Daily Press Briefing - June 1, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:45 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody. Sorry for the delay coming out today.
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
MR KIRBY: Did somebody say it was okay?
MR KIRBY: All right.
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. I’m cutting into your nap time, Said, and I apologize for that. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’m an insomniac (inaudible).
MR KIRBY: The early bird special starts soon. I know we’ve got to get you there.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) insomnia. I don’t even – (laughter).
MR KIRBY: I just want to – a quick note at the top on Syria. The United States is pleased to see that the United Nations, the ICRC, and the Syrian Red Crescent have confirmed the ground delivery of some humanitarian assistance to Darayya and Mouadhimiyeh this morning – and I apologize if I didn’t get that right.
MR KIRBY: Mouadhimiyeh. Ground delivery remains the most effective means to providing aid to all besieged communities. We’ve said that before. While this delivery today is an important step, it is far from sufficient to providing the kind of relief to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian people who are in need – who need, frankly, sustained and regular access to aid.
So per the meeting in Vienna two weeks ago of the International Syria Support Group, the United States supports the World Food Program moving forward on their planning to carry out air operations to provide additional aid. The World Food Program has provided briefings to the United States on a series of approaches that could be taken, and we have discussed those with our Russian counterparts, including, I might add, in a phone call earlier today – this morning – between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov.
While the World Food Program planning continues, we urge and we expect Russia to use its influence with the regime to fulfill commitments already made for continued ground delivery of aid, and if needed, supporting international air operations going forward.
As I said yesterday, ground delivery is still the best type of delivery. You can get the most stuff there to where it’s needed and in the quantity that’s required and more expeditiously, more – frankly, more directly. So it’s unfortunate that we have to move forward, and the World Food Program is going to be moving forward in planning for air ops, but that’s where we are. And today is the 1st of June, so I thought it was important to lay that out for you.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Why – I don’t know if you saw the statement that the British foreign secretary issued.
MR KIRBY: I did.
QUESTION: Yeah. So he described – you said that you welcome the access, which I understand. But he also said on the date of that deadline, the Assad regime has cynically allowed limited amounts of food into Darayya and Mouadhimiyeh – Mouadhimiyeh, excuse me. Do you not also see this as a cynical exercise by the Assad regime or by the Assad government?
MR KIRBY: Listen, I think – I – we fully share the foreign secretary’s continued concern about the lack of sustained and general access of humanitarian aid. Look, I’ve talked about it myself, the fact that they’ll let a convoy get to the outskirts of a town, like Darayya last week, and then stop it, or they’ll get it to the outskirts of town and they’ll pull the medical supplies out. I’m well aware that this delivery wasn’t complete and comprehensive in every way. We’re certainly mindful that there is much more of a need in those places than what was delivered today, but we also do welcome the delivery of what was – what made it to those communities. I mean, that’s – that – it’s a – esoterically, it’s a good thing that they were able to get some aid. Is it enough? No, and I said that at the top. It’s still not sufficient.
QUESTION: And do you regard it as a cynical ploy by the Assad government?
MR KIRBY: What we have said all along is we want them to support sustained, complete, comprehensive, unimpeded access of humanitarian assistance. They have not met that expectation, consistently have not met that expectation. And to the degree that they have hindered it, limited it, allowed it to get tantalizingly close to people in need and then pull it back or pull parts of it back, clearly, it shows at the very least a lack of concern for their own citizens and a willingness to spit in the face of the international community as the international community continues to push for that delivery.
QUESTION: And did you get – did the Secretary get any sense from Foreign Minister Lavrov that Russia would, as the British foreign secretary asks, exert such influence as it has with the Assad government to permit full and unimpeded access, something they just haven’t done. So did you get any sense they’re actually going to --
MR KIRBY: This has been, obviously, a topic of repeated conversation between the Secretary and the foreign minister, and without going into the details – as you know, I’m not wont to do in terms of their frequent conversations – again, I can tell you that they certainly did talk about the humanitarian situation on the ground, they certainly talked about the need to move forward in getting more aid in. They talked about moving forward with the World Food Program and the potential for – or the planning for airdrops. But I won’t speak for the foreign minister and what he specifically committed to doing.
Again, though, as I indicated in the – in my opening comments, the Secretary continues to and has continued to and will continue to urge the foreign minister to use Russia’s influence in a constructive, productive, positive way to get the regime to do the things that they need to do according to the international obligations of the UN Security Council resolution, and more critically, in keeping with the needs of so many desperate – thousands and thousands of desperate people.
QUESTION: When do you think the airdrops will actually begin?
MR KIRBY: I don't know.
QUESTION: Because if you’re somebody who’s in one of those cities – again, I have no idea what their communications are – and you saw the statement that if access wasn’t restored by June 1 that you would support airdrops, you might be sitting there waiting for food or other things to be airdropped to you.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: I mean, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask when that might actually happen --
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: -- since June 1 is here and nobody’s getting airdrops.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yeah, listen, Arshad, I – believe me, as I said yesterday, we all share a sense of urgency here about getting the aid in, and we’re going to be – we have gotten some briefings, as I said, from the World Food Program. I expect that those discussions will continue in earnest now that it’s June 1st, and we all hope that additional aid can be delivered – if by air is necessary, fine, but perhaps even more by ground, hopefully. I mean, what we want to see is the aid get there, and it’s our hope and our expectation that’ll happen as soon as possible, as soon as practical. But when exactly that is on the calendar, I’m just not at liberty to say right now. I don’t know.
But I can tell you that the discussions are ongoing. We know that the World Food Program has some approaches that they believe can work here and we’re going to continue to work with them to see that it gets going just as soon as possible.
QUESTION: John --
QUESTION: Can we move on from Syria?
QUESTION: No, just one more on Syria, please.
QUESTION: On this --
MR KIRBY: All right. Okay. We’ll – go ahead.
QUESTION: One more on Syria. On the diplomatic front, can you confirm that Secretary Kerry talked to Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning? And what was the --
MR KIRBY: Yeah, yeah I did. It was in my opening.
QUESTION: Oh, sorry, sorry.
MR KIRBY: It’s okay. No, it’s all right.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate on --
MR KIRBY: I don’t expect everybody to pay attention to me.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate on the conversation? You mentioned they talked about the Syria aid, but also, there are some Russian foreign – Russian comments indicating that Lavrov again mentioned the approach of cooperating on airstrikes. Can you confirm that that was part of the conversation today also?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, no, I’ve seen their comments about it. Without – again, without getting into the specific details of everything that was said, but yes, they did talk about operational efforts against al-Nusrah and against Daesh and about the importance of continuing to share information. But I’m – I don’t have any more details to get into in terms of specific operations. They just talked about in general the need to continue to share the information that’s being shared about ongoing ops against these groups.
QUESTION: And did they talk about anything beyond Syria?
MR KIRBY: The discussion today with Foreign Minister Lavrov was largely about Syria.
QUESTION: Can I just --
QUESTION: Is the UN willing to consider or is it considering these joint operations against Nusrah?
MR KIRBY: What we’ve said all along is that we know that there has to be a level of communication here, and there is, and this is largely between the Russian military and the Defense Department. There are no joint operations being conducted. I know of no plans to begin specific joint operations, but we’re going to stay in close touch with Russian officials moving forward in terms of how best to counter groups like al-Nusrah and Daesh in Syria. And there’s lots of different proposals, lots of different options that are being discussed, but I just don’t have any more detail than that right now.
QUESTION: John, I just want to follow up on the aid, because de Mistura said that for any airdrops they would have to have the permission of the Syrian Government, because if it’s fixed wing, it has to be from very high altitude or a helicopter --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- but either way you need to coordinate with the Syrians. Are you willing to coordinate with the Syrians strictly on humanitarian grounds to have these airdrops occur and happen over the --
MR KIRBY: Said, the --
QUESTION: -- delivered to the areas that are besieged?
MR KIRBY: As I said yesterday, the World Food Program has conducted airdrops in Syria before, so they have some experience at it. It is not the preferred method. It’s more expensive and it’s less precise, and you can’t do it in quite the volume that you can do from the ground. So it’s not what we all want to see happen, but it has been done before. They know how to do it and they’ve got some approaches that they continue to discuss with us. We have not in the past, and I don’t expect in the future going forward here, that there will be direct coordination or communication between the United States and the Syrian Government. What we’re going to do, and one of the reasons why the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov today, was to continue to urge the Russian Government to use its influence on the regime to allow for the access of this aid and assistance to get where it needs to go.
QUESTION: But now --
MR KIRBY: That’s the principal conduit here.
QUESTION: Although you didn’t say it, but the suggestion is that the Government of Syria is playing a double game or being cynical. But the fact that they opened these roads and allowed in medical supplies and so on, is that like a beginning or a good gesture, perhaps, that you can build on?
MR KIRBY: It’s hard to say. I mean, they’ve done this – they’ve done this tantalizingly so in the past, where they allow some stuff to get in and then pull some other stuff back, either at the last minute or won’t even let convoys leave, and then they’ll let some in and then not let some – not let additional aid get in. It has been inconsistent. And what we want to see is a consistency to this and an unimpeded, sustained delivery of aid and assistance to people that are in need. And we’re talking about innocent people here. We’re talking about civilians, many of whom are children, and we’re talking about food, water, medical supplies – basic necessities of life. And these are Syrian citizens who obviously have not been able to rely on their own government to get this aid and assistance to them.
QUESTION: John, the Syrian opposition has sent a letter to the UN suggesting a nationwide Ramadan truce. Do you support such offer?
MR KIRBY: What – we have supported a nationwide cessation of hostilities from the very beginning, Michel.
QUESTION: That means you would support the Syrian opposition offer at the UN in case it won’t --
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into UN processes here, or procedures. But if you’re asking me do we support a nationwide cessation of hostilities, ceasefire, call it what you want, the answer is yes. And so, frankly, has been the --
QUESTION: But you supported it for 48 hours or 72 --
MR KIRBY: Well, what we have said is that we need to move beyond temporary, ephemeral placements of cessations so that we’re not looking at the clock. We need to be looking at the whole country over a sustained period of time. That’s what we want. We want to get beyond these temporary truces, if you will, that are fixed in time and fixed in location, and get to a point – and this was communicated after the last meeting in Vienna – this specific idea was talked about – transforming what has been temporary and local cessations into a nationwide ceasefire throughout the country. That’s what we want.
So I’m not going to get ahead of UN process here, but we’ve been nothing but candid about what our goals are for a nationwide cessation of hostilities.
Brad, you’ve been patient.
QUESTION: If we can move past Syria – is that okay?
QUESTION: Can I – John, can I ask one last one about Syria?
QUESTION: And I have one more on Syria.
QUESTION: Why not – why not endorse the Ramadan ceasefire, even if it is limited in duration? You were willing to endorse other ones --
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say – I didn’t say we weren’t endorsing specifically a Ramadan ceasefire. We want to see – we – obviously we want to see a reduction in violence, and ceasefires, even the short ones, even the ones that are temporary and local, are good in and of themselves, obviously, because people aren’t being killed and barrel bombed and gassed and there’s no fighting. So what I’m saying is we have – our position has been clear and consistent from the very beginning, and that’s nationwide cessation of hostilities that can be enduring.
And while we certainly wouldn’t look disfavorably on another temporary or local ceasefire if they were to be enacted and enforced by all sides, what we’d really like to see is those sorts of arrangements transformed to one that’s longer and larger.
QUESTION: And are you afraid that if you outright say, “We support a ceasefire for the period of Ramadan but we would like it to be permanent thereafter and universal in application,” are you afraid that in the few days left before Ramadan starts there’s going to be a huge push on either side or – to gain ground? I mean, because that’s not what you’re saying. You’re not saying, “We think a Ramadan ceasefire is a great idea but we want it to be universal and indefinite.”
MR KIRBY: We think, again, local and temporary ceasefires have a purpose, and to the degree they reduce violence, again, those are good things. But what we’d like to see is the – that they become nationwide and become enduring and that we get beyond these local, temporary truces. I’m not suggesting that we’re not giving a full-throated endorsement of this because we’re worried about last-minute gamesmanship on either side beforehand. What I’m saying is if there were to be a – one put in place over Ramadan that could be successful, obviously that’s a good thing for the Syrian people but it – but in the end what we really want to see happen – the best thing that can happen for the Syrian people is an enduring nationwide cessation of hostilities.
QUESTION: Tomorrow at the National Press Club, an advisor to Syrian President Assad is a presenter. Her name is Bouthaina Shaaban, and this is --
QUESTION: Bouthaina Shaaban.
QUESTION: Bouthaina Shaaban.
QUESTION: Thank you – and it’s called the Global Alliance for Terminating ISIS and al-Qaida. First of all, what is your reaction? And then, secondly, is there a State concern that this might be sort of an information war on Syria’s part
MR KIRBY: That – that this individual’s speaking?
MR KIRBY: As I understand it, it’s already happened.
QUESTION: It’s tomorrow --
QUESTION: It’s tomorrow.
QUESTION: -- via Skype.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: Yeah, Skype. Yeah.
MR KIRBY: In any event, let me just make a couple of points. Our position with respect to this individual has not changed. She’s been designated by the Treasury Department since August 30th of 2011. So for years now, she’s served as a propaganda mouthpiece for the Assad regime, and so our position on her hasn’t changed. The event organizers, as you rightly pointed out, clarified that she’d be speaking over Skype, and with respect to the rules regarding that – with respect to the designation, I’d refer you to the Treasury Department.
QUESTION: Do you --
QUESTION: Can I just ask --
MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: You sanctioned her, because – this Administration, because she was a propaganda mouthpiece. Tomorrow, she’ll speak and be --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: It was – the goal of the sanctions was to prevent her – prevent Americans from helping her do this propaganda, if I understand right, and tomorrow you’re going to have press and organizers helping her spread propaganda in the United States. So, what does that say about your sanctions?
MR KIRBY: Doesn’t mean that the sanctions aren’t still valid, Brad. I mean, the – they still are. And again, I think for further explication about that, I’d refer you to the Treasury Department --
QUESTION: And then I just wanted to --
MR KIRBY: -- and to the – and to the organization that’s putting this on.
QUESTION: Okay, but – well, the – do you know who the organization that’s putting this on is?
MR KIRBY: As I --
QUESTION: Do you think – go on.
MR KIRBY: No, as I understand, it’s an organization called GAFTA.
MR KIRBY: I don’t have the acronym spelled out here.
QUESTION: And do you know anything about the people in this organization as well? Do they have any --
MR KIRBY: I don’t have –
QUESTION: -- ties to Syria, or Hizballah, or anything?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of – I don’t – I just don’t know.
QUESTION: But you can’t say whether this is breaking U.S. sanctions?
MR KIRBY: I’d refer you to the Treasury Department; they’re really the right ones to speak to if --
QUESTION: Do you know if any --
MR KIRBY: -- (inaudible) sanctions violations here.
QUESTION: Do you know if any exemption was given for any U.S. official – any U.S. people to help with this press conference?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such exemption.
QUESTION: Follow-up on the GAFTA meeting.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: There is also a speaker there, Bassam al-Hussaini, the Iraqi Government liaison for the Popular Mobilization Forces that will also be speaking, we understand. I’m just wondering how the State Department views – if this is also sort of a public relation effort by the Shia militias in the fight against ISIL?
MR KIRBY: I couldn’t possibly speak to the motivations of that individual to speak, or what that individual’s going to say, or the invitation. What I can tell you is that we continue to support Prime Minister Abadi’s efforts in prosecuting the war effort against Daesh inside his own country, which has almost since the beginning included some – what we call Popular Mobilization Forces, or Shia militia, as you might add. Not all of whom, I might remind you, are under the thumb of Tehran, as has been often I think misunderstood. Prime Minister Abadi is trying to lead an inclusive effort against this terrorist group inside his own country, and we continue to support his efforts to do so. Now, what this individual is going to say, I couldn’t – I couldn’t – you know, I couldn’t even begin to speculate at this point.
QUESTION: I know that you’ve touched on this in the past, though, but is there sort of concern that this is kind of worsening the sectarian divide inside Iraq, this involvement, and is there concern that there is no ability of the Iraqi Government to hold them to account?
MR KIRBY: Meaning their role in military operations?
QUESTION: Vis-a-vis the battle against ISIL.
MR KIRBY: I mean, again, without speaking for the Iraqi Government, I’d say actually the contrary is probably going to be the case, that the – that they are united in their fight against Daesh. And even the Iraqi government has said, for instance, in the fight against Fallujah, that it – that the PMF militia will stay outside the city. It will be Iraqi security forces that go in and secure Fallujah. So every indication is that Prime Minister Abadi is trying to strike the right balance here in terms of their – their contributions to the effort, in both scope and in character, and we continue to support those efforts. I mean --
QUESTION: That doesn’t really speak to the concerns about sectarian divisions and holding to account.
MR KIRBY: Well, what we have said from, again, the very beginning, is that to the degree Iraq’s neighbors are going to play a role with helping Iraq fight Daesh, we want them – we want them – all of them – to do it in a way that doesn’t further inflame sectarian tensions or increase those tensions. But that – the inclusive approach that he’s taking, if it can be effective on the battlefield, well, then that’s a good thing and obviously we want to encourage that.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: There were a couple questions yesterday that I wanted to close off. First, has there been any conclusion on missing tape from – I think it was a December 2013 briefing. When it was posted online, it had a few minutes that were cut out of it. Has there been any resolution on how that happened?
MR KIRBY: Yes, and thank you for that question, Brad. As many of you know – and I want to be specific on this, so I’m going to refer to my notes a little bit – as many of you know, and as some of you have brought to our attention, a portion of the State Department’s December 2nd, 2013 press briefing was missing from the video that we posted on our YouTube account and on our website. That missing portion covered a series of questions about U.S. negotiations with Iran. When alerted to this, I immediately directed the video to be restored in its entirety with the full and complete copy that exists and had existed since the day of the briefing on the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System website, otherwise known as DVIDS.
I also verified that the full transcript of the briefing, which we also post on our website, was intact and had been so since the date of the briefing. I asked the Office of the Legal Adviser to look at this, including a look at any rules that we had in place. In so doing, they learned that a specific request was made to excise that portion of the briefing. We do not know who made the request to edit the video or why it was made.
To my surprise, the Bureau of Public Affairs did not have in place any rules governing this type of action. Therefore, we are taking immediate steps to craft appropriate protocols on this issue as we believe that deliberately removing a portion of the video was not and is not in keeping with the State Department’s commitment to transparency and public accountability.
QUESTION: Do you --
MR KIRBY: I’m not – let me just finish.
QUESTION: Sorry, I didn’t know.
MR KIRBY: I got a little bit more. No, sorry.
QUESTION: It was a dramatic pause. Excuse me.
MR KIRBY: No, I was just turning the page. (Laughter.) Specifically, we are going to make clear that all video and transcripts from daily press briefings will be immediately and permanently archived in their entirety, and that in the unlikely event that narrow, compelling circumstances require edits to be made, such as the inadvertent release of privacy-protected information, they will only be made with the express permission of the assistant secretary of state for public affairs and with an appropriate level of annotation and disclosure. I have communicated this new policy to my staff and it takes effect immediately.
QUESTION: Do you know when the edit – or the cut, I should say – occurred? Was it some point afterwards? Was it the same day?
MR KIRBY: To the best of our knowledge the edit was done the same day.
QUESTION: And how do you know that it was deliberately removed, as you said?
MR KIRBY: As I understand it, the request was made – again, back in 2013 – over the phone.
MR KIRBY: The recipient of the call, who is one of the editors, does not remember anything other than that the caller was passing on a request from somewhere else in the bureau.
QUESTION: And are you doing any – I mean, there would – as you said, there was no rules about this, but are you nevertheless investigating further to figure out who did this and why?
MR KIRBY: The short answer, Brad, is no. As I said, there were no rules in place at the time to govern this sort of action. So while I believe it was an inappropriate step to take, I see little foundation for pressing forward with a formal investigation. My focus as the assistant secretary going forward is going to be making sure that we have in place clear policies and procedures that prevent this sort of thing from happening again.
QUESTION: Is there any way – can I follow up on this? Is there any way for you to track all the phone calls that were made to the individual who received that request on that date? And if so, did you try to – did the Office of the Legal Adviser try to do that so as to establish who may have made the request?
MR KIRBY: I know of no such technology here that exists that would allow you to do that. And no, that effort was not pursued. Again, it’s important to remember there were no rules governing this sort of action in the past. So again, I find no reason to press forward with a more formal or deeper investigation. What matters to me – and I take it seriously – is our commitment to transparency and disclosure, and so we’re going to make sure – again, I communicated this this morning to the staff – we’re going to make sure that this kind of thing can’t happen again.
QUESTION: No, I get that. I guess clearly somebody, however, is not as committed to transparency and disclosure as you are, and because it affected a very sensitive matter – not merely the Iran nuclear negotiations but, more importantly, whether a previous person at that podium spoke truthfully – I wonder why you are not making a greater effort to find out who sought to bowdlerize the record.
MR KIRBY: Well --
QUESTION: Even if there weren’t rules, it’s – it stands to common sense and your own inclinations that you be transparent. So I don’t understand why you wouldn’t try to find out who tried to subvert what has historically been the transparency of the department in these matters.
MR KIRBY: But we did. We tried. And, I mean, that’s why I asked the Office of the Legal Adviser to look at this. I wanted somebody outside the bureau to take an independent look at it, and they did, and they – they tried to pursue it. But, I mean, it was three years ago, and the individual who took the call just simply doesn’t have a better memory of it. And there were no rules, no regulations in place that prohibited this. So I feel like we did due diligence, we did take a look at this, we did try to find out what happened.
And, frankly, we did learn quite a bit, right? We learned that there was a deliberate request – that this wasn’t a technical glitch; this was a deliberate request to excise video. And as I said, I – and I said it this morning to the staff: I don’t find that to be an appropriate step to take. So again, my focus is going to be on the future and making sure that we have the right rules in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
QUESTION: John --
QUESTION: One other one from me to just --
QUESTION: -- has there been any conclusion with regard to --
QUESTION: One other one from me, please. Do you believe, going back to the issue of transparency and your commitment to it – as you’re aware, the excised portion was with regard to a previous State Department briefing in which the spokesperson was asked whether there were secret negotiations underway between the United States and Iran, and replied no. Were they telling the truth? Were they being transparent and accurate when they made that statement?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to re-litigate past briefings. The excised portion, though, was not – you’re talking about the – you’re talking about an exchange with who was then the spokesman at the time, Ms. Nuland, who was asked that specific question --
MR KIRBY: -- and whose answer was no.
QUESTION: And the excised portion --
MR KIRBY: The excised portion was --
QUESTION: -- dealt with --
MR KIRBY: -- was a year or so – almost a year later.
QUESTION: Right, but it was about the previous – it was about the prior briefing.
MR KIRBY: It was about that previous exchange.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. I’m sorry, I lost the question again.
QUESTION: Well, the question is: Was the prior spokesperson – not the one whose --
MR KIRBY: Portion was excised.
QUESTION: -- words were excised, but the other one – telling the truth about when they said no, there were no – I think the exact quote was, “No.” They were asked are there secret negotiations between the United States and Iran on the nuclear issue and the answer was no.
MR KIRBY: I have – again – I’ve only been at the State Department a year, so I can’t speak to events as they developed well before I got here. But I have been preceded in this job by two extraordinary spokespeople who are people of character and integrity and extremely professional in the conduct of their duties, and I have no doubt that on both of the previous occasions that we’re talking about that they were doing their jobs credibly, honestly, and with integrity.
QUESTION: Can I just ask if there were any other – this example was only discovered by, I think, the reporter who asked the question --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- back in 2013. So have you asked and found out if there were other examples? Was this a regular thing, going back and changing videos?
MR KIRBY: We – I’m not aware of any other instance where this happened before.
MR KIRBY: But I can’t tell you with great certainty, Brad, that it never happened before. I’m not aware of any.
MR KIRBY: And I don’t have – we don’t have the time or the resources to go back and look at every single briefing from the past. But I’m not aware of any.
QUESTION: Can we just – last thing on this – clarify with regard to – has there been any conclusion with regard to what the motivation was for excising?
MR KIRBY: No. As I said at the top, we don’t know who made the request and we don’t know why.
QUESTION: But I know we don’t know who, but I mean, we know what was taken out.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know.
QUESTION: Do we know why it would’ve been taken out?
MR KIRBY: I do not know.
QUESTION: And do you --
QUESTION: And just to clarify, it’s back? It’s back?
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Just to clarify, the video is back on the website?
MR KIRBY: It is. It is.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject.
MR KIRBY: I think Arshad had one more.
QUESTION: Do you know why the request was exceeded – was acceded to? I mean, why wasn’t there pushback like, “No, the State Department has for many, many years now put out honest, faithful transcriptions and video of what transpires in the briefing.” Do you – did you ask the person who took the call, “Hey, why didn’t say, ‘No, we don’t do that?’”
MR KIRBY: I – because there were no rules in place, I’m going to – I’m – there were no rules in place prohibiting it, so I’m really not able to get into any more detail in terms of the decision process that went on when the request was made. All I can go back and tell you is that looking at it from my vantage point, this was not an appropriate step to take and we’re going to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
QUESTION: But John, how can you know about the decision – I mean, I understand that you don’t want to talk about it, but how can you know about the decision-making process on how it was decided and not know who asked for the request to be made?
MR KIRBY: Because the individual who was in receipt of the request does not remember. I mean, it was three years ago. Does not remember --
QUESTION: There’s no record of an email exchange?
MR KIRBY: As far as I know and as far as I understand it, after talking to the Office of the Legal Advisor who looked into this for me, this was – this request was made over the phone.
QUESTION: But this – there’s no proof? I mean, it’s a little strange. Somebody – so the person you spoke to admitted cutting it from the tape and said somebody they can’t remember told them to do that. They didn’t know their position, how senior they were, have any indication of their authority to ask them that --
MR KIRBY: Well, as I said --
QUESTION: -- and then they just said, “Well, I did it, but somebody I can’t remember told me to do it.”
MR KIRBY: As I said --
QUESTION: That seems a little fishy, right?
MR KIRBY: The recipient doesn’t remember anything other than that the caller was passing on a request from somewhere else in the bureau. And that’s – that’s --
QUESTION: In what bureau?
MR KIRBY: That is the most information that we were able to glean.
QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait. You said – I’m sorry, I don’t remember if you said this before, but you said a request was made from someone in the bureau. So it was made from someone in PA?
MR KIRBY: Was as – the recipient of the call doesn’t remember anything other than that the caller – the individual who called this technician – was passing on a request from someone else in the Public Affairs Bureau.
QUESTION: From what you’re aware of it was a one-of-a-kind request, and would the editor forget a one-of-a-kind request? I mean, as I understand, you’re saying you’re not aware of any other occasions --
MR KIRBY: Look, all I can do is tell you what the individual, when asked, could remember. I mean, I can’t do more than that. And again, this happened three years ago.
QUESTION: Well, did the legal – did the legal advisor ask other then-top officials in PA whether they made that request?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the specific details about --
QUESTION: Well, but it does go to what’s– how – how thorough the investigation on this was.
MR KIRBY: This wasn’t an investigation. Remember, Elise, there were no rules governing this.
QUESTION: Just – c’mon, John. Just because there were no rules governing taking out a public briefing and editing it doesn’t mean that it was the right thing to do.
MR KIRBY: There were no rules --
QUESTION: So I’m sorry that there were no rules, but I don’t really think that just because there’s no rule on certain things doesn’t – and you’ve said from this podium there was no rule on Secretary Clinton not using emails, but it was the wrong thing to do. So I don’t think that --
MR KIRBY: And as I’ve said, I don’t find this to be the appropriate step to have taken either. But I asked the Office of the Legal Advisor to look into this; they did. They pursued it for me, and we got about as far as we can go. The individual who took the call doesn’t remember anything more than that it was being passed on from somebody else in the Public Affairs Bureau. I don’t – I cannot be any more specific than that right now.
And what my focus is – as I said, I acknowledge that that step – and I don’t know what the motivation was, but it wasn’t an appropriate step to take. It’s not, as I said, in keeping with our obligations to be transparent and to be publicly accountable for the information that comes from this podium as well as all the other means of information that we distribute here at the State Department.
So what I’m going to do is put in place – I mean, I already have starting this morning, but I’m going to further look at the potential for crafting specific language that we can put in the Foreign Affairs Manual so that we can institutionalize an approach to this that prevents it from happening again. My focus has got to be on making sure that going forward we can prevent this from happening again.
QUESTION: Move on?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: First of all, are you aware that an incursion is happening in the southern – in the eastern part of Gaza as we speak now by Israeli bulldozers and tanks? Are you aware of that?
MR KIRBY: By bulldozers?
QUESTION: Israeli tanks and bulldozers have, I guess, (inaudible).
MR KIRBY: No, I haven’t seen those reports, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you, today is International Day for the Protection of Children. And Israel on this day extended a prison sentence of a 12-year-old child. There are something like 438 Palestinian children, underage children, in Israeli prisons and so on. I wonder if you have a comment on that.
MR KIRBY: What I’ll tell you is we have an ongoing dialogue with the Government of Israel on this issue and it is discussed, as you know, in our Human Rights Report. I can’t get into it further than that.
QUESTION: But you find it disturbing that 438 Palestinian children are in Israeli prisons, don’t you?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, we’ve had – this is a topic of ongoing discussion with the Government of Israel.
QUESTION: Israel-Palestine as well?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Israel Policy Forum, together with some partners in Israel, has put out quite a detailed plan for a two-state solution based on General Allen’s recommendations this week. I just wondered if Mr. Kerry’s aware of that and whether he’s looking at that. He seems to be looking at lots of different threads at the moment in terms of trying to --
MR KIRBY: Well, he certainly was well aware of General Allen’s work while he was here.
QUESTION: No, I mean this initiative, in terms of whether he could use it. It’s being put out by an American Jewish forum and --
MR KIRBY: All right. What the – the Secretary, first of all, looks forward to going to Paris later this week. As you know, we leave tomorrow. He’ll be there Friday for the meetings. And he looks forward to being a participant in those discussions. And as I said yesterday, he’s not going to turn up his nose at any good ideas that could get us closer to seeing a two-state solution in place. And so he looks forward to discussing all manner of options and alternatives that might come up on Friday. I’m not going to get ahead of the agenda of what specifically is going to be discussed; it’s a French-led meeting. And I certainly wouldn’t preview here any specific notions that the Secretary may or may not put forward on Friday. But it is something he’s very keenly interested in, has remained so, will remain so for the whole time that he’s Secretary of State. And as he said himself in Paris a week or so ago, that he’ll talk to anybody that might be able to come up with viable alternatives and solutions to get us there.
Ultimately, though, it’s going to take leadership there on all sides to take the kinds of affirmative steps that are necessary to ease the tensions and to get us closer to a two-state solution. It has to start there.
QUESTION: But John, I mean, given – I know that you say that he won’t stop trying and he’s willing to keep pursuing these, but does he realistically think that given the leadership that exists right now and given the situation on the ground right now, that there is really a viable chance for anything to get – not that he doesn’t keep trying to move the ball as far as he can till his last day, but that he can achieve something concrete before leaving office?
MR KIRBY: He’s certainly going to remain focused on that goal, Elise. But as he has said himself, I mean, the leadership there matters and thus far we have not seen the sort of leadership put forward and demonstrated that has gotten us closer to a two-state solution. And that’s unfortunate, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not still a goal worth pursuing.
QUESTION: Are you talking specifically about the Israelis or are you talking about the Israelis and the Palestinians? Because you’ve said there’s a --
MR KIRBY: I said all sides.
QUESTION: All sides.
MR KIRBY: Leadership on all sides.
QUESTION: So can we just drill into it a little bit? Because this has come up four times now in the last week and a half. This – and I believe that your colleague called this the most rightwing government in the history of Israel. With this political shakeup in Jerusalem, with this emergence of this hardline coalition now and defense minister, is it the view of this department that that’s going to kind of put a damper on things going into Friday?
MR KIRBY: Well, those are – look, those are – that’s for Prime Minister Netanyahu to decide as he leads his new government forward. I mean, these are decisions for the Israeli people and for the Israeli Government to make. What I’ve consistently said and will repeat again is that we want to see the kind of leadership demonstrated that can get us closer to a two-state solution. But how they approach that, if they approach that goal – well, that’s for them to speak to in terms of how they’re going to do that.
QUESTION: John, are you bothered by the fact that this is really like a pattern by the Israeli Government, or even government – preceding governments as well, where they keep thumbing their nose at the international community. For instance, if there is a high American official visiting the West Bank, then immediately we hear about expansion of settlements. If there is an international conference, they form the most rightwing Israeli Government, bringing someone who is – would basically be responsible for all the settlements, all activities in the West Bank, lives in a settlement. Is that a pattern that you see the Israeli Government and – sort of thumbing their nose at the world?
MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for the motivations of Israeli leaders, Said. I would point out, though – and I said this again yesterday – that both the prime minister and the new defense minister have both publicly affirmed their commitment to getting to a two-state solution. So, the Secretary’s going to go to Paris; we’re going to have these discussions. We’ll see what comes out of that. But if there’s good ideas that can be put forth by the international community and accepted by all sides there in the region, well, then – and if it can get us closer to a two-state solution, well, that’s worth pursuing. That’s a good thing.
QUESTION: I got a couple from yesterday. Is the heavy water deal with Iran – has that been completed yet? I think you said you might look into that.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, let me – I think I’ve got something on that. Just give me a second.
So as you know, on the 22nd of April, the Energy Department’s isotope program signed a contract to purchase 32 metric tons of heavy water from Iran. We expect the heavy water to arrive in the United States in the coming weeks. I just don’t have additional details with me right now.
QUESTION: Has – and on payment, was --
MR KIRBY: I’d refer you to the Treasury Department on that. I’d have to.
QUESTION: All right. And then another question, Iran-related: There’s been questions from Capitol Hill whether the S-300 transfer would trigger sanctions because it would be considered a destabilizing activity. Anything new on that?
MR KIRBY: We’ve not made yet any determination as to whether this delivery, if and when it’s complete, would trigger actions under U.S. authorities, but we’re continuing to look at this.
QUESTION: Does it – does the delivery have to be complete for – I mean, if you’re getting components, each component is a complete delivery even if there’s more things coming along the line years from now.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m not – again, I’d refer you to Treasury as well. I’m not sure if it takes a certain percentage of delivery, but again, we’re – we just haven’t made a determination right now about whether there’s any triggering of actions under U.S. authorities.
QUESTION: I got a couple --
MR KIRBY: Janne.
MR KIRBY: Janne.
MR KIRBY: As designated – I’m sorry, I didn’t --
QUESTION: Yeah, designated as money laundering countries – I mean, money laundering.
QUESTION: Money laundering (inaudible).
MR KIRBY: Money laundering.
MR KIRBY: Oh, oh, oh, oh.
QUESTION: Will this affect for how long – if you have anything on --
MR KIRBY: So, you’re right, North Korea has been identified as a jurisdiction of primary money laundering – a primary money laundering concern under Section 311 of the PATRIOT Act because North Korea uses state-controlled financial institutions and front companies to conduct international financial transactions that support the proliferation and development of WMD and ballistic missiles. This action complements a series of U.S. and international actions to protect the international financial system from being abused by North Korea and to counteract its ability to finance the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and develop its illicit weapons programs. For more details, I’m going to refer you to Treasury.
QUESTION: Can I have one on (inaudible) --
QUESTION: I have a question on – is there another on one that?
MR KIRBY: On this?
QUESTION: Thanks, Elise. Yeah, one on the – is the decision – I mean, the last time that a – somebody in connection with North Korea was designated as being a primary money laundering concern under Section 311 of the PATRIOT Act was Banco Delta Asia. That designation had dramatic repercussions on the U.S. Government’s effort to negotiate limitations on and an end to the North Korean nuclear program. Is the decision – and I know the Treasury was required by law to look at this – is this designation part of a wider U.S. Government strategy to try to bring North Korea back to negotiations about its nuclear program?
MR KIRBY: Well, I’d let Treasury speak to the specific reasons here. This is really their designation. But --
QUESTION: It – and --
MR KIRBY: But, but, broadly speaking – and I have to use my glasses here because this is small – but they’re being proposed under Section 311 for four reasons: one, that they use state-controlled financial institutions and front companies, as I said, to conduct international financial transactions that support proliferation of these – of these capabilities; two, that they are subject to little or no bank supervision, anti-money laundering, or combating the financing of terrorism controls; three, that they have no diplomatic relationship, and thus no mutual legal assistance treaty with the United States, and does not – North Korea does not cooperate with U.S. law enforcement and regulatory officials in obtaining information about these transactions; and four, because North Korea relies on the illicit and corrupt activity of high level officials to support its government.
So – and there’s solid reasons for doing this. The degree to which it is or isn’t a package of larger steps to induce them to better behavior, I think I’d let Treasury speak to that. That said, we’ve been nothing but clear about what the international community’s expectations are for the DPRK, with respect to their provocative actions, and respect to their testing, and their development, and their launching of ballistic missiles, and this is part and parcel – without question – part and parcel of efforts by the United States to continue to hold the North accountable for those provocative actions.
QUESTION: And are you not concerned that this step, like the designation of BDA as a primary money laundering concern, may not in fact make it harder for you to deal with the North and make it even less likely that the North will come back to negotiations, as you say you want them to?
MR KIRBY: We’re not going to stop putting pressure on the DPRK, as long as they continue to continue provocative actions. There’s no wisdom at all to – you know, easing up pressure on them as they continue to flout their international obligation.
QUESTION: Also on North Korea.
MR KIRBY: Are we still on North Korea?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: North Korea Worker’s Party vice chairman Ri Su Yong visited China today, and met with Xi Jinping, Chinese --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- prime minister. Do you have any comment on this?
MR KIRBY: We’re aware of the reports of that visit. I’d refer you to officials in Beijing to speak to that.
MR KIRBY: I do. We can confirm that Fanta Darboe Jawara was arrested on the 16th of April of this year in Banjul. The Department of State takes its obligation, as you know, to assist U.S. citizens abroad – we take that obligation seriously. Consular officers have met with Ms. Jawara five times since her arrest, and are providing all possible consular assistance, including attending her court hearings. A consular officer attended her most recent hearing, and visited her on the 26th of May. We’re going to continue to monitor this case.
QUESTION: I mean, but can you talk in general about the – you know, the series of arrests that people in The Gambia have made in terms of peaceful protesters, and whether you think that this woman was caught up in that?
MR KIRBY: Well again, without speaking to the specifics of her case, I can tell you that --
QUESTION: Well, I understand there’s a privacy waiver, and that you can speak to specifics of the case.
MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that we reiterate our condemnation of the Government of The Gambia’s severe response to recent protests. Reports of excessive use of force by Gambian security forces, arbitrary detentions, and the death of the protest organizer, a Mr. Sandeng, while in police custody all are deeply disturbing. The United States calls on the Government of The Gambia to uphold its international human rights obligations, including the right to peaceful assembly, and we support the call of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights for the Government of The Gambia to investigate their – investigate the reports of death and mistreatment of those in custody.
QUESTION: Well, there was some concern that Ms. Jawara was also beaten upon arrest. Can you – have you been able to confirm that?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know of the validity of reports of her being beaten; I do know that she was part of the protest activity.
QUESTION: But are you concerned about any mistreatment of her?
MR KIRBY: Absolutely. Of course we are.
QUESTION: No, are you concerned about allegations – there are some allegations that she was --
MR KIRBY: Yes. We’ve seen the allegations, and clearly we’re deeply concerned about that, but --
QUESTION: But if you met her – if you’ve --
MR KIRBY: -- I’m not in a position to confirm that.
QUESTION: But if consular officers have visited her five times, I would assume that there would be some evidence of mistreatment, if they actually physically saw her.
MR KIRBY: I just don’t have that kind of detail, Elise.
QUESTION: I had one other. We have a report that there is a former commander of Somalia – his name is Yusuf Abdi Ali, known as Colonel Tukeh, and he was accused of killing several – terrorizing a lot of people in Somalia, and the U.S. has documented his case. And it turns out that he’s living in a suburb of Virginia and kind of working here and was – received a visa to visit here. Do you know anything about this?
MR KIRBY: I don’t. You’re going to have to let me take that one.
QUESTION: Okay, I will.
MR KIRBY: Sorry, I don’t have anything on that one.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. There are some 50,000 people that are inside Fallujah, civilians. And people – as the battle looms, or maybe the entry into Fallujah is being planned, do you have any provisions to take care of these people? Does the United States on its own or together with the Iraqi Government have any kind of contingency plan to look after these people?
MR KIRBY: We’re certainly deeply concerned about the civilian population in Fallujah, and you’re right, they are trapped and they’ve been trapped there. Now, as I understand it, the Iraqi Security Forces are already going into this operation but are doing what they can to try to provide avenues of escape for some civilians. And I want to be careful not to speak specifically to what is in fact an ongoing operation, but there are provisions being made to try to help people get out and to care for them when they do. Obviously, as a member of the coalition, the United States continues to support those efforts and we’ll certainly do what we can, but this is – as I said, this is an Iraqi Security Force operation.
MR KIRBY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Turkey has officially designated the Gulen movement as a terrorist organization. The leader of the group, Fethullah Gulen, is based here in the United States; he lives here. Where does the U.S. Government stand on his organization? Do you support it? You don’t consider it a terrorist organization, do you?
MR KIRBY: The Gulen movement has not been designated as a foreign terrorist organization. We’ve seen the reports you’re talking about, and I’d refer you to Turkish authorities for more on that, on their decisions.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that Turkey may accuse you of supporting not one, but two terrorist organizations?
MR KIRBY: Well, that’s up for the Turkish officials to decide how they’re going to treat this. Again, we don’t consider it a foreign terrorist organization.
QUESTION: Has there been an official extradition request for Fethullah Gulen?
MR KIRBY: We don’t talk, as you know, about the specifics of extradition cases one way or the other. I wouldn’t do that.
MR KIRBY: Goyal, you’ll be the last one today.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Prime minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, was in Iran, and there were a number of agreements and – bilateral agreements and all that were signed, and including India, Iran, and Afghanistan security concerns and also counterterrorism. And at the same time, during that time, debates were going on in the Pakistani media and the military that – why U.S. did not kill Omar Mullah in Afghanistan when he was crossing Afghanistan and Pakistan borders and why they had to kill him inside Pakistan. Now, all these – you think this – all these agreements and all these debates will continue when the prime minister visits next week in Washington?
MR KIRBY: Well, I won’t get ahead of the prime minister’s agenda while he’s here, and we obviously look forward to the visit. And as you know, I’ve said many times that the U.S.-India relationship is very important, vital, particularly there in the region. We look forward to having a very robust, comprehensive discussion with the prime minister when he comes next week. I won’t – again, I won’t get ahead of that.
But look, in terms of whether they’re bilateral or multilateral discussions on issues like counterterrorism, I mean, obviously we support other countries speaking amongst themselves, whether it’s in a multilateral or a bilateral fashion about what is a very shared threat not just to – in the region but globally. Okay?
QUESTION: All right. Thank, you sir.
MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Have a good day.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:43 p.m.)