Daily Press Briefing - July 12, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing:
MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR KIRBY: Book gets heavier every day. A couple things at the top, so please bear with me.
First on South Sudan, we understand that the unilateral ceasefires called by both the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and government and in opposition on July 11th appear to be holding despite reports of sporadic gunfire in some parts of Juba and scattered fighting in the town of Wau. The Secretary spoke for the second time with the prime minister of Ethiopia, President Kenyatta of Kenya, and for the first time with President Museveni of Uganda yesterday, regarding next steps in a coordinated regional response. We are, of course, working closely with international partners to address the conflict in South Sudan.
Both the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the African Union Peace and Security Council have released communiques calling for enhancements to the UN mission in South Sudan and the mandate for that mission, and an increase in the number of peacekeepers. We are reviewing these communiques and discussing with our partners in the Security Council.
The U.S. embassy is reducing its staff still in South Sudan. The embassy released a security message today stating that the U.S. Government brought assets to Juba to implement the decision for a reduction in embassy staff, otherwise known as an ordered departure, and to provide support to conduct a safe and orderly departure of private American citizens and third-country nationals as needed over the coming days. I want to stress again what I said yesterday: The embassy is not evacuating. Non-emergency U.S. embassy personnel continue to depart the country via this ordered departure process.
Due to ongoing security concerns, we do want to again say that citizens should remain vigilant when moving about the city. We continue to press, obviously, the leaders in South Sudan to end the fighting and to provide unfettered humanitarian access to those that are in need. So we’re staying on top of this. We’re watching it very, very closely. The Secretary remains engaged, our ambassador in Juba remains engaged, and we are continuing the ordered withdrawal of embassy personnel.
QUESTION: Is the ambassador leaving also?
MR KIRBY: The ambassador is still there.
QUESTION: Is she going to be – he or she going to be part of this?
MR KIRBY: I don’t foresee that. I don’t foresee that. Again, as you know, an ordered departure is non-emergency personnel; it’s not everybody. The ambassador is essential personnel.
On the South China Sea, I think you’ve seen my statement this morning on the decision by the tribunal and the Philippines-China arbitration. The United States strongly supports the rule of law. We support efforts to resolve territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea peacefully and through arbitration such as this. As I said, this decision is an important contribution to the shared goal of a peaceful resolution to disputes in the South China Sea.
When joining the Law of the Sea Convention, parties agree to the convention’s compulsory dispute settlement process. And as provided in the convention, the tribunal’s decision is final and legally binding on both China and the Philippines. The onus is now on them to meet that obligation. We urge all claimants to avoid provocative statements or actions. This decision can and should, as I said in my statement, serve as an opportunity to renew efforts to address maritime disputes peacefully.
Finally, on a programing note, later today the Secretary will speak briefly at the Washington Passport Agency – this is at 4:30 p.m. – where he will introduce MissionOne, which is an initiative that we’ve started here that expands and modernizes the services that the State Department offers U.S. citizens. He will also urge American citizens planning overseas travel to apply early for their passports in the midst of a current record-breaking passport application surge.
Later on this evening, I think you know the Secretary will host a reception to mark the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr to mark the end of Ramadan. The Secretary will highlight citizen diplomacy and highlight ways as well for ordinary individuals to forge and strengthen ties with countries, communities, and individuals around the globe.
With that, Brad.
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, first of all --
QUESTION: I guess you saw they called it a farce, among other things, and reiterated it would have no --
MR KIRBY: Yeah, no, no, we saw. No, we certainly saw the – we certainly saw the comments. I would hasten to say that that reaction was not a surprise. They had certainly signaled their intention to rebut the decision even before it was rendered. But as we’ve said, all claimants should exercise restraint both in action and in rhetoric, and should, again, take advantage of this opportunity to observe the rule of law, to observe their international obligations, and to work through the details of the arbitration in a peaceful, reasonable, sensible manner.
QUESTION: So since China has so consistently said it will not abide by this ruling and it said again today, I’m confused why you say you expect both parties to comply with this ruling. It would seem like a bad expectation unless you don’t believe that China – you think China is lying and they are going to abide by this ruling?
MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speak for the Chinese. They can say what they will. But that they have – that they have --
QUESTION: On what basis do you expect that?
MR KIRBY: That they have made these unhelpful comments doesn’t mean that our expectations should change. It is a legally binding tribunal decision, and our expectation was before it was made and is now after it’s made that all claimants are going to abide by it.
QUESTION: But expectation is what you think will happen, not what you hope will happen. Your expectation – you actually think China is going to abide by this ruling even though they say they’re not?
MR KIRBY: It is both our hope and our expectation that China will --
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: -- will abide by its legally binding obligations under this decision. So it just got rendered. Let’s see where we go from here.
QUESTION: And last one from me on this. Since foreign policy is more than hopes and expectations --
MR KIRBY: Should be, yeah.
QUESTION: -- how do you plan to ensure that China will indeed abide by this ruling? Or are you just --
MR KIRBY: Well, look, as I --
QUESTION: -- just going to hope for that? Or --
MR KIRBY: As I said in my opening comments, the onus is on them. The decision has been rendered. For our part it’s some 500 pages. We’re still going through it so we can better understand it here. I suspect that the claimants are probably still reading through it, as it is pretty lengthy. But the onus is on them now. The tribunal has spoken, and it’s up to the parties now to abide by their legally binding obligations in there.
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
QUESTION: If China fails to abide by the ruling, then it will be in breach of international law?
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: A follow-up. In a statement you said you ask for all parties to respect the rule of law and you support arbitration. Can you give me any example that the United States has ever complied with any of the rulings on international arbitration, particularly when it’s weighed against your interest?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, actually I think I’ve got one in here somewhere. Hang on a second. I know I’ve got one in here.
QUESTION: Don’t look in Nicaragua. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: You’ve been reading ahead, haven’t you? Ah, where is it? Here we go. I knew I’d find it.
So we believe an example can be found in the resolution of a contentious and long-disputed maritime boundary between the United States and Canada in the Gulf of Maine. To resolve that dispute, the U.S. and Canada brought the legal question to third-party dispute settlement before a chamber of the International Court of Justice and argued the case on its merits and complied with the decision. So we have – we’ve done this ourselves.
QUESTION: But you know, as Brad just mentioned, there are other cases that you didn’t really complying with the ruling. And there was this article yesterday written by the Harvard professor Graham Allison. Actually, he pointed out that none of the UN security permanent members, none of them has ever applied by the ruling of the permanent court of arbitration when it comes to the issue about their sovereignty or the Law of the Sea.
MR KIRBY: That doesn’t change the fact that it’s a legally binding decision. That might – that’s very interesting. I’m not a lawyer, but it doesn’t seem relevant to the fact that this tribunal decision is legally binding.
And on Nicaragua, so I’m told – or at least I have here – that this case was over 30 years ago in which the U.S. participated at a jurisdictional stage. The U.S. and Nicaragua ultimately resolved this case bilaterally, which Nicaragua withdrew their position voluntarily. So just so you know I got that in there.
But again, to your – I haven’t read this gentleman’s argument, and I’m no lawyer. I was barely a good history student, so – what I can tell you, though, is that this is a legally binding decision and it’s our expectation – and, oh – and frankly, it’s the world’s expectation. This is – it’s not just the United States. The world is watching now to see what these claimants will do. The world is watching to see if China is really the global power it professes itself to be and the responsible power that it professes itself to be. The world’s watching this.
QUESTION: Yes. Just to follow up on that, other great powers before – as I mentioned, the UN Security Council members, they haven’t even complied with their ruling before. So how would you expect China to comply with the ruling?
MR KIRBY: Again, I think that’s an interesting case that’s not relevant. I mean, your argument is not relevant. This is a – I can’t speak for every other member of the UN Security Council. I gave you two examples where the United States worked these kinds of things out peacefully, one through arbitration. It is a legally – there’s no dispute here. I understand that the Chinese have made an argument that they’re not going to abide by it. I’ve heard that loud and clear, okay. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a legally binding obligation. And it’s the world’s expectation that China will abide by its obligations under this legally binding decision.
QUESTION: What if China doesn’t?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. China should care about abiding by it, because China should care about the fact that the entire world is watching what they’ll do now, in this – in the event of the tribunal’s decision.
QUESTION: And the final one. In a statement, you also mentioned you – we are still studying the decision and have no comment on the merits of the case. Does that mean you may not necessarily agree with all the rulings? Because one of that Taiwan actually objected was the island Taiwan controlled called Taiping Island and the arbitration ruling said it’s a rock instead of island.
MR KIRBY: I’m – what I’m – my comment stands. We’re – it’s a 500-page decision. We’re still working our way through it; it just got rendered today. And so I’m not going to make any specific comment on this particular case.
QUESTION: But if you haven’t studied – if you haven’t finished studying it, how can you support everything the --
MR KIRBY: We certainly – we are certainly familiar enough with the decision and the components of it to say what we say before it got rendered, which is it will be legally binding. I’ve said the same thing for a matter of days now, even before we knew what it was – that it was going to be legally binding and that the expectation would be that all claimants would abide by their responsibilities under it. That point hasn’t changed since before the decision got rendered, and it’s certainly not going to change now.
I’m not going to talk about the specifics of the case, as you – as I’ve said also many times, the United States isn’t taking a position on individual claims. We do take a position on coercion and the use of force or military pressure to try to change or to try to affect the outcome on these claims. We’ve long said that we want these disputes resolved peacefully, in accordance with international law. This tribunal decision represents that law and, again, it’s our expectation that all sides are going to abide by it. Okay.
QUESTION: Can I ask – just following up on this – I mean --
MR KIRBY: Who are you?
QUESTION: Nick Wadhams from Bloomberg.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: So China already responded to your statement, filing a solemn representation, basically protesting it. We had Senator Dan Sullivan today calling for a review of U.S. force posture in Asia, possibly considering putting a second aircraft carrier strike group in the region in response to this ruling. So what is the next step for the U.S.? It was totally anticipated that China would reject this ruling. They’ve now done so. Aside from urging them to adhere to a ruling that we already knew they were not going to respect, what is your next step?
MR KIRBY: Well, it’s day one. And the next steps are for the parties to determine, not for the United States to determine. As I said, the onus is on them now to abide by the obligations set forth in the decision. It’s day one, so let’s see where it goes. And I’m not going to get --
QUESTION: But --
MR KIRBY: Wait a second. I’m not going to get ahead of hypothetical situations of what the United States will or won’t do. We – our expectation, the world’s expectation is that all claimants – both claimants in this case – are going to abide by their obligations. So let’s see if that actually happens.
And then I’m certainly not going to speak to hypothetical military movements one way or the other. We have a strong presence in the Asia Pacific, not – for a variety of reasons, not aimed at any one country. And I don’t see any change to that presence. In fact, it’s all part of the President’s rebalance to the Asia Pacific, where you have a majority of the U.S. Navy out there as well as many assets from other of the services.
Now we’re – we – five of our seven – five of our seven security alliances are in the Pacific region. We have enormous commitments from a security perspective that we absolutely will abide by. But I’m not going to speculate one way or the other about intransigence on this and what that might mean for military posture going forward.
QUESTION: Now, given that China has now basically made this a bilateral issue by directly protesting your statement, I mean, does the Secretary have any plan for contact with Wang Yi again? Are there any channels that you guys are going to open up with the Chinese about – I mean, it seems like we’ve now moved pretty far beyond both sides calling for abstaining from provocative statements. I mean, we’ve now got pretty provocative statements on both sides.
MR KIRBY: It doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop urging restraint and calm and sensibility and a sense of maturity and leadership in the wake of this decision. Those are still required.
Number two, as I mentioned, he did speak to Foreign Minister Wang Yi before – obviously a few days ago – before the decision. I don’t have any future phone calls to announce today or to speak to, but he routinely speaks to his Chinese counterpart on a range of issues, and I suspect those conversations are going to continue.
And as for opening up new channels, there’s no need to do that. We have lots of communication channels open with the Chinese here at the State Department, the Defense Department as well, and of course, the President also has a way of communicating with President Xi. So there’s lots of ways that we will continue to stay in touch with China going forward.
QUESTION: John, can I follow up on Itu Aba?
MR KIRBY: On what?
QUESTION: Itu Aba, the Taiping Island in the South China Sea. Can I follow up on that quickly?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: I’m not going to quiz you on 500-page details of the ruling. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Good.
QUESTION: Itu Aba – some called Taiping Island – is the largest land feature in the Spratlys chain. And so today’s ruling, to some of the legal experts, a little bit surprising because it was defined as rock, not island. Given the fact that Taiwan has about 200 people post in Taiping or Itu Aba, what role does the United States want Taiwan to play going forward?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, again, I’m not going to speak to the specifics of this case, as I said at the outset. Nothing’s changed about our “one China” policy and our desire to see cross-strait relations be productive and peaceful. But other than that, I’m not going to comment.
QUESTION: Shouldn’t Taiwan be – does the United States consider bringing Taiwan to a negotiation table to – when trying to find a peaceful and diplomatic way to solve the disputes?
MR KIRBY: I know of no such plans. Again, nothing’s changed about our “one China” policy, nothing.
QUESTION: In March, the Chinese pulled back from what looked like land reclamation plans for the Scarborough Shoal, reportedly under U.S. pressure. Just wondered if you were confident that they would keep that stance after this ruling or whether there was sort of diplomatic exchanges or urges from here that they don’t take that action.
MR KIRBY: We have been nothing but consistent for many months about our concerns about militarization of features in the South China Sea. President Xi, when he was here standing next to President Obama, made clear that they weren’t going to do that. We have seen some signs in recent weeks that some of that activity continues, and we have been, again, very consistent, very clear with our Chinese counterparts about our ongoing concern with – in that regard, and that’s not going to change.
Now, I can’t possibly speculate what China may or may not do going forward after this decision, but they themselves have committed to not militarizing features, and that’s our expectation. And frankly, that’s the expectation of plenty of countries there in the region and many countries around the world.
QUESTION: Mr. Kirby, very quickly, you said you are consistently concerned about land reclamation activities by China. Some people in China point out that, in fact, China is hardly the first country to do so. Vietnam, the Philippines did that in past, but in those cases the U.S. was not so eager to project their anger or protest. Is there a double standard here?
MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going – again, we’re not taking individual positions on individual claims, but I think it’s a far cry and a stretch to compare what China has done in just recent months and certainly over the last year or so with land reclamation and militarization with any such potential like situations from other countries in the region. There’s absolutely no way to compare the scope and the size and the character of it.
QUESTION: But from your statement this afternoon, it seems that Washington can imply, if not dictate, what countries in the region in South China Sea should or should not do based on a piece of treaty, UNCLOS – which, of course, the U.S. did not ratify. This Administration, along with others --
MR KIRBY: And we continue to urge the Senate to --
QUESTION: -- tried to push for it, but you never get the two-third majority of the Senate.
MR KIRBY: We continue to urge the Senate to ratify. We’ve --
QUESTION: Do you think the U.S. --
MR KIRBY: This Administration has been very, very clear about that. But we still abide by the central tenets of it, even though we aren’t a signer.
QUESTION: But when you abide by the central tenets, do you think the U.S. loses kind of the moral authority to do that when it does not ratify it?
MR KIRBY: This isn’t about expressing moral authority, and I kind of reject the implication in the question. This isn’t about the United States projecting moral authority. This is an international tribunal which came up with a legally binding decision that the United States didn’t influence. We said before that they reached it that it would be legally binding; so did the world. Now they’ve reached it; it’s still legally binding, and the world is going to be watching what both claimants do in terms of meeting their obligations on this.
As I said at the outset, the United States doesn’t take a position on individual claims. We do take a position on coercion, and part of coercion is the potential militarization of land features that appear to have only one outcome in mind, and that is to press, potentially through force, these claims when those claims ought to be settled through exactly this kind of a process.
QUESTION: And finally, do you think the U.S. in any ways contributed to the rising of tensions, militarization in South China Sea when they send bombers and cruisers, frigates in the region so often?
MR KIRBY: No, I don’t, and here’s why: The United States military has a presence in the Pacific. We are a Pacific power. Five of our seven treaty alliances are in the Pacific. We have enormous security commitments in the region. And when we operate our ships and our aircraft, we do so in international airspace and international maritime space, and we train with our allies and our partners. And those are serious obligations, because our military has an – has a responsibility to protect and defend the United States national security interests. And we’ve been doing that for a long time, well before these issues in the South China Sea came up. So the short answer is, no, I don’t.
QUESTION: Can we move to a new topic?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are we done?
QUESTION: Just follow on that point – in the statement, you asked for all claimants to avoid provocative actions and rhetorics. Does that also include United States?
MR KIRBY: The United States isn’t committing provocative rhetoric or actions. I’ve said, again, we don’t take a position on these claims, and our military operations in the region are 100 percent aligned --
MR KIRBY: Listen, now, I know where you’re going here. I get that you don’t like this, but that doesn’t make it less true, that our military operations in the region are designed to look after U.S. national security interests, including the interests of five of our seven treaty alliances. We have enormous responsibilities. We have been and remain and will remain a Pacific power. And so as the Secretary of Defense has said, we’re going to fly, sail, and operate in accordance with international law where we need to to protect those interests. That is not something new. That is something that the United States military takes very seriously, and has for decades – well before this discussion was even being had about the South China Sea.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. Today --
MR KIRBY: I can’t believe I’m actually glad to move on to Syria. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: All right. (Inaudible.) Today, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, Sergey Lavrov, said in Baku that – he basically gave a scathing criticism of UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura. He accused him of not carrying on with his responsibilities in organizing a meeting among Syrian – basically, he was very critical of Mr. de Mistura’s statement that he’s waiting for American-Russian agreement. Do you have any comment on – have you seen those comments, and do you have any comment?
MR KIRBY: I have not seen the foreign minister’s comments, but – so without addressing – without addressing comments I haven’t seen, I do think that it’s incumbent upon me to restate what the Secretary has said many times in applauding the UN Special Envoy de Mistura’s efforts to try to get the political process back on track. And he has tried mightily, and it has been extraordinarily difficult. And you know one of the reasons why it’s been so difficult for him? Because when you try to bring the opposition together, try to get them to start having even proximity talks with the regime, and their people are still being bombed; and innocent civilians are still being bombed; hospitals are being bombed; and there are continued ground offenses by the regime that are still happening, like places in and around Aleppo; and millions of Syrians are still starving, not getting the medicine they need, not getting food and water – makes it real difficult for the opposition to move forward with meaningful talks or to believe that there’s even a hope for that.
So what would make Staffan de Mistura’s job enormously easier would be for the Russians to use the influence that we know they can have on the Assad regime to get the violence to stop, to cease with the temporary regimes of calms, and let’s get to something that’s real – which, oh by the way, Moscow signed up to in three communiques and a UN Security Council resolution when they said that they supported a nationwide cessation of hostilities. So what would be, again, helpful to Mr. de Mistura is for Russia to use that influence to that end and to press the regime to allow the humanitarian access to continue unimpeded and unfettered to the still millions of Syrians that are in need. I think that would go a long way to helping the political process get back on track and to seeing Staffan de Mistura achieve the kind of success that the Secretary believes that he still can achieve.
QUESTION: So the two positions – the Russian and the American position are so far apart. What is hoped to be achieved when the Secretary makes his trip to Moscow on --
MR KIRBY: I actually don’t agree, Said, that our positions are far apart. I mean, we’ve signed up to these communiques. We’ve signed up to a UN Security Council resolution. Russia is a co-chair with us in the task force on cessation of hostilities. So there’s near-daily communication between the U.S. and Russia on what’s going on on the ground, and what the Secretary looks forward to talking about in Russia is how we can take that same spirit of uniformity on what we both want to see in Syria to the next level. Let’s get the cessation of hostilities applied nationwide, let’s make it enduring, let’s get the humanitarian access to flow unimpeded, let’s see if we can help de Mistura get the political process on track. And so we have teed up ideas to the Russians, and I think you’ll see that this trip to Moscow will be an indicator – we believe will be an indicator of Russia’s – the sincerity of Russia’s own statements about their commitment to going after Daesh in Syria and going after al-Nusrah and trying to see that a whole, unified, pluralistic Syria can be had.
QUESTION: And my final on this one – the Secretary a couple months ago, or a month and a half ago, spoke about his patience running out or the United States’ patience running out.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Will that be the message he’s driving home, especially in the aftermath of the meeting with the Saudi foreign minister Adel Jubeir last week, where they talked about sending ground troops to Syria and maybe becoming even more involved in the effort to bring down the Assad regime?
MR KIRBY: I think if you’re asking me is the Secretary still frustrated by what’s going on in Syria, the answer is yes. In fact, I’d say he’s extremely frustrated, and we want to see real change in what’s been going on. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re going to Moscow, to see if that change is actually going to be possible – if the Russians are going to do what they’ve said that they were going to do. So, again, he looks forward to having these conversations. He’s convinced that there can be progress. He’s convinced that the Russians can contribute to real political and peaceful solutions in Syria. We’ve seen in the past where, when they choose to exert their leadership and their influence, the positive effect that it can have. And so, again, we – he’s going to once again probe the sincerity of their own stated commitments to those outcomes.
But I believe he meant every molecule of what he said when said that his patience was growing thin. I think the patience of the international community is growing thin with respect to what’s going on in Syria. Still too many people are being innocently killed and injured; still too many people are being driven from their homes; still too many people are without basic food, water, and medicine, and the basic necessities of life; and still we have a regime in power that refuses any effort to try to move this political process forward in a way that gets to an end state where we have a government in Syria which is responsible for and responsive to the Syrian people.
QUESTION: I guess – I assume you saw the Washington Post story today entitled, “Kerry touts the Russian line on Syrian rebel groups.”
MR KIRBY: I did see that piece. I am actually quoted in that piece.
QUESTION: I wonder what your response to that piece is.
MR KIRBY: You saw my quote, right? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Maybe I didn’t read it carefully. Would you mind --
MR KIRBY: Oh, you didn’t see my quote.
QUESTION: Or maybe I have an old version of it. I don’t see --
MR KIRBY: Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no. No, I was in the original piece. I talked to Josh Rogin for that story. My reaction is my quote. You can just read it right there.
QUESTION: I apologize.
MR KIRBY: That’s okay. It’s all right.
QUESTION: On the same point, are you considering – can I go ahead?
MR KIRBY: Am I considering?
QUESTION: Are you considering, like, designating Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam as terrorist groups, as the Russians asking for?
MR KIRBY: I know of no such consideration that’s being considered. Again, Samir, we’ve talked about this. The – in the UN Security Council resolution governing the process here, the – and this was agreed to by the – by every member of the ISSG, including Russia, that groups designated by the UN – not by the U.S., by the UN – as foreign terrorist organizations would not be party to the cessation of hostilities, and the UN has not designated those groups as foreign terrorist organizations. And we’re going to abide by the agreement that we also signed up to inside the ISSG.
QUESTION: I believe that was the UN Security Council --
QUESTION: What did the --
QUESTION: -- not UN.
MR KIRBY: What did I say?
QUESTION: UN. The UN Security Council, which is the United States, Russia, and three other countries, so --
MR KIRBY: No, I know who’s a member of it. Did I say it wrong?
QUESTION: Well --
MR KIRBY: The UN Security Council resolution --
QUESTION: Which would – right, which means --
MR KIRBY: -- which said that --
QUESTION: -- you have a say in that, in defining which groups are terror groups.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, but not the U.S. unilaterally.
QUESTION: No, no, no, but --
MR KIRBY: That’s what my point was, Brad.
QUESTION: But the point is if Russia and the U.S. disagree and then --
MR KIRBY: Well, then --
QUESTION: -- you decide to agree, you can change that UN resolution. That’s --
MR KIRBY: That could be a matter for the Security Council to bring up. I’m not aware of any --
QUESTION: Right, but it’s not out of your hands.
MR KIRBY: -- coming conversations in that regard. I – my point to Samir was that this was decided on by all the members of the ISSG, endorsed by the Security Council in a resolution that only UN-designated foreign terrorist organizations would not be party to the cessation, and there’s been no change to that. And I don’t see any changes coming to that.
QUESTION: But --
QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?
QUESTION: -- what did the --
MR KIRBY: Hang on a second, Said.
QUESTION: What did the Secretary mean when he was in Aspen? At Aspen he said the Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham are under groups of ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusrah.
MR KIRBY: Did you read my quote in Josh’s story?
QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Because that lays it right out for you. Look, as I said, there’s no change to our policy – and I just stated our policy, thanks to Brad’s clarifications, but I stated the policy. And the Secretary was simply referring to the fact that we’re not blind to the notion that some of these fighters shift their loyalties and some go from fighting in one group to another. And that’s all the point he was making. He wasn’t changing our policy with respect to who is or who is not a part of the cessation of hostilities.
QUESTION: In that same UN resolution, you set a target date of August --
MR KIRBY: UN Security Council resolution.
QUESTION: -- UN Security Council resolution --
QUESTION: No, I was clarifying that it wasn’t UN-named terrorist groups; it was UN Security Council --
MR KIRBY: But it was --
QUESTION: The U.S. had a role in that, not – it wasn’t just --
MR KIRBY: Well, of course we did.
QUESTION: -- some UN functionary --
MR KIRBY: No, of course we did.
QUESTION: -- who declared it a terrorist group.
MR KIRBY: Well, of course not.
QUESTION: No --
MR KIRBY: Of course not, of course not. But you were wrong. It isn’t a UN resolution; it’s a UN Security Council resolution.
QUESTION: In that same UNSC resolution, you set a target date of August 1st to create a framework for a political transition.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: How would you evaluate how close you are to meeting that target date of August 1st?
MR KIRBY: As – you’re right, the Secretary talked about it as a target, so did Foreign Minister Lavrov talked about it as a target. And we’re mindful of the clock; we’re mindful of the calendar, I can assure you that. Again, another – it underscores the importance of the Secretary’s trip to Moscow and the conversations that he intends to have there. We’re obviously also mindful of where the political process sits right now, which is that there hasn’t been suitable progress moving forward. I’m not going to predict what’s going to happen in a couple of weeks or not, but clearly, we are not ignorant to the fact that achieving some sort of groundbreaking political development in two weeks is not likely.
That doesn’t mean that these still aren’t discussions worth having and it doesn’t mean that we still shouldn’t strive to try to meet the basic milestones that were laid out in the resolution, and we’re going to do that. And again, that’s one of the reasons why the Secretary feels it’s important to head to Moscow.
QUESTION: The Secretary also said at the beginning of May that if there wasn’t progress in the next couple months on this in working towards that target date that Assad should expect a very different track. Is there any movement on that and the idea of this different track, since we’ve seen so little progress in the last few months?
MR KIRBY: I’m just going to let the Secretary’s comments stand for themselves.
MR KIRBY: Really?
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you, Josh – thank you, John.
MR KIRBY: Josh? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Josh is a different person.
QUESTION: He’s a different one.
QUESTION: Yes. John, yesterday --
MR KIRBY: I don’t pretend to be anywhere near as competent as my White House colleague.
MR KIRBY: I don’t have a whole lot more than what I told you yesterday. We’re obviously aware of the report stating that the Turkish Government has not responded to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – the letter requesting permission for a UN team to conduct an investigation in southeastern Turkey to examine potential violations by the security forces during military operations in urban areas. We urge Turkey to allow effective investigations by Turkish prosecutors into civilian deaths and destruction of civilian property in Cizre – is that how you say that --
MR KIRBY: -- Cizre, thank you – and other towns in the southeast and give the UN and nongovernmental groups access to the area to document what is taking place. Last thing I’d say is we urge Turkey to take all feasible precautions, of course, to protect civilians and act consistency – consistently with legal obligations.
QUESTION: UN and human rights groups have been asking for this permission for months. In 2016, Turkey is a NATO ally. How do you see – how it is not possible for Turkey, your ally, not to allow investigators to look into the human rights violations?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, I think I’ve stated our position. We urge them to allow that access and to conduct those investigations. We believe it’s important not because they’re a NATO ally, but because it’s the right thing to do. And again, we’re not bashful about stating our views in that regard.
QUESTION: And one more: There is – Hursit Kulter, he is the local pro-Kurdish party member who have been disappeared for five days and been millions of hashtag going on in the Twitter and social media, and there is no comment from Turkish authorities for over four to five days. I wonder if you have anything on that.
MR KIRBY: I’ve not seen that report. Why don’t we see if we can’t get back to you.
Janne. Said, I got you. I’ll come back to you.
MR KIRBY: We’ve seen the reports that they launched what appeared to be a ballistic missile from a submarine in the Sea of Japan. We are obviously monitoring and continue to assess that in close coordination with our regional allies and partners.
QUESTION: On THAAD issue again?
MR KIRBY: What?
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you think --
MR KIRBY: You didn’t let me finish my answer.
QUESTION: Okay, sorry.
MR KIRBY: I mean, I had a lot more eloquence here.
QUESTION: Thanks, sir.
MR KIRBY: We strongly condemn North Korea’s missile test in violation of UN Security Council resolutions which explicitly prohibit North Koreans’ use of ballistic missile technology. These actions and North Korea’s continued pursuit of ballistic missile and nuclear weapons capabilities pose a significant threat to the United States, our allies, and to the stability of the greater Asia Pacific. And as I’ve been saying for much of the briefing today, we take those security obligations very, very seriously.
Now, you had a question on THAAD?
QUESTION: Yes, about the THAAD. North Korea on military headquarters announced yesterday strongly recommend about regarding THAAD deployed to South Korea about North Koreans’ declaration of war against the South Korea and United States. What is the U.S. position on their remarks?
MR KIRBY: It’s the same as it’s been, Janne. I mean look, the whole reason why there are now active discussions about the deployment of a THAAD system is because of the continued threat that the North poses to the people of South Korea and to the region. It is a purely defensive system. We’ve talked about that. But it is – this is a necessary conversation that our two militaries believe they need to have in terms of this potential deployment.
Again, we continue to call on Pyongyang to cease the kinds of actions and rhetoric and threats that do nothing to ease the insecurity on the peninsula, and in part have, quite frankly, driven our two militaries to having this now active discussion about this potential deployment.
QUESTION: But the China has tolerated a North Korean nuclear program. Why China criticize the United States deployed their THAAD missile for defense, using for defense?
MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I understand the – why --
QUESTION: I mean, Chinese – why they are so against United States?
MR KIRBY: Well, you’d have to talk to Chinese authorities for their reservations. I think you’ve seen in some of their comments that they’re concerned about the perceived threat of this system to their own capabilities in the region. And as we have said many, many times, this is a purely defensive system. We have offered to share certain details of the capabilities of the system with Chinese officials, and I’m not aware that they’ve taken us up on that offer.
This is a – again, a purely defensive system, so there should be no reason for China or any other nation to be concerned about this in terms of any offensive capabilities. It is purely defensive. And frankly, we wouldn’t be having the discussion that we’re having with the Republic of Korea if Pyongyang had chosen over these many months and years a different path.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: I have a Clinton emails question and then I have a couple on Israel, but I’ll be – try to be fast. Last week there was a State Department deposition and it mentioned that Pat Kennedy asked the FBI to turn over several thousand emails the FBI was able to find on the wiped server. Have you gotten these yet?
MR KIRBY: Hang on a second here. I’m going to have to get my glasses out. I know I have it here. I want to make sure I get exactly what you need.
So as we’ve said for many months, we’re going to work with the FBI to determine the appropriate disposition of potential federal records – federal records, I’m sorry, that it’s recovered. I can confirm that we’ve sent a letter to the FBI requesting that, to the extent the FBI recovered former Secretary Clinton’s work-related emails that were not in the group of emails she provided to the State Department in December of 2014, that they provide us with such emails. And as I’ve said for many months, we’ll work with the FBI to determine the appropriate disposition.
QUESTION: So have you gotten them yet?
MR KIRBY: Again, I don’t have any updates for you. I can just say that we have made the request.
QUESTION: Right. Do you plan to release these as part of the full release of the secretary’s former work emails?
MR KIRBY: That is – what I would say to that is we’re going to continue to work with the FBI on the proper disposition. And I don’t have anything with respect to potential release to speak to right now.
MR KIRBY: We’re aware that the Knesset passed the NGO bill last night. Although some of the issues that we were concerned about were addressed in the final version, we are still very concerned about the potential impacts of this legislation – in particular, the chilling effect that this new law could have on NGO activities. As the President has made clear, a free and functional civil society is essential, and governments must protect freedoms of expression, including dissent and association, and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard.
QUESTION: I think the EU said it risks undermining democracy. Do you share that opinion?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think I’d point you back to what the President said, that free expression and including dissent and association, a free and functioning civil society – those are all key elements to a healthy democracy.
QUESTION: And then coincidentally but separately, there was a Senate report that came out today on State Department aid to a group. I think it was called OneVoice. And it concluded that some U.S. money went to an effort that was opposing the Israeli prime minister. Do you have a comment on that?
MR KIRBY: As the report was just released, actually we’ve not had time to go through it closely, so I’m not going to be able to comment on specifics. But I would note that the report makes clear there’s no evidence that OneVoice spent State Department grant funds to influence the Israeli election. Again, I just don’t have additional comment at this time.
QUESTION: Iran? Iran?
QUESTION: John, could I follow up on Brad’s question --
MR KIRBY: Sure. I had a feeling you’d want to.
QUESTION: -- on the NGO? Now, since basically those organizations that get their funding from abroad, there are only – or most of their funding – there are 27, 25 of which are human rights organizations that really document Israeli military occupation, abuses, and so on. And it is bound to have a very, very negative effect on the ability to report and record and document these human rights abuses. So I know you mentioned that – about free press and so on, but also the human rights situation. I wonder if you would have a comment on that.
MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, I mean, it’s not just about freedom of expression; it’s dissent and association. And when I said dissent and association, I was talking about some of these NGOs that promote civil society and human rights issues. And again – and I said this in the answer to Brad – I mean, we’re deeply concerned that this law now as passed can have a chilling effect on the activities that these worthwhile organizations are trying to do.
QUESTION: And just related, the foreign minister of Egypt was in Israel and met with the prime minister, and they were talking about maybe restarting some sort of a peace process. He’s trying to arrange a meeting, apparently, between Egyptian President Sisi and the prime minister in Israel. Are you aware of these activities? Do you – are you in communication with them as part of the organizing process? Do you have any comment on them?
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, we’re aware of the Egyptians’ interest in trying to contribute to solutions that could get us to a two-state outcome. This is something that the Secretary has routinely discussed with Foreign Minister Shoukry. I can’t speak to his specific travel or meetings that he’s having in Israel or with Israeli leaders, but – and I wouldn’t – and I won’t speak to specifics of any of the content of those meetings. That’s for those individuals to speak to. But as the Secretary has said many times, we’re still committed to a two-state solution, and he’s not going to turn up his nose at any good ideas that are proffered either here in the United States or around the world that could help us achieve that outcome and could help the leaders in the region to make the kinds of decisions to achieve that outcome for themselves.
QUESTION: John, just a quick one on Syria: What happens – what’s the plan for August 1st? It seems you’re treating it like – more like a goal than a hard deadline, so do you just shift the goal, then, or what?
MR KIRBY: Well, as the Secretary said all along, it was never considered a deadline.
QUESTION: Yes. So --
MR KIRBY: He even said when he talked about it as a target. And obviously we still would like to achieve that target. But --
QUESTION: But you won’t be able to use it in the next two weeks, right?
MR KIRBY: -- we’re certainly mindful that with two weeks to go, as I said, that a major breakthrough on the political process is most likely not likely. That doesn’t mean, though, that it’s not important to go to Moscow and to have discussions about how we can better get there, to include a discussion about the cessation of hostilities and the humanitarian aid, which has been a real obstacle to moving the political process forward. And so the Secretary’s going to be interested to talk to Russian leaders about their ideas about how we can achieve that outcome. It’s not about moving goals. It’s about achieving the goal itself, and the larger goal is a political solution to the problem in Syria.
Again, we’re mindful that August looms. More critically – and this is an important point – the Secretary is mindful that millions and millions of Syrians are still in desperate need inside and outside the country, and that even when, as they call for a regime of calm, ground and air operations continue to occur against opposition forces in and around Aleppo and in and around Damascus. So I certainly understand, and it’s a fair question about August 1st, but the Secretary’s focused on the much larger goal of achieving a real political solution in Syria.
QUESTION: But – I mean, I understand that, but if you put a date down as a way to kind of keep the talks focused and --
MR KIRBY: Sure. Dates like that, targets can help to be forcing functions.
QUESTION: Then at a certain point, if there’s just no progress, you just indefinitely extend the date or you take a different approach or what?
MR KIRBY: Well, obviously, we need some different approaches, and again, that’s one of the reasons why the Secretary is going to Moscow. We have not achieved the level of peace and security in Syria that we want to. And so, as I said earlier, we have proposed some alternatives and some options, and the Secretary looks forward to discussing those ideas with Russian leaders and any ideas they might have in terms of achieving a better outcome. But the tools are all there, Barb. The – we – the elements of how to get to success in Syria are laid out in the UN Security Council resolution. The issue has been the execution and the implementation, and a large measure of that has been continued violations and obstructionism and acts of violence against their own people by the regime.
And Russia can play a more productive, more constructive, more useful role in terms of trying to check that behavior and try to turn events to a more – to more positive outcomes in Syria. And again, that’s why we’re – one of the reasons why we’re going to Moscow, of course. And so we’ll see where we get after the discussions in Russia and we’ll see where we get throughout the rest of July.
But again, I mean, it was never intended to be a deadline. It was certainly intended to be a forcing function, a target goal, and I can’t predict for you the degree to which there’ll be another one on the horizon. But I can tell you that for our part, the U.S. Government, certainly Secretary Kerry, remains committed to the larger goal set – as set forth in the Security Council resolution about a unified, whole, pluralistic Syria with a government that’s responsible and responsive to the people there.
I got time for one more. Yeah, go ahead.
MR KIRBY: Good.
QUESTION: But --
MR KIRBY: So I don’t have anything more to say. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah, I know.
MR KIRBY: This is an easy last question.
QUESTION: But sir, the Press Trust of India reported that John Kirby says that it is an internal matter of India. I haven’t seen those comments in the transcript. Have you said that?
MR KIRBY: I said – hang on, I’ll tell you exactly what I said. I said we’ve seen reports of the clashes between protesters and Indian forces in Kashmir, we’re concerned by the violence, we encourage all sides to make efforts towards finding a peaceful solution, and I said I would refer you to the Government of India for any more specific information about those clashes.
QUESTION: Sir, is it the internal matter of India or do you consider Kashmir the disputed territory?
MR KIRBY: I’m going to leave my answer where I left it. I think I did a pretty good job.
QUESTION: Sir, do you support the UN resolution on Kashmir?
MR KIRBY: I think I did a pretty good job answering it yesterday. I’m going to stick with that. Thanks. Appreciate it, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:02 p.m.)