Daily Press Briefing - April 25, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:15 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.
MR KIRBY: Hope everybody had a good weekend.
Okay, couple things here at the top. Today, I think as many of you know, marks the first anniversary of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated central Nepal, killing an estimated 9,000 people. It also injured about 25,000 more and left more than 6 million homeless. As we did then, today too on this anniversary we commend the courage of the many individuals who provided assistance to those in need, and we pay tribute especially to those who lost their lives doing so, including the six United States Marines and their Nepali counterparts that were killed in a helicopter crash while trying to help victims.
The American people continue to offer our sympathy to the families of all those who perished in the earthquake and we continue to stand right – right beside the people of Nepal. Since the earthquake, in fact, we have provided approximately $130 million for relief, recovery, and reconstruction operations which include search and rescue deployments, emergency shelter, drinking water, food aid, and support to protect survivors against gender-based violence and human trafficking.
Secretary Kerry and Under Secretary Shannon met today with Nepal’s deputy prime minister, who was here in Washington. The Secretary and the under secretary encouraged Nepal to keep up the pace on earthquake reconstruction. While recognizing the significance of Nepal’s constitution, the Secretary urged Nepal to continue working as well to ensure it meets all the aspirations of the Nepali people.
On Bangladesh, I think some of you have seen these press reports. Suffice it to say we’re outraged by the barbaric attack on Mr. Xulhaz Mannan, a beloved member of our embassy family and a courageous advocate for LGBTI rights – human rights, actually. As you know, brutally murdered in his home alongside another fellow activist. An act like this simply is beyond words, unjustifiable, inexcusable, and our heartfelt condolences of course go out to his mother, to his family, to his friends, and to his colleagues, as well as all those who knew and loved the other individual who was also brutally murdered with him.
As we mourn his death, we celebrate Xulhaz’s life and everything he contributed to Bangladesh, to the United States, and to the global struggle for human rights and dignity. And we pledge our support to Bangladeshi authorities to ensure that the cowards who did this are held accountable. Bangladesh is justifiably proud of its history as a moderate, tolerant, inclusive society that values the diversity of its people, culture, and religions, and this attack fundamentally seeks to undermine all that Bangladesh stands for and all that the Bangladeshi people have strived to bring about in recent years. And I think you’ll see that we’ll have more to say about this later in the day – another statement – but I just wanted to say that right at the top.
Finally, by way of readout, the Secretary did speak today separately with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and Republic of Armenia President Serzh Sargsian. They discussed – in both calls, he discussed and these leaders discussed the need for the sides to strictly adhere to the ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and to enter into negotiations on a comprehensive settlement. The Secretary also reviewed ongoing bilateral cooperation with both leaders.
With that, Matt.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: There was some talk a week or so ago, or maybe it was even longer than that, about possible – the U.S. possibly offering refuge to people who have been threatened --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- with attacks like this one.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, this is humanitarian parole.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Has that gotten anywhere?
MR KIRBY: It is still an option under consideration. It’s really the Department of Homeland Security, as you know, that actually makes the determinations on this. But the – but in the cases of a select number of individuals who remain in imminent danger, that is one option under consideration, and we certainly haven’t closed that door.
QUESTION: Okay. But from this building’s point of view, is it something that you’re advocating with DHS or with other branches of the Administration?
MR KIRBY: Without getting into specific cases, which I can’t, we certainly --
QUESTION: Not specific cases, no. I just want to know, in general, does the State Department think that this is a good or wise thing to do?
MR KIRBY: We think that this is a valuable tool that should be considered. It’s obviously up to DHS to make the final determinations, but it’s a door that we would like to see stay open.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but do you want it to be open? I mean, do you want – does the State Department – is the State Department encouraging DHS to go ahead and do this?
MR KIRBY: We are in consultations with DHS about the value of this tool, this vehicle, and we – suffice it to say we’re – we think it’s – it has value. We would like to see it considered on a case-by-case basis as needed. We certainly would encourage DHS to consider using it as appropriate, but it’s ultimately up to them.
QUESTION: Okay. So it’s not just leaving the door open. You’re actually asking them to consider using --
MR KIRBY: We encourage – we’re certainly encouraging them to continue to evaluate that as a possible vehicle, yes.
QUESTION: And --
QUESTION: Can you say how many cases there are?
MR KIRBY: I cannot.
QUESTION: And what do they call it?
MR KIRBY: It’s called humanitarian parole.
QUESTION: All right, I want to move on if I could.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you go through that one more – or go through it now, what exactly you did? And do these restrictions apply only to the foreign minister and his immediate delegation, or are they going to be extended? Do they extend to the whole North Korean mission in New York?
MR KIRBY: They were – it was really applied to him and his delegation. It was for while they were in New York for the UN. The restrictions were simple in terms of he could travel to the UN, he could certainly travel to his hotel, he could travel to the airport, and he could travel to their mission there. Beyond that though, there were – his movements were restricted and it was – it was a decision that we made in the wake of the weekend’s missile tests.
QUESTION: Right. But it only – it doesn’t apply to the North Korean delegation at their mission to the UN? They’re --
MR KIRBY: No, it was applied to him --
MR KIRBY: -- during his stay.
QUESTION: And does that mean – I mean, how strictly was it enforced? I mean, was he allowed to go to dinner?
MR KIRBY: I’m sure we didn’t prevent him from eating while he was in New York.
QUESTION: Well, I mean --
MR KIRBY: But his movements were restricted to those – in those four areas. I’m pretty sure that his hotel I’m sure offered dinner options. But --
QUESTION: I know. Well, but I mean, technically he wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere other than the places that you just mentioned.
MR KIRBY: Yes, that was --
QUESTION: His hotel, the North Korean mission to the UN --
MR KIRBY: His mission, the UN, hotel, the airport. Those were the four limits. Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. And it’s – now that he’s gone --
MR KIRBY: That’s right.
QUESTION: It doesn’t apply to anyone else?
MR KIRBY: It was applied just – given his circumstances in New York in the wake of the test.
QUESTION: All right, thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yep.
QUESTION: That’s it?
QUESTION: That’s it --
QUESTION: On --
QUESTION: Could – can we go to Syria?
MR KIRBY: Lesley, did you have something?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: I was wondering if the Secretary actually raised with Kabila, President Kabila, the issue of him possibly staying on longer for another term and wondering whether that was in fact discussed and whether – what Kabila told him.
MR KIRBY: Well, what I can tell you is they –acknowledging that the DRC is heading into an historic transition, the Secretary did emphasize that the U.S. stands ready to be a partner to all those that are committed to timely, credible elections as called for by the DRC’s constitution. He also emphasized that the future of the DRC must be shaped by the Congolese people, all of whom must have the right to assemble and speak free of intimidation. So it was a discussion about the electoral process in DRC and quite frankly about the role played by President Kabila and his family in establishing the DRC as a strong constitutional democracy. And again, the Secretary stressed that a peaceful transition there in the DRC will allow President Kabila to cement his legacy.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary get the feeling that the president was going to – was moving in the direction of staying another term?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, I wouldn’t speak specifically to President Kabila’s side of the conversation. I can just tell you what the Secretary said, which is – and made it clear what our expectations are in terms of the country moving forward in accordance with its own constitution, which calls for credible elections that, again, allow for all Congolese people to have their voice –have their voices and their votes heard. And I think I’d leave it at that.
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead. Syria.
MR KIRBY: Bangladesh? You want to still stay on that? Okay.
QUESTION: You said something about that he was working with the embassy. The reports from there are saying that he was working with the USAID. Can you confirm that? And what about the security of other staff? I’m not talking about the ambassador level, but the local staff and all that, because there’s a rampant hacking going on and so Benghazi is still --
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of anybody else associated with the U.S. embassy involved in any other violent acts other than --
QUESTION: No, you’re not. But what about their security?
MR KIRBY: Well, we don’t talk about the details of force protection and security. I can just assure you that all our embassies overseas take security – physical security very seriously. The degree to which it’s been adjusted in light of this I wouldn’t speak to publicly. We’re always revising, modifying our security posture as appropriate to keep our people safe. And the last thing we’d want to do is detail what that might be. Certainly, we’re mindful of the recent violence there in Bangladesh. And again, as I said at the outset, it absolutely stands in stark contrast to the direction that Bangladesh has been moving as a country.
QUESTION: How many --
QUESTION: John, would you --
QUESTION: Can we --
MR KIRBY: It’s okay. We’ll get to everybody. Just – everybody just relax.
QUESTION: Can you give us a breakdown of how many people are there who are locals and are in danger because --
MR KIRBY: If you’re asking me how many locally employed staff we have, I don’t know that number. And frankly, I don’t even know if we give that number out.
QUESTION: But you can confirm --
MR KIRBY: And then your question about how many are in danger, I mean, we don’t know --
QUESTION: There’s --
MR KIRBY: But look --
MR KIRBY: -- the question presumes that the motivation for his killing was that he was associated with the United States. We don’t know the motivation here. Nobody has claimed responsibility for this. So there’s a lot of work that has to be done, and I’m not going to leap ahead of an investigation here and try to represent outcomes or intent here. What we do know is that he was a staunch defender of LGBT rights – that’s beyond dispute – and that he was brutally, viciously murdered in his own home, and that’s just atrocious and barbaric. And we want to do what we can – what’s appropriate – to help the Bangladeshi authorities investigate this and bring the perpetrators to justice. That’s what we know right now.
QUESTION: So can you confirm that he was with USAID or with the embassy, in what --
MR KIRBY: He was affiliated with the U.S. embassy family, and as far as I know, he did some work for USAID.
QUESTION: John --
QUESTION: In fact, John, you don’t provide security to locally employed staff, do you, I mean anywhere? The U.S. Embassy is not obligated to provide security for those locally employed?
MR KIRBY: To the degree that they work inside our post and embassies, they are --
QUESTION: Right, inside the embassy but not --
MR KIRBY: They enjoy the protection, the physical protection --
QUESTION: Once they go to their homes and businesses, whatever, they’re not --
MR KIRBY: But do – it – I’m not – again, it --
QUESTION: I’m not aware of any situation where the – actually, the U.S. embassy or diplomatic post – they don’t provide it.
MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on diplomatic security issues, but obviously, we take physical security of our people and our employees very, very seriously, and it changes from country to country and even inside a country it will change based on physical location because sometimes we have consulates that are in – obviously in areas that are different than the actual embassy, and it changes in a temporal basis on the threat stream in any given place around the country. And Diplomatic Security takes their job very, very seriously. The modify and change as appropriate; again, all of the mind to keeping our people as safe as possible.
QUESTION: John, would you characterize this murder attack as a hate crime or a terror attack? Because there was a report that previously also (inaudible) was murdered and then some extremists claimed responsibility.
MR KIRBY: I just don’t think we’re in a position right now to speak with any authority about the motivation here. We don’t have a claim of responsibility and we don’t know what the motivation was. So I’m simply not able to speak to that right now. And again, I would – this is really a question for Bangladeshi authorities to speak to more than me anyway, but I don’t think they’re in a position right now. This just happened. They’re working their way through that. We need to let the investigators do their job before we jump to any conclusions one way or the other. Again, I think it’s important for us to just take a step back and realize that there’s a family right now and a lot of friends and loved ones that are grieving. This was absolutely horrible. And we need to keep them in mind first and foremost before we start jumping to any conclusions.
MR KIRBY: Certainly, I’ve seen some of those reports. I don’t have anything specific with respect to arrests. As we’ve said all along, and we’ve said it not just with respect to Egypt but places all over the world, but we believe in the right of free expression and for peaceful protests. And we think that’s healthy for any democracy. So again, we’re watching this closely, but I just don’t have additional comment one way or the other. And I certainly wouldn't speak to specific arrests. All we have are press reporting on this right now.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Pam, did you have something?
QUESTION: I do. It’s not Syria. It’s --
QUESTION: I just wanted you to comment if – first of all, if you’re aware of reports that the rebels bombarded an area of Aleppo that is under government control killing, like, 19 people and wounding 120 others, and maybe – some say that it may have been Jabhat al-Nusrah. Do you have any information on that?
MR KIRBY: I don’t. As you know, I try to steer away from battlefield assessments.
QUESTION: Right, right. But this has been widely reported and attributed to the same monitoring group that actually you rely on --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- in many information. And my question to you: If al-Nusrah is obviously in certain areas of Aleppo and they keep bombarding other areas, would that – should that give the government or government troops the right to go ahead and respond or defend itself and attack it?
MR KIRBY: So look, let me say a couple of things here. I mean, Aleppo, it’s no – it’s certainly no surprise to anybody, I mean, that in Aleppo there – it’s a very fluid, dynamic environment and you have interspersed and intermingled, frankly, in neighborhoods in Aleppo groups like al-Nusrah which are not party to the cessation and are legitimate targets, and you also have opposition groups that are party to the cessation, and there is a lot of intermingling that’s happening because it is such a fluid, dynamic environment. And we’ve talked about this before. Nobody is underestimating how difficult it can be in a place like Aleppo with respect to trying to separate the groups – a very tough task, a very tall order. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t doing the best we can to work with those who have influence over the opposition groups to encourage that kind of separation, but it’s very difficult to actually implement. What we – and so that’s point one.
Point two, I mean, obviously in and around Aleppo we continue to see violations of the cessation. Most of them still are being conducted by the regime. That’s just, as the math goes, a mathematical fact. We want to see all parties to the cessation – all parties – abide by their obligations under it because it’s still fragile, and in and around Aleppo we definitely are seeing more and more signs of it not holding, obviously, and that’s not where we want things to go in Syria. We certainly don’t want things to go there in Aleppo that way.
So it’s very difficult, but we have been – we’ve been very clear working through our contacts with opposition groups as well as those countries who have influence over other opposition groups to maintain their obligations under the cessation; and two, to do the best they can to avoid the intermingling, which we know makes it difficult.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on just a refugee issue related to Syria. Because in the fiscal year, which is halfway through, you guys are supposed to take in 10,000 --
MR KIRBY: Right. Yeah.
QUESTION: -- 10,000 refugees. I think the numbers now are about 1,500. The year is halfway through. Could you update us on that?
MR KIRBY: We – we’re still very committed to meeting the President’s goal of 10,000. We’ve talked about this before. I understand that with the fiscal year half over here and with still a small number of those admitted, that there’s a lot of work left to do. But we have taken steps to increase the staffing and resourcing that we’ve applied in places like Jordan in particular to screen as many potential refugees as possible – those that are referred to us by the UN, of course. But we have increased the number of staffing – numbers of staff dedicated to this and the resourcing that goes along with it to try to advance the vetting in ways that we haven’t been able to do in the past. So we’re still committed to the goal, recognize that the clock isn’t necessarily in our favor right now. I – we all get that. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to stay committed to it.
QUESTION: Can I – I just want to follow up directly on the Aleppo question from before. This morning Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia suggested that it had been America’s responsibility, in his understanding of the cessation, to persuade the HNC rebels to physically distance themselves from Jabhat al-Nusrah to make the offensive easier. Is it – was that your understanding, that in some way the United States is responsible for ensuring that separation?
MR KIRBY: The way I would put it, Dave, is that we’re all responsible for trying to make sure that the cessation is observed and recognized by all parties. Everybody has a responsibility here.
QUESTION: There’s an implication in the way you put it, though, that if the rebel – if the moderate rebels can’t get out of the way, they’re just going to get steamrollered.
MR KIRBY: Well, steamrolled by whom?
QUESTION: Well, by the Russians and the regime.
MR KIRBY: So again, I go back to what I said before. We want to see the cessation observed by all parties. As I said to my answer to Said, we’re not blind to the fact that it’s a very dynamic situation in Aleppo and that there is intermingling. We’ve said that for a while now. And we knew weeks ago, before the regime started to move on Aleppo, that in Aleppo in particular it was going to be a challenge. And it obviously has proven to be the case. So we’re going to continue to work with those opposition groups that we can influence, and we’re going to keep working with those countries on the opposition groups that they influence to do the best we can to get everybody to observe the cessation. And to the degree that the – that separation can be had between opposition and al-Nusrah, obviously that’s beneficial to preserving the cessation of hostilities, which I know has seen many violations now in Aleppo. I’m not saying that it’s held, okay. But to the degree that that intermingling can be avoided, that obviously assists in the situation, but it’s a very difficult, very fluid situation because the regime continues to move on Aleppo. And again, what we’ve said in the past is that the extension of Assad regime control over additional territory in Syria is not a good thing for the future of Syria.
QUESTION: Well, have you told them?
MR KIRBY: Have we told who?
QUESTION: Have you told, for lack of a better phrase, your guys? Have you told them to get out?
MR KIRBY: We have certainly communicated our concerns about the situation in Aleppo and the cessation and the very fluid nature of the situation there. We certainly have relayed that to opposition groups that we’re in direct contact with. We’ve also --
QUESTION: And is it your understanding that they have heeded your advice or your calls? Or are they --
MR KIRBY: Well, I think you can just see by what’s going on that there continues to be – there continues to be an intermingling.
QUESTION: So they’re not listening. So they’re not listening to you.
MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to say that. I’m just saying that --
QUESTION: Well --
MR KIRBY: -- you continue to – we continue to see a very fluid, dynamic situation on the ground. Obviously, we’d like to see the intermingling avoided.
QUESTION: Right, but it’s not just – it’s not just the Russians, then, who are not being successful in convincing their people to abide by the ceasefire. You are also admitting that you’re having problems doing that.
MR KIRBY: I think we all recognize the challenge of keeping the cessation in place --
QUESTION: All right. Can I --
MR KIRBY: -- particularly in Aleppo.
QUESTION: Can I just – on a broader Syria story? Back in 2014, the Syrian regime crossed the President’s red line on using chemical weapons, and he ended up – after saying that he would strike, ended up not. And now today he has announced 250 more troops going to Syria after saying for months and months and months that there would be no boots on the ground. I’m just curious if this is like part of some kind of devious grand strategy to say one thing and then do the complete opposite of it. And if it is, what exactly does – are you hoping to accomplish with this?
MR KIRBY: Well, I – I’m going to – obviously, I’m going to be careful not to speak to DOD equities here. But --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) strategies.
MR KIRBY: DOD? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: They – yeah, they do the devious grand strategies.
MR KIRBY: But let me – but let me talk about what this is. It is --
QUESTION: You don’t need to talk about what specifically it is that they’re doing. The fact of the matter is and the point of my question is that the Administration is doing the exact opposite in these two cases of what it said it was going to do or said it wouldn’t do.
MR KIRBY: I just – I don’t see it that way, Matt. So if I could just – just – if I could just --
QUESTION: Did the President or not say that --
MR KIRBY: If I could just tell you what it is, then we can maybe – maybe we could have a better discussion about it. It is capitalizing on what we know works, and what works is advise and assist missions, which we’ve been doing for a long time. It is not mission creep if it’s the same mission. And it’s the same mission. And he introduced about 50 Special Operations Forces on the ground. They have had a positive impact on our ability to go after Daesh inside Syria. And because it has been successful, we want to intensify – I’ve stood up here I don’t know for how many weeks and talked about the fact that we want to intensify our efforts against Daesh. This is a process which has worked, so the President has decided to increase it to the tune of 250. And there was never this – there was never this, “No boots on the ground.” I don’t know where this keeps coming from.
QUESTION: But yes there – well, yes, yes, there was.
MR KIRBY: There was no – there was – no there wasn’t. There was --
QUESTION: More than --
MR KIRBY: We’re not going to be involved in a large-scale combat mission on the ground. That is what the President has long said.
QUESTION: Are --
MR KIRBY: We have three – wait a minute, wait, wait, wait. We have 3,000-some-odd troops in Iraq already in advise and assist capacity at bases throughout the country. Don’t tell me and don’t tell them or their families that they’re not on the ground. They are very much on the ground.
QUESTION: I’m not – that’s not my – that’s not my --
MR KIRBY: But they aren’t involved in large-scale, conventional ground combat.
QUESTION: That’s not the point. The point is is that for months and months and months that the mantra from the President and everyone else in the Administration has been, “No boots on the ground” and now --
MR KIRBY: No, that is not true.
MR KIRBY: It’s just not true, Matt.
QUESTION: It is.
QUESTION: Mr. Kirby --
MR KIRBY: It’s just not true.
QUESTION: It’s true.
MR KIRBY: No, it’s not. I just flatly, absolutely disagree with you because I’ve been speaking to this when I was in uniform for over two years on this.
QUESTION: Okay. Your predecessor up here – it was, “All options are on the table except boots on the ground.” That was the --
MR KIRBY: I never said that. And --
QUESTION: Well, that was the whole line from the President on down.
QUESTION: The President said that --
QUESTION: Anyway – anyway, are you saying that this is not the same thing as saying one thing and then doing the other completely?
MR KIRBY: I’m absolutely rejecting that thesis, yes.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: So within 24 hours – may I quickly follow up on his question?
MR KIRBY: Well, it doesn’t look like I have a choice because you’re going to talk no matter what. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So it’s to that question. Within 24 hours, we have seen two headlines, one of them being President Obama rules out ground troops to Syria, and it was – he told the BBC – I can give you an exact quote; and then shortly after, President Obama to deploy 250 more Special Forces troops to Syria. My question is: What is the difference between the troops that the President ruled out and the troops that he’s going to send to Syria?
MR KIRBY: That’s actually an intelligent question. That’s a good question and I appreciate that you asked it because it’s very relevant. When we talk about boots on the ground in the context that you have heard people in the Administration speak to, we are talking about conventional, large-scale ground troops that are designed to actually engage in, plan, coordinate, integrate, and engage in combat operations on the ground as units. We’re not doing that. We’ve never done that in Iraq or in Syria, and we’re not going to do it now.
QUESTION: Can --
MR KIRBY: Let me finish, let me finish. Introducing additional advisors and assistance troops in the form of Special Operations Forces, which we’ve done now – we’ve had 50 or so on the ground in Syria for a while; we’re adding another 250 – that’s very much in keeping with the mission – one of the core missions that the U.S. military was designed to do from the outset in the fight against Daesh, from the very outset – and I know because I spoke about it myself in my prior life – which was to help improve the battlefield competency and capability of indigenous ground forces. In Iraq, that’s the Iraqi Security Forces, and of course the Pesh up in the north, and in Syria, it was about trying to get opposition fighters more capable and competent to go after Daesh in Syria.
Now, as you know, the Pentagon started a train and equip program on – which was not on the ground in Syria, but took fighters out of Syria and tried to get them prepared and equipped. That didn’t meet with much success, so they started to do the same mission but do it in Syria with Special Operations Forces. That has shown some success – let me finish. That has shown some success, so why not capitalize on that success?
So we can have a nice, little debate about boots on the ground, but I – I’m telling you, having been in the military, there is a big difference between saying, “No boots on the ground” – we’ve all recognized since almost the outset we’ve had U.S. troops in Iraq, which are very much on the ground – and the colloquial meaning of the term, which is what many people, when they say, “No boots on the ground,” are referring to, which is large-scale, intentionally combat ground troops engaged in combat operations that they themselves are conducting independently and integrating and coordinating that way. And that’s not happening and that’s not going to happen.
QUESTION: So can the President send any number of Special Forces without calling them ground troops?
MR KIRBY: They are not ground troops in the sense that they are not conventional ground troops conducting combat operations on their own.
QUESTION: Are you saying --
MR KIRBY: There’s a big difference.
QUESTION: Are you saying --
MR KIRBY: Am I saying – am I saying that there are no boots on the ground in Syria? Of course, I’m not saying that. I’ve never said that, nor have I ever said that there’s no boots on the ground in Iraq. You guys are getting way wrapped around the axle on the phrase, “boots on the ground.” Yes, there’s boots on the ground. We’ve got pilots that have been flying airstrikes since August of 2014. Don’t tell me and don’t tell them or their families that they’re not involved in actual combat over Iraq and Syria. But that’s a big difference between that and saying we’re going to involve ourselves in conventional ground troops and ground force operations on the ground, which we have not done and there are no plans to do it.
The other thing I’ll say to this is – and we’ve said this all along – the way you defeat a group like this – two things, two really key important things. One is good governance. That’s the way you sustain a defeat against a group like Daesh. That’s why it’s so important that Prime Minister Abadi be able to continue to work through the political reforms that he’s trying to put in place, fill out his cabinet, and deliver for the Iraqi people the kind of good sectarian governance that they haven’t previously enjoyed. Number two, that’s why in Syria we’re trying to get to a political transition so that a government that is responsible to and responsive for the Syrian people are in place.
And second, second main point is the other way you sustain a defeat against a group like this is through competent, capable, courageous, well-trained, well-led indigenous forces. That’s how you keep it – you keep their defeat sustained and done. You don’t do it with large-scale U.S. or large-scale foreign troops because you can’t keep a group like that down forever doing it that way. You’ve got to have good indigenous security forces that can take away the territory, defeat these guys, and then keep them defeated over the long term. Nothing – nothing has changed about that essential core mission set of U.S. military in Iraq or Syria, absolutely nothing.
QUESTION: Sir, are the Special Forces being sent to Syria going to be engaged in combat?
MR KIRBY: I think the Pentagon has already spoken to that, that their job would be in keeping with the original 50, which was advise and assist.
QUESTION: But in Iraq too you said they were not going to be in combat, and then a serviceman died in a hostage rescue operation.
MR KIRBY: Once again, once again --
QUESTION: And he clearly was in combat.
MR KIRBY: Once again you are --
QUESTION: How can you say that they are not in combat?
MR KIRBY: Once again you are oversimplifying what we’re saying. I never said, we’ve never said, that troops wouldn’t be engaged in combat. Talk to these combat pilots that are flying missions over Iraq and Syria and tell them that they’re not involved in combat. What we said is – again, I’ll say it again because apparently I need to – there’s not going to be any large-scale conventional ground combat operations performed by U.S. soldiers. That’s a big difference in saying no boots on the ground and it’s a big difference of saying they’re never going to be involved in combat. And we had a Marine, as we’ve all noted – in fact, General Dunford went to visit the fire base where he was killed by a rocket attack. Don’t tell that family that he didn’t die in a combat situation, because he certainly did. But that doesn’t mean that we’re involved in some sort of large-scale ground combat operation.
QUESTION: Well, if that’s the case, then why didn’t the Administration come out and say there will be no large-scale combat ground --
MR KIRBY: Not – we did say that.
QUESTION: -- instead of saying no boots on the ground, which is what they said over and over and over again? These people, unless they’re not wearing boots, are boots on the ground.
MR KIRBY: Matt, I can’t – listen, on this point I totally agree with you. They are wearing boots and they are on the ground. But that doesn’t mean that they are –
QUESTION: So that’s totally --
MR KIRBY: But that doesn’t mean that they are in large-scale ground combat operations. And I can’t speak for every other Administration official, Matt, but I can certainly speak for what I’ve said from this podium and the other podium.
QUESTION: Well, you know what? Then you can’t say that you’re setting a redline on chemical weapons and then not act on the redline, and you can’t say no boots on the ground and then send boots onto the ground and say that you’re not doing the opposite of what you intended.
MR KIRBY: We’re not --
QUESTION: I just don’t --
MR KIRBY: The mission set of these troops is very much consistent with the mission set of those that have gone before.
QUESTION: Can I just have one --
QUESTION: Can I ask you something? Who came up with --
MR KIRBY: And you guys are --
QUESTION: I have --
QUESTION: -- the term boots on the ground---
QUESTION: No, hold on a second a second.
QUESTION: -- to describe a soldier --
QUESTION: For God’s sake, who cares who came up with it?
QUESTION: -- living breathing soldiers that are in combat and in harm’s way?
MR KIRBY: Wait a minute. I’ve got --
QUESTION: Who came up with that term?
MR KIRBY: You two were both yelling at me, so let me just – say your question again because I couldn’t understand.
QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to say – “boots on the ground, boots on the ground,” these are soldiers. They are in combat and harm’s way and so on. It’s somehow like throwing that term around, I don’t know, it seems to mitigate or to lessen whatever involvement --
QUESTION: Look guys – guys, first of all, this is an interesting debate for the State Department and I’m not sure why this discussion isn’t happening elsewhere in town. But I mean, there’s no point in arguing the “boots on the ground” rhetoric. It’s absolutely no point. And I am not disputing the fact that we have troops on the ground and they’re wearing boots. I got that.
QUESTION: There we go. Okay. On Aleppo --
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up --
QUESTION: I just need to go back to Aleppo for one second.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Are you saying that when you talked about moving them to de-conflict or to remove themselves from the proximity of Nusrah – the bad guys, I’m talking about your – the rebels that you guys support – that you are telling them that they should move away from Aleppo, they should abandon their positions there?
MR KIRBY: We are --
QUESTION: And basically – and essentially allow al-Nusrah to --
MR KIRBY: It’s not like we can order them around, Matt, but we have influence over some of them and we are reminding them of the inherent dangers of intermingling and being close to those who are not party to the cessation.
QUESTION: Right. But that – doesn’t that --
MR KIRBY: Because al-Nusrah is a legitimate target.
QUESTION: Fair enough.
MR KIRBY: We don’t want to see our guys get hurt.
QUESTION: Fair enough. But doesn’t that, in effect, mean – or not effect. Doesn’t that mean that you’re telling them to give up ground, to surrender?
MR KIRBY: No, not at all.
QUESTION: If you’re telling them to move out of places that they hold in Aleppo --
MR KIRBY: That doesn’t – that’s a far cry from saying give up and walk away.
QUESTION: Well, not give up --
MR KIRBY: It’s simply making sure they understand the risks.
QUESTION: Well, now you’re saying --
MR KIRBY: And some of them may be willing to take that risk. I can’t speak for all of them.
QUESTION: But now you’re saying that you’re telling them that they should move away but that that’s not telling them to move away. You’re saying – again, it’s like this --
MR KIRBY: You can still --
QUESTION: It’s like some bizarre --
MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, I don’t want to get into military tactics with you guys.
QUESTION: -- alternate universe.
MR KIRBY: But you can still fight people without being in the same block of houses with them. I mean, there are ways to continue to press what advantages. But we want them to --
QUESTION: So you --
MR KIRBY: We want them to abide by the cessation.
QUESTION: I understand that, but, I mean, so you’re telling them just to move a little bit away?
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: Or to take --
QUESTION: Look, Matt – Matt, you’re --
QUESTION: Like to the next --
QUESTION: -- overthinking this, Matt. I mean, we’re just simply advising them of the dangers of the – of being intermingled with groups that are not party to the cessation. They have to make their own decisions.
The other thing that we are asking them to do and advising them to do is two things: to abide by the cessation – and Said noted press reports that would indicate that not all of them are – and number two, to continue to work towards the political process, to continue to be a participant in the talks that unfortunately --
QUESTION: They’re doing neither.
MR KIRBY: -- did not happen – did not finish in Geneva.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: So you’ve had the 200 – announcement of 250 --
MR KIRBY: I did not. The President made that announcement.
QUESTION: The President. You – the United States. So – and he’s just come from a – the President has just come from a visit to Saudi Arabia, Britain, and Germany. Is it your understanding this could be part of an announcement of others contributing to this? Is – has there been discussions with the Saudis, maybe, of – because there was a discussion previously of the Saudis contributing to a force like this.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. We have publicly and privately encouraged other coalition partners to contribute more to the fight against Daesh, to intensify their efforts in the same manner or – that we have, not necessarily matching every contribution we’re making, of course. But we’ve encouraged other nations to contribute more. That’s a discussion that we have with them – with coalition partners – routinely, regularly. And as a matter of fact, Brett McGurk’s in the region right now, in Kuwait, in a – having a discussion with key coalition partners about the fight against Daesh and about contributions that we can all make.
I wouldn’t speak for other nations and what decisions they’re considering and what they may do. Last week we announced that the – that Denmark was going to contribute F-16 fighters now to the – to strikes in both Iraq and Syria. The UAE contributed additional funds now for stabilization in Iraq. Not every contribution has to be in the form of kinetic military action, but these are decisions – these are sovereign decisions that states have to make, and we’ll let them speak to it.
So I’m – short answer is I’m not aware of any pending announcements by other nations coming out of the President’s meetings. Again, those are decisions that only they can make and only they can speak to.
Yeah, back there.
QUESTION: It’s a different topic.
QUESTION: No, no, no.
QUESTION: When you say “large-scale ground operation,” how many troops does that involve? 10,000, 20 --
MR KIRBY: First of all, that’s a great question for the Defense Department to go to specifics than me, but I’m not going to put a number figure on it. Large-scale means large-scale, and we are not operating large-scale units inside Iraq or inside Syria. And I – you can go to the Pentagon for a more specific number, about whether they peg it to a number. That’s something for military tacticians to speak to. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that we are not now and have no plans to be involved in large-scale conventional ground operations in Iraq or in Syria.
QUESTION: John, I have two questions. Any readout on Secretary Kerry’s conversation – phone conversation with Minister Lavrov today?
MR KIRBY: They did have a phone conversation today. It was, as you might expect, largely about the situation in Syria with respect to both the cessation of hostilities and the need for better and more sustained humanitarian access for so many Syrians that are in need now. So it was largely focused on Syria, and again, I think that shouldn’t come as a surprise given recent events.
QUESTION: My second question is: Secretary Kerry has said on Saturday to New York Times that the U.S. has proposed a 24-hour truce monitoring system to Russia. Can you elaborate on this proposal? And Minister Lavrov has said today that this proposal is a simplistic approach when the task of principal is still the fight against terrorism. Any comment on that too?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, the Secretary is constantly looking for ways to try to make sure that the cessation of hostilities can hold in place, recognizing how fragile it is. I’m not going to get into the details of specific ideas or proposals that he is considering or that he’s putting forth, and I’ll let Foreign Minister Lavrov speak for himself and his opinion of it. The bottom line is that the Secretary remains fully committed to seeing the cessation stay in place and he’s not afraid to think of new ideas and new options to try to make that a reality. And I think he would welcome, as he always has, other ideas by other members of the ISSG and the international community to likewise come up with proposals and ideas. We all should be looking for ways to keep the cessation in place, which obviously still is very fragile.
QUESTION: But some people saw that this proposal is a kind of partition of Syria between the parties.
MR KIRBY: Well, let me just kill that idea right out front. He’s not talking about a partition of Syria, at least in terms of what you’re talking about in terms of what people think politically. We remain committed, as we always have, to a whole, unified, nonsectarian Syria, and every member of the ISSG, to include Russia, has signed up to that very goal as members of the ISSG, in not just one but three communiques and of course a UN Security Council resolution.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Pam.
QUESTION: I have two on different topics. First, Iran. What is State’s response to the new threat from Iran from Foreign Minister Zarif to take the United States to the International Court of Justice? And this is in relation to Iran’s unhappiness with the Supreme Court ruling last week that Iran would pay about 2 billion in frozen assets to American families of those killed by terrorism sponsored by Tehran.
MR KIRBY: The foreign minister can speak for himself and speak for his government in terms of their intentions going forward. All I would say is what I said last week, that we certainly sympathize with the families who have fallen victim to terrorists that were supported by Tehran in the past. The decision by the court marries very closely with our own statements when the legislation was passed back in 2012, and we’re supportive of the court’s decision. As for what Iran may or may not do, they can speak to that, but we stand by our position with respect to the kinds of suffering that American families in the past have suffered as a result of terrorism supported by Tehran in the past.
QUESTION: Can we stay --
QUESTION: Has there been any --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran just for a second?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: I just want to make sure that this – that deal, the heavy water agreement went – actually went through as planned on Friday.
MR KIRBY: What do you mean “went through as planned”?
QUESTION: Well, that the deal was done and that the numbers stayed the same and --
MR KIRBY: I don’t know – I mean, if you’re asking do we have – have we actually taken delivery of the 32 tons, I don’t know. But we are through DOE – through the Department of Energy, we’re making a license purchase of those 32 metric tons of heavy water. Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you know if any money has been disbursed?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know. You’d have to talk to Energy and to Treasury about that. I don’t know.
QUESTION: So in their statement when they were talking about this on Friday, DOE said that the United States is not going to be Iran’s customer for heavy water, presumably, forever. So how long are you willing to be Iran’s customer for heavy water? I mean, this is another – they just made another 8 million – more than $8 million off this, which I realize --
MR KIRBY: I think --
QUESTION: -- is not much in the grand scheme of things. But, I mean, if they keep overproducing heavy water and want to sell it on the market, are you going to continue to – is the United States going to continue to buy it? You saw that – today maybe that the Russians are talking about buying some.
MR KIRBY: There’s no plans that I know of to keep this --
QUESTION: So this was a one time only?
MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to speak for the Department of Energy or Treasury on this, but there’s no intention that we’re aware of to keep this going on some sort of recurring basis. This met a specific need for both their compliance with heavy water possession and some of the research and scientific needs that we’ve had here in the business community, so it made sense to do it. And I just found a note in the – in my talking points, before I forget, that we expect the heavy water to be delivered to the United States in coming weeks. So it’s not here yet. So there’s no – but back to your question, I know of no intention to keep doing this on a recurring basis.
QUESTION: All right. Are you aware of any other areas, any other parts of the JCPOA that the Administration or that the United States is willing to help Iran meet its obligations under by making purchases, multi-million-dollar purchases?
MR KIRBY: I’m not specifically aware, but I’m also not an expert in the JCPOA.
MR KIRBY: Pam.
QUESTION: Can I --
MR KIRBY: I already got you, Pam. Let me go over here.
QUESTION: I had two questions and I only got one in.
MR KIRBY: You got more than one in. You had, like, two.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: All right, go ahead.
QUESTION: A quick one on Serbia, and that is: What is State’s reaction to the overwhelming victory of the pro-EU prime minister’s party in the elections?
MR KIRBY: Let me get back to you on that. What’s your next one?
QUESTION: That was it.
MR KIRBY: That – you said you had two more.
QUESTION: Can --
MR KIRBY: I don’t have a reaction on that. I’m going to have to get back to you on that.
MR KIRBY: Go ahead, Turkey.
QUESTION: Thank you. There’s a American journalist today denied entry at Istanbul airport. This is the fourth foreign journalist within the last week.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: In addition to another Dutch-Turkish journalist who visited Turkey, but his – her passport confiscated in Turkey, so she cannot leave from the country. These are very new trends. I wonder if you have any comment specific to American journalist.
MR KIRBY: Well, again, without getting into each and every case, we’ve seen the press reporting on this, and you know where we are on media freedoms and the treatment of journalists, not just in Turkey but around the world. Nothing’s changed about that from our perspective. We continue to raise the issue of media freedom in Turkey and we’ll continue to do that. But I don’t have specifics with respect to each and every case that you’re citing. Obviously, you’re seeing these reports; we’re concerned by them, as we would be anywhere. And again, what we want to see is for Turkey to live up to its own constitutional principles, enshrined right in its constitution, to include freedom of expression through the media.
MR KIRBY: I won’t speak to the President’s travel. I don’t think I have a readout of that – do I? I do. (Laughter.) I’m told that I have it. Oh yeah, here it is. There’s just so many tabs here. Thank you for that reminder, Elizabeth.
So I guess we’re going to – we do have a readout here. The – it was held today, with --
QUESTION: “Ask the Vietnamese.”
MR KIRBY: -- I have it right here; I just had to find it – with Tom Malinowski, our Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, as well as the Vietnamese ministry of foreign affairs, their department of internal organizations director. So there was – those are the leads of the respective delegations. It covered a wide range of human rights issues, including the importance of continued progress on legal reform efforts, rule of law, freedom of expression and assembly, religious freedom, labor rights, disability rights, LGBTI rights, multilateral cooperation, as well as individual cases of concern. The promotion of human rights, as you know, remains a critical part of U.S. foreign policy and a key aspect of our ongoing dialogue within the U.S.-Vietnam comprehensive partnership.
I won’t get ahead of presidential travel or agenda, but we’re glad to have this discussion today.
QUESTION: Were any high-profile cases being discussed?
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Were there any high-profile cases, such as --
MR KIRBY: As I said, they were – they discussed individual cases of concern. I’m not going to detail any more than that.
QUESTION: John, can I do another topic? I think you called me before.
MR KIRBY: When did I call on you before? In, like, another day?
QUESTION: Just before we went to Syria again.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Just – hang on. We’ll go --
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: We’ll go to Nepal, then I’ll go to – what do you want to talk about?
QUESTION: The – okay, we talked about the earthquake and how the deputy prime minister is here. The situation, the political situation in Nepal is quite – what’s going on, there is a journalist whose – there’s anti-India --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- there’s a lot going on. So can you give us any readout, anything that this department talked to him about on the political side?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think I discussed this at the top in terms of the scope of the discussion. As you might it expect, it covered a wide range of bilateral issues between our two nations. Obviously, in light of the anniversary, then we wanted to make it clear that we continue to stand ready to support Nepal as it recovers and reconstructs from the earthquake. I just don’t have a more detailed readout than that.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: The topic has been on the front page of The New York Times for the past two days, I think Saturday and Monday. What is the U.S. take on this? Does it – does the U.S. agree with the condemnation of the Mexican justice system contained in the report?
MR KIRBY: Here’s what I’ll say. We note the role of international experts working under the auspices of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and commend their efforts to assist Mexican authorities in seeking resolution on this tragic case. We trust that the Mexican Government will incorporate findings outlined in the experts’ report to bring the perpetrators to justice and will continue to ensure the safety of the families of the victims. And again, we call for the completion of a full and transparent investigation of the students’ disappearances and the prosecution of all those responsible. Okay?
QUESTION: A quick follow-up: Have you heard anything regarding the confirmation of under secretary – Assistant Secretary Jacobson to the Mexican embassy from the Hill? You heard anything, any progress in the negotiation for --
MR KIRBY: What I would just tell you is we – the Secretary continues to believe firmly that she should – that she should be voted on her nomination, her nomination should be voted on, and it’s important to get her – he continues to believe it’s important to get her confirmed and get her in Mexico City to be ambassador to a country that’s very, very important to us. I don’t have any updates from the Hill to provide you. We are, as you might expect, in constant consultation and communication with members of Congress with respect to all outstanding nominations but certainly none of any less concern than the one we have over Assistant Secretary Jacobson.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Catherine, way in the back there.
QUESTION: I just have a quick email question. The Code of Federal Regulations requires damage assessments when classified information is outside secure government channels. Are any damage assessments being done at the State Department, or are you aware of damage assessments being done by other agencies?
MR KIRBY: I won’t speak for other agencies and to the degree to which they are or they aren’t. As I said, and as I’ve talked about before, the issue of classification at the time is a subject of review and investigation – several reviews and investigations which have not been completed. I won’t get ahead of that. I’m not aware of a damage assessment here at the State Department, and I won’t speak for the intelligence community and to the degree to which they are or they are not doing that. As we’ve said in the past, none of the email traffic was marked classified at the time. The degree to which it was in fact classified when it was sent is all party to reviews and investigations that are ongoing.
QUESTION: My only sort of additional point on that would be is that it’s clear from the ICIG letter that the top secret emails are not in dispute. You’ve agreed to withhold them. So this is not a classification issue any longer. This is a closed matter.
MR KIRBY: Again, we’ve had this discussion before, Catherine, so I don’t know that we need to revisit it. There are reviews and investigations going on about this email traffic.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the 22 still the subject of review?
MR KIRBY: Sorry? I’m sorry?
QUESTION: The 22 that are withheld --
MR KIRBY: We’ve already spoken to those 22 --
QUESTION: Right. So there’s no disagreement then on --
MR KIRBY: -- and we’ve been very open and honest about the decision we made now. We weren’t – in doing that, Catherine, as you know, we had an obligation through FOIA to produce this – these documents and to do so carefully and in a measured way. And some were upgraded, no question about that, and I spoke from this podium about those particular top secret ones. And we’ve been nothing but honest about that.
That was a determination that was made at the time through the process of public disclosure. It wasn’t meant when we made that determination to indicate classification at the time or damage done at the time. There are reviews and investigations that are ongoing looking at that, and we want to make sure that those reviewers and those investigators are able to do their job cleanly without interference from us. So our determination – we stand by those determinations, but they were made in the process of releasing them through FOIA for public disclosure.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MR KIRBY: Ma’am. Ma’am.
MR KIRBY: They are on the ground to support – to assist and to advise counter-Daesh fighters. And there are many groups fighting Daesh and not all of them are Kurdish. Kurdish fighters have been brave. They’ve been courageous. They have been successful. Our goal is to provide advice and assistance to all those who can effectively go after Daesh. Okay?
I’ve time for just one more and then I’m really going to have to go.
QUESTION: I promise to be very quick.
MR KIRBY: Really? You promise?
MR KIRBY: All right, let’s see.
QUESTION: Wonderful. Last week the Israelis arrested a journalist named Mujahid Assad. They accused him of consorting with the enemy. And yesterday they arrested the head of the Palestinian journalist’s union, Omar Nazzal and they accused him of incitement. Do you have any comment on that?
MR KIRBY: I have a very quick answer for you. We’ve seen those reports. Obviously, we would refer you to Israeli authorities to speak to them. I just don’t have additional detail at this time.
Okay, thanks everybody.
QUESTION: They issued a statement on freedom of the press.
MR KIRBY: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:11 p.m.)