Daily Press Briefing - December 17, 2015

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 17, 2015


1:30 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody. Afternoon. What a lively bunch. Just to --

QUESTION: It’s the rain.

MR KIRBY: What’s that?

QUESTION: It’s the rain.

MR KIRBY: It’s the rain. Sorry about that.

QUESTION: Yeah, it’s all your fault.

MR KIRBY: I wish – yeah, I wish I could do something about that.

Just a short note on WTO membership. We welcome the finalization of Liberia and Afghanistan’s terms of accession to the World Trade Organization on the 16th and 17th, in Nairobi.

For Afghanistan, accession to the WTO is a major step forward for the Afghan Government’s efforts to unlock the potential of the Afghan economy. Today’s announcement is the result of years of work, which has accelerated over the last year, under the leadership of the national unity government. WTO accession is a process, and the Afghan Government needs to work with parliament and other stakeholders to take steps needed to receive the full benefits of membership.

Liberia’s accession to WTO is the result of the resilient leadership of President Johnson Sirleaf and the minister of trade and industry, Axel Addy. We applaud Liberia for completing an ambitious, high-quality accession package as a least-developed country, and we look forward to working with Liberia in the future as a member.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: I just want to start really briefly with that. Do you have – you don’t have anything to say about the Libya agreement being signed?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I can speak to that. The United States welcomes the signing of the political agreement in – I’m sorry, in Morocco, by Libyans, prepared based on a year of UN-facilitated political dialogue. The agreement provides the framework for establishing a unified Libyan Government of National Accord, and we applaud the efforts of those courageous Libyan leaders to rebuild a united Libya. I would also add that a Government of National Accord is needed to address the country’s critical humanitarian, economic, and security challenges, and as the December 13th conference in Rome, co-chaired by Secretary Kerry and the Italian foreign minister, Gentiloni – at that conference the United States and the international community made clear that we stand ready to support the implementation of the political agreement and are committed to providing the unified government full political backing and technical, economic, security, and counterterrorism assistance.

And we would also like to express our gratitude to the Kingdom of Morocco for its efforts to advance the UN talks and our full support to all of those Libyans participating in the process. The U.S. will stand with you as you take the next steps necessary to build Libyan peace and security.

QUESTION: Okay. If – as long as nobody has anything else about that – you do?

QUESTION: Libya. The reports in the British press right now that Downing Street would consider sending British troops to Libya if this new administration asked for it – peacekeeping forces. Do you have a position on that? And if a similar request was made to Washington, what kind of a response would there be?

MR KIRBY: Well, I won’t speak to the – whatever decisions the United Kingdom might make. Those are sovereign decisions that governments make for themselves. I know of no such decision pending here in the United States, and that would be really more of a matter for the Defense Department to speak to.

QUESTION: So what I wanted to do is look ahead a little bit to tomorrow’s meetings in New York.

MR KIRBY: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: Do you expect that either the meeting in the morning of the support group or the Security Council meeting in the afternoon – what do you expect them to produce?

MR KIRBY: The --

QUESTION: I know the Security Council, you expect a resolution, but what do you expect to be in it? And do you expect them to put anything out after the morning meeting?

MR KIRBY: So – all right, well, let’s go to the resolution first since that – we do hope that that is the result, the tangible resolution that would affirm the process established by the ISSG and chart the next steps to begin negotiations. And as the Secretary has said, we are also laying the groundwork to implement a nationwide ceasefire, and so there could be components of that that address sort of a framework of what a ceasefire might look like.

So the big result for the afternoon session is obviously this resolution, and the Secretary remains confident that we can get there. In the morning, this is – this meeting in the morning is sort of – is the next iteration of the ISSG process, the Vienna process as it is also known. And I think what the participants are going to try to do in the morning session is provide – get to more detail about the political transition itself and the process, the framework going forward, get to some more fidelity. I think they’re going to be interested in getting a readout from Saudi leaders about the Riyadh conference, a little bit more detail about how that went and where things stand with the high negotiating committee of the opposition groups because their next task is to get together and establish a negotiating team. So I think there’s going to be an expectation that Saudi leadership will be able to kind of read that out some more. I fully expect that they will be interested in talking to the Jordanian delegation about their efforts in terms of the identification of groups that can move forward in the political process.

And then I think – pursuant to the ceasefire issue, I think you will see them spend a bit of time tomorrow morning on that. You know the Secretary has talked about the importance of getting a ceasefire in place for quite some time and he believes it’s time to start laying out more detail about what that could look like, how that would be monitored, when it could be implemented, that kind of thing.

So I think there’s a full agenda, obviously, of things to talk about. But in the aggregate what I would tell you is two things: this is an iterative process, so this is the next step in the Vienna process, another meeting; and that as the last two have borne out, what would like after this one would be, again, more detail, more process that can be agreed upon going forward.

QUESTION: Right. But do you expect them to produce some kind of a document or a communique that would lay out what they’ve heard or what they’ve agreed on in terms of --

MR KIRBY: I can’t rule out a communique at the end of the morning session, Matt. I don't know that they’ve come to --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: I don't know that we’re – I can’t say that it will or won’t be – there won’t be a communique. The big product for the day, quite frankly, would be the resolution at the end of it.

QUESTION: Would be the resolution. Okay. So where – if there is a communique and then in the resolution that you’ve – that the Secretary is confident will be passed by the Security Council, where in it will it spell out the timeline for Assad’s departure?

MR KIRBY: I don't know that it will. I mean, I can’t speak to a resolution that hasn’t been solidified yet. So I don't know that that is intended to be part of the resolution itself. The resolution is going to be designed to put under UN auspices and the UN umbrella – codifying under UN auspices the Vienna process and the culmination of the basic principles in the two communiques coming out of Vienna. So it’s really designed to put under UN auspices what the ISSG has already worked out in terms of the core principles. And as you know, nowhere in those communiques has it been stated explicitly when Assad needs to go, when he needs to step down.

QUESTION: Right. So why is it that, exactly?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think it’s --

QUESTION: This is your goal, your – what you say is your goal and it is what the opposition says is its goal, correct? But it’s not a guarantee, is it?

MR KIRBY: Our goal, just to be fair – I mean, I --

QUESTION: Can you guarantee that this process will lead to Assad’s departure?

MR KIRBY: Let me back up here, because there’s a lot you just --

QUESTION: No, it’s pretty straightforward.

MR KIRBY: No, I --

QUESTION: Can you or can you not?

MR KIRBY: Let me get there, Matt.


MR KIRBY: The goal is a whole, unified, pluralistic, nonsectarian Syria. That’s the goal. And everybody – everybody, I say everybody and Arshad gets on me – the members of the ISSG, if you look at the communiques, have agreed to that as the end state. And the ISSG has also agreed that it is far preferable to get to that goal through a political process instead of a military one and that the Syrian voices need to be heard in that process and that this has to lead us to a government inclusive and representative of the Syrian people, which cannot be Assad.

QUESTION: Yeah, where is that, though, in the --

MR KIRBY: I’m getting there.


MR KIRBY: So you asked me – the first question you asked me is why isn’t it in there. And the answer is because not everybody agrees.

QUESTION: Exactly. Well, I knew the answer to the question. But I wanted --

MR KIRBY: But then why did you ask me?

QUESTION: Well, because I’m – because I want to go back to the little – the discussion that was being had yesterday. You guys are signing off on an agreement that does not guarantee or even mention what one of your main policy – what you claim is your main policy goal, right?

MR KIRBY: Well, in the work of bringing 20 participants together – you know this better than me; I know you know this better than me – when you’re trying to drive to a conclusion --


MR KIRBY: -- a very specific one, you’ve got to start broad.


MR KIRBY: And so in Geneva, way back in 2012, and then of course we move forward to Vienna – if you look at the first communique, very, very broad, not as many participants; the second Vienna communique – more specific, more participants. And now, here at the third gathering of the ISSG, if all goes well tomorrow, we’ll end up with a UN Security Council resolution with more solidification.


MR KIRBY: So not everybody is unified about the future of Assad inside the ISSG. That comes as no surprise, I’m sure. And we understand that. What’s important for the United States at this point in the process is that we keep driving towards the ultimate objective, which is a Syrian government away from Assad, toward inclusiveness and representative of the Syrian people. And we understand that there’s an awful lot of work that still has to go to get to that goal. And one of the key issues still outstanding is the future of Assad and not only how long does he stay, but in what capacity does he stay. All that work still needs to be done.


MR KIRBY: And it is still – but it is – but don’t mistake U.S. policy and U.S. objectives with the objectives being sought more broadly by 19 other participants. You can expect that not everything we may want to see and every way we want to see it is going to be reflected in the broader context.

QUESTION: I get it. But what you’ve just said is what you won’t get agreement on is how long he stays and what position he’ll be in as he stays, correct?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say we --

QUESTION: The key word is “stay.”

MR KIRBY: I did not --


MR KIRBY: Hang on --

QUESTION: – what I’m – my point is, is it not – is it really your view, belief that Assad has to go? Is that not more of an aspirational thing than it is a policy thing that you can actually bring about?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think it can be both. Something can be aspirational and still be your policy. Our policy hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you – then you would have to conduct yourself in a way that led to your aspiration going high. You’re helping rebels who are not fighting Assad. You’re – and you’re agreeing --

MR KIRBY: But are fighting ISIL.

QUESTION: Right, but you – but your goal here is to get rid of Assad, you say.

MR KIRBY: I mean, there’s two issues inside Syria, not --

QUESTION: Yeah. But you’re – but one of them is to get – so your military assistance, what – such as it is, it is not going to further your policy of getting rid of Assad.

MR KIRBY: Because our policy is there has to be a political solution, not a military one.

QUESTION: No, no, because when the Secretary came into office, his entire point on Syria was that you had to change the calculation for Assad on the battlefield, change the – to do things that change his calculation. That has not worked. He has – he’s still there. His calculation hasn’t changed. You’re signing on to a Russian plan – am I right? – that says nothing about Assad, correct?

MR KIRBY: I actually – I think I’d take issue with some of what you just said, but there’s so much in there. So look, our --

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: How about the part where --

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second.

QUESTION: -- it doesn’t mention Assad? I like that last question. (Laughter.) Does it mention Assad --

QUESTION: And I will stop after this.

QUESTION: -- in the resolution that you plan on signing tomorrow?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of a resolution that hasn’t been solidified yet, Justin. I just won’t do it.

So look, a couple of big points here that I’d like to make. Our view about Assad and his future has not changed. We still believe that he cannot be a part of the future of Syria.


MR KIRBY: No, let me – please let me finish.

QUESTION: But John, just – you’re – it’s our view, it’s our belief.

MR KIRBY: It is. That is our policy. It has not changed. But the Secretary has also said, and you’ve heard him yourself over --

QUESTION: Yeah, but you – at the same time as you say that, though, you talk about how long he stays and in what position he stays --

MR KIRBY: In what capacity.

QUESTION: In what capacity he stays is --

MR KIRBY: If you want to --

QUESTION: -- has not yet been decided. And what I’m trying to say is that the key word in those phrases is “stays,” not “ goes,” no?

MR KIRBY: He – yeah, right. But --

QUESTION: Okay. All right. I’m done.

MR KIRBY: Like, look, if you come to – look, Matt, if you come to stay at my house, my expectation is eventually you’re going to go. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, you know what they say about --

MR KIRBY: Especially you, all right? So --

QUESTION: You know what they say about fish and guests, right?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, exactly, right? Okay. So we understand that during at least part of this political transition process – I’ve said this before – we – there hasn’t been decisions made about whether he leaves on day one, week one, month one. The Secretary said that himself. But that he has to go, that he has to give up power, that he cannot be the leader of Syria going forward --


MR KIRBY: -- is not in dispute in terms of American policy. Not --

QUESTION: But I don’t see anything in what you’re doing – what’s going to happen tomorrow or what has happened to this point – that says that. That’s my only point, and I’ll stop.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Long process. This is just – this is the third gathering of the ISSG. I fully expect there will be more. I can’t sit here and tell you straight up that tomorrow is going to solve all of the Assad issues. There is still disparity inside the ISSG about Assad and his future – no question about that; nobody’s arguing about that. That is why this process is so important. You keep – and it’s fair for you to say, well, there’s nothing in the process; I don’t see it – fair. But the process is still fairly nascent in development.

QUESTION: The process has been – no it’s not. It’s three years old. It’s based on the Geneva --

MR KIRBY: This particular format is.

QUESTION: I know. I understand that, but there has been zero movement on Assad for three years. And so --

MR KIRBY: And it’s not like we’re being complacent about it or we’re happy about it.

QUESTION: John, just to follow up on this point. Wouldn’t you say that priorities have shifted or have changed since you guys took the position back in 2011? Secretary Clinton said that he has to go and his days are numbered and so on. With the rise of ISIS, the priorities have actually changed, where Assad might have --

MR KIRBY: No, I – no, I disagree.

QUESTION: -- a role to play.

MR KIRBY: I disagree.

QUESTION: I mean, considering that there are minorities and people and populations and communities that look to him as their representative.

MR KIRBY: We talked about this yesterday, and I disagree. I mean, look, nothing’s changed about our view that he can’t be part of the future of Syria, that he needs to go. Nothing’s changed about that. But you can’t legislate diplomacy. It doesn’t work like that. You don’t sit down at a table with 19 other participants and say, “And here’s the day he has to go.” That would throw sand in the gears of this process faster than anything, and it would stop. And the Secretary, quite the contrary, wants to keep the momentum going. And the way you do that is you bring everybody in, all of the stakeholders, and you start to discuss these issues of contention. That’s what diplomacy’s about. It’s about dealing with the areas in which you disagree. And so there’s still disagreements; we know that. And it’s still – the process continues.

QUESTION: So let me ask you this. Was it a mistake, basically, to state this as a goal? Did it hamstring you in any way; did it really hinder your process, sort of constrained your elbow room and negotiation and so on by saying Assad must stay – must go, and stating this as a primary goal of the whole thing rather than ending the civil war?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think --

QUESTION: Rather than bringing about some sort of a political transition?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think the Secretary would say that it’s hampered the discussion at all. I mean, every participant in the ISSG has a view on Assad. And not all of them are the same. Many other nations share our same policies and – with respect to Assad and his role in the future of Syria. Others do not. But some of those others who do not have influence with the Assad regime and have interest in Syria, and so those views have to be countered in and factored into the discussions, and they are, and they will be. But I don’t want to leave you with the expectation that, A, our position has changed on Assad, or B, that we’re going to have this entirely wrapped up and sealed in a nice little Christmas gift tomorrow. It’s just not going to work that way. There’s still a lot more work that has to be done.

QUESTION: For tomorrow, when – we’re a bit confused. If you could clarify, when the Jordanians come in and say these are the – this is the moderate opposition that are going to be part of the process – is that when it’s – it’s going to happen during the morning session? Or is it tomorrow, or is it thereafter?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said yesterday, it’s not like – it’s not like a homework assignment. It’s not like we said, “Go here and turn in the list,” okay?

QUESTION: Right. I understand.

MR KIRBY: But as I said to Matt, I think you can expect that the ISSG will be interested in hearing about Jordan’s progress and the work that they’re doing. It is going to be iterative. I can’t tell you sitting here today that all of that’s going to be resolved tomorrow, but certainly it’s going to be a topic of discussion.


MR KIRBY: Yeah, Nick.

QUESTION: -- along the same lines, you may remember what the Secretary said in Greece a few weeks ago. He said basically that if we want to see the opposition and the regime starting cooperating and discussing, there should be a level of confidence that at the end of the day, Assad will go. So can we expect that – as Matt said, can we expect that this notion that Assad has to go without any timeline would appear in the UN resolution or communique at the end of the meeting in New York?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to get ahead of a resolution that’s not been solidified yet. That’s a big function and task tomorrow to get at that, and I just won’t get ahead of it. But the Secretary wasn’t wrong when he said, look, if you want to have political negotiations that include the opposition, with – sitting down with the regime, you’re not going to be able to get them to that – to want to do that if there’s not an expectation in their minds that Assad has to go. And that’s been communicated.

QUESTION: Is this --

MR KIRBY: And they gathered in Riyadh, they came up with their own negotiating principles, and that’s, again, all part of the process.

QUESTION: But should it be stated on paper that at the end of the day, Assad has to go and that this is – that the U.S., as you said yesterday, nobody has given up the notion that President Assad has to go? Can it be reason of --

MR KIRBY: There are still differences of opinion about Assad and his specific future. I would point you back to the Vienna communique, the last one in November, though. It did talk about getting to a unified, pluralistic, nonsectarian, whole Syria, right. Yes, I recognize it didn’t say in there the three words “Assad must go.” But it did talk about the kind of future that we were going to seek, and the process through which we wanted to seek it – political process, negotiation, inclusive of the Syrian voice. It’s safe to say, I think factually, that you’re not going to be able to achieve that goal as stated in the Vienna communique with Assad still retaining full power and being in – being the leader of his country. But we’re not ready yet, I don’t think, to commit in writing the specific parameters.

That’s why these meetings are so important. That’s why it still has to be discussed. But nothing’s changed about our goal. I can’t speak for every nation at the table. I can certainly speak for the United States. Nothing’s changed about what we want to see in Syria, in particular what we want to see from a responsive and representative government in Syria that Syrians can be proud of and that can help not only sustain their security and their safety, but their prosperity.

Yeah, Justin.

QUESTION: I want to change topics.

QUESTION: Wait, just on – I got one more.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: You said you were done.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but you just raised this “unified, pluralistic, nonsectarian,” and “whole Syria.” Prior to 2011, which of those adjectives applied to Syria?

MR KIRBY: Prior to 2011?

QUESTION: Prior to the uprising against him. Would you say that Syria was unified then? Was it nonsectarian then?

MR KIRBY: I don't know. I’m not a historian, Matt.

QUESTION: Was it whole?

MR KIRBY: I’m not a historian. All I know is that prior to the demonstrations, he had a choice of how he handled them, and he handled it exactly the wrong way.

Go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION: Do you have one on Syria?


QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: One on the same topic. As you mentioned, one of the goals of the morning meeting is to look at the possible implementation of a ceasefire. How close is the connection between getting this ceasefire going and this list that’s being drafted by Jordan on terrorists? In other words, if there is not a finalized list from Jordan, is the process in moving forward with a ceasefire going to be delayed until there is a list and agreement on that list of who’s a terrorist?

MR KIRBY: It’s certainly going to – that work will help inform the work of getting to a ceasefire. And I think you can expect that some groups, whether they’re on a list or not – I mean, if you’re not willing to observe a ceasefire, then you’re outside the parameters of a ceasefire. So I think it’ll help inform those efforts, Pam, but if you’re asking is it going to – does it have to be done prior to, I would say not necessarily because the work of establishing the parameters of a ceasefire has to continue. And as I said, I think you can expect them to try to work their way through that tomorrow in New York. So, I mean, they’re tandem efforts, they’re related, and the Secretary believes they both need to move forward that way.

Yeah, Laura.

QUESTION: Yeah. Mine is on ISIS, so switching gears but still on Syria. There are some reports today that the U.S. has sent another shipment of ammunition to the Syrian Arab rebels that are taking on ISIS. I was wondering – this is a little bit of a broad question – but if you can sort of give us an assessment of have these moderate rebels made any progress towards going after ISIS, and is that something that you can quantify for us? I know that’s a broad question.

MR KIRBY: I would really have to refer you to the Defense Department. Yeah, I mean, I’m not privy to information about materiel assistance to groups. It’s really more for DOD to speak to. And as for specific – all I can say is, broadly speaking, there are many groups that – in the counter-ISIL campaign that we have worked with and will continue to work with and support. Not all are Arab groups, obviously. Some are Kurdish groups and some – there’s some Turkmen groups. But DOD is really in a better position to speak to progress on the ground, and I really try to stay away from that. But there has been, broadly speaking, many groups that have received support from the United States – and from the coalition – have made progress against ISIL inside Syria.

QUESTION: In terms of land, in terms of (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, in terms of territory retaken or regained, in terms of progress towards going after their infrastructure, their sources of revenue, and of course their loss of leadership at various levels.

QUESTION: Just one on that, John. I know it’s a DOD – maybe it’s a DOD question, but apart from the Kurdish forces, even though you are – you keep saying that all the weapons go to the Arab forces. Who else has made any progress against ISIS, really?

MR KIRBY: Again, I think I’m not going to give you an operational battlefield readout here. There has been progress made by not – I mean, the Kurdish forces fighting ISIL have been very effective. There’s no doubt about that, no question. And they continue to get support in terms of air power from the coalition. The other groups have made some progress too. I just don’t have a readout here for you of every place on the battlefield and how it’s going. But it’s – they’re – the groups fighting ISIL are not just Kurds. There are Turkmen, there are Arab groups, and they are fighting bravely. And to the degree that the coalition can, the coalition will continue to support them.

Okay. Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Well, why can’t we go to Japan?

QUESTION: We can go to Japan.

MR KIRBY: Are you sure? (Laughter.) Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any response to or comment on the acquittal of Japanese journalist Tatsuya Kato in South Korea?

MR KIRBY: I think I do somewhere in here. We are aware of reports that the Seoul Central District Court found Sankei Shimbun journalist Tatsuya Kato – is that right --


MR KIRBY: -- not guilty of defamation. We refer you to the South Korean Government for details of this legal proceeding.

QUESTION: May I follow up --

QUESTION: Do you --

QUESTION: -- on this?

QUESTION: That was --

MR KIRBY: You can.

QUESTION: We’re aware of it.

MR KIRBY: You can certainly – you can certainly give it a shot. Go ahead.

QUESTION: State Department in its annual Human Rights Report of the South Korea raised the concerns about the South Korea legal system related to defamation. Following this judgment, what do you expect Korean Government to do to improve the – its press freedom situation?

MR KIRBY: On this – on this judgment, again, I’m going to refer you to the South Korean Government. I think – I’m not going to get into details on human rights issues in any one country. You can go to our website, look at our Human Rights Report. It’s all there – virtually every country in the world and it’s publicly available – where we express our views and our concerns, and we’re not bashful about doing that. But in terms of this specific case, I’d refer you to the South Korean Government.

QUESTION: But this specific case was mentioned in the Human Rights Report.

MR KIRBY: I’m – I’ve said all I’m going to say on this.

Yeah, Said.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?


QUESTION: All right. Could I go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Okay. I wanted to ask you – there was a rather pernicious video that came out yesterday by an organization called the Im Tirtzu that equates human rights – Israeli human rights activists with terrorists and others, and quite intimidating. It’s against B’Tselem, against Breaking the Silence and so on. I wonder if you have any comment on that. And some say that it is actually financed and supported by the Israeli Government.

MR KIRBY: Well, certainly aware of the reports. I don’t have a lot of information on it at this time. As I would say – as we’ve said in the past, that we want every government to do what it can to protect free expression and peaceful dissent and to create an atmosphere where all voices are heard. I mean, if allegations like that are true, obviously, that would be deeply concerning. But like I say, we’re aware of it and we’re monitoring it.

QUESTION: And I just want to follow up with two more questions, just if I may. I hope you indulge me. One on the – on December 3rd, the Israelis announced that they arrested some groups responsible for the terror attack in Duma that killed the Dawabsha family. But today the Israeli defense minister told the Israeli army radio that they don’t have enough evidence. Although they know the group, they cannot bring evidence. Do you have confidence in the Israeli – in this case – in the Israeli justice system to bring those perpetrators to justice, as you have demanded?

MR KIRBY: As we understand it, the investigation is still underway --


MR KIRBY: -- and we’re going to wait and see what happens there. As I’ve also said before – you’ve heard me say it’s critical that the perpetrators of the attack against this family are prosecuted and they’re brought to justice. As you know, we’ve condemned this vicious terrorist attack in the strongest possible terms, and we, again, convey our deep condolences to the family. But for specific details about something that’s under investigation, I’d refer you to Israel authorities.

QUESTION: All right. And I have just a couple more. On the interview with Secretary Kerry with The New Yorker, he warned that Israel – there is no two-state solution. Israel is either headed towards not being Jewish or not being democratic, which many talk about. But are we likely to see any kind of movement towards reigniting the peace process, perhaps getting something going, although everybody sort of discards that possibility in the next 10 months or so?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, that’s really up for the parties to determine. We would still like to see progress made towards getting to a two-state solution, but it’s going to take concerted effort by the parties. And as long as there continues to be violence and no affirmative action or steps taken to try to lay out a process forward, that’s going to be exceedingly difficult. And the Secretary was very honest about that, not just when he was in the region but at a speech at the Saban Forum. But we are still interested in trying to pursue that goal, but we can’t do it alone.

QUESTION: And I’m sorry, this is my last one. The Palestinian Authority, their law enforcement is – there are allegations of torture in Israeli-Palestinian – I mean, I’m sorry, Palestinian Authority jails and so on, of those are arrested and trying them and so on. I mean, you support Palestinian security forces, but obviously they are conducting or there are allegations that they are conducting torture against civilians and so on. Do you have any information on that? And do you have – if you do, are you doing anything about it?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any specific information on that. Obviously, if it’s true, that also would be deeply concerning to us and an issue that we would obviously want authorities to look into and to stop. But I don’t have any specifics on it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: While we’re on this – in this area, I’m just wondering – and if you don’t have anything, if maybe you could just check – I’m just wondering if there’s an update on – if you have an update on the confidence-building measures that were agreed to when the Secretary was in the region between the Israelis, the Jordanians, and to a certain extent the Palestinians – in particular, the cameras.

MR KIRBY: I do not have an update on that.

QUESTION: Is that because there is no update?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update on it. I’ll take the question.

QUESTION: Okay. The – it would be not just whether the cameras are – but a month later – it doesn’t take a lot to string up some webcams or whatever. I’m just wondering, if there is a holdup, what it is. And then on the incitement part – and you probably spoke about this while we were away with the Secretary, but if you haven’t, could you do it now about President Abbas saying that the violence, the stabbing incidents, the car rammings, is justified?

MR KIRBY: No, we did address this.

QUESTION: You did? Okay.

MR KIRBY: We did address it, but I mean, I’m – it’s – I’ll say the same thing, which is that we’re not going to react to each and every comment except to say that – and we’ve said it before – that we want to see affirmative action and steps taken by all sides here to include acts of rhetoric and other physical acts that do nothing but escalate the tensions.


MR KIRBY: So I don’t want to characterize each and every event. Let me take your question on the cameras --

QUESTION: On the cameras.

MR KIRBY: -- and the other measures.

QUESTION: But just on the kind of comments, though, do – is that a – do you regard a statement like that from the PA president as incitement, or --

MR KIRBY: As I said, I’m not going to characterize each and every comment. What we want to see more broadly is that each side take positive steps --

QUESTION: Okay. Have you seen that?

MR KIRBY: -- to reduce the tension and the violence. Well, look, clearly there still are acts of violence. And as the Secretary said in a speech not long ago, just before the trip, there continues to be incitement to acts of violence, and we need to see that stop. But I’m not going to characterize each and every comment.

QUESTION: Well, right, I understand that. But if you can’t characterize what is incitement and what is not, how can you call for an end to it?

MR KIRBY: Because it still happens, it’s still going on, and --

QUESTION: Yeah. So --

MR KIRBY: -- but I’m not going to use the podium to react to each and every comment made and each and every statement. I think incitement is a fairly self-evident thing. We want it to stop. To the degree that it leads to additional violence, that’s not good for anybody there or in the region.

QUESTION: Except that it’s not self-evident to the people who are saying it. If they don’t think they’re inciting something, they’re not going to stop doing it. If you think that it is incitement and others think that it is, then shouldn’t it be called out as incitement?

MR KIRBY: And the Secretary has. He’s spoken very baldly about --

QUESTION: But you just said you’re not going to --

MR KIRBY: -- about acts of incitement and inflammatory rhetoric that we want to see stop. I know what you’d like me to do, which is to --

QUESTION: No, I just want --

MR KIRBY: -- characterize each statement, and I won’t do that.

QUESTION: Well, I want you to call a spade a spade. If you think that something’s incitement and you think that someone is not doing what you’ve asked them to do, I would expect that the Government of the United States would call them out on it and say, “Look, you can’t – you shouldn’t be saying things like this.”


QUESTION: But if you don’t want to characterize every statement, then why even bother calling for an end to incitement?

MR KIRBY: We have made that argument, that exact argument, very clear publicly, and we’ve made it privately with leaders on all sides.


QUESTION: Thanks. I’d like to change the subject to the email controversy. You probably saw today that Ash Carter – it was reported that he had been using his own private email account to conduct official business during the few first months of his tenure at the DOD, in violation of DOD rules. And this was after the Clinton scandal broke. And back in October, you acknowledged that Secretary Kerry uses his private email and that it’s scrubbed occasionally by State Department employees to see if he’s conducting any official business. So is there really a difference between what he’s doing and what Carter is doing, and have you found that he’s been using his private email for official business since this whole Clinton story broke?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m – I think the Pentagon has already spoken to Secretary Carter’s email use, and I’m not going to characterize it. It wouldn’t be appropriate. What I can say is what we’ve said before, that Secretary Kerry primarily uses a state.gov email account for his daily work, and he takes the steps necessary to ensure that his records are appropriately captured regardless of their origin. And his use of email is in line with Department policy. So to the degree that a private email is sent to him or used by him, it is appropriately preserved and captured and archived, as it should be. But he does his work primarily on his state.gov account.

QUESTION: Would you also say that he occasionally uses his private email for work business, whether inadvertent or not?

MR KIRBY: It is – the short answer is of course. He can’t prevent somebody from emailing him if they have his private email account. But when that happens, we have a process in place and a system – and it is monitored, by the way, his private email account – so that it – that traffic is appropriately captured and archived in the system. And he insists himself on using his state.gov primarily for his work. But it is impossible to completely take off the table the fact that some people send him emails on his private account.


MR KIRBY: The same happens to me.

QUESTION: Is he --

QUESTION: Who monitors that? Is that the Russians --

MR KIRBY: There’s somebody on --

QUESTION: -- or the Chinese?

MR KIRBY: There’s somebody on our staff who --

QUESTION: Gets copied in every single email?

MR KIRBY: -- monitors his personal email account so that --

QUESTION: Do you have --

MR KIRBY: -- it can be properly – so that those emails can be all properly captured.

QUESTION: But to Matt’s point, I mean, are there concerns about the security of his private email? Are there extra measures taken?

MR KIRBY: I won’t get into security measures, but I think you can safely assume that we take email security, particularly his, very, very, seriously. But I won’t get into publicly discussing --

QUESTION: Even within his – but even within his private account? We know his state.gov presumably would have securities, but what about his private email? Do you take extra measures there?

MR KIRBY: There’s – of course, appropriate security measures are taken, but I won’t go into detail beyond that.

QUESTION: All right. But you said that Secretary Kerry’s use of private emails fit – it’s compliant with the Department’s rules and regulations, correct?

MR KIRBY: Correct.

QUESTION: Isn’t that – that’s the same position that the Department had about Secretary Clinton’s use of private --

MR KIRBY: At the time --

QUESTION: -- at the time?

MR KIRBY: -- when she did it, it was in line with Department policy. Department policy has changed --


MR KIRBY: -- and the Secretary is in compliance with the new policies.

QUESTION: Is he a day-to-day email – does he email – would you say he uses it every day?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary uses email regularly. I don’t have a record of how many he sends or receives on a daily basis, but of course, he uses email regularly. Yeah. It’s important to remember it’s not – it’s not that you can’t ever use personal email. It’s that it has to be properly captured and archived, and to the degree possible, shifted over to the state.gov account for further work.


QUESTION: John, reportedly Qasem Soleimani visited Moscow last week, and I was wondering --


QUESTION: Qasem Soleimani.



MR KIRBY: Yeah. We’ve seen the reports. I’m in no position to confirm or deny that travel.

QUESTION: Yeah. And did Secretary Kerry send a letter to Senate Foreign Relation Committee on Iran deal saying that Iran is fulfilling its obligations under the international agreement --

MR KIRBY: This was a normal certification letter required by the Secretary to Congress that he submitted to Senator Corker. And it basically lays out that thus far, Iran has been compliant with the JCPOA, but it was a normal required certification letter.

QUESTION: When was it sent?

MR KIRBY: Yesterday.

QUESTION: And are you releasing it publicly or --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know of plans to release it publicly.


QUESTION: Can I change the topic? Cuba? Cuba yesterday, they talk about the civil aviation. Do you have any comments on that and the diplomatic relationships?

MR KIRBY: Well, as you know – and we’ve released a media note about this today – so we did reach bilateral agreement to establish scheduled air services between the two countries. It’s going to continue to allow charter operations, which exist now, and establish some scheduled air service, which will help facilitate an increase in authorized travel – and you know we’ve talked about the kinds of travel that is authorized and that which is not – which will enhance traveler choices and help, as we believe, to promote people-to-people links between Cuba and the United States.

So it’s an important step forward in the normalization process, but it is just one step. There are many more steps to come, obviously. So we welcome this agreement and look forward to seeing it get into effect.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Could I have a quick question on Iraq? There was a phone call today between Vice President Biden and Haider Abadi, where they both welcomed Turkey’s pulling back its forces from Iraq. Can you confirm that the forces are actually being pulled back?

MR KIRBY: I, as you know, am not going to speak to military matters, Said.


MR KIRBY: I would simply point you to what the public record has been on this. And Turkey should speak to Turkish military units. That’s not my place to do that.

But as I’ve said before, since the very beginning, we’ve urged the dialogue between Turkey and Iraq to work this out bilaterally, and we’re encouraged by the dialogue that has continued to occur between the two countries on this issue.

QUESTION: John, on this topic, are you in touch with Turkey that their base in north Iraq was attacked by ISIL yesterday, and reportedly at least four Turkish soldiers were injured?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. I don’t have an operational update for you on that. I’ll take one more.


QUESTION: Still on Turkey, there’s some early reporting that a planned attack on the U.S. consulate in Istanbul was thwarted, that there were some arrests made. Do you have anything on that? Is that something that the U.S. participated in at all?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak to specific security and intelligence matters. You saw that there were a series of security messages we put out last week both in Ankara and Istanbul. We’re working closely with Turkish authorities on these security threats. We wouldn’t have issued those messages if we didn’t have reason to do that. Obviously, security is a paramount concern. We take it very seriously, and we’re going to continue to work with Turkish authorities as they work through examining these threats. But I won’t go – I can’t go into any more detail than that.

QUESTION: But you can’t say whether that threat’s been resolved? Because it sounds like maybe there’s been some activity.

MR KIRBY: I can tell you we’re always vigilant; we must always be vigilant for terrorist threats. And beyond that, I’m really not at liberty to go.

Thank you, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:15 p.m.)