Daily Press Briefing - April 14, 2016
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 --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
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 --
MR KIRBY: Sure.
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 --
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?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
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?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
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.
MR KIRBY: Yes.
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.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
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: John --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
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.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: So today, as you noted in the beginning in your remark, is the 28th anniversary --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
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.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
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?
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.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are you sending him a birthday greeting? (Laughter.)
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.
QUESTION: John --
MR KIRBY: I’ve already talked to you.
QUESTION: No --
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.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
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?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Palestinian-Israeli issue.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
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.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
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.
MR KIRBY: But in this case I’m going to be precise.
QUESTION: Some --
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?
MR KIRBY: No.
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: Well --
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.)