Daily Press Briefing - May 31, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:33 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Okay. I’ve got just a couple things at the top, and then we’ll get right at it.
On Bahrain. The United States is deeply concerned by the sentencing of the secretary general of Al Wifaq society, Sheikh Ali Salman, to nine years in prison on charges of public incitement and hatred. We believe that no one should be prosecuted or imprisoned for engaging in peaceful expression or assembly.
We understand now that another appeal may be available in this case, and we strongly urge the Government of Bahrain to abide by its international obligations to respect and protect freedom of expression, to reject these charges against Sheikh Ali Salman, and to release him.
Opposition groups that peacefully voice criticism of the government enable the development of inclusive, pluralistic states and societies. We do not believe that yesterday’s decision helps foster reconciliation in Bahrain, and we urge all in Bahrain to take the concrete steps necessary and needed to build confidence and to create a climate where meaningful reconciliation is possible.
Now a brief scheduling note. Tomorrow the Secretary will celebrate the start of National Ocean Month by meeting with some high school students at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, to discuss ocean protection. He’ll be joined there by Dr. Marcia McNutt, a marine geophysicist – that’s a tough one to say – and president-elect of the National Academy of Sciences. Students will include the Chesapeake Bay regional champions of the Ocean Science Bowl and the winners of the National Science Bowl.
He’s, as you know – the Secretary – very passionate about achieving meaningful progress on ocean issues and about inspiring the next generation of leaders. In the coming months, he and his team will continue their efforts to address the problems facing our ocean, including in September, as you’ve already talked about here in the briefing, when the Secretary will host the third global Our Ocean conference right here at the State Department, and we’re very much looking forward to that.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- they followed through on the release of the woman who had been detained and who they had promised to release when the Secretary was there. Do you have anything to say about that?
MR KIRBY: We’re certainly aware of the reports of her release. We’d refer you to the Government of Bahrain for additional information. But as you know, we’ve consistently raised that – her case. So we’re – we welcome the news and reports.
QUESTION: All right. And then a similar situation, except this time involving Americans – the Eldarat case in UAE, where they were acquitted but then led away in handcuffs and remain in jail. What do you guys have to say about that? Is this – Emiratis keeping in line with the spirit of an acquittal?
MR KIRBY: Well, first I’d say we welcome the court’s decision, and we’re pleased that they’re going to be reunited with their family soon.
QUESTION: Are they?
MR KIRBY: Our – that’s our understanding, and our embassy officials were present when the verdict was announced. So we’re going to stay in contact, as we have, with UAE officials about the next steps. We’re going to continue to track the case closely and to continue to provide all the possible necessary consular assistance.
QUESTION: Well, what’s --
QUESTION: Well, what’s your understanding of why they were – they’re still in custody if they were acquitted?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have an explanation for why even after --
QUESTION: Well, did the people who were --
MR KIRBY: -- the court’s decision they’re still in custody, but we are given to understand that they will be released soon and reunited with their families.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. But did they ask?
MR KIRBY: Did who ask?
QUESTION: Well, I’m not expecting you to have asked since yesterday it was – you’re not there, and you were presumably off yesterday. But I mean, did the – were the people from the embassy or in the court ask either the court or the police, or the interior ministry or whatever --
MR KIRBY: I don’t know if a specific question was asked by embassy personnel.
QUESTION: -- why they were hauled off in cuffs?
MR KIRBY: Embassy personnel were present. I don’t know if they specifically asked about why they were taken off in handcuffs and continued some detention. I will say, though, without getting into great detail, that we are tracking this case very closely. We’re in direct touch there in-country with UAE officials --
QUESTION: Well --
MR KIRBY: -- and we’re going to stay in touch with them.
QUESTION: But that is, like – that statement itself is contradictory. You said you’re monitoring the case closely and you’re in touch – close touch with the Emiratis, but you can’t say whether you’ve talked to them about why they haven’t been released after their acquittal?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say – I didn’t say – I didn’t say that we haven’t talked to them about it. We are staying in close touch with UAE officials about this, and we’re going to continue to track this case closely to see that they get reunited with their families. What I said to Matt was I don’t know if a specific question was made at the court’s decision --
QUESTION: Oh, okay. Well --
MR KIRBY: -- a request was made by U.S. embassy officials.
QUESTION: But it has been made subsequently? But it has been made subsequently?
MR KIRBY: I won’t talk about the details, but I can tell you we remain in close touch with UAE officials.
QUESTION: Can I ask about another American --
QUESTION: Can I ask on Bahrain?
QUESTION: Can we go to the --
QUESTION: On Bahrain.
QUESTION: Well, actually, I just want to – there’s another American that’s been arrested in The Gambia. Fanta Darboe Jawara apparently was taking part in a peaceful protest and was arrested and beaten on April 16th. It sounds like her family has some connections to the opposition, and that’s why she might be held. Do you have anything on this?
MR KIRBY: I don’t. I’m afraid you’re going to have to let me look into that one.
QUESTION: Could you – yeah. Appreciate it.
MR KIRBY: I’ve got other situations but I don’t –
QUESTION: I will give – yeah.
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of that one.
QUESTION: Got it.
MR KIRBY: So you’re going to have to let me take that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Arshad.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any specific threat information about specific targets in Europe or not?
MR KIRBY: This was based – the travel alert you’re referring to – let me just back up a little bit. It was a renewal that was from – that was – we have to do these every six months, so this was a renewal. It was – this one was – obviously, it would have come anyway, but we took the opportunity, since it’s the beginning of summer, to make our concerns known about the potential risk to – of terrorist attacks throughout Europe, particularly when you’ve got the Tour de France starting up, you’ve got this European football championship, and of course, World Youth Day, all of which is happening in June and July. So it was a good opportunity to put all this into perspective.
And I’m not aware of any specific, credible terrorist threat around these events or in any particular place in Europe. This alert was issued just as they always are, based on an accumulation of information and what we know continues to be an interest by terrorist groups to conduct attacks against Western targets, and Americans specifically, in Europe.
QUESTION: And one other one on this. The last such continent-wide alert for Europe was issued on March 22nd, after the Brussels airport and metro attacks.
MR KIRBY: That’s right.
QUESTION: And that was scheduled to expire, I think, on June 21st or 22nd.
MR KIRBY: That’s right.
MR KIRBY: That’s right.
QUESTION: So are you saying that this is a renewal of that? Because you didn’t specify it. Normally, you specify in alerts, "This is a renewal of such-and-such," which is our way of understanding that this is basically just renewing something, not something new based on new or different information.
MR KIRBY: Well, it is – it’s both, actually, Arshad. As I understand it, it is a renewal. You’re right; that wasn’t due to expire until later in June. But in late – come about the third week in June, we start to have some of these events happening. So I think given the situation in Europe, given the potential risk, the department felt it was prudent to go ahead and renew this one a little early.
QUESTION: Okay, got it.
MR KIRBY: And that’s really all it was here. It was just an administrative decision to try to get this information out to Americans that are traveling abroad.
QUESTION: And you were just pointing to these three upcoming events as examples of –
MR KIRBY: As examples of large-scale, widely attended public events that we know have been attractive to terrorists in the past. That doesn’t mean we have any specific credible threat to any one of them, but this seemed to be the wise and prudent course so that we would --
QUESTION: Are you advising Americans to stay away from these events?
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: Or simply to –
MR KIRBY: Not at all.
QUESTION: – be vigilant?
MR KIRBY: Not at all, just to stay vigilant. We are certainly not discouraging travel to Europe or other tourist destinations or even these events, just that we want to make sure that they stay vigilant, that they stay aware as they attend or they travel.
QUESTION: All that is fine. But it’s not as if these three events that you’ve mentioned were just put together and organized over the course of the last three weeks, two weeks, or even one week. You knew about them when the March one came out, and yet the March one doesn’t mention any of these.
MR KIRBY: The March one was specifically issued –
MR KIRBY: – in response to the Brussels attacks.
QUESTION: Well, it’s hard for people – see, here’s the thing. It’s hard for people to understand that – or to understand why you would do this without specific or credible threats to those three events, when, as has been pointed out, an alert for Europe has already existed for less than six months. You knew that these events were coming up, and you’re specifically mentioning them in this one –
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: – today. So that’s – I think that’s where our questions are coming from.
MR KIRBY: I’m not –
QUESTION: Well, normally, you would say you were renewing it or you would say, “This is an early renewal of such-and-such,” so people understood that it was just a continuation.
MR KIRBY: Well, look, I can’t get to the – I can’t speak to the specific rhetoric that was used in terms of drafting it. But it would have been, we believe, irresponsible and imprudent not to take into account some of these large-scale, widely attended events this summer. And to just let the other one lapse until June 21st, when some of these events may already be starting, didn’t seem very wise either. So there’s no apology to be had for trying to get ahead of summer events.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, they’re looking for an apology.
MR KIRBY: Well, but there – but there’s – okay, there’s no regret, there’s no remorse, there’s no --
QUESTION: No, no, no, no. It’s --
MR KIRBY: There’s --
QUESTION: It’s just an explanation. If you don’t have any specific and credible threat to these things that you knew --
MR KIRBY: We issue alerts all the time that aren’t based on specific, credible attacks. I think we would – would and should come under a greater scrutiny if we had not issued a travel alert as the summer begins there in Europe. We absolutely don’t want to discourage travel or tourism to Europe. The Secretary has said himself even in the wake of the Brussels attacks that he would want and would hope that Americans continue to travel abroad to see the great sites of the world, to attend these kinds of events, just that we just want them to be aware and to be vigilant.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: I want to go to Syria, but could I just have clarification on Bahrain, where you began at the top? There was also sentences of 11 activists where they stripped them of citizenship under some dubious allegations that they smuggled arms to Saudi Arabia and so on and some sort of connection with Iraq. Did you also mention that?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have -- I don’t think I have anything on that. I keep hitting that mike. I’m sorry about that. No, I’m afraid I don’t have anything on that one.
MR KIRBY: We’re still looking into what happened in Idlib. I don’t have – we don’t have a great sense of complete knowledge here about who was responsible. Obviously, the images coming out of Idlib are very troubling. Obviously, the killing of innocent civilians is a violation of the cessation of hostilities, period, and we’re going to continue to work closely inside the cessation of hostilities task force with the Russians to try to figure out what happened here, and then we’ll take it from there.
But I can assure you that we’re very focused on it. We’ve seen the images, same as you there, and we’re going to do what we can to get to the bottom of it.
QUESTION: Now, last week the issue of Ahrar al-Sham was discussed rather thoroughly here in the briefing room and their role and so on. At week’s end they had claimed responsibility for doing the bombings in Tartus and Latakia and other places and so on. Does that in any way place them, in your opinion, as much as Jabhat al-Nusrah and others who commit these kinds of terrorist acts?
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the claims of responsibility.
MR KIRBY: As we said at the time, the attacks were deplorable and unacceptable. That’s still the case today.
MR KIRBY: And as you know, when coming out of Geneva this last time, the ISSG agreed that they would more assertively look at persistent violations of the cessation and would not be, at a point that’s appropriate, averse to rendering ineligible to the cessation a group or a force that consistently and persistently violates it. I don’t believe that such a rendering has been done in this particular case, but I can tell you that we’re going to continue to look at this and the actions of this group going forward.
QUESTION: Coming out of Vienna.
QUESTION: My last question --
MR KIRBY: Vienna. Vienna. I’m sorry, I said Geneva. Thank you for the correction. Vienna.
QUESTION: My last question on this. So if they do the same things that Jabhat al-Nusrah does, if they espouse the same kind of ideology, at one point will you sort of categorize them or designate them as a terrorist organization, and perhaps you’d be –
MR KIRBY: I don't want to get ahead --
QUESTION: And targeting them should be exempted?
MR KIRBY: I’m really not good at hypotheticals and I don’t want to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made, but I will go back to what was decided, again, in Vienna, that if a group consistently and persistently violates the cessation, puts innocent civilians at risk, then the ISSG will take it up as a matter and could determine that that group is no longer a party to the cessation. And they do that at their own peril, groups like these that make these decisions.
So I don’t know that we’re at such a point with this group right now, but I’m certainly not going to rule anything in or out going forward. I mean, it’s it up to the groups that are party to it to live up to their obligations; and if they don’t over time, there’ll be repercussions for that.
QUESTION: Right now, does the targeting of the group constitute a violation of the cessation of hostilities?
MR KIRBY: The targeting of?
QUESTION: Of that specific group, Ahrar al-Sham.
MR KIRBY: If – yes, because they are still party to the cessation of hostilities. Yes.
QUESTION: I have a number of questions on Turkey. May I?
MR KIRBY: Before we go to Turkey, let me just --
MR KIRBY: Before we go to Turkey.
QUESTION: Staying in Syria.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Tomorrow is June 1st. Earlier this month in Vienna, Secretary Kerry, speaking on behalf of the ISSG, said as of June 1st the group would urge the World Food Program to start airdrops and air bridges. He named 13 besieged communities that could be recipients.
First of all, what’s the status of that effort?
MR KIRBY: Well, the humanitarian assistance is still not flowing satisfactorily. We’re still seeing obstructions put up by the regime to the delivery of food and water and medicine and supplies. It is now going on, what, 10 o’clock in Syria? I’m mindful of the calendar. And so I think it’s safe to assume that come tomorrow, the ISSG will start preparing for the necessity of airdrops and air bridges. And we would expect the regime to facilitate or not to interfere with those steps.
QUESTION: So would the drops and bridges start tomorrow, or does the effort to do them down the road start? And then secondly, since it seems like at some point you’d need some kind of consent from the regime to go into some of these areas, have you received that consent?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that any consent, as you put it, has been received. And I don’t – again, I don’t want to speak for the World Food Program here, or – but I’m – what I said is come tomorrow we would expect to start preparing for these airdrops. I don’t know that that would mean specifically you’re going to see one tomorrow. But believe me, everybody is certainly aware and has the same sense of urgency about the desperate need of the Syrian people. I just don’t know when they would begin and I wouldn’t speak for the World Food Program in that regard.
QUESTION: Are all of the communities that were mentioned in Vienna earlier this month still considered candidates for the airdrops, or has the situation improved in some of those communities that were named?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have a – I don’t know of any – let me put it this way: I don’t know of any change to the list of communities. And look, nobody’s happy about where we are right now on May 31st. So I can’t imagine that any of those communities would be suddenly yanked off the list, because we know over the course of these many weeks that the humanitarian assistance hasn’t flown, and – or hasn’t flowed, pardon me – with any sense of regularity or consistency. And the regime continues to throw up road blocks.
And this is an easy thing for the regime to fix, because it’s much easier to get aid in on the ground. So with literally the stroke of a pen the Assad regime could fix this situation and let these people eat, and let them drink water, and let them get access to medicine. Airdrops are not the preferred method. It’s more expensive and you can’t necessarily cover the widest population through airdrops. It’s not the best way to do this. But the ISSG is committed to moving forward as they committed to doing in Vienna. So we’ll see where it goes.
QUESTION: John, a follow-up on this. In your initial statement, you said that the ISSG would be – you would expect them to start preparing tomorrow for airdrops and air bridges. Can you explain the difference? Am I correct that an airdrop is just you drop stuff; an air bridge is where you have planes taking off and landing, and depositing stuff after landing and then taking off again to get more stuff?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. I mean, the airdrop is the physical act of an airplane delivering material from the sky. The air bridge is the infrastructure and the mechanisms – the airspace, the logistics piece that allows that to happen.
QUESTION: But it doesn’t imply aircraft actually landing in any of these places to deliver this stuff.
MR KIRBY: No. No, no, no. No, no, no. This would be airdrops; airdrops.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. But air bridge is the – it’s the facilitation of the airdrops.
QUESTION: Well, on excluding people from – the ISSG excluding people from the cessation of hostilities, does that apply to the government? Because it seems to me that the United States and its allies have accused the regime of consistent and persistent violations ever since this thing began in the first place. So is it within the ISSG remit to exclude the regime from the truce? Or because they – they’re an integral party to it, do they get a pass and basically --
MR KIRBY: No, they’re not --
QUESTION: -- no – with no consequence?
MR KIRBY: No, they’re not getting a pass. They --
QUESTION: So how have they been punished for their violations to --
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, first of all, it’s – in some areas of Syria where the cessation still holds, it’s the opposition that’s holding back from fighting the regime. And so the implication would be if the regime was no longer a party to the cessation, that the – then the opposition would be within their rights, if so determined then, to renew that fighting.
QUESTION: Yeah, but I’m not talking about the opposition. I’m talking about the ISSG.
MR KIRBY: I know what you’re talking about. I mean, but the --
QUESTION: So is it within – does the ISSG --
MR KIRBY: But it was – but the ISSG is a governing --
QUESTION: Does the ISSG --
MR KIRBY: -- not a governing body, a --
QUESTION: Does it reserve for itself the right to exclude the Syrian Government and its allies from the truce?
MR KIRBY: The ISSG is a consultative body recognized by the UN. The cessation of hostilities is governed by the United Nations, which has invested some supervisory and consultative tasks to the ISSG. The UN was represented in Vienna when the last communique was drafted, which stated that if a party remains consistently and persistently in violation, it could find itself – after consultation between the UN and the ISSG, it could find itself not a party – no longer a party to the cessation.
QUESTION: And that includes – that --
MR KIRBY: It would – absolutely. It could --
QUESTION: Those parties include the government?
MR KIRBY: It could include the government.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Do – how do you – do you keep a scorecard of who is doing the more violations? I mean, is it the government or each of the hundreds of the opposition groups and so on --
MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that --
QUESTION: -- or are they running together? How do you do it?
MR KIRBY: -- we – folks, we’ve talked about this before.
MR KIRBY: The task force continues to analyze information, collect it as best they can. As you know, some of the information comes from parallel sources and means, so sometimes you get six or so reports but it’s about one event. And they do the best they can to share the information inside the task force, which is chaired by the United States and Russia, and then to use that information to try to put the appropriate amount of influence and pressure on the groups that are violating to stop violating. The regime is, has continued to be, a violator of the cessation of hostilities, and we continue to call on Russia, which has the most influence of anybody on the regime, to get them to stop.
QUESTION: And the 1st of June date has been known about since we came out of Vienna. Couldn’t we have prepared the airdrops while we’re waiting, since there was no sign of the embargoes around these towns being lifted, and then started it tomorrow?
MR KIRBY: Well, the question presumes that nobody’s been thinking about it since the – Vienna, and that’s not true.
QUESTION: But you said you were expecting preparations to begin tomorrow.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: Couldn’t preparations have begun already?
MR KIRBY: Theoretically, I suppose yes, Dave. But the point was that we wanted the aid to get delivered over the last couple of weeks. And so the focus was on trying to work to get ground delivery of aid. That doesn’t mean that anybody hasn’t been thinking about it. What I’m saying here is that come tomorrow – we’re obviously not going to see a radical turnaround in the next few hours. We’re going to have to start the more active preparation to get these airdrops in place.
QUESTION: But presumably --
MR KIRBY: That was always – but Dave, I understand there are semantics here.
MR KIRBY: That was always the point. The point was to try to give some space – physical and otherwise – to the process to allow for humanitarian access to get going by the end of May. Clearly, that hasn’t happened in a satisfactory way, so we’re going to move forward.
QUESTION: But the – but the point of stating a date, June the 1st, was presumably to focus minds. And as of tomorrow, we won’t know when the date is that we’re – we’re losing focus.
MR KIRBY: Nobody’s losing focus on it, Dave. And I can’t tell you – I’m not – I can’t speak for --
QUESTION: What date should I focus on?
MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for the World Food Program. I don’t appreciate the sarcasm in your question. I don’t know. I can’t speak for the World Food Program and when they’ll start. But I can tell you everybody shares the same sense of urgency, and we’re going to get after this just as soon as possible.
But the important thing is that this is not the preferred method to do it. It would have been much better for the people of Syria and, frankly, for the entire effort if enough ground access had been given to the people in need.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Could I ask one more on the Syria stuff?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: So once these airdrops start, like, what is the U.S. role in that process? Just support through the ISSG body or --
MR KIRBY: If you’re asking for a military component --
QUESTION: No, no, no.
MR KIRBY: -- I don’t know.
QUESTION: I’m just trying to, like, understand what we should be watching for in the next, like, few days.
MR KIRBY: I think you can expect it to go similar to how airdrops have happened in the past, and they have happened. The World Food Program has flown them, and successfully. And I think you’ll – I think the way it would look going forward is just like that, where the – certainly the U.S.-led coalition would be monitoring these drops as best we can. I’m not aware of any direct military support role. I’d refer you to my colleagues at the Defense Department for that. But we have done this in the past. It has been successful in the past, and we’ll look to support the World Food Program as best we can going forward.
MR KIRBY: Let me stay on Iraq and then we’ll go to Turkey.
QUESTION: Thank you. So the Iraqi Kurds have said that they’re creating – that they’re sending a delegation to Baghdad to negotiate – to start negotiations on their independence referendum. I just wonder whether the United States has a position on these kind of negotiations.
MR KIRBY: Our position on Iraq hasn’t changed. We still believe in a federal, pluralistic, whole Iraq. Nothing’s changed about that.
QUESTION: On negotiations between Baghdad and Erbil over the possibility of an --
MR KIRBY: That’s an internal matter for Iraqi politicians to discuss and speak to. What I can tell you is our position on Iraq as a sovereign nation, whole and unified and pluralistic, hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Just one more. In general, does the United States support every people’s – support the notion that every people, including the Kurds, have the right to self-determination?
MR KIRBY: I think I’ve answered the question. I’ll happily repeat it again. We believe in a whole, unified, pluralistic Iraq.
QUESTION: No, just in general, like the right of self-determination, what’s the U.S. position? I know this is a Woodrow Wilson idea, that every people does have the right to self-determination.
MR KIRBY: Well --
QUESTION: You do still stand by --
MR KIRBY: -- I don’t think he’s president anymore.
QUESTION: Do you still stand by it?
MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to get into a philosophical discussion about self-determination up here. We take issues around the world, in nation-states around the world, and non-state actors case by case. You have to have that kind of agility and flexibility going forward in today’s very dynamic environment. And again, I can only tell you what our policy is on Iraq, and that hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Just one more on a different subject. Sorry. There were some media reports, including one major story – one story actually, not major – in Asharq Al-Awsat, which is a leading Arab newspaper, about attempts or work by the Iranian Government to build a missile base in Kurdistan, in Iraq. Does the United – is the United States aware of that?
MR KIRBY: By who?
QUESTION: Iranians are trying to build a missile base in Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan.
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of such plans. I think, obviously, you should consult --
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: -- officials in Tehran for that. That’s the first I’ve heard of this.
But let me go – let me just go back to a larger point here. We know Iran has had a presence inside Iraq since the anti – the counter-ISIL fight has gone on. We know that they have tried to exert influence in there. And what we said at the time stands today. We know Iraq’s neighbors are – obviously, they have interest in what’s going inside Iraq. But to the degree that they are going to involve themselves in Iraqi affairs, it needs to be done with the cooperation and coordination with, consultation, and obviously the permission of, the Iraqi Government. It’s a sovereign country. Sometimes I think we forget that. It’s a sovereign country.
And the second thing that we’ve said, particularly with respect to Iran, is if they’re going to involve themselves in Iraq, in addition to working through, with, and with the permission of the Abadi government, that we don’t want to see anybody, even the closest of neighbors, involve themselves in such a way that further inflames sectarian tensions, that further make the situation in Iraq any harder than it already is.
QUESTION: Are you --
QUESTION: Doesn’t the Iranian presence in Iraq far precede the counter-ISIL – doesn’t it go back to 2003?
MR KIRBY: Oh, sure. I’m just talking specifically about --
QUESTION: Oh, okay. All right.
MR KIRBY: -- what we’re talking about here.
QUESTION: On the battle of Fallujah, are you opposed to the Popular Mobilization Committees, or Hashd al-Shaabi, Iranian support militia, of taking a part in the liberation of Fallujah?
MR KIRBY: I’ll tell you what we support, Said, is Prime Minister Abadi’s efforts. And this is his campaign --
QUESTION: So --
MR KIRBY: Wait, wait, let me finish. It’s his campaign, his strategy to defeat ISIL inside his own country. And I won’t talk about military operations. You know that. But what we also support is the prime minister’s efforts to be as inclusive in the effort to go after ISIL as he has been. And these are decisions that he has to make in terms of the composition of the forces arrayed against ISIL/Daesh, in this case, in Fallujah. And as I understand it, the arrangement that he has in place will make for the Iraqi Security Forces to be the ones to actually go in and liberate Fallujah, with the PMF, the Shia militia, as you’d call it --
MR KIRBY: -- to stay more outside on the perimeters. And that’s a decision that he’s making for what we believe are sound reasons.
You’ve been patient. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. The Turkish foreign minister suggested that U.S. forces partner with Turkish special forces inside Syria instead of Kurdish forces. So Turkey wants to replace the Kurds in Syria. What do you say to that?
MR KIRBY: Well, as we’ve said before, Turkey is a key partner in this fight. They’re a strong NATO ally. And as we do with all our partners in this fight, we’re going to continue to discuss with Turkey all the different means where we can cooperate better against Daesh. And those talks are continuing. I’m not going to get ahead of military operations one way or another, but we continue to talk to Turkey about ways we can together, through the coalition, do a better job fighting against Daesh.
QUESTION: Put simply, U.S. response to the choice that Turkey’s offering is that you’re not going to make that choice. Is that correct?
MR KIRBY: If you’re asking me are --
MR KIRBY: -- we still going to support Syrian Democratic Forces inside Syria, we are.
QUESTION: They mean Kurdish – Kurdish forces. They mean – they want to replace YPG with their special forces.
MR KIRBY: I’ll let them speak to what they desire to do.
QUESTION: To exclude the Kurds.
MR KIRBY: I’ll let them speak for what they want to do. What I can tell you is – look, the effort against Daesh is being fought on many levels, and not just military. It’s also being fought by many different groups, not just nation-states. The – you got 66 countries arrayed against this group right now. That’s pretty representative of the international community, about how serious the threat is and continues to be. You also have groups and forces inside Syria. We call them the Syrian Democratic Forces, which are not just Kurdish forces. There are other groups represented in the SDF. We support efforts by the SDF; we’re going to continue to do that. I don’t see that changing inasmuch as they have been very effective on the ground against Daesh.
We also have a strong relationship with Turkey, and Turkey – as I’ve said many times, this isn’t some esoteric discussion for them. It’s right along their border. It’s real. And we appreciate the support that they’ve given to the coalition. We’re going to continue to look for ways to bolster that cooperation and to try to improve our joint efforts against Daesh.
QUESTION: But Turkey wants the U.S. to choose between them and the Kurdish forces. So the U.S. response just shortly and simply is, “No thanks”? Is that – would that describe the U.S. response?
MR KIRBY: What I would say to the proposal to choose – and I think I’ve said this before – is that there shouldn’t have to be – the only choice to be made is to continue the fight against Daesh. And it does require a true international coalition effort, and that’s what we’re going after. That’s the choice that everybody has to make, is how do you best defeat Daesh.
QUESTION: One more – one more on Turkey.
MR KIRBY: Sure, go ahead. All right.
QUESTION: Just different.
MR KIRBY: It’s all right.
QUESTION: Russia’s foreign minister demanded that Turkey withdraw its troops from Iraq, where they’re located without the approval of the Iraqi Government. Where does the U.S. stand on the unauthorized troops that Iraq still hasn’t withdrawn from --
MR KIRBY: The same place we were before. I mean --
QUESTION: -- not – Turkey has – still has not withdrawn from Iraq?
MR KIRBY: The same place we had before. We want this to be worked out bilaterally between Turkey and Iraq.
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, in January, President Obama called on Turkey to withdraw the unauthorized troops from Iraq. Other than that call, what, if anything, the U.S. has done to make it happen?
MR KIRBY: We have continually made our concerns known about this to leaders in Turkey. And again, we want this to be resolved bilaterally between the two countries. Nothing’s changed about that.
QUESTION: John, can I go to Iran for a second? This will be brief. One – and I apologize, because I was gone, as you know; you were as well. So if any of this has come up before and you’ve already answered it, please just let me know. One, the heavy water purchase that you guys were making from Iran – did that get completed? Because Mr. Salehi said today that – in response to the Supreme Court ruling on the $2 billion – that the Iranians had halted the sale from their end.
MR KIRBY: Matt, you’re going to have to let me check on that one.
QUESTION: All right. And then --
MR KIRBY: I do not have an update. I’m – let me just – before I – was that discussed at all last week while we were gone? No.
QUESTION: Okay. And --
MR KIRBY: So let us take that.
QUESTION: Have you guys ever gotten around to determining whether the Russian sale of the S-300s to Iran meets the criteria for sanctions?
MR KIRBY: I’ll take that as well. That said, we’ve long made our concerns known about this sale and --
QUESTION: I mean, I understand that. But I mean, was it --
MR KIRBY: -- we would – as we said, we would, if deemed appropriate, take it up inside the UN. But I don’t know a specific answer to your question.
QUESTION: Right. But there – the people – they’re – the Hill – people on the Hill have been – expressed concern about this, saying that they believe that it is, or at least they would like the Administration to make a determination and then take the appropriate action. It’s been more than a month, I believe, since the first concerns about this were raised. And --
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: So anyway, if you could take that.
MR KIRBY: I don’t have a good answer, unfortunately, for either of those. So let me take that and get back to you.
QUESTION: Can I --
MR KIRBY: Haiti?
QUESTION: Haiti. Go to Haiti.
QUESTION: After Haiti.
QUESTION: Yeah. The Haiti Electoral Commission has called for the first-round presidential results to be annulled and for the first round to be held again. Obviously, this is an internal Haiti matter, but you did welcome the first-round results and have in the past called for a quick completion of the electoral process, so just wondering where you stand now.
MR KIRBY: As we’ve said before, the Haitian people deserve to have their voices heard and their needs met through a democratically elected president. We continue to believe that they urgently need to complete this process with a democratically elected government to address the challenges that Haiti continues to face. We urge the provisional electoral council to publish on June 6th, if not sooner, the revised electoral calendar establishing a date for prompt installation of the president-elect. Although this is a Haitian-led process, the longer it takes for Haiti to have a democratically elected president, the longer it’s going to take for the United States to consider new elements of partnership in helping Haiti confront the mounting economic, climate, and health challenges that they continue to face today.
MR KIRBY: OAS calls for --
QUESTION: OAS call for an emergency meeting to discuss the situation with Venezuela’s democracy.
MR KIRBY: We join them in calling for dialogue in Venezuela to find the solutions. As a matter of fact, I think you saw the readout --
QUESTION: Yeah, no, this is different than the Secretary’s call to the officials last week. This is – I believe this is something new. As you know, the OAS – the head of the OAS is not exactly Mr. Popularity with the Maduro administration, or Mr. Popular with the Maduro administration, and now he is wanting to hold a special meeting about – which could lead to the – could possibly lead to Venezuela being suspended from the OAS. Do you – if you don’t have anything --
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that we have a position on that specific call, Matt, but I would point out that we know the – we know proximity talks did start in the Dominican Republic and we welcome that. We think that, as the Secretary said in his readout from his call with the former prime minister of Spain on Thursday, that we continue to believe dialogue is the right approach here.
MR KIRBY: Where?
QUESTION: -- for a minute? The Palestinian-Israeli issue.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: First of all --
MR KIRBY: Not Mozambique?
QUESTION: Not Mozambique, but I can --
MR KIRBY: I am waiting for that question.
QUESTION: Sure, okay. First of all, the conference – the Paris conference on Friday, is that – from your point of view or from the Secretary’s point of view, is that like a one-time event, or is it something that will be followed?
MR KIRBY: Well, that’s --
QUESTION: What is the thinking of the Secretary of State in this regard?
MR KIRBY: Well, as he’s said before, Said, he’s open and willing to listen to all ideas about how to get to a two-state solution, including the proposal by the French. He’s looking forward to going to Paris later this week and to attending these meetings to see what possibilities there may be, what options can be pursued. So I don’t want to get ahead of a discussion that hasn’t happened yet, but we – nothing’s changed about our commitment to trying to get at a two-state solution. And if good ideas and alternatives and palatable ways forward come out of this initiative started by the French, well, then that’s all to the good.
QUESTION: Because --
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Does he go there to please the French or because he strongly believes that something could be done before the end of the Administration, given the fact that the main actor, the Israelis, have said many time that they would reject any French initiative?
MR KIRBY: Well, that’s – again, that’s up to the Israeli Government to speak to. It’s not about going to please anybody. It’s going – it’s about being there to be a part of a discussion and to explore ideas and options that might help us get closer to a two-state solution. Obviously – and the Secretary said this himself – the first and most important thing is that the leaders themselves in the region have got to be leaders. They’ve got to make some tough decisions. And they have to show in real ways, not just rhetoric, that they’re willing to take the steps necessary to get us to a two-state solution, and to date they haven’t done that. So the Secretary’s been very clear that he’s not going to shut down any avenue for discussion or debate or consideration of ideas. This isn’t about going to please the French or anybody else, it’s to try to have a meaningful conversation about a path forward.
QUESTION: John, in this case, would the Secretary --
MR KIRBY: I’ll come back to you. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Would the Secretary take with him what he has – because he’s covered a lot of ground between August 2013 and the end of March 2014. He covered a great deal ground. So would he go from where things ended, or would they have to start all over again? Would he say, “Look guys, we have covered all this,” so --
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, the Secretary said himself that previous efforts haven’t gone anywhere – again, because there has not been committed leadership there to try to solve these problems.
I don’t – look, I don’t – again, I don’t want to get ahead of discussions that haven’t happened. So I don’t know, and it would be imprudent to try to guess at what point along the timeline of discussions that have already happened they’re going to pick it up in Paris, or whether they’re going to start from scratch. Maybe it’s a combination; I don’t know. But it would – if you’re really committed to getting to a two-state solution, and the United States policy is that, then it seems logical that the Secretary would want to be there, as other members of the international community sit down in Paris and try to solve this, and try to come up with some options so that a reasonable, tangible, and hopefully successful path forward can be arrived at.
QUESTION: During the last week the department had said that the nature of the new governing coalition in Israel raised legitimate questions about what direction it’s headed in, what policy directions it’s headed in. Today, as I’m sure you saw, Prime Minister Netanyahu, for the first time I think in quite a while, spoke about the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, saying that it had positive elements, but that aspects of it would have to be changed.
What’s your take on that? Do you think that – do you think that the new Israeli Government has, by mentioning this, demonstrated or answered your legitimate questions about the direction they’re heading in?
MR KIRBY: I would say we’ve seen those comments as well. We welcome them. We welcome their stated support for a two-state solution.
As the Secretary himself has said many times, the Arab Peace Initiative can play a critical role in advancing peace in the region. We continue to call on both sides, as I said before, to demonstrate with policies and actions their commitments to the two-state solution, and we’re ready to support them in any way.
So, again, back to the same theme, I think, to my answers to Said. The Secretary supports all paths forward that could potentially get us to a two-state solution. But again, it requires leadership there at the local level.
QUESTION: And why do you think this has come up now, so many years after the Arab Peace Initiative was made public, and so many years indeed after Prime Minister Netanyahu took office in his latest incarnation as prime minister?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know that that’s knowable, unless we were to consult Prime Minister Netanyahu.
MR KIRBY: Not yet, but we are working on it. And --
QUESTION: Yeah. So how long does it take to clear this up?
MR KIRBY: I suspect that very soon we’ll be able to let you know what was learned.
QUESTION: Okay. Very soon, like this week?
MR KIRBY: Very – very soon.
QUESTION: Like, this week?
MR KIRBY: Potentially this week.
QUESTION: Is it still your belief what you previously said, that this was a glitch? Is that still your belief?
MR KIRBY: Again, we’re – I think we’ll have more to say on this a little bit later. So I don’t want to get ahead of that. Why don’t we just – let me get to the end of the process here, and then we’ll come back and let you know what we’ve learned.
QUESTION: And then – another one. Again, this is going to be very brief. In the IG report on the emails which came out while, I think, we were in Guam – so I didn’t really have a chance to look at it at the time – but it mentions that Secretary Kerry uses an OpenNet account. Does he also have a classified account?
MR KIRBY: Yes, he does.
QUESTION: He does?
MR KIRBY: He does.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: I got time for just a couple more here.
QUESTION: I just want to go back to the Palestinian-Israeli issue, one quick question on the settlement. The Israelis are set to approve the construction of a building in the Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem of Silwan to house settlers and so on. Have you seen the report, and do you have any reaction to it?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think you know our position on settlements, Said. That hasn’t changed a bit.
QUESTION: I do. But they are not deterred. I mean, your position is not --
MR KIRBY: They are not what?
QUESTION: Your position is not – your position is not persuading the Israelis to sort of cut down on their settlement activities, are they?
MR KIRBY: So we’re still looking into the details of this particular report that you’re talking about. As you know, the position hasn’t changed. We strongly oppose all settlement activity, which we continue to believe are counterproductive to the cause of peace. And again, we’re looking for both sides here to do the right thing, to show the right leadership, to get us to a better solution.
Go – I’ll take one more. Goyal, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Welcome back.
MR KIRBY: Thank you.
QUESTION: My question is about administration of U.S. laws in the region of India, and now India is coming to the U.S. – I mean Prime Minister Modi. My question is when you meet and greet all these countries, neighboring Indian countries, do you ever talk about India, like this – on this visit in Southeast Asia, ever India came up?
MR KIRBY: When we meet with Indian officials, do we talk about India?
QUESTION: With Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, and all these countries.
MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, there’s no question that in routine meetings, bilateral meetings, with Indian officials we talk about all manner of regional, even global issues. They’re not just about issues between the United States and India. And we look forward to the prime minister’s visit and we want it to be successful.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Guys, I got to go. Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:21 p.m.)
DPB # 93