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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 6, 2016

2 hours 4 min ago

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 6, 2016

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.1:06 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. I do not have any announcements at the top, so we can get right to questions.

QUESTION: Can we start with Turkey?

QUESTION: David, you had a --

QUESTION: I was just going to launch in halfway through, but --

MR KIRBY: You’re going to what?

QUESTION: Going to Turkey, Turkey’s (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: All right. You had your hand up. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Today, just this morning or a couple hours ago, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet daily, Turkish daily, attacked by a gunman. Do you have a comment, first of all, on this?

MR KIRBY: No, look, I’m just seeing press reports about this myself, and so it – I think we’re just going to watch this as closely as we can, but I don’t have an official comment on it right now.

QUESTION: But you have seen that the incident happened? Do you think that --

MR KIRBY: I have seen press reports about an incident. I don’t have operational reports to speak to about it, so I’m going to refrain from specific comments until we have more information. I just don’t have anything more for you.

QUESTION: Do you have operational reports on the fighting in Hama prison in Syria?

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen reports of that as well and we’re certainly concerned about that. We would urge the regime to refrain from actions that could escalate the violence and the tension. And I understand that there’s already been some violence here. I’m not saying there hasn’t been. And as always, we call on Russia and other partners that have influence on the regime to press them for restraint.

And I might take this opportunity to simply say that we also call on the regime to treat appropriately those people that are being detained. There’s a – you could easily have a fundamental debate about whether they should be detained or not, and certainly, we have concerns over the detentions. But separate and distinct from that, there’s an obligation – if you’re going to have people detained in a prison, there’s an obligation that a government incurs upon itself in terms of assuring their well-being. And so we’re – we certainly call on them to respect that obligation.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the alleged bombing of the IDP camp in northern Syria? I gather the Syrians and the Russians have denied having anything to do with it, but it’s apparently an airstrike.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I would tell you that we’re still processing information about that incident and there’s the – we don’t have perfect knowledge about what happened. So we’re still doing the best we can to try to get more information and more accurate information about what happened.

QUESTION: Well, what is the status of the ceasefire – of the truce?

MR KIRBY: The cessation of hostilities in Aleppo – that’s what you meant to ask, I think.

QUESTION: No, I meant to ask – I don’t like the words “cessation of hostilities -- ”

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

QUESTION: -- because I’m not sure it doesn’t – it doesn’t – it apparently doesn’t mean “cessation of hostilities.” It means --


QUESTION: But it doesn’t mean (inaudible).

QUESTION: -- keep fighting.

MR KIRBY: It does – it does --

QUESTION: No, that’s why I said “truce.”

MR KIRBY: It does – well, it does mean that, though. It does mean that. And it --

QUESTION: But anyway – anyway --

MR KIRBY: And that’s what we’re trying to achieve. And so to answer your question --

QUESTION: So it’s supposed to – so by your count if you – since yesterday, you guys accepted or Mark accepted that it was 48 hours that the Syrians had agreed to. And by your definition of when that started, it would have been over last night at midnight local time. By their definition, the Syrians’ definition, it would be over tonight, midnight time.

Is it still, on according to you? Because according to you, it would have been over last night and it hasn’t (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: Well, what we – right. So obviously, what we want and desire is for these cessations to be enduring. And what I can tell you is (a) we continue to watch the situation in Aleppo. It does appear as if the violence has decreased since it came into effect a couple of days ago and that seems to be the case today. I can’t tell you that it’s perfect in every neighborhood of Aleppo, of course not. And obviously, the right number of violations is zero. That’s what we want. We’re still concerned about reports of violations.

But in general, since the – it went into effect two days ago, we have seen a decreased level of violence in Aleppo, and we’d like to see that continue.

QUESTION: Okay, right. But are there active efforts underway now to extend it beyond what the Syrians say would be the end of it?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of diplomatic discussions. I can tell you that we very much – the United States very much would like to see it endure and go beyond what were – what were stated time limits.

QUESTION: Well, based on what you know, what are the chances of that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I think I don’t want to – I’m not going to speculate in terms of the chances of being able to go forward with it. I think – I don't know that would be useful to do. What I can tell you is we’re committed to seeing it endure --

QUESTION: I understand that, but I’m --

MR KIRBY: -- and we’re going to continue to have discussions with the partners in the ISSG to try to see that it can endure.

QUESTION: Okay, but I’m not asking you to speculate about it. I’m saying based on what you know --

MR KIRBY: Well, you said what are the chances.

QUESTION: Based on what you know, or what this building knows from people in Geneva and potential conversations that the Secretary or other officials may have had with the Russians, what are – are you optimistic that there will – that you’ll be able to get an extension?

MR KIRBY: I would say that we’re committed to making it endure and we’re very focused on trying to see if that reduction in violence can be sustained.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

QUESTION: Have the Russians said whether they’re going to – it’s going to endure? The Russians announced it as a 48-hour ceasefire.

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any additional comments out of Moscow. You’d have to talk to them about that.

QUESTION: They have – when was the last time Secretary Kerry spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. The last call I have on record was Monday, the 2nd of May, before it went into effect.



QUESTION: Can I just quickly follow up? Now, your counterpart at the Russian foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, said today that basically it was the terrorists, what she calls the terrorists, that time and again broke the ceasefire before. And she noted what happened on May 1 and May 3rd and so on, and she’s saying basically it is Jabhat al-Nusrah and others who have been trying to frustrate or to break the hudna, the cessation of hostilities, since it went into effect on – last February. Do you have any comment on that? Because she has said --

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s an interesting comment to make because they’re not parties to the cessation of hostilities.

QUESTION: I understand that.

MR KIRBY: Designated terrorist groups are not parties to it.

QUESTION: So but --

MR KIRBY: So nobody ever expected them to observe it.

QUESTION: Okay. But so – then she says that that made them a fair target by government forces and so on. So when you say that they are not part of the cessation, then they are fair targets, then the government has or everybody else – much as like the coalition or the Russians and so on – has every right to go ahead and bomb them, right?

MR KIRBY: They’re not a party to the cessation, so they are – they are fair targets for kinetic strikes, yeah.

QUESTION: Right, okay, okay. And that includes the areas that may not be delineated between this group or that group, and so on?

MR KIRBY: If – we’ve talked about this before, Said.

QUESTION: I understand. I’m trying to --

MR KIRBY: I mean, I --

QUESTION: -- to get a grasp of it.

MR KIRBY: I know. But I feel like sometimes we’re retreading the same ground over and over again.

QUESTION: Right, right.

MR KIRBY: I’m not disputing the fact that in Aleppo these groups can be intermingled. In fact, sometimes it’s by design, especially by groups like al-Nusrah that want to help try to protect themselves by being geographically close or intermixed with groups that – either civilians or opposition groups that they know are parties to the cessation of hostilities.

I’m also not saying and never have said that there haven’t been violations of the cessation by certain members of the opposition. There has been. That said, by and large, the violations have been as a result of the regime. And what we’ve asked certainly in our conversations with Russia particularly is that if they are going to undertake strikes, which they have, against al-Nusrah and against Daesh, that they do so with as much precision as they can so that they are just hitting those groups and not anybody else. I can’t say with certainty that that has always been the case, that there haven’t been in these strikes also strikes against the opposition and against civilians. And on the regime side we can say definitively we know that the regime has not abided by the cessation particularly there in Aleppo and has deliberately, on purpose, gone out and struck civilian targets and opposition targets. But it’s a very --

QUESTION: Now the --

MR KIRBY: It’s a very fluid situation there, very dynamic, which is why, quite frankly, it was so important for us to get this reaffirmation in place a couple of days ago in Aleppo.

QUESTION: Now, I can do one quick follow-up on what – something that Mark said yesterday that it was unacceptable to have the regime retake Aleppo and so on, something to that effect. Does that mean there ought to be some sort of lines or demarcation between the different – between government troops and the other groups that ought to be recognized by those involved, like you, like the Russians, like whoever is involved in this process?

MR KIRBY: We’re not looking at the cessation in terms of lines of demarcation, no.

QUESTION: Different --



QUESTION: Can I ask you about the – so has this issue of the 48 hours been cleared up? If the military said that it was 48 hours and the State Department said it’s open-ended, can we assume that this truce continues?

MR KIRBY: I think that was sort of the line of questioning that I just went through with Matt. We would like to see it endure. I understand what some of the understandings were at the outset, and again, I’d say over the last two days we have seen a reduction in the violence, and I think that gives us some reason to be encouraged that if it can endure, we may continue to see even more of a reduction in the violence. But I couldn’t possibly predict that certainty or for how long that might be able to go. What we would like to see – and we’ve said it from the very beginning when the cessation was first put in place – that we – that our goal, our objective, our desire would be to see that it be enduring, that it be long-lasting, permanent, sustainable. I mean, obviously that’s what you want. You want to see the violence come down.

QUESTION: So was this a lack of communication between you and the Russians?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think it was a lack of communication. I mean, I think there were pretty serious discussions that went on between us and the Russians with respect to getting this latest reaffirmation of the hostilities, the restoration, if you will, in Aleppo – getting that in place and trying to get it to stick. And in the process of doing that, it’s natural to – especially because you’re looking at a specific geographic area, it’s natural to want to – to try to bound that in some way so that you can get a deal in place that can be enforced. And we did. And there has been, as I said, a reduction in the violence.

But we – for our part, we – and we’ve said this from the beginning. I’m not saying something different to you that what we’ve said in the room – we want to see this be enduring. Ultimately, we don’t want to see time limits on this.

QUESTION: So when we look at this as outsiders and we evaluate whether this truce is holding or not, we look at the levels of violence. Is that what you’re saying we should do?

MR KIRBY: The levels of violence, yes. I mean --

QUESTION: Overall?

MR KIRBY: And when I – yeah, overall, but most specifically the – and I hate to put adjectives on it, but the organized violence that you would see from – where you see the cessation not happening or not succeeding. It’s this – it’s the regime against opposition or against civilians. It’s – and it’s violations of other groups that are causing these deaths and these injuries.

QUESTION: And can I ask one more question? With the task force and evaluating the violations, is – does the U.S. and Russia coordinate and – I mean, would you have to show your hand as where the opposition is based, and they would have to show their hand where the government is based? Is that not kind of --

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t think there’s any question about where the government is operating out of. But – and I don’t want to get into the tactical-level detail here of how – of the information flow. But it is true that the U.S. side and the Russian side are in direct communication around the clock now about the situation, particularly in Aleppo, and the purpose of that round-the-clock communication is to do exactly that – to make sure that violations don’t occur and then when they appear to be or appear to maybe be in the future, to try to forestall that by sharing information as appropriate to keep it from happening.

QUESTION: If the 48-hour ceasefire or cessation of hostilities is not renewed at midnight Syrian time, so in a few hours, does that mark a failure for this policy and of the mechanism that you’ve chosen?

MR KIRBY: What I would say is, number one, we want to see it continue. We want to see it be sustainable and enduring. That it has led to, for the first time now in weeks, a reduction in the violence in Aleppo is a good thing, and again, we’re encouraged by that.

QUESTION: But you’ll be disappointed --

MR KIRBY: And it tells us – it tells us that it is possible to get to a better outcome in Aleppo. It tells us that it is in fact possible for Russia to exert the appropriate kind of influence on the Assad regime so that regime attacks can stop. So it certainly is an indicator that this approach can work, and I think what – I would say it gives us hope that it’s worth continuing to try to pursue that and to keep it going.

QUESTION: But if the regime is listening to you now – I assume they are – they might see this as proof that they can string you along for 48 hours from time to time, and you continue to say that you believe the process has got potential.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, you do what you have to do to stop the bloodletting, particularly where you see it in places like Aleppo. But that doesn’t mean that we’re interested in some sort of long-term plan to do this piecemeal. What I’ve said from earlier is we want to see all of Syria to be a peaceful environment. We don’t want to see any Syrians --

QUESTION: How long --

MR KIRBY: -- come under attack from their own government.

QUESTION: How long are you prepared to tolerate the piecemeal approach?

MR KIRBY: We are – we certainly are prepared to keep working this very hard for as long as it takes to try to get --

QUESTION: But you just you wouldn’t tolerate a long-term – but now you say as long as it takes.

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. Your question was how long are we going to work towards keeping the cessation in place, and we’ll do that for as long as it takes. What we want to see is the cessation of hostilities endure nationwide and to be sustainable over the long term. I’m not going to speculate from here about what happens in another 12 or 18 hours if, in fact, the Syrian regime considers the timeframe started later than what we did. What I can tell you is --

QUESTION: I don’t think it’s 12 or 18; I think it’s about six, isn’t it?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you – oh, whatever. What I can tell you is we’re committed to keeping this in place as long as possible. That’s the focus. And not just in Aleppo, but throughout the whole country.

QUESTION: John, I have three questions on Syria. On the IDP camp, Russian military official said that judging by destruction of the refugee camp, Nusrah Front militants could have deliberately or accidentally fired on it. Do you have any information that confirm this statement?


QUESTION: And do you think that al-Nusrah was behind the – behind firing on the camp?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any information that indicates that. As I said at the outset, we’re still gathering information right now and are not in a position to definitively say exactly what happened there.

QUESTION: Second question.

MR KIRBY: No, you already asked two.

QUESTION: No, this was one. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: No, that was two.

QUESTION: The first one was a question; the second was a follow-up. Now, the second question: The Syrian coalition issued a statement today saying that the massacre perpetrated by the Assad regime against civilians in the IDP Kamouna Camp in rural Idlib could have been prevented had U.S. President Barack Obama approved the establishment of a safe zone in northern Syria. What do you think about this statement?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, we’re still trying to get better information about what happened in the Idlib camp. So I’m not going to go any further on the circumstances there. We just don’t have perfect knowledge right now.

The issue of safe zones, buffer zones, whatever you want to call them – we’ve talked about that for quite some time, Michel. I don’t have anything new to add to what we’ve said in the past, that we continue to examine and consider all manner of options and all alternatives. It would be irresponsible not to. But there’s no change to our view at this time that safe zones or buffer zones are not the appropriate response to take right now. And there are risk and resource-intensive issues that must be considered before you enact an approach like that, and we have to be mindful of it.

QUESTION: My third question is: Will the Secretary participate in the meeting on Syria on – in Paris next Monday?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates to offer on his schedule for next week.

QUESTION: Because French – France foreign ministry has announced that United States will be part of the meeting, and Britain, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Jordan, and Turkey will be there too.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates to his schedule to announce right now.


QUESTION: One on Syria and two on Iraq. Syria – this is a follow-up to David’s question. I understand that the U.S. is interested in a broad nationwide ceasefire in Syria as a whole, but as you do these localized agreements such as what you have in place in Aleppo, the ones that were enacted last week in Latakia, is there a limit on how long you’re willing to consider trying with these localized ceasefires? Is there are a point that you get to where these localized ceasefires with 48-hour deadlines just – it becomes futile and difficult or too difficult to maintain?

MR KIRBY: I think this gets – it’s the same question that Dave asked, okay? I mean, I don’t know how I can approach this any differently. We’re – so let’s back up just a little bit here. We want to see the entire country safe and secure for the Syrian people. We want to see the cessation of hostilities, which applied to the entire country, actually executed for the entire country – implemented across the entire country.

We knew the day after it was implemented that there were going to be violations, and there have been. We’ve been very open and honest about that. We’ve tried very hard to prevent them where we can, and there have been some that have been prevented. And where they occur, we try as best we can to analyze the information, share it, and then try to use influence – both on the opposition and on the regime – to keep them from happening again.

Now, you’re right, there were some smaller reaffirmations of that or efforts to restore that over the last couple of weeks. And I’m not in a position now to say with any great certainty that that approach is going to be pursued in the future. I wouldn’t rule it in, I wouldn’t rule it out. What I can affirmatively tell you is that the Secretary is committed to keeping the cessation of hostilities in place as much as possible. Obviously, the goal here is zero violations – that’s what we want. And he will continue to work this very, very hard, certainly with Foreign Minister Lavrov, but also with other leaders in the ISSG going forward. And if that means that we have to take a look at more localized efforts in order to do that, then we’ll do that.

Obviously, the ideal approach is one that’s nationwide and it’s enduring and it’s sustainable. And I appreciate the desire to get me to speculate about another 48 hours or another 72 hours or whatever it is, and I’m simply not prepared to do that. And I don’t think it would be wise to try to hypothesize about the manner in which we might pursue additional efforts to keep the cessation in place. What matters – and I think – and I wish I had said this the first time you asked this question, but what --

QUESTION: Well, this is why we’re asking again.

QUESTION: There you go. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Okay, I can’t argue with that. What matters is that we have seen a reduction in violence and that – and I’m not overstating this by any stretch, because Syria remains a dangerous place and there’s still a lot of suffering – but that for some Syrians in some places, life has gotten better. Not perfect – they still have a government that is, obviously, showing a propensity to continue to kill them. But life has gotten measurably better for some Syrians in some places, and I don’t think we should lose sight of that. There is more work to be done, but I can tell you the Secretary is committed to being as flexible as he needs to be to keep the cessation in place.

QUESTION: And then a couple on Iraq, if we can transition.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. increased military personnel at the U.S. embassy as a result of security concerns – brought in additional Marines? Can you confirm those reports? And secondly, if this is the case, is this a permanent increase in the number of military personnel who will be there for security reasons or a temporary up-staffing?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think you know we don’t talk about security posture at our embassies, and it’s a dynamic situation. We constantly evaluate our security posture, and, frankly, we routinely and constantly change that posture as appropriate. That is what we expect the good people in Diplomatic Security to do. I won’t talk about it one way or another. I will – I do think it’s important to remind, however, that our embassy in Baghdad continues to operate normally.


QUESTION: Is there – one more – is there ongoing – is there concern in this building concerning the ongoing friction between the Iraqi Government and Muqtada al-Sadr’s followers? I know that you’ve said before that this is sort of inside baseball, an issue that Iraq has to work out, but is there concern that these tensions may be destabilizing to U.S. interests such as the overall fight against the Islamic State?

MR KIRBY: We want, obviously, to see the reforms that Prime Minister Abadi is putting into place – we want to see them succeed. And we know that he knows how important it is for him to continue pursuing these reforms in keeping with Iraq’s constitution. And Iraq is an important partner in the region. They are certainly an important partner in this fight against Daesh. Our support inside the coalition remains and will continue. That support is being done by, with, and through the Abadi government in Baghdad.

But you’re right. Look, these are political challenges that the Iraqi people have to work through and Prime Minister Abadi has to lead them through. And as I said earlier, a few days ago, we’re confident that he can do that and that he’s well aware of the significant challenges he’s facing.

QUESTION: Kirby, can I have a follow-up on that, please?


QUESTION: Are you concerned, though, about the security around that embassy?

MR KIRBY: We’re concerned about the security of our embassies all over the world, everywhere.


QUESTION: Yes. You said you talk daily to the Russians about Syria. Can you help us understand, how do you assess their behavior in Syria? Because it doesn’t seem they are using their influence very much on Assad, because he keeps continuing bombing and violating ceasefires. I mean, can he keep doing this without an orange light from the Russians?

MR KIRBY: Without a what?

QUESTION: Orange light.

MR KIRBY: Orange light?

QUESTION: It’s not a green – orange light at least.

MR KIRBY: I’ve never heard that phrase before. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yellow light.

QUESTION: Yellow light.

MR KIRBY: Look, I talked about this the other day, that we know that Russia’s influence can matter, that it does matter to the Assad regime. Because when we’ve seen them exert that influence, it has worked. And I think the reduction in violence in and around Aleppo over the last couple of days is yet another indication, another bit of evidence that – but when they exert their influence, it can have a meaningful impact.

The question that we’ve asked ourselves is how much – how willing are they – and how strongly are they using that influence at times, and whether or not Assad has developed any antibodies to some of that influence. That has not always been clear. But again, if you just take a look at the last 48 hours – and the fact, Samir, quite frankly, that in many other places around Syria the cessation has held. I mean, Aleppo gets a lot of attention, rightly so – no question about that. But there are a lot of other communities around Syria that we’re not talking about, you’re not asking me about, because the cessation has held and the violence has stopped. So we know they can have influence and that that influence can have an impact. We want to see that continue.

QUESTION: Idlib, for example. The firing on the camp. It’s in Idlib province, not in Aleppo.

QUESTION: I asked about Hama.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. So --

QUESTION: So we are asking about other places.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. You’re asking about other places where the cessation may not be holding. We’re not talking about the places in Syria – which is what I was referring to – where it is holding. Because I recognize that’s not necessarily newsworthy – at least maybe not to some members of the media – but it certainly is to us, because it shows that the cessation can in fact be put in place and held.

Now, your question about Idlib, in the question itself, you’re calling it a firing. As I said, we’re still trying to assess what happened, and I don’t have great – we don’t have any more specific knowledge about what happened there, and so I think it’s just too soon to say.

QUESTION: Can we move on?


QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MR KIRBY: To the what?

QUESTION: Palestinian-Israeli issue?

QUESTION: Guess. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Could I ask you --

MR KIRBY: Said asks about other stuff.

QUESTION: Madagascar.

QUESTION: I ask about other stuff.

MR KIRBY: He does, he does. You’re not going to ask about --

QUESTION: I can ask about North Korea if you --

MR KIRBY: -- but you’re not going to ask about Madagascar today, are you?


MR KIRBY: Because I really don’t have anything on that right now.

QUESTION: It’s a big island. Anyway. I wanted to ask you for the third day straight – or confrontations along the Gaza border. Are you concerned that this may escalate out of hand? Hamas is saying that they don’t want – or they don’t want for these hostilities to accelerate in any way, but the Israelis are not holding off. Are you talking to them about the need to --

MR KIRBY: Well, we – look, we always talk to our Israeli counterparts about security there, and certainly --

QUESTION: I understand. But on this particular issue, have you spoken to them?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – I won’t detail specific conversations that we’re having with Israeli leaders. Let me just say a couple of things, and I think it’s probably the same thing you’ve heard us say over the last couple of days. I mean, it is a developing situation. We obviously do not want to see it escalate. And certainly, we condemn mortar attacks and other attacks from Gaza into Israel. And I would also say, as we’ve said before, we support Israel’s right to defend itself and to defend its citizens. And no country should have to be under threat that comes from attacks based on tunneling. So – and there’s a legitimate security concern here for the Israeli Government. What we would like to obviously see is the tensions decrease and it doesn’t get worse.

QUESTION: Is there a line beyond which you expect the Israelis not to go in affirming their self-defense?

MR KIRBY: All I will say to that, Said, and what we’ve said before is we want to see the violence come down, we want to see calm restored, we want to see both sides take affirmative steps and show some leadership to try to get us to a situation where you can have a meaningful discussion about a two-state solution, and that’s really – that’s really what this is about or needs to be about.

QUESTION: I have a couple more questions. The Israelis keep holding bodies of Palestinians that are killed at the checkpoints – really kind of macabre. I mean, the brother and sister, for instance, that were killed on the 27th, their bodies are held there, some – something like 14 or 15 others that are being held, and in a way, just to punish and torment the families. Do you have any comment on that? Is that a practice that should cease or should stop immediately? Because obviously, it doesn’t seem to have any kind of investigative value.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, without talking to the specifics of any case here, what I would tell you is that we would welcome steps from the parties that would help to reduce the tensions and restore calm, and I just – I think I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Including the release of the bodies of dead people --

MR KIRBY: If a step like that --

QUESTION: -- to their families?

MR KIRBY: If a step like that could help reduce the tensions and restore calm, then obviously, we would welcome that.

QUESTION: Let me ask you one more question. Congresswoman Betty McCollum from Minnesota’s Fourth District drafted a letter and she’s trying to collect signatures and so on from her colleagues. It is addressed to President Obama, copied to Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry. And she calls for the establishment of a special envoy for the protection of Palestinian children. Is that something – have you – first of all, have you seen this letter?

MR KIRBY: We have not received the letter. I’m aware of it.

QUESTION: You are aware of it?

MR KIRBY: But I have not – we’ve not received it here. I certainly wouldn’t speak for the White House and the manner in which they would respond. Obviously, when the Secretary gets congressional correspondence, we try to respond appropriately and as expeditiously as possible. We don’t talk about the specifics of that. And I’m not going to speculate about this particular proposal. I mean, I’m aware of what’s in it. I’m – although I have not seen the letter, we haven’t received it, I’m certainly aware of the purported contents of it. And I just wouldn’t get ahead, speculate on a proposal like that at this time.

Broadly speaking, we don’t want to see any children under any threat. Children should be allowed to live freely and grow up to live normal, productive, healthy, happy lives.

QUESTION: That’s a very controversial policy. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Yes. But it’s true.

QUESTION: Going out on a limb.

MR KIRBY: It’s true, it’s true. And as I said, we want to see affirmative steps by all the parties to restore the calm and to move us forward here.

QUESTION: But she also suggests that this, of course, will be under your auspices, so to speak, the – whatever, special envoy and so on. And she cites reason for engagement, knowing exactly what’s going on on the ground; she cites that generation after generation of Palestinian children have grown up under occupation, a sense of despair, no opportunities, all these things – things that you really agree with, it’s things that you would sort of, in fact, fall in place or mesh with your outline and your policies and so on for anywhere, as a matter of fact.

Would that – so why – would you look sort of positively at such a suggestion?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, as far as I know, we haven’t gotten this letter, and I’ve seen reports of it and reports of this proposal. So I really don’t think it’s wise to speculate about the specific proposal that is purportedly in this letter. We haven’t gotten it. It’s – as you said, it’s not addressed to the Secretary; it’s addressed to the President.


MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of how the White House would respond to this. But in general, obviously, we want to see the kinds of conditions there that can move us forward to a two-state solution, a productive path forward here and leadership on all sides to help us get there, so that children on all sides can live normal, happy, healthy lives. I mean, obviously, that’s the whole reason why we still consider or still favor moving towards a two-state solution so that there can be a more peaceful future for kids.

QUESTION: Right. So now that we’ve nailed down that you’re pro-child, which is always good to know, can we move on to something else?


QUESTION: And that is: The Secretary has often, when asked about the current political campaigns, demurred or only made very brief comments related to what he has heard from foreign leaders. This morning he, in his commencement address, went a bit further than he has in the past. He made a joke about the diverse graduate – graduating class being Donald Trump’s worst nightmare. He alluded to carnival barker-type campaigning. And I’m just wondering, has he decided that he is going to weigh in or – on the campaign, or in general on the season?

MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary was simply trying to enjoy a light moment with the graduates and it was really nothing more than that. He, as you know, has made it a point to stay out of the political fray as Secretary of State, and I don’t see that changing.

QUESTION: So this was it? It was just a one-off kind of joke? Because he did get – it wasn’t just the joke. It was – there was more serious --

QUESTION: Hiding behind a wall.

MR KIRBY: Well, in terms of – what’s that?

QUESTION: A carnival barker hiding behind a wall.

QUESTION: But he only mentioned Trump’s name once.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean --

QUESTION: As a racist.

MR KIRBY: What’s that?

QUESTION: He only mentioned him once to refer to him as a racist.

MR KIRBY: He has repeatedly talked about the concerns that he hears from foreign leaders when we’re traveling around the world, the concerns that they have expressed about the rhetoric on the campaign and the anxiety that some of that rhetoric is causing foreign leaders around the world. I mean, he’s talked about that quite a bit. I mean, he’s not living in a bubble. He sees what’s going on in there --

QUESTION: No, I understand that, but --

MR KIRBY: -- and he’s obviously concerned about some of the tone --


MR KIRBY: -- and the effect that that’s having on foreign leaders. But if you’re asking me, is because he enjoyed a lighthearted moment with students today, is that going – has he changed his calculus now to more aggressively jump into active debates about what’s going on on the campaign trail, the answer is no.

QUESTION: Okay, so we should not expect him to carry on with --

MR KIRBY: You should not expect him to change his view that as Secretary of State, he needs to stay --


MR KIRBY: -- and will stay out of the political fray.

QUESTION: If that was a lighthearted moment, he thinks that Donald Trump’s campaign is still a suitable subject for humor?

MR KIRBY: It was a joke intended to lighten up an audience of students that were graduating from college.

QUESTION: Let me follow up on Trump because he also said that England would be better off without being a member of the European Union. Does that complicate your policies or your efforts in this regard? Would the president of the United States --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to respond to – no, as I --

QUESTION: Or is that just part of the campaign rhetoric?

MR KIRBY: I have and will continue to scrupulously avoid engaging in a tit-for-tat for every comment made by every candidate for political office. That’s not appropriate discussion from this podium and I’m not going to engage in it. The Secretary has said himself he believes in a strong UK in Europe and in the European Union. President Obama has spoken very clearly about our views in that regard, and I don’t have anything more to add.

Yeah, Janne.

QUESTION: John, thank you. Do you know that – UN Security Council press statement on North Korea, why they delayed it?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update for you on that, Janne. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Did you – can you take the question?

MR KIRBY: I’ll take a look. I’m not aware of a specific delay, so you’re going to have to let me get back to you on that.

QUESTION: All right, thank you.


QUESTION: Ukraine?


QUESTION: Today several dozen armed men raided a mosque in Crimea and captured almost a hundred Crimean Tatars. Later the Tatars were freed but they were told to come to police. Are you aware of that and do you have any reaction of such kind of religious persecution in Crimea?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of those reports. I think before I issue a comment here from the podium you’re going to have to let me go back and get some more information on that. So I think I’m just – if you don’t mind, I’m going to just take your question and we’ll get back to you on that. I’m going to refrain for right now until we can get more information about what happened here.

Guys, I’m going to have to get going, I’m afraid. Thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:46 p.m.)

DPB #78

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 5, 2016

Thu, 05/05/2016 - 17:34

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 5, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:13 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the State Department. What a crowd of Cougars back there that we have with us today. Is that a – yeah, that’s right, the Cougars, BYU Cougars. So in that vein, I’d like --

QUESTION: Okay. Are you --


MR TONER: (Laughter.) Matt, don’t even go there. (Laughter.) First I would like to welcome --

QUESTION: Go where?

MR TONER: -- Ambassador Cho, who I met yesterday. Where are you, Ambassador Cho?


MR TONER: Hey, good to see you, sir. He is the spokesperson for the ministry of foreign affairs of the Republic of Korea, and I had the pleasure of sitting down with him and meeting with him yesterday, as well as other colleagues from the ministry of foreign affairs. I don’t know if there’s anybody else there. Thank you. Welcome. Also, as I said, I want to welcome the group from – of students from Brigham Young University, hence the --


MR TONER: -- go Cougars. Welcome to the State Department today.

A few things at the top. So first of all, we’re pleased to announce two leadership updates for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs in the State Department. First, the President has designated former Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte as acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. She will assume her responsibilities effective today. Mari Carmen Aponte is an experienced and distinguished attorney and diplomat, recently serving as our ambassador to El Salvador. In 2014, she was nominated by President Obama to be the U.S. permanent representative to the Organization of American States. She’s an entrepreneur, cofounding one of the first minority-owned law firms in Washington, D.C.

And then additionally this morning, we’re very pleased that the Secretary was able to swear in Roberta Jacobson as our new ambassador to Mexico, and we congratulate Ambassador Jacobson and we welcome acting Assistant Secretary Aponte in her new role.

Also, just an update on the Secretary’s travel to France and the United Kingdom. The U.S. Secretary of State will travel to Paris, France and the United Kingdom on May 8th through 12th. While in Paris, on May 9th and 10th, Secretary Kerry will meet with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault for bilateral discussions on a range of issues, including Syria and Ukraine. Secretary Kerry will then travel to the United Kingdom, May 10th through 12th, where he will head the U.S. delegation to the Anti-Corruption Summit in London and visit Oxford University. He’ll also hold bilateral talks with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

That’s all I have. Matt, over to you.

QUESTION: Great. Where did I want to start? Oh, right. Syria. First, just a couple logistical things.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: When you guys announced the ceasefire yesterday --


QUESTION: -- shortly thereafter the Syrian military announced that they would be doing the ceasefire, but they said that it began only at midnight last night – or today – and it was only going to last 48 hours. You guys had it beginning Wednesday midnight and being open-ended – i.e., not 48 hours. What’s going on here?

MR TONER: Well, you are right to note a little bit of a discrepancy there as – in terms of the start time. Look, we stand by that – our statement, that it went into effect May 4th at 12:01 local time in Syria. As to why the regime said otherwise, you’d have to ask them. There may have been coordination issues on the ground. I don’t have any other clearer explanation than that.

QUESTION: Well, that’s really the lesser of the --

MR TONER: But the most important – right, the most important issue, obviously, Matt, is that – is whether they comply. And it appears that, today at least, there’s a decrease in the level of violence. There have been, obviously, some incidents of violence or of attacks, but – and as to your thing about the deadline or the --


MR TONER: -- the end, rather, yes – it is our hope – and we’ve expressed this, beginning with the reaffirmations last week in Latakia and East Ghouta – we want these to be open-ended.

QUESTION: Well, I know you want them to be open-ended, but did you try to get them to be open-ended and they said, “No, we’re only going to do it for 48 hours?”

MR TONER: Again, they have given it a 48-hour time limit. We’ll let that time limit proceed, but what we would like to see is, obviously, this continue and be as open-ended as possible.

QUESTION: So whoever was negotiating this for your – with you and the Russians were pushing for longer, for open-ended, not – you didn’t take 48 hours and say – they didn’t say 48 hours only, and you didn’t say, “Okay,” did you? You pushed for longer?

MR TONER: No, we want this to be longer.

QUESTION: All right. And then I realize that this is not covered by the Aleppo COH, as it were, but have you seen the reports of this refugee camp further north being bombed?

MR TONER: Yeah. We’ve seen the reports, Matt, including accusations that these were regime strikes. We’re looking into them and try to get more details on what happened. But there’s absolutely no justification for attacks on civilians in Syria – we’ve said this many times, unfortunately, over the last week or so – but especially on a – what appears to have been a refugee camp, so really targeting the most vulnerable citizens in Syria.

QUESTION: Doesn’t this kind of an attack bolster the case that the Turks have been making for a long time, calls for – and even people here – for – if not a no – if not no-fly zones, but real safe zones beyond just what you were talking about in terms of Aleppo, neighborhood by neighborhood safe zones?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, again, before I get all the – I don’t want to speak before we have all the details on what exactly happened.


MR TONER: But let me just finish. Look, we don’t want to set up specific no-fly zones. What we’re working towards and what we’re trying to get in place here is a nationwide cessation of hostilities that we believe can endure and be strengthened over the long haul. That’s been our aim here. It continues to be our focus, versus a no-fly zone, which we have talked about before the reasons logistically why we feel that that’s a nonstarter.

QUESTION: So I don’t want to say that you’re okay with these kind of attacks, because I know you’re not.

MR TONER: No, we’re not okay.

QUESTION: But why don’t you act – why aren’t you doing something to – why don’t you support taking measures that would presumably prevent or at least minimize the chances of this kind of thing happening?

MR TONER: Well, I think we’re always looking at what measures we can be – we can take to prevent these kind of attacks in the future. As of today, I don't have any updates for you in terms of a no-fly zone. That remains, as I said, something we’ve said before is a challenge logistically and for many reasons are deciding not to pursue it. But we are pursuing, as I said, the cessation of hostilities throughout the country. We’re going to focus on that right now.


MR TONER: But again, also --

QUESTION: -- does it not bolster the case for – of those who say that something like this would be good and an effective way of preventing dozens of civilians, refugees, from – I mean, you’re trying to halt – you and the Europeans are trying to halt refugee flows out of Syria and into Europe. If the people are getting bombed like this in camps, they’re going to be more likely to go. So why – I don’t – I just don’t understand why this – how you can still have a good argument that it’s out of the question and logistically impossible. It doesn’t seem to be logistically impossible for the regime or for whoever to bomb these places.

MR TONER: Sure. Well, Matt, I mean, look, we’ve talked about this before. And frankly, the Department of Defense has addressed a lot of the challenges in terms of instituting and maintaining a no-fly zone. Look, I mean, nobody is tacitly condoning – in fact, we’ve been condemning these kinds of attacks on civilians, including --

QUESTION: Yeah. But you’re not --

MR TONER: -- as I said today’s most vulnerable. What we need to have happen is for the regime, if indeed it did carry out these airstrikes, to stop these attacks. And it’s incumbent on Russia, who has influence over the regime, to make that – or convey that message.

QUESTION: Okay. But that just seems like very weak beer, as it were. I mean, calling for them to stop when they’re not stopping and they’re continuing to do this kind of thing – and you do have the ability – regardless of how difficult it might be to save or to at least mitigate these kind of attacks, it just – you seem to be doing virtually nothing, except for trying to --

MR TONER: That’s not true, Matt. You know what we’ve given in terms of humanitarian assistance we’ve – we’re the leading provider to refugees.

QUESTION: Well, that’s --

MR TONER: And we’re working to establish --

QUESTION: And that’s great, Mark. And the government is to be – the Administration is to be commended for its support. But these – this isn’t a question of people not getting food. This is a question of people being --

MR TONER: I understand that. I understand that.

QUESTION: -- being killed --

MR TONER: Being targeted.

QUESTION: -- by bombs from the sky, which there is a technical ability for the United States and its allies to do. So I don’t understand why there isn’t new thoughts since this or any new support for the idea.

MR TONER: I don’t have anything --

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: -- obviously to announce. But we look at all of the options in front of us, and especially when we’re confronted with this kind of information. But we’re going to continue to condemn these attacks and push to have them stopped.

QUESTION: Mark, can I follow up, please? I also don’t understand this 48 hours. I mean, is it in effect a 48 hours one? Has there been – what is the message that Russia has given the commanders on the ground? Is it 48 hours or isn’t it?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, Lesley, you’ll have to certainly ask the Russians to --

QUESTION: But Mark, you guys signed the agreement.

MR TONER: -- explain why they convey – or what they’ve conveyed to the regime. I mean, you heard – you saw the announcement. We all saw it, where they said the 48 hours. Our focus is obviously on extending that past that 48-hour window. But it’s also – we want to see a cessation – a reaffirmation of the cessation take hold. And then from there, we can prolong it.

QUESTION: So have you --

MR TONER: That’s their own unilateral interpretation.

QUESTION: Have you asked them --

QUESTION: But you know what the Russians said to the regime. The ministry of defense in Moscow says it’s a 48-hour truce as well. They said exactly the same thing as the Syrians. You say that maybe the difference between the – what you’ve announced and what they’ve announced is a lack of coordination. But is that a lack of coordination between Washington and Moscow or between Moscow and Damascus?

MR TONER: To be clear, I said a lack of coordination in terms of the start time. That was what I was addressing there. In terms of the 48-hour window --

QUESTION: But yet, is that lack of coordination between you and the Russians?

MR TONER: In terms of the – no, in terms of getting that down to the – filtering down to the combatants on the field.

QUESTION: But you accept that it was 48 hours, yeah? Even though you don’t like it, you accept it?

MR TONER: We do – we – precisely.

QUESTION: Okay. So going by your timeline, that 48 hours expires in about four hours. Is that really good enough? I mean, if you go by the Syrians, if you go – if it started just today at midnight --

QUESTION: You got another 28.

QUESTION: -- then there’s another 28 hours. But if you go by your start time, it’s over soon.

MR TONER: Matt, so, one, you have to start somewhere.


MR TONER: So if we get 48 hours and we can extend it past 48 hours, that’s what we’re going to do.

QUESTION: So you’re right now trying to – to get it – because your – if you accept 48 hours and it started at your time, when you say it did, it’s over in four hours. So are you trying now to get it extended beyond that four – beyond the four hours?

MR TONER: We’re always trying to get it extended.

QUESTION: But is that being --

MR TONER: I was very clear: We hope it’s – we hope and it is our goal to make it as open-ended as possible.

QUESTION: But is that being clarified? When we look at a cessation of hostilities, are we looking at an open-ended one or are we looking at the next 48 hours? Because certainly, probably the airstrikes and the --

MR TONER: So – sorry, I didn’t want to talk over you.

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m just trying to think what --

MR TONER: That’s okay. So what we’ve seen – last week we saw the same thing with Latakia and East Ghouta, where they started out with a specific timeframe or a specific time – yeah, timeframe – but then were extended. This doesn’t speak to the overall cessation of hostilities that went into effect a couple months ago. That had no – that was open-ended. But what we tried to do with these reaffirmations of the cessation in these problem areas – Latakia, East Ghouta, Aleppo – is we’ve tried to reassert the cessation of hostilities, and clearly, there have been put a timeframe on that. Again, our intent is to work towards extending that to make it as open-ended as possible, but we have to start somewhere. That’s what I was explaining to Matt. So we want to see it take hold first and then we’ll look at extending it going forward.

QUESTION: And then the – Bashar Assad’s comments today that in a telegram that he sent Vladimir Putin that was discussed on state media, he says that he would accept nothing less than an outright victory against rebels in Aleppo and northern Syria. Does this sound like somebody who wants to adhere to a ceasefire – a truce?

MR TONER: No, to put it frankly, it does not. But it’s also not surprising that Assad would put it that way and would express his intent to keep pushing forward to, quote-unquote, “crush the aggression.” Again, this is someone who carried out airstrikes on a hospital last week, a pediatric hospital, and has carried out unspeakable brutalities against the Syrian people. We call on Russia to urgently address this totally unacceptable statement. And this is clearly an effort by Assad to push his agenda, but it’s incumbent on Russia to exert influence on that regime, or on the regime, rather, to maintain the cessation of hostilities.



QUESTION: Can I go back to --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure, Michelle.

QUESTION: -- the incident on the IDP camp?


QUESTION: You said you were looking into it. Do you have doubts that it was the Syrian Government that was involved? Who – when you say you’re looking into it, who actually decides we think it was them and what are the consequences?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, first off, it’s – I mean, it just – it was reported a short time ago. We don’t have eyes on the ground – we’ve talked about this before – within Syria, many places in Syria. So we’re still trying to garner initial – or additional details as to who’s responsible. We’ve seen early claims that this was a regime strike, but we just want to be absolutely sure before we level blame at somebody. But it’s totally in keeping with the types of strikes, airstrikes that the regime has carried out, unfortunately, against innocent civilians.

But this would be our own effort to establish who’s behind this attack.

QUESTION: Well, who else --

MR TONER: I mean, we’re also going to vet this, obviously, through the task force that’s been up and running in Geneva.

QUESTION: Who else would it have been?

MR TONER: I – Matt, we’re just trying to figure that out. I just don’t want to speak --

QUESTION: Do you think the Russians --

QUESTION: I mean, do you think the --

MR TONER: I’m not trying to lead --

QUESTION: Do you think the Russians might have --

QUESTION: It’s either the Russians or the regime.

MR TONER: I understand that.

QUESTION: Well, or a horrible – an accident.

MR TONER: I understand that. I said – look, Matt, I said early accusations or allegations that these were regime strikes. I just don’t definitively have all of the information in front of me yet, so it would irresponsible for me to say that definitively.

QUESTION: Right. But while you condemn it and express your outrage, you also say that it’s not a surprise. So I don’t understand why it is that you still – you think that anything that the Russians say to Assad or any promises that the regime might make to the Russians about this hold any water or are credible at all. I mean, if you’re not surprised by attacks on civilians, then why should you expect them to --

MR TONER: Adhere to the ceasefire?

QUESTION: Yeah, exactly.

MR TONER: I mean, we’ve talked about this a lot over the past weeks. Look, I mean, it’s – ultimately this is a test of whether the combatants or the parties on the ground will adhere to the ceasefire or this cessation of hostilities that we have in place. If they don’t, then it’s worth nothing.

QUESTION: Well, right.

MR TONER: So clearly this is a test. And if that happens --

QUESTION: That test has not – has anyone --

MR TONER: But Matt, if --

QUESTION: Have they passed the test at all, anybody?

MR TONER: Well, there was – initially, yes. In the initial weeks following the establishment of a cessation of hostilities, let’s be very clear: We saw a general, significant decrease in the level of violence. It was never clean, it was never 100 percent, and we also – that allowed us to get desperately needed humanitarian assistance to those who were – who had been besieged.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: It’s not been perfect, Matt, and I will never argue that from here.

QUESTION: Are there any --

QUESTION: May I? I mean --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- you said – okay, so what happens if they fail the test? You said we’re going to vet this through this task force, but, like, what is this monitoring of this task – this sophisticated monitoring that you have, what good is it if there are absolutely no consequences for either side, particularly the regime, given that it’s backed by the Russians, if they violate it? I just don’t understand what the point of this sophisticated monitoring center and task force is when they’re unable to put forth any consequences for a violation.

MR TONER: It’s – I understand your question. It’s about enforcement. And --

QUESTION: Or consequences --

MR TONER: Or consequences. I --

QUESTION: – or accountability.

MR TONER: And accountability – all very good points. And we have talked about this as well. Look, I mean, if the regime is under the delusion that it can somehow force a military solution to what is happening in Syria today, then it’s going to pursue that. And if the Russians can’t influence the regime to stop that kind of behavior, to stop these attacks, then we’ll see the situation devolve into what we had before – before the cessation, before the political process, before the political negotiations. That’s a fact. So it’s incumbent, as I said, on both sides – on the opposition as well as the regime – to commit themselves to a political transition.

And we’ve also talked about it’s incumbent on the U.S. on one side and Russia on the other side to exert what influence we can on the combatants on the field.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, just let’s play --

MR TONER: That’s just predicated on that.

QUESTION: Let’s just play this out. So your task force vets this and finds that there’s a violation by one or both parties. Then what?

MR TONER: Again, then it --

QUESTION: Then you shame them? You say, “Bad you”? I mean, I just --

MR TONER: Well, it’s more than that, Elise. I mean, let’s look at – I mean, Russia yields influence on the Assad regime. They basically came in since October, September with increased military support that really bolstered the regime. And so they do have leverage here.

QUESTION: And they’ve been continuing to do it for the last two months since your ceasefire has been (inaudible)--

MR TONER: Well, again, we’ve talked about how – we’ve talked about that this is a test. And I understand we use that a lot. This is a test. We have --

QUESTION: I understand it’s a test, but what are the consequences if they fail the test? And what are the consequences for Russia if they don’t – if they are unwilling or unable to put the pressure on the regime?

MR TONER: Well, two thoughts on that. For the regime, they could lose Russian support, which, frankly, would be a serious blow to their ability to carry out an ill-conceived military campaign. For the Russians, if this backslides into an all-out conflict, then they’re going to pay a price because they’re already – they’ve got, quote-unquote, “skin in this game.” So it’s in – again, it’s in their interest to see a cessation of hostilities, and they have expressed this to us. This is something that they have told us. The Secretary, when he spoke to Lavrov – they have discussed all of this. It is in their interests, as well as our interests, as well as the other members of the ISSG, to see this play out with a cessation of hostilities that endures and is durable and also a political process that leads to a transition. There’s no military solution here, and I think all members of the ISSG have committed to that.

QUESTION: So basically you’re saying that the consequences of any violation are that it won’t be in that party’s best interests.

MR TONER: Yeah, strategically. And – yeah. I mean, that’s – but that’s not --

QUESTION: And their kind of willingness or determination to enforce the – to enforce the ceasefire – really the only incentive that they have is that it’ll be for their best interests.

MR TONER: Well, again, it’s not only for their best interests, but it’s – as I said, strategically it’s in their long-term interests. And again, it’s --

QUESTION: So why even bother to have a kind of ceasefire monitoring task force? I just don’t understand what it does.

MR TONER: Elise, because it allows us to quickly exert that influence on the parties who we believe are behind the latest violations. Otherwise, if we just said, eh, let’s let it roll out and play it like it – as it happens, there’s – if there’s no, as you put it, shaming but also identifying who’s responsible for what violation, and then to go to that party – mostly it’s been the regime, let’s be honest here – and to say you cannot do this and to – again, to exert the influence that Russia has over the regime.

QUESTION: And have you seen any examples in the last seven days of six – targeting of --

MR TONER: Well, I mean, we – yeah.

QUESTION: -- medical facilities, of the task force has been able to put pressure on one of the parties and for that to have actually been effective?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to the specific example about medical facilities, because we have seen incidents that are just horrific and we’ve condemned those, obviously. What we have seen though is we have seen a reduction in the level of violence. And this does take time. We saw it last time with the cessation, with the full cessation of hostilities. But going forward – we have seen a decrease. And again, this isn’t perfect. I understand that and I’m not going to argue that it’s perfect. But if it can bring out a significant reduction in violence, if it can bring about a de-escalation in the violence that then ultimately can get the opposition back to Geneva and the regime back to Geneva, then that’s very much worth it.

QUESTION: Mark, what about the flip side of that? Now that you’ve enhanced this U.S.-Russia task force and you’re bringing in higher level officials, is there going to be an effort to enhance the types of penalties that may be imposed when either side violates these agreements?

MR TONER: Look, I think, Pam, that’s always something that’s – that we’re looking at. I don’t, again, have anything to announce or to specify, specifically point to, but I think we’re looking at all of these. We’re aware that we don’t have an effective stick in this operation other than, as I said, to exert what influence we do have over both sides of this conflict. So we’re looking at ways to do that. We don’t – as I said, we don’t have anything concrete to point to.



QUESTION: The goal of the regime is to remain in power and the purpose of the political talks is to proceed to a transition. So why are they delusional to think that military force is the only way they achieve their strategic goal?

MR TONER: Well, because, again, we’ve said – sorry. Because there’s no military solution to this. I understand that it might be about survival and preservation --

QUESTION: If Bashar al-Assad wants to stay in power, that’s his only – if he goes to Geneva, it’s to discuss how he leaves. So he’s going either way. Why is it delusional to think that military strength is the only option he has?

MR TONER: Well, again, that’s really for Assad to speak to and for Russia to speak to. What we want to see is a political transition. We’ve talked about how that could look in a way that preserves certain institutions of the Syrian Government to provide that continuity. We have always said that Assad cannot be a part of that future. That’s to be worked out between the negotiating parties. I really can’t speak to what that will look like at this point in time. But there’s a certain amount of self-preservation that goes into Assad to looking at a possible exit.

QUESTION: So your explanation of the --

MR TONER: But no, what I’m saying, like --

QUESTION: -- consequences mechanism of the ceasefire --

MR TONER: What I’m also saying is if I’m Assad, I’m weighing my options. There’s no way out of this militarily; then you look at other options.

QUESTION: Well, no, there’s no option that preserves him in office.

MR TONER: I understand that.

QUESTION: In light of the ceasefire, what do you do with al-Nusrah, and who is expected to go after them?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, I mean, we continue to go after al-Nusrah.

QUESTION: In Aleppo.

MR TONER: I understand that. Look, we’re aware that al-Nusrah is not part of the cessation of the hostilities, but we also are fully aware that the regime uses al-Nusrah as an excuse to target opposition groups. And again, we’ve talked about this at length, that they continue to hit civilian targets, opposition groups on the ground, who are party to the cessation, under the guise or veil of attacking Nusrah. If they wanted to solely go after Nusrah and Daesh, that’s another story altogether. But I talked about this yesterday. Around Aleppo, which is frankly such a hot zone in terms of conflict right now, what we want to see overall is a de-escalation.

QUESTION: About 10 days ago Steve Warren of the U.S. Military, he said that it is primarily al-Nusrah that holds Aleppo. As I understand, the U.S. has leverage with the rebels. Did you get them to separate themselves from al-Nusrah in Aleppo?

MR TONER: So what we have said is that – and I said this just yesterday – is Aleppo – there are areas controlled by the opposition and there are areas controlled by Nusrah. And we’ve --

QUESTION: And those lines are fluid, as you say.

MR TONER: And the lines are fluid and that’s our challenge, in part, to make sure that those lines are more clearly delineated and that we have – we have conveyed that to the opposition.

QUESTION: Now, what is the – what are the results of that?

MR TONER: Well, we’re working on it. It’s a work in progress.

QUESTION: I guess that’s what I was going to ask.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: So that was not a part of the agreement between U.S. and Russia, was a clear delineation of the lines of where --

MR TONER: Well, I think it is, and it’s part of this enhanced monitoring mechanism that we set up in Geneva, and it’s not going to be an overnight success.

QUESTION: A – I’m sorry.

MR TONER: Or an overnight – the idea of – we talked about this before I came --

QUESTION: In Aleppo?


QUESTION: Not the no-fly thing?

MR TONER: No, no.

QUESTION: Okay. The enhanced monitoring gives you the ability to say – an enhanced ability to point out where strikes are, but, I mean, the – is there a list someplace?

MR TONER: A list of what? Areas and --

QUESTION: Violations.

MR TONER: I’m sure there is.

QUESTION: Well, okay. If you’re going to try and publicly --

MR TONER: It’s not publicly --

QUESTION: Well, why not? If you’re not – if you’re going to --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: If you – if the only weapon that you have to enforce this is to publicly shame those who have violated it and you’re not doing that, then what is the point?

MR TONER: So a couple of thoughts. One is – actually, I won’t even say “With all due respect.” I was going to preface my remarks. The Syrian – the--

QUESTION: Well, we all know that when you start something, “With all due respect,” that you rarely do.

MR TONER: The – now, but I – and it’s certainly not a laughing matter. The regime, I don’t think, can be shamed into doing anything. I think that they must act out of their own self-interests and own – and their own self-preservation. And so what I think is incumbent on Russia to do is to make that very clear --

QUESTION: But don’t --

MR TONER: -- and – sorry, yeah.

QUESTION: But don’t you see that that just doesn’t – it doesn’t work. You can’t – the regime – you’re saying the regime must act in its own self-preservation, but it is. That’s what it’s doing.

QUESTION: That’s – that was quite a --

QUESTION: I mean, that --

MR TONER: I know it was. But look, Matt, I mean --

QUESTION: I mean, its --

MR TONER: I’ll get credit for it in the final exam.

QUESTION: Its response to the threat of transition --

MR TONER: I understand, Matt, but --

QUESTION: -- from its point of view --

MR TONER: -- but – and if I’ve been unable to make the case here, then it’s my own failure, but what I’m trying to say here is that it is incumbent on Russia to make clear to the Assad regime that its pursuit of a military victory or whatever Assad said today, complete – anyway, I don’t have it in front of me – victory is an illusion, that it’s not --

QUESTION: All right. Well --

MR TONER: -- it’s not a legitimate way out of this. And they have leverage here. They have considerable leverage. I’ll leave it there. Let’s go – you’ve already --

QUESTION: One more on Syria, please.

MR TONER: Okay, sure. That’s okay.

QUESTION: I don't know if you saw this. Russia’s Mariinsky Orchestra just held a concert in Palmyra. Do you think it is – do you see it as good news?

MR TONER: We were – and we talked about this before – the city of Palmyra has suffered enormously. We’re happy to see Daesh driven from there. What we said before is that for it to be replaced by the regime – the Assad regime is not the best outcome, but we’re just happy that there’s some measure of relief, at least to the citizens of Palmyra. As to the orchestra playing there, I don’t have any comment.

QUESTION: Why not? Do you think it’s a good --

MR TONER: I don’t --

QUESTION: Do you think it’s a propaganda tool for the Russians and for the Syrians, or do you think it, as some people would argue, other people have argued that it’s good to show that with everything going on with ISIS and everything that Palmyra is – people are trying to rebuild Palmyra and appreciate its cultural heritage.

MR TONER: I will never denounce an orchestra playing to the citizens of a beleaguered city. I just – it’s fine. It’s good.


QUESTION: I have a couple on North Korea.

MR TONER: Okay, yeah. Okay. So we’ll see – you go first and then we’ll see if you have any follow-ups. Great.

QUESTION: Tomorrow, of course, is the Workers’ Party Congress and it’s coming at a time when James Clapper is in the region. He’s in Seoul this week. First, is the U.S. anticipating any provocations from Pyongyang?

MR TONER: Well, I’ve talked about this before. I don’t have anything, obviously, that I can point to, but we have seen a consistent trend of provocations from North Korea over the past months. So let’s just say that our – it wouldn’t be surprising.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. working closely with its allies in Asia on any possible additional steps that will be taken if there are provocations?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, that’s always something when we – every time we have a provocation, certainly we did take significant – excuse me – steps with the new sanctions that were passed by the UN Security Council last month. And now we’re in the implementation phase and we’ve already seen signs that these sanctions are having an effect, that the regime in North Korea is feeling the effects of these sanctions. But obviously, they have not done enough or taken enough concrete steps, really, to fulfill their commitments and their international obligations to denuclearize.

So we’re going to continue to look at ways that we can apply increased pressure on them at the same time as we ensure that the security of the peninsula is kept ironclad.


MR TONER: Please. Oh, I’m sorry. Can I – Samir, I’ll go to you. He has an additional question. I think we – unless you’re going to stay on North Korea.

QUESTION: No, no, no.

MR TONER: Let’s finish with North Korea.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, are you --

MR TONER: I apologize.

QUESTION: Have you put out any – is the U.S. at all on any heightened alert, in the face of the upcoming congress?

MR TONER: Again, it’s hard to say what – I mean, look, we’re always – and we’re always on heightened alert with regard to North Korea, given its actions over the past weeks and months. It’s a highly unpredictable regime. We’re looking at ways, as I said, that we can continue to apply the kind of pressure that convinces the regime to refrain from actions and rhetoric that only escalate tensions and destabilize the region. And we’re going to continue to do that.

QUESTION: Sorry, one more.

MR TONER: Yeah. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Is there any particular – are there any expectations or is there anything that you’re focusing on that might come out of the congress in --

MR TONER: No. I mean, look, it’s a pretty opaque regime in that regard. I don’t know if we’re looking for any great outcomes from the congress. We certainly would welcome some kind of sign that they are willing to, as I said, de-escalate, refrain from, as I said, actions that destabilize the region, and really pursue steps that fulfill its obligations, international obligations to denuclearize.

Please, Samir.

QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the closing of the Al Jazeera office in Baghdad by the Iraqi Government?

MR TONER: Yes. Well, as you can expect, we made clear our view that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are obviously critical components of any free society, an open and democratic society at that. And closing down any media outlets is a serious matter. And we believe this kind of – these kinds of actions will not serve the fight against Daesh as Iraq moves forward and begins to attempt to reconcile its diverse communities.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV. Sir, Mr. Kirby the other day said that United States gives very much importance to its relations with the Pakistan. And when Pakistan is in the need of foreign military aid, it is blocked by the Congress. So how much do you think this affects the counterterrorism efforts and the relation between the two countries?

MR TONER: Well, look, we’ve – as you’ve heard us before, look, we’ve made the case that we continue to support the proposed sale of these eight F-16s to Pakistan to assist in Pakistan’s counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. We believe that these F-16s have supported these kinds of operations to date. We think that they reduce the ability of certain militant groups to use Pakistani territory as a safe haven for terrorism and a base of support for the insurgency in Afghanistan. And so preventing those kinds of groups from establishing that foothold in Pakistan is clearly in not only Pakistan’s interest but also in the national interest of Afghanistan as well as in the interest of the regime – or the region, rather – excuse me.

But as you note, key members of Congress have made it clear that they object to using FMF funds – foreign military financing funds – to support this sale. And as I think John mentioned the other day or made clear, that given these objections, we’ve told the Pakistanis that they should put forward national funds for the purchase.

QUESTION: Sir, this is not the first time that the sale of F-16s to Pakistan is halted. I mean, we have seen it in the past too. Sir, is there any kind of executive actions Secretary Kerry or President Obama can take? I mean, can they veto Congress actions for the release of funds?

MR TONER: Well, in this case – look, we – I mean, in the balance of power, if you will, in the United States, in checks and balances, Congress does control the purse strings. We have argued or made the case to Congress why we believe that the purchase of these F-16s is in our national interest. We’ll continue to make that case. In the meantime, we’ve offered Pakistan an opportunity to purchase these out of their own funds.


QUESTION: Well, wait a minute. So in other words, you do not agree with the concerns expressed on the Hill about this. And if you had your druthers, FMF would be used, could be used to pay for it. Is that correct?

MR TONER: I think we believe it’s important to maintain the flexibility to provide assistance to Pakistan that advances our U.S. interest.

QUESTION: So – yeah. So is that a yes or a no? Or are you just using Congress as an excuse?

MR TONER: No, that’s not true.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, so you agree?

MR TONER: I mean, we – yes. We --

QUESTION: So you --

MR TONER: We have made the case for FMF funds to be used.


QUESTION: Sir, when we talk about the counterterrorism efforts in that region, Pakistan alleged that Indian intelligence agency RAW is involved in few terror attacks in Pakistan while they are keep sponsoring some militant groups there. Sir, Pakistan also rescued an Indian spy who confessed sponsoring terrorist networks in Pakistan. Sir, how are you distressed watching these reports of sponsored terrorism by the state actors in that region?

MR TONER: You’re referring to India?

QUESTION: India, sir, Indian intelligence agency.

MR TONER: Well, look, we’ve said many times that there is – and there is a level of counterterrorism cooperation between India and Pakistan. There is some dialogue there. We want to see that, obviously, that kind of discussion or dialogue augmented or increased. And again, this is something that’s in both Pakistan and India’s interest to pursue a closer counterterrorism cooperation for the region. It’s good for the region.


QUESTION: On Turkey?


MR TONER: It’s okay. Samir had his – and then I’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: Go for it.

QUESTION: The Secretary will be in Paris on May 9, the same day when the French Government is hosting this meeting about Syria. Is he going to participate in that meeting?

MR TONER: So the details of the Secretary’s schedule are still being worked out. I do know that he spoke to Foreign Minister Ayrault earlier today. I don’t have a readout for that. But we don’t have anything to announce at this point. He’s still – we’re still finalizing the schedule.

QUESTION: It’s the same day.

MR TONER: I understand that.

QUESTION: It’s the same day.

MR TONER: I understand that, but we’re looking at --

QUESTION: Is it possible (inaudible) --

MR TONER: Again, looking at his schedule, he’s obviously in close touch with the French.

QUESTION: Well, what’s your opinion of this meeting that they’re holding? I mean, do you think that there are too many kind of disparate groups and the ISSG should be the primary vehicle, or do you support the French efforts and regardless of whether Secretary Kerry attends, you’ll be participating?

MR TONER: Well, I – look, we would support any effort to look at – especially with our partners and allies – to look at the situation in Syria and additional measures or steps that could be taken to try to move the political process and the cessation of hostilities along. We welcome those kind of efforts. I can’t say that right now – as I said, that the Secretary himself will be participating. I can imagine we’ll have some level of participation. But we do believe that the ISSG still plays a primary role, but we certainly don’t – we’re certainly supportive of these kinds of efforts as well.

QUESTION: Mark, on the Paris agenda, you mentioned I think Syria and Ukraine?

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: What about the Middle East, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and in light of the fact that the French have proposed a conference?

MR TONER: Aware of their – yeah. I can imagine – again, without predicting what is going to come up in their bilateral meeting, I can certainly imagine it’ll be a topic of discussion.

QUESTION: Well, can you --

MR TONER: I know I did say that; I know. So --

QUESTION: That is actually predicting what’s going to be in the meeting.

MR TONER: I know. That’s why I’m saying – which I’m hesitant to do.

QUESTION: So – all right. And so – and your view of the French proposal is what?

MR TONER: Well, I think I said this just yesterday to – in response to a question from Said. Look, we’re still talking about it, discussing it, looking at it.


MR TONER: I’m sure that they probably will discuss it in Paris next week. We’ve said before that we’re looking at steps that both sides can take to, obviously, de-escalate from where they’re at now in terms of violence and then get to a position where we can talk about some kind of peace process beginning again.

QUESTION: Okay, and then – to wrap that up --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- that part, the escalation – I think you were asked yesterday about the escalation of violence in Gaza, or along the Gaza-Israel border. Do you have anything to say about that, the discovery of the – of a new tunnel, apparently? And then the fighting that’s been going on --

MR TONER: So we have seen – you mentioned the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. We’ve seen those reports. We understand it’s still a developing situation, so at this point we can’t confirm anything. We’ve seen additional reports of some skirmishes along the border, but we condemn any violence, especially condemn mortars and other attacks from Gaza into Israel, and support Israel’s right to defend itself, including against Hamas’s use of tunnels for attacks in Israel.

QUESTION: I’m going on to Turkey now. When --

MR TONER: Okay. And then I’ll get to you, sir, I promise.


MR TONER: I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: -- you’ve seen the resignation of Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister. Does this in any way affect – have an impact on relations, given the mess in Syria?

MR TONER: We have seen reports that he is stepping down. I don’t think anything’s been finalized, at least that I’ve seen before coming out here – stepping down as AKP party chairman. We’ve also seen that there’ll be an extraordinary congress held on May 22nd to select new party leadership. This is, of course, an internal political matter for Turkey. In answer to – or response to your second question, we obviously had a strong relationship with Prime Minister Davutoglu, but we also have a very strong and enduring relationship with Turkey as a NATO ally and a partner in our efforts to destroy and degrade ISIL in the region. And that work’s going to continue.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that this will only – now that he’s – now that Prime Minister Davutoglu, who is very popular in his own right, although didn’t necessarily have his own base, but that this will further allow President Erdogan to consolidate his own power? Because the prime minister was against him kind of amending the constitution and working towards an executive presidency. Are you concerned that this will --

MR TONER: I’m going to repeat what I said to Lesley. We view this as an internal political matter for Turkey. I’m not going to weigh into or attempt to analyze what this means for the political environment in Turkey.

QUESTION: More on Turkey?

MR TONER: Let’s stay on Turkey. I promise I will get to you, sir.

QUESTION: The Armenian National Committee of America – it’s a lobby group in Washington, D.C. – has called upon U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass to publicly voice official U.S. concern regarding the safety of Garo Paylan, an ethnic Armenian elected to the Turkish parliament. So what we have is Garo Paylan, who is representing Turkish Armenian community and a member of HDP Kurdish party, has been both physically and verbally attacked by members of AKP ruling party in the parliament. Do you follow the situation, have any comment, or any concerns regarding his safety?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t have the details of this particular individual or his case. I’d have to look into it, to be frank. I mean, obviously, the member of any political party who is being harassed or beaten or detained in any way would be of concern to us. But I don’t have the particulars here, so I’m going to refrain from further comment.

QUESTION: A member of any political party being beaten or harassed anywhere?

MR TONER: No, in Turkey.

QUESTION: Oh, just in Turkey?

MR TONER: Well, no, Matt.

QUESTION: Can I ask a related question?

MR TONER: I’m just saying – I’m sorry, I thought you were talking about this particular case.

QUESTION: No, you said --

MR TONER: Let me just – to clarify, to clarify, we are concerned with any form of political harassment that involves, obviously, violence against an individual, but I just need to know what the particulars are of this case.

QUESTION: Somewhat related to this --


QUESTION: -- do you have anything – apparently there are some plans or some talk in Armenia about --


QUESTION: -- recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh. Do you have anything about that – have anything to say about that? Or is that also an internal Armenian matter that you will not get your – stick your nose into?

MR TONER: No, actually, I think I can speak to that, if I can find the darned thing here.

QUESTION: So Brexit and --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: So Brexit and Nagorno-Karabakh --

MR TONER: Well, wait a second.

QUESTION: -- are off limits for you guys – are not off limits for you guys, but Turkey is?

MR TONER: Yeah, but you know what?

QUESTION: It’s okay, if you can get it written later.

MR TONER: I’ve got it. You’re talking about this Armenian parliament’s vote to – yeah, okay. I’m on it. The United States, along with the rest of the international community, does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh. Nagorno-Karabakh’s final status will only be resolved in the context of a comprehensive settlement, so we urge the sides to come to the negotiating table in good faith in order to reach a settlement that achieves those goals.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, Mark, but relative to that last question --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- the main principles that the United States supports for the final status of Karabakh, one of those principles is the self-determination. It remains in place – no use of force and then self-determination and territorial integrity. You have always been supportive of these main principles, right?

MR TONER: Right, but we’ve also very much said that all of this needs to be worked out within the context of the Minsk group. There is a process here, and that process needs to be returned to by all sides.

QUESTION: Israel-Palestine?

MR TONER: Let me get to this gentleman and then I’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from Tunisia.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: $2 billion is the cost of counterterrorism for our country since four years. What are the U.S. – what can the U.S. do for that? And also, what are the major new economic assistance program to Tunisia? And I’m certain that you know tomorrow is the starting of the Joint Economic Commission. I think probably Tunisia is the first country having a JEC with the United States. So what are the perspectives?

MR TONER: So you’re right, and you mention that – you mentioned that tomorrow is the start of this U.S.-Tunisia Joint Economic Commission, which the Secretary announced last November. This is the inaugural meeting of the commission, and we actually put out a media note earlier today about it. During – or rather – and we’ll also put out a joint statement, I think, at the end of the meeting tomorrow with some more on what was accomplished.

But broadly speaking, I can say that tomorrow’s discussions are going to focus on ways to support initiatives that – Tunisia’s economic reform agenda, competitiveness and overall growth through both policy discussion as well as looking at assistance and assistance programming. We already have an important economic relationship with Tunisia and the Joint Economic Commission will, we believe, facilitate further growth.

So what we’re hoping to accomplish is to finalize joint efforts to bring opportunities to Tunisia’s agriculture sector, strengthen its small and medium enterprise – small and medium businesses and enterprises, and help expand its information and its communications technology sector. As I said, we’re going to release a joint statement that lays out the progress we make after the meeting tomorrow.

In terms of what you asked about security assistance, the United States has provided more than $750 million to Tunisia since the revolution, including $300 million in economic growth-related support; $250 million in, as you asked about, security assistance; as well as 90 million in democracy, governance and related activities. And we plan to do more in the future. And also through U.S.-backed loan guarantees in 2012 and 2014, the Government of Tunisia has been able to borrow nearly 1 billion at a very low interest rate to help stabilize government finances. So that’s also helped the economic situation as it stabilizes in Tunisia.

QUESTION: A new guarantee coming in?

MR TONER: You said that – oh, the new guarantee? Well – so during President Essebsi’s visit to Washington last year, we did say that we would consider a loan guarantee of up to 500 million to advance the Government of Tunisia’s ongoing reforms program. And last November, Secretary Kerry signed a declaration of intent to initiate steps to enter negotiations. So we started the technical discussions on that earlier this month. So we’re not there yet, but those discussions continue.

QUESTION: What do you have to say on the impact of what’s going on in Libya on Tunisia – the impact?

MR TONER: Well, obviously we’re concerned about the fighting and – or the instability – let’s put it that way – in Libya. The United States and other international partners have answered Libya’s call for – or rather to prevent – or let me put it this way: Our goal right now is to support the Libyan Government of National Accord, which has just begun its work in Tripoli. We’re going to continue to work with Libyan civil society, but we’re also going to work at bolstering Libya’s own security forces, in order that they develop the capabilities to address some of the instability that exists in Libya.

We’re well aware that this has a spillover effect into places like – countries that neighbor Libya like Tunisia, and we’re going to continue our work also with Tunisia’s security forces to try to bolster their efforts as well.

QUESTION: There going to be strikes?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, where are you talking about, in Libya? I mean, we have said this before and we’ll say it – I’ll say it again: Where we have an opportunity to strike at senior al-Qaida or ISIL leadership, we’re going to take those opportunities.

You, sir.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from JTA. Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.


QUESTION: The – over the weekend, I think it was, the Security Council met, or perhaps just after the weekend, and they were discussing the stabbing intifada. And Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, appeared to liken Israel – Israeli forces to Nazis. He said, “All colonizers, all occupiers, including those who suppressed the Warsaw uprising, labeled those who were resisting them as terrorists,” in response to the Israel ambassador. Do you have anything on that?

MR TONER: You know what, I’ve not seen those remarks. Obviously we would condemn anti – any, rather, anti-Semitic remarks very forcefully. And again, until I actually see the remarks, I’m hesitant to pronounce on them. But if what you say is true, it’s deeply concerning.

QUESTION: It’s not just anti-Semitism, it’s also likening Israel to --

MR TONER: I understand that, and that’s also deeply concerning.

Is that it, guys?



QUESTION: Sorry. Have you seen these latest comments by the supreme leader --

MR TONER: So close. What’s that? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: The latest comments by the supreme leader --

MR TONER: I have not. Well, go ahead. Try me out.

QUESTION: -- accusing – well, saying that the – that the one constant or defining quality of American foreign policy is anti-Islam, anti-Iran, and anti-Shia.

MR TONER: I have not, but I reject it.

QUESTION: You reject it.

QUESTION: Why are you willing to reject these comments without having seen them, and then so many other times we read comments to you verbatim and you say, “I’m not going to say anything about comments that I haven’t seen”? I’m just noting that you’re setting a precedent. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: What do you think of Elise’s comment? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: I support Elise’s right to exercise her journalistic freedom and to criticize our posture up here at the podium.

QUESTION: I have one more.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Have you – did you guys take note of the interview with the – or several interviews, actually, with the hacker who claimed to have or got into Sid Blumenthal’s email account and says that he also managed to get into former Secretary Clinton’s account?

MR TONER: I’m aware of the reports. I mean, I can’t – and we’ve done this before – we can’t comment on the security of the server. There’s various investigations underway. We’ve talked about those before, and so it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this point in time.

QUESTION: Well, would you even know? I mean, it – you weren’t aware --

MR TONER: Whether he – whether --

QUESTION: Well, this building says that it wasn’t even aware of the private server arrangement until it came out in – what? – in last – early last year.

MR TONER: You’re saying would we have been aware that he was able to hack onto the server?

QUESTION: Well, if it – yeah. Do you have any reason to believe that his claim of being able to get in --

MR TONER: No, we don’t, but as – again --

QUESTION: He might not have ever gotten in.

MR TONER: -- all of that – all of those issues are being looked at. So, I mean, I don’t want to interject myself or say something on the record and commenting on one way or the other, except to say that we’re not aware of – that that’s true. I mean, we weren’t – and we’ve said that before.

QUESTION: And would you be in a position to know if it was true?

MR TONER: Again, I’m going to refrain from comment on – specifically on an issue that is being looked at and investigated by other entities, as we’ve talked about before.

QUESTION: So this claim is being actively investigated?

MR TONER: No, the security of the server is being looked at in general.

QUESTION: Not – you’re not saying that this guy’s claim to have successfully hacked into it is being investigated; you’re saying that in general the whole security of it is being investigated.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Okay. But do you have any reason to believe that it might be true, or do you have any reason to believe that it is – it’s just some fantasy of this guy?

MR TONER: We don’t have any reason to believe that it might be true.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR TONER: Yep. Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:10 p.m.)

DPB # 77

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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 4, 2016

Wed, 05/04/2016 - 16:34

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 4, 2016

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1:48 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. In the interest of time, since I do have to be up and down fairly quickly this afternoon because there’s a bilat I’ve got to be at, I will not – I will refrain from any toppers and go right to your questions.


QUESTION: Okay, thank you.


QUESTION: The announcement of the enhanced, reaffirmed cessation of hostilities that you just put out –


QUESTION: -- you say since it went into effect at one minute or one second past midnight local time in Damascus, I’m just – that’s what it says, “Since this went into effect today.”

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: But if you had – if fighting continues, how can you say it went into effect?

MR TONER: Well, because – I mean, look, that was the agreed upon start for this, as you put it – or as we put it – this enhanced cessation of hostilities reaffirmation. It began at 12:01 this morning Damascus time. It --

QUESTION: But did it really?

MR TONER: Well, there have been – and we say that in our statement. We’ve seen an overall decrease in violence, but there have been incidents, of course.

QUESTION: Well, so in other words, you have an agreement but it really hasn’t taken hold yet?

MR TONER: It’s not complete.


MR TONER: And that’s – frankly, that has been the case throughout the cessation, frankly --

QUESTION: Right. Yes, right.

MR TONER: -- writ large.

QUESTION: Okay, and then --

MR TONER: We’ve seen overall a reduction but – yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. And then my last one on this.


QUESTION: I’m just curious, it says that you’re coordinating with – closely with Russia to finalize enhanced monitoring efforts of the renewed cessation and that you look to the Russians to press the Assad regime for compliance and that you’ll do your part with the opposition. I’m just wondering, do you have an agreement with the Russians that they will do this? And what exactly does it mean, “enhanced monitoring efforts?”

MR TONER: Yes. I mean, that’s – otherwise, we wouldn't have this statement out saying that we have an agreement with Russia to –

QUESTION: Well, I mean it says --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- it’s critical that Russia redouble its efforts against the regime.

MR TONER: We have –

QUESTION: Do you have an agreement with them?

MR TONER: -- reached an agreement with Russia.


MR TONER: And as the Secretary alluded to, and I preface my next part of my comments by saying I don’t have high-level – or I can’t get into the minutiae of how this new structure will look. But the Secretary spoke about it the other day in Geneva, that we’re looking at enhancing our personnel in Geneva, the Russians are doing the same, and with the goal or aim of really intensifying our efforts to look at these areas where the ceasefire is being reaffirmed – or the cessation.

QUESTION: Go ahead. Thanks.

QUESTION: On the ceasefire?

MR TONER: Go ahead. Go –

QUESTION: Did the rebels –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) That’s how it happens, I think.

MR TONER: Okay. Go ahead, Lesley, and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: So you probably saw today that France called a special meeting of Friends of Syria in – for next week.


QUESTION: Is the U.S. attending that?

MR TONER: Nothing to announce at this point. Obviously, the Secretary has been in touch with his counterpart in France, Ayrault, Foreign Minister Ayrault, for – this week. I’m just looking to see when they last spoke, but – I always look at the wrong date of these. But in any case, we’ve been in consultation with them over the last weeks and days and – but nothing to announce in terms of our attendance next week.

QUESTION: And then you say that the ceasefire is not complete, and that’s how it’s always been. Today you’ve seen some pretty serious assaults going on and fighting in Aleppo. How many days or how long do you believe that it will take effect?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, we have also said, and the statement said as much, that there has been a decrease in the fighting, in the violence in these areas, specifically in Aleppo. But it has not been, of course, complete and that’s what we’re striving towards. That’s the goal here, and not just in Aleppo but throughout Syria. And in fact, we said that in our statement. We’re not – our aim here isn’t to just simply establish a bunch of truces, if you will, in various parts or hot spots around Syria. Our aim here, ultimately, is to get this cessation back into credible enforcement or a credible state in the next coming days and weeks so that, ultimately, we can (a) reduce the fighting, increase humanitarian assistance to those parts – and the Secretary spoke to this yesterday – those parts that have not received it, and then get negotiations back on track.

QUESTION: So you believe that by tomorrow there would be – the fighting will have stopped in that area? Or you don’t think that?

MR TONER: I can’t predict that right now, Lesley.

QUESTION: And so --

MR TONER: And of course, that’s a – and look, I mean, that’s a reality of this. I mean, we’re going to put influence on the parties who – over which we have influence. The Russians are going to do the same on their side. But ultimately, neither side, neither Russia or the United States, can predict fully that that’s going to have an effect, an immediate effect.

QUESTION: But today Lavrov said that Bashar Assad is not an ally for Russia. Do you really expect him to have that kind of influence on the ground?

MR TONER: Look, Russia has, we believe, influence on the Syrian regime, of course, most notably through their military support of the regime over these past weeks and months. I can’t speak to what Foreign Minister Lavrov meant by his comments. Certainly, you know where we stand on Assad’s future.


QUESTION: On Lavrov’s statement --

MR TONER: Let me take her question. I’ll get to you, Said.

QUESTION: Did the rebels that the U.S. is in contact with in Aleppo agree to separate themselves from al-Nusrah there?

MR TONER: Again, that’s – this agreement or reaffirmation is predicated on the fact that – that both the regime and the opposition, who have signed up to the cessation, will act accordingly and in good faith --

QUESTION: Did they even tell you --

MR TONER: Let me finish, let me finish.

QUESTION: -- that they’ll distance themselves?

MR TONER: No, no, let me finish. So in order to maintain this cessation or this renewed cessation of hostilities, it’s incumbent on them and it’s what our message is to them that they cannot interact with those parties on the ground who are not part of that cessation. Let me finish. And that’s what – that’s been a consistent message with – from us.

That said --

QUESTION: What was their response?

MR TONER: That said, we are – let me finish. We also are cognizant of the fact that, and the Secretary himself has spoken to this I think in Geneva and we’ve said it before, that the situation on the ground in Aleppo city in particular is very fluid and very complex, and there’s – there has been, quote/unquote, “intermingling” of some of these groups. We need to separate them. We need to clearly delineate who is where going forward in order for this to – the cessation to have effect.

QUESTION: I understand your message to them.


QUESTION: What is their response to you, though?

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, I don’t have their immediate response to this latest reaffirmation today, but we are going into this believing that we can influence them to abide by it.

QUESTION: Sir, if the U.S. has hard time separating the rebels from al-Nusrah in Aleppo, do you expect Assad forces to do a better job, or do you expect them to stop attacking al-Nusrah in Aleppo altogether?

MR TONER: What we need now is a complete de-escalation of the violence, and that’s what we’re looking for all sides. What we have seen over the past several days certainly, but weeks, is on the part of the regime is – and again, the Secretary spoke to this much better than I will be able to – but just blatant attacks on civilian populations, on hospitals, on medical facilities, and again, targeting civilians that are unacceptable no matter how you justify them, whether you’re going after al-Nusrah or whatever. However you justify them, it’s just simply unacceptable. It needs to stop. And the Secretary spoke yesterday that attacks from both sides on civilians need to stop. So what we’re looking for now is a cessation, a credible cessation, in and around Aleppo.

Please, Said.

QUESTION: Mark, just to follow up the Lavrov, he also said that the United States wanted to extend areas under the control of al-Nusrah as part of the truce and that the Russians actually rejected that. Could you confirm or deny that?

MR TONER: That’s inaccurate.

QUESTION: That is completely false?

MR TONER: It’s inaccurate, yes.

QUESTION: Would you say that is completely --

MR TONER: That is inaccurate.

QUESTION: Would you say it’s inaccurate?

MR TONER: Yes, I would say it’s inaccurate.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you one thing on this comment that he made about Assad not being an ally? Does that sound any different to you than what the Russians have been saying for the past four years?

MR TONER: I mean --

QUESTION: I mean, Putin himself has come out and said that Assad is not an ally and that it’s not up to the Russians to stick up for one leader or another, it’s up to the Syrian people to decide. And I just --

MR TONER: I mean, the Russians have – what the Russians have said, and in publicly as well as privately, is that they don’t want to see a power vacuum exist in Syria. And hence --

QUESTION: Right. But I’m not asking you --

MR TONER: No, but I’m saying that’s how they – that’s how they are justifying their support for the regime.

QUESTION: Do you see – yeah, but --


QUESTION: But do you see this comment today as any change in the Russian position?

MR TONER: I – again, I don’t want to necessarily signal that we see it as any kind of significant change. Frankly, to me, it sends a message to Assad that we think is a helpful one.

QUESTION: Let me just go back to my question.

MR TONER: Sure thing.

QUESTION: He also said that this leads them to believe that you are either manipulated or influenced by forces that don’t wish to have al-Nusrah attacked. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: I truly don’t. I don’t know what he was --

QUESTION: Alluding to.

MR TONER: -- alluding to. Thank you.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: Thanks – alluding to in his comments.


MR TONER: Please, Pam.

QUESTION: Can you clarify with this new cessation in Aleppo, the U.S. and Russia of course are spearheading this, but has either side received assurances from the Assad regime and as well as from rebels on whether or not they’re buying into this and are ready to comply with it?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think – so two things. One is this all hinges on the fact that – or the idea that we as well as Russians – the Russians can influence the main combatants on the ground to uphold a cessation of hostilities. We’re in very close touch with the Syrian opposition. We know that the Russians are in very close touch with the regime. So it’s a certain test, if you – if I could put it that way, that they’re going to abide by this cessation of hostilities. They’re the ones who need to ultimately abide by it if it’s going to have any effect. But we believe we can --

QUESTION: I guess what I’m asking is --

MR TONER: Sorry, but we believe – we believe we can exert the necessary influence on them and that we can get – and we have their buy-in on this effort.

QUESTION: But neither side has said – the Russian – the regime or the opposition has stated to you, “We’re going to agree with the cessation at this point”?

MR TONER: Well, again, I’ll let them speak for themselves, but we believe that, at least on the opposition side, that we have their buy-in.


QUESTION: Does the Administration consider sending MANPADS to the rebels in Syria or approving the delivery of MANPADS by coalition partners?



QUESTION: On the enhanced monitoring.


MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: You’ve said before that – you seem to be very confident --

MR TONER: I apologize, the first part of your – on the enhanced – I apologize.

QUESTION: On the enhanced monitoring.


QUESTION: Previously you’ve expressed a lot of confidence in your ability to monitor. There has never been any talk about monitoring shortcomings; where you’ve acknowledged shortcomings is that there’s no enforcement at all. So what is the enhanced monitoring actually going to do? What haven’t you been able to do, and why are you not doing anything on the enforcement side?

MR TONER: Again, I can’t go back and look at all – everything we’ve said about our monitoring efforts to date, but I think we’ve --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: -- but I think we’ve – but I --

QUESTION: You were very praiseful of it.

MR TONER: -- I hope we didn’t oversell it, because there’s always room for improvement, and I think we’ve recognized, especially in and around Aleppo where, as I said, it’s very complex, there’s intermingling, it’s very difficult to define exactly who is where, that we need to do a better job. And I think that this is a recognition that we need to do a better job coordinating, again, where we believe the Syrian opposition is and then communicating that to the Russians and then – and through the Russians to the regime so that we can, again, de-escalate the violence there.

QUESTION: I don’t think the complaint on either side has been that you’re not monitoring well enough. It seems to be that nobody gets in trouble for doing – for killing people. So what are you doing on the enforcement side?

MR TONER: Well, look, we’ve talked about this, again, before and on the enforcement side, it’s ultimately incumbent on the parties who adhere to the cessation to, obviously, uphold it. And if they give up on – no, let me finish. Don’t give me the quizzical look. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: This is self-enforcement.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, in a sense, yeah. Yes, Brad. Because – well, listen, but --

QUESTION: Well, after 500,000 people die, that seems to have been a failing effort; hasn’t it?

MR TONER: But Russia has influence on the regime. Russia can send a message to the regime that they are not in this for the long haul and that there is no military solution, and that any such belief in a military solution is, an ultimate military victory in Syria, is fantasy. We also need to convey that same sentiment to the opposition so that both sides recognize that it’s incumbent on them to uphold this reaffirmation and that it’s incumbent on them to go back to Geneva and engage in serious political negotiations to find a political solution.

Please, Michael.

QUESTION: Foreign Minister Lavrov --

QUESTION: Can you explain this enhanced monitoring? Does that mean NGOs or --

MR TONER: I’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: -- or electronic --

MR TONER: I just – yeah, that’s okay. I’ve given you what I have. So it’s basically – the Secretary spoke to this – increasing the personnel on the ground – I don’t have exact numbers – but on both sides so that they can do a better job in closer contact, in closer coordination.


QUESTION: Foreign Minister Lavrov said he was actually satisfied with U.S.-Russian efforts on this, and he said because no one expected the level of violence to reduce – be reduced as much as it did. Do you agree with his assessment?

MR TONER: I’m sorry, you’re talking about his assessment to date or to --


MR TONER: -- or since the reaffirmation came into effect?

QUESTION: The reaffirmation.

MR TONER: Again, I mean, the ultimate goal in any of these things, Michael, is to have zero percent violence or zero cases of violence, but I think looking at the overall picture, we are – I don’t want to say “satisfied” because that implies that we’ve reached our goal. We have not. But we have seen a significant reduction in the level of violence, so we believe that this is worth pursuing.

QUESTION: I have one more question on --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure, Michael.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the hospital bombing – have you reached out to the opposition about the hospital bombing in Syria and --

MR TONER: I’m aware – I mean, we’re obviously in near-constant contact with them or in frequent contact with the opposition. And I’m sure that what we said publicly, what the Secretary stated publicly, was conveyed to them in our private conversations as well, but --

QUESTION: What he said – Secretary Kerry said he urged both sides --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- and a lot of time when it – when the regime does it, you call out Assad specifically. Why won’t you specifically --

MR TONER: Michael, we’re trying to get more granularity on what exactly happened. That’s part of the process here. But I don’t have anything to add at this point.


QUESTION: Mark, I have three questions. One, in your statement, you said, “We welcome today’s reaffirmation of the cessation in Eastern Ghouta for the next 48 hours.” That means the cessation will stay only for 48 hours? What did you mean by that?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, you recall that when this Latakia and East Ghouta cessation came into effect that there was actually a timeframe that was 24 hours, I think, in Latakia and 48 hours initially in Eastern Ghouta. And forgive me if I have those reversed; I apologize. But as it went forward and appeared to at least have some purchase or have some effect, that we’ve seen this extended throughout the week. And ultimately, as I said, our goal here is to have it in place permanently, but we’ve kept extending the time limit for the cessation so it solidifies and strengthens.

QUESTION: And same --


QUESTION: -- timeline for Aleppo too, 48 hours?

MR TONER: You know what? That’s a good question. I’m not aware that there’s – and forgive me, I’m not aware that there’s a specific timeline for Aleppo, like a timeframe or a deadline or whatever.

QUESTION: When you announced the Ghouta or Latakia ceasefires, did you announce a timeframe for those or was that the Russians who announced the timeframes?

MR TONER: It was the Russians and the Syrians who said they would recognize that certain timeframe, but it was with our understanding that that was the --

QUESTION: So your communications up to date haven’t included the timeframes. You’ve just said there was a reaffirmation of ceasefire.

MR TONER: No, and I said we welcome the reaffirmation of the ceasefire for the next 48 hours. So I apologize that’s – if that was unclear.

QUESTION: So was that the first time you’ve acknowledged that these were time-limited? Previously --

MR TONER: I think we have, David. I think we have.


MR TONER: I think we have, but --

QUESTION: Mark, do you know, was there an effort to get the Russians to sign off on this statement and make it a joint statement so that it’s not just yours?

MR TONER: Not necessarily. I mean, we – we obviously coordinated closely with them, but --

QUESTION: You guys are taking turns in announcing these things? Is that what-- Well, no, I’m not meaning you. I’m not trying to be funny. It’s just that --

MR TONER: No, okay. I’m sorry. No, no, okay. I mean --

QUESTION: -- the first one was announced by the Russians.


QUESTION: This one’s announced by you guys. Why don’t you do it together to show some kind of solidarity here?

MR TONER: We’ll take your suggestion under advisement.

QUESTION: Two more questions, Mark.

MR TONER: Please, Michel.

QUESTION: On the MANPADS, Saudi foreign minister has asked the international coalition to provide the MANPADS to the opposition. What can you answer on?

MR TONER: I would refer you to the Saudis.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you asked the international coalition who’s fighting ISIS --

MR TONER: I’m just saying our --

QUESTION: -- to provide the opposition with MANPADS, and you are --

MR TONER: Michel --

QUESTION: -- leading this coalition.

MR TONER: The question to me was whether we have. We have not. And the question was whether we would condone it. Our position’s been clear to date on providing actual weaponry to the opposition on the ground.

QUESTION: And my third question was: You’ve been relying on Russia to press the regime to comply with the cessation of hostilities. What can the U.S. do without Russia if the regime doesn’t comply with the cessation of hostilities?

MR TONER: Well, it works both ways, and frankly, I don’t want to exclude the other members of the ISSG, all of whom wouldn’t be at the table of the ISSG – the International Syria Support Group – if they didn’t exert some kind of influence with the parties on the ground who are part of the conflict. So, I mean, it’s incumbent on, as I said, everybody who’s part of that group. I’m talking in terms of the U.S. and Russia, certainly, in and around Aleppo, and this renewed effort. But as we see France and others are meeting next week about the cessation of hostilities, there’s more relevant parties and stakeholders to this than just the U.S. and Russia.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Mark, yesterday, the Secretary said a target date for transition in Syria is 1st of August --


QUESTION: -- and he said, “So either something happens in these next few months or they are asking a very different track.” And I was wondering if you can elaborate on that different track.

MR TONER: No, I won’t at this point. We’re committed right now to the cessation, getting it in place – or getting it renewed or reaffirmed, and then also pursuing political negotiations and a political process that leads to a transition in power. So I don’t want to talk about what-ifs or what-nexts. The Secretary was alluding to – or not even alluding to, but talking about the fact that there is this August deadline, if you will. It’s a timeline with target dates that was already built into the political process, and that was in both the ISSG joint statements as well as in UN Security Council Resolution 2254. And again, the idea behind these deadlines is sometimes they can be forcing mechanisms; they can help clarify to the parties involved the need to – and the urgency of the situation and the need to engage.

QUESTION: Can you clarify what they have to achieve by August the 1st?

MR TONER: I think it’s to – well, it’s to establish the framework for a political transition, as well as a draft constitution.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Iran. I just have a quick one.


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) one more on Syria?

MR TONER: I have very limited time now. I mean, I just don’t – I apologize. If we have time – let me take a look – few more questions, I’ll come back. I apologize, but go ahead.

QUESTION: I just want to know if you saw the comments by this deputy IRGC commander about closing off the Straits of Hormuz to the U.S. The Iranians have said this in the past, or made this threat in the past, and you guys have always brushed it off. But that was before you had this new relationship with Iran, or this rapprochement, at least, around Syria and the ISSG and the nuclear deal. And I’m just wondering, what do you think of this threat now in the context of the – in particular the nuclear deal? This kind of a threat doesn’t seem – well, it doesn’t have anything to do with the nuclear deal; it doesn’t seem to comply with the spirit of this new rapprochement.

MR TONER: Well, Matt, I mean, we’ve talked a lot about – that we hope in the spirit of the deal that that will spread into other aspects of our relationship with Iran, or Iran’s relationship with the rest of the world. We can’t predict that that’s going to happen, and frankly we’ve still seen Iran continue with statements and behaviors that are not helpful and not constructive.

QUESTION: So it remains that it’s pretty much all hope and no change?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, that’s – I mean, let’s dial back and look at the fact that the JCPOA was about preventing Iran from acquiring or developing a nuclear weapon. That’s its main goal. If other aspects of the relationship improve as a result of that --

QUESTION: It’s nice.

MR TONER: -- then that’s great.


MR TONER: So much for the better.

QUESTION: But you haven’t seen that yet, right, in any – in anything other than maybe them joining the ISSG?

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean --

QUESTION: Is that right?

MR TONER: I mean, that, and we do have, I think, improved access with Foreign Minister Zarif. But beyond that we’ve seen a continuance of some of the same behaviors.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) new topic for a second?

MR TONER: Yeah. We’re in – we already changed; we’re in Iran.

QUESTION: Okay, all right. May I change topics to the Palestinian-Israeli issue very quickly?

MR TONER: Quickly, yeah.

QUESTION: There are some reports that the Israelis have gone into Gaza, eastern Rafah in Gaza – I mean, just like a few hours ago and so on. Have you heard anything about that?

MR TONER: I have not, Said. I apologize. I don’t have any update on that.

QUESTION: Okay, all right. Okay. And very quickly, there are also reports that the Obama Administration is going to issue a – like a some sort of a statement or fact sheet on the efforts that they have done since 2008 and so on, and some suggestions on what to do next in the context of --


QUESTION: -- turning down the Paris – or the French initiative. Have you heard anything about that?

MR TONER: So I’ve not – no, I’m not aware of those specific reports about a summation or, as you put it --

QUESTION: Summation, right, yeah.

MR TONER: All I can say is that – I mean, I – you do know the Quartet is in fact preparing a report on the situation on the ground that will include recommendations on how to change current trends. I don’t know if that’s what you’re referring to. And also, just to clarify, too, we haven’t made any decisions; we’re still looking and discussing the French proposal. And we’re always looking at options on how to get both parties to take steps that we believe will get them back into an environment where serious negotiations or peace talks can restart.

QUESTION: And finally, there are 10 Palestinian journalists that are being held by Israel – six without charges. Do you have any comment? I mean, considering yesterday was Free the Press Day and so on. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t know their specific cases. Certainly you know where we stand on freedom of the press; the Secretary spoke to it yesterday. I don’t know – I don’t have any details. Any specific cases, I’d refer you to Israeli authorities.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Over the last year, Congress has appropriated specific sets of funds to help the State Department comply with document production requests for the Benghazi committee. Do you know how much that figure was, and can you tell us the status of the document review unit?

MR TONER: So I don’t have a specific dollar figure. We can try to get that for you. I apologize; I just don’t have it in front of me. Speaking broadly, I mean, we’re very much committed to cooperating with the Benghazi committee. I think since the committee was formed we’ve provided some 48 witnesses for interviews and some 95,000 pages of documents.

Look, we have an open line of communications with the Benghazi committee. When they make requests, we do our utmost to comply with them in a speedy manner. We want to make sure that we’re providing the right type of documents that they need as well as briefings and interviews that match their priorities, and we’ll continue to do that. So I think we’ve made a good-faith effort overall to comply and to – with the committee’s requests and to get them the information that they need, and we’re going to remain committed to doing that.

QUESTION: It’s our understanding that some of the State Department personnel were – who were evacuated from Yemen were supposed to staff this document review unit. Has that happened?

MR TONER: I don’t know. I mean, we did look at – I don’t have that level of detail. What we did look at was – in terms of our FOIA requests for the Clinton emails, we did ramp up our efforts and our staff and personnel who were looking at both that as well as – we’ve talked about this before – the sharp increase in FOIA requests. Now, I don’t know if that same approach has been applied to the Benghazi committee. I’ll just have to take the question.

QUESTION: Okay. And then was the Benghazi committee staff helpful to the State Department in securing these funds from Congress? I know you didn’t give us a figure, but --


QUESTION: -- for this purpose.

MR TONER: You know what? I don’t have – again, I apologize. I don’t have clarity on that, so I’ll try to --

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR TONER: Yeah, please. In the back.


MR TONER: Hey, Felicia.

QUESTION: Just back to – sorry, back to Syria really quickly.

MR TONER: That’s okay. Sure.

QUESTION: Are there going to be efforts to look at other cities for partial ceasefires? Like I heard from an aid organization that the fighting in Homs has gotten very intense and they’re having trouble getting access there. Are there other places that you’re kind of looking to extend this in the coming days?

MR TONER: I mean, we’re really trying to take a systematic approach. We began in Latakia and east Damascus. We’ve now attempted to apply the same reaffirmation to Aleppo. Ultimately, yeah, we want to see this spread throughout Syria, this reaffirmation of the cessation of hostilities, because we have seen pockets of instability, we’ve seen pockets of violence continue. And we need to, as I said, systematically go try to address these pockets where they exist.

QUESTION: Just – yeah, like Secretary Kerry and others spent a lot of time saying this needs to happen in Aleppo. Are there other sort of, like, high-priority --

MR TONER: Yeah – I mean, I don’t have a list in front of me.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MR TONER: I mean, we’re looking at – and as I said, there’s other areas of concern, I guess, is – I’d put it that way. And we’re going to continue to look at this. I don’t have like another --

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MR TONER: -- next on our list, but I think what we’re trying to do is get these two areas under a solid cessation of hostilities and then continue to look at where else it needs to be applied – or reapplied, rather.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I have Syria.

QUESTION: I have one more too here.

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

QUESTION: Can you show the public that the money that was reprogrammed – the funds for it that Congress set aside for this purpose – has actually been used for this purpose and not other things?

MR TONER: The funds reprogrammed for --

QUESTION: For the --

MR TONER: -- the Benghazi committee?

QUESTION: -- document production requests.

MR TONER: Yeah. I’ll look into that. Again, I don’t – I – if they were reprogrammed for that or that funding was provided, I’m fairly certain that it would have been used for the purpose for which it was set up for.


QUESTION: For the ceasefire to hold in Aleppo, do you expect Assad forces to stop attacking al-Nusrah, given that, as you said, the lines between rebels and al-Nusrah there are fluid?

MR TONER: Again, it is a very fluid situation. Nusrah is not party to the cessation. We all know that. But we have not seen the regime’s actions specifically targeting Nusrah; in fact, we’ve seen them targeting civilian populations as well as opposition groups. So what we want to see is them to comply, the regime to comply with the cessation of hostilities, which only applies to those who have signed up to the cessation of hostilities.



MR TONER: Yeah, quickly.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mark. Do you have any information about North Korea preparing a fifth nuclear test soon or tomorrow or --

MR TONER: No, I don’t, and I don’t know that we would preview that.

QUESTION: I’ve got two brief ones on Bahrain.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I’m wondering if you – or if the embassy is planning to send anyone to the verdict – scheduled court verdict tomorrow for this opposition guy who’s been in prison for a while. His name is Khalil al – hold on, I’ve got his name now – Halwachi, Halwachi.

MR TONER: We’ll take it, Matt.

QUESTION: And then secondly, tomorrow is also the month anniversary of the date of when the Bahraini foreign minister told Secretary Kerry, standing next to him, that this woman would be – the other woman that we were talking about --

MR TONER: And we’ll use this anniversary, one-month anniversary, to urge the Government of Bahrain to follow through with its publicly announced plans to release her.

QUESTION: So as far as you know, she – that pledge that the foreign minister made while he was standing next to Secretary Kerry has not been fulfilled?

MR TONER: As far as I know, yeah.

QUESTION: Wasn’t that court-ordered as well?

MR TONER: I’m not sure about that.

QUESTION: Although dressed as a humanitarian gesture?

MR TONER: I’m not sure about that. Sorry.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on this back-and-forth between the U.S. and Venezuela on visas, please?

MR TONER: Back-and-forth? You mean the comments by Venezuela that we somehow withheld visas for --

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, it really started last year, didn’t it?

MR TONER: Yeah. Look, I mean, we’re aware of the reports that Venezuelan officials were denied U.S. visas. You know we can’t talk about visa records; they’re confidential under Section 20 – 222 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. So – but more broadly speaking, as a host country for many international meetings and conferences and summits, et cetera, I can assure you that we facilitate all requests by foreign governments’ government officials for travel to the United States for multilateral meetings in accordance with U.S. immigration laws.

QUESTION: Mark, I want to make this a point again. It is not 100 percent always the case that visa confidentiality is – requires – means that you can’t say nothing. If the person in question comes out and publicly says or complains that his or her visa has been revoked or he has – she has been denied a visa, it has been in the past, and I think should be and is allowable under the law, for you to confirm whether that’s true or not. Just putting that out there.

MR TONER: You just undercut my --

QUESTION: Yeah, well.

MR TONER: -- witty retort there. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Is there a part two?

MR TONER: No, that’s it. Look, I mean, I would refer you to the Venezuelan Government, but I will not uphold the accuracy of those comments. How about that?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah. Thanks, guys. I’m sorry, I’ve got to run.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:21 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 3, 2016

Tue, 05/03/2016 - 17:09

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 3, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:50 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Okay, everybody. I don’t have a topping statement or an opening statement, so we can get right at it.

Anybody else? Pam?

QUESTION: Following up on what the Secretary had to say about Syria, first, a couple of questions concerning this – the teams that are working for this new ceasefire agreement in Aleppo. What’s different about this agreement in terms of teeth? What’s there? Has either side received any assurances that the Assad regime is buying into this and willing to acknowledge terms of this agreement? In other words, what makes this different from what was negotiated in February?

And then secondly, Foreign Minister Lavrov earlier today in his news conference with de Mistura mentioned that there was a U.S. monitoring center in Geneva, an enhanced center that was going to be looking at ceasefire violations. Can you elaborate on this new agreement? And how is it different from what had been in place previously?

MR KIRBY: Okay, there’s a lot there. As the Secretary indicated, our two teams – U.S. and Russian teams – are working right now to try to get the modalities here in place for additional cessation compliance in other places in Syria. And as he said, Aleppo is very much part of that discussion. I don’t want to get ahead of that meeting or decisions that they may or may not make. I think when they’re done and when we have an agreement on the way forward, we’ll be able to speak to it with more specificity, so it just wouldn’t be wise for me to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been inked at this point.

It is – as the Secretary indicated, it is a continuation of the cessation efforts that have been in place now for a couple of months. And we’ve seen it break down in certain places and obviously Aleppo’s one of them, and so we want to make sure that we are adding renewed energy to the effort to get it restored where it needs to be restored. And that’s what this is really about. When the modalities have been finally set into place, then we can talk about what that means and with more specificity, but again, that work is still ongoing. I won’t get ahead of it.

On Geneva, I think you heard the Secretary speak to this idea himself in the last couple of days when he was in Geneva about having a more concerted effort and perhaps additional resources applies to a 24-hour ability to better monitor – more effectively monitor – the status of the cessation. That is all, again, part of this discussion that’s going on literally today. So again, I don’t want to get ahead of it. When we have all the details worked out, we’ll certainly lay those out for you.


QUESTION: Following up, but just --

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second, Said.

QUESTION: Following up if I can, with this new U.S.-Russia team, are there consequences for violations? You have more people – a higher level of people involved in monitoring, but then what’s the next step when violations are identified? Is there something different there?

And then secondly, looking at the team that’s going to – that’s meeting today, can you shed a little bit more light on who’s on this team and exactly where they’re meeting?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I think the Secretary indicated, part of the effort will be in Geneva. I don’t have additional details in terms of who exactly is on the team.

On the first question, I mean, we’ve actually talked about this many times. I mean, this isn’t about enforcement in sort of a kinetic, physical way. It is about monitoring and being able to analyze compliance and then, when able – and there have been times in the past couple of months when the task force has been given the information that they’ve been able to receive to actually prevent violations from occurring. Largely it’s about analyzing the data and the information we get on reported violations. And as you might suspect, some of these are parallel reports, and so you might get two or three or four reports on the same violation. That doesn’t mean you had four violations. You had one, but it was observed from different corners.

And so this will give us a better – this will enable us to do it better, more effectively, more efficiently, and we – as the Secretary indicated in his conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov, there’ll – we also to intend to redouble our efforts at using our influence – Russia using their influence on the Assad regime; the United States using its influence on certain opposition groups – to keep them in observance of the cessation of hostilities.



QUESTION: Follow-up. Now, the Secretary talked – he basically warned the Syrian regime that this war will not end. Is he basically saying that if the – in the event that the ceasefire collapses, that we will implement plan B, which is basically to go and arm and maybe aid militarily directly to the opposition?

MR KIRBY: What the --

QUESTION: Is that he was saying? Because he was very strong.

MR KIRBY: He was, but what he was saying was that the whole process has to succeed or the war won’t end, not just the cessation. The cessation and the humanitarian delivery all are key components, but so to – and he talked quite a bit about the political process and getting the political talks back on a productive track. And they have – obviously, they have stumbled. They have not been enormously successful so far. So that’s the real key here, and what he said was if those things can’t happen, particularly the political process, then the war won’t end. There won’t be any incentive for it to end, and that’s what he’s really focusing on.

Now, your question about plan B – we’ve talked about this. The focus is on the process that’s in place because – I think the Secretary said it very well for himself. I mean, he still firmly believes that that is the right approach and that’s the approach that we’re putting our energies into. It would imprudent, it would be irresponsible if there weren’t other places in the U.S. Government that were thinking through options and alternatives to that. We have to do that. And the Commander-in-Chief has made it clear that he wants everybody to do that. But that – but even he has said that whatever alternatives there may be to, quote-unquote, “plan A,” they’re not good ones. They’re not great. They’re not the ones that we want to pursue. We want to pursue this particular track, and the Secretary still believes firmly that (a) it’s the right thing to do, and (b) that it can succeed.

QUESTION: Now, also the Secretary used the term “carve out” – if Assad keeps trying to carve out a – some land in Aleppo and so on. I mean, Assad is really the president of Syria; it’s the government that is recognized by most everybody in the world. While you have whatever opposition that is aided by foreign governments, by all accounts – I mean, even the Secretary himself mentioned countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and so on. So is he saying that there is some sort of equanimity between, let’s say, the Syrian Government that is recognized by you guys and by those opposition forces? And if not, then why don’t you recognize them?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think that’s at all what he’s saying, Said. I mean, I think, again, I can’t say it better than he did, that Assad has – and we’ve said it before – has lost legitimacy in his own country, and it’s clear from what’s going on – the civil war over five years, the growth and the influence of Daesh in the last two years – all are strong indications that there is no legitimacy coming from the regime, and you can’t call yourself a government and gas and barrel bomb your own people, starve them to death, which is what he’s doing.

So this isn’t about recognizing legitimacy at all. Quite the contrary, it’s about trying to get us – the international community, but more importantly the Syrian people – to a government there that is responsible, responsive to their needs, and can be recognized as legitimate throughout the country.

Yeah, go ahead. I’ll come – Margaret, I’ll come right back to you.

QUESTION: The cessation of hostilities that the U.S. and Russia are now working to establish or re-establish, particularly in Aleppo, will it involve not attacking al-Nusrah?

MR KIRBY: Will it involve not attacking al-Nusrah? No. Al-Nusrah – the Secretary talked about this – they are not party to the cessation. They are a recognized terrorist organization by the UN and are not party to the cessation.

QUESTION: Sir, last week a U.S. military spokesman, Colonel Steve Warren, said that it’s primarily al-Nusrah who holds Aleppo. I know that the U.S. and Russia have been working to delineate terrorists from rebels. How is that work going?

MR KIRBY: So a couple of points there. As I – I think I got asked this question too, and as I said at the time, we still – and I think you heard the Secretary talk about it today – I mean, Aleppo is a very mixed, fluid, dynamic environment. And we have seen examples where groups like al-Nusrah and Daesh intermingle themselves with others so as to help protect themselves from attacks. So it’s very fluid, very dynamic. Aleppo remains that way.

Your second question, in terms of how it’s going – I think, again, I’d point you back to what the Secretary just said. I mean, the – we continue to work very closely with the Russians towards a better application of the cessation of hostilities and better compliance throughout the country. That’s why these teams are meeting today, and hopefully later today – hopefully – we’ll be able to lay out with more detail exactly what the progress is that’s being made in terms of reaffirming the cessation in additional places throughout the country.

QUESTION: So the FSA put out a statement saying, “We, the armed groups from across Syria, will form a single bloc. Any offensive that takes place in an area where our units are present will be regarded as an attack against all the units throughout the Syrian territory and we reserve the right to respond to it.” Thirty-seven military units endorsed this statement. Given the fact that some of these units are in Aleppo and they are known to be difficult to separate from al-Nusrah, what do you think about their position that if any one of them is attacked in Aleppo, that the whole cessation of hostilities across Syria is out the window?

MR KIRBY: Well, I haven’t seen the comments, but let me just --

QUESTION: It’s a quote.

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not disputing that. I haven’t seen it, but I’m happy to address the issue. It is – their frustration is understandable given the constant attacks that they’ve been under by the regime, particularly in Aleppo. But you heard the Secretary say himself in his opening comments that we want all parties – and that means all parties – to abide by the cessation of hostilities and to not look for opportunity to escalate the violence either there or elsewhere throughout the country. We want everybody to abide by it, and that’s why he went to Geneva the last couple of days, that’s why he had – he talked so intently with Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday, and it’s why our teams – the U.S. and Russian teams are right now working on trying to get this cessation reaffirmed in other places.

QUESTION: But do you support this particular position expressed by the other side?

MR KIRBY: I think I would just point you back to what the Secretary said himself, which is we want all parties – everybody – to abide by the cessation of hostilities, and when we are able to come to an agreement on some additional modalities, to agree to that. And as the Secretary said, we, the United States, we have a responsibility here too because we do have influence over some groups and we – he is going to hold us to account. And his expectation is that we will use that influence in an appropriate way on those opposition groups that we have influence on, just like our expectation is that the Russians will use their influence to appropriately shape and mold the conduct and behavior of the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Just one more. The FSA said that they support the decision of the High Negotiations Committee to withdraw from the Geneva talks. What is the U.S. communicating to the FSA with regard to this?

MR KIRBY: Well, we obviously want the talks to continue, and our message has been consistent and the same – that we want to see the UN-led peace talks resume and to achieve some success here. As the Secretary said when we were in Moscow, we agreed with the Russian Government that we would set 1 August as the timeframe to do that. So we obviously want to see that succeed. Our message has been the same to the opposition, the HNC, and all opposition groups: We want to see them back at the table.

We also recognize their frustration. We recognize the concerns that they expressed during this last round, and why, out of frustration, they stopped talking – because the regime had been violating the cessation so blatantly, so overtly, in particular in Aleppo. So there’s obviously more work to be done here, but our message is exactly the same.

QUESTION: Kirby, the Secretary talked a lot about press freedom. Can you tell us if the Assad regime is still holding Austin Tice, is he still alive, and what his status is?

MR KIRBY: The truth is I think there’s still more information that we need. Austin is never far from our minds and I can tell you that we continue to very energetically try to get more information about his whereabouts and to stay in touch with his family as much as we can about that. But there’s still a lot we don’t know. I can just tell you that it’s very much – very much and very close on our minds here.


QUESTION: So it’s still unknown if he is with the Assad regime, just that he remains in Syria?

MR KIRBY: I think – I think we’re still trying to get better information about his whereabouts and his condition. I think I have to leave it at that.


QUESTION: I have a question on Iraq but I don't know if you need to come back to me on that.

MR KIRBY: Are you going to go to Iraq?


MR KIRBY: Syria, okay.

QUESTION: Yeah. We were not --

MR KIRBY: All right, we’ll stay with you and then we’ll come back.

QUESTION: There are some local media reports – I don't know if you have seen them – in the Middle East that they’re suggesting there are talks between the United States and the Assad regime, and some media reports are also hinting at the possibility of a meeting between – of a talk between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Walid Muallem of Syria. Is that – does that have any truth to it?

MR KIRBY: No, they’re not true.


QUESTION: On Iraq, Baghdad seems to be in the middle of a major political crisis at the same time that you saw this fatality of a U.S. serviceman today. And I’m wondering what the assessment is as the U.S. tries to get diplomatically engaged here – I mean, how much that crisis imperils the combat mission.

MR KIRBY: Well, so a couple of points there. You referenced getting engaged diplomatically. I would argue that we have remained engaged diplomatically with the Abadi government. I mean, the Vice President was just there; Secretary Kerry was there just a couple of weeks ago. We very much continue to support the political reforms that he’s putting in place and we recognize the political challenges that he’s facing in Iraq. But he is trying to enact reforms that are in keeping with the Iraqi constitution, and again, we’re going to continue to support him in that effort.

And I think the Pentagon spoke to this earlier today and I will just restate it – that there has been no impact on the military mission to go after Daesh inside Iraq as a result of the political challenges that Prime Minister Abadi is facing right now. We continue to – at least the United States continues to be a major contributor to the coalition. Just over the weekend, nearly 60 airstrikes were conducted against Daesh targets. So that effort continues apace. It doesn’t mean that we’re – it doesn’t mean that we’re not continuing to engage with Prime Minister Abadi, not continuing to talk with him, not continuing to watch the situation there closely, but there’s no impact on coalition operations.

QUESTION: But he’s the commander-in-chief and his political stability seems to be in question. So at what point does that not imperil the ability or the mission to shore up his government, which is what the U.S. is doing fighting alongside his military?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t --

QUESTION: I mean, if he can’t keep his government together, doesn’t that hurt the U.S. effort to support his military to try to fight ISIS?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think it would be valuable to speculate right now in terms of what might happen in the future or what the effects might be on the military effort. What I can tell you is that he is working through these challenges and they are difficult, but we continue to support him as he does that. And the reason why, Margaret, is because we believe and have believed from the outset that the best antidote and the most sustainable antidote to a group like Daesh in Iraq is good governance and it is political reform, the kinds of reforms that he’s trying to pursue. So there is a linkage here in terms of being able to sustain a defeat of a group like this, but I don’t believe we’re at a point now where I can say with great specificity that while this is the line, this is where it – this is where it impacts it. Thus far he continues to work these challenges through the constitution with the support not just of the United States but other coalition members. And the Iraqi Security Forces continue – even as you and I are talking today continue to – the fight against Daesh in places out in Anbar and, as a matter of fact, just recently secured some success in Haditha.

So they are, even for all the challenges he’s facing in Baghdad, elsewhere in the country – not everywhere but elsewhere in the country – the Iraqi Security Forces are doing a good job and they’re going after – going after these guys. We’re certainly helping that effort. You mentioned the casualty today as a stark example of that, that advise and assist mission. But we have not seen a diminution of the effort to go against Daesh as a result of these political challenges, and I don’t think it would be wise to try to speculate as to at what point one way or another you would see that happen.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. trying to mediate between the Sadrists, the Abadi government, and all these other fractured parties to try to keep Baghdad together?

MR KIRBY: We’re not inserting ourself into internal Iraqi politics in that way. Obviously, our ambassador there, Stu Jones, is in contact with the Abadi government, as he has been, as we have been for a while now in terms of supporting the kinds of reforms that Prime Minister Abadi is putting in place. But we’re not taking a mediation role.

Yeah, Nike.

QUESTION: Yes, I have a quick question on Aleppo and some other questions. We see some reports on the safety zones inside Aleppo. Could you explain how that work and does the United States support that?

MR KIRBY: Actually, Nike, I think, again, the Secretary talked about this quite a bit at the top of the briefing today. I don’t know that I’m going to elaborate much more than that. This is – it’s about reaffirming the cessation of hostilities in places where it is working and maybe can work better and in places where, obviously, it has fallen down and broken down, such as Aleppo. It’s not about – it’s not about safe zones. It’s about a nationwide cessation of hostilities. As I said yesterday, what we’d like to see is the entire nation of Syria be safe so that the millions of refugees can come home and they can have a government that’s responsive to their needs and they can earn a living and raise their kids in safety and security. That’s what we want to see.

And so the focus here is on a nationwide cessation of hostilities. Yes, there is some effort now to try to specifically get it in better condition in certain places where it has proved challenging lately, but it’s not about – it’s not about zones.

Okay? You had another question?

QUESTION: Can I ask about World Press Freedom Day? Do you have another journalism to – journalist to feature since today is the day? And I remember last week, according to a press release, the State Department is going to feature every reporter until today.

MR KIRBY: We did. Yesterday was the last day of that, and then today being World Press Freedom Day, we brought the Secretary out to talk about the initiatives and what we’re doing to support press freedom around the world. That was the schedule. I wasn’t – I mean, we – yesterday was the last day we had planned to identify a single example. Obviously, there are many more than the six that we profiled over the last week, but we chose those six based on their specific circumstances.

QUESTION: Can I also ask about Ukraine? Do you have anything on the congressional efforts to tighten sanctions in – on Russia and not recognizing the annexation of Crimea? It was introduced by Congressman Eliot and some leadership from the Congressional Ukraine Caucus last week.

MR KIRBY: Well, so, as you probably expect, we’re not going to speak specifically to this recently introduced pending legislation. Broadly speaking, our existing sanctions were imposed on Russia to pressure the Russian Government to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including the restoration of Ukraine’s control over eastern Ukraine. And we’re committed to maintaining the sanctions that are in place until Russia fulfills its commitment under – commitments under the Minsk agreements. Sanctions related to Crimea are going to remain in place as long as Russia’s occupation and purported annexation continues.

QUESTION: Do you think that will increase or – whether or not – one way or the other will increase the leverage for Washington to deal with Moscow?

MR KIRBY: Well, all I can say is we’re going to continue to consult with Congress going forward here, but I think I’m going to leave my answer where I left it for right now.

QUESTION: One final question: Last month you put out a statement to condemn the Honduras activist – the murder of her, Berta Caceres. And yesterday arrests has been made regarding her case.


QUESTION: Do you have any update on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, we welcome the announcement of the arrests in her murder. We’re going to continue to closely follow the matter as the investigation continues and as the judicial process moves forward, but I think I’m going to leave it there for right now.

Yeah, Tejinder.

QUESTION: On Pakistan.


QUESTION: After your statement yesterday, Pakistan is saying they are disappointed, but they are also saying if they cannot get the F-16s from U.S., they will find jets from other places. They’re indicating from China. Do you fear that this will strain your relationship with Pakistan?

MR KIRBY: These are sovereign decisions that nations make with respect to their defense needs, and I wouldn’t – it’s up for – it’s up to Pakistan to speak to how they’ll fulfill their defense needs. As for the relationship, as I’ve said many, many times, it’s an important one. It’s critical; it’s vital in that – particularly in that part of the world; and it’s a relationship we have absolutely no intention of losing focus on or diminishing in any way. But these are obviously sovereign decisions that Pakistan has to make.

QUESTION: A Pakistani minister of a cabinet rank has described the U.S. aid to Pakistan as “peanuts.” Do you think this is appropriate description of U.S. aid to Pakistan?

MR KIRBY: I would just simply say that, again, it’s an important relationship. We’re going to continue to support that relationship. We are – we fully stand behind the kinds of support that we have provided Pakistan over the last many years with respect specifically to their counterterrorism capabilities and counterterrorism needs, and we’re going to continue to look for ways to improve that cooperation as best we can.

QUESTION: But you don’t have anything to say on the peanuts comment? It is peanuts, orange, apples --

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

QUESTION: World Press Freedom Day. This question was going to be for Secretary Kerry, but now to you. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: But I didn’t call on you.

QUESTION: John, over the last three, four years during the Secretary’s tenure here in this building, Turkey’s freedom records in every aspect, whether press freedom or freedom of assembly or minorities and all that, have been backsliding very badly and dramatically. Do you think that this administration could have done something different or better, or do you see any responsibility on your aspect to make Turkish administration handle these issues better than they have been handling?

MR KIRBY: Well, a couple of points there. We’ve talked about before that the trend we’re seeing in Turkey is not a good one. It’s not going in the right direction. I think I’ve described it as worrisome, and I think we still believe that. We don’t believe that restricting freedom of the press is healthy for any democracy, and yet, we still believe that Turkey can live up to all its democratic principles, the ones that are enshrined in its constitution, and we want to see them do that and we want to see Turkey succeed. We don’t believe the path to success, democratically speaking, is by harassment or – of the media or restricting their ability to do their job, and we’ve said that many, many times.

We’re going to continue to make that case as clear and as concise as we can privately and publicly with Turkish leaders. I don’t think you’re going to see that diminish. I don’t think you’ll see, as long as there’s issues of press freedoms there, you’ll see me shying away from it here from this particular podium either because it matters to us, not just because it matters to us – and the Secretary talked about how much it does – but because Turkey matters to us, and we want to see, again, Turkey succeed. They are a vital partner and a vital ally on some very significant regional issues, and we believe that a strong relationship, strong bilateral relationship with Turkey, which we have, is made stronger by having this trend – this press freedom trend that we talked about – improve.


QUESTION: Turkey again, follow-up.


QUESTION: Another violence erupted yesterday in Turkish parliament. The representatives of HDP Kurdish party – one of them was actually, I think, Armenian but member of the Kurdish party. They were attacked by the majority party, AKP Party. Do you have any comments on this?

MR KIRBY: I’m afraid you’re going to have to let me take the question. I haven’t seen those reports, and so because I haven’t seen them and I’m not in a position to verify them, I think you’re just going to have to let me take that one.


QUESTION: I have a question. I have two questions, actually. The first one is about that military service member who was actually killed near Erbil a while ago. So how is the U.S. DOD is engaged in the fight against ISIS other than advisory and training roles?

MR KIRBY: Say – I’m sorry, say that question again. How are we what?

QUESTION: So the U.S. military presence in Iraq, how they’re – are they engaged directly in the fight against ISIS? Other than advisory and training roles, what other role they will – they’re actually playing? And if you could just tell us why he was killed. Was he engaged directly in the fight? That’s the first question.

And my second question was – is about the visit of the HDP leader, Selahattin Demirtas, the Kurdish member of the Turkish parliament who was here last week. There were some reports he had meetings here at the State Department. Could you confirm that, please?

MR KIRBY: So let me take your second question. I don’t think I have anything on that.

On the first one, first of all, our thoughts and our prayers, our deepest condolences go out to the family of the service member who was killed today in Iraq. And I think all of us should just pause and remember that there is a family out there that’s grieving right now and I think we all should keep that foremost in mind.

I’m going to refer you to the Defense Department for more specifics about the circumstances under which that service member was killed. That’s – they would have better information than I would. Broadly speaking, and again, I’m only going to stay at a very tree-top level on this because this is really a better question for the Defense Department, but broadly speaking, our central role – we have two central military roles in Iraq: One you’ve obviously seen is supporting coalition efforts through airpower. Number two, it’s an advise and assist mission. The Pentagon spoke to this. I believe Secretary Carter spoke to this this morning with respect to this particular U.S. service member who was killed, that he was involved in the advise and assist mission when he was killed. But again, as for the specific circumstances, I think I’d point you to them, okay?

QUESTION: But if the situation deteriorates because of the local problems in Baghdad today, do you think that the U.S. will need to actually be more engaged just to make sure that ISIS does not gain more territories or the Iraqi army will not leave other territories to ISIS?

MR KIRBY: What’s important is that the Iraqi Security Forces execute their campaign plan to defeat Daesh. That’s what’s really critical. We’ve talked about this many, many times. And again, I don’t want to veer out of my lane here, but the forces that matter most in Iraq are indigenous forces, Iraqi Security Forces, and that is why we are supporting them from the air and that is why we are supporting them in an advise and assist capacity. And the United States has been very engaged in this effort, but we want to do this smartly and we want to do this through, by and with the Iraqi Government and Iraqi Security Forces. They are the ground forces that matter most.

And they are having success. They are pushing back on this group in Iraq. And Daesh has lost territory. They’ve lost fighters. They are struggling to recruit now. They have certainly lost territory and they are losing a significant amount of revenue in just – just since the fall they have lost a significant amount of revenue, about a third of what they once had total and more than half of once – what they were getting from oil revenues. So there has been success against this group.

I’ve got time for one more and then we’re going to have to call it.


MR KIRBY: I’m going to go here to Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, John. Long time. (Laughter.) On South Korea – I just (inaudible) South Korea.


QUESTION: As you already know that South Korean President Park visited Iran and met with Iranian President Rouhani, would you please some comment on normalization of relationship of – between Iran and South Korea.

MR KIRBY: I – Janne, I think I’d refer you to officials in Seoul to speak to their – excuse me – to speak to their bilateral relations. That’s not for us to speak to and certainly the president’s --


MR KIRBY: The president’s travel is for her and her staff to speak to.

In terms of the U.S., we do not have diplomatic relations with Iran. I am not – I know of no plans to change that. We have engaged with Iran to secure the Iran deal and we engage with Iran specifically and limited to their participation in the International Syria Support Group, but there’s no efforts to broaden that at this time. I mean, Iran still is capable of and continues to conduct destabilizing activities in the region. They are still a state sponsor of terrorism. We have significant differences with Iran. And would we like to see that change? Would we like to see their conduct change? Absolutely, but we see no indication that even as a result of the Iran deal that it is. And so we are going to continue to maintain the kinds of pressure on them and in that arena as we have, and certainly reserve the right to increase that pressure as appropriate going forward.

Guys, I’ve got to go. It’s getting late.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on this program that you’ve talked about it being a good thing to relocate people who are under threat?

MR KIRBY: Oh, I don’t have an update for you on that, Matt. It remains an option, but – and we’re still discussing this inside the interagency, but I don’t have a decision for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:25 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - May 2, 2016

Mon, 05/02/2016 - 17:41

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 2, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:08 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody.


MR KIRBY: Just a couple of things at the top here. We finish our Free the Press Campaign today, and for that campaign, in honor of World Press Freedom Day, which is, as you know, tomorrow, we’re going to highlight today a man named Sergei Reznik, a journalist and blogger from the city of Rostov-on-Don who was – who has been, I’m sorry, imprisoned since November of 2013.

Before his imprisonment, Reznik’s writing routinely criticized municipal and regional authorities in Russia and uncovered local corruption and abuses. The series of unrelated charges pursued against him include insulting a public official, bribery, and deliberately misleading authorities. A month before his conviction, Reznik was also physically attacked, when two unidentified men beat him with baseball bats and shot at him. Although he was not hit by bullets, Mr. Reznik suffered head and neck injuries from the beating.

While he sits in jail, authorities have made no progress in investigating the attack against him, consistent with a broader pattern of impunity in Russia for those who attack journalists. So again, we call on the Russian Government to release Sergei Reznik immediately.

I also want to note that, as you know, the Secretary is returning this evening from a couple of days in Geneva, where obviously high on his agenda of topics to discuss with foreign leaders was the situation in Syria and the continued fragile cessation of hostilities there. He also spoke today with Foreign Minister Lavrov by phone. Both ministers again talked predominately about the cessation, acknowledging that it is in fact fragile, and talking about ways in which it can be restored throughout the country, quite frankly. And they did talk about the potential for another ISSG meeting sometime in the near future. I don’t have any specifics to read out in terms of dates, locations, but they did talk about the possibility of another ISSG meeting. They also spoke about Nagorno-Karabakh and the conflict there and the need to continue to try to restore a better sense of calm between the sides.

With that.

QUESTION: Thank you, John.


QUESTION: Since you mentioned Syria, before leaving Geneva, Secretary Kerry and Special Envoy de Mistura gave a press conference, and Secretary Kerry said that the situation is out of control in Syria, and he said also that they are working on new mechanism to control the ceasefire. So how – what are your expectations to restore the ceasefire, and what are these new mechanisms they were talking about?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think the Secretary was asked specifically about that and said that he wasn’t going to get ahead of the discussions since not all the mechanisms and modalities have been worked out. So I am surely in no position to go into more detail about it today. But they did talk about some ideas of how, in certain areas in Syria, it can be restored and in other areas bolstered and made more secure than it is now. I would note that over the weekend, we did see in areas around Latakia and in areas around Damascus, we did see a restoration of the cessation of hostilities. We have always been focused on areas like Aleppo and that was certainly a topic of the discussions that the Secretary had in Geneva, and with Foreign Minister Lavrov today.

So Aleppo is obviously the starkest example of where the cessation is most at risk and continues to be violated by the regime, but there are other areas in the country too that we’re concerned about.

The other thing – and I didn’t mention this in my readout, and I apologize for that – but they did talk also about humanitarian assistance and the need to continue a sustained, unimpeded avenue of delivery of humanitarian assistance to so many areas in need. Now, I know that – I think the ICRC reported today that they were able to get to some areas, but there are so many others where the needs are desperate, and this is another area where we really do need Russia to use its influence on the Assad regime to allow that access.

QUESTION: And are you sure that Aleppo will be included in the new ceasefire, cessation of hostility agreement you are looking for? And do you trust Russia to put pressure on the regime to make this agreement possible?

MR KIRBY: The short answer to your – both questions is yes. That said, I do want to make it clear that Aleppo was never not on the table. Aleppo was never not part of the cessation. Remember, the cessation of hostilities when agreed to was nationwide and that’s what – and when we say “nationwide,” we mean nationwide. Now, we knew that there were going to be violations even on day one, but we’ve been up here talking about the situation in Aleppo now for some – a matter of weeks. It’s obviously of deep concern. And so, obviously, we’re going to stay focused on that. I don’t want to convey by saying, “Yes, it’s going to be a part of the new – of new efforts” – it would intrinsically be anyway simply because it is such an important part of Syria and because we have seen so many violations of late.

But to – and I’m not saying your question is doing this, but I want to take the opportunity: to argue that it was never part of renewed efforts is not accurate. It’s always been – particularly in the last couple of weeks, it’s always been a topic of discussion and concern and emphasis for the Secretary.

QUESTION: John, the UN Security Council on Syria has set a timetable for the political process which is two years. Do you think that this timetable is still respected?

MR KIRBY: Look, the timetable that we’re operating off of is the one that has been codified in the UN Security Council resolution, which itself codified the Geneva process. That is still the timeline. That is still the goal and the objective of the political process.

QUESTION: But this resolution talked about six months to establish a transitional body in Syria. Now four months has – have gone and there is nothing yet.

MR KIRBY: There’s not nothing. I mean, it is correct --

QUESTION: But the talks in Geneva didn’t --

MR KIRBY: It is correct that the talks have struggled and nobody’s arguing anything other than that. But to say there’s been nothing, I think, doesn’t exactly accurately characterize the amount of --

QUESTION: On a political --

MR KIRBY: -- effort and progress that has been made. Now, I understand – do we have a transitional process fully baked now and in place or a transitional body that’s been designated? No. But we do have – we’ve had now three rounds of talks on the political front. Much more work needs to be done – we fully agree – but we do have at least a common set of principles that both the regime and the opposition have agreed to. As I said at the top, I think you can expect the ISSG to gather again soon to help work out what the next best steps are on the political process. But again, nobody’s arguing that the political process hasn’t struggled, and we’re certainly not indicating that we’re satisfied that things are exactly on track. We understand that they’re not but there has been discussion. And after five years of brutal violence and just vicious atrocities perpetrated on the Syrian people by the Assad regime, nobody expected that the political process was going to be easy or linear.

So I recognize that there’s a timetable. We all recognize that. And timetables are a good thing because they can be forcing functions. And maybe you don’t meet every single wicket, but the work towards that is important and the Secretary fully supports this – the timeframe that was set out. You saw when he – when we were in Moscow he and Foreign Minister Lavrov, in fact coming out of their meeting with President Putin, said that by August we hope to have some sort of political framework in place, and that is still very much the goal.

QUESTION: Do you expect this body to be created by August? Do you --

MR KIRBY: I can’t be perfectly predictive, Michel. What I can tell you is the Secretary fully expects that the ISSG will continue to work very hard to meet the goals set out in the UN Security Council resolution which itself codified the Geneva process around which the ISSG was formed and operates. We’re 100 percent committed to that.


QUESTION: Do you – same subject.


QUESTION: I believe Secretary Kerry was the one who mentioned that there would be an increase in staff on both the U.S. and Russian side on the ground in Geneva. Do you have any more details on that and what the numbers are now or how that would increase?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional details. Again, we’re still working through the specifics on this, but it would stand to reason – I mean, look, we’ve been – the task force has been monitoring the cessation of hostilities since the beginning, and as it has proven increasingly fragile and more and more at risk, it would simply make sense and I think logically follows that we would, that the Secretary would want to look for ways to enhance that effort and to make it more effective, including making the cessation more effective. So I don’t have additional details, and when we do and we can speak to them, we will. But I would simply point back to what the Secretary said, which is that we are looking at ways to increase the resourcing and the physical effort of monitoring the cessation.

QUESTION: One of the ideas that’s been discussed in reports is the idea of creating safe zones within the area of Aleppo. Is that something that’s on the table or being discussed at the moment?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I mean, I’ve seen reporting on that. Again, I’m going to refrain from getting ahead of the specifics here. Some of these modalities that the Secretary talked about with Foreign Minister Lavrov and, frankly, with Special Envoy de Mistura are still being fleshed out, and I think it’s just a little too soon to get into the specific details of them. What we would obviously like to see is that the whole nation of Syria be a safe zone where people are not being gassed and barrel bombed by the regime. What we would like to see is the cessation of hostilities be enacted and be fully observed by all parties all throughout the country. That’s what we’re really after here. The specifics of how we’re going to try to help restore it where it has fallen down, again, we’re still working through.




MR KIRBY: Are we on Syria? I want to stay on Syria right now. Syria?


MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: John, do you have anything on the hospital bombings by the Assad regime?

MR KIRBY: The hospital from last week?

QUESTION: Right, weekend. And I think one more hospital was bombed yesterday, right, or Saturday.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I don’t have anything additional. I mean, obviously we’ve seen these reports. I think you saw the Secretary speak to this in Geneva before he left to come home. I mean, those kind of attacks are unconscionable. They need to stop. And it is in keeping with what we’ve seen as a pattern out of the regime to target innocent people, and now going after people who are trying to help innocent people and first responders. And that’s just absolutely reprehensible.

I don’t have additional details. I’ve seen press reports now of more such attacks, but I’m not in a position to confirm or deny them.

QUESTION: And you said the cessation of hostilities is most at risk in Aleppo, and in last 10 days hundreds of civilians are killed in Aleppo by the Assad regime. And does your suggestion imply that the cessation of hostilities is holding in Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: No, I think we’ve been very honest that there have been many violations in and around Aleppo. We’ve been nothing but candid about that, and Aleppo remains of deep concern. It has – as I mentioned in my answer to Nick, it has always been a part of the discussion, particularly in the last couple of weeks. It remains a very dangerous area. We understand that.



QUESTION: Thank you. Do you have --

QUESTION: On the task force, please, John, do you have any details how does this work? Who’s represented in this task force?

MR KIRBY: The task force is co-chaired by the United States and by Russia, and they meet constantly to talk about reported violations of the cessation of hostilities, to compare data and analyze the information, and then to work hard to try to get the parties who are – who we believe are culpable to stop those violations and to heed the cessation of hostilities. And without going into great detail, I can tell you that there have been occasions throughout the work of the task force where actual potential cessation violations have been prevented or stopped. So there has been – it has helped at least increase a sense of situational awareness.

What the Secretary talked about today was what can we do bilaterally with Russia specifically as a co-chair – what can we do bilaterally to help boost this effort and to make it even better going forward – because we all recognize that the cessation has not been observed in every area of Syria, that there have been significant violations, that Aleppo is still very much under threat. And we – the whole reason he went to Geneva was to be able to have meetings directly and specifically on this because it is such a serious matter.

QUESTION: That means that Russian, Americans, and UN personnel only work on this task force and – or all the ISSG members --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a list of every person that sits on the task force. It’s co-chaired by the United States and Russia. As I understand it, there are participants by the UN and other members of the ISSG involved, but I don’t have the manning list of exactly who’s there. But it is co-chaired by the U.S. and by Russia.

QUESTION: John, just a clarification: Reaching an agreement, a fresh agreement on the cessation of hostilities – is it a condition for organizing the ISSG meeting in the near future?

MR KIRBY: I think there’s no question that any future meeting of the ISSG is going to discuss the cessation of hostilities and where we’re at, and hey, look, it’s going to depend on when and where this meeting happens in terms of what’s to be discussed about the cessation. Hopefully we don’t have to wait for another gathering of the ISSG to make progress on the cessation of hostilities, but will it be a part of the discussion? I can’t imagine that – any other scenario, I mean, that it certainly would be. It would be everybody’s hope, the Secretary first and foremost, that we can get the cessation into a better position now, immediately, such that any discussion by the ISSG in coming days or weeks is looking back at a much more successful story than what we’ve seen in just the last week or so.

So again, I don’t have anything specific to announce in terms of a place or a date. I just think that, as I said in my readout of the call, they certainly talked about the potential and the potential good that can come from another gathering of the ISSG.

Are we still on Syria? No?


MR KIRBY: Okay, we’re going to go to – he’s on Iraq, and then to you, okay? Go ahead.

QUESTION: So do you have anything to say about the recent protests in Iraq? They broke – they stormed the parliament building and there was some violence reported inside the parliament building as well.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, so let me go through this because there’s a lot, obviously, that went on in Iraq. I want to state right up front that we continue to strongly support Iraq and the Iraqi people in their fight against Daesh. Attacks over the weekend on Shia religious pilgrims, for instance, in Baghdad, in Samawa, underscore that Daesh remains a very determined enemy intent on using violence to stoke sectarian tensions, even as Iraqi Security Forces continue to make progress defeating them on the battlefield.

Importantly, the events in Baghdad over the weekend have not impacted our own counter-Daesh operations. The U.S. and our coalition partners conducted another 59 airstrikes and six artillery strikes against Daesh targets in northern Iraq and Anbar province just over this weekend, and we continue to support Iraq Security Forces in our train, advise, and assist mission there.

I would say also that we welcome the ongoing efforts of the Iraqi Government and political leaders to come together to quickly restore security in Baghdad so that Iraq can move forward on critical priorities which include the urgent need for sustained progress in the fight, obviously, also further efforts to mobilize international economic support for Iraq both as it seeks to stabilize Anbar and other territory liberated from Daesh and to control and promote economic reforms there.

These are long-term challenges for Iraq. We’ve talked about that before. And they must be worked, as we’ve said before, within the context of the Iraqi political system and in accordance with the Iraqi constitution. So we’re going to – we join with the UN and the EU in urging all sides to exercise restraint and to work within the political process to advance the interests and the aspirations of all Iraqi people. And as we’ve said before and as Secretary Kerry said when we were in Baghdad not long ago, we continue to strongly support Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi people as they work to advance these very objectives in line with our longstanding commitment to the strategic partnership between our two countries.

QUESTION: On the protest itself, do you see it as a genuine reform movement? Because a lot of people, especially among the Kurds and the Sunnis, they see it as a demonstration driven by Muqtada al-Sadr personally himself and nobody else, probably by Haider Abadi as well, to push through a specific political agenda which is not inclusive, which doesn’t include the Kurds necessarily or the Sunnis.

MR KIRBY: I’m going to refrain from trying to characterize the nature of this. I mean, again, we watched this very closely over the weekend, and I think I’ll let my statement speak for itself in terms of where we are as a government with respect to those protests.

QUESTION: And especially just – sorry, just I want to stay on this for one more question.

MR KIRBY: I’m surprised. Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. So because if you saw what happened inside the parliament, there was some degree of violence. All the violence was directed at Kurdish and Sunni politicians. The deputy speaker of the parliament, who was Kurdish, was assaulted by the protesters. The Shia parliamentarians who are especially allies with al-Sadr, they were cheering with the protesters. So don’t you see that message making sense that --

MR KIRBY: Look, again, I think I’m going to leave my statement – I’m going to leave things where I stated it before in the answer to your first question. Obviously, we don’t want to see protests turn violent against anybody. And you’ve heard me say many times up here that we support the right of peaceful protest and freedom of expression around the world. Nobody wants to see anything turn violent regardless of who the victims are. But again, I think it’s important to pull back a little bit and remember that what’s – what the long-term answer in Iraq is is good governance. We’ve said that many, many times. That’s the way to sustain a defeat of Daesh. They are being defeated on the battlefield. They will continue to be defeated on the battlefield. But when you – but to sustain that defeat, you’ve got to have good governance. And Prime Minister Abadi is working hard on political reforms to do just that. And we’re going to continue to support him in that efforts. And obviously, violence against anybody in Iraq as a result of protest activity is something that we’re concerned about.

QUESTION: How do you respond to criticisms by some analysts that the Administration is focused too much on the battle against ISIS and not enough on diplomatic efforts, specifically helping Abadi shore up this broken and corrupt government?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those criticisms, but let’s just assume that I have. I think we would obviously reject that, that argument. We have obviously been a major contributor militarily to the fight against Daesh, but we have very much been working closely – and our ambassador, Stu Jones, in Baghdad in particular, working very, very closely with the Abadi government as they – and it’s important that it has to be “they” – they continue to work these political reforms and to try to get at a government that is more inclusive and more focused on good governance and good policy rather than sectarian differences. And Prime Minister Abadi is to be commended for his efforts to do just that.

Nobody – and look, the Vice President was there recently, Secretary Kerry was there recently. I don’t think that anybody can reasonably look at the level of engagement, both in terms of frequency and how high up it goes in our government – to look at that and to argue that we’ve turned a blind eye to supporting Prime Minister Abadi. But we also need to remember that this is a sovereign country. Sometimes when we talk about Iraq, a lot of us, we get drawn into talking about it through the prism of 2003, 2004 when the United States was much more heavily engaged militarily and had invaded the country and, obviously, toppled the government there. This is a sovereign government, Iraq is a sovereign country, and Prime Minister Abadi is the head of that government. And these are decisions that he has to make, that he has to pursue, and that he has to advocate more strongly and more vociferously than anybody, and he is. He is working through that. Obviously, we’re supporting them in that effort, and again, our ambassador is engaged on a daily basis.

QUESTION: I mean, if the U.S. effort against ISIS depends on a reliable partner in Iraq, it’s a huge problem for the United States, even if Iraq is a sovereign country.

MR KIRBY: Is the tenor of your question suggesting that he’s not a reliable partner? Because I think that’s kind of the way I thought it went, and if I’m wrong, if I’m wrong, correct me. But if that is the tenor of the question, that he is somehow an unreliable partner, we would obviously reject that implication as well. There are political struggles in Iraq, there’s no question about that, and there are tensions. That’s the way democracy works. And look, I mean, even here in the United States there’s political tensions, right? There’s not universality of opinion on everything that the United States Government itself is doing. So we shouldn’t expect that there would be unanimity of opinion and purpose there either. These are difficult times for Iraq economically, certainly from a security perspective, and obviously there are political challenges. But Prime Minister Abadi is working very hard to surmount those difficulties. And it’s not just the political challenges he’s facing. He has – as we’ve talked about, he has challenges in other sectors. He’s working very hard to do that; we’re going to continue to support him in that.

If you’re asking, do we find him to be a reliable partner, the short answer is yes. And because we believe he’s a reliable partner, we’re going to continue to support the work that he’s doing. And it’s work that he’s doing inside the context of the Iraqi constitution and inside the political process in that country. Okay?

Yeah, Abbie.

QUESTION: One more on that. Being that you’re saying you support – continue to support Abadi and his ability to create a new cabinet that is inclusive of all these different groups, do you dispute the reports, then, that there was an agreement between him and others that allowed this – or – and the security forces actually let the protesters into the parliament?

MR KIRBY: I would let the prime minister and his office speak to those kinds of tactical-level issues. I don’t have information one way or the other to corroborate that.


QUESTION: New York Times called Abadi a weak prime minister, and do you think all these change he’s actually claiming for would be possible to gain in Iraq of today?

MR KIRBY: Say the last part again.

QUESTION: The New York Times article calls --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, no, I got that part. The last part.

QUESTION: Do you think those changes that Abadi is actually hoping to accomplish in Iraq – is it even possible given the facts, what happened during the weekend in Iraqi parliament?

MR KIRBY: Yes, we do. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. As I said at the outset, we continue to support Prime Minister Abadi and his efforts at political reforms, and we believe that he’s – that these reforms are headed in the right direction, that they are good for the country, and that’s why we’re going to continue to support him in his efforts.


MR KIRBY: But what?

QUESTION: -- from a journalist perspective, I don’t think it would be even possible that – because nobody is actually supporting them for a few around him. Even including the Kurds, they don’t want to go back to Baghdad. That’s what some reports say, and --

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: -- some people even ask – raise the question of his survival in the cabinet himself, Abadi. What do you think about that?

MR KIRBY: Those – look, now you’re getting into internal politics inside Iraq, and I’m simply not going to get into a discussion of that. Again, nobody thought here that the kinds of reforms he’s trying to seek were going to be easy. Nobody just cast off the notion that there would be contrary views. That’s the way democracy works. But he is trying to enact political reforms that are in keeping with Iraq’s constitution, and that’s not unimportant that he’s working inside the system to try to enact these reforms. And as I said at the outset, we’re going to continue to support him.

Now, you’re saying some people don’t think it’s possible, some journalists think it’s impossible – they’re entitled to that opinion. Again, that’s what democracy is all about. But the important thing to remember is that he recognizes reform is necessary, that he recognizes a more inclusive government that is more representative of all Iraqis is the best path forward to securing the country against an enemy like Daesh. And let’s not forget what the real enemy here of the Iraqi people is – it’s Daesh. It’s not any other party, it’s Daesh, and that he recognizes he needs these political reforms to better create a government that can defeat a group like that, and just as importantly – more importantly, in fact – sustain a defeat against a group like Daesh.

QUESTION: John, one security question: When the protesters went into the Green Zone, were there any concerns here that given the fact Muqtada al-Sadr has been a self-described anti-American figure, there was some concern that the protesters might switch to attack the embassy? Did you increase security around the embassy?

MR KIRBY: I never talk about security specifics around our posts. I’m not going to start now. I mean, obviously the safety and security of our posts and our personnel remain a high priority for the Secretary. It’s something we’re always looking at and always monitoring, but I won’t talk about the specifics here. There was no – over the weekend there was no specific danger posed to our post, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t watching these things with an eye towards security. We always do.

QUESTION: John, Egypt? Do you have any comment on the arrest of two journalists from the security forces? And there is a sit-in now organized by the syndicate.

MR KIRBY: I – so I’m aware of reports concerning the arrest of two journalists at the journalists syndicate on Sunday by the Egyptian police. As before, we continue to urge Egypt’s leadership to uphold the people’s basic rights to freedom of expression, which we believe, again, is the basis of a democratic society.

QUESTION: Have you discussed this issue with the Egyptian authorities? Anyone from this building called?

MR KIRBY: What I would tell you is we continue to have very frank discussions with the Government of Egypt over these very issues. That hasn’t stopped and I don’t anticipate it stopping going forward. I don’t have any specific diplomatic conversations to read out to you, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t routinely have discussions about our concerns there.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Bangladesh. Last – on Friday afternoon, there was a readout that said the Secretary urged Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina to ensure, quote, “thorough investigation of all these incidents,” the hackings of the LGBT advocates and other folks, and to, quote, “redouble law enforcement efforts to prevent future attacks and protect those who are at risk.” This comes just before another report of another hacking over the weekend. Are you confident the Bangladeshi Government is doing enough to protect those folks, LGBT advocates and others who are facing these sorts of attacks in the country?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would say that our focus remains on urging the Government of Bangladesh to provide a more secure environment for all of its citizens, one that nurtures the spirit of the people of Bangladesh and the pride with which they guard their own traditions of tolerance, peace, and diversity. And you’re right; we have raised our concerns over recent problems there. We’re going to continue to do that, and I don’t have more specific initiatives to lay before you, but I can tell you we’re watching this very closely and we are in touch.


QUESTION: Portugal.

MR KIRBY: Portugal.

QUESTION: Well, sort of. Can I – (laughter).

MR KIRBY: “Portugal,” “Well, sort of.”

QUESTION: Yeah. Can I ask you about the case of ex-CIA officer Sabrina de Sousa, who may be extradited from Portugal to Italy this week? She’s claiming that she asked the U.S. to invoke diplomatic immunity and they refused despite her holding a job at the time at the Milan consulate.

MR KIRBY: Well, as a general matter, you know we don’t talk about extradition cases. I don’t have anything specific on this for you for right now. Sorry.



QUESTION: On India. There’s a news report about India and U.S. planning to track submarine activities in the Indian Ocean.

MR KIRBY: To – I’m sorry, to?

QUESTION: To track submarine activities in the Indian Ocean.


QUESTION: Are you planning to do that?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) I think you need to talk to our colleagues at the Defense Department.

QUESTION: No, but in policy – it also involves foreign policy, right? Also --

MR KIRBY: No, it involves submarine warfare. That’s a Navy equity and I’m not going to speak for the United States Navy. I’ll just say, look, again, we have a very close relationship with India which covers a lot of sectors. Security is one of them, and there is a very mature military-to-military relationship. But for the specifics of that, you really need to talk to the Defense Department.

QUESTION: But do you see any unusual Chinese submarine activities in the Indian Ocean that would disturb the economic activities of – free flow of navigations in that area?

MR KIRBY: You’re right, there’s a very robust economic relationship between the United States and India. But for specific impacts on that under the waves, I would refer you again to the Navy. I’m not qualified to speak to that.

QUESTION: My question was Indian Ocean has a very robust economic flow of economic trade through ships and marines in that part. Are you concerned that the more Chinese activity in that part of the world would affect that economic trade?

MR KIRBY: Again, you’re --

QUESTION: It’s a huge flow of economic trade in that part of the world.

MR KIRBY: No, I recognize that, and again, I think your questions are better placed to the Defense Department about Chinese naval activity in those or any other waters. I’m simply not prepared to speak with any great specificity to that. We value our trade relationship with India. We very much want to see it continue to grow and improve and mature. We also value our military-to-military relationship with India and we want to see that grow and mature and improve as well. But I don’t have anything specific to say with respect to Chinese naval activity in and around the region. Our U.S. Navy – again, I’m not going to get into specifics, but obviously, the United States Navy takes very seriously its role and its commitment to protecting freedom of the seas so that commerce can flow safely, effectively, and efficiently around the world, and that’s a very serious responsibility of our naval forces, and they’re very capable of doing that.

As for the specifics in any given part of the world, you really should talk to them.

QUESTION: There’s always very strong interagency dialogue in the various (inaudible) of the U.S. Government. Do you think this is being discussed? Has the Navy consulted the State Department on this issue to make sure that this – these – the free flow of maritime activities, economic activities --

MR KIRBY: There are healthy interagency discussions routinely about the value of free trade and freedom of navigation around the world. So if you’re asking are we – at the State Department are we in touch with or in communication with the Defense Department about these issues writ large, the answer is obviously yes, routinely. Again, I’m just not going to be able to comment specifically about the nature of the question with respect to Chinese naval activity there. Our Navy exists for many purposes, but one of them is to help ensure freedom of navigation and freedom of the seas. And they do that job masterfully and very competently and the particulars of how they accomplish that mission is really for them to speak to.

QUESTION: I have another question on Pakistan F-16. A few months ago, Senator Bob Corker had written a letter to Secretary Kerry that he would put on hold U.S. government’s decision to sell eight F-16 to Pakistan. Has Secretary responded to the letter?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn't speak – I won’t speak to the specifics of congressional correspondence.

QUESTION: I understand there’s no change in your position about selling F-16 to Pakistan. But there’s currently – there’s a hold for last several months. How do you want to resolve this situation?

MR KIRBY: I would just say – point you back to what Ambassador Olson said in his April 27 testimony that effective engagement with Pakistan, we believe, is critical to promoting the consolidation of democratic institutions and economic stability, and supporting the government’s counter-terrorism activities and capabilities. As a matter of longstanding principle, the Department of State opposes conditions to the release of appropriated foreign assistance funds. We believe that such conditions limit the President and the Secretary’s ability to conduct foreign policy in the best interest of the United States. So while Congress has approved the sale, key members have made clear that they object to using FMF to support it. Given congressional objections, we have told the Pakistanis that they should put forward national funds for that purpose.

QUESTION: But are you looking for other options? Are there alternatives to give F-16 to Pakistan?

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

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: In the back there.

QUESTION: Yes. On Taiwan. There was a question last week about Okinotorishima and now Taiwan has dispatched two coastal patrol boats to challenge Japan’s claim to the island which now President Ma of Taiwan is saying that they’re rocks as opposed to islands. Do you have a comment on this dispute?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those reports, so I think you’re just going to have to let me take that and get back to you. I just don’t – you’ve got more information than I do right now on that particular case.


QUESTION: Just one on Saudi Arabia. I wondered if you could respond to comments by the Saudi foreign minister after his meeting with Secretary Kerry saying that the proposed 9/11 law, if passed, would erode global investor confidence in the United States.

MR KIRBY: The proposed --

QUESTION: Could erode – would erode global investor confidence in the United States if the law is --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the comments but you have – you’ve heard what we said about this legislation, and I think I would just point you back to those comments.


QUESTION: TTIP. You have seen probably that Greenpeace has leaked most of the documents of the negotiations between the U.S. and the EU.


QUESTION: So I’d like to have your reaction to this leaking. I know that the Department of Commerce has done – or has reacted already. Do you think that it could undermine the negotiations? Do you still believe that a deal could be closed by the end of this Administration?

MR KIRBY: I won’t speak to the specifics regarding leaks, though we just tend – we’re just not going to change our position on refraining from speaking to the veracity of leaked documents. What I can say is that the United States and the European Union have a broad and deep economic partnership, the largest trade relationship in the world, and TTIP is an opportunity to fine-tune that relationship in a way that will unlock opportunities that will – and support jobs and fuel growth on both sides of the Atlantic. We also believe it’s an opportunity to ensure that the United States and Europe remain jointly competitive in an increasingly competitive world and that we work together to shape change. Indeed, we believe TTIP can be a strategic pillar of the transatlantic community.

Now, obviously there’s skepticism out there about TTP – TTIP, and we understand that. But the bottom line is globalization is a reality, and TTIP gives us the opportunity to shape global commerce in ways consistent with our values. So we very much still support it. And the bottom line to your question is yes, we still believe it’s possible to get there, and we’re going to work very hard to that end.


QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Two questions. One, freedom of the press --

MR KIRBY: I’m in favor of it.

QUESTION: John, thank you. Thank you, sir. Recently a report came last week by the Freedom House and other freedom press-loving agencies, including Newseum. But press people are at stake or they are in trouble many part of the world, doing their job.


QUESTION: And they are harassed, even killed and stopped, including in – its campaign, during campaign here.

MR KIRBY: You mean here? Like, here here?

QUESTION: No, no. (Laughter.) During even in the U.S., during campaign and all that. So when Secretary meets all these world leaders or foreign ministers or prime ministers or even presidents, how does this issue come, sir, in those part of the world that free press will help the civil societies and the people in those countries?

MR KIRBY: That is exactly the message that the Secretary sends when he speaks to foreign leaders about freedom of expression issues and press freedom issues. That’s exactly the message that he sends, that a free press makes a nation stronger, that it – rather than detracting from power and authority, it – through the transparency that a free press can provide, it enhances credibility in a government. So that is exactly the message that he sends routinely all around the world. And it’s one that we firmly believe in here at the State Department.

QUESTION: Have you ever come up any – across any leaders or any counterparts that they want to learn from the U.S. as far as free press is concerned?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think – I think on a lot of issues, and press freedom is one of them, the United States does stand as an example. And yes, there are some other leaders in other countries who greatly admire how we have enshrined a free press into our system and how much we value that. Obviously, others feel differently. But we’re going to continue to make the case and continue to talk to them about that.

QUESTION: Second issue I may – if I may. Mr. Fareed Zakaria of the CNN on GPS, he’s working on “Why they hate us.” He’s talking about Muslims and people who are against the press or freedom or democracy and all that. If – any comments from the Secretary as far as why they hate us? I mean, it’s – why they hate the West or the U.S.?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary has spoken to this quite a bit, Goyal. And I don’t know that I could be any more eloquent than he’s been in terms of how certain groups are – as he says, it’s not a clash of civilizations; they’re clashing with civilization itself, that in many ways they have an extraordinarily backward view of history and, frankly, of the future. And whether it’s driven by fear or hate or an extreme, perverse view of religion, it nevertheless encourages people to self-identify themselves and then look for excuses to identify as a threat others who believe differently, who look differently, who live in different places. And that’s what this struggle against violent extremism is really about. It’s about this core idea of the way in which some groups are trying to escape modernity through these sorts of brutal tactics.

And ultimately, it – as he says, it will fail. Because you can’t stop progress; you can’t stop time. You can’t stop modernity. And groups like this which attempt to do just that have nowhere to go. And we’re already seeing that in a group like Daesh, where they’re having trouble recruiting. They’re certainly having trouble retaining territory and ground. But their ideology is under attack, and frankly – and it’s under attack from the international community. But frankly, it’s also under attack from disgruntled people who have now left the group, defectors. And we’re seeing more and more of them. And now they’re becoming more and more vocal, and they’re out there telling their stories about what it was like and about the perversion and the brutality and how the promises made by Daesh leaders were, in fact, empty, hollow, and in fact, contrary to what was – to what were the original ideas that lured them into the group.

So they’re going to continue to be put under pressure, and frankly, some of the pressure is self-created because of – because there’s nothing behind this ideology, there’s no foundation. And more and more people are seeing that.

QUESTION: And finally, Mr. Zakaria in his series or documentary is bringing or brought Mr. Imran Khan, who is now leading a major political party leader in Pakistan. And what they are saying is that what he said that Pakistan is the one of the countries really hate the most – hate the U.S. most. Why is that, even though after billions of dollars in aid to the Pakistanis for their development and also for – but still, that society or part of the society hates the U.S.?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think that we certainly don’t believe – I mean, I don’t think – I know we don’t believe that Pakistan hates the United States. Pakistan is a partner here in the effort to go after extremists there in the region. They themselves have said that they’re not going to distinguish or discriminate between terrorist groups, and the Pakistani people themselves have fallen victim to this brutal, violent extremist ideology and the terror tactics behind it.

Nobody has ever alleged that we’ve agreed with Pakistan on every issue, but that we can have candid, frank discussions with Pakistani leaders about these topics speaks, I think, to the maturity of the relationship and to the recognition that it’s an important relationship on both sides.

QUESTION: I think he must have been talking about certain groups inside Pakistan. That’s what really hates the U.S.

MR KIRBY: Well, there’s no question that extremist groups inside Pakistan hate the Pakistani Government, and you’re seeing that play out. But they – yes, do they also hate Westerners? Do they also hate what the United States stands for – some of these extremist groups? Of course, they do, which is why the relationship between the United States and Pakistan is important, and it’s why we need to continue to look for ways to work together to go after these groups where they are.

I’ve got time for just one more. Ma’am, you’ve had your hand up for a while. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.


QUESTION: Turkish Government is planning to lift the parliamentary immunity of the opposition deputies, including Kurdish ones, and there is a commission to talk about this – these cases, but the meeting of the commission is canceled for the third time because of the arguments even the fightings. Do you have something on that?

MR KIRBY: And what – where was this? I’m sorry, I missed the first part of your question.

QUESTION: Turkish Government is planning to lift the immunities, the parliamentary immunities of the opposition deputies.

MR KIRBY: Okay, I’m sorry. I got you. Well, again, as a parliamentary democracy, Turkey has well-established democratic procedures in place that will determine who has immunity and what circumstances that it can be lifted and how it’s going to be – how it’s going to be lifted. And we would expect that Turkey will follow its own democratic procedures in that regard. As I understand it, the parliament has taken up this bill and it’s an ongoing process, and I don’t want to get out ahead of that process right now.

QUESTION: Yeah. But the process is being canceled because of the harsh arguments on the fighting, so even the parliament can’t discuss about it right now.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, we would like to see and would expect that Turkey will follow its own democratic procedures in that regard. And again, I’m not going to speak to the specifics of an internal process there inside Turkey.

Gotta go, thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you for your attention.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)

DPB # 74

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Fri, 04/29/2016 - 17:32

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 29, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:13 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello. That was two minutes somewhere, maybe on Venus or something.

MR TONER: Is that how we’re starting this? I needed a last minute --

QUESTION: I think we’d be grateful if --

MR TONER: Espresso and – what’s that?

QUESTION: -- if the two minutes could be closer to two minutes.

MR TONER: Apologize, guys. No, honestly, sorry. I needed a clarification on something. I apologize for that.


MR TONER: Very briefly at the top, I did want to note that as we’ve been doing all week, we’ve been highlighting different cases for the Free the Press campaign, and today we’d like to highlight Woubishet Taye, who is an Ethiopian journalist, who authorities arrested on June 19th, 2011. According to an NGO, he had written a column critical of the ruling party before his arrest.

On January 19th, 2012, a court in Addis Ababa found him guilty on terrorism-related charges and for receiving payment for terrorist acts. He was subsequently sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment and fines. And he’s reportedly being held in Ziway prison and has suffered from poor health.

For today’s fifth Free the Press campaign case, we’d also like to highlight the case of Madeeha Abdalla, who is a Sudanese editor-in-chief, who was targeted by authorities for criticizing official policies.

On January 13th, 2015, Madeeha was arrested by security forces and on charges of conspiracy, undermining constitutional order, urging the opposition to use violence and force against the government, and publishing false information. These charges carry up to the death penalty if the defendant is found guilty. No court trial has been scheduled, and her case remains open.

We encourage the Government of Ethiopia to release Woubishet Taye and the Government of Sudan to drop its charges against Madeeha Abdalla, and we further call on both governments to ensure that anti-terrorism laws are no longer used to undermine freedom of expression and an independent media.

Over to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can we start with Syria, I guess? I realize this has been discussed already --

MR TONER: No, of course. Happy to.

QUESTION: -- all over the place today --


QUESTION: -- including at the White House. But I’m just wondering if you can offer any details on the Secretary’s call with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

MR TONER: Well, the call actually – excuse me – finished only a few minutes ago or moments ago. I do know --


MR TONER: -- that they spoke --

QUESTION: Is it --

MR TONER: Sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s 2:15 in the morning where Foreign Minister Lavrov is.

MR TONER: It’s a --

QUESTION: He’s a late – a night owl, I guess.

MR TONER: I imagine so. I don’t know. I don’t know where he is, actually.

QUESTION: He’s in China, I believe.


QUESTION: Anyway --

MR TONER: Anyway, I can say that I’m not making that up. They did speak.

QUESTION: So you weren’t later than the two minutes because you were getting a readout of the call to give us?

MR TONER: No, unfortunately, it was not. It was another matter but --

QUESTION: I’m disappointed.

MR TONER: No, look, I mean, broadly speaking, they talked about the cessation of hostilities, about some of the efforts that are underway that were talked about on a background call earlier about the reinforcement of that cessation of hostilities in parts of Syria, and also about the political track as well, the political negotiation track as well. I don’t have much further to add beyond that.

QUESTION: All right. Well, can you --


QUESTION: Unfortunately, the call that you referred to left me with, and I think others, with numerous questions. You call this a “reinforcement of the cessation of hostilities” for two specific areas, but in fact, why is it not like a retrenchment of the existing cessation of hostilities, which covered the – I mean, you’ve gone from having agreement on a cessation of hostilities in the whole country to now having a cessation of hostilities in places that are largely just held by the government.

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: It seems to be a retracting rather than reinforcing.

MR TONER: No, that’s not the intention at all. I think what it is --

QUESTION: Well, I know it’s not the intention, but that’s what it is.

MR TONER: Let me – look, I mean, that’s not – and that’s not the impression, certainly, that we want to give. I think, rather, this is a recognition that in some parts of the country, including the two parts that we’ve identified – North Latakia as well as Eastern Ghouta – that there has been, however you want to put it, a weakening of the cessation of hostilities. There have been numerous incidents on the ground of fighting, renewed fighting between the various groups – the regime and the opposition, armed opposition, who had signed up to the cessation of hostility.

So I think this is an effort to not to simply focus on the cessation of hostility there. Certainly, we recognize it’s a much broader issue and that – but that these are trouble areas, if I could put it so bluntly, and that we want to focus on strengthening the cessation of hostilities, renewing it, reaffirming it so that we can quell the fighting or the violations, the ongoing violations in these areas, with, as I think the senior State Department official alluded to earlier, with the expectation that it would be also applied to other trouble spots, if I could put it that way.

QUESTION: Well, isn’t Aleppo a trouble spot?

MR TONER: Of course. And I think that he --

QUESTION: It would seem to me that you would --

MR TONER: I think that the senior State Department official who spoke earlier --


MR TONER: -- recognized – we’re fully aware that Aleppo is a trouble spot. But we’re starting here; we have to start somewhere. We’re starting in North Latakia and Eastern Ghouta with the expectation, if this goes well, that we can then again reinforce it elsewhere.

QUESTION: Well, I just – I just – I mean, I realize that you want to say it’s reinforcing, but it just seems to a – an outside observer that it’s shrinking.

MR TONER: No, I mean, I think – look, Matt, I mean, the cessation of hostilities is still – in many parts of where it applied to in Syria, was holding. I mean, we talked about this the last weeks. But there were areas, such as Aleppo but other areas as well, where we did see numerous violations.


MR TONER: I mean, attacks on civilians, airstrikes against armed opposition, but also involving civilians as well. So recognition that it was breaking down.


MR TONER: Everybody’s spoken to this.

QUESTION: So in your view, this is progress?

MR TONER: Not at all. I would not term this as progress. I think it is an awareness and a recognition of the fact that there are parts of Syria where the ceasefire is, for lack of a better word, deteriorating, and that we need to address those problem spots. And this is an effort to do that.


MR TONER: Go ahead, yeah.

QUESTION: Who agreed to what exactly in Latakia and Eastern Ghouta?

MR TONER: So this is an agreement within the task force, but certainly on the part of U.S. and Russia, that there would be a reinforcement of the cessation of hostilities in these specific areas – again, as a start, with the expectation that this reaffirmation, if you will, or recommitment, would be then extended elsewhere.

QUESTION: Did the Syrian Government agree to this?

MR TONER: The answer to that question is this is an agreement between the U.S. and Russia, with the expectation that as it worked in the original ceasefire, the cessation of hostilities came into effect, that both – that the U.S. and Russia would exert influence on those parties to comply with the cessation of hostilities. And it did, in fact, work originally. And we hope to see that renewed.

QUESTION: But it is not correct, then, to say that the Syrian Government has agreed to this?

MR TONER: Again, I – not that I’m – I have not seen that they have come out publicly and said that they agree to it. The expectation, again, is that, as we’ve talked about all along, when the cessation of hostilities was put into effect, that the ISSG members would then exert influence on the various parties on the ground so that they comply.

QUESTION: Okay. We have a statement from the Syrian army that says that the new, quote, “regime of calm,” close quote, which they say would begin at 1:00 a.m. on Saturday – it is different from what the senior State Department official said --


QUESTION: -- would last just one day in Eastern Ghouta and three days in Latakia. Have you seen that statement, and do you regard that statement as an agreement to a one-day halt to fighting in Eastern Ghouta and three days in Latakia, or do you not – or have you not seen it? Or if you’ve seen it, do you not regard that as agreement?

MR TONER: So I don’t – I have not seen that. But that does – with exception of the start time, 1:00 a.m. versus what we said is --

QUESTION: 12:01.

MR TONER: -- 12:01, exactly – it does concur or comply with what we understood, that there are initial, if you will, time limits on the cessation, on this renewed commitment to the cessation of hostilities. Again, though, it is our hope and our belief that if we can get this – the situation quieted back down, if we can end the – these incidents of fighting and attacks, that we can extend it.

QUESTION: Do you have any – so to ask the question that I asked about the government now to the opposition: Has the opposition agreed to stop fighting in those two areas effective midnight, or 1:00 a.m.?

MR TONER: So we are in touch with, obviously, the opposition right now. I can’t report on what they’ve said, but is it our expectation that they will comply.

QUESTION: So I’ve seen the tweets that --

MR TONER: Otherwise, obviously, this – if we don’t go into it with the expectation that they’ll comply with it, then of course the whole premise is undercut.

QUESTION: Yeah. So I’ve seen the tweets that Mr. Hijab has put out and they make no mention of agreement, or at least what I have seen reported of it. So if I understand things correctly, basically what you’ve got is an agreement between you and the Russians to call for a cease to the fighting in these two particular areas, but not anywhere else, and no – you guys don’t have any agreement from either side that they’re going to stop. Is that right?

MR TONER: So I’d frame it a little bit --

QUESTION: Do you have indications? Do you have indications, even if you can’t call it an agreement or --

MR TONER: I think it’s safe to say we have indications. Because this is something, as the senior State Department official spoke to, we’ve been working on for some time over the past weeks.

QUESTION: And you have indications then of what? That --

MR TONER: That this – that they will indeed comply.

QUESTION: And what --

MR TONER: And again, it’s – sorry to – just to finish.

QUESTION: No, no, please.

MR TONER: Again, this is in keeping with the previous cessation of hostilities, which at the time was basically agreement among the ISSG that the cessation would begin at 12:01 on – I forget now the date.


MR TONER: 27th, thank you – and in fact, it happened. So again, this – all of this hinges on our ability – the United States, other members of the ISSG, and especially Russia – to exert influence to convince all parties to adhere to the cease – cessation.

QUESTION: Okay. And you have those indications that they will indeed comply from both sides?

MR TONER: We have been working on this. We have been in discussions. I can’t speak for the Russians with the regime, obviously, but – so I won’t attempt to speak on behalf of them. But we have been engaged with the opposition.

QUESTION: So the only indications that you, the United States, have are from the opposition? You, the United States, do not have indications from the government even via the Russians?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t know what the Russians have said about – but we are – we wouldn’t – we believe that they will be able to exert this.

QUESTION: Okay, and then one more.


QUESTION: Why is it that you have not tried – I mean, everybody is aware of – you describe it as the trouble spot, which is rather Orwellian. Everyone is aware of the severity of the violence in Aleppo, and particularly on civilians this week. So why didn’t you try – and maybe you did and you just couldn’t do it – but why didn’t you try to get a halt to the violence everywhere? Or did you try and you couldn’t get indications from either side that they would entertain that thought?

MR TONER: I think in part, Arshad, it’s a recognition that Aleppo is very complex – and we’ve talked about this, and the fighting around there is indeed, as you put it, alarming. But a sense that we need to start somewhere – we’re going to start in Latakia, in East Ghouta, and as we can reinforce the cessation of hostilities, it’s our intention to extend it elsewhere.

QUESTION: But did you try to – did you try to get a halt to the violence in Aleppo?

MR TONER: Well, I think – sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I think, again, the senior State Department official who spoke before addressed this and said we are absolutely trying to get a similar recommitment in Aleppo. We’re just not quite there yet.


QUESTION: What’s the problem?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to get into the battlefield assessment of what’s happening in and around Aleppo other than to say it is very complex, it’s very fluid. We’ve talked before about the fact that there is, for lack of a better word, intermingling among these different groups. A lot of this hinges on the fact that you can separate out and clearly delineate, for lack of a more sophisticated term, the good guys from the bad guys – those who are part of the cessation and those who aren’t, namely al-Nusrah and Daesh.


QUESTION: But as far as I know, Jabhat al-Nusrah and Daesh do not have aircraft. The only --

MR TONER: Of course, yeah.

QUESTION: The only parties that we can reasonably assume that would have been flying sorties in Aleppo and dropping bombs would be either the Syrian military or the Russian military or both.

MR TONER: Without doubt.


MR TONER: I don’t object to that. I know --

QUESTION: So what is so complicated --

MR TONER: No, we have --

QUESTION: -- about trying to, one, stop the fighting in Aleppo, and then, two, the larger question, which has never been satisfactorily answered since the ceasefire took effect back on February 27th: How are people who are violating the ceasefire being held accountable for what they’re doing? Is it enough to just catalog for an eventual war crimes trial? Are people going to face some sort of punishment now?

MR TONER: So, Ros, first of all to your first question, I absolutely don’t have an argument with your point that any airstrikes that are carrying – that are being carried out targeting civilians or targeting the Syrian opposition have to be either the regime or the Russians. And we have been very, as you know, over the last few days especially, very clear in condemning those continued airstrikes. Certainly, what we saw over the last couple of days, strikes on first responders, strikes on hospitals, were beyond egregious. And we’ve been very clear, as I’ve said, about calling for an immediate halt to those airstrikes.

In response to your second question, there is a process in place, and I’ve talked about this before. There isn’t – let me phrase it this way. There is an incentive to keep the cessation in place for all sides. We recognize that there have been pockets where it has broken down due to, as I said, tensions on the ground, breakdowns in – exchanges of fire, but also, as you point out, airstrikes against some of these opposition groups. So I’d rather rephrase it to say what your question is, what is being done to punish those who break the cessation of hostilities, I would rephrase it slightly and say, well, it’s in everyone’s interest who believes that an end to the fighting is to their benefit – and we hope that’s everyone, including the regime – that it’s in their interest then to cease these incidents, these attacks on various armed groups on the ground.

QUESTION: Can you confirm--

MR TONER: And that – and frankly, that is the whole – if I could put it that bluntly, that is – the cessation of hostility hinges on that understanding or that commitment to the fact that when you have an end to the violence, an end to the fighting, all sides, frankly, benefit. And then you can get the political process on track.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary make that point very clear about the airstrikes to Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR TONER: I know that they spoke about recent incidents of violence, including over the past several days. He has raised before – I just – I haven’t gotten a full readout of the call, so I apologize. I know he’s been very clear in the past, as you well know, publicly speaking about it, and he has conveyed those concerns directly to Foreign Minister Lavrov.

QUESTION: This is my final one.


QUESTION: Isn’t it concerning or worrisome that the possibility that the airstrikes were carried out by the Russians and not just by the Syrians, doesn’t that even call into question whether or not Russia should even be part of the process of trying to establish and maintain a ceasefire as well as be supportive of a political process?

MR TONER: Well, again, we spoke about this earlier. This is – what we have unfolding in Latakia, in East Ghouta, is a test. And I know we’ve talked about this before; it’s probably a less than satisfactory answer to many of you, but this is a test of their commitment. And so we had a cessation of hostilities that largely was holding for several weeks. It brought about a real reduction in the violence, allowed humanitarian assistance to be delivered to many parts where it wasn’t able to get to before. And now we’ve seen a deterioration of that, so this is a recommitment. And it’s a test for the Russians and for the regime as well as for the Syrian opposition. I can’t leave them out of it. I mean, it’s a two-way street to recommit themselves to this.

QUESTION: Mark, there is a report --

QUESTION: But Mark, this is another thing you’re talking about. You’ve been talking --

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

QUESTION: You’ve been talking about this being a test since February 27th when the cessation began.


QUESTION: And in the meantime, the Syrians and the Russians seem to be laying the groundwork to continue to take more territory in eastern Syria. There’s new, fresh troops that arrived near Aleppo recently. They’re working. They’re talking about cutting off Aleppo’s supply lines to Turkey. They’re talking about beefing up their supply lines, their own supply lines to Aleppo, the Syrian regime. And meanwhile, this partial localized ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta and in Latakia is freeing up troops for the Syrians potentially to go to – to go east to fight in Aleppo. And it’s looking like the American approach is to go along with that – with that strategy, and, I mean, a lot of people are interpreting this as an American acquiescence with the Russian and Syrian strategy, which is to retake the country.

MR TONER: Not at all, and I – and this is a mutually agreed-upon strategy with the Russians out of a recognition that we have a cessation of hostilities that is, in many parts of the country, facing serious challenges. We’re starting in Latakia, we’re starting in East Ghouta. Those are problems areas as well, but again, with the expectation that we can enforce this elsewhere if we have success, and fully recognizing – and we spoke to this earlier – that the situation around Aleppo is urgent.

And so we need to address that and we have been trying to address that on the ground – and again, we spoke to this in the backgrounder we did earlier today – this is not part of any acquiescence at all. And while I certainly won’t speak for Russia’s intentions, as I said, this is in many ways a test of their commitment to this whole process that we have now in place, which is a cessation and concurrently a political dialogue or negotiations in Geneva. We have to test the premise here. We have to test this. We – I know we’ve been this – we’ve been there before and we’ve said this before. We don’t believe it’s time to give up on this, but we need to renew our commitment to it.

QUESTION: So I want to ask about this dialogue in Geneva --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- as this – as the Syrians and the Russians with their Iranian allies are moving around and into Aleppo, further into Aleppo. Are the – I mean, what is the – I guess I’m wondering, what is the message that you’re giving to the opposition, whose people are in Aleppo, with regards to the – to this dialogue in Geneva? Because they’re up against a decision over whether Assad will continue to be a member of this process, a participant in this process. The United States has been on record saying that he shouldn’t be or that he should – that he should step aside earlier. He’s saying that’s not going to happen and the rebels don’t think that that should happen either. Is – are they – should they – do they need to acquiesce to what Assad is saying? Because you’re also – the Americans also – I mean, no one’s also --


QUESTION: -- providing them with the equipment to protect themselves with in Aleppo.

MR TONER: Well, look, we’re in very close contact via our special envoy, Michael Ratney, with the Syrian opposition. We’re communicating them – communicating with them on an hourly, if – or daily if not hourly basis. We’ve always said there should be no preconditions to the process that’s underway in Geneva. However, we certainly recognize that the strain that the ceasefire or the cessation is under now, the acts of violence and the terrible attacks that we’ve seen over the past several weeks, don’t create a very – an environment that’s conducive to these talks moving forward.

That said – and the Secretary spoke with Staffan de Mistura, I think, last night – that said, he did say after his previous – the previous round ended last week that he was encouraged – and I get that these are incremental steps here, there’s no – there’s not going to be any eureka or breakthrough moment with these talks – but he was encouraged that the talks ended last time with actual – the actual issue of political transition, how to get there, on the table. Before, it was mostly logistics, it was mostly talking about actually the process of the talks themselves. He believes that they did make an advance and he wants – we – he and we, of course, want to see that work continue.

But again, we’re under no illusions that if the fighting continues on the ground, if the ceasefire or the cessation continues to be under threat, that’s going to complicate things considerably.

QUESTION: Can you clarify something on this?

MR TONER: Let me get to David first, then I’ll get to you, Tejinder. If you have – yeah, sorry.

QUESTION: Your answer has been kind of implicit, but I’m just going to see if I can get it clear. You – the new agreement in Latakia and Ghouta is that the Russians will pressure the regime to have a ceasefire there --

MR TONER: Pressure, exert influence, however you want to put it, yeah.

QUESTION: Influence the regime, and that you will try and influence the --

MR TONER: Precisely.

QUESTION: -- opposition.

MR TONER: Along with the other members of the ISSG. I don’t want to make this to be a binary thing, but go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. But doesn’t that imply, then, that you have no agreement with the Russians to influence the regime not to strike anywhere else, like Aleppo?

MR TONER: No, I think – no, I don’t want to – again, I don’t want to give the impression that we’re somehow saying, “Hey, guys, green light on everything else in the country.”

QUESTION: Are you confirming that you currently don’t have Russia’s agreement to influence the regime to not strike Aleppo?

MR TONER: We have clearly expressed our concerns to Russia about the violations.

QUESTION: You’ve said that you’ve expressed your concerns --


QUESTION: -- but did they accept your concerns? Have they agreed --

MR TONER: You’ll have to talk to them, but I agree that it’s – I would agree with you --

QUESTION: But in saying that you have their agreement to pressure the regime in Latakia and Ghouta, you’ve confirmed what they said.

MR TONER: Again --

QUESTION: Can you confirm that – what they said about Aleppo?

MR TONER: Again, David, I’d go back to the fact that we view this as a test – clearly as a test of everyone’s commitment to the cessation – Russia’s and certainly the regime’s.

QUESTION: You keep saying that you don’t want to leave the impression --

MR TONER: Leave the impression, yes.

QUESTION: -- that you’re giving them a green light everywhere else, but I – you don’t want to, but that’s – unfortunately, that’s the impression that it leaves.

MR TONER: I mean --

QUESTION: I think that that’s – I mean, you do realize that, right?

MR TONER: Well, again, I – no, I don’t, because we’re not simply saying that no holds barred in the rest of the country. Where – what we’re focused on, if I could put it this way, are areas that we have seen the cessation under threat or weakened – pick your adjective – that need to be addressed. We’re starting in Latakia and we’re going to spread out from there.

Please, Tejinder.

QUESTION: A few points. One, you say that at the moment U.S. and Russia is agreeing. That means you are not blaming Russia for the recent bombings.

MR TONER: You mean the attacks on facilities?

QUESTION: The attacks, yeah. So you have cleared them and then you are making an agreement with them. And then can we call it a proxy agreement between two powers who are controlling two sections which are fighting there?

MR TONER: I mean, I’m not going to tell you how to put it. I – what I explained to Arshad or David – this is the ISSG, and that is in part this International Syria Support Group – that’s part of the function of the group, is to get all the various stakeholders on Syria together so that they can, again, exert whatever influence they may have on the various parties to the conflict in Syria to get this peace process in place.

QUESTION: And the last one: Has the U.S. spoken to or reached out to any of the European allies?

MR TONER: Well, of course. We’re always consulting closely with them and many of them part of the ISSG, absolutely.

QUESTION: That’s a generic answer. In this particular – before this agreement, have you spoken to anybody in particular?

MR TONER: Again, I would – yes, we are consulting with them frequently.


MR TONER: Are we ready to – do we want to stay on Syria, or --


QUESTION: I’ve got one on Syria, so --

MR TONER: Okay, Arshad and then – are you Syria as well, or – okay.

QUESTION: Mine’s very small.


QUESTION: I read you what the Syrian army had said – the Syrian army statement said with regard to the duration of --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: So I want to make sure: Is it your understanding that – are their figures correct? In other words, 24 hours, at least initially, in Eastern Ghouta and 72 hours in Latakia – Northern Latakia?

MR TONER: I’m – I believe that is correct. And I apologize; I’m just looking now to see if I have it written in front of me, but that is indeed my understanding, yes.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MR TONER: Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, Mark. Yesterday a video was surfaced on internet showing that U.S.-supported YPG forces was transporting dead bodies in Afrin in an open trailer truck after a clash with the oppositions, and some of the bodies didn’t even have a head on them. And I was wondering if you are following the case and if you have comment on that.

MR TONER: You’re talking about the video allegedly by the Afrin Kurds --


MR TONER: -- forces, Kurdish forces. No, we’ve seen the video, obviously, and while we can’t authenticate it 100 percent, we, without hesitation, strongly condemn this kind of behavior that it depicts, and believe that it only serves to heighten tensions between those groups in western Syria. And we – while we haven’t provided any support for the Afrin Kurds, we do continue to express publicly and privately our serious concerns when the YPG and Syrian forces – opposition forces come into conflict west of the Euphrates. This fighting has to stop. It’s destabilizing, to say the least; it’s counterproductive, and I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: And last year, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also raised the same concerns about YPG, and the State Department said that they are investigating the issue. And I was wondering if you came to any conclusion on that.

MR TONER: I don’t have any update on that. I apologize. Just – I don’t have it in front of me. I’m not aware. But I do know that we take any allegations of human rights abuses – serious allegations and credible allegations – very seriously, and we have expressed the same concerns to the YPG as well.

In the back, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Sir, the U.S. Administration reportedly decided to not contribute U.S. fund towards the F-16s deal to Pakistan on the directive of Foreign Relations Committee. So can you update on the – can you update us on that?

MR TONER: Can I update you on the sale of?

QUESTION: F-16s, sir.

MR TONER: Well, you know where we come down on that. We believe the F-16s – I mean, we believe they’re the right platform to support Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts, and have been a part of the successful pushback, if you will, or in past operations against some of the militant groups that are active in Pakistan.

QUESTION: Sir, what about the Foreign Relations Committee decision to not contribute U.S. funds for the F-16? Are you aware about that?

MR TONER: I am aware that some members of Congress have stated their concerns about how to finance this sale. I’d refer you to them for comments about their concerns.

QUESTION: Sir, it is also reported that – sir, the American military aid to Pakistan, like $742 million, has also been put on hold by the Congress. So, I mean, how do you see this situation?

MR TONER: Your last question was about that all --

QUESTION: Some military aid, $742 million, yeah.

MR TONER: -- military aid has been put on hold.


MR TONER: I would have to take that question. I don’t know the – I don’t have any details on that.


QUESTION: I think the deal with this, if I understood it, is that a license has been granted for the sale of the aircraft --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- but has not been granted for the foreign military financing to fund it, correct?

MR TONER: That is – so that is – again, I would refer you to Congress, but there have been concerns, at least, raised by some members of Congress about using FMF.

QUESTION: Mark, I have a question. Mark?

QUESTION: Yeah, but can I follow it up?


QUESTION: So from the State Department perspective, who is paying for this F-16? The government – U.S. Government is paying or the Pakistan’s – Pakistani Government is paying for the F-16s?

MR TONER: Again, I’d refer you to the White House because they probably have the latest on that.

QUESTION: Mark, I have --

QUESTION: Why White House? It was – the notification to the Congress was sent by the Department of State.

MR TONER: I understand that. I would refer you to the White House.

Please, Nike.

QUESTION: Can we move on to a different topic --


QUESTION: -- Ukraine and Belarus?

MR TONER: Sure thing.

QUESTION: On Ukraine, we have seen reports by OSCE monitors that violations of ceasefire in eastern part of Ukraine has reached alarming numbers in recent months – alarming numbers not seen in recent months. Given that situation and in your estimation, how likely it is to have a election by July?

MR TONER: Well, we are certainly concerned about the level of violence in eastern Ukraine, that it’s the highest we’ve seen since the September 1st ceasefire went into effect, with, I think, some 30,000 ceasefire violations, which is a huge number, in April alone. And OSCE reporting does confirm that separatists are largely responsible for these violations. We again call on Russia and the separatists that it supports to fully comply and observe the ceasefire.

You asked about the elections. Assistant Secretary Nuland was in the region, was in Ukraine, and while there, she said that we don’t – we have put no date on when elections need to happen. What we’re more concerned with and made absolutely clear that Minsk requires that there be sufficient security and OSCE access and the ability of candidates to ballot and the ability of citizens to hear from candidates before you can hold any kind of election.

QUESTION: Fair enough. And then while – with the pro-Russia separatists still in control of majority part of eastern Ukraine and with some pro-Russia members in the – deputies in the parliament, does the United States share some of the concerns or even fears that this will weaken Kyiv’s control in other parts of the country?

MR TONER: Look, I’m not – I mean, not necessarily. I mean, we’re always concerned that having this kind of situation in – with Russian-controlled and Russian-supported separatists in eastern Ukraine does require a great deal of focus and effort by the government itself and the security forces. Clearly, it’s been a strain on Ukraine’s government. It’s been a strain on the Ukrainian people. It’s been a strain on Ukraine’s economy. But we’ve also seen the government make a real effort to institute economic, political reforms, anti-corruption efforts. They need to do more, certainly, but we have seen progress.

So it’s our view that the government is making an effort, that it is making progress – needs to do more, certainly, but I would say – I don’t want to create the impression that the rest of the country is somehow in flux or in transition. That’s certainly not the case at all. But to have a conflict like that in your – in part of the country, part of Ukraine’s sovereign territory, is certainly destabilizing to say the least.

QUESTION: Can I ask on Belarus?


QUESTION: Can we – my question is in that region too, so --

MR TONER: Okay, sure, let’s finish with Belarus, and then I’ll go to you and then Arshad.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Mark, do you have anything on the announcement from today that U.S. will continue to suspend sanctions on entities – nine entities from Belarus?

MR TONER: Yep. So we are extending, as you noted in your question – we are going to extend temporary sanctions relief to Belarus beyond April 30th, I think for up to six additional months. And this is – we view it as an incentive for the Government of Belarus to take additional steps in terms of respect and – for human rights, media freedoms, civil society freedoms, and democratic elections – especially, I think, the upcoming 2016 parliamentary elections. And we also are providing this relief in part to support Belarus’s economic independence and as well as its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

QUESTION: You mentioned --

QUESTION: So you’re extending the suspension of those sanctions?

MR TONER: We’re extending the suspension of the sanctions.


QUESTION: And then you said --

QUESTION: What – sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I get one?

QUESTION: You mentioned that this is an incentive for Belarus to continue to improve on human rights for the coming six months, but in the past six month, given what was described in the annual Human Rights Report in the – by the State Department, the U.S. remains concerned and there continue to be problems in human rights violations in Belarus. Can you elaborate more about the reasoning behind today’s decision?

MR TONER: Sure. I certainly didn’t want to paint a picture that suddenly there’s no concerns about human rights in Belarus. It’s been a mixed bag, if I could put it that way. I mean, we have – we’ve seen some steps, certainly, and – but we need to see more. Again, I would frame it this way: that it’s an incentive for Belarus and the Belarussian Government to take additional steps. If it continues to demonstrate progress, then certainly we can take additional steps. If it doesn’t, then we always have the – retain the option to reinstate sanctions if needed.

QUESTION: Just a --

MR TONER: Please, you and then up – I’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: Just a quick one here.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: And if you don’t have anything else, if you could take it --


QUESTION: -- I’d be grateful.


QUESTION: So Russia’s Yamal, Y-a-m-a-l, liquefied natural gas project has secured a loan from Chinese lenders worth $12 billion. The loan is denominated in euros and Chinese yuan. My question is: In the U.S. Government’s point of view, is such a loan – does or would such a loan violate any sanctions that have been imposed on Russia because of its actions in Ukraine?

MR TONER: Ukraine. Yeah, let me take that question, to be honest.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MR TONER: I wouldn’t want to attempt to answer it without specific details.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have anything on the reported sentencing of – by North Korea of an American, Korean American, to 10 years of hard labor?

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, as always with these kinds of cases, we’re aware, we’ve seen the media reports that a U.S. citizen has been sentenced to, as you pointed, 10 years of hard labor. I can’t, because of privacy considerations, speak to it in detail. We’ve seen this – these types of actions on the part of North Korea in the past. We will certainly work, continue to work with the Swedish embassy to provide whatever support we can provide to any American citizens detained in North Korea. But --

QUESTION: Have you been able to confirm the sentencing?

MR TONER: I’m not able to at this point.

QUESTION: Not able to because of privacy concerns, or you haven’t been able --

MR TONER: I’m not able to speak to it. No, I’m not able to speak to it. We’ve seen the reports is all I can say.

QUESTION: I have a question.

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

QUESTION: Thank you. Mark, Armenian army attacked Azerbaijani village with heavy weapons on Thursday, killing two civilian and wounding at least eight civilians in Terter and Aghdam. And this is photos. Over 50 --

MR TONER: These are? I’m sorry. These are pictures of the attacks?

QUESTION: Yes, Armenian attacked – Armenian army attacked Azerbaijan civilians.

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, look, we --

QUESTION: Over 50 houses have been destroyed as a result of heavy shelling. I would like State Department comment on latest escalation on Nagorno-Karabakh.

MR TONER: We don’t want to see any escalation in the violence. We abhor such attacks by either side, and we need to see a return to the process that is in place to bring about a peaceful settlement to Nagorno-Karabakh. We call for all sides to de-escalate and to return to the peace process.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Yes, the question is on Mexico. Assistant Secretary Jacobson finally got confirmed last night. Do you have details on the call the Secretary – sorry, the foreign minister from Mexico made to her yesterday, last night? And when do you expect for her to arrive in Mexico City, considering all the time she spent here?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, first of all, as the Secretary himself noted, we are very happy that she has been confirmed by the Senate and we believe she’s going to make an excellent ambassador. Mexico is our third largest trading partner. We work together on a variety of issues – energy, border and security challenges. We confront challenges like narcotics trafficking. So we absolutely are delighted that we now have an ambassador there to represent our interests. And again, we are very pleased that she has been confirmed.

You asked about – I’ll try to get you details about her phone call with the foreign minister. And I don’t have a precise date on when she might arrive in Mexico. I’m sure she’s very much looking forward to beginning her tenure there as ambassador. And – but as soon as I have a firm date I’ll share that with you.

QUESTION: Excellent. A quick follow-up?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: I understand there is a Travel Warning for Mexico issued in April the 15th and later it was reviewed. But there’s been some acts of violence happening in the port city of Acapulco, which, as you know, it’s a very popular destination for many Americans. Do you have any specific additional warning specifically to Acapulco for American citizens to visit or not?

MR TONER: I believe that Acapulco is part of the area that is mentioned in our Travel Warning, our existing Travel Warning. Certainly, as we get more specific – and this is true not just for Mexico but for any country. If we have more specific information on certain areas or cities or events writ large that we believe may pose a threat or a concern to visiting American tourists or even expats who live in a country – and again, I’m not talking specifically to Mexico – we would update our website and, which we always ask that Americans who are traveling check that and get real-time information on wherever they’re going to. But I believe – specifically to your question – that Acapulco is contained in that Travel Warning.


QUESTION: On Bangladesh?

MR TONER: On Bangladesh.

QUESTION: Secretary’s call to the prime minister. I believe there are some differences between the U.S. and Bangladesh and who are responsible for the attacks, recent attacks. Was this discussed during the phone call?

MR TONER: Well, I know that he offered U.S. support for the ongoing investigation into these recent attacks, certainly the one that killed our own employee and human rights advocate, as well as his friend and colleague earlier this week. And the Secretary did urge the prime minister to ensure a thorough investigation into these and other attacks, recent attacks, and to redouble efforts by law enforcement to protect these individuals who we believe are at risk.

QUESTION: ISIS and Taliban have been claiming that they were responsible for these attacks. How serious the situation is inside Bangladesh? Because the Bangladeshi Government says it’s the opposition parties who were responsible behind this.

MR TONER: I’m aware of some of these claims, and it’s – it’s a very complex situation on the ground. Look, I mean, what we’re asking for is that the government conduct, as I said, an investigation into these attacks, these brutal attacks and these brutal murders, that identifies who the perpetrators are. I don’t think we can say with certainty – I mean, as you said, there’s been various claims of responsibility. We have no reason to – not to believe those claims of responsibility. But what is clear is that there is a threat on the ground. I mean, we’ve seen several now murders, brutal murders, over the past several weeks. And we want to see the government there take every step possible to protect its citizens.

QUESTION: Sir, I have one more on Pakistan, if you’ll allow me.


QUESTION: One more.

MR TONER: One more.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Thank you.

MR TONER: One more, and then we’ll free people for the weekend.

QUESTION: All right. Sir, Pakistan right now is having a military operation against the – all terrorist networks across the country. And they keep saying that the American military aid and F-16s are much needed for the capacity-building of Pakistani security forces. So now when Congress is halting the military aid, in your opinion, how much this affect the war against terrorism?

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, we – look, I thought I spoke to this before when I said that we do believe the F-16s are helpful. We recognize that Pakistan is trying to make efforts to fight against the terror groups that threaten all Pakistanis. And we do believe, frankly, that Pakistan’s relations with its neighbors and with the region – frankly, there’s been some ups and downs, but we believe it’s trending towards greater dialogue to resolve differences. We want to see that continue. And in all types of these arms transfers, we do take into account regional security and a range of other factors. We believe our security assistance does contribute to a more stable and secure Pakistan and region.

I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: Can I just follow it up for a quick question? Do you know how much U.S. military aid to Pakistan is being held up because the Congress? Do you have that figures?

MR TONER: I don’t. I don’t have a firm – I just don’t have the figure on that. I apologize.

QUESTION: Okay. Yesterday Donald Trump on a Fox interview said that if he becomes the president, he will get Dr. Afridi freed in two minutes. I know you have been asking Pakistan to free Dr. Afridi, but can you tell us what steps you have been taking to get him free?

MR TONER: Well, you’re right to say we believe he’s been unjustly prisoned, and we have clearly and repeatedly communicated our position to Pakistan the Dr. Afridi case, both in public and private, our opposition to his imprisonment. We continue to raise this issue at the highest levels in any discussion we have with Pakistanis’ leadership. The Pakistani Government has assured us that Dr. Afridi is being treated humanely and is in good health, but again, we don’t believe he’s being – or we believe he’s being unjustly imprisoned.

QUESTION: Have they given any signals to you on he being freed any time in the future?

MR TONER: No, we don’t have any kind of firm commitment. Again, we don’t have any firm commitment about his release or any firm details about his possible release. But we continue to press his case.

QUESTION: I’ve got --

QUESTION: Can you take a question? You just referred us to the White House for the F-16 details. They have – NSC has responded: “Tejinder, we would refer you to State on this.” (Laughter.) So --

QUESTION: That’s called being jerked around in real time. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And I had mentioned that you have referred us to --

MR TONER: Have we mentioned that we’re cutting off Wi-Fi for this briefing room? (Laughter.)

Look, I mean, Tejinder, I don’t have specifics.

QUESTION: You can take the question and give us the details.

MR TONER: I can possibly take the question, but I wasn’t doing that insincerely. My understanding was that the White House wanted to handle those questions. If they refused to answer them, then --

QUESTION: No, they have referred us back to the --

MR TONER: -- or push them back to us, then we’ll try to get you information.

QUESTION: I’ve got – I got three extremely brief ones. One is: A video surfaced earlier this week which purports to be an – from Iranian – it’s Iranian video that purports to promote children going to Syria to fight, but it --

MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: Anyway, I’m just wondering if you guys are aware of that and if you --

MR TONER: I’m not. No, we’ll look into it.

QUESTION: Thank you. And then secondly, is there any update at all – have you gotten any update from the Emiratis on the case of the father and – the American father and the son?

MR TONER: Oh, let me check. I don’t know that we have much new. Let me check on that, though.

QUESTION: How about the lady who was arrested at the airport? There was a U.S. citizen arrested in February, I think, at the airport for insulting the prince.

MR TONER: In the Emiratis or – wait, he’s asking about the --

QUESTION: It was Abu Dhabi, I think – one of the Emirates.

MR TONER: But you’re asking about, I thought, the Eldarats.


MR TONER: Yeah. Let me just see if I have anything new rather than repeat all the things we’ve already said.

I don’t, so let me see if I can an update for you on that, Matt.

QUESTION: Can you get – can you check and see also if you have anything on Ms. Khawaja, who was – when the Secretary was in Bahrain, the Bahraini foreign minister said she would be freed.

MR TONER: Yeah. No, that, actually, I did get an update on it because Matt asked about that the other day. You’re talking about – yeah --

QUESTION: Zahrah Khawaja?

MR TONER: Yeah, yeah, Zainab --


MR TONER: -- al-Khawaja. So you’re right, foreign minister of Bahrain announced the government’s decision to release her at a press conference with Secretary Kerry on April 9th or – I forget what exact – the exact date was, but during his visit to Bahrain. But we understand that she still remains in detention with her infant son – or infant child. We would urge the Government of Bahrain to follow through with its publicly announced plans to release her as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Beyond the statement that you just made now that you would urge the government to do this, have you actually --

MR TONER: I urge, we urge.

QUESTION: Have you actually urged them, though, or are you just saying this now?

MR TONER: I can only imagine that we have been in touch with them through our embassy. I don’t know that we’ve – at what levels, but I would imagine through our embassy we’ve continued to follow up on her case and continue to watch it.

QUESTION: Can you check on that to make sure?

MR TONER: I will, yep.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: And the last one: Yesterday I asked Kirby to take this question on the disputes or scandal, some might call it, in the UK Labour Party.

MR TONER: Yeah, no, it’s actually --

QUESTION: You guys – have you taken note of this? What – if you have, what do you think?

MR TONER: Sure. We have. We condemn any – we categorically deplore and condemn anti-Semitism and racism in any and all of its forms. We were glad to hear, frankly, that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn did state definitively that his party will not tolerate anti-Semitism. And I’d refer you for more details to the Labour Party, but we condemn those kinds of remarks.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR TONER: Yep. Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Thu, 04/28/2016 - 16:05

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

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1:06 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon.

QUESTION: Welcome back.

MR KIRBY: Thank you. Thanks very much.

A few things to start with. And as I – you know, we’re doing this Free the Press campaign this week, so for today’s case for World Press Freedom Day we’re going to highlight Mohammad Sedigh Kaboudvand, a journalist and human rights activist from Iran who’s been held in Evin prison since July 2007. He reported on torture in Iranian prisons, women’s rights issues, and cases of human rights abuses against Iran’s ethnic minorities.

In July of 2007, Kaboudvand was arrested and charged with acting against national security and engaging in propaganda against the state. A Revolutionary Court ultimately sentenced him to 11 years in prison. Kaboudvand was reported – has reportedly suffered several heart attacks while in custody and has suffered from serious kidney and intestinal problems. Prison authorities have reportedly denied requests to transfer him to a hospital where he can receive treatment appropriate for his illnesses.

Kaboudvand has now served nearly nine years of his sentence. Iran’s penal code allows for early release after prisoners have served more than half of a sentence over 10 years. He has also reportedly been recommended for release by the warden of Evin prison. We call on the Iranian Government to release Mohammad and all other Iranian journalists and citizen journalists who are imprisoned simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

On Cote d’Ivoire – I’m sorry, Cote d’Ivoire – today in New York --

QUESTION: You can say Ivory Coast if you’re not comfortable with the French.

MR KIRBY: No, I’m going – I have to get this right. I have to – (laughter) – I have to work at the – I appreciate the pass you were going to give me, but I’m going to hold myself to a higher standard.

Let me start that again. On Cote d’Ivoire – how’s that? This is – and this is actually --

QUESTION: Cote d’Ivoire.

MR KIRBY: Is that okay? Cote d’Ivoire?

QUESTION: No, no, Cote d’Ivoire.

MR KIRBY: Cote d’Ivoire.

QUESTION: Yeah, but give him – yeah, but he’s trying, right?

MR KIRBY: D’Ivoire.

QUESTION: Cote d’Ivoire.

MR KIRBY: All right, we’ll try --

QUESTION: Don’t worry, you get points.

MR KIRBY: We will try this again. This is actually good news. On Cote d’Ivoire, today in New York the UN Security Council adopted two resolutions that reflect the significant progress that has been achieved toward restoring peace and security in Cote d’Ivoire. The council agreed to terminate UN sanctions on Cote d’Ivoire that were first imposed in 2004 in response to political turmoil and violence. The council also adopted a resolution that continues the downsizing of the UN peacekeeping mission there and endorses its final closure in June of next year, 2017. Today’s resolutions are notable example of how multilateral tools are an effective vehicle that can contribute to promoting our shared peace and security interests.

Now just briefly before we start, I want a quick note on this airstrike, which I know many of you have covered or have asked about, in Aleppo on a Doctors Without Borders hospital. And I want to preface this by saying I think you’re going to hear something more specific from the Secretary soon on this. But I didn’t want to relinquish the podium at the outset without mentioning that we’re obviously – find this attack reprehensible in every possible way. We’re looking at dozens, if not several dozens, of casualties in this strike on what was clear that was a medical facility. The details and the circumstances of the attack are still coming in, but it sure bears all the hallmarks of the kinds of strikes that the regime has done in the past on treatment facilities and, frankly, on first responders.

So once again, we call on the regime to cease these absolutely senseless attacks, which are, of course, violations of the cessation of hostilities. And we continue to call on and urge Russia to use its influence on the Assad regime to bring these kinds of strikes to an end. But again, you’re going to hear more from the Secretary on this very shortly, but I did want to just put that out there right at the top since I know you’ve all been interested in it and it just happened.

QUESTION: Right. Well, let’s start with Syria and the cessation of hostilities more generally. I mean, it really appears to be dead now. What – last night, the UN envoy, Mr. de Mistura, issued an urgent appeal for both Russia and the United States to do something to save what’s left of it.


QUESTION: I presume when he says something like that, he’s referring to Secretary Lavrov and Minister – I mean to Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: What have they – have they been in touch? What does the United States intend to do, if it does intend to respond to Mr. de Mistura’s request?

MR KIRBY: Well, actually, a couple of things there, Matt. We certainly share his deep concerns about where things are going in Syria with the cessation of hostilities and with the difficulty now in terms of the political process. So we absolutely share his concerns about the violence and where things are going.

I don’t have any recent discussions between Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Secretary – recent, by in the last few days. I think that you know there was one a few days ago. There hasn’t been one since, but I certainly couldn’t – wouldn’t rule it out one way or the other. As you know, they speak frequently, so I would fully expect that there will be a conversation soon between the foreign minister and the Secretary regarding Syria. I have no doubt about it. I just don’t have one to read out to you.

As for – and I know you didn’t specifically ask for this, but I’ll say it anyway. As for the statement by Mr. de Mistura about needing another urgent meeting of the ISSG, what I can tell you is that while I don’t have one on the schedule to tell you about or to announce today, that the Secretary has talked quite a bit in recent weeks about the need to get the ISSG back together again and it’s our expectation that they will, that there will be another ISSG meeting. I just don’t know where or when. I do think that it’s something that’s very much on the Secretary’s mind and he agrees with Mr. de Mistura that it’s probably time to start thinking about when would be the right time to do that and what would – and working out an agenda. We just don’t have it nailed down yet.

QUESTION: Has he been in touch with – I realize not Lavrov, but has he been in touch with other members of the ISSG in the last day or so to try to organize something?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any specific phone conversations or other conversations with ISSG members in just the last day or so.

QUESTION: Well, can I follow up? Beyond the calling for an ISSG meeting, I mean, it seems as if Mr. de Mistura has really --

MR KIRBY: Before – I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I wanted to just correct my answer to Matt, because I – I’m glad I pulled this out, but he did speak on Tuesday the 26th with Mr. de Mistura. So while no ISSG calls to read out, he – I just – I do want to flag that as the discussions in Geneva were coming to a close, he did reach out and talk to Mr. de Mistura. So we’re not just reacting to his press conference. There was a private conversation with him, and obviously the special envoy relayed the same concerns to the Secretary as he has relayed to all of you through his press conference.

I apologize, Elise, but go ahead.

QUESTION: That’s okay. I mean, I’m just – Mr. de Mistura, in addition to calling for an ISSG meeting, I mean, he made – it seems as if he made a pretty desperate call to the United States and Russia for help in terms of stopping this cessation of hostilities from completely falling apart. I mean, he basically said that talks are hanging by a thread and that a Syrian is being killed in Syria in the last 48 hours every 13 minutes. And I mean, he seems pretty desperate at this point, Mr. de Mistura does.

MR KIRBY: I think we all share the same sense of deep concern and urgency about what’s going on in Syria. And again, I don’t have any U.S.-Russia bilateral meetings to announce here today or to speak to. But back to what I said to Matt, even though he – the Secretary spoke very recently with Foreign Minister Lavrov and I certainly wouldn’t rule out another discussion in the near future. I mean, this is a topic of frequent conversation between the two men, and I fully expect that there’ll be another one and probably soon. But I think more broadly, we believe the ISSG continues to have value. We agree with Mr. de Mistura that the ISSG can continue to provide some structure and hopefully help reinvigorate a sense of momentum here. But I don’t have a meeting right now on the schedule, but I do think that the Secretary is interested in gathering the ISSG again together.

QUESTION: Okay, but how is an ISSG meeting of 17 nations going to stop a cessation of hostilities that largely it seems as if what the Secretary said last week to The New York Times and what you’ve said from this podium – I mean, it’s largely seen as being violations at the hands of the regime and the Russians.

MR KIRBY: Well, the short answer is the ISSG by itself can’t do that. It has to be Assad.

QUESTION: And the Russians.

MR KIRBY: Well, that’s what I was getting to – and the Russians using their influence on Assad to get to a better outcome here, because it is the regime that is causing by and large the vast majority of violations of the cessation. So the ISSG meeting in and of itself? No, that can’t stop the violence simply by gathering, but it can result – as it has in the past, it can result in some consensus views and some initiatives and imperatives that can be put forward through the UN to try to bring about more progress and a better sense of momentum on the political front.

So while gathering 17 nations, as you put it, in Geneva isn’t necessarily going to stop the bombs from flying, it can certainly help lead to better outcomes, as it did at the outset. I mean, we readily admit that the cessation is very much in peril. We don’t disagree with that statement at all, but let’s not forget that it was put in place after an ISSG meeting and then followed up by the UN and it held – it has largely held for quite some many weeks now.

QUESTION: Right, right. But at the time, cynics would say that the Russians and the Syrian regime were just playing for time in order to kind of regroup and re --


QUESTION: -- look at the map and see where they want to go next. And given the fact that these cessation – these violations continue, I mean, some would say that that – that that belief has a lot of credibility. And I mean, I’m just wondering, like, at what point – like, what kind of pressure can you bring to bear on Russia and the regime at this point? Would you say it’s time to consider new options in terms of what the U.S. is willing to do in terms of helping the opposition? It just seems as if you’re back to kind of square one.

MR KIRBY: I don’t think that we would agree that we’re back to square one. Certainly we’re not where we’d like to be with respect to the cessation of hostilities, and we’re certainly not where we’d like to be on the political talks. No question about that. But I wouldn’t describe it as back to square one.

On your second point about what options, the Commander-in-Chief has made clear that he – that he wants the cabinet to continue to think through options and to think through alternatives. But he has also said – and so has Secretary Kerry – that – (phone rings). Wow, that took me right back to my Navy days. (Laughter.) That scared the bejeebies out of me.

QUESTION: You almost fled the room.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. That’s the “jump overboard” siren. (Laughter.) Which actually would’ve been convenient right in the middle of this answer.

QUESTION: Yeah, then you could have an out.

MR KIRBY: Oh man, I forgot my train of thought now.

QUESTION: You were trying to say that you’re not back to square one.

MR KIRBY: We’re not back to square one.

QUESTION: You’re back to square, like, zero --

MR KIRBY: Oh, Plan A, Plan A. Yeah, right.

QUESTION: -- or square negative one. (Laughter.) Look, if you’re going to --

MR KIRBY: Now, wait a second. Now you got me going now. I can remember.

QUESTION: All right.


QUESTION: Yeah, but can I follow up?

MR KIRBY: The Commander – no – the Commander-in-Chief and the Secretary have made clear that our commitment is on what we’ve colloquially called Plan A, which is the political process, and trying to keep it alive and to get it moving in the right direction. It doesn’t mean that it would be imprudent not to consider other alternatives. And again, there’s been – it’s been made clear to cabinet officials that alternatives should be considered and thought about. But that doesn’t – but if you’re asking me – and I think you are – are we sort of at that point now, the Secretary would tell you no, that we aren’t, that Plan A, the Geneva process, and getting to a political solution is still the preferred path. Because the other alternatives, whatever they --

QUESTION: Well, it would be the preferred path if Assad really wanted to negotiate. But I have to bring you back to the Secretary’s comments, like, the first day he took office, was that until you change the calculation of Assad on the ground, nothing’s going to change. And it seems as if maybe temporarily he said he was interested in a political process, but can you point to anything that indicates – whether it’s engagement at the talks, or on the ground with the continued violations – that he’s really willing to have a political solution?

MR KIRBY: It’s certainly on the face of it – and particularly when you look at what happened there in Aleppo today against this Doctors Without Borders hospital – on the face of it, it would certainly appear that to – that Assad is not showing a willingness to contribute in a constructive way to Plan A, if you will, to the political process. I mean, you have to but assume that when you look at dozens dead and a hospital being bombed.

That said, let us also not forget that after the UN Security Council resolution and the Munich meeting, we did get a cessation in – largely in place. And as I’ve said many times, we freely admit that even on day one there were violations, and there were violations virtually every day. But largely it held. And up until the – just the last several days, I think we would still maintain that it had largely held. But it’s obviously very, very fragile right now and of deep concern to everybody.


QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up, please? Can I have a follow-up, please?

MR KIRBY: Okay. We’ll go to Lesley, then Pam, and then Dave. Okay?

QUESTION: So if you’re saying Assad is not showing a willingness to contribute to a political process, does that mean that you believe that the Russians don’t have that influence over him right now, given what’s going on --

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t think – I – no. I don’t think we’re at the point where we’d say they don’t have influence over Assad. They still do. Of course they do. And look at the message they sent when President Putin decided to withdraw some of those aircraft. I mean, there was – it was an unquestioned message to Assad about the limits of Russian patience with respect to Assad’s willingness to contribute to the political process. So yes, they have influence. What’s curious is to – and I think what we’d like to know more of is to what degree are they actually assertively, aggressively using that influence right now. Because again, on the face of it, when you look at what the Assad regime is doing, again particularly today in this absolutely reprehensible attack, it would appear that that influence isn’t being exerted as energetically as we believe it could be.

QUESTION: Or at all.

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, it’s hard to know the degree to which this is either not enough influence being applied or not enough attention being given to the influence being applied. Or maybe it’s a combination of both. It’s just difficult to know. I don’t – we’re not inside that decision loop, so it’s hard to know. So it’s one of – it’s one or the other or both, either they’re not applying enough or what – Assad is ignoring what’s being applied, or a combination --

QUESTION: It sounds like --

MR KIRBY: In any event – in any event though, regardless of what is the case, the trend is not moving in the right direction, and that’s worrisome. And that’s certainly putting in – undermining the political process and the cessation of hostilities, and that’s obviously not what we want to see happen.


QUESTION: You keep saying Plan A. What is Plan B? What is Plan B?

MR KIRBY: We’ve talked about this before.

QUESTION: You say Plan A. Does that mean that Plan B could involve some sort of changing your strategy --

MR KIRBY: I’m not --

QUESTION: -- to include some sort of military action?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, this mythical Plan B.

QUESTION: I mean, what is the alternative?

MR KIRBY: I mean, I don’t think there is a --

QUESTION: Well, then stop saying Plan A.

QUESTION: Yeah, because you keep saying Plan A.

MR KIRBY: Well, I did that because you guys say Plan A. I was trying to make it understandable to you.

QUESTION: Let me just --

QUESTION: You guys are the ones that came up with Plan A.

QUESTION: -- let me just follow up on this, because now --

MR KIRBY: Look, whether we call it Plan A or Plan One, Plan C-2 – look, what I’m saying is our focus is on the political process. And the Secretary still believes that that is the best way forward. And that while we – it would be irresponsible to not think through options and alternatives, should it fail completely – I mean, that’s what you’re supposed to do, is think through options – those options are not – they’re – none of them are great. And I’m not going to detail the various options here from the podium. I think you can understand why I wouldn’t do that. But none of them are great and none of them are preferred. And frankly, we --

QUESTION: Plan A isn’t going so great either.

MR KIRBY: Well, but that doesn’t mean – just because it’s not – the trends aren’t moving exactly how we’d like them to, doesn’t mean we should just give up and throw away on it. I mean, because look – but look, I mean, keep it in perspective, guys. I mean, we’re – over the last, what, seven weeks or so the cessation largely held. And there are still areas – as you and I talk here, Said, there are still areas in Syria where life is less violent and where the cessation is holding. I agree it’s fragile. We don’t want to see what we’re seeing in Aleppo. But the political plan that’s being pursued, the Geneva process that’s being pursued, we believe still can have traction, can still work, and still requires – demands our full energy and attention. And that’s where the Secretary’s headspace is.

QUESTION: Would you say that the deployment of the 250 Special Forces in Rmelian, which is in the north near Hasakah and the Kurdish areas and so on – is that like the prelude for Plan B? Is that like in anticipation, that maybe the truce will completely collapse --

MR KIRBY: Well, again, you --

QUESTION: -- the cessation of hostilities, and you want to be ready to help and assist and so on?

MR KIRBY: You know I don’t like talking about military issues, but --

QUESTION: But it’s --

MR KIRBY: But on this one, I am going to correct you. I mean, no. The answer – short answer is no, because, as the President made clear when he announced this additional – these additional deployments, they are there to advise and assist in the counter-Daesh fight. This is not about them assisting or participating in issues resolving the civil conflict in Syria. This is about the counter-Daesh fight and about advising and assisting forces in Syria that can be and – are and can be more effective against going – going against that group. So it has nothing to do with the Geneva process, in terms of getting to a political solution in Syria.


QUESTION: John, two questions. First of all, a minute ago you said that the U.S. continues to believe that Russia has influence with the Assad regime. But is it safe to say that the U.S.- Russia relationship with Syria has deteriorated – continuing these types of strikes, like this one in Aleppo, continue and the fact that U.S. and Russia are co-chairs of the ceasefire taskforce, which outwardly doesn’t seem to be having an impact on these types of activities?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would say no in terms of has the U.S-Russia relationship deteriorated as a result of these recent violations. We are co-chairs of the cessation task force. That work continues. And there’s constant daily communication inside that task force and between the U.S. and Russia every single day. So no, I would not say that at all. And I think U.S.-Russian leadership is still required inside the ISSG with respect to the Geneva political process.

QUESTION: And one more on – this is a follow-up on Said’s question about the Special Forces. In light of the situation in Syria, is the U.S. looking at perhaps expanding the amount of support that it has been giving to the Syrian Kurdish fighters who have been very effective in some regions?

MR KIRBY: I’ll let DOD speak to that. I think Secretary Carter already talked a little bit about that recently, in terms of the manner in which we were intensifying the effort against Daesh. I’m not aware of any specific additional proposals, but really that’s a military equity to speak to, not us.


QUESTION: Could I --

QUESTION: Following up on the --

MR KIRBY: Oh, I’m sorry. You already – I promised to go back to you, Dave.

QUESTION: Yeah. So the --

MR KIRBY: You’ve got to wait. Sorry.

QUESTION: -- Russians have asked to add Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam to the list of terrorist organizations that are eligible for strikes. Obviously they’re currently represented by the HNC, so I assume you’d oppose that call, since these are groups that are apparently attempting to observe the ceasefire. But does it not suggest that Russia is planning to expand its target list, not in fact to enforce the ceasefire?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’d leave it to Moscow to determine – to speak to why they would want those groups added on to the list, but --

QUESTION: They are the backbone of the armed opposition.

MR KIRBY: In many ways and in many places, that’s right. And there’s – nothing’s changed about our position here that the only two groups that need to remain on the outside of the cessation of hostilities is – are Daesh and al-Nusrah. Nothing’s changed about our view on that.

QUESTION: And also on Russia, often you and Mark from the podium have said that you don’t want to daily read out the allegations of ceasefire violations that the ISSG group is working in private to develop --


QUESTION: -- to develop reports. The Russian ministry of defense website however just put up a daily update from their reconciliation center in English and Russian.


QUESTION: Are you not worried that they appear more open about this than you do?

MR KIRBY: No. I mean, that’s – if they want to do that, they can. We have just determined that we don’t find that useful. What we want to put our energies into is to working through the cessation of hostilities task force to properly analyze and account for violations, and then try to work within that process to get them to stop. It’s not an enforcement mechanism. It’s not capable of physically impeding or standing in the way of violations. But it is useful in terms of analyzing it, collecting the data on them, and then rapidly sharing that information so that those who have influence on the violators can hopefully use that influence in the most constructive manner.

And I get the argument that, well, gee, in Aleppo that isn’t going go well, and I’ve just spoken a long time about how we recognize that trends there in Aleppo are not in the right direction. But there are other areas in Syria – and there have been examples where the work of the task force has actually de-conflicted and prevented, in some cases, violations from happening. And that’s the goal. It’s – from our perspective, this work should be done at that level, and we just continue to not find it helpful to read out every single violation.

And again, I also – I haven’t seen the database that they’ve put up, but I’d be careful assuming that that is somehow the sole, definitive source of violations.

QUESTION: They say it’s their take on the situation.


QUESTION: But if you’re worried that they put out their take every day and that you’re refraining from giving your take, they obviously find it useful to get their side of the story out there.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Well, we find it more useful to work inside the task force to get these things to stop as best we can. And look, I mean, we’re up here every day answering questions about this and doing the best we can to communicate, so I don’t – our – I’m not saying you are arguing that we’re not being transparent, but I would fundamentally --

QUESTION: Just that Moscow’s being more transparent.

MR KIRBY: I’m sure you would love for everything about the U.S. Government and the State Department to be more transparent, but we’re as transparent as we believe we can be and should be. And we stand up here every day and answer these questions. We’re not bashful about doing that.

QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday, Mark said that the State Department did not share the Russian and Syrian assessment that Aleppo was under Nusrah control. So are you saying to the Russians – is the message to the Russians that it’s bad to attack Aleppo, even if there are pockets of Nusrah there, that they should just not be attacking – Syrians should not be attacking?

MR KIRBY: No, I think what Mark was – he was restating a simple fact, which I’ve talked to myself, which is that we know it’s a very fluid, dynamic environment, that there are – that there is intermingling between the groups. Some of that is by design because they want to be near one another and some of it is by happenstance. And it is why strikes in and around Aleppo become a more problematic issue, because it’s very difficult to separate some of these groups from one another geographically in order to – and then to be precise enough that only the group that you’re trying to go after is going to be hit.

QUESTION: But given the fragility of the ceasefire, would it be the view here that those strikes on Aleppo, even if there is a Nusrah element there, should stop because of the civilians and the other rebel groups in place?

MR KIRBY: No. So a couple of things here because I think we need to unpack this. If you are not party to the cessation – and al-Nusrah is not – and there is a legitimate opportunity to hit al-Nusrah, even if it’s in Aleppo, that wouldn’t be in opposition to what everybody has signed up to. They are fair targets. What we’re seeing, however, is that they aren’t being that precise, these strikes against al-Nusrah groups. And in fact, in many cases, such as the one I just talked about today, there’s blatant disregard for the cessation at all by the regime. I mean, they’re deliberately going after opposition groups and civilians, and now doctors and first responders. So that’s what we want to see stop. And I’ve also said – we’ve also said, with respect to Aleppo, the expansion of Assad regime control inside Syria is not a good thing for the people of Syria writ large. And so talks about this liberation, if you will, of Aleppo are – it’s a falsehood.

QUESTION: Just finally, the Secretary mentioned in The New York Times piece last week – he talked about an absolute line, the possibility of trying to draw an absolute line in Aleppo beyond which one side shouldn’t fire on the others. Is that something that’s being discussed?

MR KIRBY: I think without getting into any more detail than the Secretary did, I would just tell you that we’re – we are going to continue to talk to the Russians about ways to keep the cessation going and to get it into a better – to get it into better condition and to get it to be more sustainable. So we’re looking at ways in which we can do that, but I won’t go into any more detail.

QUESTION: Sorry, and Colonel Warren said a couple of days ago when he was talking about Aleppo – he said that Aleppo is primarily in the hands of al-Nusrah. Is that a view you’re (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think, again, Mark talked to this. I mean, our view of Aleppo is that it’s a very mixed, very fluid environment and that the – and the groups are intermingled, and that’s our view of it.



QUESTION: So are you confirming that the Russians are not enabling the Assad regime to do these attacks?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not. In fact, I’ve said from the podium that we know that some of their military moves in and around Aleppo have been supported by Russian airpower.

QUESTION: But you don’t know that particularly this one today?

MR KIRBY: But this one, as I said, the facts and circumstances are still coming in. The indications that we have now – and again, this just happened – are that these were – that these strikes were conducted by the regime.

QUESTION: Not with the backing --

MR KIRBY: Solely by the regime.

QUESTION: Solely – but not with the backing of Russia?

MR KIRBY: Not from any measure we can tell at this point. But again, this just happened; we’re trying to get details and circumstances surrounding it.

QUESTION: And then the Russians today have said – are blaming – according to our information, on the evening of April 27th for the first time after a long break, there was a plane over Aleppo that belonged to one of the so-called anti-Islamic State coalition countries.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on that.


QUESTION: They said that the coalition was operating there today and the Russians were not.

QUESTION: That’s --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, again, I’d refer – I just don’t have that level of tactical detail.

QUESTION: Yeah, they put that out in a statement.

MR KIRBY: Are you – is the suggestion that it was a coalition aircraft that --

QUESTION: Yes, that’s the suggestion.

MR KIRBY: I have seen absolutely no indication that the coalition was in any way involved in this airstrike that we’re talking about on the Doctors Without Borders facility. As I said, the facts are still coming in. Every indication we’ve seen so far would point to the regime.



QUESTION: Secretary Carter today seems to have suggested that there was a direct link between the YPG forces in Syria and the PKK, which you designate as a terrorist group. It – that was in response to a question by Lindsey Graham in today’s hearing. He said, yes, that – when Graham asked him whether there was a link. So is there a mixed message sent out from this building and the Pentagon about the nature of the group YPG, whether --

MR KIRBY: You mean – you’re talking about Deputy Secretary Blinken?

QUESTION: No, no, today – Secretary Carter.

MR KIRBY: Oh, Carter. I thought you said Kerry.

QUESTION: Yeah, Carter, he was at the hearing and then he was asked by Graham, Senator Graham --


QUESTION: -- whether there was a link between YPG and PKK. He said yes. And I wonder – because you described the YPG as an independent group from the PKK in the past, and that’s why you’ve supported them militarily and politically, one could say, but – so is there a mixed message sent out from this building and the Pentagon about the YPG?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not – I didn’t see Secretary Carter’s comments. I’d let them – let him speak for his views and the Pentagon views. Nothing’s changed about our take here. The PKK is a foreign terrorist organization. That hasn’t changed. And as I’ve said before, those Kurdish fighters who are effective against Daesh in Syria – while we’re not providing direct arms, which as I – once again, I think your question sort of implied that. That’s not – that’s not what’s happening, but --

QUESTION: In Kobani, for example --

MR KIRBY: But --

QUESTION: -- you air-dropped weapons to them clearly, openly, publicly.

MR KIRBY: They do benefit – when fighters are being effective against Daesh, they do benefit from air power, and as I’ve said before, that support will continue. But it’s not just Kurds. And I know you love to bring everything back to that group, okay? But there are other effective counter-Daesh fighters in Syria which continue to benefit from coalition air power, and they will as long as they’re being effective.

And that is why the President approved additional Special Operations Forces to go into Syria to do advise and assist, to help those forces that are being effective against Daesh become more effective against Daesh.

QUESTION: So can you say, again, that the YPG is not linked to the PKK?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I’m going to tell you clearly, as I’ve said before, our position on the PKK and the YPG have not changed.

QUESTION: What is --

QUESTION: Can we move to North Korea?


QUESTION: Can you say, just again, it’s not linked to the PKK – you support it. If it was linked to a terrorist group, you wouldn’t support it otherwise?

MR KIRBY: We don’t – YPG’s not a designated foreign terrorist organization. PKK is. Nothing’s changed about that.


QUESTION: John, on the deployment of U.S. forces in Syria, the Syrian foreign ministry has strongly condemned the deployment today and said this intervention is rejected and illegitimate, it happened without the Syrian Government’s approval, and it’s a blatant act of aggression that constitutes a dangerous intervention and a gross violation of Syria’s sovereignty. The defense – the Iranian defense minister has said that the U.S. decision to send more troops to Syria is a flagrant aggression too. Any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, he’s right. We didn’t seek the Syrian Government’s approval before making this decision, and I find it the height of irony to call this a blatant act of aggression when they continue to gas and barrel bomb their own people and are reportedly now bombing a hospital in Aleppo. That and those are blatant acts of aggression against their own people, their own citizens.

This is – and I’ll say it again, as I’ve said several times today – this is an additional increase of Special Operations Forces that will be doing advise and assist missions to help those fighters who are going against Daesh become more effective in the field. That’s it. That’s their job.

QUESTION: And what about Iran defense minister’s statement too?

MR KIRBY: What about Iran’s --

QUESTION: Iran defense minister has said the same thing and he --

MR KIRBY: Well, why would my answer be any different to Iran if they said the same thing?

QUESTION: Because you didn’t say anything about Iran. You said about the regime.

MR KIRBY: Well, yeah, but it still stands. I mean, I don’t know why my answer would be any different.

QUESTION: There are Iranian forces in Syria --

MR KIRBY: That assessment – you’re saying the Iran defense minister said it was a blatant act of aggression for us to put Special Operations Forces --

QUESTION: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Well, my answer would be the same. It’s not. It’s not.

QUESTION: Isn’t it a breach of sovereignty, though? Is it a breach of Syrian sovereignty, as you recognize that sovereignty?

MR KIRBY: This is a – we have had this discussion so many times, Said.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Another topic?

QUESTION: We’ve only been doing this 40 minutes.

MR KIRBY: We have – the President has the authorities he needs to go after Daesh, and that’s what this is, and this is part of a coalition effort. We’re not the only ones involved in this fight. There’s 66 other nations in the coalition and there’s plenty – there is legal authority to do this.

Yes, go ahead. North Korea.

QUESTION: Yeah. North Korea launched two – tested two midrange missiles today.


QUESTION: It looks as if the UN Security Council is going to be meeting later. What is the purpose of the --

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen – certainly seen the reports; no reason to doubt them at this point, and again, another example of their flagrant violations of international obligations and putting the peninsula in a more unstable condition. We once again call on these actions to cease, and as I think I indicated in a response to this earlier, we have every intention of having this discussion in the UN, and to look for ways to continue international solidarity to hold the North to account for these kinds of provocative actions.


MR KIRBY: I can’t predict now where that discussion’s going to go or what this means in terms of additional sanctions or measures. I don’t think we’re at that point in the conversation.

QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Blinken just said – I think it was yesterday; I’m not sure if he repeated it today – but he basically said that sanctions were not working and the day is approaching where – because North Korea’s missile and nuclear program continues unabated, that the day will – as a result, the day is approaching where North Korea will have the capability to launch a nuclear-tipped missile either against the United States or one of its allies. So, I mean, if sanctions aren’t working, what are your other options, either to get them to the table to negotiate something to curb their nuclear ambitions or, if you can’t do that, to do something to prevent a nuclear attack from happening?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, we’re focused right now on implementing the new set of sanctions, which are tougher --

QUESTION: But he just said they’re not working, though.

MR KIRBY: He was referring to sanctions over a long period of time obviously have not dissuaded the regime’s desire to continue to pursue dangerous nuclear capabilities. We’ve just got a new set implemented and we obviously are going to focus on continuing to enforce them. They are stronger than ever before. So sometimes sanctions take a little time to have an effect.

QUESTION: Take a long time.

MR KIRBY: Sometimes they can take a long time, that’s right. But that doesn’t mean that after just enacting them you throw them out the window because you get another test.

QUESTION: I didn’t say throw them out the window, but like, what are --


QUESTION: -- it seems as if maybe the sanctions will work over the long term, but the warnings by both the Chinese president, the deputy secretary of state, military commanders that have spoken over the last several months – I mean, the situation does seem to be getting more grave as the weeks go on.

MR KIRBY: Look, we’re certainly – we take the threats that he poses seriously, and we’re going to continue to work with the international community, we’re going to continue to consult with the UN about the best ways forward here. I don’t have specific measures or alternatives to proffer here today for you, nor would I necessarily think wise to do so from the podium. But I can tell you that we’re going to continue to work with the international community to try to find ways to hold them to account for obviously what appears to be recalcitrance at best in changing their direction.

QUESTION: They don’t seem – I understand, but they don’t seem – obviously the sanctions are tougher than they’ve ever been.


QUESTION: So – but they don’t seem --

MR KIRBY: Well, let’s see how they do.

QUESTION: It definitely doesn’t seem that they’re deterred. It seems as if, in fact, since the sanctions have been implemented, they’re increasing their --

MR KIRBY: So we need to let the sanctions regime continue to play out, but we also need to continue to explore ways to hold them to account, and we’re going to do that. I just don’t have any specific decisions or alternatives to speak to today.

QUESTION: Follow-up on that?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So President Xi Jinping in China said that, “As a close neighbor of the peninsula, we will absolutely not permit war or chaos on the peninsula,” referring to the Korean peninsula, obviously. Do you have a specific comment on that, a response to --

MR KIRBY: We don’t want to see war on the peninsula either.

QUESTION: And so do you see this as a sign that China is going to be taking stronger measures against North Korea?

MR KIRBY: We certainly hope that China will use its significant influence and its leadership in the region to help the international community hold the North to account and to work with the international community to that end. That’s what we’ve said all along.


QUESTION: Stay in China?

QUESTION: Stay on DPRK, real quick?

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Couple questions. Has the Secretary talked with his counterparts in the region yet, or does he plan to?

MR KIRBY: About this --

QUESTION: About this test.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any phone calls or conversations to read out.

QUESTION: And just a second question: How does State view how well China’s been enforcing the sanctions?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, they’re new, and they’ve just recently been implemented. China signed up to it, and they’ve been clear that because they share a border and because there has been historic commerce between China and the North, that these sanctions would be felt in China. And yet they still signed up and agreed to do it. Our expectation is that they’re going to enforce the sanctions just like we want everybody else to. I’ve seen no indications that they aren’t, in fact, enforcing them.

QUESTION: One more on China.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any comments on the passage of a new Chinese law that targets foreign NGOs?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I think this is another one where I think you can expect to hear from us a little bit later this afternoon with a more detailed reaction to it, but obviously it’s very concerning to us, because we believe that the work of civil society in China benefits not just the world and the global community but China itself. So we have concerns about this law, and again, I think we’ll have a more detailed reaction here later this afternoon.

QUESTION: Just one more. Now that the law has passed, is it still going to be an issue in the U.S.-China dialogues following?

MR KIRBY: This law, because it’s not a new development, that has been an issue in the dialogue between the United States and China. And the issue of the role of civil society and human rights in general is always a topic of discussion in our bilateral relationship. As I said, we’ve got concerns about this law. You’ll hear from us later this afternoon with a more detailed reaction.

Do I think it’s going to tear asunder the relationship and rip everything apart? No. This is the most – one of the most consequential relationships we have in the world, and we’re not always going to agree with China on everything. And when we don’t, we’ll say so. And we have. But it doesn’t mean that you let that one thing rip it all down. It’s an important relationship that we want to continue to work on and continue to improve. There are lots of other areas where we do cooperate with China, and those are important too.


QUESTION: Can I follow up on that topic? Will you be issuing any kind of new or revised guidance to organizations operating in China as a result of this law?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any new guidelines. If – certainly if we do that as a result of the law, we’ll keep you posted on that. Again, it just passed, so as I said, you’ll hear I think more from us a little later today.

QUESTION: Well, it just passed, but there’s been drafts circulating for the last year.

MR KIRBY: I understand. I understand. But drafts don’t necessarily mean final product, so let us absorb it, and if we have changes or things to announce as a result of it, we’ll certainly – it would be irresponsible for us not to make that public.

QUESTION: May I change the topic to the Okinotori in the West Pacific Ocean?

MR KIRBY: The what?

QUESTION: The Okinotori in West Pacific Ocean.


QUESTION: Yeah. The tension between Japan and Taiwan seems escalating regarding the dispute in the Okonotori in the West Pacific Ocean. Are you aware of that?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to have to take that question. I wasn’t – I just don’t have enough – I’m not steeped enough in that issue, so you’re going to have to let me take that question.

Yeah. Tejinder.

QUESTION: India. The Indian Foreign Secretary Jaishankar is here. He met yesterday the – Susan Rice, and do you have anything, update on – from this building?

MR KIRBY: Well, I believe he already did meet with the national security advisor. I’d point you to the White House for a readout of that. He is expected --

QUESTION: We had a readout of that.


QUESTION: Anything from this building?

MR KIRBY: He is going to meet with Deputy Secretary Blinken today. As far as I know, that meeting hasn’t happened yet.

QUESTION: And from that readout, what we understood it was all very generic. Was there a visit of Prime Minister Modi, fourth visit of Prime Minister Modi in two years, came up, or is there – are there plans?

MR KIRBY: Again, you’d have to talk to the White House to read out that meeting. I won’t speak to that. The meeting with the deputy hasn’t happened yet, so I can’t speak to that.


MR KIRBY: And as for Prime Minister Modi’s travel, as I’ve said repeatedly, I make it a point of not speaking to the foreign travel habits or plans of foreign leaders.

QUESTION: Yeah. I have a question on – which you might be able to. One is --

MR KIRBY: No, don’t be so surprised. I --

QUESTION: One is that for last three visits, was he given one visa or every visit he gets a separate visa? That you can answer, State Department. And for the fourth visit, has he applied for a visa?

MR KIRBY: Visa records are confidential. We’ve said – (laughter).


QUESTION: Multiple-entry.

QUESTION: Okay. And what is not confidential – who else is other head of state of any other country who has come to the U.S. more than thrice or twice, thrice, four times, in two years after being denied a visa for 10 years?

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: That’s not confidential.

MR KIRBY: I mean, you might want to try Google, but --

QUESTION: I tried. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Look, I don’t know. We’ll see. I don’t know if we have that kind of data, but if we do, we’ll see what we can get and get back to you. I’m going to have to go here in just a couple minutes.

QUESTION: On Turkey?

MR KIRBY: Really? Surprising. Turkey, out of you. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: John, I know you had a statement about the Iranian journalist in the beginning. I don’t know if you had a statement for Turkish journalist who sentenced to two years jail for publishing Charlie Hebdo cartoons. This was – just happened today.

MR KIRBY: Let me see. I think I might have something on that. While I’m looking for that --

QUESTION: I’ve got a whole bunch of little ones.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Well, then let’s wait.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Turkey.

MR KIRBY: A follow-up? I haven’t even answered the first one on Turkey. (Laughter.) What are you following up on? Holy cow. (Laughter.) Following up on me saying I’m going to look. All right.

So we continue to defend freedom of speech, as you know, and freedom of expression in Turkey and around the world. We also understand and respect that some have strong feelings about depictions of religious figures. We’ve said that before too. As Turkey’s friend and NATO ally, we urge the Turkish Government to ensure that official bodies, law enforcement and judicial authorities, are not used to undermine the Turkish democracy.

Media organizations should have the freedom to use their independent professional judgment when determining what they publish. These are complicated issues – of course we know that – but ultimately ones that journalists have the right to make themselves. And frankly, that’s what we’re doing here every week is kind of reminding all – not that you need reminding, but reminding everybody else in the world that we stand by that principle.

QUESTION: I wonder if you still think that the Turkish democracy – if you still think the Turkish democracy is vibrant as you --

MR KIRBY: We still think that it is fully capable of living up to its own constitution and to the aspirations of the Turkish people, and we want to see it succeed. We want to see Turkey succeed. And the reason why we worry about freedom of expression issues and press freedom there is because we don’t believe that’s the best path to success is to repress the freedom of journalists to do their jobs.

QUESTION: Are you finding new ways to convince Turkish Government to change this course since it seems like it is failing very badly?

MR KIRBY: We continue to raise this at every juncture, as appropriate. And as I’ve said in the past, this is a worrisome trend that we see there, which is all the more reason why we continue to speak out.

I’ve really got to go. I’m going to --

QUESTION: One follow-on.

QUESTION: One more on Turkey please.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Monday, the chairman on the parliament told that secularity mustn’t be a part of the new constitution. Are you concerned about that? I mean, after that, there were a lot of protests all over Turkey and the police attacked the protesters very harshly. I’m wondering if you have comments.

MR KIRBY: Is this about – is this – is this about lifting the immunity of parliament?

QUESTION: The speaker of parliament said secularism should not be part of the constitution.

QUESTION: Yeah, part of the new constitution, because you know now Turkey is talking about changing the constitution. I mean, AKP, the ruling party, is talking about that.

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those particular comments so I’m going to refrain from a reaction on those particular comments. Again, we want to see Turkey live up to the constitution that it has, which enshrines many of these principles.

QUESTION: Do you think secularism should be in constitution?

MR KIRBY: Do I think what?

QUESTION: Secularism should be in Turkish constitution?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to respond to that comment since I haven’t seen it, and I’m just not going to be able to say much more than that today.

QUESTION: All right, I’ve got about four subjects, but they’ll all be very brief. One, on Iran, is it the Administration’s view that if this $8.6 million purchase of heavy water does not – of Iranian heavy water does not go through per Senator Cotton’s amendment, that the Iran deal will collapse? Is it that important to spend $8.6 million for this heavy water?

MR KIRBY: Well, remember, the – the short answer is no, Matt. I mean, it’s not --

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MR KIRBY: The deal won’t --

QUESTION: So someone else could buy it just as easily, correct?

MR KIRBY: Look, what matters is that they meet their obligations, and the sale of heavy water will help them do that. It also, we believe in this case, helps us accomplish some research and scientific goals.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you could buy it from elsewhere and they could sell it elsewhere; is that not correct?

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on heavy water procurement.

QUESTION: All right. Secondly, on --

MR KIRBY: But is it going to rip the JCPOA up if it doesn’t happen?


MR KIRBY: Of course not, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t want the sale to go through.

QUESTION: All right. On the S-300s, a while ago you said there was a review going on to see if that transfer destabilized – was destabilizing and thus sanctionable under U.S. law.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything. I think we still believe it’s worthy of reviewing for the potential use of U.S. sanctions.

QUESTION: So there’s no decision.

MR KIRBY: But no decisions. We still oppose the sale.

QUESTION: All right. Israel: The Israeli Government today came out and said it has rejected the French proposal for a broad peace conference, but also, more specifically, for a foreign ministers meeting to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on May 30th. What does the Administration think about that?

MR KIRBY: About --

QUESTION: The French idea.

MR KIRBY: -- the prime minister’s rejection of it or about the French proposal?

QUESTION: No, about the idea in the --

MR KIRBY: Well, the same as what we’ve said before. I mean, we want – we’re reviewing the French proposal. We’re certainly interested in talking to all our partners about ways in which we can try to get to a two-state solution. But I know of no judgment rendered about this so-called French proposal.

QUESTION: Okay. And you don’t have any comment on the Israeli decision?

MR KIRBY: That’s for them to speak to.

QUESTION: All right. And then May 30th, does the Secretary not have other plans on May 30th?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) I don’t have anything on the calendar for May 30th to speak to one way or the other right now.

QUESTION: It’s Memorial Day. It’s a national holiday here. Would the Secretary be willing to spend his Memorial Day in Paris for – at a peace – at (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have travel – I don’t have travel for the Secretary to read out, but he --

QUESTION: I know. It would seem to rule that date out though, no?

MR KIRBY: Well, he obviously, like all veterans, takes Memorial Day very, very seriously. I just don’t have anything on his schedule to read out.

QUESTION: Okay. I got two more. Ambassador Lute last week made some comments in London that have gotten some prospective NATO applicants a little worked up. He said that the situation in Russia and with Russia precluded more NATO expansion at the time, which some thought to as – some took to suggest that Russia essentially has a veto over new NATO membership. Do you have anything you can say about that?

MR KIRBY: I would just say that the United States remains committed to NATO’s open door policy, and we continue to support Georgia’s aspirations for integration into the Euro-Atlantic institutions, including NATO.

QUESTION: Okay. And last one on the UK. I’m just wondering if this whole situation involved – that’s (inaudible) with the Labor Party now has raised any – or has gotten anyone’s attention here with the suspension of two members for anti-Israel or anti-Semitic comments. Has that hit your radar at all?

MR KIRBY: Let me take that one. I don’t think I have anything on that.

Thanks, guys. I really got to go. Sorry.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:01 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Wed, 04/27/2016 - 17:46

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

Share Index for Today's Briefing


.2:15 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Let’s start off – I have a few things at the top. First of all, as you know, we started yesterday our Free the Press campaign. The case we’re highlighting today comes from Uzbekistan, where a newspaper editor named Muhammad Bekjanov has remained in prison since 1999 – and that’s the longest ongoing incarceration of a journalist in the world, by many accounts.

Mr. Bekjanov, whose newspaper called Freedom, or Erk in Uzbek language, published articles advocating for democratic reform, is thought to have been arrested for his public criticism of President Karimov’s administration as well as his affiliation with a peaceful political opposition party. Mr. Bekjanov has reportedly suffered serious health problems since his incarceration.

We call on the Government of Uzbekistan to release Mr. Bekjanov, and to take steps necessary to create space for independent journalists to work free – or without fear of violence. We also urge the Government of Uzbekistan to allow international observers to visit prisons, and to grant all citizens access to full due process in accordance with international commitments.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- something very briefly about that?


QUESTION: That picture --

MR TONER: Yeah, I know. I apologize.

QUESTION: I mean, he was – last year he was also part of this.

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: Because I recognize that picture.

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: So just – do you know: Have any of the people who have previously been highlighted by – in this campaign --

MR TONER: Been released?


MR TONER: I’ll check. That’s a good question, actually.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering if it’s had --

MR TONER: I don’t have that in front of me, but that’s a very fair question.

QUESTION: -- if you know what the effect is.

MR TONER: We’ll check on that, absolutely.

And then, as many of you probably have already heard, it’s 100 days until the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. So to mark that auspicious date, the first ever – these are the first-ever games held in South America – the U.S. Department of State announces its #USinRio campaign to help U.S. citizens prepare for travel to Rio de Janeiro this summer. To help them prepare for their trip to Brazil, we also published a fact sheet on, which is a one-stop shop for travel information, and there you’ll find links to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program – so-called STEP – as well as U.S. and Rio smartphone app and other resources to ensure that U.S. citizens remain informed and connected. The campaign also launched an interactive blog as well as a video series showcasing American athletes in action.

On Equatorial Guinea, the United States is concerned about the political environment in Equatorial Guinea both before and after its April 24th presidential election. There’ve been numerous credible reports of government security services using excessive force, obstructing and dispersing opposition rallies, and intimidating civil society activists. We’re especially concerned that the security services violently attacked the headquarters of the opposition party, Ciudadanos por la Innovacion, on April 22nd – two days before the presidential election – causing serious injuries among those inside. Members of Ciudadanos por la Innovacion have since had their freedom of movement restricted in Malabo, in Bata, and more than 60 people remain detained without charges. We call on the government to permit its citizens to exercise their democratic rights and for all in Equatorial Guinea to address political differences through peaceful and consensual dialogue.

SYRIA1">And then last thing – and this is about the attacks that occurred, I believe yesterday, on the Syrian Civil Defense station in al-Atareb, Syria. The United States is appalled by Monday’s multiple aerial strikes, reportedly by the Assad regime, on a Syrian Civil Defense station in the town of, as I noted, al-Atareb in Aleppo province, where at least five members of the civil defense are believed to have been killed and many more innocent people were injured.

This attack fits with the Assad regime’s abhorrent pattern of striking first responders, over 100 whom – of whom have been killed in action. Many are killed in so-called double-tap strikes, where warplanes return to a strike zone after first responders have gathered to assist victims, and the Syrian Civil Defense station in al-Atareb was reportedly hit five times on Monday.

We condemn in the strongest terms any such attacks and we urge Russia to use its influence and press the Assad regime to fulfill its commitments under UNSCR 2254 and immediately stop any further attacks of this nature. We also commend the heroic members of the Syrian Civil Defense who’ve saved more than 40,000 people by serving as impartial emergency responders on the front lines performing search and rescue missions following brutal attacks often perpetrated by the Assad regime and its allies. And the United States will continue to support this group and their courageous and tireless efforts to protect the Syrian people.

That’s it. Matt.

QUESTION: On the last one --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- you commend this group, you’re going to continue to support them, and yet you revoked the visa of their leader. I don’t – that makes zero sense to me.

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: What – what’s exactly going on?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, this group, and I would precisely make that --

QUESTION: Yeah, but this is the guy who is the leader of this group who the head of USAID lionized in a – and her – that she lauded him --

MR TONER: Sure. Sure.

QUESTION: -- in a speech at the event that he was supposed to be accepting --


QUESTION: -- an award that he couldn't get here for because the State Department canceled his visa while he was in the middle – while he was in midair, presumably, over the Atlantic so that when he arrived at Dulles, he was promptly thrown on the next plane back to Turkey. And now here you are talking about how wonderful his group is. I just don’t understand how it works.

MR TONER: So a couple responses. One is, unfortunately, we can’t speak to individual visa cases. I think broadly speaking, though, on any visa case we are constantly looking at new information, so-called continually vetting travel or records. And if we do have new information that we believe this – an individual --


MR TONER: -- let me finish – would pose a security risk, we’ll certainly act on that. I can’t speak again specifically to this case, but what I can talk about is this group. And this group, as I said, has saved some 40,000 lives, that are first responders, they operate in a combat zone, and the fact that they’re being singled out and hit by the Syrian regime is, frankly, cause for a concern. And we do support this group. We do support their efforts to save lives in what is admittedly a very complex and convoluted battlefield scene.

And to speak to your broader – to say that this group’s – which I think is the implication of your question, that they somehow have ties to --

QUESTION: No, I’m not suggesting that at all.

MR TONER: Then – okay.

QUESTION: I’m saying that it just strikes me as a bit odd that you’re saying that this group is wonderful and does such a great job and you’re commending them for their heroism, and yet, this – you’re doing this just 10 days after the leader of this group, who was supposed to be – who got his visa revoked and wasn’t allowed to travel here. I understand there was an attack that killed some of its members, and I know that that’s the immediate cause of it --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- but it just strikes me as being a bit inconsistent if you say that this group is wonderful, and yet, you also ban its leader from coming to the States to collect an award for which – and you say you’re going to continue to support the group. I mean, if you have reason to revoke his visa, that he could be a security threat or something like that, why would you continue to support --

MR TONER: But again – but again, I’m trying to separate this individual from the group, which we believe is --

QUESTION: All right. So the guy is – you’re saying that basically he is suspect but his group is not?

MR TONER: Well, again, I can’t speak to the specific allegations against him, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, not if I --

MR TONER: No, I’m sorry, I – my hands are tied too but --

QUESTION: All right. The other thing --

MR TONER: -- but yes, we’re not condemning the group in any way whatsoever.


MR TONER: We believe it’s doing good work.

QUESTION: Could I --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: If he is the leader of the group, how do you support this group and he is not allowed to get into the States? This is the question.

MR TONER: I understand that and all I can say is that --

QUESTION: How can you separate the leader of the group from the group?

MR TONER: Well, he’s one individual in the group.

QUESTION: But the leader of the group.

MR TONER: And any individual – again, I’m broadening my language here for specific reasons, but any individual in any group suspected of ties or relations with extremist groups or that we had believed to be a security threat to the United States, we would act accordingly. But that does not, by extension, mean we condemn or would cut off ties to the group for which that individual works for.

QUESTION: Okay. It just seems a little odd.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up on the group? Which group is --

MR TONER: Sophisticated. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I mean, they are a civil defense group, right? They are --

QUESTION: The White Helmets?

QUESTION: Who are --

MR TONER: The White Helmets. So this is a group --

QUESTION: White Helmets. Okay, I understand.

MR TONER: So, yeah, this is the Syrian Civil Defense Group. Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you know – I understand about the White Helmets. Do you know who finances them, how they operate, who are they supported by, what kind of organization they have? How do you get your information from them and so on?

MR TONER: Well – well, I can say we provide them with --

QUESTION: We – you do know a little bit.

MR TONER: Well, I can tell you that we provide, through USAID, about $23 million in assistance to them.


MR TONER: I can say that they’ve saved over 40,000 lives, as I just mentioned at the – in the topper by acting as first responders. They go into combat zones, they save people after attacks. We’ve seen no action on the part of this group writ large that indicates in any way that they’re nothing but an impartial group that – like any humanitarian organization – works across lines of control and is in contact with a range of groups to facilitate their life-saving efforts. And that’s – again, we’ve talked about this the last couple days. Aleppo is --

QUESTION: I understand that.

MR TONER: -- a very complex situation. We understand that. And for these groups to operate, they have to be able to operate within the milieu on which they’re working.

QUESTION: Mark, but can you ask for some – I mean, this just seems bizarre to me. You’re giving this guy and his group $23 million. Yes, they do good work, they save lives, but you’ve revoked his visa for some reason and you won’t say why and it just doesn’t make any sense. Why is the U.S. taxpayer supporting a group whose leader you have banned from coming to the States?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, I’m always willing to try to get more information.


MR TONER: In this case, I’m a bit restricted by the fact that this is --

QUESTION: Just – well, I know, but it just --

MR TONER: I can’t talk about a specific visa.

QUESTION: To the average person, I don’t think this makes any sense. Anyway, I wanted to ask you about something else that you started with --


QUESTION: -- and that is on the – that Olympics thing. Do you have – is there any kind of an estimate about how many Americans – non-athletes – are going to be – plan to go? Or is that not your --

MR TONER: No, I mean, we – I don’t think we have a firm number yet. I wish we had kind of previous numbers here.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, based on what you’ve seen --

MR TONER: Yeah, no, I’ll get that for you.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: It’s a fair question.

QUESTION: And then one other thing. It’s unrelated, but this is just a housekeeping item about a question I asked yesterday on --


QUESTION: -- this email that Judicial Watch has highlighted as – and they say that it shows that you guys hid this email which would have shown two years earlier than we – which would have uncovered or would – which would have shown the existence of former Secretary Clinton’s private email --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- two years before we actually did learn about it.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: I understand that there is an answer, there is an explanation.

MR TONER: There is. So we don’t generally comment on matters of litigation, but in this case, there has been some confusion about – or rising from what was an administrative error in the correspondence in which the department said that the document in question was withheld on November – in November 2014, and that date was incorrect. So all the facts in this case or this – the complete facts, rather, surrounding this document are actually in a court filing, a public court filing from July 2015. And we would recommend that folks who are interested would look at that court filing.

But in summary, it describes that the department received the documents in June 2015 from members of former Secretary Clinton’s senior staff and did not withhold it until that time. So there’s a pretty big discrepancy in the dates there and we regret, obviously, any confusion that was caused by our error in correspondence.

QUESTION: So what was the – so the correct date instead of --

MR TONER: Correct date was June 2015, so – they said withheld. We – the original correspondence that we received the document – or was withheld, rather, November 2014. So a difference of 10 months --

QUESTION: Well, yeah --

MR TONER: -- or less than that.

QUESTION: -- except that --

QUESTION: Eight months.

MR TONER: Eight months, thank you. Clearly not a mathematician.


MR TONER: What’s the matter, Matt?

QUESTION: So you --


QUESTION: So I don’t understand what --

MR TONER: Yeah, that’s okay. So in which --

QUESTION: I just don’t get what --

MR TONER: So the department --

QUESTION: That’s – not – so not only did whoever wrote this letter get the year wrong, but they got the month wrong.

MR TONER: Right. They just had the date wrong. They said that – they said – the department said that the document in question was withheld in November 2014. That was just incorrect. It was actually received in 2015 and I think withheld in July 2015.

QUESTION: Okay, but I mean, that seems like a pretty --

MR TONER: It is. It’s a --

QUESTION: -- egregious clerical error --

MR TONER: It’s a mistake. I mean I --

QUESTION: -- especially on something that you know is sensitive and that – and with a group that we know, the Judicial --

MR TONER: Again, we apologize for the mistake and we own it.

QUESTION: Right, but – okay, so have you told them? Because they were – they made some pretty – they made some pretty big allegations about this yesterday.

MR TONER: Well, we did. We let them know. I believe we sent them a correspondence admitting --

QUESTION: Have they --

MR TONER: -- this mistake and --

QUESTION: Have they acknowledged it?

MR TONER: I don’t know.

QUESTION: I mean --

QUESTION: (Off-mike)

MR TONER: Yeah. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: I’m just curious because it doesn’t – November 2014 – I mean, they don’t even have the same letters in them – June, November and – June, I mean, unless they have an E and an N --

MR TONER: I don’t – Matt, I don’t think it was – I don’t think it was a matter of misspelling the month or --

QUESTION: I know, but how do you mix it --

MR TONER: -- flubbing the year. I think they simply --

QUESTION: -- on something this sensitive that --

MR TONER: No, no, no. I think what --

QUESTION: -- you know that’s going to attract so much --

MR TONER: I mean, look, I’m conjecturing here, purely conjecturing --


MR TONER: -- which is always dangerous to do from the State Department podium, but I’m thinking that they just – whoever was writing the letter just simply was looking --


MR TONER: -- at a different date and put that date in the letter, it wasn’t picked up, and it was just blatantly an error and we own it.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: Okay? I don’t think it was a matter of May versus March or something like that.

QUESTION: Well, then, I mean – well, no, you could find some – okay.

MR TONER: It just wasn’t – it wasn’t – it wasn’t a spelling error or anything like that.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, clearly.

MR TONER: But go – yeah.

QUESTION: I wanted to go to Libya.


QUESTION: Regarding this ship that you believe is carrying oil illicitly exported from eastern Libya, one, do you know where the ship is now?

MR TONER: No. I mean, I – what I had heard was it – what I heard is that it attempted actually to arrive or to – I don’t know what – to make port in Malta but was prevented from doing so. I don’t know where it is at present. I just don’t have a --

QUESTION: And what are you doing now to try to prevent or to ensure that the oil – if, as you suggest, it is – it has been illicitly removed from Libya – that the oil does not – that the ship can’t dock anywhere and that the oil does not get sold to anyone?

MR TONER: So the Libyans have actually notified the UN Libya sanctions committee that there was this attempt to export Libyan oil illicitly, so the UN Security Council obviously condemn attempts to do this, to export crude oil from Libya, and it does permit the council to designate vessels involved in these oil – illicit oil exports and authorizes member states to inspect these kind of – these vessels on the high seas. I’m unaware that that has happened yet.

QUESTION: Either one? The possibility of a designation --

MR TONER: Right, exactly. Exactly.

QUESTION: -- or --

MR TONER: Or that.

QUESTION: Or boarding?

MR TONER: But, I mean, I believe this is currently being vetted in the Security Council.

QUESTION: And do – so do you need – do – you basically need a Security Council vote to vote on designating it, or you can unilaterally designate it?

MR TONER: I’m – well, this is – it’s actually in the sanctions committee. I’m – again, process-wise, I’m not sure that it needs an actual vote, but I think that action rests with the sanctions committee.

We, for our part, have just been in touch with international partners on this issue, and we’re continuing to monitor it very closely. But I don’t have – and I’ll try to get that for you, where the ship is actually currently.

QUESTION: Okay. A couple more on this.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: As you’re I think aware, the Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation has said that the company that initiated this shipment – it’s called DSA Consultancy, which is registered in the UAE.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Have you reached out to the UAE to ask them who this company is and why they’re buying what you regard as – why they’re making what you regard as an illicit transaction to buy this oil?

MR TONER: Right. So we are – as you noted, this is an Indian-flagged vessel, but we have also seen reports that it was chartered by a UAE-based company. I know, as I’ve said, we’ve been in touch with other governments in the region. I don’t know that we specifically raised with the UAE why this is – whether this is a UAE-based firm or what their information – or what they have in terms of information about this firm. I can take that question.

QUESTION: Why wouldn’t you ask them?

MR TONER: I would assume we would, I just don’t know. I just can’t confirm it, that’s all.

QUESTION: And then one other one from me: The company itself issued a statement today saying that the – it didn’t – that it believes the shipment is legitimate and that it has not been notified otherwise. And it – in its statement it says that the, quote, “ultimate beneficiary,” close quote, of the contract for the oil was the central bank of Libya. And it goes on to say that it will, quote, “always work strictly within the local and international legal frameworks. As of today, the company, DSA, is not in receipt of any legal basis for challenging the cargo’s legitimacy,” close quote. Have you gone to this company or tried to find them to make your argument to them that it’s not a legitimate transaction?

MR TONER: Yeah, I don’t know that we have, and I frankly think it would be incumbent on the Libyans to do so. The – our – as we said yesterday, we believe that all purchase of Libyan oil must continue to be through the National Oil Corporation which is based in Tripoli, and that’s to maintain the stability of the markets and the credibility of Libya’s oil in international oil markets. We maintain that, but I don’t know that the – if the Libyans themselves have raised it with these – with this company. I don’t know that we have directly.

QUESTION: Can we move on? Can I go to another topic, if I may?

MR TONER: Sure. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: I mean, on the auspicious occasion of Press Freedom Day, there are two Palestinians – one, a Palestine TV journalist that was arrested a week ago, Mujahed al-Saadi, in Hebron; and then yesterday – a couple days ago, Omar Nazzal, who is the head of the Palestinian Journalists’ Association, was on his way to a conference and was arrested. I mean, you began by imploring a certain government to release a certain journalist. Would you call on the Israelis to release Palestinian journalists?

MR TONER: Said, I don’t have the specifics of either of these cases in front of me, so I – it’s hard for me to be able to speak to the --

QUESTION: I have asked you about this for the past week.

MR TONER: I just don’t know the allegations. I don’t know – sure.

QUESTION: I have asked about this for the past week.

MR TONER: I understand, Said.

QUESTION: Could you please look into it?

MR TONER: We can certainly look into it. I think generally speaking, until we know the specific facts surrounding the case and the allegations against these individuals, it would be premature for us to speak about it.

QUESTION: Okay. It’s not only these two individuals. It is actually an accelerated effort to arrest journalists, Palestinian journalists, all throughout the occupied territories. So perhaps you could also look into that.

MR TONER: We’ll certainly take a look at it.

QUESTION: I also have a question about a Palestinian astrophysicist that was arrested on his way to Jordan, Imad Barghouthi. He’s a U.S.-trained – in fact taught at U.S. universities, worked on a NASA program and so on.


QUESTION: Could you look into that?

MR TONER: We sure will. I don’t have – I mean, I also would encourage you to speak to the Israeli authorities about his arrest.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. So – okay. Well, then let me go on to another topic.


QUESTION: Today a Palestinian young woman, 23 years old, and her 16-year-old brother were shot, and even if you take the Israeli narrative, the Israeli side of the story saying that they were coming towards the checkpoint and then they turned back, but they were shot dead – I mean, would you consider that to be excessive use of force? I mean, the young woman was pumped with 15 bullets. And even the Israeli spokeswoman said that they were going back, and apparently they mistook the road. I mean, they were – they got on the motorway instead of the pathway through the checkpoint. Do you have any comment on that? Is that an excessive use of force?

MR TONER: Well, we’ve seen the reports and obviously we’re gathering more information about the incident and looking at the various accounts. We remain concerned about ongoing violence. We continue to urge both sides, all sides, to restore calm, reduce tensions, and to end the violence. In terms of use of excessive force, of course that’s always a message that we convey in these kinds of cases. We certainly support the right of Israeli security forces to defend Israeli lives, but they should always show moderation in terms of use of excessive force, or use of force in general. We’ll look into this particular case and try to get more facts about it.


QUESTION: I have several on Ukraine, and this is in reference to Assistant Secretary Nuland’s trip. First of all, if you could clarify a couple of things that she said in a speech today. One was that it’s time to start locking up people who have ripped off the Ukrainian population for too long, and time to end the corruption. Can you elaborate on who she’s referring to there, and has the U.S. been encouraging the Ukrainian Government to prosecute corrupt individuals?

MR TONER: Well, we’ve certainly been, as we do in many countries but specifically with respect to Ukraine, we’ve certainly been encouraging the Ukrainian Government to combat what has – had become or has become pervasive corruption over the past years. I think the Ukrainian people, frankly, and those who protested on the Maidan demanded that as well. And so – and frankly, the government has tried to pass reforms, has tried to go after some of these corrupt individuals, and that work continues. So I think it was simply – she was simply highlighting the fact that corruption continues to be a major concern to average Ukrainians who are seeking or looking for stronger political institutions, and that includes law enforcement and stronger attempts to really bring that corruption under control. Again, these are I think aspirations that they have expressed since the Maidan in attempting to build stronger democratic institutions within Ukraine.

QUESTION: She also said that one of the decisions made at Hanover is the U.S. will now accelerate its own diplomacy in close coordination with the Normandy format leaders, with Germany and France, to see Minsk implemented. What did she mean by that?

MR TONER: Well, as you said, she said one of the decisions made at Hanover was that they’re going to accelerate their own diplomacy in close coordination, as you note, with the Normandy Format leaders to see Minsk implemented – implemented, rather. And this means restoring security and fundamentally – or one of the fundamental parts of that is OSCE access across the Donbas, the return of hostages, preparations for Ukrainian elections in Donbas that meet international standards and that are in accord with the Ukrainian constitution, and then, of course, the withdrawal of all heavy weaponry and foreign forces. And the ultimate goal here is to restore Ukraine’s border and sovereignty. These are all parts of the Minsk agreement that have yet to be fulfilled. And so I think she’s simply – was stating that we, the United States, working within the Normandy Format, are going to redouble our efforts to move that process forward.

QUESTION: And then a couple more if I can.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: First of all, regarding the elections in Donbas, is the U.S. pushing for the elections to be held by July?

MR TONER: Fair question. I don’t have a specific timeframe or date. I’m sure she spoke to this. I think that our major concern here is that they be held within – or that meet – that they meet, rather, international standards and are in accord with the Ukrainian constitution. If they can be held by July, as long as they meet those requirements, then I think we would welcome that. But those are the fundamental, I think, things we’re looking to see.

QUESTION: Okay, and then last one --


QUESTION: -- concerning Minsk. Is the U.S. insisting on a sequence in which Russia has to first meet its obligations and then Ukraine – secondly, Ukraine would then have to do its part?

MR TONER: No, I mean, I – look, all along we’ve said that both sides need to fulfill the commitments that they made under Minsk. We have seen and we’ve talked about the fact that Ukraine has made some serious steps and serious progress on meeting its own commitments with regard to Minsk. We’ve yet to see the separatists, the Russian-backed separatists, take those same steps. And again, some of the things I’ve just outlined, which are continued violations of the ceasefire along – or along the ceasefire line; frankly, the presence of Russian troops still in eastern Ukraine – again, these are all things that need to be addressed by the separatists and by Russia in order to fulfill their Minsk commitments.

So I don’t know if we’re – I wouldn’t say necessarily we’re looking for a tit-for-tat kind of exchange here. I think we’re looking for progress on both sides. We have seen the Ukrainian Government make progress. We’ve not seen that same level of progress by the separatists and by Russia.

QUESTION: Can I go to Iran?


QUESTION: I’ve got a couple. One is that for the last month there’s been all sorts of talk around town about how Treasury, in coordination with State, would be moving to ease or clarify rules having to do with transactions with Iran. The Administration has said repeatedly over and over not to expect anything in terms of new access for Iran to the financial system or direct access to U.S. dollars. Secretary Kerry met on Friday with Foreign Minister Zarif (inaudible). Well, just minutes ago – at 2:39, according to my phone – the Treasury Department released new FAQs on doing business with Iran, so my – which seek to clarify the rules. So I want to know: Is this something that was worked out with Secretary Kerry and Secretary Zarif? I realize this is a Treasury issue, but did he tell Foreign Minister Zarif that this was going to be coming when they met on Friday?

MR TONER: Matt, I wasn’t in New York. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t inside the room when they met. I think if I had to characterize it, I mean, the Secretary was very clear that we were going to continue to meet our obligations under the JCPOA and make clear or set forth as clearly as possible to foreign banks and other businesses interested in doing business with Iran what they could do or what they had to do in terms of complying with existing sanctions. So this sounds like that’s in that vein.

QUESTION: Well, okay – wait.

MR TONER: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m just asking because Treasury doesn’t do a briefing --

MR TONER: No, of course. It’s okay.

QUESTION: -- and so I want to ask here. But I want to know if this is it. Is there more coming in terms of trying to ease the fears of foreign businesses and the Iranians or --

MR TONER: So nothing --


MR TONER: Sure. Nothing specifically to announce, but of course we’re going to continue to, as we’ve said, consult with foreign governments, foreign banks, as well as other financial institutions and try to, as I said, just clarify what the rules are.

QUESTION: The second one on Iran has to do with this – Senator Cotton --


QUESTION: -- has put an amendment in some bill – I can’t remember what it is exactly – but that would stop or prevent the Administration from buying this heavy water from – your colleague at the White House said that the President would veto it – the bill if it got to him with this language in it. And he said that it was an ideological amendment – I can’t remember what his exact words – ideological provision.

MR TONER: I think he said “oppose ideological policy riders,” is the --

QUESTION: Got you.

MR TONER: You can quote Josh.

QUESTION: Ideological policy riders.


QUESTION: And then your – he also noted that Senator Cotton – or had – he said that Senator Cotton is doing everything he can, or has vowed to do everything he can to try and stop the implementation of the nuclear deal. My question is this: Does the nuclear deal require the United States to buy Iran’s excess heavy water?

MR TONER: No, I don’t believe it does.


MR TONER: I mean, I think this was just a, frankly, a – if I could put it this way – it was a win-win. I mean, we needed heavy water and we were able to buy it off of them as an outcome or a byproduct or whatever from the nuclear deal – the fact that they had this heavy water on hand to sell in the international market.

QUESTION: Right, but what I’m asking about is --

MR TONER: But I don’t believe – no, I don’t believe it’s – I certainly don’t believe --

QUESTION: Right. I mean, if he --

MR TONER: My understanding is that it’s not incumbent on --

QUESTION: So if this bill were to become legislation and the President didn’t veto it, Iran could still sell its heavy – excess heavy water elsewhere, right?

MR TONER: That’s my understanding, yes.

QUESTION: So how is this – how is this – how does the Administration make it the case that this is an ideological attempt by Senator Cotton to destroy --


QUESTION: -- the JCPOA if, in fact, it doesn’t? I mean, you – the United States would not be violating its end of the deal if it did not buy Iran’s excess heavy water, right?

MR TONER: Sure. Again, I think that – and again, without – I’ll – I mean, Josh certainly and the White House can speak for – speak to this issue better than I can but --

QUESTION: Yeah. They can, but I don’t think that they got that question that I’m asking you right now.

MR TONER: No, no, that’s okay. I think that – no, no, that’s okay.

QUESTION: Maybe they did and I missed it. But my question is: How can the Administration say – I mean, maybe it is his intent to try and destroy – do everything he can to destroy it. But – the deal. But preventing the Administration from buying Iran’s heavy water does not mean that – make Iran – make the United States in violation of the JCPOA, right?

MR TONER: My understanding is it is not required under the JCPOA.

QUESTION: Okay. So where is this argument coming from?

MR TONER: So I am again conjecturing that I think that the idea is that Iran does have this byproduct from its implementation of the JCPOA and that it – if it is prevented from selling this heavy water on the open market to some countries, such as the United States --

QUESTION: But this doesn’t prevent it from – this doesn’t prevent it --

MR TONER: -- no, I said just the United States – that it would be a hindrance to it complying with the JCPOA. But I don’t have any more detail to provide.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, there are many other countries that are --

MR TONER: There are other – there are other buyers.

QUESTION: -- possible purchasers of --

MR TONER: There are. I don’t have any more detail.

QUESTION: Sir, I have --

QUESTION: So this would – so this is – so that argument is not correct? It’s not rooted in fact, right?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to speak to whether it’s --

QUESTION: Sir, I have a question --

QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria?

QUESTION: I have a follow-up on that. Has that transaction yet, which I believe briefers said last would take a couple of weeks --

MR TONER: I think it is taking a couple of weeks, yeah. I think I have --

QUESTION: So it has not yet been consummated?

MR TONER: It hasn’t arrived in Oak Ridge yet, which I believe was its ultimate destination.

QUESTION: Right, but my question is less whether it’s arrived there --

MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- but – sure, no – but whether the transaction has been consummated – in other words, whether you’ve taken delivery of it wherever and you’ve paid the Iranians for it.

MR TONER: I don’t believe that’s taken place yet.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria? Back to Syria a little bit?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Let me just go back for a minute to the White Helmets.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Do they operate in, let’s say, rebel-controlled areas freely? I mean, do they move about in that area? Are they just targeted by the regime or --

MR TONER: So my understanding is that – sure. My understanding is that, like I said, like many of these humanitarian organizations that operate in that environment --


MR TONER: -- that operate in that environment --


MR TONER: -- that they cross lines. So if it’s Nusrah-held territory, they will go in the Nusrah-held territory, again, to help civilians, to aid civilians in the aftermath of attacks. And so, again, I don’t know beyond that that they – but they do move within the various factions on the ground certainly around Aleppo.

QUESTION: And to the best of your knowledge, are there any other government or groups that are aiding them beside USAID?

MR TONER: That’s a good question. I don’t have that in front of me. I can take that question.

QUESTION: Okay. And on the --

MR TONER: We’ll get more detail for you on that.

QUESTION: Okay. On the negotiations that are ongoing, Mr. de Mistura said yesterday that actually there seems to be, like, some movement or positive movement between the groups and there seem to be the opposition that is supported by Russia, that it seems to – sort of getting its act together and they’re trying to coalesce with the others. Can you update us on what is happening on that score?

MR TONER: Well, I don’t have a lot to add. Obviously, as you mentioned, U.S. – UN Special Envoy de Mistura is going to – or he is actually going to brief the Security Council later today, and I believe he, after that, is going to have a statement to the press and take some questions. So we look forward to his assessment.

We did talk about that last week that he did say this round of talks did progress in the fact that it got beyond issues of process and logistics and actually put the subject of political transition front – sort of front and center in the talks, and he viewed that legitimately as progress. So he was encouraged by that. I think that – I’m referring back to his comments, I think, last Friday. We still don’t have a date for the restart of talks. We obviously want to see the parties get back to Geneva as quickly as possible, but as we said yesterday – as I said yesterday, the security situation and the fragility of the cessation of hostilities right now on the ground is a strong – strongly hinders that from – that process from moving forward because the opposition, rightly so, is asking, well, how it can participate in talks in Geneva when its forces are coming under attack.

So what we need to see at the same – we need to see very soon is the ceasefire, the – all sides that are party to the cessation of hostilities to restrain from ongoing combat or ongoing actions against other groups, most of what we’d seen, as we talked about with the regime carrying out airstrikes and carrying out other strikes against opposition groups. So we need to see all sides refrain from further action. We need to see the cessation of hostilities regain traction, if you will, and then we can get the Geneva talks back on track.

QUESTION: Mark, have you seen --


QUESTION: -- Michael’s – Michael Ratney’s statement on the cessation?

MR TONER: I have seen Michael Ratney’s statement.

QUESTION: What’s the main message? Is he calling the Syrian opposition groups to fight al-Nusrah groups or to leave their positions and go far from al-Nusrah’s positions?

MR TONER: No, I don’t think he was – I think --

QUESTION: What’s the main message?

MR TONER: Sure, sure, that’s – it’s a fair question. I think he was trying to speak to the fact that there was the misperception among some of these opposition groups that we were somehow trying to paint Aleppo as under – that some of these opposition groups were in league with al-Nusrah and other terrorist organizations. And I think he was simply trying to clarify to these groups – and it was a statement in Arabic, as you note, with the intended audience being the Syrian opposition – to just clarify the fact that Aleppo is not under the exclusive control of Nusrah. And there is the perception, and certainly this is something that the Syrian regime and the Russians have supported, that Aleppo is under Nusrah control; therefore, they can simply attack it, and they’re going after known terrorist organizations.

So what he’s trying to clarify there is that is not our belief. Nusrah does control areas of Aleppo without doubt, but there are parts of Nusrah – of Aleppo, rather, that are controlled by those groups that are party to the cessation of hostilities. And so I think that was the major point he was trying to make – to clarify to those groups that we do not have the same or share the same assessment that it’s under Nusrah’s control.

QUESTION: But didn’t he call these groups to fight al-Nusrah or to leave their positions and be --

MR TONER: He said they need to – he said, and I’m quoting here, “The Syrian people and revolutionary factions must continue to reject terrorism in all its forms and distance themselves from the terrorists to the maximum degree possible.”

QUESTION: What does he mean by that – by that phrase that --

MR TONER: Well, I think – I mean, look, what I think he means is that given the fact that the regime is, frankly, looking for excuses to lump all of these groups together under the flag of Nusrah, if you will, that these groups need to very clearly delineate their differences and their separation from Nusrah. And look, we’ve talked about this before, and the Secretary’s spoken to this, is – and frankly, it’s a huge challenge for us when you’re dealing with a situation like Aleppo – is you’ve got a group here, you’ve got another group here, al-Nusrah on the ground, there needs to be a clear delineation between the groups so that you don’t have a Syrian opposition party that is party to the cessation of hostilities being hit by the same airstrikes that might be hitting al-Nusrah.

QUESTION: Last question for me on Syria.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Russia has proposed placing Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham on the UN sanctions list for ISIL. Do you agree with them?

MR TONER: No, we think that that would have damaging consequences to the cessation, and frankly, at a moment when we’re trying to make sure that it’s – we’re trying to de-escalate the situation on the ground. This has been something they have raised before. They’ve – it’s two opposition groups – Jaysh al-Islam, as you note, and Ahrar al-Sham. And they want to try to designate these groups that, frankly, are right now party to the cessation of hostilities. So we don’t want to see that happen. We don’t believe that that’s constructive.

QUESTION: But they are targeting them in Aleppo and elsewhere.

MR TONER: I agree, and that’s why they need to refrain from targeting these groups that are parties to the cessation of hostilities, and we call on them to do so.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I ask you on more on Russia and Syria?

QUESTION: I have --

MR TONER: Of course. Yeah, of course. I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: These seems to – there’s some criticism coming from the Russian foreign ministry concerning the U.S. plans to put the additional troops in Syria, basically saying that the U.S. does not have, quote-unquote, “permission” for these troops to be there. Is there any effort underway to address these concerns that are being presented by Russia?

MR TONER: By “permission,” they mean international --

QUESTION: Syria – consent from Syria.

MR TONER: From the Syrian Government?


MR TONER: I mean, look, we’ve talked about this before. We have the – we do believe we have the legal authority to use military force against ISIL in Syria. We have the 2002 AUMF that’s still in place that we feel strongly provides for – or provides the legal authority, rather, for military operations against ISIL both in Iraq and in Syria. The President has made efforts to encourage Congress to pass a new AUMF, the authorization for the use of military force – forgive me for using an acronym – and that really is up to Congress to take on that task. But we believe the current one passed in 2001 does cover us --


MR TONER: -- and provides justification.

QUESTION: I don’t – that’s --

MR TONER: Is that not what she was asking?


MR TONER: Or what are you asking me?

QUESTION: Look, this is not a new – this is not a new --

MR TONER: It sure isn’t.

QUESTION: -- position of – from the Russians and this is not a new explanation from you guys, but that – what you’re referring to is a U.S. law.

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: It doesn’t have universal application. You guys say it does, but what the Russian point is here is that you do – don’t have permission from the Syrian Government nor do you have authorization from the UN Security Council, which would be the two ways that they say that such an operation would be legitimate or legal. That’s correct, is it not?

MR TONER: So what we have said in response is that --

QUESTION: I mean, that’s like saying because --

MR TONER: -- we’re using – but we’re using force – no, no, I understand what you’re saying, Matt. I’m giving you the --

QUESTION: That’s like me – if I’m from Delaware and I say that, “Well, my state has no sales tax,” so I go to New York and I’m going to say, “Well, you know what? I’m going to play by Delaware’s rules and I’m not going to give you your sales tax.”

MR TONER: So in response to that --


MR TONER: -- we have notified the Security Council that we are taking action consistent with Article 51 of the UN Charter, and more broadly speaking, we’ve said that our actions are using force against ISIL and al-Qaida in Syria in the collective self-defense of Iraq and in the U.S. national self-defense. We’re doing so as the Syrian regime has shown it is incapable and possesses neither the will nor the capability to confront these terrorist groups effectively.

QUESTION: But – well, you’re complaining about them confronting them right now.

MR TONER: Matt, we both know what --

QUESTION: Okay, but I mean --

MR TONER: We can argue that one too. I mean, welcome – welcome to --

QUESTION: No, I don’t want to argue it. I just --

MR TONER: No, what we’re --

QUESTION: You’re – no, my question is --


QUESTION: So you’ve told the Security Council that you’re doing this under Article 51.


QUESTION: And that’s – and that, according to you guys, is the --

MR TONER: Yeah, legal basis --

QUESTION: Okay. That and the AUMF.



QUESTION: Armenian armed forces have once again --

MR TONER: I’m sorry, I missed just the first part of your question. I apologize.

QUESTION: Armenia.

MR TONER: Armenia, okay.

QUESTION: Armed forces have once again broke a ceasefire in the front line for the last two days. As one of the member states of the Minsk Group, how is the attitude of the United States towards sabotage?

MR TONER: Well, look, we’ve seen the fragile ceasefire put in place. We were encouraged initially that it appeared to be holding, but obviously tensions remain on the ground. The Secretary has reached out to leaders of both countries, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Our chairman of the Minsk Group – co-chair, rather – has visited the region. We have remained in contact with both governments, all sides in this conflict, and our message has been consistent, which is that we condemn in the strongest possible terms any violence along the Nagorno-Karabakh line of conflict and we need to see the peace process back up and running and as soon as possible. There is no military solution to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Thanks, all.

QUESTION: Oh, wait.

QUESTION: One more? I have one more.

MR TONER: Oh. No, wait.


MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: Just one more on North Korea.

MR TONER: Trying to sneak it in there at the end. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: North Korea announced that the Workers’ Party Congress will be held on May 6th, next Friday.


QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Blinken said in a Senate Foreign Relations hearing this morning that there may be another missile test or nuclear test around this date. Is this your expectation?

MR TONER: You said – I was watching Deputy Secretary Blinken’s testimony. You said – but you said – what did you say? He said he --

QUESTION: He said that there might be another missile test or nuclear test around that date.

MR TONER: Well, yes. Yeah, no, okay. Well, look, I mean – and I spoke to this a little bit yesterday, and obviously the Republic of Korea – the president spoke to this as well, is that we continue to be concerned about the possibility of ongoing missile tests from the DPRK, from North Korea. The fact that there’s this major event coming up, as we’ve seen in the past, that the regime often uses these events or wants to showcase their capabilities, I guess. So yes, it is a concern, a very real one.

QUESTION: I have one --

QUESTION: One more. I don’t think you were asked about Trump --


QUESTION: -- at the start, which I missed. Are you willing to comment on any aspect of Trump’s speech regarding U.S. foreign policy?

MR TONER: I mean, not really. Thanks for the opportunity. I mean, he is a candidate for the President of the United States, and he, as a candidate for the President of the United States, is perfectly free to express his viewpoint on foreign policy and what he would – his foreign policy would look like.

QUESTION: Even not – even people who aren’t candidates for President of the United States --

MR TONER: Exactly right.

QUESTION: -- are free to do that, but --

MR TONER: Thank you, Matt, for clarifying that. No, but I’m just saying I don’t have anything to parse about – out of his speech, no.

QUESTION: Well, let me ask you on one point --

MR TONER: Yes sir, of course.

QUESTION: -- that he mentioned. He said that you’re basically giving your partners in the Middle East a free ride, and in fact that you are not naming the enemy. He says you need to name the enemy to defeat it, and he said that enemy is radical Islam. You have any comment on that?

MR TONER: I mean, we --

QUESTION: This is not a term that the Administration has used.

MR TONER: I mean, I – honestly, I --

QUESTION: Why do you shy away from using it? I’m just asking.

MR TONER: Again, what our enemy is or who our enemy is in the Middle East – or, frankly, not just the Middle East – is the bankrupt ideology of ISIL/Daesh and the threat of extremism around the world and the kind of insidious infiltration or influence that that kind of extremism has on people in Europe and other countries. We’ve seen ISIS or ISIL attempt to extend its tentacles into other countries in the region. I couldn’t imagine how we could possibly be more clear in our expression of concern and determination to defeat and destroy that enemy. And so I would express confusion at his comments in that regard.

QUESTION: This is not about that. It’s about Bahrain. Not so long ago, the Secretary was there – was that 10 days, two weeks ago?

MR TONER: Gosh, it seems longer than that, but sure. You’re right.

QUESTION: Anyway, he – right; it was a --

MR TONER: It all blurs, but yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- it wasn’t extremely recent.


QUESTION: And while he was there, the foreign minister – the Bahraini foreign minister – talked about the case of this woman who’s been detained, Zainab al-Khawaja, and said that she would be soon granted bail. And I’m just wondering if you followed up on that. Has she been, in fact, released?

MR TONER: Let me follow up on that case, because I remember that, and we have been watching that case closely. So let me get back to you on that. Okay?


MR TONER: Thanks, Matt. Thanks, guys.

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

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 04/26/2016 - 18:10

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

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:22 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Welcome, everyone, to the State Department. Happy Tuesday. Just a few things at the top and then I’ll get to your questions.

First of all, I did want to introduce – with World Press Freedom less than a week away, the department is launching its fifth annual Free the Press Campaign. And beginning today and over the course of the next six days we’re going to highlight emblematic cases of reporters from around the world who are imprisoned, harassed, and otherwise targeted for doing their jobs, just by reporting the news.

To mark the fifth anniversary, the department will highlight journalists and media outlets that we have identified in previous years that were censored, attacked, threatened, imprisoned, or otherwise oppressed because of their reporting whose situations have not yet improved. And we’re going to spotlight these various cases in three ways: one, by raising them from behind the podium at the top of each daily press briefing; two, by spotlighting them on and social media; and then third, by using the hashtag #freethepress to spread the word and message on Twitter.

And the campaign’s goal is straightforward. It’s to call the world’s attention to the plight of these reporters and to call on governments to protect and promote the right to promote – to – let me do that again – call on governments to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression.

For our first case for World Press Freedom Day, we’d like to highlight Jose Antonia Torres, who’s a journalist for Granma, the official communist daily newspaper in Cuba. And he was arrested on February of 2011, after Granma published his report on the mismanagement of a public works project in Santiago de Cuba, and subsequently sentenced to 14 years in prison for allegedly spying.

This is the kind of reporting that promotes transparency and makes government accountable to its people. We take this opportunity to call on the Government of Cuba to release him. You can learn more about this case and others involved in Free the Press on our website, again,

I know John got the question yesterday. We did want to note and congratulate the people of Serbia on holding national, provincial, and local elections on April 24th, and the OSCE international observer mission and the U.S. embassy observers assessed that election day procedures were conducted in accordance with the law.

Through this election, the Serbian people have expressed a clear support for Serbia’s path toward further integration with Europe, so we look forward to continuing our close work with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and his government on efforts to reach this goal, including justice reform, the normalization of relations with Kosovo, regional reconciliation, and on strengthening, of course, bilateral relations between the United States and Serbia.

And then lastly – apologize for all this at the top, but one last item. It’s on South Sudan. The return of Riek Machar to Juba and his swearing-in as first vice president today represents an important step towards formation of a transitional government of national unity and a second chance to reclaim the promise that this young nation deserves. We welcome the statements by President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar calling for cooperation, reconciliation, and peaceful coexistence.

South Sudan’s leaders now need to complete formation of the transitional government, fully respect the permanent ceasefire agreement, facilitate humanitarian access to all areas of the country, and begin implementing the reform agenda of the peace agreement according to the timeline established by the parties. We express our appreciation to the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission Chairperson President Festus Mogae as – of the African Union, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, and the member-states of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development for their efforts to support the implementation of the August peace agreement.

Over to you, Brad.

QUESTION: I wanted to – I think we’ll maybe get back to South Sudan, but I wanted to ask you about the reports out of Korea that the North is prepared for a fifth nuclear test. One, does this square up with your understanding of the activity in North Korea right now? Two, what is your message to the North as it considers undertaking this?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, obviously we’re closely monitoring the situation on the ground, on the Korean peninsula to be more specific, in coordination with our regional allies. I mean, in terms of President Park’s specific comments, I would refer you to him and to the Government of Korea.

But specifically, you asked what is our assessment. I mean, we have seen a pattern here over the past several weeks. I believe just last week, on April 23rd, we had another missile launch or attempted missile launch by North Korea. So we take these kinds of threats or comments very seriously. We call on North Korea to refrain from actions that further destabilize the region and focus on what it needs to do, which is take concrete steps toward fulfilling its commitments and its obligations to denuclearize. The United States remains steadfast in its commitment to the security of the peninsula and to its allies, the defense of its allies, and we’re going to continue to coordinate with Japan, with South Korea, and our other allies and partners.

QUESTION: What is the consequence that you’re laying out for North Korea if they go ahead and do this?

MR TONER: Well, we did pass, just a month or so ago, really the most stringent set of sanctions that we’ve ever had in place before on North Korea, obviously – which is always the case with sanctions. The real punch, if you will, comes with implementation and stringent implementation of those sanctions. And so we’re working to, in fact, implement those to make sure that North Korea feels them – the regime in North Korea.

QUESTION: But you’re going to do that anyways.

MR TONER: Exactly.

QUESTION: So what’s the --

MR TONER: I don’t have anything further to announce. I mean, you obviously saw last week we did – when the DPRK foreign minister was in New York, we restricted his movements right after the previous missile launch. That was partly out of an abundance of caution, given the circumstances of his trip. But we’re going to look at other options as we move forward if North Korea continues with this kind of behavior.


MR TONER: Yeah. Sure, Michel. Iraq it is.

QUESTION: Do you have any (inaudible) the partial cabinet reshuffle today and the demonstrations by the followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr?

MR TONER: Well, I’ll start with the protests. And we obviously – we support the Iraqi people’s freedom of expression and assembly, just so long as these are peaceful protests. Peaceful protests are an integral part of a functioning democracy, and it is our understanding that, up till now, these protests have been, in fact, peaceful. Moving forward, the security for the international zone is the Government’s of Iraq’s responsibility, so they can probably answer best any further questions about security around these protests. But we obviously support the Iraqi people’s right to express themselves nonviolently.

In terms of the cabinet reshuffle, I’d obviously refer you to the Government of Iraq to comment on the specifics. But Secretary Kerry said when he was in Baghdad just a few weeks ago that it’s important to have political stability, to have a unified and functioning government as rapidly as possible, in order to move forward so that Iraq’s efforts to combat and defeat ISIL are not affected and not interrupted. So we urge all parties to work in tandem and work together to move the political process forward in ways that advance the interests and the aspirations of the Iraqi people and in accordance with the Iraqi constitution.


MR TONER: Yeah, sure.


MR TONER: It’s fine. Let’s stay on Iraq.

QUESTION: No, I wanted to go back to North Korea.

QUESTION: Actually --

MR TONER: Is that – no, I don’t know how that – we usually – let’s finish with Iraq and then I’ll come back to North Korea for you. Thanks.

Yeah, man.

QUESTION: About – thanks, Mark. Regarding Muqtada al-Sadr --


QUESTION: -- is there any concern at this point in this building about his influence in Iraq? On multiple occasions in the last three months, he’s been able to swiftly get well over 100,000 people into the streets of Baghdad. He’s also overseeing one of the more influential and successful Shia militias in the country in the fight against the Islamic State. He seems to have reemerged as a major player there. I wonder if you can comment on that and whether that’s a good thing or are there concerns here.

MR TONER: Well, I think, just answering your last question first, I mean, it’s a perfectly fine thing, as long as he wants to be a part of the political process and not work against it. I would just – you’re certainly right that he is able to still wield tremendous influence within Iraq. That’s clear by these current protests. And again, as we often say about these kinds of environments is that, if you’re willing to quote/unquote “play by the rules” and be a voice for positive change within a society, then that is part of the democratic process and we support that. So certainly we, again, recognize his influence. We recognize that he’s still an influential figure in Iraq, but we just encourage that his influence remain, as I said, positive and peaceful.

QUESTION: Is there some indication that it’s not at this point?

MR TONER: No, I just – I mean, look – I mean, just in the past we’ve had concerns. And going forward --

QUESTION: We actually had a target on his head for a few years.

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: And he was – I don't know if he was ever indicted --

MR TONER: I’m not sure about that either. But all I’m saying is --

QUESTION: But his forces at one time were at war with U.S. forces occupying Iraq.

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: I know that was a long time ago.

MR TONER: No, I understand that. That’s why – and partly – that’s part of my caveat. I mean, that’s why I say what I say, is that I think as Iraq evolves politically there is, in many countries that are evolving politically, an opportunity for some of these individuals to transition, if you will. But we view always this transition with caution.

QUESTION: Another on Iraq?

MR TONER: Yeah. Please, let’s stay on Iraq.

QUESTION: There was some confrontation between the Shia militias and the Iraqi Security Forces and the Peshmerga in Diyala. Do you have anything on that?

MR TONER: I don’t. I – well, I mean, a little bit. We don’t have much details. We’ve been obviously watching it closely. There have been ongoing, I believe, skirmishes between Kurdish Peshmerga forces and these, as you said, the Popular Mobilization Forces in the northern Iraq town of – forgive me, I’m going to mispronounce it, but Tuz Khurmatu. Both these forces have played important roles, frankly, against – in the fight against Daesh. When we view this kind of infighting, to put it that way, we view it with concern, because we obviously want to see the focus on the real enemy in Iraq, which is Daesh. And Iraqis forces, whether it’s Peshmerga, whether it’s Popular Mobilization Forces, need to stay united.

QUESTION: Can we go back to North Korea?

MR TONER: We can go back to North Korea.

QUESTION: I just want to pick up on what you said earlier about the U.S. will consider other options if North Korea does go ahead with the next missile launch. What other options are you talking about? Were you specifically talking about the high-altitude area defense mechanisms --



MR TONER: Well, I mean – THAAD you’re talking about. I mean, look, that’s – those are ongoing consultations that we’re having with the Republic of Korea. We’re committed to the defense of the peninsula. I don’t have anything particular to announce. We’re always looking at, as I said, strengthening our sanctions. We did a big lift in that regard at the UN. But I think it’s pretty clear that as North Korea continues to make decisions that we believe are counterproductive, that we’ve got to also continually look at what our options are in terms of response and – both, one, to ensure the security and safety of our allies and protect the peninsula – security of the peninsula, but also to make every effort that – to convince North Korea to come back to serious discussions about its program.

QUESTION: So you’re talking about options other than sanctions when you said “other options”?

MR TONER: I don’t want to – again, I’m not – I don’t want to get in front of any processes that are – or any discussions that we’re having. I’ll – I just don’t have anything to announce at this point.

QUESTION: So you are --

MR TONER: We’re always looking at --

QUESTION: So you are considering options other than sanctions?

MR TONER: I mean, again, we talked about THAAD --


MR TONER: -- and I don’t want to, again, lean too far forward on this, just only to emphasize that our concerns here and our aim here is twofold: again, how do we put additional pressure on North Korea to come back to the table, so to speak; and then secondly, how do we ensure that our allies are protected?

QUESTION: Go to Syria?

MR TONER: We can go to Syria. I’m happy to go to --

QUESTION: Can we stay on (inaudible)?

MR TONER: Oh yeah, I’m sorry. I apologize. Sorry, David.

QUESTION: Hello. Last week, Deputy Secretary Blinken was just in Asia, and then he had a – he said in Tokyo, quote, “We are certainly looking at what additional steps could be taken in the event of further provocation from North Korea, including another nuclear test,” unquote. So after he said that, we see another test from the North Korea. Could you elaborate, what other steps are you considering?

MR TONER: Well, again, I didn’t elaborate in my answer to Lesley because – (laughter) – and she was kind enough not to push me too hard on it. But --

QUESTION: I mean, when you say other “other” --

MR TONER: No, I understand what the point is. I just – I mean, we don’t want to announce anything before it’s been fully formed and fully vetted, except to say the fact that we always are consulting with our allies and partners in the region and fellow members of the Six-Party Talks about ways we can increase pressure on North Korea. There’s a number of ways to do that. I mean, you all know the various means. One, obviously, are sanctions; one are increased security measures. But I don’t have anything particular to announce at this point.

QUESTION: What else can be done? I mean, in your estimation, do you think China is losing its influence or leverage, or what else can be done?

MR TONER: Well, that’s – that’s for the pundits to debate. We have been very clear in our discussions with China that they need to exert whatever influence they have on North Korea. They have, as you know, historically had a measure of influence on the regime in North Korea. To date or recently, we have seen actions on the part of the North Korean regime that appear to indicate that that’s – again, that it’s under no one’s influence or that it’s acting on its own accord. That’s of concern, obviously, to us. It’s of concern to China. It’s of concern to other partners and allies in the region. So I think we’re all looking at how do we convince North Korea through various means and methods that it needs to address seriously the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program.

QUESTION: But Mark, it does sound like – I mean, you keep repeating and it keeps bringing up more questions, because you’re saying you don’t want to announce anything before it’s been fully vetted. So there --

MR TONER: I’m just – I sorry, I’m not trying to --

QUESTION: There seems to be other --


QUESTION: There seems to be some plan that seems to be in an advanced stage.

MR TONER: Again, I do not want to indicate that there’s some kind of – we’re about to pull the curtain off of a brand new plan or approach to North Korea. All I’m simply saying is that when we talk to our allies and partners, when we look at the problem of North Korea, we’re looking at different ways to approach it. Deputy Secretary Blinken spoke to this last week, as Nike noted. I don’t have anything to announce, and it would be irresponsible for me to announce anything before it was – that’s what I meant by fully vetted or fully --


QUESTION: Syria, then. The --

MR TONER: Well, let’s go to Syria and then I’ll go back to Japan.

QUESTION: Yeah. The President said over the weekend that the cessation of hostilities needed to be reinstated. Is there a cessation of hostilities today?

MR TONER: That’s a very good question. I think in all honesty it has – we recognize that the cessation of hostilities has undergone a number of challenges in the past week or so, especially in and around Aleppo. That said, in other parts of the country it does remain in place, and what I think we need to see moving forward is that the cessation needs to be reinvigorated and solidified, and that’s going to be the focus in our discussions with the other members of the ISSG in the coming days, is to – how can we work with the various parties on the ground – and Kirby spoke to this yesterday – to do just that, to get them to pull back, to get them to restrain themselves, and to get them to abide by the cessation of hostilities. But without doubt, it’s been severely weakened over the last week or so, especially, as I said, in and around Aleppo.

QUESTION: Do you – but do you consider that the cessation of hostilities is holding in some places but not in others?

MR TONER: I mean, it’s our assessment – again, and I’m not --

QUESTION: What point in the war has every place in the country been under attack simultaneously? I don’t understand the notion that --

MR TONER: Yeah, I --

QUESTION: -- you can’t attack every place at the same time simultaneously --

MR TONER: I understand what – I --

QUESTION: -- so you can never have the cessation of hostilities broken ever --

MR TONER: No, that’s --

QUESTION: -- by that definition.

MR TONER: No. And nor, Brad, have we ever said that this is a 100 percent legitimate ceasefire. I think what we have said is that we – and we saw and credibly report that there was a significant cessation of hostilities. I think we talked about 70 percent reduction in violence in the country. Again, I – you’re right in the sense that you can never have or we have not had a full cessation of hostilities. We never had that since this came into play, but with that 70 percent reduction, it allowed Syrians to live more safely and allowed humanitarian aid to get to --


MR TONER: -- some of these places that have been besieged. So all in all, it’s been a good thing and we want to see --

QUESTION: And now that – and now that the violence is back up, do you still consider this – I mean, what point does the cessation of hostilities have to (inaudible) --

MR TONER: No, no. But my point is – I understand what you’re – I understand your question. I guess my --

QUESTION: -- for you to consider it broken?

MR TONER: I guess my point to Dave was we’re just saying that it’s not – it has not broken down all across the country, that – but that especially we have seen a degradation – I don’t know how else to put it – in and around Aleppo where there has been a sharp increase in violations and in fighting.

QUESTION: But you consider --

QUESTION: The regime has chosen Aleppo as its --

MR TONER: But I don’t think we’re ready to --

QUESTION: You consider it a living --

MR TONER: No, I don’t think we’re ready to declare the cessation dead.

QUESTION: You consider it a living agreement?


QUESTION: If the opposition were to make any attacks, and actually have made attacks --

MR TONER: We would call on --

QUESTION: -- you would consider those violations?

MR TONER: We would – yes. And we would call on all sides to show restraint and to abide by the ceasefire – or the cessation, rather.


QUESTION: Yeah, but Aleppo has been – is the city the regime has chosen as its current target. It could choose another one.

MR TONER: It could, that we don’t – I mean, or we can hopefully see a return to restraint, and as I said, an end to the violence. And there’s a, obviously – and we’ve talked about this before – it’s up to the task force and it’s also up to the various parties – Russia, namely – to exert whatever influence it has on the Syrian regime, just as it is on us and other members of the ISSG who have influence on the opposition to ask them to abide by the ceasefire, otherwise it doesn’t hold.

QUESTION: Given that Russia reportedly is involved in some of these attacks by providing air cover and launching airstrikes, who is investigating this reported ceasefire violation? Does that go to the task force of which Russia is co-chairing?

MR TONER: It still goes to the task force, but that task force is made up of all members of the ISSG. There is a process in place.

QUESTION: How do you – how do you – what’s the process for --

MR TONER: I honestly can’t --

QUESTION: Do you ask them to self-investigate themselves? Is that the process?

MR TONER: I would imagine that’s not the case. I think – but again, I don’t --

QUESTION: I wouldn’t be so sure.

MR TONER: Look, Brad, I don’t – I don’t have a window inside. What I understand it to be is that these allegations, credible allegations, are vetted among the various members of the ISSG, and then there’s decided that – what action will be taken. Okay?

QUESTION: Has the --


QUESTION: -- task force to date come up with any certified conclusions about violations and provided adequate response? Has it done anything, essentially? You’ve talked about it a lot, but --

MR TONER: Well – no, no, I understand and it’s a fair question. In terms of whether it has publicly reported or given out a list of, it has not in my understanding.

QUESTION: Has it done it privately?

MR TONER: It has, I believe, vetted these and then, again, approached the culpable parties, I guess, whether it’s the regime or whether it’s opposition forces. Again, we’ve seen the preponderance of these kind of violations on the part of the regime, but that said, what happens is then they are taken – they are – go to these various parties and then they speak to them and try to get them to, again, abide by the cessation of hostilities. And we talked about this – look, this is what it is. I mean, you can --

QUESTION: I just don’t understand what the value of it is.

MR TONER: You can decide tomorrow that if you’re a party to this cessation of hostilities, whether you’re the regime or the opposition --


MR TONER: -- you can decide tomorrow, “The cessation be damned, we’re going to begin fighting again.” Then you clearly are not party to that cessation. It’s self-policing in that sense.

QUESTION: But it seems like they’re doing that anyhow, but they’re just not saying that. So --

MR TONER: I understand your point.

QUESTION: -- you’re left saying, well, we think you’re abiding by – except in the cases you’re not, and we can’t do anything --

MR TONER: I guess, Brad, how I would put it is we’re not ready to declare this thing dead. We believe it is, outside of Aleppo, largely holding. We acknowledge that within Aleppo and around Aleppo that there have been multiple or ongoing instances or incidents that, frankly, cause us grave concern. That’s why we’re trying to coordinate with Russia; that’s why we’re trying to coordinate with other members of the ISSG; and that’s why we’re trying to convey to the parties involved that they need to back off.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: I was looking to change topic, unless somebody has a follow-up on this.

MR TONER: Happily. Yeah, sure. Unless it’s a difficult one, then I don’t want to. No, I’m just – (laughter).

QUESTION: In Bangladesh, Kirby addressed --

MR TONER: Oh yeah. Yes.

QUESTION: -- a question yesterday about whether or not this was considered a terrorist attack or a hate crime, or how you might want to characterize this. And today an al-Qaida affiliate apparently claimed responsibility for the attack. So does that change your description or analysis of what occurred here?

MR TONER: Sure, Justin. So what we have seen is, as you note, a claim of responsibility by Ansar al-Islam, which does identify itself as an al-Qaida affiliate in the Indian subcontinent. And it does state that its attack was motivated out of hatred and out of intolerance against these individuals because of their activism on LGBTI issues, and was directed against the LGBTI community in Bangladesh. We don’t have any reason to believe this was not the case. We don’t, obviously, have any reason to confirm it absolutely at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. And then on something separate: The story in the Daily Caller about Secretary Kerry and wife Teresa Heinz and their offshore investments through Teresa’s trust.


QUESTION: And the allegation here essentially is that the Secretary is taking advantage of tax havens. I’m sure you’ve seen the story.

MR TONER: Sure. I have seen the story.

QUESTION: What would you like to say about it?

MR TONER: Well, I appreciate you raising it, because – and I like the way you framed it, because you noted that he has not, nor has he ever been, a beneficiary of Heinz family and marital trusts. He doesn’t have any offshore investments. He has no decision-making power over these trusts, since they’re entirely controlled by independent trustees. And I think that was completely misconveyed in the story, to be honest. As I said, he is – I would just add that his – all of his finances – as you guys all know in this room, he’s not new to the political world or to the government, so all of his finances are a matter of public record, and he and his family have worked pretty diligently, I think, to ensure complete transparency in that regard.

QUESTION: And it’s safe to assume that the trusts have paid all applicable taxes and are not evading taxes in these over-shore – overseas investments?

MR TONER: That is correct. And again, it’s – all this stuff, as I said, he’s been – I don’t know how to say it more – he’s been thoroughly vetted as a public official, as an Administration official, but also as a politician. And again, all of his – none of these – what the article refers to, none of them are his investments. They’re all controlled by the Heinz family.

QUESTION: None of this – just to be clear --


QUESTION: -- came as a surprise to the State Department or the White House, these --

MR TONER: No, not at all. Not at all.

QUESTION: Yeah. Nobody was alarmed by this?

MR TONER: Not – categorically not at all. Nobody is surprised by it. And only surprised by, as I said, kind of the misleading slant of the story.

QUESTION: And there’s no suggestion here that anything here is immoral or --

MR TONER: No, uh-uh. Or illegal, no.

QUESTION: -- or illegal?

MR TONER: Not at all.

Yeah, please, in the back.

QUESTION: The mayor of Ginowan, Okinawa --


QUESTION: -- was meeting with representatives here in this building today. Do you have a readout of that meeting?

MR TONER: I do, I do. Well, I can confirm that he was here in the State Department today. And he met with the Office of Japanese Affairs Director Joe Young. And in the meeting we did express our gratitude to the people of Okinawa – of Ginowan, rather, apologize – as well as all those on Okinawa for their contributions to the U.S.-Japan alliance and for the warm reception or greeting or – sorry, friendship, rather, that they’ve extended to so many U.S. servicemen and women. And we also underscored that both the U.S. and the Japanese Governments remain committed to the relocation of the Marine Corps base Futenma to Camp Schwab on Henobo Bay – Henoko Bay, rather, excuse me.

QUESTION: Was there a sense of urgency in terms of closing the Futenma facility that was discussed? I mean, because it’s on hold now given the court decision earlier this year or the – abiding by the --

MR TONER: I don’t know if it’s a sense of urgency. I mean, we obviously want to move forward with this project and we’re committed to moving forward with this project, and that remains our position even before the court ruling and certainly now. We believe it’s in the best interests of Japan and we believe it’s supported by the Japanese Government. Now as to, frankly, the local politics, we respect the people of Okinawa, we respect the local government of Okinawa, but those are internal issues for the Japanese Government.


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The mayor is – of Ginowan also demand that they reduce the U.S. military base in Okinawa. So could you tell me what the Japan – the answer that this – his request?

MR TONER: How to answer his request about what? I apologize. I missed just the first part.

QUESTION: He requested that they reduce the U.S. military burden in Okinawa.

MR TONER: In Okinawa?

QUESTION: Yeah. He also – he --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: And he also requested to the --

MR TONER: (Laughter.) That’s my wife.

QUESTION: -- Futenma should be returned as – as soon as possible, so --

MR TONER: You’re talking about – right, whether there was specific discussion about – what, about downsizing – is that what you’re talking about – the military presence?


MR TONER: I’m not sure, frankly, that that came up. I will check. Again, we’re committed with maintaining good relations, obviously, with the local communities on Okinawa, and we certainly listen to them and listen to their concerns and try to address their concerns as best we can to mitigate the impact of our military presence. We’ve done things like aviation relocation out of the training – rather – have relocated that, relocation of assets and to bases not on Okinawa and the return of land and the commitment to early return of additional pieces of land. Those are all kind of steps that we’re – are all steps that we’ve been taking along the way. I’m not sure anything specifically was put forward to that.

Please, sir, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV. Sir, Pakistan has terror suspect Abdul Rehman, a member of al-Qaida who allegedly assisted Ahmed Omar Sheikh in the killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl. Sir, how much you appreciate this arrest? And will United States ask Pakistan to hand over him to --

MR TONER: You’re talking about the arrest of one of the individuals involved in the death of --

QUESTION: Daniel Pearl. Sir, Daniel Pearl, the American --

MR TONER: Oh, Daniel Pearl, yeah. You know what? I – honestly, I apologize. It’s the first time I’m hearing of that news. I mean, obviously, his murder was a terrible act. We condemn it and continue to condemn it as an act of terrorism. So certainly, we would welcome any announcement that there was progress in this case in bringing the perpetrators to justice. I just need more specifics on what exactly happened and whether this was indeed – they found or they’ve arrested the man who was guilty.

QUESTION: Sir, they just announced that U.S. Department of State launched Free the Press campaign to mark the importance of free and independent media. So, sir, if we talk about Pakistan and journalists continue to be targeted by radical groups, Islamist organizations and few others – so how United States watching the situation regarding the free media in Pakistan?

MR TONER: Well, Pakistan obviously has a very free and independent and vital media. It’s absolutely critical to covering culture, politics – politics, rather, and life in Pakistan. And certainly, these individuals are under threat – we’ve seen this throughout the years by terrorist organizations – and prevented from doing their work. We obviously watch very closely and make every effort to protect these individuals, and certainly would encourage the Government of Pakistan to do likewise.

But the fact is, is given the climate in some parts of Pakistan in order to cover this story – and that speaks to, frankly, journalists around the world who take tremendous risk just to cover the story and who go beyond where they can be safe in order to get the truth and report the facts to the people. And there are Pakistani journalists who do that, there are U.S. journalists who do that, there are journalists from every country around the world. That’s something we take very seriously. We look at how to protect journalists better in the field when they’re in combat situations, but as I said, also in places where they’re under threat from radicals or terrorism or extremists. We all need to do better and that’s one of the reasons why we’re trying to highlight some of these cases moving forward.

QUESTION: Sir, one last question about Afghanistan, please, if you allow me, sir.

MR TONER: One --

QUESTION: One last question.

MR TONER: One last question. All right.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, sir. Sir, a couple of days ago, a delegation of Taliban from Qatar reached Islamabad to participate in the fifth round of peace talks soon to be held in Pakistan somewhere. Sir, can you say, despite Taliban deadly attacks, the international partners are yet not ready to give up their efforts for the peace process? So what are the new hopes, or any new strategy for that?

MR TONER: You’re talking about the --

QUESTION: Afghan peace process, sir. The meeting is going to be held next week, I think in Islamabad.

MR TONER: Right. I mean, our policy hasn’t changed. I mean, we want to see an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process. We welcome Pakistan’s role, the positive role that Pakistan has played in trying to get these peace talks started. For us, it is – and we believe, and I believe the others who are part of this believe the same thing, which is if we can get a credible peace process going, talks going, that this is ultimately the – going to be the solution to Afghanistan’s ongoing conflict. It’s in the interests of everyone in the region to do that. So we would encourage these talks to move forward. Thus far, it’s been really the Taliban who have lagged behind in leading the efforts for these or in participating in these talks, so we’re going to encourage them. It’s their decision; the ball is in their court – however you want to put it. But this is ultimately the way forward, we believe.


QUESTION: Can we stay in Pakistan, just one more quick follow-up.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: I wonder if you have anything to respond to Afghanistan president’s remarks recently. He said that he’s calling the Pakistan to battle the Taliban rather than bring into the peace talks. Do you think it --

MR TONER: He called on the Taliban – I’m sorry, I missed that.

QUESTION: He’s calling on Pakistan to battle against Taliban rather than bring into the peace talk. Do you think such remarks is – do you have any comments? Do you think it’s a deviation?

MR TONER: So I have not seen his actual remarks, so I’m hesitant to react to them. We have also called on Pakistan to go after Taliban or terrorist groups that are using its soil to launch attacks on Afghanistan. That’s been an ongoing conversation or dialogue or discussion that we’ve had with Pakistan, and we’ve tried to enable them to have the kind of capabilities that they can to take the fight to these groups.

QUESTION: I got one about Afghanistan. What about the Afghan vice president who can’t get a visa? What’s up with that?

MR TONER: What’s up with that? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Why can’t he get a visa?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. (Laughter.) Well --

QUESTION: What is up with that? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: Sorry, I --

QUESTION: Thank you. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: It sounds like a – anyway, sorry. All right, you’re talking about the Vice President Dostum, right?


MR TONER: Yeah. Okay. Well, first of all, I have to put out there that I cannot talk about – I cannot tell you what’s up with that, because these records are confidential under U.S. law, so we can’t comment on individual cases. That said, I understand that he did put out a statement or spoke to the media and said that he chose not to travel to – at this point, given the security situation in Afghanistan. So I’d refer you to him to – frankly to talk about --

QUESTION: Is he welcome in the United States?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, we work with him as needed. He is the vice president of Afghanistan. We obviously work with him as needed in his official capacity --


MR TONER: -- as the democratically elected vice president of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: But is he welcome here?

MR TONER: Again, he is the vice president of Afghanistan. We will certainly work with him in that capacity. I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: Mark, can we turn to Libya?

MR TONER: Yes, sir. Yes, ma’am – sorry.

QUESTION: I wonder whether the ship carrying oil – I know that John Kirby has reacted to it. I know – he’s basically said he’s concerned about it. But have you specifically – has there specifically been a message put out that nobody needs – should be buying this oil that is illegally shipped in the eyes of the U.S.? And also, what can you say about the UAE’s involvement in – given that the company – I know it’s an Indian flag tanker, but the company – it’s ordered by a company called DSA Consultancy, which is registered in the UAE.

MR TONER: So first of all – yes, so we do understand that Libya’s permanent representative to the United Nations has expressed to the UN Libya Sanctions Committee the Government of National Accord’s objections to an attempt to export Libyan oil illicitly via this, as you note, Indian-flagged vessel, the Distya Ameya. I’m sure I’m mispronouncing that, I apologize. We’re closely following the situation. We have engaged with our partners and allies in the region, and we certainly support the Government of National Accord and Libya’s legitimate institutions. We are very concerned about purchases of Libyan oil that are outside of these legitimate channels.

Now, your question talked about the UAE’s role or possible role in that. I don’t have any more clarity on that. If we get more clarity, I’m happy to speak to it. I just don’t have any more details on that right now.

QUESTION: And then what is the – what is the possibility of somebody buying this oil?

MR TONER: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: Or have you told – I mean, it’s on its way to Malta.

MR TONER: That’s correct, but I --

QUESTION: Would you – would you then expect that they don’t --

MR TONER: Again, and I’m not – sure.

QUESTION: -- that they don’t allow the oil to get onto land with that or (inaudible) --

MR TONER: So I’m unclear. I mean, this is obviously --

QUESTION: -- transferred?

MR TONER: This becomes a UN Security Council issue. I’m unclear what the next steps would be in terms of this illicit transportation of oil. We would again call on all those in the region to refrain from enabling this kind of activity, but I don’t have details on what next steps might be in terms of stopping this or actually any way voiding it or stopping its transfer of oil to another – to a buyer. I’ll just get more – if I get more details, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Have you --

QUESTION: (Sneezes.)

MR TONER: Bless you.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea what – is there any clarity yet what the money from the purchases of this oil is going to be used for or anything?


QUESTION: Can I follow up on South Sudan as well?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: You said earlier that the – that Machar is – he’s now the vice president and that his return is a important step towards the formalization of the unity government. Do you – what gives you confidence that this actually is going to become a real thing, this unity government, given the long problems that this country has faced?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, I mean, look, I don’t want to be over optimistic about – as you note, this has been a difficult process, to put it mildly. I think, though, that we do see this as an important step. I mean, there was – as we saw over the last few days, he was prevented from returning at one point. So he has made it back to Juba and he was sworn in, so that’s a significant step forward and we’re obviously welcoming that step.

But it’s important now for the south – for South Sudan’s leaders to take additional steps, which is form the Transitional Government of National Unity, to make progress on the core agenda of peace – of the peace agreement, according to the timeline that was established by this commission, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission. So there’s additional steps that need to be taken in the coming days. We’re going to keep encouraging them to take those steps. We’ve also seen – we also have a – as I noted in my statement at the top of the briefing, the African Union, the United States – or United Nations Mission in South Sudan and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development are also on the ground and helping encourage the various parties to take these steps and to solidify today’s progress.

QUESTION: What kind of response is the U.S. – I mean, as you know, there’s a lot of famine in that area. There’s, I mean --


QUESTION: -- the economy is in collapse. What kinds of steps is the U.S. going to take to try to help this government on its feet once it’s formed, if it’s formed?

MR TONER: Sure. I’m looking right now just in terms of what we’ve been able to do. I mean, we have, obviously – we are the lead donor to South Sudan. We’ve provided almost 1.5 billion in emergency assistance since the conflict began. And clearly, as you noted, the humanitarian situation there remains dire, and so we’re going to continue to work with them.

Forming the transitional government’s not going to be easy, but it is the best hope for the people of South Sudan achieving peace. We’ll – we’re going to work closely with them on the reforms, as I’ve noted, in the first several months of this transition. We’re going to review the security sector. They’re going to lay the groundwork for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and they’re going to establish the parameters for a hybrid court in collaboration with the African Union as well as increase accountability in terms of South Sudan’s economic governance.

So I guess you’re asking how we’re going to help, and we’re going to help them take the kind of initial steps as much as we can and as much as the other actors on the ground – the international actors on the ground – can help them take these kind of initial steps to solidify the transitional government in the economic sphere, in the political sphere, and certainly on the security sphere – and then obviously provide whatever we can in terms of immediate humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: But obviously you first want to see the unity government form before anything else goes on, right?

MR TONER: Of course, of course. Of course, yes. Of course that’s the first --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Increasing the transparency and accountability of South Sudan’s economic governance.

QUESTION: Okay. But you’re not interested anymore in accountability for the people that were killed.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, it’s always obviously – no one – I’m not trying to bury that or gloss that over. I mean, certainly – and it’s in the long-term interests of the South Sudanese people to have that kind of understanding or reconciliation.

QUESTION: But there’s no – you don’t think there’s a – there’s no need for Machar or Kiir or anybody else who led all these forces that did all the killing --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- to see some sort of justice?

MR TONER: Well, no. I mean, I would – look, part of the peace agreement is this creation of a commission for truth, reconciliation, and healing, and that will look at the root causes of the conflict and lead a national effort to reconciliation. And I’m not trying to in any way diminish that. There’s a lot of work that – or steps that need to be taken, as Lesley noted, before we get to that point.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Hey, Andre. Hi.

QUESTION: Hi. A similar question in a different context, in the context of Ukraine.


QUESTION: May 2nd marks the second anniversary of an atrocious event in modern history in Ukraine where some peaceful protestors were driven into a administrative building and basically burned alive – 48 people lost their lives, hundreds were injured; the U.S. condemned the event. My question is, first, what has been done, if anything, to make sure that those responsible are brought to justice?

And then the second question is about the commemoration this coming May 2, but that’s the next question.

MR TONER: Okay, no worries. No, obviously, there is the – we are coming up on, as you note, the two-year anniversary of the fire and the deaths that killed I think more than 40 people. And we – first of all, we can extend our condolences to the people of Ukraine on the second anniversary of this horrific event that, as you note, occurred on May 2nd, 2014. We did, obviously, condemn it strongly at the time. I believe Secretary Kerry condemned the violence and said that that includes the violence of anyone who lit a fire and caused the death of those 38 people or more in the building in Odessa, and that “all of this violence” – and I’m quoting Secretary Kerry – “is unacceptable. And Russia, the United States, Ukrainians, Europeans, and the OSCE, all of us bear responsibility to do everything in our power to reduce the capacity of militants and extremists to carry out these kinds of violent activities and terrorist activities.”

In terms of – as you note, we did call for a thorough investigation, as did other governments at the time, into the – those actions on Odessa. I would refer you and have to refer you – I can’t speak on behalf of the Ukrainian Government – on how that investigation has proceeded and who ultimately has been found culpable for the actions in Odessa.

QUESTION: I’m afraid not much has happened about that, and my question was what, if anything, the U.S. could do to speed the process along --


QUESTION: -- or maybe to bring it to a resolution that would be at least understandable to the victims --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- to the relatives of the victims.

MR TONER: Well, sure, Andre. Well, in any case like this, as I said, it’s – it was a horrific event, and in any kind of event like this there needs to be a resolution, there needs to be closure. And so that’s what an investigation and, again, bringing those who were – carried out this act to justice would bring to the victims of the attack and the families of the victims of the attack. We’ll continue to make that message or convey that message to the Ukrainian authorities, but I would refer you to them for more details on that investigation.

QUESTION: All right. And then secondly, the coming up anniversary will be marked by people there who just remember those who they lost. But the opposite side, quote-unquote --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- the people who do not want those commemorations, are already threatening that they will disrupt the proceedings. They will physically prevent the events from happening. My question to you is: If – is the U.S. Government ready to do anything – to do anything in its power to prevent another outburst of violence in Odessa on May 2nd? And what can you do? You have diplomatic presence, right?

MR TONER: In Odessa? No, we don’t.

QUESTION: You don’t. No consulate?

MR TONER: I don’t believe so. No, I don’t believe so. I’ll double-check on that, but no, we don’t.

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MR TONER: But that said, we do have, obviously – look, Andrei, I mean, broadly speaking, over the past several years we’ve had an ongoing partnership with law enforcement authorities in Ukraine where we’ve done extensive training with them on how to handle, among other things, civil unrest. But look, the most important thing to stress here is that we would obviously support any commemoration of this event, but as with any commemoration, it needs to be done nonviolently and we would certainly condemn any threats in the run-up to this – these events or this commemoration and call on all sides to show restraint.

Please, in the back. Last question.

QUESTION: If I may, just --

MR TONER: Yes, last question.

QUESTION: If I – I just wanted to – yes, to end on this subject.


QUESTION: Are you aware that the group of human rights and antiwar activists are traveling there from the U.S. as well as from other countries? Will – do you support --

MR TONER: I’m not aware.

QUESTION: Would you support such a mission?

MR TONER: I don’t know anything about the group, Andrei. I’d have to find out more details about what – who they are and what their intent is before I would comment on it.

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MR TONER: Yeah, let’s make this the last question, guys.

QUESTION: I got --

QUESTION: Today Russian --

MR TONER: Ten or twelve?

QUESTION: No, they’re short.

MR TONER: Okay, good. Fair enough.

QUESTION: Today, Russian authority in Crimea declares the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People as an extremist organization and banned its activities. The Department of State previously paid attention to this issue, but there is no positive decision from the Russian side. What is your reaction now and what specific steps are you going to do?

MR TONER: I apologize. You’re talking about the ban on Crimean Tatar’s --


MR TONER: Mejlis, right, exactly. Well, we did put out a statement on April 21st and we called on the Russian Federation to reverse its – the ministry of justice’s recent decision to designate this – the Mejlis, as you note, as an extremist organization as well as a decision by de facto authorities in Crimea to suspend this democratic institution. We’re obviously disturbed that – by the reports banning the Mejlis council because, frankly, it removes what little representation and recourse that the Tatars have left under Russian occupation. The Tatars face oppression, they face repression, they face discrimination in Russian-occupied Crimea. Almost 10,000 of them have been forced to flee their homeland and those who remain have subjected – been subjected to abuses, beatings, arbitrary detentions, et cetera. And these brutalities and human rights abuses must end.

As to what next, you know that we have sanctions in place. We do not accept Russia’s occupation of Crimea. Those sanctions will remain in place until Crimea ends its occupation of Crimea.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Russia.

MR TONER: What did I say? I apologize.

QUESTION: “Crimea ends its occupation.”

MR TONER: I apologize. Until Russia ends its occupation of Crimea. And we also reaffirm our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Please, Matt. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Two brief ones on Iran --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- and then another – a different subject. One, you may have seen that the Iranian foreign ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador to hear a complaint. Did – you didn’t go over this while – I missed it (inaudible)?

MR TONER: No, I didn’t – no, you didn’t.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m just wondering if you’ve heard back from the Swiss yet about what --

MR TONER: We have not. No, I was actually trying to monitor this before. We’re just – we’ve obviously seen the media reports that they did summon him in, as you note, but we don’t have any kind of readout yet. I – we can certainly try to share what they convey, but I’m not sure how much I can share.

QUESTION: Right, okay. And then I don’t know if you saw this interview with Zarif that was published in The New Yorker yesterday --

MR TONER: Yeah, read a little bit of it.

QUESTION: But in it, he said that he and Secretary Kerry are talking two to three times a day about implementation of the nuclear deal. Is that accurate?

MR TONER: I don’t want to --

QUESTION: I mean, that’s an awful lot of phone calls.

MR TONER: I don’t want to – no, I don’t want to --

QUESTION: I mean the question was, “What, do you talk two to three times a week?” And he said sometimes two to three times a day. Now, my understanding was that they did speak like two or three times a day during the whole incident with the sailors, but I don’t --

MR TONER: Correct. I mean, there have been --

QUESTION: But the impression that’s left though --

MR TONER: So – yeah.

QUESTION: The question that he left though is that he and the Secretary are talking on the phone sometimes two to three times a day on implementation of the Iran deal. And I just want to know if that’s accurate.

MR TONER: No, I mean, look, as with any – there are certain points, as you note, with the sailors and also late last week when he was in New York where they might have consulted. I don’t know if it’s ever been two to three times a day. Again, I’m not trying to --

QUESTION: All right. I’d just be kind of curious --

MR TONER: -- counter his --

QUESTION: -- because that seems like an awful lot.

MR TONER: What he said – but no, I don’t think --

QUESTION: I mean, maybe it’s necessary but it seems like an awful lot.

MR TONER: I think that’s a – maybe a bit of an embellishment.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: But look, they have – they’re able to reach each other when they need to and talk.



QUESTION: And then the last one is have you seen this statement from Judicial Watch about the emails? One email in particular that was – that they just got a hold of it, you just put it out.

MR TONER: I did. This is with – involving Secretary Clinton?

QUESTION: Correct.

MR TONER: Yeah, I did. And I’m sorry, we just found out about it before coming out here.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, the specific question --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- that I’d like answered is --

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- the allegation is made that the State Department was hiding this email or had hidden this email --

MR TONER: Yeah. I’m aware of that allegation.

QUESTION: -- because it would have led to the discovery of the – of former Secretary Clinton’s private email server well before it became public. And I’m wanting to know, one, if this is an accurate – is an allegation that has – that you accept, that you think has substance to it; and secondly, how was it that this email was not turned over --

MR TONER: So to your first question, I would, without knowing all the details yet because we just found out, be highly suspect that there’s any truth to this allegation that we were trying to bury this or somehow hold it back, hold it – keep it from getting out because it would somehow lead to a discovery of her private server.

QUESTION: Right. But the whole thing is highly suspect, is it not?

MR TONER: The second – the second part of your question, I don’t know what the – and I was looking into what the delay was caused by. So let me get more facts and more details about that and I’ll share that with you.

QUESTION: Okay. It doesn’t look like it was a delay. It looks like it was being held back.

MR TONER: Being held back, yeah. No, so let me get more details on what happened.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

QUESTION: Mark, one up – follow up that last thing --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) because the State Department never released a single email during her four years that ever had her email address on there. I mean, this was --

MR TONER: Again, let me get – let me get more details. This was – yeah.

QUESTION: This is throughout the entire four years, not one email ever.

MR TONER: During --

QUESTION: She had not one responsive email --

MR TONER: During her tenure --

QUESTION: -- to any FOIA request that was responsive.

MR TONER: During her time at the State Department is what you’re saying?

QUESTION: During her time at the State Department.

MR TONER: I’m just trying to specify. Okay. Well, I mean, partly that she was a sitting secretary of state at the time, so --

QUESTION: And – so?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, there are --

QUESTION: There’s nothing in the FOIA procedures that says sitting secretary of state’s private emails are censored. That’s not – it’s not a FOIA category. I’m sorry.

MR TONER: But they might have been, I mean, I given the subject matter. I don’t know what the subject matter is. I mean, you’re asking me to definitively answer a question that I don’t --

QUESTION: You – if you can take the question.

MR TONER: I will, thanks.

QUESTION: Mark, may I ask one last thing (inaudible)?


QUESTION: On Ukraine, I’m a rare guest. I’m glad to see you too. You look great.

MR TONER: Please, hurry up.

QUESTION: Mark, Nuland and so forth --

MR TONER: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: -- are supposed to be talking on Ukraine. Have they had a meeting lately? And if not, are they planning to have a meeting shortly?

MR TONER: Nothing to announce on that front. I’m – obviously, they have met in the past but nothing new to announce on that, Andrei. Thanks, man.


MR TONER: Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:21 p.m.)

DPB # 70


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - April 25, 2016

Mon, 04/25/2016 - 17:32

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 25, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:15 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.


MR KIRBY: Hope everybody had a good weekend.

Okay, couple things here at the top. Today, I think as many of you know, marks the first anniversary of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated central Nepal, killing an estimated 9,000 people. It also injured about 25,000 more and left more than 6 million homeless. As we did then, today too on this anniversary we commend the courage of the many individuals who provided assistance to those in need, and we pay tribute especially to those who lost their lives doing so, including the six United States Marines and their Nepali counterparts that were killed in a helicopter crash while trying to help victims.

The American people continue to offer our sympathy to the families of all those who perished in the earthquake and we continue to stand right – right beside the people of Nepal. Since the earthquake, in fact, we have provided approximately $130 million for relief, recovery, and reconstruction operations which include search and rescue deployments, emergency shelter, drinking water, food aid, and support to protect survivors against gender-based violence and human trafficking.

Secretary Kerry and Under Secretary Shannon met today with Nepal’s deputy prime minister, who was here in Washington. The Secretary and the under secretary encouraged Nepal to keep up the pace on earthquake reconstruction. While recognizing the significance of Nepal’s constitution, the Secretary urged Nepal to continue working as well to ensure it meets all the aspirations of the Nepali people.

On Bangladesh, I think some of you have seen these press reports. Suffice it to say we’re outraged by the barbaric attack on Mr. Xulhaz Mannan, a beloved member of our embassy family and a courageous advocate for LGBTI rights – human rights, actually. As you know, brutally murdered in his home alongside another fellow activist. An act like this simply is beyond words, unjustifiable, inexcusable, and our heartfelt condolences of course go out to his mother, to his family, to his friends, and to his colleagues, as well as all those who knew and loved the other individual who was also brutally murdered with him.

As we mourn his death, we celebrate Xulhaz’s life and everything he contributed to Bangladesh, to the United States, and to the global struggle for human rights and dignity. And we pledge our support to Bangladeshi authorities to ensure that the cowards who did this are held accountable. Bangladesh is justifiably proud of its history as a moderate, tolerant, inclusive society that values the diversity of its people, culture, and religions, and this attack fundamentally seeks to undermine all that Bangladesh stands for and all that the Bangladeshi people have strived to bring about in recent years. And I think you’ll see that we’ll have more to say about this later in the day – another statement – but I just wanted to say that right at the top.

AZERBAIJANARMENIA">Finally, by way of readout, the Secretary did speak today separately with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and Republic of Armenia President Serzh Sargsian. They discussed – in both calls, he discussed and these leaders discussed the need for the sides to strictly adhere to the ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and to enter into negotiations on a comprehensive settlement. The Secretary also reviewed ongoing bilateral cooperation with both leaders.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Thanks. Can I just start briefly on Bangladesh?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: There was some talk a week or so ago, or maybe it was even longer than that, about possible – the U.S. possibly offering refuge to people who have been threatened --


QUESTION: -- with attacks like this one.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, this is humanitarian parole.



QUESTION: Has that gotten anywhere?

MR KIRBY: It is still an option under consideration. It’s really the Department of Homeland Security, as you know, that actually makes the determinations on this. But the – but in the cases of a select number of individuals who remain in imminent danger, that is one option under consideration, and we certainly haven’t closed that door.

QUESTION: Okay. But from this building’s point of view, is it something that you’re advocating with DHS or with other branches of the Administration?

MR KIRBY: Without getting into specific cases, which I can’t, we certainly --

QUESTION: Not specific cases, no. I just want to know, in general, does the State Department think that this is a good or wise thing to do?

MR KIRBY: We think that this is a valuable tool that should be considered. It’s obviously up to DHS to make the final determinations, but it’s a door that we would like to see stay open.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but do you want it to be open? I mean, do you want – does the State Department – is the State Department encouraging DHS to go ahead and do this?

MR KIRBY: We are in consultations with DHS about the value of this tool, this vehicle, and we – suffice it to say we’re – we think it’s – it has value. We would like to see it considered on a case-by-case basis as needed. We certainly would encourage DHS to consider using it as appropriate, but it’s ultimately up to them.

QUESTION: Okay. So it’s not just leaving the door open. You’re actually asking them to consider using --

MR KIRBY: We encourage – we’re certainly encouraging them to continue to evaluate that as a possible vehicle, yes.


QUESTION: Can you say how many cases there are?

MR KIRBY: I cannot.

QUESTION: And what do they call it?

MR KIRBY: It’s called humanitarian parole.

QUESTION: All right, I want to move on if I could.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just on North Korea and the travel restrictions that were put on the foreign minister and his delegation.


QUESTION: Can you go through that one more – or go through it now, what exactly you did? And do these restrictions apply only to the foreign minister and his immediate delegation, or are they going to be extended? Do they extend to the whole North Korean mission in New York?

MR KIRBY: They were – it was really applied to him and his delegation. It was for while they were in New York for the UN. The restrictions were simple in terms of he could travel to the UN, he could certainly travel to his hotel, he could travel to the airport, and he could travel to their mission there. Beyond that though, there were – his movements were restricted and it was – it was a decision that we made in the wake of the weekend’s missile tests.

QUESTION: Right. But it only – it doesn’t apply to the North Korean delegation at their mission to the UN? They’re --

MR KIRBY: No, it was applied to him --


MR KIRBY: -- during his stay.

QUESTION: And does that mean – I mean, how strictly was it enforced? I mean, was he allowed to go to dinner?

MR KIRBY: I’m sure we didn’t prevent him from eating while he was in New York.

QUESTION: Well, I mean --

MR KIRBY: But his movements were restricted to those – in those four areas. I’m pretty sure that his hotel I’m sure offered dinner options. But --

QUESTION: I know. Well, but I mean, technically he wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere other than the places that you just mentioned.

MR KIRBY: Yes, that was --

QUESTION: His hotel, the North Korean mission to the UN --

MR KIRBY: His mission, the UN, hotel, the airport. Those were the four limits. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. And it’s – now that he’s gone --

MR KIRBY: That’s right.

QUESTION: It doesn’t apply to anyone else?

MR KIRBY: It was applied just – given his circumstances in New York in the wake of the test.

QUESTION: All right, thank you.


QUESTION: That’s it?

QUESTION: That’s it --


QUESTION: Could – can we go to Syria?

MR KIRBY: Lesley, did you have something?


QUESTION: I wanted to change the subject to something else from New York, on the meeting between Kerry and Kabila of the DRC.


QUESTION: I was wondering if the Secretary actually raised with Kabila, President Kabila, the issue of him possibly staying on longer for another term and wondering whether that was in fact discussed and whether – what Kabila told him.

MR KIRBY: Well, what I can tell you is they –acknowledging that the DRC is heading into an historic transition, the Secretary did emphasize that the U.S. stands ready to be a partner to all those that are committed to timely, credible elections as called for by the DRC’s constitution. He also emphasized that the future of the DRC must be shaped by the Congolese people, all of whom must have the right to assemble and speak free of intimidation. So it was a discussion about the electoral process in DRC and quite frankly about the role played by President Kabila and his family in establishing the DRC as a strong constitutional democracy. And again, the Secretary stressed that a peaceful transition there in the DRC will allow President Kabila to cement his legacy.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary get the feeling that the president was going to – was moving in the direction of staying another term?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I wouldn’t speak specifically to President Kabila’s side of the conversation. I can just tell you what the Secretary said, which is – and made it clear what our expectations are in terms of the country moving forward in accordance with its own constitution, which calls for credible elections that, again, allow for all Congolese people to have their voice –have their voices and their votes heard. And I think I’d leave it at that.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: Bangladesh?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead. Syria.

QUESTION: Bangladesh? He wants to go --

MR KIRBY: Bangladesh? You want to still stay on that? Okay.

QUESTION: You said something about that he was working with the embassy. The reports from there are saying that he was working with the USAID. Can you confirm that? And what about the security of other staff? I’m not talking about the ambassador level, but the local staff and all that, because there’s a rampant hacking going on and so Benghazi is still --

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of anybody else associated with the U.S. embassy involved in any other violent acts other than --

QUESTION: No, you’re not. But what about their security?

MR KIRBY: Well, we don’t talk about the details of force protection and security. I can just assure you that all our embassies overseas take security – physical security very seriously. The degree to which it’s been adjusted in light of this I wouldn’t speak to publicly. We’re always revising, modifying our security posture as appropriate to keep our people safe. And the last thing we’d want to do is detail what that might be. Certainly, we’re mindful of the recent violence there in Bangladesh. And again, as I said at the outset, it absolutely stands in stark contrast to the direction that Bangladesh has been moving as a country.

QUESTION: How many --

QUESTION: John, would you --

QUESTION: Can we --

MR KIRBY: It’s okay. We’ll get to everybody. Just – everybody just relax.

QUESTION: Can you give us a breakdown of how many people are there who are locals and are in danger because --

MR KIRBY: If you’re asking me how many locally employed staff we have, I don’t know that number. And frankly, I don’t even know if we give that number out.

QUESTION: But you can confirm --

MR KIRBY: And then your question about how many are in danger, I mean, we don’t know --

QUESTION: There’s --

MR KIRBY: But look --


MR KIRBY: -- the question presumes that the motivation for his killing was that he was associated with the United States. We don’t know the motivation here. Nobody has claimed responsibility for this. So there’s a lot of work that has to be done, and I’m not going to leap ahead of an investigation here and try to represent outcomes or intent here. What we do know is that he was a staunch defender of LGBT rights – that’s beyond dispute – and that he was brutally, viciously murdered in his own home, and that’s just atrocious and barbaric. And we want to do what we can – what’s appropriate – to help the Bangladeshi authorities investigate this and bring the perpetrators to justice. That’s what we know right now.

QUESTION: So can you confirm that he was with USAID or with the embassy, in what --

MR KIRBY: He was affiliated with the U.S. embassy family, and as far as I know, he did some work for USAID.


QUESTION: In fact, John, you don’t provide security to locally employed staff, do you, I mean anywhere? The U.S. Embassy is not obligated to provide security for those locally employed?

MR KIRBY: To the degree that they work inside our post and embassies, they are --

QUESTION: Right, inside the embassy but not --

MR KIRBY: They enjoy the protection, the physical protection --

QUESTION: Once they go to their homes and businesses, whatever, they’re not --

MR KIRBY: But do – it – I’m not – again, it --

QUESTION: I’m not aware of any situation where the – actually, the U.S. embassy or diplomatic post – they don’t provide it.

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on diplomatic security issues, but obviously, we take physical security of our people and our employees very, very seriously, and it changes from country to country and even inside a country it will change based on physical location because sometimes we have consulates that are in – obviously in areas that are different than the actual embassy, and it changes in a temporal basis on the threat stream in any given place around the country. And Diplomatic Security takes their job very, very seriously. The modify and change as appropriate; again, all of the mind to keeping our people as safe as possible.


QUESTION: John, would you characterize this murder attack as a hate crime or a terror attack? Because there was a report that previously also (inaudible) was murdered and then some extremists claimed responsibility.

MR KIRBY: I just don’t think we’re in a position right now to speak with any authority about the motivation here. We don’t have a claim of responsibility and we don’t know what the motivation was. So I’m simply not able to speak to that right now. And again, I would – this is really a question for Bangladeshi authorities to speak to more than me anyway, but I don’t think they’re in a position right now. This just happened. They’re working their way through that. We need to let the investigators do their job before we jump to any conclusions one way or the other. Again, I think it’s important for us to just take a step back and realize that there’s a family right now and a lot of friends and loved ones that are grieving. This was absolutely horrible. And we need to keep them in mind first and foremost before we start jumping to any conclusions.

Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: On Egypt. Do you have any comment on the demonstrations there and news reports said that tens of people were arrested?

MR KIRBY: Certainly, I’ve seen some of those reports. I don’t have anything specific with respect to arrests. As we’ve said all along, and we’ve said it not just with respect to Egypt but places all over the world, but we believe in the right of free expression and for peaceful protests. And we think that’s healthy for any democracy. So again, we’re watching this closely, but I just don’t have additional comment one way or the other. And I certainly wouldn't speak to specific arrests. All we have are press reporting on this right now.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Pam, did you have something?

QUESTION: I do. It’s not Syria. It’s --

MR KIRBY: It’s not Syria? We’ll go to Syria first. Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wanted you to comment if – first of all, if you’re aware of reports that the rebels bombarded an area of Aleppo that is under government control killing, like, 19 people and wounding 120 others, and maybe – some say that it may have been Jabhat al-Nusrah. Do you have any information on that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. As you know, I try to steer away from battlefield assessments.

QUESTION: Right, right. But this has been widely reported and attributed to the same monitoring group that actually you rely on --


QUESTION: -- in many information. And my question to you: If al-Nusrah is obviously in certain areas of Aleppo and they keep bombarding other areas, would that – should that give the government or government troops the right to go ahead and respond or defend itself and attack it?

MR KIRBY: So look, let me say a couple of things here. I mean, Aleppo, it’s no – it’s certainly no surprise to anybody, I mean, that in Aleppo there – it’s a very fluid, dynamic environment and you have interspersed and intermingled, frankly, in neighborhoods in Aleppo groups like al-Nusrah which are not party to the cessation and are legitimate targets, and you also have opposition groups that are party to the cessation, and there is a lot of intermingling that’s happening because it is such a fluid, dynamic environment. And we’ve talked about this before. Nobody is underestimating how difficult it can be in a place like Aleppo with respect to trying to separate the groups – a very tough task, a very tall order. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t doing the best we can to work with those who have influence over the opposition groups to encourage that kind of separation, but it’s very difficult to actually implement. What we – and so that’s point one.

Point two, I mean, obviously in and around Aleppo we continue to see violations of the cessation. Most of them still are being conducted by the regime. That’s just, as the math goes, a mathematical fact. We want to see all parties to the cessation – all parties – abide by their obligations under it because it’s still fragile, and in and around Aleppo we definitely are seeing more and more signs of it not holding, obviously, and that’s not where we want things to go in Syria. We certainly don’t want things to go there in Aleppo that way.

So it’s very difficult, but we have been – we’ve been very clear working through our contacts with opposition groups as well as those countries who have influence over other opposition groups to maintain their obligations under the cessation; and two, to do the best they can to avoid the intermingling, which we know makes it difficult.

QUESTION: Could I follow up on just a refugee issue related to Syria. Because in the fiscal year, which is halfway through, you guys are supposed to take in 10,000 --

MR KIRBY: Right. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- 10,000 refugees. I think the numbers now are about 1,500. The year is halfway through. Could you update us on that?

MR KIRBY: We – we’re still very committed to meeting the President’s goal of 10,000. We’ve talked about this before. I understand that with the fiscal year half over here and with still a small number of those admitted, that there’s a lot of work left to do. But we have taken steps to increase the staffing and resourcing that we’ve applied in places like Jordan in particular to screen as many potential refugees as possible – those that are referred to us by the UN, of course. But we have increased the number of staffing – numbers of staff dedicated to this and the resourcing that goes along with it to try to advance the vetting in ways that we haven’t been able to do in the past. So we’re still committed to the goal, recognize that the clock isn’t necessarily in our favor right now. I – we all get that. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to stay committed to it.

QUESTION: Can I – I just want to follow up directly on the Aleppo question from before. This morning Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia suggested that it had been America’s responsibility, in his understanding of the cessation, to persuade the HNC rebels to physically distance themselves from Jabhat al-Nusrah to make the offensive easier. Is it – was that your understanding, that in some way the United States is responsible for ensuring that separation?

MR KIRBY: The way I would put it, Dave, is that we’re all responsible for trying to make sure that the cessation is observed and recognized by all parties. Everybody has a responsibility here.

QUESTION: There’s an implication in the way you put it, though, that if the rebel – if the moderate rebels can’t get out of the way, they’re just going to get steamrollered.

MR KIRBY: Well, steamrolled by whom?

QUESTION: Well, by the Russians and the regime.

MR KIRBY: So again, I go back to what I said before. We want to see the cessation observed by all parties. As I said to my answer to Said, we’re not blind to the fact that it’s a very dynamic situation in Aleppo and that there is intermingling. We’ve said that for a while now. And we knew weeks ago, before the regime started to move on Aleppo, that in Aleppo in particular it was going to be a challenge. And it obviously has proven to be the case. So we’re going to continue to work with those opposition groups that we can influence, and we’re going to keep working with those countries on the opposition groups that they influence to do the best we can to get everybody to observe the cessation. And to the degree that the – that separation can be had between opposition and al-Nusrah, obviously that’s beneficial to preserving the cessation of hostilities, which I know has seen many violations now in Aleppo. I’m not saying that it’s held, okay. But to the degree that that intermingling can be avoided, that obviously assists in the situation, but it’s a very difficult, very fluid situation because the regime continues to move on Aleppo. And again, what we’ve said in the past is that the extension of Assad regime control over additional territory in Syria is not a good thing for the future of Syria.

QUESTION: Well, have you told them?

MR KIRBY: Have we told who?

QUESTION: Have you told, for lack of a better phrase, your guys? Have you told them to get out?

MR KIRBY: We have certainly communicated our concerns about the situation in Aleppo and the cessation and the very fluid nature of the situation there. We certainly have relayed that to opposition groups that we’re in direct contact with. We’ve also --

QUESTION: And is it your understanding that they have heeded your advice or your calls? Or are they --

MR KIRBY: Well, I think you can just see by what’s going on that there continues to be – there continues to be an intermingling.

QUESTION: So they’re not listening. So they’re not listening to you.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to say that. I’m just saying that --


MR KIRBY: -- you continue to – we continue to see a very fluid, dynamic situation on the ground. Obviously, we’d like to see the intermingling avoided.

QUESTION: Right, but it’s not just – it’s not just the Russians, then, who are not being successful in convincing their people to abide by the ceasefire. You are also admitting that you’re having problems doing that.

MR KIRBY: I think we all recognize the challenge of keeping the cessation in place --

QUESTION: All right. Can I --

MR KIRBY: -- particularly in Aleppo.

QUESTION: Can I just – on a broader Syria story? Back in 2014, the Syrian regime crossed the President’s red line on using chemical weapons, and he ended up – after saying that he would strike, ended up not. And now today he has announced 250 more troops going to Syria after saying for months and months and months that there would be no boots on the ground. I’m just curious if this is like part of some kind of devious grand strategy to say one thing and then do the complete opposite of it. And if it is, what exactly does – are you hoping to accomplish with this?

MR KIRBY: Well, I – I’m going to – obviously, I’m going to be careful not to speak to DOD equities here. But --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) strategies.

MR KIRBY: DOD? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: They – yeah, they do the devious grand strategies.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: But let me – but let me talk about what this is. It is --

QUESTION: You don’t need to talk about what specifically it is that they’re doing. The fact of the matter is and the point of my question is that the Administration is doing the exact opposite in these two cases of what it said it was going to do or said it wouldn’t do.

MR KIRBY: I just – I don’t see it that way, Matt. So if I could just – just – if I could just --

QUESTION: Did the President or not say that --

MR KIRBY: If I could just tell you what it is, then we can maybe – maybe we could have a better discussion about it. It is capitalizing on what we know works, and what works is advise and assist missions, which we’ve been doing for a long time. It is not mission creep if it’s the same mission. And it’s the same mission. And he introduced about 50 Special Operations Forces on the ground. They have had a positive impact on our ability to go after Daesh inside Syria. And because it has been successful, we want to intensify – I’ve stood up here I don’t know for how many weeks and talked about the fact that we want to intensify our efforts against Daesh. This is a process which has worked, so the President has decided to increase it to the tune of 250. And there was never this – there was never this, “No boots on the ground.” I don’t know where this keeps coming from.

QUESTION: But yes there – well, yes, yes, there was.

MR KIRBY: There was no – there was – no there wasn’t. There was --

QUESTION: More than --


MR KIRBY: We’re not going to be involved in a large-scale combat mission on the ground. That is what the President has long said.


MR KIRBY: We have three – wait a minute, wait, wait, wait. We have 3,000-some-odd troops in Iraq already in advise and assist capacity at bases throughout the country. Don’t tell me and don’t tell them or their families that they’re not on the ground. They are very much on the ground.

QUESTION: I’m not – that’s not my – that’s not my --

MR KIRBY: But they aren’t involved in large-scale, conventional ground combat.

QUESTION: That’s not the point. The point is is that for months and months and months that the mantra from the President and everyone else in the Administration has been, “No boots on the ground” and now --

MR KIRBY: No, that is not true.


MR KIRBY: It’s just not true, Matt.


QUESTION: Mr. Kirby --

MR KIRBY: It’s just not true.

QUESTION: It’s true.

MR KIRBY: No, it’s not. I just flatly, absolutely disagree with you because I’ve been speaking to this when I was in uniform for over two years on this.

QUESTION: Okay. Your predecessor up here – it was, “All options are on the table except boots on the ground.” That was the --

MR KIRBY: I never said that. And --

QUESTION: Well, that was the whole line from the President on down.

QUESTION: The President said that --

QUESTION: Anyway – anyway, are you saying that this is not the same thing as saying one thing and then doing the other completely?

MR KIRBY: I’m absolutely rejecting that thesis, yes.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: So within 24 hours – may I quickly follow up on his question?

MR KIRBY: Well, it doesn’t look like I have a choice because you’re going to talk no matter what. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So it’s to that question. Within 24 hours, we have seen two headlines, one of them being President Obama rules out ground troops to Syria, and it was – he told the BBC – I can give you an exact quote; and then shortly after, President Obama to deploy 250 more Special Forces troops to Syria. My question is: What is the difference between the troops that the President ruled out and the troops that he’s going to send to Syria?

MR KIRBY: That’s actually an intelligent question. That’s a good question and I appreciate that you asked it because it’s very relevant. When we talk about boots on the ground in the context that you have heard people in the Administration speak to, we are talking about conventional, large-scale ground troops that are designed to actually engage in, plan, coordinate, integrate, and engage in combat operations on the ground as units. We’re not doing that. We’ve never done that in Iraq or in Syria, and we’re not going to do it now.


MR KIRBY: Let me finish, let me finish. Introducing additional advisors and assistance troops in the form of Special Operations Forces, which we’ve done now – we’ve had 50 or so on the ground in Syria for a while; we’re adding another 250 – that’s very much in keeping with the mission – one of the core missions that the U.S. military was designed to do from the outset in the fight against Daesh, from the very outset – and I know because I spoke about it myself in my prior life – which was to help improve the battlefield competency and capability of indigenous ground forces. In Iraq, that’s the Iraqi Security Forces, and of course the Pesh up in the north, and in Syria, it was about trying to get opposition fighters more capable and competent to go after Daesh in Syria.

Now, as you know, the Pentagon started a train and equip program on – which was not on the ground in Syria, but took fighters out of Syria and tried to get them prepared and equipped. That didn’t meet with much success, so they started to do the same mission but do it in Syria with Special Operations Forces. That has shown some success – let me finish. That has shown some success, so why not capitalize on that success?

So we can have a nice, little debate about boots on the ground, but I – I’m telling you, having been in the military, there is a big difference between saying, “No boots on the ground” – we’ve all recognized since almost the outset we’ve had U.S. troops in Iraq, which are very much on the ground – and the colloquial meaning of the term, which is what many people, when they say, “No boots on the ground,” are referring to, which is large-scale, intentionally combat ground troops engaged in combat operations that they themselves are conducting independently and integrating and coordinating that way. And that’s not happening and that’s not going to happen.

QUESTION: So can the President send any number of Special Forces without calling them ground troops?

MR KIRBY: They are not ground troops in the sense that they are not conventional ground troops conducting combat operations on their own.

QUESTION: Are you saying --

MR KIRBY: There’s a big difference.

QUESTION: Are you saying --

MR KIRBY: Am I saying – am I saying that there are no boots on the ground in Syria? Of course, I’m not saying that. I’ve never said that, nor have I ever said that there’s no boots on the ground in Iraq. You guys are getting way wrapped around the axle on the phrase, “boots on the ground.” Yes, there’s boots on the ground. We’ve got pilots that have been flying airstrikes since August of 2014. Don’t tell me and don’t tell them or their families that they’re not involved in actual combat over Iraq and Syria. But that’s a big difference between that and saying we’re going to involve ourselves in conventional ground troops and ground force operations on the ground, which we have not done and there are no plans to do it.

The other thing I’ll say to this is – and we’ve said this all along – the way you defeat a group like this – two things, two really key important things. One is good governance. That’s the way you sustain a defeat against a group like Daesh. That’s why it’s so important that Prime Minister Abadi be able to continue to work through the political reforms that he’s trying to put in place, fill out his cabinet, and deliver for the Iraqi people the kind of good sectarian governance that they haven’t previously enjoyed. Number two, that’s why in Syria we’re trying to get to a political transition so that a government that is responsible to and responsive for the Syrian people are in place.

And second, second main point is the other way you sustain a defeat against a group like this is through competent, capable, courageous, well-trained, well-led indigenous forces. That’s how you keep it – you keep their defeat sustained and done. You don’t do it with large-scale U.S. or large-scale foreign troops because you can’t keep a group like that down forever doing it that way. You’ve got to have good indigenous security forces that can take away the territory, defeat these guys, and then keep them defeated over the long term. Nothing – nothing has changed about that essential core mission set of U.S. military in Iraq or Syria, absolutely nothing.

QUESTION: Sir, are the Special Forces being sent to Syria going to be engaged in combat?

MR KIRBY: I think the Pentagon has already spoken to that, that their job would be in keeping with the original 50, which was advise and assist.

QUESTION: But in Iraq too you said they were not going to be in combat, and then a serviceman died in a hostage rescue operation.

MR KIRBY: Once again, once again --

QUESTION: And he clearly was in combat.

MR KIRBY: Once again you are --

QUESTION: How can you say that they are not in combat?

MR KIRBY: Once again you are oversimplifying what we’re saying. I never said, we’ve never said, that troops wouldn’t be engaged in combat. Talk to these combat pilots that are flying missions over Iraq and Syria and tell them that they’re not involved in combat. What we said is – again, I’ll say it again because apparently I need to – there’s not going to be any large-scale conventional ground combat operations performed by U.S. soldiers. That’s a big difference in saying no boots on the ground and it’s a big difference of saying they’re never going to be involved in combat. And we had a Marine, as we’ve all noted – in fact, General Dunford went to visit the fire base where he was killed by a rocket attack. Don’t tell that family that he didn’t die in a combat situation, because he certainly did. But that doesn’t mean that we’re involved in some sort of large-scale ground combat operation.

QUESTION: Well, if that’s the case, then why didn’t the Administration come out and say there will be no large-scale combat ground --

MR KIRBY: Not – we did say that.

QUESTION: -- instead of saying no boots on the ground, which is what they said over and over and over again? These people, unless they’re not wearing boots, are boots on the ground.

MR KIRBY: Matt, I can’t – listen, on this point I totally agree with you. They are wearing boots and they are on the ground. But that doesn’t mean that they are –

QUESTION: So that’s totally --

MR KIRBY: But that doesn’t mean that they are in large-scale ground combat operations. And I can’t speak for every other Administration official, Matt, but I can certainly speak for what I’ve said from this podium and the other podium.

QUESTION: Well, you know what? Then you can’t say that you’re setting a redline on chemical weapons and then not act on the redline, and you can’t say no boots on the ground and then send boots onto the ground and say that you’re not doing the opposite of what you intended.

MR KIRBY: We’re not --

QUESTION: I just don’t --

MR KIRBY: The mission set of these troops is very much consistent with the mission set of those that have gone before.

QUESTION: Can I just have one --

QUESTION: Can I ask you something? Who came up with --

MR KIRBY: And you guys are --

QUESTION: I have --

QUESTION: -- the term boots on the ground---

QUESTION: No, hold on a second a second.

QUESTION: -- to describe a soldier --

QUESTION: For God’s sake, who cares who came up with it?

QUESTION: -- living breathing soldiers that are in combat and in harm’s way?

MR KIRBY: Wait a minute. I’ve got --

QUESTION: Who came up with that term?

MR KIRBY: You two were both yelling at me, so let me just – say your question again because I couldn’t understand.

QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to say – “boots on the ground, boots on the ground,” these are soldiers. They are in combat and harm’s way and so on. It’s somehow like throwing that term around, I don’t know, it seems to mitigate or to lessen whatever involvement --

QUESTION: Look guys – guys, first of all, this is an interesting debate for the State Department and I’m not sure why this discussion isn’t happening elsewhere in town. But I mean, there’s no point in arguing the “boots on the ground” rhetoric. It’s absolutely no point. And I am not disputing the fact that we have troops on the ground and they’re wearing boots. I got that.

QUESTION: There we go. Okay. On Aleppo --

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up --

QUESTION: I just need to go back to Aleppo for one second.


QUESTION: Are you saying that when you talked about moving them to de-conflict or to remove themselves from the proximity of Nusrah – the bad guys, I’m talking about your – the rebels that you guys support – that you are telling them that they should move away from Aleppo, they should abandon their positions there?

MR KIRBY: We are --

QUESTION: And basically – and essentially allow al-Nusrah to --

MR KIRBY: It’s not like we can order them around, Matt, but we have influence over some of them and we are reminding them of the inherent dangers of intermingling and being close to those who are not party to the cessation.

QUESTION: Right. But that – doesn’t that --

MR KIRBY: Because al-Nusrah is a legitimate target.

QUESTION: Fair enough.

MR KIRBY: We don’t want to see our guys get hurt.

QUESTION: Fair enough. But doesn’t that, in effect, mean – or not effect. Doesn’t that mean that you’re telling them to give up ground, to surrender?

MR KIRBY: No, not at all.

QUESTION: If you’re telling them to move out of places that they hold in Aleppo --

MR KIRBY: That doesn’t – that’s a far cry from saying give up and walk away.

QUESTION: Well, not give up --

MR KIRBY: It’s simply making sure they understand the risks.

QUESTION: Well, now you’re saying --

MR KIRBY: And some of them may be willing to take that risk. I can’t speak for all of them.

QUESTION: But now you’re saying that you’re telling them that they should move away but that that’s not telling them to move away. You’re saying – again, it’s like this --

MR KIRBY: You can still --

QUESTION: It’s like some bizarre --

MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, I don’t want to get into military tactics with you guys.

QUESTION: -- alternate universe.

MR KIRBY: But you can still fight people without being in the same block of houses with them. I mean, there are ways to continue to press what advantages. But we want them to --

QUESTION: So you --

MR KIRBY: We want them to abide by the cessation.

QUESTION: I understand that, but, I mean, so you’re telling them just to move a little bit away?


QUESTION: Or to take --

QUESTION: Look, Matt – Matt, you’re --

QUESTION: Like to the next --

QUESTION: -- overthinking this, Matt. I mean, we’re just simply advising them of the dangers of the – of being intermingled with groups that are not party to the cessation. They have to make their own decisions.

The other thing that we are asking them to do and advising them to do is two things: to abide by the cessation – and Said noted press reports that would indicate that not all of them are – and number two, to continue to work towards the political process, to continue to be a participant in the talks that unfortunately --

QUESTION: They’re doing neither.

MR KIRBY: -- did not happen – did not finish in Geneva.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up?


QUESTION: So you’ve had the 200 – announcement of 250 --

MR KIRBY: I did not. The President made that announcement.

QUESTION: The President. You – the United States. So – and he’s just come from a – the President has just come from a visit to Saudi Arabia, Britain, and Germany. Is it your understanding this could be part of an announcement of others contributing to this? Is – has there been discussions with the Saudis, maybe, of – because there was a discussion previously of the Saudis contributing to a force like this.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. We have publicly and privately encouraged other coalition partners to contribute more to the fight against Daesh, to intensify their efforts in the same manner or – that we have, not necessarily matching every contribution we’re making, of course. But we’ve encouraged other nations to contribute more. That’s a discussion that we have with them – with coalition partners – routinely, regularly. And as a matter of fact, Brett McGurk’s in the region right now, in Kuwait, in a – having a discussion with key coalition partners about the fight against Daesh and about contributions that we can all make.

I wouldn’t speak for other nations and what decisions they’re considering and what they may do. Last week we announced that the – that Denmark was going to contribute F-16 fighters now to the – to strikes in both Iraq and Syria. The UAE contributed additional funds now for stabilization in Iraq. Not every contribution has to be in the form of kinetic military action, but these are decisions – these are sovereign decisions that states have to make, and we’ll let them speak to it.

So I’m – short answer is I’m not aware of any pending announcements by other nations coming out of the President’s meetings. Again, those are decisions that only they can make and only they can speak to.

Yeah, back there.

QUESTION: It’s a different topic.

QUESTION: No, no, no.

QUESTION: When you say “large-scale ground operation,” how many troops does that involve? 10,000, 20 --

MR KIRBY: First of all, that’s a great question for the Defense Department to go to specifics than me, but I’m not going to put a number figure on it. Large-scale means large-scale, and we are not operating large-scale units inside Iraq or inside Syria. And I – you can go to the Pentagon for a more specific number, about whether they peg it to a number. That’s something for military tacticians to speak to. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that we are not now and have no plans to be involved in large-scale conventional ground operations in Iraq or in Syria.


QUESTION: John, I have two questions. Any readout on Secretary Kerry’s conversation – phone conversation with Minister Lavrov today?

MR KIRBY: They did have a phone conversation today. It was, as you might expect, largely about the situation in Syria with respect to both the cessation of hostilities and the need for better and more sustained humanitarian access for so many Syrians that are in need now. So it was largely focused on Syria, and again, I think that shouldn’t come as a surprise given recent events.

QUESTION: My second question is: Secretary Kerry has said on Saturday to New York Times that the U.S. has proposed a 24-hour truce monitoring system to Russia. Can you elaborate on this proposal? And Minister Lavrov has said today that this proposal is a simplistic approach when the task of principal is still the fight against terrorism. Any comment on that too?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, the Secretary is constantly looking for ways to try to make sure that the cessation of hostilities can hold in place, recognizing how fragile it is. I’m not going to get into the details of specific ideas or proposals that he is considering or that he’s putting forth, and I’ll let Foreign Minister Lavrov speak for himself and his opinion of it. The bottom line is that the Secretary remains fully committed to seeing the cessation stay in place and he’s not afraid to think of new ideas and new options to try to make that a reality. And I think he would welcome, as he always has, other ideas by other members of the ISSG and the international community to likewise come up with proposals and ideas. We all should be looking for ways to keep the cessation in place, which obviously still is very fragile.

QUESTION: But some people saw that this proposal is a kind of partition of Syria between the parties.

MR KIRBY: Well, let me just kill that idea right out front. He’s not talking about a partition of Syria, at least in terms of what you’re talking about in terms of what people think politically. We remain committed, as we always have, to a whole, unified, nonsectarian Syria, and every member of the ISSG, to include Russia, has signed up to that very goal as members of the ISSG, in not just one but three communiques and of course a UN Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: I have two on different topics. First, Iran. What is State’s response to the new threat from Iran from Foreign Minister Zarif to take the United States to the International Court of Justice? And this is in relation to Iran’s unhappiness with the Supreme Court ruling last week that Iran would pay about 2 billion in frozen assets to American families of those killed by terrorism sponsored by Tehran.

MR KIRBY: The foreign minister can speak for himself and speak for his government in terms of their intentions going forward. All I would say is what I said last week, that we certainly sympathize with the families who have fallen victim to terrorists that were supported by Tehran in the past. The decision by the court marries very closely with our own statements when the legislation was passed back in 2012, and we’re supportive of the court’s decision. As for what Iran may or may not do, they can speak to that, but we stand by our position with respect to the kinds of suffering that American families in the past have suffered as a result of terrorism supported by Tehran in the past.

QUESTION: Can we stay --

QUESTION: Has there been any --


QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran just for a second?


QUESTION: I just want to make sure that this – that deal, the heavy water agreement went – actually went through as planned on Friday.

MR KIRBY: What do you mean “went through as planned”?

QUESTION: Well, that the deal was done and that the numbers stayed the same and --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know – I mean, if you’re asking do we have – have we actually taken delivery of the 32 tons, I don’t know. But we are through DOE – through the Department of Energy, we’re making a license purchase of those 32 metric tons of heavy water. Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you know if any money has been disbursed?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. You’d have to talk to Energy and to Treasury about that. I don’t know.

QUESTION: So in their statement when they were talking about this on Friday, DOE said that the United States is not going to be Iran’s customer for heavy water, presumably, forever. So how long are you willing to be Iran’s customer for heavy water? I mean, this is another – they just made another 8 million – more than $8 million off this, which I realize --

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: -- is not much in the grand scheme of things. But, I mean, if they keep overproducing heavy water and want to sell it on the market, are you going to continue to – is the United States going to continue to buy it? You saw that – today maybe that the Russians are talking about buying some.

MR KIRBY: There’s no plans that I know of to keep this --

QUESTION: So this was a one time only?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to speak for the Department of Energy or Treasury on this, but there’s no intention that we’re aware of to keep this going on some sort of recurring basis. This met a specific need for both their compliance with heavy water possession and some of the research and scientific needs that we’ve had here in the business community, so it made sense to do it. And I just found a note in the – in my talking points, before I forget, that we expect the heavy water to be delivered to the United States in coming weeks. So it’s not here yet. So there’s no – but back to your question, I know of no intention to keep doing this on a recurring basis.

QUESTION: All right. Are you aware of any other areas, any other parts of the JCPOA that the Administration or that the United States is willing to help Iran meet its obligations under by making purchases, multi-million-dollar purchases?

MR KIRBY: I’m not specifically aware, but I’m also not an expert in the JCPOA.




MR KIRBY: I already got you, Pam. Let me go over here.

QUESTION: I had two questions and I only got one in.

MR KIRBY: You got more than one in. You had, like, two.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: All right, go ahead.

QUESTION: A quick one on Serbia, and that is: What is State’s reaction to the overwhelming victory of the pro-EU prime minister’s party in the elections?

MR KIRBY: Let me get back to you on that. What’s your next one?

QUESTION: That was it.

MR KIRBY: That – you said you had two more.


MR KIRBY: I don’t have a reaction on that. I’m going to have to get back to you on that.


MR KIRBY: Go ahead, Turkey.

QUESTION: Thank you. There’s a American journalist today denied entry at Istanbul airport. This is the fourth foreign journalist within the last week.


QUESTION: In addition to another Dutch-Turkish journalist who visited Turkey, but his – her passport confiscated in Turkey, so she cannot leave from the country. These are very new trends. I wonder if you have any comment specific to American journalist.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, without getting into each and every case, we’ve seen the press reporting on this, and you know where we are on media freedoms and the treatment of journalists, not just in Turkey but around the world. Nothing’s changed about that from our perspective. We continue to raise the issue of media freedom in Turkey and we’ll continue to do that. But I don’t have specifics with respect to each and every case that you’re citing. Obviously, you’re seeing these reports; we’re concerned by them, as we would be anywhere. And again, what we want to see is for Turkey to live up to its own constitutional principles, enshrined right in its constitution, to include freedom of expression through the media.


QUESTION: Do you have a readout of the U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue this morning? And then how does that pave the way for President’s travel to Vietnam next week?

MR KIRBY: I won’t speak to the President’s travel. I don’t think I have a readout of that – do I? I do. (Laughter.) I’m told that I have it. Oh yeah, here it is. There’s just so many tabs here. Thank you for that reminder, Elizabeth.

So I guess we’re going to – we do have a readout here. The – it was held today, with --

QUESTION: “Ask the Vietnamese.”

MR KIRBY: -- I have it right here; I just had to find it – with Tom Malinowski, our Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, as well as the Vietnamese ministry of foreign affairs, their department of internal organizations director. So there was – those are the leads of the respective delegations. It covered a wide range of human rights issues, including the importance of continued progress on legal reform efforts, rule of law, freedom of expression and assembly, religious freedom, labor rights, disability rights, LGBTI rights, multilateral cooperation, as well as individual cases of concern. The promotion of human rights, as you know, remains a critical part of U.S. foreign policy and a key aspect of our ongoing dialogue within the U.S.-Vietnam comprehensive partnership.

I won’t get ahead of presidential travel or agenda, but we’re glad to have this discussion today.

QUESTION: Were any high-profile cases being discussed?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Were there any high-profile cases, such as --

MR KIRBY: As I said, they were – they discussed individual cases of concern. I’m not going to detail any more than that.

QUESTION: Q quick one on Nepal?

QUESTION: John, can I do another topic? I think you called me before.

MR KIRBY: When did I call on you before? In, like, another day?

QUESTION: Just before we went to Syria again.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Just – hang on. We’ll go --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: We’ll go to Nepal, then I’ll go to – what do you want to talk about?

QUESTION: The – okay, we talked about the earthquake and how the deputy prime minister is here. The situation, the political situation in Nepal is quite – what’s going on, there is a journalist whose – there’s anti-India --


QUESTION: -- there’s a lot going on. So can you give us any readout, anything that this department talked to him about on the political side?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think I discussed this at the top in terms of the scope of the discussion. As you might it expect, it covered a wide range of bilateral issues between our two nations. Obviously, in light of the anniversary, then we wanted to make it clear that we continue to stand ready to support Nepal as it recovers and reconstructs from the earthquake. I just don’t have a more detailed readout than that.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, John. So a group of international experts presented its final report on the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico yesterday.


QUESTION: The topic has been on the front page of The New York Times for the past two days, I think Saturday and Monday. What is the U.S. take on this? Does it – does the U.S. agree with the condemnation of the Mexican justice system contained in the report?

MR KIRBY: Here’s what I’ll say. We note the role of international experts working under the auspices of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and commend their efforts to assist Mexican authorities in seeking resolution on this tragic case. We trust that the Mexican Government will incorporate findings outlined in the experts’ report to bring the perpetrators to justice and will continue to ensure the safety of the families of the victims. And again, we call for the completion of a full and transparent investigation of the students’ disappearances and the prosecution of all those responsible. Okay?

QUESTION: A quick follow-up: Have you heard anything regarding the confirmation of under secretary – Assistant Secretary Jacobson to the Mexican embassy from the Hill? You heard anything, any progress in the negotiation for --

MR KIRBY: What I would just tell you is we – the Secretary continues to believe firmly that she should – that she should be voted on her nomination, her nomination should be voted on, and it’s important to get her – he continues to believe it’s important to get her confirmed and get her in Mexico City to be ambassador to a country that’s very, very important to us. I don’t have any updates from the Hill to provide you. We are, as you might expect, in constant consultation and communication with members of Congress with respect to all outstanding nominations but certainly none of any less concern than the one we have over Assistant Secretary Jacobson.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Catherine, way in the back there.

QUESTION: I just have a quick email question. The Code of Federal Regulations requires damage assessments when classified information is outside secure government channels. Are any damage assessments being done at the State Department, or are you aware of damage assessments being done by other agencies?

MR KIRBY: I won’t speak for other agencies and to the degree to which they are or they aren’t. As I said, and as I’ve talked about before, the issue of classification at the time is a subject of review and investigation – several reviews and investigations which have not been completed. I won’t get ahead of that. I’m not aware of a damage assessment here at the State Department, and I won’t speak for the intelligence community and to the degree to which they are or they are not doing that. As we’ve said in the past, none of the email traffic was marked classified at the time. The degree to which it was in fact classified when it was sent is all party to reviews and investigations that are ongoing.

QUESTION: My only sort of additional point on that would be is that it’s clear from the ICIG letter that the top secret emails are not in dispute. You’ve agreed to withhold them. So this is not a classification issue any longer. This is a closed matter.

MR KIRBY: Again, we’ve had this discussion before, Catherine, so I don’t know that we need to revisit it. There are reviews and investigations going on about this email traffic.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the 22 still the subject of review?

MR KIRBY: Sorry? I’m sorry?

QUESTION: The 22 that are withheld --

MR KIRBY: We’ve already spoken to those 22 --

QUESTION: Right. So there’s no disagreement then on --

MR KIRBY: -- and we’ve been very open and honest about the decision we made now. We weren’t – in doing that, Catherine, as you know, we had an obligation through FOIA to produce this – these documents and to do so carefully and in a measured way. And some were upgraded, no question about that, and I spoke from this podium about those particular top secret ones. And we’ve been nothing but honest about that.

That was a determination that was made at the time through the process of public disclosure. It wasn’t meant when we made that determination to indicate classification at the time or damage done at the time. There are reviews and investigations that are ongoing looking at that, and we want to make sure that those reviewers and those investigators are able to do their job cleanly without interference from us. So our determination – we stand by those determinations, but they were made in the process of releasing them through FOIA for public disclosure.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR KIRBY: Ma’am. Ma’am.

QUESTION: Can I go back quickly to the Special Forces? I mean, can we consider the additional Special Forces to an additional help support for YPG units?

MR KIRBY: They are on the ground to support – to assist and to advise counter-Daesh fighters. And there are many groups fighting Daesh and not all of them are Kurdish. Kurdish fighters have been brave. They’ve been courageous. They have been successful. Our goal is to provide advice and assistance to all those who can effectively go after Daesh. Okay?

I’ve time for just one more and then I’m really going to have to go.

QUESTION: I promise to be very quick.

MR KIRBY: Really? You promise?

QUESTION: On the Palestinian issue – very quick, I promise.

MR KIRBY: All right, let’s see.

QUESTION: Wonderful. Last week the Israelis arrested a journalist named Mujahid Assad. They accused him of consorting with the enemy. And yesterday they arrested the head of the Palestinian journalist’s union, Omar Nazzal and they accused him of incitement. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I have a very quick answer for you. We’ve seen those reports. Obviously, we would refer you to Israeli authorities to speak to them. I just don’t have additional detail at this time.

Okay, thanks everybody.

QUESTION: They issued a statement on freedom of the press.

MR KIRBY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:11 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - April 22, 2016

Fri, 04/22/2016 - 15:49

Elizabeth Trudeau
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 22, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


.2:05 p.m. EDT

MS TRUDEAU: Hi, everyone. It’s Friday.

QUESTION: Hi. It is.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. I have to apologize, we’re going to --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS TRUDEAU: Well, of course, Said, if you want to move up. (Laughter.) I have to apologize, the Secretary will be speaking at 2:30 so we’re going to do this quickly so you can all watch that. So I have a few things at the top, then we’ll get right to your questions.

So first, on Syria. Today Special Envoy de Mistura said he’s continuing his discussions with the regime over the humanitarian situation in Syria, and that he plans to continue the current round of talks in Geneva into Wednesday. Over the last several days, Mr. de Mistura has held daily technical meetings with the HNC delegation and cited his discussions with the Syrian opposition as useful and productive. The HNC will have technical teams in Geneva until Tuesday. Mr. de Mistura said he plans on continuing working with the regime and other Syrian groups until next Wednesday. Mr. de Mistura highlighted that after three-plus years of efforts, the discussion of a political transition is now at the center of the process.

On Libya. The United States welcomes the continued and positive steps in Libya since the Government of National Accord entered Tripoli on March 30th, including early progress on peaceful, orderly transition of authority over key ministries and institutions. However, we are concerned by reports this week that spoilers again blocked a vote in the house of representatives on endorsing the cabinet of the new government through tactics that included physically blocking access to the building. As they did in February when the hardline minority also stood in the way of the democratic process, a majority of the house of representative members responded by endorsing the new Libyan Government through a written statement. We stand with those house members who are working to advance the political process despite intimidation. We continue to condemn efforts to undermine the Government of National Accord and the implementation of the Libyan political agreement. We urge all Libyans to continue facilitating a peaceful handover of power so Libya’s new leaders can move forward with the hard work of restoring stability to their country.

And with that, I’ll go to Nicolas.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can we start with Iran --

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: -- and the announcement that the U.S. Government is going to buy 32 tons of heavy water to Iran?


QUESTION: Could you just elaborate – what’s this contract about?


QUESTION: And just a technical question: What exactly is heavy water? And is it part of the JCPOA? And don’t you fear that politically at home, it will – you will be – the U.S. Administration will be accused again to please the Iran Government given the reaction of the Republicans this morning to this – to this deal?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so there’s a lot there. So let me start with some sort of broad information. I’ll answer your question on what is heavy water, because I had to – I had to get a little research on that, and then we can go on further.

So you’re correct, the U.S. Government, via the Department of Energy, is making a license purchase of 32 metric tons of heavy water from a subsidiary of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. This heavy water will fulfill a substantial portion of the U.S. domestic demand this year for industry and domestic research applications. This material is not radioactive and does not present safety concerns. This transaction provides U.S. industry with a critical product while also enabling Iran to sell some of its excess heavy water, as contemplated in the JCPOA. Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA meant this material had already been removed from Iran, ensuring it would not be used to support the development of a nuclear weapon.

Our purchase of the heavy water means it will instead be used for critically important research in non-nuclear industrial requirements here in the United States. We expect the heavy water to be delivered to the U.S. in the coming week, initially stored at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and then resold to – at commercially reasonable prices to domestic commercial and research buyers.

So on technical details about what heavy water is and details on its implementation, I’m going to refer you to the Department of Energy, but I will say heavy water is used in the development, production, and sale of compounds used in chemistry, biomedical and diagnostic research, environmental analysts, and physics.

So I know you had a question too on U.S. domestic reaction, and our response would be no. This was actually an allowable event that happened. So the U.S. was under no obligation to purchase heavy water from Iran, nor is it obligated to do so in the future, but the JCPOA required Iran to reduce its heavy water inventory below the 130 metric ton limit. One way to do that was to sell the excess to countries or companies. And I’d just note in the future it’s possible other countries may wish to purchase that. This was a purchase that was arranged through the Department of Energy for that.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course you can, Pam.

QUESTION: Thank you. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce was – is among those who have been critical, saying the deal actually encourages Iran to produce more heavy water to sell. House Speaker Paul Ryan also had some criticism, saying it seemed to be part of an effort to sweeten the nuclear deal with Iran and would directly subsidize Iran’s nuclear program. Is there a State concern about this criticism in that the U.S. may be seen as enabling Iran with this purchase?

MS TRUDEAU: No. This limit ensures Iran cannot stockpile heavy water for use in a covert reaction. The IAEA’s monitoring and verification measures will ensure that we know if Iran attempts to exceed the limit or divert any of the heavy water for illicit production of plutonium. So, no.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary discuss this with Saudi officials and with other GCC members ahead of the purchase? And if so, what was their reaction?

MS TRUDEAU: So I’d say the discussions regarding this commercial transaction have been ongoing for some time, primarily between the Department of Energy and their Iranian counterparts. And while the contracts were signed today in Vienna, this was a bilateral transaction between the U.S. and Iran.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: No, stay on this topic.

MS TRUDEAU: Wait, are we done on Iran? And then we’ll go. Yeah.

QUESTION: Elizabeth, aren’t you concerned, though, that you – the United States is subsidizing Iran’s nuclear program?

MS TRUDEAU: No. This was a commercial transaction. It actually met a U.S. need, as I outlined in this, and it also helped Iran meet its obligations under the JCPOA.

QUESTION: How much money are we talking about for this?

MS TRUDEAU: It’s under 10 million.

QUESTION: But aren’t you concerned that some of this “under 10 million” will fund terrorist activities in the future?

MS TRUDEAU: So we’ve talked about this quite extensively from this podium, as well as elsewhere, Lucas. No one’s blind to Iran’s unhelpful activities in the region. On this, what we can say is this was a commercial transaction, it was allowable, it fills a need here in the United States.

QUESTION: Will this transaction happen with U.S. dollars or U.S. taxpayer dollars?

MS TRUDEAU: So on that I’m going to refer you to the Department of the Treasury.

QUESTION: But why can’t you answer that question? It’s a simple yes or no.

MS TRUDEAU: Because that’s a question for Treasury.

Thanks. Said.

QUESTION: And what about the sanctions, Elizabeth?

MS TRUDEAU: So this is actually allowable under the JCPOA. If you’re talking about future decisions on sanctions, I’m not going to preview that. Okay.


QUESTION: Can we go Syria real quick?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: But by the way, who is transporting the heavy water? Is it U.S. transports or --

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t know that. Why don’t I have – I’ll have our technical people look at that. I think it’s probably a question for Energy, but we can take a look.

QUESTION: I want to go to Syria.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: You mentioned at the top what Staffan de Mistura said. He also said that the cessation of hostilities is facing a looming danger that it could collapse at any moment. And now, I know Mr. de Mistura is not someone who has a penchant for being hyperbolic or anything.


QUESTION: So he gave it, like, a three-day window, till Wednesday and so on. Can you share with us any information that you might have on this issue, or how to go forward --

MS TRUDEAU: So the President just spoke to this as well, from London. As we’ve said several times on this, as the President just said, as Mr. de Mistura just said, the cessation of hostilities faces serious threats due to persistent violations by the Assad regime. This is something that we continue to see, we continue to raise. President Obama has stressed to President Putin the importance of pressing the Syrian regime to halt its offensive attacks on that. I’m not going to give a timeline. I don’t think I can from this podium. Mr. de Mistura has spoken on this. But we are absolutely concerned.

QUESTION: Okay. How is this, in your opinion, juxtaposed against reports that say that the Syrians, the Russians, and with the help of Iran, are poised to attack Halab, Aleppo in the next --

MS TRUDEAU: In terms of the battlefield movement or these --

QUESTION: So it’s almost imminent that --


QUESTION: -- they are going to move in to liberate Aleppo. Do you have any information on this? Or this could be tied to it in any way?

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t say that. I can’t say that there’s a grand strategy, taking a look at this. I would say the cessation of hostilities, though it has certainly not been perfect – and no one is blind to that – has improved the life for tens, hundreds of thousands of Syrians on a daily basis, which is what we wanted to happen. Is it under threat? Absolutely. The President spoke to this today, as did Mr. de Mistura. Do we think its continued – that there’s validity that we continue to press it? Absolutely, because there’s no alternative. This provides the ability, as Mr. de Mistura said, where the political transition finally is in place to talk. Okay.



QUESTION: Thank you. The tensions between the Kurdish forces and the Assad regime have recently built up. And over the past two days, there have been clashes, resulting in the deaths and wounding of a number of people. Does the United States have a position on that, on this new tension between Assad and the Kurds, who have remain neutral, more or less, towards each other?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, certainly we would say the Peshermga – the Kurds have been some of the most effective fighters on the ground against ISIL, and that’s something that we welcome, we’ve supported, that we have highlighted repeatedly. In terms of these new tensions, I can’t speak to that specifically, but I would say certainly the Pesh have been very focused where we need them to.

QUESTION: I’m talking about the Syrian Kurds, not the Peshmerga in Iraq.


QUESTION: The Syrian Kurds who’ve --

MS TRUDEAU: Is the fight between --

QUESTION: The Assad forces and the Syrian Kurds. It’s in Syria.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. Okay. So on that, I’m aware of those reports. I don’t really have anything to add on that. This is yet again a concern as we take a look at the cessation of hostilities. Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: I know I want to go to Lalit here.

QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to ask you about the Kabul terrorist attack this week.


QUESTION: Voice of America today ran a big story about quoting presidential spokesperson from Kabul saying that this attack has a hallmark of Taliban and the Haqqani Network and they are putting the blame on the Pakistani establishment because they have direct links with the Haqqani Network.

MS TRUDEAU: And I’m sorry, where was that spokesperson from?

QUESTION: Sorry, Afghanistan’s presidential spokesperson.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. I haven’t seen that --

QUESTION: Dawa Khan Menapal.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. I haven’t seen that direct statement, but what I can say is that attacks such as this clearly undermine U.S., Afghan, and Pakistani efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. We have consistently expressed our concerns at the highest level of the Government of Pakistan about their continued tolerance for Afghan Taliban groups such as the Haqqani Network operating from Pakistani soil. And we did again – after this week’s attack, we have pressed the Government of Pakistan to follow up on its expressed commitment not to discriminate between terror groups regardless of their agenda or their affiliation by undertaking concrete action against the Haqqanis.

QUESTION: But your tolerance with Pakistan’s tolerance of this network is not a new thing. You have been tolerating these – Pakistan’s tolerance with Haqqani Network for quite some time.

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I direct you back to what Pakistan authorities have said themselves. They’ve reiterated their commitment that they will not discriminate against those groups. And we continue to call on them to live up to that commitment.

QUESTION: But do you see the words match with their actions?

MS TRUDEAU: I think words matter and we continue to encourage them to have their actions match those words.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On peace process?


QUESTION: French foreign minister has said today that an international conference in Paris on May 30 is unable to relaunch talks between Palestinians and the Israelis. Did you get more information from the French about this conference? Are you coordinating with them now, and do you support such a conference?

MS TRUDEAU: So we actually just received specifics regarding substance and timing of this conference. We continue to be in touch directly with the French and other stakeholders to discuss the substance on there. We obviously remain concerned about the situation and continued trends on the ground, and it’s why we continue to look at both sides to demonstrate with actions and politics a genuine commitment to the two-state solution.


MS TRUDEAU: In terms of details, content, who’s attending, I just don’t have that level of granularity.

QUESTION: But based on this information, the U.S. will attend this conference?

MS TRUDEAU: Again, with scheduling and who’s going to attend – attendance at all, I don’t have that granularity. We’ve just received that information, so we’ll continue to look and maybe I’ll have an update for you later on.

QUESTION: But you’re --

QUESTION: Is it a good idea to have an international conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or do you still favor direct negotiations as --

MS TRUDEAU: Our position on direct negotiations hasn’t changed. But on this, as we’ve just received the information, literally, we’re taking a look at it and we’ll be in touch with the French, and hopefully have an update for you guys as well.

QUESTION: Does this conference contradict the bilateral talks between --

MS TRUDEAU: I wouldn't say contradict. But without getting too far ahead of taking a look at that information, I don’t want to make a decision on that from the podium.

I’m going to go to --

QUESTION: Let me just – can I just follow up on this issue here very, very quickly.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course. Of course, Said.

QUESTION: I’m just – because the French also said it should have guarantees, it should just not be just be another meeting, because they have had so many meetings on the Middle East. Do you agree with that concept or that premise?

MS TRUDEAU: I’d agree – I’d say that we agree with the concept that we need to see progress. In going back to Lalit’s question, again, this is one of those things where words matter and actions need to match words. As you know, we continue to call for the reduction of tensions, the reduction of rhetoric. I can’t speak specifically to this because, again, we’re just seeing the context on this. We’re taking a look at the details. I don’t have anything to share on that.

QUESTION: Could I get you to comment on a report that Israel has confiscated 115 dunams of land, which is about 40 acres and so on, for settlement building today?

MS TRUDEAU: And I actually did the math on that to see exactly what a dunam was. So we are aware of the reports. This appears to be the latest step in what appears to be an ongoing process of land seizures, settlement expansions, and legalizations of outposts that is fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution. As we have repeatedly made clear, we continue to look to both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies that commitment to a two-state solution.

I’m going to go to the gentleman in the back because – one second, Michel – because he was here yesterday and we didn’t get a chance to call on him.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you, Elizabeth.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: Thank you, Elizabeth. Last Friday heavily armed gunmen from South Sudan crossed the Ethiopian border into Gambela region and killed 208 innocent Ethiopians, including women and children. And they also kidnap more than 100 children. As you probably heard, Ethiopia declared two days of national mourning for the 208 people killed. Ethiopia also announced that on Wednesday that its military force entered South Sudan and surrounded the attackers who abducted the children. My question, Elizabeth: What is the United States position regarding this attack on Ethiopian soil?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So first I’m going to say there’s a lot there. So first, our condolences and our thoughts are with the victims and those impacted by this. We are concerned by the reports of the attacks in Gambela region of Ethiopia.

At this point we don’t have information on the motive of attack. We’ve been informed that the Ethiopian authorities are responding to the immediate needs of those affected communities. They’re carrying out the investigation. I’ve also seen reports that the Ethiopian forces are pulling out the children in that; for that I’m going to refer you to the Government of Ethiopia and South Sudan, because I just don’t have clarity on what’s going on on the ground.

Okay. Yep. And you guys – you’re going to hate this. I can take two more, because I want to get you out before S goes on.

QUESTION: Sure. The foreign minister of North Korea spoke at the UN yesterday, and essentially he blamed the U.S. for failure in progress on talks and said that the only way to meet the threat from the U.S. was for them to have nuclear weapons. Do you have a response to that?

MS TRUDEAU: We disagree.



QUESTION: -- he also had a chance to speak with Foreign Minister Zarif. Is there any concern, given the history between North Korea and Iran, that they might be talking about any illicit --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I can’t speak to a meeting of two foreign leaders like that.


QUESTION: Thank you. Elizabeth, the Armenian American lobby groups learned from a representative of Administration that President Obama won’t call the events of 1915 as genocide during his statement that will come out soon. The question is --

MS TRUDEAU: It actually came out.

QUESTION: It already came out today?

MS TRUDEAU: Yes, sir, it did.

QUESTION: Okay. And then, obviously, there – we learned – as we learned before, there is no genocide term in the statement. Can you please tell why this Administration avoids using the genocide term when about already 30 countries – approximately 30 countries, starting from allies like – democratic allies like Germany and France to not most democratic, maybe, country like Venezuela, has already called the events of 1915 as genocide? And President Ronald Reagan in 1981 as President also called the events of 1915 as genocide. Why can’t this Administration do the same? Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. In terms of the President’s statement, you know I’m going to refer you to the White House. What I would say, though, is read this statement. It’s a very powerful statement; came out just about an hour ago. He marked – he remarked on – he actually termed it the first mass atrocity of the 20th century. He noted the 1.5 million Armenian people who were deported, massacred, marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. The President also remarked on the remarkable resilience of the Armenian people. So I would refer you to the White House to speak specifically on this, but I would say read the statement, because it’s very powerful and he speaks.


QUESTION: I’m sorry, can I follow up really quick --

MS TRUDEAU: I just – actually, let me go one more, and then I’m happy to talk.

QUESTION: Okay, come back to me, please. Thank you.


QUESTION: Two quick ones, if I can.


QUESTION: The first one: What’s the State perspective on the widening political crisis in Macedonia, which, of course, has resulted in the massive pro and anti-government demonstrations this week?

And then secondly, do you have an update concerning U.S. relief for the earthquake victims in Ecuador?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So on Macedonia, we and the EU have made our concerns known about the importance of credible elections in Macedonia. Time is short. Much remains to be done. We strongly urge President Ivanov to rescind his decision and let the special prosecutor’s office and the courts do their job. I would refer you to some of the statements that we’ve made on that.

Quickly on Ecuador – and thank you for the question, because I think sometimes things move very quickly on, and the people of Ecuador are very much in our thoughts. The United States is responding to the humanitarian needs in Ecuador in several different ways. USAID has deployed a team of disaster experts to assist the Government of Ecuador by assessing damage, identifying priority humanitarian needs, providing information and analysis of the situation on the ground.

They have also deployed a small team of structural engineers with urban search-and-rescue partners from the Los Angeles County Fire Department; Fairfax, Virginia Fire and Rescue. They’re surveying buildings and critical infrastructure in the most affected areas.

They have also deployed a small support team to work with UN’s Disaster Assistance and Coordination Team to help coordinate the flood of international rescue activities. They provided an initial $100,000 to support the distribution of emergency relief supplies to communities impacted and they’re contributing $500,000 through the UN World Food Program to provide food vouchers in especially hit areas. Additional U.S. Government assistance may be forthcoming based on assessments and also the Government of Ecuador’s request.

One more. You’re it, my friend.

QUESTION: Thank you. What do you tell critics who say that the United States is rewarding Iran’s behavior for producing excess plutonium or heavy water that could be used to produce plutonium?

MS TRUDEAU: So I think it’s important to realize that actually Iran was below the 130 metric ton threshold before this was purchased.

QUESTION: And why can’t you say whether this is Iran’s sanction money or new U.S. dollars or U.S. taxpayer dollars being used to purchase this heavy water?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry, I don’t think I understand your question.

QUESTION: What kind of dollars are being used to purchase this heavy water from Iran?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so this was actually facilitated through the Department of Energy, so I’m going to refer you there.


MS TRUDEAU: Thanks, guys.


(The briefing was concluded at 2:28 p.m.)

DPB #68

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - April 20, 2016

Wed, 04/20/2016 - 15:49

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 20, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:27 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: All right, just a couple things here at the top. On the counter-Daesh coalition and the fight against Daesh, the United States welcomes the vote yesterday by the Danish parliament and the announcement by the United Arab Emirates to expand their contributions to the coalition to counter ISIL. Denmark’s vote to increase authorized personnel on the ground and the redeployment of F-16 fighter aircraft for operations in both Iraq and Syria will complement their existing contributions to the coalition and will certainly complement the broader coalition kinetic efforts as well.

Also, again, yesterday, as I alluded to, the United Arab Emirates announced a $10 million contribution to the UNDP’s Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilization, otherwise known as FFIS, to help accelerate the rehabilitation of civic infrastructure and community development initiatives in areas that have been newly liberated from Daesh. As part of Denmark’s vote, they also committed to strengthening civilian efforts by increasing support for stabilization efforts in Iraq and Syria and to counter Daesh’s propaganda.

We obviously appreciate these additional steps that we believe will help ensure the coalition continues to both seize and sustain the momentum that we have already gained in this campaign. Defeating Daesh is a top priority of the United States and we are going to continue to work with countries like Denmark and the UAE and a broad range of partners across the international community to further degrade and obviously destroy this barbaric group.

I also want to highlight that the Secretary did reach the Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida by phone earlier today to express condolences, of course, for the loss of life and the injuries as well as the damage and devastation sustained from recent earthquakes there in southern Japan. He, of course, reiterated our commitment to continue to support the Japanese Government’s relief efforts. I talked a little bit about that support yesterday; that will continue, and the Secretary made sure that that was clear that we would continue to do that and also reaffirm the course that we, as always, stand firmly beside the Japanese people in this time of need.

Just a quick travel note, and I think all of you know this already, but the Secretary will travel to New York City on Friday. He’ll be coming straight from Riyadh to New York City to represent the United States at the signing of the Paris agreement. This is a historic climate agreement that was reached in Paris last December, as you know, by the 196 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The signing ceremony is hosted by the UN and will take place at the UN headquarters. The Secretary will also participate in an event along with representatives from a number of other nations that are committing, as the United States, China, and others have, to join the agreement this year.

He’ll also take advantage, as he always does, to have bilateral meetings in New York City, which we will be able to announce tomorrow once the schedule is a little bit more finalized. And I think as you know, we often do readouts or provide opportunities for media access at the beginning of these meetings. I would expect a similar amount of openness and transparency for these bilateral meetings on Friday. And again, we’ll have more information probably tomorrow about who they are and when they are.

QUESTION: A real quick point on that. Didn’t the Secretary indicate yesterday that he would be meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif on Friday?

MR KIRBY: He did. He did, and I would expect that when we’re able to give you the full list of bilateral meetings, that you will very likely see one with Foreign Minister Zarif on that schedule, yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: That’s very much his expectation.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we – can we just start with a quick one on Syria?

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And I know we’ve addressed this, or you’ve addressed this, to some degree in recent briefings, but the head of the Syrian delegation to the talks in Geneva is arguing that the departure or suspension of the participation of the opposition groups in the talks could be a good thing, that it may remove an obstacle to actually reaching an agreement. And he’s continuing to push this notion of a broad-based government of national unity, which, although it doesn’t explicitly – doesn’t explicitly say this, seems to be a way of ensuring that the Assad regime, if not Assad himself, continues to play a part in the – in a transitional government. Can you address not just your views about Assad himself but also your views on such a national unity government that might include large portions of the current governing structure?

MR KIRBY: Sure. Well, obviously our views on Assad and the degree to which he can be part of the long-term future of Syria have not changed, Arshad. Nothing at all has changed about our views of him or his lack of potential to continue leading the Syrian Government. So no change there. I’ve seen these comments. Frankly, we would not associate ourselves with them. We do not believe that the answer, that the way forward is any removal by the opposition from these talks; in fact, quite the contrary. As I said yesterday and we have been saying, we want to see all parties actively participate in these talks. We understand certainly the frustrations expressed by the opposition as they asked for a pause, and we respect the decision by Special Envoy de Mistura to grant that pause. But we still want to see the talks continue. We still want to see them get going again, and we believe that, in fact, is the best way to get to a political transition inside Syria.

Now, on the third point about this broad-based unity government or however he phrased it, I think I’d leave it to them to describe what they exactly mean by that. What I can tell you is that we remain firmly committed to using the Geneva process to describe and to articulate and to flesh out what a transitional government and governing body should look like, and that’s really what these talks are designed to do. In fact, when Special Envoy de Mistura started them in this round, he specifically said that one of his goals – in fact, his chief goal – was to have – to start to have a dialogue and a discussion about the political transition itself and about what a transitional governing structure could look like. He didn’t say that he thought that in a couple weeks’ time they were going to get at it and necessarily have the final answers, but he wanted to start having that conversation. And we agree with him. We think that it is time to start having that. But it has to be ironed out between the parties. It can’t be dictated at the outset of talks by one or the other. We want them to sit down and to have a dialogue and a discussion about what it should look like.

The last thing I’ll say on this – and I know it’s a long answer, but your question was a good one – the last thing I’ll say is that as the Secretary has maintained all along, this has to be determined between the parties, but also that we recognize that through the transition process, in whatever form it takes, that there will have to be some preservation of some institutions of government to keep order and stability in the country as we work through a transitional period. Transitions are very difficult and they can be very uncertain, and they can certainly lead to unintended consequences and outcomes if you’re not careful. And one of the things we want to do is be careful and thoughtful. And so we recognize that some institutions of government, particularly the security forces – we’ve talked about that – would have to stay in place in some form or fashion. That doesn’t mean that they’re all going to be led by the same individuals, but that the – but that we don’t tear down every root and every – and rip every fabric of government as we work through the transition.

So it’s a long answer, but I hope that got it.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up on this very point? I just want to understand you correctly. You certainly want to maintain the structure that you have now because, after all, the opposition really did not have or does not have much experience in terms of governing and running institutions and so on. Syria has been around for a very long time, these government institutions and so on. You don’t want to see them go in any way?

MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I understand completely what you’re asking.

QUESTION: Let me ask you --

MR KIRBY: But let me just take a stab at it and then you tell me if I got into the ballpark. I mean, what we’ve said is we recognize that some governing institutions, certainly some levers of government have got to stay in place, so that order of stability and security can be maintained as you go through a transition process, which is a very difficult, very trying, very uncertain time. We don’t want to rip everything down and then have to start over again and build up again. And we’ve seen how that doesn’t work in the past. And the Secretary has also said that any role for Assad in that process has got to be determined by the parties. We’re not going to legislate it from – externally. But that clearly, he can’t be the answer to the long-term future of Syria, and that’s why we believe it’s so important to have, as the end product of this transitional process, elections – elections with the diaspora being able to vote, the millions and millions of Syrians that have fled that country, so that they have a voice and they have a vote. And we believe that if they do, there’s no way that they’re going to vote to keep Bashar al-Assad in power.

QUESTION: Independent of Assad, I mean, you keep saying that some must stay, some must go. That’s the assumption. How do you decide which government agencies should stay or which government agencies should go? Because --


QUESTION: -- we’ve learned the lessons from Iraq. I mean, you can’t just collapse the government. I understand that you may not want the same leadership in these institution, whether it’s the ministry of interior or defense or the security agencies or even the ministry of electricity, as they call it, and water and so on or agriculture.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: You want these institutions to remain in place --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- while you may not want the leadership to be there, correct?

QUESTION: Does that include the political parties?

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: Is everyone who’s a Baathist going to be kicked out in a transitional government?

MR KIRBY: Again, these are the kinds of decisions that we want to be hashed out between the parties through these talks. That’s why we want the talks to continue. That’s why we want to see all sides continue to participate. They’ve got to decide that. It’s not – the ISSG isn’t going to sit down and have a meeting and issue a decree and say the following ministries have got to stay in place with the following individuals in certain leadership positions. That’s – we want them to work this out.

But clearly – I mean, just common sense would tell you that we certainly want to see some security force apparatus in place, obviously, and certainly institutions and levers of government that can deliver basic services like electricity and water, medical support, and some economic foundation, obviously. I mean, some of the very essential elements of government we’d like to see in place, and I think they’re pretty obvious. But the – but what it’s going to look like exactly and who’s going to lead them and how they’re going to be administered – that’s what we want the parties to work out. That’s why these talks are so important.


QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you about Saudi Arabia quickly, the – and the 9/11 bill and just try to button this up. Have the Saudis formally expressed to the State Department, to the U.S. Government, that they intend to sell off their assets, their – in U.S. treasuries should the 9/11 bill pass in its current form? Or is that just something that the press has cited officials from Saudi Arabia having said?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak for Saudi officials, Justin, and I would encourage you to ask them about their views of this legislation. I can only go back to what I’ve said the last couple of days and speak for our views of it and point you to what the Secretary said himself in testimony to Congress and our concerns about the legislation as it’s currently written. And again, there’s no change to our views on that, but I wouldn’t speak for Saudi officials and their views.

QUESTION: All right. I wouldn’t want you to. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Thank you.

QUESTION: But wouldn’t --

MR KIRBY: Then you shouldn’t have asked.

QUESTION: Well, that’s --

MR KIRBY: Because you actually --

QUESTION: But he wasn’t asking --

MR KIRBY: Because you actually did want me to.

QUESTION: But he wasn’t asking the views of Saudi officials. He was asking if they’ve raised this with you. Can you not address that?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I know, and I’m not – I’m just not going to --

QUESTION: And you don’t want to do that either.

MR KIRBY: I’m just not going to speak to that, and I – as you know, we don’t talk about the details of diplomatic conversations.

QUESTION: Do you see it as a real – as a threat? Do you see it as a possible outcome?


QUESTION: That – this massive selloff of U.S. assets.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate one way or the other.

QUESTION: Would you express to Congress, to members of Congress considering the bill, that aside from the risks that the Secretary has spoken about, that this also could be one ramification?

MR KIRBY: I think I would just leave it the way the Secretary left it in testimony to the Congress in terms of our concerns.


QUESTION: Change topic. I wonder if we can get your reaction to the political developments in Havana, in Cuba, where, as you know, Raul Castro and others at the top of the Communist Party have announced that they’ll stay in those positions for the coming five years. Was this something that was expected in this department, and was it a disappointment, and does it cast a dark cloud over the Administration’s pursuit of rapprochement with Havana?

QUESTION: Or a pall, or a shadow? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Shadow – yeah. Just – what have you got to say?

MR KIRBY: No, I think I got the gist of the question. First of all, we didn’t have and didn’t set expectations for the Cuban Communist Party Congress, and this is for Cuban officials to speak to the results of that congress. We’ve long said that our aspiration is that the Cuban people be able to decide their future and to make choices for themselves. And we recognize the difficulties that they face right now, and in terms of that sort of future. For our part, we’re going to continue to work with Cuba through the bilateral commission, where we are prepared to discuss a wide range of issues with the government, including some of the issues that President Castro mentioned in his comments. Other issues include – and we’ve talked about this before, but economic, cultural, social areas, as well as the more difficult challenges of human rights and outstanding U.S. claims, and of course, the return of fugitives.

So look, there’s a long process of normalization that we are just now embarking on. We believe and have maintained that the best way for us to try to bring about a brighter future for the Cuban people is to engage and to have a dialogue, and to have an embassy, and hopefully one day normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba. And that’s what we’re focused on.

QUESTION: So this doesn’t derail the pursuit of those things in any way?

MR KIRBY: I would not describe it as derailing. I would – we didn’t set expectations for the congress, and we didn’t – we didn’t head into it with expectations one way or the other. The only expectations are the ones we’re placing on ourselves, which is to work towards normalization. And we still believe that that engagement, having – being able to have a dialogue, is the best way that we can help the Cuban people see a brighter future long-term.

But look, it’s going to – we recognize it’s going to take a little while and – to get to full normalization. And there are still real issues that our two governments do not agree on. And the policy in the past of not talking and not having an opportunity to work through those issues obviously didn’t produce anything really good for the Cuban people. We believe that dialogue and a relationship can.

QUESTION: This – sorry. This is one of the things that our governments don’t agree on, is the idea that the Castro brothers stay in power for life. Is that --

MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, again, I’m not – I appreciate the third now attempt to get me to talk specifically about what they decided at the congress.

QUESTION: Yeah, no, I’m trying to get a --

MR KIRBY: I mean, we didn’t have expectations for them going into the congress, and there certainly were no expectations that there was going to be an overnight change in the way the island is governed. There’s never been that expectation. We – our aspiration – and I said it at the outset – our aspiration is that the Cuban people can determine for themselves their future. Obviously, that’s difficult for them to do right now given the governing structure on the island. And there – but there were no expectations that by opening up an embassy – their embassy here and our embassy there – that it was all – that the way Cuba’s governed is going to change overnight. And this isn’t – this has never been about some sort of forcible regime change. This has been about normalization of diplomatic relations and having a discussion and a dialogue, and trying – we believe, through engagement – to be able to help the Cuban people meet their aspirations.


QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Question on Iran?

MR KIRBY: Let me go to Said and then we’ll --

QUESTION: Yeah, I have very quick questions on the Palestinian issue. May I?

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. First of all, the Haaretz reports that the Palestinian Authority is leaning towards not submitting or not – or a call for an anti-settlement resolution at the United Nations. Are you aware of that, and do you have any comment? There was much talk – in fact, there was an agreement among the Arab group in Geneva that they will submit a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council – we talked about it last week – calling on a resolution that condemns the settlements. Haaretz now says that the Palestinian Authority is leaning toward not submitting that. Have they talked to you about that? Have you spoken to them about this? Do you have any comment on this?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any discussions that have taken place between the Palestinians and the State Department or the United States Government with respect to now not being in favor of a UN Security Council resolution. Our position on this hasn’t changed. Again, we – as I said the other day, we’re going to consider all options that can lead us to a two-state solution. But I don’t have anything further. I’m not – we’re not going to comment a draft resolution one way or the other.

QUESTION: But would you encourage the Palestinians not to submit such a resolution?

MR KIRBY: I think I’m going to leave it where I left it before, Said.

QUESTION: Also, overnight the Israeli authorities raided a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, Issawiya, and arrested like 32 people, mostly children. I wonder if you have any comment on that. They have this new practice of what they call flying checkpoints where they go from place to place basically making life impossible for a lot of people to go to school --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that report. Why don’t you let me get a little bit more information before I comment on it?

QUESTION: And finally, will the Secretary of State meet with Mahmoud Abbas? You said he’s going to have some bilateral meetings on Friday.

MR KIRBY: He is.

QUESTION: Is he likely to meet with Abbas?

MR KIRBY: And I said I think we’ll have more to say tomorrow in terms of who he’s going to be meeting with. I’m not in a position right now to give you the full list. As I noted earlier to Ros, he did indicate that he has every intention of meeting again with Foreign Minister Zarif. But beyond that, we’re still developing his schedule, and when we have a better sense of it, we’ll certainly let you know.

QUESTION: Yeah, a couple of questions on Iran. First, does the U.S. Government have any more insight into some sort of missile launch that may have been conducted in Iran on Tuesday, yesterday?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen these reports of another missile launch in Iran. I’m not in a position to confirm those reports, confirm the veracity of them. Obviously, we’re watching this as best we can. Certainly if it’s true, and we’re talking about a ballistic missile launch or the testing of ballistic missile technologies, that’s obviously of concern to us. It’s not consistent, as we’ve said before, with the Security Council resolution, and so we’ll just have to – I don’t want to speculate about any future actions one way or another. We’ve just seen these reports, and again, we’re just not in a position right now to speak to them with any great detail.

QUESTION: Okay. And then in the past couple of hours, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 6 to 2 that families of victims of Iran-sponsored terror attacks, including the 1983 bombing of the marine barracks in Lebanon, will be able to collect money from frozen Iranian assets to the tune of $1.9 billion. Does the U.S. Government have a reaction to the court’s decision that these families can collect from money that had been frozen during the sanctions regime?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, so a couple of things, I think, on this. First of all, we continue to sympathize with the families of the victims, of those lost loved ones in terror attacks that have been supported by Iran. And as we have before, we continue to condemn Iran’s past and continued support for international terrorism. And as I’ve said many times from the podium, we don’t turn a blind eye to their continued willingness to do exactly that. I would say that this ruling was not unexpected, and it’s consistent with the position that we took when the legislation calling for this compensation was actually signed into law by the President back in 2012, and we have supported consistently compensation for the families in this case.

QUESTION: Do you have any – and I realize you may not – but there are some questions that are outstanding about what happens from here in terms of who actually has custody of the frozen assets right now. Is it – I presume it would be the Treasury Department. But I don’t know if it’s them or State or who has control over the accounts, who would actually make the disbursements, and whether the nuclear agreement itself has or had any influence on the availability of these monies to be transferred to the families of the victims. Do you have any info on any of that?

MR KIRBY: I’m probably going to end up referring you to Treasury for these more detailed questions. But because I don’t know for sure, I’m going to take those questions and we’ll research it and get back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: It may not be that we can answer them, Arshad. But if we can’t we’ll certainly point you to the right place.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: John, I’ve got one on Russia and Turkey. Turkey banned Sputnik’s bureau chief from entering the country. As you know, it comes a week after Sputnik’s website was blocked. And I understand, broadly speaking, your position about – that you had expressed concerns about Turkey’s crackdown on media. But do you object or are you concerned about this specific incident that the bureau chief --

MR KIRBY: We’ve just seen reports on this ourselves. So I’d refer you to Turkey to speak to this. I’ve only really – all I’ve seen are press reports on this. So rather than wade into this one, I’m going to refer you to Turkish authorities. But you’re right, I mean, we have been nothing but clear about our broad concerns about media freedoms in Turkey in particular.

QUESTION: All right. Now that the – do you have any other comment on the website now that days have passed and you’re more than aware of the reports, or --

MR KIRBY: No, I’m – I’m not – I don’t really have additional comment on it.

QUESTION: The reason I bring this up is a Russian lawmaker said today that the U.S. often specifically condemns or calls out Turkey related to specific media organizations when it happens, and he felt that there’s a double standard out there, which raises the question: Is the U.S. reluctant to comment on these specific incidents, be it blocking the Sputnik website or this banning of entry because it’s a Russian news agency, a Russian news agency is --

MR KIRBY: We don’t – look, I mean, we support – we support more aggressively and more assertively than any other government in the world press freedoms. And I would challenge you to go find another government anywhere in the world that talks about it as aggressively as we do, as openly as we do, and frankly, as proudly as we do. Our – I stand 100 percent by our record when it comes to talking about the rights of freedom of expression and the freedom of the press and the job that all of you do and how much we value that, and how important that we believe it is not just to our own process of governing but to the process of governing, of governments all over the world. And we’re not bashful about calling it like we see it.

So I reject any implication that we’re somehow pulling punches here because in this particular case these outlets are Russian. What we want to see is a free and independent media, and I mean that in every sense of the word. It’s not just the responsibility of governments to allow for free and independent media coverage and to recognize that scrutiny applied by journalists is not a sign of weakness of a government, it’s a sign of strength; but it’s also incumbent upon all of you as reporters and journalists to be likewise objective and fair and balanced and aggressive in your scrutiny and the scrutiny that you’re applying. And you and I both know that that’s not always the case with every single outlet.

So media freedom we continue to believe in, but it has to truly be free, and it isn’t always. So I think I’d – I didn’t mean to preach, but I think that’s where I’m going to leave it.

QUESTION: Turkey – Turkey also – they also banned a German state TV reporter from entering the country. Are you aware of that report?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’ve seen that particular press report. I just --

QUESTION: And I was going to ask: Are you concerned by this new tactic?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, I – I’ve seen that press report too. And we – regrettably, we could probably have this discussion and this back and forth almost every day, and regrettably, that discussion almost every day could involve countries like Turkey that we have said that – and I’ve said publicly – that what we’re starting to see is a worrisome trend here in terms of allowing media, independent media, to do their jobs.

So I don’t – I mean, I – again, I don’t think we can be more clear and more transparent about our concerns with respect to media freedoms, particularly in Turkey. I just have seen this one press report, and I mean, I would just say that our concerns with respect to media freedoms there in Turkey are longstanding, they’re well-known, and absolute – and sadly, unchanged.

QUESTION: Just two – two quick ones. The Secretary --

MR KIRBY: I’ll come back to you in a second.

QUESTION: The Secretary said in his remarks after meeting President al-Sisi that he had committed to the president that he would return very soon. Do you have a date for that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

QUESTION: Okay. Second --

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

QUESTION: And I’m – I read his remarks, including the one sentence that made reference to internal events in Egypt. Can you provide any greater detail on the extent to which the conversation touched on or focused on what human rights groups say have been quite significant human rights violations in Egypt since President Sisi came to power?

MR KIRBY: I’m a little reluctant to go beyond the Secretary’s own comments. I think they do speak for themselves in terms of the scope of the discussion that he had with President al-Sisi today in Cairo. But you’re right; he did allude to the issue of human rights, which is an issue that we routinely discuss with Egyptian leaders because we do have concerns with the human rights situation there. I mean, just last week, we put out our Human Rights Report, which I think laid bare in more detail those concerns.

So certainly, they were on the agenda, that as an issue was on the agenda for the Secretary in his discussions. I – but I’m not going to, just as I wouldn’t in any other case, I’m not going to read out more detail than what the Secretary provided. But I can assure you that it was on his list of topics to discuss and that he did bring it up.

QUESTION: And you probably can’t, then, address this, but I want to ask because there was a court decision on this: Do you know if he specifically raised the case of officials from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Arab Network for Human Rights Information who have been subjected to some sanctions, they say, as a result of their work to promote human rights? And I believe the court case has been postponed for them. Do you know if those came up?

MR KIRBY: I do not know if that particular case came up.

QUESTION: Okay. And then last one for me: Do you have a readout on Under Secretary Shannon’s meeting with the Brazilian lawmaker this morning?

MR KIRBY: I think I do, actually. Don’t I? Let’s see if I can find it in here.

QUESTION: It would be under B, right?

MR KIRBY: One would think so. But you’ve seen these tabs in here.

QUESTION: Is it under W for WHA?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, the – WHA is in the back. It’s all alphabetic. And Brazil is right at the top of the subgroup of WHA issues.

I can confirm that Under Secretary Shannon met today with Senator Aloysio Nunes, the chairman of the Brazilian Senate’s foreign affairs committee. This meeting had been planned for months and was arranged at the request of the Brazilian embassy. I don’t have, unfortunately, a greater readout than that, but they did meet and I do want to stress that this was long on the schedule.

QUESTION: Okay. So as --

MR KIRBY: And not thrown on because of --

QUESTION: Recent events?

MR KIRBY: -- because of recent events.

QUESTION: There’s been speculation in Brazil that the meeting occurred so that the senator could explain sort of why the processes unfolding in Brazil are fully in line with their constitution. Do you – that’s just not the case because this was on the books for months?

MR KIRBY: This was – yeah, this was at their request and had been scheduled for quite some time. I would not deign to speak for the senator’s agenda and what was on his mind and I don’t have a more detailed readout of that.

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah, thanks.

MR KIRBY: Yes, back there.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up on the call with Foreign Minister Kishida. Is the U.S. providing any additional relief efforts to Kumamoto? And what else came up in the call? Did the possibility of another missile test come up?

MR KIRBY: The possibility of another?

QUESTION: Missile test in North Korea.

MR KIRBY: The discussion was a brief one and it was, as I said in my comments, really centered around the earthquakes and restating our condolences and our firm support for Japanese Government relief efforts and whatever we can do.

As I said yesterday – and I would let DOD speak to this with more detail – but the bulk of our assistance so far has been in terms of air support, which is obviously, as you know, in the wake of a natural disaster, that’s critical just in terms of getting information and having – being able to see more of what’s going on. So we are still providing that air support. I don’t know of any additional requests by the Japanese Government or any additional resources that we’re applying at this time.

But again, the Secretary stressed that we’re willing to stay in touch – not willing – we will stay in touch with Japanese authorities. And if there’s other ways in which we can be helpful that they feel is appropriate, we certainly will consider all those kinds of requests.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Turkey?


QUESTION: As my colleague was pointing out, the situation on the ground for journalists is much worse than it’s all really coming out. And it seems in Europe and Brussels and – they feel that after the – Erdogan’s visit and meet with President Obama, he’s become bolder, and really, the noose is tightening around the journalists. So are you just – are you in touch? What is the highest-level touch? Have you brought this – the journalists are really suffering there, so what is – is it just a statement? Is it something more than this you can do?

MR KIRBY: I think, again, we have been nothing but clear and assertive in terms of our views of the importance of media freedoms there in Turkey, and we also – look, we – Turkey is an ally and a good friend and a key contributor to the coalition against Daesh. And we want nothing more than to see Turkey succeed and to see their democracy reach its full potential. And we want to see Turkey itself and in its policies live up to its own principles – the principles enshrined in its own constitution. When I say – when I’ve said it in the past, sometimes it’s met with an eye-roll or an eyebrow-raise or something, that Turkey’s democracy matters to us. But it does matter to us and we want to see it succeed, and again, be the best it can be for the Turkish people.

So that’s why when we see, as I’ve described, as a worrisome trend of a limit on press freedom in Turkey, why we say it, why we call it like we see it. And we don’t just do that here from the podium. We do that privately with Turkish officials as well. As I’ve said before, Turkey has no greater friend than our ambassador, John Bass, there. These things matter to us. They matter to us all over the world, but they certainly matter to us in what we’re seeing in Turkey.

Now, I can’t speak to President Erdogan’s motivations, and I wouldn’t do that. I would only say that – I’d only repeat what I said before, and that’s that we value our relationship with Turkey. We certainly value our alliance with them through NATO. And we’re appreciative of the efforts that they’re making as a member of the coalition against Daesh, which are not insignificant – not to mention the fact that they’ve got millions of refugees on their side of the border that they’re taking care of.

But it’s because we value this relationship and it’s because we are – we count ourselves as such good friends that we’re willing and able to have these kinds of very open, frank discussions with them about something like media freedom that concerns us.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the – sorry.

QUESTION: But when you say the most troubling thing on the ground and in – is – that when you call them ally and friend, how do you react to the statement saying that they are your friends and you’re turning a blind eye to what is going on on the ground?

MR KIRBY: How do I – I’m not sure I understand your question.

QUESTION: That they’re your allies --

MR KIRBY: Right, yeah.

QUESTION: -- and friends, and everything they are cooperating on, on different levels.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: On this, why not a stronger message is being sent? Or what is – when you ask them, what is the reaction they give you?

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: Don’t they answer? Or they just keep quiet?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize their side of the conversations. I mean, they can do that. But I – in the root of your question, there’s this – I guess this idea that because you count yourself as somebody’s friend or an ally, that you aren’t ever going to disagree on things, that you aren’t ever going to see things differently or from a different perspective, or that you are, on either side, going to be afraid to speak up when you see something that concerns you. It’s the sign of a mature friendship and relationship that you can have these frank discussions, and we have, and we will continue. And if you’re asking me are we happy that there hasn’t been a demonstrable change in terms of treatment of journalists --

QUESTION: That’s the question.

MR KIRBY: -- of course not. Of course not. That’s not what we want to see. I wouldn’t get up here every week and talk about this and express our concerns if we were content with what we’re seeing with the way journalists are being treated there. We’re not content. And because we’re not content, because we don’t believe that this is in Turkey’s best interest – not just your best interest but Turkey’s best interest and the region’s best interest and the Turkish people’s best interest – it’s because of that that we’re going to continue to raise this.

I got time for just one more and then I got to get going.


QUESTION: Syria – just very quickly, because I wanted to ask about this. The United Nations is saying that they are beginning to evacuate about 500 people from 4 villages in Syria that are besieged by the regime. So do you consider this as a goodwill gesture, or is that what you want the government to do as part of allowing humanitarian aid to go back and forth? Because --

MR KIRBY: Evacuations?

QUESTION: Because the talks broke down on the premise that the Syrians were obstinate in terms of allowing humanitarian aid.

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the specific reports about evacuations, but let me just go to a larger point. What we want --

QUESTION: I mean, they have the towns, like, Zabadani and Madaya, Kefraya, and so on.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I haven’t seen these reports about evacuations. It – but if the regime was doing what they should be doing for their own people, there would be no need for evacuations. If the humanitarian aid and assistance, the food, the water, the medicine was getting to where it needs to get to in a sustained and unimpeded way, then people will be able to stay home. And if they weren’t being – if they didn’t have to worry about being barrel-bombed and gassed, there’d be no need for evacuations. Again, I haven’t seen these reports, so I can’t speak specifically to it. But we’ve been nothing, again, but clear about what our expectations are of the regime in this process.

Last one.

QUESTION: One on --

MR KIRBY: Last one.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yesterday four congressmen, including Ed Royce, chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan. As for the content of the letter, the Indian Prime Minister Modi is expected to visit the city on June 7th and 8th. Do you have that information? Is he expected to visit?

MR KIRBY: I would ask you to talk to the prime minister about his travel plans. I don’t have anything to announce on that.

QUESTION: But is this something from – this is the kind of information which only the Congress has? The State Department doesn’t have information?

MR KIRBY: No, it’s not about correspondence we have or we don’t have. I just make it a habit not to speak for the travel plans of other foreign leaders. I can really only speak for the Secretary’s travel plans, and Arshad has already stretched the limits of my ability to do that today. So I just don’t have anything for you on this.

QUESTION: Just a quick one.

MR KIRBY: Thanks everybody.

QUESTION: Just a quick one.

MR KIRBY: I’ve got to go.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:09 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 04/19/2016 - 17:45

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 19, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:12 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.


MR KIRBY: I actually have quite a bit here at the top, so bear with me if you can.

On Afghanistan, I think you’ve seen the statement that I just recently put out, but I want to reiterate that the United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the attack that took place today in Kabul. We’ve seen now reports of yet another attack. We’re still getting information about that. But the first one we know killed dozens of Afghans and wounded many more. We certainly send our condolences to the loved ones of all those who were killed and injured.

Attacks like these today only deepen and underscore our support for the people and the Government of Afghanistan and its efforts to bring security and stability to their country. We will continue to monitor the situation as closely as we can, knowing now that there are reports of another attack.

We don’t have any indications that any U.S. citizens were harmed in the attacks in Kabul today. But again, we’re watching this very, very, very closely.

I do want to give you a readout of a phone call today that the Secretary made to the Ecuadorian foreign minister, Foreign Minister Long. He placed a call this morning to the foreign minister to express again our condolences for the tragic loss of life in the earthquake. He reiterated the commitment of the people of the United States to supporting Ecuadorian citizens in this very, very difficult time. He noted to the foreign minister that a USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance team has arrived in Ecuador to coordinate the U.S. response and support – and to support – I’m sorry – the distribution of emergency relief supplies to earthquake-affected populations. All this support was at the request, of course, of the Ecuadorian Government. And finally, he made clear that we stand by and ready to assist in any way possible going forward, again, in keeping with their needs and their requests.

On South Sudan, the United States is deeply disappointed by Riek Machar’s failure to return to South Sudan’s capital of Juba today to form the Transitional Government of National Unity. This represents a willful decision by him not to abide by his own commitments to implement the agreement on the resolution of the conflict in the Republic of South Sudan.

The United States and other partners have gone to great lengths to facilitate his return, including the return to Juba of his political advance team and his security detail. His failure to go to Juba despite efforts from the international community places the people of South Sudan at risk of further conflict and suffering, and undermines the peace agreement’s reform pillars, which are demilitarizing South Sudan, injecting transparency of public finances, and pursuing justice and reconciliation, all of which offer South Sudan a chance for renewal.

We call upon the government to exercise maximum flexibility for the sake of peace and on Machar to return to Juba, as he has promised to do. We will coordinate with our partners on appropriate responses to this obstruction of the peace process – the peace agreement by Dr. Machar.

On Libya, today the President issued a new executive order authorizing the United States to impose sanctions on individuals and entities who threaten the peace, security, and stability of Libya. This executive order allows the United States to take action against those who seek to obstruct, undermine, delay, or impede the political transition to the Libyan Government of National Accord, as well as those who threaten the peace, security, or stability of Libya through the supply of arms or related material. The President took this action in support of Libya’s Government of National Accord, and the United States stands with, as we’ve said before, Prime Minister al- Sarraj’s government as it begins their important work in Tripoli and continues to implement the Libyan political agreement to build a better future for the Libyan people.

Following today’s authorization, the Department of Treasury designated Khalifa Ghawil for being responsible for and complicit in certain activities outlined in this executive order. We’re going to continue to consider other actions, as appropriate, under this executive order.

We encourage all Libyans to continue facilitating a peaceful handover of power so that Libya’s new leaders can begin the hard work of restoring stability to their country.

And finally, on behalf of the State Department I wish to extend my deepest condolences to the people of Chile on the passing of former President Patricio Aylwin. Former President Aylwin will be remembered as a leader who did commit to the greater good for the people of Chile. He was a lifelong champion of justice who presided over Chile’s peaceful transition from a military dictatorship to a vibrant democracy. And our thoughts and prayers are with his family and with the people of Chile today.


QUESTION: Right. I’ll get back to Libya in a little bit, but I want to start with Iran and the Secretary’s meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif in New York, which I realize is probably not over yet, but --

MR KIRBY: It is not.

QUESTION: Understanding, however, that the readout of the meeting was probably already been written, maybe you can offer us a Tuesday preview of the meeting that has begun, or a review.

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) The meeting is underway, so I’m not going to get ahead of the readout that’s coming, that hasn’t yet --

QUESTION: There will be one, though, yes?

MR KIRBY: There will be one. It’ll be a written readout. You’ll see it come from Mark, because he’s up there. So I don’t want to get ahead of that, but you’re right, the meeting’s underway right now. I think I would just reiterate what I said yesterday, that high on the agenda is going to be issues related to the implementation of JCPOA, in particular sanctions relief.

QUESTION: All right. On sanctions relief, the Secretary gave an address last night to J Street in which he talked about the sanctions, the whole deal, the sanctions relief, and the – what Iran has done to comply with it.

And I’m confused about something that he said. He was talking to a group that was supportive of the Iran deal and therefore, I mean, kind of preaching to the choir a little bit about the merits of it. But he said – and he took issue with groups and people who have criticized the agreement – the nuclear deal by telling J Street about the arguments – mistaken arguments against, one of which he said was that Iran would get $155 billion in sanctions relief. And I just want to quote him here so it’s clear.

The Secretary said: “We never thought it would be that. Others thought it would be about a 100 billion. We calculated it to be about 55 billion when you really take a hard look at the economy and what is happening. Guess what, folks; you know how much they have received to date as I stand here tonight? About 3 billion. So what we said to people was true.”

So my first question is: How does Iran getting 3 billion mean that “what we said to people was true”?

MR KIRBY: Well, the Secretary’s --

QUESTION: What does he mean?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary’s referring to the fact that the exaggerated claims of the amount of assets they would have available to them was nowhere near accurate. And we – we’ve been maintaining that for many months now, that it wasn’t going to be 100 or 150; that it was more like 50 to 55. So it was much smaller than many of the critics said it was going to be. And he was using our current estimate that what, so far, after only 4 months, they’ve been able to get access to is about 3 billion, so that’s – it’s – his point was that’s indicative of the fact that this isn’t some windfall of cash that was going to happen on day one to the exorbitant sum of $100- to $150 billion.

QUESTION: But you yourself admit that they’re going to get more. Are you – I mean, your whole argument --

MR KIRBY: We still --

QUESTION: -- is they are – is they’re going to get more. I mean, right now you’re – all you’re saying is that if you use the --

MR KIRBY: We’re saying right now --

QUESTION: If we accept the 55 billion – your figure – the 55 billion is correct --


QUESTION: -- they’re still owed 52 billion, or they stand to get 52 billion.

MR KIRBY: We still believe that our estimate is accurate --


MR KIRBY: -- of about 55 – somewhere between 50 and 55 billion is about what they’ll have available to them through this sanctions relief – through the sanctions relief. Right now, our best estimate is that they’ve --

QUESTION: Yeah, right. And --

MR KIRBY: -- they’ve received about 3 billion of that, but that yes, we still maintain the estimate.

QUESTION: And it’s not possible – it’s not possible that it could be more than 55 billion. It certainly isn’t going to be limited to 3 billion. Is that correct?

MR KIRBY: Correct.

QUESTION: All right. Well, isn’t this an argument – and he’s making the Iranians’ argument here, right? One of the things that Zarif and other Iranian officials have been complaining about is --

MR KIRBY: Is it hasn’t gone fast enough.

QUESTION: Yeah, that they haven’t gotten the --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Well, he’s not --

QUESTION: So aren’t – aren’t they right, then?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, we still believe 50 to 55.


MR KIRBY: And it’s only been four months. So, I mean, nobody said – even at the outset we said it wasn’t going to be this quote/unquote “windfall” of cash.


MR KIRBY: So no, he’s not making the Iranians’ argument; he’s not making anybody’s argument. He’s simply stating a mathematical fact.

QUESTION: But he’s making the Administration’s argument, which seems to be --

MR KIRBY: Well, certainly, we’re – certainly he was --

QUESTION: -- and to a crowd that supported the deal that --

MR KIRBY: Certainly, he was defending the deal, as he has done staunchly --


MR KIRBY: -- since implementation.

QUESTION: So I haven’t – I should have, but I haven’t done the math here. So if they get 3 billion every four months, how long are they going to have to wait to get to 55 billion?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know that that algebra works, math – I mean, Matt – I mean, that it’s going to be every four --

QUESTION: That was a nice slip though.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, it was. (Laughter.) I was a history major. That --

QUESTION: “I don’t know that that algebra works, math?”

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that that algebra works, Matt.


MR KIRBY: That you can’t just assume that every four months they’re going to get 3 billion.

QUESTION: Yeah, but so – isn’t he, though, saying that the Iranians are correct when they complain that they have not gotten the sanctions relief yet that has been promised to them?

MR KIRBY: He wasn’t making that overt case that he was – he wasn’t arguing the Iranian – the Iranian perspective in case.

QUESTION: But it essentially is the – that case.

MR KIRBY: But --

QUESTION: I mean, he was trying to make it the other way around saying that critics of the deal --

MR KIRBY: He was saying that the – or he was reiterating the fact that there’s not this big windfall of cash. He wasn’t trying to make the Iranians’ case. That it comports with Iranian concerns that they’ve expressed, I don’t think I can dispute that. But it wasn’t --

QUESTION: Sounds like he was bragging, though. It sounds like he was bragging a little bit that they haven’t gotten any money.

MR KIRBY: He wasn’t bragging.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, he was – it sounded like he was like --

QUESTION: “What we said to people -- ”

MR KIRBY: Might have sounded like that to you, but that wasn’t the – that wasn’t the --

QUESTION: No, but it sounded like he was saying that – that he was trying to, like, placate their concerns that they’re not getting – that they’re not getting the money at the same time he’s trying to tell the Iranians they’re going to get their money.

MR KIRBY: I listened to the speech, and I think – and Matt quoted it absolutely correctly. He was making a point about the arguments that we faced at the outset that there was going to be this windfall, that the $150 billion was just going to fall into the laps of the regime in Tehran and they were going to use it to fund terror. And his argument last night was that that hasn’t occurred.

QUESTION: Yeah. But Kirby, why hasn’t it --

MR KIRBY: And we said at the time that it wasn’t going to occur that way.

QUESTION: Kirby, why hasn’t it occurred? Is it because of the financial restrictions that the Iranians are arguing about?

MR KIRBY: I can’t – honestly, I don’t know how the pace of sanctions relief is being implemented and executed. And I think, frankly, it’s the issue of sanctions relief that we know are – that that’s on the minds of Iranian leaders. We fully expect that Foreign Minister Zarif will bring that up today. And again, we’ll see where it goes at the end of the afternoon.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up very quickly? I mean, just to understand it clearly, whether it’s five or 52 or 100, we’re talking about Iran’s money, right? I mean, that is Iranian money; that is not American money.

MR KIRBY: Correct.

QUESTION: Not taxpayer’s money, not something that – not aid or anything like this. This is Iranian money --

MR KIRBY: Correct.

QUESTION: -- that had been frozen.


QUESTION: So in theory, why shouldn’t they get it right away?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not an expert on the financial system and how the money gets freed up. I just don’t have that level of detail for you. All I can tell you is that – look – and it shouldn’t be a surprise that over four months – I mean, it’s – these sanctions have been in place for a very long time, and there are lots of questions out there, not just in the domestic banking and business communities but internationally, about how to handle this – lots of questions. And perhaps maybe some of those questions are – and the fact that they’re still unanswered by – or for some institutions, maybe that’s one of the reasons why. I don’t know. All I can tell you is after four months that’s our best estimate. And you – and nobody expected and nobody should have expected that it was going to be sort of a day one it was just all going to happen.

Now they are – they – you’re right. This is their – these are their funds. And under the deal, as long as they continue implementing their obligations – and they have – they’re entitled to get that money back. Now, how it happens and the pace, I just – I’m not a financial expert on that. I couldn’t tell you the levers and the mechanisms that go into that. We’re committed and we have met all of our obligations. Thus far, Iran has met all of their obligations. And again, this is one of the issues – this is one of the reasons why the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif are meeting today, to talk about this process, very much a process kind of discussion.

QUESTION: How can you say you’ve met all your obligations if they’re still missing $52 billion?

MR KIRBY: They’re not missing the money. It just hasn’t been --


MR KIRBY: -- all released to them. It’s not that – it’s not missing.

QUESTION: All right. Well, they haven’t --

MR KIRBY: And it’s not all --

QUESTION: It – I just --

MR KIRBY: -- it’s not all like in the United States, like in a piggybank here in the State Department --

QUESTION: I understand. It just seems to me that --

MR KIRBY: -- that we’re just going to break open and give to them.

QUESTION: In making this comment, it just seems to me that the Secretary is saying --


QUESTION: -- that the Iranians have a point here. So has the Administration decided what it’s going to do to either ease or clarify this – or to clear up this confusion that exists out there in the international financial system so that Iran can get the money that you say it’s due, which is roughly 55 billion, of which they’re still missing 52?

MR KIRBY: So a couple of points there. One, he wasn’t making the case for the Iranians. And if you read the quote, he was simply --


MR KIRBY: We can argue that all day, Matt, but that wasn’t the purpose.


MR KIRBY: And number two, we continue to work with and consult with banking and business institutions here at home and overseas to explain to them how this sanctions relief process is supposed to work. We actually have officials that are on the road, actually making --


MR KIRBY: -- trying to inform and educate people around the world on how this is supposed to work. And frankly, we talked about this yesterday. It was one of the reasons why Steve Mull sent those letters to governors and to local authorities --


QUESTION: Why didn’t you do that --

MR KIRBY: -- to do the same thing.

QUESTION: -- before implementation day? While they were doing their kind of due diligence and making good on their commitments, why weren’t you putting this all in place and sending letters to the governor and sending people out so that the money could be released on implementation day?

MR KIRBY: There was a – there were education efforts underway as we were getting there. But I think we also needed to wait to get to implementation day to make sure everything was set. And look, this is a process. And we’re going to continue to work at that. I can’t --

QUESTION: But what if the Iranians said to you, “Well, our making good on our nuclear commitments is a process.” No, you needed – they needed --

MR KIRBY: It is a process. They have said that.

QUESTION: I know, but they – there were certain things that they had to do on the outset.

MR KIRBY: They had to – there were – it took them a while. I mean, they had to work at getting – it was – to getting to implementation day was not --

QUESTION: I understand, but it took – yeah.

MR KIRBY: -- wasn’t the day that the deal was inked. You know that. It took us a while to get to implementation day. We had to take some steps on our part. We did that. We’re going to continue to meet our commitments under JCPOA, and we expect them to continue to meet theirs.

QUESTION: Can we --

MR KIRBY: But look, it is a process on both counts, and we’re working at this.

QUESTION: Can we move on to --

QUESTION: I just have one more on this. So you said – in response to one of Elise’s questions, you said that there was this myth out there that the Iranians were going to get $155 billion and dump it all into terrorism and fomenting instability in the region. Back when we were in Davos, the Secretary said that – I believe it was on CNBC – that there was no doubt that some of the money that Iran got in sanctions relief would be used to go to terrorism.

MR KIRBY: Right. He did say that.


MR KIRBY: You’re right. We’ve said that.

QUESTION: So what’s your estimate of how much of the 3 billion they’ve gotten so far has gone into funding terrorism or destabilize – activities that destabilize the region?

MR KIRBY: We don’t know. We don’t know.

QUESTION: You think some of it --

MR KIRBY: We don’t have a way – we don’t have a way – again, the 3 billion is an estimate, at best. We don’t have perfect knowledge --


MR KIRBY: -- of what has actually been freed up for them, and we don’t have perfect knowledge of how every dollar of that is going to be spent.

QUESTION: Would you say --

MR KIRBY: And we – and – stand by what the Secretary said, that it’s entirely possible that they can use some of this funding --


MR KIRBY: -- to support terrorist networks.

QUESTION: Well, can – but you – can you say that you think or the Administration believes that some of the 3 billion --

MR KIRBY: No, I cannot.

QUESTION: -- has been used for this?

MR KIRBY: I cannot say that.

QUESTION: Okay. And --

MR KIRBY: We don’t know.

QUESTION: So – but you don’t know? So they could have used it all, right?

MR KIRBY: Matt, “we don’t know” means we don’t know.

QUESTION: So – but you don’t think it’s zero? You don’t think it’s --

MR KIRBY: I would not even hazard an estimate.

QUESTION: All right. But do you assume that some of it has gone into these --

MR KIRBY: We’re not making any assumptions specifically with every dollar that is going to be freed up. What we do know – and we’ve talked about this before – is they do have significant investment needs, infrastructure and economic investment needs in Iran, that we believe will tie up most of the monies that they will get back. But we can’t say with certainty that it will – that they’ll behave that way, that they’ll spend the money that way. We just don’t know. We don’t have a way of tracking every dollar.


MR KIRBY: Again, back to Said’s point, it’s their money.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: How do you see reconciliation talks with the Taliban now, especially considering – reconciliation talks --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: -- with the Taliban now, especially considering a little over a week ago they admitted to trying to kill Secretary Kerry when they launched rockets in Kabul?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think – I’ll just be brief here, but I’ll – I can also point you to the press conference that the Secretary and President Ghani had when we were there in Kabul. They’re both – they were both committed – certainly the United States is committed – to seeing a Afghan-led reconciliation process succeed. And to date, it’s been very difficult to get it going. And there’s a certain onus, obviously, on the Taliban to come – to be willing to participate in that process and to do so in a constructive way, and we haven’t seen that happen yet.

QUESTION: But you still want them to participate, of course.

MR KIRBY: And – I’m sorry?

QUESTION: You still want them to participate --

MR KIRBY: Of course we do, yeah. And the attacks – such as we saw today, the one you mentioned the evening that we were in Kabul – certainly are worrisome, and as I said at the outset, underscore our commitment to continuing two things: one, the – our support for the military mission there, the NATO mission in Afghanistan – and he got a briefing by General Nicholson while we were there – and our support to President Ghani and his political efforts, as well as his efforts to restart the reconciliation process.


MR KIRBY: Nobody said it was going to be easy. And we’re mindful of the threat that the Taliban continues to pose to the people of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: But I mean, this is just the beginning of the fighting season. And don’t you think you kind of have an answer in terms of their willingness to join a peaceful reconciliation process? This is not some small attack. This is one of the largest attacks in some time. It’s at the beginning of the fighting season, and it pretty much sends a signal that they’re going to keep going through the fighting season, and they’re – the President has already announced that he’s planning on withdrawing many of – a good half of the troops by the end of the year. So at what point do you take no for an answer?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think that we’re at, as you put it, “no for an answer.” And --

QUESTION: You don’t think that the attack today reflects an unwillingness to join reconciliation process?

MR KIRBY: It certainly doesn’t do anything to advance the reconciliation process, Elise, but it doesn’t mean that the effort to try to get it restarted is dead or that President Ghani should just give up and quit trying. The – and you know as well as anybody in this room the Taliban is not a monolithic organization, and not everything is so well coordinated from some sort of central command structure.

QUESTION: A pretty massive attack, though.

MR KIRBY: That said – that said, nobody’s diminishing what happened today or what happened a week or so ago and the continued violence the Taliban is capable of, and we’re obviously mindful that thus far, whether it’s in word or deed, they’ve proven reluctant at best to advance a reconciliation process. And that – but that doesn’t mean we’re going to give up on it.

QUESTION: What about in terms of the President’s decision to withdraw --

MR KIRBY: Let me say just one more thing on that, because we’ve talked about this before. To the degree that they continue to use terror as a tactic, they will remain legitimate targets of the Afghan National Security Forces and further justify and validate our counterterrorism mission there in Afghanistan. So it’s not like they’re being given a free pass here.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: In terms of the size of the attack and the inability of the Afghan intelligence forces or ANSF to prevent it, what does that tell you about their kind of readiness to have this drawdown, especially since it’s the beginning of the fighting season, not the end? I mean, the President’s going to – if the President is going to make good on his pledge to withdraw the troops, he’s going to have start doing it not – in several months.

MR KIRBY: So you mean our readiness. I didn’t --

QUESTION: Yeah – no, the Afghan readiness.

MR KIRBY: To have – yeah.

QUESTION: For us to leave, for the U.S. to leave.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, you heard President Ghani last week say that he fully respects President Obama’s prerogative here in terms of determining force levels, and I don’t want to stray into DOD equities. But since it did come up in the press conference in Kabul, I mean, I’ll just restate what the Secretary said, which is that this is a decision that rests with the Commander-in-Chief and in consultation with his military commanders. He has made it very clear that he is going to be willing to listen to his military commanders and weigh their advice and recommendations – recommendations which, as far as I know, have not yet been made.

You’re right when you said the President decided to go down to about 5,500 at the end of the year. He’s also supportive of General Nicholson’s desire and effort as the new commander to review the operational landscape and to provide recommendations going forward. As far as I know, that work is still ongoing, and when the general puts it forward, I’m sure that the President will consider it seriously. But I don’t know – couldn’t even begin to predict what that might be.

QUESTION: Can I change topics?



QUESTION: On Afghanistan, one more?


QUESTION: Earlier today Russia’s presidential envoy for Afghanistan said Russia would no longer consider the Taliban as terrorists and would recognize them as a political force if the Taliban accepted the constitution, ceased hostilities, and cut ties with extremists. And in addition, Russia would – they would want the decision to be approved by Afghan Government and UN Security Council. Do you think this is helpful to the reconciliation process?

MR KIRBY: It’s pretty darn near identical to the approach that we’ve taken with respect to the Taliban, so I certainly wouldn’t say it’s unhelpful. I mean, we’ve long said that we’re not going to – just by being a member of the Taliban doesn’t mean you are in fact a terrorist and therefore are in fact going to be a target of military activity by the Afghan National Security Forces. If you’re engaged in acts of terror, if you pose a threat, then obviously you become a legitimate target. So the way you’ve couched it there, if that’s indeed how they have, that’s very similar to the approach that we’ve taken now for about two years.

QUESTION: And would you welcome that, that Russia’s – that you and Russia are being more aligned – are in alignment on this? Would you welcome this?

MR KIRBY: Let me just – rather than welcoming it, I’ll just tell you that that is a very similar approach that we have taken now for two years, and it certainly is not – if that is in fact their approach, it’s not unhelpful to trying to move a political process forward in Afghanistan. But what really matters here is President Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah and their efforts to try to get at a reconciliation process and their commitment to that, and which they both stated unequivocally when we were in Kabul just a week or so ago. That’s what really matters, those – that’s the opinion, that’s the view, that’s the perspective that matters the most.

QUESTION: And they said they would want to get approval from the Afghan Government and the UN Security Council. Do you think that’s an appropriate or necessary process?

MR KIRBY: Again, I – I’ll let them speak for their views. We’ve not talked about taking this to the UN Security Council. This is a NATO mission to keep advising and assisting Afghan National Security Forces. There is a U.S. mission there in terms of counterterrorism; that will continue. No decisions have been made yet about the – well, the President has decided he’s going to get down – he’s made the decision of 5,500 by the end of the year, but he’s willing to consider views by his military commanders. So, I mean, I think I’d just leave it at that. I mean, the – we believe – we continue to believe that reconciliation – and we’ve said this now for a long time – needs to be Afghan-led.


QUESTION: Move on to just – I want to – can we move on?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure, Said. I don’t think anybody’s disputing it now.

QUESTION: Different topic. Okay. Very quickly on the Secretary’s speech yesterday --


QUESTION: -- at J Street, he said that, quote, “I can tell you for these next nine months,” talking about the peace process, “we will not stop working to find a way.” Then he went on to say, “And so we will continue to advance the two-state solution as the only solution because anything else will not be Jewish and will not be democratic and we understand that,” unquote.

Now, does he have – like, is there something in the offing? Is there going to be some sort of an initiative that the Secretary might undertake, perhaps either – because we’re talking about a very short period of time.

MR KIRBY: The Secretary is very mindful of the time left while he has in office, and he’s also mindful of the importance of this issue. And I don’t think I can improve upon his words from last night, that he is very committed to continuing to try to work to get to a two-state solution. Does he have an initiative or an announcement to make? I have nothing for you on that today. I can just tell you that the point he was trying to make last night was that for as long as he’s the Secretary of State, he’s going to continue to work on this and work as very – as hard as he can.

QUESTION: The reason I ask this question, because only months ago – maybe couple months ago – the President himself said there’s not likely to be anything. But listening to the Vice President and listening to the Secretary of State, they’re basically saying that this thing is alive and kicking and we’re going to push for it. So --

MR KIRBY: I don't know that anybody said it wasn’t still an objective. We’ve also said – I know I’ve said and I know the Secretary has said that it’s up to the leadership there in the region – all parties, the leadership on all sides – to take the kinds of affirmative steps and initiative to get us there. We can’t do it for them. It can’t be legislated externally. It has to be something that they decide to move forward on. And as both, I think – as both the Secretary and the Vice President said last night, it’s difficult to see that way right now because that sort of leadership isn’t being fully exerted. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t still committed to it, that we aren’t still going to try to help them get to a position where they can make these decisions and we – they can take the kinds of actions to reduce the violence, restore the calm, and move forward. I don’t see the gap, quite frankly, the way you’ve described it.

QUESTION: Maybe just --

MR KIRBY: We’re all still committed to it.

QUESTION: Just quick questions related: Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, said in Germany that he denounces all forms of terrorist activities. Is that enough? I mean, he was talking about the bus bombing yesterday in Jerusalem. So, first, if you have any more information on the bus bombing, and second, is that enough by Abbas just to say we condemn or we are opposed to all acts of terrorism, whether it’s against Palestinians or Israelis?

MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly welcome the – we certainly welcome the comments. That’s obviously encouraging. But as I’ve said before, words are not going to be sufficient, as we – it’s not just about rhetoric. It’s about action. It’s about deeds. It’s about real leadership getting us closer to a two-state solution. That’s what we really need. So, yeah, I mean, obviously, we welcome those sentiments, and we would associate ourselves with those sentiment. There’s no justification for terrorism.

Now, on the issue of the bus attack, I don’t have any additional information on this. Israeli authorities are investigating this. They are treating it as if it is a act of terrorism. We have no indication that it isn’t, in fact, an act of terrorism. But I’d refer you to Israeli authorities for any kind of updates.

QUESTION: Can we change the subject?

QUESTION: And finally – I promise this is really a quick one – journalists – Palestinians and international journalists are saying that they are not receiving protection equipment in Gaza, like PPEs – personal protection or flak jackets or shields or something like this. You have any – first of all, you have any information on that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

QUESTION: And would you encourage the Israelis to allow this equipment to protect journalists that report on Gaza?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything for you on that, Said. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Can we change the subject?

QUESTION: On a Palestinian-related question. It’ll be quick, because I think you’re going to have to take it. Yesterday, a group of 20 – I think it’s 28 but I might be counting wrong – senators wrote to the Secretary saying that the UNFCCC – the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, one of the Secretary’s big interests --


QUESTION: -- has admitted as a member the state of Palestine, which the senators say would trigger U.S. law, meaning – that bars the United States from funding UN agencies or affiliates which recognize the state of Palestine. I know that this letter was just sent yesterday, so I don’t expect you to have the full answer now, but I’m wondering, one, does the Administration believe that the UNFCCC is a UN agency or an agency or affiliate of the UN that would be covered by this U.S. law? And two, if it does, will it stop any funding for it, as the law calls for?

MR KIRBY: Well, we are aware of the letter. But you’re right, Matt; I’m going to have to take that, and I’ll get back to you on that.

You wanted to change?

QUESTION: Just one more on Syria, yeah.

QUESTION: No, no, can we stay on Israel? Yesterday, Jordan has decided to call off a plan to install surveillance camera at Jerusalem holy site. Do you have anything on it?

MR KIRBY: Yes. I would ask you to consult yesterday’s transcript.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I dealt with it extensively yesterday. I don’t think I can improve upon my eloquence. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Has the Secretary – did the Secretary make any calls this morning on Syria peace talks?

MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of. His – the only call that I’m tracking is the one to the Ecuadorean foreign minister about the earthquake.


MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of --

QUESTION: And do you believe that – the opposition believes – says that the truce has ended. There’s been a – airstrikes that killed 40 people in this marketplace in opposition territory. Do you know who – does – is the U.S. ready to say who actually is responsible for those --

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen the reports of that. It is our understanding at this time that it was most likely regime forces, but information’s still coming in. So I want to be a little careful here on how I couch that. And it has been – as we’ve said, by and large, the majority of the violations have been by the regime. We have reason to believe at this point that that was the case with this particular bombing.

QUESTION: Do you believe that these peace talks – the opposition has basically said that the talks are being suspended indefinitely, not just to Friday. Do you really believe that under these circumstances and in this atmosphere that those talks can take place and come to a conclusion?

MR KIRBY: You mean this week?

QUESTION: This week or the next few weeks.

MR KIRBY: You want to try it?

QUESTION: No, I just --

QUESTION: While the regime is violating – as you said, it appears that most of the violations are theirs – while the regime is violating --


QUESTION: -- do you think it’s appropriate for talks to continue? Or should there be some kind of consequences for the regime and to change their calculus, as the Secretary always says, to bring them back to the table in earnest?

MR KIRBY: Okay, there’s a lot there. The short answer is we continue to believe in the political process and in the importance of these talks. What the special envoy said yesterday was that they – that both sides had agreed to stay in Geneva, that talks would be paused, so there are no active – as far as I know, no active talks going on right now, but they are still there – and that they all agreed they would sort of reassess the way forward on Friday. So that’s one.

Number two, nobody ever thought – ever thought – that with this new round of talks that all the problems would get solved. The goal was to start – and the key word there is “start” – having a conversation about the political transition itself. And they did start. Now, obviously, the opposition, in light of the continued violations of the cessation – and they noted a concern we share, the lack of access of humanitarian aid and assistance, which the regime continues to stifle – has led them, compelled them to pause their participation in the talks. So we understand the concerns over that.

But nobody ever thought that this week in Geneva would be the end-all, be-all of the political process or the talks themselves. And I thought Mr. de Mistura was very clear about that yesterday, that the – that they – when we started, they – both sides were very, very far apart; they are still very far apart, and he had no expectations that they were going to draw dramatically closer this week in Geneva – and that there will have to be many more rounds of discussions before we can get to any progress towards further defining the political way forward. I think everybody is mindful of the difficulty here.

Now to your point, Elise, obviously, when there still continues to be violations of the cessation and there continues to still be people that are being barrel-bombed and gassed and denied basic food, water, and medicine, that makes it very difficult for the opposition to participate fully in these talks – and we understand that – which is why the cessation was so important, to have it in place. And I would remind you that while we – I’m certainly not going to walk you away from the notion that there have been additional violations in the last week or so – the violence has increased from what it was a week ago – it is still dramatically down from what it was just a couple months ago before the cessation, to the degree – and I think Mr. de Mistura said it was about 70 percent; where it had been 80 to 90 percent reduction in violence, it’s now about 70.

So the trend lines are not going in the right direction, but it is still a noteworthy reduction in violence, and more Syrians today are – even with the increase in tensions, they’re still living safer – not completely safe, but safer lives than they were before the cessation. So we still believe the cessation is in place, that it is still largely holding, and that it is important to keep it in place and to keep it going. And we’d like to see – frankly, we’d like to see the conditions improve, not decrease. But we’re very mindful --

QUESTION: So you --

MR KIRBY: -- of the tensions that it’s creating on the political process.

QUESTION: So you believe that you can salvage these talks? Because the mood in Geneva is less optimistic than it is here. Do you believe you can still salvage those talks?

MR KIRBY: Before I answer the second question, let me – it’s not like we’re looking at this through rose-colored glasses. It’s not like we don’t see what’s going on in Geneva for exactly what it is. We – our special envoy, Michael Ratney, is there. He’s monitoring this as best he can. He’s not a participant, but he’s there. And we’re – so we’re very mindful of the breakdown in the talks this week. And nobody is fooling ourselves here that it is – that it’s becoming resoundingly successful or easy this week, not at all. But do we think that there’s – do we think there’s still a purpose in this process and in trying to get it back on track and to move it forward? Absolutely we do.

QUESTION: Don’t --

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t use the verb “salvage” the way you did, but I would say that we certainly believe in the value of this and in trying to get it back on track.

QUESTION: Well, don’t you think perhaps this is a ploy by the Syrian regime and perhaps Russia to get the opposition to quit the talks so that the regime says that it doesn’t have a partner?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for the Assad regime. We don’t talk directly with them. Again, we judge actions, not words, and by their actions they are certainly --

QUESTION: Well, do the actions say that?

MR KIRBY: By their actions they are certainly not keeping their commitments and their obligations that Russia assured us that they would do, using their influence. I would tell you that the Russian Government remains – again, from the communications that we’ve had directly with them and with Foreign Minister Zarif, they remain committed to this political process.

QUESTION: Right. But what I’m saying is – and this is what Staffan de Mistura kind of said last time when they had to – when the opposition had to leave the talks or they didn’t start on time – because they were saying – and there were U.S. officials that were saying the same – that what the regime was doing was maybe there was this technical cessation of hostilities, but they were pushing the opposition with violations so that the opposition would leave the talks and then the regime would say, well, we don’t have a partner in these talks --


QUESTION: -- and go back to its full-scale assault.

MR KIRBY: So are you asking that Russian support for Assad --

QUESTION: Are you afraid this is the beginning of a pattern that is trying to push the opposition out of talks?

MR KIRBY: We certainly hope not, and we’ve seen no indications from the Russian side that that’s their intent, that they are anything other than 100 percent committed to the political process.

QUESTION: Are they going to tell you that’s their intent, though?

MR KIRBY: Well, you asked me what do we think they’re up to. I mean, they should speak for their intentions and motivations. Everything they’ve said and everything we’ve seen coming from the Russian side is that they remain committed to the political process and to seeing it succeed.

QUESTION: Kirby, I just want to go back to something --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know how else to put it.

QUESTION: I just want to go back to something you said. So the opposition says that the truce has ended, but you’re saying that it’s largely still holding.

MR KIRBY: The cessation of hostilities --


MR KIRBY: -- that’s what we call it –


MR KIRBY: -- is still holding. It is. Now, it’s fragile, but we continue to see that it’s still holding.

QUESTION: I don’t understand how you can say the cessation of hostilities is in place or is holding and then the next sentence later say we’re not looking at this through rose-colored glasses. No one believes that it’s holding. I mean, it might exist as a – on a piece of paper someplace, but if you look at the statements coming out from the opposition and the government accusations of rebel violations, you’re the only one who thinks that it’s still there, still exists as a --

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t think I’m the only one, Matt.

QUESTION: All right. Well, maybe there’s some blind guy in – somewhere. No one --

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

QUESTION: Both sides – all the sides --

MR KIRBY: Look – come on, now.

QUESTION: -- that are supposed to be actually adhering to the cessation of hostilities – none of them say that it’s still in place.

MR KIRBY: Look, if you’re using a binary definition of here, and that one shot fired means that it’s no longer holding – if that’s your definition, then that’s your definition of it. But --

QUESTION: I don’t think that that’s what they’re saying. There’s barrel bombs going off --

MR KIRBY: Absolutely.

QUESTION: In Latakia, there are actions in Latakia.

QUESTION: I mean, my God, this isn’t --

QUESTION: The opposition took over three --

MR KIRBY: Guys, you don’t have to --

QUESTION: How about the binary equation true or false? How’s that?

MR KIRBY: No, you can’t --

QUESTION: Does that work for you?

MR KIRBY: But you can’t do it that way.

QUESTION: You can’t?

MR KIRBY: And you’re not telling me something I don’t know. I’ve been saying it for the last few days. In fact, I said it yesterday: We continue to see that the regime continues to violate the cessation and does continue to drop barrel bombs, and we do think they were responsible for this terrible attack today. That doesn’t mean that the cessation isn’t holding in other places inside Syria. There have been violations of the cessation since the day it was announced.

QUESTION: And you’ve always placed the blame on the regime.

MR KIRBY: Largely.

QUESTION: I mean, you – you know beyond the shadow of any doubt that most violations are committed by the regime?

MR KIRBY: We believe – we still believe most of the violations are from the regime.

QUESTION: How do you --

MR KIRBY: But I’m not saying they all are.


MR KIRBY: And folks, it doesn’t – just because there are violations – and it doesn’t mean that we don’t take them seriously, it doesn’t mean that we don’t recognize the impact they’re having on the political process. We do. And I still maintain that we’re not looking at this through too optimistic of a view here. We recognize the challenge that it’s placing and the stress it’s placing on the political process. But it doesn’t mean that still – and you can – I can point you back to what the special envoy, the UN special envoy, who isn’t blind, who said himself yesterday in Geneva that 70 percent – there’s still a 70 percent reduction of violence in the country and that he, himself, felt that the cessation was still holding largely. But he also said, as I’ve said today, it’s fragile. We recognize that.

QUESTION: But if the opposition has said it’s over, if they launch loads of attacks tomorrow, they’ll be violations of a cessation of hostility that they don’t – no longer recognize.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I’m not going to guess about what’s going to happen on the battlefield tomorrow.

QUESTION: If they say they’re no longer a party to a cessation, why would we hold them to anything?

MR KIRBY: Well, let’s see where we are tomorrow.

QUESTION: Would you --

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I’m not going to guess about where things go tomorrow.

QUESTION: Would you urge them to go back to the talks if we were maintaining a 70 percent reduction level? Or do we have to work to get back to a 90 percent reduction level?

MR KIRBY: We’re not – I don’t think we’re tying participation in the talks to a certain percentage level of violence. We would like to see – that we would like to see --

QUESTION: But you did urge them back into the talks?

MR KIRBY: We have continued to try to urge them to participate fully in the talks, absolutely. We also, that said, recognize the concerns and the stress and the pressure that they’re under, given the regime violations.

QUESTION: You don’t think that the concerns in the cessations that exist at this moment, that you’ve already acknowledged, are sufficient to warrant their walkout then?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make a judgment about their decision. They’ve made this decision. We understand the concerns and the frustration that they have expressed. We obviously would like to see the talks continue, recognizing of course that the more that the regime violates the cessation and the more the regime prevents the delivery of humanitarian aid and assistance, it makes it that much harder for them to do that. Are we continuing to encourage their participation in this, despite the violations? Absolutely we are. It would be ridiculous for us not to. But that doesn’t mean we don’t also understand their reasons and their frustrations.

QUESTION: John, would --

QUESTION: Will Plan B – will Plan B – if the talks fail completely, will Plan B to go full steam ahead in arming the opposition?

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Because that’s what’s being said.

MR KIRBY: Said, I know what’s being said. Our focus is on Plan A. That’s where the Secretary’s head is. That’s what his focus is on, is on making sure the political process moves forward.

Are we off – are we off --

QUESTION: Iraq? Just --

QUESTION: No, can you take a couple more?

QUESTION: No, no, no. I have one more on Syria. And this is directly related to the U.S. Government actions. So from this podium, you and other spokespeople have lauded the work of the Syria Civil Defense group that is known as the White Helmets. You’re familiar with their work? They’re the guys who rescue people from attacks.


QUESTION: You’re not familiar with them?

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert in this particular group, but --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, last – it’s a group that has been praised by the U.S. Government, including you, I believe, from this podium, certainly Mark. Anyway, the head of this group was supposed to come to the United States to get an award from InterAction, which you might know is a big umbrella group for NGOs. Last night, as he tried to get in, he was denied entry. This man’s name is Raed Saleh. I’m wondering if you can explain why he would be turned away from the United States.

MR KIRBY: I cannot. I have not seen that report and can’t comment on it.

QUESTION: Can you check it out?

MR KIRBY: I can, but I would also remind you, again, it’s ICE and Department of Homeland Security that makes these kinds of decisions.

QUESTION: But don’t you --

MR KIRBY: But I can’t confirm it.

QUESTION: Don’t you work with them on this kind of stuff?

QUESTION: He clearly had a visa. He presented himself to U.S. authorities.

MR KIRBY: Our job is to work --

QUESTION: So you gave him a visa.

MR KIRBY: Our job is to work the visa process.

QUESTION: Can you --

MR KIRBY: But the decisions about entry made onsite are made by Homeland Security Department and ICE. And it’s not as if there’s, at that level, at that tactical level, there’s some sort of muscle and sinew connecting them here to Foggy Bottom on this. These are decisions that they have to make. So I would check into it --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: -- but my guess is that we’re going to refer you to ICE on this.

QUESTION: Well, they don’t – okay. They don’t do briefings like this once a week, let alone five days a week. So if you could push them, it would be great to get an answer --


QUESTION: -- on why he was denied.

MR KIRBY: We’ll take the question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: And we’ll refer – we’ll refer – are we good on Syria?

QUESTION: No. One – a couple more on Syria.

MR KIRBY: Whoa, back there. (Laughter.) You got me fooled there, Pam. You’re normally over there.

QUESTION: I know. First of all, concerning the Syria ceasefire task force that the U.S. and Russia are chairing, any indication on when we’ll hear back from them with initial findings on some of these violations that they’re looking into?

And then secondly, one of the other things that the opposition group called for today was a renewed push from the International Syria Support Group to intervene in the humanitarian crisis and also look into what it says are the regime ceasefire violations. Are there any behind-the-scenes talks going on on when this group might meet again?

MR KIRBY: Well, you know I don’t normally talk about behind-the-scenes talks of any kind, but there’s not an expectation that the cessation task force is going to issue some sort of final report. The job is to catalog and to document and to analyze as best we can – as best we can – violations of the cessation and to do everything we can to present in real time what we’re learning to try to get them stopped. It’s not a task force in a military sense that they’re going to go out and physically stop cessations. That’s not the purpose.

And as for humanitarian aid and assistance, there are predominantly the UN, but other international nongovernmental agencies, that are trying to get the aid and assistance to the people – to people in need. What we need is the regime to allow that access to occur. And thus far that’s proven very, very difficult. But there are bodies already there set up and organized to deliver these goods.

QUESTION: At some point will we see something public from the ceasefire task force on what it has been cataloging?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any public report, as I said, that the task force is prepared to submit or to distribute.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Is that because --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: -- you don’t – is that because you don’t agree on who is responsible that you’re not making these findings?

MR KIRBY: No, you’re – I think you’re thinking about the work in the wrong way. The task force is set up to monitor as best they can in real time violations of the cessation and to then push that information out to those who have influence over those who are doing the fighting and to get them to stop. That’s the goal.

QUESTION: Okay. So if you – okay, so if you are having all these violations that you say are from the regime, and the person or the country who has the most influence at this point probably would be the Russians, and they’re chairing that task force, then why do you think that there hasn’t been lessening of these violations?

MR KIRBY: That’s a great question for Moscow to speak to the degree to which they are using enough influence on the Assad regime. And I think – I’d point you back to the President’s conversation with President Putin – what, yesterday – and conversations that I’ve read out recently between Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry where a key component of those discussions are exactly that, to urge the Russians to do more, to use their influence in a more constructive, more assertive manner to get the regime to comply.

QUESTION: But just a few minutes ago you were saying that you have every indication that the Russians are still committed --

MR KIRBY: They are.

QUESTION: -- to the cessation of hostilities. Yet they’re not using their influence at the same – those are two inconsistent statements.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that they’re inconsistent. They still are committed and --

QUESTION: They say they’re committed.

MR KIRBY: They still say they’re committed to the political process in Geneva. They are signatories of all the communiques and of the UN Security Council resolution which codifies the political process that’s playing – that is – that continues to be worked there in Geneva. And they have – they have in the past used their influence to try to change the calculus of Bashar al-Assad.

But because we keep seeing violations of the regime, we keep making the case – and we’ll continue to do so to the Russians – that we want them to do more; we want more influence, more pressure put on Bashar al-Assad to do the right thing. So it’s not inconsistent. It’s a matter of degrees. That we don’t – that we think they can do more doesn’t mean that they aren’t intrinsically still committed to seeing the political process succeed.

QUESTION: The political process and the – I understand that the two are linked, but you can be – let’s just take the political process off the table for the minute. They’re signatories to the cessation of hostilities and are a chairman of the task force on the violation of these hostilities.

MR KIRBY: That’s right.

QUESTION: Yet those – yet the violations are continuing. So how can you say that the Russians are committed to keeping the peace and lessening the violence when they’re not putting – when you’re saying also that they’re not putting pressure on the Syrians?

MR KIRBY: We still believe they’re committed to the process, Elise. But we want them to use their influence more assertively to get Bashar al-Assad to comply. I mean, they’re both true. Again, it’s not like – it’s not like we’re giving them a free pass here. I mean, we continue to make this case with Russian leaders.

QUESTION: Just one more on Ukraine?

QUESTION: Iraq – China (inaudible) question --

MR KIRBY: Let me go to the back here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the high-profile Ukraine female pilot who is soon to be released, according to an announcement from the Ukraine president? And her lawyer said that as soon as the end of this week she will be released.

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I mean, we still want to see Nadia Savchenko returned to Ukraine and to her family where she belongs. She still – we still maintain that she’s been unjustly detained, but I don’t have any additional information.

QUESTION: You may refer me to the White House, but do you – but it won’t hurt to try. Yesterday there was a phone call between President Obama and Russian President Putin. Do you know if this was discussed during the conversation?

MR KIRBY: I would point you to my colleagues at the White House to speak to the President and his conversations.

QUESTION: Do you see the release – her release coming – do you think Russia is going to get some political and economic gain out of this?

MR KIRBY: You’re asking me to predict her release. I can’t do that. We obviously continue to call for it on the face of it. She needs to be returned to Ukraine. She’s been unjustly detained.

I got it. I got – your hands are up. Just give me a second. She needs to come home, period. And I can’t – I can’t be predictive. I can’t tell you what the odds are or – I’ve seen these press reports that you’re referring to. I can’t speak to the veracity of them. We continue to make the case that she needs to be returned, she needs to come home.

QUESTION: Are you aware any of the prisoners or hostage swap planned on the way between --

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen press reports only. I have nothing to confirm one way or the other about this. So again, I just don’t have anything for you on that right now.

You had – go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. On China, do you have any comment on the landing of Chinese military aircraft on Fiery Reef from Sunday?

MR KIRBY: Seen the reports of that. It’s difficult to understand why they – if it’s true, and we have no reason to doubt it, that – why they would use a military aircraft for some sort of medical treatment mission or evacuation or whatever it was they were doing. It’s difficult to understand why they needed a military aircraft for that. So again, we continue to make the case that militarization of outposts in the South China Sea is counterproductive to peace and stability in the region. But I’d point you to the PLA to speak to why they chose this particular aircraft for that particular mission. It’s difficult to see why it was necessary from our perspective.

QUESTION: So the --

QUESTION: So does that mean if it had been a civilian plane, you would not have an issue?

MR KIRBY: It’s – if you have – there were --

QUESTION: I mean, the U.S. runs medical trips on military aircraft all the time.

MR KIRBY: Look, we’re not going to deny medical aid to people that need it. So, like, all I’m saying is that it’s difficult to understand why it had to be a military aircraft.

QUESTION: Well, my question is – my question is: Is the – your issue is the fact that it was a military aircraft, or your issue is the fact that it was a plane, any plane at all landing on the reef?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I understand it the workers were working on further infrastructure improvements of a military nature, so that still is a problem, right?


MR KIRBY: But if they’re sick and they need help, we’re not going to --

QUESTION: Right. So they should fly in a civilian plane.

MR KIRBY: We’re not going to take an issue with them having – getting help. I’m just – we’re simply asking the question. It seems odd that it had to be a military aircraft when it could have easily just been a civilian aircraft to get these folks the help they need.

QUESTION: I don’t know, that’s just kind of odd. I mean, what difference does it make what kind of plane it was?

MR KIRBY: One could argue that it’s just another sign that the Chinese are willing to keep militarizing the effort in general.

QUESTION: But couldn’t it also be a sign that a military plane happened to be the one that was – could get there the quickest --

MR KIRBY: Could very well be, which is why I said --

QUESTION: -- (inaudible). All right.

MR KIRBY: -- it’s difficult to understand why it had to be a military aircraft.


MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Foreign ministry officials have responded and said that it shouldn’t be surprising, given that it’s Chinese territory. Do you have a response to that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to respond in any other way than I’ve already done. I think I’ve reacted to it.


QUESTION: In return for the recent military assistance, the Pentagon says they expect the Peshmerga to play, quote-unquote, “a critical role.” Do you share that as the State Department that the Kurds will be an important element to retake this Arab city? Because there has been some historic animosity. And do you think they will be welcomed by the Arab civilians in the city?

MR KIRBY: I can’t – look, you’re asking me again to predict a future. They have played a vital role thus far in the fight against Daesh. Our commitment to them remains. I’ve talked about this. We talked about this yesterday. Nothing’s going to change about our commitment to helping them through and with the Government of Iraq in Baghdad. But as for predicting battlefield success or the degree to which people are welcomed, I wouldn’t – I’m not going to do that, and I’m certainly not going to get into talking about military operations.

QUESTION: Because they are certainly not welcoming Shia militias. I just wondered whether you believe the Kurds will receive the same kind of --

MR KIRBY: I simply am not going to make a prediction about the degree to which people are welcomed or not welcomed. Peshmerga forces have been brave and courageous in the fight. We have, through the Government of Iraq, supported them. We will continue to do that. I would point you to the Defense Department and the announcements they made yesterday for more detail on that. Nothing’s going to change about our commitment to helping Iraqi Security Forces and Peshmerga forces defeat Daesh.

QUESTION: I have just one more question on Afghanistan and a separate question on Saudi Arabia, if I may. As I understood, you said you would like to see reconciliation talks with the Taliban, despite the attacks. Can specifically those who carried out the recent attacks and targeted Secretary Kerry participate in the talks?

MR KIRBY: I – if you’re – the short answer to your question is no, right – I mean, because we’ve said that we want to see the Taliban return to the table and to reconciliation, but to do so they’ve got to renounce violence and terror. They have to support the constitution and the reconciliation process itself. So it’s difficult for me to see how somebody who’s capable of that sort of violence could be part of a reconciliation process. But again, the lines are very clear about what the expectations are of the Taliban to participate in a reconciliation process.

QUESTION: On Saudi Arabia, does the Administration believe that no current or former Saudi official or member of the royal family was in any involved in the 9/11 attacks?

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to re-litigate history here. The – you can go online and see the story of the attacks and how it happened and who was responsible, and I’m not going to re-litigate it here.

QUESTION: But can you say that no – President Obama is heading to Saudi Arabia --

MR KIRBY: As it says in the report, there’s no indication that Saudi officials or the Saudi Government was behind or supporting in any way those attacks. It’s all there --

QUESTION: So you believe --

MR KIRBY: The public record is all there for you to see, and I’m certainly not going to re-litigate that history here today.



QUESTION: Hold on a second. Before he – Dave makes a good point here. You’re advising people to go online to find out the real story of 9/11? Because there’s a lot of stuff out there online about --

MR KIRBY: I meant the 9/11 Commission Report, which is online.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Of course you know that.

That’s the same tie you wore yesterday, by the way.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Yeah, and I’ve also got some soup on it today. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I see that. (Laughter.) Go ahead. You had a question.

QUESTION: No, I was just being sarcastic quietly to Matt.

MR KIRBY: Oh, you’re being sarcastic.

QUESTION: Yeah. You say the record is online. There are 28 pages of it not online.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, again, the 9/11 Commission Report is pretty exhaustive. It states clearly who was responsible for the attacks on 9/11. And for us to sit here, this many years later, and try to debate it I think is just a fool’s errand.

QUESTION: Thank you. On Japan, let me just follow up the Secretary’s trip last week to Hiroshima.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yeah.

QUESTION: He mentioned at the press conference, he would explain to the President what he experienced in Hiroshima. Did the Secretary meet and explain to the President? If so, can you share with us what’s the response from – of the President?

MR KIRBY: No. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Did he meet – did he --

MR KIRBY: No, I can sit up here and talk for Secretary Kerry all day, but I will not talk for President Obama. That’s – my colleague at the White House is responsible for that.

QUESTION: Did he meet and talk about this issue last week?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary has – as you might expect, because it was such a powerful experience, he’s certainly shared that experience with others in the government. I’m not going to speak to private conversations. And you heard him – you were there and you heard how the visit affected him and how he would continue to urge everybody of all walks of life to go visit the Peace Park and the museum. And I think I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: John, any readout on Secretary’s meeting with the BBG today?

MR KIRBY: We’ll – we can issue a short readout after this. It was a useful discussion. The Secretary appreciated the opportunity to meet with them again to talk about ways in which we can continue to try to get more effective in the information environment, particularly when it comes to countering violent extremism.

Last one.

QUESTION: Just on the issue of the 9/11 bill making its way through Congress, the – after the Administration came out against it, a number of senior Republicans said today that they’re open to revising the legislation, and Speaker Ryan said we want to make sure we’re not making mistakes with our allies. What is the Administration’s view on how the legislation would make a mistake with our allies?

MR KIRBY: I talked about this yesterday, so I’d point you to the transcript as well as my colleague at the White House, but essentially we believe it sets a potentially harmful precedent going forward in terms of the sovereign immunity that the United States also enjoys overseas. But I’d encourage you to look at yesterday’s transcript.

QUESTION: How would they fix that? How would they fix the bill?

MR KIRBY: We’re going to continue to consult with Congress. I’m not going to get into legislative remedies here from this podium.


QUESTION: Well, are there negotiations going on, though, in Congress about – sounds like there are some competing drafts going on.

MR KIRBY: All I can say is we’re going to continue to consult with members of Congress, and we don’t, obviously, support it in --

QUESTION: What does – does “consult” mean negotiate on --

MR KIRBY: It means consult and communicate and talk with them about their concerns and about our concerns.

Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:17 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 16:40

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 18, 2016

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2:19 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Nice tie.

MR KIRBY: Thank you.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MR KIRBY: Thank you. Anybody else?

QUESTION: Hi, Kirby. How are you today? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Very enthusiastic, Lesley. Just a couple of things at the top. I think you saw the Secretary react yesterday to the earthquake in Ecuador, and of course, we continue to express our deepest condolences for the tragic loss of life and for all of those who have been affected by this devastating quake. At this time, I can tell you that we are aware of the death of one U.S. citizen. And I can also tell you that we’ve been in contact with the family.

We are still working with the Ecuadorian authorities to verify the welfare and the whereabouts of all U.S. citizens in the area at the time of the earthquake. I don’t need to tell you how difficult that task can be, especially after a natural disaster. As I said, right now we’re aware of one U.S. citizen being killed. But we’re going to continue to work very closely with Ecuadorian authorities going forward, and as we have information that we can confirm for you, we will. And again, the United States has offered whatever assistance the Ecuadorian authorities might find useful and we stand ready to work with the Ecuadorian, of course, in this time of crisis.

And then a scheduling note. As you probably now know, the Secretary will begin some travel this week. He’ll go tomorrow to New York City, then on the 20th and 21st to Cairo, Egypt, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia respectively. While he’s in New York, the Secretary will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif to discuss the implementation of the JCPOA and to follow up on earlier conversations regarding regional issues including continued work of trying to get to a political resolution in Syria.

On the 20th, he will meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues there. And then on the 21st, he will join President Obama in Riyadh at the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. So on New York, part 1.

MR KIRBY: New York, part 1.

QUESTION: Where and when?

MR KIRBY: Well, tomorrow. I don’t have the exact physical location. We will get that for you.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. Well, I mean, do you think it’s --

MR KIRBY: It’s in New York and --

QUESTION: Will it be at the UN?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know exactly where it will be.

QUESTION: Okay. And what’s the – can you be more precise about the reason?

MR KIRBY: No, actually, I don’t think I can. And I’m not trying to be glib on that. I mean, they really do want to talk about implementation of the JCPOA and how it’s going, and I think the Secretary will, as he always does, use the opportunity to talk to Foreign Minister Zarif about other issues, particularly regional issues. And I have no doubt that events as they unfold in Geneva will be on the agenda as well.

QUESTION: All right. Well, as it relates to the JCPOA, I mean, it’s no secret that the Iranians have been complaining for weeks now about the fact that they don’t think that they’re getting the relief that they deserve --


QUESTION: -- complying with it. And the central bank chief was here in town last Friday; he made the complaint. Zarif and Mogherini – Zarif, during their press conference, he made the same kind of complaints and also said that he would be raising this with Secretary Kerry. So is the Secretary prepared to have an answer for him. Will --

MR KIRBY: He certainly --

QUESTION: -- the Administration move ahead with anything to assuage the Iranian concerns?

MR KIRBY: Look, we’re obviously aware of these concerns that they’ve expressed about the status of sanctions relief, and the Secretary is very mindful that that topic will come up tomorrow, that that is very much on Foreign Minister Zarif’s mind. It is, as I – and again, I wasn’t trying to be glib, but it’s all part of discussing the implementation of JCPOA. And from their perspective, this is very much an implementation issue, and he is – he’ll be prepared to discuss that with him. I won’t get ahead of what that discussion is going to get into in terms of detail or what, if anything, the Secretary will be able to say about it afterward. But clearly, we know this is on their mind and the Secretary will be ready to talk to him about it.

QUESTION: All right. And then related to this – well, actually, it’s not just related, it is this as well – what is this about Ambassador Mull sending letters to all 50 governors telling them to please remove their sanctions, if they have any, on Iran?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – that’s not the purpose of the letters. These letters were sent to the governors of – sorry – all 50 states and some other local leaders to try to do a good job of explaining what implementation of the JCPOA looks like to help them understand whatever changes in U.S. policy have been implemented as a result of the JCPOA, particularly changes that could impact state and local laws and regulations. They provide basic information about the agreement and identify resources for state and local officials so that they can better understand what these changes mean. It points them to places – you’ve probably seen a copy of one of these letters at least, and it points them to places online where they can go to get more information. It really is just an explanatory letter to try to give them a greater sense of awareness because they have had questions, understandably.

QUESTION: Does it not say that they should make their laws compliant with the JCPOA or with the changes that the Administration has made on a federal level as a result of the JCPOA?

MR KIRBY: It does encourage state and local officials to take into account the chances to our sanctions that resulted from the JCPOA, and to examine whether those changes affect the implementation of their state and local laws. So it does call their attention to some of the changes now to our sanctions posture as a result of, and encourages them to consider that as they enact local laws and regulations.

QUESTION: The one letter that – well, all the letters are identical, or are they tailored for each state?

MR KIRBY: As I understand it, they are pretty much identical in terms of the information but there’s some --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: -- some personalization, obviously.

QUESTION: Well, other than the addressee, I mean --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I mean, but they don’t go into great lengthy detail about state and local laws with each recipient.

QUESTION: Well, has the Administration done a study of state and local laws and determined that there are, in fact, state and local laws that will – would have to be altered --

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: -- or rescinded in order to comply with JCPOA?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that there has been a comprehensive study of every local law and regulation. I’ll take the question and try to get back to you on that. I don’t think that was really the purpose. The purpose was to try to answer questions that were coming in about it from local leaders, and there – we believe that given the amount of questions we were getting that this would be a helpful tool for them to use. It does not require action by them. It does not compel action by them. It does not – we cannot order action by them to alter laws and regulations. It’s simply to draw their attention to the changes and give them resources so that they can make more informed decisions. It certainly encourages them to take into account the changes to our sanctions as they consider local laws and regulations.

QUESTION: I don’t get it. What do you mean it doesn’t compel them or doesn’t order them to? I mean, can local – can state and --

MR KIRBY: It doesn’t require specific action.

QUESTION: Well, can – so it’s okay now if state and local governments have laws that are contradict – that contradict federal laws?

MR KIRBY: If – well, of course not, Matt. But that’s not what I – that’s not what I’m saying.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. So the Administration, then, is – well, okay, maybe not in this letter. But I mean, they clearly, if the Administration has done something to change its sanctions, that would seem to --

MR KIRBY: That would – that – if – and I’m not an expert here --


MR KIRBY: -- but if in the changes to the U.S. sanctions regime it does require commensurate changes to local laws and regulations, well, then that’s the expectation. But the letter was simply to give them a higher sense of awareness of what the sanctions relief package looks like.

QUESTION: Right. But so would the Administration be willing to take – to take state and local governments to court to force their compliance with what it believes to be the --

MR KIRBY: I won’t engage in a hypothetical at this point.

QUESTION: All right. And then the last one: Does it mention anything about sanctions that state and local authorities might have put in place against Iran for reasons other than not – other than nuclear reasons?

MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware.

QUESTION: So it only applies to nuclear-related sanctions?

MR KIRBY: And the JCPOA specifically, yeah.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on the Kerry-Zarif meeting?


QUESTION: Who requested that meeting? Has it been on the calendar for a while?

MR KIRBY: It’s been something that the two of them have communicated about. I honestly don’t know whose idea it was. This is obviously a topic that they continue to discuss on a routine basis – implementation of the JCPOA – every time they speak, every time they meet. So this is something they routinely communicate about. I don’t know whose idea it was. I know that they have been wanting to meet face to face for quite some time and this turned out to be a convenient opportunity given the travel schedule for both individuals.

QUESTION: A little bit linked to Syria, what is the – what is the Secretary going to be asking him with regard to the – can I call it collapsed? – peace talks in Geneva?

MR KIRBY: I actually wish you wouldn’t call it collapsed.

QUESTION: How do you see it?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s – you probably saw Special Envoy de Mistura’s press conference today, and I think he couched it very well that it still remains – the discussions are still challenged, obviously. And he acknowledged that the HNC has asked to put the discussions on pause in part because of their concern over continued violations of the cessation of hostilities and they mentioned specifically the lack of humanitarian access. So these are real concerns that they have. But he also said that they are willing to stay in Geneva and – till the end of the week, and that we would revisit this on Friday and see where we are.

So I don’t think that we would characterize these talks as anything other than the difficult endeavor that they have always proven to be and that they will continue to prove to be.

Now, as for the discussion with Foreign Minister Zarif, again, I don’t want to telegraph every aspect of an agenda of a meeting that hasn’t happened yet, but clearly, I mean, this is – again, the political process in Syria is something that the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif discuss frequently because Iran is at the table as a member of the ISSG, and he will continue to talk to Foreign Minister Zarif about how Iran can be helpful going forward in the political process, how they can use the influence that they too have over the Assad regime to try to compel the right kind of behavior out of the regime with respect to both the cessation and to the delivery of humanitarian access. And I think it also is a good – it’ll be a – it’ll prove a good opportunity for both men to sit down and kind of review where we are, especially in light of the press conference today by Mr. de Mistura.

QUESTION: And one of the reasons is --

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

MR KIRBY: Hang on, hang on. Yes, you may. But I think Lesley had --

QUESTION: One of the reasons has been the fighting around Aleppo. Do you believe that it’s justified by the opposition to halt the talks until that situation is dealt with?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to judge the decision that the HNC made, and neither did Mr. de Mistura. They have asked to pause the talks, but they’ve agreed to stay until Friday and to revisit where we are, and it sounded to me like Mr. de Mistura was going to respect that request. These are UN-led talks and I’m not going to insert us into them.

I would also point to something else he said, which is that these talks were never going to be easy, that they were not going to start out with a quick settlement on some of the core issues, that he expected that both sides would start from positions that were very far apart and that it would take quite a bit of time to bring them into agreement about things. And obviously that’s proven true, and we’ve never said anything different than we knew it was going to be hard. So again, while they certainly have asked for this pause, and the concerns that they have, quite frankly, are concerns we share in terms of the lack of humanitarian access or the – I should say the lack of some sort of sustained delivery of humanitarian assistance. And what we continue to see are violations of the cessation of hostilities.

Again, I want to point – he said it, but I said it again last week: We still – there’s still, even for the violations that have been occurring – and nobody’s disputing that there are violations – the violence is still significantly reduced in Syria, and more Syrian people are living better lives as a result of the cessation than they were before. This war’s gone on for five years, and with the bitterness that has accompanied this kind of conflict, you can expect that both sides are still going to wrangle a little bit to try to get to some sort of consensus. So --




QUESTION: And in parallel to --

MR KIRBY: I’ll come to you.


QUESTION: -- the HNC’s decision to postpone their participation in the talks in Geneva, rebel groups on the ground represented by the HNC in Aleppo have formed a joint operations center, they say, to defend their city. The cessation of hostilities on the ground is in danger, not just the talks in Geneva. Ahrar al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army are saying they will fight to defend Aleppo. Is that something you’re concerned about?

MR KIRBY: We are concerned about – we’re certainly concerned about any continuation of the violence inside Syria. We certainly are concerned about keeping in place as best as it can be kept in place the cessation of hostilities, understanding that even from day one there were violations. And even Mr. de Mistura said today that he’s never known a cessation of hostilities that didn’t have violations, that wasn’t difficult to keep in place. So we’re always concerned about any ratcheting up in the violence.

We are also concerned, and I’ve said this before, about the expansion of Assad regime’s control inside Syria. Whether that’s an expansion from a political perspective or it’s an expansion from a geographic perspective, we’ve said that that’s not a good thing for the people of Syria. And by and large, we continue to see the vast majority of violations are being perpetrated by the regime.

QUESTION: But which is worse, then – if Assad expands his control or if the opposition successfully fight him off? Because that’ll increase violence even if it prevents his expansion of control.

MR KIRBY: Right. What we – that’s a bit of a fool’s choice. What we want to see is the cessation continue to hold. We want to see the violence get even further reduced than it already is. And we recognize that – in recent days that violence has actually increased in terms of where it was for the first four weeks of the cessation of hostilities, so we want to see that violence come down. And what we – but in the end, the answer is a political solution, a political transition. And it’s difficult, we understand, to get there, particularly when the barrel bombing continues – and it does – and the regime continues to act outside of its commitments to attack the opposition.

Yeah, Pam.

QUESTION: Is there a shift underway to get Iran to use more of its leverage on Syria to try to keep this peace talk process from unraveling? And I ask because, of course, over the weekend Zarif and Mogherini in their talks – Mogherini asked Zarif to have Iran use its influence to get the Syrian regime to be a little bit more cooperative in the peace process. If there is a shift, is there concern, especially with the U.S. and Gulf allies, about this increased role for Iran, especially considering that some of the Gulf allies still have concerns about Iran possibly being destabilizing in the region because of its widening influence?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I guess the short answer to your question is the one I gave Lesley, which is yes. I mean, the Secretary intends to raise with Foreign Minister Zarif ways in which the Iran – Tehran can be more helpful going forward in the political process. They do have influence, as you noted in your question, and we want them to use that influence in a constructive manner towards a political solution.

It is no secret that countries in the Gulf remain deeply concerned about Iran’s influence in the region and their capacity and capability for destabilizing activities. We share that concern. I mean, the Secretary was just out there having these discussions and he will be going again with the President this week for the GCC summit, where absolutely we expect discussions to occur around Iran and their continued support for terrorist networks and destabilizing activity. I think that that’s never gone away. And we’re not bashful about discussing it with the Gulf – our Gulf partners, and frankly, we’re not bashful about discussing that with Iran. And I – the Secretary has raised it with Foreign Minister Zarif in the past. I fully expect he’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can I just follow --

QUESTION: Are there any concerns about the Zarif-Mogherini meeting and her request from Iran – for Iran to use its leverage?

MR KIRBY: Are we worried that she’s asked Iran to use its --


MR KIRBY: -- its influence in a positive way? No, of course not. I mean, that’s the same message that we’ve sent. No concerns there at all.


QUESTION: John, I just want to follow up on something that you mentioned. You said that the regime spreading its authority over parts of Syria is not a good thing. Let me ask you something. Do you recognize any other entity in Syria to have sovereignty over that territory?

MR KIRBY: We have --

QUESTION: No, I’m trying to really understand.

MR KIRBY: Said, we have talked about this before.


MR KIRBY: That they --

QUESTION: You always – let me put it this way. As far as you’re concerned, you only recognize one Syrian entity and that is the Government of Syria. You have not recognized any other group –

MR KIRBY: Clearly, there is a government --

QUESTION: -- as a sovereign --

MR KIRBY: Clearly, there is a government in Syria.

QUESTION: Right. So --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to say that it doesn’t exist.

QUESTION: Okay, fine.

MR KIRBY: But it’s being led by a man --


MR KIRBY: -- who continues to barrel bomb and gas his people --

QUESTION: I’m not --

MR KIRBY: -- and who we have said and will continue to say – let me finish – has lost his legitimacy to govern his own country. Now, we’ve also said that as we try to get to a government that is responsive and responsible for the Syrian people that – one that they put in place over this political process – that some of those institutions of government must be maintained throughout this transitional process. Nobody is talking about taking the entire Government of Syria, which we recognize exists, and tossing it out the window.

QUESTION: I understand. I’m not questioning the moral, whatever, debacles the regime may commit or ask that this regime may commit and so on.


QUESTION: I’m not questioning that. I’m saying legally and diplomatically you only recognize Syria, as you have in the past. In fact, you still issue press briefings in the name of the U.S. Embassy in Syria and so on. From time to time I see things and so that is an entity that you recognize – the government – the Arab Syrian Republic. You have not recognized anyone else as exercising any kind of authority or any kind of sovereignty over any territory of Syria.

MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I understand your question.

QUESTION: My question is very simple. Do you recognize any other entity in Syria to have sovereignty over that territory?

MR KIRBY: We recognize that there is a Syrian Government in place. We also recognize that it’s led by a dictator who continues to barrel bomb and gas his people. And that can’t be – the government that’s in place right now, as led by Bashar al-Assad, can’t be part of the long-term future of Syria, which is why we’re doing this entire political process to begin with. It’s why so many nations have come together to try to resolve the civil war and the conflict there so that people can have a government in place that they’ve actually had a voice in putting there and that is responsive and responsible for them.

QUESTION: Could I follow up on the – also the issue of Syrian sovereignty? This weekend, the Israeli prime minister held a meeting in the Golan Heights, basically saying that they will never withdraw from the Golan Heights, which you recognize as occupied territory. Do you have a comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to react to everything that’s said at cabinet meetings. I’m also not going to react to every bit of rhetoric, as I’ve routinely not wanted to do. I would, however, reiterate that the U.S. position on the status of the Golan Heights is longstanding and is unchanged. Every administration on both sides of the aisle since 1967 has maintained that those territories are not part of Israel. The conditions under which those territories are ultimately returned should be decided through negotiations between the respective parties. And obviously, Said, the current situation in Syria makes it difficult to continue those efforts at this time.



QUESTION: Can I ask you a question about Brazil, please?

QUESTION: No, no, no, hold on.

QUESTION: Stay on Syria.

QUESTION: Can I please ask a question about Brazil?

QUESTION: Yeah, you can when we’re finished with Iran.

MR KIRBY: I think – I think I will come – it’s okay. Listen, it took me a little while to get used to this too.


MR KIRBY: No, no, it --

QUESTION: It’s just a question.

MR KIRBY: I know, I know. It took me a little while to get used to it too. But what we’re going to try to do is exhaust sort of this part of the world and then we’ll come around to you. I --

QUESTION: “Beat to death” is another word for it. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: What did he say?

QUESTION: Beat to death in a torturous fashion is what we do.

QUESTION: All right, that’s – that’s great.

MR KIRBY: Anyway, we’re going to --

QUESTION: I want to ask you about something that --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Excuse me. I want --

QUESTION: I’d just like to remind you that a major country in this hemisphere --

MR KIRBY: Gentlemen, gentlemen, hang on.

QUESTION: -- just had an impeachment vote --

MR KIRBY: Gentlemen.

QUESTION: -- and I’m trying to get a reaction on that.

MR KIRBY: And, sir --

QUESTION: I will --

QUESTION: I was just following your example.

MR KIRBY: Sir – hey, hang on everybody, please.

QUESTION: This is --

MR KIRBY: This is my podium and it’s my briefing room. Sir, I will get to you. I promise you will get a chance to ask your question, but we try to stay on topic for a little while. It helps with transcription problem – or transcription issues going forward. So Matt, please.

QUESTION: Yeah. You may have noticed over the weekend the Iranians showed off their – parts of at least – the new S-300 missile defense system. Under U.S. law, the Iran-Iraq Sanctions Act, advanced conventional weapons of this type, whether they’re offense or defense, can be subject to sanctions if the administration deems that they are a provocation or they can – or they are destabilizing to the reason – region. Has the Administration made such a determination or has it determined that the – that Iran having these – this missile system is not destabilizing?

MR KIRBY: We are certainly aware of the reports of the delivery. And as you know, we have made clear in the past our objections to any sale of the S-300 missile system to Iran. We’ve done that for quite a few years now. The Secretary has raised this personally and repeatedly with Foreign Minister Lavrov. We have long objected to the sale to Iran of such sophisticated defense capabilities, and we’re going to continue to monitor this closely. I do not have any specific decisions with respect to any unilateral actions or sanctions to read out today.

QUESTION: But you do accept that this can draw sanctions?

MR KIRBY: It could.

QUESTION: It could?

MR KIRBY: It could. But I’m in no position now to speculate about whether it will.

QUESTION: All right. And then lastly on Iran, you mentioned earlier in response to, I think, Pam’s question about you’re not bashful about raising some issues with Iran. I want to know if – are – is the Secretary, in that same spirit of not being bashful with the Iranians, going to raise the issues of the remaining detained Americans in Iran? And I ask this because a letter was sent to him today from the supporters, friends of Mr. Zakka, American legal permanent resident who was arrested.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. So there’s kind of two parts to this, if you can just bear with me. So he – we never miss an opportunity to talk about our concerns about Americans detained overseas, and that includes when we – when he meets with Foreign Minister Zarif. Again, so I – that’s a constant for him. On this particular case, we are concerned about the case of Mr. Zakka, a Lebanese citizen and U.S. lawful permanent resident, who’s been unjustly held in Iran since September of 2015. U.S. lawful permanent residents are not U.S. passport holders and must travel on the passport of their nationality. The Immigration and Nationality Act prevents us from providing consular assistance to non-U.S. citizens. Consular assistance would be provided by the country of the individual’s nationality, and I don’t have any additional comments to make on this particular case. But in general, as I said at the outset, he never misses an opportunity to talk about – but this gentleman --

QUESTION: So he doesn’t get --

MR KIRBY: -- is – he is not a U.S. citizen.

QUESTION: So the Secretary doesn’t --

MR KIRBY: He’s a U.S. lawful permanent resident.


MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that he wouldn’t raise it, but let’s get --

QUESTION: Oh, okay. That’s what I’m asking.

MR KIRBY: Let’s let the meeting happen and then we’ll --

QUESTION: Well, has he raised the case before? This is not a new case.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know if it’s been raised specifically before.

QUESTION: Because whether he is a U.S. citizen or not, you – you raising the cases of foreign nationals quite often with foreign governments if you believe they – I mean, I can think of the case of the Savchenko case with the Russians, who’s clearly not an American and not --

MR KIRBY: That is right.

QUESTION: -- is a Russian. So can you find out whether Mr. Zakka’s case has been raised specifically?

MR KIRBY: I will ask if it’s been raised specifically.

QUESTION: Thank you.



QUESTION: Thank you. So Secretary Carter was in Baghdad today and he said – he decided that there will $415 million for the Kurds for the Peshmerga. Was the State Department involved in the process of making this decision?

MR KIRBY: We were certainly – there was a great deal of interagency coordination that was done in the – in arriving at this decision. And we’re fully supportive, of course.

QUESTION: Okay. And another question. The State – the Department of Defense says these funds will be provided by – with – through the Government of Iraq. This is money; it’s not weapons. I just want to know factually whether the – physically the money goes through a bank account in Baghdad and then to Erbil, or how’s that work?

MR KIRBY: I have no idea how the actual funds get released and transferred, but everything – you speak about it as if it’s something so unique. It all goes to assistance that the United States is providing to the Government of Iraq as it conducts a campaign plan against Daesh inside their country. And as we’ve said before, everything, all our aid and assistance, will continue to go through the government, the central government of Iraq in Baghdad. Now, exactly how the electrons gets transferred and the actual dollar figures, I don’t have that level of specificity, and frankly, it’s not relevant. Everything is being done in coordination with Prime Minister Abadi’s government.

QUESTION: Well, because the weapons, they kind of can go to Baghdad for inspection, but I just want to know whether the money can go to Baghdad and then --

MR KIRBY: Well, I would – if you need to know that specific about – information, I would refer you to DOD. I simply don’t have that level of information.

QUESTION: And will it – sorry, one more.

MR KIRBY: Of course.

QUESTION: Just a factual question. Will you send the money in cash as you had after 2003? Because that’s what you did.

MR KIRBY: You really need to talk to DOD. I don’t have that level of detail. This was an announcement by the Defense Department, and I refer you to them for more detail about it.

QUESTION: It’s important, really. Once the money is sent in cash, it can get around to different destinations than the one that you intend.

MR KIRBY: I honestly don’t know the answer to your question. You really should go to DOD for that level of detail on that.


QUESTION: Can I ask a Brazil question now, please?


QUESTION: On Saudi Arabia?

QUESTION: No, let’s go to Brazil.

QUESTION: And who decides that?

MR KIRBY: I think I do.


MR KIRBY: But I agree; I want to go to Brazil right now.


MR KIRBY: Is that okay? And we’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Of course.

MR KIRBY: All right? Do you have --

QUESTION: Sir, does the Administration see the end of the first phase of the impeachment process in Brazil as a positive or as a negative development in Latin America?

MR KIRBY: We’re – go ahead. Sorry.

QUESTION: I’ll give you $10 if your answer is other than it’s not – it’s not – it’s a case that’s still underway and you’re going to decline to comment.

QUESTION: Is it possible for us to have a --


QUESTION: -- a State Department answer as opposed to the --


QUESTION: -- grandstanding gentleman here?

MR KIRBY: Gentlemen, gentlemen, just give me a chance here, okay?


MR KIRBY: You got it. We’re following the political situation in Brazil closely, including the lower house’s April 17 vote to impeach President Rousseff. Certainly, this is a challenging political moment for Brazil; but as we’ve said all along, we believe Brazil’s institutions are sufficiently mature to address the country’s challenges. We are confident that Brazilians will work through these difficult political questions democratically and in accordance with Brazil’s constitution principles. And that’s our statement.

QUESTION: And anything beyond that?

MR KIRBY: That’s our statement.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: So when it goes to the senate – can I – I have a question, a follow-up.

MR KIRBY: You’re going to ask me a question about Brazil?

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m going to ask a question because I’m interested.


QUESTION: Now that it goes to the senate, and there is 81 members in that senate and they are leaning in one direction – I mean, they are almost of one political orientation – do you feel that maybe the president of Brazil is being subject to some sort of a coup considering that her problem was only an accounting problem?

MR KIRBY: I’ve stated our reaction for the record, Said. I’m not going to go beyond that. We are – again, we’re convinced that Brazil and the Brazilian people can handle this in accordance with their own constitutional principles and in a democratic fashion.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. The Saudi Arabia say that they will sell off hundreds billions of dollars’ worth of American assets held by the Kingdom if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudis to held responsible for September 11 attacks, and I was wondering what’s the State Department’s position on that.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I think the Secretary has already spoken to our concern about this particular legislation and the possible precedent that it could open up. So I would – and we can get you his comments that he’s made in congressional testimony about this, so I’d point you to that.

As for the position of the Saudi Government about this pending legislation, I’d refer you to Saudi authorities to speak to their reaction to it. What I can tell you is we have already made clear – the Secretary in testimony – our concerns about the possible precedent and potential harm that it could have to our own interests overseas in many countries. And again, we’d point you to that.

And then lastly, I’d just say Saudi Arabia continues to be a very close partner on so many issues, and they were instrumental in getting the opposition together in Riyadh back in December and to helping us get this whole political process started. We partner with them against terrorism elsewhere in the region, and they contribute to the coalition against Daesh in Iraq. So it doesn’t mean that we’re always going to see eye to eye with the Saudis on every issue, but on the issues of terrorism there is much work to be done and much collaboration that has occurred and will continue to occur.

And I’ll just, broadly speaking – because I know this also gets at the issue of those who suffered and continue to suffer from the losses on 9/11 – nothing’s changed about our commitment to them, to the grieving process that we know they’re still going through, and to doing everything we can as a government to help them. Okay?

QUESTION: Would you agree that tensions between the United States and Saudi Arabia are at an all-time high in this Administration ahead of the President’s upcoming visit?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t characterize it that way.

QUESTION: You wouldn’t?


QUESTION: How would you characterize the relationship?

MR KIRBY: As I said, even the best of friends are going to disagree on issues. And what’s healthy is that you can have a discussion and you can have a debate and you can differ over whatever the issue is, and we’re not bashful about doing that. But that doesn’t change the essential fact that Saudi Arabia remains a key partner as we continue to confront terrorism in the region and around the world, and we’re going to continue to look for ways to improve that coordination and that cooperation.

QUESTION: Do you expect that this – the issue of this bill, the issue of the 28 pages, will overshadow or be part of the conversation? Or are the U.S. – is the Administration, anyway, and the kingdom sort of in agreement on these issues and therefore it won’t be a topic of the discussion?

MR KIRBY: Well, if you’re asking me to get ahead of the GCC, I won’t do that. I mean, there is a lot of issues to discuss in Riyadh. The Secretary is looking forward to going and to be – and to accompanying the President. Clearly, the ongoing fight against Daesh, the need to continue to work towards a political solution in Syria, continuing to fight AQAP in places like Yemen – all those things are really important for GCC countries to discuss at the end of the week, and I have no doubt that they will, not to mention and certainly not to ignore – and when I was talking to Pam – the continued concerns that they have over Iran and Iran’s destabilizing activities.

I think there is going to be enough of a robust agenda of things to talk about. Whether this particular issue will come up, I couldn’t say.

QUESTION: Has Kerry – sorry, and if this has already been asked, I apologize. But has Kerry read the 28 pages in question here?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know, Justin.

QUESTION: On the GCC meeting, do you expect the Secretary will have bilats with other foreign ministers or leaders during this time that are separate from the President’s --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have additional details on his schedule to announce at this time.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: And if we do, we’ll certainly --

QUESTION: All right. I want to know if – in the context of any meeting he might have with a – with officials from the Emirate – with Emirati officials, if the case of the father and son, the al-Darats’ imprisonment will come up. As we’ve talked about here before, there is an end of May court date for them. They’ve alleged some pretty horrendous treatment while in detention there.


QUESTION: And it would seem that this should be a high priority for the Administration, and particularly in a country like the Emirates, which you count as a very close friend and partner.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Look, as I said, when we get closer to this if we have additional details to talk to with respect to his agenda, if he conducts bilats and what they are, we’ll certainly announce those to you. And as you know, we read them out. This particular case is one we have raised publicly and, of course, privately with the Emiratis and we continue to monitor it closely. I don’t expect that that’s going to change at all.


QUESTION: Do you have any details on the extent of U.S. assistance to Japan in the wake of the recent earthquakes?

MR KIRBY: All – I don’t have a lot other than I think you may have seen DOD speak to some air support that they’re providing. I’m not aware of anything additional other than that at this time. Obviously, we remain in close contact with Japanese authorities and are willing to help in any way they deem appropriate. Obviously, these are decisions they have to make. We certainly are willing to contribute capabilities as needed. But as far as I know, as we speak right now, the only thing that they’ve asked for that we’re providing is a measure of air support.


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: It’s okay, she had another one.

QUESTION: It’s a separate subject, though, so if you were following up on that --

QUESTION: Well, I was just going to ask about earthquakes, but we can keep it on – (laughter). I will – I’ll wait to --

QUESTION: You’re against them, right?


MR KIRBY: Yes, earthquakes are – yes.

QUESTION: Is there anything more you can tell us about the American killed in Ecuador? Did you give us all you have at the top there?

MR KIRBY: I’m afraid I’ve given you all I’ve got right now.

QUESTION: And that is only – you’re only saying that one American is --

MR KIRBY: We know of one U.S. citizen killed at this time and we have been in contact with the family.

QUESTION: And do you suspect any more may be missing or unaccounted for?

MR KIRBY: I couldn’t speculate. I couldn’t speculate. We are still trying to work with, as I said, authorities there to get a better sense of the whereabouts of all American citizens that were in the region and could possibly be affected. But you’ve seen the imagery yourself. You know how difficult it can be to do a proper accounting. We’re going to continue to work at this. And when I have information that I am confident enough to share with you, I will do it. Right now, I am only confident in letting you know that we are aware of one American citizen killed.

QUESTION: But you don’t even have a rough location of where that person was?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I’m afraid I don’t. I don’t know the circumstances.

QUESTION: So you’re working with the authorities to identify any other – whether – is it whether there are any other missing Americans, or you’re working with Ecuadorian authorities to track down a notional list of possible Americans?

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s both. I mean, we’re trying to --

QUESTION: So you have some names that are possibly missing.

MR KIRBY: No, no, no. No, I didn’t say that. What I mean is I think we have to work under the presumption that there – that there very well may have been additional American citizens in some way affected. But I don’t – so that’s a working assumption we have to make. It would be imprudent not to. But I don’t have a number. As you know, we don’t track the – we can’t. There’s no way to track the number of Americans that are visiting any particular spot at any particular time. So we’re just going to keep working with Ecuadorian authorities as they continue to work through this. And when I have information that, again, I’m confident enough that we can share with you, we’ll do that. Right now it’s just the one that we’re aware of.

QUESTION: Can you --

MR KIRBY: Abbie, you had another? Let me get to Abbie and then Lesley.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the recent reports of an attack on a bus in Jerusalem?

MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly have seen the reports of this explosion on a bus in Jerusalem. We’re watching this as closely as we can. Israeli authorities are really a better source of information at this time. I don’t have any more specific information about the exact cause or if it – I know they’ve said they’re treating this as if it was an act of terrorism. We have no information that would lead us to dispute that. But this is really something for them to speak to. I’m not aware of any – as we speak right now, I’m not aware of any impact of that explosion on American citizens, but we’re going to be obviously staying in very close contact and touch with Israeli authorities going forward.

Again, if we have --

QUESTION: Can we stay there?

MR KIRBY: -- information that we’re comfortable enough sharing as we move forward, we’ll do that.

QUESTION: Can we stay there?


QUESTION: So the much-vaunted cameras on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif --


QUESTION: -- concept/idea/project appears to have finally bitten the dust today with the Jordanians saying they’re dropping the whole thing. This was one of the main things that Secretary Kerry pointed to as a success when he was back in the region in October trying to calm the situations down. So what’s your reaction? What’s his, if you’ve talked to him about it?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, certainly have seen the reports that they’re halting their plans. I think in general we still believe that tools like cameras could be a very useful way of increasing transparency and potentially helping work to decrease the violence. So we still see the value in the use of cameras. Now, the Jordanians can speak to the decision that they’ve made now to halt this project. We think it’s unfortunate, and we continue to believe in the value of that tool for that purpose. And more broadly, we continue to urge all sides to restore calm, reduce the violence, and take affirmative steps.

QUESTION: Well, is the camera idea one that you – that the Administration or the Secretary in particular is willing to bring up again to try to revive?

MR KIRBY: I think I would just leave it where I did. We still see that there’s a value to that tool.

QUESTION: Well, okay. The Jordanians say that they’re dropping it because the – concerns from the Palestinians.


QUESTION: So, I mean, are you willing – do you think it is an important enough idea to try to convince President Abbas and other Palestinian officials of the need – or the desirability of having these?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything specifically to announce today about whether or not the Secretary is going to revisit the idea with Jordanian authorities, but again, I’d just say we continue to believe that that tool is a good one to increase transparency. And while we supported the cameras as a means, we still have been clear that implementation obviously is up to the parties, and one of the parties now in this case has decided not to move forward. As I said, it’s unfortunate. I can’t tell you at this time that we’re going to be assertive in terms of trying to have it revisited, but it doesn’t mean that we’ve changed our mind with respect to the value of that as a tool to increase transparency.

QUESTION: So your impression is that the Jordanian decision is final, it’s not just putting the whole project on hold and maybe revisit it later on?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, they – I can just point you to what they’ve said. They’ve said --

QUESTION: Because it’s only like – what, a few days ago it went into action.

MR KIRBY: They --

QUESTION: What made them decide all of a sudden?

MR KIRBY: Well, you’d have to talk to them. I don’t now. I mean, this is a decision they made. I can only go by what we’ve heard them say about it, that they have halted the program. Again, we still think there’s value in that, but these are – the implementation has to be up to the parties. They are one of the parties; they’ve made this decision and they should speak for the reasons why they did that.

QUESTION: John, on North Korea?


QUESTION: The South Korean authorities have said that North Korea is ready to conduct its fifth nuclear test at any time. Do you agree with this assessment, and are you taking any steps to prepare for it?

MR KIRBY: Seen those comments. We take all that – those kinds of threats seriously. We have to given the past behavior of the regime. I won’t talk about intelligence matters or – but I can just tell you we’re watching this as closely as we can. And again, it does bear repeating, as it often does when we talk about the North, that we continue to call on them to stop these destabilizing activities and to prove that they are willing to return to the Six-Party process.

QUESTION: Another question on North Korea.


QUESTION: So three Nobel laureates are planning to go to North Korea in early May for a science event which would include workshops and talking to students. They believe – by engaging with the younger generation is the right approach. I wonder if you have any stand on this.

MR KIRBY: Actually, I don’t. I mean, I think I’d point you to the organization that’s sponsoring their trip to speak to it. They really should speak to this. I mean, we’re not in the business of doing that for each and every individual that travels overseas, even to the North. They should speak for this.

QUESTION: What kind of message do you think this is sending to the North Korea regime or to the younger people?

MR KIRBY: Again, I would point you to the organization that’s organizing that travel to speak to the purposes behind it, and if there’s some sort of message behind it – and I’m not saying there is – they should speak to that.

QUESTION: Can I have another question on Cameroon? Do you have anything on this unfortunate accident in Cameroon, where Ambassador Power’s motorcade struck a boy?


QUESTION: Is there any discussion to provide compensation to the family out of the U.S. Government?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know about any plans for compensation. I just don’t have an update for you on that. But obviously, we all here are grieving with the family of that young boy who was killed by the vehicle in the convoy. And as I think you saw reported, Ambassador Power, who certainly is feeling this very deeply, visited with the family today to express her deep regrets over what happened. I don’t have any update in terms of next steps here, but we all share in the grief and the sorrow that resulted from this tragic, just terrible, terrible accident.


QUESTION: Can I ask one question on Libya? Do you have any comment on the visit of the foreign minister of England, Britain, Philip Hammond to Libya today? Is that good – is that a good thing to bolster the unity government, and will Secretary Kerry do the same thing anytime --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any travel for the Secretary to announce. We certainly are aware that Foreign Minister Hammond traveled to Tripoli, and as I understand it, German foreign minister, the French foreign minister, and the Italian foreign minister have also traveled – also traveled to Tripoli last week. I think they should speak to the details of their travel, reasons behind it, goals, objectives for that, but we certainly stand with them in our support and their support of the Libyan Government now that’s in Tripoli. So, I mean – and again, we don’t have any travel for our part or for the Secretary to announce today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Okay, thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Fri, 04/15/2016 - 16:22

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 15, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:10 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hey, everybody.


QUESTION: Hello, John.

MR KIRBY: Happy Friday to you.

QUESTION: It’s beautiful out there.

MR KIRBY: It is a beautiful day. So let’s just keep it short today.


MR KIRBY: All easy questions – two or three – and we’ll be done.

QUESTION: What’s your favorite color? (Laughter.)




MR KIRBY: Blue. Are we done now? Can we go?

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s it. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: All right, thank you.

QUESTION: I may have --

MR KIRBY: All right. A couple of things at the top here. Yesterday, the Department of State notified Congress of the decision to re-designate the following countries as Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act, also known as IRF. These countries are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and for the first time Tajikistan as a Country of Particular Concern. In accordance with the IRF Act, presidential actions for Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, and Sudan have been implemented. We have waived application of presidential actions with respect to Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan following determinations that the important national interest of the United States required exercising this waiver authority.

These designations help us shine a spotlight on countries and conditions that require the international community’s attention. Today and every day, as you know, we are committed to working with governments, civil society organizations, and individuals to achieve our shared interest in promoting peace and stability through, in part, the promotion and protection of all human rights including religious freedoms.

Also just a quick note. I think you’ve seen the readout statement I just put out a few minutes ago, but I do want to reiterate it here from the podium that the Secretary did speak today over the phone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to reiterate our serious concerns over the ongoing threats to the cessation of hostilities in Syria and the urgent need for the Assad regime to stop its violations of the cessation. And we talked a little bit about those violations yesterday.

The Secretary and the foreign minister reaffirmed the importance of the preservation and solidification of the cessation of hostilities, and they both said that all parties needed to comply with the cessation. The Secretary said that the United States expected Russia to urge the regime to comply with the cessation and its requirements under it and that we, the United States, would work with the opposition to do the same.

The Secretary also registered our strong objections to the unsafe maneuvers executed by Russian military aircraft over the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea.

And on Ukraine, Secretary Kerry urged Russia to end the violence along the line of contact, to fully implement its Minsk obligations, and to immediately release Nadia Savchenko and all other remaining hostages.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Let’s start with the religious freedom designations. So you waived sanctions on Saudi and the ‘Stans, right? Is that basically it?

MR KIRBY: Basically.

QUESTION: And so on the countries that didn’t get the waiver, what actual sanctions – additional sanctions or sanctions in the first place – have you imposed on them?

MR KIRBY: So this is not about additional sanctions. It’s about reaffirming, often in many cases, sanctions or actions – they’re not all sanctions – but actions that are already in place. So now it adds a layer of validity to a sanction or an action that’s already in place. So as far as I know, there are no additional measures being taken, but the measures that are in place on those countries are now – there’s another layer of credibility and validity put on to them.

QUESTION: Right. Except for the fact that it’s unclear to me what additional sanctions there were put on these countries for being a Country of Particular Concern in the first place way back when. Do you have that in there?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a list for each country but – hang on a second because I knew you were going to go there.


MR KIRBY: In the Federal Register, in a couple of days it will list all in detail what the Countries of Particular Concern are. I mean, I just listed them, but it will list what measures are being taken with respect to each one. In general, what I can tell you is that in the majority of cases these are sanctions or actions that affect the military-to-military relationship and aid and assistance in that regard. Some of it – some of them regard visa restrictions. And there are some additional restrictions placed on some of these countries with respect to other aid and assistance not militarily – not military related. But by and large, the impact will be felt in the military-to-military relationship, and as I said, in these cases those actions are already in place. This is just an extra – this is another layer of validity to our concerns over that particular country.

QUESTION: Well, for example, Iran. What kind military-to-military engagement do you have with the Iranians?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said --


MR KIRBY: As I said, in most cases it’s a military-to-military thing. You’re right; in Iran that wouldn’t apply.


MR KIRBY: Again, Matt, I don’t have the list here.


MR KIRBY: And – but it will be made public soon.

QUESTION: All right, I’ll look in the Federal Register.

MR KIRBY: It will be made public soon.

QUESTION: It’s required reading every morning.

MR KIRBY: Well, it should be.


MR KIRBY: And I’m glad that it is for you.

QUESTION: Yeah. Then on the Lavrov call --

QUESTION: Can I ask about religious freedom?


QUESTION: Really a very quick question. I wonder if you heard or you’re aware that the Saudi ambassador to the UN called atheists terrorists? You don’t agree with that, do you?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t see those.

QUESTION: I mean, atheists, agnostics, or miscreants are not terrorists.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t see those comments, but we judge a terrorist --

QUESTION: Would that --

MR KIRBY: We judge a terrorist not by religious affiliation or claims of religious affiliation, but rather their actions. So again, I haven’t seen those comments, but I can – go ahead.

QUESTION: Just on the Lavrov call, I’m curious about the Ukraine portion of it. You said that on Ukraine Secretary Kerry urged Russia to end the violence all along the line of contact. Does the United States believe that Russia is responsible for all of the violence all along the line of contact?

MR KIRBY: That there are violent actions or violations being – occurring on both sides, I think is not – we’re not disputing that. But we do know they still have influence over the separatists who are the line of contact and who are still implementing --

QUESTION: So that means --


QUESTION: -- he called on the Russians to use their influence --

MR KIRBY: For their influence for – on the separatists, yes.

QUESTION: Not – okay.


QUESTION: Woops, excuse me. On Iran, you will have seen that the head of the Iranian central bank is in town. Presume that he – this is one of his first visits here because I believe he would have been covered by some kind of sanction before. He has made it clear that they expect more from you and the EU in the way of sanctions relief. Is that something you’re prepared to consider now, having heard it from the head of the central bank?

MR KIRBY: More in terms of sanctions relief?

QUESTION: Yeah, that they’re not getting – that they have not yet received the full measure of relief that they believed is due to them --

MR KIRBY: We have met – I think the central piece of his argument was that we’ve not met or fully complied with our commitments under the JCPOA, and we would dispute that.

QUESTION: He’s saying that to meet your commitments you have got to do something that you have said you’re not going to do, and that is allow some form of u-turn transaction.

MR KIRBY: Well, I think we’ve talked about this and that there’s not going to be --

QUESTION: Well, we’ve talked about the u-turn, but there are other ways around it. And I just want to know is that something that you --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything additional to speak to with that. But I do want to – I do want to make it clear that we have met all our JCPOA commitments.

QUESTION: Okay. So they shouldn’t – the Iranians shouldn’t be expecting anything more from the United States?

MR KIRBY: We have met all of our JCPOA commitments.

QUESTION: So they shouldn’t be expecting anything more?

MR KIRBY: We’ve met all our commitments under the JCPOA.



QUESTION: And you’re not going to do anything else?

MR KIRBY: There’s no need to do more when we’ve met all of our commitments. Now, we understand that they still have concerns. We understand that they want more relief faster. Remember, it’s not just a deal between the United States and Iran; it’s the P5+1. So all that I can tell you is we’re comfortable that we have met all our commitments under the JCPOA, and we will continue to meet those commitments going forward.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?


QUESTION: Real quick. Today, the high committee that said that they are – they are fine with having the Syrian regime being part of a transitional period or transitional government and so on, so is that – do you consider that to be a breakthrough? Is that a good thing? I mean, are we likely to have these talks now pick up steam now that --

MR KIRBY: I’m going to refrain from commenting on each and every utterance made out of Geneva.

QUESTION: So the --

MR KIRBY: But let me --


MR KIRBY: Just give me a second.


MR KIRBY: That we certainly are encouraged that we’re now on, what, day three of the next round here of talks and that they’re moving forward. I want to refrain from, again, making a judgment call on every day and every little bit of progress. But those comments are certainly – they’re encouraging, but we all recognize that there’s a long way to go here and there’s an awful lot on the agenda to discuss. And one of the things that we would like to see discussed in this round is more particulars on the political transition and more particulars in terms of a process at getting to a draft constitution. So we’d like to see that happen and we’re going to be monitoring it as close we can. Our Special Envoy Mike Ratney is out there as he has been for the previous two rounds, and we’re watching this as closely as we can.

QUESTION: So you don’t see any of the – there is the confrontation, let’s say, in and around Aleppo as being a hindrance in any way to these talks, especially now that the high committee has --

MR KIRBY: We don’t want it to be, which is one of the reasons why the Secretary raised it with Foreign Minister Lavrov today. I can’t be perfectly predictive here to you and tell you that it absolutely will not impact or that it absolutely will. We don’t want it to. We want the cessation to continue to hold, and it has been, by and large. It’s – there’s a fragility there. I don’t dispute that. And it is that fragility that the Secretary wanted to make sure he discussed with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

And I would add – again, as I put in the readout, both men agreed that there’s a fragility here and that we need to keep working at it to keep it into play – keep it in place. But I can’t be predictive in terms of what impact it might have.

QUESTION: Just to continue on the call, though, the calls – in your readout of the call, Kerry calls on Lavrov to rein in the Syrian forces. Is it your position that the Russian forces are not involved in this offensive in Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: I – no, I didn’t say that. He certainly – as I said yesterday, we know that some of the regime actions in and around Aleppo are being supported by Russian airstrikes. I mean, that’s a matter of fact.

QUESTION: Did Secretary Kerry ask Lavrov for the Russians to stop striking around Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: He made it clear that we’re concerned about the violence in and around Aleppo and that the – and our concerns about reports, which we believe are – have credibility, that there are violations of the cessation happening in and around Aleppo. And to the degree that they’re aided and abetted by Russian airstrikes, yes, that’s a matter of concern for us. But as I said in the readout, he felt it was also important to make the point that we need Russia to continue to use their influence on the Assad regime to stop those violations. And he promised that we would do the same on our part for the opposition groups that we’re supporting.

QUESTION: And still on the call, there’s another issue to come up in Moscow today. Apparently, Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Qods Force --


QUESTION: -- is in Moscow. He’s an individual who’s still under some U.S. sanctions, I believe. I don’t know whether he – Secretary Kerry raised that with Lavrov, and if not, would you like to raise it from the podium?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) He did raise it in the call with Foreign Minister Lavrov. We’re aware of reports that General Soleimani has traveled to Russia. I can’t and we’re not in a position to confirm whether that’s actually true. But as we’ve said when there have been previous reports of similar travel, there are UN sanctions on General Soleimani that remain in effect. So such travel, if true, would be a violation of UN Security Council resolutions, and we believe, then, a serious matter of concern to both the UN and to the United States.

QUESTION: Can I ask – go back to the Dr. Araj’s killing, the assassination. Do you have any more certain information that he was premeditatedly targeted by the Syrian regime?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have additional information on that strike from yesterday, but, I mean, our concern are – still remains true.

QUESTION: Different?

QUESTION: Just about the Soleimani thing.


QUESTION: So what was the foreign minister’s response? I mean, and what did Secretary Kerry say? Did he ask if these reports were true? Did he say, “Is General Soleimani in Moscow or somewhere else in Russia?”

MR KIRBY: I don’t believe it was an extensive part of the conversation. He said – he basically referred to the press reporting that he had seen and that it was a matter of concern for him. I’ll let Foreign Minister Lavrov speak for himself on this.

QUESTION: Independent of the press reporting, does the United States have any reason to believe that this is true?

MR KIRBY: We don’t have any indication that it’s either true or untrue. We have press reporting that we’ve seen that has given us concern. So we’re not in a position to say one way or the other that we think it’s true or not.

QUESTION: Okay. And the foreign minister did not say whether it was true or not?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll let – I’ll let the foreign minister speak for himself on that.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, at --

MR KIRBY: But the Secretary did raise the issue and raised our concern.

QUESTION: Fair enough. But after the conversation, were you led to believe that they accepted the concern and --

MR KIRBY: We don’t have any additional information after the phone call that would lead us to believe – to be able to confirm the veracity of these reports.

QUESTION: So you are – basically you’re, for lack of a better word, clueless about this --

MR KIRBY: I would not use that word, Matt.

QUESTION: -- about whether he’s there or not?

MR KIRBY: I would use – I would not use that word particularly, but I would tell you that, as I said previously, we don’t have information right now, even after the call, to confirm the veracity of these reports.

QUESTION: Right. Which suggests that the foreign minister said it’s not true.

MR KIRBY: I’ll leave it where I left it.


QUESTION: On the Treasury, what is the significance of the new – what do you call it? – regulations announced by the Treasury today to implement the act against – sanctions act against Hizballah?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, hang on a second.

QUESTION: And what – how is this going to impact the economy of Lebanon?

MR KIRBY: So this is another one of those cases where I’m going to be precise, because I know Matt really appreciates that.


MR KIRBY: For the full details of the Treasury OFAC regulations on the Hizballah act, which was published today, I’m going to refer you to the Treasury Department. That said, however, what I can say is that these regulations are a continuation of the U.S. Government’s efforts against Hizballah and they give the U.S. Government additional sanctions authorities to go after this terrorist organization and its support apparatus worldwide. Of course, at the same time, the safety, soundness, and security of the Lebanese financial system is a great priority to the United States, and the U.S. Government will act only on the strongest evidence and the most solid evidence in our efforts to isolate Hizballah from the international financial system. But we’ll do it in such a way that will support the Lebanese economy, that will support the Lebanese financial system, and will not target innocent people.

QUESTION: What of the timing today?

MR KIRBY: I’d refer you again to the Treasury Department for more detail on that. That’s really – this is really their issue to speak to, but I did want to make those broader points at the bottom.

QUESTION: They coincide with the visit of the governor of the Iran central bank today.

MR KIRBY: Again, I would point you to the Treasury Department to speak to the specifics and the timing.

QUESTION: So that’s broad precision?

MR KIRBY: That’s broad precision, yeah. I think we’ve coined a new phrase.

QUESTION: How exactly are you going to isolate Hizballah and not impact the Lebanese economy given the role that Hizballah plays in the Lebanese economy?

MR KIRBY: Well, there’s no question there’s a – there’s no question about that influence. And that’s why we --

QUESTION: Right. So can you be --

MR KIRBY: -- that’s why we’re going to be very careful as we do this.

QUESTION: But can you be precise about what that means?

MR KIRBY: I cannot be precise about what that specifically means. I would refer you to the Treasury Department. But it doesn’t mean that we’re not sincere about the effort and the --

QUESTION: A precise referral to another agency.


QUESTION: I guess it’s better than being referred to North Korea on something, but thank you.

MR KIRBY: You’re welcome.

QUESTION: On North Korea?


QUESTION: Do you have any --

MR KIRBY: Here we go.

QUESTION: Do you have a response --

MR KIRBY: We’re off to the races.

QUESTION: -- to the report that North Korea launched a missile last night and which apparently failed?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’ve seen – we obviously have been seeing these reports of a failed missile launch. I don’t have any additional specific information to confirm it one way or the other. We certainly have been monitoring it. I think, again, just worth pivoting to the larger point here that these kinds of activities – which they’ve done before – and while I’m in no position to confirm that it happened yesterday, I’m also not in a position to say that it didn’t. And if it did, it would certainly be yet another example of them violating their international obligations and just further destabilizing the peninsula. And once again, we call on them to cease these activities and prove that they’re willing to return to the Six-Party Talks process.

QUESTION: Can I stay in the region? On Japan. Do you have any update on assistance to the --

MR KIRBY: Yes, thank you for that. And I meant to say something at the top, and I didn’t, and I apologize. We’ve just seen these reports of yet another earthquake today, this one, as I understand it, on Kyushu Island. We are not aware of any requests for U.S. assistance at this time. But as I said yesterday, we stand ready to provide any and all assistance that the Japanese Government may require. Obviously, our thoughts and prayers go out to everybody affected by the earthquake – this second one as well. And we’re monitoring as best we can. We’re in touch with authorities in Japan, but I don’t have anything specific to announce today with respect to assistance.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any U.S. persons who have been caught up in this?

MR KIRBY: I’m not at this time, no. But as I said, it just happened, the one yesterday and then another one just a little bit ago, so we’re watching this as closely as we can.

QUESTION: How about travel advisories?

MR KIRBY: We did issue the – we did issue an alert yesterday, our embassy did, to Americans in the area. But I don’t know of anything additional from the one yesterday?

QUESTION: Can I stay on the region?


QUESTION: On Burma. On the top of the briefing, you mentioned that religious freedom and actions, and Burma is one country – can – do you know, is that mil-to-mil related, or visa? I mean – and does the recent democratic development in Burma has any one way or the other affect the decision today?

MR KIRBY: This decision was made based on a report, the religious freedom report. These designations were made based on the Religious Freedom Report that we are required to submit every year by Congress. So I don’t know specifically – I mean, there was a lot of factors that went into it. I don’t have specific information with respect to the – what you’re asking me.

And on the sanctions or measures that will be – that this will add a layer to, again, I’d point you to what’s going to come out in the next day or two in the Federal Register. I do not have the list of everything that’s in place on Burma. So we’ll – I’ll point you to the Federal Register when it comes out.

QUESTION: And then can I follow up quickly on the phone call between Secretary Kerry and Lavrov? On Ukraine, do you see any spike in the conflicts in eastern Ukraine?

MR KIRBY: Spike?


MR KIRBY: What we’ve seen is a continued trend now over recent weeks of violations along the line of contact. And we have reason to believe that the majority of those are caused by the Russian-backed separatists, and so it remains a concern. And again, Minsk is very clear about what the requirements are about pulling forces back, withdrawing heavy weaponry, and about progress towards elections. So again, that was – this fact that we have seen now over recent weeks this continued fighting – sporadic though it may be, continued – is a reason why the Secretary felt it was important to raise today. And it’s Ukraine – not a surprise, I don’t think, to you, but it’s obviously a topic that he very frequently raises in his conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov.


QUESTION: Turkey blocked the website of Russian news agency Sputnik within hours of the Russian president’s critical comments of Turkish leaders. Do you see this as an extension of the Turkish Government’s crackdown on media?

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. I think I’ve got something on that.

So we are aware of reports that there’s no access to Sputnik – the Sputnik website from Turkey. We’d refer you to Turkish authorities for further information about that. But broadly speaking and not specifically on this, as you know, we encourage all governments to take every precaution to protect freedom of expression.

QUESTION: Well, immediately, almost immediately after the March crackdown on the Zaman newspaper, you said, “We see this as the latest in a series of troubling judicial and law enforcement actions taken by the Turkish Government targeting media outlets and others critical of it.” Do you not see it as part of – do you see this as part of a series of troubling actions taken by Turkey?

MR KIRBY: As I said, broadly speaking, we have made – have been very clear about our belief in the freedom of expression in Turkey and elsewhere. As for this particular report, which, as I – as far as I know, we’ve only just become aware of, I’d refer you to Turkish authorities. We’re aware of reports that Sputnik is blocked in Turkey. The Turkish Government is the place to go to ask these --

QUESTION: Does that concern you?

MR KIRBY: -- particular questions. As I said, broadly speaking – not just on this case, but broadly speaking – we have made our views about freedom of expression well known.


QUESTION: Can I change topics?

QUESTION: Well, can we stay on that subject broadly? Do you have any thoughts at all about Germany going ahead with potential prosecution of this comedian who allegedly insulted President Erdogan?

MR KIRBY: What I would tell – well, so I’m going to refer you to the German Government for this --

QUESTION: With precision.

MR KIRBY: -- but I would – yes. I thought I had it here. I’m going to refer you to the German Government on this, but I would in so doing again note – which I think you realize – that Chancellor Merkel has indicated an effort separately to amend this law. But I’d refer you to German authorities on this.

QUESTION: Yeah. But just in general – I mean, do you think it’s a good – you think it’s okay for governments to prosecute entertainers based on complaints from foreign leaders?

MR KIRBY: As I understand that this is a German law that, again, the chancellor is looking to amend and --

QUESTION: Well, that’s great, but it doesn’t – it’s on the books now and they’re looking into prosecuting this guy for it – under it. So that’s my – I’m asking you about that. I’m not asking you about whether the law --

MR KIRBY: I know what you’re asking me about. I’m saying we’re going to refer you – I’m going to refer you to the German Government to speak to this particular case, and I would note what the chancellor has both said and tried to do in relation to this case. But – so I’m not going to comment further than that. As I said in my previous answer, our views on freedom of expression are well known, but I’d refer you to the German Government for comment on this.

QUESTION: So you think that the freedom of expression should be upheld in Germany as in Turkey?

MR KIRBY: We believe and I think – we just released the Human Rights Report a couple of days ago, which makes it clear that obviously we support --

QUESTION: I know. I’ll look in the Human Rights Report on Germany.


QUESTION: Does it talk about this law? Does it say that the law is a bad thing?

MR KIRBY: We support freedom of expression around the world. You know that. It’s a longstanding core principle of us.

QUESTION: I’m just trying to get you to say that in relation to Germany specifically.

MR KIRBY: I am going to refer you to the German Government for details on this particular law and the application of this – in this particular case. I am not going to wade into that today. Again, I would just point you to what the chancellor has said herself about this.

QUESTION: I did look at the Human Rights Report page on Germany. You do criticize Germany’s record in repressing the freedom of speech of neo-Nazis and the religious freedom of Scientologists. Perhaps in next year’s report we can add satirists.

MR KIRBY: Well, let’s wait till next year’s report.


QUESTION: Well, but wait a second. If you didn’t – if it’s not – if this law isn’t mentioned in the report – and I haven’t looked at the German page, but I will – why isn’t it mentioned if this is an issue of concern?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a good answer for you there if it’s not listed. We – the Human Rights Report, as you know, is a year or more in the making, so --

QUESTION: But this law has been on the books for, like, a century.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I get that. I get that. It’s a pretty comprehensive list of our concerns and it’s pretty --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: -- open and candid about it. Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I ask a couple question about the Palestinian-Israeli issue --


QUESTION: -- very, very briefly? The organization Americans for Peace Now issued a report saying that unlike what the Israelis claim, the units advanced a couple days ago almost at the same time as you were doing your Human Rights Report – actually are new units, new – new settlement units and so on. So I wonder – I know – I mean, I sound redundant because we always talk about the settlements --


QUESTION: -- but I want to give you a chance to respond to this particular one.

MR KIRBY: We have seen reports that settlement plans were advanced for units – as you say, new units in Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank. We’re still looking into the details on this. And we’ve also seen the prime minister’s statement that acknowledges that at least some new units were advanced. Our position, as you know, on settlement activity remains very clear and consistent. We strongly oppose all settlement activity which we believe is counterproductive to the cause of peace.

QUESTION: So, I mean, in that context, going back to Michael’s question yesterday and my question, seeing that the Israelis are basically there, they seem to be quite dismissive of your position on settlement, why not go to a forum like the United Nations and have a unanimous kind of resolution that calls for the end of settlement activity?

MR KIRBY: Said, I think we talked about this yesterday.

QUESTION: I understand, but I mean if they keep doing --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to have a different answer for you today. We --

QUESTION: All right. Let me ask you a couple more questions. I want to ask you about Gaza. Gaza – yesterday marked, like, the 12th year since it’s been in the dark, so to speak, since the Israelis hit the power plants. They have, like, two or three hours a day, and truly the situation is getting quite – deteriorating. I wonder if you are doing anything to sort of perhaps appeal with the Israelis to allow cement, to allow a power plant, allow all these things that just make life livable for the population.

MR KIRBY: Well, what we’re doing is – and we’re – look, we’re all mindful of the situation in Gaza – the unemployment, the fact that power is often only on for a portion of the day, and the difficulty getting aid and assistance in. So we’re mindful – very mindful of the situation there. So to your question, “What are we doing,” we’re calling – as we have consistently called – on the international community to deliver on the pledges that were made in the 2014 Gaza reconstruction conference that was held in Cairo. And I would add that the U.S. has fulfilled all of our pledges with respect to that conference to the tune of about $414 million. So we’ve done – we’ve met our pledge to this situation and we are going to continue to call on other countries to meet theirs.

QUESTION: And finally, my last question regarding the wall in the Bethlehem area, the Cremisan Valley, which will prevent 60 Palestinian families from reaching their farms and so on. I wonder if you have – the EU issued a statement expressing their concern. I wonder if you’re doing the same thing or if you have a comment on that.

MR KIRBY: Well, we have been consistent on --


MR KIRBY: -- and we’ve been clear in our support for Israel’s right – in fact, their obligation to defend itself and to defend their citizens. Security measures to that effect, which include a separation barrier, should balance the need, we believe, to provide security with mitigating the impact on the vast majority of Palestinian civilians not engaged in terrorism. So the separation barrier, in short, should not be used to demarcate or to prejudge political boundaries as Israel themselves – as the government there has previously pledged it wouldn’t do.

QUESTION: So that’s fine, but you do call on the Israelis to build the – all the barriers that they want on their own side of --

MR KIRBY: No, that’s not what I said at all. I said we – they have a right to defend themselves --

QUESTION: Right, but --

MR KIRBY: -- and to protect their citizens.

QUESTION: -- but this wall is in Palestinian land, it’s in occupied land. So that definitely just complicates (inaudible) to say – I mean, to --

MR KIRBY: Well, I said --

QUESTION: -- to understate it (inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: As I said, what we want to see – if there’s going to be a separation barrier – a wall, if you will – we want to see it serve a proper balance between the need for providing security and with mitigating the impact on the lives of the vast majority of Palestinian civilians that are not terrorists.

Yeah, Goyal.

QUESTION: India. John, a couple of questions on U.S.-India relations. This month, especially this week, a lot happened between U.S.-India relations starting with the National Security Summit and also then U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was in India and now the Indian defense – Indian Finance Minister Mr. Jaitley is here. He has been talking at the World Bank, IMF, and also at the Carnegie Institute, talking about the future goals of U.S.-India economic trade and other relations. So where do we go from here? What – finance minister said that India is growing faster than many countries here meeting in Washington. So they – India – he said they need further help, more help to grow. So where do the relation stands now on these fronts: defense, economic trade, and also give and take politically?

MR KIRBY: I mean, look, our ties and our relationship with India are very strong and we look to make them stronger, and that’s why you saw Secretary Carter sign this joint statement with his Indian counterpart to improve our defense cooperation across a wide range of military activities. And you said – you just said it yourself, India’s participation in the Nuclear Security Summit, yet another area of cooperation between the United States and India. So broadly speaking, this is an important relationship that we very much value and look forward to trying to improve going forward across all the sectors.

QUESTION: And one more. As far as education is concerned between the U.S.-India Education Initiative – Knowledge Initiative, there are over 125 Indian students in various universities and institutions around the U.S. But many people have set up here fake universities – and they get not necessarily fake visas, but they have real visas, but fake universities – and 21 people now in jail in New Jersey. And they brought over 1,000 students and they are in limbo now, those students, but they have a student visa somehow from India consulates or embassies and all that. So what is their future now? And what is, therefore – what they’re asking is that we have the legitimate visa and we were told –

MR KIRBY: I understand that.

QUESTION: -- given the legitimate institute to be study here in the U.S.

MR KIRBY: I understand that. And you’re not going to like this answer, but this is an – it’s an ongoing investigation and I’m not going to speak to it. I get everything that you’re saying, but this is really a matter for law enforcement agencies to speak to, not the State Department. And again, I understand completely and I understand the concerns expressed by Indian authorities and even some of these young individuals. But as there is an ongoing investigation looking into this, it would be inappropriate for me to speak with – to any more detail.

QUESTION: What can we do in the future so not to lure all these students from the various Indian universities to come here and bring – tell them that we have jobs for you and you will be going in the best universities in the U.S., but they find there’s no university and there’s no building or nothing?

MR KIRBY: Again, Goyal, I understand the question and the basis for it, but I’m really going to have to refer you to law enforcement agencies on this one. Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I go back for a moment to Turkey’s blocking the --

MR KIRBY: You can go back to whatever you want.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can you say that you disapprove of such action?

MR KIRBY: I’ve answered your question, ma’am. You know very well, because you sit in these briefings and you know what we’ve said about freedom of expression, and you’ve heard very well the concerns that we’ve expressed about Turkey in particular when it comes to media freedoms and the worrisome trends that we’ve seen there. You’re asking me to hitch this particular donkey to that wagon, and what I’m telling you is we’ve made very clear what --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: What? I thought it was a good analogy.

QUESTION: It’s great. And you --

QUESTION: Why is this --

MR KIRBY: We’ve made very clear what our concerns are on freedom of expression, particularly in Turkey. These reports are fresh, we just saw them, and I don’t have anything additional to add to this. And Turkish authorities, as I’ve said before in other cases, are the best place to go for looking into the justification for this. But again, just seen the reports. I’m aware of reports that Sputnik is blocked.

QUESTION: Can you get whales and icebergs in there too?

MR KIRBY: I can try. (Laughter.) I can try.

QUESTION: Can I go to the --

MR KIRBY: I got a bunch of animal analogies.

QUESTION: Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, said that President Barack Obama is the most anti-British President in U.S. history. Obviously, he’s not aware that George Washington and James Madison declared war on the United Kingdom. But leaving aside this precise point --

MR KIRBY: Who said what?

QUESTION: Nigel Farage, the head of the UK Independence Party. He’s one of the leaders of the Brexit campaign.

MR KIRBY: Said that President Obama --

QUESTION: The most anti-British President in American history.

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments, but clearly --

QUESTION: I have a more pertinent question based on those.

MR KIRBY: Okay. All right.

QUESTION: I’m not going to necessarily ask you to defend President Obama’s love or non-love for the United Kingdom. But he has – his planned visit will involve a speech in favor of staying in Europe, so he has intervened in a domestic debate, and it’s obviously, judging by the opinion polls, going to be quite a tight debate, so he’s going to offend 49 or 51 percent of the British people with this. Does intervening in the debate for – in what is a domestic debate, does that put into difficulties the traditional special relationship?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to the President’s agenda, and I’m certainly not going to get ahead of remarks that the President may or may not make. So I would refer you to my White House colleagues on the specifics of what – the President’s schedule and his remarks. It’s really not my place to speak to.

I’ll only say two things. One, as Secretary Kerry has said, we believe in a strong UK and a strong EU, and the Secretary has said that more than once. Number two, these are matters for the British people. And then, I guess if I would add a third, I mean, I don’t see anything today, tomorrow, or anything on the horizon that’s going to disrupt the special relationship we have with the people of Great Britain or the government there. It is as close a relationship as we have with any other nation anywhere in the world, and we do define it as a special relationship. And I see absolutely nothing changing that going forward.

QUESTION: So the President’s also having lunch with the queen. Does that he mean that he supports monarchy as a form of --

MR KIRBY: I think it’s support – I think it shows that he supports having lunch.


MR KIRBY: And lunch is a good thing. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Have a great weekend.

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

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Thu, 04/14/2016 - 16:24

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 14, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:06 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Look at this, we got a full house today.

QUESTION: For your triumphant return. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Yes. I think it’s Thursday, isn’t it?


MR KIRBY: All right. Thanks, everybody. I do have a few things at the top.

On Syria, we were appalled to learn today of the death of Dr. Hassan Mohammed al-Araj in Hama, Syria – a doctor, of course – killed from an alleged airstrike. He was a widely respected and beloved medical professional in Syria, regarded throughout Hama and all of northern Syria for his talent and his selflessness. He was an innovative leader in providing urgent and much needed medical care to Syrians in need. He donated his hospital, in fact, to serve people for free, led the efforts to try to stabilize his own community, and was even developing underground hospitals, places where people could go to get to care when they were too afraid or unable to go to the main hospital.

Again, attacks against civilians, particularly medical professionals, are just abhorrent; and we continue to call on everybody, particularly the regime, to respect the right of medical professionals to do their jobs, who are simply trying to save lives. So again, we were appalled to learn of the death, and we offer our thoughts and prayers to everyone who knew him, and particularly to his friends and family.

In Iraq, today we commemorate with great sadness the victims of Saddam Hussein’s barbaric Anfal campaign of about 28 years ago against Iraqi Kurds, Assyrians, Shabaks, Turkmen, Yezidis, Mandeans, and other ethnic minorities. The horrific Anfal campaign resulted in the murder of thousands of Iraqi men, women, and children – up to about 5,000, actually – and the wounding and maiming of many more. The United States joins others across Iraq and around the world in remembering the victims of this brutal campaign of violence. We reaffirm, of course, our commitment to stand with all Iraqis, including those in the Kurdistan region, as they work today to defeat Daesh and to ensure a secure, democratic, and economically prosperous future for Iraq.

A piece of good news: The United States is pleased to announce today an initial contribution of nearly $421 million of humanitarian assistance toward the 2016 global appeal of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – otherwise known as UNHCR – bringing the total U.S. Government contribution to UNHCR to nearly $698 million to date in just Fiscal Year 2016. Through our continuing work with UNHCR, this funding will provide lifesaving food, water, shelter, and health care to millions of refugees in nations across the world. This funding, through the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, will support UNHCR efforts worldwide. It’s a global commitment.

Following this, we’d also highlight that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – OECD, as you know it – has released their preliminary 2015 official development assistance estimates, and the data shows that the United States continued to be the world’s largest provider of development assistance, with $31.1 billion in net assistance last year. And of course, we remain committed to supporting sustainable development around the world through a combination of official development assistance, private sector investment, and domestic resource mobilization efforts.

And then just a quick note or two on the Secretary’s activities today. I know you probably are all tracking this in the schedule, but I do want to just highlight again that he delivered keynote remarks today at the World Bank in the first high-level event of the Department of State’s Global Connect initiative. The Department of State and the World Bank Group brought together ministers, multilateral development bank leaders, and representatives from the technology industry and nongovernmental organizations to discuss Global Connect and its goal of bringing 1.5 billion new internet users online by 2020. And we hope Matt will join us in that effort actually to get online and participate in the online --

QUESTION: Anything I can do to help.

MR KIRBY: That would be great. I mean, it would be nice to see you out there, Matt.

Later today in Miami, of course, the Secretary is going to participate --

QUESTION: Can I go to Miami? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: You could’ve. He’s going to be participating in a roundtable discussion with local Cuban American business leaders. He’ll visit the Miami Passport Agency and thank the employees down there for the very important work that they do every single day, and he will be delivering marks to – remarks, I’m sorry, to students at Miami-Dade Honors College.

So with that --

QUESTION: So – thanks. Let’s start with Syria, and I’ll start with your opening thing. You said that the doctor was killed from an alleged airstrike.


QUESTION: Is that – you don’t know?

MR KIRBY: We don’t have perfect knowledge about his killing, but we have reason to believe that it was an airstrike. And initial indications are that he was struck in his vehicle driving down a road, sort of remote. So it has all the hallmarks of being targeted specifically against him --

QUESTION: All right. And then --

MR KIRBY: -- and that’s why I chose to mention it specifically today.

QUESTION: Right. But then you went on to say that attacks on medical professionals are just abhorrent, they’re only trying – does that sentiment apply no matter who is responsible for the attack? In other words, does that same sentiment from the State Department apply when the United States hits a hospital?

MR KIRBY: If it’s deliberate and targeted, it certainly applies to everybody. And if you – I mean, if you’re referring to what happened in Kunduz, I mean, the military has already investigated this and found errors that were made, but it wasn’t – it wasn’t deliberately --

QUESTION: So you think – so in this you think that this doctor was deliberately targeted because he was a --

MR KIRBY: Because he was a doctor.

QUESTION: -- a doctor.

MR KIRBY: We have reason to believe that, Matt.

QUESTION: Do – can you --

MR KIRBY: Again, information is still coming in on this, but I wouldn’t have mentioned it -- I wouldn’t have felt to mention it if I didn’t --


MR KIRBY: -- if we didn’t have indications that he was deliberately targeted because he was a doctor providing health care to innocent Syrians.

QUESTION: Can you be more explicit about what those indications are that he – that --

MR KIRBY: I’m afraid not. I can’t go into too much detail on the sources of information, but what I can tell you is the circumstances as we know it – in a car by himself on a road in a remote area, nobody else around --


MR KIRBY: -- deliberately striking him.

QUESTION: But that doesn’t necessarily mean the people that struck him knew that he was a doctor.

MR KIRBY: As I said, alleged airstrike --

QUESTION: But you’re saying you have indications --

MR KIRBY: -- and I said we’re looking into it.

QUESTION: All right. More broadly on Syria, you probably have seen that the situation in Aleppo has gotten pretty bad. Thousands of people are fleeing. The atmosphere in Geneva appears to be one of pretty much doom and gloom on the humanitarian aid front, and I’m just wondering what your thoughts are about both of those.

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re watching the Syrian regime offensive near Aleppo very, very closely, and we’ve seen reports that Russian airstrikes are also supporting this offensive. And we are concerned about what they’re doing, what their intentions are, and who they’re striking. Certainly mindful that civilians are fleeing, and I think no one should be surprised by that. But we’re watching it as closely as we can and we are concerned about it.

The other thing – and so back – and then back to Geneva. You’re right; we continue to be concerned about what is a worrisome trend in humanitarian access. It’s not going in the right direction. And that is a significant issue of discussion in Geneva, and frankly it’s a significant issue of discussion here at the State Department in – as we consult with other ISSG members. We continue to urge the regime to allow unfettered and sustained humanitarian access, which it hasn’t been doing, and we are continuing to press that case with our – with Russian counterparts, because they have influence over the Assad regime to try to help effect that. So we are pressing our case with them as well.

QUESTION: So do you regard that as a violation of the spirit if not the letter of the cessation of hostilities? I mean, that was – humanitarian aid was part of the whole project.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure. I mean, I think it’s fair to say it’s – the constant, continued withholding or impeding by the regime of humanitarian access is, in fact, violating both the intent and the spirit of the agreement.

QUESTION: And do you regard the government’s attacks in Aleppo as violations?

MR KIRBY: Well, to the degree that they are targeted and going after opposition groups or civilians, absolutely.

QUESTION: So what is the consequence of these violations?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. The bigger consequence is we get no closer to a peaceful solution to a civil war. And I know that’s not the answer you want, but we’re going to continue to collect information and the data on violations of the cessation. And there are continued violations of the cessation that aren’t just happening in Aleppo. They’re happening elsewhere in Syria. We’re continuing to work through the task force to collect the information and the data, to analyze it, to create a record here, and at the same time doing everything we can to press – in this case in particular the Russians – to continue to use their influence to try to get Assad to stop this activity.

Aleppo in particular – and it’s important to remember that there is – it’s a mixed environment there. I mean, to be honest, there aren’t just opposition groups there. We do believe that there are pockets of Nusrah and perhaps even Daesh in and around Aleppo. So we’re watching this – I don’t want to call it a campaign. That’s probably not a fair way of describing it. This offensive in Aleppo, we’re watching it very, very closely. And to the degree that opposition or civilians are being targeted, we’re going to – we’re going to monitor that, we’re going to track that, and we’re going to raise that case.

QUESTION: So the consequence then is that you get written down in a book someplace?

MR KIRBY: I think for --

QUESTION: To what end? Is the plan somehow to prosecute or to go after those at some point who violate the cessations of hostilities?

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: Because otherwise, I just – what is the incentive --


QUESTION: -- for --

MR KIRBY: There could be ramifications down the road. Right now, we’re focused on monitoring and assessing these violations and keeping an accurate record, and then trying to use the appropriate amount of influence on those who are violating it. And by and large, the violations continue to be against the regime, and Russia continues to be really the only party that has credible influence with the Assad regime right now. I’m not going to rule anything in or out at this point about other methods or measures of accountability which may occur in the future. That’s why – because we’re not going to rule anything in or out right now. We’re going to continue to analyze this data and continue to keep track of it.

QUESTION: I’ll stop after this, but I just don’t understand what – how do you expect people to – how do you expect to convince people to respect the cessation of hostilities when there is no consequence for doing it?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say there would be no consequence.

QUESTION: But there isn’t any right now. There’s nothing. They get --

MR KIRBY: Right now the focus is on trying to keep it in place.

QUESTION: Someone writes it down.

MR KIRBY: And look, largely it is still holding. There have been and continue to be violations. I note that. I admit that. But largely, it’s still holding. And the violence in Syria is largely down. And there’s no question about that. And it’s lasted a heck of a lot longer than I think anybody originally thought at the outset that it would.

QUESTION: Or not lasted.

MR KIRBY: And – well, again, it’s not perfect. It’s not --

QUESTION: I mean, this is a cessation of hostilities in name only.

MR KIRBY: It’s --

QUESTION: It’s just the hostilities haven’t ceased.

MR KIRBY: No, I would disagree with that.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t say it was in name only. There have been violations, absolutely.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: But look, Matt, I mean, the other thing to remember is it’s the 13th of April and we’ve got now --

QUESTION: I think it’s the 14th.

MR KIRBY: 14th, sorry. The 13th is --

QUESTION: That might be one of the problems you have right there.

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s jet lag on my part.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) I know you just got back.

MR KIRBY: But listen, they – we just now started another round of talks in Geneva.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: And that is not insignificant. And I don't think that we would be now on round three – round two probably by your count, but round three if there wasn’t --

QUESTION: Yeah. Except that you can’t point to anything that was --

MR KIRBY: -- an acknowledgement that --

QUESTION: But nothing was accomplished in the first two rounds. The first round ended before it even really got started.

MR KIRBY: Oh, I beg to differ.

QUESTION: The second round didn’t produce anything. And this third --

MR KIRBY: I told you – I said you would not count round one as round one. I knew you wouldn’t.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: But --

QUESTION: Well, I’m not even sure I count round two as round two since they didn’t produce anything.

MR KIRBY: That’s not true. They came up with a set of common principles between the two sides. That’s never been --

QUESTION: Yeah, a cessation of hostilities which they’re not respecting. All right, anyway --

MR KIRBY: Twelve principles, never been done before.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Aleppo?


QUESTION: The flip side --

MR KIRBY: Look, but before we go there, I just want to – but before we go there – because I’m not – these are fair questions and a fair line of questioning, quite frankly. The reduction is significantly down, the reduction of organized violence, significantly down in Syria. Many Syrians are living better lives now – I’m not saying perfect lives, but living better lives now because of the cessation of hostilities. It’s been a worthy effort. That it has not been 100 percent in execution we freely admit, and has been that since almost the very beginning. But it has radically – not radically – dramatically reduced the violence in Syria. And that’s noteworthy. And it has permitted the breathing space for there to be yet another round of political talks that are now getting underway in Geneva. And again, that’s significant.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you the flip side of that. Why is the regime – or in its effort in this offensive – in its effort to bring Aleppo under its control is a hindrance to the talks? Why is it a hindrance to the talks? Would – one would assume that having more territory under one address, which in this case the Syrian Government, would facilitate, actually, the process of the talks.

MR KIRBY: Well, so first of all, it hasn’t hindered the talks. I mean, the evidence would – you would have to conclude it hasn’t, because they’ve started meeting in Geneva. But to the larger point here – and I’ve said this before – anything that bolsters their influence over the Syrian people, the tyranny that this particular regime is – has proven still capable of, is not a good thing for Syria. It’s not a good thing for the future of the country and it’s certainly not a good thing for the ongoing civil war. So let’s be clear. I mean, just like we said in Palmyra, while it was good that Daesh was kicked out of Palmyra, we don’t – an expansion of Syrian regime control was not a good thing for the long-term future of Syria, nor would it be here in Aleppo either.

QUESTION: But you all along said that Nusrah and Daesh were actually fair game. I mean, they should – there is no cessation of hostilities with them.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: So why should the Syrian regime stop attacking those areas that are either manned or controlled by al-Nusrah or Daesh?

MR KIRBY: If the offensive actions are being taken solely against Nusrah and solely – or – and/or solely against Daesh, that is – that’s a good thing. And we want to see Daesh and Nusrah defeated there in Syria. But I think we also believe that an expansion of Syrian regime control over the country through military means is not in the best interest of the Syrian people; it’s not in the best interest for the future of Syria.

QUESTION: Can I ask you to comment on the elections and its – the role that it may or may not play in the ongoing talks – the legislative elections or parliamentarian elections that took place yesterday?


QUESTION: Can I ask you to comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, it’s hard to see how parliamentary elections right now in Syria can be considered credible or fair or even free right now, when you have the Assad regime still in power, when you have people still being attacked by their own government, and quite frankly, so many millions of Syrians not even there, not even participating in this election because they’ve had to flee their country, flee their homes, flee their communities.

QUESTION: But I just want – I mean, Iraq held elections while there was – while it was involved in war. In fact, this country held elections during a civil war. I mean, why is that different? I mean, I’m not suggesting any kind of comparison, but in Iraq --

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t think the Iraq War is an apt comparison there. But look – and I’m not going to make historical – I’m not a historian, so I’m not going to do that. I’m just saying that however long-scheduled they might have been, however long on the dockets, however long the campaigns of the candidates, whatever, it’s hard to see how these are in any way going to be credible elections when the regime continues to kill their own citizens and so many of the citizens aren’t going to be participating in this election because they’re not there or because they’ve been killed. So it’s very difficult to see how these elections are in any way credible or free or going to be fair moving forward.

And what we want to see – this is, again, back to why Geneva is so important – is we want to see the regime and the opposition continue to have a dialogue about an appropriate transition process and – as we work through towards getting a new constitution, and then at the end of that, in accordance with the communiques and the UN Security Council resolution, legitimate, credible, free, and fair elections, which include, by the way, the Syrian diaspora.

QUESTION: John, there was --

QUESTION: Can we just go back to the doctor for a moment? You said he was killed by an airstrike.


QUESTION: You haven’t said who carried out the airstrike.

MR KIRBY: I have not.

QUESTION: Which --

MR KIRBY: I said it was an alleged airstrike. Again --

QUESTION: Which air forces operate in the Hama area?

MR KIRBY: Well, the Russians do. The Russians do. But we’re – again, we’re looking at this very closely.

The point I was trying to make is that the early indications are that this doctor was – early indications – deliberately targeted and killed, and all he was trying to do was save lives. That’s the point that needed to be made.



QUESTION: Syria, Syria. One more on Syria, please.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. The Wall Street Journal cited unnamed U.S. officials, who said if the cessation of hostilities fails the U.S. would approve the delivery of anti-aircraft weapons to the rebels. Is that the plan?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to the veracity of unnamed sources in that article. I’ve seen the article. I can tell you here at the State Department our focus remains – and you heard Secretary Kerry talking about this just yesterday – our focus remains on the coalition efforts against Daesh and on the political process in – through Geneva in Syria and getting to a transitional governing structure that can lead to a new constitution and new elections for Syria that can hopefully get us to a whole, unified Syria. But I’m not going to speak to the individual claims by anonymous sources in that story. Our focus still remains on the quote/unquote “Plan A,” if you will, which is to get a political process in place.




QUESTION: -- just still on Syria. There was an assumption in Said’s question that the purpose of the offensive on Aleppo is to take control of the city, and you seemed to accept that assumption. I just want to make sure you – is that your assessment?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s hard to assume or to conclude anything differently when you have a military offensive on an entire city like Aleppo. It’s difficult to come to any other kind of conclusion that they are in fact – the regime is trying to retake the city.

QUESTION: Right. So even more than an individual skirmish or an individual battle, is that not the greatest violation of the ceasefire of them all? Because in the cessation of hostilities, it’s quite clear that taking over territory from other signatories of the cessation is a big violation.

MR KIRBY: If the offensive is about visiting violence on opposition to the regime and/or innocent civilians, then absolutely it is. Call a spade a spade; it is. But --

QUESTION: Or taking territory from – right – from other signatories of the cessation.

MR KIRBY: The cessation of hostilities is about violence against – strikes against opposition and civilians. It doesn’t say anything specific about territory, and that – and when we talked about Palmyra a week or so ago, I said, look, kicking Daesh out of Palmyra was a good thing. We didn’t call that a cessation of the hostilities. It’s really about who the violence is directed against, and so we’re watching this closely. In my answer to Matt, I said this is unfolding and we’re watching it very, very closely. We’ll see where it goes.

QUESTION: And just lastly on Aleppo, given the stakes of the Syrian regime succeeding in this offensive, is there any – is – does the U.S. have any plans whatsoever – what would the U.S. do to stop said offensive, or is it simply to threaten that it would end the cessation of hostilities? Is there any – what is the U.S. willing to do to stop --

MR KIRBY: If you’re asking – if you’re asking a hypothetical question about sort of military action that the U.S. or coalition would take, I don’t foresee that.

QUESTION: It’s not a hypothetical if you see the – I mean, the offensive is underway, as you said.

MR KIRBY: We – as I said.

QUESTION: So it’s not – yeah.

MR KIRBY: So look, we have a cessation in place.


MR KIRBY: There are expectations, there are commitments made in the cessation for the use of violence by all sides. And the only use of violence that is approved under the cessation, which has been signed on now by the nations of the ISSG and by – and those who have – and those – and many of those nations have influence over the parties, that those commitments are that the only people who are legitimate targets of strikes are terrorists, and the terrorists acknowledged by the UN, and in this particular case we’re talking about Nusrah and Daesh. I mean, it’s very clearly spelled out.

So as I said, we’re watching this closely. We’re going to monitor the activity as closely as we can. We have seen reports of what we believe to be violations of the cessation as they continue to move on Aleppo and including reports that Russian airstrikes have been supporting it and therefore could be in violation. And we’re going to keep monitoring that. We’re going to keep collecting that data and that information. And we will continue to urge, in this case in particular, Russia to not only abide by its commitments but to continue to use – to use its influence over the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Thank you, John.


QUESTION: So today, as you noted in the beginning in your remark, is the 28th anniversary --


QUESTION: -- of the Anfal genocide. And on this day, Deputy Prime Minister of Kurdistan Talabani here in Washington’s Wilson Center, he gave a very passionate plea to the United States and the international community to bail Kurdistan out. Because he said the greatest threat facing the Kurdistan Region is not those by ISIS today; it is posed by their current economic situation. Do you share the same degree of concern?

MR KIRBY: We certainly share the – a concern in the sense of urgency over the presence of Daesh in Iraq. And as you know, the Secretary was in Iraq not long ago and he met with Kurdish leaders. As for the economic issues, we’re very mindful of the economic concerns there in Iraq, not just in the Kurdistan region. And we’re going to continue to evaluate ways in which we can alleviate and assist in that. I don’t have anything specific to announce to you today or to answer this call, but we’re not unmindful of the economic challenges there in Iraq, and as the Secretary conveyed in all of his meetings there in Baghdad that we’re going to continue to look for ways to try to help. Okay?

QUESTION: They have met some officials here in this building, I believe, according to their media – their tweets on the media, local media. Last time they were here, you said the same thing. You said you were assessing whether – the ways you could help. Should they go back this time more optimistic than last time they were here?

MR KIRBY: They can certainly – certainly, it would be our hope that they leave understanding well and deeply, as the Secretary made clear when he was in Baghdad, the United States commitment to assisting them as they continue to press the fight against Daesh and as they continue to confront serious economic challenges. We’ve been nothing but consistent about our willingness to continue to help and support. I just don’t have anything specific with respect to the economic issues to speak to today.

QUESTION: One last question – I’ve asked you this question before – about the impact --

MR KIRBY: Then you’ll probably get the same answer. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. But actually, he seems to suggest that here have been some impacts of this economic situation recently on the front lines against ISIS on the Peshmerga. And the minister of interior, who’s accompanying him, he said there has been 1 percent deserters among the Peshmerga ranks, which is already probably not a big number for now, but it could increase if they are not paid for few more months.

MR KIRBY: Well, I haven’t seen that specific report and I can’t to the veracity of the 1 percent defection rate. You’d have to – I’d refer you to Kurdish authorities on that. But again, I would just go back to what I said before; we’re mindful of the economic challenges and we’re continuing to evaluate the best path forward here.

More broadly, we continue to support Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga as they continue to press the fight against Daesh, and that support’s not going to wane. I mean, I have a long list of stuff we’ve provided the Government of Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government. I won’t read it to you, but there’s obviously a long list here of military aid and assistance, to include advisors to help them continue to fight Daesh. And that’s not going to stop. Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: John, I just want to quickly follow up because I was mentioning something. I was referring to the cessation, and you said it’s only violence-related, not territory. But the provision I was referring to was – and I’m quoting here – “to refrain from acquiring or seeking to acquire territory from other parties to the ceasefire.” That --

MR KIRBY: But al-Nusrah and – al-Nusrah and Daesh are not parties to the ceasefire. So if --


MR KIRBY: So if, as in the case of Palmyra, it’s about kicking out terrorists and focusing efforts on terrorists, then, as I said, that’s not a violation.

QUESTION: Right. But if your assessment is that the offensive on Aleppo is intended to take the city, which you believe --

MR KIRBY: As I said before, if we deem violations of the ceasefire or the cessation to be valid, we’ll call it like it is. We’ll call it like it is.


QUESTION: In Pakistan --


QUESTION: -- the National Security Archive today posted a number of State Department cables which it obtained through FOIA. And some of these cables says that in 2009, ISI paid Haqqani Network 200,000 U.S. dollars to launch an attack on CIA training camp in Afghanistan. And you know 17 CIA personnel were killed that were part of big terrorist attack by – for the CIA. What do you have to say about that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak about intelligence matters. And again, I would just say that we’ve been consistently clear with the highest levels of the Government of Pakistan that it must target all militant groups, including the Haqqani Network, al-Qaida, Lashkar-e Tayyiba. And the Government of Pakistan itself, as you know, has repeatedly said it’s not going to discriminate against a terrorist group regardless of their agenda or affiliation, so --

QUESTION: But this is the case of one of your friendly countries paying money to terrorists who --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – I understand --

QUESTION: -- kill your personnel.

MR KIRBY: I understand the question. I’m not going to speak to intelligence matters or leaked documents.

QUESTION: Have you – it’s not leaked. They’re not leaked. But I’m also not sure that they’re State Department documents. Can you --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. As far as I know, they are not Department of State cables.

QUESTION: Have you seen the documents in question?

MR KIRBY: No, but --

QUESTION: Could you take the question – and this won’t get into the content – but what the provenance of these documents is? I don’t believe they are identified as State Department documents and the – actually, the originator has been redacted so you can’t tell. Certainly, at some point, some of them were sent to people at the State Department, but the question is where they actually came from.

MR KIRBY: I’ll take it.


MR KIRBY: I’ll take a look at it. But as far as I know, again, they’re not State Department cables.

QUESTION: But these already --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak about --

QUESTION: There were released, provided under FOIA by the State Department.

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: These were provided under FOIA by the State Department itself.

MR KIRBY: Okay. I apologize. I didn’t --

QUESTION: That doesn’t mean that they’re State Department cables.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t understand the question in terms of whether they were leaked or not, so that’s my bad. But the indications that we have are that they’re not State Department cables.

QUESTION: But that’s not the question. The question is: Do you think the relationship between ISI --

QUESTION: Actually, that was my question.

QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.) That was not my question.

MR KIRBY: So whose question am I answering now? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The question was: Do you think the ISI still has links with Haqqani Network?

MR KIRBY: Listen, I’ve already answered that question. We’ve made it clear what our expectations of the Government of Pakistan are, and the Government of Pakistan has made it clear publicly, repeatedly that it’s not going to discriminate against groups.


QUESTION: Sir, the political parties in Pakistan have launched a campaign against Prime Minister Sharif to resign after the accusations of corruption in Panama Papers. The question is that will United States support the democratic elected prime minister of Pakistan, or you want to see the corrupt leaders go home?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, these are decisions that the Pakistani people have to make, and we’ve talked about this before. Separate and distinct from that – and I’m not talking about this specific case – the Secretary has also been very clear about the dangers of corruption around the world and what that does to fuel extremism and to increase economic instability and the corrosive effect that it can have on entire societies. So corruption is something we obviously take very seriously. You heard about it yesterday when we released our Human Rights Report. But in terms of this particular case, I mean, these are decisions that the Pakistani people have to make.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) that Secretary Kerry recently visit Kabul and had series of meetings there. So there is a lot of problems right now in Afghanistan and there’s still a power tussle between President Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, Taliban preparing themselves for a big battle. So, sir, what positive message or any good news Secretary Kerry brings from Kabul?

MR KIRBY: I would refer you to the press conference that he did with President Ghani right after his meetings. There’s a transcript on our website; you can go read it for yourself.

QUESTION: Yeah, I’ve seen that.

MR KIRBY: But he expressed our support for the political reforms that President Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah are trying to put in place and to encourage them to continue to work together to enact those reforms and to move the country forward. But it’s all laid out there in his transcript on our --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Taliban are not yet ready for the peace talks until they pull out of all Western forces. And the interesting thing is that despite their stubborn attitude, their leaders living luxurious life in Pakistan and few are in Qatar. I mean, it’s not about Pakistan and Qatar. United States also stop calling them terrorists, the Taliban. What’s really going on, sir? Why there is so much tolerance for Taliban – for their leaders, I mean?

MR KIRBY: Look, we’ve talked about this before. What we want to see is an Afghan-led reconciliation process, and to the degree that the Taliban is willing to participate in that process and move towards a better future in Afghanistan and to renounce terrorism, to support the Afghan constitution, including the role of women and minorities, that’s the goal here. And again, one of the things that the Secretary made clear when we were in Kabul is that we continue to support that process. And we’d like to see that process resumed and actually get some traction.

But to the degree that Taliban members – and you know well as I do they’re not a monolithic group – to the degree that Taliban members are not going to renounce that association with terrorism and continue to pose a threat to either the Afghan people or American troops or – NATO troops that are there, they will face the consequences of that. They will be targeted, they can be targeted, if they’re going to pose that kind of threat and conduct those kinds of attacks.

There’s no tolerance for the Taliban here that – in the way you describe it. It’s about – what we want to see is support for an Afghan-led reconciliation process. Okay?

Go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I go to East Asia?

MR KIRBY: What was that?

QUESTION: East Asia? First on the earthquake that struck southern Japan earlier, I was wondering if you have any information you can share about any assistance being provided or any requests.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update now. I mean, obviously, we’re monitoring the situation as best we can. I’m not aware of any requests for assistance. Clearly, our thoughts and prayers go out to everybody affected by that. And the offer’s always open for assistance and help in whatever way might be considered appropriate and welcomed by the government, but I don’t have anything to update you on.

QUESTION: And then on, just on --

QUESTION: Can you, on --

QUESTION: -- on a different topic in the region, on North Korea, there’s a lot of speculation that a missile launch or another nuclear test is imminent for Kim Il Sung’s birthday tomorrow. The South Korean Government says that they’re watching it closely. How concerned are you about this?

MR KIRBY: We’re always concerned about the potential for provocative behavior out of the North. We’ve seen these reports, we’re watching it closely. I can’t predict one way or the other. And this is a regime, as you well know, that’s difficult to predict. They do tend to conduct these kinds of activities, whether they’re tests or launches. They have in the past done this around significant dates on the calendar, but again, I don’t have anything specific and I wouldn’t talk about intelligence matters in the main.

I will just say again, and it bears repeating – and regrettably, we repeat it all too often – that these kinds of activities do nothing to improve the security situation on the peninsula and serve as stark reminders of how important it is for us to stay – and we will – stay committed to our alliance commitments to South Korea.



QUESTION: Are you sending him a birthday greeting? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: What is the U.S. reaction to Egypt returning two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia?

MR KIRBY: This is a matter, quite frankly, between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and I’m going to let those two governments speak to that.

QUESTION: Did Egypt consult with Washington about this?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to – again, I’m going to refer you to the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia on this. This is a bilateral issue that they should speak to.




MR KIRBY: I’ve already talked to you.


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Has Secretary Kerry been in touch with his Russian counterpart since the incident in the Baltic Sea, or has anyone from this building been engaged in diplomatic conversations (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you – I’ll tell you a couple things. The Secretary was alarmed at looking at the – at seeing the imagery and the reports of these overflights, these passes on the USS Donald Cook. And he found it unprofessional, needlessly provocative and, indeed, dangerous. And I can tell you that he will raise it directly with Foreign Minister Lavrov.



QUESTION: There was a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday and Brian McKeon, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, submitted a statement to the committee that said, quote, “Russia is making significant investments in cruise missiles, including a cruise missile that violates the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. In light of Russia’s INF Treaty violation and overall aggressive behavior, we are developing and implementing a strategy to address Russian military actions that includes modifying and expanding air defense systems to deny Russia offensive capabilities, placing an increased emphasis on working with allies and partners to improve our collective capability to counter complex cruise missile threats,” end of quote. The Administration had long claimed that the missile defense system in Europe was not against Russia. Is it now going to be made to counter Russia?

MR KIRBY: The air defense system in Europe – and I commented this – a little bit on this last night – is defensive in nature and it’s not aimed at Russia, not targeted at Russia. You can’t target a defensive system at anybody. And as for the systems and the initiatives that the Pentagon spoke to in that hearing, I would point you to them.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

QUESTION: Would that – but it is a policy shift? Is that system – is it going to be modified to counter Russia?

MR KIRBY: I would point you to the Pentagon to speak to Mr. McKeon’s comments. I think you should talk to the Pentagon about that testimony. What I’m telling you is the missile defense system in Europe that we have long talked about and offered to not only share information about with Russian officials, but cooperate with them on – which, as I said last night, regrettably they have declined those offers – it is defensive in nature. It is not targeted at Russia. It has never been targeted at Russia. That is not the intent.


QUESTION: Can we change topics?


QUESTION: Palestinian-Israeli issue.


QUESTION: Very quickly, to follow up on the Human Rights Report, of course it talked about Israel’s use of excessive force and it alluded to extrajudicial executions and so on. And in that context, could you update us on what happened with the Senator Leahy letter or Senator Leahy letter?

MR KIRBY: Well, so you’ve seen the Human Rights Report. I’d let the report speak for itself.

QUESTION: Right. Of course.

MR KIRBY: On Senator Leahy’s letter and more broadly the legislation, we follow the law.


MR KIRBY: And we will continue to follow the letter of the Leahy law and do the appropriate vetting. And that’s something we remain committed to, and I don’t see anything changing in that regard. I don’t have a particular update for you based on --

QUESTION: You were saying all along that you are in the process of responding.


QUESTION: Did you respond to the letter?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update for you on that particular letter.

QUESTION: Okay. And in that response or whatever, when it happens, will it include, let’s say, whatever it is – whatever language you use to investigate or anything like this, akin to that?

MR KIRBY: Again, I don’t have an update for you on the letter, Said. We take our obligations under the law very, very seriously – all around the world, by the way, not just in any one particular country. And as you know, there are legitimate triggers for us reviewing aid and assistance under the Leahy law. We take that very seriously. I don’t have an update for you on the letter. And frankly, correspondence with members of Congress is something we do directly and not here from the podium. But believe me, the United States – the State Department, DOD, we follow the letter of the Leahy law and we’ll continue to do that. I just don’t have a particular update on this case.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, is coming to New York next week, I think for signing the Climate Change Protocol, whatever it is. Is anyone expected to meet with him, any American officials? Will he raise or talk with you guys about the French proposal or about the settlements and so on?

MR KIRBY: Well, so on the schedule, I don’t have anything to announce with respect to meetings. So when and if we do, we’ll let you know, but I don’t have any meetings, at least here from the State Department’s perspective, to speak to today. And as for what may be on President Abbas’s mind is up – that’s really up to him to speak to. But I got nothing on the schedule to talk to right now.

QUESTION: On Security Council resolutions – I just want to clarify some – well, I didn’t quite understand where the position was over the past several days. So might you consider either supporting or failing to veto a resolution on settlement activity in the West Bank?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to be real precise here, so --


MR KIRBY: I don’t normally like to read to you guys, but I’m going to do it in this case.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Don’t normally like to be precise? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Precision can be a dangerous thing too.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR KIRBY: But in this case I’m going to be precise.

QUESTION: Precision.


MR KIRBY: Is that okay?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MR KIRBY: I mean, I --

QUESTION: I prefer honesty over precision, not to accuse you of being dishonest. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: But you can be both. You can be both honest and precise, and --

QUESTION: Or, more likely, honest and imprecise.

QUESTION: Well, we’ll give it a shot.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MR KIRBY: I’m going to be honest and precise today, okay?

QUESTION: Good. Excellent.

MR KIRBY: We understand that there is an early draft that the Palestinians have shared informally in New York. And I’m not going to comment on an informal draft resolution. Nothing has been formally introduced or circulated at the Security Council. We are very concerned about trends on the ground and we do have a sense of urgency about the two-state solution. We will consider all of our options for advancing our shared objective of lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but I’m not going to comment on a draft Security Council resolution. Okay?

QUESTION: That’s good enough.

QUESTION: Can you – what does that mean, we have – we do have a sense of urgency for a two-state solution? This is your cue to be imprecise now. What does that mean? I mean --

MR KIRBY: It means exactly what it says and what I’ve been saying from the podium here for months and months and months, that we --

QUESTION: So you see a sense of urgency to get to a two-state solution?

MR KIRBY: Sure we do. We very much would like to see a two-state solution realized, yes.

QUESTION: Is it --

QUESTION: I don’t understand --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know what’s not to understand about “we have a sense of urgency.”

QUESTION: We do have a – well, because you’re almost – there’s only, like, eight months left of the Administration. (Laughter.) I mean, I can see --

MR KIRBY: Well, that may --

QUESTION: You had a sense of urgency back in 2009; you had a sense of urgency when Secretary Kerry took over in 2012. But, I mean – so you can – I guess you could make the argument that you --

MR KIRBY: So as time gets shorter, we shouldn’t have a sense of urgency?

QUESTION: No, no, I’m – but if you had a real sense of urgency, wouldn’t – that you would’ve done something already, right? Or something --

MR KIRBY: We have consistently had a sense of urgency.

QUESTION: My point is --

MR KIRBY: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: -- is that are you – does that mean, when you say you have a sense or urgency about this, that you’re going to try to cram something in that results in a two-state solution by the end of this Administration?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to hypothesize on future actions, and I – whatever we continue to do or continue to consider, I don’t know that I would say it’s about cramming. It is about trying to move forward in a productive way towards a two-state solution. And as I’ve said before, we also look to the sides to enact the right kind of leadership to get us there, because ultimately it has to be done by them. But I’m – again, I’m not going to comment on hypothetical solutions.

QUESTION: But does the --

QUESTION: But you’re not automatically opposed to a resolution that – to a UN Security Council resolution that would call for a two-state solution?

MR KIRBY: What I’m – I’m going to leave it where I said before: We’re not going to comment on this informal draft resolution.

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to comment on this informal one. I’m saying that if a resolution presented itself that was evenhanded, in your view – not one-sided or biased against Israel – that called for an end of settlements, called for an end of incitement, and also called for the creation of two states, would you automatically oppose?

MR KIRBY: Well, without getting into those provisions that you listed out there and making a judgment about that, I’d go back to what I said before, and that’s we will consider all of our options for advancing a shared objective, a two-state solution.

QUESTION: Okay. And that would include a resolution?

MR KIRBY: We’ll consider all options to advance a two-state solution.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: When you spoke of urgency, did you mean it’s urgent to save the possibility – that the urgency comes from the possibility this – two states goes beyond reach?


QUESTION: Or urgent to get it started --

MR KIRBY: A sense of urgency about the importance of the – of getting to a two-state solution, which has been a consistent point that we’ve made.

QUESTION: But there’s a difference between consistency and urgency.

MR KIRBY: What’s the difference?

QUESTION: Well, if it’s always urgent, then it’s never more urgent than before.

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know that I’d agree with that. Sometimes something can be always urgent and consistently urgent, and this is one of those things that we --

QUESTION: You sound like a Foreigner song. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: -- consistently have a sense of urgency about.

You are dominating this press conference today.

QUESTION: Me? Well, that’s why I --

MR KIRBY: Go ahead. What do you want? One more.


QUESTION: Ask about Foreigner lyrics. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Ask about what?

QUESTION: Foreigner lyrics.

MR KIRBY: Foreigner lyrics.

QUESTION: There’s a song called Urgent. Maybe you’re too young to remember --

MR KIRBY: No, I remember that. (Laughter). I know – I remember the song. I didn’t like it.

QUESTION: Yeah, well --

QUESTION: The issue is – so you establish now that, since you’ll consider all options, that means you’ll consider supporting something or not vetoing something in the UN. There are those within the President’s party, certainly – the former Secretary of State – that say that simply the venue itself is not the place to impose a solution from without. So that is a departure from – I just want to be clear that you think that, because you’re considering all of your options, you may consider the UN Security Council to be the venue to impose --

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I’m not going to elaborate on my answer to you. I think I’d point you back to what I said before.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Abbie?

QUESTION: Do you have a response to --

QUESTION: Let me just follow up on this just for a second, okay. I mean, seeing how time after time you call on the Israelis to refrain from settlement activities, to cease settlement activities, you call them illegal and so on, but in fact they don’t really listen much to what you have to say. So in that case, in that situation, why not have a forum in the United Nations where the world can collectively come up with some sort of a resolution that they all agree on, which the cessation of settlement activities? Why would you oppose to that? Why can’t you say that you would support this at the United Nations?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m going to point you back to my original answer, which made it clear we’re not going to comment on a draft resolution that’s only been informally presented in New York, and that – that as I said, we’ll consider all of our options to try to get to a two-state solution. So I think I’m just not going to go any further than that, Said. I know that’s not satisfying for you, but that’s really where we are right now.


QUESTION: Do you have a response to a bipartisan call from senators who are saying that the State Department should help to end the abuse by UN peacekeepers by cutting off aid to those countries that won’t hold their troops accountable?

MR KIRBY: Can you repeat it again?

QUESTION: Sure. There is a bipartisan group of senators who are saying the State Department should help to end the abuse that is being undertaken by UN peacekeepers by cutting off foreign aid to those countries who won’t hold their troops accountable.

MR KIRBY: Okay. I haven’t seen that – those comments or that call. So I’m really not equipped to specifically address that particular request, if you will. So we’ll take that question and try to get you a more specific answer. I just haven’t seen it. But I do want to just more broadly speak to the issue of human rights. And we just released a very lengthy, very comprehensive Human Rights Report yesterday. You heard the Secretary, you heard Assistant Secretary Malinowski up here describing the work and the effort that went into it. We take it very, very seriously, and we take the issue of appropriate behavior and conduct by UN peacekeepers very seriously. And we’re – we constantly, all the time, in part – very much in keeping with the Leahy law – all the time review the aid and assistance that is provided to foreign militaries, foreign security services, in the field. We’re always looking at that. So we take it very seriously. It’s something we constantly look at and adjust as necessary in keeping with the letter of the law, but also with our own stance and firm principles on human rights.

But let me get a more specific answer to this specific call by these senators. I just haven’t seen that, so I wouldn’t be able to go into more detail on that.

Did you have one? Your hand is sort of halfway up.

QUESTION: No, it’s sore. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: It’s sore? All right, well then, I guess we’ll call it a day then. All right? Thanks everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:59 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 04/12/2016 - 17:51

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 12, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:06 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. Just very quickly, one brief thing. Oh, I’ll wait for – sorry, I didn’t give a full two minutes. Please, sir. Have a seat, Justin.

QUESTION: Thank you. Please.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) Quickly at the top, and then I’ll get to your questions. And this will go out right after the briefing, but just a notice to the press that Secretary Kerry is going to deliver remarks at Miami Dade Honors College. He’ll do that on – at 7:00 p.m. on April 14th, so Thursday at the Miami Freedom Tower in Miami, Florida. Secretary Kerry’s remarks will congratulate the MDC Honors College students on their academic accomplishments and leadership contributions and reflect on the future challenges and opportunities that they will face. And during this special ceremony, MDC’s Honors College students will receive their honors medallions in recognition of the completion of their course of work. And that will, of course, be open to the press.

And that is all I have at the top, just in time for Matt’s arrival.


MR TONER: Sorry, it was a quick two minutes. I apologize.

QUESTION: Sorry. No, no, no, it wasn’t you. I had to run back to my desk.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: But I’m here. So I don’t really have anything huge to begin with.


QUESTION: But I do want to ask you – last week, there were – this. Last week, there were reports that the U.S. was considering withdrawing some of its troops from the mission in the Sinai. And I asked about it here, and you said they were completely false. You said – I said, “So these reports and chatter are wrong?” And you said, “Yes.” You said, “We remain fully committed to our Multinational Force and Observers mission and the maintenance of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. So no change in policy, no change in our force structure or whatever.”

Well, this morning the Pentagon says that, in fact, you are talking about withdrawing some of your troops from the force and having drones or unmanned surveillance take their place. So I’m not blaming you personally, but what gives here? I mean, why can’t we get a straight answer out of this building?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, first of all, we’re not planning to withdraw from the Sinai.

QUESTION: No, but that wasn’t the question.

MR TONER: Right. No, no, no, I agree, or I – just laying that out. There was a story last week that you brought up based on leaked information. Admittedly, I did not have the full picture at the time, so I take that hit. But as you note, the Pentagon did speak to this earlier today. There is a modernization, I guess, effort – that’s how I would put it – or a restructuring effort that is going to take place with regard to the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai. And again, the Pentagon spoke to this earlier today.

QUESTION: Well, was it being considered last Friday when I asked the question? I mean, my issue here – I realize this is a Pentagon thing, it’s not a State Department thing necessarily, although it is kind of a State Department thing --

MR TONER: It is.

QUESTION: -- because it results from a treaty that was negotiated by this building. And how can we expect to get – I mean --

MR TONER: It’s a legitimate – look, I am --

QUESTION: Again, I don’t want to make this about you --

MR TONER: As I said, I --

QUESTION: -- because you obviously have --

MR TONER: No, no, no, but I take the hit, Matt, because that’s my job to get up here and to give you accurate information.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I don’t want – I don’t want it to be about you and what --

MR TONER: Yeah. No, I understand what you’re saying.

QUESTION: -- specifically you. I want it to be about this building and this government, through any administration, actually telling the truth. What – I mean, I really don’t understand. I mean, did the Pentagon just decide over the weekend that it was going to do this? I don’t think so.

MR TONER: No, of course not. That said, and there is – I can’t really talk about the timeline, but the timeline for notification and for looking at this process – and again, DOD is the experts on this – had not yet been decided when that story did leak out. So it caught --

QUESTION: Yeah, but apparently --

MR TONER: -- folks by surprise.

QUESTION: -- Secretary Carter has sent letters telling the Egyptians and the Israelis about this idea.

MR TONER: In the interim, yes, he did.

QUESTION: So that was done over the weekend? Or --

MR TONER: It was done over the last couple of days, is my understanding.

QUESTION: So it hadn’t been done on Friday?

MR TONER: Yes, that’s correct.

QUESTION: The letters had not been sent?

MR TONER: That is correct, yes.

QUESTION: Can I ask a related question on this?

QUESTION: So – well, hold on a second.

MR TONER: Let him finish and I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: I just want to make --

MR TONER: Yeah, that’s okay.

QUESTION: So although the letters had not been sent on Friday when you said that this was --

MR TONER: I don’t think it was Friday, by the way. I think it was earlier in the week.


MR TONER: But maybe you were right.

QUESTION: It was April – no, it was the 6th.

MR TONER: Okay, that’s fine.

QUESTION: Whatever day the 6th was.

MR TONER: So there has been some time that passed. It’s been about a week.

QUESTION: Yeah. But this is not --

MR TONER: But – yeah.

QUESTION: This idea or this possible change in force posture has been being considered for more than a week, right? I mean, it just didn’t pop into someone’s mind on April 7th.

MR TONER: Of course not. Of course not. But as these processes go, there was a back and forth, there was a discussion, there’s been looking at how to do this and how to handle it.

QUESTION: I just don’t want you to be in the position like you were with the --

MR TONER: Understood.

QUESTION: -- with the --

MR TONER: Your point is taken.

QUESTION: -- where spokespeople get up and say --

MR TONER: No, no, your point is taken, Matt.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: Your point is taken. Ros.


QUESTION: Okay, let’s take a look at the fact that this treaty was negotiated 37 years ago, and now for the first time, because of the rise of ISIL and because of the attacks on Egyptian forces, the U.S. military is telling us that now a substantial change in the way that it complies with the terms of that agreement are being changed for the safety of U.S. forces. Did the U.S. Government ever consider that preserving an essential treaty such as the one between Egypt and Israel could be threatened by some non-state actor, one that has proven to be extremely dangerous, and possibly endanger the very future of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel?

MR TONER: So a couple of points on your – the premise of your question, Ros. First of all, this was not done in response to any real or perceived threat by ISIL forces on the ground in the Sinai. This is part of an ongoing effort – again, my understanding, our understanding – to look at how to modernize the MFO, including utilization of technology, including greater efficiencies of operations, but to look at how to change its posture on the ground in order to do its job more effectively. Whether and how significant a force reduction that will entail I can’t speak to at this point in time, but what I can say is in no way does it speak to a lessening in our commitment to the objective of the MFO mission. It doesn’t in any way signal a plan to withdraw from the Sinai. We are fully committed to the MFO mission and the maintenance of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

QUESTION: Well, the timing of this – but the timing of this modernization is quite curious, because on September 15th a number of U.S. forces, four or five people, were injured as part of an attack allegedly carried out by ISIL fighters. The U.S. has been using drone technology for the better part of 15 years now. It seems rather curious that the U.S. would seriously consider not only moving personnel out of the area, but possibly reducing the number of personnel on the Sinai after – after all of this time of using this technology. So is it not true that the U.S. is very much concerned that its forces are a target now by ISIL and that they’re taking advantage of the precarious security situation on the Sinai, and that’s why this is happening?

MR TONER: Again, I would refer you to DOD. They spoke to this already today. This is about modernizing our force structure on the ground in the Sinai. It’s not about responding to, as I said, the threat of ISIL on the ground. There have been – I think there’s been one direct attack that we have determined against MFO forces on the ground that wounded, actually, several personnel in the MFO. There have been other attacks, but we believe that those have been actually targeting Egyptian forces. But in no way is this a lessening of our commitment.

And it also – this is part of – I mean, we’re in constant consultation – and I spoke about this with Matt just now via the letters – but we’re in constant consultation with Egypt, with Israel, about when we look at how to restructure, how to re-posture ourselves on the ground in the Sinai. These are not – these are part of ongoing consultations.

QUESTION: But it’s rather curious that the U.S. would consider changing the way that it deploys its 900 or so officers and enlisted personnel as part of this protection force when Egyptian forces have been attacked and the U.S. has not before now thought, oh, let’s offer this technology to support our Egyptian allies as they try to secure the area, particularly as they’re not dealing just with ISIL but they’re also trying to deal with Hamas fighters who have been infiltrating Egypt to carry out their own work. The timing is rather curious, Mark.

MR TONER: Again, all I can say, Ros, is that as we look at our force structure on the ground – and the Department of Defense is – are the ones who really should speak to this in greater detail – but we constantly look at how to modernize them, how to achieve greater efficiencies, and how to better use technology on the ground. Whether and how that means or what that means in terms of the number of troops we need on the ground is a matter for DOD to decide, and indeed the whole MFO. I mean, we’re just one contingent within the MFO.

QUESTION: Well, I can’t imagine, though, that the Pentagon is the only one having conversations --

MR TONER: Of course not.

QUESTION: -- with their Egyptian and Israeli counterparts.

MR TONER: Of course not.

QUESTION: What conversations have been had between this building, the Egyptian defense ministry and foreign ministry, as well as the Egyptian counterparts, about this decision? This is a rather sizeable change in something that has been going on for nearly four decades.

MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to read out in detail what our consultations have been with either Egypt or Israel as we’ve looked at this restructuring. All I can say is that it’s part of ongoing discussions that we have, consultations that we have on the ground, and I think the end goal is to create a force on the ground in the Sinai that is more nimble, more able to carry out its tasks. And again, it’s in no way meant to diminish our commitment to our treaty obligations.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: So, accepting the premise of your response, why was the threat posed by ISIL not a factor in deciding how to modernize the force?

MR TONER: Why was – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: The threat posed by the Islamic State and jihadist groups in Sinai. You argue that you’re simply modernizing it in order to conduct the same mission as before: monitoring the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

MR TONER: Yep. Right.

QUESTION: So why --

MR TONER: Oh, why was it not – I’m sorry. Why was it not considered?

QUESTION: Why did you not take into account the increased threat by non-state actors?

MR TONER: Well, I can say that in recent period – and again, there has been, as Ros just detailed – there have been some attacks by ISIL forces in Sinai. We have provided the MFO with some additional force protection, as well as communication, medical, and other support. I just – timing aside, I think this is more of a comprehensive look at how to restructure the force going forward. Of course, we take in all – we take into consideration all factors on the ground, including the security, but with the clear understanding that we’ve got a mandate with the MFO to fulfil, and so we’re not going to diminish the capability to do that.

QUESTION: What is the building’s message to those Israelis and Egyptians living in Sinai, near the Sinai, having counted on the presence of U.S. forces to not just maintain the peace between the two countries, but also to deal with Hamas, with – dealing with ISIL and others --

MR TONER: That will --

QUESTION: -- that the movement of people away from where they have traditionally been stationed is going to maintain their security?

MR TONER: The message is that we remain fully committed to the MFO mission, the maintenance of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. We’re going to support the MFO and its ongoing efforts to carry out its mission to verify the treaty, and we’re going to do that in a smart, modernized way. So this isn’t a matter of simply putting more troops on the ground or more boots on the ground or throwing more money at it. This is an attempt to, I think, modernize and look at how to make the force that is there more agile.

Please, sir. We done with – we moving on, or you on Sinai?

QUESTION: I just want to talk about Iraq.

MR TONER: Great. Happy to talk about Iraq.

QUESTION: So there’s a KRG delegation here in the United States. Before they get here, the KRG spokesperson said they are here at the request of the United States. I was wondering if the United States has actually invited them to be here. And they are here, obviously, from what they say, requesting for more financial help for the Peshmerga forces, especially when it comes to the liberation of Mosul. That’s my first question.

The second question: I think it was last Friday when Secretary Kerry was in Baghdad, and it was notably – he didn’t go to Erbil. So the decision not to go to Erbil by Secretary Kerry – how much this decision has to do with the refusal of President Barzani to step down from presidency?

MR TONER: Well, a couple things. First of all, on the KRG delegation, there is a delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, who’s in – rather, scheduled to be in Washington. I think they arrived yesterday. They’re scheduled to be here till the 15th. They’re going to meet with Administration officials to discuss the economic crisis facing the Iraqi Kurdistan Region as well as humanitarian assistance and, of course, overall U.S. support for the fight against Daesh.

As to who invited whom, I can’t speak to that, but I know they’re scheduled to meet with several Department of State officials, including Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq Joseph Pennington, Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein, and Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall – Sewall, rather.

In answer to your second question about why the Secretary didn’t travel to Erbil, all I can say is that he was on the ground in Baghdad for a day. Obviously, there are security concerns always when he’s moving about in Iraq. I don’t think it was mean to be – send any signal to the people of the region of – Kurdistan Region, rather – Iraqi Kurdistan Region. We’ve been very supportive of their efforts to combat Daesh. They have played an absolutely vital role, in fact, within the overall Iraqi command and control structure in pushing Daesh out of key parts of the country.

And – sorry – Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk did remain in Iraq, and he also, I believe, met with Iraqi Kurdistan Region officials as well over the last several days. So we’re fully focused on the Kurdistan Region. We’re committed to helping them as much as we can in providing what assistance we can.

QUESTION: So you’re saying it has nothing to do with the issue of presidency in the Kurdistan Region?


QUESTION: Because last time he went to Erbil.

MR TONER: I understand that. I think it was more a matter of scheduling priorities or scheduling demands.

QUESTION: And just one more --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: One last thing on the --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- KRG delegation.


QUESTION: Do you have news – financial support of the Kurdistan Region or – I mean, they met with the Secretary in Baghdad and now they are here with a request of more financial help from the U.S. Is there any new humanitarian or military or financial assistance to the KRG --

MR TONER: I mean, I don’t have anything to announce beyond the 155 million that Secretary Kerry announced when he was on the ground in Baghdad, which is obviously going towards humanitarian assistance for displaced conflict-affected areas. And that’s on top of, I think, nearly 800 million since the start of Fiscal Year 2014. But of course, we’re always looking at ways we can provide more support.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Please.



QUESTION: On a different topic, South China Sea.

MR TONER: Sure. Okay.

QUESTION: So Manila is to restart a military airport, to revamping, South China Sea on the illegally occupied island, Zhongye Island. So what is the U.S. point of view on this? What kind of stand do you hold?

MR TONER: Well, I’d refer you to the Government of Philippines to talk about their activities. I mean, overall our position regarding the South China Sea hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: But Mark, Manila once announced a suspension to the construction, but now you see they restart the construction. So do you think they are playing the hypocrite? What’s your point of view?

MR TONER: Look, I’m not going to characterize their actions, beyond saying that our position regarding the South China Sea is very well known. We don’t want to see construction activities on disputed features. We don’t want to see any kind of militarization of outposts. What we want to see, frankly, is a de-escalation of tensions and refraining from provocative actions – excuse me. With regard to Philippines specific plans or proposals for – in the South China Sea, I’d just have to refer you to them.

QUESTION: But one last thing, that this surely --

QUESTION: But why? But why, Mark? You – when the Chinese do things that you say are provocative and unilateral in terms of construction on disputed areas, you tell them that – you say it’s bad and they should stop and you call on them not to do it. Why won’t you do that in the same vein for the Philippines?

MR TONER: For one thing, I don’t have specific details about what they’re planning to do or not do on the islands, and we’d have to wait to get more details about that.

QUESTION: Well, but I mean, you said – the other day when you were asked about this lighthouse that was going up on – a Chinese lighthouse was going up --

MR TONER: And I said we’ll have to certainly wait and see what it looks like.

QUESTION: Yeah. But you said they shouldn’t do it.

MR TONER: Well, I also – I think in response to her second question, I did say our policy has not changed.

QUESTION: So the Philippines should not go ahead with any plan it has to build an airstrip on --

MR TONER: That’s not – that specific policy is not exclusive to --


MR TONER: -- to China.


QUESTION: But Mark, the Philippines actually unilaterally initiated the arbitration case. So now Manila has this kind of action. Does this fully prove this arbitration case is a political provocation under the cloak of law?

MR TONER: Not at all. I mean, look, we have called on all claimants to clarify their claims in accordance with international law. That’s what we believe is the best route and the most peaceful route, frankly, to resolve any claims or disputes over the South China Sea. And that includes, as you note, rules-based mechanisms like international arbitration, which is what they are pursuing. So we believe that case should move forward in accordance with international law.

QUESTION: So what is – what is the message behind the inconsistency of Philippines’ words and action?

MR TONER: I mean, I don’t have any more detail to provide. Frankly, I would again have to refer you to the Philippine Government to speak for itself in terms of what its actions are, what its motivations are behind its actions. All I can say is what our policy, and that hasn’t changed. We want to see rules-based – or adherence to rules-based mechanisms to resolve claims regarding South China Sea. Thanks.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Yeah, follow-up. Same topic.

MR TONER: You and then you, please.

QUESTION: Kind of separate.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Okay.

QUESTION: So the Chinese foreign ministry criticized the G7 foreign ministers’ statement on the South China Sea and the East China Sea, saying that the G7 should focus on global economic governance and members should stop making irresponsible remarks. Do you have a response to that?

MR TONER: I really don’t. I’ll let the G7 statement speak for itself. We certainly signed it and agreed to it, but I’m not going to get into an argument back and forth over whether it was valid or not. We believe it was.


QUESTION: Do you think that the strong reaction from China is indication that the continued focus on this issue is having an effect of pressuring the Chinese on the topic?

MR TONER: Hard to say. There are – as you well know, there’s a lot of sensitivities about South China Sea and about territorial claims surrounding it. Again, what I think it speaks to is the need for peaceful, diplomatic, legal mechanisms to resolve these issues to the point where we’re not seeing, as we just discussed, reclamation projects, construction projects, any kind of thing that’s going to lead to escalated tensions and provocations.


QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up --


QUESTION: -- on Matt’s point. Last week when China finished building the lighthouse, you immediately expressed your objection. So when it comes to Philippine, are you trying to turn a blind eye to Philippines’ action in South China Sea?

MR TONER: I think what I said – and I have – as I said, we’ve seen the reports stating that China will begin operating a lighthouse on Subi Reef – and again, I just haven’t seen nor do I have any greater detail on what, frankly, the Philippine Government is proposing to do. So all I can say is revert back to what our stance is, our position is regarding any kind of attempt to construct new facilities or in any way develop the South China Sea islands. So I’ll stop there.

QUESTION: So you wouldn’t condone Philippines’ action in South China Sea if it’s confirmed true?

MR TONER: We don’t – again, not – without singling out the Philippines, I think broadly, yes, we don’t want to see any kind of development on any of the islands that will further escalate tensions.

QUESTION: Are you concerned if China take any counteraction to go against Philippines --

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, we’re certainly concerned, and that’s one of the reasons why we always speak to our concerns about these kinds of actions is that we don’t want to see – as they often do set off an escalation of tension. That’s the last thing we want to see.

QUESTION: Also on China, Kenyan authorities have deported 37 Taiwanese citizens to China on Tuesday, and the Taiwanese Government said the Kenyan police used force and tear gas to send them onto a plane. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: Excuse me. I’m aware of the reports. We’re looking into it. I don’t have any further details. You’re talking about the – excuse me – the 37 Taiwanese citizens who were – yes – sent back to China by the Kenyan authorities? Again, we’ve just seen reports so far. We’re trying to get more details about it.

QUESTION: I suppose this is included in that, but the Taiwanese are also saying that one of the citizens is a joint Taiwanese-U.S. citizen. Are you aware of that?

MR TONER: Also aware of that report. We just don’t have a Privacy Act – due to privacy considerations, we can’t speak to that right now. Again, as we get more details, we’ll obviously share them with you.

QUESTION: Just one more. The Kenyan Government cited one-China policy as the basis of this deportation action. Is it consistent with your interpretation of the one-China policy in this regard?

MR TONER: Again, I think we need to see more details and more – yeah, more details behind what the Kenyan Government’s – or what motivated the Kenyan Government, what its actions were trying to do, what it was trying to accomplish here, in order to make any kind of judgment about what they did.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Are you considering taking any measures against the referendum in Darfur to discredit it or to influence the government in Sudan?

MR TONER: Hold one moment, please. You’re talking about – well, I mean, we – I put out a statement last night, obviously, condemning some of the recent attacks by the Sudanese People’s – or Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the SPLA, which destroyed a declared opposition cantonment site in Wau County in South Sudan. And we’ve made clear both to President Kiir and opposition leader Machar that neither we nor the international community will accept any kind of return to war, and that the responsibility for implementing the agreement rests on the shoulders of both parties to the conflict.

QUESTION: I was asking about --

QUESTION: He was asking about --


QUESTION: -- the referendum.

MR TONER: I apologize. Oh, Darfur. I apologize. I thought you were talking about South Sudan. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: North Sudan.

MR TONER: Yeah. No, I have no – I have nothing to say about --

QUESTION: You issued a statement, but are you going to take any measures to discredit it or to pressure the Government of Sudan or with the African Union or any --

MR TONER: But the statement I issued – I apologize, I was confused. I was speaking about South Sudan. We haven’t – I don’t know what you’re talking about in Darfur. No visibility on that, sorry, sorry. Like a lot of issues today I seem to be surprised up here about. Appreciate that.

QUESTION: Don’t do be too harsh on yourself, Mark.

MR TONER: Thank you. Thank you, Matt.

QUESTION: You’re only as good as the briefing book.

QUESTION: On India, Defense Secretary Carter’s visit to India. The two countries decided to increase their defense relationship, including letting the other country’s military base and facilities be available to the militaries of other countries.

MR TONER: You’re talking about Secretary Carter?

QUESTION: Yes, Secretary Carter.

MR TONER: Well, obviously refer you to DOD on specifics about his visit. Our defense cooperation with India, as you know, is strong. It’s a leading pillar of our broad relationship. We support, obviously, India’s rise as a capable actor in the region, and part of that is deepening our defense cooperation.

QUESTION: The agreements that the two countries have decided to sign, was the State Department consulted on those?

MR TONER: Was consulted? Of course, we were. Yeah. I mean, we would be – as we would in any kind of interagency discussion.

QUESTION: How you think this – will this have any implications on China?

MR TONER: I mean, how so specifically? Just in terms of --

QUESTION: Because the U.S. military can go and use Indian facilities; same the Indian military can come here and use the U.S. facilities. Would that have any implications on U.S. relations with China?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, I’m not going to conjecture. All I’ll say is that we support positive, peaceful, stable relations with all countries in the region, and that includes India and China. There’s no zero-sum game here.

Please. Hey, Nike.

QUESTION: Can I ask South Sudan?

MR TONER: There you go.

QUESTION: Right. Now you just mentioned SPLA. Just --

MR TONER: That’s right. I just spoke to it already. I’m already ahead of myself. That’s how impressive I am today. (Laughter.) Sorry, go ahead, Nike. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Right. Yesterday you put out a statement condemning the recent attacks by SPLA.


QUESTION: Now the opposition leader, Riek Machar, is arriving Juba next Monday. He’s supposed to arrive there to swear in as the first vice president. Are you concerned that recent attacks by SPLA will heighten the tensions prior to his arrival?

MR TONER: So this is going to sound familiar, but of course, as I just said, we did condemn recent attacks by the SPLA. We’ve expressed concerns about opposition forces and associated groups that have been attacking recently government forces in the area as well. And as I said, we’ve made clear to both President Kiir and to opposition leader Machar that we won’t accept a return to conflict, to war, and that the responsibility for implementing the agreement rests on the shoulders of both parties to the conflict, and both sides need to avoid exacerbating tensions and should return for Machar’s safe – rather, should prepare for Machar’s safe return in a safe and orderly fashion.

QUESTION: Well, can you --

MR TONER: Please, sir.

QUESTION: -- be a little bit more specific about what you mean by saying we can’t – we won’t accept a return to conflict or war? What does that mean?

MR TONER: Well, I’m just – look, I mean, we’ve seen this happen too many times with South Sudan --

QUESTION: Well, what are you going – yeah, what are you going to do?

MR TONER: I mean, there’s a number of possibly – of actions that we could take. But we’re also – well, I mean, there’s – again, I’m not going to preview anything that we’re not ready to announce. But I think what we can – what we’re trying to very clearly state is that this is going on too long, that we’re at a juncture here where it looks like they’re sliding back into conflict, and that both sides bear responsibility to put this thing back on track.


QUESTION: Afghanistan?

MR TONER: Afghanistan.

QUESTION: The Taliban had announced that they are going to launch a spring offensive and promised large-scale attacks. Is the State Department considering stepping up its assistance to the Afghan Government, and if so, how?

MR TONER: So we – that announcement obviously came as no surprise. We always see the announcement of the spring fighting season. We are preparing, as we have been, to assist the government in defending against the Taliban. We have – working through both U.S. and coalition forces, we have been working with Afghan forces on the ground to improve their capability, their ability to fight and push back. They have the primary responsibility now since 2007 – ’15, rather. And we’re going to continue those efforts.

I don’t have anything specific in terms of increased assistance. I mean, we are working closely with President Ghani and Afghan security forces to ensure that they, as I said, have the training necessary and the equipment necessary to preserve the gains that they’ve made over the last 14 years. And of course, NATO’s got its Resolute Support Mission on the ground there that’s going to continue. As we’ve often stated, the goal here is to support and build up the capacity for Afghan forces to provide for the security of the country. And recognizing the ongoing security challenges, the decision was made, of course, to maintain a level of troops, to keep the 5,500 American troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016 in order to continue to carry out that essential mission on the ground. And that includes counterterrorism operations against remnants of al-Qaida and, of course, ISIL and other terrorist groups in the region, but also, as I said, just continuing to build up the capacity for Afghan security forces to provide security for the country.


QUESTION: The Taliban also said that they were going to try and avoid civilian casualties and hitting infrastructure. What do you make of that?

MR TONER: Well, I’ll just say that all of this – this announcement, this pledge to, again, begin the spring fighting season – it just underscores the need for the start of a peace process, and a peace process that’s Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. That was a central message of the Secretary when he visited there this past week. It just underscores also that this conflict is not going to be resolved on the battlefield.

QUESTION: But how serious the peace process is? Hasn’t it met a dead end because Taliban have now announced for the offensive?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, it has – it has not proceeded as quickly as I think many would have liked. Again, without being able to – I’m not – I would refer you to the Taliban, frankly, to talk about – but they have undergone some leadership changes and have been unresponsive to this effort to get these peace talks going. That only underscores, frankly, the urgency going forward.

QUESTION: So are you giving them --

QUESTION: Did you just refer us to the Taliban?

MR TONER: I did. You’re welcome to. I’m sure the BBC has spoken to them many times.


QUESTION: Are you giving them a benefit of doubt to the Taliban – new Taliban leadership on --

MR TONER: Not at all. I’m just saying the ball is in their respective court. The Government of Afghanistan has said it would be ready to hold these peace talks.

QUESTION: If there’s – if there’s need, are you willing to reinforce more troops inside Afghanistan based on how --

MR TONER: I don’t have anything to announce, certainly, other than the President’s decision to maintain current – the current levels through 2016.


QUESTION: On North Korea, it’s being reported that North Korea’s is preparing for a possible mobile ballistic missile launch that could hit portions of the U.S. Can you confirm that or do you have a response?

MR TONER: I don’t – I mean, not specifically to that allegation or that threat out there. I mean, we’ve seen, obviously, North Korea continue to take actions, irresponsible actions, in pursuit of – or rather, just in an effort to destabilize the region. None of these actions are particularly helpful, only escalate tensions further. But I don’t have anything in response to that particular threat.

Are we good?

QUESTION: Wait, I got a couple --

MR TONER: Oh. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: They’re far-flung, but they’ll be very quick.

MR TONER: Far-flung.

QUESTION: One: Yesterday you seemed to leave open the door to the idea of supporting a UN resolution that the Palestinians have --


QUESTION: -- are showing around New York. You said – in response to one question, you said, “We might take it to…[the] Security Council.” Did you mean to leave that impression?

MR TONER: I can firmly shut that door.


MR TONER: No, look, I mean, I – that was, I think, the second day in a row I’d gotten that question. Nothing’s been thus far formally introduced or circulated at the Security Council --

QUESTION: No, no, I understand that.

MR TONER: No, no, I get it, right.

QUESTION: Is the Administration open to the idea of such a resolution that would condemn settlement activity or is that something you think should be left out of the Security Council?

MR TONER: I’m going to say that our position hasn’t changed in terms of action on this issue at the UN Security Council.

QUESTION: Which means that you’re opposed to it?

MR TONER: Opposed to it.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. Then I had – I asked you about – but it got – then we got sidetracked onto the situation – the case in the UAE yesterday, so I don’t know if you actually --


QUESTION: -- registered the taken question about these Palestinian human rights activists who are coming to town next week.

MR TONER: Let me – yeah.

QUESTION: Anyway, if you could, because it kind of got lost in the --

MR TONER: No, I agree. I apologize for that.

QUESTION: One’s from Gaza, one’s from the West Bank. I’m just wondering if --

MR TONER: I thought we took – I know we took the question.

QUESTION: Okay. And then if you could get the – an answer --

MR TONER: But I will get you an answer for that, of course.

QUESTION: -- as to whether they have any meetings here with people. They haven’t been here in a while.

MR TONER: Absolutely.

QUESTION: And then lastly, two – these are the --

MR TONER: Those aren’t that far-flung, by the way. Those are pretty --

QUESTION: Well, no, no, no. These are the far-flung ones.


QUESTION: I’m just wondering if you guys have any thoughts, any comments about the situation in Brazil politically, and also --

MR TONER: I think – yeah, sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- whether you have any kind of a position on the Egyptian decision to return – to give these two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

MR TONER: On the Egyptian decision, I’m going to take that question. I just don’t have any details about that.

On the Brazilian question – and I think we’ve said this – I’d obviously refer you to Brazilian authorities. But we believe Brazil’s democracy is mature, it’s strong enough to ensure that its current political challenges are met and get resolved in a way that allows Brazil to prosper.

QUESTION: All right. And would you say the same thing about South Africa?

MR TONER: Yes. I mean --

QUESTION: Because they’re having their own --

MR TONER: I’m aware of the --

QUESTION: Do you think that their democracy --

MR TONER: I’m aware of their own – yeah, I mean --

QUESTION: Do you think their democracy is mature enough? What’s the maturity – the age of maturity for democracy these days?

MR TONER: It’s like a wine. Look, I mean, South Africa has some pretty significant challenges in terms of its political growth, but it also has democratic institutions in place that we believe can work to resolve these kinds of issues. And again, these are tests for any political system, including our own, when these kinds of allegations or investigations or issues come to the fore. It’s – I don’t think anyone can say unequivocally that their democracy is superior or more mature than any other, but I think it speaks to the strength of anyone’s democracy that they can weather these, that they have the processes and the institutions in place to weather them.

So yes on both counts.

QUESTION: Okay. You do – you do go – U.S. officials from all administrations, secretaries of state, go around talking about how the United States is a mature democracy and the oldest democracy, so --

MR TONER: But we also make no claims as to whether our ambassador – our ambassador – our democracy is superior than others.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Iceland’s had an elected parliament for a thousand years and they just lost a prime minister. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: There you go.

QUESTION: Last one, quick one.

MR TONER: Of course, I’m so sorry. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: A top State Department official is being cited as saying that the numbers for ISIS are the lowest that they’ve ever been since the U.S. started monitoring them in 2014. Can you confirm that that’s the case, and do you have any numbers for what those might be?

MR TONER: I do not, so let’s talk about this offline. Thanks, yeah.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:48 p.m.)

DPB # 61

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - April 11, 2016

Mon, 04/11/2016 - 19:05

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 11, 2016

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2:08 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Welcome, everyone. Are those American University students in the background I see? Way in the back. Welcome, everyone, to the State Department daily press briefing. I hope everyone had a somewhat restful weekend. Welcome, and happy Monday.

Just one thing at the top concerning Yemen. The United States welcomes the cessation of hostilities in Yemen which began last night at midnight. The cessation of hostilities is crucial for the people of Yemen who have suffered from over a year of fighting and a massive humanitarian crisis, which has resulted in over 80 percent of the population requiring some form of emergency assistance.

We urge all parties to fully uphold and respect the cessation of hostilities, which is critical to ensuring the unimpeded delivery of critically needed humanitarian aid, including food, fuel, and medicine to all parts of Yemen. Last week the United States announced nearly $139 million in humanitarian assistance in response to the Yemen crisis and is seeking to help ensure its implementing partners are well-positioned to utilize the cessation of hostilities to distribute the assistance through Yemen to all those in need. We urge all parties to ensure they are cooperating fully with humanitarian workers as they seek to access all parts of the country.

The cessation of hostilities will help lay the groundwork for the April 18th peace talks to be held in Kuwait under the auspices of the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. We urge all parties to attend and engage in these talks in good faith in order to find a sustainable way forward in Yemen. The only durable solution to the conflict in Yemen is a political one.



MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: I don’t have a lot. But one thing – Syria.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: So the talks are to resume this week?

MR TONER: Yep. Go ahead, sorry. Finish. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Correct? Is that right? Is that wrong?

MR TONER: No, that’s correct, yes.

QUESTION: And I’m just wondering if you have – what your expectations are for this given the fact that there seems to be concern that the Assad government and the Russians are driving to take or retake more territory.

MR TONER: First of all, I just want to check on the actual date for the continuance, but I believe it is this week.

QUESTION: It’s on the 13th.

MR TONER: Yeah, thanks.

QUESTION: So that’s Wednesday?

MR TONER: Wednesday, correct. So a couple of things, Matt. First of all, we are very, very concerned about the recent increase in violence, and that includes actions we believe are in contravention to the cessation of hostilities. And Secretary Kerry, in fact, expressed this concern to Foreign Minister Lavrov and also discussed how to make certain in the next days that every extra effort is made in order to sustain and solidify the cessation of hostilities, and that includes working to define where the different fighting groups are located and to make sure we’re concentrating our efforts on Daesh and Nusrah, who have not signed on to the cessation of hostilities. To that end, we’ve got obviously teams – a team in Geneva. We’ve also got a team working in Amman to help sustain the cessation of hostilities.

But to answer your second part of your question, which is how this would affect the talks. Look, I mean, the cessation of hostilities has not been perfect, but it has brought about a substantial decrease in the level of violence. And to have it go off track right before the next round of proximity talks, we feel, would – could potentially harm the success of those talks, and we need to see real progress. And the Secretary has spoken about this, as have others, about the need really for the political – talk about – serious talk about a political transition to begin with these talks. We want to make sure the environment for these talks to succeed in is a good one, and so we are concerned.

QUESTION: So when did the Secretary speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR TONER: That was last night. I mean last night, I believe the middle of our day here back in – he’s obviously – was in Asia, in Japan.

QUESTION: But Sunday?

MR TONER: Sunday.

QUESTION: Where he was too?

MR TONER: Correct. What are you asking me, where the Secretary was? Yes.

QUESTION: Well, 14 hours ahead of us.


QUESTION: So I just want to know – I mean, did he make the call – where he was when he made the call or took the call, was he – was it Sunday?

MR TONER: I feel like this is one of those really difficult math problems in grade school, but I think, yes, it was Sunday midday. For so – here so --

QUESTION: Because – okay. Well, that means that it –

QUESTION: Has been to sleep? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: Clearly I have not.

QUESTION: If it was midday Sunday in Hiroshima --

MR TONER: I’ll double-check on that. Hold on, actually.

QUESTION: I – let’s not get bogged down on this.

MR TONER: No, let’s not get bogged down on this, but let me just see if I have – so it has here Sunday, April 10th, as him having reached out to Foreign Minister Lavrov.

QUESTION: And so your belief is that the – all – that the ceasefire – the cessation of hostilities violations that you’re seeing are all coming from the government side?

MR TONER: I don’t think we’ve ever said that definitively but --

QUESTION: The ones that you’re talking about now that you say you’re very concerned, and it seems to be the government – you’re concerned about the government doing – taking military operations to groups that you say are covered by the ceasefire?

MR TONER: That’s correct, and we’ve also seen, obviously – look, I mean, all along we said for this thing to hold, this cessation to hold, parties that have endorsed it, have bought into the cessation of hostilities, can’t attack or seek to acquire territory from other groups who are participating in the cessation of hostilities, and that’s our very point here. We’ve seen – you’ve seen reports about plans for the regime to try to retake Aleppo, and as I said, that’s concerning to us.

QUESTION: Yeah, but – all right, before we get back to Aleppo --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- I mean, what you seem to be saying so far is that the violations of the cessation of hostilities agreement that you’ve seen so far are all being committed by the government.

MR TONER: We would say that the vast majority of violations have been on the part of the regime.

QUESTION: Okay. And on Aleppo, you are concerned why? Because the Syrians and the Russians say that they’re going after Nusrah and Aleppo.

MR TONER: Well, again, what I think – what I at least tried to convey was that we’re concerned, in particular because it’s not – and we’ve talked about this before – it’s – there are – we understand it’s a complex, fluid – however you want to put it – environment where there are groups that have signed on to the cessation and there are other groups like Nusrah and Daesh who are there as well. And they’re not far apart and they’re not clearly delineated, and that’s one of the things I think the Secretary stressed very strongly in his phone call yesterday with Foreign Minister Lavrov, is that we need to make certain that we work to determine which fighting group is where. Certainly, we’ve talked about the fact that everybody needs to focus on Nusrah and Daesh, but we can’t have overlap and we can’t have violations against those groups who have bought into the ceasefire, or the cessation.

QUESTION: And you don’t think that any of the activities that – any of the actions that the Syrians and the Russians have taken have targeted legitimate groups that are legitimately targets under the – because they’re not in the ceasefire?

MR TONER: Sorry, just to rewind, you said I don’t think that --

QUESTION: Are you – do you think that the Russians and the Syrians have gone after groups that are covered by the ceasefire --

MR TONER: I’m not --

QUESTION: -- or are they --

MR TONER: Yes, I think that – I think both. I mean, I think they have gone after Nusrah and Daesh in certain places. We’ve seen that. But they’ve also used the cessation of hostilities --

QUESTION: All right. So what’s the consequence, then, of that?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, the consequence – and we talked about this before. The consequences are that – this whole process depends on a couple of things. One is the fact that the cessation of hostilities, the relative reduction in violence that the cessation of hostilities has brought for all sides, and that includes the regime as well, who may – we talked about prior to the cessation may have been making gains on the ground. But we’re not – we’re far from running the table, so to speak.

So this allows everyone to regroup and to pursue a political process that all hinges on the fact that there’s this cessation in place.

QUESTION: Yeah, but if there isn’t – if the ceasefire task force isn’t --

MR TONER: But that’s --

QUESTION: -- isn’t prepared to call out violations that it sees and then --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- impose some kind of consequence for those who are violating it, what’s --

MR TONER: But my point is --

QUESTION: -- what’s the point of it?

MR TONER: -- the consequences are if this thing – if this cessation falls apart, everybody pays a price for that, without a doubt – the regime included. And part of the structure or part of the reason why they succeeded – God bless you – part of the reason this has succeeded thus far is that the members of the ISSG, and that includes Russia with – and its influence on the regime, are able to exert influence, are able to tell the different parties – and that includes the opposition who also – when violations occur, to adhere to the ceasefire, the cessation, and to abide by it. Otherwise the thing will collapse.

QUESTION: So that --

MR TONER: There’s no --

QUESTION: Okay, but they --

MR TONER: But I mean, I know what you’re asking: Is there a --

QUESTION: Short of wagging your finger at them and saying “no, no, don’t do that,” I don’t see what the point of this ceasefire task – or the task force is --

MR TONER: But I – we’re --

QUESTION: -- if they don’t do anything.

MR TONER: I feel like we’re arguing – anyway, we’re arguing how many angels on the head of a pin kind of stuff here. My point is that if this thing – if people don’t abide by the ceasefire, then it falls apart and then you’ve got – we’re back to where we were a month ago.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean, that goes without saying.

QUESTION: But isn’t that a consequence of breaking the ceasefire is that the ceasefire is broken.

MR TONER: Well, that it collapses.


MR TONER: The cessation collapses. Thus far, we’ve seen violations but we’ve managed to work through the task force – and that’s us working with the Russians, working with others – to make sure that people still abide by them and still adhere to the cessation --

QUESTION: But why would someone breaking the ceasefire care if the ceasefire collapsed? They’re attempting to collapse it.

MR TONER: Because, David – look, I mean, I – I would just offer the counterargument – it’s – again, it’s a very fluid environment on the ground. We fully admit this is not perfect. We want to solidify it going forward. We want to make it stronger, we want to make it more comprehensive. But --

QUESTION: The ceasefire task force is never going to tell us who’s the least perfect, is it?

MR TONER: Well, again, that’s part of this – the task force’s goal is to work through these violations, these allegations internally as part of a group and then, as I said, to whoever the violators are, to convey that they need to adhere to the ceasefire.

QUESTION: The problem is – is that – well, first of all, the answer is four – four angels dancing on the head of a pin. (Laughter.) The problem is that you’re accusing one member of – the co-chair, your fellow co-chair of being responsible for violations.

MR TONER: Well, they need to – again, that’s what we’re trying to convey, and that’s what was part of the Secretary’s message, is that we are very concerned about the prospects for the cessation to continue if these kind of violations continue, if the regime continues to carry out attacks.

QUESTION: Right. Well, assuming that it is accepted and that it is fact that the Syrians and the Russians are in fact violating it, I don’t understand – maybe this isn’t a question --

MR TONER: You want to – I understand what you’re asking, which is there some kind – sorry, I’m putting words in your mouth.


MR TONER: But you’re asking is there some kind of penalty --

QUESTION: Well, I’m just saying it sounds as though this is – this cessation of hostilities is based on a whim and a prayer if the only thing that you – the only consequence of breaking the ceasefire for someone who breaks it is that the entire ceasefire collapses. I don’t see – there’s not much incentive there for --

MR TONER: On the contrary, I would say there’s a lot of incentive given --

QUESTION: Well, unless they don’t want peace.

MR TONER: But I’m not saying that every – so --

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: Anyway.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: All right. So --

QUESTION: Follow-up on --

QUESTION: So if there’s an offensive against Aleppo, that would be to target Jabhat al-Nusrah, but obviously they are co-located in many locations with other groups.

MR TONER: And that’s part of the Secretary’s major point to make, which is that we need to do – and that’s – writ large, we need to do a better job of de-conflicting and delineating --

QUESTION: On the ground on a daily basis, is it the responsibility of ceasefire observers to get out of the way when there’s a fight between non-observers and the regime? Are they effectively shields for al-Nusrah if they remain there if you’re not going to permit the Russians and the Syrians to attack them?

MR TONER: It’s a fair question. I would defer to others who know the battlefield and the terrain better than I would, but it’s a fair question to – that there’s such a --

QUESTION: Because you can’t (inaudible) al-Nusrah with (inaudible).

MR TONER: That there is an overlap there. Yeah, there is an overlap there. I mean, and that’s a serious challenge.

QUESTION: Mark, let me just follow up on this very point.

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Said, and I’ll get --

QUESTION: Now, when you say “violations” – the regime’s violations, in this case; the Syrian Government’s violations – that is excluding attacks on al-Nusrah, correct? Or do you consider attacking al-Nusrah a --

MR TONER: No, no, no. Al-Nusrah and Daesh --

QUESTION: So al-Nusrah remains a free game.

MR TONER: Yeah. Yes.

QUESTION: The regime, the Russians, you (inaudible) can attack --

MR TONER: Yeah, and then the Secretary made that point.


MR TONER: We need to focus on – our efforts on destroying Daesh, al-Nusrah.

QUESTION: And you also agree that al-Nusrah is located in Aleppo and its environment, right? In – around --


QUESTION: In and around Aleppo.


QUESTION: So if they attack, why would you then – should you be so concerned if the regime or the Russians attacked al-Nusrah positions in and around Aleppo?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not – look, I mean, there’s mixed groups in there, and – or let me put it this way: These groups are on top of each other. It’s a very – I’ve said this many times – complex, however you want to put it. And so at the same time as we want to certainly take the fight to Daesh, to al-Nusrah, and support those efforts – at the same time as we do that, we also need to preserve the cessation of hostilities so you cannot pull opposition groups or you cannot carry the same attacks against those opposition groups who have signed on to the cessation of hostilities. What I was just saying to David – that’s a challenge, and that’s a challenge for the task force and it’s a challenge on the ground there, to de-conflict.

QUESTION: Is it a challenge to the groups to – who obviously – they’re at least tolerating Nusrah’s presence.

MR TONER: Somewhat. Somewhat, certainly. I mean, that’s – yeah.

QUESTION: De Mistura just, I think, concluded a meeting with Moallem, where he by – gave very strong words on the need to maintain the ceasefire and so on. Do you think that’s an implicit message or indirect message that it is the regime that is breaking – or the – that is largely violating the cessation of hostilities?

MR TONER: Again, what we’ve said is that – a couple of quick thoughts on that. One is we do have this task force in place. We’re working very hard with Russia, with other members of the ISSG to make certain that we keep this – the pressure on all the parties on the ground to adhere to the ceasefire. We have said that our assessment is, by and large, the number of alleged violations we have seen – that the majority are on the part of the regime. We’ve also said that – and have expressed our concern that no one should use the cessation to seize additional territory or carry out attacks on these groups. Again, what we want to try to see over the next coming days is a redoubling of our efforts to really solidify the cessation of hostilities.

QUESTION: Can you seize territory off of Jabhat al-Nusrah?

MR TONER: I would say – well, I mean, you’ve seen --

QUESTION: Or do you have to attack them then go home? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: No, I mean, look, we talked a little bit about this last week, where there were – well, there was clearly a – the regime took back some territory from Daesh. And while we certainly would welcome any successful effort that destroys and puts additional pressure on Daesh, we also recognize that for the Syrian people that’s not an ideal result, to go back under regime control, given what the regime has carried out against its people.

QUESTION: So you don’t think they should try to go for Aleppo?


QUESTION: If Nusrah is there?

MR TONER: Again, I’d – what I tried to say, and I’ve – I’ll restate it – is that we are concerned about plans to attack and seize and control of Aleppo when there are clearly opposition groups there that are part of the cessation of hostilities.

QUESTION: Okay. So – but if they didn’t – you say there is also Nusrah people there. So if they only go after Nusrah, is that okay with you?

MR TONER: I mean, is it okay with me? It’s --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, not you personally. I mean --

MR TONER: Yeah. No, I understand what you’re saying.

QUESTION: Would it better if --

MR TONER: It’s – sorry, just to finish --

QUESTION: -- the regime didn’t go after Aleppo at all?

MR TONER: Again, I think – and this is what the Secretary was trying to convey – is there needs to be a clear understanding of where Daesh, where Nusrah are; where the cessation-of-hostility-adhering members of the opposition are. We certainly want to focus all of our efforts – and that’s us, that’s the Syrian opposition, that’s the regime – against Daesh and Nusrah.

QUESTION: So you’re okay or the U.S. would be all right, then, if there was that distinguish --

MR TONER: We have always said that we would --


MR TONER: -- if Russia and --

QUESTION: So you’re not opposed – let me just make sure I understand.

MR TONER: Sorry, go ahead. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: You’re not opposed to the Syrian army going after and – going after Aleppo and taking the – or at least the parts of it that are held by al-Nusrah. That’s okay with you. But if they start going after groups that you guys think are part of – or say are part of the cessation of hostilities, then it – only then it’s bad. Is that correct?


QUESTION: Okay. So --

MR TONER: With the caveat that all of this is only temporary in the sense that we don’t want to see – and we’ve talked about this in terms of other groups who are fighting Daesh as well in the north or in the west – is that we don’t want to see any creation of semiautonomous zones. We don’t want to see any – all of this needs to be resolved ultimately through a political transition.

QUESTION: Mark, just to clarify.


QUESTION: It’s a long discussion, I know, but just --

MR TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: -- can you be more specific? Which group are we talking about exactly? If it’s not Nusrah, which group is under the umbrella of cessation of hostilities that you said that it was a violation of the cessation of hostilities when the regime and --

MR TONER: Which groups are under --

QUESTION: When the regime and the Syrian forces attacked?

MR TONER: I mean, those are the groups that have already been defined by the --

QUESTION: There are several groups in Aleppo. Which group are we talking about?

MR TONER: So really the only groups – well, largely speaking, the groups outside – it’s almost easier to say it that way – outside the cessation of hostilities are Daesh and Nusrah.

QUESTION: Yes, but --

MR TONER: They did not sign onto that. They’re not part of any proximity talks. They’re not part of the HNC. They’re not part of this political transition process.

QUESTION: The thing is there is no monolithic structure within the FSA as well.

MR TONER: I agree.

QUESTION: So is it Ahrar --

MR TONER: So it makes it very difficult.

QUESTION: Is it Ahrar or is it Northern Storm – so it makes difference. And which group are we talking about will be more --

MR TONER: I don’t have a full list in front of me. It’s the list that was determined through meetings in Riyadh and through the – de Mistura’s process as well.

QUESTION: Let me put it this way: Is there any group that the Russians and the Syrians are attacking that at the same time are working with the U.S.?

MR TONER: Is there any group that the Russians and the Syrians are attacking that are at the same time working --

QUESTION: Cooperating with U.S., yeah.

MR TONER: How I would put it is that it’s more a matter of if they are attacking those members of the Syrian opposition who have signed on to the cessation of hostilities, then those are violations of the cessation of hostility. Does that make sense? I mean, that’s more how I’d put it, rather than we’re supporting --

QUESTION: Yeah, but if there is a --

MR TONER: I mean, of course we’ve been supporting different groups within the Syrian opposition insofar as helping them develop as a political structure, helping them develop their civil society structure, all those kinds of aspects. But for you to say that – what groups – it’s easier for me to define it as we would have a problem with any violations against any member by another member of the – who’s signed up to the cessation of hostilities, because that’s obviously endangering the cessation.

QUESTION: Last one.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment about the release of the Division 30 members by Nusrah?

MR TONER: The --

QUESTION: They captured several members of the Division 30, who were trained and equipped by U.S., a couple of months ago.

MR TONER: I honestly have not seen those reports. I apologize.

QUESTION: They just released today and --

MR TONER: Yeah, I haven’t seen them. I’d have to see those reports. I apologize.

QUESTION: Can we change the subject?



MR TONER: If that’s okay.

QUESTION: No, no. No, no.

MR TONER: Or are we still --

QUESTION: Ukraine.

MR TONER: I’m sorry, Michel. We’ll get to --

QUESTION: I have two questions on Syria.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: The Syrian regime will hold parliamentary elections on April 13th, the same day the talks will resume in Geneva between the regime and the opposition. Any comment?

MR TONER: Well, yeah. We’ve – I mean, yes. We have – we would view those elections as not legitimate in the sense that they don’t represent – or they don’t – yeah, they don’t represent the will of the Syrian people. There is a – right now talks in Geneva on a way to chart a political transition that we believe is the ultimate solution for the conflict in Syria. So to hold parliamentary elections now given the current circumstances, given the current conditions in the country, we believe is at best premature and not representative of the Syrian people.

QUESTION: The second question is – you said Friday that you’ve been in constant and direct talks with the Syrian regime on general consular issues and the American detained in Syria. Can you elaborate on that? Who’s talking to who and where and more details?

MR TONER: That’s why I said we are in – I don’t think I said “constant,” but I said we’re in periodic contact with members of the Syrian regime, and I’m not going to elaborate.

QUESTION: Ukraine.

QUESTION: But you don’t have any – any more details? Who’s talking to who here in Washington and Damascus?

MR TONER: Nope. No, I’m just not going to elaborate on that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR TONER: Are we still on Syria? Who’s Syria? Raise your hand.


MR TONER: If we haven’t left. Please, sir.

QUESTION: One short question. So is United States ready to cooperate with Russia in fighting terrorists in Aleppo? Because it’s reported Russia have – has proposed these ideas to United States to coordinate actions against terrorists, not to fight against – accidentally against opposition groups.

MR TONER: Well, I – so we’ve always said if Russia wants to carry out strikes or in support of our efforts to destroy and degrade Daesh or ISIL, we would welcome that. In terms of Aleppo, I think we need greater clarity on what is actually planned, who are we targeting. Obviously, like I said, we – we, and I’m speaking more broadly about the anti-Daesh or anti-ISIL coalition here, have really been squeezing ISIL and Daesh in many parts of Syria and in Iraq as well, especially in the north and the west of Syria. But in and around Aleppo, as I said, it’s a very complex situation, very dynamic, lots of different groups.

So our concern, and that’s the concern that Secretary Kerry relayed to Foreign Minister Lavrov, is that we need to clearly delineate who’s where and how we go after them. So the idea being that, as I said many times already today, Daesh and Nusrah are fair game, but we need to make sure that we’re not inadvertently or intentionally striking some of the opposition groups that are part of the ceasefire.

QUESTION: So can you help with that?

MR TONER: Can we help with?

QUESTION: With the delineating?

MR TONER: That’s part of what we’re trying to work through, part of these – part of the task force groups that we’re trying to get a better sense of who’s where.




MR TONER: Let’s finish and then we’re done.


QUESTION: Ukraine?

MR TONER: I won’t – I promise I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Okay. Secretary Kerry yesterday said that the Assad regime has a role to play during the transition period, and I was wondering if you can --

MR TONER: I’m sorry, who’s – I apologize. What’s the first part?

QUESTION: Secretary said --

MR TONER: Secretary Kerry --

QUESTION: -- that Assad regime has a role to play in transition period, and I was wondering if you can elaborate on that. What’s the role of the Assad regime right now in this process?

MR TONER: Well, again, as part of any political transition with the expectation that they would ultimately lead to, in accordance with UN Security Council resolution and the Geneva communique, lead to free and fair elections, that – obviously the regime is part of that process and that we want to maintain some kind of infrastructure, some kind of governance so that we don’t have a void appear in Syria. So I’m guessing or I’m assuming that that’s what he was referring to.

So when he talked about the regime – now, what we’ve also said is that Assad himself, we firmly believe, cannot be part of any future of Syria.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Are you done with – are you on Syria?


MR TONER: Okay. I got it, guys. I’ll get to you.


MR TONER: You first on the side. Yep.

QUESTION: I’ll ask --

MR TONER: It doesn’t matter which one. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. So Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy --

MR TONER: Oh, but you were Ukraine?


MR TONER: I promise I will get to Ukraine. I just – I want to – how we do things here is we finish Syria, we finish one issue --

QUESTION: I thought that we finished Syria, no?

MR TONER: No, we’re not – are we done with Syria? Okay, so let’s do Iraq and then I’ll get to you guys next, I promise. I’m here for the duration.

QUESTION: Let’s go by the map.

QUESTION: So yeah --

MR TONER: It’s true, we should.

QUESTION: A couple of questions.

MR TONER: I feel like I’m walking across the globe. (Laughter.) Sorry.

QUESTION: That’s no problem.

MR TONER: Please go ahead. I’m sorry, I apologize.

QUESTION: No problem.

QUESTION: You need a pointer.

QUESTION: President Obama’s envoy to the war against ISIS with the coalition against ISIS, Brett McGurk, had a meeting with Barzani – President Barzani of Kurdistan. Do you have a readout of that meeting?

MR TONER: I do know that he remains – or he remained in Iraq. He was obviously there for Secretary Kerry’s visit. He’s meeting with senior government and security officials and that includes from the Government of Iraq as well as the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. He’s talking about – so I don’t have a specific readout --

QUESTION: How about today’s meeting?

MR TONER: -- of his – today’s meeting, I’ll have to check on that.

I mean, generally speaking, it’s – he’s discussing ongoing support for Iraq’s efforts to defeat Daesh, including, for example, the isolation of Mosul and then other efforts to address Iraq’s ongoing economic crisis as well.

QUESTION: The KRG presidency website did publish a readout --


QUESTION: -- and there’s just a quote from the readout. It says, “Both sides” – meaning Brett McGurk and President Barzani – “agreed to continue their negotiations in order to find a way out of the political crisis.” And the other day Secretary Kerry said, “We are not a mediator in this political crisis between Erbil and Baghdad.” I don’t know why – why he said that. And also, what is the role now that Brett McGurk has been playing in these back-and-forth meetings with Erbil and Baghdad officials?

MR TONER: Well, I think broadly speaking, look, I mean, the Secretary’s visit there was meant to reinforce a few things. One is this is a critical moment for Iraq, for all of Iraq, as it seeks to overcome ISIL and Daesh on the ground. But it’s also a time of political upheaval within the country. He wanted to express U.S. support for Abadi during this difficult period, and then I think also he wanted to emphasize the importance of unity and the need to keep focus of all Iraqis on the fight against ISIL.

I also think that we value our – clearly we value our partnership with Iraq. We do – but we do respect each other’s sovereignty. And what the Secretary was trying to signal was that we support Prime Minister Abadi and his government as they address what are significant security challenges and also economic and political challenges, and we’ll continue to do so. But ultimately, these are decisions for Iraqis to make.

QUESTION: So you don’t call it a mediation because you respect sovereignty of Iraq, right?

MR TONER: Correct.


MR TONER: These are internal political decisions for the Government of Iraq to make. That said, this is a critical period for Iraq. We support the prime minister. We support his efforts to increase the fight against – or the fight against ISIL and also to make tough decisions about the economy and about the political structure.

QUESTION: And what do you call, like, these multiple back-and-forth meetings between Mr. McGurk and Barzani, Mr. McGurk and Abadi? And even we’ve heard from, like, Mr. McGurk himself saying that certain things that Baghdad is doing against KRG such as cutting of the budget is not acceptable. What do you call these statements and these meetings if not a mediation?

MR TONER: Well, look, I mean, as the special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, part of his job is to work very, very closely with the Iraqi Government. And that includes the Iraqi Kurdistan Region on how to best support their efforts to counter ISIL on the ground. That’s not meant to necessarily make or influence the political decisions that they need to make, but it’s – but it is – or a critical part of that process is making sure they have the support they need and to provide whatever advice or counsel we can provide in how they carry out this fight to retake their country.

QUESTION: My last question.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: A senior KRG delegation is in Washington, including the deputy prime minister for the region. Are they going to hold any meetings in this building?

MR TONER: I would have to check on that. I just – I’m not aware that there was a group here. I apologize.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Well, (inaudible) their top foreign affairs (inaudible) afternoon and he canceled because he had something else. Was that here?

MR TONER: (Laughter.) Well, maybe he just had better plans – I don’t know – a better offer. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know, David. I’ll check on that and get back to you.

QUESTION: Mark, Iraq?

MR TONER: I really promised these guys back here. We’ll do Ukraine if you’re --

QUESTION: After that.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: So Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has recently resigned and now we know that one of his possible successors, head of the parliament Mr. Groysman, has refused to head the new cabinet. What are the U.S. expectations from the new government, especially in terms of lasting cooperation in and providing financial support for Kyiv?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, first of all, we thank Prime Minister Yatsenyuk for his tireless efforts to – on behalf of Ukraine really during an historic time, as we all know, for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. We also welcome his intention to remain engaged in the process of pursuing needed economic reforms, needed political reforms to ensure the future stability and prosperity of Ukraine, as well as its territorial integrity.

I would say, more broadly speaking, we believe it’s important that the Rada approve as soon as possible a new cabinet that is committed to implementing needed reforms, in particular those recommended by the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, as well as the European Union. And I would just say that we do believe that the Government of Ukraine will carry out needed reforms. We do believe it’s implementing and will continue to implement its Minsk agreements, and it’s really the joint responsibility of Ukraine’s president, its prime minister, and all those in government to put aside their differences and to deliver on the reforms that Ukrainians need.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Is there – is that resignation of the prime minister of Ukraine has any implication to the status of U.S. loan guarantee to Ukraine? Does the United States give Ukraine any assurance of giving a loan guarantee if there is a new government formed?

MR TONER: We’ll continue to work with the Government of Ukraine to finalize our loan guarantee agreement, and that – which will specify the conditions for the loan guarantee. But as was the case with previous loan guarantees issued in May 2014 and also May 2015, this agreement will be conditioned on Ukraine’s progress in implementing needed reforms or needed – implementing key steps, rather, in the economic reform program. In particular, our conditions will reinforce adherence to new IMF program – to the new IMF program, as well as other steps needed to restore economic stability, counter corruption, strengthen rule of law and government – governance, and also ensure a social safety net that’s stronger and advance other critical structural reform.

So again, pivoting back to what I just said earlier, it’s really the responsibility now of the entire Ukrainian Government to pull together and to continue on the path of this – of the economic and political reforms they’ve already undertaken in order to deliver on what the Ukrainian people need.

QUESTION: Mark, the reason I ask is because yesterday the president of Ukraine said on TV – said that he – when – while he was in Washington during the Nuclear Security Summit, he got a word from the White House saying that Ukraine will receive the $1 billion loan guarantee if the new government is formed. Could you verify?

MR TONER: I – so – no, that’s okay, Nike.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR TONER: It’s a legitimate question. I just don’t – I’m not privy to whatever conversation he