Daily Press Briefing - December 14, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:07 p.m. EST
MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody.
MR KIRBY: Did I interrupt something? You guys want to finish? No?
QUESTION: That was a side conversation I was not a part of. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: It sucks being left out, doesn’t it?
Look, I do want to start by addressing what continues to be a dire situation, obviously, in Aleppo. And I know you guys are following all that. Today the Secretary has spoken to Foreign Minister Cavusoglu of Turkey; he has spoken to Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia; he has spoken to Foreign Minister al-Thani of Qatar; and there may be a discussion later today with the UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura.
In all of these conversations, the Secretary has stressed the need to continue to try to stop the bloodshed and the violence through a meaningful ceasefire, and he noted that whatever was announced yesterday obviously didn’t survive very long due to the regime and to militias and fighters that are backed by Iran violating it. He also continued to stress the desperate need for humanitarian aid to get in and for the establishment of humanitarian corridors for people to get out and to be able to get out safely. None of those things obviously have happened. And so he is going to continue this kind of diplomatic engagement to try to achieve a better outcome for those people that are still left in Aleppo and want to get out, and of course, the opposition as well.
The other thing that he stressed was that it is more imperative than ever that we begin to get a process in place to allow for the resumption of political talks between the opposition and the regime, because we continue to believe – the Secretary stressed against in all these conversations – that the only way to solve the civil war is through a political solution; that more violence, more bloodshed, siege, starvation, and surrender tactics such as what we’re seeing in Aleppo is not only not the right way to end it, it cannot be put to an end that way; that this will be nothing more than the continuation of the war in Syria – the attraction to Syria of more terrorists and extremists, the flinging into refuge thousands and thousands of more people, and of course, the continued fighting by the opposition against the regime.
So he’s going to very much stay engaged on this going forward. While we cannot deny that the facts on the ground indicate that Aleppo is nearly all now taken by the regime, we also cannot deny the simple truth that as we – as I said yesterday, the end of the siege in Aleppo is not the end of the war in Syria. And so again, the Secretary is very focused and will stay focused on ending that war through the best possible way, and that is through a resumption of political talks in Geneva where the opposition and the regime can sit down and try to hammer out a political transition that puts in the hands of the Syrian people a government and a country that is unified, pluralistic, safe, and secure.
So again, that’s what I wanted to start with today. Brad.
QUESTION: So on Aleppo. We’ve heard a lot of moral outrage from this podium, from the Secretary, from the U.S. – the UN ambassador yesterday, from the White House. What is the goal of all of this? I mean, we’ve been hearing the same message for many months; in fact, for years. Yet nothing has really changed to stop it. So what is the goal right now of kind of laying all the blame on Russia? What are you doing differently to stop the war now?
MR KIRBY: Well, the – I don’t know if you meant it this way. It’s not like the goal is to lay the blame on Russia. The responsibilities are rightfully being applied to Russia because they’re the country with the most influence on Assad. We’ve seen it when they can and are willing to use that influence; we’ve seen it work positively. And just as much as recently, we’ve seen when they’re not willing to do it, we end up where we are right now in Aleppo. So it’s not about – it’s not just about laying responsibility where it belongs. And the outcome that we want is the same outcome, frankly, that we’ve been trying to achieve now for better than 18 months, which is political talks that can lead to a meaningful transition in Syria. And again, in all of the Secretary’s conversations today, that was front and center.
QUESTION: Right, but you failed repeatedly doing the same thing over and over again, which is a combination of trying to bring together people in some sort of talks with a sort of imperfect ceasefire, and then when things go badly, you get really angry and accuse them of war crimes or crimes against humanity, and then nothing ever changes. You haven’t succeeded once. You’ve talked about successes sometimes with Russia; it looks to everyone else like tactical retreats or momentary pauses. So what are you doing differently to prevent more of the same?
MR KIRBY: Well, the failure is in the belief that this war can be solved militarily. And the failure is on Russia for not putting the proper pressure on the Assad regime to stop the brutality, the gassing, the surrender, the starvation of their own people. That’s the real failure here. The failure is on the part of --
QUESTION: You don’t think the U.S. has failed?
MR KIRBY: -- the failure – hang on a second, I’m not done. The failure is on the part of the regime and its backers, including Russia and Iran, for the way they continue to try to find a military solution to what should be a political one. That’s the real failure here, and the Syrian people are the ones caught in the crossfire, quite literally.
You talked about the United States failure. What I would say is the international community has remained focused on trying to bring about a better outcome in Syria. And yes, the United States is a leader in that effort.
QUESTION: You speak for the United States and you have a specific – as the most powerful country in the world, have a specific responsibility in the world, and you can push that over to the international community --
MR KIRBY: I’m not.
QUESTION: -- but the United States has failed in this. Do you disagree?
MR KIRBY: I – what I – what I disagree with is where the failure lies. The failure lies on the part of the regime and its backers to act with any sense of moral standards for human behavior.
QUESTION: But you countenanced that.
MR KIRBY: No, no, that’s the failure. That’s the failure. Who --
QUESTION: Yeah, but every time they do that you reach out to them --
MR KIRBY: Brad, Brad, Brad.
QUESTION: -- and try to engage them in a process.
MR KIRBY: Brad, Brad, let me finish. I’m not at all saying that we’re content with what the results have been of better than 18 months of negotiation and discussions. If – the Secretary is – would be the first to tell you that he’s enormously frustrated that we are still where we are with respect to what’s going on on the ground in Syria. Nobody’s happy about that. And would we have preferred that any number of the communiques that we negotiated with a UN Security Council resolution that was signed on by Russia as well would have led to a better, safer outcome in Syria? Absolutely.
So nobody’s happy about this. And I’m not pushing it off on the international community at all. I’m simply making the point that it’s not just the United States that wants a political solution. And as I said yesterday, and I’ll repeat it again today, I’ve – we fully own the fact that we have been a leader in this effort. It was the United States who led the development of the ISSG. It was the United States who led the process to get us to a UN Security Council resolution. It was the United States that tried to lead both bilateral and then multilateral negotiations in recent weeks to try to bring about a ceasefire.
Look, we’re – everybody is enormously frustrated about where we are, and nobody’s happy, and that’s why the Secretary is going to continue to work at it.
QUESTION: Well, let me ask my last question, though.
MR KIRBY: But – wait. But lastly, your question – what are you going to do differently?
MR KIRBY: We’re going to continue to try to get a political outcome that is – that will serve the people of Syria that – and what we’re going to try to do is continue to prove the point that – I think by “different” you mean military – that that’s not the right approach. That’s not the right approach.
QUESTION: I didn’t say military, so don’t bring the strawman into this. I didn’t say military, but if you have military options, I’d love to hear them. But on the other hand, you have, what, four or five weeks left in office. You’re not describing any different kind of approach or anything you’re going to do to somehow change the equation. So why should anyone expect anything different to happen in the time you still have left in office?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to telegraph changes in the days and weeks ahead, one way or the other.
QUESTION: You’ve been saying that for a couple years now. So you’ve telegraphed nothing because you did nothing.
MR KIRBY: But we – there – we have a range of options at our disposal, Brad. I’m not going to get into decisions that haven’t yet been made. And you can --
QUESTION: That’s – it’s too late for that.
MR KIRBY: Look, you can shake your head in disgust about the answer all you want.
QUESTION: It’s too late for that. You have no time left and you’re saying you’re not going to telegraph something that we know is not going to happen.
MR KIRBY: You might feel that – Brad. Brad. You and the Associated Press might feel that it’s too late. The Secretary of State, John Kerry, does not feel that it’s too late to continue to try to find a political solution to this conflict.
MR KIRBY: Dave.
QUESTION: The – you – in the wording you used in your initial statement, you said that yesterday’s attempted – whatever it was – failed because the regime made the decision to continue fighting and Iranian-backed militias. So you specifically singled out Damascus and Iran. Do you think Russia wanted this to work?
MR KIRBY: I think you’d have to --
QUESTION: Or do you --
MR KIRBY: I think you’d really need to ask --
QUESTION: Right, but you’re not saying they broke the ceasefire.
MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is all the information that we have is that the regime and Iranian-backed militias refused to even start the ceasefire. Now, what Russia’s role in that regard, I’d refer you to Moscow on that.
QUESTION: But do you have any information that they are continuing to bomb?
MR KIRBY: I’m going to leave it how I characterized it.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, Moscow has announced a summit on December the 27th for Turkey and Iran to discuss the situation in Syria. Are you aware of that and is the U.S. going to have any role?
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen some press reports on that. That’s the best I have on it. I’m not aware that there’s any role for the United States in that meeting.
QUESTION: Did it come up in any of the Secretary’s calls?
MR KIRBY: It did not. And the other thing I’d say is, as we talked about yesterday, that we welcome any agreement, whether we’re a part of the discussions or not, that could lead to a better outcome in Syria.
I also want to take the opportunity with your question to correct the record a little bit. Yesterday I said that we didn’t have – it’s not – obviously, we didn’t have any role in the bilateral agreement between Russia and Turkey to achieve this stated ceasefire yesterday, which obviously failed before it even got started, but we did have indications that there were these discussions. We did know that there were discussions going on between Turkey and Russia. The Turks were – the Turks did keep us informed about the discussions that were ongoing and the ultimate result, and obviously we were supportive of that. So I misspoke when I said we didn’t have any foreknowledge. We actually did, so I do apologize for the error.
QUESTION: The State Department was aware or was it – was another U.S. department involved?
MR KIRBY: The State Department.
QUESTION: Sir, on Syria. So at the beginning you said that people are not being evacuated, that none of this is happening, they’re not getting help. And I wonder just – if you saw and how does this square with actual footage of many, many civilians leaving and being evacuated, being given food and help – other help?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say people aren’t being evacuated. I didn't – I didn’t say people aren’t being evacuated. We’ve seen people get out. We’ve seen people get out, but there’s still a lot of people in Aleppo who will need to get out, and many won’t leave because they don’t feel it’s – the passage is safe. And so as I said, what the – what I did say was the Secretary talked about the need to develop safe humanitarian corridors so that people feel comfortable going.
I’m not – I’ve never ever said that people weren’t being evacuated or didn’t evacuate themselves. But they haven’t always been able to do so safely, and so many of them don’t want to leave.
QUESTION: That is – that is actually I want – something I also want to ask you about. So for many months while supporting the rebels in eastern Aleppo, you focused on condemning Russia and the Syrian Government while it seemed to me also often downplayed the reports that reflected negatively on the rebels. And people who are now coming out of eastern Aleppo talk about how they were treated by the rebels. Many of them say that they were shot at by the rebels as they were trying to leave. There are many, many such accounts. And I just saw an AP interview with an Aleppo evacuee who said – just one quote – there are many of them. “They tried in any way with me to volunteer with them, but I refused and they beat me. I tried several times to escape from their areas to areas under government control,” end quote. And I wonder whether these accounts have in any way changed your view of the rebels in eastern Aleppo.
MR KIRBY: Well, I absolutely, fundamentally reject your assertion that we’ve downplayed actions by opposition forces that we obviously don’t agree with. And I have from – many times, and I know Mark has too – from this podium talked about concerns we’ve had in the past about certain opposition groups and opposition members not abiding by the cessation of hostilities. And I’ve seen these same press reports. I’ve seen those same quotes. They’re troubling to be sure. And I can assure you that there’s no opportunity where we don’t – when we don’t have it that we don’t take it to communicate our concerns with opposition groups about their conduct of behavior on the battlefield as well. I mean, we’re not bashful about that, and that will continue as things go on.
But I think, despite what I think is an effort to deflect responsibility by Russia and by Iran and certainly by the regime in your question, there is no doubt that by and large without question the vast majority of the depravity and the brutality, the depredations – we saw reports of executions yesterday, the bombing of schools and hospitals and homes – that that is being conducted by the regime with the support of Russia and Iran. There’s absolutely no question. Mathematically, it’s not even in dispute.
I didn’t say and I never said that the – that there weren’t things that the opposition did that were likewise concerning. We have owned up to that in the past and we’ll continue to do that. And we will continue to express our concern about that.
QUESTION: When I say “downplaying reports of the rebels’ actions,” I mean your response --
MR KIRBY: No, you said that – you said we appear to be downplaying.
QUESTION: Yeah. So – so it’s actually based on your response, the response that you gave me in October when I asked you about accounts from civilians who said that they were shot at by the rebels as they were trying to leave, they were preventing from leaving. And you said, “I can’t confirm that report. You know I don’t get into battlefield reports; I’m not going to do that. What is without dispute is that the siege of Aleppo continues, as I was mentioning earlier. And your question about being held hostage, there should be – and I’ve seen reports that they are allowed to leave.” And then you continued. So that sounded like downplaying to me.
MR KIRBY: No, that sounded like a pretty darn good answer to me. I’m pretty proud of that one. I’ve got no problem with what I said to you then, and I certainly have no problem with what I said to you now.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up?
MR KIRBY: Sure. Steve.
QUESTION: The bombing of civilians hoping to evacuate Aleppo, according today to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Zeid, is, quote, most – it “most likely constitutes war crimes.” What is the State Department’s reaction to his comment on that?
MR KIRBY: We have talked about this many times, and I think you heard – I heard – I think you heard Ambassador Power speak about this very forcefully yesterday. I’ll just – there’s no change to our view that the Secretary believes that what’s going on, particularly in Aleppo, should be evaluated for the potential of it being found to be war crimes. And as he has said many times, that clearly the brutality, the violence, is outside the norms of any standard of normal conduct of war. And --
QUESTION: But would you concur with the language that --
MR KIRBY: If you’re asking me --
QUESTION: -- this top UN official is using today, that most likely constitutes war crimes?
MR KIRBY: I would just tell you that our view of this, it has not changed and we continue to believe that these depravities – and that’s really the only word I can think of right now that adequately describes it – or atrocities, if you will – should be evaluated appropriately as potential war crimes, and the Secretary said that himself.
QUESTION: You keep saying there’s no military solution and the – it’s the Russian and Syrian failure for trashing the diplomatic solution, but do you think not that the U.S. diplomatic strategy failed by not being backed with a credible threat of force?
MR KIRBY: I think we will continue to evaluate options going forward, Barbara. We continue to believe that a diplomatic approach, a political solution is the right way to go, and I’m not going to prejudge or get ahead of decisions that may or may not be made going forward, as we’ve never done that. But as I said to Brad, nobody’s happy about the result here. You can’t but look at some of the images coming out of Aleppo and feel heartsick about it. But that doesn’t mean that the ultimate end and the means to get to that end is necessarily wrong. Just because you haven’t gotten the exact result you want, it doesn’t mean that in every case on every day that you need to – that you need to alter it necessarily.
And again, I’m not going to get ahead of anything, but we continue to believe that a political solution is the right one – that more violence, more bloodshed, more war is not the way to end this. The way to end it is to get the opposition and the regime at the table to talk about a political transition. I know you’ve heard me say that before; I get that you maybe don’t want to hear me say it again. But it is, we believe, the way to have a sustainable peace in Syria, not the introduction of more options that only increase the threat, that only decrease the security, that only make it more likely that you’re going to have additional bloodshed and violence.
I mean – so I got that Aleppo’s virtually all but taken now. But as I said yesterday, that doesn’t mean the war ends. In fact, this starve and surrender and siege mentality that the regime continues to take virtually assures that will go on. And so for the critics out there that say, well, you should get involved militarily, I’d like them to explain how that is going to end the war faster. We all recognize the difficulty of diplomacy. It can be slow, it can be plodding, and it can be difficult. It’s not linear. I understand that, believe me. I think I understand that more than most, that it’s not a linear process. But that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong approach to take.
QUESTION: New subject?
QUESTION: Oh, no, hold on. I wanted to ask you about the Iran thing as well. That’s one thing that I – it did seem you did downplay in the last few weeks and months was Iran’s influence on this war, but today you’re saying Iran-based militias were responsible for breaking or preventing this ceasefire from ever taking hold. Why have you been so quiet on the role of Iran? I think you were on CNN like a week ago and you said Iran hasn’t really played a significant role in the Aleppo siege.
MR KIRBY: I didn’t. I said Hizballah – we know Hizballah’s there. We said that they have an advisory role on the ground. I definitely put it more on Russia, which I absolutely, 100 percent support. I haven’t downplayed anything on that, Brad. We’ve been very honest about the fact --
MR KIRBY: We’ve been very honest about the fact that Iran is there, and --
QUESTION: Really? How many sanctions have you put on Iran over Syria in the last two years? Zero.
MR KIRBY: And I would ask you to go look at comments coming out of Tehran today.
QUESTION: Zero sanctions.
MR KIRBY: Come and look at comments coming out of Tehran today about how they’re fairly crowing about Aleppo and about the role they played --
QUESTION: They are, absolutely.
MR KIRBY: -- in the siege of Aleppo.
QUESTION: They are not downplaying it.
MR KIRBY: So it’s not just me. They’re talking about their role --
QUESTION: Yeah, they’re not downplaying it.
MR KIRBY: -- and we have too.
QUESTION: So what --
MR KIRBY: And we have too.
QUESTION: You’ve – no, you’ve been pretty much focusing entirely on Russia.
MR KIRBY: Because the responsibility lies almost entirely on Russia.
QUESTION: You’ve been saying they’re not playing a major operational role even though they’re directing a lot of the ground attacks and their – they have their own kind of proxies embedded with the Syrians. And you’ve done nothing on the sanctions front even though you have widespread authority to sanction Iran.
MR KIRBY: We have sanctions in place on Iran’s destabilizing activities as well as their support for terrorism and groups like Hizballah, which we know are operating in Syria. There are existing – Brad, come on, now. I mean, I am not going to --
QUESTION: But they’re existing, but why have you put no sanctions on Iran --
MR KIRBY: I am not going to debate – I am not going to debate --
QUESTION: -- for the last two years?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to debate policy with you here or future options going forward, Brad. But you know as well as I do that we have sanctions in place on Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism. You know that many of those affect Hizballah. Those --
QUESTION: But that’s not germane to what we’re talking about here.
MR KIRBY: There are sanctions in place.
QUESTION: This is not a terrorism issue. This is about support for --
MR KIRBY: There are sanctions in place to affect Iran’s destabilizing activities.
QUESTION: You’re just throwing apples and oranges out here.
MR KIRBY: No, I’m not. No.
QUESTION: This is not about state sponsorship of terrorism. This is about their support for the Assad regime’s military activity.
MR KIRBY: And we’ve been – and we have been --
QUESTION: It’s a completely different set and you’ve done – the Administration has done nothing.
MR KIRBY: We’ve been honest about that role. I’m not going to prejudge or get ahead of decisions one way or the other, Brad.
QUESTION: Well --
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to do that. I know – you are probably --
QUESTION: -- the prejudging – the “pre” notion is a little silly at December 2016 --
MR KIRBY: I can --
QUESTION: -- after Aleppo falls to declare anything like --
MR KIRBY: I can --
QUESTION: -- prejudging. I mean, what’s done is done.
MR KIRBY: Look, Brad. Brad. Brad. Calm down.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m calmed down.
MR KIRBY: Okay? You don’t need to get so upset.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m not getting upset.
MR KIRBY: And I don’t know – and I don’t know --
QUESTION: It’s a cheap shot – that’s a cheap shot. Come on.
MR KIRBY: I don’t – no, it’s not.
QUESTION: I’m not upset, I’m just --
MR KIRBY: Yes, you are. Yeah.
QUESTION: I’m just debating a point with you and I’m disagreeing vigorously.
MR KIRBY: And I’m saying this is not the forum to debate policy. If you want to debate policy, I’ll set you up with some policy experts and --
QUESTION: Don’t get upset, John. Don’t get upset, John.
MR KIRBY: Oh, yeah. Yeah, right. Exactly.
QUESTION: It’s a cheap shot.
MR KIRBY: No, it’s not a cheap shot. Yeah, Goyal.
QUESTION: Sorry, one more on Syria?
QUESTION: New subject: South Asia. Let’s start with --
QUESTION: Can I follow up on Syria? We’re on Syria.
MR KIRBY: No – no, no, guys. I call the questions. Not you. Go ahead, Goyal.
QUESTION: Let’s start with China. John, sir, a lot had been said since president-elect called or took the call from Taiwanese President. My question is here now, China has been – according to the press reports and experts, China has been getting over a lot of crimes, what they say – human rights and others – for the last 40 years. My question is: Is U.S. happy with “one China” policy, number one? Number two --
MR KIRBY: Goyal, we’ve talked about this. Let me just stop you right there. We’ve talked about this. I’d point you to the transcript over the last several days. There’s been no change about this Administration’s support for the “one China” policy.
QUESTION: So what’s wrong now after 40 years if people are asking that? There’s a time now to ask – there’s Tibetans and Hong Kong and Taiwanese, when you have a special status on Taiwan also. And millions of Muslims inside China also suffering and asking that time has come for the U.S. and UN and international community to review “one China” policy.
MR KIRBY: Again, Goyal, there’s no change to this Administration’s support for the “one China” policy, which has been in place for the last four-plus decades by both Democratic and Republican administrations. I can’t speak for what the next administration will do on that or any other foreign policy priority around the world. That’s for them to decide, for them to speak to. This Administration will continue to support the “one China” policy.
QUESTION: And --
MR KIRBY: Steve.
QUESTION: And --
QUESTION: Talking about China --
MR KIRBY: Steve.
QUESTION: -- I have a related question. A think tank today here in Washington came out with an analysis of satellite imagery showing placements of anti-aircraft weaponry on the disputed islands in the South China Sea. This seems in direct contrast to what Xi Jinping had told President Obama and others about not militarizing these islands and that these seem to go beyond purely defensive purposes. Are you aware of these images and what is the reaction?
MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to talk about intelligence matters --
QUESTION: Well, this is commercial satellite imagery.
MR KIRBY: I got it. What I will just say is, as always, we’ve consistently called on China as well as other claimants to commit to peacefully managing and resolving disputes, to refrain from further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, and the militarization of disputed features. And I’d refer you to the Chinese Government to explain what these images mean or don’t mean. What we have – we’ve been very consistent about our concerns over the militarization and the lack of the need for that.
QUESTION: Right. Since June or July this activity has been going on, but we’re just hearing this statement being read out again and again. Is there --
MR KIRBY: We routinely raise this issue with our Chinese counterparts. We do that privately. Certainly we’re not bashful about doing it publicly. We’re – for our part, we’re going to continue to fly, sail, and operate in international airspace and international waters, as is our mandate, as is our requirement, as international law will allow. There’s – there should be no need for further reclamation. There should be no need for militarization of these manmade features. And we’re going to continue to make that case at every possible turn.
QUESTION: And John, sir, on India. Since Prime Minister Modi took this hard line on – against the black market money around the globe, people are in shock. But my question is here, now, what he said in a speech that he – because of his actions against the black market money, terrorism against India or in India or around the globe is now less or will be less because he said that before Pakistan had a factory of terrorism and supporting or exporting against India. And now they have or had a factory of printing fake Indian currency inside Pakistan. And now what they are saying is that middle man or most wanted, Dawood Ibrahim, and ISI is in shock. And one person, at least, middle man have now committed suicide in Karachi. He was the one who was pushing the fake market money inside India and supporting terrorism. Any comment, sir, on that?
MR KIRBY: No. I mean, I haven’t seen these reports, Goyal. So I’ll tell you what, we’ll have somebody get back to you on that.
QUESTION: And finally on freedom of the press.
MR KIRBY: No. Goyal, Goyal, I need to move on, okay?
MR KIRBY: We don’t have an embassy in Tehran.
QUESTION: So why did we repair the Iranian embassy here in 2011? Where did that money come from?
MR KIRBY: Ma’am, I don’t have any information on this. I’m going to have to – you’re going to have to let me get back to you on that. I’m not aware that there were any repairs done by the United States on Iranian – we don’t have diplomatic relations with Iran.
QUESTION: Well, that’s --
MR KIRBY: So, like, we don’t have an embassy there and they don’t have an embassy here.
QUESTION: Well, that’s the – that’s the question, is we did do extensive repairs in 2011 and the question is: Why are we doing that if our embassy or, now, lack of embassy --
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I mean, there’s no formal diplomatic relations, so there’s no embassy here. We don’t have one in Tehran. So you’re – you must be talking about a building here that maybe at one time had been, right? Is that what you’re referring to?
QUESTION: It’s the blue dome. We redid a blue dome that was the Iranian embassy in 2011 and that --
MR KIRBY: And when you say “we,” you mean the U.S. Government?
QUESTION: The United States, correct.
MR KIRBY: Okay. I don’t know anything about it, so let me take that question and we’ll try to get you a better answer.
MR KIRBY: All right?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any update for you, Nic. Those --
QUESTION: But are they --
MR KIRBY: Those talks became moribund over the weekend when we couldn’t reach – when we reached an impasse, and I talked about that earlier this week.
QUESTION: Okay. And --
QUESTION: But “moribund” means they’ve stopped?
MR KIRBY: Right, there’s – right, yes.
QUESTION: So the teams are back to --
MR KIRBY: Well, look, I don’t – we have people that are always in Geneva, so, like, I don’t want to convey the image of people packing up suitcases and flying back. I mean, we have people in Geneva that were participating in this. There’s other things that they do as well. We have many – there’s many activities going on in Geneva, but there are – but there’s no technical talks going on right now because we couldn’t get there over the weekend because Russia came in at the endgame and changed the parameters.
QUESTION: And to follow up to what you said to Brad and to what the Secretary told us in Paris about the political talks, are you still hopeful to be able to relaunch these political talks before January 20, even if there is no ceasefire in Aleppo? And do you have indication that the Assad regime is willing to go back to the table and that the opposition is – has agreed to return to the table with the coalition?
MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t think we have – I don’t think we have agreement right now to get to the resumption of political talks, but I can tell you that the Secretary’s going to stay focused on that for the rest of the time that he’s in office. Now, I can’t predict for you the likelihood of that happening before the end of this Administration. I just would not be able to do that. But what I can tell you is that, as I said in my opening comments, that he’s going to work very, very hard to try to achieve that outcome before he leaves office. And at the very least, if he can’t, to be able to create the kind of conditions where that can happen soon after or early on.
QUESTION: On Syria, do you get the sense that the Russian position has changed at all, with now only a few weeks away until the handover, that they basically think they can wait Secretary Kerry out, then they’re going to get someone new who has ties to Russia? Has their language changed, has their sort of negotiating strategy changed with the Secretary? Does he feel like he’s being sort of stalled on?
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, look, there’s been frustrations with the Russian approach to this for months now, so I’ve not detected any change. I mean, as I said earlier on, that though they talk about wanting to achieve a political solution, they continue – their actions convey something entirely different, which is that they believe a military solution is possible because they continue to support the Assad regime in this brutality. I’ve not detected any change. And as for what’s in their mindset with respect to the transition to a new administration, I would refer you to Russian officials to speak to that. I wouldn’t know.
But I can, again, speak for Secretary Kerry and tell you that regardless, he is going to stay engaged. He had another conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov today, as I said, and he’s going to keep that level of engagement and activity up for the entire time that he’s Secretary of State to try to achieve this – these political talks, to try to get the sides to the table to try to work this out.
MR KIRBY: The discussion with the Turkish foreign minister this morning was about Syria.
QUESTION: Only Syria? Okay. They are reporting in the press that Mrs. Nuland gave a proposal to the governments of Greece and Turkey on Cyprus. Can you confirm this?
MR KIRBY: I cannot.
QUESTION: Can you take the question?
MR KIRBY: I’m happy to take a look at it, but I can’t --
QUESTION: And the last question I have --
MR KIRBY: -- but --
MR KIRBY: I’ll take it back. I’m not – I can’t guarantee you a definitive answer one way or the other. Okay?
QUESTION: Okay. But can I ask the last question?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you tell us who is going to represent the United States at the talks in Geneva? There are talks on Cyprus from January 9th to January 12th. I understand that the Russians are going.
MR KIRBY: We’ll have to get back to you.
QUESTION: Can you take the question? Thank you.
MR KIRBY: I don’t have an answer for you on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes. So President Putin is traveling to Japan and will be meeting with Prime Minister Abe. Given sort of the urgency of what’s happening in Aleppo and Syria, do you think that it’s appropriate that those meetings will focus primarily on bilateral issues?
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, who’s meeting with --
QUESTION: President Putin is meeting with Prime Minister Abe.
MR KIRBY: And you’re asking me if it’s appropriate for him to have these meetings?
QUESTION: Well, I mean, do you think – well, would you encourage them – would you encourage your allies, the Japanese, to sort of – to escalate the issue of Syria in these talks and pressure the Russians --
MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, you know I’m not going to talk about diplomatic conversations one way or another. And these kinds of meetings are sovereign decisions that nation-states make, and it’s not for us to pass judgment on it one way or the other. Prime Minister Abe has every right – and responsibility, in fact – to meet with foreign leaders of his own choosing, and to discuss whatever is on his mind and his agenda, and we fully support that.
No, Goyal. I think I’m going to – I think I’m going to call it for today.
QUESTION: Freedom of the press.
MR KIRBY: Thanks very much. (Laughter.) You’ve had plenty of freedom today.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:43 p.m.)