Daily Press Briefing - September 29, 2016
2:43 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.
MR KIRBY: I do not have anything at the top, so we’ll go right to it.
QUESTION: You have nothing at the top? You can’t update us on --
MR KIRBY: Why every time do I do that do you sound incredulous?
QUESTION: Well, because I thought there was going to be --
MR KIRBY: I don’t --
QUESTION: -- some momentous news.
MR KIRBY: I don’t do it every day.
QUESTION: I know.
MR KIRBY: I try to come with something to enlighten you.
QUESTION: To annoy me.
MR KIRBY: And annoy you, yes. That’s always a plus if I can do it. But I don’t have anything today.
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates from yesterday.
QUESTION: In other words, there’s been no contact between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t – no, I didn’t say that. I just said I don’t have anything to update you on in terms of – in terms of decisions.
QUESTION: Well, so there was --
MR KIRBY: The Secretary did speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning. They continued their conversation from yesterday about the situation in Aleppo and about the fragility of the arrangement that we struck earlier this month in Geneva. But I don’t have any updates to give you today --
QUESTION: All right. Well, so --
MR KIRBY: -- or announcements to make.
QUESTION: So yesterday, you said you were preparing to suspend. This morning, the Secretary said you were on the verge of suspending.
MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So what’s the tipping point? Things haven’t changed, so why haven’t you suspended? Yesterday, it looked, talked, and walked like an ultimatum. And now today, it looks like, in fact, it was a duck.
MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t say that at all, Matt. And I think that the Secretary was just as candid and blunt today with Foreign Minister Lavrov as he was yesterday. You’re right; he did say today that we remain on the verge of having to suspend bilateral engagements on Syria with Russia. And that’s exactly where we are, which is where we were yesterday. And we are still prepared to enact that kind of a suspension and we’re in consultations right now inside the – inside our own government and, of course, with Foreign Minister Lavrov. But I just don’t have any updates for you.
QUESTION: Okay. Because it sounds like you backed down from what you had threatened to do. Is that not – why is this not – why should the Russians or the rest of the world not look at your decision not to go ahead and suspend as – after the – why should they not see your threat to suspend as a bluff, if you have not gone ahead and suspended, given the fact that there’s been no change in the situation on the ground?
MR KIRBY: Well, I certainly can’t get in the heads of Russian leaders and determine how they looked at the strength of the comments that we had yesterday. They still remain valid today, and I can assure you this was no idle threat. It wasn’t an idle threat yesterday and it’s not one today. The Secretary very much meant exactly what he said both yesterday and today, and we’re perfectly prepared to suspend if it comes to that. But again, the conversation continued today, and I just don’t want to get ahead of any decisions.
QUESTION: All right, last – my last one. You say it was no idle threat yesterday and it’s not an idle threat today. So it’s an active threat, but one that has not yet been acted on --
MR KIRBY: It is – it’s --
QUESTION: -- and one which you cannot give a timetable for when it will be acted on.
MR KIRBY: All I can tell you is we are – we remain very serious about where things are in Aleppo, where things are with respect to the failure of the arrangement thus far that we reached in Geneva. And we’re very serious about the potential of suspending bilateral engagement with Russia over – on Syria, if it comes to that.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you told us that – both in the readout and then when you spoke here, you told us that you would do so unless Russia took immediate steps to halt the violence. And when we asked you to define “immediate,” if I’m not mistaken, you said, “now.” So 24 hours has gone past. Is it fair to say that you don’t need immediate action from them?
MR KIRBY: No, that’s not fair to say at all.
QUESTION: So – well, if immediate means now and they didn’t do anything yesterday, and as best I can tell, the violence has continued pretty much unabated overnight, why are you giving them more time?
MR KIRBY: It’s not about giving them more time. As I said, the conversation continued again today, and the Secretary said it himself that we’re on the verge of a suspension, barring some significant steps by Russia. And we are in active – as in just a couple hours ago – active communication with Russia on that very issue.
QUESTION: Last week when the Secretary spoke emotionally at the Security Council, he talked about – when he was talking about the kinds of steps, he talked about an immediate, complete grounding of the Syrian air force, and you alluded to that earlier this week. Is that still the kind of dramatic step you’re looking for?
MR KIRBY: That – should that occur, should they be willing to implement that, that certainly would be a significant step that would give us the confidence that Russia is serious about meeting its end of the commitments.
QUESTION: And why, though, after all the time that has elapsed since the original Geneva Accords were reached – I think back in 2012, was it? – why do you still think that they might be serious when, by your own telling, they have violated so many of the agreements that you have reached with them? Why do you think that there’s even a scintilla of a chance that they might be serious now?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t suggest, and neither has the Secretary, that we believe they are serious. Their actions over just the last few days raise significant doubts and questions about the seriousness with which they are willing to apply their own commitments, stated not just privately to us in the negotiating room, but publicly. So we have significant doubts about their seriousness.
What I can tell you is that we – that in many of these – you talked about going back to 2012, and I can take you just back to February – when they have chosen, able and willing, to use the influence that they have on Assad to reduce violence in Syria, it has proven successful. Now, was it perfect? No. We never expected there to be zero violence in Syria. But there was a time for a couple of months earlier this year where it was significantly reduced, and people were out and about, and businesses were opening back up. So we know that they can do it.
But the question is – actually, we’re asking the same question that you are, Arshad – is: How serious are you about this? And again, that was very much the tone and tenor of the conversation today.
QUESTION: How do you – sorry, last one from me on this. But how do you address the criticism that you’ve been played and that what they have essentially done is used the negotiating process with the Secretary to help the Assad government achieve its aims on the ground while continuing to conduct a sort of pretense negotiation that you have played along with?
MR KIRBY: Nobody is under any illusion that Russia’s actions have propped up, bolstered, supported Assad in his efforts to continue to brutalize Syrian citizens, their own people. No, we’re not under any illusions. And if you go back and look at what the Secretary said at the UN Security Council just last week, I think you could see and hear in his voice how much he recognizes that reality. Nobody is being played here.
But that doesn’t mean that we’re not willing to continue to a point – and so far, we’re still in the mode of continuing to try to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict. And the Secretary said it again this morning, that he’s not going to apologize for going the extra mile to do that. But any suggestion that he’s sitting there at the table, blindly taking everything the Russians say on faith, or that he is naive to what Russia might consider its own geopolitical interests in Syria is just – it’s not – it’s not true, it’s false. It’s absolutely not – doesn’t comport with the facts. But he’s the nation’s chief diplomat. His job, his whole reason for being is to try to arrive at solutions through diplomacy. And that’s his mission and that’s what he’s been trying to do.
Now, he’s also been very honest that even as the nation’s chief diplomat, his patience isn’t limitless. And I think you can, again, go back just over the last seven to eight days and see the tone and tenor of what he’s been saying to all of you publicly about the situation, particularly in Aleppo. And you can see that he is indeed himself nearing the end.
QUESTION: Well, how many extra miles is he prepared to go, though? I mean, it seems like he’s already basically completed a marathon of extra miles so far. I mean, how many – and before you get – you keep asking this question, “How serious are you, Russia, about this” – how is it you haven’t gotten an answer to that question yet?
MR KIRBY: I would agree that – an honest answer to that question seems to be elusive. And as I said, as the Secretary said, that’s why we believe we’re on the verge of a suspension.
QUESTION: And it’s – but how can it be elusive? You keep saying over and over and over again that the Russians are showing that they’re not serious.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: And yet you’re prepared to continually – to keep on, apparently, without limit asking the question of them without --
MR KIRBY: It’s not without limit.
QUESTION: Just --
QUESTION: John, could I --
QUESTION: Could I ask your – the language of diplomacy, when you say you need something immediately and you define “immediately” as now, and that was more than 24 hours ago and the consequence that you threaten doesn’t happen?
MR KIRBY: I would tell you – as I said earlier, we were serious about what we said yesterday. We stand by it and we remain serious today.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: I just want to follow up on what you said yesterday, or the threat, because it did not go un-noticed in Moscow. In fact, your counterpart in the Russian foreign ministry, Zakharova, said who are you expecting to attack the cities, or something akin to that, she posted on her Facebook. Is it the moderates that you talk about? Obviously, I don’t know what kind of – what is the message behind what she’s saying. But she’s saying – she’s talking about the body bags and so on. How serious was that threat? How does that threat ought – should be interpreted?
MR KIRBY: I wasn’t issuing any threat yesterday to --
QUESTION: I mean, you were saying that those cities could be vulnerable, Russians will go back in body bags and so on. That was not a threat?
MR KIRBY: No. Those were facts. And they’re not new facts; they’re not things that we haven’t said before. The question was: What would be the consequences to Russia for not being serious about meeting their commitments? And I said what I have said, the Secretary has said, many times before – that the consequences are more war, more bloodshed. And it’s Russian troops that are in that war, not U.S. troops. So it was just a fact. There was no threat, there was no – I’ve seen claims that I was trying to incite terrorism, and that’s just completely bogus. That’s not at all the point that I was trying to make.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, on the issue of the ceasefire, I think the Russians are proposing a 48-hour ceasefire. Are you aware of that? Do you have any comment on that?
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen press reporting on it, but I --
QUESTION: It was not --
MR KIRBY: -- don’t have anything to confirm one way or the other that that’s a real proposal.
QUESTION: It was not a topic that the Secretary discussed with the foreign minister --
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into a detailed readout of this discussion today. I’ve seen the press report on this supposed 48-hour ceasefire. I just don’t have anything to add.
QUESTION: My last one on this, just regarding maybe arming the opposition or relying on your allies, or your Arab allies in the GCC countries arming the opposition with stinger missiles and maybe even more sophisticated missiles, do you have any comment on that?
MR KIRBY: I don’t.
QUESTION: So since you have – this will be my last, because I’ve got to go someplace. But since you have not followed through on the suspension of the discussion, does that mean or can we infer then that in their conversation this morning, that in his conversation this morning, the Secretary got some kind of signal from Foreign Minister Lavrov that there was reason for you to keep the window open longer?
MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speak for Foreign Minister Lavrov, Matt, and I’m not going to provide a detailed readout of the conversation. It was a continuation of what they talked about yesterday. The only thing I can tell you is what I’ve said before – that the Secretary’s concerns were the same. His – the seriousness with which he believes we are approaching the verge of a suspension was, I think, very, very clearly relayed.
QUESTION: So then I just don’t understand why, then, there’s any reason to give them more time unless you don’t care --
MR KIRBY: Well, let’s not get ahead – I just don’t --
QUESTION: -- whether or not people take you seriously.
MR KIRBY: Let’s just – let’s not get ahead of process here. Let’s not get ahead of decisions.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: John, I’ve got two. First, the team is still in Geneva right now? Have you pulled them out?
MR KIRBY: As far as I know, there’s been no change to their presence in Geneva.
MR KIRBY: But as you know, Felicia, it’s an evolving – their presence, it comes and goes. There’s people that get added, get taken back. I mean, it’s not like a ship at sea where everybody’s there all the time. But the --
QUESTION: Right. Have you started pulling people out?
MR KIRBY: In this case – in this case, they’re still there, yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just a second question, I guess, just going back to – I know you’ve talked about this a lot, but Russia’s been complaining about rebels – U.S.-backed rebels being intertwined with Nusrah and there are some rebel leaders saying publicly that they feel the U.S. cares more about ISIS and al-Qaida than them in their fight against Assad. And so I guess why has it been such a problem to separate them? And then particularly, is there any deficit of trust between the U.S. and the rebels over this?
MR KIRBY: Well, let me take the second one first. I mean, we still continue to support the moderate opposition in Syria, as do some of our allies and partners, some of whom are in the region. And there’s certainly no diminution of our level of support for the efforts to move forward on a political transition. And that’s the kind of support that we’re talking about, is diplomatically trying to get a cessation of hostilities and humanitarian aid delivered so that they can get back to the table in Geneva with the regime and we can maybe hope to move the process forward.
We certainly understand the frustrations that some of them have voiced. We also understand that, to a large measure, much of that frustration comes from the actions of the regime which won’t stop bombing them and killing their families and destroying civilian infrastructure with the support of the Russian military. But there’s absolutely no question that the United States still very much wants to move the political process forward and is going to – we want to see the bombs stop and the humanitarian aid get in so that the conditions can be created for political talks to resume.
Okay? That – I don’t – did I answer everything?
QUESTION: I guess the question is just, like, is this trust over the question of how the U.S. feels about the rebels’ fight against Assad versus al-Qaida and ISIS – is this affecting this separation process?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that there’s a – I mean, if that notion is true --
QUESTION: It’s like – I just said some rebels are saying publicly --
MR KIRBY: Yeah. I mean, I’m not aware that it’s having a tangible, practical effect on the work we’re still doing on behalf of the opposition to reach a political solution that I’m aware of. And then this idea that – the idea that we’re --
QUESTION: But in terms of this separation, the idea that they wouldn’t be willing to separate because they don’t trust that you care about their fight.
MR KIRBY: Well, certainly, we understand that some groups have in the past made that decision. Our message to them is exactly the same as it’s always been – that being physically collocated, at the very least, certainly being affiliated in any way or supportive of – in any way of offensive actions by al-Nusrah is a dangerous proposition for them to pursue. And we’ve been very honest about that. We recognize that the, quote/unquote, “marbling,” if you will, of opposition groups with Nusrah remains a challenge. And yes, we’ve heard comments by some that point to Nusrah as a fighting force against Assad.
But what we’re trying to do is end that fighting. What we’re trying to do is stop the civil war and create the conditions where political talks can resume. So that’s – I mean, the whole locus of the energy that we’re applying to this is to get a ceasefire, a cessation of hostilities, that’s nationwide and can be enforced nationwide so that the bombs stop dropping; get humanitarian aid in so that people can get food, water, and medicine; and resume some sense – and I don’t even mean a sense, but some sense of normalcy in their lives, so that political talks can pursue.
We believe that – and this is the message that we’re sending to everybody, including the opposition – that the way forward here still should be political in nature. And so that’s why we don’t want to see this marbling, we don’t want to see them fighting with a UN-designated terrorist group like al-Nusrah.
Now, these are decisions they have to make, but we believe it is in their best interests – and more critically, the best interests of the Syrian people – to separate themselves from a group like Nusrah, which is not party to the cessation of hostilities, and help us. By doing that separation, they can help us get to the cessation of hostilities, remove any excuses – and they’re not much more than excuses – that the regime and Russia have been applying to strikes against those areas, and help us get the political talks back on track.
Did that answer the question better?
QUESTION: Yeah, that’s helpful.
MR KIRBY: And then the other thing I’d say is any notion that we’re more worried about Daesh than we are about the civil war in Syria and the brutality of the Assad regime also is not without – I mean, that’s completely without foundation. But the efforts are different. The efforts are different.
QUESTION: Didn’t the Secretary say in congressional testimony, though, ISIS first, that’s the strategy? I mean, he made very clear in public that the U.S. Government’s strategy was to go after Islamic State militants first, right? So I don’t think it’s entirely without foundation that you’re more concerned about ISIS than about the Assad regime, because you chose to go after ISIS first.
MR KIRBY: I’d have to look at exactly what he said, Arshad, but the military strategy is about Daesh. We have a policy of pursuing a diplomatic solution in Syria, and I can assure you, and anybody that’s been traveling with the Secretary or been anywhere around him for the last several months can – I think could assert, that he has applied an enormous amount of energy and his own personal time and effort to trying to find a political solution in Syria. So I think any notion that he’s not prioritizing this just, again, it flies in the face of the facts and frankly flies in the face of the time – the actual, physical time – that he’s been devoting to it.
QUESTION: I don’t think anyone would --
QUESTION: You’ve said from this podium many times that Daesh is enemy number one.
MR KIRBY: It is --
QUESTION: You have said that many times.
MR KIRBY: Daesh is an enemy – no question that they’re an enemy to the United States and to the West. I mean, they are actively plotting and trying to inspire terrorist attacks on the soil of many Western nations, to include the United States. Of course it’s a – degrading and defeating them remains a priority. What I’m saying is that any notion that we’re somehow relegating to some sort of backwater in our policy approach a political solution in Syria just is – is not without – it’s not foundational.
QUESTION: John, I don’t think anyone would doubt that Secretary Kerry has put a lot of time and effort into trying to end the Syrian civil war, but the military strategy – and obviously a lot of the bandwidth taken up by the NSC and by the Pentagon is dealing with Daesh. And therefore you have a diplomatic strategy to end one thing and a military strategy to end the other; and the diplomatic strategy appears to be on the verge of collapsing, whereas the military strategy still has some ongoing momentum. Would that be fair?
MR KIRBY: What I would say is yes, we are making progress against Daesh. The effort against Daesh isn’t just military. Yes, there’s a military line of effort, no question about that, and there has been some success achieved both in Iraq and in Syria against this group. And it’s not just the United States; it’s a coalition effort. This is a terrorist group that we have now for more than two years made a concerted effort to degrade and destroy, defeat their capabilities in the field, which means there’s going to be what we would call kinetic activity against them. But as I said yesterday, the policy of the United States with respect to the civil war in Syria, remains the same and that is that we continue to believe that a political solution is the best approach, that – and to get to that political solution, a diplomatic effort is going to be the focus of the energy, and it has remained the focus of the energy. And the Secretary has borne that responsibility very seriously.
We’re – I wouldn’t begin to stand up here and assert to you that we’re content with the situation on the ground in Syria with respect to the civil war. I wouldn’t assert to you that we’re content with the level of progress that we have achieved diplomatically to try to bring this civil war to an end. That’s why the Secretary spoke again today with Foreign Minister Lavrov. That’s why we talked very seriously, yesterday and today, about being on the verge of having to suspend bilateral engagement with Russia over Syria. It’s not that we want to do it; it’s that Russia’s activities themselves and the regime’s are propelling us in that direction.
But no question, Dave, military progress against – not just military, but the entire effort against Daesh in Iraq and Syria has achieved momentum – you’re right – and has achieved some progress, and that we are all frustrated that we haven’t been able to achieve the kind of progress we’d like to see with respect to the civil war in Syria and trying to get a political solution found. That doesn’t mean that military solutions are going to transfer well into that effort. We’ve long said, and I said it again yesterday, of course there’s other options and alternatives that we’d be irresponsible not to consider. But we continue to believe that none of them are better than trying to find a political one to what is a very complicated civil war. One is a counterterrorism effort against a still lethal and dangerous group. The other is a very complicated, long-running, difficult, ugly civil war, and we continue to believe that a political solution is the best approach.
QUESTION: Follow-up to that question: You just said – and I typed it down – the effort against Daesh isn’t just military, so I listened very closely --
MR KIRBY: I’m glad. (Laughter.) That’s good.
QUESTION: I try my best. I listened very closely for the political dimension. Along the lines of Clausewitz, war is of continuation of politics by other means. What is the political dimension of the military strategy against Daesh? And I refer – speak in the context of two recent articles, one by Ambassador Khalilzad, former ambassador to Iraq, complaining that there’s no political strategy in regard to Mosul, and the other by Ramzy Mardini, in The New York Times yesterday, “In parts of Iraq,” quote, “recaptured from the militants where I’ve traveled, signs of any central authority are nonexistent.”
So it sounds like Daesh is being driven out of various places, whether Iraq or Syria, but there’s no political component to U.S. efforts to put in an authority that’s going to hold the area and, in a coherent way, prevent the return of terrorism, provide stability to the population.
MR KIRBY: Well, there absolutely is a political component to the strategy against Daesh, I mean – and it started with the assembling of a coalition of more than – now, it’s 66 nations, and it carries through in our support. And we talked about this yesterday with your question about the finance minister, our continued support for the political reforms and efforts of Prime Minister Abadi and his government going forward. Because we’ve long said the way you sustain a defeat against a group like this is good governance. And we’ve recognized – we were very honest at the time when Daesh rolled into Mosul now, that – two summers ago – that one of the reasons they were able to do so so swiftly and effectively was that they were up against elements of an Iraqi army that had not been well led, not been well trained, not been well maintained, because Prime Minister Maliki’s government wasn’t inclusive and it wasn’t pluralistic and it wasn’t necessarily concerned with keeping Iraqi defense forces’ capabilities up to the level they were when the United States ended our presence there in Iraq. So we’ve long said that in order to sustain a defeat, you have to do it with indigenous forces; that’s why this is an Iraqi strategy, not an American strategy. And it is Iraqi forces, under the command and control of Baghdad, that are continuing to press the effort. And that’s why it’s important that it be Iraqi systems, Iraqi people, Iraqi resources, and Iraqi institutions that come in after that defeat, so that they can sustain legitimate and authentic governance going forward.
Now, is it perfect in the execution? Absolutely not. War tends to be pretty messy at times. But there are efforts being made and we are supporting political solutions, as well in Iraq to help institute a level of governance that can be sustainable and provide for the basic necessities of life that Iraqi citizens want and deserve. Because one of the – we know this – one of the root causes of the growth of extremist groups is when they come into a vacuum like that – as they’ve done in Syria, where there isn’t good governance and there is no hope, no jobs, no way to sustain normal life, and they take advantage of that. It’s not the only reason; I’m not suggesting that a jobs program is going to solve everything. I’m just saying that good governance has an effect on trying to keep out extremists once they have been forcibly forced out of an area; but it’s a difficult effort.
And look, there are places – you talked about rebuilding efforts or holding afterward, and there are parts in Iraq where it has gone pretty well. Tikrit – 90-95 percent of the citizens of Tikrit are back in. We’ve seen many, many citizens of Ramadi come back; and in Fallujah, just starting to see some families come back into Fallujah. It takes time. We understand that. But it’s not as if – I mean, the question the way you posed it, and I’m assuming you’re getting this from the articles that you’re citing; I haven’t read them – is that there’s no thought given to reconstruction or rebuilding or political stability in the wake of an ISIL defeat. And there will be an ISIL defeat. It’s going to happen, and I can assure you that, very much, our energies and our efforts are being applied to helping Prime Minister Abadi be able to provide that level of governance going forward.
QUESTION: But do – they do come from the articles. Mardini, who worked in this building before he worked in Vice President Biden’s office, says in parts of Iraq, quote – in The New York Times – “In parts of Iraq recaptured from the militants where I’ve traveled, signs of any central authority are nonexistent.” His argument in that op-ed is that the United States needs to help Abadi build a proper force – military force – to liberate Mosul and not rely on the patchwork of militias that now exist.
MR KIRBY: Okay. Well, again, I really don’t want to get into the habit of responding to every op-ed columnist and every line written by them, with all due respect to their experience and wisdom and knowledge. And this is not – I’m not at all impugning that. But a couple of points that I’d like to make on the way you phrased that, anyway. This is an Iraqi strategy and it always has been, and part of our support to that strategy is a significant train, advise, and assist mission. I mean, you just saw the Pentagon announced additional trainers and advisors that will be going in to help the Iraqis take back Mosul at some point in the future. But that – so our mission is exactly the same as it was before, and we’re applying the resources – in consultation and coordination with the Iraqi Government, by the way; at their invitation – to help them achieve those goals. So we are committed to improving the battlefield competency and capability of Iraqi defense forces.
Now, back to the – I think you used the word “patchwork.” We’ve long said that the composition of Iraqi forces in the field – that has to be decided and approved by Prime Minister Abadi. Sometimes I think we forget that it’s a sovereign country and they get to make these decisions. And we’re going to advise them as they do, but ultimately they’re their decisions. And there have been militia forces who have participated in some tactical operations in Syria, and I suspect that that participation will continue. But it’s going to be done in accordance with the decisions, the organization, and the structure that Prime Minister Abadi puts around it. And to what degree they participate in this area or that, that is up to the Iraqi Government to decide. But we, for our part – the United States – remain committed to helping improve their capabilities in the field as they do that.
QUESTION: Can I ask one just very quick Syria one? Yesterday you told us that if you were to suspend your diplomatic engagement with Russia over Syria that that would not affect the mil-mil de-confliction efforts. I want to make sure that that’s still your position, that if you suspend diplomatic engagement that you expect to continue de-confliction?.
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Still our position.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, Nike.
QUESTION: Can I ask a couple of different questions? Are we ready to move on?
QUESTION: Syria? Can I ask --
MR KIRBY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: First, do you have any – are we ready?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Go ahead. Sorry.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Indians surgical strikes against the militants along the borders with Pakistan?
MR KIRBY: Hang on a second.
QUESTION: Mr. Kirby, are you not going to take my question on Syria?
MR KIRBY: I’m going to answer her question and then I’ll be happy to answer yours.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: So Nike, we’ve seen those reports. We’re following the situation closely, as I think you can understand. We also understand that the Indian and Pakistani militaries have been in communication. We believe that continued communication is obviously important to reduce tensions.
We’ve repeatedly expressed our concerns regarding the danger that terrorism poses to the region. And we all know that terrorism, in many ways, knows no border. We continue to urge actions to combat and delegitimize terrorist groups like LeT and the Haqqani Network, Jaish-e-Mohammad. So this is something that we’re obviously keenly focused on. Okay?
QUESTION: Follow --
QUESTION: Was there any prior consultation between the United States and India before the surgical strikes? I’m asking this because some media reports point out that Secretary Kerry has spoken to his counterpart and Susan Rice also spoke to her counterpart. So can you give us some --
MR KIRBY: I can confirm for you that the Secretary spoke with the – on the 27th, so earlier this week, with Indian External Affairs Minister Swaraj and reiterated his strong condemnation of the September 18th Uri attack. He condemned terrorism in all its forms and he cautioned against any escalation in tensions. Okay?
QUESTION: After the second U.S. and India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue last month, what specific steps have been taken to strengthen cooperation on fighting terrorism between these two countries?
MR KIRBY: This is something we’re always working at with our partners in the region. We’re always trying to get better at combatting terrorism in the region. And there are many ways you can do that – through information-sharing regimens and increasing – like we said, increasing communication between all parties involved. So I don’t have a specific laundry list here to read out to you, because, frankly, it’s something that we’ve been constantly working at with our partners in the region.
QUESTION: John --
QUESTION: You said Secretary Kerry had cautioned against escalation. Was this attack an escalation?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize it. Obviously, it’s – I mean, obviously an attack like that escalates tensions. But what I don’t want to do is try to get into some sort of broad characterization, one way or the other. But obviously an attack like this is horrific. And --
QUESTION: No, but the Indian response – is that – would that – is that the kind of escalation that Secretary Kerry was warning against?
MR KIRBY: Oh, I thought you were talking about the Uri attack.
QUESTION: No, no. (Inaudible.)
MR KIRBY: Well, look, again, we – our message to both sides has been the same, in terms of encouraging them to increase communication to deal with this threat and to avoid steps that escalate the tensions. And I’m – I think I’m not going to get into characterizing each and every step along the way there. But obviously, what we want to see is increased cooperation against what is a very shared common threat for both countries, and to see steps being taken to deal with it by all sides.
MR KIRBY: Hang on, hang on. Hang on, hang on. Since we’re on India/Pakistan, we’ll go here – I’ll go – I’ll get you Goyal, all right? All right? Go here.
QUESTION: Yeah. Since this was a counterterrorism operation and there is strong coordination between India and the U.S. on counterterrorism issues, was there any coordination on this strike by the Indian forces?
MR KIRBY: I just don’t have anything for you on that. And as you know, I don’t talk about the specifics of military matters.
QUESTION: And when Secretary spoke to India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, on 27, did he get any indication that India was going ahead with this kind of strike?
MR KIRBY: I just don’t have anything for you on that. I’ve read out the call to the level of detail that I’m going to.
QUESTION: So there has been one call or two calls?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’ve seen reports of two calls.
MR KIRBY: There was a technical issue on the first call, so they had to arrange a second call to complete it. So was there two calls? Yes, there were two calls, but it was really one conversation.
MR KIRBY: Okay? Goyal.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. Thank you very much. Two questions. One, Ambassador Richard Verma was in Washington. Suddenly, he had to cancel everything, and he rushed back to Delhi. What was the reason and who he was going to meet, or if he rushed from here back to Delhi, was he carrying any message from the Secretary or from this building?
MR KIRBY: He did have to reschedule his event at the Wilson Center and, as far as I know, he’s returning to New Delhi. My understanding is that he believed that it was appropriate for him to go back. And I mean, he’s a – he’s got a big job, there’s a lot of responsibilities that come with it, and obviously it’s a very dynamic situation, and he felt it was prudent to go back. And we support that.
QUESTION: He’s doing a great job. And my second question is that, in recent days --
MR KIRBY: I’ll tell him you said so. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: -- Prime Minister Modi, he spoke about one thing – what he had a great message for the people of Pakistan that Pakistan and India both got freedom on the same day, but Pakistan is supporting terrorism, India is supporting ITs, engineers, and doctors around the globe. And what he said is Pakistan still has camps inside Pakistan who are attacking India. And finally, he said less attacks or fight against terrorism, hunger, and poverty; not against each other, each other peoples, and let’s have a development. Any message that you may have for Pakistan on this or what Prime Minister Modi said?
MR KIRBY: My message is the same as it was when Nike asked me about it. I mean, we understand that both militaries are in communication; we encourage that. We’ve expressed repeatedly our concerns about the danger of terrorism, cross-border terrorism, as well, in the region, and we continue to urge actions to combat and de-legitimize groups like LeT and the Haqqani Network and Jaish-e-Mohammad. I mean, these – as I’ve said many times in answer to you, Goyal, these are shared common threats that everybody in the region faces. And we believe it’s important for everybody in the region – and we’re obviously willing to, and have proven, willing to contribute to those efforts – to take that on, to take that on as a shared regional challenge.
QUESTION: And one more quickly, if you may I – thank you. Across the street today, U.S.-India Security Council, a non-profit organization, they had a high-class official from the Pentagon and other people also from the State Department. What they said that India and U.S. relations have gone – have come from far away and they are moving forward and they are not now, nobody can stop them. So do you agree that future of India-U.S. relations, what – according to their views and comments today?
MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments. That’s the first I’ve heard of it. What I would tell you is that we remain deeply committed to the bilateral relationship with India and to advancing it on – across virtually all sectors of public and private enterprise, and that I think you’re going to see us remain committed to that. Okay?
QUESTION: Just one – John --
MR KIRBY: We’ll go to Syria. Let’s --
QUESTION: Just one on Pakistan.
MR KIRBY: All right, and then I’ll go to you.
QUESTION: Has there been any calls made from – any high-level calls made to Pakistani leadership on the need to de-escalate tension in the region?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any calls to announce or read out to you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks. Yesterday, you conceded that the Administration is looking at options other than diplomacy in Syria. Reuters cited officials who said they’d consider military options as well. Does this mean MANPADS for the rebels or perhaps a no-fly zone established by the coalition?
MR KIRBY: I think you can understand why I’m not going to discuss in any detail interagency discussions, but obviously, it would be irresponsible for us not to have those kinds of discussions.
QUESTION: I understand. But you said one of the consequences for Russia is going to be that it’s going to send troops home in body bags because you suggested maybe their planes will be shot out of the sky. So who’s going to shoot down the planes? Is it – could it be the (inaudible) coalition?
MR KIRBY: They’ve already lost aircraft. They’ve already lost troops in the military activity that they’re engaging. And what I was saying was that if we can’t reach a cessation of hostilities, if we can’t find a political solution, and they’re going to continue to militarily prop up Assad, they’re going to continue to face risk to their military forces from that effort, as they already have. That’s all I was saying. There was no threat. There was no incitement. That’s all I was saying.
QUESTION: The rebels can more actively shoot down planes if they get MANPADS from the allies. Is Washington prepared to give the greenlight to its allies to send MANPADS to the rebels?
MR KIRBY: I’ve already addressed that question.
QUESTION: John --
MR KIRBY: Do you have another?
QUESTION: And what is the answer to that?
MR KIRBY: I’ve already addressed it just a few minutes ago.
QUESTION: Yes, yes --
MR KIRBY: If you go back and look at the transcript, you’ll see that I said I’m not going to discuss the details of interagency conversations.
QUESTION: John --
QUESTION: Just one more question. It has been long --
QUESTION: Does that mean there have been interagency conversations on the possibility of MANPADS?
MR KIRBY: There have been interagency conversations about options and alternatives to the challenges posed by the civil war in Syria. And I said yesterday some of those are outside diplomacy --
MR KIRBY: -- but I’m not going to discuss in any detail or characterize those discussions.
QUESTION: Right. So your answer should not be interpreted to mean that you were confirming that there has been discussion of MANPADS?
MR KIRBY: That’s right. I’m not confirming that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yes, thank you for letting me clarify.
QUESTION: For a long time, it has been reported that the Administration has been working to prevent its allies from sending MANPADS to the rebels. What was the reason for that, for not – for persuading them not to send MANPADS to the rebels?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything for you on diplomatic discussions that we have with our allies and partners that are helping us try to find a political solution in Syria.
QUESTION: John --
QUESTION: John --
MR KIRBY: Yeah, Janne.
QUESTION: Thank you, John. I hope you answer these questions.
MR KIRBY: You say that as if I don’t always answer your questions.
QUESTION: Or sometimes you just ignore it. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Oh.
QUESTION: Maybe you don’t study --
MR KIRBY: Ouch. She said sometimes I just ignore them.
QUESTION: You need more study, but thanks. On the United States taking diplomatic sanctions against the North Korea, it is reported that United States request for diplomatic break with North Korea around the country as part of a – for isolating the North Korean diplomatically. Can you confirm this?
MR KIRBY: Well, you know, Janne, that we don’t have diplomatic relations with North Korea, so I’m not sure how we can break something that we don’t have.
QUESTION: Well --
MR KIRBY: Or maybe I didn’t understand the question.
QUESTION: Well, listen to Assistant Secretary Russel at the foreign writers club. He mentioned about this, but --
MR KIRBY: He mentioned what?
QUESTION: He mentioned on this, but the U.S. says North Korea doesn’t have a diplomatic relationship --
MR KIRBY: No, I know, that’s what I just said.
QUESTION: Yes, but – so around the country, some country, they have relationship with North Korea, like China --
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: -- Russia, what other ones.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: So he said U.S. send notice to U.S. embassy at overseas. Do you have anything on this?
MR KIRBY: No, I don’t.
QUESTION: No, you don’t recognize on this?
MR KIRBY: I’m not quite sure I’m completely understanding. Did he say that we intend to reestablish --
QUESTION: No, no.
QUESTION: I think it’s to encourage other countries to break --
QUESTION: -- diplomatic relations --
MR KIRBY: Oh.
QUESTION: -- to further isolate North Korea.
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such effort to do that, Janne. Look, those are sovereign decisions that countries make in terms of who they’re going to have diplomatic relations with and who they’re not. Our concern is more directly about the DPRK and the provocative activity, the pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities, and the threatening behavior that they continue to exhibit on the peninsula and on working inside the international community. And this is we are focused, working with other nations on trying to ratchet up the pressure to hold the North more accountable for those provocative activities. And that’s – and I can assure you that’s where our energies are being spent, largely inside the UN, and as we’ve said in just light of the most recent test – that we are going to pursue the potential for additional sanctions inside the UN. But I’m not aware of any effort on our part to dissuade a nation from a sovereign decision that they have made about diplomatic relations with the North.
QUESTION: Do you have any additional U.S. individual sanctions against the Chinese company except the recent one?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on that. I’d refer you to the Treasury Department.
I got time for just a couple more.
QUESTION: John, quickly --
QUESTION: -- really quickly on surely your favorite topic, former Secretary Clinton’s emails. Just want to clarify – I know there was a production schedule entered just yesterday, but – so my understanding is there are about 2900 pages that State is going to process prior to Election Day, so I guess I was just curious. I know you all have talked about the strain that this puts on resources. How confident are you that you will be able to meet those deadlines?
And then secondly, just to clarify: Will these be released publicly and put on the State FOIA website?
MR KIRBY: So I would first refer you to the filing, which I think is what you’re referring to, with the court last night. I do know that our filing indicated that we’re going to process and make an additional production of former Secretary Clinton’s emails in November. This stemmed from an agreement that we reached with the requester – in this case, the Freedom of Information Act requester – to redirect resources that we had already committed to this case. I just don’t have – I couldn’t give you – I couldn’t quantify that for you right now.
QUESTION: But are you all confident that you’ll meet this? I believe it was a November 4th or November 3rd deadline.
MR KIRBY: Again, without getting into the specifics of the filing, I can tell you obviously we’re going to work very hard to meet our commitments to the court.
QUESTION: And will they – the emails be posted on the website? Will they be released to the public or just turned over in court to the --
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, our – the responsibilities through the Freedom of Information Act and to the requester – I don’t have an update for you in terms of when or how they’ll be made public, but we have been – traditionally, we do make public our responses to FOIA requesters. I just don’t have an update for you on this. Okay? But let me be clear: We take the court order seriously and we’re going to work very, very hard to make sure that we meet it.
QUESTION: Because I thought I – I don’t have it in front of me, but I thought that it mentioned in the court order that State did agree to make them public.
MR KIRBY: Well, again, I can’t speak to the details of the filing. I would refer you to the filing on that. But it is common practice for us to make public our responses to FOIA requesters, and you can go to our website and see others that we’ve done that for. There’s a process involved here and I just don’t want to get ahead of the process of actually posting them. What we’re talking about here is a filing that was centered around the actual provision of the documents to a requester, and again, I’d point you to the filing for additional details on that. Okay?
Nike, last one.
QUESTION: Quickly ask, then – do you have anything on Amnesty International’s report that Sudanese Government has been using chemical weapons against civilians, and at least three times this year?
MR KIRBY: As far as I know, we’ve just now received this report. We’re obviously looking through it carefully – not been able to verify Amnesty’s specific reporting at this time, since we just got it. But the allegations of scorched earth tactics presented in the report, including the unlawful killing of civilians, the abduction and rape of women, the forced displacement, the looting, the use of chemical weapons, all of that are deeply concerning. And, of course, the images of the victims are horrifying. We unequivocally condemn the use of chemical weapons any time and such use against civilians in Sudan, if credible, would be reprehensible. Sudan is a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the use of chemicals as weapons by the government would violate its obligations under that convention. Okay?
(The briefing was concluded at 3:38 p.m.)