful ceasefire in Aleppo and aid get in. Those are the two critical needs right now, because we still have people in Aleppo that can’t get out and those that are stuck can’t get the food, water, and medicine that they need. So we’re still going to stay very, very engaged on that.

    And again, if – back to Brad’s line of questioning, if this troika arrangement, I think as they called it, can lead to that – to those outcomes, that’s all to the better. And if it can lead to those outcomes today or tomorrow, that would be terrific, and we’d love to see that.

    QUESTION: Would that be just --

    QUESTION: Can I just --

    QUESTION: I have a couple of follow-ups. Will that – will your effort focus on humanitarian aid or is it to push forward the political agenda? Because I think you responded yesterday to the proposition that maybe talks will resume on February 8th, that de Mistura announced that talks may resume on February 8th.

    QUESTION: Start.

    QUESTION: So will you be – huh?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Is it – I thought that was --

    MR KIRBY: He’s correcting your verb because the previous two versions did not end successfully. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: You said presume. I said talks would start. (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: So --

    QUESTION: Would resume, yeah, right. Would start, yeah.

    MR KIRBY: -- but look, I mean, the – I don’t – not to sound glib, okay, but the answer to your question is yes. In other words, the Secretary would like to see – and we all would like to see, and I think even in the joint statement that you saw today, those three countries said they would like to see – a ceasefire immediately and the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid. I think we all would like to see that now. Also – and the Secretary spoke to this with you guys last week – we also want to see the political talks get on track as soon as possible, and as soon as possible is literally as soon as possible.

    Now yesterday, we talked about the fact that Staffan de Mistura said he thinks he could maybe get them going early February, and I said that, obviously, we would look forward to that in hopes that it would succeed. I also saw in the joint statement today that Russia, Turkey, and Iran spoke about getting the political talks done in Kazakhstan, but there was no mention – I don't think; I don’t remember any mention – of a date. I think we’re less worried about location and more concerned about the fact that we get the opposition and the regime to sit down. And we obviously still, that said – still want this to be under the auspices of the UN. We still believe that that’s the right vehicle – Staffan de Mistura and his team – that they’re the right ones to guide these discussions.

    QUESTION: Just can I – just to clarify my line of questioning earlier, Mr. Kerry has been working around the clock, around the globe for a year on this topic. He’s had more than 50 meetings with Mr. Lavrov about it. And now we’ve got a situation where his interlocutor, Russia, and his ally, Turkey, are saying, we want to – we don’t want you to be involved in trying to find a solution; we think we can do a better job. Does he not at least feel the U.S. is being sidelined, if not excluded, from what was something the U.S. was leading on?

    MR KIRBY: We are not excluded. We are not being sidelined.

    QUESTION: Well, a readout --

    MR KIRBY: And we are ---

    QUESTION: -- is quite different from his role before.

    MR KIRBY: And we are still leading in this effort, Barbara. I can’t speak for the decisions of the leaders of those three countries who decided to sit down and have these discussions in Moscow, but we’re not going to turn up our nose to any effort to try to get to a better outcome in Syria. And if that effort, by design or by accident, isn’t going to include us, but it can lead to a better result, then obviously we would support that.

    I just – I mean, I understand the basis of the question. As I looked at the joint statement, I saw a lot of similarities in the language there to the kinds of things that we, too, crafted time and time and time again. And that’s a key point here. It’s not like these same aspirations haven’t been voiced. In fact, if you look at that joint statement, it reads very similar – and maybe this is totally appropriate, it reads very similar to the UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which laid out the goals of a unified, pluralistic, nonsectarian Syria. In fact, in one of the lines in this statement, it says very clearly there is no military solution and only and political one. Where have you seen that language before? So there’s a lot of borrowing in that joint statement from ideas that the United States has led and pushed from the outset. So again --

    QUESTION: This is torture.

    MR KIRBY: What? What is?

    QUESTION: I think – I mean, the sense is that for a long time, you weren’t doing the military stuff, and your point was that you were leading on the diplomacy or on to the getting the political track, but now you’re not involved in the military, you’re not shaping the situation on the ground so much, and now you’re not even doing the talks. And I think that’s why the questions are: What are you actually leading on now? Not you laid the groundwork for some statement that may or may not have any reflection on reality in three hours.

    MR KIRBY: Well, you just answered your own question, Brad. And we have to see --

    QUESTION: So where’s the leadership now?

    MR KIRBY: We have to see where this goes. The – well, okay, Brad. It’s a fair question, but the ISSG still exists; the UN Security Council resolution which codified the ISSG still exists; the multilateral format that the United States has tried to put together still exists, although we’re obviously not in active discussions in Geneva right now. U.S. support for Staffan de Mistura and his efforts still exist. Our bilateral and multilateral relationships with allies and partners in the region who also have control – or I shouldn’t say, “control,” that’s not fair – influence on opposition groups – that all still exists. We are still very actively engaged in this larger, broader effort as a – this umbrella effort.

    Now, as a part of that, yes, three nations decided to get together in Moscow and talk about a way forward. We’re not going to turn up our nose at that. And if it can produce the results – the results that haven’t been achieved – then I think you and I can have a discussion about whether U.S. leadership mattered or not. But we have seen nothing but a joint statement so far, and we certainly haven’t seen any change on the ground in Syria or Aleppo. So I think it’s just back to my answer to you. I think it’s too soon to say whether this is going to be successful, and it’s way too soon to say that this has some sort of – makes some sort of broad statement about U.S. leadership.

    QUESTION: That’s totally viable. And you’re right – this has not done anything on the ground, as of this point. But right now, what – the U.S. leadership isn’t taking a military dimension, isn’t taking really a political dimension, because there is no political discussion, and isn’t taking a diplomatic dimension. Right now, this leadership that you’re speaking of is all past tense. Is that not true?

    MR KIRBY: I would disagree. Certainly, we --

    QUESTION: But what are you doing now to lead --

    MR KIRBY: We are --

    QUESTION: -- to change the situation on the ground?

    MR KIRBY: We’re still very active on the diplomatic front, Brad. I mean, no, we weren’t present at these discussions in Moscow, but that doesn’t mean that American diplomacy is now void and invalid and not a part of the larger, broader effort. It’s not like we aren’t still engaged in trying to get a better outcome. The Secretary was in Riyadh over the weekend. Now, largely that was to talk about Yemen, but he certainly used that opportunity to talk to our partners in the region about Syria.

    QUESTION: But doesn’t it say something that these three nations think they can get together and shape the situation on the ground without having you in the room? For many years, they would never even have thought that they could get some sort of broader arrangement or change of the situation on the ground without, one, having you in the talks or two, pretty much hope – piggybacking off you carrying the talks. Now they don’t even think they need you.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t think that – I don’t think the Secretary got the sense in his discussions today that there – that they don’t feel like they need the United States. I think, certainly in the case of Turkey, they certainly appreciate the U.S. role here going forward. So I think, again, too soon to say what the results are here. I don’t think it’s – now’s the time to make broad pronouncements about U.S. influence one way or the other with respect to the agreement that was released today. It is right now just on paper. We need to see how it plays out.

    But U.S. leadership on the diplomatic front, though we would be the first to admit have yet to see real success, it still exists, is still going to be the locus of our efforts, and we believe can still have a positive impact. And we’re going to stay engaged on this for the entire time that we’re still around.

    QUESTION: John, on --

    QUESTION: I have one last one, just on the political talks. You’ve put a lot of eggs into these talks happening, almost presenting it as kind of a – not a panacea, but this is the ultimate goal. But the talks in themselves – I mean, what would you hope to accomplish in political talks between a rebellion that’s essentially been ceding and ceding and ceding territory – getting crushed – and a government that is on the ascendency and backed by two powerful foreign militaries? It would seem unrealistic to think that this diplomatic whatever – political solution – would – that this country would will – this government would will itself or negotiate itself out of existence --

    MR KIRBY: Sure. Sure.

    QUESTION: -- just because they’re sitting in a room with the people they’ve been crushing.

    MR KIRBY: I think we know – when – more than a year ago, when the Assad regime was very much under significant threat by the opposition and the opposition was clearly gaining a lot of ground on them, we got asked similar questions: Why would anybody sit down and talk when it’s going so lopsided? What’s in it for the regime to sit down when they – when they’re losing and what’s in it for the opposition to sit down when they’re winning? And then now we’re in a situation where, obviously, the Assad regime has gained ground. And you’re right. I mean, the opposition is under greater pressure now thanks to Russia’s military involvement, no question about it, and the same question, which is a fair one, is why – what would be the motivation now for either side to sit down when one is clearly having a weaker hand.

    And the answer is that – well, there’s a couple of parts of it. One, the international community, including Russia, if you look at that joint statement today and the UN Security Council resolution that they also signed, wants to see a political solution and a transition there that expresses and represents the voice of the Syrian people. Foreign Minister Lavrov quotes the communiques all the time about that being the outcome.

    Number two, if there aren’t political talks, if there isn’t a political transition devised and put into place, the war goes on, because while the opposition certainly doesn’t have the upper hand that it once had, they haven’t expressed a willingness to just give up and surrender. And so without the vehicle of sitting down with the regime and working through some political transition, they’ll continue to fight and this war won’t end. And one would hope – and I know hope isn’t obviously a great strategy, but certainly one would hope that the regime and its backers would also see that a continuation of the civil war, continued bloodletting is not in the long-term interest of the nation of Syria and certainly not the Syrian people.

    QUESTION: I just want to follow up on a point that Lavrov said today. He basically criticized the United States and he said that you guys did not implement your part of an agreed-upon – or some agreements that you have reached together, that (inaudible) --

    MR KIRBY: I saw those comments that said --

    QUESTION: Can you comment on that?

    MR KIRBY: Foreign Minister Lavrov has said that many, many times. We obviously took very seriously all our commitments to the communiques and to the resolution. The particular sticking point that he continues to raise is the separation of --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: -- moderate opposition from al-Nusrah. We have talked about this ad nauseam. It is not as if we didn’t make every effort to try to convince opposition groups to remove themselves from areas where we knew al-Nusrah was, but we – you can’t account for every single nose and head, and some fighters decided for whatever purposes that they were going to either align themselves philosophically or even physically with al-Nusrah, or that they weren’t going to leave areas where al-Nusrah was present. It doesn’t mean that we didn’t work diligently at that.

    But I don’t think it would be useful or constructive to get into a litany of who didn’t meet their commitments, because I think it’s pretty obvious to see, time and time and time again, that Russia did not meet their commitments with respect to using their influence – their considerable influence – on the Assad regime to stop the bombing, stop the gassing, allow aid to get in, and to help us create the conditions for political talks.

    Now, if you read that joint statement today and if they’re able to meet everything they say that they’ll do, then so much the better, then maybe we can actually see results. But we have seen in the past where they have not met their own stated commitments. So I don’t think now is the time, while people are still dying in Aleppo, starving to death and still being bombed, now – I don’t think now is the time to point fingers back and forth across the diplomatic table about who did or who didn’t meet every one of their commitments. Now is the time to try to put what they’ve said they promised they would do and put it into action and see if we can stop the bloodshed. That’s what everybody needs to focus on right now.

    QUESTION: Related to Aleppo but a different dimension of it, Iraq --

    QUESTION: This is --

    QUESTION: This is Aleppo.

    QUESTION: Oh, okay.

    QUESTION: Different dimension.

    MR KIRBY: I thought we were still on Aleppo. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Okay. Iraq’s foreign minister has said the Iraqi Shiite militias involved in fighting in Aleppo are not doing so – they don’t have the permission of the Iraqi Government, even though these same militias are now supposed to fall under the authority of Baghdad. Are you concerned that Iran is supporting some of these militias that are outside of Iraqi Government control for various purposes, including to bolster its influence in Iraq?

    MR KIRBY: There’s a couple of things. I can’t confirm the veracity of the foreign minister’s comments in terms of the presence of Iraqi militia that – and to whom they pledge loyalty or fealty. So I’m not going to – I can’t address the specific comment that you’re citing there because I just am not in a position to confirm it.

    That said, we know that there are Iranian-backed fighters in Syria. We’ve talked about that. And we’ve talked about the unhelpful role that they have been playing in supporting the Assad regime through advice, through some combat operations, certainly through arms and assistance. And we have said before we want the regime and its backers, which includes Iran, to stop that kind of activity and to try to get us to a point where we can achieve a meaningful ceasefire.

    So I can’t, again, speak to the specifics of his charge, but we do know that Iran obviously has fighters in Syria that they’re supporting.

    QUESTION: What – U.S. officials from the – President Obama on down, including yourself, have criticized Iran for its role in Aleppo and Syria generally. What most bothers you about what the Iranians are doing? Is it having these foreign – their bringing these Shiite fighters in from all – from around the world?

    MR KIRBY: They – it’s the – it’s – well, I mean, broadly speaking, it’s the support that they’re giving to Assad, the – through various means to allow him to continue the depredations on his own people. And Hizballah, we know, is a presence there. Hizballah is a foreign terrorist organization. They have been involved. We know they’ve been involved in some of the atrocities, particularly in Aleppo. Okay?


    QUESTION: Yeah. First of all, I didn’t expect you to brief because all morning I saw you – and I think I saw you on three – three airwaves.

    MR KIRBY: Well, I’m all practiced up now. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Yeah, it’s first class. I just have this – that the Secretary, when he was speaking from here, he said we are all on board, the international partners, for talks in Geneva, the only Syrian regime is not there. And today they are having talks in Moscow while the Syrian – Syrian regime is there. So it has something to do with the U.S. continuously saying that Assad has to go, Assad has to go, so Assad now doesn’t want U.S. in talks. Was it something like that? Is it a snub from – or is it something to do with the transition government?

    MR KIRBY: I think – look, on the issue of snub, we’ve talked about this. I don’t want to revisit the same issue. I think we’ve exasperated that one – exhausted that one, excuse me – “exasperate” is probably my way of describing it. (Laughter.) Freudian slip, I’m sorry. I think we’ve exhausted that topic.

    But look, I mean, I can’t speak for the meeting in Moscow and who was invited. I mean, that’s for those three countries to talk to. We know that Russia has the most influence – Iran too, but Russia the most influence on Assad. And they have a longstanding relationship with Syria that goes well back before this civil war began and I think it’s safe to assume that they want to continue to have a relationship and a presence in the Middle East through Syria going forward. Nothing has changed about our view that Assad doesn’t have the legitimacy to lead Syria, and I don’t think I need to prove that by looking at the last five years. I think you can do that for yourself.

    What we have all said, the entire international community, is that there needs to be a political transition, one; two, that it needs to represent the voice of the Syrian people; and three, that what we – what that process needs to lead to is a pluralistic, non-sectarian, safe and secure and stable Syria, so that the millions of Syrians that have now fled the country can have a home to come back to. It’s one of the reasons why the United States insisted that as this political transition – whatever it looks like, that it at least includes the voice of the diaspora, those who have been forced out of the country. We think that’s important.

    Now – and I’ve talked about this before – what that transition looks like, what role Assad has or doesn’t have through that, that is why – that’s for the opposition and the regime to work out under UN-led auspices. That’s why it’s so important to get these political talks back on track, so that the question of Assad can be dealt with and it can be dealt with by Syrians. That’s what matters. But nothing’s changed about our view – and it’s a policy view – that Assad has lost legitimacy to govern Syria.

    QUESTION: In your third point, you mentioned about the sectarian violence. So you agree that it’s Shias and Sunnis that are fighting.

    MR KIRBY: It’s --

    QUESTION: So when you define Syrians, whom do you define? Sunni Syrians, Shia Syrians? Because it’s --

    MR KIRBY: There are people of many --

    QUESTION: It’s a complete mess there.

    MR KIRBY: There are people of many faiths who live in Syria. There are Christians as well. But yes, I mean, I think the Secretary has talked about many wars inside the war in Syria, and sectarian tensions inside the Muslim faith between Shia and Sunni are obviously present there. There’s no question about that. But there’s tension between Kurds and Turks. There’s tensions between Russia and Turkey. There’s tensions between Arabs and non-Arabs. So there’s plenty of fault lines in Syria. It’s what makes this so complicated, and it’s because it’s so complicated that we continue to believe a political solution, a diplomatic one, is the right one.

    Diplomatic solutions are hard to come by. They take time. They are complicated. But I think they’re reflective of the complicated nature of the war in Syria. Nothing is simple. Nothing is simple about what’s going on in Syria, and that is why we continue to believe in a political solution.

    QUESTION: A question on Russia sanctions that came out today, if there’s nothing on Syria.

    MR KIRBY: I think we’re still on Syria, right? Yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Any concern our absence in these talks signals some sort of breakdown with our relationship with Turkey, and how would you characterize our relationship right now?

    MR KIRBY: Well, Turkey’s a NATO ally and a strong partner. They’re a member of the coalition to counter Daesh. We believe we have a vibrant, healthy relationship with Turkey. It doesn’t mean when I say that that we don’t still have issues of disagreement. It doesn’t mean that we don’t still have areas where there are tensions in the bilateral relationship with Turkey. But that the Secretary was able to pick up the phone today and talk to Foreign Minister Cavusoglu at the end of this meeting in Moscow, and that the foreign minister was as forthcoming as he was about the talks and what they decided and how they were going to move forward I think speaks to the health of that relationship and the strength and the depth of it.

    Differences of opinion – that makes news, and I understand that. But Turkey is a valued member of the coalition to counter Daesh. They are still allowing coalition air forces to use Incirlik Air Base to conduct missions as appropriate. They are still hosting on their side of the border more than two million Syrian refugees and doing the best they can to provide those refugees with the food, water, medicine, and shelter that they need. And this is not – what’s going on in Syria is not some theoretical exercise for the Turks. It’s real and it’s right on their doorstep and they’re taking it seriously, and we appreciate that.

    QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: Okay. The Turkish foreign ministry is saying that the foreign minister in his phone call today with Secretary Kerry said that Turkey and Russia knew that Gulenists were behind the assassination of the Russian ambassador. Do you have a readout on that particular aspect and what is the U.S. response to those --

    MR KIRBY: We’ll be issuing a readout of the phone call a little bit more detailed later. I don’t have anything specific with respect to that issue. I will tell you, though, that the Secretary in his conversation with the foreign minister did raise his concerns about some of the rhetoric coming out of Turkey with respect to American involvement/support, tacit or otherwise, for this unspeakable assassination yesterday because of the presence of Mr. Gulen here in the United States. And it is a – it’s a ludicrous claim, absolutely false, there’s no basis of truth in it whatsoever, and the Secretary made that very clear in his discussions today with the foreign minister.

    QUESTION: But what about the aspect of Gulen’s followers being involved in the assassination?

    MR KIRBY: I think there’s an active investigation going on, Steve. And I’m not going to get ahead of that. I don’t know and I don’t think you know what the motivations were behind this individual. I mean, I saw just like you saw what he was shouting and screaming after he shot the ambassador, but we need the – we need to let the investigators do their job. That we need to let them – let the facts and the evidence take them where it is before we jump to conclusions. But any notion that the United States was in any way supportive of this or behind this or even indirectly involved is absolutely ridiculous.

    We’ll go to you. You had Russian sanctions.

    QUESTION: So the Treasury Department announced that it was sanctioning a few additional Russian businessmen and also some Russian companies – Russian and, quote/unquote, “Crimean companies” – over Russia’s actions, the annexations of Crimea and the violence in Ukraine. The Russian deputy foreign minister has responded and said they were – these are ungrounded, hostile acts by a departing administration. Would you – first of all, what’s your response to his comments?

    MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments. Obviously, if that’s what he said, we would strongly disagree and differ with that. This isn’t about – this decision by the Treasury Department had nothing to do with the time on the clock. It had everything to do with Russia’s activities in support for the separatists in Ukraine and for their occupation of Crimea. That’s what it had to do with. It had to do with Russia’s actions. It had to do with holding Russia accountable for what its – for its violation of Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty. That’s what it had to do with. It had nothing to do with the calendar.

    QUESTION: And then given that the incoming administration – both the president-elect has expressed willingness to improve relations with Russia, his nominee for U.S. secretary of state has opposed past sanctions on Russia over Crimea. What would you say would be the effectiveness of these actions given that it seems likely that they will be reversed under your successor?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know how we can know that for sure, June. I mean, the next administration will obviously have to make their own decisions about this. We hope that they will come to see the wisdom in not conducting business as usual with Russia given their continued activities. As I said just in my opening statement, the recent violence here in eastern Ukraine just over the last couple of days, we would hope that they would see the wisdom in keeping these sanctions and this pressure on Russia, because we have seen it have an effect. But obviously, these are decisions they have to make and we also respect that process as well.

    So I can’t speak for what they might or might not do; I can only speak for what we believe is the right thing to do. And you saw the Treasury’s decision today is an extension, a manifestation of that. But it’s not just us. I mean, the EU also just recently rolled over sanctions as well. It’s not just the United States here that views with alarm what Russia continues to do in Ukraine and in Crimea. So again, we – the only – the last thing I’d say is that we will share whatever context and whatever information the new administration – excuse me – might require with respect to those kinds of decisions going forward.

    QUESTION: And then just one more follow-up on that. I know you haven’t seen these comments, but the Russian deputy foreign minister also said that Russia will expand its sanctions list against the United States and we, quote, “retain the right to choose the time, place, and form of our responsive actions in a way that suits us.” What would be your response to those sanctions and those – whatever measures that they might take in response to the United States?

    MR KIRBY: Well, let’s see what they do. I mean, let’s see what they do. I mean, obviously as a sovereign country, they can enact unilateral sanctions if they so choose, but I think I’m not – I don’t think commenting now on speculative threats like that is really going to be very productive.


    QUESTION: China?

    MR KIRBY: Wait, can we – are we done on Russia? No?

    QUESTION: John?

    MR KIRBY: That’s Afghanistan, that’s not Russia. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Yesterday, you said the action of China seizing the United States’ UUV was against the international law. Actually, Pentagon actually said the same thing today. Can you specify exactly what international law were you referring to? Because some experts of UUV – this new technology actually falls under – it’s in a grey area under international law, so --

    MR KIRBY: No. No. Sorry, got to stop you there. Not a grey area. It belonged to the United States Navy. It was doing oceanographic research in international waters in the vicinity of a U.S. Navy research ship to which it belonged. That – no grey area here. It was a violation of international law. Now, I’m not a lawyer, so if you need me to go look and find the statute for you, I’m happy to take that back and do that --

    QUESTION: Yes, please.

    MR KIRBY: -- but there’s no grey area. It was our property, it was in international waters, there was no reason to grab it, and it was doing nothing more than oceanographic research, all in keeping with the international norms and laws. So I’m sorry, there was absolutely no grey area whatsoever. This was a flagrant violation of international law, they had no right to take that UUV, and we’re glad, obviously, that we have it back.

    QUESTION: But either – neither UNCLUS or Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation actually applied for this vehicle, because it’s not U.S. Navy ship. It’s unmanned vehicle.

    And another point is China is not arguing that the activity of the U.S. Navy ship was conducting any unlawful activity in international water. Their argument is first of all, this is an unidentified vehicle, so they conducted verification and identification, so --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, I saw the claim that they were just looking after safety of navigation. First of all, it was identified. It’s – I think it says U.S. Navy right on the side of it. I can check, but I’m pretty sure it does. But there’s no dispute about who it belonged to, and while it might not be manned, it was being operated remotely by U.S. Naval personnel and research scientists on the Bowditch, the ship that – from which it was operating.

    So look, I think this a – while this might be an interesting discussion to have, it’s kind of a waste of your time and mine, okay? The UUV belonged to the United States Navy, it was operating in international waters in accordance with international law, it was doing research – valuable scientific research – there was no threat to navigation, it was never just off on its own. I mean, it wasn’t like they weren’t monitoring what it was doing, right? It wasn’t – it didn’t decide to just go rogue and cause a – and become a problem for navigation. So this is an academic exercise that’s going to be fruitless for both you and me. It belongs to the United States and we’re glad we have it back, it should never have been taken in the first place, end of story.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: But the easy – (laughter) – but the easy question was, even you found a wallet on the street, you need to verify who this belongs to instead of giving to whoever claimed to have it.

    MR KIRBY: I think it was pretty obvious as they scooped in to take it who it belonged to. Again, I’d refer you to my Defense Department colleagues, but I’m pretty sure the way it went down was the Navy immediately notified them that that was our UUV and they needed to return it. I don’t think there was any doubt.

    QUESTION: But they didn’t verify it. That’s the – the question is --

    MR KIRBY: No.

    QUESTION: Why they don’t have the rights to verify it?

    MR KIRBY: I really think we’ve stretched this conversation farther than it should go, because your line of questioning is not going to lead to a fruitful discussion here. There was no doubt about ownership, there was no doubt about international law, who violated it and who didn’t, and it was a flagrant violation for the Chinese to do. There’s no grey area here, there’s no if or then. They were wrong and they shouldn’t have taken it in the first place.

    QUESTION: Did you have any --

    QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?

    QUESTION: Go ahead, sir.

    QUESTION: Just one --

    QUESTION: Can I go to Japan?

    QUESTION: No, just one second, Brad. Do you have any fallout – diplomatic fallout – from the incoming president-elect saying that “keep the drone” to China? Like, and then you are asking – the Defense Department is asking to return it. There is a – did you hear anything or did the Chinese smile and say, look, your president-elect is saying keep it?

    MR KIRBY: No, look, Ambassador Baucus was personally involved --

    QUESTION: Yeah, okay.

    MR KIRBY: -- in getting the UUV returned into our custody, which as I said, as I think we all know happened this morning, that’s – those are the conversations that happened. Those are the conversations that mattered. Those are the conversations that led to the return of the UUV. I’m not going to speak for the president-elect or his team, or their views of this incident, or how they saw it transpire. That’s for them to speak to. I can only speak for the United States Government. And as I said, our property, we wanted it back, we got it back. And I think that completes the story.


    QUESTION: On Japan, do you have any reaction to today’s supreme court decision that the Okinawan governor’s cancelation of permission for the Futenma relocation facility was illegal?

    MR KIRBY: So we welcome the decision by the Japanese supreme court. The United States and Japan remain committed, as you know, to the plan to reconstruct the Futenma replacement facility at the Camp Schwab Henoko area and adjacent waters. For further information on the court’s decision, obviously I’m going to refer you to the Government of Japan.

    QUESTION: The defense minister --

    MR KIRBY: Why did I think there was going to be a follow-up?

    QUESTION: (Laughter.) Sorry. The defense minister said that as soon as the cancelation is revoked by the governor that construction will begin. Have you been in touch with your colleagues?

    MR KIRBY: I would refer you to my Defense Department colleagues. I don’t have the schedule of construction here to speak to, one way or the other. Obviously, we still believe in moving the project forward.


    QUESTION: Iran, real quick.

    MR KIRBY: Are we on the Pacific region still? No? Okay.

    QUESTION: There was some report – I think Tasnim had something about Iran introducing advanced centrifuges. For the wonky ones among us, I think it was IR8s they spoke about, which is prohibited in the deal. Is that your understanding of what happened, or do you think President Rouhani and some others are just puffing some steam here?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know. I mean, I – I’ll leave characterization of their comments to others. If you’re talking about – are you talking about this report that they could bust through a limit of low-enriched uranium?

    QUESTION: No, I’m talking about reference to advanced centrifuges being introduced. If you don’t have that one, we can talk about it later.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, let me take that one. I don’t think I’ve seen that.

    QUESTION: And then, since you mentioned the other one, do you have concerns about – I should have asked yesterday – about Iran going through its 300-kilogram uranium cap?

    MR KIRBY: So we take all of their commitments to the JCPOA seriously, and we want them to take all their commitments seriously. The IAEA continues to report that Iran’s meeting its nuclear commitments and remains below its enriched uranium limit. We believe that they’re taking the appropriate actions to keep it – to implement that in the right way. The director general of the agency said, during his trip to Iran just this past weekend – I’m quoting here: that we are satisfied with the implementation of the agreement and we hope that this process will continue. So we greatly appreciate the continued efforts of the IAEA to verify their compliance. And again, we’re going to continue to meet our commitments and expect them to meet theirs.

    QUESTION: John --

    MR KIRBY: But on your other one, I thought that’s what you were going to ask me about, so let me --

    QUESTION: We can follow that.

    MR KIRBY: -- take that. Because I wasn’t thinking for that one.


    QUESTION: I had a couple questions about the video released today by the Haqqani Network of an American in Pakistan, citizen – or sorry – an American and Canadian citizen being held. Have you seen the video? And is there any comment on the imagery that is portrayed there?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah. So we certainly have seen this video that was just recently posted of U.S. hostage Caitlan Coleman and her family. We obviously remain, as we have been, gravely concerned about the family’s welfare. Our thoughts are, of course, with her, her family, and her friends. We again reiterate our call for this family to be released. The threat to harm this innocent family violates all humanitarian and religious standards – this – the threat to harm her.

    The other thing I can tell you is that we regularly engage with all relevant governments at the highest levels to emphasize our commitment to seeing our citizens returned safely to their families, including this one. And the U.S. Government has remained in regular contact with Caitlan’s parents.

    QUESTION: Do you have --

    QUESTION: The U.S. citizen in that video asked for President Obama to make a deal with her captors to get them released. I mean, what would the U.S. Government say to that?

    MR KIRBY: I would say, look, we never stop working through diplomatic channels to secure the release of Americans that are being wrongly held by groups overseas. I mean, that’s always a focus. I’m not going to get into – I think it would be inappropriate for me to talk about the details of those efforts, what that looks like and feels like. But I can tell you that we’ve not stopped focusing on this particular case and we’re not going to stop focusing on this. We want to see her returned home safely to her family. But I simply can’t talk to the details of that.

    QUESTION: And one more follow-up. The video itself shows a pretty disturbing image of their two children sitting on their lap as they’re speaking. Do you have any response to the use of these two children as props --

    MR KIRBY: It’s reprehensible. I mean, it’s obviously reprehensible to hold them in the first place. I mean, so just let’s put that aside. They need – as I said, they need to be released, period. But to include children in the video is specifically despicable to do. So again, we want to see them all home, we want to see them all safely returned, and I can assure you that this Administration will continue to work very, very hard to see that outcome.

    Okay. Yeah.

    QUESTION: About Afghanistan, although last week, you comment about Vice President of Afghanistan Abdul Rashid Dostam’s case, what do you think if Afghan Government is not able to follow up this case fairly and clearly? U.S. will show some reaction? Because this is very hot topic in Afghanistan.

    MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I would – I think, as you probably saw, President Ghani has called for an investigation into this, and we support him in that effort. We certainly welcome the release of Mr. Ishchi. We’re obviously deeply disturbed by his unlawful detention and reported mistreatment by Vice President Dostam. President Ghani said they’re going to investigate, as I said. We support that. We look forward to seeing that investigation proceed. We look forward to seeing the results of that investigation.

    I mean, broadly speaking – and we’ve said this before – a strong independent justice system is the cornerstone of every stable society. And so we stand with the Afghan people as they work towards a stable, peaceful, prosperous future in which human rights are respected, and that rule of law is upheld. So let’s see where the investigation takes us. But obviously, the reports coming out about his unlawful detention and treatment are deeply, deeply disturbing, and I think President Ghani found them also deeply disturbing.

    QUESTION: Can I squeeze in one on the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

    MR KIRBY: Yes, Said.

    QUESTION: The Palestinian Authority claimed that they did not receive any direct aid from you in 2016, that you gave $337 million to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for the Palestinians. Could you comment on that?

    MR KIRBY: So in just 2016 alone --

    QUESTION: Right, 2016.

    MR KIRBY: No, I know that. I know --

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: This is my answer back to you, so --

    QUESTION: Right, okay. No, sorry.

    MR KIRBY: Let me – I’ll do it another way.

    QUESTION: All right.

    MR KIRBY: This year alone --

    QUESTION: This year alone.

    MR KIRBY: -- the United States provided nearly $300 million in aid and assistance to the Palestinians, including $75 million in debt relief. Now, it doesn’t go directly to the Palestinian Authority --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: -- but it does go to benefit the Palestinians. We’re going to continue to provide support for them and we are in active discussions with the Congress, of course, in terms of funding going forward. But in just this last year alone, like I said, nearly $300 million was provided in aid and assistance.

    QUESTION: There’s a great deal of fear and trepidation on the potential ambassador nominee to Israel by the president-elect, because of his position on Jerusalem, his position on settlements, and so on. You have any comment on that?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to comment about individuals that the president-elect is or may be designating for various positions in his administration. Those are his decisions. We respect that. And there’s a process of confirmation that each of these individuals or most of them will have to go through and we respect that process as well, I mean, so the positions that these individuals take are really for the president and his team – president-elect, I’m sorry, and his team to speak to.

    Nothing has changed about our views here in terms of the tensions in the region and our policies with respect to Israel, so, I mean, all that we’ve said about the viability and the belief in a two-state solution remain, about the – about our concerns over Jerusalem, all that remains. Our deep concern over settlement and settlement activity also remain, but I can’t speak for what policy decisions with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian tensions are going to be taken by the next administration.

    QUESTION: Would you counsel against any departure from long-held practices regarding --

    MR KIRBY: I think we’re going to leave – I think we’re going to leave our counsel and advice to the transition team private and between us and the transition team.

    Thanks, everybody. Have a great day.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:03 p.m.)

    DPB # 216

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Mon, 12/19/2016 - 17:32
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 19, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAN


    2:12 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. I’ll get that there.

    I know – or at least I hope – you’ve seen the statement that the Secretary just put out, but if you didn’t, please allow me to reiterate what Secretary Kerry said in his statement, which is that the United States condemns the assassination today in Ankara of Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov. Our thoughts and prayers are of course with his loved ones, with the Russian people, and with all the other victims who were injured in this attack and their families. We stand ready to offer any assistance that may be required to Russia and Turkey as they investigate this despicable attack, which was, as the Secretary noted, also an assault on the right of all diplomats to safely and securely advance and represent their nations around the world.

    On Libya, Saturday – this last Saturday – apologize, the 17th – marked the one-year anniversary of the signing of the historic Libyan Political Agreement in Morocco by the participants of the Libyan Political Dialogue, a broad range of Libyan society from across the country, including members of the house of representatives. The Libyan Political Agreement paved the way for the formation of the Government of National Accord, the GNA, and its presidency council under the leadership of Prime Minister al-Sarraj. During the past year, the GNA presidency council has taken significant steps to combat terrorism, to increase oil production, to improve economic management, and to establish a presidential guard to restore security and governance in Libya. The prime minister has been a steadfast partner of the United States against Daesh. GNA-aligned forces made great sacrifices in eradicating Daesh from Sirte, making Libya and the world safer. The United States supported the GNA by conducting nearly 500 airstrikes in Sirte at the request of Prime Minister al-Sarraj.

    Now, in the next phase of implementation of the political agreement, the international community must stand by the GNA as it continues toward national reconciliation and builds consensus for a constitutional referendum and legislative and executive national elections. The Libyan Political Agreement is a transitional two-year road map. It is the responsibility of the GNA and all Libyans to ensure a stable, peaceful transition to an elected, unified government that represents all Libyans.

    With that, Brad.

    QUESTION: Seen the statements by you and the Secretary. Secretary said he would be willing – the U.S. would be willing to help with the Russians and Turks on any aspect of the investigation. Has he had any preliminary contacts with either side, or has anyone else in this building?

    MR KIRBY: No, not that I’m aware of.

    QUESTION: Are you worried – let me say – are you prepared for what I think is going to be inevitable claims from some parts of Turkey that either the U.S. is somehow responsible or that its protection of Mr. Gulen is somehow involved in this? I’ve already seen some stuff on Twitter from prominent individuals suggesting this was a Gulenist plot.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about that?

    MR KIRBY: We – I’ve seen some of those claims as well, Brad. I mean, look, this just happened literally, what, not even hours ago, and there’s an investigation which is just now starting. And I’m certainly not going to and I don’t think it’s helpful for anybody to prejudge the outcomes of this investigation.

    We also have to remember that there’s a mourning family out there. There’s a diplomat now who lay dead and a family who is going through an incredibly tough time, as well as those who were hurt and their loved ones. So I think that’s where we need to stay focused, not on needlessly pointing fingers here, until the investigation has had a chance to work its way through.

    As for the United States, as I’ve said many, many times, we – as we always have – continue to support the democratically elected government of Turkey, and any suggestion that the United States in any way, shape, or form would be responsible for this act of murder and assassination or any other related activity to the coup – and I’m not saying this one was. I’m just saying that it obviously flies in the face of facts.

    QUESTION: And lastly, the Russians say they’re going ahead with this tripartite meeting tomorrow. Has the U.S. reconsidered, or has the U.S. received any invitation to take part in any way, or has it asked to be part of this process in any --

    MR KIRBY: No, as far as I know, this is, as you’ve described it, between Russia, Iran, and Turkey. And as we’ve always said, any solutions that can be arrived by any of the parties that can lead to a reduction in the bloodshed, to a cessation of hostilities, to humanitarian aid, and to a resumption of political talks is welcome, whether or not we’re at the table.

    QUESTION: But you’re not – so you’re not an active participant in this diplomatic instance, let’s say?

    MR KIRBY: No.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: Do you consider this assassination as a terror act?

    MR KIRBY: I think that’s for the investigators to determine. I have seen the press reporting, as you have, of some of the things shouted by the perpetrator, but I’m – we weren’t there and I think it’s really important that we let investigators work through this. I certainly couldn’t rule out terrorism as a motive or behind this. Wouldn’t rule that out at all at this early stage. But I think it’s really important that rather than jumping to conclusions, particularly those of us who aren’t there and weren’t involved, that we ought to let the investigators do their jobs.

    QUESTION: Supposedly, the killer was one of the, like, militant supporters, so he was shouting, “We die in Aleppo and you die here.” So are you going to use, like, U.S. influence to let these militants know that this kind of, like, criminal act is unacceptable?

    MR KIRBY: Well, sir, I think in your question you’re already making the assumption that it’s, in fact, what’s behind this. And it could very well be. I’m not ruling that out or in; it’s not my place. We need to let the investigation run its course to figure out exactly what happened here, and I’m just not going to jump to conclusions. If it is an act of terrorism – and I’m not saying it is, but if it is – obviously, we have routinely and continue to condemn all acts of terrorism. We condemn this murder. We condemned it very openly, very strongly. You heard the Secretary say so himself – this assassination. I correct myself – this assassination.

    But I think it’s really important to let the investigation work its way, okay?

    QUESTION: What is the situation at the U.S. embassy right now in Ankara? The State Department Diplomatic Security tweeted it was under lockdown. There’s an advisory sent out to U.S. citizens to stay away from the area.

    MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that the situation at the embassy has changed since they issued the lockdown and issued a message urging people to stay away from it. That was an act of prudence, and obviously keeping safety foremost in mind. I don’t have an update beyond that.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: But the embassy wasn’t involved in this. It just is, as I understand it, very close.

    QUESTION: It’s fairly close though, right?

    MR KIRBY: Somebody told me it’s within a hundred yards or so.

    QUESTION: Hundred, yeah.

    MR KIRBY: So that’s pretty close and I think that warrants this embassy issuing a security message, but I’m not aware that there’s been any change to their status after they issued the lockdown.

    QUESTION: And what are international guidelines --

    MR KIRBY: Can I ask who you are?

    QUESTION: Excuse me?

    MR KIRBY: Who are you?

    QUESTION: With Russian TV.

    MR KIRBY: Okay.

    QUESTION: TV show in Russia. What are international guidelines in terms of diplomats’ securities? Does U.S. ambassador to Turkey have armed bodyguards or, like, extensional* security in this --

    MR KIRBY: Well, look, I think wherever we have ambassadors and consulate officials around the world, they have appropriate security. We never talk about the details of the force protection procedures and processes and resources that we apply in any country anywhere around the world. We obviously take the safety and security of not only our personnel but Americans abroad very, very seriously, and I think I’ll leave it at that. Okay?


    QUESTION: Let me ask – the shooter is quoted as saying, “Don’t forget Syria, don’t forget Aleppo. You will not be safe as long as we are not safe.” Is there any reaction to these words from the shooter?

    MR KIRBY: I have seen the press reports of those comments, and only the press reports of those comments. As I said, the U.S. State Department is not ruling out the possibility that this is an act of terrorism. We would never do that. But I think we also need to let investigators do their work. It is still very much an active crime scene, and we’re going to let that process proceed before making any conclusions. And matter of fact, it really isn’t for us to make those conclusions. But certainly, without question, we would think that terrorism would need to be one thing investigated, one thing looked into, given the press reporting that we’ve seen about what his alleged comments were. But again, I don’t think it’s helpful for anybody to get ahead of this.

    I also think, if you don’t mind me saying, that we all need to recognize that there’s a family going through a very tough time today. This man was assassinated in cold blood, and I think we need to keep their sensitivities and their concerns and their grief in mind right now, and it doesn’t do anybody any good to try to leap two, three, 10 steps ahead of where we are. There is a diplomat who was killed today. There’s a family who’s in grief, and obviously this is an assault, as the Secretary said, not just on this individual but on the act of diplomacy itself. I mean, he was speaking at an art gallery. This is what – part of what diplomats do, in terms of sharing in dialogue and culture. And I mean, there’s an international system here that was also assaulted, and I think we need to keep that in mind.

    QUESTION: Now, is the situation at the U.S. embassy connected with the shooting? Is this, like, in response to the shooting, or is there a separate incident?

    MR KIRBY: No. I mean, they – the order to lock down and the security message was done specifically because of the shooting at the art gallery. There is no other incident, no other threat at all. This – the embassy did exactly what they should have done given their proximity to the scene.

    QUESTION: And will this enhance the possibility of cooperation between countries against terrorism?

    MR KIRBY: I think, as we’ve said many times, the international community does share a common threat against terrorism. And to the degree that the international community, bilaterally or multilaterally, can improve cooperation on counter-terrorism efforts, that’s to the betterment of everybody, no matter where you live, no matter what country you call home. What will come as a result of this incident I think we, again, need to wait to see the results of the investigation and see where it leads us. As I said, I don’t think anybody can rule out the possibility that this was terrorism, but we can’t get ahead of what is really only an hour or two old fresh start investigation.

    QUESTION: Now, the city that the shooter reportedly invoked is a big point of disagreement between the United States and Russia, correct?

    MR KIRBY: It’s a big point of contention between Syria, Russia, Iran, and the rest of the international community.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: Ma’am.

    QUESTION: Have we increased security or taken any further precautions for our own ambassadors in the area and other countries surrounding that?

    MR KIRBY: Well, as – again, I would say we don’t talk about the specifics of force protection. We obviously take the protection of our embassy personnel very, very seriously all around the world. And you can imagine that in certain places and at certain times that security is adjusted to react to or to reflect whatever the security environment is there. I won’t speculate, I won’t talk in any detail about what if any changes there might be to our security posture in Ankara. I can just assure you and assure the American people that we take the safety and security of our ambassadors and our embassy personnel very, very seriously – as, if I could just mention, we also do take seriously the safety and security of Americans that are overseas, whether they’re on business or on travel for pleasure. That’s why it was so important for our embassy to issue that security message to warn people to stay away because of their proximity to this event.

    So it’s something we always look at, we always amend as needed, and we never, ever talk about the details of that.

    QUESTION: Syria question.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said he plans to convene peace talks in Geneva in February.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any comment or statement?

    MR KIRBY: We’ve seen those comments, and if in fact it can be done in February, we would certainly welcome that. I think you heard the Secretary talk to this last week, that we want to see a return to political talks as soon as possible. So if in fact it can happen in early February, that would be very welcome.

    Yeah. Yeah.

    QUESTION: In Iraq, Mosul. Both The New York Times and Washington Post over the weekend reported that there are serious difficulties in the liberation of Mosul, both in the slow pace of the operation and in the humanitarian situation. Do you think that you or at least Baghdad, which had the lead, that you – that the difficulties in Mosul were underestimated?

    MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, I would commend the reporting of both The Washington Post and The New York Times. I mean, those are very thoughtful pieces about a very dynamic, very fluid, very challenging environment. And there is no question – I think everybody knew well in advance of the Mosul campaign kicking off that it was going to be difficult and that there was going to be humanitarian needs on a major scale as a result of the campaign.

    I remember being asked many months ago about, “Why hasn’t Mosul kicked off yet,” and “What’s the delay,” and “Why aren’t you putting more effort into spurring Iraq to mount that campaign sooner?” And back then we said, “Because it’s going to be hard, and because there’s a lot of planning that needs to go into it” – not just pre-planning, or even implementation, but thinking about post-liberation.

    And so there was a lot of that thought and there was a lot of that planning, and there has been a lot of effort put into the humanitarian aspect of this. And just, if you don’t mind, I’ll walk through just a little bit of it.

    Now, as I say this, I also want to say right at the outset that we’re mindful there’s still work to be done. We’re mindful that there are still internally-displaced people and that there are still needs that have to be met. I’m not at all suggesting that the reporting is inaccurate. We know that there are many people being pushed out because of the campaign there and that they are, some of them, in desperate need. But there was a lot of thought given to this and there has been a lot of effort applied to it. Since the 17th of October, UN and humanitarian partners have provided more than 130,000 people with USAID-funded relief kits, nearly 163,000 – I’m sorry, nearly 164,000 people with household items, and approximately 185,000 with 30-day food rations. Relief groups have also provided medical care to almost 50,000 people. Since the start of the operation, more than 100,000 have been provided shelter in camps or local communities. There continue to be spaces available – more than 40,000 spaces available – for additional internally displaced people who are – who we do anticipate now being in need as a result of the Mosul operations.

    On December 8th, just a little bit ago, USAID-funded UN partners, the World Food Program, UNICEF, UN Population Fund provided food, hygiene kits, water for – purification tablets, water containers, and other critical relief items to more than 42,000 people in eastern Mosul, making this the single largest humanitarian aid delivery in eastern Mosul since the current conflict began.

    So, look, that’s just a little bit of the metrics to show the degree to which and the specificity to which these kinds of needs were anticipated. Again, not disputing the reporting, not disputing that more needs to be done and that we’re going to continue to work with the Government of Iraq and with the UN and other agencies to constantly assess the situation on the ground and adjust as necessary.

    QUESTION: Well, would you know, then, why there’s space available? The Washington Post says that humanitarian agencies say – in Mosul say they don’t have enough aid to meet the need. Is it that people can’t get out or --

    MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, we hold it that there is space available – more than 40,000 spaces available. And if there’s a disconnect, we’ll see what we can do to close that disconnect, to close that seam. And as I also said, we’re in constant communication with the UN and other aid agencies and organizations, and we’ll continue to do that. But I also – but I want to underscore here that while we have thought this through and while we have done these things, we recognize there’s still a challenge out there. We’re not at all rejecting that premise, and we’re not at all saying that there aren’t people in need. Maybe it’s just that they don’t know where to go, so maybe it’s really just an issue of trying to help them get to where they need to be. But we’re all mindful of this.

    And as to your question on the pace of it, as we also always said that this was going to be a long, tough fight, it’s proving to be a long, tough fight, and it’s only going to go as fast and it’s only going to go as far as the Iraqi Security Forces are able to do it on their schedule, on their plan. This is their campaign. We’re going to continue to support it.

    QUESTION: If I could ask two related questions. Secretary Kerry was in Riyadh over the weekend, maybe even you were with him. Anyhow --

    MR KIRBY: No, he’s not back yet. So I know I wasn’t there.

    QUESTION: You weren’t with him, okay. But did he discuss the fight against ISIS while he was in Riyadh, or are the Saudis still part of the anti-ISIS coalition?

    MR KIRBY: They are. They are a major contributor in terms of humanitarian needs and other such contributions. Certainly, they’re a part of the coalition, absolutely. And yes, they did talk about the counter-Daesh fight. But the primary focus, as I think you saw from the Secretary’s comments himself, was really about Yemen and trying to get to a better outcome there.

    QUESTION: Can you inform us what they discussed about the counter-Daesh fight?

    MR KIRBY: I think I’d leave it to the traveling team to read out those discussions. And you saw the Secretary’s press conference himself. Obviously, they talked about the need to continue to keep the pressure on Daesh. They talked about the progress that we’ve made against the organization, and yet they also, I think, squarely acknowledged that there’s more to be done.

    QUESTION: Can I ask about Iraq?

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: Well, could I have just one more on Baghdadi? You’ve announced $25 million for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. What explains the timing? Is it related to concerns about ISIS terrorism that have prompted the Raqqa operation to be accelerated or something like that?

    MR KIRBY: The – I’m not aware that there was a particular trigger here. I think Brett McGurk and our principal deputy assistant secretary for diplomatic security talked about this on Friday. But look, I mean, we have to continue to look for ways to put pressure on Daesh. And this is a group that is under stress, no question about it. But this particular decision on Baghdadi is very much in keeping with our broader efforts to continue to try to degrade and destroy this group. And I wouldn't link the timing of the announcement to any one thing. We certainly know he’s still out there. We certainly know that he’s in a leadership role, and that makes him a legitimate national security threat.

    QUESTION: So just kind of out of the blue. For your --

    MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t say it was out of the blue. I mean, you don’t – we don’t just --

    QUESTION: Well, what causes it?

    MR KIRBY: I think I answered the question.


    QUESTION: Over the weekend there were Iranian calls for a P5+1 plus Iran meeting. They’re still quite peeved about the Iran Sanctions Act extension. Is that something the United States would be amenable to?

    MR KIRBY: Well, as you know, the joint commission was set up to talk about compliance issues and to provide a forum to do that. So certainly it’s within Iran’s purview to ask for a joint commission meeting to talk about this as they see it in terms of compliance.

    What I would just simply repeat is that the Iran Sanctions Act was in place at the time the JCPOA was negotiated and has remained in place. Its extension is not a violation of the JCPOA and does not re-introduce or re-impose any nuclear-related secondary sanctions that were waived on implementation day, nor does it impose any new nuclear-related sanctions. So while we didn’t believe the act needed to be extended, its extension as written in law does not violate it. We stand by that as well as the Secretary’s intention to continue to waive as necessary --

    QUESTION: Specific sanctions, yeah.

    MR KIRBY: -- those specific sanctions. Yeah. So – but again, look, I mean --

    QUESTION: But when is --

    MR KIRBY: -- if they call for that, certainly that’s their purview to do it and we would participate.

    QUESTION: So you – okay, that was – so do you expect this meeting – well, what level would this meeting be at? Just --

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

    QUESTION: -- technical level?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know. It’s hypothetical at this point.

    QUESTION: Okay, and then one other Iran question. There were some pictures – plenty of them, actually – of IRGC Commander Qasem Soleimani in Aleppo. I know this isn’t the first time he’s traveled abroad despite his ban on international travel. Is this something you guys plan to raise at any level, or have you kind of given up on enforcement of this ban?

    MR KIRBY: No, we do intend to consult with our partners on the Security Council about how to address our concerns with this. We’ve long said that Iran needs to choose whether it’s going to play a positive role in helping peacefully resolve conflicts such as in Syria or whether it will choose to prolong them. And you’re absolutely right; his travel is a violation. He’s one of the designated individuals. No exemption to the travel ban was sought, and so it does constitute a violation of UNSCR 2231. As I said, we will – we fully anticipate bringing this up inside the council.

    QUESTION: The last – well, not the last time, but previously he’s been – there’s been talk of him visiting Moscow, I think confirmation of him at least once visiting Moscow. How did that go when you brought that up in the sanctions committee given that Russia was a member?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have the history here in front of me. Let me see if we can get – I know we raised it, but I don’t recall what the outcome was. We’ll get you that.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MR KIRBY: That’s just a bit of history I don’t have.


    QUESTION: This morning – well, this morning our time, I don’t know what time it was in France – Christine Lagarde, the director of the IMF, was convicted of negligence in a French court for actions she took – committed before she became director of the IMF. Does the United States still have confidence in her as the leader of an international organization?

    MR KIRBY: I think we’re not going to make a judgment here about the court’s decision. I’m not – as I think we are still studying it, and I think I would reserve a statement or a conclusion by the United States until we’ve had a chance to review it further.


    QUESTION: Sir, can we go to Asia?

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: So Secretary Russell was in Japan this weekend. I was wondering if you had any readouts.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t, actually. You’re right; he was in Tokyo. And as I understand, he’s wrapping up his visit, so we’ll have to get back to you on a readout of his discussions. I just don’t have that here as of the time we came out.

    QUESTION: Okay. And also, I hope I can ask about the drone that was seized in the --

    MR KIRBY: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- South China Sea. So first, are there any, like, updates or --

    MR KIRBY: Unmanned Underwater Vehicle.

    QUESTION: Yeah.


    MR KIRBY: UUV. (Laughter.) Not drone, but please go ahead.

    QUESTION: Underwater drone, is it? So I was wondering if there’s --

    MR KIRBY: No, it’s not an underwater drone. (Laughter.) I think I know what I’m talking about on this one.

    QUESTION: (Laughter.) My apologies.

    MR KIRBY: It’s all right.

    QUESTION: I’m wondering if there’s any updates since this weekend in the talks about maybe getting it back or --

    MR KIRBY: I think my Pentagon colleague addressed this just a few minutes ago. As we are given to understand it here at the State Department, there are discussions going on now military-to-military to arrange the return of the UUV. I don’t believe the details of that have been fleshed out, so I’ll let DOD speak to how that’s all going to transpire.

    QUESTION: And I was just wondering, so I know you’ve spoken very much about like freedom of navigation. And when it comes to these UUVs, does that – is that included within that definition? Because as far as my understanding, it was, like, taking the – excuse me – taking the temperature of the water and, like, and all that. So does that – is that also freedom of navigation?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I think the short answer to your question is yes. I don’t know exactly what you’re asking, but let me just back up a little bit. The device that we’re talking about is – it’s a scientific research device. It’s meant to help us with oceanographic studies. Now, I don’t know – maybe you know more than me. I don’t know what specifically they had tasked this UUV to do on that particular day, but it was doing oceanographic work and only oceanographic work. And there’s many different tasks that you can put these tools to, so again, I don’t know whether it was temperature taking or what. And again, DOD can speak to that.

    But it absolutely was operating inside international waters, and it was absolutely performing necessary scientific research, certainly within the bounds of international law. And the absconding with it acted against that very international law, which is, again, why we’re going to get it back. Okay?


    QUESTION: So do you see it as, like, raising the tension with respect to --

    MR KIRBY: Well, it’s certainly not doing anything to de-escalate tensions. It --

    QUESTION: So did you --

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead. No, go ahead.

    QUESTION: So did you raise your concern with your Chinese counterpart?

    MR KIRBY: We – yes, of course, we did. Yes. Ambassador Baucus, our ambassador in Beijing, personally was involved in the discussions which led to our ability now to get it returned, for the Chinese, the PLA, to – to return it to us. So yes, we were absolutely engaged right there at our ambassador’s level.


    QUESTION: A new subject. I’m wondering if you can confirm this letter from House Democrats to the Secretary of State warning of a potential witch hunt here at the State Department by the incoming administration and advising the Secretary essentially to push back against any potential retaliation against Foreign Service officers, Civil Servants, and other staff, for anything they may have been involved in in working on policy.

    MR KIRBY: Well, I can confirm that we’ve – we’re in receipt of a letter from members of Congress that voices their concerns over what they saw as reported requests for names of individuals who work on energy issues, I think at the Department of Energy. And it was an expression of their concern over the possibility that such a request would be made here at State. We’re going to reply as appropriate to those members of Congress. I’m not going to read out that reply here in public, but we certainly understand their concerns and we’ll respond appropriately.

    For our part, we continue to work with the transition team that’s here at the State Department to help them prepare for seamlessly assuming the reins here at Foggy Bottom, and that work continues.

    QUESTION: Has there been any request here similar to what happened at Energy as far as getting --

    MR KIRBY: I know of no such request for lists of people that were involved in energy issues here at the State Department.

    QUESTION: Or any issue?

    MR KIRBY: Or any issue. I know of no such request for lists of that sort.


    QUESTION: Last week the Family Research Council president urged the incoming president to remove State Department officials who support the promotion of LGBT rights and reproductive rights abroad. That came out last Wednesday, I believe. Do you have any comment on that?

    MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the letter, and I think the president-elect’s transition team already spoke to that, the issue, and pushed back pretty hard, I thought, on the notion that the president-elect would in any way abide by discrimination here at the State Department. So I think I would let them speak to the concerns, as they did, expressed by the Family Research Council since their open letter was addressed really towards the president-elect. But again, I’d point you back to what Mr. Miller said. I think he was pretty succinct, pretty clear, pretty concise about where they stand on discrimination, and I think you know very well our views on human rights writ large not just here at the State Department but around the world.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Okay, I’ve got time for just – looks like I’ve got time for two more. Okay, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Just real quick, and you might not have something on this. We’re just getting reports of a truck running into a crowded Christmas market – nothing yet? – in Berlin.

    MR KIRBY: Why do you look at her and not me? (Laughter.) I’m the one up here.

    QUESTION: She’s on her State email. She’s on her Blackberry. (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: I look at her too all the time. If she doesn’t know it, I don’t know it.

    We’ll have to get back to you. Sorry.

    QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

    QUESTION: And I wanted to ask about Taiwan, because President Obama said last week that as long as the Taiwanese are able to continue with some degree of autonomy, they won’t charge forward and declare the independence. That’s kind of new to us. I mean, usually U.S. says that U.S. does not support Taiwan for independence. Does that imply then the U.S. changed its position?

    MR KIRBY: There is no change to our “one China” policy.

    Thanks, everybody. Have a great day.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:44 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Thu, 12/15/2016 - 16:51
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 15, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAQ
  • IRAQ


    2:48 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: Okay. That was my opening statement. (Laughter.) I don’t think I have anything to top on that, so we’ll get right at it.

    QUESTION: Could we follow on Aleppo, then?

    MR KIRBY: Can you follow on Aleppo? Sure.

    QUESTION: Yeah. He said that we want a united Syria; you want to go back to the Geneva – I assume that’s Geneva I point, back in --

    MR KIRBY: When he’s talking about a Geneva is he’s talking about – because that’s where the first and second round --

    QUESTION: The talks, right.

    MR KIRBY: -- of talks that occurred.

    QUESTION: I understand, but there are – there’s a Geneva understanding that was back in 2012, which stipulated certain points to get the process going. So I assume that he’s talking about that.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: But what I wanted to ask you specifically is that if – if, let’s say, when you talk about a political process and a united Syria, if the regime chooses or Bashar al-Assad chooses to be a part of this process and run in a fair and transparent elections and so on, would he be allowed to? Because you guys have committed yourselves in the past to the fact that he lost his legitimacy to govern.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah. Well, I think we still believe that, Said. And as we’ve said before, those are exactly the sorts of issues that need to be hammered out in political talks, is what this transition looks like and what an election looks like. And that’s why it’s so important to get the regime and the opposition together to talk.

    QUESTION: So you – I understand, but I still --

    MR KIRBY: We’re not going to go in – we’re not going into this proscriptively, Said, and laying out what it all has to look like before they’ve even had a chance to talk.

    QUESTION: Because it is obvious that the regime – not necessarily Bashar al-Assad – but the regime itself represents a good portion of Syrian – of the Syrian people. I mean, there are minorities that look to them for leadership. There are – there’s a large portion of the Sunni population and many others, Christians and so on. So they would want that kind of political entity to represent them.

    MR KIRBY: Well --

    QUESTION: Would they be allowed? Should they be allowed as part of any political process that is fair and transparent?

    MR KIRBY: Should who be allowed?

    QUESTION: The regime, the Baathist regime of Syria.

    MR KIRBY: There is – there’s no question that in political talks, should we get to that point, that the regime would be represented in that. And there’s – you can’t have political talks and – to lead to a solution without the regime being represented, as they were in the first two rounds. And you talked about a large part of the Syrian population that may be supportive of the regime. Let’s also talk about the much larger portion of the Syrian population that has been killed, injured, maimed, forced to flee their homes and businesses – in fact, forced to flee the country. Some 4.8, maybe more, million people have been sent into refuge outside Syria.

    Now, one of the things that we have said throughout our discussions about what the transition process should look like and how elections ought to be held is that we believe it’s very, very important that the diaspora, those that have been flung outside the country because of the brutality of their own government, ought to have a chance to cast their ballot, to have a say, to let their voice be heard. So again, we’re not going into this proscriptively by detail. That’s the whole reason you want to have talks, okay?


    QUESTION: John, I can’t help but feel like we’ve been here before. Do you have any reason to believe that as long as the words of the Secretary and the rest of the world fall on deaf ears in Damascus that there is anything in the dynamics on the ground that will make this any different than what we’ve heard weeks ago and months ago?

    MR KIRBY: Well, certainly, I think we’re all mindful – and I think you could hear it in the Secretary today – we’re all mindful that we have said these things before. We have made these same arguments. We have urged the same sort of restraint and dignified approach on both the regime and its backers to little avail. We’re exceedingly frustrated by where we are. Nobody wants to see what we see coming out of Aleppo specifically.

    But as to your exact question on what – can I predict a change? No. No, and I wouldn’t even attempt to. But this much is clear, Carol: If things don’t change, if we can’t get back to discussions in Geneva about a political transition, a peaceful transition to some sort of democratic government in Syria, then the war goes on. And sadly, regrettably, we might be up here talking about another community, another city, that’s facing slaughter. That means more extremists are going to be drawn to Syria. It means more refugees, more internally displaced people as well as refugees out the country, which will continue to strain the resources of countries like – nations like Turkey and Jordan and Europe. And it means that the opposition will continue to fight; the civil war will not end. And I can’t – it’s hard to imagine how that can be seen – that outcome – those outcomes, I should say – can be seen as in the interests of anyone, including Bashar al-Assad.

    QUESTION: But is there anything happening on the ground? Is there any reason to believe that this time might be different? Is this say nothing or forever hold your peace?

    MR KIRBY: It’s not going to be forever hold your peace if we still don’t – if we don’t get to better outcomes. I think you know Secretary Kerry well enough that for every second that he’s in the chair, he’s going to be continuing to try to get a political transition in Syria on the way. There’s absolutely no question about that. But I mean, I think it – I think we just have to take this one day at a time.

    Now, as – talking about this day, as he said to you, there has been some positive movement, and it would be remiss of us not to recognize the fact that there are buses that have moved into Aleppo to move people out. And indications are that the first to move out were those who were injured, hurt, sick, and not necessarily mobile, and they were monitored and escorted by Red Crescent personnel. So that’s not – that’s worth recognizing, that today we did see some people get out safely and securely. We need to see that continue.

    More critically, what we need to see is a cessation of the violence in Aleppo, because as soon as this ceasefire was announced just, what, 48 hours ago, it was almost as immediately broken. So we’ve seen some positive steps today, and we’ll just have to stay at it.

    QUESTION: John --

    MR KIRBY: Abigail.

    QUESTION: -- following up on what you said, that there will be more cities where this happens, are there any plans underway for preventing this from happening in Idlib or wherever it is that the people who are being removed from east Aleppo are heading?

    MR KIRBY: Well, if you mean that we’re engaging our partners and relevant parties to this conflict to try to forestall that kind of thing, yes, of course, we are. I can’t predict. I’m just saying that that’s the logical outcome because Aleppo’s not going to be the end. Even the dictator Assad said that, that the – that taking back Aleppo wasn’t going to end the war, except when he says it it has a much more – obviously a much more dark connotation there. I don’t know. But we – but what we do know is that unless we can get back to the table and try to get some sort of political transition in process to try to offer a way through to end the war diplomatically, it will continue. And since we believe that, you have to assume that it will continue on the streets of other cities, other towns, other communities. I just don’t know where or when that might be.


    QUESTION: John?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: John, and the Secretary mentioned that everybody’s on board for negotiations except the regime – Assad regime – and you also now are saying the same thing. But who has approached the regime? Has – have you talked to Russians? Has this regime rejected an offer to be on board, or is it still up in the air? Have they been approached formally by – through Russia? Because --

    MR KIRBY: Of course, they’ve been approached through Russia. We don’t have direct communications with the Assad regime --

    QUESTION: Yeah. That’s – yeah.

    MR KIRBY: -- but Russia does. They have the most influence on them. And yes, we have pressed upon them to press upon the Syrians to come back to the table to try to have some kind of meaningful political transition. And as the Secretary said, they have thus far not only proven unwilling to do that but proven all the more brutally willing to kill their own people.

    QUESTION: John, do you have any direct communication with the groups left in the small part of Aleppo?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know what the status of direct communications are with the opposition fighters in Aleppo. I don’t think I have that clear a picture. We obviously have contacts with and communication with some opposition groups. There are other nations in the region that are in closer communication with yet other groups. I don’t know exactly how many or who the opposition are left in Aleppo, so it’d be difficult for me to answer that question.

    QUESTION: So to clarify the position of U.S., the Secretary Kerry said that, “if Aleppo falls.” So do you believe that there is still an opportunity for the opposition groups to hold this small part --

    MR KIRBY: It would be – he – the Secretary’s right. I mean, the – I think we don’t believe the entire city has fallen yet, but it is certainly on the brink of doing that. I mean, we’re realistic, we’re pragmatic about that. And that’s why, because we are where we are, that’s why we’ve been working to get civilians as well as opposition members out of there safely and securely. I can’t predict when that small enclave may or may not be taken or what that’s going to look like or how hard it’s going to be fought for, but by all – I mean, by just about any measure, Aleppo has almost completely been taken back.

    QUESTION: But as far as I understand, the evacuation means the fall of Aleppo.

    MR KIRBY: The what?

    QUESTION: The evacuation of these fighters and the civilians in these small parts means --

    MR KIRBY: I think we’re all facing the reality that that’s what’s going to happen.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: I mean, I’m not sure I understand what the point is. I mean, I think we all recognize – nobody’s looking at what’s going on in Aleppo with rose-colored glasses here. I mean, the city is almost totally now been taken by the regime. I mean, we recognize that and they were – and the Assad regime was able to do that with the help of external actors, including Russia and Iran, and there’s no disputing that either. And sadly, hundreds of thousands of people have suffered, many of them innocent people – men, women, and children.

    And that’s why, because of where we are with Aleppo, because the situation is so dire – and first of all, that’s one of the reasons why the Secretary came out to talk to you directly, because of the situation that we’re in right now and because of the need to try to save whatever lives are left in Aleppo that we can – that can be saved, and to allow the opposition to get out safely with their light weapons.

    QUESTION: So the status of this enclave, is it – is there fighting going on now or are they being evacuated? Are they part of the cessation of hostilities or the ceasefire?

    MR KIRBY: First of all, I don’t know --

    QUESTION: Because I saw on some – footage of these trucks, convoys, going through areas that is under Syrian Government control and moving north towards the countryside and to Idlib. So --

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know the status of fighting in this --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: -- small area, but we have reason to believe that there could be opposition as well as innocent civilians there, and we’d like to get – we’d like to see that we could get those people out safely and securely. What the regime will do, I couldn’t possibly predict.

    QUESTION: Because the implicit message – and when you say “if Aleppo falls,” the implicit message is that it may not, which means that these fighters will hang on or they will stay where they are, which is, I guess, in contradiction with the terms of the ceasefire as we understand it, right?

    MR KIRBY: Look, again, Said, I don’t have perfect visibility into what – in what’s going on in this small area. I mean, Aleppo, for all intents and purposes, has been taken back by the regime. We recognize that. And our focus right now is more on trying to save the lives that yet can be saved and trying to get people out that can and will get out safely and securely to other locations, to aid and assistance – food, water, and medicine that is waiting for them.


    QUESTION: I just want to follow on something the Secretary said. He said, “Hopefully people will put actions where the words have been.” We’ve heard a lot of words from him, a lot of indignation. Is the United States prepared to take action aside from calling for political talks to halt the violence in Aleppo?

    MR KIRBY: What sort of action do you – are you referring to?

    QUESTION: Be any action – is – that’s what I’m asking you. Is the U.S. prepared to take action beside – I mean, the Secretary said himself, “Hopefully people will put actions where the words have been.” What actions --

    MR KIRBY: Well, he’s referring to – he’s referring to the actions and the responsibilities that are incumbent upon the regime, Russia, and Iran specifically. Those are the three parties here who have in the past said that they favored a peaceful solution, that they favor diplomacy, and have proven quite the contrary. Those are the individuals.

    QUESTION: The --

    MR KIRBY: That’s where the – hang on a second. That’s where the responsibility lies. That’s where the failure of leadership is. Now, to your question, the – yes, the short is answer is yes, the United States will continue to act to do whatever we can to try to get a cessation of hostilities in Syria and get a return to political talks. And we’re going to do that through hopefully the support of the international community and continued diplomatic efforts.

    Now, we’ve talked a lot – so I get – the implication in your question I understand very perfectly, the discussion of military options. And while discussions about options and alternatives always remains a live issue inside our government, we – those sorts of options have been carefully considered. They have been discussed thoroughly, and even at the request – or I’m sorry, at the advice and counsel of our nation’s top military leaders, it has been – the decision has been made that those are not options that will get us to the end we seek, either in terms of risk and resources and cost, but also to potential unintended outcomes and consequences in Syria that could actually be worse for the Syrian people. So it’s not like those things haven’t been thought about, and it’s not like they don’t continue to be thought about, but as the President said, there are no options that are better than a diplomatic one and one that involves getting the opposition and the regime to the table to try to talk about a political transition.

    So I just want to be clear what – and I’m not – Nick, I’m not picking on you, but when you say “act,” we are acting. We have been acting. We have been leading. And the word “act” doesn’t necessarily have to mean anything other than diplomacy, although it can. So we are, we very much have taken a leadership role. It was Secretary Kerry who led the formation of the International Syria Support Group. It was the United States who led efforts inside the UN to get that Resolution 2254 into place. It was the United States which tried to work this out bilaterally with Russia, and then when that failed because Russia wouldn’t meet its commitments, it was the United States who fashioned together a smaller multilateral effort that we were talking about in recent weeks.

    So we’re very much going to stay committed on this.

    QUESTION: So just a quick follow-up on that.

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: I mean, you – he compared it – from the podium, he compared Aleppo to Srebrenica. You have a member of – Samantha Power literally wrote the book on the responsibility to protect. Does the U.S. believe it has a responsibility to protect people in Aleppo?

    MR KIRBY: We absolutely believe we have a responsibility to try to protect the innocent from slaughter, absolutely we do. And we have been acting on that responsibility for now, what, more than eight – five years, but more specifically for the last 18 months to two years to try to get a peaceful solution to the conflict. Coming from my background and then coming here, diplomacy is action. Diplomacy is leadership. Diplomacy is a choice, and it is often a more painstaking choice. It is often a slower choice. And as I’ve witnessed myself from being in these discussions, it is a – it can be in many ways a much more challenging choice to make. But it is a choice, and it is action, and it does connote leadership. And the United States has been leading in this – very much leading in this effort.

    Now, Nick, to be honest and fair, and I think you can hear it in Secretary Kerry’s voice, nobody’s happy. Thus far, diplomacy hasn’t gotten us where we want it to go. We recognize that this diplomatic approach has fallen short of the outcomes that we want it to achieve, that we seek. But that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t still be pursued. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t still lead, and act, and discuss, and debate, and try to get better outcomes, better decisions, better changes in the calculus of some of the parties in terms of the way forward. Because as I said – I think it was to Carol – it’s difficult to see that the alternative – which is the inability to make the right decisions by Russia, Iran, and the regime – is in their actual long-term security interests. Because what happens is the war just continues, and the bloodshed continues to happen, and extremists continue to be drawn in.

    Just this past week, Palmyra was retaken by the Islamic State, a city that had – to great ballyhoo had been liberated back by the regime with Russia’s help, and they lost it. And I think that says something about their, quote/unquote, “stated commitment to defeat terrorists” on their own soil.

    So again, we believe that through our diplomatic leadership, we are acting on behalf of the Syrian people and that we do shoulder and take that responsibility very seriously. But the other thing that I can – and I know I’m rambling here, but I want to get to the core of your question. The other thing that Ambassador Power said clearly was it’s up to the international community as well to continue to shoulder and bear that responsibility. It doesn’t – I’m not at all shrugging off U.S. leadership or our role. We very much are aware of our responsibility here too to continue to lead these efforts. But so too, as the Secretary said, do we need the international community on board as well.


    QUESTION: John, when the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Zarif regarding the Iran Sanctions Act, surely they must have talked about Aleppo. Can you tell us what was said and if there was any attempt to somehow leverage them, to pressure --

    MR KIRBY: I’m really not – I’m not in a – I’m not at liberty to read out specific discussions with Foreign Minister Zarif right now. Obviously, the Iran Sanctions Act and the extension was the core topic.

    QUESTION: Is it a proper analogy to make with – between Aleppo and Srebrenica? Is it – I mean, how do you make that analogy? What is the yardstick?

    MR KIRBY: I think – look, Said, I think it’s an obvious analogy to make given the level of slaughter that we’ve seen and the brutal, indiscriminate manner in which innocent people have been in some cases executed right in the streets. No historical analogy is perfect, but I think I can definitely see – and I was alive and remember that, those events as well – there are parallels in terms of the brutality of one group to another and with – along and with sectarian lines and sectarian influences.

    Yes, ma’am.

    QUESTION: Different subject. This is regards the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan. Senior Kurdish officials, including the KRG prime minister today, have complained about the continued PKK presence in Sinjar. They say that the PKK is blocking the Yezidis from returning to their homes and rebuilding their communities. What’s your view of that situation?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I haven’t seen those remarks, so it would be difficult to provide a specific comment on it. What I can tell you is – and I think you know – I mean, we continue to believe that the PKK, which is a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, should have no role in Sinjar, and we regard their presence there as a major obstacle to a reconciliation and to the return of internally displaced people. We urge all groups, including the KRG, to facilitate political reconciliation so that these internally displaced people can return and the traumatized communities in that region can rebuild. We also urge continued close cooperation between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government to defeat Daesh and to resolve any other outstanding issues between them.

    QUESTION: So if I have represented his comments correctly, then you’re essentially in agreement with him?

    MR KIRBY: I think I’m going to let my statement stand the way it was. I haven’t seen the – I haven’t seen those comments. I was simply stating to you what our policy is with respect to the PKK and Sinjar.


    QUESTION: Earlier today there was a report released by the International Crisis Group indicating that Rohingya from Saudi Arabia are directing an insurgency in Rakhine state in Burma, Myanmar. We got a statement earlier today from this building referring us to that report, not taking any contention with the conclusions of Burmese intelligence services also telling the VOA Burmese service that this concurs with their intelligence. I wonder if you could elaborate on the reaction to this. And also if this is happening – being directed out of Saudi Arabia, do the Saudis bear some responsibility in looking into this?

    MR KIRBY: Sure. What I can tell you is we’re aware of the report and we’re actually reviewing it right now, so it would be inappropriate and premature for us to make any judgments or statements about individual findings. In general, obviously, we work routinely every day with allies and partners and friends all over the world to counter violent extremism. And the threat of violent extremism, wherever it is and it’s in many places, is something all of us, all governments, can and should pay attention to trying to combat. But again, I’m not in a position right now to make any comment on specific findings in the report.


    QUESTION: John, as a follow-up to Sinjar question, there is a group – you mentioned about the PKK presence there. There is a group which is using the name of “Sinjar Protection Units” in Sinjar. I mean, they are affiliated with PKK, but there is also another group like PYD. So you see for example PYD and PKK two separate groups, but in Sinjar, you say – you see – is it same organization? You call them PKK instead of “Sinjar Protection Units?”

    MR KIRBY: What I said was we continue to hold the PKK as a terrorist organization and they shouldn’t have any role in Sinjar. And that’s our point. And our assessment of the PKK hasn’t changed, and I have no updates to give you in terms of our view of the PYD as a separate entity.

    QUESTION: No, the thing is they are using the name of “Sinjar Protection Units” instead of PKK. They have own flags, they have own – I mean, the organizational chart, et cetera, differently from PKK.

    MR KIRBY: What’s your question?

    QUESTION: So you see them as PKK instead of “Sinjar Protection Units?”

    MR KIRBY: As I said, the PKK is a terrorist organization. We don’t believe they should have any role in Sinjar. I’m not going to get into intelligence assessments or analysis about how they may be organizing themselves or branding themselves.

    QUESTION: So just trying to understand the two different approach --

    MR KIRBY: I know.

    QUESTION: -- for Syria and Iraq.

    MR KIRBY: I know. I think I’ve answered the question. Let’s take a couple more.

    QUESTION: Can we stay in the Middle East?

    MR KIRBY: Let me get one in the back here and then I’ll come to you, and you’ll be the last question, okay?

    QUESTION: Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Very good.

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: I was going to ask about Japan, the Abe-Putin meeting in Yamaguchi. They agreed to start 2+2 talks with their foreign and defense ministers, and they agreed to talk about some economic cooperation between the Kuril/Northern islands. Do you have any reaction to the meetings? Are you worried that this can erode the G-7 sort of front against Russia?

    MR KIRBY: Well, as I said yesterday, sovereign nation -states determine their sovereign foreign policy agenda and their schedules and their visits, and we’re not in a position to pass judgement on this meeting or the contents of it. I think it’s for the leaders of those nations to characterize what they discussed and the tone, tenor, and whatever decisions or joint priorities may have come out of that. We believe it’s important for nations – certainly Pacific nations, and both of them are – to have meaningful dialogue and discussion and improved bilateral relations. All that is to the betterment of the safety and security, stability of the region. But I’ll leave it to those foreign leaders to characterize their discussions.


    QUESTION: I have a very quick question on a Palestinian issue. A couple days ago I asked you about two hospitals that were on the verge of closing down, because the PA is not paying up its obligation to these hospitals to the tone of about $15 million. I wonder if you have any comment or any information on that.

    MR KIRBY: We are concerned about the situation with the al-Mutala and al-Maqasid hospitals.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: In Fiscal Year 2015, the United States contributed $35 million towards East Jerusalem hospitals, and we plan to continue providing support subject, of course, to available funding. And I just don’t have an exact amount at this time.

    QUESTION: Do you believe that PA is sort of shirking its responsibilities toward these hospitals?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I think I’m going to leave my statement as it is.

    Thanks, everybody. Have a great afternoon.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:17 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Wed, 12/14/2016 - 16:36
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 14, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAN


    2:07 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody.

    QUESTION: Hello.

    MR KIRBY: Did I interrupt something? You guys want to finish? No?

    QUESTION: That was a side conversation I was not a part of. (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: It sucks being left out, doesn’t it?

    Look, I do want to start by addressing what continues to be a dire situation, obviously, in Aleppo. And I know you guys are following all that. Today the Secretary has spoken to Foreign Minister Cavusoglu of Turkey; he has spoken to Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia; he has spoken to Foreign Minister al-Thani of Qatar; and there may be a discussion later today with the UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura.

    In all of these conversations, the Secretary has stressed the need to continue to try to stop the bloodshed and the violence through a meaningful ceasefire, and he noted that whatever was announced yesterday obviously didn’t survive very long due to the regime and to militias and fighters that are backed by Iran violating it. He also continued to stress the desperate need for humanitarian aid to get in and for the establishment of humanitarian corridors for people to get out and to be able to get out safely. None of those things obviously have happened. And so he is going to continue this kind of diplomatic engagement to try to achieve a better outcome for those people that are still left in Aleppo and want to get out, and of course, the opposition as well.

    The other thing that he stressed was that it is more imperative than ever that we begin to get a process in place to allow for the resumption of political talks between the opposition and the regime, because we continue to believe – the Secretary stressed against in all these conversations – that the only way to solve the civil war is through a political solution; that more violence, more bloodshed, siege, starvation, and surrender tactics such as what we’re seeing in Aleppo is not only not the right way to end it, it cannot be put to an end that way; that this will be nothing more than the continuation of the war in Syria – the attraction to Syria of more terrorists and extremists, the flinging into refuge thousands and thousands of more people, and of course, the continued fighting by the opposition against the regime.

    So he’s going to very much stay engaged on this going forward. While we cannot deny that the facts on the ground indicate that Aleppo is nearly all now taken by the regime, we also cannot deny the simple truth that as we – as I said yesterday, the end of the siege in Aleppo is not the end of the war in Syria. And so again, the Secretary is very focused and will stay focused on ending that war through the best possible way, and that is through a resumption of political talks in Geneva where the opposition and the regime can sit down and try to hammer out a political transition that puts in the hands of the Syrian people a government and a country that is unified, pluralistic, safe, and secure.

    So again, that’s what I wanted to start with today. Brad.

    QUESTION: So on Aleppo. We’ve heard a lot of moral outrage from this podium, from the Secretary, from the U.S. – the UN ambassador yesterday, from the White House. What is the goal of all of this? I mean, we’ve been hearing the same message for many months; in fact, for years. Yet nothing has really changed to stop it. So what is the goal right now of kind of laying all the blame on Russia? What are you doing differently to stop the war now?

    MR KIRBY: Well, the – I don’t know if you meant it this way. It’s not like the goal is to lay the blame on Russia. The responsibilities are rightfully being applied to Russia because they’re the country with the most influence on Assad. We’ve seen it when they can and are willing to use that influence; we’ve seen it work positively. And just as much as recently, we’ve seen when they’re not willing to do it, we end up where we are right now in Aleppo. So it’s not about – it’s not just about laying responsibility where it belongs. And the outcome that we want is the same outcome, frankly, that we’ve been trying to achieve now for better than 18 months, which is political talks that can lead to a meaningful transition in Syria. And again, in all of the Secretary’s conversations today, that was front and center.

    QUESTION: Right, but you failed repeatedly doing the same thing over and over again, which is a combination of trying to bring together people in some sort of talks with a sort of imperfect ceasefire, and then when things go badly, you get really angry and accuse them of war crimes or crimes against humanity, and then nothing ever changes. You haven’t succeeded once. You’ve talked about successes sometimes with Russia; it looks to everyone else like tactical retreats or momentary pauses. So what are you doing differently to prevent more of the same?

    MR KIRBY: Well, the failure is in the belief that this war can be solved militarily. And the failure is on Russia for not putting the proper pressure on the Assad regime to stop the brutality, the gassing, the surrender, the starvation of their own people. That’s the real failure here. The failure is on the part of --

    QUESTION: You don’t think the U.S. has failed?

    MR KIRBY: -- the failure – hang on a second, I’m not done. The failure is on the part of the regime and its backers, including Russia and Iran, for the way they continue to try to find a military solution to what should be a political one. That’s the real failure here, and the Syrian people are the ones caught in the crossfire, quite literally.

    You talked about the United States failure. What I would say is the international community has remained focused on trying to bring about a better outcome in Syria. And yes, the United States is a leader in that effort.

    QUESTION: You speak for the United States and you have a specific – as the most powerful country in the world, have a specific responsibility in the world, and you can push that over to the international community --

    MR KIRBY: I’m not.

    QUESTION: -- but the United States has failed in this. Do you disagree?

    MR KIRBY: I – what I – what I disagree with is where the failure lies. The failure lies on the part of the regime and its backers to act with any sense of moral standards for human behavior.

    QUESTION: But you countenanced that.

    MR KIRBY: No, no, that’s the failure. That’s the failure. Who --

    QUESTION: Yeah, but every time they do that you reach out to them --

    MR KIRBY: Brad, Brad, Brad.

    QUESTION: -- and try to engage them in a process.

    MR KIRBY: Brad, Brad, let me finish. I’m not at all saying that we’re content with what the results have been of better than 18 months of negotiation and discussions. If – the Secretary is – would be the first to tell you that he’s enormously frustrated that we are still where we are with respect to what’s going on on the ground in Syria. Nobody’s happy about that. And would we have preferred that any number of the communiques that we negotiated with a UN Security Council resolution that was signed on by Russia as well would have led to a better, safer outcome in Syria? Absolutely.

    So nobody’s happy about this. And I’m not pushing it off on the international community at all. I’m simply making the point that it’s not just the United States that wants a political solution. And as I said yesterday, and I’ll repeat it again today, I’ve – we fully own the fact that we have been a leader in this effort. It was the United States who led the development of the ISSG. It was the United States who led the process to get us to a UN Security Council resolution. It was the United States that tried to lead both bilateral and then multilateral negotiations in recent weeks to try to bring about a ceasefire.

    Look, we’re – everybody is enormously frustrated about where we are, and nobody’s happy, and that’s why the Secretary is going to continue to work at it.

    QUESTION: Well, let me ask my last question, though.

    MR KIRBY: But – wait. But lastly, your question – what are you going to do differently?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR KIRBY: We’re going to continue to try to get a political outcome that is – that will serve the people of Syria that – and what we’re going to try to do is continue to prove the point that – I think by “different” you mean military – that that’s not the right approach. That’s not the right approach.

    QUESTION: I didn’t say military, so don’t bring the strawman into this. I didn’t say military, but if you have military options, I’d love to hear them. But on the other hand, you have, what, four or five weeks left in office. You’re not describing any different kind of approach or anything you’re going to do to somehow change the equation. So why should anyone expect anything different to happen in the time you still have left in office?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to telegraph changes in the days and weeks ahead, one way or the other.

    QUESTION: You’ve been saying that for a couple years now. So you’ve telegraphed nothing because you did nothing.

    MR KIRBY: But we – there – we have a range of options at our disposal, Brad. I’m not going to get into decisions that haven’t yet been made. And you can --

    QUESTION: That’s – it’s too late for that.

    MR KIRBY: Look, you can shake your head in disgust about the answer all you want.

    QUESTION: It’s too late for that. You have no time left and you’re saying you’re not going to telegraph something that we know is not going to happen.

    MR KIRBY: You might feel that – Brad. Brad. You and the Associated Press might feel that it’s too late. The Secretary of State, John Kerry, does not feel that it’s too late to continue to try to find a political solution to this conflict.

    QUESTION: John?

    MR KIRBY: Dave.

    QUESTION: The – you – in the wording you used in your initial statement, you said that yesterday’s attempted – whatever it was – failed because the regime made the decision to continue fighting and Iranian-backed militias. So you specifically singled out Damascus and Iran. Do you think Russia wanted this to work?

    MR KIRBY: I think you’d have to --

    QUESTION: Or do you --

    MR KIRBY: I think you’d really need to ask --

    QUESTION: Right, but you’re not saying they broke the ceasefire.

    MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is all the information that we have is that the regime and Iranian-backed militias refused to even start the ceasefire. Now, what Russia’s role in that regard, I’d refer you to Moscow on that.

    QUESTION: But do you have any information that they are continuing to bomb?

    MR KIRBY: I’m going to leave it how I characterized it.

    QUESTION: Okay. Now, Moscow has announced a summit on December the 27th for Turkey and Iran to discuss the situation in Syria. Are you aware of that and is the U.S. going to have any role?

    MR KIRBY: I’ve seen some press reports on that. That’s the best I have on it. I’m not aware that there’s any role for the United States in that meeting.

    QUESTION: Did it come up in any of the Secretary’s calls?

    MR KIRBY: It did not. And the other thing I’d say is, as we talked about yesterday, that we welcome any agreement, whether we’re a part of the discussions or not, that could lead to a better outcome in Syria.

    I also want to take the opportunity with your question to correct the record a little bit. Yesterday I said that we didn’t have – it’s not – obviously, we didn’t have any role in the bilateral agreement between Russia and Turkey to achieve this stated ceasefire yesterday, which obviously failed before it even got started, but we did have indications that there were these discussions. We did know that there were discussions going on between Turkey and Russia. The Turks were – the Turks did keep us informed about the discussions that were ongoing and the ultimate result, and obviously we were supportive of that. So I misspoke when I said we didn’t have any foreknowledge. We actually did, so I do apologize for the error.

    QUESTION: The State Department was aware or was it – was another U.S. department involved?

    MR KIRBY: The State Department.

    QUESTION: Sir, on Syria. So at the beginning you said that people are not being evacuated, that none of this is happening, they’re not getting help. And I wonder just – if you saw and how does this square with actual footage of many, many civilians leaving and being evacuated, being given food and help – other help?

    MR KIRBY: I didn’t say people aren’t being evacuated. I didn't – I didn’t say people aren’t being evacuated. We’ve seen people get out. We’ve seen people get out, but there’s still a lot of people in Aleppo who will need to get out, and many won’t leave because they don’t feel it’s – the passage is safe. And so as I said, what the – what I did say was the Secretary talked about the need to develop safe humanitarian corridors so that people feel comfortable going.

    I’m not – I’ve never ever said that people weren’t being evacuated or didn’t evacuate themselves. But they haven’t always been able to do so safely, and so many of them don’t want to leave.

    QUESTION: That is – that is actually I want – something I also want to ask you about. So for many months while supporting the rebels in eastern Aleppo, you focused on condemning Russia and the Syrian Government while it seemed to me also often downplayed the reports that reflected negatively on the rebels. And people who are now coming out of eastern Aleppo talk about how they were treated by the rebels. Many of them say that they were shot at by the rebels as they were trying to leave. There are many, many such accounts. And I just saw an AP interview with an Aleppo evacuee who said – just one quote – there are many of them. “They tried in any way with me to volunteer with them, but I refused and they beat me. I tried several times to escape from their areas to areas under government control,” end quote. And I wonder whether these accounts have in any way changed your view of the rebels in eastern Aleppo.

    MR KIRBY: Well, I absolutely, fundamentally reject your assertion that we’ve downplayed actions by opposition forces that we obviously don’t agree with. And I have from – many times, and I know Mark has too – from this podium talked about concerns we’ve had in the past about certain opposition groups and opposition members not abiding by the cessation of hostilities. And I’ve seen these same press reports. I’ve seen those same quotes. They’re troubling to be sure. And I can assure you that there’s no opportunity where we don’t – when we don’t have it that we don’t take it to communicate our concerns with opposition groups about their conduct of behavior on the battlefield as well. I mean, we’re not bashful about that, and that will continue as things go on.

    But I think, despite what I think is an effort to deflect responsibility by Russia and by Iran and certainly by the regime in your question, there is no doubt that by and large without question the vast majority of the depravity and the brutality, the depredations – we saw reports of executions yesterday, the bombing of schools and hospitals and homes – that that is being conducted by the regime with the support of Russia and Iran. There’s absolutely no question. Mathematically, it’s not even in dispute.

    I didn’t say and I never said that the – that there weren’t things that the opposition did that were likewise concerning. We have owned up to that in the past and we’ll continue to do that. And we will continue to express our concern about that.

    QUESTION: When I say “downplaying reports of the rebels’ actions,” I mean your response --

    MR KIRBY: No, you said that – you said we appear to be downplaying.

    QUESTION: Yeah. So – so it’s actually based on your response, the response that you gave me in October when I asked you about accounts from civilians who said that they were shot at by the rebels as they were trying to leave, they were preventing from leaving. And you said, “I can’t confirm that report. You know I don’t get into battlefield reports; I’m not going to do that. What is without dispute is that the siege of Aleppo continues, as I was mentioning earlier. And your question about being held hostage, there should be – and I’ve seen reports that they are allowed to leave.” And then you continued. So that sounded like downplaying to me.

    MR KIRBY: No, that sounded like a pretty darn good answer to me. I’m pretty proud of that one. I’ve got no problem with what I said to you then, and I certainly have no problem with what I said to you now.

    QUESTION: Can I just follow up?

    MR KIRBY: Sure. Steve.

    QUESTION: The bombing of civilians hoping to evacuate Aleppo, according today to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Zeid, is, quote, most – it “most likely constitutes war crimes.” What is the State Department’s reaction to his comment on that?

    MR KIRBY: We have talked about this many times, and I think you heard – I heard – I think you heard Ambassador Power speak about this very forcefully yesterday. I’ll just – there’s no change to our view that the Secretary believes that what’s going on, particularly in Aleppo, should be evaluated for the potential of it being found to be war crimes. And as he has said many times, that clearly the brutality, the violence, is outside the norms of any standard of normal conduct of war. And --

    QUESTION: But would you concur with the language that --

    MR KIRBY: If you’re asking me --

    QUESTION: -- this top UN official is using today, that most likely constitutes war crimes?

    MR KIRBY: I would just tell you that our view of this, it has not changed and we continue to believe that these depravities – and that’s really the only word I can think of right now that adequately describes it – or atrocities, if you will – should be evaluated appropriately as potential war crimes, and the Secretary said that himself.


    QUESTION: You keep saying there’s no military solution and the – it’s the Russian and Syrian failure for trashing the diplomatic solution, but do you think not that the U.S. diplomatic strategy failed by not being backed with a credible threat of force?

    MR KIRBY: I think we will continue to evaluate options going forward, Barbara. We continue to believe that a diplomatic approach, a political solution is the right way to go, and I’m not going to prejudge or get ahead of decisions that may or may not be made going forward, as we’ve never done that. But as I said to Brad, nobody’s happy about the result here. You can’t but look at some of the images coming out of Aleppo and feel heartsick about it. But that doesn’t mean that the ultimate end and the means to get to that end is necessarily wrong. Just because you haven’t gotten the exact result you want, it doesn’t mean that in every case on every day that you need to – that you need to alter it necessarily.

    And again, I’m not going to get ahead of anything, but we continue to believe that a political solution is the right one – that more violence, more bloodshed, more war is not the way to end this. The way to end it is to get the opposition and the regime at the table to talk about a political transition. I know you’ve heard me say that before; I get that you maybe don’t want to hear me say it again. But it is, we believe, the way to have a sustainable peace in Syria, not the introduction of more options that only increase the threat, that only decrease the security, that only make it more likely that you’re going to have additional bloodshed and violence.

    I mean – so I got that Aleppo’s virtually all but taken now. But as I said yesterday, that doesn’t mean the war ends. In fact, this starve and surrender and siege mentality that the regime continues to take virtually assures that will go on. And so for the critics out there that say, well, you should get involved militarily, I’d like them to explain how that is going to end the war faster. We all recognize the difficulty of diplomacy. It can be slow, it can be plodding, and it can be difficult. It’s not linear. I understand that, believe me. I think I understand that more than most, that it’s not a linear process. But that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong approach to take.


    QUESTION: New subject?

    QUESTION: Oh, no, hold on. I wanted to ask you about the Iran thing as well. That’s one thing that I – it did seem you did downplay in the last few weeks and months was Iran’s influence on this war, but today you’re saying Iran-based militias were responsible for breaking or preventing this ceasefire from ever taking hold. Why have you been so quiet on the role of Iran? I think you were on CNN like a week ago and you said Iran hasn’t really played a significant role in the Aleppo siege.

    MR KIRBY: I didn’t. I said Hizballah – we know Hizballah’s there. We said that they have an advisory role on the ground. I definitely put it more on Russia, which I absolutely, 100 percent support. I haven’t downplayed anything on that, Brad. We’ve been very honest about the fact --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR KIRBY: We’ve been very honest about the fact that Iran is there, and --

    QUESTION: Really? How many sanctions have you put on Iran over Syria in the last two years? Zero.

    MR KIRBY: And I would ask you to go look at comments coming out of Tehran today.

    QUESTION: Zero sanctions.

    MR KIRBY: Come and look at comments coming out of Tehran today about how they’re fairly crowing about Aleppo and about the role they played --

    QUESTION: They are, absolutely.

    MR KIRBY: -- in the siege of Aleppo.

    QUESTION: They are not downplaying it.

    MR KIRBY: So it’s not just me. They’re talking about their role --

    QUESTION: Yeah, they’re not downplaying it.

    MR KIRBY: -- and we have too.

    QUESTION: So what --

    MR KIRBY: And we have too.

    QUESTION: You’ve – no, you’ve been pretty much focusing entirely on Russia.

    MR KIRBY: Because the responsibility lies almost entirely on Russia.

    QUESTION: You’ve been saying they’re not playing a major operational role even though they’re directing a lot of the ground attacks and their – they have their own kind of proxies embedded with the Syrians. And you’ve done nothing on the sanctions front even though you have widespread authority to sanction Iran.

    MR KIRBY: We have sanctions in place on Iran’s destabilizing activities as well as their support for terrorism and groups like Hizballah, which we know are operating in Syria. There are existing – Brad, come on, now. I mean, I am not going to --

    QUESTION: But they’re existing, but why have you put no sanctions on Iran --

    MR KIRBY: I am not going to debate – I am not going to debate --

    QUESTION: -- for the last two years?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to debate policy with you here or future options going forward, Brad. But you know as well as I do that we have sanctions in place on Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism. You know that many of those affect Hizballah. Those --

    QUESTION: But that’s not germane to what we’re talking about here.

    MR KIRBY: There are sanctions in place.

    QUESTION: This is not a terrorism issue. This is about support for --

    MR KIRBY: There are sanctions in place to affect Iran’s destabilizing activities.

    QUESTION: You’re just throwing apples and oranges out here.

    MR KIRBY: No, I’m not. No.

    QUESTION: This is not about state sponsorship of terrorism. This is about their support for the Assad regime’s military activity.

    MR KIRBY: And we’ve been – and we have been --

    QUESTION: It’s a completely different set and you’ve done – the Administration has done nothing.

    MR KIRBY: We’ve been honest about that role. I’m not going to prejudge or get ahead of decisions one way or the other, Brad.

    QUESTION: Well --

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to do that. I know – you are probably --

    QUESTION: -- the prejudging – the “pre” notion is a little silly at December 2016 --

    MR KIRBY: I can --

    QUESTION: -- after Aleppo falls to declare anything like --

    MR KIRBY: I can --

    QUESTION: -- prejudging. I mean, what’s done is done.

    MR KIRBY: Look, Brad. Brad. Brad. Calm down.

    QUESTION: Yeah, I’m calmed down.

    MR KIRBY: Okay? You don’t need to get so upset.

    QUESTION: Yeah, I’m not getting upset.

    MR KIRBY: And I don’t know – and I don’t know --

    QUESTION: It’s a cheap shot – that’s a cheap shot. Come on.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t – no, it’s not.

    QUESTION: I’m not upset, I’m just --

    MR KIRBY: Yes, you are. Yeah.

    QUESTION: I’m just debating a point with you and I’m disagreeing vigorously.

    MR KIRBY: And I’m saying this is not the forum to debate policy. If you want to debate policy, I’ll set you up with some policy experts and --

    QUESTION: Don’t get upset, John. Don’t get upset, John.

    MR KIRBY: Oh, yeah. Yeah, right. Exactly.

    QUESTION: It’s a cheap shot.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR KIRBY: No, it’s not a cheap shot. Yeah, Goyal.

    QUESTION: Sorry, one more on Syria?

    QUESTION: New subject: South Asia. Let’s start with --

    QUESTION: Can I follow up on Syria? We’re on Syria.

    MR KIRBY: No – no, no, guys. I call the questions. Not you. Go ahead, Goyal.

    QUESTION: Let’s start with China. John, sir, a lot had been said since president-elect called or took the call from Taiwanese President. My question is here now, China has been – according to the press reports and experts, China has been getting over a lot of crimes, what they say – human rights and others – for the last 40 years. My question is: Is U.S. happy with “one China” policy, number one? Number two --

    MR KIRBY: Goyal, we’ve talked about this. Let me just stop you right there. We’ve talked about this. I’d point you to the transcript over the last several days. There’s been no change about this Administration’s support for the “one China” policy.

    QUESTION: So what’s wrong now after 40 years if people are asking that? There’s a time now to ask – there’s Tibetans and Hong Kong and Taiwanese, when you have a special status on Taiwan also. And millions of Muslims inside China also suffering and asking that time has come for the U.S. and UN and international community to review “one China” policy.

    MR KIRBY: Again, Goyal, there’s no change to this Administration’s support for the “one China” policy, which has been in place for the last four-plus decades by both Democratic and Republican administrations. I can’t speak for what the next administration will do on that or any other foreign policy priority around the world. That’s for them to decide, for them to speak to. This Administration will continue to support the “one China” policy.

    QUESTION: And --

    MR KIRBY: Steve.

    QUESTION: And --

    QUESTION: Talking about China --

    MR KIRBY: Steve.

    QUESTION: -- I have a related question. A think tank today here in Washington came out with an analysis of satellite imagery showing placements of anti-aircraft weaponry on the disputed islands in the South China Sea. This seems in direct contrast to what Xi Jinping had told President Obama and others about not militarizing these islands and that these seem to go beyond purely defensive purposes. Are you aware of these images and what is the reaction?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to talk about intelligence matters --

    QUESTION: Well, this is commercial satellite imagery.

    MR KIRBY: I got it. What I will just say is, as always, we’ve consistently called on China as well as other claimants to commit to peacefully managing and resolving disputes, to refrain from further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, and the militarization of disputed features. And I’d refer you to the Chinese Government to explain what these images mean or don’t mean. What we have – we’ve been very consistent about our concerns over the militarization and the lack of the need for that.

    QUESTION: Right. Since June or July this activity has been going on, but we’re just hearing this statement being read out again and again. Is there --

    MR KIRBY: We routinely raise this issue with our Chinese counterparts. We do that privately. Certainly we’re not bashful about doing it publicly. We’re – for our part, we’re going to continue to fly, sail, and operate in international airspace and international waters, as is our mandate, as is our requirement, as international law will allow. There’s – there should be no need for further reclamation. There should be no need for militarization of these manmade features. And we’re going to continue to make that case at every possible turn.

    QUESTION: And John, sir, on India. Since Prime Minister Modi took this hard line on – against the black market money around the globe, people are in shock. But my question is here, now, what he said in a speech that he – because of his actions against the black market money, terrorism against India or in India or around the globe is now less or will be less because he said that before Pakistan had a factory of terrorism and supporting or exporting against India. And now they have or had a factory of printing fake Indian currency inside Pakistan. And now what they are saying is that middle man or most wanted, Dawood Ibrahim, and ISI is in shock. And one person, at least, middle man have now committed suicide in Karachi. He was the one who was pushing the fake market money inside India and supporting terrorism. Any comment, sir, on that?

    MR KIRBY: No. I mean, I haven’t seen these reports, Goyal. So I’ll tell you what, we’ll have somebody get back to you on that.


    QUESTION: And finally on freedom of the press.

    MR KIRBY: No. Goyal, Goyal, I need to move on, okay?

    Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Hi, I’m Lauren with Fox. A question on Iranian embassy here and then ours in Tehran.

    MR KIRBY: We don’t have an embassy in Tehran.

    QUESTION: So why did we repair the Iranian embassy here in 2011? Where did that money come from?

    MR KIRBY: Ma’am, I don’t have any information on this. I’m going to have to – you’re going to have to let me get back to you on that. I’m not aware that there were any repairs done by the United States on Iranian – we don’t have diplomatic relations with Iran.

    QUESTION: Well, that’s --

    MR KIRBY: So, like, we don’t have an embassy there and they don’t have an embassy here.

    QUESTION: Well, that’s the – that’s the question, is we did do extensive repairs in 2011 and the question is: Why are we doing that if our embassy or, now, lack of embassy --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, I mean, there’s no formal diplomatic relations, so there’s no embassy here. We don’t have one in Tehran. So you’re – you must be talking about a building here that maybe at one time had been, right? Is that what you’re referring to?

    QUESTION: It’s the blue dome. We redid a blue dome that was the Iranian embassy in 2011 and that --

    MR KIRBY: And when you say “we,” you mean the U.S. Government?

    QUESTION: The United States, correct.

    MR KIRBY: Okay. I don’t know anything about it, so let me take that question and we’ll try to get you a better answer.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: All right?


    QUESTION: John, can I go back to Syria for a minute? Could you brief us – brief us, sorry – on the status of the so-called technical talks in Geneva between Russian and American experts?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have any update for you, Nic. Those --

    QUESTION: But are they --

    MR KIRBY: Those talks became moribund over the weekend when we couldn’t reach – when we reached an impasse, and I talked about that earlier this week.

    QUESTION: Okay. And --

    QUESTION: But “moribund” means they’ve stopped?

    MR KIRBY: Right, there’s – right, yes.

    QUESTION: So the teams are back to --

    MR KIRBY: Well, look, I don’t – we have people that are always in Geneva, so, like, I don’t want to convey the image of people packing up suitcases and flying back. I mean, we have people in Geneva that were participating in this. There’s other things that they do as well. We have many – there’s many activities going on in Geneva, but there are – but there’s no technical talks going on right now because we couldn’t get there over the weekend because Russia came in at the endgame and changed the parameters.

    QUESTION: And to follow up to what you said to Brad and to what the Secretary told us in Paris about the political talks, are you still hopeful to be able to relaunch these political talks before January 20, even if there is no ceasefire in Aleppo? And do you have indication that the Assad regime is willing to go back to the table and that the opposition is – has agreed to return to the table with the coalition?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t think we have – I don’t think we have agreement right now to get to the resumption of political talks, but I can tell you that the Secretary’s going to stay focused on that for the rest of the time that he’s in office. Now, I can’t predict for you the likelihood of that happening before the end of this Administration. I just would not be able to do that. But what I can tell you is that, as I said in my opening comments, that he’s going to work very, very hard to try to achieve that outcome before he leaves office. And at the very least, if he can’t, to be able to create the kind of conditions where that can happen soon after or early on.

    Yeah, Nick.

    QUESTION: On Syria, do you get the sense that the Russian position has changed at all, with now only a few weeks away until the handover, that they basically think they can wait Secretary Kerry out, then they’re going to get someone new who has ties to Russia? Has their language changed, has their sort of negotiating strategy changed with the Secretary? Does he feel like he’s being sort of stalled on?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, look, there’s been frustrations with the Russian approach to this for months now, so I’ve not detected any change. I mean, as I said earlier on, that though they talk about wanting to achieve a political solution, they continue – their actions convey something entirely different, which is that they believe a military solution is possible because they continue to support the Assad regime in this brutality. I’ve not detected any change. And as for what’s in their mindset with respect to the transition to a new administration, I would refer you to Russian officials to speak to that. I wouldn’t know.

    But I can, again, speak for Secretary Kerry and tell you that regardless, he is going to stay engaged. He had another conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov today, as I said, and he’s going to keep that level of engagement and activity up for the entire time that he’s Secretary of State to try to achieve this – these political talks, to try to get the sides to the table to try to work this out.


    QUESTION: John, you told us the Secretary spoke with the foreign minister of Turkey. Is it possible to tell us if they discussed Cyprus also, or just Syria?

    MR KIRBY: The discussion with the Turkish foreign minister this morning was about Syria.

    QUESTION: Only Syria? Okay. They are reporting in the press that Mrs. Nuland gave a proposal to the governments of Greece and Turkey on Cyprus. Can you confirm this?

    MR KIRBY: I cannot.

    QUESTION: Can you take the question?

    MR KIRBY: I’m happy to take a look at it, but I can’t --

    QUESTION: And the last question I have --

    MR KIRBY: -- but --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: I’ll take it back. I’m not – I can’t guarantee you a definitive answer one way or the other. Okay?

    QUESTION: Okay. But can I ask the last question?

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: Can you tell us who is going to represent the United States at the talks in Geneva? There are talks on Cyprus from January 9th to January 12th. I understand that the Russians are going.

    MR KIRBY: We’ll have to get back to you.

    QUESTION: Can you take the question? Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have an answer for you on that.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Yes. So President Putin is traveling to Japan and will be meeting with Prime Minister Abe. Given sort of the urgency of what’s happening in Aleppo and Syria, do you think that it’s appropriate that those meetings will focus primarily on bilateral issues?

    MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, who’s meeting with --

    QUESTION: President Putin is meeting with Prime Minister Abe.

    MR KIRBY: And you’re asking me if it’s appropriate for him to have these meetings?

    QUESTION: Well, I mean, do you think – well, would you encourage them – would you encourage your allies, the Japanese, to sort of – to escalate the issue of Syria in these talks and pressure the Russians --

    MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, you know I’m not going to talk about diplomatic conversations one way or another. And these kinds of meetings are sovereign decisions that nation-states make, and it’s not for us to pass judgment on it one way or the other. Prime Minister Abe has every right – and responsibility, in fact – to meet with foreign leaders of his own choosing, and to discuss whatever is on his mind and his agenda, and we fully support that.

    No, Goyal. I think I’m going to – I think I’m going to call it for today.

    QUESTION: Freedom of the press.

    MR KIRBY: Thanks very much. (Laughter.) You’ve had plenty of freedom today.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

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

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 12/13/2016 - 17:33
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 13, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAN


    2:32 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody. Sorry that I am late today. I do not have – for all that delay, I don’t have any opening statements, so we can get right to your questions.


    QUESTION: On Aleppo, can you give us any – what – there’s supposed to be a – some sort of ceasefire that’s been brokered by Turkey and Russia. What do you know about this?

    MR KIRBY: So what I can tell you is we’ve seen some reports about a ceasefire arrangement brokered, reached between Russia and Turkey that we are given to understand could take effect imminently, certainly in the next hours. Don’t have a whole lot of detail about it. I can’t confirm the veracity of these reports that this arrangement has, in fact, been reached. That said, I’ve also seen nothing to indicate that those reports are not true. So we’re going to watch this closely.

    Obviously, if it is true and there has been a ceasefire arrangement reached that not only stops the bombing and the violence but allows people to safely leave Aleppo, we would welcome that. We would welcome any arrangement that would allow people to live safely in Aleppo who want to stay and to leave safely Aleppo for those who want to leave. Obviously, we would welcome that.

    QUESTION: Did --

    MR KIRBY: But last thing I’d say is we’re going to judge actions, not words. What we want is peace, not promises. And we’re going to see what happens here in the next hours.

    QUESTION: Did you know that your ally, Turkey, was negotiating with the Russians? Like this was not something that was talked about a lot, at least from this podium.

    MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that we had any indications that there were bilateral discussions to reach this kind of an arrangement. So I don't know that there was any prior knowledge. But again, I mean, it matters a lot less to us who or how a ceasefire is arranged or reached and much more that one is arranged and reached. And that’s why the Secretary was working so hard over the weekend in Germany and in Paris. In fact, in several discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov alone as well as dealing with other countries who are involved in this effort to try to do exactly that.

    QUESTION: You have seen the kind of – the reports that Aleppo essentially has fallen. I mean, do you all have any statement on that?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, we’re seeing the same reports that you are. We’re seeing the dreadful images that are coming out of Aleppo. I’m not in a position to say definitively, one way or another, that the city has now fallen or that the regime and Russia have taken it. But the reports that we’re getting out of Aleppo, both as we see in the media but also from other sources, are clearly disturbing. I mean, we’re seeing now reports of people being executed in the streets – just killed because they’re there. And that’s despicable. And again, we have long said that there’s – that the bloodshed in Aleppo needs to stop, that the brutality of the regime and the support that it’s getting from Russia and Iran has got to stop.

    The other thing I’d say is, even if this is the end of the siege of Aleppo, it is not the end of the war in Syria. Even if it is the end of the of the siege in Aleppo, it is not the end of the war in Syria. It will go on. The opposition will continue to fight. Extremists will be continued to be drawn to the vacuum that continues to exist in so many places in Syria. And people, innocent people, many of them children, will be flung into refuge.

    QUESTION: You all keep saying that the end of the siege of Aleppo – or the fall of Aleppo would not be the end of the war. But that does – given what’s happening there, it seems a little bit as if that’s your mantra to sort of wash your hands of all the atrocities that are happening there. And even with this deal now between Turkey and Russia, it looks like the United States has just been completely cut out of having any influence in what’s happening in Syria.

    MR KIRBY: Well, I totally, completely reject the characterization that we’re washing our hands of anything here or that we have ceded influence or failed to try to exert some leadership here. It was the United States who led the development of the ISSG. It was the United States who led efforts to get a UN Security Council resolution in place that codified the process through which we could get a ceasefire and get humanitarian aid in. It was the United States who engaged and entered into what we hoped would be successful bilateral discussions with Russia, who we know has the most influence on Assad. Those efforts failed. It was the United States who then began to take the lead in efforts on additional multilateral efforts. We have been nothing but firm and consistent in our efforts to try to reach a peaceful conclusion to the civil war.

    But we have also – and it’s not just the United States, June. It’s – much of the rest of the international community has long believed that the only sustainable peace that can be secured in Syria is going to be done through diplomatic, political means.

    And so one thing that I didn’t get to in my previous answer is that the only way this war does end is through a political solution. The only way we get to peace in Syria is getting the opposition and the regime to sit down together and try to work this out. That’s the way to get a peaceful, sustainable future for Syria. And the United States has been and remains very much in the lead in the international community in trying to bring that about. It has been the regime, with the support that it’s gotten from Russia in particular, which has done everything to torpedo those kinds of efforts and to try to find, in fact, a violent, brutal end to the civil war. And our view, again, has not changed. There – that’s not going to be the – this is not going to be the end. It is going to be only the continuation of the bloodshed and violence.

    So because we believe that to be the case – and it’s not just us, many of our allies and partners feel the same way – we’re going to continue to try to work towards a political solution. That’s not going to change for the entire rest of the time, I can assure you, that Secretary Kerry’s in office.

    QUESTION: John --

    QUESTION: But just to be clear, the – you’ve been talking on the – all of these previous tracks before. This particular ceasefire that’s been declared today you had no role.

    MR KIRBY: I’m not – first of all, I can’t confirm the veracity of reports that an arrangement has been reached.

    QUESTION: So if there were one --

    MR KIRBY: I have seen nothing to indicate that it isn’t true, and certainly if it’s – if it is, we welcome it. But as I understand, reports that we’re getting is that this was brokered between Russia and Turkey without the United States.

    QUESTION: But you’ve been in conversations separately with Russia and Turkey.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Does the Secretary not feel he’s been cut out of the loop by his partners in this?

    MR KIRBY: This – the Secretary has long held the view that we would welcome any arrangement that leads to an end to the bloodshed in Aleppo and a return to a political process in Syria writ large. And we have said – I’ve said many times we welcome any ideas from anybody that might want to pursue an approach that can work there. So again, I can’t confirm these reports, but if it’s true, and if it can be effected, we would welcome that. And the fact that it was done through and by Russia and Turkey is – as long as it achieves a successful outcome and a peaceful Aleppo and gets people to leave safely, then, again, we would support that.

    QUESTION: But it might have nice if Foreign Minister Lavrov had given you a heads-up.

    MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, I don’t think we’re – I mean, if you look at the images coming out of Aleppo, nobody – at least not on our side – is interested in standing on protocol. What we want to see is peace. What we want to see is the stopping – a stop to the bombing. So we’re not worried too much about the protocol. We’re not worried too much about whether somebody picked up the phone and let us know about this. What we want to see is that, if it’s true, that it works, and that people – that’s the goal here.

    But again, Dave, I want to stress that – two things, as I said before. Even if this is the end of the siege of Aleppo, it’s not going to be the end of the war. And what we want to see is a peaceful end to that war, a diplomatic one, and we will continue to work very hard toward that end here.


    QUESTION: John, you said that you welcome a ceasefire that would allow people to leave of their own free will. Do you have any reports that Syrian army units are stopping people from leaving of their own free will? I mean --

    MR KIRBY: I have – again, Said --

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: -- the reports of this arrangement are pretty fresh. I can’t confirm that it’s actually true.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: We have seen – excuse me – we have seen, just over the last couple of days, that some civilians have left.

    QUESTION: Right. Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: We’ve also seen reports that some fighters have left and then disappeared, which is deeply concerning. So I don’t know. And what – as I understand it, what this deal, if it’s true, would allow, is allow armed opposition members to also leave with some of their light weapons. But again, we have to – the proof’s going to be in the pudding here. We have to see what happens.

    QUESTION: Because there are all these reports about atrocities and so on, and I’m not in any way questioning their possible credibility. But also I saw other reports where people are jubilant; they’re happy to see the army come in. They’re going to the western side, where they can get medicine and food and so on and all these things. So it is not all just one dimension, kind of. Would you agree with that?

    MR KIRBY: No I don’t, Said. I mean, I haven’t seen every picture coming out of Aleppo, but --

    QUESTION: I understand --

    MR KIRBY: -- I haven’t seen – honestly, Said, I haven’t seen any dancing in the streets here. So --

    QUESTION: I’m not saying – I’m saying people are --

    MR KIRBY: Well, no, you said jubilant, they’re happy and they’re --

    QUESTION: Jubilant – I mean, okay, maybe I misspoke. Okay.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think maybe you did over-speak.

    QUESTION: People were relieved to see that they are --

    MR KIRBY: I think, at this point, there’s probably people that would be relieved for any sense of calm in their lives after what they’ve been through at the hands of the regime, Said, with the support of Russia. I mean, they have literally been under siege for months and have been starved and have been bombed. Hospitals have been destroyed and those who have tried to leave have been killed on the way. Convoys have not only been not allowed in, they were bombed back in September.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: So I can’t rule out the fact that there might be some people in Aleppo who are relieved to see some calm, even if it is under the jackboot of the regime. That’s – that – under the conditions they’ve been living in, I certainly can’t – I can’t begrudge them.

    QUESTION: Right. Complicated --

    MR KIRBY: But by and large, all we have seen is brutality, violence, and bloodshed, and a lot of destroyed and wrecked lives and families. And you don’t have to look any more or any further than the network news and what’s on cable and online right now and the images coming out of there. I mean, it’s pretty gut-wrenching to look at.

    QUESTION: I understand, but – pretty disturbing. I understand it’s quite disturbing --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- and I look at them and so on, and I’m quite disturbed and so on. But also, all these sources, they never have any kind of solid veracity. I listened to the UN spokesman today and he always cited multiple sources, multiple sources. We never rely on multiple sources. We say that this – they remain allegations until we have some sort of verifiable evidence and so on. I’m saying there is a great deal of the fog of war, no pun intended, in this case. How do you establish what is really going on on the ground on your own, independently?

    MR KIRBY: Said, I think we’ve talked about this an awful lot of times. I – we gather the best information that we can from a variety of sources. Some of it’s press reporting, no question. A lot of it comes from reputable aid agencies that are either on the ground or have associates on the ground in Syria. And some of it comes from intelligence sources, which I’m obviously, clearly, not going to get into. And I don’t think that it’s incumbent upon me or anybody else from a podium to sit there and detail and provide a laundry list of every single individual or organization that gives us information. It’s a mosaic. And frankly, again, I would encourage you to go flip on CNN today and look for yourself at the imagery that’s coming out of Aleppo by a reputable news organization. It’s all there for you to see.

    QUESTION: My last question on this. You talked about that it’s not the end, which is obviously true. I mean, those are the indicators, that this will go on for some time. You also said that if – there would – the regime will continue to be a magnet – I mean, not word for word, but you suggested that. Is that what we have seen in, let’s say, Palmyra? Is – do you attribute what happened to Palmyra – that it attracted more fighters and more volunteers from ISIS and so on?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know that you can make that connection, and I’d be a little bit – I’d be – I’d think I’d have to be careful before I could make that kind of a – draw that sort of a line. I think we have certainly seen groups like Daesh try to take advantage of the vacuum that gets created in Syria.

    QUESTION: Vacuum.

    MR KIRBY: That the regime, with Russia’s help, took back Palmyra – we talked about that. Now they’ve lost it again. How they came to lose it again, I think that’s a story for another day. Clearly they have devoted an awful lot of resources, time, and energy and planning to Aleppo. That ISIL has taken retaken it – nobody should be happy about that. It is the first time, I would add, since May of 2015 that they’ve actually acquired any territory, and this is really a reacquisition, not a new territory gained.

    But it also goes – it also reinforces what we’ve long been saying, that neither Russia nor the regime has ever really been fully committed to fighting terrorist groups like Daesh inside Syria. The effort has been – and the proof is what you’re seeing today – has been to violently crush the opposition and even at the cost of so many innocent lives.

    QUESTION: John.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Did the Secretary make any phone calls during the last 24 hours --

    MR KIRBY: He has talked to Foreign Minister Ayrault this morning, and I think that’s the only call that I have right now to speak to. But I do know that he intends to talk to leaders from other relevant countries perhaps throughout the day. So – but he has talked to Foreign Minister Ayrault this morning about the situation.

    QUESTION: And any update on the talks in Geneva? Was there any talk to --

    MR KIRBY: Well, as I said yesterday, I mean, we reached an impasse. I mean, we thought we had an arrangement, and then at the end game the Russians threw obstacles in the way and turned their back on the approach that we thought we were taking. So we’ve obviously reached – we reached an impasse there.

    QUESTION: And is --

    MR KIRBY: And remind – I’ll remind you those technical talks were designed to get a ceasefire to get safe passage. Now, we hear these reports that Russia and Turkey came to this arrangement. And again, if it’s true, if it can actually work, we would welcome it.

    QUESTION: And would the U.S. delegation stay in Geneva? Will you do any more talks with the Russians?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have any travel updates here for you. For all intents and purposes, the technical talks did not come to a successful conclusion. I don’t – as far as I know, they’re not ongoing. We now have this potential arrangement between Russia and Turkey. So I have nothing to add to you in terms of any team efforts in Geneva.

    QUESTION: And what does it mean that the U.S. had no role in the ceasefire between the opposition and Russia? Does it mean that the U.S. has no more influence in Syria?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know that – first of all, I wouldn’t agree with that at all. As I just said --

    QUESTION: What does it mean that you had no role?

    MR KIRBY: -- we have been a leader in this effort. Let’s find out if it actually is real, Michel, before we start determining the degree to which who has what influence. Let’s see if it actually holds. But I can assure you that the United States has been a leader in an effort to try to find a political solution to the civil war in Syria, and we will remain a leader in that effort. And I fundamentally reject any notion that we’ve had no influence, that we’ve had no leadership role, and that we haven’t helped try to bring about better outcomes there. We certainly have. And there have been – and there have been – in the past, there has been some success. Back in February, we had a dramatic reduction in the violence when a ceasefire was actually reached and was maintained and sustained by all parties. And that was as a result of U.S. leadership in the ISSG. So again, let’s see where this goes.

    QUESTION: And one last question for me. Al-Qabas newspaper, the Kuwaiti newspaper, has said that Secretary Kerry has asked the opposition during the Paris meeting last Saturday to surrender in Aleppo, to leave Aleppo, and to go back to the table without any condition. Can you confirm?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about the details of diplomatic discussions, Michel. We have long been advocating on behalf of the opposition to try to get political talks back on track. And we recognize the difficulty in doing that when they’re being bombed, when innocent people are being killed, when no aid is getting in. We’ve always recognized that. And as we – as the Secretary said himself over the weekend, yes, we were talking with respect to Aleppo specifically talking about trying to achieve ways in which the opposition could leave safely with their light weapons out of Aleppo. So I mean, all of that was done on behalf of the opposition to help them get out of Aleppo safely and to try to end the violence there.

    QUESTION: And did you ask the opposition to go back to the table without any condition?

    MR KIRBY: We have – I am not going to detail diplomatic discussions, but we have long talked to the opposition about the importance of returning to political talks.

    Okay? Yeah.

    QUESTION: Turkey?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Since Saturday’s bombing of an Istanbul football stadium, Turkish authorities have arrested over 500 people. A radical Kurdish group claimed responsibility for the bombing, and the moderate pro-Kurdish party in Turkey, the HDP, condemned the bombing. Yet a large number of those 500 people whom the Turks have arrested are HDP. Do you have any comment on that?

    MR KIRBY: Well, we’re certainly concerned by the large-scale detention of HDP lawmakers and party members in these continuing anti-terror raids. And as we’ve said many, many times, and even in the fight against terrorism, democracies need to pursue actions that reinforce the public’s confidence in the rule of law.

    QUESTION: I know that – I personally was very impressed by Deputy Secretary Blinken’s statement – a talk, a speech last month, in which he said – he was talking to an American Turkish group – you’ll recall it: “[W]e have collectively learned” that terrorist “groups rely on governments to overreach, to curb rights, to ignore distinctions between civilians and combatants.” It seemed to me that Ankara was ignoring those words of wisdom. Is that something you’d agree with?

    MR KIRBY: Well, what I would tell you is that we continue to have discussions – frank discussions – with our Turkish counterparts about how they continue to deal with the aftermath of the coup. And because Turkey is a friend, we’re not bashful and we’re not afraid to be frank with them about concerns that we have with respect to rule of law and freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the importance of protecting free media inside Turkey. So we very much associate ourselves, of course, with the deputy secretary’s comments. And he spoke very eloquently, stating very clearly what the – not only the State Department’s view, but the United States Government’s view is in terms of how important Turkey is to us, and as a friend how much we want them to succeed, and how we care about the process that they implement going forward in the wake of the coup.

    Okay? Yeah. Justin.

    QUESTION: Sorry, just two quick ones here. Do you have any comment on Rex Tillerson? The announcement from President-elect Trump --

    MR KIRBY: Well, I think you saw the – a statement from Secretary Kerry this morning congratulating him on his nomination and his firm support for making sure that we help him – help the secretary of state nominee through the confirmation process, that – and he – and the Secretary made it clear this morning to staff that he wants us all to do what we can to make sure he and his team – Mr. Tillerson and his team – get all the support that they need as they work through that process.

    QUESTION: So it would be this Secretary – Secretary Kerry is not going to voice any concerns he may have about, for example, Tillerson’s relations to Putin and Russia and his experience and – as some Republican senators have done so far, he’s going to stay neutral on this whole thing. Is that --

    MR KIRBY: It’s not our place to make those sorts of judgments. It is the president-elect’s decision to nominate Cabinet officials. Our job is to make sure that the incoming team has all the support, the context, the information they need to make the best decisions going forward for American foreign policy, and that’s what we’re focused on: making sure that he and his team have the support that they need.

    QUESTION: Has he been in the building?

    MR KIRBY: Who?

    QUESTION: Mr. Tillerson.

    MR KIRBY: I’m not – not that I’m aware of.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: No.

    QUESTION: Can I ask on the same question?

    QUESTION: Is it likely that the Secretary – Secretary Kerry would give him a call any time soon?

    MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary --

    QUESTION: Has he spoken to him?

    MR KIRBY: The Secretary has not spoken to Mr. – thank you for the question. The Secretary has not spoken to Mr. Tillerson, but he does intend to reach out personally to congratulate Mr. Tillerson. I don’t have an update for you on when that might be or by what vehicle, whether it’s a phone call or a face-to-face meeting. As soon as we have more on that, we’ll certainly let you know. But he does absolutely intend to congratulate Mr. Tillerson personally.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Can I ask --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Is it typical practice to have a major policy review or a review on approaches on key issues when there is a new secretary of state? Is that typical practice to have a policy --

    MR KIRBY: A major review by whom? By the incoming team?

    QUESTION: And also by the – I mean, a lot of them are career diplomats. So is that a major review by the --

    MR KIRBY: I’m not --

    QUESTION: -- people working in this building to have a policy review --

    MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I understand the basis of your question --

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

    MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that there is a major policy review going on here at the State Department. Is that what you’re asking?

    QUESTION: And also if directed by the new team to have a policy review, did that happen before?

    MR KIRBY: Well, we have one president at a time and the State Department is supporting the foreign policy agenda and priorities of the Obama Administration. And that’s – as I’ve said many times, that’s where our heads are, as well as on helping the incoming team with whatever information and context they need as they begin to review for themselves foreign policy objectives and the agenda. And so I – look, there was an election and we now have a president-elect, and he and his team have every right – in fact, they have every responsibility – to look at the world around them and decide for themselves how they are going to view that world and how they are going to – how the United States is going to interact in that world. But that is – but those are their decisions to make. Our job, as the outgoing Administration, is to make sure that as they make those decisions, as they determine their foreign policy agenda, that they have all the information, the facts, the data, the context that they need to do that as efficiently and effectively as possible, and that’s what we’re going to do.

    QUESTION: Mr. Kirby, I want to understand correctly. So you are saying that there are – so far, there’s – you do not know if there’s any policy review recommendation in this building at this point?

    MR KIRBY: Nike, I’m trying to understand what you’re asking for. I think – if you’re asking me are we teeing up recommendations to the transition team to change foreign policy, no. We are implementing the foreign policy of the Obama Administration, as is our purpose, as is our task. After January 20th, we’ll have a new president. There’ll be a confirmation process for the new secretary of state. The new administration will undoubtedly review and potentially change foreign policy direction on any number of issues. And as they do, the State Department, which will implement and – those agenda items and those priorities as they’re supposed to do, just like they’ve done for the last eight years under President Obama.

    QUESTION: Let me put my question this way: Yesterday, you said that a bunch of experienced diplomats are providing materials and briefings – materials to the transition team. Do they recommend a policy review on Taiwan? Because in 1994, Bill Clinton did it – the 1994 Taiwan Policy Review. So it’s in the blood of the U.S.

    MR KIRBY: Again, I’m trying hard to understand where you’re going with this. If – as I said yesterday, this Administration continues to adhere to the “one China” policy, as has decades of prior administrations, both Democratic and Republican. We have no intention of changing our adherence to that “one China” policy. I cannot speak for what the next administration will want to do in that regard. That is – that’s their prerogative and only they should speak to that, not me.

    QUESTION: Has the transition team asked for information on the “one China” --

    MR KIRBY: I’m not – as I said yesterday, I am – and I’m going to adhere to this – we’re not going to get into a day-to-day readout of the meetings --

    QUESTION: Well, that’s not a day-to-day one. That’s a big one.

    MR KIRBY: No, no --

    QUESTION: The “one China” thing, where --

    MR KIRBY: Justin --

    QUESTION: I think what Nike’s getting at is are they asking for info on that, are they trying to --

    MR KIRBY: You should talk to the transition team about what they’re --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: -- asking for and what information they want and what reviews they’re doing. That is not – it’s not appropriate for me to speak to that. And I’m not, as I said, going to get into a day-by-day readout of the meetings they’re having, the questions they’re asking, the information and material that they’re receiving. Our job is to make their jobs as easy and as seamless as possible, and that’s what we’re focused on.

    QUESTION: Could I have --

    QUESTION: Justin is very wise, but I just want to maybe put on different wording to make it easier for you to understand my question.

    MR KIRBY: Hey, I’m not – I’m not – and I’m not picking on you. I’m just trying to understand where you’re going on this.

    QUESTION: Well, I don’t think many people are expecting a completely switch of the recognition anytime soon. I’m just asking, would – is there any attempt or discussion to looking into different approach?

    MR KIRBY: You’d have to ask the transition team.

    QUESTION: Okay. Now --

    MR KIRBY: If you’re asking is the State Department today, our – under President Obama, considering changes to the “one China” policy, the answer is unequivocally no.

    QUESTION: Okay. Quickly on China-Taiwan, recently, the Congress passed a bill, the NDAA, National Defense Authorization Act, in which there are some very favorable language to Taiwan, including the enhancement of the military ties in according – in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act. First, I want to ask your comment and your take on that.

    MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t comment on pending or potential arms sales and I’m not going to talk about legislation that hasn’t been signed into law yet. I will tell you that U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, which is law, and based on an assessment of Taiwan’s defense needs. The United States remains fully committed to fulfilling its responsibilities under that act. We continue, of course, to review Taiwan’s defensive needs on an ongoing basis and we’ll consult with Congress as required.

    QUESTION: Does the State Department stand ready to work with the Congress to provide such assistance?

    MR KIRBY: To provide?

    QUESTION: Well, if – is the State Department standing ready to work with the Congress to fulfill --

    MR KIRBY: Well, as I said – as I said, we’re always – we review Taiwan’s defensive needs on an ongoing basis. We always routinely consult with Congress as we do that. It’s an ongoing process. So that’s not going to change. But if you’re asking about the NDAA, it’s not been signed into law and I’m not going to talk about legislation that’s not signed into law right now, and I’m certainly not going to get ahead, as is our policy, of any specific discussion about arms sales in advance.

    QUESTION: Should we be expecting any announcement soon – arms sale (inaudible)?

    MR KIRBY: Of what?

    QUESTION: Of arms sale to Taiwan (inaudible).

    MR KIRBY: We don’t talk about pending arms sales. I mean, you know that. I’m just – I’m not going to go there.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Are you done?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR KIRBY: Because that was a lot. Are you good?

    QUESTION: It’s rare.

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: On Okinawa. Do you have any --

    QUESTION: I just wanted to – a few questions on the transition. (Inaudible) --

    MR KIRBY: I’ll come back to you.

    QUESTION: -- if it’s --

    MR KIRBY: I’ll come back to you.

    QUESTION: Okay. The Osprey mishap off the coast of Okinawa – have you been in contact with your Japanese counterparts regarding --

    MR KIRBY: I’m going to refer you to the Defense Department. Certainly we’re aware of the reports of that. As you might expect, our thoughts and prayers are with the injured crew members and, of course, their families. This is a tough time for any serviceman or woman and their families to go through. As I understand, all five were rescued. The DOD will have more details on this. I’m not aware of any diplomatic discussions we’ve had with respect to this incident. Again, I really think that’s an issue that’s better put to my colleagues at the Pentagon.

    In the back there.

    QUESTION: Are you concerned at all that this is going to inflame some of the anti-base tensions in Okinawa?

    MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, let’s let the military deal with taking care of these injured crew members. Let’s let them investigate the incident, which they will do. I think it is way too soon to jump to any conclusions about what this means or doesn’t mean for Okinawa in general.

    What I can tell you is that we continue to be committed to moving forward on the Futenma replacement facility and working closely with the Government of Japan to that end. And obviously, the U.S. military and specifically U.S. military aviation takes safety as a paramount concern, and they’ll do the right thing in terms of figuring out what happened here. They’ll learn lessons from it. They’ll share those lessons from it, and then they’ll do everything they can to – if there’s deficiencies or things that need to be fixed, they’ll fix them and move forward.

    Yeah. In the back there.

    QUESTION: Sorry, yeah. I think you’re going to give me the same answer to that, but --

    MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: I think you’re going to give me the same answer to my question --

    MR KIRBY: If it’s about the Osprey incident, yes.

    QUESTION: Yes, it’s about the Osprey incident. And the fact of the matter is that the people of Okinawa have been concerned by crashes – about crashes from American Marines, so --

    MR KIRBY: I would say that we’re concerned about those things too.

    QUESTION: I’m sure – I’m sure we all are. But how do you allay those concerns? What are you planning to do?

    MR KIRBY: Well, again, this is a better question put to the Defense Department. That said, I don’t want to be dismissive of it. Having come from a military background, I can assure you that we take safety – my colleagues at the Defense Department take safety critically important – of critical importance. It’s a paramount concern. And military operations are inherently not risk-free. When there’s an accident, when there’s a mishap, they work very, very hard to get to the bottom of it. They investigate it. And here’s a big difference: They will talk publicly about those investigation results when it’s over. Not every government out there does that. And they’ll be open about what happened; and if there’s lessons learned, they’ll be open about what those lessons are, and they’ll work to fix them.

    What I can assure you that they will assure our friends in Okinawa is that safety is always the primary concern, particularly in flight operations, and that they will look at this very, very seriously. And to the degree it is something that could have been avoided, I can also assure you that they will do everything in their power to avoid it from happening again in the future. And again, they’ll be able to see it from themselves because the U.S. military makes public their mishap investigations. They talk about them openly and they lay out the lessons learned right there for you.

    So I think while nobody is obviously happy about what happened – we don’t ever want to see an aircraft go down, thank goodness that none of the crew were killed and nobody on the ground was hurt. But they’ll learn from this. They will absolutely learn from this.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Justin.

    QUESTION: A follow-up in the region.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Same thing?


    QUESTION: Okay, so not about Okinawa specifically but about military in the region. So of course, this is the second event in the last week, and maybe you were alluding to it in your answer, but a pilot died last week as well in Iwakuni. Has there been any diplomatic talks, like, regarding that as well? Or is this all, like, they’re totally separate investigations?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, so first, I’m not aware of any diplomatic discussions we’ve had with respect to military mishaps. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been. I’m just not aware of it. It is not typical for there to be a major diplomatic conversation, at least from the State Department side, on a military mishap. We have military leaders in the region who routinely talk to their counterparts about a broad range of issues, and certainly when there’s a mishap they are in open communication with their counterparts wherever we are in the world.

    Secondly, these are two separate incidents and they will be investigated as two separate incidents. That’s my understanding.


    QUESTION: Thanks. You were talking about – I want to go back to the transition and Rex Tillerson.

    MR KIRBY: I understand.

    QUESTION: You were talking about outgoing and incoming teams, but not everybody is going to leave the State Department after the transition.

    MR KIRBY: Right.

    QUESTION: I wonder what is the mood, the general mood at the State Department, about this choice?

    MR KIRBY: The State Department professionals here are just that; they’re professionals. And they don’t make it their concern to worry about an individual pick one way or the other. They make it their concern to carry on the business of American foreign policy no matter what party is in power, no matter who is president, no matter who is the secretary of state. One of the things – and I’ve only been in this institution now for a little less than two years, and I’ve been struck and awfully impressed by the nonpartisan, apolitical, professional work that our career diplomats and career Foreign Service officers and Civil Servants do every single day. They know what the agenda is, they know what our priorities are, and they go out and they implement it. And they do it with skill and talent and just utter professionalism.

    QUESTION: So you would say it doesn’t matter --

    MR KIRBY: It reminds me – actually, it reminds me a lot of my time in uniform, because it’s the same way for military men and women. It doesn’t matter to them – not that they don’t vote, not that they don’t have political views – and I’m sure every individual here at the State Department has their own political views – but they don’t let that color their performance every day. It’s the same way in the military, and I’m – I hadn’t been exposed to career Foreign Service and Civil Servants in the diplomatic community until I took this job, and I’ve got to tell you it’s pretty eye-watering.

    QUESTION: Many, many in the U.S. media, especially from what I read, are worried about Mr. Tillerson’s nomination because of his seemingly friendly relationship with Russia. Do you share their concerns?

    MR KIRBY: We – what – our concern honestly is to make sure that Mr. Tillerson and his team have the support that they need as they work through the confirmation process. That’s our only concern.

    QUESTION: Would you work under Mr. Tillerson’s leadership?

    MR KIRBY: I have no expectation of being invited to stay on. I have every expectation of resigning at the end of this Administration.


    QUESTION: Iran. The president, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced today that he’s basically ordered Iranian scientists to start developing a nuclear-powered marine vessel, and it’s unclear if this would be a submarine or a boat. I realize that the White House said earlier today that they don’t view this as a violation of the JCPOA, but given that several experts say that these sorts of nuclear projects for such vessels could be an excuse to enrich uranium to a higher level than that allowed by the JCPOA, is that something that you all view with concern?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I think you said – you said them, and you’re right; the White House addressed this. I mean, this announcement itself does not constitute a violation. I think there’s a lot we just don’t know. I mean, this announcement just got made. There’s a lot we don’t know about it and what it means. And so I think we’d have to reserve some judgment here about the degree to which this could present any kind of problem.

    The second thing I would say is that the – we’re very comfortable in the authorities and the abilities of the IAEA to continue to inspect and analyze compliance with the JCPOA by Iran. This is the toughest inspection regime ever put in place on a deal like this, and thus far, the IAEA has been able to do that job of compliance, and we have every expectation that going forward they’ll be able to do that. So I think I’ll leave it at that. We just sort of need to see what this means. And it’s just an announcement today about pursuing marine nuclear propulsion. Without any specificity to it, it’s difficult for us to make a specific judgment at this time. Again, speaking as a former naval officer, I can tell you that my son is in the nuclear propulsion program in the Navy. It’s – that is a massive undertaking for any nation and is likely decades in the effort to begin to realize it.

    QUESTION: About your son – (laughter) – no, actually I wanted to move to Saudi Arabia really quickly.

    MR KIRBY: I was just looking for a way that I could work in how proud I am of my son who’s at the --

    QUESTION: Yeah, I know. I’m just kidding. I know you’re proud of your son.

    MR KIRBY: He’s at the ROTC Unit at North Carolina State.

    QUESTION: I’ve talked about your son before. (Laughter.) He’s a good man for sure.

    MR KIRBY: He is a good man.

    QUESTION: The halting of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia – can you tell us what weapons they are halting, why now, what’s the reason, what are they exactly?

    MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, Justin, you know, as I think I said on a different – in a different region to Nike – we don’t talk about pending sales, and I’m not going to do that now. What I can tell you is that we continue to – our review of the support that we get through arms programs to Saudi Arabia continues. We have – and it’s based on continued concerns that we’ve had about military operations there in Yemen, but also driven by our firm commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend itself against the threat across its border. I mean, there’s a balance here. And yes, we have made some decisions inside this review, but I’m not at liberty to go into --

    QUESTION: So the review is ongoing you’re saying?

    MR KIRBY: Yes.

    QUESTION: Okay. But this – there has been already some Administration officials on record talking about – or on background talking about this. So you can’t elaborate at all on what weapons have already been halted?

    MR KIRBY: No, what I can say is I’m not going to get into the details, but there have been some adjustments made that will help us further support a strong defense of the Saudi border and that the focus will continue to be on enhancing the sharing and analysis of threat information so that Saudi Arabia can better defend itself against future cross-border attacks. That’s just the – as far as I can go in terms of detail.


    QUESTION: Can I ask really a couple on the Palestinian-Israeli issue? First, I’m not so sure you’re aware of this, but there are two Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem that are on the verge of being forced to close down because of debts. I mean, it’s --

    MR KIRBY: Because of what?

    QUESTION: Money owed. So they owe something like – or the authority – the Palestinian Authority owes about 250 shekels, which is about $50 million. I wonder if that was discussed in yesterday’s meeting, ways to shore up health services and so on in East Jerusalem.

    MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that it did, Said. We gave a readout of the meeting. I gave a readout of the --

    QUESTION: I saw that. Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: -- Secretary’s meeting. We gave a readout of the dialogue.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go beyond the detail that was provided --

    QUESTION: It didn’t --

    MR KIRBY: -- in those readouts. I’m not aware that this was discussed.

    QUESTION: Okay. So it did not – you’re not aware of any sort of urgent aid that the United States might be giving to --

    MR KIRBY: No, I’m simply not aware of any. No.

    QUESTION: No. All right. My second question is that Haaretz reported that the Israeli police authority – law enforcement are saying that the army is – Israeli soldiers, that’s what they said – Israeli soldiers often contaminate evidence after shooting Palestinian assailants. Prosecutors said – that’s the allegation. Now, the Palestinians all along have said that Israeli soldiers were trigger-happy. They would shoot and then they would tamper with evidence. Does that disturb you in any way, or does that confirm to you that Israel could possibly be using excessive force all along?

    MR KIRBY: Well, without talking about ongoing investigations, which I don’t even do for U.S. investigations – I’m certainly not going to get into the habit of doing it for an investigation by Israel. So I’m not going to get into the specifics of this. But as we’ve said, we’re always concerned about reports of excessive use of force and – against civilians. And when there are credible reports of that, we continue to call, as we always have, for thorough, complete, and transparent investigations.

    QUESTION: You would take the Israeli prosecutors comments or allegations as credible in this case?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I think it’s not – first of all, it’s not for us to take them as credible or not. It’s up for the Israelis to take them a credible or not and then to investigate. And so, as I understand it, this a part of an ongoing investigation, so we look forward to seeing the results of it. But I don’t think it would be prudent or appropriate for me to comment further on it.

    QUESTION: Because it relates to the previous question on Saudi Arabia. The Israelis use American-made weapons and bullets and so on. So they are likely to have used or --

    MR KIRBY: Well . . .

    QUESTION: -- they are likely to continue to use those kinds of weapons.

    MR KIRBY: -- let’s let the investigation run its course.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

    QUESTION: John, one quick question.

    QUESTION: If I have a question about a status of forces agreement that is being negotiated, is that for you or the Pentagon? Lithuania --

    MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) Probably both of us. Where are we talking?

    QUESTION: Lithuania would like a status of forces agreement for the U.S. deployment there. The reports we’re receiving are that they’d like to, for some reason, get it done before January 20. So on the timings and the negotiations of status of forces agreements.

    MR KIRBY: So I think – okay. I found it. It’s under Lithuania.

    QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: Which I have a tab for.

    QUESTION: I was just trying to establish whether I have the locus to even pose the question, but Lithuania --

    MR KIRBY: Well, you can pose whatever question you want. Whether you like my answer or not is a whole other thing.

    QUESTION: I don’t like to waste your time to the --

    MR KIRBY: What – I think what you’re talking about is a defense cooperation agreement. So as I’ve been given to understand, we’re in the midst of negotiating a defense cooperation agreement with Lithuania. If signed, it would establish the framework for enhanced partnership and defense and security cooperation between the U.S. and Lithuania. This agreement would supplement the terms and conditions that are set forth in the NATO Status of Forces Agreement that governs the presence of U.S. forces and their dependents in Lithuania, and we hope to be able to finalize the agreement very soon. I don’t have more than that.


    QUESTION: Yeah. Assistant Secretary Patterson was in Lebanon today. Do you have anything on her --

    MR KIRBY: I don’t. She – yes, she’s there. I don’t have a readout of her meetings yet. I’m sure that we can get the – her bureau to provide that when they have it available.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Okay. Thanks, everybody.

    QUESTION: Do you care to comment on the record on the Navy losing to Army on Saturday?

    MR KIRBY: Actually, I am going to decline comment on that – (laughter) – with good reason.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:21 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - December 9, 2016

Fri, 12/09/2016 - 16:32
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 9, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing


    2:08 p.m. EST

    MR TONER: Hey, Matt. Dave, nice beard. Wow. In my neck of the woods, they call that a deer-hunting beard. Anyway. Welcome, everyone, to the State Department. Happy Friday. Just a couple of unfortunate events to note at the top of the briefing, and then I’ll take your questions.

    First of all, we condemn the attack today in Madagali, Nigeria that has reportedly killed at least 30 individuals and wounded many more. After a period of relative calm for the people of northeastern Nigeria, this tragic attack is a reminder of the need to remain vigilant and maintain a sense of urgency in the fight against Boko Haram. The United States supports Nigeria and its Lake Chad Basin neighbors in their effort to defeat the group and ensure the safety and security of all its citizens. And we send our condolences, obviously, to the victims and the families of the – and the people of Nigeria.

    Also, we condemn the attack earlier today in Cairo, Egypt that killed several police officers. And we express our condolences to their families and their friends and loved ones and certainly extend our sympathies to the injured and hope for a speedy recovery. The United States also stands with the people of Egypt as they confront violent extremism and work to defeat this threat. The United States strongly supports a stable, secure, and prosperous future for all Egyptians.

    That’s it. Matt.

    QUESTION: Could you run us through what’s been agreed for the meeting in Geneva on the situation in Aleppo, and perhaps also talk a bit about your assessment of the situation on the ground in the city?

    MR TONER: Sure. Well, the Secretary actually himself spoke to this a short time ago in Paris. I think it was at a meet and greet with some of the embassy families and personnel there. And I thought that he put it actually in a very succinct way, which is what we’re trying to do here is how do we, in essence, save the city of Aleppo from being completely leveled, destroyed. How do we end the current round of fighting, which as I said has completely devastated much of the city, in order to get medical assistance, in order to get humanitarian assistance, in order to get other assistance in to the civilian population that’s trapped there? But also, how do we get access to these people so hopefully we can find a way out?

    So, as I think you know, he spoke with Lavrov I think yesterday. I don’t think – I don’t believe they’ve spoken today. And the next step is technical talks to begin in Geneva tomorrow. And again, these are going to be primarily focused on, one, a pause in the fighting; and two, how do we get – deliver, rather – into Aleppo to these entrapped civilians humanitarian aid; and then thirdly, how do we get a safe departure for those who wish to leave the city. And of course, more broadly speaking, we want to see, obviously, political track – process back up and running in Geneva. But obviously, there’s also more urgent concerns at this point in time.

    QUESTION: Could I follow up?

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: Now, the technical talks tomorrow – the buzz around these meetings is that the expectation is that there is an imminent agreement for the departure of all militants from whatever remains of eastern Aleppo. Do you have any comment on that? Is that – can you --

    MR TONER: I don’t, and I’m deliberately not going to – and that’s not to speculate in any way or lend credence to what you’re saying. I’m simply not going to get in front of what those discussions are. All I will say, and I’ve said – we’ve said this throughout the week, is that there are issues that still need to be resolved, questions that still need to be answered, and that’s the intent of the meetings tomorrow. I won’t even say we’re closer. We continue to work hard at this. And obviously, we do so with the understanding that Aleppo is under – and this – I’m sorry, I didn’t get to this, Matt, your question – but is still under intense fighting. We saw, I think, a brief pause yesterday, but all too brief. There’s been no consistent pause in the fighting that we’ve seen.

    Please, go ahead.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: But – I mean, I’ll take you to what – sorry, Dave – what the foreign minister of Russia said. He said that we have something – some surprise, I mean – casting like a positive or encapsulating the word “surprise” in a positive context, that we might have a surprise tomorrow. So are you disputing that, that something positive may come out of these meetings tomorrow?

    MR TONER: Far from disputing it, we’d obviously welcome something positive coming out of these meetings. I mean – and I’m not trying to be glib or funny – I just don’t want to get in front – I mean, we’ve – everybody in this room knows what a difficult process this has been, and so I don’t want to lean forward – Foreign Minister Lavrov comments notwithstanding, I don’t want to lean forward in any way, shape, or form and try to convey that we think there’s going to be some kind of breakthrough.

    As I said, our immediate goal is to stop the violence, get a sustainable pause in the fighting. That’s obviously the most urgent need here. If we can get beyond that where we can look at other aspects of putting in place a more credible ceasefire, of allowing safe passage for some of the moderate opposition, those are all things we can discuss. But the immediate, urgent need is an end to the fighting.

    QUESTION: Why would you or why wouldn’t you go out and encourage such an outcome when most of the fighters have really left and a lot of them even went to western Aleppo and so on? You have the extremists from Zenki and other – Nusrah and others. They – of course, they’re die-hards; they will continue to fight. But why wouldn’t that be like something that you would announce to the world and say we want the fighters to leave so – in order to spare whatever violence that is taking place?

    MR TONER: Well, again, we’re not speaking on behalf of the opposition. We’re obviously in close contact with them. We’ve been so throughout. We’re not going to speak on their behalf. I think, as I said, I’m not trying to discourage any kind of longer-term resolution to the fighting in and around Aleppo and how that might be formalized, whether it means safe passage for the rebels – or the opposition, rather – or whatever. All I’m saying is the immediate goal is a cessation so we can get humanitarian assistance in and we can get safe passage for civilians out.

    Yeah, go ahead, David. I’m sorry. I apologize.

    QUESTION: My question was similar to that one, but I was going to phrase it slightly differently. Obviously, there are different ways to bring an end to the fighting, which is your primary goal. One of them would be for one side to win. Is it a U.S. policy or a U.S. objective going into these talks that part of eastern Aleppo remain in moderate rebel hands, or are you neutral on who controls the ground at the end so long as you get humanitarian access?

    MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to get into the substance or the preconditions of what maybe – we – what we may have going into the talks tomorrow in Geneva. I think I’ll just stay where I was, which is our focus is on an end to the violence. We’re still looking at ways that we can get that in place. Obviously, as I said, there’s concern about the imminent fall of the Aleppo. We don’t know, frankly, when or even if that will take place. Certainly you’ve seen the regime make gains over the past week or so, but it’s been at a tremendous cost to the civilian population. So again, our focus is on a pause in the fighting. I don’t want to talk or get ahead of what we may also discuss in terms of longer-term goals.

    QUESTION: Are you mitigating a regime victory, its effect on civilians, or are you trying, avert a regime victory?

    MR TONER: Sure. Again, I think we’re just – we’ve been very clear that even if the regime does retake Aleppo completely, we don’t believe that ultimately it’s going to secure a total victory in this conflict. So I’m not trying to say Aleppo doesn’t strategically matter by any means, but what I’m trying to say is it’s been long our contention that even if Aleppo does fall, it’s not going to end the conflict. And so what we need is, whether it was yesterday, whether it’s today, whether it’s tomorrow, whether it’s a week from now – we’d like it sooner, obviously – is an end to the fighting where it is taking place right now in Aleppo, where we can get access to these civilian populations.

    Please. Yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: A question on Saudi Arabia.

    QUESTION: Could I --

    QUESTION: Syria.

    QUESTION: -- stay on Syria?

    MR TONER: Stay on Syria. We’ll finish up --

    QUESTION: A couple more. I’m sorry.

    MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Said. I’ll get to you.

    QUESTION: Yeah, on Syria. Do you have any comment on the waiver that was issued by the White House on sending arms to Syrian rebels? Yesterday, the President issued, gave a waiver to send arms to Syrian rebels. Is that connected to Raqqa battle, possibly, or is it being sent to any particular group like the Kurdish units in the north and so on? Because apparently the U.S. is trying to work out all these groups together and mobilizing them for the liberation of Raqqa.

    MR TONER: Yeah. So I probably – I refer you to DOD about this waiver. You’re talking about the waiver that was issued yesterday.

    QUESTION: Sorry to interrupt, but it was sent to the State Department and DOD because you guys have to approve it.

    MR TONER: Again, DOD has spoken, I think frequently, about their activities to build up local forces that can defeat ISIL. And since Syria is a state sponsor of terrorism, from time to time the President has to enact – or waive, I guess – restrictions that would otherwise prohibit the U.S. military from providing assistance, lethal assistance to our partners who are carrying out these activities against, as I said, Daesh or ISIL. So I’d refer you to the Department of Defense to speak more specifically.

    QUESTION: But we’re not likely to see an influx of lethal weapons, let’s say, to the rebels in Aleppo, are we?

    MR TONER: No.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Actually, I just want to --

    MR TONER: Yeah, please.

    QUESTION: On that, on that subject.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: So a few days ago, you were asked about MANPADS and the authority that the latest defense authorization act gives to the President to send those MANPADS to the rebels.

    MR TONER: Correct.

    QUESTION: And you said, and I quote, “I mean, we’ve been very clear that we’re not going to provide lethal assistance to the opposition in Syria,” end quote. How does this waiver the President just ordered square with what you said a few days ago? Are you surprised?

    MR TONER: So – no. So first of all, our position regarding MANPADS hasn’t changed. What I said the other day still holds. But we don’t want to see that kind of weaponry --

    QUESTION: But it’s providing lethal assistance.

    MR TONER: Let me finish. We don’t want to see that kind of weaponry getting into Syria. In terms of more broadly speaking, I was referring specifically to the moderate opposition. Now, we have worked with – and I’m not going to speak beyond what I just said to Said – but we have provided some level of assistance to the Syrian Democratic Forces that are fighting in northern Syria against Daesh. That’s on top of the advice and training that we’ve provided these groups. And the reason we’ve done that is that they’ve been highly effective in going after and destroying Daesh on the battlefield in northern Syria. I’m not going to speak to the level of our assistance beyond that.

    What I was referring to the other day, specifically to your question, was about moderate opposition who are fighting the regime in – in Aleppo but elsewhere.

    QUESTION: But this – this quote, it’s not quite accurate, right? And then – when you were saying --

    MR TONER: I think I just clarified. I think I just clarified.

    QUESTION: “We’ve being very clear that we’re not going to provide lethal assistance.”

    MR TONER: I said I think I just clarified.

    QUESTION: Clarified. Okay, okay. With this waiver, who is going to get those weapons? What groups in what locations?

    MR TONER: I’m not going to speak to that. I said – you can – either of you can go to DOD, ask them for more details. Generally speaking, I can say it’s – we’re talking about partner forces that we’re working with in northern Syria.

    QUESTION: Yeah, just a few more.

    MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: So the President said with this waiver that it is in U.S. national security interest to provide weapons to Syrian rebels, and I assume that it is also in U.S. national security interest to make sure that these weapons don’t end up in the hands of criminals and terrorists. Can the Administration guarantee that?

    MR TONER: So of course, it’s in – and again, we’ve talked about this at great length. One of the reasons we are taking these actions against Daesh is because it’s in our national security interest to do so. Look, the threat that Daesh poses for the region is very real and urgent. The coalition that this country led in forming has done more to turn the tide against Daesh than any effort that, by the way, Russia or any other effort by the regime in Syria has attempted or alleged to attempt in and around Aleppo and elsewhere when they said they’ve been going after ISIL. We stand by our record. We have put ISIL, or Daesh, under tremendous pressure wherever it holds territory. It’s lost much of the territory. It hasn’t made any territorial gains in the past year and a half. And that pressure is going to continue.

    Now, how we have done this is by working with local groups on the ground, a variety of them in northern Syria. And they’ve been effective, as I said, at dislodging Daesh. Now, with respect to your question, the assistance that we provide to these groups is obviously done under careful monitoring. But of course, I’m never going to be able to say on any given battlefield – and we’ve talked about this before – that equipment assistance can’t change hands, but we haven’t seen it recently. And in fact, to the contrary, as ISIL has lost territory, as it’s been on the run, we’ve not seen any examples of that. But again, this is a – I guess an area or territory where there is a variety of arms from a variety of different sources over many decades. So for anyone to be able to say with complete confidence that any equipment or assistance isn’t changing hands from the battlefield or wherever is difficult to do it at best.

    QUESTION: What will happen to these weapons after the rebels fight ISIL? Who will they be turned against?

    MR TONER: Again, I mean, – look, this is all – and this is something we’ve been working very hard on, and this is the last question on this – working as we liberate – or these groups, frankly – the Syrian Democratic Forces liberate territory in Syria, we work to bring and provide stability back into these cities, work with local governments, local councils to re-establish stability in these areas. We’re also working with these groups, and we’ve – this is something that our special envoy, Brett McGurk has – is in constant contact with many of these groups, as well as with Turkish authorities and others in the region, on what comes next. And that’s something we’re looking at down the road. But the immediate priority is defeating Daesh. And like I said --

    QUESTION: Nusrah? What about --

    MR TONER: -- we wish – we wish that other foreign actors in Syria had those same aims.

    QUESTION: But what about – is it only against Daesh, or Nusrah as well?

    MR TONER: I’ve answered your questions. Please, go ahead. I’ve answered your questions.

    QUESTION: Saudi Arabia, unless there’s another Syria?

    MR TONER: Sure, go ahead.

    QUESTION: So the State Department told Congress yesterday that it had approved military sales to Saudi Arabia worth $3.5 billion, mostly for Chinook helicopters and other equipment.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: Human rights groups have obviously criticized the Saudi campaign in Yemen because of the number of civilians killed, and specifically Human Rights Watch put out a statement yesterday saying – numbering – describing a number of airstrikes that had killed civilians, and saying that U.S. military equipment had been used in those strikes, putting the U.S. at risk for being complicit in those civilian deaths. What would the State Department say to that?

    MR TONER: Sure. It’s a complicated question, so I’ll try to break it down. If I miss anything, please come back and – so as you noted, on December 7th the Administration did formally notify Congress of its intent to offer Saudi Arabia the purchase of up to, I think, 48 Chinook heavy-lift cargo helicopters and associated equipment via our FMF – FMS, which is foreign military sales. I think this proposed sale is valued at $3.5 billion. This obviously followed extensive informal consultations with Congress.

    Our overall review of assistance to the Saudi-led coalition is ongoing. We continue to have very serious concerns about some of these coalition strikes that have resulted in civilian casualties, and we’ve addressed these concerns to the Saudi Government. We do assist Saudi Arabia with the defense of its territorial integrity, and – but that said, we’re going to continue to press the coalition to remediate what we believe are flaws in its targeting cycle and to take other immediate steps to mitigate against any other future civilian casualties.

    And it goes without saying that it’s also important that we continue to work at the UN-led, mediated peace process. I mean, that ultimately is the best way to end the fighting in Yemen that threatens Saudi Arabia.

    With respect to – and forgive me, but I’m trying to answer all the aspects of your question. But with respect to how this particular sale might affect Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities, these helicopters I don’t think are anticipated to be delivered for some two to three years. And certainly, their use or potential use was evaluated as part of our review. It was ultimately decided that their role would be to improve Saudi Arabia’s heavy-lift capability and strengthen its homeland defense. And what do I mean by that? In the event of a natural disaster or a humanitarian emergency in the region, these types of helicopters can provide expedited heavy lift for personnel and supplies in and out of the affected area.

    What else did I forget on your – you’re talking about the status of the review. I mean, as I said, I think I answered this. It’s – they’re still ongoing. We’re still looking at this. We do want to make sure that – and this goes with any foreign military sales – that there’s always – they’re always subject to end-use monitoring. And we’ll continue to look at that even with existing sales with regard to Saudi Arabia. All of this stuff is under review including, as I said, the overall review of defense sales to Saudi Arabia.

    QUESTION: Just a follow-up?

    QUESTION: Well, Mark, as you said, Chinooks are heavy-lift helicopters, but you’re also simultaneously selling about 30 Apaches to the United Arab Emirates. Those are attack helicopters, and the Emirates are part of the coalition that have no use for humanitarian operations.

    MR TONER: Right. Again, I don’t have the details of those helicopter sales. What I’d just say is what I just said, which is that any military sale is going to be subject to end-use monitoring.

    QUESTION: Have you basically told – is one of the conditions of the sale that the Chinook helicopters can’t be used in the Yemen campaign?

    MR TONER: Well, I don’t know that we’ve – again, I think that Saudis are well aware of our – I mean, because they’ve obviously been a purchaser or a buyer of U.S. military equipment, they’re well aware of some of the restrictions and some of the end-use monitoring that we conduct as a normal part of our sales. I don’t know that there’s been any precondition placed on this sale that they not be used. But again, what these – this particular type of helicopter is not, as Dave just said, not designed for a combat role as an attack helicopter.

    QUESTION: It has machine guns on the front.

    MR TONER: It does. For self-defense. I mean, obviously, they do have – yes.

    QUESTION: That review of – I think the NSC said in a statement --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- back in October after the funeral procession or the gathering was bombed --

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: -- they said, quote , we’re starting in a, quote, “immediate review of the assistance to the Saudi campaign.” I mean, now we’re two months later. How is the review still ongoing? How’s – how have you not come to a conclusion about what kind of assistance you’ll provide?

    MR TONER: Sure. I do believe that the Department of Defense is leading that review, but I’d have to check on the status. I just don’t have it – a status update in front of me. But I also want to be very clear in saying that it doesn’t – the fact that we’re conducting this overall review doesn’t prevent us or preclude the fact that we’re assessing our current sales, looking at end-use monitoring, and being very clear in our cooperation with Saudi Arabia that they understand our concerns about some of the flaws in their targeting approach and that led to, as you know, the – you noted the terrible attack on this funeral procession.

    QUESTION: And then just --

    MR TONER: Yeah, please.

    QUESTION: Sorry, I guess I just – it slipped out of my head.

    MR TONER: No worries.

    QUESTION: I’ll come back to you.

    MR TONER: No worries. I’m here all day.

    QUESTION: Okay, on the same topic. Now, we understand it’s some years before this particular deal is delivered, but it is fair to say that Saudi Arabia is using overwhelmingly or overwhelmingly using American weapons in its war in Yemen. Would you agree with that?

    MR TONER: I just --

    QUESTION: Would you agree that it is using F-16s, Apache helicopters, whatever – I mean, which are American-supplied weapons?

    MR TONER: I’m not – I’m not saying you’re wrong. I just don’t have the – to say that they’re “overwhelmingly” using U.S. weaponry, but --

    QUESTION: I mean, the United States at least --

    MR TONER: We have a strong, robust --

    QUESTION: -- is the major supplier of arms to Saudi Arabia, correct?

    MR TONER: We have a strong military sales relationship with Saudi Arabia. I will not dispute that.

    QUESTION: Do you feel that makes you – I just remembered. Do you feel that, I mean, specifically going to what the – what Human Rights Watch and what other rights groups have said, like, how do you respond to the criticism that that effectively or at least could risk the U.S. being complicit in these civilian deaths and in sort of the inaccurate targeting – whatever is might be?

    MR TONER: Well again, let’s – so a couple of thoughts there. One is that the coalition and in particular Saudi Arabia did not choose this fight. This is a result of spillover from the war in Yemen – the conflict in Yemen – that was, frankly, putting at risk Saudis who are living across the border and about, frankly, defending their sovereign territory. That said, we have seen in their particular targeting – and the most egregious example was this strike on the funeral procession – inaccuracies that put civilians clearly at great risk. We’ve been very clear about our concerns, and in fact, the Saudis immediately after that bombing did conduct an investigation and made public the results of that investigation. Going forward, obviously, we’ve asked them to look at fundamentally how they review and how they determine their targeting.

    Our cooperation that we provide to Saudi Arabia does not include – and I think we’ve talked about this before – target selection or review. And as I said, none of it constitutes endorsement of offensive operations in Yemen that have harmed civilians.

    QUESTION: But the Saudi war goal is to restore an ousted president.

    MR TONER: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: The Saudi war goal is to restore the ousted president of Yemen.

    MR TONER: Well, again --

    QUESTION: The breaches of the border happened after the conflict began.

    MR TONER: But David – but – and you know the Secretary has worked very hard in this regard. I mean, there is a UN process. We saw a breakdown when --

    QUESTION: But you just described the Saudi action as not of their own choice; they were reacting to cross-border attacks.

    MR TONER: Well, that is – that is true. I mean, but this is spillover --

    QUESTION: They’re not there to fight to put Hadi back in power?

    MR TONER: This is a conflict that has spilled over across their border. They have taken steps to defend Saudi territory, defend their citizens. But what’s, again, important here is that there is a UN-led process that, frankly, most recently took a hit earlier this week. We’ve thought we were close a couple of times to getting a cessation of hostilities into place, but there is a process here whereby we can end the fighting and bring about a peaceful transition, but it takes all sides, obviously, to --

    QUESTION: It just feels like you’re making excuses for them that they wouldn’t make for themselves.

    MR TONER: How so? Oh, that they’re – that I’m --

    QUESTION: That their stated war goal is to restore the Yemeni president.

    MR TONER: Again, I’m – well, I’m not going to speak on behalf of the Saudis, but they have also been helpful in trying to get this peace process up and running.

    QUESTION: Mark.

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: You said the – you mentioned the hit that the UN effort took earlier this week, but that was landed by – that hit was landed by --

    MR TONER: I agree.

    QUESTION: -- by the government --

    MR TONER: I’m well aware.

    QUESTION: -- that Saudi Arabia supports and you guys support and so on. So what measures are you willing to take to give this UN effort some sort of a backbone or ground to stand on?

    MR TONER: What – I’m sorry, one more time.

    QUESTION: I said what are you doing to sort of give this UN position that was taken --

    MR TONER: Well, the Secretary has been --

    QUESTION: -- some strength and veracity?

    MR TONER: The Secretary has been very engaged in this and I spoke about this the other day. He’s been – I mean, I can look at recent calls. He’s obviously been working also at the same time. But to your question, which is that earlier this week, it was the Republic of Yemen --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: -- Government that said – rejected, essentially, the UN-drafted roadmap. And I came out and spoke about it at the top of the briefing and said everybody’s got to agree to this. It’s not an endpoint; it’s a starting point. Everybody’s got to make concessions in order for there to be peace. And we’re going to continue those efforts. I mean, the Secretary’s been working the phones, he’s been continuing to discuss it with other regional Gulf partners in trying to get some kind of cessation of hostilities back up and running. We were close a couple weeks ago, but he remains hard at it.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: Earlier today, Japanese parliament ratified the TPP. What is your reaction?

    MR TONER: I mean, that’s – obviously, we welcome Japan’s endorsement of the TPP. As we’ve said all along and this Administration has said all along, we believe that the TPP is important for the region in establishing strong rules of the road in terms of our trade relations with our partners in the region, and that it’s in – certainly in everyone’s interest who’s looking at the TPP and has signed on to the TPP to see it come into effect.

    QUESTION: This is a great breakthrough for your policy, isn’t it?

    MR TONER: Well, look, it speaks to the fact – and we’ve seen this on climate change as well – it speaks to the fact that, regardless of the transition that is happening here in the United States, and I’m not going to speak to that or what decisions the incoming administration may make with regard to climate or with regard to trade policy, but the rest of the world is moving forward. Rest of the world is, with respect to climate, with respect to trade, and TPP – we’ve seen it today – is saying – embracing this progress. So we can choose to engage or not to engage, but let’s not --

    QUESTION: But you didn’t put it at the top as a – as an announcement of another breakthrough for U.S. trade policy. You mention it in passing when we ask. There was a time you’d have celebrated a TPP endorsement. I’m just causing trouble. Go on.

    MR TONER: Yeah, you are. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Pakistan?

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: Earlier this week, Pakistan’s counterterrorism department raided the headquarters of the minority Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan. And just this morning, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom strongly condemned this act. What is the State Department doing to protect the vulnerable Ahmadis in light of a disturbing development?

    MR TONER: Sure. We’re obviously very concerned about these reports that Punjab counterterrorism police have raided the international headquarters of the Ahmadiyya – Ahmadiyya, rather – Muslim community in Rabwah and arrested, as you noted, four individuals for publishing literature.

    We have regularly noted our concerns about Pakistani laws that restrict peaceful religious expression, particularly by the Ahmadiyya community, in our international – our religious freedom report. We believe such laws are inconsistent with Pakistan’s international obligations and we would urge the Government of Pakistan to protect religious freedom and basic rights of all members of its population, including religious minorities.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Do you want to comment on the increased attacks against Muslims in Myanmar? And I mean, since you mentioned the Ahmadiyya and so on, because apparently --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- tensions are rising, and major Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia are beginning to look towards this issue with concern and hostility, even.

    MR TONER: Well, I don’t have much of an update. We obviously continue to call for a prompt resolution of full humanitarian and media access to that region – Rakhine State. I will say that earlier today, our ambassador to Burma and 13 of his counterparts in Rangoon issued a joint statement urging all authorities to overcome the obstacles that have prevented a full resumption of humanitarian assistance to this area.

    Is that it, guys?

    QUESTION: Can I ask one question on --

    MR TONER: Of course you can.

    QUESTION: -- Palestinian-Israeli issue? I’m sorry. Yesterday, there --

    MR TONER: Elizabeth was jumping up on her seat, but --

    QUESTION: -- (inaudible.) I’m not going to let you go without asking one question. (Laughter.) Yesterday, Congress overwhelmingly voted for a $600 million, in addition to the $38 billion into – to Israel, to develop rockets and so on – develop missiles. And at the same time, the Israeli Government is deciding to compensate the Amona settlement people with half a million Israeli shekels, which is like $150,000. So do you think Israel needs the money when you give them $600 million on the one hand, and they turn around and they give the Amona residents half a million shekels in compensations?

    MR TONER: Sure. And look, we’ve discussed your views on this before. Our --

    QUESTION: These are new.

    MR TONER: Our security relationship with Israel is ironclad; our security commitment with Israel is ironclad. That said, when we do have disagreements on other aspects of Israel’s policy, we’re not shy about making those concerns clear. With regard to settlements, that’s one of those areas. But we believe that Israel is a strong partner and friend in the region, and that its security is critically important to the United States’s own national security interests.

    That’s it. Thanks, guys.

    QUESTION: Sorry, one more.

    MR TONER: Oh, I’m so sorry. Yeah. I didn’t mean to --

    QUESTION: Did you want to comment on the impeachment vote in South Korea?

    MR TONER: I do. I mean, very briefly, I just wanted to – I can just say that obviously we have been following it closely. First and foremost, the United States continues to be a steadfast ally, friend, and partner to the Republic of Korea. We certainly look forward to working with Prime Minister Hwang in his new capacity as acting president. We expect and we believe that policy, consistency, and continuity across a range of fronts, including DPRK, is paramount, as well as international economics and trade. I can say that the U.S.-Korea relationship and alliance will continue to be a lynchpin of regional stability and security. We’re going to continue to meet all of our alliance commitments, especially with respect to defending against the threats we’ve seen emanating from North Korea. So I’ll end there.

    QUESTION: Can --

    MR TONER: Yeah, please. Go ahead, Matt.

    QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?

    MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

    QUESTION: How important – given that the threat that you say North Korea poses – how important is it that the transition in – the political transition in the ROK is a smooth one?

    MR TONER: It’s critically important. And it’s again why my – the initial words out of my mouth were to – certainly to convey that the United States stands by its steadfast ally and is there with Korea as it undergoes this political change and transition.

    I would note also that during this time of political change, that South Koreans have acted peacefully, they’ve acted calmly, and they’ve acted responsibly, and that certainly speaks to your question, is that it’s absolutely critical that we remain a steadfast ally and partner and that this transition occurs as peacefully as possible.

    Thanks, guys.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:45 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - December 8, 2016

Thu, 12/08/2016 - 15:52
Elizabeth Trudeau
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 8, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAQ


    2:02 p.m. EST

    MS TRUDEAU: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. I have three things at the top, so just give me a minute and then we’ll get to your questions.

    Today the Department of State is pleased to announce the six winners of the 2016 Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence, or ACE. This year there are four ACE categories: inclusive hiring practices, small or medium enterprises, sustainable oceans management, and transparent operations. We put out a media note on this earlier so you can take a look at that, but we offer our congratulations to the winners. Each of these companies is contributing to the growth and sustainable development of local economies in which they work.

    Next, President Obama has designated Ambassador David Bruce Wharton as the acting Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, effective December 8th. As acting under secretary, Ambassador Wharton leads America’s public diplomacy outreach, which includes communications with international and domestic audiences, cultural programming, academic and professional exchanges, messaging to counterterrorism and violent extremism. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Ambassador Wharton began his diplomatic career in 1985. He served most recently as a principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs. He was also ambassador to Zimbabwe from 2012 to 2015. So our congratulations to Ambassador Wharton.

    Next, a quick update on the Secretary’s travel. As you know, Secretary Kerry attended the OSCE foreign ministerial earlier today in Hamburg. I think you saw his remarks at that meeting. He emphasized the importance of the OSCE’s principles as well as the need for full implementation of the Minsk agreements as the only way forward for peace in Ukraine. Prior to the ministerial meeting, the Secretary also participated in a meeting with civil society activists from Europe and Central Asia, where he had a chance to express the United States enduring commitment to supporting the essential work of human rights defenders, lawyers, independent journalists, and other member of civil society.

    And with that, we have Matt Pennington joining us. So we’ll turn it over to Matt.

    QUESTION: All right, thanks. Can you tell us a bit about Secretary Kerry’s talks with Foreign Minister Lavrov?

    MS TRUDEAU: Sure.

    QUESTION: And is there any agreement on rebels withdrawing from Aleppo? And are there going to be technical talks on this in Geneva at the weekend?

    MS TRUDEAU: So there was a lot of news that happened right before I came out, so I have a few things to say on that. I think as you all know – and you saw our statement earlier – we’ve been working to de-escalate the violence. Our concern has been getting aid in and ensuring that people can stay in their homes. We are preparing to work on next steps. Secretary Kerry spoke by phone today with Foreign Minister Lavrov about this situation on the ground in Aleppo. They agreed to continue discussions about establishing a framework for a ceasefire that will allow the delivery of aid – of desperately needed humanitarian aid – as well as the safe departure of those who wish to leave the city.

    As you’ve seen, Foreign Minister Lavrov did announce technical discussions in Geneva on Saturday. The specific nature of those talks, these follow-on discussions, are still being worked out. As these technical discussions are finalized I’ll have more to offer. It might be later today, it might be tomorrow.

    QUESTION: Foreign Minister Lavrov also mentioned that there’d been some – that the Syrian army had suspended action to allow civilians to leave the city. Do you have any confirmation that that’s happened?

    MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. I – separately we did see that. I have no confirmation of that. There was a – Foreign Minister Lavrov did say the Syrian regime had suspended their military operations in Aleppo. Obviously, we would support any decrease in the violence visited on the Syrian people. But for confirmation on that, we would refer you to Foreign Minister Lavrov to speak to or the Syrian regime themselves.

    QUESTION: So how optimistic are you at this point that there is going to be some sort of agreement on a rebel withdrawal and improvement in the humanitarian conditions?

    MS TRUDEAU: Well, what I would say is that we continue to look at the modalities and the granularities of these technical talks. We remain engaged. If we believe these technical talks will be useful, we will certainly move forward with them. There are still discussions that are happening now, and when I have an update I’ll certainly provide it.

    QUESTION: When you say --

    MS TRUDEAU: Hey, Yeganeh.

    QUESTION: Hi. When you say withdrawal, would – that would include any civilians and also opposition forces?

    MS TRUDEAU: It would be anyone who’s – who is interested in leaving. But our position all along has been that people shouldn’t have to leave their homes.

    Hi, Felicia.

    QUESTION: Hello. So Jan Egeland said earlier today, I guess after Lavrov said that the Syrian army had stopped their offensive, that they had received authorization to get into eastern Aleppo. Do you have any – do you have any information on whether the UN will have access?

    MS TRUDEAU: Well, we saw that announcement. We remain hopeful, is how I’d characterize it, that this new authorization would allow for this vital humanitarian aid to go in to the people of eastern Aleppo, but we’re realistic about the continued violence taking place and the difficulty for the UN in moving this aid forward.

    QUESTION: And they haven’t had any access?

    MS TRUDEAU: I’d refer you to the UN for details on that. It’s my understanding, though, that the people of Aleppo have not received an aid delivery since July.

    Hi, Muhammed. Nice to see you.

    QUESTION: Thank you. You said: We are preparing for our next step. Can you elaborate on --

    MS TRUDEAU: That would be these technical discussions. That was what I meant.

    QUESTION: Okay. And do you have any number of how many civilians are stuck right now in Aleppo?

    MS TRUDEAU: No, that would be a question I think would best be directed at the UN. They would – because they would be the ones who would be governing that aid delivery, they would be the ones taking a look at that. I’d direct you there.

    QUESTION: And do you also have any idea how many civilians have been killed so far in the last two weeks?

    MS TRUDEAU: Again, that was – this is something I think probably the UN would be best to speak to. I would say in a situation like that, in a complex situation where we frankly don’t have people on the ground, it would be irresponsible for me to estimate.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS TRUDEAU: Samir.

    QUESTION: What’s the expectations from the Paris meeting on Saturday?

    MS TRUDEAU: For the Syria – you’re talking about these technical discussions, or you’re talking about the ministerial meeting?

    QUESTION: No, no, no. The --

    MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to get ahead of that. I think you saw that – from the statement earlier this week, as well as Secretary Kerry’s very clear position, that he will continue to press forward. We will continue to push for a cessation of hostilities. We will continue to push for the delivery of aid. We will continue to push for space so there can be some sort of political dialogue. We’re looking forward to those discussions. We’ll see where that goes.

    Okay, thank you. Nike.

    QUESTION: Right, Ghana?

    MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, let’s go to Ghana.

    QUESTION: Do you have any update? It seems that the presidential – or the electoral commission is delaying to announce the official result.

    MS TRUDEAU: Well, we understand that might be delayed because voting was postponed in Jaman North Constituency until today, I believe. And it’s my understanding – and again, I’m going to refer you to the Ghanaians; it’s their election, they’re the experts on it – is that they delay the results – or final results are expected 72 hours after the conclusion of voting. So that’s my understanding on that.

    But just specifically on that, we’d note that Ghana has a long tradition of peaceful democratic elections, and we congratulate them on their sustained commitment to democracy.

    This was the best briefing ever. You guys got anything else? Muhammed?

    QUESTION: One more. Back to Syria. (Laughter.) Separate to Russia’s plan on suspending the violence in Aleppo, is there any specific plan that U.S. is planning to take in order to --

    MS TRUDEAU: As I said at the top, we continue to have these technical discussions, or we are having discussions about the modalities of the technical discussions. As we have more clarity on that, I’ll certainly let you know. But at this, I’m not going to get into specifics.

    QUESTION: Sorry.

    MS TRUDEAU: Sure, no, of course.

    QUESTION: It’s like a little bit jargony. I just – when you say the discussions about modalities, can you just lay out a little what that is?

    MS TRUDEAU: So what we are anticipating doing as we continue to look to have the technical discussions that Foreign Minister Lavrov spoke about today is we’re looking for the details of structure, topics, who would participate. And we should have more on that soon.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS TRUDEAU: That’s great. Ma’am.

    QUESTION: Nazira Azim Karimi, Ariana Television Network. As you know, a month ago ICC, International Criminal Court in the Netherlands, announced that they are going to start soon the case for the people who are involved regarding criminal cases, to work on them and bring them in to justice. Do you think that Afghan Government agreement is important, or just whatever they wanted to do it, they can do, or Afghanistan Government also should show their agreement?

    MS TRUDEAU: So we spoke about this quite at length when this case came out. We spoke about the U.S. view, that we felt that, as the U.S. is not party to this, we did not feel that this was a step that we would do. In terms of the Afghan Government, I would ask you to direct your questions to the Afghan Government. That would be something for them to speak to.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Thanks. One more, Matt.

    QUESTION: South Korea.

    MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

    QUESTION: There’s going to be an impeachment vote, by the sounds of it, on Friday against President Park. Could you say a little bit about how this political uncertainty has impacted the alliance relations between the U.S. and South Korea?

    MS TRUDEAU: Well, we’ve spoken about this before. Our alliance with the Republic of Korea remains strong. This is an internal matter for the people of Korea. We would point you to the Korean Government to speak to this. But our relationship with the Korean Government is strong, is deep, is solid. We don’t see any impact.

    QUESTION: And has the embassy had any – or has the U.S. Government had any direct contact with President Park in the last – well, this month?

    MS TRUDEAU: I would have nothing to read out on that.


    QUESTION: Just to follow up on that question, do you see any impact on discussions on North Korea or on the trilateral talks that are scheduled for later this month?

    MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Well, I think our position, as you know, on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is well-known. I’m not going to get ahead of any talks, but our position hasn’t changed on that.

    Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: On Turkey?

    MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Yesterday, Mark was asked about a report, Amnesty report, and there were some remarks. I just want – first want to ask you have some disagreement over the Amnesty report, I think. Where does the U.S. Government get their facts when it comes to Turkey southeast?

    MS TRUDEAU: Their facts in terms of what?

    QUESTION: There are some disagreements – for example, enforced dislocation of the Turkey’s Kurds. And Mark stated that there is no enforced dislocation. There are dozens of witnesses spoke to Amnesty report. I am curious, where does the U.S. Government get their facts that there is no enforced dislocation?

    MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Well, I think you’re conflating a couple of different things, so I’m going to let certainly Amnesty speak to their own report and I’ll let the Turkish Government speak to their own assessment on the facts. We’ve been very clear about our concern over the fate of the residents of Sur and other cities in Turkey’s southeast whose lives have been profoundly affected by the violence between the PKK and Turkish security forces. We note again, as we’ve said several times, the PKK is a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization. We call, again, for the PKK to lay down its arms, and we ask the Turkish Government to respond in ways that reinforce the rule of law and they also respect fundamental freedoms.

    QUESTION: So I got this statement. The question is – was yesterday, to repeat the question – what is your understanding whether there is an enforced dislocation of Turkey’s Kurds? Or do you disagree this --

    MS TRUDEAU: No, as I said, the question is the impact on the residents of the area. I’m not going to call out any particular group, but we have been very clear about our concern on all residents of that area because of this fighting. I’m not going to characterize it. I’d let Amnesty speak to their own report, Ilhan.


    QUESTION: Sorry for being late.

    MS TRUDEAU: It’s always nice to see you, though.

    QUESTION: So this claim by the Russians that the Syrian army stopped operation in Aleppo, you probably already addressed that.

    MS TRUDEAU: I did.

    QUESTION: But how – yeah. I mean, how is it impacting what’s going on in --

    MS TRUDEAU: I mean, I think you’ve seen this claim is about two hours old.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS TRUDEAU: One, we can’t confirm it. Two, I’m not going to characterize it.

    QUESTION: Okay. But that – well, that, in your view or your understanding, does it call for the departure or – of the fighters from the – whatever remains of eastern Aleppo?

    MS TRUDEAU: I would let Foreign Minister Lavrov’s team speak directly to his statement. It would certainly not be for me to speak for the foreign minister. As we’ve said, I’m not in a position to confirm that. We’ve seen these reports as well. We would welcome anything that improves the lives of the Syrian people who have been bombarded in the city for weeks on end.

    QUESTION: So are we likely to see in the next couple days some sort of an agreement --

    MS TRUDEAU: I’m not – as I said, we’re taking a look at getting to a point where we can have these technical talks. As soon as I have something to share, I certainly will.

    QUESTION: Okay. And my last question --

    MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

    QUESTION: -- is: Will the United States consider arming the rebels once again or at least the moderate opposition, as you call them?

    MS TRUDEAU: No. We’ve had this conversation on it.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS TRUDEAU: Our position has not changed.

    QUESTION: Okay. Because the fighting’s still ongoing in the countryside, in Homs, in Hama, in Latakia, I mean, in many places outside --

    MS TRUDEAU: No, and we’ve been very clear: Even if Aleppo falls, certainly the war is not over.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS TRUDEAU: But our position has not changed on that.

    Okay. Laurie.

    QUESTION: Hi. Do you have a readout on the meeting that Special Envoy Brett McGurk had with the chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council this morning?

    MS TRUDEAU: Actually, this was sort of a follow-on meeting to the meetings that the special presidential envoy had in Iraq, so it continued those conversations. I would point you to the incredibly extensive media note that we put out yesterday from his meetings in Iraq.

    QUESTION: So there wasn’t anything different?

    MS TRUDEAU: No. It was a continuation of those.

    QUESTION: Okay. I have two more questions.

    MS TRUDEAU: Sure.

    QUESTION: The – Masrour Barzani, the chancellor, of the Kurdistan Region Security Council, just gave a talk at the Wilson Center, and he said – he remarked that before there was ISIS there was al-Qaida in Iraq, and after ISIS there’s likely to be something else unless we get this right. What he said was that the root cause of this radicalism was a political failure in Iraq. What would be your comment on that observation? Would you tend to agree or you think it’s not --

    MS TRUDEAU: I wouldn’t speak to the chancellor’s remarks. That would be for him to explain that. I would say that we continue to stand with the people of Iraq. We have been very supportive of the reforms that this government has continued to advance through their legislative process. We believe in a democratic, unified Iraq. We think that’s the future of the country.

    I’d also note, though, too, that they have made enormous gains fighting Daesh. We never said that this would be an easy fight, but we are really seeing progress on the ground.

    QUESTION: Because something else not only he, but others – many others have said is there’s been so much bloodshed and it’s still very immediate in people’s minds, in their hearts, that it’s impossible for people to go back to what existed before because they don’t trust – one element doesn’t trust another. Is that something you – you’re – a perspective you’re sympathetic to?

    MS TRUDEAU: I think we’re sympathetic to the idea that the people of Iraq have certainly suffered. They’ve suffered under Daesh. They suffered under the range of violent extremism within their own country. However, we have faith in the people of Iraq. We continue to believe that they’re making significant progress.

    QUESTION: Okay. My second question then involves the remarks of Henri Barkey, who was – who worked in this building --

    MS TRUDEAU: True.

    QUESTION: -- under the – in the Clinton years, so – and he made the observation that countries like Turkey and Jordan, which are hosting millions of refugees from this ISIS crisis, their burden is recognized and they get the kind of support that comes with recognition of the burden of caring for these refugees. But the Kurdistan Region hosts 1.8 million – it shelters 1.8 million people and doesn’t – Barkey made this observation – and doesn’t receive the same kind of recognition nor the same kind of support, and the chancellor agreed. He suggested the issue was that these were technically internally displaced persons. And he emphasized that they really did need more help to – for the humanitarian needs of these people, particularly with the winter now upon us. And I wondered if you had any plans to increase your support for the IDPs in – that the Kurdistan Region is sheltering or to mobilize international support for that humanitarian need.

    MS TRUDEAU: Well, I’ve got nothing to announce as of right now, and I would let Mr. Barkey, as a private citizen speak, for himself, of course. We’re very cognizant of the impact that internally displaced people and those fleeing violence have in Iraq. We’re very cognizant of the need for aid. The United States continues to supply aid to the Government of Iraq and will continue to look to meet needs as they emerge.


    QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that issue.

    MS TRUDEAU: Sure.

    QUESTION: I mean, you talked about the Iraqi people suffering from al-Qaida and ISIS and they – but they also suffered in the war and occupation and so on, and what was missing – I mean, I remember being there for so long – what was missing is national reconciliation. What is missing today in this dialogue is national reconciliation. After all, the current prime minister is of the same party as the former prime minister. What is being done? What is the United States and – or your Administration in its final weeks doing to sort of reignite a path for national reconciliation?

    MS TRUDEAU: Well, I think we have seen progress. We have seen important steps taken on reform. We have seen efforts made across sectarian lines. We’re not saying the work is done. I don’t think for any of us in any of the countries, including my own, work is ever done on this. But we do recognize when progress has been made, Said.

    Great. Matt.

    QUESTION: One last one on Asia.

    MS TRUDEAU: Sure.

    QUESTION: The Philippine Government said today that it was highly unlikely that it would allow the United States to use its country as a base for freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. I wondered if you had any response to that.

    MS TRUDEAU: No, I – one, I haven’t seen the comment, so I couldn’t speak specifically to that, but our opinion, our view, our adherence to freedom of navigation is well known. We will fly, we will sail anywhere within international waters, and we will continue that.

    Thank you, guys. Oh, wait, no, Said.

    QUESTION: Sorry --

    MS TRUDEAU: No, I’m always happy to talk to you.

    QUESTION: I have a couple of questions on --

    MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

    QUESTION: -- the Palestinian-Israeli issue. First of all, what is your reaction to the passage of the first step of the annexation or the legitimization?

    MS TRUDEAU: Now, we have spoken about this several times --

    QUESTION: Right, right.

    MS TRUDEAU: -- over the last couple days. As we said --

    QUESTION: And new measures were taken yesterday and early today, so --

    MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. It’s – I would just reiterate what we have said before: We’re deeply concerned.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS TRUDEAU: We view this as a way that is paving for the unprecedented legalization of these outposts deep in the West Bank. Thousands of settlement housing units – these are illegal under Israeli law. We believe this would be profoundly damaging to prospects for a two-state solution.

    QUESTION: Now, also, let me just follow up on the issue --

    MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

    QUESTION: -- of the Palestinian delegation coming to town next week.

    MS TRUDEAU: Sure, the – yes.

    QUESTION: Okay. So if you have any information to – more information to share with us on that.

    MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, thank you. This is a question on the Palestinian dialogue I think you asked yesterday.

    QUESTION: Right, right, okay.

    MS TRUDEAU: So the State Department is hosting a political dialogue, so it’s one of a series that we do with the Palestinians. It’s led by the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Stu Jones. The dialogue will take place December 12th. The discussion, this particular one, will touch on a number of issues of mutual interest. This includes civil society, travel issues, countering violent extremism. As I mentioned, we have a series of these dialogues. We’ve recently held a dialogue on educational issues which I think we talked about with Samir maybe a couple weeks ago. We’ve also held one on economic issues. This has been in the works for several months and we look forward to it.

    QUESTION: So – but you know that the top negotiator is coming and the – another – the adviser to Abbas is coming and so on. So it seems very political – the delegation itself is quite political. Are they not going to discuss issues or initiative that the Administration might be taking in its final weeks --

    MS TRUDEAU: As this has --

    QUESTION: -- on the peace process?

    MS TRUDEAU: So Middle East peace is not on the agenda for this particular dialogue.

    QUESTION: Right, but one would expect that this issue would come up, right?

    MS TRUDEAU: Well, not for – in this dialogue, it’s certainly not on the agenda. This is very much focused, as I mentioned, on civil society issues, violent extremism.

    QUESTION: And finally, have you developed a position on the peace conference in Paris or at least (inaudible)?

    MS TRUDEAU: I have no update from what Mark said yesterday on that. We continue to look at it and we’re in touch with the French.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS TRUDEAU: Michael.

    QUESTION: You don’t have answer, you told me, but it’s – I saw yesterday and today that you have 10 readouts about the meetings that the Secretary had in Brussels. And you don’t have one about the meeting between the Secretary and Mr. Cavusoglu?

    MS TRUDEAU: Well, what I could say is --

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS TRUDEAU: -- the Secretary enjoyed his meeting with the Turkish foreign minister. They discussed a range of issues of bilateral importance.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS TRUDEAU: This was on the margins of NATO, talked about the alliance.

    QUESTION: But according to the Turks, they discussed Cyprus, and Cyprus, as you know, is a very --

    MS TRUDEAU: I have no details to read out on that, Michael.

    QUESTION: Is it possible to ask how that --

    MS TRUDEAU: I did and I just --

    QUESTION: We have this --

    MS TRUDEAU: -- have nothing to offer on that.

    QUESTION: And also if you can find out if the Secretary met with the Greek foreign minister. I asked --

    MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Yes, I have no meeting to read out on that either.

    QUESTION: Thank you very much.

    MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Thanks, guys.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:25 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - December 7, 2016

Wed, 12/07/2016 - 17:18
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 7, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAQ


    2:05 p.m. EST

    MR TONER: Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to the State Department. A few things at the top, and then I’ll get to your questions.

    First of all, a few words on the earthquake that hit northern Sumatra in Indonesia earlier today. We offer our deepest condolences to the families who lost their loved ones as well as to the communities who were affected by this terrible tragedy. While we’re still gathering information, we do remain in close contact with the U.S. mission in Indonesia to monitor the situation. We’re not currently aware of any U.S. citizen casualties. The U.S. mission is working to verify the welfare and whereabouts of all U.S. citizens registered in the area at the time of the earthquake, and we stand ready, of course, to provide any and all possible consular assistance should any of them be affected. We also – this is a good point to remind folks when U.S. citizens are traveling abroad to register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program at

    Turning to Yemen. We are disappointed by the Republic of Yemen Government’s reaction to the UN-drafted roadmap. As we’ve stated, the roadmap is not and was never intended to be a final peace agreement. However, it does offer a solid framework for the government’s goal of ending the conflict and returning security and stability to Yemen, a goal that should be supported by all. It is important that all parties accept the roadmap as a basis for negotiations and that they move to negotiations immediately to secure a comprehensive peace agreement that ends the conflict and allows desperately needed humanitarian assistance to reach all Yemenis. And we call on the Yemeni Government to accept the roadmap. We recognize that the roadmap does contain difficult choices and underscore that compromises and concessions by all parties will be necessary to reach a durable political settlement. As you know, Secretary Kerry has been and does remain very much invested and engaged in efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement – a political solution, rather – under the UN auspices and to establish a durable cessation of hostilities that de-escalates and ultimately ends the conflict there.

    A couple more things quickly. I just wanted to note that earlier today that Ambassador Sam Power and Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski announced the launch of the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium on the margins of the 2016 Open Government Partnership Global Summit in Paris, France. This initiative will advance a global cross-border approach to combatting corruption and will accelerate and scale the impact of civil-society-led interventions by bringing together investigative journalists who excel in uncovering corruption with the advocates who package and communicate information in ways essential to combat and deter corruption. The GACC will be an important mechanism for exposing and combating corruption around the world and will elevate the role of civil society in this vital work. The GACC will be led by major international civil society organizations, including the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and Transparency International.

    And finally, just a quick update on the Secretary’s travel. Secretary Kerry attended the second day of the NATO foreign ministerial session, which focused earlier today – focused on Ukraine earlier today in Brussels, where NATO ministers – foreign ministers reaffirmed NATO’s support for Ukraine and its efforts to counter Russian aggression, as well as implement Minsk and pursue Kyiv’s reform agenda.

    The Secretary also met with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, underscoring the United States’ continuing support for Ukraine, and expressed concern about recent increase in violence in eastern Ukraine due to ongoing Russian separatist attacks. The Secretary and Foreign Minister Klimkin agreed on the need to accelerate implementation of the Minsk agreements as the best way to bring peace to eastern Ukraine. The Secretary also urged continued progress on reforms.

    The Secretary met with the foreign ministers from the five states of the Central Asia – of Central Asia, rather, to discuss the status and future prospects for the C5+1 diplomatic platform as well as a broad range of regional challenges and opportunities, including economic connectivity, security, environment, climate change, and humanitarian issues.

    And then I think shortly – in fact, I don’t know if he’s on schedule, but right now the Secretary is scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. They expect to discuss the situation in Aleppo, including Russia’s continued support for the Syrian Government’s offensive on that city. The United States remains very committed to a de-escalation of the violence there as well as finding unhindered humanitarian access for the people of Aleppo.

    And then finally, I think you saw earlier today that Secretary Kerry will next travel on to Paris, France from December 8th through the 11th to participate in a ministerial meeting hosted by French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Marc Ayrault and co-organized by German and Qatari counterparts. The Secretary and his fellow ministers will discuss the situation in Syria. In a separate ceremony, Foreign Minister Ayrault will bestow France’s Legion of Honor upon Secretary Kerry.

    That’s all I have. It’s a lot, but over to you, Matt – or Brad. I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: Just on the Secretary’s travel, do you expect the Syria meeting in Paris to be a four-day meeting?

    MR TONER: I think it’s three days, but I think it’s going to be Thursday and Friday, is my understanding. I’m not sure what Saturday holds. But once we get a fuller schedule, we’ll let you know.

    QUESTION: So the meeting – you expect the meeting to start on Thursday?

    MR TONER: I’m not sure. Let me get more specifics on that. I don’t have it.

    QUESTION: Why for two days?

    MR TONER: I apologize.

    QUESTION: Why for two days? It’s always been for a couple hours.

    MR TONER: Again, I don’t have the specifics of his schedule. I’m just saying he’s going there to receive the Legion d’Honneur and he’s also going to attend this meeting on Syria.

    QUESTION: Okay. Just it’s a lot of time for --

    MR TONER: Yeah, I mean, I’m sure that --

    QUESTION: It seems to be a thin schedule.

    MR TONER: I’m sure that his schedule will fill out accordingly.

    QUESTION: All right. I don’t have any substantive questions.

    MR TONER: Okay. Just – (laughter).

    QUESTION: Mark, on the meeting with Lavrov, do you expect any agreement – any agreement on the passage of the rebels from eastern Aleppo to another area in Syria?

    MR TONER: I mean, I don’t – I mean, look, I’m not going to prejudge the outcome of a meeting that’s just now taking place. Look, this is part of our ongoing efforts, as you all well know, to try to reach some kind of meeting of the minds with regard to at least a pause in the violence in Aleppo that can allow for humanitarian assistance to reach the population there, and also more broadly, an effort to get the political negotiations back on track. We’ve talked about this in great detail. This is on top of the efforts that have really been intensifying over the last several days, including the Secretary’s meeting with Lavrov last week in Rome, so this is ongoing.

    QUESTION: So can you just clarify, are they speaking of – or is Secretary Kerry trying to – is he going there to speak about a ceasefire or – the Russians repeated their suggestion of getting the rebels out. Is that something that they’re going to be specifically discussing, is safe passage for all the rebels? Can you delve into that?

    MR TONER: Right. Well, again, without wanting to talk about, or wanting to get into rather, the details of specifically the proposals that they’re discussing, it is about trying to find a way to, as I said, bring about a pause in the fighting. And we all know the elements involved in that, and certainly one of those is the opposition and finding a way for them to either get passage out of Aleppo or to find some way to at least bring about a pause in the fighting so that humanitarian assistance and medical assistance can get in to Aleppo.

    There are various proposals being worked through, and I mean that sincerely that there’s not – there’s ideas on the table that are being discussed on how to get there. Those are still being worked out, so I don’t want to get ahead of that.

    QUESTION: Mark --

    QUESTION: When you say a pause --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR TONER: No, no, we’ll stay on Syria and then we’ll get to you. Yeah, please.

    QUESTION: Yes. Do Syria. Syria --

    QUESTION: Can we stay --

    QUESTION: When you say --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: When you say a pause, well, the Syrian army with Russia’s help has reportedly retaken about 70 percent, the last time I saw, of eastern Aleppo. Would you like them to stop? Would you like them not to take the rest of the city?

    MR TONER: Well, again, I think what our – and you saw, frankly, the statement that we released earlier today by Canada, France, the United States clearly, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom that talked about the dire situation in Aleppo, the fact that it’s being subjected to daily bombings and artillery attacks by the Syrian regime, supported by Russia. But we’re looking for an immediate cessation of hostilities there. Regardless of whether it’s 70 percent taken, 75 percent taken, 80 percent taken by the Syrian regime, we want to see an end to the violence.

    QUESTION: You’ve been – this Administration has been very vocal about civilian suffering throughout the operations to retake eastern Aleppo. Other than civilians, what other concerns does the U.S. Government have as the Syrian army, with Russia’s help, are retaking eastern Aleppo, other than civilians?

    MR TONER: Well, so first of all, just to also – just to answer your first question, the statement also said that they’re looking for Russia and the Syrian regime to comply with the four-point UN plan, and that spells out in a very detailed way what we’re looking for in terms of resolving the situation, especially in Aleppo. It’s first a medical evacuation of the sickest or most severely wounded from eastern Aleppo. We want to see an entry of medical supplies into Aleppo, access to medical supplies in order to treat those who can’t be evacuated. We want to see an entry of food supplies into the city since it’s now been several months since some parts of the city have had access to humanitarian convoys. And we want to see a rotation of doctors, medical personnel, who are able to be rotated into the city to provide medical care for many of those affected by the violence there.

    Your question was about – your --

    QUESTION: Other than civilians --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- what other concerns does the U.S. have?

    MR TONER: Well, obviously, look, this is – we talked about this in great length in the last couple of days, and I understand why. But essentially, if – there can be no military resolution to the conflict in Syria. And even if the Syrian regime is able, with Russia’s help, to retake Aleppo, that doesn’t mean that the violence, the conflict is going to end. And so what we need and what’s at stake here is creating the conditions so that political negotiations can begin again in Geneva.

    QUESTION: But do you agree that we need (inaudible) --

    MR TONER: And you’re not going to – sure.

    QUESTION: -- of eastern Aleppo might lead to peace in that city?

    MR TONER: We believe that it’s only going to --

    QUESTION: Might.

    MR TONER: So we believe it – we believe that it’s only going to exacerbate the ongoing conflict, that the opposition is not going to lay down their arms but is going to continue fighting, and in fact, it can only – as we fear and have expressed our concerns about, that it could, as I said, only increase or escalate the conflict, not necessarily in Aleppo but elsewhere in the country.

    QUESTION: Mark?

    QUESTION: Do you think the retaking --

    MR TONER: So if our ultimate goal here --

    QUESTION: Just one more.

    MR TONER: Sorry, if our ultimate goal here is just to get back to a political track here, we don’t believe that the current trajectory is conducive to that.

    QUESTION: Mark?

    QUESTION: Do you think the retaking of eastern --

    MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll get to you, Said. One more.

    QUESTION: Do you think, though, the retaking of eastern Aleppo would be a defeat for al-Nusrah?

    MR TONER: Look, we’re all about defeating al-Nusrah, and we agree on that. Russia and the United States are in agreement that Nusrah is a terrorist organization and needs to be dismantled and destroyed, much like Daesh does. But we have not seen that Russia’s focus has been on Nusrah; it’s been on helping the regime go after the moderate opposition in Aleppo, and that’s what we believe is taking place there. We were at a point, we had a deal on the table where we could have gotten to a place where we cooperated with Russia to take on Nusrah. We’re not there now, but we both agree that Nusrah is a threat.

    QUESTION: So just to clarify --

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

    QUESTION: -- you don’t think that it will defeat al-Nusrah?

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) clarification of something that you just said – something that you just said --

    MR TONER: I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: -- was that you the – said the opposition is not going to lay down its arms. That is not a call for the opposition not to disarm, is it?

    MR TONER: No, not at all. No, no.

    QUESTION: Okay, right. Yeah.

    MR TONER: I’m just – again, and this is – I don’t want to – because sometimes, you’re right, sometimes that can be misinterpreted that I’m somehow giving a call to arms. I am not doing that.

    QUESTION: No, no, I understand. Okay.

    MR TONER: I am just giving what our analysis is, and it’s been consistent – is that there – the more you pursue a military solution, the more you risk exacerbating what is already a pretty darn complex conflict.

    QUESTION: So at this point, this – the purpose of this letter --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- signed on by six leaders, what is the point of the letter at this point? I mean, is it to dissuade the Syrians from pushing forward or is it just to say like --

    MR TONER: Well – sure. I think it partly was fueled by what happened in the UN Security Council two days ago --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: -- where they did take up a resolution and it was vetoed, I think by China and by Russia, and you saw our explanation of vote as a result of that, or out – coming out from that. But it’s also to lay down a marker to express the international community’s growing concern and outrage over what’s happening in Syria, and to speak out against what’s happening there.

    QUESTION: So Syrian television, whether you believe them or not, right – or other satellite stations are showing thousands of people, maybe hundreds of people going to western Aleppo, being greeted by the Syrian army, given help, and so on. In the event that they do – they sort of exercise their control over the whole city, would you be willing, as the United States, to aid – and humanitarian aid and to the delivery, although it is under Syrian control?

    MR TONER: Well, look, we’ve been providing and we’re the leader in providing humanitarian assistance to Syria. If we can get access, if the UN – and the UN, as primarily the provider of this humanitarian assistance, we obviously give them a lot of money to do that. But they’re the ones who are most effective at it. They’ve got the infrastructure set up for that. If they can get access – excuse me – to regime-held areas of Syria and provide humanitarian assistance – our focus is on getting humanitarian assistance to many of these areas that have been besieged for months and even years. And we’re going to continue to do that regardless of who’s in control.

    QUESTION: And regarding --

    QUESTION: And my final question --

    MR TONER: I’ll get to you, I promise I will.

    QUESTION: -- is on the bombardment of – the Israeli bombardment of an air base --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- near Damascus. First of all, do you have any information on that?

    MR TONER: I don’t.

    QUESTION: And why do you think that --

    MR TONER: I am aware of the reports. I’d have to refer you to the Israeli Government. I just don’t have any more details on it. I’ve seen the reports.

    QUESTION: Do you feel that such a bombardment could exacerbate a very bad situation?

    MR TONER: Look, I mean, again, until I learn a little bit more about what happened – we’ve obviously seen – Israel has taken these kind of measures before when they’ve been threatened or received incoming fire from parts of Syria. I just don’t have any more details to offer at this point.

    QUESTION: They struck an air base next to Damascus.

    MR TONER: Yeah, please, Brad. Still on Syria?

    QUESTION: How do you know that the war is going to go on?

    MR TONER: Again, it’s our assessment. I mean, one could argue that – the opposite, but there’s – there is this perception out there that Aleppo is the coin of the realm or whatever the expression is, and that if you take it, that you somehow – you’re going to have peace in the land. It’s our assessment that that’s not the case and --

    QUESTION: Hasn’t – haven’t your assessments in Syria been consistently wrong throughout this entire conflict? I mean, you guys – I mean, the Secretary himself was among the people in Washington who thought Bashar Assad was a reformer. You thought his days were numbered after the conflict started. You didn’t see the Russian intervention coming. You didn’t see the growth of extremism in the ranks of the rebels. You called – the President called the ISIS a JV team and didn’t see that. I mean, you guys have been behind the curve on everything through five and a half years. And then why – and yet you’re so sure of yourself on this.

    MR TONER: So Brad, the counterargument to that is – first of all, is – and I can go point by point, but what you’ve seen is an evolution of a conflict that, at every twist and turn, has only been exacerbated when it could have been resolved by Bashar al-Assad. And he has – the Secretary talked about this yesterday – he – his reaction to peaceful protests only made them more violent. The violence begat more violence and then you had Syrian opposition – legitimate opposition then taking up arms to defend itself against the Syrian regime’s crackdown.

    He, as much as he has complained about or has argued that he’s only fighting terrorism, is the instigator of much of this terrorism that has installed itself in Syria. And with respect to Daesh, I would argue, initial assessments aside – and I think you could argue that everyone underestimated Daesh’s strength at the start – but I think a year and a half into our efforts to defeat and destroy Daesh, I think you can say that we’ve turned the tide against them. I’m not saying it’s over by any means.

    But to get back to Syria, all I can do is say our assessment is that you need a pause in the fighting. If you get a pause in the fighting, it can reach – it can become a credible ceasefire. If it can become a credible ceasefire, then you can have enough calm for the opposition to say sure, we’ll go to Geneva and talk again. I mean, this has always been – again, it’s – it has always been contingent on the parties involved in creating the atmosphere or the environment needed for political negotiations. And time and time again – and while I can’t say the opposition hasn’t been guilty in some cases of violations of the cessation of hostilities, time and time again it’s been the regime with Russia’s help that has created the conditions that have led to these cessations falling apart and – sorry, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Yeah, but the – while this conflict has escalated, especially in the last year or so, the situation on the ground has changed in that the regime and its backers have been on the offensive and they’re regaining more and more territory.

    MR TONER: Which is --

    QUESTION: They’re also limiting the conflict to smaller and smaller areas, populated areas in the country. So in a sense, at some point when there’s no areas left that are contested, the war ends. Whether people are content or not – that could be totally valid that people don’t like the situation, but if they eliminate the places where people are fighting, then the war is over and the result that you wanted didn’t happen.

    MR TONER: Yeah, but it’s – again – I mean, look, we can argue this all afternoon. But it’s – you’re not – we don’t believe that current efforts to reach a military solution are going to be successful in Syria for a lot of different factors. And again, just to go back to your previous question, yeah, it’s been a very complex and ever-changing situation in Syria. But we’ve tried to adapt and respond to that changing environment, and one of the ways we did so was to create this group of stakeholders as a way to bring all sides, all parties, to the table so we could discuss a way forward. We did that. We found a way forward, but in executing that or implementing that we’ve been unsuccessful.

    QUESTION: Regarding Aleppo --

    MR TONER: Yeah, please.

    QUESTION: -- do you want to provide medical care to civilians only or to militant groups as well?

    MR TONER: Well, I mean to civilians first and foremost, but to any wounded, yeah.

    QUESTION: And a follow-up. Just the House passed a bill that gives the Administration the right to send controversial weapons – it’s called man-portable air defense systems – to militant groups in Syria. So what is your position on that? Do you support --

    MR TONER: The House – the U.S. Congress --

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR TONER: -- passed a bill to send MANPADs?

    QUESTION: Giving the right to the Administration to send these weapons to militant groups in Syria.

    MR TONER: Well, I’m unaware that that legislation has passed. I mean, we’ve been very clear that we’re not going to provide lethal assistance to the opposition in Syria.

    QUESTION: So do you oppose this --

    MR TONER: But that doesn’t preclude – that doesn’t – well, that doesn’t mean that – and again, I’m not saying – let me preface my remarks by saying I’m not encouraging this, but Secretary Kerry and others have said there are other stakeholders in Syria who are willing to arm and continue to arm members of the opposition.

    QUESTION: But do you oppose the – this, like, transferring and sending these kind of weapons to militant groups?

    MR TONER: Well, again, it’s not something we’ve pursued. We’re seeking a political solution to the conflict in Syria.

    QUESTION: And are you going to encourage different stakeholders as you talk to --

    MR TONER: Again, certainly those are part of the reasons why we still continue to talk to – in a multilateral setting to many of the stakeholders and part of the ISSG, the International Syria Support Group, is to talk about those kinds of issues. And remember that group says they want a political solution and that’s their aim, but as Secretary Kerry has also talked about before, there are spoilers and I’m not talking about other stakeholders or other governments, but there are spoilers who are out there anytime there is a cessation of hostilities, anytime there’s political negotiations, who are seeking to undermine those. That’s the reality of the situation.

    QUESTION: Mark, on the issue of weapons: Your government had refrained from supplying those kinds of weapons – lethal weapons – lest it fall in the wrong hands. I mean, that is the policy all along. MANPADS and Stingers and so on.

    MR TONER: Exactly, yeah. I mean, that’s why – yeah. I thought it said that. Yeah.

    QUESTION: So – okay. All right.

    MR TONER: Okay. Sorry.

    QUESTION: Mark.

    MR TONER: Sorry, yes.

    QUESTION: News reports said that the U.S. was in discussion with the Syrian opposition inside the Aleppo about leaving the city, and opposition has refused to leave. Can you confirm these reports?

    MR TONER: Well, we have been in contact, as we’ve been throughout, with members or – of the Syrian opposition, leaders in the Syrian opposition – moderate opposition – and those contacts continue. I’m not going to try to characterize their position, which I think is also changing given the situation that they’re in. Excuse me. Obviously, we’re looking for any credible effort, and I said this about the other day when there were reports of talks between – taking place in Ankara between the Russians and opposition groups. We’re in support of any effort that would – any genuine effort that would ease the suffering in Aleppo and help bring humanitarian assistance to the population there. We remain in constant contact with the opposition in Aleppo, but I’ll leave it for them to speak about what their position is.

    QUESTION: And do you think that the U.S. still have any leverage with the opposition in Syria?

    MR TONER: I mean, look – I mean, I think the Syrian opposition – moderate opposition – is assessing the situation, which is indeed dire, and making their own decisions. We have relationships with the opposition – I don’t know if it’s leverage per se, but it’s – we have relations with them. And as such, we will give them advice and council on what we believe they should do next.

    QUESTION: But you had leverage before.

    MR TONER: Well, again, this is – I mean, these are ultimately decisions that these groups – and this holds true with Russia and the regime – any cessation of hostilities, any de-escalation of violence does hinge on the ability for those outside stakeholders to exert influence or leverage, whatever you want to call it, on the actors on the ground.

    QUESTION: I have two more questions.

    MR TONER: Cool, go ahead.

    QUESTION: How do you feel that the U.S. is not invited to the meetings between the Russians and the Syrian opposition in Ankara?

    MR TONER: Again, I think I answered that. We’re very much engaged with the Turks, with the Russians, with the Saudis, with the Qataris, with our European allies. Obviously, they’re going to meet in Paris the next couple of days. All – there’s talks, discussions going on at many different levels. Let’s put it that way.

    QUESTION: But all these groups were supported by the U.S.

    MR TONER: Well, again, we’re still in touch with these groups. And again, we don’t feel hurt, because if there are genuine efforts to resolve the fighting in Aleppo, we’re supportive of those efforts.

    QUESTION: Mark, you said you’re advising these militant groups. What’s your advice right now to them?

    MR TONER: To get back to – and again, this is very difficult for them to do, and I’ve talked about this. It’s very hard to have these opposition groups agree to go back to the negotiating table in Geneva when they’re under daily bombardment. But if we can get a cessation, if we can get a pause, if there can be an opportunity to build some confidence between the two – or the opposing sides, then we feel we can get a political process back up in Geneva. But we’ve got to get there. So --

    QUESTION: And are you asking them to not --

    MR TONER: And that’s --

    QUESTION: -- to not fight? I mean, given the fact that they’re being attacked, are you asking them not to fight?

    MR TONER: No, of course, and they’re defending themselves. I mean, obviously – I mean, that’s – no. We’re not – but what we’re trying to say is – we’re trying to get – I mean, this is – this requires the buy-in of the moderate opposition. We understand Nusrah is a different element altogether, but the moderate opposition has to buy in to any de-escalation in violence, any pause in violence. They have to also agree not to fight. But we’re not there yet, and obviously, when they’re under daily bombardment, when they’re under siege, it’s hard to get there.

    QUESTION: How often is the U.S. in touch with them?

    MR TONER: I don’t have a – I mean, a fairly consistent – I don’t know if it’s daily, hourly. I’ll have to look into that.

    QUESTION: Would you say like at least daily, or --

    MR TONER: Depends, I think, but yeah, I’d say at least daily.

    QUESTION: Mark, sorry, but the opposition formed a new army. It’s called the Army of Aleppo. Basically, they dissolved their separate names and they – this – they --

    MR TONER: I’m aware.

    QUESTION: Yeah. So that includes Nusrah, Ahrar al-Sham, Fateh al-Sham, everybody almost – ISIS and so on. So --

    MR TONER: Well, again, it goes back to what --

    QUESTION: Yeah, I know. So they – how are they defending themselves?

    MR TONER: Yeah. So it goes back to what I – sorry, go ahead. I didn’t mean to talk over you.

    QUESTION: No, no, go ahead.

    MR TONER: I said it goes back to what I said before to Brad, which is when you’ve – you – when you – and I’m talking about the Syrian regime here – when you create the conditions that you have today in Aleppo, you create and breed the very type of extremism that you claim to be defeating. Good?

    In the back. Want to go to a different subject? Can we – I think we’ve exhausted Syria, honestly.

    QUESTION: I have one more on Syria. After the statement that the six leaders have issued today, President Assad just announced that he decided to liberate the whole country. Any reaction to that?

    MR TONER: I don’t, and I’m not going to respond to whatever President Assad says.

    QUESTION: Different subject.

    MR TONER: Waste of my time.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: Yeah, let’s go to – yeah, and then --

    QUESTION: Okay. Quick one on the announcement today by the Trump transition team that Iowa Governor Branstad is being chosen as the ambassador to China. He’s someone who has apparently known Xi Jinping for many, many years. In light of other developments in recent days on the U.S.-China relationship, does the State Department gauge this as a positive development?

    MR TONER: So look, I mean, I guess I would have to say this is obviously something that the transition team would have to speak to. It’s – I’d refer you to them. There’s – they’re obviously in the process of looking at the relations and – to some of the key countries and governments around the world, and that’s part of the transition process. But as to their intentions or as to their goals, I’d have to refer you to them.

    QUESTION: Iraq? Iraq?

    MR TONER: Iraq. Yeah, please.

    QUESTION: Just one question. Can I please read a news report --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- and wonder if you can comment on this.

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: Airstrikes on an Islamic State-held town near Iraq’s western border --

    MR TONER: I’m sorry, he coughed and I just missed it. I apologize.

    QUESTION: Sure, sure, sure. So the report says airstrikes on an ISIL-held town near Iraq’s western border with Syria killed dozens of people on Wednesday, including many women and children, two parliamentarians and local hospital sources said – they said the airstrikes hit a busy market in the town of Qaim in Iraq’s Anbar province. Anbar lawmaker Ahmed al-Salmani and hospital sources said 55 civilians were killed. Can you comment on this?

    MR TONER: I cannot. It’s the first time I’m hearing of it, so we’ll look into it. Is there any greater clarity on who was behind the airstrikes or – okay. Okay.

    QUESTION: I would ask you if you --

    MR TONER: Yeah. I’ll look into it. This is the first time I heard about it.

    QUESTION: Also Iraq.

    MR TONER: Let’s stay on Iraq, yeah.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk was recently in Erbil. Can you give us a readout of his meetings there?

    MR TONER: I can, and I would – I’ll preface this: I have a very short readout – actually not all that short – but we’ll also put out a media note giving even more detail. But yes, he was – you’re talking about Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL Brett McGurk. He’s returning to Washington this afternoon, but he was in Iraq for eight days. He was in Baghdad, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, and Mosul – and at the Mosul front in Khazir in Iraq. He was also in Ankara, Turkey. And the focus of the visit was to further accelerate the campaign against Daesh, with emphasis on ensuring the stability or the restoration of stability in some of the liberated areas in Iraq. And in Baghdad he met with President Masum, he met with Prime Minister al-Abadi, he met with the speaker, as well as other senior political and security officials. And in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, Brett met with President – IKR President Barzani, he met with Prime Minister Barzani as well, Vice President Rasul, as well as PUK politburo member Herro Talabani. He also traveled to the eastern access of the Mosul offensive to meet with members of the Kurdish Peshmerga, as well as the Iraqi army, and reviewed the progress in the advance toward Mosul. Also while in the North, he met with the governor of Nineveh province, Nofal Agoob, to review stabilization and humanitarian programs for liberated neighborhoods. And then he also, of course, as I mentioned, traveled to Ankara for meetings with senior officials in the ministry of foreign affairs in the presidential palace.

    So as I said, we’ll put out even a more detailed readout in probably a few minutes after the briefing.

    QUESTION: Would you – thank you. Look forward to that. Would you know if he was satisfied with the progress that’s being made in Mosul? Because there are some reports that the army is moving slowly.

    MR TONER: Sure. Again, I’ll leave it for the readout. Of course, “satisfied” is a relative term. I think, obviously, we’ll only be satisfied when Mosul is completely liberated and we’re able to get in and help stabilize it. But I think we’re – we believe that progress – slow and steady progress is taking place. We said from the very start of this operation – this Iraqi-led operation – that this was going to be a long struggle. This is one of Daesh’s strongholds and they were going to fight to retain it. And that’s been the case. We have made slow and steady progress, Iraqi forces have made slow and steady progress, but we’re not there yet.

    QUESTION: Okay. And I have question on Turkey if there’s no more Iraq questions.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: Amnesty International just published a report on Turkey’s forced dislocation of some half million people in the Kurdish region of the country, and suggested there was in fact a premeditated plan of population transfer. What is your comment on that and the report generally?

    MR TONER: We’ve seen this report from Amnesty International. We’ve expressed our grave concern regarding the violence in southeast Turkey and we would urge the PKK to lay down its arms so that Turks forced from their homes to flee the violence can safely return home. We’ve said repeatedly we stand by Turkey in the fight against terror in all of its forms, and that includes against the PKK. And as Turkey’s friend and ally, we urge the Government of Turkey to ensure the – that the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms are protected.

    QUESTION: You – so you dispute Amnesty’s suggestion that there’s a plan of forced dislocation? You don’t think that’s going on?

    MR TONER: What I said was that this is – that many of the Turks forced to flee their homes have done so as a result of PKK violence.


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

    MR TONER: Let’s go to Michael and I’ll get to you, I promise.

    QUESTION: On Turkey. Mark, did you see these reports that the son-in-law of President Erdogan has ties with ISIS operations smuggling oil into Turkey?

    MR TONER: Yeah, I mean look, we’ve – first of all, WikiLeaks – we don’t touch WikiLeaks, we don’t touch the --

    QUESTION: Besides from WikiLeaks --

    MR TONER: No, but aside from that --

    QUESTION: Aside from WikiLeaks --

    MR TONER: -- these are allegations we’ve heard before.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: We’ve been very strenuous in saying that while we cannot rule out any illegal smuggling of oil – ISIL-refined or ISIL – ISIL-owned oil across the border from Turkey, because those routes – smuggling routes have been in existence, as we’ve said before, for centuries. Turkey has taken steps to seal up, close off its borders with Syria and that’s had an effect on this trade. But we’ve seen nothing to lead us to believe that there’s any kind of government involvement in this trade.

    QUESTION: I have some questions on Cyprus if they finish with --

    MR TONER: Let’s go Middle East and then we’ll come back to you for Cyprus.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR TONER: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: I have just one very quickly. President Hollande invited both Abbas and Netanyahu to meet in Paris on the side of the – a conference on the 21st of December. Do you have any comment on that? Do you have a --

    MR TONER: I don’t.

    QUESTION: -- any position? Will the United States attend --

    MR TONER: Well, we haven’t made any final decision on whether we’ll attend or not. And our understanding at this point is that a final date hasn’t been set. So it’s partly once that date has been set, we’ll look at the Secretary’s schedule to see and that, of course, will be factored into our decision. We are also waiting to hear more from the French about the agenda and what they believe can be achieved through this conference. But of course, we maintain an open mind with respect to any effort to bring about or create the conditions where the parties can come back to the negotiating table. And we want to ensure that we do whatever is constructive. So we’re waiting to hear more details.

    QUESTION: Let me ask you about the – I don’t know if you’re aware, there is a village right next to Ramallah, Deir Nidham, that has been besieged and turned into a prison ever since the fires broke out, although the local police and the local authorities are saying there is nothing to suggest that it was arson. But the Israeli army --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- has besieged it, deprived people from leaving and so on.

    MR TONER: Yeah. We’re aware of the reports and we’ve said this many times – while we understand that Israel needs to protect its citizens and take measures to do so, we expect that any measures Israel takes minimizes the impact on Palestinian civilians going about their daily lives.

    QUESTION: But the fire that basically put this village under siege is basically – broke out in a settlement on – an illegal settlement on Palestinian land and so on.

    MR TONER: Yeah. No, we’re – again, we’re aware of all the reports surrounding this. And again, our emphasis is on when Israel does take these kinds of measures that they do so in a way that’s respectful, that people need to live their daily lives.

    In the back, please.

    QUESTION: Sir, the special Pakistani rep to prime minister Tariq Fatemi is in the town.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: And he met Tony Blinken, the under secretary of state, a couple of days ago.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: So do you have any readout of what was the topic of the discussion?

    MR TONER: Well, he did meet, as you noted, with Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatema – Fatemi, excuse me, on December 5th, and they discussed a range of bilateral and regional issues, including regional stability and counterterrorism cooperation.

    QUESTION: Sir, in Heart of Asia conference in India, the Prime Minister Modi and Afghan Premier Ashraf Ghani lash out at Pakistan on terrorism. Even Mr. Ghani suggest that – suggest Pakistan to spend $500 million to curb terrorism rather giving aid to Afghanistan. Sir, it clearly indicates the tensions and mistrust between the regional partners. (Inaudible) it concerns you?

    MR TONER: Look, we’ve seen President Ghani’s remarks at the Heart of Asia conference. I’d refer you to the Government of Afghanistan regarding those remarks. For our part, we have consistently expressed our concerns to the highest level – levels of the Government of Pakistan about their continued tolerance for Afghan Taliban groups such as the Haqqani Network operating from Pakistan soil. And we continue to encourage the Government of Pakistan to – and Afghanistan, rather – both governments to cooperate in their counterterrorism operations and efforts because that’s only going to contribute to regional stability.

    QUESTION: Sir, I was hoping that you were going to talk about the plane crash in Pakistan and today’s (inaudible).

    MR TONER: I will, I apologize. Yeah, no, thank you for bringing that up. Obviously, we’ve been following reports of that crash of a Pakistan International Airlines flight, which was, I believe, a domestic flight en route from Chitral to Islamabad. Obviously, our condolences to the victims of that plane crash. We have offered assistance – any assistance we can offer to the Pakistani Government, and our embassy in Islamabad is in contact with the government, again, to see if we can help with rescue or recovery operations. Thank you for bringing that up; I appreciate it.

    QUESTION: Back to the Middle East, back to the Middle East. Haaretz is reporting a Palestinian delegation is going to travel to the United States next week for meetings with State Department officials, and may meet with the Trump transition team. This – the newspaper says it has learned this information. Do you have anything on this?

    MR TONER: No. Nothing to confirm at this point, so I’ll let you know if that changes.

    QUESTION: Okay. Can you get back tomorrow?

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

    MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll get to you. You had a question. Are we still on – what are we on?

    QUESTION: The lady’s first.

    QUESTION: It’s a totally separate --

    MR TONER: They’re both separate, so --

    QUESTION: You first.

    QUESTION: Thank you very much.

    MR TONER: You’re a gentleman. (Laughter.) Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Secretary Kerry of late has seemed more optimistic about the future of the Paris Agreement under the next administration. I was wondering if that assessment had changed at all with today’s appointment of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as the head of the EPA, who has been fairly open about his opposition to Obama’s climate change policies.

    MR TONER: I think that Secretary Kerry’s been very measured in his assessment of what the next administration may or may not do with regard to the climate agreement. I think where he has been very vocal is that the international community, the global community, is going to keep moving forward with climate change. And you’ve seen this expressed from governments throughout the world and across the range of developed countries to developing countries that they’re not going to back out of or walk away from the Paris Agreement. And so that gives us confidence that, as this new administration transitions into power, that they’ll also see the merits of the direction in which we’re moving, the world is moving.

    And Secretary Kerry has also been clear that it’s only partly about a change in public policy. It’s mostly about the signal that that change sends to the private sector and civil society. And that change has already taken place and that switch has already turned, where you have companies coming in and saying they want to see the Paris Agreement remain in place because they’re already moving away from fossil fuels into new types of eco-friendly energy sources. And so in a way, that shift’s already taken place, that train’s left the station, but again, I don’t want to speak on behalf of the incoming administration. What I will say is that we believe that it’s in the United States’ interest to move forward.

    QUESTION: Can I do one more along those lines?

    MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Has there been any change in the status as to whether or not the president-elect has received briefings from the State Department regarding --

    MR TONER: To my understanding, he has not yet. And that – so no change.

    Yes, sorry.

    QUESTION: Mark, according to the Turkish press, the Secretary met yesterday with the foreign minister of Turkey. I wanted to know if you have any readout. Also, I saw pictures in the Turkish press that Mrs. Nuland met with Turkish Cypriot leader – if you have any readout of this --

    MR TONER: So --

    QUESTION: -- and if he is going to meet with the Greek foreign minister.

    MR TONER: Sure. He did meet yesterday, I believe, with the Turkish foreign minister. We were trying to get a readout before this meeting – before this meeting – before this briefing, excuse me, and have not. I can imagine primarily it was focused on Syria, efforts to defeat Daesh, but as to the other parts of that meeting, wait and see. When we get more information about it, we’ll certainly share.

    QUESTION: Well, dare I say that they talk about Cyprus and how the United States --

    MR TONER: I can’t rule it out. I just don’t know. I just haven’t been able to confirm that.

    QUESTION: Yeah. But did the Secretary start any effort on Cyprus?

    MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, we’re always supportive of the UN process to resolve the situation on Cyprus, and it’s always a topic – or frequently a topic when we meet with Turkish Government officials or, obviously, Cypriot Government officials. With regard to whether he’s going to meet with the Greek foreign minister, I can’t confirm that.

    QUESTION: Okay. Can you check for me?

    MR TONER: Yeah, I can.

    QUESTION: Thank you very much.

    MR TONER: Thanks, yeah. Is that it, guys? Thanks.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:52 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - December 6, 2016

Tue, 12/06/2016 - 16:49
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 6, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAN
  • CUBA


    2:11 p.m. EST

    MR TONER: Hey, folks. Sorry to be a little late. I apologize.

    Well, you obviously just saw how Secretary Kerry spoke and addressed a lot of the issues probably foremost on your mind from Brussels, which is – he’s far better at this stuff than I am, so that’s all for the better. But as you know, or as I just noted rather, he is in Brussels. He’s there attending the – his final, as Secretary of State, NATO Foreign Ministerial, and he’s obviously discussing with allies and partners efforts to strengthen NATO’s security, protect stability beyond the alliance’s borders, as well as enhance NATO-EU cooperation. Also of note, while in Brussels, he met with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini also to discuss U.S.-EU cooperation.

    I don’t have anything beyond that. So Matt – or Brad, over to you, sir.

    QUESTION: Yeah, I don’t want to go over what the Secretary did, but I did wanted to ask you – I did want to ask you about the comments today by the president of Iran.

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: He said that he would prevent the next U.S. president from ripping up the Iran nuclear deal. Is that something in his capacity, according to your understanding of the agreement, that your – this Administration reached?

    MR TONER: Well, so a couple things to say about that. One is I think it’s premature to judge what the next administration may or may not do with the Iran deal, the JCPOA. Second, we’re not going to respond to, as we often don’t respond to, all of the rhetoric, political rhetoric, coming out of Iran.

    That said, as you heard Secretary Kerry just say in Brussels, and I can reiterate it, is what we do agree about, and that is not just us and Iran but it’s also the P5+1, is that the JCPOA has been effective. It has effectively cut off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, and because of their compliance they’ve had some relief on their sanctions. And thus far, all sides, all parties, have lived up to their commitments under the JCPOA and it’s working. So we think it’s a good deal. We’ve said that strongly both publicly and privately. We’re conveying that to the incoming administration.

    QUESTION: So --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- I’m not asking you specifically about the merits of the agreement.

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: I’m just asking you logistically, the agreement reached--

    MR TONER: -- whether they can --

    QUESTION: -- whether they can prevent the next – I think we had a long question and answer the first couple days.

    MR TONER: Yeah, right.

    QUESTION: And it seemed pretty clear then that the next president can leave the agreement if he wants because it’s not a formal treaty.

    MR TONER: Of course, it’s not a formal treaty. But of course – and of course, no one else can prevent any other party to this agreement from walking away. The counterargument to that is: Why would anyone walk away, because it’s effective?

    QUESTION: And then one other thing --

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: -- that the Iranians have talked about, and that is their ability, if they perceive the U.S. or any other P5+1 party to be violating the deal, their ability to snap back parts of their nuclear program. Are you familiar with this in the agreement? Is this a part of the agreement that is there in the public version or in the – is there anywhere in the agreement, public or private, that gives Iran a snapback provision --

    MR TONER: No.

    QUESTION: -- on its enrichment or any other part of its nuclear program?

    MR TONER: The only snapback I’m aware of is, obviously, the snapback provision that allows us to put back in place, very quickly, nuclear-related sanctions. In terms of them being able to snap back, I mean, we’ve seen they’ve taken steps in accordance with the JCPOA. They’ve dismantled two-thirds of their centrifuges, installed centrifuge capacity. They’ve shipped out almost all of the enriched uranium that they had and reduced enriched uranium stockpile from 12,000 kilograms to no more than 300 kilograms, and they’ve poured concrete into the core of their heavy-water reactors. So they’ve taken – again, in accordance with their commitments to the JCPOA – concrete steps that would prohibit them from, quote/unquote, “snapping back.”

    QUESTION: So all this is chest-pumping from Tehran about we could restart certain things within 24 hours, that to you is – they don’t have that right under the deal? And two, if they did that, they’d essentially be violating the deal?

    MR TONER: Well, of course. Yes, yes. Any attempt to restart their program. But I think fundamentally – I don’t want to necessarily present this all as kind of us-versus-them rhetoric. I think broadly stating or stating the obvious here – and it’s not just the United States; it’s all members of the P5+1; it’s Iran – we’re all, I think, in agreement, rightly so, that this is working, that this has benefits for all the parties, and it’s in all of our interest to keep it in place.

    QUESTION: But in the event –

    MR TONER: I’m sorry. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: On Iran --

    QUESTION: No, go ahead.

    MR TONER: Iran then. Let’s finish with Iran, and then I’ll get to you, Said.

    QUESTION: Sure.

    QUESTION: We’ll go to Iran.

    QUESTION: So --

    MR TONER: Oh, okay. Sorry.

    QUESTION: So Rouhani did also say today – and he’s repeated, I think, what Khamenei said previously – that extending the ISA is a violation of the nuclear deal, even if President Obama were to issue waivers to those sanctions. And he said that they’re going to consider some sort of response to what he called this violation. Have they complained through diplomatic channels officially to you all about extending the ISA?

    MR TONER: I’m not aware – no – that they’ve stated their concerns through diplomatic channels. I don't believe so.

    QUESTION: But you are aware that they – like they view the extension of the ISA as a violation?

    MR TONER: And we obviously reject those views. We’ve been very clear that what we call a clean extension of the Iran Sanctions Act is entirely consistent with our commitments in the JCPOA. And in any case, Secretary Kerry would retain waiver authority and would continue to waive all of the nuclear-related sanctions, the relevant sanctions, authorized by the legislation. And that’s what we committed to do in the JCPOA, so that – we retain that capacity, I guess, is the point.

    QUESTION: In the event that --

    MR TONER: Yes, of course.

    QUESTION: -- the new administration does actually absolve itself of the Iran deal and walks away from it, Iran conceivably has the same right to, let’s say, take commensurate steps, correct, and just say, okay, we’re off --

    MR TONER: I mean, look, this agreement is only – you’re right in that --

    QUESTION: I’m saying in principle --

    MR TONER: Yeah, I’m sorry. Go ahead. Yes.

    QUESTION: -- you say that they are within their right to say, okay, we are no longer – we no longer abide by that agreement, correct?

    MR TONER: Right. I mean, of course. And that’s why – but what we’ve seen thus far is that it’s in everyone’s interest to keep it intact.

    QUESTION: Right. And they have, as you stated --

    MR TONER: And they have abided – I mean, we’ve had – we’ve talked about some of these reports, slight overages with heavy water. They’ve been addressed. But so far, they’ve been pretty consistent in addressing and complying with their commitments.

    QUESTION: And just to follow up on Brad’s question --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- prevent, using the word “prevent,” the next administration – could he be possibly – I mean, I don’t want you to get into his head. Could he be possibly talking about the fact that there are other parties to this agreement and they can – together can keep that agreement going, even without the United States?

    MR TONER: Well, yes, I mean in the sense that, again, this is – we’ve talked about this before. This is not an agreement – just a bilateral agreement between Iran and the United States. There are other parties to this, parties who were, frankly, very pivotal in reaching this agreement, and their interests are at stake as well. So obviously, all that is being discussed, is being, obviously, evaluated by the incoming administration. Ultimately, it’s up for them – up to them to make their decisions. I know Secretary Kerry and President Obama, of course, but others are also doing their part to make sure that they have as good an awareness as they can have about the merits of this deal.

    QUESTION: Different subject?

    QUESTION: Different subject.

    MR TONER: Different subject.

    QUESTION: Not Iran.

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

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: It’s regarding Trump’s call with the Taiwan leader.

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: I just have a few more. So yesterday Josh Earnest said some of the progress that we’ve made in our relationship with China --

    MR TONER: You said – I apologize. You said who said this?

    QUESTION: Josh Earnest.

    MR TONER: Oh, Josh Earnest. Okay, sorry.

    QUESTION: Of the White House. He said some of the progress that we have made in our relationship with China could be undermined by this issue flaring up, and I have a few questions that I hope will just add context. So in June, when President Obama met with Dalai Lama at the White House, China got angry and said the meeting undermined mutual trust and cooperation. Question: Should President Obama have done otherwise, given China’s views on the subject?

    MR TONER: Again, I don't want to necessarily draw those parallels, because we don’t always agree and see eye-to-eye with China on every given issue. That’s, I think, something we’ve been very transparent about talking – or transparent about. And the Dalai Lama, as a major cultural figure and religious figure, is obviously one of those things we don’t see eye-to-eye about, and we’ve retained contact in his capacity as a major cultural and religious figure. We remain in contact with him.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR TONER: But let me finish. But with respect to – and I would also say that we always, and we’re very clear about this as well, don’t see eye-to-eye with them on – often on cyber security, although we’ve taken steps to address that, and human rights. Where we have disagreements with China, as part of our relations with them, we’re able to discuss these things and lay them on the table.

    With respect to Taiwan, we’ve been very clear and very forthright in stating what our policy is. And that policy was a major shift at the time, but it helped us get to a place where we are today with China, and we respect that policy and we’ve retained that policy.

    QUESTION: And --

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: Just one of those other questions is --

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: China hates seeing U.S. warships in South China Sea; they see that as destabilizing. I know that the U.S. has its reasons to be there, but would the U.S. change its policy because China finds it destabilizing?

    MR TONER: So again, that is based on freedom of navigation and our belief that we should be able to sail or fly over international waters regardless of where they are. And every country should be able to do that. We’ve said oftentimes that we don’t have a dog in the fight over who has territorial rights with respect to the South China Sea. What we don’t want to see there is a further escalation. And we’ve seen a militarization of the South China Sea. That’s a bad thing. That’s a bad thing for the security of the region.

    So what we’ve said all along is that we want to see dialogue. We don’t want to see militarization. We don’t want to see steps to further create construction or whatever or entities and building out of some of these islands. All that is contrary to what our goal is, which is a mechanism – a diplomatic mechanism by which countries can resolve peacefully.

    QUESTION: So the U.S. would not change its policy regardless of how China sees it, correct?

    MR TONER: With regard to the South China Sea, we would not change our policy. Our policy is what it is, which is freedom of navigation.

    QUESTION: I guess my bottom line question is there were a bunch of things that irritated China. Did this Administration criticize Trump for taking that call because this particular issue is taboo?

    MR TONER: I mean, this – taboo? Define taboo. It is a very hot-button issue for China, clearly.

    QUESTION: I mean, there were other hot-button issues that the Administration --

    MR TONER: Of course there are. And that’s not to say in any bilateral relations, whether it’s with China or with any country, that we don’t have disagreements. But with respect to Taiwan, we’ve been pursuing a very specific policy. And it’s not just Democrats versus Republicans. This is both administrations – or administrations of both parties who have pursued a consistent policy with regard to Taiwan, and our recognition or lack of recognition of Taiwan, and our relations with Taiwan. And that has not changed. And in diplomacy that matters. Consistency matters. Thanks.


    QUESTION: On Japan?

    MR TONER: Let me get Steve, and then I promise I’ll go to you.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: The Cuban foreign ministry announced today that it’s moving forward with the United States on developing a road map deepening their detente. I’m just wondering what details you have on this for us and whether discussions with Cuba are being accelerated by both Havana and Washington before the new administration comes in place.

    MR TONER: Yeah, so I don’t have a lot of details. I know that, as you noted, United States and Cuba are holding their fifth Bilateral Commission meeting. It’s in Havana. Wait, today’s not Wednesday. It’s tomorrow, I believe, and December 7th. And acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Mari Carmen Aponte will lead the U.S. delegation. And obviously, our Charge d’Affaires in Havana, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, as well as Deputy Assistant Secretary John Creamer will attend on behalf of the United States. So I don’t know – I don’t have a lot of details on what the deliverables will be coming out of that. We’ll certainly update as the meetings take place.

    With regard to your last question: Is this an acceleration? Not at all. As I said, this is a long-scheduled meeting. I believe it might have been delayed somewhat because of the period of mourning after the death of Fidel Castro, but it was long-scheduled. As – yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Do you agree though with the characterization that this is drawing a road map deepening the detente between the U.S. and Cuba?

    MR TONER: Well, I think it’s – in the sense that – yes, I mean, we’re talking about – it’s another opportunity to review progress, certainly, that we’ve been – that has been made since we made the decision to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and review progress on our engagement on a number of priorities. That includes, obviously, human rights, civil aviation, health, law enforcement, economic issues, claims, environmental protection, migration, educational, cultural exchanges, et cetera. So there’s a broad range of topics. Progress has not always been steady in all of them, but we certainly are striving to continue to make progress on all of them. And we’ll get – as I said, tomorrow I should have a better readout for you.

    QUESTION: And some specifics on the --

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: -- deliverables?

    MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll try.

    Thanks, Michel.

    QUESTION: Secretary Kerry in his statement in Brussels seemed the blaming the opposition, the Syrian opposition, for not accepting the ceasefire that Iran and Russia agreed on during Vienna meeting two years ago. And he said that they kept fighting and that led to the situation in Aleppo.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Do you blame the opposition on this? Can you clarify this position to --

    MR TONER: I think – well, look, we all heard what the Secretary said. The Secretary’s been intimately involved in efforts to bring about an end to the conflict in Syria. And I think what he was doing was important in that he was trying to provide some of the historical context – certainly we all get caught up in the day-to-day, and rightly so, urgency of the situation in Aleppo – who’s gaining ground, what’s happening there, the bombings, the civilian deaths, the suffering, the lack of humanitarian assistance. I think what was useful for the Secretary to do today is he walked us through why we – how we’ve gotten to where we are today. And that has certainly involved concessions on both sides, although we haven’t seen really any concessions on the part of the regime. But there’s been progress and there’s been steps backwards, and this has been a very difficult, to put it mildly, diplomatic process. But I think he was just trying to provide that kind of context.

    What I also think he was trying to say was we’re not done here. This is not over. And I know there’s a lot of speculation about the status of talks that Foreign Minister Lavrov alluded to yesterday. Secretary Kerry did not rule those out. We’re still working to finalize the details of those discussions. So there’s nothing to announce yet, but we’re still working at this. And as Secretary Kerry also said, looking beyond today, is he said this is not – even if Aleppo does fall – and we don’t know if it will or not – that this is not the end. This will not end the conflict there. And so we need to, as he pointed out and Brad mentioned yesterday that he said in Rome, we need to get back to political negotiation.

    QUESTION: But in your opinion, do you think that the opposition bears a big responsibility for the situation in Aleppo now because they didn’t accept the ceasefire that Vienna communique called for?

    MR TONER: I – again, I’m not going to say that they bear a significant responsibility. I think that they have fought hard, suffered greatly – I’m talking about the moderate Syrian opposition – on behalf of democratic – greater political and democratic freedom in Syria. That’s been a difficult fight, and they’ve borne enormous sacrifice to carry out that fight.

    We’re – the United States, other members of the ISSG – are working to bring about a peaceful resolution there.

    QUESTION: But you do agree – do you agree that the opposition, encouraged and financed and armed by many of your allies in the area, especially the Gulf countries --

    MR TONER: I think – yeah.

    QUESTION: -- actually were almost prevented from taking that step towards a ceasefire? You would agree with that?

    MR TONER: Look, I mean – this is --

    QUESTION: I mean (inaudible) historical perspective.

    MR TONER: So yes, in – when – hopefully years from now when people write memoirs and write histories about this conflict, all of that can be taken into account. What I think is important is that this Secretary of State, this Administration has tried to build a process into what is, to put it mildly, an extremely complex situation where you’ve got different entities, different powers, regional powers, et cetera, stakeholders, trying to affect the outcome of this civil war. We brought all of these people together, all of these countries together, governments together, in an effort to try to forge a way forward. We’ve not been successful, but that’s not going to keep us from trying.

    QUESTION: So you – do you accept --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- the premise of his question that the --

    MR TONER: I can’t remember what the premise was.

    QUESTION: -- Saudis or the Qataris or whoever – unknown, unsaid foreign entities prevented the opposition from adhering to a ceasefire?

    MR TONER: No. Ultimately, the opposition has charted its own course, and I’ll leave them to characterize what that course is. But the Secretary has also spoken about the fact that one of the reasons we say there’s no military solution to Syria is that you do have different influencers out there on both sides – or on all sides trying to influence the outcome. And so as I said, even if Aleppo falls, it doesn’t necessarily predict that there’s going to be the end of fighting there.

    QUESTION: And I have one more on Syria.

    MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: It seemed like the Russian Government was upset that you and others in the international community weren’t sufficiently sad yesterday for the killing of the medics --

    MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, I think I responded – I think it was your question. We just didn’t have concrete details about the incident, but I strongly condemned the attack on a hospital facility.

    QUESTION: Do you have concrete details today or --

    MR TONER: I still don’t. I mean, I just am going off the news reports, to be honest.

    QUESTION: You don’t want to express stronger contrition because the Russians feel you guys weren’t upset enough?

    MR TONER: I condemned any – and I will do it again – we feel strongly that – and again, I said this yesterday when I was asked if it was the opposition, who it was – what I can say is we certainly had no responsibility in this action, and we strongly condemn any attack regardless of who the attacker is on any civilian infrastructure, any medical facility, any medical personnel.

    QUESTION: On Syria?

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: The talks – meetings were canceled, right? And what happened?

    MR TONER: I don’t think they’ve – yeah --

    QUESTION: I haven’t seen Secretary Kerry’s remarks, honestly, but --

    MR TONER: Yeah, I mean, he said – he – sure, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to talk over you. He spoke a little bit about this in Syria or --

    QUESTION: In Brussels.

    MR TONER: In Brussels, sorry. He spoke a little bit about the situation in Syria, I apologize.

    QUESTION: That was seven years ago.

    MR TONER: Talks haven’t been canceled. We never were in a position to confirm that these talks were taking place this week. There are – first of all, I think it’s a bad idea to try to negotiate these things in public, so I’m going to be circumspect in what I say, but we are following up on recent talks last week and before last week, trying to work out a way to resolve the fighting in Aleppo – a cessation of hostilities, a pause in the fighting – excuse me – and we’re still pursuing those. We’re just not in a position yet where it makes sense for us to meet. That’s all it is.

    QUESTION: And just --

    MR TONER: So nothing was canceled or anything. It was just --

    QUESTION: With regard to the proposal, the reported proposal – so Foreign Minister Lavrov said, “The thing that the Americans offered on paper and what we backed is now somehow not okay for them. It’s difficult to understand who makes decisions there but apparently, there are plenty of those who want to undermine the authority and practical steps by John Kerry,” end quote. What is your take on this?

    MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to wade into that. I’m not going to talk about what may or may not be discussed or what may or may not be on the table. All I will say is that we continue to work through, both on our end as well as with Russia, on practical steps we can take to bring about a calm in the fighting.

    QUESTION: One more on Syria?

    QUESTION: But why wouldn’t you --

    QUESTION: I’m sorry.

    MR TONER: Why wouldn’t I what? Talk about --

    QUESTION: What is the status of those talks? Why were the meetings, as I understand the meetings – certain meetings that were --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- due to happen this week were canceled? What happened?

    MR TONER: Sure. I mean, again, we’re just not – without getting too much into the details and/or the substance, we’re just not at a point yet where we can say that getting together to have these talks would be constructive. When we get there, we’ll do it. And I’m not trying to be – I’m not trying to be mysterious. I’m just saying I’m not going to get into the substance of our diplomatic discussions, what’s on the table, except to say that we’re looking at practical ways to bring about a pause in the fighting. And that involves, as you can imagine, the regime, it involves the opposition, so it’s a mixed bag. We need to make sure that we’re in a position to talk constructively when we do meet.

    QUESTION: Can I just ask --

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: In the last several days, we’ve been talking about a lot of back-and-forth between the U.S. and Russia.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Is the bilateral, no bilateral talks – did that just go out the window, or is this bilateral in the frame of multilateral but for bilateral – I mean, explain it. I mean, it sounds likes that’s gone.

    MR TONER: No, I mean – look, I – Brad, I – it’s a fair question, I think, but I don’t want to get into --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR TONER: (Laughter.) I don’t want to – I just – I don’t want to get hung up in bilateral versus multilateral. We are actually still continuing to talk to other key parties, other regional parties. Those meetings, those consultations, those conversations are ongoing. That said – and, frankly, at the time we did it, that if there is a real opportunity here for us to make progress, we said that we would restart those bilateral talks. I don’t want to say we’re there yet, but we never ruled it out completely.

    What’s most important is --

    QUESTION: You are – so you are having the --

    MR TONER: We are – of course we’re having bilateral conversations with Lavrov. I mean, we did – with Russia, rather. I mean, he met with Lavrov in Rome last week. We – they’ve talked on the phone several times, so --

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) tomorrow?

    MR TONER: I’m not sure I can confirm that. I don’t – it’s not confirmed yet. I mean, they’re going to be, I think, at the OSCE, but I’m not sure that they’re going to have a bilat.

    QUESTION: The Secretary is --

    QUESTION: But what was it that led you to decide, oh, this bilateral freeze, it’s not – it doesn’t advance our interests or whatever? Or did it just – did you just naturally slip back into the diplomatic --

    MR TONER: No, no, I don’t think it was that, actually. I think it was more – look, at the time, it was coming out of UNGA and the failed agreement from – of Lausanne. And I think at the time, the Secretary – and I’m paraphrasing here, but – said until we see some kind of credible steps by Russia to re-instill confidence that there could be a ceasefire, then it’s not worth pursuing a bilateral option and we would consult multilaterally.

    So we did that. Again, that generated ideas. Those consultations continue. But we’re just not there yet, and so we – but we did start again reaching out to Russia because, let’s be honest, they’re an integral stakeholder.

    QUESTION: I – but I just wanted to – what were the concrete steps, then, that they showed that led you to restart having this bilateral --

    MR TONER: Yeah. So again, I don’t want to – I mean, I think --

    QUESTION: -- (inaudible) multiple bilateral talks?

    MR TONER: Look, I think that, again, I don’t want to get into what’s on the table, under discussion to end the fighting or at least pause the fighting in Aleppo.

    QUESTION: I’m not asking about ideas.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I’m asking about concrete steps, not concrete ideals or ideas.

    MR TONER: Ideas, yeah.

    QUESTION: Concrete steps --

    MR TONER: Well, to be honest, I mean --

    QUESTION: I read that as actions.

    MR TONER: Yeah. To be honest – I mean, to be honest, we’re still talking about some of the concrete steps they could take. I mean, there’s not been a lot of concrete steps, except for – I mean, they’re really – the fighting’s only intensified.

    QUESTION: But you do understand that --

    MR TONER: I understand --

    QUESTION: -- the credibility of making threats and making policy where you say we’re not going to talk to you unless you do something, and then they do nothing and then you start talking to them anyways – it undermines your ability to, one, hold that as leverage over them; and, two, drive any concessions out of them, because you always seem to go back to them in the same format, more or less.

    MR TONER: Well, look, again, we are pursuing multilateral discussions as well as – as well in this process. As to whether we’re back in the bilateral mode with Russia, I don’t think we’re quite there yet. We’re still obviously going to talk to them, but the agreement that was reached in Lausanne is not being implemented, and that’s what we walked away from.

    QUESTION: Mark, do you feel that the Russians are buying time? (Inaudible.)

    MR TONER: Unclear to me. Unclear to us, frankly. I mean, we just can’t speak on their behalf. We don’t know what their motivation is.

    QUESTION: After four years of experience

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- of talks with the Russians, you don’t have this feeling yet?

    MR TONER: Look, I mean, there are very clear differences in perception about what is happening in Aleppo, and others have articulated that far more expertly than I have. But fundamentally, it comes down to perceptions about Nusrah and the moderate opposition’s involvement and connection, and I think that until it can be – they can be convinced – the Russians can be convinced – that we can separate Nusrah from the equation and go after Nusrah, we’re not going to get there. We have contended that moderate opposition can be separated. They need – we need time and space to do that. We’ve never quite gotten that time and space to do it. So I mean, these are just – I’m just giving you a – our arguments.

    QUESTION: But you didn’t give me a good answer if you have the feeling that the Russians are buying time.

    MR TONER: Again, I can’t speak on behalf on Russia. I think that --

    QUESTION: On your behalf.

    MR TONER: I think --

    QUESTION: You don’t have --

    MR TONER: So what my answer was – I thought it was actually quite a good one, if I do say so myself. (Laughter.) No, I said that – is that it is a – it is a – there are different perceptions about what is happening in Aleppo. I’m not discounting what their perception is of what is happening in Aleppo. What I am – or what we do find objectionable is their approach, and that is to carry out airstrikes, bombardment of Aleppo, indiscriminate attacks on Aleppo that hurt civilian populations. That we do take objection to or take --

    QUESTION: Why you’re still talking to them? (Inaudible.)

    MR TONER: Well, again, I just said – I just said to Brad they are a pivotal stakeholder. I mean, I think anyone looking at Syria would recognize that, is that we need Russia’s involvement and cooperation to bring about any kind of ceasefire.

    QUESTION: What about the --

    QUESTION: You said – on the issue of separation, you said that you agreed that Nusrah should be separated from the other opposition groups and so on.

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: Have you submitted names and locations of these moderate opposition --

    MR TONER: So all of that --

    QUESTION: Because the Russians have claimed --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- all along that you have never done that.

    MR TONER: Again, these were technical talks in groups meeting – both sides meeting in Geneva. And my understanding is that they did get quite specific about where these groups – but again, there was disagreement. And that’s unfortunate, but it’s not unexpected.


    QUESTION: I guess I’m just sort of – I have a fundamental question, which is, like, what is the leverage that the U.S. brings to bear when it comes to discussing with the Russians, trying to get them to stop bombing Aleppo? It seems like it – that – you say that there’s no --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- military solution, there’s only a political solution. But that military presence has given them more leverage in trying to get the political solution that they want. So what exactly is your argument? I think, like, I find it a little bit hard to fathom, like, what those discussions are like, and maybe other people do as well.

    MR TONER: Well look, I mean, a couple of answers to that. One is we at the State Department are pursuing – as is our mandate – a diplomatic track. And that’s our goal here, our priority. And we’ve laid out through intense negotiations a way to do that. But you are correct that we haven’t had a lot of leverage. Part of our argument, if you will, has been that if we’re all likeminded in the sense that we all want to bring about a political solution to the situation in Syria, then we should be able to get it done, and we all would use whatever leverage we had. The leverage that we bring to the table is over some of the moderate Syrian opposition groups. Other members of the ISSG also have leverage over some of those groups. The Russians have leverage over the Syrian regime. So the idea, the concept here, the working concept, was that if we all applied that leverage, we could create a cessation of hostilities and get a political track up and running. We --

    QUESTION: The Russians are approaching this in good faith?

    MR TONER: Again, we’ve been round and round on this issue. I think what I can concretely say is that we strongly object to how they have carried out airstrikes on civilian populations. Whether they say they were intended or not, they were indiscriminate attacks that killed civilians. And in fact, those attacks were part of or contributed to a breakdown in the cessation of hostilities.

    Now, they’ll argue that the moderate opposition was – or the opposition and Nusrah were simply using those pauses to resupply and rearm. Again, it’s a matter of – and we were talking about – I was just talking about this with Brad – we’ve got to get back to a place where both sides trust each other enough that we can get a seven-day, a ten-day pause, get the folks back to Geneva on both sides, so they can begin negotiations. We just haven’t been able to get there.


    QUESTION: Change topics?

    MR TONER: Of course, yeah.

    QUESTION: Can I go to the Palestinian --

    MR TONER: I thought it was going to be up and down today. I thought the Secretary had done all this. But okay, go ahead. I’m sorry, I’m just kidding.

    QUESTION: I want to go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue for a minute.

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: I know – I wonder if you have any more to add to what you said yesterday about the --

    MR TONER: I do.

    QUESTION: -- the measure in the Knesset --

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: -- and so on, so go --

    MR TONER: So we’re very concerned about the advancement of this legislation, which, as you know, would allow the legalization of Israeli – forgive me – about the advancement of this legislation that would allow for the legalization of Israeli outposts located in private Palestinian land.

    Enacting this law would be profoundly damaging to the prospects for a two-state solution. And we’ve also been troubled by comments that we’ve heard by some political figures in Israel that this would be the first step in annexing parts of the West Bank. And again, it all goes back to what Secretary Kerry was discussing at the Saban Forum the other day, which is the more you create the realities on the ground that would prohibit a two-state solution, then the harder it’s going to be to get to that two-state solution.

    QUESTION: Well, people say forget the two-state solution, because they are really afraid that their land is literally being taken from underneath their feet, including people in my neighborhood, my village (inaudible) and so on. Because there’s a great deal of movement, there is leveling of land --

    MR TONER: Yeah. No, I --

    QUESTION: -- the demolition of homes. I mean, there are multiple things that are happening at the same time. And it’s quite scary, because people feel in this transition there is – it’s a free-for-all for the Israeli settlements program. So – what are we --

    MR TONER: Well, we’ve said that – I mean, this is a – this legislation, if it is enacted, would be a dramatic advancement of the settlement enterprise, which is already, as we’ve said, greatly endangering the prospects for a two-state solution. But I also – as you note, it’s changing the reality on the ground, and we’re deeply concerned about it. We’re conveying those concerns. The legislation’s not yet passed into law. We hope that it does not become law, but we certainly hope that changes or modifications can be made to it.

    QUESTION: Could I --

    QUESTION: The Israelis denied --

    MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Are we on the same topic? No, I just want --

    QUESTION: No, I’m going --

    QUESTION: The Israelis denied entry to a prominent theologian, Ms. Isabel Phiri – she is an assistant secretary general of the World Council on – of Churches in Geneva and so on – on the pretext that she supports BDS, boycott and divestment of Israeli –

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- although she got a legal visa before she landed there, in Tel Aviv. Does that concern you in any way, that this could be used to prevent people that are coming to show solidarity or support to end the occupation?

    MR TONER: So we went round and round on this a couple of weeks ago. We obviously strongly oppose boycotts and sanctions of the state of Israel. That’s well known. But as I said a couple weeks ago, and I’ll say it again, we don’t believe that people who are coming into a country to peacefully protest or to express their disagreement with a given government’s policy on any given issue should be prohibited from entry. That said, Israel is a sovereign nation; it has its own right to control its borders. But as a general principle, we value freedom of expression.


    QUESTION: She’s coming in the spirit of the season and so on, to meet with --

    MR TONER: Again, I just --

    QUESTION: -- Palestinian churches in the West Bank.

    MR TONER: Well again, I – we would – anyone traveling on a valid visa – but again, this is – it is ultimately – I mean, we went round and round on this. I’m not – I’m just saying what our position is, in terms of the right for people to freely express their opinions. But ultimately this is – it’s Israel’s right to determine who enters its territory.

    QUESTION: Mark.

    MR TONER: Please. I’ll get back.

    QUESTION: I just had a question on your answer on outposts. You used the expression, private – on “private Palestinian land,” and I just wanted to ask you: Is that – are you saying land – private land that belongs to Palestinian individuals or private land of the – of a state of Palestine or a Palestinian state?

    MR TONER: No, the former. Yeah.

    QUESTION: That it’s --

    MR TONER: The Palestinians --

    QUESTION: Palestinian private land --

    MR TONER: -- who own the land.

    QUESTION: -- belonging to Palestinians.

    MR TONER: Yes, yes. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Okay. All right.

    QUESTION: Will the U.S. participate in the international conference that Paris called for in –on 20 – on the 21st of December?

    MR TONER: I don’t think we’ve determined whether we’re – I think we’re trying to get more information about it. I don’t think we’ve reached a determination of whether we’ll attend or not.


    QUESTION: Let me just add one more question.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: I met today with this Palestinian teacher. She won the best teacher award in the world and she’s in town. She actually has a very creative program --

    MR TONER: Did she really win the best teacher of the – in the world award? Is that right?

    QUESTION: In the world. Yeah, she --

    QUESTION: She gets a mug. It says “World’s -- ” (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: She has – oh, yeah, she did. Last year --

    MR TONER: No, that’s amazing, actually.

    QUESTION: -- it was an American teacher, this year it’s a Palestinian teacher.

    MR TONER: World’s Greatest – well, okay.

    QUESTION: And she has a creative program where she teaches kids to reject violence and so on and all these things. But – and she said – she told me that at one point you guys talked – or the State Department, someone, wanted to invite her over, and then – and they – like they did not disinvite her, but they stopped the process. Are you aware of that? Would you like to see someone like this come and visit with people and --

    MR TONER: I apologize. So we’re talking about a different person now. This is not the individual that was just denied entry.

    QUESTION: No, no. She was not – she’s here, actually.

    MR TONER: She’s here.

    QUESTION: She was not denied --

    MR TONER: I’m not aware of this case, so we’ll look into it. I promise.

    Please, in the back.

    QUESTION: Mark, with regard to Samantha Power’s recent statement --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- in which she said that genocide denial against the Armenian people takes place, I would like to ask the question but from the following perspective. For eight years, the Administration has used all possible synonyms or euphemism of the genocide term that one can find in vocabulary, except from using the genocide term. Now the final – we are in the final days of the Administration. I would like to clear this topic again. Can you please tell why the genocide term was not used for this period of time?

    MR TONER: So first of all, your – first part of your question I think referred to a speech or remarks that Ambassador Powers gave in – Power gave in the context of honoring Elie Wiesel’s lifelong efforts to raise awareness about the Holocaust and to convince others to stand up in the face of these kinds of injustices and mass atrocities. And they certainly didn’t – her remarks didn’t reflect any kind of shift in the Administration’s policy.

    In answer to your question, look, this President, this Administration, as have past administrations, have repeatedly mourned and acknowledged that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. And we’ve also called for a full and frank acknowledgement of the facts of what happened around those deaths. And that remains our policy. I don’t want to get into terminology or how we referred to it. We acknowledged that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred, as I said, and we want to see a full historical accounting of those events.

    QUESTION: Is it relations with Turkey that stops this – has stopped this Administration and all other administrations from saying the word “genocide”?

    MR TONER: Again – again, I’ve said what our policy is, how we regard it. We acknowledge the tremendous loss of life and suffering of the Armenian people.

    Thanks, guys.

    QUESTION: One of the former administrations, Reagan’s Administration has called the massacre as genocide – President Reagan, not the candidate. I was wondering if you are aware of this – of that --

    MR TONER: I’m not aware of that.

    Okay. Thanks, guys.

    p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 12.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px 'Times New Roman'}

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:55 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - December 5, 2016

Mon, 12/05/2016 - 17:15
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 5, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing


    2:10 p.m. EST

    MR TONER: Hey, everybody. Happy Monday.

    QUESTION: Happy Monday.

    QUESTION: Happy Monday.

    MR TONER: Welcome to the State Department. A couple things at the top and then I’ll get to your questions.

    First of all, Libya. The United States expresses its deep concern over the escalation of violence between armed groups in Tripoli and calls on all the parties to immediately heed the Government of National Accord’s appeal to cease fighting. We urge all parties to de-escalate tensions in the capital and respect the terms of the Libyan political agreement, including security arrangements for the withdrawal of armed groups from Libyan cities and their replacement with government army and police units. We reiterate our support – our strong support for Prime Minister Fayiz al-Saraj and the GNA and for the quick restoration of order and security for the people of Libya.

    Also, just a brief update. As many of you are aware, Secretary Kerry is in Berlin today. Earlier, he met with a group of young German professionals involved in deepening and expanding the transatlantic relationship. They had a good discussion. He also met with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. At a ceremony following the meeting, the foreign minister presented the Secretary with the Grand Cross First Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, and this is the highest award Germany can bestow on a non-head of state. Right now, Secretary Kerry, I believe, is having dinner with Foreign Minister Steinmeier.

    And tomorrow, he’ll travel to Brussels to attend the NATO foreign ministerial. It’s his last one as Secretary of State. And he’ll discuss there – he’ll meet there and discuss with allies and partners efforts to further strengthen NATO’s security, project stability to the alliance’s east and south, and enhance NATO-EU cooperation.


    QUESTION: Can we start on the call the president-elect had --

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: -- to – with the Taiwanese president --

    MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

    QUESTION: -- last week? Just to go over some of the logistics, you guys were not informed beforehand that this call might happen. Is that correct?

    MR TONER: That’s correct.

    QUESTION: And has there been any contact with the president-elect or his team or anyone from the transition apparatuses since the call?

    MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of. Since the call took place --

    QUESTION: Yeah, did you --

    MR TONER: -- have we gotten any kind of readout or anything like that?

    QUESTION: Exactly.

    MR TONER: No, we have not.

    QUESTION: And has --

    MR TONER: To my knowledge, we have not.

    QUESTION: Have you had any contacts with – has the Chinese Government had any contact with you particularly about this call?

    MR TONER: So in that regard, and I can’t – it’s for them; I’ll let them read out what that contact entailed – but my understanding is that Chinese vice foreign minister did speak with Ambassador Baucus on the issue, I believe, on Saturday.

    QUESTION: On Saturday?

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: And without getting, then, into exactly the substance of what they said, what did you tell them in response?

    MR TONER: Well, I wasn’t privy to the phone conversation. Certainly, what I can say is that there’s no change to our longstanding policy on cross-strait issues, which, as all of you know in this room, is based on the fundamental interest in peaceful and stable cross-strait relations, and obviously we remain firmly committed to the “one China” policy, and that’s based on the three joint communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act.

    So from our perspective, there’s been no change in our longstanding policy with regard to Taiwan.

    QUESTION: And you’re speaking on behalf of the Obama --

    MR TONER: I’m speaking on behalf of the --

    QUESTION: -- the Obama Administration or --

    MR TONER: -- present Administration, yes.

    QUESTION: The current Administration?

    MR TONER: That’s – and that is all I can do.

    QUESTION: Right. So you don’t know exactly – one, you don’t know what the phone conversation between the president-elect and the Taiwanese entailed?

    MR TONER: I don’t.

    QUESTION: And you don’t know exactly what their plans are for this “one China” policy that you say --

    MR TONER: No, I’d have to refer you to them, obviously, to speak to it.

    QUESTION: All right, thank you.

    MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Please, go ahead.

    QUESTION: A follow-up?

    QUESTION: A follow-up?

    MR TONER: Oh, sure. Did you want to follow up on --

    QUESTION: Yeah, I’m on the --

    MR TONER: Are you going to go – let’s finish this and then we’ll go over to you. Sure.

    QUESTION: So from the State Department perspective, how will you suggest or advise the transition team for this kind of call?

    MR TONER: How would we --

    QUESTION: How will you advise or suggest the transition team?

    MR TONER: Well, broadly speaking, the Secretary spoke a little bit about this process yesterday when he was at the Saban Forum, and it is normally – and others have spoken about this as well – in the past, president-elects – presidents-elect, rather, excuse me, have consulted with secretaries of state or subject matter experts within the State Department before making these kinds of calls. It’s not necessary. It’s not mandatory. It does allow them to get perspective on policy issues by people who have been intimately involved in these issues for some period of time. And I think the Secretary made the point that that can be helpful.

    QUESTION: Chinese – the Chinese foreign ministry characterized this incident as a petty maneuver on Taiwan’s part. How would you suggest that Taiwanese president – would you encourage her to reach out more to the transition team?

    MR TONER: Look, I’m certainly not – not my job to advise the president of Taiwan or how she should conduct her – or their relations with other countries. All I can speak to is what our current policy is with regard to Taiwan and with regard to cross-strait relations.

    Our primary interest, as I just said, is in stable, peaceful cross-strait relations. And the – one of the ways in which we pursue this, and we’ve done so since, I think, 1979, is that we remain firmly committed to this policy of one China. And as I said, that has not changed previous to or since the phone call by the President-elect.


    QUESTION: This is obviously a transition period and policies have not been articulated yet, policy teams haven’t even completely been formed, but is – what is your sense in terms of the impact of the call for U.S.-Chinese relations? Has it been damaging?

    MR TONER: I mean, I’d really – again, I’d have to say that the Chinese are probably best positioned to characterize their reaction to the phone call.

    QUESTION: But you wouldn’t call it --

    MR TONER: No, of course. I mean, they clearly – they clearly used established diplomatic channels to engage and to express their feelings about the phone call or their position on the phone call. Again, I don’t want to characterize it. It’s not up to us to do that. What our – what I can say is that our response back to them has been that our policy has not changed and it’s going to remain that way, at least for the balance of this Administration.

    Now, we cannot speak to the incoming administration and what their priorities and what their policies might be and how they might change. We just aren’t able to do that at this point.

    QUESTION: And what do you see as the benefit of the policy you’ve had since ’79? I mean, if it was changed, what would be the impact of that? Why would you --

    MR TONER: Well, again, it’s allowed us – I mean, there’s a number of reasons, but by establishing this “one China” policy, it’s allowed us to develop relations – frankly, closer relations with Beijing and also to deepen our unofficial ties with Taipei. So in our estimation, it’s been a productive policy to pursue given Beijing’s very serious concerns in this case. Again, it’s allowed us, in a sense, to, as I say, deepen our cooperation with China on many different aspects, including economic, but certainly security and others; but also, as I said, at the same time, we’re able to still pursue relations with Taipei.

    QUESTION: Change of topic?

    QUESTION: Mark, you said that there’s been no contact whatsoever, diplomatic contact with Taiwan since 1979. None whatsoever, right?

    MR TONER: Well, we’ve had informal contacts. I mean, I – what I think I was responding to is --

    QUESTION: Okay. So how do you conduct your relations with Taiwan in this case? I mean, much as the President-elect said, you sell them arms, you do a lot of trade and all these things.

    MR TONER: Well, right. I mean – again, I mean, we have informal contacts with the leadership in Taipei, and as you note, we do have fairly strong relations with them that includes arms sales and other --

    QUESTION: Trade – they’re the ninth trading partner and --

    MR TONER: Trade – exactly, trade is another important issue. I mean, look, we – again, this policy is predicated on the belief that we can pursue closer relations with Taipei at the same time that – as we are cognizant of China’s security concerns and political concerns regarding Taiwan.

    QUESTION: President Tsai Ing-wen --

    MR TONER: Sure, one more, and then we’ll get --

    QUESTION: President Tsai Ing-wen will be in New York next month on transit to Nicaragua early January. Can we expect any exchanges between the State Department and her team?

    MR TONER: I certainly don’t have anything to announce at this time. You do point out that these – periodically, the president will transit through U.S. territory. What I can say about that is that that kind of transit’s based on longstanding U.S. practice and it’s consistent with the unofficial nature of our relations with Taiwan. And frankly, they’re – reflect or they’re done out of consideration, I think, for the safety, comfort, and convenience for the travelers.

    QUESTION: So will the State Department provide any safety, comfort, assistance to the --

    MR TONER: Again, I mean, there’s a certain protocol here, an informal protocol. We usually allow them to transit here, if nothing else, for their comfort and convenience. But it’s in keeping – it’s consistent with longstanding practice. But I can’t say whether we’ll have any meetings with them. I just don’t have that in front of me at the time to announce or to confirm.

    QUESTION: So is – this phone call will give any influence for – about President Tsai’s transit stop in New York?

    MR TONER: I just – it’s just hard for me to predict. Again, it’s several weeks off, I believe, or a month or so off. Look, we have ongoing relations with Taipei, with the leadership there. That hasn’t changed. What I can just say is that there has been no change yet in our policy regarding Taiwan, and it’s an important point to make because, as we say, that policy has allowed us to improve relations with Beijing, with China, at the same time as engaging in strong bilateral relations with – or strong relations, informal relations, with Taipei.

    QUESTION: Can --

    QUESTION: So can I say that --

    MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead, go ahead. It’s okay.

    QUESTION: Can I say – so did the State Department treat this phone call like not improving the relationship between Taipei and --

    MR TONER: I just – I’m sorry, and I know what you’re trying to ask me. I’m not going to characterize it one way or another. This – he is the President-elect. He is making his own decisions. He’s getting his own advice and counsel from his transition team. We respect that. We certainly are – stand by – we being the State Department, but indeed the entire Obama Administration stands ready to brief them, consult with them before they make not just this phone call, but other phone calls to leaders around the world. But it’s by no means, as I said, mandatory. It’s not required.

    So it’s really up to them to make their own decisions with regard to who they’re going to speak to, who they’re going to engage with, and the ramifications or consequences of those actions.


    QUESTION: It sounds from – from what you’re saying, it sounds like this call doesn’t undermine the current “one China” policy that you have.

    MR TONER: It doesn’t. I mean, that policy hasn’t changed. Yes.

    QUESTION: So why did American presidents avoid having conversations like this for the last 40 years if having – if the president-elect having one doesn’t seem to have any effect? You’re saying it’s not a big deal, everything goes on as before, and then at the same time you’re saying we’ve avoided this for 40 years because the “one China” policy is so great and it’s allowed us to do all these wonderful things with both China and Taiwan.

    MR TONER: Well --

    QUESTION: So you’re having it both ways.

    MR TONER: Sure. Well, let’s be clear, is – and this just isn’t me speaking obviously – that Beijing, China’s position on Taiwan, is very well known, and it’s because of that position that we developed and adhere to this “one China” policy. So I’m not saying that one phone call, give or take, is going to upset that balance, but it is – it’s only through consistency in implementing this policy and standing by this policy that you have, as I said, stable cross-strait relations.

    Yeah, one more. One more, and then I promise I’ll get to you. I apologize.

    QUESTION: Sorry. Thank you. Has anyone talked to --

    MR TONER: I think we’ve talked this --

    QUESTION: Has anyone talked to the Taiwanese Government regarding this call?

    MR TONER: Since the phone call?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR TONER: It’s a fair question. I’m not aware we have. If that’s different – I just don’t think we have. I don’t think there’s been any calls. But if that’s changed, we do have – excuse me. We do have an unofficial relations – or rather, we have the American Institute in Taiwan, which is how we carry out our relations, informal relations, with Taiwan. I don’t know if they’ve had any contact with government officials since the call, so I’ll just have to check on that.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR TONER: You look confused. I’m just saying I don’t have anything to read out. I don’t have anything to confirm.

    QUESTION: I have, actually, a quick Taiwan follow-up and then Syria.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: So the president-elect said that the Taiwanese leadership had contacted him. Do you know if that’s a habit that they have of trying to contact whoever the U.S. president-elect is, and then it’s up to that president to answer or not? For example, did they try to call Obama in 2008?

    MR TONER: Yeah. Yes, and the answer is I don’t know. I don’t have that in front of me. I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: Syria?

    MR TONER: No, you were going to do Syria, and then I’ll do Syria.

    QUESTION: Syria – Syria --

    MR TONER: Sorry. Please.

    QUESTION: Yeah. So the Russian Government said today that they would start talks with Washington on a rebel withdrawal from eastern Aleppo or from Aleppo this week. Do you have anything on that?

    MR TONER: I’ve seen those comments. We don’t have anything to confirm at this point. Obviously, we’re very seized with the situation, the very dire situation in Aleppo. There was some discussion coming out of the meeting in Rome on Friday that there would be technical talks taking place this week, but we don’t have anything to confirm at this point.

    QUESTION: Mark --

    QUESTION: So is there --

    QUESTION: -- could I just follow up on – a follow-up, Mark?

    QUESTION: Could you talk a little --

    MR TONER: Of course. So follow-up, you and then you, I promise. Don’t give me a look, Said.

    QUESTION: On the technical talks, can you just characterize like what those specifically would be, would be concerning and what – would it be on the idea of withdrawal as the Russians are saying?

    MR TONER: Well, I think it’s – I don’t want to get into – too much into the details. For one thing, they’re still being hashed out. But the basic challenge is the same, which is how do we – how do we meet Russia, and by extension, the regime’s concerns about Nusrah in Aleppo at the same time we bring about a credible cessation of hostilities in Aleppo, even a pause in the fighting, frankly, whereby we can get much-needed humanitarian assistance in. And by that I mean foodstuffs, medical care, et cetera.

    So I mean, the basic parameters are the same of what we’ve been discussing for many, many weeks, indeed months, but – so I don’t want to get too many into the – too much into the details. But the challenge is the same. I mean, it’s – you’ve got Russia very concerned about Nusrah’s presence. At the same time, we’re concerned about the effects and the constant bombardment on the civilian population of Aleppo, and we’re also adamant that while Nusrah is there and is an element of this, that there’s a moderate Syrian opposition that should not and does not deserve to be bombed into submission.


    QUESTION: Thanks. Today, rebels in eastern Aleppo shelled a mobile hospital that Russia set up, killing two Russian medics, injuring another, as well as a number of patients. Do you condemn the attack?

    MR TONER: So here’s what I know about that. I’ve seen the reports. We’ve not been able to confirm. It’s difficult to do, obviously, given the fighting and given our lack of access to what’s happening on the ground. But to answer your question, of course we condemn any attack on a hospital or health care facility.

    QUESTION: Would you – actually, I have a few more. Sorry.

    MR TONER: Okay. Yeah, two more, please.

    QUESTION: The U.S. is – the U.S. is known to have influence with some of the rebel groups.

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: What is your message to them? Should they continue the shelling?

    MR TONER: The shelling of – I think I just was very clear about we would condemn any shelling by anybody – opposition rebels or regime forces, what have you – on health care or hospitals, schools, civilian infrastructure, any of that. And we’ve been – I would hope we’ve been very consistent publicly as well as privately in conveying that message.

    QUESTION: Again --

    MR TONER: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: So this is happening in the context of these talks and responding to the talks that the U.S. and Russia are having, as I understand, on the withdrawal of the rebels from Aleppo.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: The rebels said they would not leave. What makes the U.S. think that they would, since you are having the discussions?

    MR TONER: You mean leave Aleppo?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, those – again, this is part of the dynamic that we’re dealing with on the ground. Look, I mean --

    QUESTION: Can the U.S. really bow to them just because it’s --

    MR TONER: Sure, let me – I’m just trying to – so one of the dynamics of the siege that’s been taking place on Aleppo is that, as much as Russia, as much as the regime says that oh, we need to separate and get Nusrah out and separate the opposition from Nusrah. It’s hard to conduct that kind of separation when you’ve got a civilian population, when you have these opposition forces under nearly constant barrage of bombs and assault. That’s hard to do in a combat situation. It’s hard to do if there was actually a ceasefire in place – difficult enough to do, let me put it that way. When you add the fact that there’s this siege taking place on Aleppo, that’s a harder nut to crack, if I can put it that way.

    That said, we recognize that part of the getting to a solution here – and by a solution, I mean an end to the violence – is finding a way to get Nusrah out of the equation, to separate them or to some way address our mutual concerns about Nusrah as a terrorist organization, but also end the fighting. And that’s the challenge. I don’t know how to put it other way. So these are all technical talks taking place. I don’t want to show too much of what we may be talking about. These are for these groups to hopefully address this week, but we don’t know at this point whether those talks are going to take place.

    QUESTION: I guess my question --

    QUESTION: Mark, could I --

    QUESTION: Oh, sorry.

    MR TONER: That’s okay. Why don’t you go, and then I’ll get back to you.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you about a statement made by the Russian deputy foreign minister, Bogdanov.

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: He said that they received suggestions, American suggestions on how to – I guess to bring about a cessation of hostilities, or a total cessation of hostilities.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: And then they in turn gave them to the Iranians. Are you aware of that? Could you shed some light on this? Could you tell us some of the points that you may have --

    MR TONER: They in turn – that we gave them? I – so I’m not going to --

    QUESTION: You’re not?

    MR TONER: So I’m – no, no, sorry, let me be very clear: I’m not going to talk about the substance of what we’re looking at in terms of proposals, in terms of ways to – we’re just not there yet. And you’ve seen that the Secretary’s been also very disciplined about not talking about the substance of these talks before we’ve had a chance to really develop them and to reach agreement on them. Your – your question was about sharing them with the Iranians --

    QUESTION: Yeah, my question is: Are you aware that whatever proposals you gave to the Russians, they say that they have in turn given them to the Iranians, I guess as party to the conflict --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- in this case, and they are waiting on them? Are you aware of that? Is that something --

    MR TONER: I’m not aware of that particularly.

    QUESTION: Did the Russians tell you, “We are going to share them with the Iranians” beforehand?

    MR TONER: I don’t know. I mean, to some respect the Iranians are part of the ISSG, so I don’t – I just don’t know. I don’t have the --

    QUESTION: Does that impact – I’m sorry --

    MR TONER: That’s okay.

    QUESTION: -- does that impact the ongoing talks that are ongoing now in any way, and do they cover just Aleppo? Are they for the whole of Syria?

    MR TONER: So there’s still – obviously, there’s still the broader talks – and we’ve talked about this – the broader multilateral talks going on in Geneva. Those are ongoing. These technical talks would be a little bit different, more focused on some new ideas to stop the fighting in Aleppo. And those – we’re just not in a position to confirm those will take place yet. We’re just not there yet.

    QUESTION: So they are dedicated to just Aleppo?

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: And they’d be just U.S.-Russia?

    MR TONER: That’s what I don’t know yet. We’re still trying to formalize all this. I’m sorry – we just – this is still in play.

    QUESTION: So --

    MR TONER: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: If – at the Secretary’s news conference in Rome on Friday --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- he said all the talks between the U.S. and Russia and the set of ideas that had been exchanged were about getting to a political – political talks, not about removing Nusrah forces, you – surrender of the opposition in eastern Aleppo. He kind of painted it opposite. He said it was about getting to the intra-Syrian talks. How would a surrender of Nusrah plus opposition --

    MR TONER: So we’re not necessarily – yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: -- in eastern Aleppo – so they would lose everything, and then they would say, “Now we’re ready to talk”? I mean, explain to me the strategy.

    MR TONER: Again, we’re not – I don’t want to get ahead of process here and what we’re talking about. And if I’ve given that impression that we’re talking about some kind of surrender, that’s not the case. We’re talking about an effort to de-escalate or pause the violence in Aleppo. Obviously, the Secretary is right in that our broader endgame here is to get the political talks back up and running. Because as the Secretary made clear when he was in Rome, Russia and the regime are deluded if they think, even if they do take Aleppo, that this is over. It’s not. The rebels – the opposition has shown that they’re not willing to simply give up. And so the only solution – credible, long-term solution to the fighting in Syria is a political one.

    QUESTION: So the Russians and the Russian foreign minister said even last week that these should start immediately, now. And he actually criticized the United Nations for not setting them up immediately. So what is the impasse? His suggestion was it’s the United Nations isn’t setting it up and you guys aren’t pressuring the opposition to start these talks immediately. Is that fair?

    MR TONER: I don’t think it is. I mean, I think the impasse is that the opposition would tell you that why should they go to Geneva and have talks when they’re fighting for their very existence in places like Aleppo. Look, in all – again, the basic strategy, as difficult as it – as it’s been has not changed, and fundamentally it’s cessation of hostilities, then you move to – when you’ve got some kind of credibility established, you can move – and some kind of trust – you can move to and have that become the basis for negotiations to resume in Geneva. We just haven’t been there in months. We had the Geneva in September 10th, but that fell apart quickly, and since then we’ve been nowhere close to that.

    QUESTION: I have one more.

    MR TONER: Yeah, please, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Well, I’ll let your assessment go, which seems like we’re backwards, then, many months from where we were if we’re not even where we were in September. But be that as it may, I just want to ask you specifically on the Russian claim today by the defense ministry that you guys gave – you, the French, and the British may have given the coordinates of their hospital or --

    MR TONER: Yeah --

    QUESTION: -- or clinic to the opposition in order to – for it to be bombed. Do you have a response --

    MR TONER: We’d never do that and it’s completely false.

    QUESTION: So you never give coordinates to the Syrian opposition?

    MR TONER: No. We would never give coordinates to the Syrian opposition.

    QUESTION: Mark, could you --

    MR TONER: Are we done? Yeah.

    QUESTION: Do you have anything on the UN Security Council meeting now – that is happening now and so on? Because the Russians seems to have dismissed it even before it began. They’re saying that the proposal does not meet – whatever – their requirements, which may lead to another veto. Are you – do you have any comment on that?

    MR TONER: I don’t. I know they’re scheduled to meet later this afternoon, I believe.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: Look, I mean, we’ve been very clear that we welcome any chance to highlight the dire situation in Aleppo and those who are suffering there, so we would welcome and we do welcome this Security Council session. I’m not going to prejudge it or speak to where it may end up, but certainly, once that session is held, we’ll have more to say.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Russia and China vetoed the resolution.

    MR TONER: Well, there you go. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Do you have any reactions?

    MR TONER: We’ll have more to say. We will, and I – the reason I don’t want to get ahead is we’ll have something more formal. I mean, I can certainly speak off the cuff about it, but we’ll have something more formal to say about it in the coming hours.

    QUESTION: Yeah, a couple of different subjects. First of all, it’s been revealed that a fake U.S. embassy was shut down in Ghana. It apparently operated for 10 years.

    MR TONER: Don’t say it like that. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: A couple of questions.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Yes. How long – when did the State Department become aware of this, is one question.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: And the other is this embassy – so-called embassy – had access to blank forms that were deemed authentic, issued visas. And so how many people got into the United States from these visas?

    MR TONER: Sure. All good questions. All right, there’s a lot to unpack here. I’ll do my best and then answer any follow-ups. So yes, the quote/unquote “fake embassy.” This was a criminal fraud operation masquerading as a fake U.S. embassy in Ghana, in Accra, and it was shut down, as you know. No visa obtained – no fake visa, and let’s be very clear; we’re talking about counterfeit visas – that no visa that was obtained through this fraud scheme was ever used to enter the United States.

    What happened was that the operators of this fraud operation were able to obtain real Ghanaian passports or even foreign passports that were either lost, stolen, or somehow sold to them. A handful – and I think it was fewer than 10 – of the passports seized by law enforcement contained expired U.S. visas. So they then used these expired visas to, as – to counterfeit off of, to – as prototypes or whatever, as models to attempt to produce counterfeit visas. So the visas in questions were not stolen from the U.S. embassy, and again, this operation – this fake embassy – made and printed counterfeit visas using the expired visas as a blueprint.

    So none of the individuals, as I said, who purchased these counterfeit visas were able to use them to travel to the United States. And why is that? Because it’s very, very hard to counterfeit U.S. visas these days. It’s a highly secure document. It’s got numerous security features designed to prevent successful counterfeiting, and so this operation failed basically because they couldn’t produce – please.

    QUESTION: Were people nabbed coming into JFK or somewhere? Did actually anybody try to use these to get in?

    MR TONER: My understanding is that no – is that no one was actually even attempted or caught at the border. Now, I – we’re still going through some assessment of this operation, but my understanding at this point is that no one was actually stopped at the border trying to enter into the United States using one of these fraudulent visas. My understanding is that, frankly, the counterfeits – visas were of pretty poor quality, so it may have been the fact that these people, once they paid for them and got them, realized they weren’t going to be able to use them to get into the United States.

    QUESTION: And for how long did the State Department know that this operation was going on?

    MR TONER: We only learned about this this year.

    QUESTION: Even though it had been there for 10 years with a U.S. flag flying --

    MR TONER: Yeah, no, apparently --

    QUESTION: -- outside three days a week?

    MR TONER: So – yeah, I mean – look, I mean, I don’t want to – I’ll refer you to the Ghanaian authorities to speak to how this operation existed for so long without it coming to their notice. You can imagine the ways in which that could happen.

    QUESTION: Yes, we can.

    MR TONER: But yeah, we learned about it this year, and the extent of the counterfeiting and visa fraud only became apparent – I think we had an anti-fraud operation called Spartan Vanguard, and that helped, I think, bring the extent, as I said, of this to light.

    I think I’ve answered more or less all the --

    QUESTION: Yes.

    QUESTION: Did you learn about it and bring it to the Ghanaian officials’ attention, or they shut it down?

    MR TONER: I believe it’s that we learned about it and brought it to the Ghanaian authorities’ attention.

    QUESTION: Can you just answer this?

    MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll try.

    QUESTION: So you don’t believe that anyone ever tried to use any of these, that these --

    QUESTION: How did they operate for 10 years, then, if --

    QUESTION: -- these people who didn’t have the perceptive qualities to realize they were walking into a fake U.S. embassy and then pay that fake U.S. embassy then were able to discern on their own that the visas didn’t look good enough, and so they decided not to try? That just seems so wholly unrealistic, it cannot be possible in this universe to be true, on a universal level.

    QUESTION: Or make a report on that to the authorities?

    QUESTION: That nobody tried – all these people who went to a fake U.S. embassy then realized, based on the quality of the visa, that it wouldn’t work and just gave up? Mark, that doesn’t pass the laugh test, seriously.

    MR TONER: Well, no. Look, so first of all, many of the people who engaged in this activity – and I’m not talking about the people who ran the operation, but the people who tried to obtain visas – it was – they were duped. They were conned. And once they were conned, you don’t necessarily go running to the police and say, “I just obtained illegally a U.S. visa, and oh, by the way, it looks terrible, doesn’t it? I can’t use this to get into the United States.”

    Again, I didn’t say categorically that no one did. I thought I said “to our knowledge.” As of today, we do not believe that anyone actually used or was stopped at the border trying to use one of these fake visas to enter into the United States. I can’t speak to what their motivation was for not trying that, but it’s not --

    QUESTION: If you didn’t stop anybody, how do you know that all of them didn’t get in?

    MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, we – I’m sorry, I’m trying to --

    QUESTION: If everybody who – if you never stopped a single person with one of these fake visas, how can you plausibly say that you know that they didn’t all get in successfully into the United States?

    MR TONER: Well, look, we – so whenever anybody applies for a visa, we collect the biometric data as part of their visa application. So when you come to the border and they look at your visa, they verify – there’s biometric data at the port of entry. So that’s right there – in a fake visa from a Ghanaian fake embassy, you’re not going to have that biometric data. It’s going to send up alarms. It’s going to not register. And so, as I said, to my knowledge we have not been able to say – although we may find out yes, there were two or three of these individuals, and we stopped them at the border. I just don’t have that in front of me right now.

    QUESTION: Okay, all right.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Follow-up on this?

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

    QUESTION: So do you have any reason to believe that there might be other operations in any other countries similar to this?

    MR TONER: Well, we’re running this – as I said, I mentioned – it’s got a very cool name, Spartan Vanguard or something. Yeah, Spartan Vanguard. But it’s an anti-fraud operation, and that’s what this is. The intent of it is to kind of sniff out and find out where these fraudulent operations are ongoing. This is a longstanding practice, it’s just that now it’s awfully hard to do because, as I said, of the things that – the security that they’re able to build into these visas. I mean, we all have it. Whether it’s your credit card or whatever, it’s a lot harder to counterfeit that kind of stuff today. But I can’t speak to – say that I’m sure there’s other operations ongoing, and we’re going to keep – remain vigilant and try to stop them.

    QUESTION: But are there any particular areas that you might see more of that activity?

    MR TONER: You mean regions of the world?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: I don’t have that. I don’t know that.

    Yeah, please, Margaret.

    QUESTION: Mark, the House Oversight Committee has a report out here talking about what they say is the State Department taking too long and spending far too much to construct new diplomatic facilities abroad. Some very specific and big numbers in this report. Do you know what is leading to these delays, and is State upset?

    MR TONER: Sure. Margaret, I – so a couple of points to make. One is the safety and security of U.S. personnel serving overseas is obviously at the forefront. It’s our top priority and the cornerstone of all the work that the bureaus of Diplomatic Security and Overseas Building Operations do.

    I’m aware of this report. We have not yet received a copy of it. I think we’ve been allowed what they call a limited camera use – in-camera review of a draft version of the report. So we haven’t even seen the final version of the report. So it’s hard for me to comment on all of the report’s allegations without reviewing the final report, and certainly we remain hopeful that the committee will revise its report based on some of the input and significant concerns that we’ve raised related to the accuracy and fairness and security sensitivities that were contained in the report.

    We’ve also requested that the committee submit its report for an interagency, internal – or rather, sorry, interagency security sensitivity review in advance of its publication to ensure that its release doesn’t – sorry – the release of sensitive information in the report doesn’t compromise any of our people serving abroad or any of our facilities serving abroad.

    So I understand your question. We want to be able, obviously, to address once that report’s gone public the concerns it raises, the allegations it makes. We work really hard in this building to ensure that our embassies, our consulates, our buildings overseas are protected. Obviously, that’s not easy in today’s world. It requires constant updating, innovation. We do so mindful always of the price of that. But I can’t speak to the contents of the report until we’ve received it.

    QUESTION: To be clear, though --

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: -- when you said you looked at that draft already, are you saying that there was information in that draft that should not be released to the public?

    MR TONER: So what we’ve asked is that they just submit this to what’s called an interagency security sensitivity review – obviously, not just State Department equities here – involved here. And just so every – so that these other agencies can review what’s in the report so that before it does go public, we can obviously address if there are any – if there is any information that’s deemed sensitive.

    QUESTION: Because the report talks about Kabul, Jakarta, London, Mexico – significant U.S. diplomatic posts --

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- and saying that while there are questions of security, it’s specifically the amount of taxpayer money that Congress is concerned about. I mean, do you have any kind of timeline as to when these embassies will be both secure and finished? And what’s leading to these delays?

    MR TONER: Well, I can certainly – again, it would have to be on a case-by-case basis – try to get back to you with information about where we’re at in the status of each of these projects. But this is hard, as I said, and with any construction project, not just U.S. embassies abroad, there’s always inevitably some delays in the process. It’s just how building projects work, fortunately or unfortunately, as things need to be updated, need to be addressed. All I can say is that our Diplomatic Security Bureau and our Overseas Buildings Operations Bureau and our Management Bureau work hand in hand to ensure that safety is foremost, first and foremost for Americans living overseas, and also of course we look at the bottom line and what this costs the taxpayer.

    QUESTION: So just to put a fine point on it --

    MR TONER: Of course, yeah.

    QUESTION: -- you fully reject the assertion here that the State Department is taking a risky approach of prioritizing architecture over security and over financial sensibility?

    MR TONER: That we’re – take a risky approach in what? Prioritizing --

    QUESTION: Prioritizing the way an embassy looks over just how much it costs or how secure it is.

    MR TONER: I would – again, not having seen the report myself, security first and foremost; functionality of an embassy is also important. This is the face of the U.S. Government overseas, and that’s important as well, is how it presents American ideals and America to another country. There’s been – I can probably point you to many cases of criticism of – that U.S. embassies have become too fortress-like over the past decades, partly as a result of the security threats that we face.

    So we’re always mindful of aesthetics, but mostly security.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

    MR TONER: We can go to the Palestinian --

    QUESTION: Okay, and the Secretary’s remarks yesterday. Yesterday Secretary Kerry at the Saban Forum gave – in his remarks gave a stinging rebuke of the settlement policy. But he also refrained from committing to a veto at the United Nations if a resolution on settlements will be forthcoming, only saying that if it is biased, an unfair resolution calculated to delegitimize Israel, only then would they veto. Does that – is that a departure from, let’s say, past American policy?

    MR TONER: I don’t think so, Said. I mean, we’ve said that before. I’ve said it before. I know John’s said it before. And it’s consistent with always what’s been our approach. We also often will make the point as well, is we don’t believe that multilateral settings are necessarily the way to – the best way to pursue what we believe is the ultimate goal here, which is a two-state solution. That’s up to the parties. And we’ve said it before, whether it’s – when the UN Security Council or elsewhere, that we oppose any resolutions that seek to delegitimize or are biased against Israel. And that remains the case.

    QUESTION: I just have a couple of follow-ups on that.

    MR TONER: Of course. Yeah.

    QUESTION: But earlier in the day, Prime Minister Netanyahu to the same forum basically said, look, we will continue with settlement. It doesn’t matter who is in power, whether it’s Obama or Trump or anyone. We will continue with this policy. So obviously, they are not heeding your call on the cessation of settlements. In this case, why not – what would be sort of contrary to U.S. principles and so on, on the issue of settlement by going to the United Nations? Why would that stand against your position – your principle position – against settlements?

    MR TONER: Going --

    QUESTION: If you are unable to persuade the Israelis on your own, why not do it in an international forum?

    MR TONER: Well, again, there’s – first of all, there’s been no decisions made either way about any kind of step we may – that may or may not be taken at the UN or elsewhere.

    I was there yesterday at the event. The Secretary spoke, I think, very frankly about and out of friendship, and he talked about some of the challenges. I mean, he got the same question that you just posed, which is Israel doesn’t seem to listen. And he acknowledged that on the case of settlements they often don’t listen, but that doesn’t make our message any less relevant. And I think the Secretary’s abiding point yesterday was you can’t have – and he was also, by the way, very quick to recognize this is not all on Israel, and frankly, settlements aren’t the only impediment to a two-state solution. The Palestinians need to take steps --

    QUESTION: No, he said settlements were not the cause of the conflict but were --

    MR TONER: Exactly. Not the cause of the conflict. But he said that as you look at the reality of settlements and the reality that they’re creating on the ground, it’s hard to imagine how you can get to a two-state solution. That was a very frank message to the Israeli Government, to Prime Minister Netanyahu, and it’s been a message we’ve been trying to convey to them. But ultimately, as we’ve said many times before, the U.S. can only try to play a mediating role to try to get the two sides or the two parties back to the negotiating table. We can’t force them, and they’ve got to both do it. And that’s true for Israel; it’s true for the Palestinians.

    QUESTION: He also warned against a vote that might take place today – maybe it has taken place already – in the Knesset on legalizing a sort of --

    MR TONER: You’re talking about a legalization bill. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

    QUESTION: Right, right. The legalization bill.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Are you – did he follow his warning with any kind of a conversation with anyone in the Israeli Government, be it be the prime minister of Israel? He said he spoke with him like 975 times, so did he speak with him on this issue?

    MR TONER: I’m not sure that – I’m not sure that there was a – no, I don’t believe there was a conversation after that event yesterday, but I’m sure his remarks were closely followed by those in the Israeli Government yesterday.

    On the legalization bill, we understand that there is a plan to vote on it tonight. We also understand there may have been some changes to the bill, so we’re – I’d refer you to the Israelis for more information. I don’t have what those changes might be.


    QUESTION: We’ve had what appears to be the first real democratic transition in Central Asia with the election in Uzbekistan yesterday. But the OSCE Human Rights Office says the campaign was, quote, “devoid of genuine competition and that the media covering the election was in a highly restrictive and controlled environment, and the state-defined narrative did not provide voters the opportunity to hear alternative viewpoints.”

    How does the State Department assess this election?

    MR TONER: So you’re correct; the OSCE did note some irregularities in the conduct of the December 4th vote and some shortcomings in the electoral process. They did, however, praise the election’s increased transparency. They praised access to disabled voters and, frankly, unfettered access to 600 international observers. And the embassy I think did – our U.S. embassy did conduct its own observation mission.

    Overall, we congratulate acting President and Prime Minister Mirziyoyev – excuse me, I just really fractured his name, I apologize – Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev and his election as the new president of Uzbekistan. And as the country – as Uzbekistan transitions into this new chapter, we look forward to sustained regional stability and progress towards broad economic and political and social reforms. And just to highlight that ongoing engagement, there will be a meeting of these Central Asian countries, I think the third one. I was at the first one in Samarkand, I think, last year. And that’ll take place in Hamburg later this week.

    QUESTION: Japan?

    MR TONER: Yes, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Prime Minister Abe --

    MR TONER: Where are we at? Oh, Japan, I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: Prime Minister Abe will visit Pearl Harbor later this month and meet with President Obama. Do you have any expectations for this visit?

    MR TONER: Do I have any expectations?

    QUESTION: Mm-hmm, or what are your expectations?

    MR TONER: No. I mean, I – honestly, I would just refer you to the statement, I believe, that the White House put out. You’re right. It’s going to take place on December 27th, 2016. But again, in the statement, they just said that it’s an opportunity for the two leaders to review joint efforts over the past four years to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance, which is a critical one for us, obviously. And poignantly, the President will also accompany Prime Minister Abe to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor to honor those who were killed on December 7th.

    QUESTION: And specifically on --

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: -- U.S.-Japan relations, what effect do you think it will have?

    MR TONER: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: What effect do you think it will have on U.S.-Japan relations?

    MR TONER: You’re talking about the visit to the memorial or the visit to – just the visit in general?

    QUESTION: To – yes, in general.

    MR TONER: Okay. (Laughter.) Sorry. It’s obviously the end of President Obama’s Administration, his tenure as President, and he, as we all know, has been at the forefront of our strategic pivot to Asia, and --

    QUESTION: Thought it was rebalancing.

    MR TONER: Rebalancing, yes. (Laughter.) Thank you. I’m using first-term language here, I apologize. Rebalancing to Asia and I think it’s going to be a chance for them to take stock of what was accomplished, but also look to the future, and I think to just convey that the U.S.-Japan partnership alliance is a critical one to our ongoing engagement with Asia.

    QUESTION: On --

    QUESTION: And do you think – sorry, one more.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: Do you think the U.S. Government will be expecting any sort of apology from Prime Minister Abe while he’s there?

    MR TONER: Look, I’m not going to speak to that. That’s – I think it’s – it will be a, as I just said, a very poignant moment in the long process of reconciliation and partnership with Japan coming out of that terrible day.

    QUESTION: But you’re not asking for --

    MR TONER: I’m not asking for --

    QUESTION: You’re not asking for an apology?

    MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no. It’s --

    QUESTION: Mark?

    MR TONER: Please, in the back.

    QUESTION: Mark, on North Korea?

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: The North Korean foreign ministry has announced that North Korea will take strong actions against the new UN sanctions and the U.S. additional sanctions on North Korea. Do you have any comment on that?

    MR TONER: I don’t, other than that we would hope that the action – the strong action that they would take would be to address the international community’s very serious concerns about their nuclear ambitions. That’s the actions that these sanctions are designed to prompt.

    QUESTION: Do you have any --

    QUESTION: Can I just ask really quickly – a follow-up on my question? Because apparently, the Israeli Knesset just passed the first law regarding --

    MR TONER: I keep telling them we got to cut the Wi-Fi in here. (Laughter.) I’ll never get out of here. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: I wonder if you have any comment on that. Because yesterday, it was – the Secretary said it was very clear and warning against such a step, but apparently, today, that step is taken. So in light of that, would the United States pursue any kind of effort at the United Nations?

    MR TONER: I don’t have any – certainly not going to speak to any actions we may pursue with regard to the United Nations. Our clear – our policy of settlements, I think, is crystal clear.

    Thanks, guys.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:03 p.m.)


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