Daily Press Briefing - July 6, 2016

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 6, 2016


2:11 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon. Hello, everybody. Just a couple of things at the top: I think you’ve seen that today we released a report identifying North Korean officials and entities responsible for or associated with serious human rights abuses or censorship. You’ve also seen my statement on this, or at least I hope you have, and the report and the annex of course can be found on our website. In conjunction with the report, the Department of the Treasury has added North Korea persons, including Kim Jong-un, to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List. Both actions are consistent with the requirements of the North Korean Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016.

Human rights abuses in the DPRK are among the worst in the world. The government continues to commit extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, forced labor, and torture. Many of these abuses are committed in political prison camps where an estimated 80- to 120,000 individuals are detained, including children and the family members of accused.

This report is the first listing of persons determined to be responsible for serious human rights abuses and censorship in the DPRK as required by the act, and we’re going to continue to identify more individuals as we obtain additional information.

Now, as you, I think, can understand, obtaining information about these kinds of issues in the DPRK is not easy, especially obtaining the identities of officials below the very top leadership. It’s very difficult given the closed nature of the DPRK. But in fact, this report represents the most comprehensive U.S. Government effort to date to actually name specific officials responsible for or associated with the worst aspects of this regime’s brutal repression of its own people.

On a scheduling note, I think you know Secretary Kerry is in Tbilisi today on his first trip to Georgia as Secretary of State. This year Georgia celebrates 25 years since the restoration of independence. The Secretary met with Prime Minister Kvirikashvili and other government officials to underscore U.S. support for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration aspirations, their democratic development, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. The Secretary and the prime minister also chaired the sixth plenary session of the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission. I think you saw that he – the Secretary also participated in a press conference earlier this afternoon with him.

Now, as a sign of the strength of the bilateral relationship, the U.S. and Georgia signed a memorandum on deepening the defense and security relationship which reaffirms and expands our bilateral defense and security cooperation in the areas of defense capacity building, military and security cooperation, information sharing, and I believe we put out a fact sheet on that earlier today that you can also find on our website if you’re interested in more information about that.


QUESTION: I realize a lot’s going on, so I’ll be fast. First, on North Korea, do you actually think that these sanctions will improve human rights or censorship in North Korea?

MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly would like to see the situation in North Korea improve with respect to human rights, obviously. And if we weren’t concerned about that and if we didn’t want to see the situation improve, we wouldn’t have been pursuing this in concert with the Congress for so long. So we certainly hope that that’s the outcome. Only the regime’s leadership can honestly answer that question about whether they are fully committed to it or not. This isn’t just symbolic – this identification of these individuals. It really, for the first time, puts them out in the public domain in a way that they haven’t been necessarily before. And it could have repercussions not just from a U.S. perspective, because now other nations – in terms of these sanctions, other nations will probably – and other institutions will probably think twice. And so there could be – quite frankly, there could be global financial implications for some of these individuals.

QUESTION: I mean, given that Kim Jong-un and his top aides aren’t visiting the U.S. or signing cell phone contracts with American companies or investing in American hedge funds that I know of, what – is it mainly, then, a provocation? And then you spoke about other countries could take – I mean, what countries – which countries would be okay with North Korea testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons but then would follow the lead on a censorship restriction sanction?

MR KIRBY: Well, look. I don’t --

QUESTION: I mean, it’s a bit strange to – it’s – the Congress --

MR KIRBY: No, no, no. I think – look, I don’t know the extent to which there are U.S. economic assets here at play. I suspect you’re probably right that there are – that if there are any, there’s not many of them.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: But this will have – hang on, hang on a second. Hang on, please. But – and I can’t speak for every nation or every banking institution around the world. All I can say is that when we do this, when we put somebody on a special designation list like this, it does reverberate around the world and it can have an impact on the way other countries or other international bodies and financial institutions consider doing business. I don’t have the full scope of the business activities globally or regionally of all the individuals. I’m just saying that there can be, as a result of this, a real financial cost to this.

There is also, though, a power that exists in naming them. Naming them’s difficult to do. As I said, it’s a closed society, it’s opaque, we don’t have a lot of visibility. A lot of work went into doing the best we could to name these additional officials in concert with the jobs we know they do there and the impact that they’re having on their own people. So there’s a real power there too.

So it – is there a message here as well? Is there a messaging component to this? Absolutely, there is. But we believe that it still could have an impact on them. Now, whether it’ll have a dramatic impact on Kim Jong-un and his decisions, I can’t say. This is clearly a leader who has resisted many international efforts to curb his provocative behavior and to get him to make the kinds of responsible decisions that he should be making on behalf of his people.

But that doesn’t mean that this still isn’t the right thing to do and it doesn’t mean that it’s still not the right thing for us to continue to pursue. As I think I made clear, we’re going to continue to look at this going forward.

QUESTION: Don’t you think – just to follow on Brad’s point, I mean, don’t you think this could have the opposite intended effect – that, like, this’ll just provoke the regime into more provocative behavior, more antics, more – if history serves us well, anytime you take an action against North Korea of this nature, it will be North Korea’s neighbors, perhaps the United States, and even the North Korean people that could suffer further as a result.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I can’t predict what Kim Jong-un’s going to do as a result of this or any other action by our government or governments around the world. But this is yet another opportunity for him to try to make the right decisions.

QUESTION: Right, but he’s never taken any of those opportunities, and in fact, has done the exact opposite. And while I – while I --

MR KIRBY: The answer cannot --

QUESTION: Can I finish?

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I understand that it’s an important symbolic gesture that, in your eyes, raises attention to the human rights abuses well documented by the regime. But I’m just wondering if you’ve given consideration to the fact that it could have unintended negative consequences.

MR KIRBY: We think through as many circumstances as possible whenever we make these kinds of decisions, Elise. These are done obviously with careful deliberation. But it would send absolutely the wrong message to him and could embolden him to continue these depravities on his own people if you just sit by quietly and say nothing and do nothing and sanction nothing.

QUESTION: I didn’t say do – I didn’t say “Say nothing and do nothing,” but like, given the fact that the regime is already, like, sanctioned to the hilt, I’m not necessarily sure what actual practical effect that these sanctions have except for their symbolic value.

MR KIRBY: Well, let’s see. They just – we just announced them. Let’s see how it goes.

QUESTION: Can we change the subject?


QUESTION: Could we talk about emails for a second?

QUESTION: For a second?

QUESTION: Or 20 seconds?

QUESTION: I have a second (inaudible).

QUESTION: Okay. A couple of things: I’d like to talk about your statement from yesterday where you said that – let me just get to it – you said yesterday that the department’s process for reviewing potential pieces of mishandling information does not apply to – exclusively to current employees. Can you talk about the process by which if some employees were found to be handling – mishandling classified information, how records could go in their files if they’re not employees of the State Department anymore, and how – it seems to me that you are saying that this could have an effect on their future employment at the State Department, but I’m wondering about – and security clearance at the State Department, but I’m wondering what the practical effect would be on future employment throughout the U.S. Government.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Let me – kind of figured that you might be asking about this, so if you’ll let me go through this, I have --


MR KIRBY: -- so I can be precise.


MR KIRBY: So first, as I said yesterday, the department will determine the appropriate next steps following a decision by the Department of Justice, and I want to – I have to say that first so that I make it clear that I am not --

QUESTION: It’s clear.

MR KIRBY: -- hypothesizing or speculating. We’re going to let the Justice Department consider the findings of the FBI investigation and make whatever decisions they’re going to make. The State Department’s process for reviewing potential cases of mishandling of information does not apply exclusively to current employees. Our process can result in a variety of outcomes, including counseling, issuing warnings, security infractions, security violations, and possibly the revoking of an individual’s clearance.

An individual’s employment status obviously will impact the options that are available to the State Department, of course. So, for instance, while a former employee cannot be disciplined if he or she is no longer employed by the department, there could be repercussions, including issuing a security violation or infraction, which would be kept in their file --

QUESTION: Post-State – post?

MR KIRBY: -- post-State Department employee --


MR KIRBY: -- which would be kept in their file, or, of course, revoking an individual’s security clearance, assuming that individual still needed the clearance to work in another federal agency or something like that.

QUESTION: But you – but didn’t you say yesterday that the agency that – if their security clearance was, like, terminated when they left the agency, that it would be up – that you don’t hold the clearance anymore?

MR KIRBY: If it is renewed by another agency. In other words --


MR KIRBY: -- if it was then – then that agency’s responsible, but the State Department could still --

QUESTION: Weigh in.

MR KIRBY: -- could still weigh in.


MR KIRBY: If the violation happened while they were a State Department employee, we’d have an obligation to do that.


MR KIRBY: So the potential outcomes of the department’s process turn on a variety of factors, including the nature of the incident and an individual’s record. But the review process for potential mishandling of classified information is the same as we – for current and former employees, and it’s done by Diplomatic Security, DS.

According to department policy, our policy is to maintain files on personnel who are found to have mishandled information to guide current and potential future decisions about employment and security clearances. And again, we wouldn’t prejudge the outcome of any potential --

QUESTION: But are these files, like, kept in the State Department? Are they OPM files? Like, do they go into, like, the ether of all government employees, or is this just when you’re considering rehiring at the State Department?

MR KIRBY: I’ll take the question. I don’t know. I mean, I – my understanding is that we – we – if we have reason to create such a file, we would maintain that file. But let me just check and see the degree to which any of that’s shared.

QUESTION: Okay. I have one other one. I should have asked this yesterday, but the FBI director spoke of a small number of emails that bore classified markings that identified them as classified. And The New York Times reports that these were call sheets. I don’t know if those are the ones that we’re talking about, but is there anything you can say on specifically what the markings were and how someone could mishandle information that is clearly marked classified in the heading?

MR KIRBY: So a couple of thoughts here --


MR KIRBY: -- because the – it’s a broad question. Obviously, I’m not going to be able to speak, as I wasn’t yesterday, to the FBI’s findings. We don’t have full insight into their investigation, so it’s not going to be appropriate for me to comment on their findings or recommendations, or --

QUESTION: Well, you guys --

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second.


MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. Give me a chance.


MR KIRBY: So I’m not going to comment on their findings and recommendations or all the documents that they reviewed. I am aware that there have been media – a media report pointing to call sheets within the Clinton email set that appear to bear classification markings. So let me just talk to that in a sense.

Generally speaking, there’s a standard process for developing call sheets for the secretary of state. Call sheets are often marked – it’s not untypical at all for them to be marked at the confidential level – prior to a decision by the secretary that he or she will make that call. Oftentimes, once it is clear that the secretary intends to make a call, the department will then consider the call sheet SBU, sensitive but unclassified, or unclassified altogether, and then mark it appropriately and prepare it for the secretary’s use in actually making the call. The classification of a call sheet therefore is not necessarily fixed in time, and staffers in the secretary’s office who are involved in preparing and finalizing these call sheets, they understand that. Given this context, it appears the markings in the documents raised in the media report were no longer necessary or appropriate at the time that they were sent as an actual email. So it appears that those --

QUESTION: That the calls were already made?

MR KIRBY: -- no – that those markings were a human error. They didn’t need to be there. Because once the secretary had decided to make the call, the process is then to move the call sheet, to change its markings to unclassified and deliver it to the secretary in a form that he or she can use. And best we can tell on these occasions, the markings – the confidential markings – was simply human error. Because the decision had already been made, they didn’t need to be made on the email.

QUESTION: But how – did this – as I understood some of these call sheets, she would ask who she was supposed to call, and they would send a call sheet. So she hadn’t made a decision because she didn’t even know who was on the sheet yet.

MR KIRBY: No, no, no, no, no. A call sheet isn’t just about who you’re going to call; the call sheet has points to raise, things to be prepared for in the discussion. It’s a preparatory document.

QUESTION: And usually when you classify something, you give an endpoint for its classification. As I understand, on your classified system, you put a date. So isn’t that a problem? I mean, if there is no end date, it shouldn’t have – and then it’s still classified.

MR KIRBY: No, there – it’s not a problem. They’re not --

QUESTION: Not a problem?

MR KIRBY: Call sheets – call sheets are not – the classification on them are not fixed in time. They are rendered at the confidential level, which, as you know, is the lowest level, so as not to prejudge or get ahead of the secretary’s decision about making a call or not. Sometimes not --

QUESTION: That’s a cop --

MR KIRBY: -- every secretary agrees that now is the right time to call this foreign leader or that foreign leader. And so to protect the information of the call itself, the idea of the call itself, the need for the call itself, it’s kept at the confidential level. Once the secretary makes a decision to place the call, which are done --

QUESTION: So the idea to call somebody is classified? I thought there are very strict --

MR KIRBY: To preserve --

QUESTION: -- rules on national security grounds.

MR KIRBY: To preserve the secretary’s decision space and sometimes the information in the call sheet itself, they’re kept at the confidential level by and large before a decision is made. Once a decision is made, they are --


MR KIRBY: -- converted to unclassified, and if there’s anything that --

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR KIRBY: -- needs to stay classified on it it’s not put on the call sheet.

QUESTION: That makes sense.

QUESTION: Right, but --

MR KIRBY: And then it’s used.

QUESTION: -- somebody has to convert them to unclassified.


MR KIRBY: Correct.

QUESTION: If they still have the markings, they’re classified.

MR KIRBY: In this case --

QUESTION: You can’t say, “Well, we think it would have been unclassified.”

MR KIRBY: Brad, as I said, in this case we think that it was human error; that those confidential markings should have been removed by the individual who was transmitting them on the unclassified side. It was an honest – it was a mistake.

QUESTION: Can I ask a --

QUESTION: Okay, wait – wait, wait, can I just --


QUESTION: -- on this one point? So – okay, so we’re talking about, what were they, two instances when there were these call sheets that were --

MR KIRBY: We’re aware of two.

QUESTION: -- human error? So are those the only emails that had – that the FBI director was referring to when he said a small number bore classified markings? Is that all we’re talking about here?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak to that.

QUESTION: No, you can’t open the door and choose and cherry-pick the ones that you want to talk about and not talk about the others. That’s --

MR KIRBY: Yes, I can, when I don’t know. I don’t know all the documents that the FBI had at their perusal for this investigation. You’re assuming that the only thing --

QUESTION: So you only found out – you only looked to find out about the ones that are human error that shouldn’t have been classified?

MR KIRBY: You’re assuming that the only email traffic that the FBI looked at was the ones that we released through FOIA. And I don’t know that’s – I don’t know that to be the case.

QUESTION: But you’ve looked at all of the emails, so that you – so then you would know.

MR KIRBY: We are not aware of any others that were so marked, like these two call sheets, but --

QUESTION: Thank you. That was easy.

MR KIRBY: -- but – but – I – but – no, but it’s not that simple. It’s not that simple.

QUESTION: That was a very simple answer. That’s all we were looking for --

QUESTION: Can I ask if --

QUESTION: -- if you knew of any other emails that bore such markings.

QUESTION: Can I ask --

MR KIRBY: We’re not aware, but we also don’t have full visibility on what the FBI – the documents that the FBI referred to yesterday. We don’t have full visibility on every document --

QUESTION: But you do have full visibility on all the email stuff.

MR KIRBY: -- that they looked at as part of their investigation.

QUESTION: But you do have full visibility on all the emails, so you would know if other emails bore classified markings that had --

MR KIRBY: Elise, we had – we – our job was to go through the 55,000 pages of the --


MR KIRBY: -- of the 32,000 some-odd emails --

QUESTION: Correct.

MR KIRBY: -- to release, to prepare them for FOIA release. We are aware of two of them that have these markings. But I can’t tell you for a fact that that is the sum total of all the email traffic that the FBI considered or spoke to yesterday. You’re going to have to go to the FBI. That’s my point.

QUESTION: I have one more on this and then I’m done with this subject. You might not have this answer at your disposal, so I’d ask that you look into it. Information Resources Management in 2009 introduced a system called SMART, which you’re probably aware of, for how you mark things classified, but in the OIG report it said that the secretary’s office elected not to use SMART in 2009. I’m looking at another OIG report that says this SMART system was designed to help classifiers adhere to executive orders and classification rules, but if the entire secretary’s office under Secretary Clinton – and I don’t know if this continues – isn’t actually using the program that was created to help them adhere to federal rules on classification, how are they actually marking emails in accordance with classification rules?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Tell you what, let me take the question, Brad. I mean, that gets into a level of detail I just don’t have.

QUESTION: Just one more on this. Jason Baron, the former director of NARA --

MR KIRBY: Of who?

QUESTION: NARA, National Archives.


QUESTION: It’s National Archives, NARA.

MR KIRBY: Yeah – no, I know. I got it.

QUESTION: And they had developed a system, and the different departments are supposed to put that system into place with the deadlines of 2016, 2019. Can you update how far you have done that – you can take the question – and how much is left? When is it – are you going to reach the deadline that was given by NARA?

MR KIRBY: Let me take the question. I don’t have that.


QUESTION: Yeah, just a few questions off the back of the Chilcot conclusions. Is there agreement in this building that the U.S. and the UK went to war before exhausting all peaceful options, all options for disarmament, which is one of the conclusions?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to the findings of the Chilcot report. That’s really for the Government of the UK to talk to, and I’m certainly not going to relitigate the decisions that led to the Iraq war here from the podium in July of 2016. I’m just not going to do that.

QUESTION: Sure, but could you say whether the report mostly confirmed the U.S. assessment of mistakes made and what went wrong?

MR KIRBY: We’re not examining the report with that in mind, with trying to do the forensics. This is, again, a UK report. We’re going to let UK officials speak to it. What I can tell you is our focus is on trying to get a political transition in Syria, trying to defeat Daesh in Iraq and in Syria, trying to help Prime Minister Abadi make the necessary political and economic reforms he knows he needs to make in his country. That’s where Secretary Kerry’s head is, and we’re not interested in relitigating the decisions that led to the Iraq War in 2003.

QUESTION: Sure. Just one last question: Do you think this document could be helpful for policymakers here in any way?

MR KIRBY: Again, I don’t – we’re not going to make a judgment one way or the other about this report, and I’ll let British officials speak to the degree to which they intend to derive lessons learned from it. That’s really, again, for them to talk to. We’re not going to go through it, we’re not going to examine it, we’re not going to try to do an analysis of it or make a judgment of the findings one way or the other. Our focus, again, is on the challenges we have in Iraq and Syria right now, and that’s where our focus is.

QUESTION: So you’ve basically moved on, is what you’re saying.

MR KIRBY: Our focus is on what’s going on in Iraq and Syria right now.

QUESTION: So – but you were not really a bystander. You’re saying you’ll let them speak. I mean, you’re a part of this war, right? You are the major part of that war, and this report basically is saying that this war, much as many American lawmakers --

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: -- and others concluded, that this war was premised on wrong premises. It was conducted in the wrong way; it was handled thereafter – that resulted in the mess that we have today. I mean, that is basically where you need to comment.

MR KIRBY: That’s where I need to comment?

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, what I’m saying is that – yeah. I mean, this is really a major report by your major ally in the war.

MR KIRBY: And I believe --

QUESTION: The war --

MR KIRBY: I believe that UK officials are taking it seriously and I’m going to let them speak to it, Said. I’m not going to relitigate the decisions that led to the Iraq War here, July 2016. You all have reported on those decisions all these many years. The record is out there for anybody to see and to evaluate on their own. Secretary Kerry is focused on trying to help Prime Minister Abadi do the things he needs to do in Iraq and to defeat Daesh there and in Syria, and we’re going to stay focused on those goals. That’s where our focus is right now, not on doing the forensics on decisions that were made 13 years ago.

QUESTION: Let me stay with – on Iraq. Today there are reports on the Popular Mobilization Committees --

MR KIRBY: On the what?

QUESTION: -- or militias – that they have – the Popular Mobilization – it’s a Shia militia supported by Iran, but there seems to be a split along religious grounds. Some want to give allegiance to Najaf, which is a holy place; others to Qom in Iran and so on. Do you have any reports on this, and do you – are you concerned that this may actually further exacerbate an already very bad internecine kind of conflict there more?

MR KIRBY: Well, a couple of thoughts. I mean, first, we’ve said all along that we don’t want to see any decisions made by anybody in the fight against Daesh result in inflamed sectarian tensions, period. We’ve said that from the very beginning. We have commended Prime Minister Abadi’s efforts to be inclusive as he goes after this threat in his country, and he’s doing that. And he and other leaders in the Iraqi Government we think have done a commendable job folding in the capabilities of the PMF – Popular Mobilization Forces – into some of these operations. That is an internal matter that they have discussed, that they have decided. We have supported that process. But we don’t want to see anybody by dint of what they’re doing against Daesh further inflame sectarian tensions in the country; that – that’s counterproductive in our view.

And the PMF have proven helpful in the fight against Fallujah. And I won’t speak to future operations and the role that they’ll play or how they’re going to be factored in, but Daesh is now not in Fallujah and Iraqi Security Forces fought well, fought bravely, fought competently to get them out. Certainly it was a challenge; we knew that, and there was some support by the coalition. PMF were a part of that effort. But how they’re factored into future operations, again, that’s for Prime Minister Abadi to speak to.

QUESTION: One on Syria related to the campaign. On – Secretary Kerry’s meeting yesterday with Saudi Foreign Minister al-Jubeir, he said that the two men – your statement says that the two men discussed efforts to combat Daesh, including in Syria, where the kingdom has offered to commit troops to the counter-Daesh campaign. Now, this is not the first time that we’ve heard about Saudi Arabia offering troops. But in the past there’s been a kind of – I don’t know if the word would be “dismissal,” but downplaying of the offer as you didn’t know whether it was serious, you weren’t ready to talk about that yet. I’m wondering if the fact that it’s in your statement so publicly means that there was enhanced discussion of perhaps Saudi committing – Saudi Arabia committing troops to the effort.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll let the Saudis speak to specifics of their proposal.

QUESTION: Well, you specifically mentioned it, though.

MR KIRBY: No, I know. See, I was going to get to the rest of that. I just wanted to say that one thing right out front. Look, this is – a couple of thoughts here, Elise. We have made no secret of the fact that we’re interested in discussing with other members of the coalition efforts that they can take to increase the pressure on Daesh, just as we have taken measures to increase the pressure on Daesh. This is an idea that has been floated before by Saudi authorities, and it – and it’s an idea that we continue to discuss with them. And I – and we did note – I did note in the readout of the meeting yesterday that it was discussed. Not the first time that it has been discussed, and I suspect it won’t be the last time that it’ll be discussed. But we’re – in terms of creating a sustainable defeat of Daesh, we are going to retain an interest in talking to coalition partners about options and alternatives to do that. And this is one of those ideas that we continue to discuss with Saudi authorities.

QUESTION: It sounds, though, that the offer is now being kind of more seriously weighted, the fact that you’re mentioning – that you’re being --

MR KIRBY: It has --

QUESTION: -- proactively bringing it up. It doesn’t sound as if something that you’ve been kind of – I know it’s been something that’s been discussed here and there, but the fact that you’re giving so much weight to it in that short statement suggests that it’s – now you’re more seriously – the discussions have intensified on the option.

MR KIRBY: I would say that it has always been seriously discussed.

QUESTION: You haven’t seriously discussed it either in statements or from the podium, so I’m just once again asking --

MR KIRBY: No, I have talked about it from the podium. I can’t speak for every readout that I’ve issued, but this is an issue that – look, we take seriously any --

QUESTION: Sounds like you’re closer to agreeing with the Saudis on some kind of --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get of – I’m not going to hypothesize about potential decisions down the road. This is not something new; we’ve talked about it before. That the Secretary would – that it would come up in yet another conversation with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir is also not new. It’s not a new topic of discussion between those two leaders at that level. And as I said, I would fully expect that it’ll continue to be discussed.

QUESTION: Okay, but this is the – I mean, am I wrong? This is the first time in maybe six months that I’ve heard you proactively offer the suggestion that they’ve talked about the Saudis committing troops.

MR KIRBY: You know what? I usually get beat up about my readouts being too vague, not having enough in them, so now you’re just forcing me back into vagary.

QUESTION: But now you’re – no, no, no – but you’re suggesting --

MR KIRBY: No, I was going to – I’m going to provide less information now --

QUESTION: No, but you’re suggesting that it wasn’t a carefully – I mean, it sounds as if the fact that you mention it means that --

MR KIRBY: All my readouts are carefully written.

QUESTION: But can I just ask --

QUESTION: Can you help me, please? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I think it’s been 18 – it’s been 18 months that I think they’ve been talking about this, and they’ve been --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know about that.

QUESTION: At least a year. And they’ve been waiting for some sort of response from the U.S., being that this is a U.S.-led coalition, and they haven’t gotten one. So you saying that we’ll have more discussions and I wouldn’t – that just sounds like nothing. But did the Secretary give a response to their offer to send a ground force into Syria?

MR KIRBY: The discussion yesterday was not about arriving at a final determination on this issue. This is a topic that has been discussed in the past and I suspect will continue to be. We are interested in having these kinds of discussions with coalition partners about efforts that we can apply to increase the pressure against Daesh, but as in all – well, every line of effort --

QUESTION: So I think --

MR KIRBY: -- every line of effort, but particularly the military line of effort, you have to think these things through carefully. And so we’re doing that and we’re having these discussions with Saudi officials. I’m – I put it in the readout because it actually was a topic of discussion and you guys yell at me when I don’t put things in the readout, so --

QUESTION: No, I’m not – no, that’s a straw man. I mean, I’m asking you what actually was advanced or not advanced, whether you actually made progress, is this going to happen, not about your readout practices.

MR KIRBY: Thank you. I do not have any additional detail to read out to you today from the conversation.

QUESTION: John, just a quick follow-up. Do you trust the Saudi offer? Is it really a genuine offer, considering that they have not sent ground troops to Yemen next door? I mean, do you trust that they are being very sincere about --

MR KIRBY: If we didn’t take the offer seriously --


MR KIRBY: If we didn’t take the offer seriously, we wouldn’t have – they wouldn’t have come up in the conversation and I wouldn’t have put it in my readout.

QUESTION: So it goes back to Elise’s point. So is this something that is being planned? Is that something that, in your opinion --

MR KIRBY: Again, Said, I’m not going to talk about military planning one way or the other. You know I won’t do that.

QUESTION: And would also require --

MR KIRBY: It was a topic of discussion yesterday. I suspect it will continue to be discussed. We’re interested in talking to all members of the coalition about efforts they can apply --

QUESTION: Sounds like that interest is intensifying, though. Would that be an accurate reflection?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize the level of intensification one way or the other. It’s a topic of discussion and it will remain so.

QUESTION: Could I ask you about the ceasefire – the announced ceasefire on --

QUESTION: Wait, hold on a sec. I want to follow up on that. Did they discuss anything else besides – any other contributions the Saudis might make besides troops on the ground?

MR KIRBY: They did talk about the broad effort against Daesh in Iraq and Syria. As you know, Saudi Arabia is a member of the coalition. They talked about the situation in Syria. Saudi Arabia is a member of the ISSG. I mean, it was a – as discussions with the foreign minister often are, they covered several topics.

QUESTION: Anything specific that they offered in addition to troops?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to the Saudis about that.

QUESTION: Can I ask on the ceasefire? I know that you welcomed the – the 72-hour ceasefire announced by the Syrian Government. Are you – and, like, talking to, let’s say, to the Russians about having this possibly extend, and maybe if it holds, it will be another similar cessation of hostility as we have seen last February and March?

MR KIRBY: So a couple of things there. Obviously, we welcome any decrease in the violence. And though we’ve seen some reports of violations already in this regime of calm that just got announced, so far, generally, it appears as if it has resulted in a decrease in the violence, which is always a good thing. And you heard the Secretary spoke to this in Georgia today, that especially around the time of Eid, this halt, this cessation, this regime of calm is a good thing. But it doesn’t change the fact that we want to move beyond temporary cessations, temporary ceasefires to truly enduring ceasefires.

Now, this one was put in place for the entire country, and I would tell you that we were involved in the discussions with Russia as thoughts were put into this regime of calm. But, obviously, we want to see it expand in terms of time so that it’s enduring. That’s what we’re really after.

QUESTION: So clearly the Russians when they want to can be – exercise their influence on Assad to stop the violence?

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm. Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: You – earlier, you decried the sectarianism in Iraq. I want to talk about sectarianism in Turkey and whether you have quite the same sentiments. And yesterday, at the end of Ramadan, the Turkish president gave a public address in which he raised the subject of Turkey’s war with its own Kurds. Then he said, “We have lost 600 people in this war and they are martyrs. They have lost 7,000 people and they’ve gone to hell.” Are you concerned about such heated us-versus-them rhetoric in a NATO ally, particularly as many of those 7,000 Kurdish fatalities are civilians? Is that an issue?

MR KIRBY: What we – as we’ve said all along, Turkey faces, continues to face, a very real threat of terrorism, and it’s not just from the PKK, but they certainly suffer continued threats of violence from the PKK. And you saw at the airport – now this was – again, I don’t want to get ahead of Turkish investigation, but had – that attack bore all the hallmarks of Daesh. So there’s no question that the Turkish people continue to face a very real threat and that Turkey has a right and a responsibility to protect its citizens just like we do here in the United States.

QUESTION: But it just killed 7,000 of them.

MR KIRBY: I’m getting there. Okay? So they have a responsibility as a sovereign nation to protect their people from the threat of terrorism, and we’ve – and we’ve called, as we continue to call, on the PKK to cease this violence, to cease these attacks, and to return to negotiations with the Turkish Government so that there can be a peaceful resolution here. That’s what we want to see. And as we – as I’ve said in other places in the world, I mean, what’s needed is strong leadership on all sides here to make the right decisions so that those kinds of discussions and negotiations can occur. Okay?

Yeah. Said, I’ve gotten you a bunch of times.

QUESTION: Okay. I just want to go back to the Palestinian issue. Not now; when you’re done.


QUESTION: Hi. My name is Tanaka from NHK. I heard that the Secretary Kerry and the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke on the phone. Is there a readout, or can you share with us what has been discussed?

MR KIRBY: They did speak – let’s see, I can get you that. They spoke – they spoke – as a matter of fact, they spoke today. I don’t have a readout for the conversation right now, but we’ll see if we can get something for you a little bit later.


QUESTION: I have an Asia-related question. Do you have any update on the case of the Vietnamese American businesswoman, Sandy Phan-Gillis? Any update on her case? And then has the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou been in touch with her or visited her? If so, what is her well being?

MR KIRBY: Yes, I do. Hold on just a second. So on Sandy Phan-Gillis, we’re aware of an opinion recently issued by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the United Nations Human Rights Council expressing its view that the Chinese Government’s detention of U.S. citizen Sandy Phan-Gillis has been arbitrary and requesting that the Government of China take certain steps to remedy her situation in keeping with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment. While not legally binding, we would encourage the Government of China to review and consider the opinion and recommendations received from the working group. The U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China has been providing consular assistance including monthly consular visits to Ms. Phan-Gillis since she was detained on the 20th of March 2015. A consular officer last visited her on the 20th of June. We continue to monitor her case closely.

We’re certainly concerned about her welfare and her lengthy detention without trial, and we urge China to resolve this case expeditiously and to ensure that Ms. Phan-Gillis continues to have full access to an attorney. Senior U.S. Government officials have raised her case with senior Chinese Government officials on multiple occasions, and I can assure you we’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: Do you know if her case was raised – was discussed during Kerry’s phone call with Wang Yi?

MR KIRBY: As I said, I don’t have a readout of the phone call. It just happened today, so we’ll have to get back to you on that.

QUESTION: One final follow-up, if I may: What kind of message – I mean, the way this case was handled – is sending to other Americans who try to promote business opportunity in China? Because reportedly, she was arrested while attending a trade delegation.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, we continue to encourage U.S. citizens planning to visit China, as we do in so many other cases, to visit our website. Go to travel.state.gov, which provides country-specific information so that citizens can make informed travel decisions. So, I mean, just like we would have for many other places, we’re not discouraging it; we’re just saying if you’re going to go, if you – and whether it’s for business or for pleasure, to get informed, to be smart. And we’re happy to help provide that information.

QUESTION: Can I ask about a curious tweet yesterday – or was it a retweet – by your under secretary for public diplomacy?


QUESTION: Does the U.S. kind of endorse Iran’s understanding of terrorism and who its victims are now?

MR KIRBY: I think you’re referring to a tweet by Under Secretary Stengel. Look, there’s been – here’s what I’ll say about that: He was citing the views expressed by many Muslim leaders about the attacks in Saudi Arabia. He was not expressing any kind of policy shift by the United States about Iran’s continued state sponsorship of terrorism. Our concerns with respect to that sponsorship remain valid and they remain significant.

QUESTION: All right. He --

QUESTION: But he --

QUESTION: Well, hold on, hold on. He quoted one person, not many Muslim leaders. He quoted the foreign minister of Iran.

MR KIRBY: I understand that.

QUESTION: First of all, do you consider the foreign – you speak a lot about how Muslim – Islam is a religious of peace and Muslim leaders are, by and large, peaceful. Do you believe that now, the foreign minister of the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, is a Muslim leader? Is that a U.S. position?

MR KIRBY: Nothing --

QUESTION: Does he speak for the faith now?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think any one individual speaks for that.

QUESTION: Is he one who speaks for the faith?

MR KIRBY: I’m not qualified to say whether he speaks for the Muslim faith or not, Brad.

QUESTION: Is Rick Stengel qualified?

MR KIRBY: Rick Stengel was simply tweeting out the – yes, they were views expressed by Foreign Minister Zarif, but they were at a representative meeting of Muslim leaders about terrorism. And I didn’t organize that conference, so I can’t speak for how they --

QUESTION: Right. Just one second --

MR KIRBY: -- hang on – to how they were invited or by whom or who speaks for what. I’m not a Muslim faith leader myself and I’m in no position --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: -- to say who is or who isn’t. But look, go look at our countries – our terrorism report. Look at everything that the Secretary has said since getting the Iran deal. We have been nothing but candid and forthright about our consistent concerns over Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, which we know they still do.

QUESTION: I’m trying to figure out – I’m going to go through the rest of the tweet. It’s not that long. But I’m trying to figure out why he would even tweet this and you haven’t really explained it to me yet. Do you believe that Iran is a victim of terrorism and not a perpetrator? He – I think it said, “We will remain victims.” Is that your opinion of Iran?

MR KIRBY: Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism.

QUESTION: And then what is your understanding of Iran promoting unity among Muslims at a time it has forces in Syria, it supports Hizballah in Lebanon, it has forces involved in some of the worst sectarian strife in Iraq --

MR KIRBY: Right, yeah.

QUESTION: -- it has supported a rebellion in Yemen.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: So do you think – do you think --

MR KIRBY: I’ve never stood up here and said that --


MR KIRBY: -- Iran was unifying Muslims in the region.

QUESTION: So is it surprising to you that the under secretary supports the Iranian concept of Muslim unity now?

MR KIRBY: I think that that’s a leap to a conclusion based on --

QUESTION: Well, explain to me, then, what – explain to me what his – he was trying to convey by that tweet.

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m still trying to figure out my own Twitter account, so, I mean – (laughter) – I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Well, I haven’t found a tweet by you that I can do this to yet, so – (laughter) – you’re off the hook. You have to speak for him now.

MR KIRBY: Look, I can’t speak for every tweet sent by every official here, but I can promise you that the under secretary was not diverting from our constant and continued belief that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism.

QUESTION: Well, when you look at your other Muslim allies and you have said, the Secretary has said, others, that we stand together in terms of combating, fighting terrorism, we’re all victims, we’re all one, do you see Iran as part of a anti-terror coalition that you can all join together in?

MR KIRBY: We still see Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. That hasn’t changed, and until their behavior changes in the region, I don’t suspect our conclusions with that – on that – in that regard are going to change.

QUESTION: So why would the under secretary tweet something kind of giving currency to the idea that Iran and – that the U.S. feels that Iran is in the same vein as some of these other Muslims that you’ve spoken about?

MR KIRBY: I don’t believe that that was his intent at all. He was simply trying to characterize a gathering of Muslim leaders and some of the things that the gathering was concluding about terrorism. There was no intent in the tweet to endorse Iran as a – as a victim of or a defender of – not defender, but a protagonist against terrorism. The U.S. Government’s policy has not changed. This tweet changes nothing about that. We still --

QUESTION: Basically anyone can tweet, it doesn’t mean (inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: We still hold Iran to be a state sponsor of terrorism.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, he repeated what Foreign Minister Zarif said, but I believe he added his own comments when he said that “Muslim leaders speak out against terrorism.” And that would indicate that he believes that Foreign Minister Zarif is a Muslim leader worth quoting.

MR KIRBY: I would let the under secretary speak for the specific choice of how he crafted his tweet. I – I’m just not going to ever make it a practice of speaking to individual tweets by officials here in the building. What I can tell you --

QUESTION: Well, isn’t he, like, the top-most public diplomacy official in the building whose --

MR KIRBY: No, that would be John Kerry.

QUESTION: Well – okay, well – (laughter.)

QUESTION: Christian leader John Kerry. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: But look, guys, you’re --

QUESTION: But I mean someone who’s running the policy or whose --

MR KIRBY: You’re --

QUESTION: -- bureau is writing the policy on social media policy of this department.

MR KIRBY: You’re reading way too much into this, way too much into this.

QUESTION: But, John, do you believe that you are combining this – all the Muslim leaders under one umbrella and you are bridging the gap between Shias and Sunnis which is going on in the Middle East. It’s – we don’t talk about --

MR KIRBY: I’m bridging the gap between Sunni and Shia?

QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: No, I’m saying that --

MR KIRBY: Don’t you think you guys are taking this just a little too far?

QUESTION: Well, we’re just – it’s a curious tweet --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: -- in that you’ve now disowned everything he said in the tweet. And he’s the head of your public diplomacy.

QUESTION: No, but he wanted to give currency to the idea, and he did.

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to defend each and every tweet sent by officials here. I can assure you that all he was trying to do was capture the sense of all these leaders about the threat of terrorism and that – and that comment was, I believe, intended to sort of capture that representative view. That doesn’t mean that we hold Iran in some sort of new level in terms of their state sponsorship of terrorism. They’re still a state sponsor. We’re still going to keep sanctions in place to deal with their support for terrorism in the region. We’re still going to keep a robust military presence in the region to counter that, to counter those activities. Nothing’s changed, and I think you guys are just reading way too much into it.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: I’ll take one more. Barbara.

QUESTION: A clarification on Syria. You said to Elise that the Russians can exercise influence when they want to. Are you saying that they want to more now than they have in the past few months?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to Russian authorities about how much they want to.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I’m talking about in terms of the results and --

MR KIRBY: But I’ve said before --

QUESTION: -- in terms of the results of what you’re seen.

MR KIRBY: I’ve said before that we know when they exert their influence, that it can have an effect. We’ll see how this plays out.

Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Is this an isolated incident?

MR KIRBY: We’ll see how it plays out.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:02 p.m.)