Daily Press Briefing - December 2, 2016

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 2, 2016


2:05 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Hey, everybody. Full house today, huh?

All right, a few things to get started on here at the top and we’ll get started. On Cambodia, we understand that Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni granted a royal pardon to Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Kem Sokha at the request of the prime minister. We welcome the move as a positive step toward restoring political dialogue between the political opposition, CNRP, and the governing Cambodian People’s Party. We expect that Kem Sokha and his political party will be able to freely and fully participate in the political process going forward. We note that more than two dozen individuals remain in detention on what are widely believed to be politically motivated charges and we underscore the need to guarantee the independence of the judiciary, respect for the rule of law, and protect space for the peaceful expression of political views.

On the Heart of Asia Conference, acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Laurel Miller is in Amritsar, India today and tomorrow, where she will join various world leaders, to include Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, to participate in the sixth ministerial conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process. Founded in 2011, the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process provides a platform for cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbors in the pursuit of regional peace and security. This conference is intended to endorse the sixth ministerial Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process declaration and provide direction for the coming year.

And then just briefly, you’ll see a travel announcement from us a little bit later this afternoon, but just broadly speaking, the Secretary is expected to travel to Europe next week from the 4th through the 8th for a series of bilateral and multilateral meetings. He’ll start the trip in Berlin – a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier – to discuss cooperation on a range of regional and global issues. He will also receive the Federal Cross of Merit from the foreign minister and he’ll meet with a group of young Germans committed to maintaining and strengthening our transatlantic relationship. He’ll then go to Brussels on the 6th and 7th for the NATO foreign ministerial, and while in Brussels he will also meet with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini to discuss cooperation between the United States and the EU on a range of global issues. On the 7th and 8th, he’ll travel to Hamburg, Germany to attend the OSCE Ministerial Council hosted by the OSCE chairman in office, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier. There’ll be more detail in the announcement that’ll come out, but I just wanted to give you a heads-up that we do expect travel to Europe by the Secretary next week.

And with that, we’ll start. June.

QUESTION: Sure. So there – a human rights group announced today that an Iranian American dual national and his wife had been arrested in Iran by the IRGC about three months ago. Just wondering if you all have seen these reports, if you have any comment on them.

MR KIRBY: Let me see here.

So we’ve seen those reports of the detention in Iran of a person reported to be a U.S. citizen and a person reported to be a legal permanent resident, and I’m afraid that at this time I don’t have anything more that I can provide on that other than to acknowledge that we’re aware of those reports.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Sorry.

QUESTION: Iran? Yesterday, the Senate voted to extend the Iran sanctions for another 10 years. What do you expect the impact of this to be?

MR KIRBY: The impact of the extension?


MR KIRBY: Well, look, I think I’d say a couple of things. First of all, as we’ve long said, it’s not necessary to extend the Iran Sanctions Act, and we for our part remain focused on the main objective, which is, of course, to continue to implement the JCPOA. And while we don’t think an extension is necessary, we’ve also been clear that a completely clean extension, as this one is, is entirely consistent with our commitments in the JCPOA. Our expectation is that the President will sign the legislation, but I will also note that Secretary Kerry will retain the waiver authority and he will continue to waive all of the relevant nuclear-related sanctions authorized by the legislation as we committed to do in the JCPOA and have long been since doing since implementation day. So long as Iran adheres to its commitments under the Iran deal, we will remain steadfast in our commitment to maintain sanctions relief.

It’s important to note that extension of the Iran Sanctions Act does not constrain the United States’ ability to uphold our commitments and it does not affect in any way a scope of the sanctions relief that Iran is receiving under the deal. Okay?

QUESTION: Could you explain what you meant by – mean by “clean?”

MR KIRBY: Meaning that this was – this – the legislation was a straight extension for another 10 years of what had been 10 years of sanctions. So it was a simple extension. You might recall that there had been some discussion about amendments to it and changes to it. In this case, it was simply taking what was in effect for the last 10 years and extending it with no changes going forward. Okay?

QUESTION: So you don’t expect anything to change, really, is what you’re saying?

MR KIRBY: Well, what I can – what – that’s not what I’m saying.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry.

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is that we never thought it – we didn’t think it was necessary to extend it, and that even with the extension, the Secretary will continue to use his waiver authority to waive the nuclear-related sanctions that were part of the Iran deal. So we’re – the point I’m trying to make is we’re going to continue to meet our obligations under the JCPOA with or without this extension. We did not believe it was necessary, and now that it has passed the Congress – and as I said, I think the White House has said that they would expect the President to sign it – we’re still going to meet those commitments to the JCPOA. We’re still going to use our waiver authority to waive – the Secretary will use his waiver authority, excuse me – to waive nuclear-related sanctions. And we still have at our disposal and we’ll still continue to use the sanctions that are in place to try to curb Iran’s other destabilizing activities that are not related to nuclear activities and not included as part of the JCPOA.

QUESTION: Does the waiver have any kind of time thing on it? Is it just as long as there’s a waiver?

MR KIRBY: It’s – as I understand it, it’s a – there’s no time limit on it. I mean, we – the Secretary can waive, as was part of the deal. Because there were sanctions in place before the deal --


MR KIRBY: -- and so he can – and he had the power before and he has it now to waive nuclear-related sanctions --

QUESTION: My point, though, is --

MR KIRBY: -- for as long as --

QUESTION: -- the next secretary of state could decide not to use the waiver.

MR KIRBY: That would be a decision that the incoming administration or --

QUESTION: But he wouldn’t have to wait six months or a year; he could – he or she could decide on day one the waiver is – no longer holds.

MR KIRBY: Dave, that’s my understanding. I’ll have that checked just to make sure because I’m not an expert, but that’s my understanding. I mean, but that will be for the next secretary of state to determine, but we believe – well, (inaudible) we believe; the Secretary will – he will maintain his waiver authority and he will continue to use that waiver authority. And again, let’s not forget the larger outcome here, which is implementation of the JCPOA, which ensures that Iran will not acquire nuclear weapons capabilities. And we continue to believe that the Iran deal makes our allies and our partners safer; it makes the American people safer. So implementing – I’m sorry, using this waiver authority helps keep implementation sound and helps keep the deal in place.

QUESTION: I’m not arguing the case for or against (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: No, I know, but – I know you’re not.

QUESTION: I just want to understand the process.

MR KIRBY: No, no, no. I know you weren’t. But I wanted to make that larger point.

QUESTION: John, is Stephen Mull with the Secretary in Rome, and will the Secretary be holding any meetings with Jabhat Zarif or any other Iranian authorities?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I’ll have to check; I don’t know if Steve’s out there. I don’t think he is. And we’ve been reading out the meetings he has all day; I know of no such meetings with Foreign Minister Zarif.

QUESTION: Any planned?

MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.


QUESTION: So Kerry had some hopeful words in Rome. He said that U.S. and Russia had some new ideas, and then he said we’ll have to see if those new ideas get any traction in another meeting coming up in I think Geneva.

MR KIRBY: Well, he’s talking about the meetings – the multilateral meetings that are happening in Geneva.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. I mean, is there anything you can say to flesh that out at all? I mean, what is – what does he hope will get traction? Is there anything you can --

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ve been – I’ve been careful not to try to get into details here in the discussions in Geneva, because as is the case in many negotiations, particularly multilateral ones, nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon. And so we wouldn’t still be having these discussions if we didn’t think there was still a need to be at the table and that there wasn’t some progress being made. But I’m really not at liberty to talk about it in any great detail.

What I can tell you is that the main focus of the discussions in Geneva are about getting a meaningful, sustainable cessation of hostilities, predominantly in and around Aleppo. Obviously, we want to see one throughout the country, but everybody is very focused on the bloodshed and the siege of Aleppo right now. I think the Secretary spoke very powerfully about that today in Rome. That’s what the focus is on, and it’s about nailing down specific frameworks to make that a reality. So the focus is very much on a cessation of hostilities in and around Aleppo, and I think that’s really as far as I’m going to be able to take it.

But I would stress though, Deb, that we – the Secretary wouldn’t have alluded to those conversations the way he did, we wouldn’t still have representation at those meetings, if we didn’t think it was worthwhile and if we didn’t think that the – that they were working diligently to that end and that there might be some progress. But we’ll just have to see. We’ll have to see.


QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Gambian election results?

MR KIRBY: Before we go to Africa --

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MR KIRBY: It’s okay.


MR KIRBY: It’s a fair question. We all good?

QUESTION: Philippines?

MR KIRBY: Philippines.


QUESTION: Ukraine? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Anybody else? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: If we’re moving on --

MR KIRBY: I guess we can go to Africa, then, since we’re done. I just wanted to make sure we were good on Syria. Go ahead, Michael.

QUESTION: Any questions on the – I mean any comment, rather, on the results of the Gambian elections from yesterday?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, hang on just a second.

We congratulate the Gambian people for their commitment to a peaceful, democratic process and the rule of law. We can confirm that the Gambian Independent Electoral Commission declared on Gambian television that Adama Barrow of the United Democratic Party opposition party has won the presidential election as an independent running on behalf of a coalition of seven opposition parties.

According to the chairman of the IEC, President Jammeh has conceded the election and spoken with the president-elect. This would be a historic achievement for the Gambia. Never before has power changed hands through the ballot box, so it’s a big deal. We encourage all Gambians to respect the election results, and we urge the Government of the Gambia to respect the rights of citizens to freely assemble as they respond to the results of the election. Again, we applaud the Gambian population for participating in this election with a high voter turnout and generally peaceful conditions albeit, of course, with a high security posture.

Okay? Yeah.

QUESTION: The U.S. announced today unilateral sanctions on North Korea --


QUESTION: -- alongside Japan and South Korea. Could you comment a little bit about this?

MR KIRBY: So today, in response to North Korea’s continuing provocations and in particular their September 2016 nuclear test, ongoing prohibited development of weapons of mass destruction, and continued violations of UN Security Council resolutions, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated 16 entities and seven individuals for their ties to the Government of North Korea for its nuclear and weapons proliferation efforts, and they identified 16 aircraft blocked as property of a designated entity.

These designations were made pursuant to Executive Order 13382, which targets WMD proliferators and their supporters; also were made pursuant to Executive Order 13687, which targets the Government of North Korea, the Workers’ Party of Korea and their supporters; and it was pursuant to Executive Order 13722, which targets, in part, North Korea’s trade in metals, graphite, coal, and software; revenue from overseas workers; and North Korea’s transportation, mining, energy, and financial services industries. Okay?

QUESTION: Can you speak a little more specifically on the DPRK nationals working overseas and then also on the restrictions on Air Koryo?

MR KIRBY: Well, let’s see. On the overseas labor, as we’ve consistently stated and the Security Council Resolution 2321 – which was also just passed – makes clear, North Korea’s export of labor generates significant revenue for the government and it enables the development of its illicit nuclear and missile programs. Further, our Executive Order 13722 excludes the authority to target North Korea’s exportation of labor.

And you were asking about the airline. It is North Korea’s state-sponsored airline and it has facilitated shipments of UN-prohibited arms and related material. To support its activities, Air Koryo has representative offices all around the world. The consequences of this designation include a prohibition against U.S. persons engaging in transactions or dealing – I’m sorry – dealings with Air Koryo and the freezing of all of Air Koryo’s property and interest in property in the United States or which come within the United States or the possession or control of U.S. persons.

Any more details, I’d have to refer you to the Treasury Department because this really was issued under their OFAC.


QUESTION: Could you – do you have a readout on the meetings that Brett McGurk had in Baghdad?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a readout. He just got into the region. He is having meetings in Iraq, but I don’t have a readout for you at this time.

QUESTION: And do you know if he plans to go to Erbil?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a readout of his activities. He’s going to be meeting, as he often does, with a range of Iraqi leaders to discuss our progress in Iraq against Daesh, but we just – I mean, he just got there. As I know – as I understand it, these meetings are ongoing and so I think when we get on the back end of it we might be able to provide you a little bit more context.

Okay? Yeah.

QUESTION: President-elect Trump had a very short phone call with the Philippine leader, Rodrigo Duterte, I believe it was today. Did the State Department help facilitate that at all?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is we stand by to assist and facilitate and support communication that the transition team is having with foreign leaders. I don’t have any specific – I don’t know of any specific support that was provided for that call.

QUESTION: Is that something you can check on?

MR KIRBY: I would ask you to – it’s really more appropriate to talk to the transition team about their preparations for these communications. Our job is to offer support whether that’s in terms of facilitation, translation, or context, which we have done and will continue to do. But the degree to which it’s utilized is really for the transition team to decide, and it’s really more appropriate for them to speak to.


QUESTION: Ukraine. According to Ukrainian news agency Interfax, member of Ukrainian parliament, Mr. Onyshchenko was rejected for the U.S. visa a few days ago in Paris. And I suppose your team briefed you about the case of Mr. Onyshchenko, who previously indicated his desire to cooperate with the U.S. Government and provide the U.S. Government some specific audio records which could be recognized as the evidences of the violation of the Ukrainian law by the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko.

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. The name was?

QUESTION: Mr. Onyshchenko, the member of Ukrainian parliament, indicated his desire to provide to the U.S. Government some specific audio records which could be --

MR KIRBY: Oh, I’m sorry. Yeah. No, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Of course.

MR KIRBY: Sorry, I didn’t quite understand you at first. I’m really not at liberty to discuss this much. I’m really going to have to ask you or refer you to the Government of Ukraine to speak to that.

QUESTION: Could you please confirm that his visa application was rejected?

MR KIRBY: We do not talk about specific visa applications. I’m sorry. We just don’t. We don’t provide that kind of information.


QUESTION: If I could just step half a step back and make sure I understand what you were saying when you say you stand by ready to facilitate and assist in communications with the transition team, does “stand by” mean you have not actually done it yet for any of these calls?

MR KIRBY: No, we have helped facilitate and support some communication that the – some foreign communications that the transition team has gone forward with. But I’m really not at liberty to provide a blow by blow of all – all that is and what exactly they’ve availed themselves of. Again, our job is to make sure they know we’re a ready resource to help and to assist in any way that they deem fit, but how they make decisions and how they conduct dialogue and communication with foreign leaders is really for them to decide and for them to speak to. And the input that they get is really, again, for them to talk to, not us. We do stand ready, and yes, we have provided some support to the transition team as they have pursued some communication.

QUESTION: And in this case?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to talk about specific phone calls and meetings. That’s really for the president-elect and his team to speak to, not us. But we, again, stand ready to support in any way that they might require. Okay.

QUESTION: Does the transition team give you guys a heads up if they’re going to call like the president of some country?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that – first of all, there’s no requirement for them to do that. And as I said to Carol, there have been occasions when we have provided material. So then --

QUESTION: Then you know.

MR KIRBY: -- then obviously you know if you’re being asked for material or support.

QUESTION: But if they don’t need it then --

MR KIRBY: But they don’t have to tell us in advance of any communication that they have with foreign leaders. And again, I’d let them speak to the degree to which they do that.

QUESTION: Has it complicated anything for you all?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that there’s been any complications for us. We’re focused, and look, the Secretary is in Rome today. We’ve got a trip to Europe next week. I mean, we’re focused on implementing the foreign policy agenda of President Obama and this Administration, and we’re going to stay focused on that for the remainder of time that we have in office. And it really – it’s not for us to speak to the foreign policy objectives that the next administration might pursue. I’m not aware that there’s been any tangible practical effect or impact by any of the communications that the president-elect and his team have done since the election.


MR KIRBY: All right? Okay. Have a great weekend, everybody. That was almost a record.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:26 p.m.)

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