Daily Press Briefing - October 11, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:15 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Afternoon. I have nothing at the top.
MR KIRBY: Really. Happy Tuesday.
QUESTION: No big announcements, huh?
MR KIRBY: No big announcements.
QUESTION: All right. Let’s start where we started pretty much every day for the last couple of years, I think, it must be now: Can you give us an update on any contacts you’ve had in the suspended communications channel between the United States and Russia on Syria?
MR KIRBY: I have nothing additional to read out.
QUESTION: So there’s no – there’s been some suggestion of an ISSG meeting of some type in – this week. Is that something that’s in the cards?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on the Secretary’s schedule to speak to.
QUESTION: Okay. Then this is Syria-related, but it also has to do with Yemen. Over the weekend you saw there was this airstrike on a funeral by the Saudi-led coalition, and I’m just wondering: Does the Administration see any difference between this kind of thing and what you accuse the Russians and the Syrians and the Iranians of doing in Syria, particularly Aleppo?
MR KIRBY: Well, yeah, I think there are some differences.
QUESTION: Other than that you support the Saudi coalition and don’t support the Syrians and Russians, what are the other differences?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, there’s a couple of things, Matt. The strike over the weekend is being investigated, and the Saudis publicly said that they were going to investigate this as – for the potential of it being, in fact, wrongly implemented and wrongly executed. I haven’t seen a single case in Syria where the regime or the Russian military, after bombing civilian targets deliberately and indiscriminately, said, “Yeah, we’re going to look into that. We’re not sure that we did that right. We’re going to take a look at it.” Not once. Not once. But the Saudis are and they’re willing to admit that this could have been a mistake and that they’re going to – and they’re going to investigate that. And they’ve done that in the past.
So it is different. I think it’s also important to remember that in the Saudis’ case, they have – they are – their cities, their citizens are under very real, darn-near daily threat from missiles being launched on the Yemeni side of their border, missiles that are provided by Iran to the Houthi rebels. So there is a – there is this pressing requirement for self-defense to them right across the border that certainly has driven much of their military activity in Yemen in the past.
Now, I do want to say – and you saw our statement over the weekend – we take this very seriously, and we have been nothing but candid and forthright with the Saudis about our concerns over civilian casualties and collateral damage, and our concerns about lack of precision in the conduct of some of these strikes. So I don’t want to wave it off and say that the United States isn’t taking this very, very seriously, what happened in Yemen. Again, as you saw from the statement that the NSC issued, that we’re going to review the aid and assistance that you pointed to in your question that go to Saudi Arabia, particularly – well, we always do in every case. We constantly review that aid and assistance, but in particular light of this strike over the weekend.
So yeah, there are some key differences.
QUESTION: So this – so you don’t think that – despite the fact that no investigation has been completed yet, you’re sure that this was not deliberate?
MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t say that.
QUESTION: Oh, well, you – but you said that the Russian and Syrian attacks are deliberate.
MR KIRBY: They are.
MR KIRBY: They are. I’m --
QUESTION: But didn’t --
MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is --
QUESTION: Maybe I’m wrong on this, but didn’t – do you not regard the Russian call for an investigation into the attack on the aid convoy as a real thing?
MR KIRBY: Well, they can point to how real it is. I’ve also seen they flip-flopped, right? First they said they wanted an investigation, and then they pulled back from it. So it’s not exactly been a clarion call for an investigation. And what we’re seeing in Aleppo is nothing but a concerted effort over recent days to take that city by force, to subdue it by force. This isn’t indiscriminate, haphazard, accidental bombing of infrastructure. It’s very deliberate.
QUESTION: All right. This may – I think this is probably my last one on this. But you pointed to the fact that the Saudis are doing this in self-defense. Is that the – not this one --
MR KIRBY: They were – look, so they were --
QUESTION: -- the specific thing, but the whole – in its entirety.
MR KIRBY: They were invited in by the Yemeni Government. The Saudi-led coalition was invited in by the Yemeni Government. Now, I know what you’re going to say: Well, the Russians were invited by Syria, by Assad to --
QUESTION: No, no. No, no, no, no, no.
MR KIRBY: I get this. I’m not trying to make too much of a historical analogy here.
QUESTION: I wasn’t going to – I wasn’t going to – that’s
MR KIRBY: But they – yes, they were – yes, they were invited in by the Yemeni Government and they are under real threat on their side – on the Yemeni side of their border.
QUESTION: So you – that wasn’t where I was going with this. But you said that they’re under threat, that the Saudis are under threat from missiles provided by Iran. And yet, at the same time, surely you must understand that Yemeni civilians are increasingly at risk and being killed by weapons that the United States has furnished to the Saudis and their coalition partners on this. So you don’t find that there’s any kind of an issue with this? Because a lot of people do including --
MR KIRBY: Of course we care.
QUESTION: -- including on the Hill. So just because --
MR KIRBY: No, no, no, no, no.
QUESTION: -- these missiles were made in Iran, I mean, they can – people on the ground in Yemen are looking at what’s coming, raining down on them from the sky, and it says Made in USA on it. Is that not a problem?
MR KIRBY: Of course, it’s a problem. And that’s way in our statement over the weekend issued by the National Security Council that we’re going to undertake a review --
QUESTION: All right. So how --
MR KIRBY: -- of aid and assistance. Of course, it’s a problem. And I don’t – I’m not – I’m not saying that – look, it is a fact that they are under threat from the Yemen side of the border with missiles from Iran. That is just a fact. I am not saying that that justifies --
QUESTION: Well, it’s also a fact that civilians are being killed.
MR KIRBY: No, no, no, and I’m not saying that that fact justifies civilian casualties. I’m simply trying to put your answer into some context here. But obviously, we’re very concerned about what happened over the weekend. We wouldn’t have issued that very strong statement --
MR KIRBY: -- if we didn’t feel that way.
QUESTION: Do you know if there’s been any interagency discussion on the – about the – about this review?
MR KIRBY: Yes, there has been.
QUESTION: There has been already. So it’s started. The review has begun?
MR KIRBY: Well, yes, but it is --
QUESTION: Or is this --
MR KIRBY: -- something we always – first of all, we always --
QUESTION: So this is one of these things --
MR KIRBY: -- continuously review our aid and assistance --
QUESTION: So this isn’t a special review?
MR KIRBY: No, no, no, no, I’m not saying that.
MR KIRBY: Again, I’m trying to put this in context. Aid and assistance to foreign countries is something we always review constantly. That is – that has been the case. It has been the case specifically with Saudi Arabia in recent months, and I’ve talked about that from the podium. In light of the attack over the weekend, with the scrutiny that that attack legitimately calls for, we are going to undertake additional reviews of aid and assistance that goes to Saudi Arabia. And your question, “Has it started yet?” Yes, it has started.
QUESTION: Okay. Last – this is definitely the last one. The Pentagon earlier just said that the U.S. is weighing its response to – the Administration is weighing its response to these missiles that were fired and landed near this naval ship, a U.S. Naval ship. That’s obviously a military response that they’re considering. I’m just wondering: Is there any kind of a diplomatic response that’s been – being considered? And if there is, who exactly do you bring that presumably complaint to?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, it’s a little bit more porous situation in terms of diplomacy there in Yemen. What I can tell you – and you saw this I think in the statement that was put out after the strike – that here at the State Department particularly we continue to call on all parties to get to a ceasefire, stop the violence, de-escalate the tensions, and let’s start moving towards a political track. And we’re going to continue to work as best we can with and through the UN special envoy to that end. So yeah, there’s diplomatic efforts here, but it’s not without its challenges, obviously, in a place like Yemen.
QUESTION: Well, I’m talking specifically about the missiles being --
MR KIRBY: That’s what I’m talking about. In context --
MR KIRBY: In context of everything else going on.
QUESTION: But you have – I mean, do you go to the – you mean you go to the UN to have them go to the people that fired the missile?
MR KIRBY: Well, we made a very public call for all parties --
MR KIRBY: -- to de-escalate the tensions and stop – stop the violence, obviously to cease this kind of an attack. And we’re going to continue to work by and through the UN special envoy as he tries to get a cessation of hostilities in place and to get political talks back on track.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have a timeframe on the review of ties with the Saudis?
MR KIRBY: No, I don’t.
QUESTION: Okay. And is it a review purely of their recent actions, or will you also be examining whether U.S. Forces are legally liable as a supporter of the coalition?
MR KIRBY: No, as I think the statement said over the weekend, it was a review of our aid and assistance to Saudi Arabia.
QUESTION: So whether that is appropriate to continue?
MR KIRBY: I think in light of the attack over the weekend, it’s the prudent thing to take a look at the appropriateness of the aid and assistance going to Saudi Arabia. But again, I want to stress that this is something we always do. I think that’s an important point for people to understand that in every case all around the world we constantly review aid and assistance programs to countries. But again, in light of this attack over the weekend, we felt it was important to state publicly that we were going to do additional reviews here of aid and assistance. But I don’t have a timeline on it.
QUESTION: And we saw the readout of the call to the Saudis, but were there any calls to the Iranians since they are supplying weapons to the Houthis?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any specific calls to Iran on that.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Sorry for being late, so I may have missed something right up there.
MR KIRBY: I didn’t even notice because of the --
QUESTION: Okay, that’s okay. I’m --
MR KIRBY: -- the harangue with Matt. I was looking this way. I didn’t see anything.
QUESTION: I thought I was very polite. That’s not a harangue.
QUESTION: Okay. I wanted to ask you --
QUESTION: Do you want a harangue? (Laughter.) I’ll give you a harangue.
MR KIRBY: Oh, I’m sure you could. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: On the review, could you just explain again how – how is it going to be conducted? How do you conduct this review?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the specific parameters here about how a review like this is done. I think what is important – and again, I want to go back and make a point – this is something we always do, constantly do it. Yes, obviously, in light of the weekend’s events we’re going to conduct some additional review, but it will be done in the same interagency collaborative fashion that all such reviews of aid and assistance is done. I’m not an expert on that process. It is a – it’s a very inclusive process and it does involve all the requisite agencies involved in managing aid and assistance of a military nature to foreign countries.
QUESTION: Okay. So it is a routine interview – I mean review, sorry.
MR KIRBY: It – we will follow the same routine process.
QUESTION: Can you just --
MR KIRBY: It is not routine in the fact that in light of the weekend’s strike, we’re obviously going to take a harder look.
QUESTION: I was going to say that it’s a routine review that you would conduct anytime that U.S. weapons are used the way they were used, correct?
MR KIRBY: The process that we’re going to use is going to be the same routine review process we do in other countries.
QUESTION: So it is independent of the investigation that is being called by Ismail Ould (inaudible) – Ould Cheikh – the envoy, Ould Cheikh Ahmed. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed called on the Saudis to investigate.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: So you don’t want to wait for that investigation to be completed? You’re doing your own --
MR KIRBY: No, I think I answered the question to Matt.
QUESTION: That’s why I said I came in a bit --
MR KIRBY: I mean, that review is ongoing now.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. So what do you – how do you expect that whatever outcome this investigation or – because it is being led by Saudi Arabia and the coalition, right? They are investigating themselves, correct?
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. How will that likely to impact your review?
MR KIRBY: I think it – we would certainly hope that it informs the review process that we’re doing. But I don’t want to make the review in any way, either in timing or result, contingent upon that. What we’ve said is that we expect a fair, thorough, and transparent investigation, as we have said in the past when there have been incidents of civilian casualties in Yemen as a result of Saudi-led operations. We expect the same thing here.
Well, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, my last question on this. So this review is just related to the incidents last – where the funeral was struck, was hit, independent of other incidents like schools or clinics and so on?
MR KIRBY: No. No, Said. Again, in light of what happened over the weekend, we believe that a review of aid and assistance to Saudi Arabia – additional review, if you like – is warranted in light of what happened over the weekend. But as I also said earlier, it’s not like we haven’t done this in the past when there have been similar instances; we’ve taken a look. And it’s not atypical for us to do that.
So we believe that, given these events, taking a fresh look at the aid and assistance that Saudi Arabia gets, in keeping with their operations as the lead of this coalition with Yemen, is warranted. Okay?
MR KIRBY: Syria. Are we ready to move on to Syria?
QUESTION: I have a question tangentially related to that.
MR KIRBY: Tangentially related to Syria or --
QUESTION: To Saudi Arabia.
MR KIRBY: Okay. How tangentially is it? Mozambique, right?
QUESTION: Well, we’ll find out. An email exchange recently made public of Secretary – former Secretary Clinton’s emails, she speaks in August 2014 of the need in Syria and Iraq to use diplomatic and traditional intelligence assets to put “pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” So that’s soon after her being secretary of state; it seems like she would be informed about what’s happening. Do you – does the U.S. believe that Qatar, the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIS and other radical Sunni groups?
MR KIRBY: I can’t – I’m sure this will shock you, but I’m not going to speak about the veracity of leaked documents and whether they’re authentic or not. I just won’t do that. What I can tell you is that Qatar and Saudi Arabia are members of the counter-ISIL coalition and have been contributing members of that coalition pretty much since its founding. And we rely a great deal on their efforts to help us counter terrorism in the region, particularly counter this particular group, Daesh. And we look forward to that – those relationships continuing, and their participation as active members of the coalition continuing as well.
QUESTION: Syria, yeah. Our correspondent, reporting from western Aleppo, interviewed locals who say fighters in the rebel-held east deliberately fire at civilians who are trying to leave. Are these people effectively held in Aleppo, in eastern Aleppo?
MR KIRBY: I can’t confirm that report. You know I don’t get into battlefield reports; I’m not going to do that. What is without dispute is that the siege of Aleppo continues, as I was mentioning earlier. And your question about being held hostage, there should be – and I’ve seen reports that they’re allowed to leave. They shouldn’t have to leave, and they shouldn’t be being bombed by their own government and by the Russian military. And that’s what needs to stop.
QUESTION: That place, eastern Aleppo, is run by al-Qaida militarily. How do you imagine people living peacefully under al-Qaida?
MR KIRBY: I think – first of all, I’m not going to get into a debate about who runs what neighborhood in Aleppo with you. We’ve been clear, and so has – 65 other nations have been clear, that the threat of terrorism in Syria is significant, predominantly from Daesh and from al-Nusrah, which is in – which is – we consider al-Qaida in Syria. And that’s why the coalition will continue operations across multiple lines of effort, not just military, to degrade and defeat, particularly, Daesh inside Syria. So if your question is how can people live under the jackboot of terrorism, I would agree that that’s not something we want them – a choice that we want them to have to make. They shouldn’t have to do that, which is why the coalition is so focused on that group.
QUESTION: Well, isn’t the way to really protect civilians is to get them out of there? Because al-Nusrah is not leaving, apparently; neither are the rebels who are intertwined with them.
MR KIRBY: And they’re not likely to want to leave while they’re continuing to be bombed. What needs to happen is a cessation of hostility and the bombing needs to stop. And who’s doing the bombing? It’s the regime and it’s Russia.
QUESTION: Is it the U.S. strategy just to let al-Qaida run that place, eastern Aleppo?
MR KIRBY: I’m not even going to dignify that question with an answer. I’m just not even going to dignify it.
QUESTION: You said --
QUESTION: What is --
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you: Is it conceivable that elements of al-Nusrah could be holding members of the population hostage, or at gunpoint, preventing them from moving about?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any information on that, Said.
QUESTION: But it could conceivably be that?
MR KIRBY: Again, you’re asking me to speculate on a hypothetical here.
MR KIRBY: Look, we’ve been very clear about the threat that al-Nusrah poses and that they are outside the cessation of hostilities, clearly. And what we’ve long said, that if Russia wanted to contribute to counter-ISIL efforts in a meaningful way, that that was a conversation that we’d be willing to have and continue to be willing to have, but what they have proven to want to do is rather support Asaad, bolster his regime, and bolster his efforts in this siege of Aleppo.
QUESTION: So what you want is a complete cessation of hostility or complete cessation of bombing by the Syrians and the Russians and then what? And then what would be the next step?
MR KIRBY: Well, you’re right. What we want is a cessation of hostilities, and I’d go back to February of this year when even the Russians signed up to exactly that thing around the --
QUESTION: I mean, as far as eastern Aleppo is concerned.
MR KIRBY: No, no, no. Yes, obviously we want to see the bombing and the siege of Aleppo stop. But more critically, we want to see a nationwide cessation of hostilities that can be sustained over time, so that we can get the political discussions back on track. Now look, we had in September 9, just earlier – well, about a month ago, we had struck an agreement in Geneva with the Russians that after seven days of reduced violence and the return of humanitarian assistance to particularly besieged places like Aleppo, that we could then begin to have a – to establish a Joint Implementation Center by which the United States and Russia would cooperate and share information to go after groups like al-Nusrah. In fact, it was specifically designed to help us together go after al-Nusrah. But we didn’t get those seven days of reduced violence and we didn’t get any humanitarian assistance in any significant way and you know the rest of the story. We regrettably, because of Russia’s actions, because of their intransigence and unwillingness to meet their commitments under that agreement, we had to suspend the bilateral cooperation in that regard.
QUESTION: Is that agreement revivable? Is it revivable, that agreement? Could it be revived?
MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary has said that it is – absolutely. We suspended; that doesn’t mean that it’s forever off. And what we continue to need to see are significant steps by the Russians that they’re serious about their commitments, and they have thus far proven quite the opposite.
QUESTION: Turkey’s president today affirmed that Turkey will take part in the military operation to recapture Mosul and that Turkey would not follow the direction of Iraq’s prime minister. In fact, Erdogan was insulting. He said to Abadi, quote, “Know your own place. Your clamoring is not important.” What is your view of this?
MR KIRBY: I think as we’ve long said, and I think you heard Brett McGurk say this himself on Friday when he was up here: all of Iraq’s neighbors need to respect Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Turkish forces that are deployed in Iraq are not there as part of the international coalition. The situation in Bashiqa is a matter for the governments of Iraq and Turkey to resolve. What we support is continued dialogue between them that can lead to a speedy resolution of the matter. We call on both governments to focus on their common enemy – our common enemy, which is Daesh. Over the coming days and weeks, we believe it is imperative for all the parties to closely coordinate next steps to ensure unity of effort in that counter-Daesh fight.
QUESTION: The Turks today played a clip from a press conference, in which Abadi states in this press conference with the Turkish prime Minister that he has demanded, quote, “military intelligence, arms, and training support from Turkey.” And it does seem like the Turks have a case that they were invited in.
MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not aware of those comments. I haven’t seen that clip. Prime Minister Abadi has made it clear publicly that they weren’t. We don’t believe – we don’t hold them as they’re there as part of the coalition, the international coalition, and we want Iraq and Turkey to work this out together through dialogue. Okay?
QUESTION: Same topic, but a follow-up please. Some local officials, Iraqi officials, such as former Governor Nujaifi, also says – who was coordinating with Turkey – that the Mosul operation will be starting in a day or two. And another timetable given by the Turkish president also is saying that sometime between next week Mosul operation will start. Is this your understanding that the timetable will be in a day or two or the next week?
MR KIRBY: The campaign to retake Mosul is an Iraqi campaign. It’s an Iraqi plan and an Iraqi strategy. The United States forces will support that as we have in the past, other military operations conducted by the Iraqi Security Forces inside Iraq. And like they have done in the past, they will do it at a time of their choosing when they believe they’re ready. And I wouldn’t begin to speak to future operations one way or another from the podium.
QUESTION: So when Iraqi prime minister talks about Mosul operation, he is the most authoritative voice. Is this the understanding you wish --
MR KIRBY: He – it’s – the Iraqi Security Forces report to the Government of Iraq; Prime Minister Abadi makes – ultimately makes these decisions. And we leave it to him to both make those decisions and then speak to them when he is willing to do so. And I’m not going to get ahead of him on that.
QUESTION: On North Korea? So the 10th anniversary of the first nuclear test came and passed. But I was wondering if there is any sense of relief. Are you still on heightened alert for possible missile firings or nuclear tests this month?
MR KIRBY: I think we’re always vigilant to potential North Korean provocations.
QUESTION: And Danny Russel earlier this morning mentioned that there may be further progress in sanctions. I was wondering if you had any further details on that.
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything additional to add. I mean – but I think you may have seen comments by Ambassador Power to a similar point, to a similar degree, talking about the work that we continue to do inside the UN to pursue additional sanctions. I just don’t have anything to update you on.
QUESTION: And then do you have any further detail about next week’s 2+2 meeting other than what you had sent out?
MR KIRBY: Other than what?
QUESTION: What you had sent out.
MR KIRBY: No. I mean, we’re looking forward to the discussion. I don’t have anything additional to lay out for you. We’ll obviously keep you posted if there’s any schedule changes or anything. The Secretary is looking forward to the dialogue.
QUESTION: Follow-up, Korea. Ambassador Power emphasized that U.S. use all tools for the sanctions against North Korea. Specifically what other tools U.S. can use for the pressure to North Korea?
MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve talked about this many times. And sanctions are one tool. And as we’ve made clear, their recent activities have galvanized the international community to seek potential additional sanctions. And sanctions take time. It doesn’t mean that they’re not a valuable tool and they can’t be effective, but they do take time to work. I’m not going to speculate about additional measures that the international community may or may not want to pursue; certainly not going to speak unilaterally for the U.S. in this regard. We believe it’s important to continue to work through the UN and with the international community because pressure applied from everybody, we still believe, is going to be more effective. But we’ll see where these discussions take us.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. sanctions included humanitarian aid to --
MR KIRBY: Does the --
QUESTION: Humanitarian --
MR KIRBY: Does what include humanitarian --
QUESTION: Your – I mean, U.S. individual sanctions included North Korean humanitarian assistance?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, so far the sanctions that have been applied really are against members of the regime and about their – the resources that they have. And I’m not going to get ahead of the specifics of future sanctions; that discussion’s ongoing right now, and I don’t think it would be helpful for me to get into speculation about what they’re going to look like and how we’re going to try to implement them should they be passed.
QUESTION: But the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, he didn’t take care of their peoples, peoples starving death. He always think about the nuclear programs, they are develop nuclear weapons. Why the international country should take care of humanitarian aids to North Korea? Because their leader didn’t take care of their peoples. So what is your comment?
MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) Again, we’re going to continue to apply pressure on the North, and we’re going to continue to work with international partners to do that just as effectively as possible. I’m not going to speculate about what a future sanctions regime might look like. Obviously, we’re working through that right now.
But stepping back from North Korea – just try to address your question as best I can, humanitarian assistance in a non-permissive environment – and I think we’d all agree that the North is a non-permissive environment – comes with a lot of risks and consequences that any nation-state needs to think through before you try to implement that.
QUESTION: But he using that. I mean, Kim Jong-un using that humanitarian assistance – like food. South Korea sent 100 cows to North Korea; it’s gone, but where has the beef gone? So why you consider about humanitarian assistance to North Korea? That’s what I’m --
MR KIRBY: I can appreciate the re-attack on the question. I really think I’ve addressed this as far as I can go, Janne. We’re going to continue to look for ways to apply more pressure to the regime through the international community, and I’m really not going to speculate about what those tools are going to look like going forward. We’re having those active discussions right now.
QUESTION: John, can I have a quick follow-up? I just want to make sure I understand. So you are saying that – you were saying that you were looking at the future potential sanctions, but then you are not going to specify the detail. Is that correct?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. So my question for you is: Given the timing of all these related events, like Ambassador Samantha Power was visiting Seoul and then the next week, we got U.S.-Korea 2+2 meeting. Is there a UN Security Council resolution in the cooking?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know the status of a specific resolution, but as the ambassador said, I think just over the weekend, that we continue to work through the UN and with other members of the Security Council on trying to develop a new package of sanctions. Now, where that is in the process, I just don’t know. I would refer you to my colleagues up at the UN mission in New York City. I just don’t have an update on where they are on that, but we are actively having those conversations.
QUESTION: Would that sanction involving the loophole – to close the loophole of the coal transaction?
MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to get ahead of the discussions that are still ongoing. I just – I can’t do that.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: I wonder if you have anything on Ethiopia. The country has announced a state of emergency. And how concerned are you regarding the escalation of tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt?
MR KIRBY: Well, we’re obviously very concerned and we take note of President Mulatu’s October 10th address to parliament committing the government to address some of the grievances raised by protesters, such as land rights and electoral reform. I encourage the government to act decisively on those proposals. We encourage the Ethiopian Government to clarify how it intends to implement the state of emergency that was declared this weekend, particularly regarding the emergency measures that authorized detention without a warrant, limitations on free speech, prohibitions on public gatherings, and impositions of curfews.
Even if these measures are intended to restore order, silencing independent voices and interfering with the rights of Ethiopians is a self-defeating tactic that exacerbates rather than addresses their grievances.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: So there’s been some renewed fighting, the fighting season is underway, and Taliban have made some significant gains. Is this causing you to reassess your evaluation of the government’s ability to exercise control in Afghanistan and reassess any of the pledges that the U.S. made, maybe re-evaluate the need to increase assistance security-wise for Afghanistan? And how under threat do you see the government right now in the wake of these latest attacks?
MR KIRBY: Well, we still have confidence in the Afghan Government to continue to move political and economic reforms forward. The Secretary met with both President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah just last week in Brussels, good discussions. So we’re confident that they know the challenges before them and that they can work through those and can continue to enact reforms that can make a meaningful difference in the lives of Afghans every day.
That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy and it’s certainly not made any easier by the fact that the Taliban has been more active from a military perspective than just the last few weeks. I would say that that is a surprise to no one, not least of which President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah. They’re well aware of the threat that members of the Taliban continue to pose inside the country.
And so, I mean, this is obviously something we’ve been monitoring and watching. It’s not altogether unexpected that the Taliban would act this way. It is ultimately, we believe, to their detriment in the long term because what the real answer here is is political reconciliation, which we would continue to support.
I would also note that Afghan National Security Forces continue to respond assertively and effectively. That doesn’t mean they win every fight, obviously, but they are engaged and their battlefield competency and capability continues to improve. One of the reasons it does so is because of the NATO mission there in Afghanistan, which, as you know, the United States continues to support with talent and with resources. And I can assure you that our support to the NATO mission in Afghanistan will continue. I don’t have any changes or modifications to speak to today.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: There’s a report that just came out a little while ago, an ABC report based on the – some emails. And I haven’t had a chance to read it closely enough yet to know if it actually makes the allegation or just suggests that there might have been – there might be some impropriety. So let me just ask the question that I think it hints at: What’s – in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, did the department give preference to people or companies that donated – that had donated to the Clinton Foundation in terms of contracts to help Haiti recover from the earthquake?
MR KIRBY: No, we looked into this with this – when ABC was working this story. We found no evidence that preferential treatment was given to any particular entity or organization with respect to contracts.
QUESTION: So in other words, you’re saying that although these emails show that people were flagged as being friends of the former president or their companies were – they – your – you looked – your review found that that didn’t actually translate into any favoritism?
MR KIRBY: Right, right. In preparing our response for that story, we looked into that and didn’t find any evidence that preferential treatment or – in a – for contracts was given.
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: But I don’t think it should – with President Clinton being the – designated by the United Nations as a special envoy for Haiti, I don’t think it would come as a shock to anybody that the people associated with or friends of him or the Clinton Foundation would also in a time of great need want to contribute. But I see no evidence of any preferential or special treatment.
QUESTION: Okay, that’s not – but that’s not the question. I mean, these people were identified or --
MR KIRBY: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: -- as friends of the former president.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Or not. And so you’re saying there’s no issue here with the people who were identified as friends being --
MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t speak to staff --
QUESTION: -- being --
MR KIRBY: I can’t speak to staff emails at the time.
QUESTION: -- people who weren’t identified as friends being sent to other places?
MR KIRBY: No, what I – again, what I’d say is we’ve seen no evidence that preferential treatment was given to anybody based on their association with the Clinton Foundation or with the former president himself.
QUESTION: And then the other thing, which is unrelated to Haiti, but still has to do with emails, and that is reports that say that – or that the State Department cooperated in more than just a – absolutely essential way with the Clinton campaign to let them know what emails of her emails, the FOIA’d emails, were going to be coming out and when. Is that – is that true? I mean, I understand that there clearly was contact – I mean there had to be – for you guys to even get the emails in the first place. But as the FOIA – as the review process continued, was there – did the State Department give the campaign information about which ones were coming and when?
MR KIRBY: So let me just back up a little bit. I recognize that this is being asked – the story is being asked in the context of allegedly leaked documents, and as I mentioned --
QUESTION: Yeah, forget about that. I’m not asking --
MR KIRBY: No, I know that. But I --
QUESTION: I’m just asking --
MR KIRBY: But I have to say it. I’m not going to speak to veracity of leaked documents. Generally speaking, when processing documents for release through the Freedom of Information Act, it is standard practice for the State Department to refer documents to private companies and other outside organizations, including the Clinton Foundation, if the department believes propriety information may be contained in the documents. Outside entities are often given the chance to review the documents and provide input to the department about proprietary information that may need to be protected from public release. So --
QUESTION: I understand that. I read that response in one of these reports. I’m asking something that’s slightly different. That is, as these tranches were released – remember?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Once every month or whatever it was.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Did the State Department give the campaign notice of which ones were coming?
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: Okay. So once the review that you just talked about was done, once the campaign had seen or – yeah, once the campaign had gone through them and done – are we talking about the same thing, or are you talking about Clinton Foundation? I’m talking about the Clinton campaign.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I gathered that.
QUESTION: So they – they reviewed – the Clinton campaign reviewed these --
MR KIRBY: No, no, no.
QUESTION: They never got to see them?
MR KIRBY: No. The Foundation, because there could be proprietary information, we – it’s standard practice for us to allow outside entities, whether it’s a business or in this case a nonprofit, to look at it before it goes because of proprietary information. But ultimately, we are the ones who finally make a decision about what we’re going to release.
QUESTION: Okay. But in --
MR KIRBY: But we owe them that courtesy for proprietary information. You’re talking about the campaign.
MR KIRBY: My answer is no.
QUESTION: So they never got to – once they turned over the emails to you the first --
MR KIRBY: Before we – when we released --
QUESTION: -- before the FOIA review began, when you – once you – once those things were turned over, there was no contact between State Department and the campaign?
MR KIRBY: No. We don’t --
QUESTION: Not on the emails.
MR KIRBY: We do not – when we release the email traffic --
QUESTION: Okay. I’m just wondering what the process is.
MR KIRBY: -- which we continue to do, we are under no obligation nor have we given the campaign a heads-up --
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: -- or a specific idea of what’s being released before it gets released.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MR KIRBY: Abbie.
QUESTION: Unrelated topic. There’s a new report out today from the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point which says that ISIS propaganda videos have substantially decreased in their production since its peak about a year ago. I was wondering if you have anything to comment about that, but also what you would attribute it to. And yeah, what is your response and what would you attribute that to?
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen reports of the report; I haven’t actually read it myself. I know there’s people here at the State Department that are eagerly looking it over. So I can’t speak to specific findings by this – by the West Point Center. However, the reports coming out about it certainly reinforce our own view that we have been making a dent in Daesh’s ability to propagate their twisted narrative and recruit fighters, either to come to Iraq or Syria or to conduct attacks at home. And we know that we are – we know that these multilateral and interagency efforts to get at their messaging ability is beginning to bear fruit. We know that they’re – we know they’re having trouble recruiting talent and we know that they’re having trouble retaining fighters and they’re certainly losing – continue to lose leaders, as Brett McGurk was up here Friday talking about.
So the – we know we’re having an effect on them, but I would also say – and this is an important thing to add – nobody is spiking the ball on this. I mean, there is a lot of work left to do and this group has shown that they are adaptable and they are agile. And they are no less adaptable or agile in the information space. And we fully expect that they will continue to try to find ways to disseminate their twisted message and to recruit, so we’re going to keep at this. Here at the State Department, the efforts by Mike Lumpkin and the Global Engagement Center are very much tied into this. We know there’s a lot of work left to do.
Okay. I think I got time for just a couple more. Said.
MR KIRBY: Okay. Yeah.
QUESTION: On a couple points. The last six weeks have seen a spike in Israeli nightly raids targeting Palestinian refugee camps. Monday it was the Aida camp. They kidnapped eight Palestinian children under the age of 15. But this happens time and time again, and then the Israelis say, “Well, the army is not involved,” although the army was involved. They say it’s a police action, although they are not under their police jurisdiction. I wonder if you have any comment on that and if you call on the Israelis to release these boys.
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the reports. I don’t have much detail for you, Said, on this. We continue to urge all sides to avoid violence and take affirmative steps to improve the conditions on the ground. In general, we also believe that all individuals, certainly especially children, should be treated humanely and have their basic human rights respected.
QUESTION: But you always – and in fact, you encourage and you sort of – you supervise or oversaw the coordination between the PA – the security coordination between the PA and the Israeli authorities. Now, can you imagine a situation where a PA policeman could go into a settlement and do the same thing? I mean, why can’t you call on the Israelis, who are supposed to be the other part of this coordination? If they want something, they could conceivably go to the Palestinian Authority and say we want X, Y, and Z, right?
MR KIRBY: Well, what we want to see are both sides show the kind of leadership to – and affirmative actions to reduce the tensions and to move us forward. We want to see both sides do that.
QUESTION: But they’re then – right, but there is no equality of power on both sides, John.
MR KIRBY: Again, I think we’ve made our expectations clear for both sides there.
QUESTION: Thank you. Sir, you just – this is not the first time that Saudi Arabia targeted civilians in Yemen. And sir, always, you always express concerns on that, never condemn it. So about this latest airstrike: Will you condemn it or will you just stick with the word of concern?
MR KIRBY: I think I’m going to let our statement over the weekend speak for itself, which I thought was pretty strong in terms of the very serious concerns we have over this. And if we weren’t serious about that concern, we wouldn’t be willing to conduct a review of aid and assistance to Saudi Arabia.
QUESTION: Sir, so far, Saudi Arabia has killed more than 10,000 civilians in Yemen and displaced more than three million people. And most of us here in this room know this, that Saudi Arabia is involved in the Shia genocide all over the world. So despite their war crimes-like act, you’re still selling them the arms like $1.15 billion? Sir, why is that?
MR KIRBY: Well, there’s not a lot of opinion in that question is there? (Laughter.) I mean, look, I think we’ve been nothing but clear about our concerns about some of the military activity conducted by the Saudi-led coalition. Again, if we weren’t, we wouldn’t have talked about it over the weekend and said that we’re willing to take a look at our aid and assistance to Saudi Arabia and see if there need to be any changes going forward. And so we’re going to do that. And what I can tell you is what we want to see – and we continue to work very hard for – is an end to the violence in Yemen and a return to some political negotiations that can get us to a peaceful settlement there. That what really matters and the United States hasn’t taken eye off – our eye off that ball at all. Okay?
QUESTION: Sir, I have one more on Pakistan, please. I have one more question. Sir, in Pakistan, there’s too much talk on recent article published in Dawn newspaper that civilian Government of Pakistan tells military to take action against Haqqani and other militant organizations. Sir, the journalist who filed that story has been asked to not leave the country and his name is put into the ECL, the Exit Control List – means he cannot leave the country. So what are your comments about the freedom of press in Pakistan, especially in this case?
MR KIRBY: Well, so first of all, I’m aware of the reports of restrictions on Mr. Almeida’s travel. I would refer you to the Government of Pakistan for information on that. On press freedom, it’s obviously an issue that we continue to raise regularly with the Government of Pakistan, including our concerns about the difficulties and the dangers that journalists face there. We’re concerned about any efforts to limit press freedom or the ability of journalists to conduct their very, very important work.
Okay. Thanks, everybody. Got to go, got to go.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:03 p.m.)