Daily Press Briefing - October 12, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:17 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.
MR KIRBY: Just a quick update on travel. Hopefully you’ve seen our announcement, our update already. But after departing Kigali – and the Secretary leaves this evening, I think you know, for Kigali for the Montreal Protocol conference. After that he will travel to Lausanne, Switzerland on the 15th of October and then on to London on the 16th. In Lausanne, he’ll meet with the foreign ministers from key regional partners, and then in London with key regional and international partners to discuss a multilateral approach to resolving the crisis in Syria, including a sustained cessation of violence and the resumption of humanitarian aid deliveries.
And I think just as a programming note, just make sure that you have the update there on the schedule. We’ll open it up to questions.
MR KIRBY: Well, I think you’ve already seen that the Russians have said they will be there. I’m going to leave it to the other nations that will be participating in the meeting to speak to their participation. But what I can tell you is that it will be a multilateral meeting that the Secretary has called for and has issued the invitations for, and it will be attended by, as I said, some other key regional countries that are dealing with the crisis in Syria and have had influence over actors in Syria.
QUESTION: Well, the Russians didn’t just say that they were going to be there. They said other countries would be there as well.
MR KIRBY: I saw that, and – but I’m going to let those other nations --
QUESTION: Key regional partners? So Lichtenstein will be there, people that are neighbors of Switzerland?
MR KIRBY: I’m going to – I’m going to let --
QUESTION: Which region are you talking about?
MR KIRBY: The region around which the Syrian --
QUESTION: The region around, Syria not the region around Lausanne?
MR KIRBY: -- conflict is occurring. Correct.
MR KIRBY: I think – I thought that was self-evident in the way we articulated it.
QUESTION: Well, you’re being so coy about it, but --
MR KIRBY: No, no, no, no, no. It’s not about being coy. I just don’t want to speak for other nations and their participation. I saw what the Russians put out. I totally see that.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, do you have any reason to doubt the list of invitees that the Russians said --
MR KIRBY: I’m going to let the nations that are participating speak for their participation.
QUESTION: All right. The reason --
QUESTION: If you’ve invited them, why not just say who you invited?
MR KIRBY: I’m going to let those who are going to participate speak for their participation.
QUESTION: Well, do you have – did the people that were invited or did the countries that were invited all agree to attend?
MR KIRBY: The vast majority, and I’m going to leave it at that.
QUESTION: So you want to stress that this is a multilateral meeting; it is not a continuation of the bilateral that had been U.S.-Russia going on. If you’re going to try to make that case, I don’t think that – it doesn’t make much sense not to be able to say who the other – who the other participants are.
MR KIRBY: I guess we just have a difference of agreement on a --
QUESTION: A difference of agreement?
MR KIRBY: -- on the – a difference. I guess we just have a different view of --
QUESTION: Well, if you can only say that –
MR KIRBY: -- of how to couch this.
QUESTION: If you can only say that the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov are going other be there and you can’t say who else it is, then it sounds like a bilateral meeting to me.
MR KIRBY: There will be – there will be others there and it’s not going to be bilateral.
QUESTION: What makes you think this is going to work?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that it will, Arshad.
QUESTION: Well, what makes you think there’s even a chance that it will work given the recent failure to work of the last set of diplomatic efforts on this?
MR KIRBY: What I would tell you is the Secretary – he said at the time when we suspended U.S. bilateral – U.S. and Russia bilateral engagement on the cessation of hostilities, he said at the time that we would continue to pursue multilateral efforts. I said it at the time.
MR KIRBY: This is that pursuit of that effort. I can’t sit here and promise you that it’s going to result in a new approach, a new option, a new framework, a new program. I can’t tell you that it’s going to – we’re going to be able to come out of this meeting certain that a cessation of hostilities can be had. But I can promise you and I can assure that the Secretary is going into this meeting with that as his objective, to try to get to a better framework, a successful framework of achieving a cessation of hostilities and – just as importantly – the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
QUESTION: So the main patrons of the Syrian Government are the Russians, and presumably after that, the Iranians. Why do you think the Russians, whom you have repeatedly accused of bombing civilians in Aleppo and whom the Pentagon has held responsible for the bombing of the aid convoy, why do you think in a matter of 10 days or two weeks they will suddenly be any more open to a diplomatic solution than they were before? Has anything changed from your point of view?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that they will be. I know that they are willing to sit down in this multilateral format and to have this discussion. I can tell you the Secretary certainly wants to sit down in that format and have that discussion and pursue – continue to pursue a diplomatic approach. We continue to believe that there has to be a political solution to the civil war in Syria. And as he said, he’s going to – he’s not going to exhaust opportunities that are available to him as long as he’s Secretary of State.
How the Russians react, what they come to the meeting with, what they will prove willing to do or not, is really up to them. The Secretary’s expectations are that all attendees will come purposefully and genuinely interested in pursuing a cessation of hostilities.
QUESTION: Why do you think the Russians are genuinely interested in pursuing – you said that’s his expectation. Why do you think the Russians are genuinely interested in pursuing a cessation of hostilities?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that they are. I said our expectation is --
QUESTION: You said that’s his expectation.
MR KIRBY: Our expectation is that they’ll come to this meeting with that in mind.
MR KIRBY: And Foreign Minister Lavrov in an interview that he gave to a network this morning indicated that he was going to be coming to the meeting with those same expectations. Whether they actually do or not, whether they put something on the table that we can wrap our arms around and move forward, I just don’t know.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary have something new to put on the table, or is it just a continuation of the discussion hoping that people will change their minds or approach?
MR KIRBY: I think he wants to have a robust discussion with all the attendees about trying to move this forward. And I’m not going to get ahead of what’s on his mind or what thoughts he might bring to the table in Lausanne. Let’s get there and have the discussion.
QUESTION: But it seems as if the focus is going to be about – sorry, Said – about humanitarian access. I don’t see anything about political options on the – on your readout.
MR KIRBY: The main focus right now, and I thought I stressed this at the top, is getting a cessation of hostilities in place particularly in and around Aleppo and to get humanitarian aid delivered, which has not happened. That’s the main focus of the discussion in Lausanne. But it’s important to remember that one of the reasons those two things are important – they’re important in and of themselves; I don’t mean to minimize that – but another big reason they’re important is so that you can create the kinds of conditions where political talks can resume.
QUESTION: And what is going to be the main focus of discussion in the U.K.? Is it just Syria or other topics as well?
MR KIRBY: I think it’ll be, as I think we put in our update, predominantly Syria, but I certainly wouldn’t rule out that they’ll have discussions of other issues of mutual concern that we have.
QUESTION: And on the UK – I’m very sorry – Jeremy Corbyn, the Labor Leader’s spokesman, has suggested that protesters against atrocities in Aleppo have as much reason to demonstrate outside the American embassy as the Russian one. He said the focus on Russia is distracting from other civilian casualties. What’s your response to that? And are you surprised that a leader of a U.S. ally is calling for protests against the American embassy?
MR KIRBY: Well, having American views and policies criticized and debated in public is not something new to us. I’m not going to respond to every bit of rhetoric from every leader around the world about what they perceive our motives will be. What I can say is this: No one has proven more dedicated to trying to find a peaceful solution to the civil war in Syria than the United States of America, and in particular Secretary Kerry.
Number two, no other military in the world – now, the only military component for the United States in Syria, to remind, is the fight against Daesh. We’re not involved militarily in the civil war in Syria. And I can say this from hefty experience of my own, having worn the uniform of the United States Navy, no other military in the world takes as much care to be as precise as possible than the United States military.
That doesn’t mean that we’re perfect, but here’s the difference: When the United States military has reason to suspect that it made a mistake and caused collateral damage or civilian casualties, we own up to it. We put a press release out about it. We don’t wait for you to ask. We tell you, hey, we think we might have made a mistake, we’re going to investigate it. And here’s the other thing. When we finish the investigation, we put a press release out about that and we’ll have a press conference and we answer questions from you in the media about the mistakes we made and the lessons we learned. There’s a big difference there.
QUESTION: So it would be wrong to say that there’s an equivalence in civilian casualties between Russian airstrikes and American airstrikes?
MR KIRBY: First of all, any civilian casualty is a tragedy. One is too many. I’m not minimizing that at all. Nobody should want to see or cause civilian casualties. And every time we do it, we own up to it and we’re honest about it and we work that much harder the next time around not to cause it. The difference is when we’re talking about – let’s just talk about operations inside Syria. Again, to remind, our military operations are against Daesh, not against – not against the regime. The difference is when we cause them, it’s unintentional or there was a mistake involved. It’s not a deliberate attempt to put innocent civilians in harm’s way. Again, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. When it does, we own up to it, we investigate it.
What we’ve seen in and around Aleppo specifically with respect to the Syrian regime and Russian military aircraft is a wanton disregard for the safety and security of civilians and an indiscriminate approach to the bombing, which is absolutely not at all in concert with the way we conduct our military air operations.
QUESTION: So I just want to – I wanted to follow up on the meeting, but I want to ask you about the civilian casualties. Do you have any way of determining the number of civilian casualties as a result of coalition bombing? Do you have any --
MR KIRBY: I think I would point you to my – the Defense Department colleagues, who I know have spoken to this issue. It is difficult to get exact numbers --
MR KIRBY: -- because we don’t have our own --
MR KIRBY: You don’t have people on the ground to actually do that kind of forensic analysis. We do consider a wide range of reporting that comes – oftentimes it comes from humanitarian groups on the ground. And as I think the Pentagon has spoken to and U.S. Central Command in Tampa, when they get credible allegations, allegations that they find are worth looking into, they do that. They conduct a preliminary investigation, and if that preliminary investigation leads them to believe that something more comprehensive and more deliberate is required in terms of a full-on investigation, they’ll do that. But I don’t know what the – I don’t know what the estimate might be. Again, I’d point you to DOD for that.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me just follow up on the meeting, the multilateral. In your view, why is a multilateral format more conducive than a bilateral format? Is it because the other one has failed? Now you’re resorting to such a second safety valve?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, we didn’t want to see an end to the U.S.-Russia bilateral channel on this. I mean, I think if the Secretary was here, he would tell you that he would prefer to be able to keep that channel open. Both are important.
MR KIRBY: A bilateral with Russia because they have the most influence on Assad, and multilateral because there are other countries who have, likewise, influence on other units. And we’ve always been on a two-track approach to this. It hasn’t been that we only wanted to do bilateral. But the – we took the bilateral approach as far as we could, and Russia wasn’t meeting their commitments, and so the Secretary suspended it. He’s also said it’s a suspension; it’s not dead.
QUESTION: I understand.
MR KIRBY: And if Russia can prove that it’s capable, willing of taking extraordinary steps, significant steps to meet its obligations, the same obligations that they agreed to in Geneva, then we would be open to considering renewing that bilateral channel. But for right now it’s not available to us. That was a decision that we made – didn’t take it lightly, didn’t want to have to make it.
So now what is available to us is a multilateral approach, and that’s what we’re going to Lausanne to explore.
QUESTION: But you agree that --
MR KIRBY: To further explore.
QUESTION: -- unless a sustained or sustainable cessation of hostilities can only work only if the United States and Russia really agree to it, almost independently of all the other members?
MR KIRBY: I think – no argument here. We’ve long said that U.S. and Russian leadership is vital here in terms of trying to move the ball forward with the cessation of hostilities – for good reason, that Russia’s the nation that has the most influence over the regime.
QUESTION: Now I have just a couple more. Are there any plans to meet with the Qataris and the Saudis independently of the others?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to, again, talk to specific attendants. I think in any multilateral setting it’s not unusual for the Secretary to have pull-asides with one or another individual foreign minister. I would expect that he’ll look for opportunities to have those kinds of conversations in Lausanne.
QUESTION: Would you comment on the --
QUESTION: Even with – hold on – even with Foreign Minister Lavrov?
MR KIRBY: Could possibly.
QUESTION: So in other words, there might be bilateral engagement?
MR KIRBY: That’s not the same thing, Matt. We’ve talked about this. I – we never said that he wasn’t going to talk bilaterally with Foreign Minister Lavrov. There’s plenty of other things that they can talk about. What they won’t talk about is advancing the cessation of hostilities in Syria on a bilateral basis. They will talk about that in a multilateral forum, but he won’t pursue that in a bilateral forum.
QUESTION: Doesn’t that sound awfully like splitting hairs to you? I mean --
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: No? Really? So if they run into each other in the – well, let’s see, Lausanne is not a very big place, right?
MR KIRBY: I’ve never been there.
QUESTION: They run into each – well, there’s a great pub right around the corner from Beau Rivage.
MR KIRBY: I’ll write that down.
QUESTION: It’s the White Horse. Right? If they run into each other on the street – I mean, when we were there for the Iran talks for extended periods of time, they would go out, they would see each other all the time. You’re saying that if they see each other, the Secretary, and if Lavrov tries to bring up the cessation of hostilities, the Secretary’s going to say, “No, sorry, Sergey, I can’t talk about that – not going to happen”?
MR KIRBY: I find it highly unlikely that they’re going to bump into each other on the streets of Lausanne.
QUESTION: Or in the hotel. I don’t know, wherever.
MR KIRBY: But look, the purpose of this meeting is to approach the cessation of hostilities --
MR KIRBY: -- from a multilateral angle. That’s the angle that the Secretary is most interested in pursuing right now since we aren’t doing this bilaterally with the Russians. It is a – am I going to rule out the potential for the two of them to have a conversation on the side of this meeting? Absolutely not.
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: Of course that will happen. But that doesn’t mean that U.S.-Russia, writ large, bilateral engagement on the cessation of hostilities in Syria is some – that that suspension is lifted.
QUESTION: But you – go ahead.
QUESTION: No, I just wanted – if you saw that leak, the cable that former secretary of state apparently said in a speech, that the Saudis and the Qataris are involved directly in aiding ISIS. Did you see that?
MR KIRBY: I addressed this yesterday from the podium.
QUESTION: Oh, you did? Okay.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Would you --
QUESTION: I missed that.
QUESTION: You would agree, though, that the countries who have the – play the biggest role in – outside of Syria but in – like, the non-Syrian countries that play the most important role or critical role in this whole – in this situation are the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, right? And it would make sense for them to be at a meeting like this.
MR KIRBY: It is also a fact that Qatar plays a significant --
QUESTION: And Qatar.
MR KIRBY: -- role with opposition groups.
QUESTION: Okay. So while a lot of people are focused, including me, on the U.S.-Russia part of this, the Iran-Saudi Arabia relationship right now is pretty low. Are you – the reason that you don’t want to talk about the other attendees because of the sensitivity of that situation? I mean, you had a senior Iranian commander calling for regicide not so long ago in Saudi Arabia.
MR KIRBY: No, you’re reading way too much into this.
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: The reason I’m not going to talk to other attendees’ participation is because we’re going to leave that to them to speak to.
MR KIRBY: It’s not because of some other sensitivity.
QUESTION: And does --
MR KIRBY: And I would remind that in previous meetings of the International Syria Support Group, including two meetings that the – in New York City, during the UN General Assembly, both Saudi Arabia and Iran were represented at the table.
QUESTION: Yeah. I remember one of those meetings in Vienna where there was a screaming match between the two foreign ministers that could be heard outside the room. So this will be very interesting in Lausanne. It’s a quiet Swiss town, so just be careful.
And on the other meeting in London, do you want to talk about who’s going to be there?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think obviously Foreign Minister Boris Johnson will be there. I believe the French foreign ministry will be represented. And there could be others but I just don’t have an update right now.
QUESTION: Did you say French foreign ministry or minister?
MR KIRBY: Ministry. I’m not sure if Foreign Minister Ayrault will be there or not. I’d have his staff speak to that.
QUESTION: John, has the time for the meeting been set in Lausanne? That’s one thing. The second thing is --
MR KIRBY: I believe the meeting is going to be in the afternoon. I don’t have the exact time.
QUESTION: Yeah. You just answered a question about a possible bilateral meeting between Secretary Kerry and representatives from Qatar and Saudi Arabia by saying you didn’t rule it out, basically, which means they’re attending.
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: You just confirmed it.
MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t.
QUESTION: And --
MR KIRBY: No. Hey, no, no, no, no.
QUESTION: I mean, that’s what – that’s what you said.
MR KIRBY: Before you --
QUESTION: So as --
MR KIRBY: Listen, before you go one more step --
QUESTION: Yes, I’m staying here. I’m not going anywhere.
MR KIRBY: -- I did not – I did not do that.
QUESTION: You just said, “I’m not ruling out any meetings with” --
MR KIRBY: That’s right, but I did not – I did not say what other people were attending.
QUESTION: So is Iran attending or --
MR KIRBY: You can talk to Iranian officials.
QUESTION: Okay. Were they invited? If it’s up to them to --
MR KIRBY: Sir, I’m not going to go any further. I have answered this question the best I can at this time. If you would like to query officials in other countries about their plans to attend the meeting in Lausanne, you’re free to do that.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m not asking about their plans to attend. I was asking about – because you said Secretary Kerry sent invitations.
MR KIRBY: I’ll try this one more time and then I’m not going to do it again. There – it’s a multilateral meeting. The Russians have already confirmed they’re attending. Other nations were invited – nations which have influence in and interest in the situation in Syria. The Secretary is the one who called for this meeting. The Secretary is the one who issued invites. I’m going to let, as we’ve done in the past, other nations speak to their attendance or not. But since it’s a multilateral effort, I think it’s common sense that there’s more than two countries involved. It’s also not uncommon, when the Secretary attends multilateral events, for him to seek opportunities to speak on the sidelines with some of those foreign ministers about unique issues between the United States and that country. I’m not confirming that that’s going to happen. I said I’m not going to rule that out because it is common practice for the Secretary when he has an opportunity to take advantage of it, and he very well may do that, but I’m not confirming individual bilateral discussions. Okay?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Why you are not calling this meeting as a ISSG meeting?
MR KIRBY: Because it’s not the full ISSG.
QUESTION: It’s not? Oh.
QUESTION: Could I ask --
MR KIRBY: It’s --
QUESTION: So it’s not an ISSG meeting?
MR KIRBY: It is not an ISSG meeting but it is – you could describe it as a sub-ISSG level. In other words, the nations invited are members of the ISSG, but it’s not the full ISSG.
QUESTION: With the intensity of the rhetoric from both the United States and Russia, would you say this is the lowest point in U.S.-Russian relations since the Cold War?
MR KIRBY: I’m not – I’m not enough of a historian to --
QUESTION: Well, I mean, how would you – if you were to – I mean, where does it stand? Is it --
MR KIRBY: I couldn’t – I don’t know, Said. Look, I came in the Navy in 1986. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that things were tense between the United States and --
QUESTION: Right, but since the end of the Cold War, (inaudible) --
MR KIRBY: -- the Soviet Union back then. But I just – I’m not enough of a historian to quantify or qualify that for you. Obviously, we continue to have major differences with Russia on a variety of issues, and that’s – whether that’s cyber, whether it’s Ukraine, and certainly of late, in Syria. And we’re not bashful about saying that. But that doesn’t mean that trying to forge ahead, try to find areas of common ground and move – and move progress forward isn’t still important to us as well. But I just – I’m the wrong guy to ask whether this is the lowest point.
QUESTION: Well, because --
MR KIRBY: I just don’t have that kind of sense of history.
QUESTION: -- describing Russia as a dictatorship and describing Vladimir Putin as a dictator around town is quite common, and I think one could wait probably not too long before the Russians start calling America imperialists and “look at their record” and so on. So that is not exactly --
MR KIRBY: As I said to an earlier question, we’re not – we’re not surprised when other nations or other leaders criticize the United States or our policies. That happens all the time. But I’m just not smart enough to qualify where this is since the Cold War.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MR KIRBY: You’re – are you on Syria or Russia?
MR KIRBY: Okay, go ahead. I’ll come back to you, but go to Arshad.
QUESTION: John, just a quick one. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has fairly harshly criticized Donald Trump, saying that if he were elected, he believes that Trump would be dangerous from an international point of view. He pointed to his – to Trump’s statements about the possible use of waterboarding and worse interrogation techniques, potentially torture, and so on. I know you don’t normally comment on political matters, but do you think it’s appropriate for a UN official to be commenting on the U.S. election?
MR KIRBY: I think that the high commissioner should speak for his comments and speak to the appropriateness that he believes merit that. I’m not going to weigh in one way or the other on that.
QUESTION: The head of a major Iranian-backed Shia militia, Qais al-Khazali, said yesterday, quote, “The battle of Mosul is revenge for the killing of Hussein,” i.e. Imam Hussein. The spokesman for the group has said they will take part in the battle for Mosul, quote, “a national and religious duty.”
Does this give you the pause about the role that some of the Shia militias are going to play in the battle for Mosul, and do you have a way of dealing with this?
MR KIRBY: I’d say a couple of things, and we’ve kind of talked about this before, but Iraqis of all religious beliefs, I think, are rightly focused on the fight to liberate Mosul from Daesh. As I said yesterday, the Iraqi Government is leading and planning that campaign, and they will determine, Prime Minister Abadi will determine the composition of the forces on the battlefield. He’s also recently said that following the Mosul operation, Mosul will be returned to all the people of Nineveh, everybody, without discrimination against any religious or ethnic groups.
We remain confident that the Iraqi Government is working hard to ensure that areas liberated from Daesh experience lasting security and that all citizens’ rights are protected. And we’ve started to see in some areas where families are coming back, even into Fallujah – not in maybe as great a number as we’d love to see, but they are. People are starting to flow back and the Iraqi Security Forces have proven capable of a comprehensive approach to liberate areas from Daesh and then to help with post-liberation stabilization. And that’s going to be a key focus going into the Mosul campaign.
QUESTION: You know that the British foreign office has spoken more strongly than you just did about this problem? They said that they would not support military units that have generated human rights concerns and they’ve made clear to the U.S. and other coalition members, quote, that “forces taking Mosul need to respect human rights and the laws of armed conflict.” Would you agree with that?
MR KIRBY: We’ve said that all along. That is not a new idea. I’ve said that from this podium many, many times that we want all forces involved in operations against Daesh to be there and to be coordinated with the Iraqi Government. And --
QUESTION: But what --
MR KIRBY: No, I’m not done.
MR KIRBY: And that as they conduct their operations, to do so in a professional manner and to observe the human rights of all Iraqi citizens – all Iraqi citizens. And as we’ve talked about before, when there have been – and there have been – allegations of that kind of behavior not being observed, we have called openly, publicly on the Iraqi Government to investigate, and Prime Minister Abadi is doing that.
QUESTION: But what if, say, with this Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq miltia, Abadi is not strong enough, not in a strong enough position to resist its involvement in the Mosul campaign? Are you – is the U.S. prepared, the coalition prepared to step in and say no way, this is not going to happen?
MR KIRBY: That’s a terrific hypothetical that I’m not going to engage in.
QUESTION: Another question on Mosul. So it seems not only Mr. Abadi will decide which forces will take part in the Mosul – the battle for Mosul, as President Erdogan as well is insisting on his forces playing a role in the liberation of Mosul. Are you in talks with Mr. Erdogan about a possible Turkish role? And is the U.S. welcoming Turkey’s role or you think it’s going to complicate the situation on the ground?
MR KIRBY: We’re not in direct talks with the Turkish Government about their participation in Mosul. The campaign – again, I’ll say it – to liberate Mosul is an Iraqi campaign plan. And the composition of the forces that will be involved in that operation is for the Iraqi Government to make, not the United States Government. And we’re not litigating this and we’re not legislating who is or who isn’t going to participate. This is up to Prime Minister Abadi.
QUESTION: But he expressed opposition to any Turkish role and you know – familiar with the tension between Baghdad and Ankara.
MR KIRBY: This is an issue that we encourage the Iraqi Government and the Turkish Government to talk about amongst themselves.
QUESTION: But do you think that Turkey’s role could be helpful in liberating Mosul or --
MR KIRBY: I’m not – look, I’m not going to speculate about military matters. What we’re all focused on – and I can only speak for the United States and I can’t even really speak for the United States military – what we’re all focused on is doing our part to support the Iraqi Government as the Iraqi Government liberates Mosul. Again, the composition of forces, the execution of that campaign plan, those are – that’s – those are Iraqi decisions to make, to own, and to explain. And we’re going to continue to support Prime Minister Abadi as he works through the decision-making process.
We’ve talked about the tensions between Iraq and Turkey in the past, and again, I would say our view is that those two nations need to continue to have a dialogue and talk about this going forward. But ultimately, how Mosul gets liberated – and it will be – is an Iraqi campaign to speak to.
QUESTION: John, you spoke in the past about how ready you are, how you will handle the humanitarian crisis if it – when it happens and so on, but also, what about the hydraulic effect? I mean, the fighters seem to be going from one place to another. They could be moving to Raqqa or other places in Syria or to other places in Iraq and so on.
MR KIRBY: You mean as a result of pressure put on Mosul?
QUESTION: As a result of the fighting. I mean, they leave Mosul; they will end up elsewhere.
MR KIRBY: It’s not – I mean, that’s not an unusual phenomenon, Said, and we’ve seen that elsewhere in places in Anbar province. Where territory has been taken back, the fighters don’t – not all of them will stay and fight to the very end. Many of them do run and they do try to find safe haven elsewhere. And where and when we can from a military perspective, we target them and try to reduce their numbers. But I think everybody would expect that not all of Mosul’s defenders will stay under the pressure that will be put under them throughout that campaign plan. Where they go is, I mean, difficult to predict, but I can assure you that the coalition will stay committed to using all our lines of effort, not just military, to continue to degrade and defeat them and to reduce their numbers.
And they are struggling. And they are struggling to recruit and they are struggling to retain and they are losing leaders, and that pressure’s not going to ease up post-Mosul.
QUESTION: Can we move to something else?
MR KIRBY: Are we still on Iraq, Samir?
MR KIRBY: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Tomorrow Russia will have military exercises in Egypt with the Egyptian military. Any reaction to this?
MR KIRBY: I think we’ve talked about this before. I mean, sovereign nations are allowed to exercise their militaries, and they’re allowed to do that whether it’s bilateral exercises or multilateral exercises, and I would leave it to the military leaders in Egypt and Russia to describe the parameters of this exercise.
QUESTION: Isn’t Egypt a U.S. ally?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that we have an alliance, necessarily, but certainly they’re – we have a good bilateral relationship with Egypt not just diplomatically but from a defense relationship perspective, sure. But that doesn’t mean that they’re precluded from exploring training opportunities with other sovereign states.
QUESTION: So it’s the same as the Philippines, even though you do have an alliance --
MR KIRBY: We do have an alliance.
QUESTION: -- you don’t care if they start – if they start doing training exercises with the Chinese, you don’t have an issue with that.
MR KIRBY: Even throughout the history of the alliance with the Philippines, their military services have exercised with other nations.
QUESTION: I wanted to go to Yemen, and I wanted to ask first if there was any progress or anything that you could tell us in terms of your review of aid and assistance to the Saudis in light of the weekend bombing.
MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update on that for you.
QUESTION: Okay. So your colleague at the White House was asked about this – was asked this similar question just a few minutes ago, and what he said was that the review continues. And then he said the assistance that we provide, and which is presumably the assistance that’s under review, is primarily logistical support. We do share some intelligence with them, but the United States does not do targeting for them. That’s correct?
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: So if, as you said in your response to the first – in the first series of answers to questions here, that the U.S. military takes – makes every effort and is second to none in the world in trying to avoid – okay – has it crossed anyone’s mind that maybe you should do targeting or help the Saudis with targeting? Because they clearly seem to be seen – and I appreciate that it’s under investigation, but an investigation by them – to be doing the same kind of indiscriminate approach to bombing that you accuse the Syrians of doing.
MR KIRBY: Well, look, the support to the Saudi-led coalition – and I don’t – I’m aware you’re speaking specifically to military equities. Certainly I would encourage you to reach out to the Defense Department about the aid and assistance that they provide militarily and why they do it the way they do it, but it’s specifically because we have concerns about the manner in which some of these operations have been conducted that we are going through this review. And we’re doing it carefully, with an eye towards the reality that our support – absent our support, their effectiveness militarily could be diminished. We’re mindful of that. But the specific reason why we don’t provide targeting information, I think I would refer you to my colleagues at the Pentagon to discuss.
QUESTION: Okay, but absent of our support the efficiency of their military could be diminished?
MR KIRBY: Absent some measures of U.S. support, certainly you’d have to – you have to consider the fact --
QUESTION: Well, you see how that could be --
MR KIRBY: -- that some of their effectiveness could be diminished.
QUESTION: But effectiveness in what, in hitting civilians? I don’t – I’m not trying to be --
MR KIRBY: It’s not --
QUESTION: I’m not trying to be obnoxious here. I’m just trying to – absent our support, the --
MR KIRBY: Not every strike that they take --
QUESTION: In other words, it would be even worse?
MR KIRBY: I think it’s important to remember, Matt, that not every strike they take hits civilian targets.
QUESTION: I know. So you’re saying that mistakes like this would happen or would probably happen more often?
MR KIRBY: One of the things that we’re going to do as we look through that review is examine that exact question, the degree to which the aid and assistance actually helps try to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, it would seem, though, given your – what you said about the U.S. military and the attention it pays to trying to avoid this, that in fact – instead of reducing assistance as a consequence, that this review might end up increasing assistance to them to help them better avoid things like this from happening.
MR KIRBY: I won’t get ahead of – I won’t – I’m not going to get ahead of the review. I don’t know that I would extrapolate that outcome from what I said.
QUESTION: All right. And then last thing on Yemen was that the Houthis fired again today two – and I realize this is more of a Pentagon thing, but they fired two more missiles at a naval ship, U.S. ship today. Between the incident that happened the other day and today, do you know, has the UN envoy gotten through to them to tell them to knock it off?
MR KIRBY: Well, I’ve seen press reports of a second attack. I’m not in a position to confirm that. I mean, I’ve seen some media reporting on it. I don’t know. I can try to get an answer for you on the degree to which the UN special envoy has engaged. I don’t know. But just as we said yesterday, we’re going to continue to encourage and urge all parties, and we’re going to do this by and through the UN special envoy, to cease hostilities, stop the violence, reduce the tensions, and return to political talks.
QUESTION: Okay. Because I’m interested to know whether or not whoever it is that you’re using as a liaison with the people who are firing these missiles, if you have actually been able to make contact with that liaison and if they have been able to make contact with the Houthis. And then clearly, if they have, it seems that the message didn’t get through because they fired another two off.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: So from the – not the military side, but just the – from the --
MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update --
QUESTION: -- quasi-diplomatic side here, I’m trying to find out what’s --
MR KIRBY: I understand. I don’t have an update for you on that.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
QUESTION: Can I --
MR KIRBY: Abbie. Let me go back to Abbie.
QUESTION: I don’t know if this is something that is on your radar at the moment, but there are some reports saying that Russia has ordered all people living abroad to return home in preparation for --
MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that.
QUESTION: -- growing tensions in (inaudible).
MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that, Abbie. And even if I had, I would refer you to Russian authorities and the Russian Government to speak to that.
QUESTION: I just didn’t know if you had any comment.
MR KIRBY: Said.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: The Israeli press reported that over the weekend when, during a phone call between Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Netanyahu, Mr. Netanyahu asked the Secretary not to submit or not to support the French proposal at this juncture. And allegedly, the Secretary said that they have not decided on this issue yet. Could you confirm that? Could you confirm --
MR KIRBY: No, I’m not going to get into the details of conversations between the Secretary and the prime minister. What I will tell you is that the – what the Secretary has always said is that he welcomes all good ideas and proposals about how to get us into a two-state solution and how to advance that solution. He’s been very open-minded about views and proposals.
QUESTION: Okay. Because apparently, the prime minister is worried that you guys might support an effort at the United Nations.
MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’d let the prime minister speak for his worries. Again, I’m not going to read out the details of the conversations that we’re having with the prime minister. We are still committed to trying to advance a two-state solution. We still believe that leadership on both sides can help us get there, and the Secretary is going to stay focused on that.
QUESTION: I want to ask you, the Palestinian Authority imprisoned a police officer for criticizing or for posting a Facebook post being critical of Abbas participating in the Peres funeral. I mean, these police officers, Palestinians, have been trained by the Americans and so on. Do you have any comment on that? Is that the kind of law or whatever --
MR KIRBY: I mean, I’ve seen it --
QUESTION: -- judicial process --
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the press reporting of it. I’m not going to – I don’t really have anything more to say on the issue itself except that our position on the importance of freedom of expression is longstanding, and we continue to want to see people able to freely express their views.
QUESTION: If these allegations are true and he was sent to prison for a year for just making a post, that would be quite disturbing, wouldn’t it? Because you train, equip, and finance the PA and definitely its police force.
MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to speak with any more detail on this particular case. We obviously have a strong belief in the protection of freedom of expression, and we want to see that freedom exercised.
MR KIRBY: We’re aware that the military has closed off access to the West Bank and Gaza during Yom Kippur due to security concerns. As I think I’ve said many times before, that our expectation is that any measures that Israel takes, to minimize the impact on Palestinian civilians going about their daily lives would be minimized and temporary.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: You must have seen the reports from Pakistan about this Hafiz Saeed recently designated terrorist, and he’s mocking, basically saying that millions of dollars on his head from the U.S. bounty, and since five years nobody has got anything, U.S. has nothing. He’s advising Pakistan to concentrate against U.S. instead of against India. Do you have any comments on that, that he’s – like, it’s eight years since Mumbai attacks, six Americans lost their lives, and he’s moving around freely and we are just talking to the Pakistani Government? What is the latest on that?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, I’m not going to dignify the comments of an avowed terrorist one way or the other. And we continue to work with Pakistan and continue to urge Pakistan to take steps to shut down access to areas inside their borders to terrorists, to terrorist individuals and to terrorist groups.
QUESTION: So do we have anything concrete on the Mumbai attack? People who are there identified to be --
MR KIRBY: I don’t. I would refer you to the Pakistani authorities on that. Obviously, as I’ve said before, we continue to want to see the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack brought to justice.
Okay, thanks every --
MR KIRBY: Oops, there goes my glasses, so if I did, I don’t know how it’s going to come out when I try to read this.
QUESTION: Well, do you want to borrow mine? You don’t want to – (laughter).
MR KIRBY: No, I don’t.
We’re concerned by recent developments with regard to Burundi’s human rights situation, including the government’s announced decision to proceed with legislation that would lead to withdrawal from the International Criminal Court. Such a move, which must still be ratified by a Burundi senate and president, would isolate Burundi from its neighbors and the international community at a time when accountability, transparency, and engaged dialogue are most needed.
QUESTION: Okay. Just apropos of that and the Secretary’s appearance – or, sorry, not his appearance but his call for there to be war crimes investigations into Russia in Syria, do you expect that that’s going to be a big topic of conversation in Lausanne between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov?
MR KIRBY: I think what certainly will be a major topic of conversation in Lausanne is the continued siege of Aleppo, a siege which has continued to this hour in its brutality and with specific intentional strikes by the Russian military and the Syrian regime.
QUESTION: But I get that. That’s obviously to be expected. I’m asking about the war crimes element. (Inaudible) that’s the issue.
MR KIRBY: I think I’m going to leave my answer the way it is.
QUESTION: All right, and then last one, which is a totally different subject – Philippines. The – there were – there have been for some time a bunch of permits in process for commercial arms sales to the Philippines that go through the PM Bureau here to both – both for the Philippines’ police, who as you know have been accused of numerous abuses, and also to private dealers. And I am wondering if – what the – if you can tell us what the status is on those. Have they been denied? Are they still being considered? And if they are still being considered, when do you think a decision might be made?
MR KIRBY: So as a matter of policy, you know we don’t talk about potential future arms sales. That said --
QUESTION: Well, you can talk about --
MR KIRBY: I will take the question to the PM Bureau to see if there’s any detail that can be provided. I don’t think that there will be. We don’t talk about future sales.
More broadly, we continue to still be focused on our security commitments to the Philippines and to our treaty alliance with them, and we’re going to continue to honor those commitments and treaty obligations, and of course, we expect the Philippines to do the same. But I will take the specific question back.
MR KIRBY: Again, I can’t promise you an answer because you understand --
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, if they’re still in train, they’re still being considered, I understand why you wouldn’t talk about it. But if they’ve been denied for some reason, then perhaps the situation is different and you would be able to say, well, no, that they’re not going ahead because of X, Y, Z. But --
MR KIRBY: Again, I’ll take the question, but I do want to stress we remain committed to our treaty commitments to the Philippines.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Okay. Thanks, everybody. See you next week.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:03 p.m.)