Daily Press Briefing - July 7, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:17 p.m. EDT
QUESTION: Looking for your coffee cup --
MR KIRBY: No, I think I – I think I have like two pairs of glasses in this jacket again.
MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody. A couple of things at the top. One, I want to just provide a short update on the period of calm in Syria. So today’s the second now of three days of the recently announced period of calm for Eid in Syria. Violence thus far we assess has been broadly reduced, showing us that it is possible for both sides to refrain from aggression when they choose to do so. However, we’ve certainly seen reports of regime strikes and attacks in familiar locations: in Aleppo; artillery attacks in the Damascus suburbs; and we’ve seen reports of strikes in Idlib. So obviously, it’s extremely troubling and deeply disturbing to us that once again the regime is not meeting their full commitment, contrary to their own declaration.
So we’re going to continue to monitor these violations carefully, as we have in the past. We continue also to call on Russia to use all of its available influence on the regime and its allies to cease offensives during this pause, particularly in Aleppo where the regime appears to be continuing to pursue an offensive military plan in violation of the calm they themselves have announced.
Broadly speaking, despite these violations, as I said at the top, the level of violence has been reduced in the first 48 hours of this 72-hour period. And of course, we welcome that reduction in violence. As we’ve also said before many times, we want a full and enduring compliance by all parties that resets the cessation and renews both sides’ longer-term commitment to ending this conflict through a political transition.
Update on the Secretary’s schedule – as I think you know, he’s in Kyiv today following his visit to Tbilisi, Georgia yesterday, and then before going on to Warsaw for the NATO summit. He met with President Poroshenko today as well as Prime Minister Groysman, Foreign Minister Klimkin, and Rada Speaker Parubiy. In his meetings, the Secretary stressed our strong support for Ukraine, praised Ukraine achievements, and urged Kyiv to accelerate reforms, especially fighting corruption. The Secretary also stressed the need for full implementation of the Minsk agreements while expressing concern over the sharp rise in violence initiated by combined Russian-separatist forces in Donbas.
I think you also saw – at least I hope you saw that the Secretary announced an additional $22.3 million in humanitarian assistance for Ukraine. And as he said today in Kyiv, the United States will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine.
QUESTION: I won’t ask you to weigh in in the middle of the FBI director’s hearing, which is still ongoing, but I wanted to follow up on some issues you raised yesterday regarding the classification markings in former Secretary Clinton’s emails.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: Firstly, the marking of a parentheses “C” – where does that come from? What law designates a parentheses “C” as a valid classification marking?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know.
QUESTION: Can you check on that, so that we know?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that it is governed by law, but I’ll be happy to check and see.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, if it isn’t, I would be interested to know how it’s indeed classified.
MR KIRBY: Not everything in terms of procedure is governed by legislation, Brad. But I’ll check and see where – if that’s covered in any way.
QUESTION: Well, I looked at Executive Order 13526, which seems to be – well, which proclaims to be the rule on classified national security information. And it doesn’t talk about anything about parentheses “C”s or anything like that. It talks about three valid terms – Secret, Top Secret, and Confidential. And it explicitly says any other marking is invalid. So if you could figure that out, that’d be great.
And then secondly --
MR KIRBY: I would – let me just – I will do what I can, Brad.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay.
MR KIRBY: But I mean, you’re – the issue of classification and markings is not a State Department responsibility in the government. I mean, we obviously have our responsibilities to obey the executive order, but I don’t want to set us up as the authority to speak to every issue of marking that the U.S. Government follows.
QUESTION: Well, I don’t know that the U.S. Government follows this writ large. It seems that you follow it. But I’d like to know why, or based on what.
MR KIRBY: I’ll check.
QUESTION: Secondly, on the category of classification, I think yesterday you said it was to protect the idea of a call or to not get ahead of the Secretary’s decision-making process. Again, there are strict rules, as I see them, for classification, what can be classified – WMDs and critical infrastructure, covert intelligence. Can you tell me what protecting the Secretary’s decision-making process falls under?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have the advantage of having that document in front of me, Brad. And I’m not an expert on it; I’m not going to pretend to be or purport to be. I’m happy to further research your question.
MR KIRBY: Happy to do that. But as I said yesterday, this was a – this is a fairly common practice and it’s designed to try to treat with care and prudence and not to close down decision space of the Secretary in advance of a recommended call – in case, for instance, that call doesn’t get made or it gets made under a different set of circumstances. So the degree to which it’s governed by regulation or order, I don’t know. And again, I’m happy to look. But I --
QUESTION: I have one more you might need to look into.
MR KIRBY: But – but I – but I think we need to take 10 steps back, take a deep breath, and look at this in perspective. This is a practice which many people use here as a way to try to protect what we believe is sensitive information and to try to preserve decision space for the Secretary of State in advance of, in this case, making a call. So look, I mean, we could have the debate over and over again --
QUESTION: Let me just have my last question. It also under classification rules say you have to put a specific date or event for declassification that must be stated. It doesn’t say when the Secretary decides and there’s a cognitive process inside the Secretary’s brain to make a call that that ends the classification. So can you tell me where this practice on kind of ad hoc expiration comes from as well?
MR KIRBY: I’ll ask the question, Brad.
QUESTION: And then --
MR KIRBY: I have to tell you, though – I mean, I’ll ask these questions; they’re fair questions.
MR KIRBY: But again, we’re talking about people trying to do the best they can to protect some sensitive information and protect decision space for the Secretary, and we’re – and of the entire universe of documents, we’re talking about an extraordinarily small amount. So I don’t – I am – again, I’m not pushing back and I will be happy – first of all, I’m happy to admit what I don’t know, happy to go try to find out for you, but I do think it’s important to keep this whole matter in some sense of perspective here in terms of the universe of the issue.
QUESTION: I do. But here’s why I think it’s relevant, and I’ll pose this as a statement/question.
MR KIRBY: There’s a surprise.
QUESTION: We had a discussion earlier this week where you forcibly rejected the notion that there’s a lax culture when it comes to classification in this agency, and now you’re saying that there are practices here that don’t – maybe don’t ascribe to any guidelines or rules, but just are done as a matter of practice for protecting decision-making processes or what, when there are strict guidelines on how you are supposed to classify things. And I don’t quite see what’s wrong with the law, as it is for the entire government --
MR KIRBY: Well, let’s not presume --
QUESTION: -- that we need this separate process.
MR KIRBY: First of all – so first of all, let me go --
QUESTION: And why --
MR KIRBY: Let me go research it --
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.
MR KIRBY: -- and we’ll find out if there’s some sort of violation here. But when I refer to questions about a lax culture, it was a broad-brush statement that was made about a lax security culture at the entire State Department – which, as I said the other day, we don’t subscribe to. We don’t share that assessment. Now, you could look at it your way and say, “Well, if we’re not following the rules, then that proves the point.” I would look at it the other way, is that you have people that are trying to take extraordinary care in a pre-decisional environment for the Secretary of State and to preserve what could be sensitive information in advance of a call that might not be taking place. That to me doesn’t connote a culture of negligence and lackadaisical disregard for sensitive information. It actually, to me, says the opposite.
So let’s just agree that I’m going to go ahead and try to see what I can do to put some fidelity on these questions, but I am – still stand by my comment the other day that a broad-brush assessment that the State Department is lax, doesn’t have a healthy security conscience here, is simply without base.
QUESTION: I have some more specific ones that you may or may not need to take --
MR KIRBY: More specific? Well, that’s great. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yesterday you said that you were aware of two instances in which there was that “C” in parentheses marking. This morning, Director Comey said repeatedly that he believed that there were three. Do you know where – is there a third one?
MR KIRBY: As I also said yesterday, we’re – we don’t have full visibility on all the records and documents that the FBI used in their investigation. I stand by my assessment of exactly what I said yesterday, is that we are aware of two.
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re not aware --
MR KIRBY: That does not mean that – I’m not disputing that there could be a third or that there is a third. I’m certainly not disputing the director’s comments.
MR KIRBY: I’m simply saying we’re aware of two.
QUESTION: Okay, and that’s still the case – that hasn’t changed between yesterday and today?
MR KIRBY: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Okay, great. Second thing: Going back to the discussion that you had yesterday and just now with regard to the practice of putting a “C” on such a memo prior to a decision that has been made for the secretary to place such a call, the – one of the emails talks about having a call at 7:30 a.m. or at some other point during the course of the day. Is it your view that the decision to make the call – this is the one about the condolences to the president of Malawi. Is it your view that the decision to make the call had indeed been made when those emails were sent and you were just talking about what time it would be?
MR KIRBY: I have no idea. There’s no way for me to know that.
QUESTION: Well, if you don’t know whether the decision to make the call had been made at that point, then how do you know the information wasn’t – wasn’t not just marked classified but actually classified when the secretary sent it – when the secretary’s aide sent it?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know – I don’t know how to answer your question. What I said yesterday – I’m not going to get into litigating each and every one of these emails. What I said yesterday is oftentimes it is practice to mark them Confidential in advance of a decision to make a call, and then once the decision is made they’re made Sensitive but Unclassified and they’re provided to the Secretary in a way that he or she can then use as they’re on the phone, and that – that by all appearances, it appears to us that the remnant “C”, if you will, on this particular email call sheet was human error because it appears to me from the traffic that the secretary had been asking, had been wanting the call sheet, which would, I think, indicate that the secretary was at that time intending on making the call.
But I can’t say that for sure because I wasn’t here and I wasn’t involved in the email traffic itself. So I’m being careful about how I’m wording this because we’re making assumptions here that I simply don’t know for a fact are true. But that’s why we believe in this case it was – it was simply human error in terms of the transmission of that particular subparagraph labeled “C”.
QUESTION: Okay. So it’s your assumption that the secretary had at that point made the decision, hence the information would no longer have been classified, hence the marking was a rogue or --
MR KIRBY: A human error.
MR KIRBY: A mistake. That’s our assumption, Arshad. But again, not having been here and party to that entire exchange, I don’t know that for – to be a fact 100 percent.
QUESTION: I have one more on this if people are – want to go on. I just wanted to ask if, in the event the secretary decides not to make the call, when does the classification expire?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know, Brad.
QUESTION: Well, isn’t that useful information given that there are strict rules as well on classification cannot be indefinite in this country?
MR KIRBY: We’re – I’m not going to get into a circular argument with you here on this. I told you I will look at the regulation.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay.
MR KIRBY: I will do the best I can to answer your questions, Brad. But all I’m trying to do is put some perspective on this.
QUESTION: It was – it’s a very confusing policy. That’s why there are so many questions.
MR KIRBY: I didn’t – it’s a – I didn’t call it a policy. I said oftentimes it is standard practice --
QUESTION: Practice. It’s a very confusing practice.
MR KIRBY: -- for it to be deemed Confidential in advance of the secretary making a decision – hang on, Goyal – making a decision, and then it is rendered SBU so that the secretary can use the document in an unclassified setting to make the call. And again, I am not an expert enough to debate the expiration of the classified setting, the markings on it. I will do the best I can to answer your questions. I think, again, taking a couple of steps back, look at this in broad terms – it is staff members working hard to try to protect decision space for the secretary in case that call doesn’t get made.
MR KIRBY: And maybe we don’t want that out there that we decided no, we’re not going to call that foreign leader, we don’t think it’s okay to send him a condolence message. And that’s not information necessarily that we want to have in the unclass environment. And so you have people that are doing the best they can to try to protect decision space for the secretary and to protect – and to protect what we still would render as sensitive information. Again, that doesn’t connote to me a culture of laxity and negligence and --
QUESTION: Oh, I mean, I didn’t ask that on this question. But if you classify something and it’s to protect the possibility that maybe the secretary doesn’t make the call, that information still has to become public at some point. Whether you don’t want it to or don’t think it should be is regardless. It’s public information after a point of declassification.
MR KIRBY: No it doesn’t.
QUESTION: That’s how it works in this country.
MR KIRBY: It doesn’t automatically become public; it becomes declassified at a certain point.
QUESTION: It becomes declassified.
MR KIRBY: That doesn’t mean it has to be put in the public domain.
QUESTION: Well, it becomes declassified at a certain point, isn’t that right?
MR KIRBY: Eventually Classified information will have an expiration on it.
QUESTION: But in this case there was no expiration, so it just kind of was undefined.
MR KIRBY: Well, you and I don’t know that, do we? Because what we have is an email that was put on the unclass side. It was taken to – put on the unclass side, and one marking on one paragraph was labeled “C,” which we believe was a human error. But you and I haven’t seen what was the actual Confidential call sheet that was prepared before it was transferred over to the unclass side, so I don’t know how you and I could know what markings were on that call sheet or what dates were put on there, if any.
QUESTION: I don’t know --
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: -- but I also didn’t know that this sentence comes from a Classified – a fully Classified document. I don’t think anyone had told me that before.
MR KIRBY: I said yesterday that call sheets are generally --
QUESTION: So this sentence --
MR KIRBY: -- considered Confidential, and that doesn’t mean that --
QUESTION: This sentence was lifted from a Classified document and put into an Unclassified document?
MR KIRBY: No, Brad. I mean, the call sheets are generally held at a Confidential level in advance of the secretary making a decision to make a call. Not every paragraph of that have to be Confidential. Like, you could still have a Confidential document with four paragraphs, right, and maybe three of those paragraphs are Confidential but one’s Unclassified. So, again, I haven’t seen the actual call sheet that was drafted, so I can’t tell you for sure that every paragraph in there was labeled Confidential with a “C” or Unclassified with a “U.” All I do know is that the email that was processed through FOIA and released contained one paragraph – I think it was actually a sentence; it was like the purpose of the call, I think – that was – that the “C” marking was retained when it was transmitted over an unclass system to former Secretary Clinton. Again, we believe that that was simply human error as the call sheet was moved over to a format that the secretary could use. That “C” should’ve been removed; it wasn’t, because – I mean, the line was really – it was the purpose of the call, I believe is what it was, and so you can see if that’s the document being moved over, that’s the paragraph being moved over, it should have been – the “C” marking should have been taken off.
QUESTION: Can we move on? Okay.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Syria – on Syria. Now, you cited violations by the Syrian forces, the – the Syrian army. Can you cite where this happened, or is it they cut off the road near Aleppo – actually, the road – supply routes to some of the opposition groups? Is that what you’re referring to?
MR KIRBY: No. I’m referring to mostly airstrikes.
QUESTION: And where are these airstrikes? Which areas?
MR KIRBY: As I said, in and around Aleppo, in the suburbs of Damascus, and in Idlib.
QUESTION: Right. But --
MR KIRBY: I don’t have the exact coordinates on the map, Said.
QUESTION: I understand. I’m trying to see – because halfway through this cessation of hostilities – whether it can endure from your point of view, whether it can endure or not – because if it’s just isolated – is it isolated or is there, like, a pattern of strikes?
MR KIRBY: There --
QUESTION: Is it like striking in a couple of areas in the north and in the south or is there a pattern of Syrian airstrikes?
MR KIRBY: Said, we continue to see regime violations --
QUESTION: I understand.
MR KIRBY: -- after they announced themselves a regime of calm. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a pattern or whether it’s a one-off. If you’re striking either opposition positions or civilian targets, then you’re violating the cessation of hostilities, and you’re certainly now violating the regime of calm that you yourself announced. So it doesn’t matter whether it’s a pattern or it’s a one-off. Any violation is something that we should take seriously and any violation deeply concerns us.
QUESTION: I understand. The reason I’m asking is because you did express the hope that it can endure, it can go on and maybe be a prelude for something else, so – yeah.
MR KIRBY: Well, as I also said, in general there’s been a reduction in the violence in the last 48 hours. Even though we have been concerned about these violations, there still has been a general reduction in the violence across the country, which – again, we think that’s a good thing. What we’d like to see is a total application of the cessation of hostilities and to have that be enduring, not temporal, not for 48 hours, for 72 hours. And again, we welcomed this --
MR KIRBY: -- announcement when it came and it was our fervent hope that it would be fully applied over those 72 hours, and we’re obviously deeply troubled that it hasn’t been.
QUESTION: Yesterday, the President spoke with his Russian counterpart and they probably discussed the ceasefire. Has there been any conversations between the Secretary of State and the Russian foreign minister on this very issue, on having the ceasefire extend beyond the 72 hours?
MR KIRBY: Yes, of course.
QUESTION: And could you --
MR KIRBY: I mean, they – in general, yes, they’ve talked several times about this.
QUESTION: No, I mean today in the last – since the presidents spoke, yes.
MR KIRBY: They have talked – they have certainly – they certainly talked about --
MR KIRBY: They certainly talked about this particular regime of calm, as I said yesterday, that we not only welcomed it but we talked to them in advance of it and were advocates of it in advance of it, because again, even though we want to see it endure, we certainly are not going to turn our nose up at even temporary reductions in violence given the situation in Syria. So yes, they did talk about this, and the last conversation that he had with Foreign Minister Lavrov I show as Tuesday, July 5th, so just earlier this week.
QUESTION: More on that conversation: Did the case of a U.S. diplomat or spy – however you want to define him – being beaten up outside the Russian embassy come up in that call or in any call that you know of?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have additional detail out of the call to speak to, but I can tell you that Secretary Kerry has raised our concerns about an incident involving an accredited U.S. diplomat that occurred outside our embassy in Moscow, and he did that – oh, actually, I apologize, I do have the time. He did that in a private phone call with Foreign Minister Lavrov on the 7th of June. Sorry about that. I didn’t realize I had that additional detail.
QUESTION: Have you had a chance to see the video that’s been now posted by a Russian TV channel?
MR KIRBY: Yes, I have.
QUESTION: What do you make of it? Do you – are you upset with the treatment of this diplomat?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, I’m not in a position to verify the authenticity of the video. I don’t know the source of it, so I’m not in a position to verify it. I’m also not in a position to question its authenticity. And while I’m not going to speak to the specifics of any particular incident or various incidents that have occurred, I will state again that we are extremely troubled by the way our employees have been treated over the past couple of years, and we have raised those concerns at the highest levels. And harassment and surveillance of our diplomatic personnel in Moscow by security personnel and by traffic police have increased significantly and we find this absolutely unacceptable.
QUESTION: What --
QUESTION: And since he – one more, one or two more – since he was identified by the Russians as a spy, do you refute that allegation that he was a spy?
MR KIRBY: What I’m – what – I think I just characterized him. We – he is an accredited U.S. diplomat.
QUESTION: And then lastly, why does the – why is there a Russian police presence right there in front of the very entrance? Is that a standard practice that – and they can physically accost people as they enter? Is that normal procedure in most embassies?
MR KIRBY: It is typical for outside the embassy or consulate compounds – it is common practice for us to have local security forces there. Outside the compound – as you know, Marines and then even some contract security people will provide additional layers of security inside the property of the compound. But outside, this is not uncommon to have local security forces there to check IDs and that kind of thing.
QUESTION: And they have the right to control who enters and who doesn’t into your embassy?
MR KIRBY: They have a responsibility to verify the identification credentials of individuals that are seeking to get to the next level of screening to get into our embassies. As you know, Brad, it’s not – we don’t just have one set of doors that you just walk in and all of a sudden, you’re in. You have to go through additional screening. And so their job is to provide that layer of security on the outside of the perimeter to verify the proper credentials of somebody who is trying to get inside to the next level of security.
QUESTION: Isn’t that local security part of Vienna? Isn’t that what the U.S. does for the embassies here in Washington and for consulates, that the host country provides exterior security?
MR KIRBY: That’s my understanding.
QUESTION: Now, in terms of how this Russian officer treated the diplomat, what is Russia’s legal obligation under Vienna to hold this person accountable for his behavior?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to speak to the specifics of this incident, Ros. As I said the other day when we got into a round of questioning about the – we – we’ve been troubled over the last couple of years by the way our personnel have been treated. And we believe the way to best address this issue and deal with it is to do it government-to-government, and that’s how we’re going to keep it. We are not going to litigate this in public.
QUESTION: You mentioned that Secretary Kerry will be at the Warsaw NATO summit, and Turkish President Erdogan is also going, and he said that his main objective will be to get the other countries there to understand that the PKK and the Syrian PYG and PYD are terrorists on the same level as Daesh. What will be the – do you know what the U.S. response will be specifically as regards the Syrian groups? And if you don’t agree with that, will there be an attempt to actively rebut the Turkish position?
MR KIRBY: Well, let’s not get ahead of conversations that haven’t happened yet, okay? I don’t want to preordain discussions in Warsaw. We continue to hold the PKK as a terrorist group. They are an FTO. They’re designated as a terrorist group. As I said yesterday, we recognize Turkey’s right and responsibility to defend themselves and their citizens, their borders from acts of terrorism. We also continue to urge the PKK to cease the acts of violence and to return to a negotiating table. And nothing’s changed about – nothing’s changed about our view in that regard.
QUESTION: I understand that, but with the PYG and the PYD the U.S. has a different position than Turkey, and I wondered if it was going to be assertive – going to assert its position against Erdogan’s.
MR KIRBY: Our views of the YPD and PYG have not changed.
QUESTION: That they’re not terrorist organizations.
MR KIRBY: They are not designated as terrorist organizations.
QUESTION: Can I change subject?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the suspension of the U.S. electoral assistance to Haiti? Has the U.S. suspended it?
MR KIRBY: So on Haiti, the U.S. Government has suspended its assistance toward completion of the presidential electoral process there. We made notification to government officials in Haiti on July 1st. Just in terms of context, the U.S. has provided over $30 million in assistance to the 2015 Haiti electoral cycle, and we did not plan funding for two more electoral rounds in 2016-2017, per the revised electoral calendar.
Suspension of U.S. electoral financial assistance does not signal a reduction in U.S. support for the people or development of Haiti; rather, we believe it allows us to maintain assistance in other priority areas such as health, economic growth, infrastructure. This decision enables the United States to retain vital humanitarian and development programs that help ordinary Haitians improve their lives.
QUESTION: Do you know when was the decision be made and then when will that take effect?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, as I said, we notified the government on July 1st. I can’t tell you the exact moment at which we made the decision. We notified on July 1st. But since April of 2016 we have highlighted the possibility of not funding new elections. This is a decision that has – we’ve been considering now for quite some time. When the actual decision was made I don’t know.
QUESTION: Is this a matter of not having the funds available to support a second round of elections, or is this the U.S. showing its displeasure with the Haitian decision to scrap the previous election results and start all over in October?
MR KIRBY: Look, as I said, it doesn’t signal a reduction of our support for the Haitian people. It will allow us to maintain assistance in other key priority areas, which we’ll continue to do.
QUESTION: No, but my question is very specific. A senior Administration official did indicate that the U.S. was not pleased with this decision to not redo the runoff but to go back to square one and start the election all over again.
MR KIRBY: We’ve made no bones about the fact that --
QUESTION: Is this a disapproval of the specific policy?
MR KIRBY: We’ve made no bones about the fact that we had concerns about the way the process was unfolding. And as I said, we had no plans – did not plan for funding for two more electoral rounds.
QUESTION: Was the U.S. surprised by the Haitian reaction to this decision?
MR KIRBY: I don’t think – I mean, there was no expectation that everybody in Haiti would appreciate or endorse this decision. But again, we believe it’s the sound thing to do, the right thing to do, for the people of Haiti in the long term.
QUESTION: In terms of maintaining diplomatic influence, is the U.S. in a way giving up leverage by withholding the electoral funds, or does the U.S. see that it has more influence over a recommitment to democratic principles and policies in Port-au-Prince?
MR KIRBY: I think it’s important to remember that we financially supported the 2015 elections, and those results we, the European Union, the Organization of American States all found to be credible. And as we said before, we regret that the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council chose to discount the 2015 presidential electoral results rather than complete those elections in a timely manner. And we continue to urge, as well as the rest of the international community, the Government of Haiti to hold credible and fair elections as soon as possible.
We have provided – in addition to what I said before, I mean, our own Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement has provided $2.8 million of equipment to support the Haitian National Police in terms of those October 2015 elections. We have spent a total of $33 million on the Haiti 2015 election cycle through those October 2015 elections.
And I would say since the 2010 earthquake through March 31st of this year, the United States Government provided $4.6 billion in relief, reconstruction, and development assistance in support of the Haitian people. I don’t think anybody in their right mind can question U.S. support for the Haitian people and for their efforts to rebuild and to recover and to move on. There’s absolutely no question about that. This wasn’t --
QUESTION: But are you concerned --
MR KIRBY: This isn’t about – this isn’t about leverage, Ros. This is about what we believe is in the best interests of the Haitian people and about being able to prioritize the assistance going forward on issues which we know they still need help with.
QUESTION: But you’re not concerned that because of the decision to scrap the previous election’s results that undemocratic principles may be coming into play within the Haitian political sphere?
MR KIRBY: No, these are decisions that the – these are decisions Haitian leaders have to make. And again, we’ve made clear what our concerns were about the electoral process thus far. We’ve been nothing but candid and forthright about that. But ultimately, these are decisions that they have to make, and we want to continue to urge them to make the right ones.
QUESTION: If they continue on a path that the U.S. Government really doesn’t favor, is the U.S. willing to reconsider its humanitarian aid?
MR KIRBY: We’re going to continue to prioritize the support in areas we believe are important to Haiti that – I don’t – I don’t foresee any change to U.S. support for the Haitian people in all manner of ways, and certainly economic assistance is one of them. And I think I’d leave it at that.
QUESTION: How much money is involved here? In other words, the decision not to fund additional kind of rounds of this election saves you how much money that you can then deploy --
MR KIRBY: It wasn’t – we didn’t plan for funding --
QUESTION: I know, but --
MR KIRBY: -- for two more rounds, so it’s difficult to put a dollar figure on that. But what I can tell you is that in the assistance for the 2015 electoral cycle was at – over – a total of over $30 million.
QUESTION: Yeah, you said 33 million, right?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: But my question is you – I wouldn’t have asked you the question if you had just said, look, we didn’t plan for this and we’re not going to fund it. But you said you’re going to use the – that money for other things, right? And therefore it seems to me you must have some idea of how much money you’re not going to give them for this if you’re going to use it for other stuff, right?
MR KIRBY: I said it rather – it allows us to maintain priority assistance on things that we are already funding, so we’re going to continue that. I don’t have a dollar figure in terms of this because it wasn’t funded, it wasn’t budgeted. It would be impossible for me to make up that number.
QUESTION: So, but if you had funded it, you would have had to have taken it out of those other areas?
MR KIRBY: Not necessarily, but it’s certainly – not necessarily, but it does – but it certainly would have to be taken in consideration of the totality of the assistance that goes to Haiti.
QUESTION: So it would have had to have come out of total assistance from Haiti?
MR KIRBY: It is part and parcel – electoral support’s part and parcel of the aid and assistance that goes to Haiti.
MR KIRBY: And so certainly, in that regard, yes, it would come out of total assistance that goes to Haiti --
QUESTION: Right, but --
MR KIRBY: -- but I don’t – but again, we weren’t – we had not budgeted for this. I mean, we have to do – you have to forecast ahead --
MR KIRBY: -- for even education assistance or disaster relief assistance. You have to have a budget going ahead.
MR KIRBY: We did not budget for additional electoral cycles.
QUESTION: I get that, but --
MR KIRBY: So --
QUESTION: But if it wouldn’t necessarily come out of the hide of the other priority programs, I don’t see how you can – I mean, if you had said yeah, it would have come out of the other Haiti-related programs, I’d be like, okay, I understand that, fine. But you’re saying no, not necessarily, which implies you could have gotten money from elsewhere, which implies to me that it’s not actually coming out of Haiti.
MR KIRBY: We didn’t make those decisions, so it’s impossible for me to tell you exactly how much money would have come out of additional funding somewhere else or out of the existing budget for aid and assistance from Haiti.
QUESTION: Right, but if it didn’t – but if it wouldn’t definitely have come out of the other Haiti assistance – right – and you’re saying “not necessarily” --
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: -- then how can you argue this allows you to maintain your other priority funding, because maybe you could have maintained your other Haiti priority funding and gotten the money from another pot?
MR KIRBY: Because we’ve made a qualitative decision here that we’re going to continue to support Haiti going forward in these other areas --
MR KIRBY: -- and I can’t tell you with certainty that those other areas will see increases or not. They might.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know. But we didn’t budget for additional electoral support and we’re going to maintain our focus – as I said, we’re going to maintain our focus now on the other priority areas which we think are important to the Haitian people.
QUESTION: Right, but I don’t see how you can argue that the decision has been made so that you can maintain your priority funding elsewhere. It seems to me you’ve just made the decision, you don’t know where the other money might or might not come from.
MR KIRBY: No. Arshad, I’ll try this again.
QUESTION: Yeah, no, I’m not trying to be tendentious. I’m trying to understand it.
MR KIRBY: There are two factors here. One, we didn’t plan for additional electoral cycles.
MR KIRBY: And we’ve already expressed our concern about additional electoral cycles.
MR KIRBY: And as I said, $33 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars were spent to help them with the 2015 electoral cycle because we think that’s important, and we thought it was important when they had a result and we would have liked to have seen that process go through to completion.
So we didn’t plan for 2016 or 2017 cycles and we’ve already stated where we are on the 2015 cycle. So we’re going to now focus – we’re not turning our back on the people of Haiti. My whole point of saying this was we’re not turning our back on the Haitian people, and the aid and assistance that we have in place will stay in place and we will examine whatever options are going forward in terms of additional assistance for other purposes. We just don’t – I don’t have any new decisions or announcements to make.
QUESTION: Okay. But the decision not to fund additional electoral expenditures is not because you want to protect the other funding, right? Because you’ve acknowledged it isn’t necessarily coming out of that funding. It’s for another reason. It’s because you’re just not going to support the electoral funding even though you’re definitely going to support all the other stuff.
MR KIRBY: It’s because we didn’t fund, we didn’t budget for 2016-27. We have maintained a budget for other kinds of Haitian assistance --
QUESTION: Right, right.
MR KIRBY: -- and that’s going to continue.
QUESTION: And – but you have contingency funds of all kinds – of all sorts, right? And you’re choosing not to go into any other contingency funds to fund the Haiti election, to not fund additional Haiti --
MR KIRBY: We did not budget – we did not – I don’t think I can say it any differently. We did not budget for additional electoral rounds and we are now – we’re going to continue to prioritize and maintain the priorities – the word I use, “maintain” the priority on assistance – other assistance that we give to the Haitian people.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) ask for additional aid --
QUESTION: And why not – just last one from me, please: Why not try to find extra money somewhere for – I know you didn’t budget for it. I also know $33 million is not an inconceivably huge amount of money. I mean, it’s a lot of money, but I’m sure that if you wanted to find another 5 or 10 million or whatever it was, you probably could have found it somewhere. Why --
MR KIRBY: Because we believe the assistance that we are providing in other areas are put to better use for the Haitian people.
QUESTION: But it’s not coming out of that money.
MR KIRBY: I’ve answered the question, Arshad. I don't know how I can do it any other way.
QUESTION: Well, let me ask it this way: Did the Haitians try to bargain with the U.S. for getting some sort of electoral assistance?
MR KIRBY: I don’t talk --
QUESTION: Did they ask and did the U.S. say no?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the details of diplomatic conversations.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Very quickly – yesterday, the prime minister of Israel rejected your statement on the settlements, saying that he does not believe that the settlements are an obstacle to peace or stand in the way of peace. Today, they also announced the expansion of settlements in Gilo, outside of Bethlehem. First of all, do you have any comment on both these issues?
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen reports of that, Arshad.
MR KIRBY: And again – (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, Arshad – Said.
QUESTION: He’s about a foot taller.
MR KIRBY: Arshad’s on the brain right now. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: If you had just answered my question --
QUESTION: With hair.
MR KIRBY: I did.
QUESTION: Or you’d forgotten about me entirely.
MR KIRBY: I did answer your question. I did. I answered it 10 times.
QUESTION: You’re still absorbed – you’re still absorbed in --
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, Said.
QUESTION: It’s okay.
MR KIRBY: Or are you Brad? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’m the one without hair.
MR KIRBY: No, we’ve seen reports. All I would tell you is that nothing’s changed about our position on settlements, and you know that very well.
QUESTION: Okay. But again, the same issue.
MR KIRBY: Okay. But you don’t like that answer.
QUESTION: Well, no, I’m saying that’s fine. I mean, your statement was perceived to be strong. Obviously, they tried to rebut it – the Israeli Government and so on. But then what’s next? I mean, they keep – every time you issue a strong statement, they get back at you. They just up the ante, so to speak. So that’s what we have seen – upping the ante – whether it’s due to violence --
MR KIRBY: Well --
QUESTION: -- or due to responding to the Quartet report, or whatever. But so what are you prepared to sort of put some muscle into your statements?
MR KIRBY: I think it’s very clear and very well known what our position is with respect to settlements. Also, it’s very clear and very well known what we expect in terms of leadership, and that leadership being demonstrated by all sides over there in terms of taking down the violence and getting us to help create conditions toward a two-state solution. The power is within the leaders there to do that.
MR KIRBY: And I can tell you that the Secretary, for his part, will stay absolutely engaged on this going forward.
QUESTION: But except that one power does not have any power and the other power is an occupation power.
MR KIRBY: Both sides have responsibilities, both sides have power, both sides have an ability to help create the conditions that will better foster and get us closer to a two-state solution.
QUESTION: Can we talk about that?
QUESTION: Can I ask one quick question on Facebook? Because the Israelis are introducing a bill that would allow them to pressure Facebook to take out some materials that is posted and so on. I wonder if you have any comment on that.
MR KIRBY: What I’m aware of is that this is --
QUESTION: In fact, the minister of police called Facebook the – like, blood on their hands, something to that effect.
MR KIRBY: So I’m aware that – of the proposed legislation. I don’t have additional comment on it now because it’s still in draft form. But as you know, and in general, we support freedom of expression, the free flow of information, regardless of the medium. And we also strongly condemn incitement to violence.
QUESTION: Can I ask one on --
QUESTION: South Asia?
MR KIRBY: Wait, wait. Hang on a second. Ros, you have had plenty of time here.
QUESTION: South Asia?
MR KIRBY: Go ahead. I – who are you?
QUESTION: I’m Nick Wadhams. I’m the new guy with Bloomberg.
MR KIRBY: The new guy with Bloomberg. All right.
QUESTION: I just had quickie on North Korea. The foreign ministry said today that it wanted the U.S. to rescind the sanctions announced yesterday, and if the U.S. didn’t do so it would cut all diplomatic contacts with the U.S. Do you know what diplomatic contacts they’re referring to? And does the U.S. actually have diplomatic contact with North Koreans that it’s – wasn’t mentioned before?
MR KIRBY: No, I’m not aware of any diplomatic contact with – directly with the North. And --
QUESTION: But you maintain a New York channel, right?
MR KIRBY: There’s a channel, yeah, through the UN.
QUESTION: Right, through the UN, sure.
MR KIRBY: But that’s different. That’s not direct diplomatic relations.
QUESTION: So there’s – there are no direct contacts?
MR KIRBY: No. And again, we stand by the decisions that we made.
QUESTION: John, follow-up --
QUESTION: I’d like to ask you another one on that.
QUESTION: One on North Korea again, because I – he got the North Korea issue, a follow-up --
MR KIRBY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. China has been officially criticized the U.S. sanctions for human rights abuse against North Korean Kim Jong-un. Do you have any comment why Chinese, they criticize the United States in this?
MR KIRBY: Well, the Chinese can speak for themselves in terms of their view of this. I think I talked yesterday or mentioned yesterday that the Secretary had spoken with Foreign Minister Wang Yi. This was one of the issues they discussed. They also discussed the South China Sea; I don’t think that’ll come as a surprise to anybody. We stand by the decision to designate these individuals and entities for human rights violations, and the Chinese can speak for themselves in terms of whatever objections they might have to it.
QUESTION: Do you think China is --
MR KIRBY: I will tell you this, though, and I think the Secretary – let me just add that the Secretary mentioned this in his presser today that it’s important to remember that the Chinese joined the international community in enacting the toughest sanctions – UN sanctions on the North in the last couple of decades, that they – that those sanctions have a tougher enforcement mechanism applied to them. And the Chinese are – they, like the rest of the international community, are working through those enforcement issues. And we’ve long said that China has an influence here. They have a leadership role particularly in the region and in particular with Pyongyang that we want to see them completely utilize to try to help bring about the proper pressure on the DPRK.
QUESTION: But this is not on UN sanctions. This is the U.S. by own self --
MR KIRBY: No, I know, I know. But I felt it was important to put it in context here because I didn’t want to be just dismissive of the issue of China’s involvement. Again, I’d let Chinese leaders speak for themselves in terms of whatever objections they might have to these sanctions that we have put in place, but we stand 100 percent resolutely behind them.
QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?
QUESTION: Sorry, one more on North Korea. Among the rhetoric that came out on KCNA was North Korea calling the latest sanctions a, quote, “declaration of war,” describing them – the sanctions against their leadership as, quote, a – as a, quote, “hideous crime” and saying that they will, quote – they will take, quote – they will take the, quote, “toughest countermeasures,” close quote, in response to them. Do you have any response to these kind of threats?
MR KIRBY: I mean, the only thing that we would respond with would be to once again call on North Korea to refrain from actions and rhetoric that only further raise tensions in the region. And I can’t see how this rhetoric does anything but that.
QUESTION: Just two quick questions on South Asia. One, starting with Bangladesh. There are more troubles in Bangladesh and also there is a Travel Warning from the U.S. Is there any credible threats to the U.S. citizens there? Also, recently Bangladesh and U.S. had a strategic dialogue here. If these warnings were among the parts – if Bangladeshis have mentioned during their meetings here at the State Department that all these threats are maybe coming or Bangladesh is under threat from the terrorists?
MR KIRBY: Let me put it this way. Let me kind of walk you through --
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
MR KIRBY: -- this latest Travel Warning, because I think that’s probably the best way to get at your multiple questions.
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
MR KIRBY: The State Department issued a Travel Warning for Bangladesh on the 6th of July, yesterday, alerting U.S. citizens to the ongoing potential for extremist violence and recommending U.S. citizens consider the risk of travel to Bangladesh. And I want to highlight the word “ongoing” in that. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Alert that was issued back in February of this year. The U.S. Government believes the threat of terrorism remains real and credible and that terrorist attacks could occur against foreigners. U.S. citizens in Bangladesh are urged to maintain a high level of vigilance in light of recent terrorist attacks and to monitor local security developments. The U.S. embassy has imposed restrictions on personnel movement, which we list on the country-specific information page on our website, travel.state.gov.
Again, and I want to stress that anybody planning travel to the region ought to go to there and check it out. U.S. citizens in Bangladesh are encouraged to take similar precautions as those we have instituted for our own people. Again, the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas is one of our highest priorities. We provide U.S. citizen with as much information as possible so they can make well-informed decision before they go.
QUESTION: And one more, if I may go back to China.
MR KIRBY: This will have to be the last one.
QUESTION: If I may go back to China.
MR KIRBY: Hang on. I’ll go to you, then you, and then I’m going to have to --
MR KIRBY: I know.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MR KIRBY: You – you’re yielding?
QUESTION: Bangladesh --
MR KIRBY: All right, he’s yielding to you. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. There was another bomb blast in Bangladesh today. Three people were killed. Do you expect – do you suspect any terrorist activities in that?
MR KIRBY: It’s just too new for us to know, but as I said, we’ve been mindful of the continued threat of terrorist attacks in Bangladesh. I’m going to let Bangladeshi authorities speak to developments. I’m just – I don’t have enough information now to quantitatively – or I’m sorry, qualitatively describe them.
QUESTION: The Bangladeshi Government is saying these attacks are a result of homegrown radical Islamic terrorists. Do you agree with the assessment? Because ISIS have been claiming and al-Qaida have been claiming those attacks.
MR KIRBY: I think we’re going to leave it to Bangladeshi authorities who are investigating particularly what happened in Dhaka to do their work. And I’ve been very careful not to get ahead of their work, so I think we need to let investigators finish, let Bangladeshi authorities report out what they’ve learned, and then we’ll go from there. Clearly it was a terrorist attack – the one at the cafe in Dhaka. I don’t have additional information on what you just told me. No question that that was an act of terrorism. Nobody’s disputing that. But we’re going to let investigators do their work before we jump to any conclusion – before we make any conclusions. We’re not going to jump to conclusions, period. Sorry.
QUESTION: And Secretary in his phone call to the Bangladeshi prime minister had offered FBI assistance in investigating the terrorist attack --
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: -- in the cafe. Has that been accepted?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates for you, and again, I’d point you to Bangladeshi authorities for how they’re conducting their investigation.
Goyal, you get the last one today.
QUESTION: Thanks very much. A quick question on Tibet – I understand my – I think this group is from Tibet. Like this group, many thousands outside are asking the same question, that China is sending millions of people from the mainland China into Tibet. And what Tibetans are saying – as I said, millions in the U.S. or around the globe – that they are destroying their culture, their religion, and freedom. So when Secretary talks to the Chinese – or recently Dalai Lama was of course in the White House, met – meet – met with President Obama. So what the Secretary tells them or what they tell the Secretary about --
MR KIRBY: I think --
QUESTION: -- their destruction of their religion and culture and mainland Tibet?
MR KIRBY: I mean, look, broadly speaking, the issue of human rights and freedom of religion and freedom of expression are always things that the Secretary raises with foreign leaders. But – and he’s – and we have certainly raised it with foreign leaders in China, and I suspect our ongoing concerns about that will continue. I – we are not bashful about talking about the freedom of cultural expression and religious freedoms there in China.
Okay. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:10 p.m.)
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