Daily Press Briefing - October 7, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:36 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Okay. Thanks, guys. Just a programming note here: The Secretary will travel to Kigali, Rwanda on the 13th and 14th of October to join EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and others in striving to achieve U.S. climate and environmental goals at the upcoming Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol.
The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is widely regarded to be one of the most successful environmental treaties ever and was the first treaty to achieve universal ratification. This global agreement has put the stratospheric ozone layer on a path to recovery through measures to control production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances. Negotiations in Kigali will be an important opportunity to reach global agreement on an ambitious amendment to the protocol to phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. HFCs have become popular substitutes for ozone-depleting substances; but while they are far better for the ozone layer, they are also potent greenhouse gases, which means that they do contribute to climate change.
An ambitious HFC amendment would build on the positive momentum of the Paris Agreement and could avoid up to a half a degree of Celsius warming by the end of this century. So the Secretary is very much looking forward to going to Kigali and to embarking on those negotiations.
QUESTION: Thank you. Before we get into policy stuff, is it correct that you guys are putting out another batch of former Secretary Clinton’s emails today?
MR KIRBY: Yes. At 3:30 this afternoon, we expect to be able to post on our website another batch of emails. Now, this is – these emails come from the materials provided by the FBI.
QUESTION: And can you give any – give us any more idea of what’s coming?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. So we’ll be making – releasing approximately 75 documents totaling approximately 270 pages of emails reflecting work-related communications involving Secretary Clinton. This will be our first substantial release of materials that we received from the FBI. I think, as you guys know, we were ordered by the court to process 350 pages of material received from the FBI by today, the 7th of October, and we met that requirement. So to be clear, we’re going to be releasing approximately 270 pages of the approximately 350 pages that we processed.
QUESTION: Why is there a difference of 80?
MR KIRBY: Because processing doesn’t mean releasing. There were, in many cases, either actual duplicates of material that we already had posted from the 55,000, and then there were also, inside the batch that we got from the FBI, there were duplicate documents. No sense in posting two when one is exactly the same. So – and processing --
QUESTION: Well, the only thing is that we – I mean, we’re taking your word for that, right?
MR KIRBY: Yes, you are.
MR KIRBY: Do you have reason to suspect my word on it?
QUESTION: No, I don’t have any reason to suspect anything. I’m just saying if the court ordered you to release 350 pages --
MR KIRBY: No, they didn’t. No, the order was to process, not to release --
QUESTION: Oh, okay. All right, all right.
MR KIRBY: -- to process, to work through 350, which we did.
MR KIRBY: And of those 350, 270 will be released today.
MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary’s referring actually to a strike that we saw happen yesterday on a field hospital in the Rif Dimashq Governorate. I’m not exactly positive that that’s what he was referring to, but I think he was referring to actually one that was --
QUESTION: Not one in Aleppo?
MR KIRBY: I believe it was – I think it was – I think he – my guess is – I’m guessing here that he was a bit mistaken on location and referring to one --
QUESTION: Which location? Sorry.
MR KIRBY: A field hospital in Rif Dimashq Governorate.
QUESTION: Was it --
MR KIRBY: So I think he was referring to one yesterday.
QUESTION: Definitely yesterday, though? It wasn’t one from Wednesday?
MR KIRBY: I think he was referring to one yesterday, and I know of another one on a hospital Monday, but I think that’s what he was referring to.
QUESTION: Is there a way you guys can check?
MR KIRBY: We did. I mean, believe me, I knew I was going to get asked this question.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MR KIRBY: We looked at it and --
QUESTION: But you don’t have certainty, though?
MR KIRBY: I don’t. Best I got, best information I got, is that he was most likely referring to one yesterday in this governorate, but it could just be an honest mistake.
QUESTION: If we could – if we can nail that down with certainty what he was talking about --
MR KIRBY: I’ll do the best I can, Matt.
MR KIRBY: But again, knowing I was going to be asked this today, I did try to do as much research as I could.
QUESTION: All right. Okay.
MR KIRBY: I could not find one last night in Aleppo.
QUESTION: Then --
QUESTION: The precise death totals were 20 and 100 --
MR KIRBY: I recognize that. I can’t corroborate that. But look, let’s take 10 steps back here. I mean, over the last two weeks, we think almost 400 people now have been killed in Aleppo alone. So whether or not there was a strike last night in a hospital or Aleppo is kind of beside the point. The point he was – the broader point that he was trying to make is that the Russians and the Syrian regime continue this onslaught on Aleppo. And just over the last two weeks alone, as I said, almost 400 people, best we can tell, have been killed. And that doesn’t even count the wounded.
QUESTION: Can – then get – so if we could get clarity on that, that would be great. But the second --
MR KIRBY: I will do what I can, Matt, but I can’t promise --
QUESTION: -- I would also like – also seeking clarity on who exactly does the Secretary believe should do this investigation into possible war crimes. Because if it’s the ICC, to which you are not a party – I mean, that has got to go through the Security Council. Syria is not a party, neither is Russia, and it’s got – so it’s got to go through the Security Council. And there’s – the chances of that happening – in other words, a Security Council referral – are less than slim and none.
MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary was referring to his view that there should be – that these actions beg for an appropriate investigation. He wasn’t --
QUESTION: By who?
MR KIRBY: Well, he wasn’t getting ahead of the process. He was simply referring to the fact that we know these acts are violations of international law and they should be so investigated, and appropriately so. He wasn’t – that was the extent of his comment. That was the extent of the point he was trying to make. He wasn’t trying to get ahead of the process.
QUESTION: Well, was he just trying to make the point that these look like war crimes, as opposed to formally calling for a war crimes investigation? And to that point, I mean, it’s no secret that the U.S. has been working with Syrian groups and others to try and document some of these atrocities as potential war crimes for future accountability down the road.
MR KIRBY: I think, again, you heard him say when he was up at the UN a couple weeks ago – he talked about how the actions of the regime in particular were violations of international law. And I mean, we’re talking about bombing hospitals and bombing first responders and killing innocent civilians, not by accident but on purpose. And so this isn’t the first time he’s talked about the fact that these are violations of international law; and again, today he was simply making the point that because we believe they’re violations, they should be appropriately investigated.
QUESTION: I understand. But I mean --
QUESTION: By who?
QUESTION: -- it does seem --
MR KIRBY: I’ve answered that question.
QUESTION: I mean, I’m --
MR KIRBY: He wasn’t trying to make a specific point about by whom.
QUESTION: I understand that. But it does seem as if there is a violation of international law and there’s war crimes, and war crimes come – that is obviously a legal determination that comes with a lot more responsibility to hold those accountable. And I’m wondering where this building and where this Administration is in terms of determining whether these are war crimes and trying to document them as such for some type of future accountability, regardless of who right now is investigating it.
MR KIRBY: We certainly believe that the violations we’ve seen – the strikes and the attacks and the manner in which, that they have been conducted – merit and deserve an evaluation, a review, an investigation – call it what you will – as potential war crimes. Now, you’re right that there’s a very specific legal, technical definition – I’m not an expert on that, wouldn’t pretend to be – that comes with making that determination. And the Secretary wasn’t making that determination today. He was saying that these actions beg an appropriate investigation.
QUESTION: Well, but by saying that these accusations beg an investigation on war crimes – again, regardless who does it – that would suggest that he wants to know whether these are war crime – or fit the legal definition or not. And again, that would cause a whole – open up a whole other avenue of potential measures, policy decisions, and such.
MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to get ahead of the process, and I don’t think the Secretary was trying to do that either. I think he was giving an honest – his honest view that these violations of international law should be properly investigated for the potential to be determined as war crimes and that – and we’ve said this before – that if such a determination is made, people need to be held to account.
QUESTION: So is kind of throwing it out there, like whoever wants to investigate it as war crimes should do so? Or is he saying that there needs to be an --
MR KIRBY: He was simply saying that he believes these actions beg an appropriate investigation.
QUESTION: And is he willing to --
MR KIRBY: He wasn’t making a determination or offering an opinion or a view of who should do it or when.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, is he willing to spearhead – is he willing, as he’s done with other things – is he willing --
MR KIRBY: I think this is a discussion that he thinks should happen inside the UN and inside the international community.
QUESTION: John --
QUESTION: Simply stated, does the U.S. Government believe, based on all the information that it has gathered, that Russia has committed war crimes in Syria?
MR KIRBY: I would again point you back to what he said at the UN and what he said today, that – he said that these strikes are clear violations of international law.
QUESTION: That’s not what he said today.
MR KIRBY: No, but he said that at the UN.
QUESTION: I remember.
MR KIRBY: Okay, I’m – so I think it’s important though to go back to – this isn’t a new idea here, what he said today. And what he said today was these acts, these acts which we – which he has said publicly have violated international law, ought to be appropriately investigated. But are we – are we ready now to make that call and say yep, absolutely? No. That’s why he wants to see them looked into.
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re not ready to say that you believe that Russia has committed war crimes in Syria.
MR KIRBY: No, and the Secretary didn’t allude to that today either.
QUESTION: All right, I got it. Okay. And then second thing: Do you think it is fair, based on what he said today, to say that he is calling for an investigation – not just that this cries out for investigation but that he’s actually calling for one, or does that --
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean --
QUESTION: Or does this stop short of that?
MR KIRBY: I don’t – I mean, I don’t know how helpful it is to parse the verbs. I would just point you back to what he said --
QUESTION: Actually, it’s very important.
MR KIRBY: I would point you back to what he said himself, which – that these are acts that beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes. So if you’re asking me would he like to see them appropriately investigated? My answer is yes, and that’s right from what he said, and I think I’d leave it at --
QUESTION: John, just to clarify: Would he like to see whom do the investigation?
MR KIRBY: He didn’t – again, the Secretary is not getting ahead of a process here, but he does think that this is a conversation worth having inside the international community.
QUESTION: Is it – John, is it fair to just regard this then as kind of a rhetorical exercise to kind of increase the pressure on the Russians before the vote at the UN Security Council? And essentially all you’re doing is just upping the rhetoric, but you’re not actually saying you believe war crimes were committed. You’re not actually calling for an investigation of war crimes. You’re not actually directly accusing the Russians of war crimes. You’re just tossing some words around ahead of a Security Council vote; is that the way to look at this?
MR KIRBY: No, I wouldn't look it at that way at all. He’s the Secretary of State, he doesn’t just toss words around for rhetorical exercises. You have seen his frustration build. You, yourself – all of you have seen his frustration build over the last several weeks. You heard what he said at the UN, called it like he saw it, that these were clear violations of international law. And today, he said that they begged for an appropriate investigation, and I think he meant every word of what he said. I’m not trying to parse here. I’m not trying to be – to dance around this thing, but the Secretary believes that what’s happening is an abomination, is – obviously violates international law. We’re talking, again – let’s remember and let’s remind people we’re talking about hospitals and homes and businesses and innocent men and women and children --
QUESTION: So why hasn’t there been an investigation thus far then?
MR KIRBY: I can’t answer that question, Elise.
QUESTION: But why isn’t the U.S. calling for one?
MR KIRBY: But I can tell you that the Secretary is interested in seeing that move forward.
QUESTION: Are you ready to spearhead that kind of investigation?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of specific process here, Elise.
QUESTION: Well, then why, as Arshad said, isn’t it – if he said it and he’s not willing to move forward with that, he was just throwing out an idea? I don’t understand what --
MR KIRBY: I think, as I said to Arshad, he’s interested in having a conversation inside the international community about this.
QUESTION: Is he going to start having that conversation with his counterparts?
MR KIRBY: I think you can safely assume that international leaders have already talked about the degree to which these violations are, in fact, violations of international law.
QUESTION: John, you know, as Matt said, that Syria is not a state party to the Rome Statute, so the court --
QUESTION: Neither is the U.S.
QUESTION: -- the ICC does not have jurisdiction automatically. And you also know that the only way, therefore, for it to have jurisdiction is for it to be referred – for the matter to be referred by the Security Council, where Russia, as you, finally, know, has a veto. So given that – right – given that the one court in the world that’s supposed to deal with these kinds of issues – right --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- can’t unless Russia agrees to be investigated, which seems impossible, why shouldn't one regard it all as a rhetorical exercise because you know the ICC ain’t going to get jurisdiction to look into this?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, Arshad, fair question, but I’m simply not going to get ahead of the legal process here. I’m not educated enough to do that in the first place, and secondly, that wasn’t the Secretary’s intent today. He was expressing the frustration he has seen, the fact that he does believe an appropriate investigation is warranted, and that’s a discussion that he and other international leaders have to have in terms of process and how that would be done.
I take your points about the ICC, and I take your point about the UN Security Council and Russia’s veto. I think you can safely assume that the Secretary was aware of both those facts when he talked about this in the General Assembly and when he talked about it today standing next to Foreign Minister Ayrault.
QUESTION: Just a quick one on that. Are you expecting a vote tomorrow? And will he go up for it if there is one?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any travel to New York City to announce on the Secretary’s behalf.
QUESTION: And could you – the point of what he said was to start a conversation inside the international community? I mean, it seems to me there’s been conversation going on for the last five years. If he feels that strongly about it, why isn’t it time to move beyond the conversating --
MR KIRBY: He was referring to what’s happening in the last several weeks in Aleppo specifically, Matt.
QUESTION: Well --
MR KIRBY: But look, obviously, there’s been --
QUESTION: -- but there’s been – everyone is – there’s a lot of talk. It’s all talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. And now it sounds like this is just more talk. Where is – does it – if he feels that strongly, why is not – why is there not – why isn’t that talk turning into some kind of action?
MR KIRBY: It very well might, Matt. I can’t – I’m not going to rule out the fact that it won’t lead to some action.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about de Mistura.
QUESTION: Earlier this week, the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN talked about this particular issue and said that Syria and Russia – and that the UN should change the rules about who – how countries are referred to the International Criminal Court so that countries that wield the veto power can’t prevent themselves from being referred to the ICC. Does the Secretary, does the State Department agree with that position now?
MR KIRBY: I’ll have to take the question. I don’t – I don’t know if we have a view on that proposal.
QUESTION: Can I just ask on – I mean, I think --
QUESTION: I mean – I’m sorry, but why not? I mean, that’s – it’s very germane to this particular issue that we’re – that you guys are all frustrated about for the past two weeks.
MR KIRBY: Your question implies that we haven’t taken a view of it. I don’t know. The reason why I’m not answering your question is because I don’t know and I’m not going to get up here and wing it for you. So I will take your --
QUESTION: Can you find out?
MR KIRBY: That’s what I said. I’ll take your question, sir, and we’ll get back to you. So don’t --
QUESTION: So – thanks.
MR KIRBY: Don’t presume by the fact that I’m taking your question that there’s no opinion here in the building. It just means that I’m not aware of it.
QUESTION: I think some of the confusion today is that Kerry’s remarks were seen as a change in stance, that it was seen as a stronger statement that he had issued before explicitly calling for a war crimes investigation. So I just have two questions. Are you, one, saying that this does not reflect a change in the stance, that his comments today do not mark a shift in tone? And also, is it – there’s confusion about the fact that he was presumably referring to an event that led him to give this sharper statement. Are you saying you can’t identify with certainty what that event was, which attack he was specifically referring to?
MR KIRBY: He was referring specifically – the acts he was referring to were about recent siege activity around Aleppo.
QUESTION: But this one where he said 20 dead, 100 wounded – you guys don’t know --
MR KIRBY: I don’t have specific information on that particular event. I told you before, I tried to research that before coming out here. I don’t have any specifics. But that doesn’t eliminate the fact that in this week alone, since Monday, we know of at least two attacks on hospitals and that over the last two weeks almost 400 people have been killed.
MR KIRBY: So he’s talking – when he talks about these acts beg for an appropriate investigation, he’s not simply talking about the one strike that he’s – that he detailed for you today.
QUESTION: So --
MR KIRBY: And then on the change of tone, I don’t see this as a change in tone, and I’ve been with him now throughout this process. He – you – I can point you back to what he said at the UN during the General Assembly. I mean, this is not a new idea – as I said to Arshad – not a new idea for him that these are violations of international law, and we have long said that people should be held to account for these violations. So it’s not a big leap at all for him to say that it would beg for an appropriate investigation.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on what --
MR KIRBY: Sure. Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: -- the de Mistura proposal? He suggested that the al-Nusrah and the militants pull out of Aleppo. Would you support something like this, or would you have a mechanism or would you suggest a mechanism to do that?
MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve seen the special envoy’s proposal. We understand the frustration behind it. And what I would say is we’re going to continue to have a healthy conversation with Staffan de Mistura about the way ahead, about trying to get to a ceasefire, to a cessation of hostilities. And what needs to happen, Said, more critically, is that the siege of Aleppo needs to stop.
QUESTION: Right. Okay --
QUESTION: Well, but --
QUESTION: -- let me just follow up with the numbers. Do you have any – on the figures. Do you have any actual numbers on the number of militants that are in eastern Aleppo?
MR KIRBY: I can’t verify --
QUESTION: Because the figures suggest anywhere between six to eight thousand, some say there is a thousand Nusrah in eastern Aleppo and so on. How do you determine how many --
MR KIRBY: I can’t validate those numbers. I would point you to Mr. de Mistura to do that. We – and we’ve said this before that we don’t believe that al-Nusrah comprises anywhere near a majority of the fighters in Aleppo, but I couldn’t give you an exact figure. I can’t verify those numbers.
QUESTION: But if the --
QUESTION: My last question on this, my last question on this is that the suggestion by the Syrian Government that if the militants surrender, give up, they have amnesty, do you have any comment on that? I mean, is that --
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: The Syrian Government suggested that if the militants surrender and give up their arms, they will be given amnesty. Do you – do you think --
MR KIRBY: I think anybody that would take at face value --
QUESTION: Is that something that would have merit?
MR KIRBY: I think anybody that would take at face value anything coming out of the regime would be foolish given the --
QUESTION: Okay. They are the ones that are fighting them on the ground.
MR KIRBY: -- given what this regime has proven capable of doing.
QUESTION: Yeah. But they’re --
MR KIRBY: And I don’t see – look, the continued bombing and siege of Aleppo isn’t going to reduce the fervor with which many in the opposition are fighting. And I think it would – we’ve seen time and time again the Assad regime promising to do something and then failing to do it. So I don’t know how anybody could take that as a credible offer.
QUESTION: Wait. You just said – but wait a minute. You just said that the lifting of the siege of Aleppo would not stop the opposition from fighting with the fervor that which they’re fighting?
MR KIRBY: No, I said absent --
QUESTION: Okay, sorry.
MR KIRBY: Absent that.
QUESTION: So – okay. So if – I mean, I think it’s a long shot that Nusrah is just going to be like, sure, let me just get safe passage out of the city, but let’s just hypothetically, if you could find a way to implement this proposal that would, in fact, get the Russians to lift the siege --
MR KIRBY: I don’t know if it would or not.
QUESTION: -- get the Syrians to lift the siege of Aleppo, would you support safe passage of al-Nusrah out of this?
MR KIRBY: Al-Nusrah remains a party outside – I’m sorry, outside --
QUESTION: But you want to separate them, so where are they supposed to go?
MR KIRBY: -- outside the cessation of hostilities.
QUESTION: No, I understand. But you can’t on one hand say that you’re going to ask them to separate and on the other hand not give them a chance to separate.
MR KIRBY: Okay, I can’t speak for the likelihood of that --
QUESTION: What incentive do they have to separate, then?
MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for the likelihood that that proposal would work, and I’m not going to speculate about that.
QUESTION: I understand. But just – but on a more fundamental --
MR KIRBY: What needs to happen is the siege of Aleppo needs to stop.
QUESTION: I understand. But this goes – this is a very fundamental question of your one responsibility under this agreement – supposed agreement that is – you’re trying to get back on track – that you would separate Nusrah from the opposition. Now, if you separate them, where are these Nusrah people supposed to go? If you could get rid of them, maybe you could stop the ceasefire – you could stop the bombing, right?
MR KIRBY: Al-Nusrah has remained obviously an obstacle to peace in Syria.
QUESTION: Okay, so --
MR KIRBY: And that they are outside the cessation of hostilities we have long said, and we have talked to opposition groups – the ones that we influence – and we know that other countries who have influence over other groups have talked to them about the need to separate. We’ve also said that the siege itself – the continued bombing and violence perpetrated by Assad and by Russia – is having exactly the opposite effect. It’s actually encouraging more marbleization, if you will, by the continued violence. It’s not – it’s certainly not encouraging opposition groups to separate. It’s increasing – as I said, it’s increasing their fervor to fight.
QUESTION: But you’re not – I understand --
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate about the likelihood of success or – out of the proposal that Mr. de Mistura put forward. We understand the frustration with which he made it and did it. We all share that frustration.
QUESTION: But how other --
MR KIRBY: And I can’t – I’m not going to – I can’t speculate about what ifs here.
QUESTION: I – but --
MR KIRBY: What I – what we want to see is the siege stop.
QUESTION: I understand you do. But again, you want to separate them. How do you propose that you do that? Where – how do – where – if they’re all in the city, what, are they supposed to go to the right bank of the city and --
MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert in the geography there. What I would tell you is we continue to have conversations with the opposition about the importance of not being co-located with al-Nusrah, and that is a conversation we continue to have with them.
QUESTION: So you’re leaving this totally up to the opposition to separate themselves?
MR KIRBY: This is ultimately – and I’ve said this, Elise, these are decisions they have to make.
QUESTION: So basically you’re saying just get out of the way so that we can bomb them and --
MR KIRBY: They – these are decisions they have to make, and we’ve talked to them very honestly about that.
QUESTION: For instance, Idlib is a – the – is a --
QUESTION: -- Al-Nusrah stronghold, Idlib. Would they be allowed safe passage to Idlib, for instance?
MR KIRBY: Said, I’m simply not going to get into detail --
QUESTION: You’re not really giving them a lot of incentive to separate themselves, are you? I mean --
MR KIRBY: It is the Russians and the Syrian – the regime which is certainly not giving any incentive to separate. In fact, quite the opposite by the continued bombing of civilian targets and of opposition elements.
QUESTION: Another subject?
QUESTION: I know you’ve talked about this before (inaudible) when the cessation of hostilities was announced about how these opposition forces are supposed to separate from Nusrah. But if they do so, they would be, they’d be ceding territory basically to whoever attacks al-Nusrah and takes that territory. So it seems like – I mean, not only is there not incentive for them to do it now, but it seems like there never was an incentive for them to do it.
MR KIRBY: I think you’d have to talk to each group about their – what they’d consider their incentives.
QUESTION: No, I’m talking to you because you guys came up – the Americans came up with this plan.
MR KIRBY: I recognize that you’re talking me, and what I’ve been saying and have said many, many times is that we have made the case to the opposition that being co-located with Nusrah, since Nusrah is outside the cessation of hostilities, is a dangerous endeavor, but these are choices they have to make. We also understand they’re not monoliths, even – not just in an aggregate but amongst themselves, and many of them have more radical views than others. Many of them make pragmatic decisions on their own about where they’re going to physically be located. Those are decisions that they have to make as groups and some of those individuals have to make as individuals. It doesn’t change the fact that we think it is important for them to separate themselves from al-Nusrah since al-Nusrah remains outside the cessation of hostilities – a cessation of hostilities, by the way, which we don’t have right now because the regime and Russia continues to bomb in Aleppo.
QUESTION: Which is kind of the point. You keep saying that “outside the cessation of hostilities,” but that’s – that animal is dead. It’s extinct.
MR KIRBY: I just said that.
QUESTION: I – yeah, I know. So what’s the point, then?
MR KIRBY: Well, we obviously want to get back to it.
MR KIRBY: What I said was obviously it’s not enforced now, but that doesn’t violate the principle with which it was established back in February and the fact that we want to get back to it, Matt.
QUESTION: It was – in fact – when was it ever enforced?
MR KIRBY: There were times, and you know there were times. Especially in February, we had a significant reduction in the violence after it was first announced.
QUESTION: No, no, no, no, that’s people observing it. When was it enforced? Where were violations of the cessation, when it existed, ever – when was anyone ever held to account? It --
MR KIRBY: Well, by enforced I mean implemented. I recognize that there have been violations since it was first implemented, and there is – and up until recently we had a task force bilaterally with the Russians to examine and to monitor violations.
QUESTION: There hasn’t – hold on. Just – there hasn’t been any more contact between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov --
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional contact to read out.
QUESTION: May I move on to a new subject? It’s on Wednesday the consul general of India, along with the chair of Diwali stamp and VP of USPS, they issued a historic forever Diwali stamp, which is a festival of lights. It’s a – we always ask you the negative – on negatives, so this is a positive.
MR KIRBY: Yes, you do.
QUESTION: So do you have anything to say on that?
MR KIRBY: Actually, I do. Thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: We are pleased to note --
QUESTION: Are you – wait, wait. You have something to say about the post office issuing a forever Diwali stamp?
MR KIRBY: I do.
MR KIRBY: Are you writing down? Are you ready?
QUESTION: Why didn’t you start with that, John?
QUESTION: Word for word. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: We’re actually very pleased to note that the U.S. Postal Service commemorated the Hindu festival of Diwali with a forever stamp. As you know, that stamp was unveiled at the Indian consulate in New York on Wednesday. The post service – the Postal Service receives approximately 40,000 suggestions for stamp ideas annually from the public; 25 suggestions are selected by the committee for the Postmaster General’s approval. And as millions around the world celebrate Diwali at the end of the month, we certainly wish them the best.
QUESTION: Anything to say about Kashmir? Two nuclear-armed countries that have fought three wars --
QUESTION: There’s going to be a (inaudible).
QUESTION: -- you have tensions rising. Anything?
MR KIRBY: We’ve been talking about that all week.
QUESTION: Have you got anything to say about that today?
MR KIRBY: Well, we continue to want the two sides to work this out, to have dialogue and to work out the issue.
QUESTION: But you still haven’t confirmed that there was a surgical strike from India to Pakistan.
MR KIRBY: I’d let Indian authorities speak to that. What we want to see is the tensions de-escalate.
QUESTION: Can I ask you – this is going to be very brief, I know --
MR KIRBY: I’m going to have to get down here soon.
QUESTION: Yeah, this is – but there was a story this morning – I don’t know if you saw it, an AP story – about the importation or the sales, online sales of an, opioids called carfentanil, which is very dangerous and is responsible for all sorts of overdoses in the United States, all over North America, actually all over the world. I’m just wondering, in the story it talks about U.S. efforts as well as the efforts of others to crack down on this kind of thing, on this kind of sale, this kind of commerce. And I’m just wondering if you can give any kind of an update as to where – how far – where and how far you think you’ve gotten with the Chinese on this.
MR KIRBY: I cannot, Matt. I’m going to have to take that question.
QUESTION: Okay. If there was a stamp for Lunar New Year, would you have something to say about that?
MR KIRBY: I suppose if there was one, but --
MR KIRBY: -- I’m not aware of one.
QUESTION: You should have a stamp for just Rwanda.
QUESTION: Taking the temperature again of U.S.-Russian relations, something harkening back to the Cold War era, now the Russians are saying that they’re considering plans to restore military bases in Vietnam and Cuba in light of the improved relations between Vietnam and Cuba with the United States. How do you perceive these potential developments?
MR KIRBY: I would say a couple of things on that. I mean, these – obviously, overseas basing is – those are sovereign decisions that two states need to work out. We have overseas bases. Other – and there are obviously other nations around the world that also possess and hold overseas bases. That’s not uncommon.
I can’t speak for the motivation that might be driving. If, in fact, they are – I’ve seen the press reporting, but if in fact they are pursuing that, that’s – those are decisions, motivations that they need to speak to, not me. There’s – we have obviously good relations with Vietnam, and we’re trying to now get into a position where we can have better relations with Cuba. I mean, the normalization process is only just getting started. There’s a long way to go.
But these are obviously decisions that states need to work out amongst themselves, and there’s no – I mean, depending on the purpose behind it, there’s no great sense of angst here by one nation looking to explore the notion of overseas basing. It really goes to – it really goes to intent, and only they can speak to intent.
QUESTION: There was no – there would be “no great sense of angst” about having a Russian base in Cuba again?
MR KIRBY: I think – look, this is a – these are decisions that Russian leaders and Cuban leaders would need to work out. The fact is we have overseas bases ourselves, and we’re very comfortable with our overseas presence. And it’s not uncommon for other nations to do that. So I think they would have to speak for the motivation here.
QUESTION: Can I ask you --
QUESTION: -- on Vietnam? I think you may be ready for it. The Vietnamese Government today declared a California-based group as terrorists. Do you have any – have they raised this with the United States directly, or is this just something that they’ve said, or are you doing anything about this?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I’m going to have to take that. I haven’t seen that.
MR KIRBY: I’ve got – I’ve really got to go.
QUESTION: John, so can I --
QUESTION: On North Korea.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR KIRBY: On the what?
QUESTION: The Secretary (inaudible.)
QUESTION: On the fact that the Colombian President received the Nobel Prize. Would you comment on that?
MR KIRBY: Well, we – the Secretary put a statement out.
QUESTION: I understand, but --
MR KIRBY: I would point you to that. I mean, obviously we --
QUESTION: -- no, on the fact that there were two parties to this concluded peace deal, but they gave it to the President and not to the rebels. Do you have any comment on that?
MR KIRBY: That’s a decision that the Nobel committee makes, Said. Obviously, we congratulate President Santos for his selection.
QUESTION: John, one more?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: So a spokesperson from North Korea hinted at a further provocative action and said that the U.S. will face a gruesome reality in the near future. We were wondering if you had any reaction to this statement and how you see North Korea’s recent activities.
MR KIRBY: The same way we have seen North Korean provocative activities, which we continue to condemn and to call for them to take the tension down on the peninsula, not add to it through rhetoric and through action. We obviously take their words seriously, because they have proven willing to conduct provocative activity in the past. That’s why we continue to work with the international community on the potential for even stiffer sanctions going forward inside the UN.
QUESTION: And, sorry, there’s been reports of some increased activity at a North Korean launch site and there’s a possibility that a nuclear test or missile launch may happen tomorrow or the day after. Has the U.S. seen any signs of this and is the U.S. preparing for this possible --
MR KIRBY: I mean, we’ve certainly seen reports about that, but I – as you know, I don’t talk about intelligence matters here from --
QUESTION: But it is the 10th anniversary, I think, of the North Korean nuclear program, isn’t it? So is there extra concern? Is this a period that you’re watching very closely?
MR KIRBY: I think we’re always concerned about the potential for their provocative --
QUESTION: Is this a heightened period?
MR KIRBY: We’re always concerned about the potential for their provocative activity and we’ve seen the reports on this. I’m just not in a position to --
QUESTION: All right. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: -- to confirm intelligence here from the podium. I do want to go back – one thing that you were asking me about – the Russian basing. When I say no particular angst, it’s at this point in time we just – a statement in the press like that, obviously. But what I would add to my answer to you is it’s too soon to know whether there needs to be alarm or concern about this given that it was something that they just put out in the media, so I want to clarify my answer to you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: I don’t want to make it sound dismissive --
MR KIRBY: -- but it’s just too soon to know based on the information that we have, which isn’t much about their intentions. But it really does come down to the intentions of the overseas base.
QUESTION: I just want --
MR KIRBY: I’ll take this; it’ll have to be the last one. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On the latest comments from the defense minister and the talk of a suspension – suspending joint exercises, I know we talked about, like, yesterday you were talking about – their relations are still strong, but this seems to be, like, the first tangible break. And so, have you had a reaction to that? Are you communicating with the Philippines at all about this?
MR KIRBY: I saw those comments, and we checked with our colleagues at the Defense Department. They’re not aware of any official notification of the curtailment of these activities. Here at the State Department, we are, likewise, not aware of any official notification of the curtailment. So as I said yesterday and as I’ve said I think every day that we’ve talked about this since, that we’re focused on the very real, very significant security commitments we have through our alliance with the Philippines. And we think comments like this, whether they are or will be backed up by actual action or not, are really at odds with the closeness of the relationships that we have with the people of the Philippines and which we fully intend to continue.
Guys, I’ve got to go. I got to go. Thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:18 p.m.)