Daily Press Briefing - October 31, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:09 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: All right, happy Halloween, everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Couple things at the top and then we’ll get right after it.
On Spain: The United States Government welcomes the formation of a new government in Spain and congratulates President Mariano Rajoy. The United States and Spain have, as I think you all know, a very longstanding and productive, multifaceted bilateral relationship. We work together to secure peace and stability around the world, we’re strong economic partners with $25 billion in two-way trade, we have a close and mutually beneficial military-to-military relationship, and we cooperate intensively to fight international terrorism and organized crime. We look forward to advancing our bilateral agenda to the benefit of both countries.
On Turkey: The United States is deeply concerned by what appears to be an increase in official pressure on opposition media outlets in Turkey, including through the detention earlier today of Murat Sabuncu, the editor-in-chief of Turkey’s most – one of Turkey’s most respected newspapers, Cumhuriyet; by the shuttering of more news outlets over the weekend; and the continued detention of a number of journalists and columnists. The United States supports the Government of Turkey’s efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the 15 July coup attempt, of course. We stand by our friend and NATO ally Turkey in the fight against terror in all its forms, including against the PKK. However, as Turkey’s ally and friend, we encourage the Government of Turkey to ensure that the rule of law and fundamental freedoms are protected. Democracies become stronger by allowing diverse expressions of views, particularly in difficult times. Suppressing speech and opinion and the press does not support the fight against terrorism and only encroaches on the fundamental freedoms that help ensure democracies remain strong.
And with that, we’ll go to you, Matt.
QUESTION: Right. I’m sure we’ll get back to Turkey, but I just want to start with the email – Secretary Clinton’s email issue. On Friday after Director Comey’s letter was sent to Congress, Mark told us that you had guys had no idea about it, you hadn’t been contacted as far as he had – as far as he knew, but you would be – you’re ready to cooperate however you can. Over the weekend, Secretary said essentially the same thing, that he hadn’t heard – or he hadn’t – that the FBI hadn’t been in touch with him, as far as he knew, and I just want to check with you now today that it’s Monday that – whether or not the State Department has heard from the FBI about this. And if you have, what have they said?
MR KIRBY: No, I don’t – I’m not aware of nor has anybody that I’ve spoken to here today aware of any contact with the FBI on this. And obviously we’re not going to get ahead of their work, so --
QUESTION: No, I wasn’t suggesting that you were, I just wanted to know if there had been – as far as you know, then, there --
MR KIRBY: That’s correct.
QUESTION: -- there has been no request from the FBI or nothing --
MR KIRBY: That’s correct.
QUESTION: No communication at all. All right.
MR KIRBY: No communication, no request.
QUESTION: Is there likely to be anything on this particular letter that Mr. Comey announced on Friday or is it a Department of Justice issue, in your opinion?
MR KIRBY: Anything – you mean from here at the State --
QUESTION: Is there anything likely to happen in the department, in the State Department, on this particular letter that he talked about?
MR KIRBY: No, this is an FBI matter and it’s really for the FBI to address and discuss.
QUESTION: So it’s (inaudible) Department of Justice --
MR KIRBY: And it’s for the FBI specifically --
QUESTION: FBI, right.
MR KIRBY: -- to address, I mean, since it was the director’s communication with Congress. I know of no tasking or impact on the State Department as a result of that.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. Over the weekend, there were attacks by the opposition on western Aleppo. About 84 people were killed, many of them children and so on, so – allegedly. And so do you have any comment on that? Are you aware of it?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, we’ve seen those reports, Said. And I mean, obviously, if it’s true, these kinds of attacks on civilians in Aleppo are always reprehensible. And so if these particular reports are true, they would likewise be reprehensible and completely non-defensible. We’ve made clear that what we want to see is the violence stop there in Aleppo so that we can create the conditions for a peaceful political transition. And we will, as we have, continue to condemn the targeting of innocent civilians and civilian infrastructure, for that matter, as a result of what’s going on in Aleppo.
QUESTION: Now I have just a couple of follow-ups on this. The Russians are saying that this makes – or I mean this makes the militant groups, including Nusrah, a fair target in eastern Aleppo. Do you concur? Do you agree with that?
MR KIRBY: Al-Nusrah has always been outside the cessation of hostilities.
QUESTION: But it is located in eastern Aleppo. I mean, it is proudly in neighborhoods where civilian population is concentrated and so on.
MR KIRBY: And what you’re asking, that we think it’s okay to target eastern Aleppo and not western Aleppo?
QUESTION: Yeah, right.
MR KIRBY: No, we don’t – al-Nusrah has always been outside the cessation and so, as I’ve said before, remain fair targets as a UN-designated terrorist group. But in the pursuit of Nusrah, or Daesh, for that matter, there’s no excuse for targeting innocent civilians or damaging civilian infrastructure in the effort to go after them. I mean, look at how the coalition works in Iraq and the care and the attention that we give to --
QUESTION: How is – I’m sorry to interrupt, but how is that different from what is happening in Mosul? How is in Aleppo --
MR KIRBY: It’s radically different.
QUESTION: -- targeting militant groups in Aleppo is different --
MR KIRBY: It’s radically different, and I’ve seen comments by the Russian foreign ministry, in fact, I think Foreign Minister Lavrov in particular about how it’s the same. And it’s absolutely not the same, and to compare the two is frankly insulting. I mean, in Aleppo you’ve got the regime laying siege to a city with the support of their biggest backer, Russia. In Mosul you have an entire coalition of some 66 nations who have planned for months, so with the vast support and legitimacy of the international community, to retake a city from Daesh over a period of months in support of Iraqi Security Forces.
In Aleppo you’ve got – yes, al-Nusrah is in Aleppo and al-Nusrah has been resisting the regime. They are in relatively small numbers. But the bulk of the resistance in Aleppo is coming from opposition groups, moderate opposition groups, and civilians. And they are becoming the victims of the attacks by Russia and the regime. In Mosul you have Daesh, which have basically taken over the city more than two years ago, and the civilians obviously have been persecuted, punished, tortured, and rendered basically slaves in their own city to Daesh.
In Aleppo, as I think we’ve just talked in the last few minutes, you have the specific targeting of innocent civilians, first responders, and infrastructure – hospitals – that are specifically being targeted and destroyed, whereas in Mosul the air power that’s being used by the coalition is very precise, very discriminate. Great care is taken to avoid civilian casualties, and certainly there is going to be no concerted effort, as there is in Aleppo, to destroy civilian infrastructure. In fact, quite the opposite; we’re going to try to preserve as much as we can after so much has been laid waste by Daesh over the last two years.
As a matter of fact – and this is another big difference – unlike in Aleppo, the coalition and the Iraqi Government are working towards post-campaign stabilization. We’re actually working on building contracts so that people can go in and clean up what rubble there is from the campaign and repaint buildings, and restore electricity and water services, and get people back to work. You don’t hear anything like that coming from Assad and from the Russians with respect to Aleppo.
Another big difference – humanitarian assistance. So civilians are being told or ordered by the regime to leave Aleppo. To go where? To what?
QUESTION: Go to western Aleppo.
MR KIRBY: To go where?
QUESTION: They can go – couldn’t they conceivably leave to western Aleppo?
MR KIRBY: In Mosul, actually, while civilians who believe they are in harm’s way and are unsafe certainly will be – their departure will be facilitated as much as possible by the Iraqi Security Forces, there are camps that are being set up all around northern Iraq to receive them in the tens of thousands, and there is lots of effort by the international community and by the Iraqi Government to provide a place of refuge for them while the fighting goes on.
And oh by the way, the military operations that are being conducted in Mosul are being done in such a way that if they don’t feel threatened, civilians can stay. They can stay because there’s going to be – there’s going to be procedures put in place to try to protect them if they decide to stay. Now, obviously, if they feel threatened and they want to leave, they can leave, but there’s a place to go to. There’ll be some camps that will be prepared to receive them and their families with food, water, medicine.
So look, I mean, I could go on and on. The differences are vast and great. And any suggestion by the Russian Government that there are – that they’re one and the same is ludicrous. And I can tell you the Secretary feels exactly the same way.
QUESTION: My last point on this: But is it true that at the end of the day, in both areas, you have a civilian population that is holding a civilian – that is being held under the gun by militant groups that need to be dislodged from there?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think in Mosul, certainly, the population of Mosul has been under the jackboot of Daesh now for about two years or a little bit more. There’s no question about that. In Aleppo, Nusrah’s present but in relatively small numbers, we believe. And the opposition groups there are actually working on behalf of – the moderate opposition groups are working on behalf of the Syrian people, the Syrian citizens of Aleppo, to try to free them from the assault that’s coming by their own government.
You still have – Said, you mean, in Aleppo you still have barrel bombs being dropped on people and hospitals. And that’s not happening by any stretch in Mosul. So again, radically different situations, and again, any comparison is absolutely insulting.
QUESTION: John, on this issue, on Syria, is there any update on the talks in Geneva?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything new to add there. The talks are ongoing.
QUESTION: They are still ongoing?
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: They are still ongoing?
MR KIRBY: Yes, they are.
QUESTION: Any recent calls between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any recent calls to speak to. No.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you. So the United States has said that all the forces in – all the liberating forces for Mosul are under the command and control of the Iraqi Government. But that increasingly seems to be true more in theory than in practice. For example, if you look at what the Shia militias have been doing and have been publicly saying is a support for what I just said. Today they announced that they have liberated singlehandedly 17 villages, including predominantly Sunni villages. That’s what the Shia militias are saying. And there are a few kilometers from the Mosul airport. How can you assure the Sunni residents of Mosul and – that this is actually happening in practice, not just on paper?
MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to give tactical battlefield updates. You know darn well I’m not going to do that. I can’t confirm the veracity of comments by Shia militia members and whether they’ve done all the things you claim or you say that they claim they did. What I can tell you is our position remains the same that all the forces arrayed against Daesh inside Iraq – whether it’s in Mosul or anywhere else – need to come under the chain of command of the Iraqi Government, of Prime Minister Abadi. That has been our position from the beginning, and it remains our position now. And anybody in this fight needs to be part of that task organization. That’s what we want to see.
I can’t confirm that – which Shia groups are doing that and which ones aren’t. I’m not blind to the fact that there’s probably some groups that are holding themselves outside that architecture, but that is not in the end going to be a productive way to succeed against Daesh in the long term in Iraq.
Now, as for convincing Sunnis in Iraq that the liberation of Mosul will not see atrocities or human rights violations against them, I can tell you that we are working very closely with Prime Minister Abadi to that very end. And so is he, by the way. And he’s mindful and is watching very closely the conduct of his own troops and the – in fact, the conduct of all troops involved in the Mosul campaign. And we’re all going to be watching that very, very closely.
Again, back to my answer to Said, that’s one of the big differences here is that we’re actually – all of us, not just the Iraqi Security Forces, but every member of the coalition – as we prosecute the campaign on Mosul will be mindful of doing this in a way that is in accordance with international law and observes the basic human rights of the innocent people of Mosul – something that else is not happening in and around Aleppo.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Did you confirm reports that the Iraqi army entered Mosul today?
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen press reporting on that, Samir. I can’t confirm it as, again, I’m really going to stay away from tactical updates here. That’s really a question more for the Iraqi Government and for our coalition partners in the Pentagon.
MR KIRBY: No. I think we’re going to stay on Iraq, right?
MR KIRBY: Turkey. All right, go ahead.
QUESTION: I know my Turkish friends will very much welcome your expression of deep concern about freedom of press in Turkey as well as your --
MR KIRBY: I hope they note that it’s not anywhere near the first time we’ve done this and said those things.
QUESTION: Well, when you speak, it gets tweeted all over when – I’m sure this is going to be tweeted all over. Your praise of the YPG was tweeted all over, so I’m sure this is going to be the same thing. And I’m – also think that they’re going to appreciate your statement that suppressing freedom hurts the fight against terrorism rather than helps it. My question: Do these concerns extend to the 15 Kurdish media companies that were shut down over the weekend as well?
MR KIRBY: It – our concerns about freedom of the press applies to all legitimate media outlets that are trying to report on this struggle, and certainly all those in Turkey. It applies to everybody. Now, I chose this particular case to highlight in Cumhuriyet’s case, but sadly, over these last many months, I have had to stand up here and talk about our concerns over press freedom in Turkey in many other different cases. And I can assure you that the United States Government writ large supports press freedom around the world and certainly that applies to Turkey.
QUESTION: And the Kurds – Kurdish media?
MR KIRBY: To all legitimate media outlets.
QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Blinken will be addressing the American Turkish Council tomorrow. Do you expect that he will use that as an occasion to convey these concerns to others?
MR KIRBY: I don’t want to get ahead of the deputy secretary’s engagement, but I can tell you that this is something we routinely raise and I can’t – certainly wouldn’t rule it out that it would come up.
QUESTION: Finally, Secretary Kerry and the Turkish foreign minister spoke over the weekend. Do you have a readout of the telephone call they had?
MR KIRBY: They did speak over the weekend. I think they spoke about, obviously, a range of issues of mutual concern to us: the fight against Daesh, the situation on the ground in Syria. Certainly Turkey has been at the table in the multilateral format when we – as we continue to try to get a cessation of hostilities in place. And they also talked about the Travel Warning that we issued over the weekend. I think the Secretary afforded himself the opportunity to walk through the logic behind that, and we don’t issue these Travel Warning updates, especially ones that are not just pegged to the calendar – we don’t issue them lightly. We take them very, very seriously and I think he appreciated the opportunity to update the foreign minister on the thinking that went behind that.
QUESTION: And that call was when?
MR KIRBY: Hang on a second, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, was it before or after the Travel Warning? Because I believe the Turks said that they wanted some clarification. Did that happen --
MR KIRBY: It was on Saturday --
QUESTION: So --
MR KIRBY: -- and I believe the phone call came after the Travel Warning was issued.
QUESTION: And John, why do you think U.S. citizens in Istanbul were more vulnerable --
QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait – hold on, what was on Saturday?
MR KIRBY: The phone call.
QUESTION: So he told him in advance.
MR KIRBY: The phone call was on Saturday.
QUESTION: Saturday? Didn’t the Travel Warning come out yesterday?
QUESTION: No, on Saturday.
MR KIRBY: No, it came out Saturday.
QUESTION: It came out Saturday? All right, so it was before --
MR KIRBY: It came out – the phone call came – no, I’m pretty sure the phone call came after the Travel Warning.
QUESTION: Why do you think the families of consulate employees in Istanbul are more vulnerable than those elsewhere in Turkey?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, that gets into intelligence concerns and I can’t talk about that publicly. Again, we wouldn’t issue that kind of an order departure if we didn’t have good reason to believe it was prudent and the right thing to do.
QUESTION: A Turkish justice minister --
MR KIRBY: Can we stay on Turkey here?
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you.
MR KIRBY: And then we’ll get to Lebanon. I promise we’ll get to Lebanon.
QUESTION: John, a Turkish justice minister was here in Washington last weekend. He met with his U.S. counterpart to discuss Turkey’s official request for the provisional arrest of Fethullah Gulen over the July 15 coup attempt, and I was wondering if you have any update on that.
MR KIRBY: I don’t; you’d have to talk to the Justice Department on – we didn’t participate in that meeting.
Go ahead, Michel.
QUESTION: Turkey? Can I finish Turkey?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you. And thank you for the statement of concern – deep concern. Many people are wondering whether – have you tried to get any more from the Turkish Government officials regarding this recent crackdown? Basically, 170 media organizations are shut down and over 2,500 journalists lost their jobs, and 15 of Kurdish media. Basically, there is no Kurdish media left in Turkey right now. What’s your understanding? Is this still coup related or what is this increased crackdown on Turkish media?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think that’s a better question for the Turkish officials. We – I’ve been talking about press freedoms in Turkey well before the coup happened in July. And since the coup, we have certainly seen an increasing trend of restriction on press freedoms in Turkey that one must only conclude is at least partially related to efforts to deal with the coup plotters. And as I said in my statement, we recognize that Turkey has a legitimate right to investigate this and to protect itself against the possibility of future coup attempts and to get to the bottom of this and to figure out what happened and who was responsible. We recognize that, but we want them to do this in a way that is in keeping with international law and their obligations – actually to their own constitution in which freedom of expression is enshrined.
So I can’t speak to the motivation of each and every act that they take; I can only say what I’ve said before: That we’re obviously concerned about this and we’re going to continue to have conversations with Turkish leaders about that.
QUESTION: Just one more: Last week, Diyarbakir’s co-mayors’ detainment, I think Mark Toner was talk about that. Now that they are arrested – Mark said that U.S. is closely monitoring the situation. Now that they are arrested and their accusations, what is your understanding? Do you --
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates to what Mark put out on Friday. We’re obviously, as he said, concerned about this and closely monitoring it, but I don’t have an update for you on the arrest.
QUESTION: Mark didn’t say they are concerned, they said U.S. is closely monitoring now that you are concerned about detain – about arrest?
MR KIRBY: We wouldn’t closely monitor it if we weren’t concerned, so I don’t really see the big difference there. But I don’t have anything up – to update for you. Lebanon?
QUESTION: John, on Lebanon. John, you issued a statement on the elections and you said – you congratulated the Lebanese people on the election of President Aoun and you asked the parties to uphold Lebanon’s international obligations, especially UN Security Council 2259 --
MR KIRBY: Yes, I remember what I said, yeah.
QUESTION: -- and 1701. Good. You didn’t mention, or you didn’t talk about President Aoun. How do you view President Aoun? Do you have any good relation with him?
MR KIRBY: I mentioned him in the first sentence.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you didn’t talk about him. Will – how will you cooperate with him? How do you view him? Do you have a good relation with President Aoun?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, we look to the Lebanese – to Lebanese leaders to form their new government in accordance with the constitution, and we expect all parties to comply with Lebanon’s international commitments and obligations. It’s not the first time that we’ve confronted a challenging political environment, shall we say, in Lebanon. And yet, still been able to protect our shared interests in Lebanon’s stability and security, independence, and sovereignty. So the Lebanese people spoke, this is their new president, and we’re going to move forward and look for ways to continue to do exactly that – to protect our interests in Lebanon’s future success.
QUESTION: The Lebanese Parliament spoke through – the Lebanese people, through their Parliament, spoke.
MR KIRBY: Isn’t that the same thing?
QUESTION: Well, I suppose it is.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: But usually when a president, a new president of any country is elected, isn’t protocol for the White House to put out a statement?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I’d have to defer to White House protocol; I don’t know what the practice is.
QUESTION: But you didn’t answer my question, John, too. Do you have a good relation with President Aoun based on the past allegation or --
MR KIRBY: I don’t know what the status of our relationship is specifically with President Aoun. I don’t have that level of depth of knowledge, but what matters is moving forward and seeing him make the decisions that he now has to make, watching him and his actions, and where he wants to take the country, a country which has been needing a chief executive for what, more than two years now. So we’ll see where this goes.
QUESTION: So there’s no concern about his connections or ties or the support for him from Hizballah?
MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, we’re mindful of the endorsement that he got from Hizballah, which is a foreign terrorist organization. I mean, it’s not like we’re not blind to that. And obviously, we’re still – we’re deeply concerned about what Hizballah is doing in the region.
QUESTION: Well, are you --
MR KIRBY: But we’re going to judge the new president on the decisions he makes going forward and the actions he takes in leading this government – forming this government and then leading it. So we’ll see. We’ll see where it goes.
QUESTION: So at the moment, at least, you don’t have any particular concerns about Hizballah playing a larger or a greater role in the Lebanese Government than they have in the past under his presidency?
MR KIRBY: Obviously, that’s not an outcome that we would prefer to see. But we’re going to judge him based on the decisions he makes and the actions he takes.
QUESTION: Well, isn’t his very election kind of a manifestation of Hizballah’s power?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that you can say that. I – we’re not – they endorsed him. As far as I know, he’s not a member of Hizballah. And the degree to which Hizballah will or will not try to curry favor with him or use – influence him I couldn’t predict. But again, really it comes down to the new president and the decisions that he makes, and where he wants – where he intends to take his government and the future of Lebanon.
As I said at the outset, we have proven in the past even under difficult, challenging political times in Lebanon to be able to protect our shared interests – our shared interests; not just U.S. interests, but Lebanese interests in a more – or in a – to improve or to have some – to make better security and prosperity there.
So we have every intention of moving forward with that goal in mind. And we’ll see what the new president decides to do.
QUESTION: John, did the U.S. ambassador attend the ceremony today?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you on that. I have no idea who was in attendance or not.
QUESTION: Okay. Did the U.S. play any role in these elections, especially in coordinating between Saudi Arabia and Iran?
MR KIRBY: We don’t get involved in affecting or manipulating elections overseas.
QUESTION: And Ali Akbar Velayati --
QUESTION: Uh, okay.
QUESTION: -- a senior --
MR KIRBY: Look, I’m just not going back to 1776 here, guys. I’m just trying to talk about this question.
QUESTION: Well, let’s go back to, like --
QUESTION: -- 1970s. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Oh, come on, guys. Come on now. Come on.
QUESTION: 1949 in Syria.
MR KIRBY: We’re not --
MR KIRBY: We didn’t involve ourselves --
QUESTION: Italy, 1970s.
MR KIRBY: -- in the election in Lebanon. Can we just stay on today’s news, please?
MR KIRBY: Not the news from the Eisenhower administration. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Ali Khamenei, has said today that the election of Mr. Aoun as Lebanon’s president is a “great triumph for the Islamic Resistance movement in Lebanon and for Iran’s allies and friends.” Do you agree on that?
MR KIRBY: What we hope is that this election is a win for the Lebanese people. And as I said – I’ll say it again – that the direction that he takes, the leadership he decides to show, the government he forms – that’ll be the real test here. I mean, this just happened, and you want a referendum from the United States on it. Let’s see where he goes. Let’s see the decisions he makes. Let’s see what kind of leadership he intends to exude and to demonstrate, and then we can have that discussion.
We are committed to seeing the Lebanese people, now that they have a chief executive, prosper, be more secure, and to have a stable future for their children, and that’s where our focus is going to be.
QUESTION: But isn’t the election of Aoun a testament that the fact any logjam in Lebanon cannot be broken without the consent of Hizballah, a – representing a major portion of the population?
MR KIRBY: Said, I think I addressed this with Arshad. I’m not going to – what we believe – what we hope is that this is a win for the Lebanese people. And that’s where we want our focus to be.
QUESTION: And my last question on this --
MR KIRBY: You have another one?
QUESTION: The last one. Will the election of President Aoun affect the U.S. aid to Lebanon, especially to the Lebanese army?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, on aid, as we do with any other country, we regularly assess our assistance programs to ensure that they comply with U.S. law, and we’re going to do the same with Lebanon going forward.
QUESTION: Was Lebanon a topic of discussion between the Secretary and the Saudi foreign minister last Monday?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have a readout of that conversation, Samir. I don’t know. I don’t know.
QUESTION: Can I go to the --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) one thing. You said that you will assess the U.S. aid to Lebanon. After the elections, do you mean --
MR KIRBY: We routinely and regularly assess our assistance programs. It’s not about pre-election, post-election – we do it all the time. We talked about this with respect to Saudi Arabia in the wake of the October 8th airstrike, and I told you that yes, we’re conducting a review, but we always review aid and assistance. That’s no different for Lebanon. No different for Lebanon.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Very quickly. It seems that last October 9, the Israeli foreign minister – foreign ministry suggested in a meeting that relocating the Dimona settlers into another place on the West Bank is contrary to international law. Do you believe that your statement had something to do with influencing the Israeli decision on this?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I couldn’t say, Said.
QUESTION: Could you look into it? Because that would be a first for the Israelis to sort of say, okay, this is against international law, and it coincided with your statement.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I couldn’t speak for the motivations. All I can do is reassert our position on settlements has not changed.
QUESTION: It would prove that you actually – when you take – do take a strong stand against settlements and so on, the Israelis might take --
MR KIRBY: I think – I mean, I don’t know if I’m – I mean, I take your point. I certainly couldn’t speak to the decision making of Israeli policymakers. We’ve been very clear and consistent about our position on settlements, and that’s not going to change going forward. I don’t know that I can take that question because I really think that that’s a question better answered by Israeli authorities.
QUESTION: A couple more things. The Israeli Government or the Israeli ruling coalition said that they will boycott the Arab parties in the Knesset. Do you have any comment on that? Because that is really like boycotting the smaller parties and other coalitions, especially the Arab minority in Israel.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think the only thing I would say is I’m not going to speak about internal politics. It’s really out of my lane.
QUESTION: And then my last one is Israel for the second time this month demolished a Bedouin village in the Negev, displacing the same families over and over again. You have any comment on that?
MR KIRBY: We are following this issue closely, but – so I don’t have additional comment to make today except to refer you to our own Human Rights Report, which talks about this kind of thing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Before we move to Asia, as I’m sure we’re going to, can I just ask you about --
MR KIRBY: Man, this guy’s got eyes in the back of his head. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, I --
MR KIRBY: He nailed you.
QUESTION: I don’t have eyes in the back of my head – I just saw these guys and I know that they --
MR KIRBY: He nailed you. You – not so fast, buddy.
QUESTION: It’s not a pejorative. I just --
MR KIRBY: Not so fast.
QUESTION: I just wanted to get a regional question in before we move to another part of the world.
MR KIRBY: Absolutely. No --
MR KIRBY: Are you sure you don’t want some chocolate? (Laughter.) It might just improve your mood.
QUESTION: Maybe after I have my lunch. Bahrain.
MR KIRBY: Bahrain.
QUESTION: You guys – Mark said on Friday you guys would be sending someone to observe Nabeel Rajab’s trial. The hearing happened today and then they postponed the case until December. His supporters have just about had it with this. I guess – think this is the fourth postponement of this case, and they say his health is deteriorating rapidly in prison, so I’m wondering if you have any comment on the postponement of the case.
And then also, there was another case which I don’t know has been – if it’s been resolved or not, but of an American child, a boy – a young boy – who along with his mother were prevented from leaving. They are the wife and son of a opposition activist who was in London, and I’m just – because the child is an American citizen, I’m just wondering if you have any update on that case.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, let me take the Rajab first. And you didn’t ask this, but just to let you know that we did have the representatives from the embassy at today’s hearing. We understand that as I think you rightly noted in your question, that his next court date has been now scheduled for the 15th of December. At today’s hearing, it became clear that the government lacks evidence to support its case, and so once again we reject the charges against Rajab and call for the government to release him. We have repeatedly expressed our concern about this case. We strongly urge the Government of Bahrain, as we have in the past, to abide by its international obligations to respect and protect freedom of expression.
On your other question, we are aware of reports that Duaa Alwadaei and her U.S. citizen child were detained by Bahraini authorities for questioning. Our embassy there in Bahrain has met with the family. The State Department takes seriously its responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad and stands ready to provide all possible consular assistance. Due to privacy considerations, I can’t comment more.
QUESTION: But as far as you know, that has – the situation has not yet been resolved?
MR KIRBY: As far as I know, it has not yet been resolved.
QUESTION: All right. And then on the first thing, I mean, is there – so you guys have raised concerns with – directly to the Bahrainis today after the postponement?
MR KIRBY: I do not know if those concerns were raised today after the hearing. I do know we were there. I don’t know if we actually physically relayed those concerns.
QUESTION: Okay, then I won’t – all right, thanks.
MR KIRBY: But I can check on that. I mean, that’s a fair question.
QUESTION: Sure. Or I can ask – I’ll ask again tomorrow. Whatever you would prefer.
MR KIRBY: Well, anything to forestall this coming up again tomorrow, so I’ll see if – I’ll see if --
QUESTION: It’s not going away until the --
MR KIRBY: I didn’t --
QUESTION: -- until your concerns are expressed.
MR KIRBY: No, and I wouldn’t expect that it would. We’re following this closely. Believe me, we want the – we want the appropriate outcome here for Mr. Rijab. But I’ll see if I can find out if anybody raised it privately today.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
MR KIRBY: I thought we were done with that.
QUESTION: Yeah, you --
MR KIRBY: I mean, we were on Turkey for a long time.
QUESTION: You – no, you were done with a statement that you are follow – or observing, following, keeping track of the developments. But is that what you want to say to the journalists on the ground there, who are being arrested, harassed? Like, is there – and still when you’re observing, is there something that – what exactly is – you want to say to the journalists who are suffering there? Because the European Union is actually formulating something about issuing something on – and taking some concrete measures that members of European Parliament are discussing that. So just observing, so you are --
MR KIRBY: Look, it’s not just observing. And I kind of reject the notion in your question that that’s all we’re doing is we’re just observing. And I get up here and say things from the podium, which I recognize that you might not think is significant. We believe it’s very significant that we stand up here publicly on camera and on the record and are not afraid to talk about our concerns about press freedoms in Turkey or anywhere else for that matter. But it’s not just that. I mean, our diplomats there, Ambassador Bass, routinely raises our concerns over press freedoms in Turkey, and he will continue to do that. And we work very hard to try to secure and enhance and improve freedom of the press in all places around the globe, because we believe that what you guys do is important. In fact, we believe what you do is vital, particularly in a democracy, and Turkey is a democracy. They have a constitution, a constitution which enshrines the freedom of expression and the press. And all we want to see is Turkey succeed, and we believe that one path to success is to observe the very principles that are enshrined in its own constitution.
So I’m sorry, I take a little issue with the tone of the question that all we’re doing is talking. We are very focused on this. And I don’t see --
QUESTION: No, it’s not that – it’s not your (inaudible.)
MR KIRBY: Wait a sec. I just – I don’t see another government out there that’s doing more or making more of an issue or more concerned about press freedoms in Turkey – no other nation that I’ve seen or I’m aware of. So I haven’t seen what the EU is doing, and I’ll leave it to them to describe how they’re going to approach this. But the United States has been out in front in terms of speaking to and trying to improve press freedom there and in many places around the world. And I stand very, very solidly behind the work that we’re doing on behalf of your ability to do your job.
QUESTION: And the other one is do we have any updates on the investigation that Saudis are supposed to do on their collateral damage in Yemen?
MR KIRBY: This is the October --
MR KIRBY: Yeah. So as I said I think last week to Matt, they have put out some initial results which we welcomed, because they acknowledged that mistakes had been made. But they are still working through that, and we look forward to hearing from them as they learn more and uncover more lessons learned about what happened there. So I don’t have an update. And again, that wouldn’t – even if I did, it wouldn’t be for me to speak to it. It would be for the Saudi Government to speak to.
QUESTION: Can I move to Asia?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know. Matt, is it okay?
QUESTION: Yeah, okay.
QUESTION: Yeah. It’s about the cross-strait peace and development forum, actually it’s holding in Beijing at moment. And Taiwan’s KMT chairman is there and then she is going to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping tomorrow, actually. So anyway, this KMT and CPC’s forum is drawing much attention in current downturned in cross-relation. So I just wonder how you make it and will you encourage the ruling Taiwanese DPP government to have similar contacts with CPC?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything specific with respect to that exact question. The only thing I would say is it is important for us to repeat that we maintain a “one China” policy based on the three U.S.-PRC joint communiques and on the Taiwan Relations Act, which we believe has helped maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and in the region. We have a deep and abiding interest in cross-strait peace and stability, and it’s important for both sides of the Taiwan Strait understand – to understand the importance of these benefits and to work to establish a basis for continued peace and stability. But I don’t have anything more additionally to speak to with respect to this, this gathering you’re talking about.
QUESTION: Yes, the Malaysian prime minister is in China and there is – well, first, the Malaysian Government is purchasing naval patrol ships from the Chinese, and so it’s an indication of warming relations between Malaysia and China. Do you have any comment on that?
MR KIRBY: I would say the same thing we’ve said when we had discussions of President Duterte’s visit to Beijing. I mean, we don’t view relationships in that region or any other as zero sum or binary, and we would welcome better relations between Malaysia and China. These are decisions – sovereign decisions that they have to make, bilateral relationships that they have to form and to nurture and to grow. And we certainly would welcome better bilateral relations between Malaysia and China, but ultimately these are decisions that those governments have to make.
QUESTION: The speculation that, I mean, these are indicative of these nations pivoting away from the United States, would you reject that?
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen speculation about that. I – we wouldn’t share that assessment at all. Look, we have put a lot of effort, energy, resources, time, and attention, and talent into the rebalance. We remain committed to it. It is not just about military matters or defense relationships. It’s much bigger and broader than that, and we’re going to stay committed to it for as long as the Administration is in office.
But part of the rebalance – and I think this is getting a little bit lost in the discussions of it – it’s not – when you asked that question it’s like you – it’s like you’re buying in the notion that the rebalance is anti-China. And it’s not. It’s not aimed at any one nation. It’s aimed at making sure that we are securing our national interests in a vital region of the world. And we do that bilaterally and we do that multilaterally. And to the degree that other nations in the region are forming likewise close, productive, peaceful relationships with one another – be it bilateral or multilateral, whether the United States is involved or it’s not involved – all that’s to the good.
This is a region of the world which is literally the lifeblood of the global economy, and it’s going to grow more so in the next 20 to 30 years. And so the rebalance, the whole logic behind it, is to help fashion the kinds of relationships and interconnectivity that can allow that prosperity to continue unabated. And that’s what we’re after, so you pick the country. Today you’re asking me about Malaysia with a better relationship with China. We welcome that. And we would – likewise, we would welcome any improvement of bilateral relations between nations. Obviously, there’s a significant issue with North Korea, and I understand that. And that’s – North Korea has isolated itself from the international community, and we want the international community to continue to put pressure on North Korea. So I’m not talking about the warming of relations with the North here, but I am speaking in general about that particular region of the Pacific – of the Pacific realm.
Okay? So nothing – no concerns here. Actually, quite the opposite; we saw those reports and we welcome.
MR KIRBY: Burma.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m wondering – you guys have been seeking for some time to get people into Rakhine State and – without success.
MR KIRBY: Working to?
QUESTION: Working to get people into – where the – to take a look at conditions there, the situation with the Rohingya, and you’ve been repeatedly denied. And I’m just wondering if there’s been any – if you have any update on that and also whether you have anything new to say about your concerns there.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I don’t have anything new with respect to access. But we have seen some very recent reports of alleged abuses there, and we obviously take those very, very seriously. We are urging the government to be transparent, to implement the rule of law, to respect human rights – the human rights of all Burmese people in responding to the original attacks on security officials and subsequent reports of abuses. We note that the government’s decision to restore humanitarian access in some areas of northern Rakhine State. We would request that the Government of Burma restore full humanitarian access to all areas and to ensure that those who need the assistance are able to get it.
QUESTION: I got one more.
QUESTION: A quick one on that. Are the reports you’re referring to the reports of the army raping --
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: -- women there?
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: Yes. Okay, thank you.
MR KIRBY: He is.
QUESTION: -- or he’s on his way?
MR KIRBY: No, he’s there. I spoke to him, actually, just before coming out to the podium. He’s in Caracas. He is meeting – intends to meet with President Maduro. I don’t have a time for that. He’s going to meet with the members of the opposition. He’s going to meet with members of civil society. The whole purpose of his trip – and it’s short; I think he’ll be coming back middle of the week – is to encourage this dialogue process, which is just beginning to continue.
QUESTION: Right. In a nearby country – Brazil, when it was going through a political crisis or impeachment – has been threatened in Venezuela. You guys from the podium, and I think the White House too, said repeatedly that you had confidence and faith in the Brazilians to uphold their constitution and that you had confidence that that would be respected. There were no urgent missions or special missions taken by U.S. officials to go to Brazil during that time. I’m just curious, does – in the case of Venezuela, which is, of course, different than that of Brazil --
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: -- but do you not have the similar confidence with the Venezuelans to abide by and respect their constitution?
MR KIRBY: Well, it’s not about whether we do or don’t have that level of confidence. It’s about recognizing the unique challenges that Venezuela is going through right now. And you’re right; they are different circumstances. It’s hard to compare one to the other.
We are focused on trying to see an effective dialogue between – and a – between and among Venezuelans across the political spectrum. We believe that’s a necessary step to finding remedies to the political and economic challenges that they’re going through. And so since dialogue is our desired outcome and we believe that that’s the best way forward, Ambassador Shannon is making these trips, he’s having these discussions to do just that – to try to affect that dialogue. That’s the approach we’re taking here in Venezuela.
Obviously, it remains to be seen how successful he’ll be, but his visit is a direct result – the one he’s on right now is a direct result of a healthy discussion that the Secretary had on the margins of the peace ceremony in Colombia with President Maduro. So – and it was a good discussion, almost 30 minutes long, during which the president welcomed a visit by Tom in the midst of this dialogue. So he’s down there, and we’ll see where it goes. But, I mean, I think we’re – we – you take one nation at a time here, and this is how we believe the best approach is to get to a better outcome.
Okay, thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Happy Halloween.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)