Daily Press Briefing - December 13, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:32 p.m. EST
MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody. Sorry that I am late today. I do not have – for all that delay, I don’t have any opening statements, so we can get right to your questions.
MR KIRBY: So what I can tell you is we’ve seen some reports about a ceasefire arrangement brokered, reached between Russia and Turkey that we are given to understand could take effect imminently, certainly in the next hours. Don’t have a whole lot of detail about it. I can’t confirm the veracity of these reports that this arrangement has, in fact, been reached. That said, I’ve also seen nothing to indicate that those reports are not true. So we’re going to watch this closely.
Obviously, if it is true and there has been a ceasefire arrangement reached that not only stops the bombing and the violence but allows people to safely leave Aleppo, we would welcome that. We would welcome any arrangement that would allow people to live safely in Aleppo who want to stay and to leave safely Aleppo for those who want to leave. Obviously, we would welcome that.
QUESTION: Did --
MR KIRBY: But last thing I’d say is we’re going to judge actions, not words. What we want is peace, not promises. And we’re going to see what happens here in the next hours.
QUESTION: Did you know that your ally, Turkey, was negotiating with the Russians? Like this was not something that was talked about a lot, at least from this podium.
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that we had any indications that there were bilateral discussions to reach this kind of an arrangement. So I don't know that there was any prior knowledge. But again, I mean, it matters a lot less to us who or how a ceasefire is arranged or reached and much more that one is arranged and reached. And that’s why the Secretary was working so hard over the weekend in Germany and in Paris. In fact, in several discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov alone as well as dealing with other countries who are involved in this effort to try to do exactly that.
QUESTION: You have seen the kind of – the reports that Aleppo essentially has fallen. I mean, do you all have any statement on that?
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, we’re seeing the same reports that you are. We’re seeing the dreadful images that are coming out of Aleppo. I’m not in a position to say definitively, one way or another, that the city has now fallen or that the regime and Russia have taken it. But the reports that we’re getting out of Aleppo, both as we see in the media but also from other sources, are clearly disturbing. I mean, we’re seeing now reports of people being executed in the streets – just killed because they’re there. And that’s despicable. And again, we have long said that there’s – that the bloodshed in Aleppo needs to stop, that the brutality of the regime and the support that it’s getting from Russia and Iran has got to stop.
The other thing I’d say is, even if this is the end of the siege of Aleppo, it is not the end of the war in Syria. Even if it is the end of the of the siege in Aleppo, it is not the end of the war in Syria. It will go on. The opposition will continue to fight. Extremists will be continued to be drawn to the vacuum that continues to exist in so many places in Syria. And people, innocent people, many of them children, will be flung into refuge.
QUESTION: You all keep saying that the end of the siege of Aleppo – or the fall of Aleppo would not be the end of the war. But that does – given what’s happening there, it seems a little bit as if that’s your mantra to sort of wash your hands of all the atrocities that are happening there. And even with this deal now between Turkey and Russia, it looks like the United States has just been completely cut out of having any influence in what’s happening in Syria.
MR KIRBY: Well, I totally, completely reject the characterization that we’re washing our hands of anything here or that we have ceded influence or failed to try to exert some leadership here. It was the United States who led the development of the ISSG. It was the United States who led efforts to get a UN Security Council resolution in place that codified the process through which we could get a ceasefire and get humanitarian aid in. It was the United States who engaged and entered into what we hoped would be successful bilateral discussions with Russia, who we know has the most influence on Assad. Those efforts failed. It was the United States who then began to take the lead in efforts on additional multilateral efforts. We have been nothing but firm and consistent in our efforts to try to reach a peaceful conclusion to the civil war.
But we have also – and it’s not just the United States, June. It’s – much of the rest of the international community has long believed that the only sustainable peace that can be secured in Syria is going to be done through diplomatic, political means.
And so one thing that I didn’t get to in my previous answer is that the only way this war does end is through a political solution. The only way we get to peace in Syria is getting the opposition and the regime to sit down together and try to work this out. That’s the way to get a peaceful, sustainable future for Syria. And the United States has been and remains very much in the lead in the international community in trying to bring that about. It has been the regime, with the support that it’s gotten from Russia in particular, which has done everything to torpedo those kinds of efforts and to try to find, in fact, a violent, brutal end to the civil war. And our view, again, has not changed. There – that’s not going to be the – this is not going to be the end. It is going to be only the continuation of the bloodshed and violence.
So because we believe that to be the case – and it’s not just us, many of our allies and partners feel the same way – we’re going to continue to try to work towards a political solution. That’s not going to change for the entire rest of the time, I can assure you, that Secretary Kerry’s in office.
QUESTION: John --
QUESTION: But just to be clear, the – you’ve been talking on the – all of these previous tracks before. This particular ceasefire that’s been declared today you had no role.
MR KIRBY: I’m not – first of all, I can’t confirm the veracity of reports that an arrangement has been reached.
QUESTION: So if there were one --
MR KIRBY: I have seen nothing to indicate that it isn’t true, and certainly if it’s – if it is, we welcome it. But as I understand, reports that we’re getting is that this was brokered between Russia and Turkey without the United States.
QUESTION: But you’ve been in conversations separately with Russia and Turkey.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary not feel he’s been cut out of the loop by his partners in this?
MR KIRBY: This – the Secretary has long held the view that we would welcome any arrangement that leads to an end to the bloodshed in Aleppo and a return to a political process in Syria writ large. And we have said – I’ve said many times we welcome any ideas from anybody that might want to pursue an approach that can work there. So again, I can’t confirm these reports, but if it’s true, and if it can be effected, we would welcome that. And the fact that it was done through and by Russia and Turkey is – as long as it achieves a successful outcome and a peaceful Aleppo and gets people to leave safely, then, again, we would support that.
QUESTION: But it might have nice if Foreign Minister Lavrov had given you a heads-up.
MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, I don’t think we’re – I mean, if you look at the images coming out of Aleppo, nobody – at least not on our side – is interested in standing on protocol. What we want to see is peace. What we want to see is the stopping – a stop to the bombing. So we’re not worried too much about the protocol. We’re not worried too much about whether somebody picked up the phone and let us know about this. What we want to see is that, if it’s true, that it works, and that people – that’s the goal here.
But again, Dave, I want to stress that – two things, as I said before. Even if this is the end of the siege of Aleppo, it’s not going to be the end of the war. And what we want to see is a peaceful end to that war, a diplomatic one, and we will continue to work very hard toward that end here.
QUESTION: John, you said that you welcome a ceasefire that would allow people to leave of their own free will. Do you have any reports that Syrian army units are stopping people from leaving of their own free will? I mean --
MR KIRBY: I have – again, Said --
MR KIRBY: -- the reports of this arrangement are pretty fresh. I can’t confirm that it’s actually true.
MR KIRBY: We have seen – excuse me – we have seen, just over the last couple of days, that some civilians have left.
QUESTION: Right. Yeah.
MR KIRBY: We’ve also seen reports that some fighters have left and then disappeared, which is deeply concerning. So I don’t know. And what – as I understand it, what this deal, if it’s true, would allow, is allow armed opposition members to also leave with some of their light weapons. But again, we have to – the proof’s going to be in the pudding here. We have to see what happens.
QUESTION: Because there are all these reports about atrocities and so on, and I’m not in any way questioning their possible credibility. But also I saw other reports where people are jubilant; they’re happy to see the army come in. They’re going to the western side, where they can get medicine and food and so on and all these things. So it is not all just one dimension, kind of. Would you agree with that?
MR KIRBY: No I don’t, Said. I mean, I haven’t seen every picture coming out of Aleppo, but --
QUESTION: I understand --
MR KIRBY: -- I haven’t seen – honestly, Said, I haven’t seen any dancing in the streets here. So --
QUESTION: I’m not saying – I’m saying people are --
MR KIRBY: Well, no, you said jubilant, they’re happy and they’re --
QUESTION: Jubilant – I mean, okay, maybe I misspoke. Okay.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think maybe you did over-speak.
QUESTION: People were relieved to see that they are --
MR KIRBY: I think, at this point, there’s probably people that would be relieved for any sense of calm in their lives after what they’ve been through at the hands of the regime, Said, with the support of Russia. I mean, they have literally been under siege for months and have been starved and have been bombed. Hospitals have been destroyed and those who have tried to leave have been killed on the way. Convoys have not only been not allowed in, they were bombed back in September.
MR KIRBY: So I can’t rule out the fact that there might be some people in Aleppo who are relieved to see some calm, even if it is under the jackboot of the regime. That’s – that – under the conditions they’ve been living in, I certainly can’t – I can’t begrudge them.
QUESTION: Right. Complicated --
MR KIRBY: But by and large, all we have seen is brutality, violence, and bloodshed, and a lot of destroyed and wrecked lives and families. And you don’t have to look any more or any further than the network news and what’s on cable and online right now and the images coming out of there. I mean, it’s pretty gut-wrenching to look at.
QUESTION: I understand, but – pretty disturbing. I understand it’s quite disturbing --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and I look at them and so on, and I’m quite disturbed and so on. But also, all these sources, they never have any kind of solid veracity. I listened to the UN spokesman today and he always cited multiple sources, multiple sources. We never rely on multiple sources. We say that this – they remain allegations until we have some sort of verifiable evidence and so on. I’m saying there is a great deal of the fog of war, no pun intended, in this case. How do you establish what is really going on on the ground on your own, independently?
MR KIRBY: Said, I think we’ve talked about this an awful lot of times. I – we gather the best information that we can from a variety of sources. Some of it’s press reporting, no question. A lot of it comes from reputable aid agencies that are either on the ground or have associates on the ground in Syria. And some of it comes from intelligence sources, which I’m obviously, clearly, not going to get into. And I don’t think that it’s incumbent upon me or anybody else from a podium to sit there and detail and provide a laundry list of every single individual or organization that gives us information. It’s a mosaic. And frankly, again, I would encourage you to go flip on CNN today and look for yourself at the imagery that’s coming out of Aleppo by a reputable news organization. It’s all there for you to see.
QUESTION: My last question on this. You talked about that it’s not the end, which is obviously true. I mean, those are the indicators, that this will go on for some time. You also said that if – there would – the regime will continue to be a magnet – I mean, not word for word, but you suggested that. Is that what we have seen in, let’s say, Palmyra? Is – do you attribute what happened to Palmyra – that it attracted more fighters and more volunteers from ISIS and so on?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that you can make that connection, and I’d be a little bit – I’d be – I’d think I’d have to be careful before I could make that kind of a – draw that sort of a line. I think we have certainly seen groups like Daesh try to take advantage of the vacuum that gets created in Syria.
MR KIRBY: That the regime, with Russia’s help, took back Palmyra – we talked about that. Now they’ve lost it again. How they came to lose it again, I think that’s a story for another day. Clearly they have devoted an awful lot of resources, time, and energy and planning to Aleppo. That ISIL has taken retaken it – nobody should be happy about that. It is the first time, I would add, since May of 2015 that they’ve actually acquired any territory, and this is really a reacquisition, not a new territory gained.
But it also goes – it also reinforces what we’ve long been saying, that neither Russia nor the regime has ever really been fully committed to fighting terrorist groups like Daesh inside Syria. The effort has been – and the proof is what you’re seeing today – has been to violently crush the opposition and even at the cost of so many innocent lives.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary make any phone calls during the last 24 hours --
MR KIRBY: He has talked to Foreign Minister Ayrault this morning, and I think that’s the only call that I have right now to speak to. But I do know that he intends to talk to leaders from other relevant countries perhaps throughout the day. So – but he has talked to Foreign Minister Ayrault this morning about the situation.
QUESTION: And any update on the talks in Geneva? Was there any talk to --
MR KIRBY: Well, as I said yesterday, I mean, we reached an impasse. I mean, we thought we had an arrangement, and then at the end game the Russians threw obstacles in the way and turned their back on the approach that we thought we were taking. So we’ve obviously reached – we reached an impasse there.
QUESTION: And is --
MR KIRBY: And remind – I’ll remind you those technical talks were designed to get a ceasefire to get safe passage. Now, we hear these reports that Russia and Turkey came to this arrangement. And again, if it’s true, if it can actually work, we would welcome it.
QUESTION: And would the U.S. delegation stay in Geneva? Will you do any more talks with the Russians?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any travel updates here for you. For all intents and purposes, the technical talks did not come to a successful conclusion. I don’t – as far as I know, they’re not ongoing. We now have this potential arrangement between Russia and Turkey. So I have nothing to add to you in terms of any team efforts in Geneva.
QUESTION: And what does it mean that the U.S. had no role in the ceasefire between the opposition and Russia? Does it mean that the U.S. has no more influence in Syria?
MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know that – first of all, I wouldn’t agree with that at all. As I just said --
QUESTION: What does it mean that you had no role?
MR KIRBY: -- we have been a leader in this effort. Let’s find out if it actually is real, Michel, before we start determining the degree to which who has what influence. Let’s see if it actually holds. But I can assure you that the United States has been a leader in an effort to try to find a political solution to the civil war in Syria, and we will remain a leader in that effort. And I fundamentally reject any notion that we’ve had no influence, that we’ve had no leadership role, and that we haven’t helped try to bring about better outcomes there. We certainly have. And there have been – and there have been – in the past, there has been some success. Back in February, we had a dramatic reduction in the violence when a ceasefire was actually reached and was maintained and sustained by all parties. And that was as a result of U.S. leadership in the ISSG. So again, let’s see where this goes.
QUESTION: And one last question for me. Al-Qabas newspaper, the Kuwaiti newspaper, has said that Secretary Kerry has asked the opposition during the Paris meeting last Saturday to surrender in Aleppo, to leave Aleppo, and to go back to the table without any condition. Can you confirm?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about the details of diplomatic discussions, Michel. We have long been advocating on behalf of the opposition to try to get political talks back on track. And we recognize the difficulty in doing that when they’re being bombed, when innocent people are being killed, when no aid is getting in. We’ve always recognized that. And as we – as the Secretary said himself over the weekend, yes, we were talking with respect to Aleppo specifically talking about trying to achieve ways in which the opposition could leave safely with their light weapons out of Aleppo. So I mean, all of that was done on behalf of the opposition to help them get out of Aleppo safely and to try to end the violence there.
QUESTION: And did you ask the opposition to go back to the table without any condition?
MR KIRBY: We have – I am not going to detail diplomatic discussions, but we have long talked to the opposition about the importance of returning to political talks.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Since Saturday’s bombing of an Istanbul football stadium, Turkish authorities have arrested over 500 people. A radical Kurdish group claimed responsibility for the bombing, and the moderate pro-Kurdish party in Turkey, the HDP, condemned the bombing. Yet a large number of those 500 people whom the Turks have arrested are HDP. Do you have any comment on that?
MR KIRBY: Well, we’re certainly concerned by the large-scale detention of HDP lawmakers and party members in these continuing anti-terror raids. And as we’ve said many, many times, and even in the fight against terrorism, democracies need to pursue actions that reinforce the public’s confidence in the rule of law.
QUESTION: I know that – I personally was very impressed by Deputy Secretary Blinken’s statement – a talk, a speech last month, in which he said – he was talking to an American Turkish group – you’ll recall it: “[W]e have collectively learned” that terrorist “groups rely on governments to overreach, to curb rights, to ignore distinctions between civilians and combatants.” It seemed to me that Ankara was ignoring those words of wisdom. Is that something you’d agree with?
MR KIRBY: Well, what I would tell you is that we continue to have discussions – frank discussions – with our Turkish counterparts about how they continue to deal with the aftermath of the coup. And because Turkey is a friend, we’re not bashful and we’re not afraid to be frank with them about concerns that we have with respect to rule of law and freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the importance of protecting free media inside Turkey. So we very much associate ourselves, of course, with the deputy secretary’s comments. And he spoke very eloquently, stating very clearly what the – not only the State Department’s view, but the United States Government’s view is in terms of how important Turkey is to us, and as a friend how much we want them to succeed, and how we care about the process that they implement going forward in the wake of the coup.
Okay? Yeah. Justin.
MR KIRBY: Well, I think you saw the – a statement from Secretary Kerry this morning congratulating him on his nomination and his firm support for making sure that we help him – help the secretary of state nominee through the confirmation process, that – and he – and the Secretary made it clear this morning to staff that he wants us all to do what we can to make sure he and his team – Mr. Tillerson and his team – get all the support that they need as they work through that process.
QUESTION: So it would be this Secretary – Secretary Kerry is not going to voice any concerns he may have about, for example, Tillerson’s relations to Putin and Russia and his experience and – as some Republican senators have done so far, he’s going to stay neutral on this whole thing. Is that --
MR KIRBY: It’s not our place to make those sorts of judgments. It is the president-elect’s decision to nominate Cabinet officials. Our job is to make sure that the incoming team has all the support, the context, the information they need to make the best decisions going forward for American foreign policy, and that’s what we’re focused on: making sure that he and his team have the support that they need.
QUESTION: Has he been in the building?
MR KIRBY: Who?
QUESTION: Mr. Tillerson.
MR KIRBY: I’m not – not that I’m aware of.
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: Can I ask on the same question?
QUESTION: Is it likely that the Secretary – Secretary Kerry would give him a call any time soon?
MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary --
QUESTION: Has he spoken to him?
MR KIRBY: The Secretary has not spoken to Mr. – thank you for the question. The Secretary has not spoken to Mr. Tillerson, but he does intend to reach out personally to congratulate Mr. Tillerson. I don’t have an update for you on when that might be or by what vehicle, whether it’s a phone call or a face-to-face meeting. As soon as we have more on that, we’ll certainly let you know. But he does absolutely intend to congratulate Mr. Tillerson personally.
QUESTION: Can I ask --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is it typical practice to have a major policy review or a review on approaches on key issues when there is a new secretary of state? Is that typical practice to have a policy --
MR KIRBY: A major review by whom? By the incoming team?
QUESTION: And also by the – I mean, a lot of them are career diplomats. So is that a major review by the --
MR KIRBY: I’m not --
QUESTION: -- people working in this building to have a policy review --
MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I understand the basis of your question --
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that there is a major policy review going on here at the State Department. Is that what you’re asking?
QUESTION: And also if directed by the new team to have a policy review, did that happen before?
MR KIRBY: Well, we have one president at a time and the State Department is supporting the foreign policy agenda and priorities of the Obama Administration. And that’s – as I’ve said many times, that’s where our heads are, as well as on helping the incoming team with whatever information and context they need as they begin to review for themselves foreign policy objectives and the agenda. And so I – look, there was an election and we now have a president-elect, and he and his team have every right – in fact, they have every responsibility – to look at the world around them and decide for themselves how they are going to view that world and how they are going to – how the United States is going to interact in that world. But that is – but those are their decisions to make. Our job, as the outgoing Administration, is to make sure that as they make those decisions, as they determine their foreign policy agenda, that they have all the information, the facts, the data, the context that they need to do that as efficiently and effectively as possible, and that’s what we’re going to do.
QUESTION: Mr. Kirby, I want to understand correctly. So you are saying that there are – so far, there’s – you do not know if there’s any policy review recommendation in this building at this point?
MR KIRBY: Nike, I’m trying to understand what you’re asking for. I think – if you’re asking me are we teeing up recommendations to the transition team to change foreign policy, no. We are implementing the foreign policy of the Obama Administration, as is our purpose, as is our task. After January 20th, we’ll have a new president. There’ll be a confirmation process for the new secretary of state. The new administration will undoubtedly review and potentially change foreign policy direction on any number of issues. And as they do, the State Department, which will implement and – those agenda items and those priorities as they’re supposed to do, just like they’ve done for the last eight years under President Obama.
QUESTION: Let me put my question this way: Yesterday, you said that a bunch of experienced diplomats are providing materials and briefings – materials to the transition team. Do they recommend a policy review on Taiwan? Because in 1994, Bill Clinton did it – the 1994 Taiwan Policy Review. So it’s in the blood of the U.S.
MR KIRBY: Again, I’m trying hard to understand where you’re going with this. If – as I said yesterday, this Administration continues to adhere to the “one China” policy, as has decades of prior administrations, both Democratic and Republican. We have no intention of changing our adherence to that “one China” policy. I cannot speak for what the next administration will want to do in that regard. That is – that’s their prerogative and only they should speak to that, not me.
QUESTION: Has the transition team asked for information on the “one China” --
MR KIRBY: I’m not – as I said yesterday, I am – and I’m going to adhere to this – we’re not going to get into a day-to-day readout of the meetings --
QUESTION: Well, that’s not a day-to-day one. That’s a big one.
MR KIRBY: No, no --
QUESTION: The “one China” thing, where --
MR KIRBY: Justin --
QUESTION: I think what Nike’s getting at is are they asking for info on that, are they trying to --
MR KIRBY: You should talk to the transition team about what they’re --
MR KIRBY: -- asking for and what information they want and what reviews they’re doing. That is not – it’s not appropriate for me to speak to that. And I’m not, as I said, going to get into a day-by-day readout of the meetings they’re having, the questions they’re asking, the information and material that they’re receiving. Our job is to make their jobs as easy and as seamless as possible, and that’s what we’re focused on.
QUESTION: Could I have --
QUESTION: Justin is very wise, but I just want to maybe put on different wording to make it easier for you to understand my question.
MR KIRBY: Hey, I’m not – I’m not – and I’m not picking on you. I’m just trying to understand where you’re going on this.
QUESTION: Well, I don’t think many people are expecting a completely switch of the recognition anytime soon. I’m just asking, would – is there any attempt or discussion to looking into different approach?
MR KIRBY: You’d have to ask the transition team.
QUESTION: Okay. Now --
MR KIRBY: If you’re asking is the State Department today, our – under President Obama, considering changes to the “one China” policy, the answer is unequivocally no.
QUESTION: Okay. Quickly on China-Taiwan, recently, the Congress passed a bill, the NDAA, National Defense Authorization Act, in which there are some very favorable language to Taiwan, including the enhancement of the military ties in according – in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act. First, I want to ask your comment and your take on that.
MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t comment on pending or potential arms sales and I’m not going to talk about legislation that hasn’t been signed into law yet. I will tell you that U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, which is law, and based on an assessment of Taiwan’s defense needs. The United States remains fully committed to fulfilling its responsibilities under that act. We continue, of course, to review Taiwan’s defensive needs on an ongoing basis and we’ll consult with Congress as required.
QUESTION: Does the State Department stand ready to work with the Congress to provide such assistance?
MR KIRBY: To provide?
QUESTION: Well, if – is the State Department standing ready to work with the Congress to fulfill --
MR KIRBY: Well, as I said – as I said, we’re always – we review Taiwan’s defensive needs on an ongoing basis. We always routinely consult with Congress as we do that. It’s an ongoing process. So that’s not going to change. But if you’re asking about the NDAA, it’s not been signed into law and I’m not going to talk about legislation that’s not signed into law right now, and I’m certainly not going to get ahead, as is our policy, of any specific discussion about arms sales in advance.
QUESTION: Should we be expecting any announcement soon – arms sale (inaudible)?
MR KIRBY: Of what?
QUESTION: Of arms sale to Taiwan (inaudible).
MR KIRBY: We don’t talk about pending arms sales. I mean, you know that. I’m just – I’m not going to go there.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Are you done?
MR KIRBY: Because that was a lot. Are you good?
QUESTION: It’s rare.
MR KIRBY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Okinawa. Do you have any --
QUESTION: I just wanted to – a few questions on the transition. (Inaudible) --
MR KIRBY: I’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: -- if it’s --
MR KIRBY: I’ll come back to you.
MR KIRBY: I’m going to refer you to the Defense Department. Certainly we’re aware of the reports of that. As you might expect, our thoughts and prayers are with the injured crew members and, of course, their families. This is a tough time for any serviceman or woman and their families to go through. As I understand, all five were rescued. The DOD will have more details on this. I’m not aware of any diplomatic discussions we’ve had with respect to this incident. Again, I really think that’s an issue that’s better put to my colleagues at the Pentagon.
In the back there.
QUESTION: Are you concerned at all that this is going to inflame some of the anti-base tensions in Okinawa?
MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, let’s let the military deal with taking care of these injured crew members. Let’s let them investigate the incident, which they will do. I think it is way too soon to jump to any conclusions about what this means or doesn’t mean for Okinawa in general.
What I can tell you is that we continue to be committed to moving forward on the Futenma replacement facility and working closely with the Government of Japan to that end. And obviously, the U.S. military and specifically U.S. military aviation takes safety as a paramount concern, and they’ll do the right thing in terms of figuring out what happened here. They’ll learn lessons from it. They’ll share those lessons from it, and then they’ll do everything they can to – if there’s deficiencies or things that need to be fixed, they’ll fix them and move forward.
Yeah. In the back there.
QUESTION: Sorry, yeah. I think you’re going to give me the same answer to that, but --
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: I think you’re going to give me the same answer to my question --
MR KIRBY: If it’s about the Osprey incident, yes.
QUESTION: Yes, it’s about the Osprey incident. And the fact of the matter is that the people of Okinawa have been concerned by crashes – about crashes from American Marines, so --
MR KIRBY: I would say that we’re concerned about those things too.
QUESTION: I’m sure – I’m sure we all are. But how do you allay those concerns? What are you planning to do?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, this is a better question put to the Defense Department. That said, I don’t want to be dismissive of it. Having come from a military background, I can assure you that we take safety – my colleagues at the Defense Department take safety critically important – of critical importance. It’s a paramount concern. And military operations are inherently not risk-free. When there’s an accident, when there’s a mishap, they work very, very hard to get to the bottom of it. They investigate it. And here’s a big difference: They will talk publicly about those investigation results when it’s over. Not every government out there does that. And they’ll be open about what happened; and if there’s lessons learned, they’ll be open about what those lessons are, and they’ll work to fix them.
What I can assure you that they will assure our friends in Okinawa is that safety is always the primary concern, particularly in flight operations, and that they will look at this very, very seriously. And to the degree it is something that could have been avoided, I can also assure you that they will do everything in their power to avoid it from happening again in the future. And again, they’ll be able to see it from themselves because the U.S. military makes public their mishap investigations. They talk about them openly and they lay out the lessons learned right there for you.
So I think while nobody is obviously happy about what happened – we don’t ever want to see an aircraft go down, thank goodness that none of the crew were killed and nobody on the ground was hurt. But they’ll learn from this. They will absolutely learn from this.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Justin.
QUESTION: A follow-up in the region.
QUESTION: Yeah. Same thing?
QUESTION: Okay, so not about Okinawa specifically but about military in the region. So of course, this is the second event in the last week, and maybe you were alluding to it in your answer, but a pilot died last week as well in Iwakuni. Has there been any diplomatic talks, like, regarding that as well? Or is this all, like, they’re totally separate investigations?
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, so first, I’m not aware of any diplomatic discussions we’ve had with respect to military mishaps. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been. I’m just not aware of it. It is not typical for there to be a major diplomatic conversation, at least from the State Department side, on a military mishap. We have military leaders in the region who routinely talk to their counterparts about a broad range of issues, and certainly when there’s a mishap they are in open communication with their counterparts wherever we are in the world.
Secondly, these are two separate incidents and they will be investigated as two separate incidents. That’s my understanding.
MR KIRBY: I understand.
QUESTION: You were talking about outgoing and incoming teams, but not everybody is going to leave the State Department after the transition.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: I wonder what is the mood, the general mood at the State Department, about this choice?
MR KIRBY: The State Department professionals here are just that; they’re professionals. And they don’t make it their concern to worry about an individual pick one way or the other. They make it their concern to carry on the business of American foreign policy no matter what party is in power, no matter who is president, no matter who is the secretary of state. One of the things – and I’ve only been in this institution now for a little less than two years, and I’ve been struck and awfully impressed by the nonpartisan, apolitical, professional work that our career diplomats and career Foreign Service officers and Civil Servants do every single day. They know what the agenda is, they know what our priorities are, and they go out and they implement it. And they do it with skill and talent and just utter professionalism.
QUESTION: So you would say it doesn’t matter --
MR KIRBY: It reminds me – actually, it reminds me a lot of my time in uniform, because it’s the same way for military men and women. It doesn’t matter to them – not that they don’t vote, not that they don’t have political views – and I’m sure every individual here at the State Department has their own political views – but they don’t let that color their performance every day. It’s the same way in the military, and I’m – I hadn’t been exposed to career Foreign Service and Civil Servants in the diplomatic community until I took this job, and I’ve got to tell you it’s pretty eye-watering.
QUESTION: Many, many in the U.S. media, especially from what I read, are worried about Mr. Tillerson’s nomination because of his seemingly friendly relationship with Russia. Do you share their concerns?
MR KIRBY: We – what – our concern honestly is to make sure that Mr. Tillerson and his team have the support that they need as they work through the confirmation process. That’s our only concern.
QUESTION: Would you work under Mr. Tillerson’s leadership?
MR KIRBY: I have no expectation of being invited to stay on. I have every expectation of resigning at the end of this Administration.
QUESTION: Iran. The president, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced today that he’s basically ordered Iranian scientists to start developing a nuclear-powered marine vessel, and it’s unclear if this would be a submarine or a boat. I realize that the White House said earlier today that they don’t view this as a violation of the JCPOA, but given that several experts say that these sorts of nuclear projects for such vessels could be an excuse to enrich uranium to a higher level than that allowed by the JCPOA, is that something that you all view with concern?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think you said – you said them, and you’re right; the White House addressed this. I mean, this announcement itself does not constitute a violation. I think there’s a lot we just don’t know. I mean, this announcement just got made. There’s a lot we don’t know about it and what it means. And so I think we’d have to reserve some judgment here about the degree to which this could present any kind of problem.
The second thing I would say is that the – we’re very comfortable in the authorities and the abilities of the IAEA to continue to inspect and analyze compliance with the JCPOA by Iran. This is the toughest inspection regime ever put in place on a deal like this, and thus far, the IAEA has been able to do that job of compliance, and we have every expectation that going forward they’ll be able to do that. So I think I’ll leave it at that. We just sort of need to see what this means. And it’s just an announcement today about pursuing marine nuclear propulsion. Without any specificity to it, it’s difficult for us to make a specific judgment at this time. Again, speaking as a former naval officer, I can tell you that my son is in the nuclear propulsion program in the Navy. It’s – that is a massive undertaking for any nation and is likely decades in the effort to begin to realize it.
QUESTION: About your son – (laughter) – no, actually I wanted to move to Saudi Arabia really quickly.
MR KIRBY: I was just looking for a way that I could work in how proud I am of my son who’s at the --
QUESTION: Yeah, I know. I’m just kidding. I know you’re proud of your son.
MR KIRBY: He’s at the ROTC Unit at North Carolina State.
QUESTION: I’ve talked about your son before. (Laughter.) He’s a good man for sure.
MR KIRBY: He is a good man.
MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, Justin, you know, as I think I said on a different – in a different region to Nike – we don’t talk about pending sales, and I’m not going to do that now. What I can tell you is that we continue to – our review of the support that we get through arms programs to Saudi Arabia continues. We have – and it’s based on continued concerns that we’ve had about military operations there in Yemen, but also driven by our firm commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend itself against the threat across its border. I mean, there’s a balance here. And yes, we have made some decisions inside this review, but I’m not at liberty to go into --
QUESTION: So the review is ongoing you’re saying?
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. But this – there has been already some Administration officials on record talking about – or on background talking about this. So you can’t elaborate at all on what weapons have already been halted?
MR KIRBY: No, what I can say is I’m not going to get into the details, but there have been some adjustments made that will help us further support a strong defense of the Saudi border and that the focus will continue to be on enhancing the sharing and analysis of threat information so that Saudi Arabia can better defend itself against future cross-border attacks. That’s just the – as far as I can go in terms of detail.
QUESTION: Can I ask really a couple on the Palestinian-Israeli issue? First, I’m not so sure you’re aware of this, but there are two Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem that are on the verge of being forced to close down because of debts. I mean, it’s --
MR KIRBY: Because of what?
QUESTION: Money owed. So they owe something like – or the authority – the Palestinian Authority owes about 250 shekels, which is about $50 million. I wonder if that was discussed in yesterday’s meeting, ways to shore up health services and so on in East Jerusalem.
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that it did, Said. We gave a readout of the meeting. I gave a readout of the --
QUESTION: I saw that. Yeah.
MR KIRBY: -- Secretary’s meeting. We gave a readout of the dialogue.
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go beyond the detail that was provided --
QUESTION: It didn’t --
MR KIRBY: -- in those readouts. I’m not aware that this was discussed.
QUESTION: Okay. So it did not – you’re not aware of any sort of urgent aid that the United States might be giving to --
MR KIRBY: No, I’m simply not aware of any. No.
QUESTION: No. All right. My second question is that Haaretz reported that the Israeli police authority – law enforcement are saying that the army is – Israeli soldiers, that’s what they said – Israeli soldiers often contaminate evidence after shooting Palestinian assailants. Prosecutors said – that’s the allegation. Now, the Palestinians all along have said that Israeli soldiers were trigger-happy. They would shoot and then they would tamper with evidence. Does that disturb you in any way, or does that confirm to you that Israel could possibly be using excessive force all along?
MR KIRBY: Well, without talking about ongoing investigations, which I don’t even do for U.S. investigations – I’m certainly not going to get into the habit of doing it for an investigation by Israel. So I’m not going to get into the specifics of this. But as we’ve said, we’re always concerned about reports of excessive use of force and – against civilians. And when there are credible reports of that, we continue to call, as we always have, for thorough, complete, and transparent investigations.
QUESTION: You would take the Israeli prosecutors comments or allegations as credible in this case?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think it’s not – first of all, it’s not for us to take them as credible or not. It’s up for the Israelis to take them a credible or not and then to investigate. And so, as I understand it, this a part of an ongoing investigation, so we look forward to seeing the results of it. But I don’t think it would be prudent or appropriate for me to comment further on it.
QUESTION: Because it relates to the previous question on Saudi Arabia. The Israelis use American-made weapons and bullets and so on. So they are likely to have used or --
MR KIRBY: Well . . .
QUESTION: -- they are likely to continue to use those kinds of weapons.
MR KIRBY: -- let’s let the investigation run its course.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: John, one quick question.
MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) Probably both of us. Where are we talking?
QUESTION: Lithuania would like a status of forces agreement for the U.S. deployment there. The reports we’re receiving are that they’d like to, for some reason, get it done before January 20. So on the timings and the negotiations of status of forces agreements.
MR KIRBY: So I think – okay. I found it. It’s under Lithuania.
QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Which I have a tab for.
QUESTION: I was just trying to establish whether I have the locus to even pose the question, but Lithuania --
MR KIRBY: Well, you can pose whatever question you want. Whether you like my answer or not is a whole other thing.
QUESTION: I don’t like to waste your time to the --
MR KIRBY: What – I think what you’re talking about is a defense cooperation agreement. So as I’ve been given to understand, we’re in the midst of negotiating a defense cooperation agreement with Lithuania. If signed, it would establish the framework for enhanced partnership and defense and security cooperation between the U.S. and Lithuania. This agreement would supplement the terms and conditions that are set forth in the NATO Status of Forces Agreement that governs the presence of U.S. forces and their dependents in Lithuania, and we hope to be able to finalize the agreement very soon. I don’t have more than that.
MR KIRBY: I don’t. She – yes, she’s there. I don’t have a readout of her meetings yet. I’m sure that we can get the – her bureau to provide that when they have it available.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Okay. Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Do you care to comment on the record on the Navy losing to Army on Saturday?
MR KIRBY: Actually, I am going to decline comment on that – (laughter) – with good reason.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:21 p.m.)