Daily Press Briefing - December 22, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:14 p.m. EST
MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR KIRBY: Just a couple of things at the top, if I could.
On Ukraine: The United States welcomes the trilateral contact group’s announcement of an agreement for a holiday ceasefire in eastern Ukraine – excuse me – set to begin on Christmas Eve at midnight. We hope that the ceasefire will mark the beginning of sustained quiet at the line of contact to allow Ukrainians on both sides of the line to live in peace and security. And as we’ve said before, we’re deeply concerned by the recent spike in violence in eastern Ukraine in which combined Russian-separatist forces have launched daily attacks on Ukrainian positions using heavy weaponry prohibited by the Minsk agreements. Once again, we urge Russia to use its influence with the separatists to turn down the violence, as it has done successfully numerous times in the past, and allow access for OSCE monitors. This will relieve the humanitarian suffering in eastern Ukraine, and it will create space for further progress on the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
The only other thing that I want to note today is that today, I am given to understand, is Brad Klapper’s last daily briefing here at the State Department. Is that right, Brad?
QUESTION: That’s right.
MR KIRBY: And we know that Brad’s moving on to cover national security affairs at a different level inside the Associated Press. Brad, you’ve been a real pro. All of us, I think on certainly this side of the podium, and I know your colleagues also share a great amount of respect for the dogged nature that you cover stories, the accuracy, the fairness in your reporting. And frankly, even though it gets uncomfortable for me up here at times, I wouldn’t want it any other way, because I think that’s a hallmark of your reporting style and your approach to real, honest, gumshoe journalism. And all of us here in Public Affairs salute you. We thank you for your professionalism, and we obviously wish you very, very well as you take up new duties.
QUESTION: Well thank you, John.
QUESTION: Hear, hear.
QUESTION: Hear, hear.
MR KIRBY: And with that, yes – once again, you get the first question.
QUESTION: With that, I have a bag full of softballs for you. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: That was kind of why I did it that way. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you very much, and I very much appreciate your professionalism at all times in here --
MR KIRBY: Thanks.
QUESTION: -- and in everything you’ve done. And I’ve had a great time. Thank you.
MR KIRBY: We’re going to miss you.
QUESTION: I wanted to start on the resolution at the United Nations.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Israeli settlements resolution. There was a lot of things that happened today. Do you have a full – can you give us a full accounting of where the United States sees the process at this point?
MR KIRBY: Well, as we understand, the language that was introduced by Egypt is still out there, but that Egypt has asked for a postponement of a vote that was supposed to happen today on that language. We are also given to understand that they are consulting with their Arab League partners about the text. And even as coming down here when I checked in, as I understand it, those discussions are still ongoing. So we’ll just have to wait and see what the results of those consultations are to see if the text moves forward. I honestly don’t know if or when a vote will be rescheduled.
QUESTION: Was the United States hoping for the vote to proceed?
MR KIRBY: Well, it wasn’t – it wasn’t about hope. I mean, this was --
QUESTION: In favor of the vote – yeah.
MR KIRBY: What I think – first of all, obviously, I’m not going to preview, nor would we preview, our views or our votes in advance of Security Council resolutions being voted on. So what we have continued to try to do is work towards seeing a viable two-state solution realized. But it wasn’t – so in that regard, I think we were interested to see how the debate and the discussion would unfold, and I think I’d leave it at that.
QUESTION: Did – if you don’t want to say what you – you don’t want to say what your position was, whether you were going to veto, abstain, or vote yes. Is that my understanding?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, we never preview our votes.
QUESTION: Okay. Did the United States know what it was going to vote before the vote was pulled? Did you internally have a decision?
MR KIRBY: I think there – as you might expect, there were obviously discussions inside the interagency about this draft text and views put forward and discussed about how we would approach the text. But again, I don’t think I’ll – I want to go any further than that.
QUESTION: Yeah. Without saying – I’m not – without saying what you would have voted, had – it was only hours away. Had you decided what you were going to vote? Yes or no?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go into any more detail about interagency discussions on this.
QUESTION: And I just have one or two more.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: What in the document, the draft resolution – I mean, it was pretty – it was basically a mirror of U.S. policy on settlements. What was in there that was potentially objectionable?
MR KIRBY: To whom?
QUESTION: To you.
MR KIRBY: Well, again, I don’t want to stake out positions here on draft text. And – and look, the text – I’m not predicting anything, but the text could change now in the wake of discussions with the Arab League. So I think we all need to just – the Egyptians have pulled it back. They’ve asked for a postponement. They’re having discussions with their Arab League partners. We need to let that process work its way through. If there’s changes to the text, obviously we’ll take a look at that. But I really don’t want to get ahead of any votes one way or the other, and that’s – if, in fact, this comes back for a vote.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? Did the U.S. have anything to do with the postponement of this vote?
MR KIRBY: This was an Egyptian decision to postpone, and I’d refer you to Egyptian authorities to speak to that further.
QUESTION: Had the U.S. advised the Israelis what it was going to vote beforehand?
MR KIRBY: We don’t preview our votes.
QUESTION: Did President-elect Trump’s tweet have anything or any impact on what – on – or do you believe that President-elect Trump’s tweet on – that he would veto this vote, that have any effect or bearing on the decision today?
MR KIRBY: You really need to talk to Egyptian authorities about their request for a postponement after the language was introduced. That’s really for them to speak to.
QUESTION: We understand that the president-elect’s team did – or did speak to U.S. officials before they actually put out their statement, so they had to have had discussions with the Administration on – that they were going to – what – that they were going to put out the statement. You’re not aware of anything like that?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any discussions here at the State Department.
QUESTION: The U.S. – this is my last question. The U.S. has certainly, since I’ve been covering the last four years, condoned the settlement expansion by the Israelis. It’s been a thorny point in the peace discussions that Kerry was – was leading. What would your stand be if the – given that the vote or that the draft text did condone the settlement expansion as illegal?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, you’re asking me to take a position or to speak to a position on the text, the draft text, and I – I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to get ahead of votes that haven’t happened yet. We just don’t preview our view in advance of votes inside the UN Security Council.
Now look, that said, I think you know, Lesley – and we’ve been very clear about our position on settlements and the degree to which we don’t find them to be constructive to the overall cause of peace.
QUESTION: But you said that the settlements were illegal. Are you backtracking on that?
MR KIRBY: I had – I – in an interview the other day I misspoke. I referred to them as illegal and I put out a tweet clarifying it shortly after; our position is that they’re illegitimate.
QUESTION: So why are they – why are they not illegal? Why are they not illegal? If it’s, in fact, this territory was acquired by the use of force, military force, why isn’t it illegal according to the Geneva Conventions?
MR KIRBY: Said, I don’t think this is the forum for a policy debate on this. Our policy has been consistent that they’re illegitimate and that they are not constructive to getting us closer to a two-state solution.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, I just want – I have a couple more questions. Now, the draft, the text of the draft, is really not that much different than what you said the other day. I mean, it basically talks about the same issues and the need for a two-state solution, that you can – these are illegitimate or illegal, whatever you want to call them, and so on. So why would you not, let’s say, push for such a resolution independent of, let’s say, Egypt or another group and so on? Because that does go along with your stated policy, and your stated policy over a period of, like, forty years or fifty years.
MR KIRBY: Again, you’re wanting me to get into a conversation here about our thinking about this text before there was a vote, and I’m not going to do that.
QUESTION: No, I’m not saying about Egypt’s submitting or withdrawing. I’m saying that would the United States --
MR KIRBY: No, you’re asking about the text.
QUESTION: I understand. I want to ask you directly and pointedly: Would the United States take a draft like this and take the initiative itself and call for a Security Council meeting to talk about this thing to advocate for such a resolution?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, do you see that this thing could come up for a vote in the next 20 days and so on?
MR KIRBY: I have no idea. Egypt has asked for a postponement. I don’t know what the timeframe on that postponement is. I think we’re just going to have to let – we’re going to have to watch and see how this process plays out.
QUESTION: Could you share with us what the Secretary would have said today?
MR KIRBY: So, I mean, the Secretary was preparing to deliver some remarks today about a vision for the Middle East and certainly the Middle East peace process itself. And he decided that, in light of the postponement of the vote, that it would be prudent for him to postpone his remarks as well. I’m not going to preview the remarks with any specificity, beyond just saying that it certainly was going to be about the Middle East and the process.
QUESTION: So this speech, this vision, is contingent upon the resolution being brought up to a vote?
MR KIRBY: No. No, I didn’t --
QUESTION: Or that – or could it happen independent of it?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that.
MR KIRBY: I said he was expecting to do it today, and certainly the timing was in concert with what we expected to be a vote today. In fact – and in light of the fact that the vote has been postponed, he’s decided to postpone his remarks. It doesn’t mean that it has to be done on the same particular day, but that’s the timing that we chose to pursue. And if and when the Secretary delivers those remarks, we’ll certainly keep you apprised and let you know.
QUESTION: Do you believe that you have been out-maneuvered by the Israelis? They went directly to the Egyptian president and they pressured him.
MR KIRBY: This is about a vote that the Egyptian Government has asked for a postponement. And you’d have to talk to Egyptian authorities about their reasons for doing that. For our part – and we’ve been very clear and consistent about this, Said – we continue to want to see a viable two-state solution. And we believe that with strong cohesive leadership on all sides there in the region that that solution can be found. And we’re going to – for the remainder of time that the Secretary has in office, I can assure you he’s going to continue to try to work towards getting us closer to creating the conditions for a two-state solution to happen and to succeed.
QUESTION: Different subject? Or anybody --
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. The State Department has informally replied to the House Foreign Affairs Committee Democrats, assuring them that this department will not participate in any witch hunt, turning over names to the Trump transition team about people who worked on certain policies. However, there are reports now that the department has turned over positions and policies and programs that the transition team has asked for, specifically related to gender issues.
I know you’ve said before you don’t want to get into all the details of what you’re handing over to them, but over at the Energy Department, when something similar happened, the Energy Department spokesman came over – basically publicly reassured employees that they would not – their jobs wouldn’t be in jeopardy. Has there been any communication to department staff about this, a similar sort of reassurance? What can you tell us about this sort of communication?
MR KIRBY: Look, I’ve seen press reporting on this issue. As I have in the past, so I will today, not speak about communications that we’re having with the president-elect’s transition team here at the State Department. What I can tell you is that we continue to provide them information and context, at their request, that is appropriate to them effecting a smooth and seamless transition here at the State Department and in helping inform them as they begin to take the reins of leadership. That was the very clear guidance issued by Secretary Kerry right after the election, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. But I am simply not going to read out our discussions and our daily interactions with the transition team. That wouldn’t be appropriate.
QUESTION: But can you give reassurance to employees in this building and in the embassies around the world that issues that they worked on under the direction of their bosses won’t cause them to be in line for retaliation, demotion, or other treatment by --
MR KIRBY: You’re making a supposition based on what you think the transition team is asking for. And again, I’m not going to get into the specifics of the information that is being sought or the information that’s being provided. The incoming administration will make their own policy decisions based on the foreign policy agenda that President-elect Trump lays out. That’s their job. That’s why we have elections in this country. And the professionals here at the State Department – and they’re all professionals – will carry out that foreign policy agenda and they will support that foreign policy agenda.
Now, as I’ve said before, we will do our utmost to provide them the context and the information that we – that they ask for and that we think is appropriate to help them make the most-informed, best decisions going forward. But ultimately, those decisions are squarely on the shoulders of the president-elect, and we respect that. Okay?
QUESTION: Just a follow-up to that?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: The New York Times has this photograph of the actual memo that was given to the State Department --
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen it.
QUESTION: -- asking for --
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’ve seen it.
QUESTION: -- particularly the positions that were dedicated to gender equality and the budget for the past year. Is that, do you think, is appropriate information for a seamless transition?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to leaked documents, Barbara. I simply won’t do that. I would point you back to what I said yesterday – that I won’t speak to specific information being communicated to or from the transition team. As I said yesterday, it is normal, it is usual, it is typical, it is expected that as a new team comes in – and I saw this for myself eight years ago when I was in the Pentagon for the transition between President Bush and President – then-President-elect Obama – for a transition team to want to have a sense of organization, of resourcing, and of staffing for the organization and the sub-units of those – of that organization that they’re about to lead.
QUESTION: On that same topic, John, as you said yesterday, you really characterized a lot of these questions about staffing and programs, some of which are viewed as politically charged – they’re just standard programs here, but some view them as that. You were saying all those questions you really saw as appropriate and standard for a transition. On this latest question specific to gender programming and budgeting, do you also think that specific topic area is standard to be one of the few sort of flash memos sent out demanding information on?
MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to get into the details of communications with the transition team and/or confirming the veracity of leaked documents. I can’t do that. But, Margaret, I mean, obviously, gender equality issues here at the Department of State are a priority. Secretary Kerry has made them a priority; Secretary Clinton before him made it a priority, and it remains one for us here. And yes, there is staffing and resources being applied to gender equality issues around the world, because we believe in that and we think that gender equality, like so many other issues of human rights, are paramount to American foreign policy, American interests around the world. And to the degree that there is interest in the way we have approached pursuing gender equality and human rights around the world by the transition team, we will certainly provide them the context, the information that is appropriate to help them make their own decisions about that going forward.
QUESTION: On a personnel level, though, have you heard concerns from those who keep characterizing this as a witch hunt or a fear of a witch hunt? Whether or not it’s actually going to be borne out, there seems to be a level of concern among some employees here.
MR KIRBY: Sure. Look, I can’t discount the notion that in all aspects of a change in leadership here that there’s going to be anxiety. Change is difficult for everybody to deal with. It is particularly difficult – as those of you who have been covering Washington for any length of time, you know it’s particularly difficult for bureaucracies. So I understand that – and the Secretary understands – that changes in leadership and potential changes in policies going forward can cause angst. But I think that it would be appropriate for those who are feeling that to speak to their – to the level of anxiety, not for me to speak for them, and to what degree it’s high or low or mixed or where it resides in the department.
But here’s the other thing I would say, Margaret, if you’ll allow me, and I alluded to it earlier: The people that work here, now that I’ve had two years to see it, they are true professionals. Whether they’re political appointees or career Foreign Service or civil servants, they are professionals. And while I can’t discount that some of them might have some anxiety, I can assure you and I can assure the American people that they will face change squarely on, that they will respond appropriately, that they will remain professionals, and that whatever the foreign policy agenda that is being pursued by the incoming administration, they will support it, they will implement it, they will inform it, and they will help guide it, because that’s what they do. And I’m just real proud to have been a part of it even for these last two years. And I’m sure that my successor and that everybody coming in on the new team, when they get here, they will too be comforted and confident in the skill and the talent that resides here at Foggy Bottom.
QUESTION: And lastly on this, though – I mean, you watched the campaign, we all watched the campaign; it was an extraordinary one. A lot of the rhetoric was more heated than usual.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: I mean, can you say – has this risen to the Secretary’s level yet in terms of the anxiety that some apparently are expressing?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that he’s been apprised of any individual anxiety. I think as a leader, as a man who’s been in public service for virtually his entire adult life, he’s mindful that change is difficult and that organizations need to be led through change, and that’s why he has been so vocal and so clear with the department that he wants them to embrace this transition process.
So I think he’s obviously wise enough to know that certainly there’s going to be some trepidation, just in the – just in change itself there’s going to be some. And that’s why he is trying to lead with such a steady hand here in his final few weeks, and to reassure everybody that as long as they fall back on their professionalism and their skills and their talents and their wisdom and experience, that they’ll be able to weather the change; in fact, they’ll be able to lead that change.
QUESTION: Is there a --
QUESTION: And you’re – it’s still policy not to hand over names. Is that accurate?
MR KIRBY: There is – it’s – I think you can understand that in helping any new team get a grip on a new organization, that as they try to understand bureaus and how they are manned, that there’s going to be a discussion, there needs to be a discussion about what positions will remain open for them to fill and what positions they might not have to worry about filling because they’re being filled with, say, career Foreign Service officers or civil servants. And so in that capacity, in terms of the – informing them about the organization, you can see that there might be a logic in terms of being able to explain to them who specifically is in what seat. There is nothing wrong with that. That’s typical. That’s normal. I’ve seen it --
MR KIRBY: I’ve seen it in the past. In a military change in command it’s no different. When a new captain comes aboard a ship, you tell him who’s on board and what jobs they have and how the ship operates. That’s the way it works. But obviously, we would have concerns if, for instance, there were issue-specific list of names that were being provided. I mean, clearly that would be something that would be of concern of us and would not be the kind of thing that we would want to engage in, but in terms of organizationally – where people are, what jobs they have, who’s in the chair, and whether that person is going to be here after the 20th or not, that’s – those are fair questions to – for us to have to answer.
QUESTION: John, but you must agree that there must be a feeling of intimidation, because there was a time – I mean, it’s – was several decades back – when there were lists and people were afraid and they were intimidated and so on. What kind of counseling or what kind of reassurance, as a – other than saying fall back on your professionalism, what kind of assurances or legal assurances --
MR KIRBY: As I – I think I just said to Margaret, I mean, should – and I’m not saying there are – again, I’m not speaking to specific requests for information, but obviously, in a hypothetical situation, if there were issue-specific names requested, obviously that would be of concern to us and it would not be the kind of information that we would deem to be appropriate to be passed along. That said, if it’s organizationally arranged and asked for in that context, well, there’s a certain logic there, without getting into specific requests that have or – have been made or have been met. And again, we – everybody understands that change is difficult, but Said, you’ve been here longer than me, and I think you know darn well how professional the career people here are at the State Department and that they’ll weather this just fine. In fact, they’ll come through with flying colors because they are such professionals and because the new team, when they get here, will see that readily. And I – it’s not as if there aren’t experienced people on the transition team as well who also understand and have a grounding in what this institution does. And not just here in Washington, but what it does around the world.
QUESTION: As we enter Secretary Kerry’s final time here, in your assessment, do you believe he has made us here at home in the U.S. safer and, more broadly, the world safer during his time?
MR KIRBY: Oh, absolutely I do. And I believe Americans – American foreign policy and our foreign policy priorities, our foreign policy achievements have helped make the American people safer. Look at the Iran deal, for instance. We now have a deal in place – and it is being implemented by all sides – that will preclude Iran from ever – ever – achieving nuclear weapons capability. And there’s an inspection regime in place that’s the most rigorous ever enacted. And an Iran without nuclear weapons capability, I think we can all agree, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on or on the issue that you’re on, is better to deal with – even an Iran that is still conducting destabilizing activities, and they are – than one that is also doing that with the capability of having nuclear weapons.
Look at the Paris Agreement – what, more than 140 nations signed up for a robust – the most – a historically robust climate change agreement that, if everybody meets their obligations, has a real chance at getting us to slow the global warming rate and get below that two degrees centigrade level. And the Pentagon itself has said and called climate change a national security threat. That’s not just the State Department. The Pentagon has said that. And so, thanks to Secretary Kerry’s leadership at working through the Paris Agreement and really helping bring people to the table and getting it signed, we’re on a path now to reduce the threat posed by the rising temperatures on the planet.
Look at what we were able to do with Ebola in Africa, where they were predicting a million deaths, and the President made some courageous decisions to put military troops on the ground down there and other experts to try to stem that because that epidemic could have spread wildly not just throughout the continent but perhaps throughout the world, causing untold instability and insecurity.
Look at Secretary Kerry’s leadership in mounting a now 67, 68-member coalition to counter Daesh in Iraq and Syria. That coalition was fashioned here by the State Department, by Secretary Kerry. General Allen, I think you might remember, was the first presidential special envoy for that coalition. And he and Brett McGurk, who is now the special envoy, did – took on the monumental task of cobbling together this coalition, which still exists. It’s the largest international coalition I think that’s ever existed, and it’s having real success and real progress on degrading and defeating this group.
So, long answer, but yes, Secretary Kerry has over the course of his tenure helped make Americans safer here at home and safer abroad. And obviously that’s an extension of the foreign policy agenda that this Administration has pursued.
QUESTION: So you’ve just named some things he’s very proud of. Anything – any areas you – he feels he could have done better in?
MR KIRBY: I think if you were to ask the Secretary, he would be the first to tell you that he’s obviously frustrated by where we are in Syria, and that we – that our diplomatic efforts have not been successful in terms of getting us to a political transition where the voice of the Syrian people can be heard and can realize a better, safer, unified Syria. That doesn’t mean that over the next few weeks – and I’d remind he still has a month in office – that he’s not going to keep at it and keep trying to get us there, but I think he would tell you that that’s one area that he wishes we could have been more successful a lot sooner.
QUESTION: John, can I ask you --
QUESTION: On --
QUESTION: -- about the tweet of – sorry – Mr. Trump’s tweet about wanting to expand and strengthen the nuclear program or nuclear weapons program? During the campaign there was a lot of discussion, especially from the Clinton side, about how Mr. Trump didn’t have the temperament to handle the nuclear weapons arsenal, that he was unpredictable and impulsive. Is this – does this kind of tweet, especially coming a few hours after Mr. Putin said something similar without any kind of policy statement or thinking to back it up – does that reinforce concerns that he might not be a steady hand?
MR KIRBY: Not for me to say, Barbara. I can’t speak for what – the president-elect’s nuclear views or his policy going forward. That’s for his and his team to speak to. What I can speak to is the approach that this Administration has taken to trying to get us on a path to a world without nuclear weapons. And we have achieved progress that we believe on a number of fronts: first, reducing our stockpile and our launchers through New START; number two, diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in our security strategy; and number three, securing the Iran deal, as I just spoke to a few minutes ago with Lauren about stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons, particularly through that deal.
Now, that said, we’re always looking at additional ways to achieve progress on the President’s path forward to maintaining a credible deterrent. Nobody’s walked away from the fact that you need a credible deterrent for the United States, including a credible nuclear deterrent. As a matter of fact, we have and continue to review plans for appropriate modernization of that nuclear deterrent. So it is absolutely a vital pillar in our national security strategy, but again, our Administration has taken a view of focusing on other national security implements and tools, as well reducing the stockpile, and again, really trying to get after proliferation.
QUESTION: John --
QUESTION: John, can I follow up on that?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Has there been any concerns expressed since that tweet came out this morning from the president-elect from other countries to this building?
MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: John, in Syria, the Turkish army is besieging the ISIS-held town of al-Bab. Today, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said they think more than 40 civilians were killed in Turkish strikes today. Now, I know in the – Turkey is a member of the anti-ISIS coalition, but you’ve also from this podium expressed concern at uncoordinated actions they’ve carried out. Is Turkey’s assault on al-Bab part of the coalition operation, or is that unilateral?
MR KIRBY: You know what, Dave? I am not familiar with the battlefield updates here today, so rather than spit-balling here, let me see if I can get you a better answer. Our policy and our views about uncoordinated military activity still stand and that’s not going to change, but I honestly don’t have an update on al-Bab. So if you’ll allow me, I’d like to take that question and we’ll get you an answer.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- that their operation has concluded successfully in their eyes.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Might not be the political outcome that you had wanted, but now at least it’s clear --
MR KIRBY: It’s not a political outcome at all.
QUESTION: Well, okay, it’s not the outcome you may have wanted, but at least now one body is in sole control of the city. Are they now responsible for the safety of the people within it?
MR KIRBY: Of course they are. They’re also responsible for the devastation and the havoc and the starvation and the atrocities that they caused in the taking of Aleppo. Look, for our part, we understand that evacuations are continuing today from east Aleppo. We want them to continue as long as people want to depart. We’ve seen reports that the government regime is now claiming that evacuations are going to soon cease, so that’s of deep concern, obviously. We’re also concerned about reports of increased violence in other parts of Syria, including airstrikes by the regime that we’ve heard about in Daraa.
So look, certainly seeing these reports that they claim that they have all of Aleppo, I’m in no position to dispute that. It comports with the information that we’ve been getting. But yes, they bear responsibility, and not just now for the task of rebuilding Aleppo, but they bear responsibility for what they did to Aleppo and to Aleppo citizens.
QUESTION: So will you help in rebuilding Aleppo at one point?
MR KIRBY: I know of no such plans to help rebuild Aleppo, Said --
QUESTION: Okay. Now, let me ask you --
MR KIRBY: -- or how that could even be done.
QUESTION: Okay. So --
QUESTION: Marshall Plan for Aleppo.
QUESTION: Exactly. I mean, something like this. But let me ask you something. You’re saying that they bear responsibility, but surely you agree that there are so many other groups in the thousands – I mean, the last tranche of maybe 3-, 4,000 fighters who were very hardened fighters with lethal weapons and so on, they have – they also bear some responsibility --
MR KIRBY: Said, we --
QUESTION: -- in this destruction, would you agree?
MR KIRBY: We have talked and we’ve been honest and open about concerns when we’ve seen reports of opposition fighters causing damage to infrastructure or violating what little bit of cessations of hostilities we saw declared. And when we saw reports of them mistreating or firing on innocent people, we called it out. But let’s be honest. When you look at Aleppo and you see the devastation and the destruction, it’s caused almost solely by the regime and their backers in Moscow and Tehran. Let there be no mistake. And that’s who bears the responsibility for what’s happened in Aleppo. That’s who bears the responsibility for the death and destruction, the maiming of innocent people. It wasn’t the opposition who bombed hospitals and schools and first responders as they rushed to the scene to try to rescue people out of crumpled buildings. It was the regime with their backers.
QUESTION: I want to follow up on something that Brad did a couple – two or three weeks ago when he asked you that – I mean, because I want to ask you about the scheme of things. You see the war is receding, because at the time Brad said that the area – the real estate area under the control of the opposition is shrinking and that, in a way, lessens the confrontation, lessens the war. So how do you see this in the scheme of things, the control over Aleppo?
MR KIRBY: I don’t remember the exact question. I’m sure that my answer was more eloquent than it will probably be now, but what I said – what we have been saying is that the fall of Aleppo, and we said this before it fell, was not going to be end of the war, that the – that it would – that the opposition would keep fighting, that extremists would continue to be attracted to the – to Syria, that more people would be flung into refugee status, and we have no indication that those things are not going to still happen. So our view is, and it’s not just the United States, the international community – that what’s happened in Aleppo is not going to bring this war closer to an end. It’s going to go on.
QUESTION: If we can go off Syria, I forgot one question I wanted to ask you about the Israel resolution that was just very logistically – did the Secretary make any calls to foreign leaders in the last several days or couple weeks about this matter?
MR KIRBY: He has routinely had conversations with foreign leaders about the Middle East peace process and I think certainly you – that since the Egyptians submitted the text that yes, he has had conversations with foreign leaders --
QUESTION: Did he speak --
MR KIRBY: -- about this resolution.
QUESTION: So did he – do you know when the last time he spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu or anyone else in Israel about this?
MR KIRBY: He spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning.
QUESTION: Did he – do you know and did he speak to Foreign Minister Shoukry or someone else from Japan?
MR KIRBY: He did speak with ---
QUESTION: From Egypt, sorry. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: He did speak with foreign --
QUESTION: Five letters at least. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: He did speak with Foreign Minister Shoukry last night, yes.
QUESTION: Okay, last night. And then any others in the last pivotal day or so?
MR KIRBY: Today he has also spoken with the Jordanian Foreign Minister Judeh and the Saudi Foreign Minister al-Jubeir.
QUESTION: But during his call this morning with Netanyahu, they obviously discussed the vote.
MR KIRBY: There wasn’t a vote.
QUESTION: I mean the possibility of a vote. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Clearly they talked about this resolution – this draft resolution. Obviously they did, but I’m not going to detail the conversation that they had.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed that this was not brought to a vote?
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Are you disappointed that the resolution was not brought to a vote?
MR KIRBY: This isn’t about disappointment --
QUESTION: I understand, but are you disappointed? I mean, you can say yes or no. Are you disappointed that it was --
MR KIRBY: Said, we’re --
QUESTION: -- not brought to a vote?
MR KIRBY: Let’s see what the process bears out before we start characterizing things one way or the other. And again, I’m not going to preview or speculate about where this is going to go.
QUESTION: And then on a separate topic, I don’t know if you saw the comments today about Russia being the world’s best military. I don’t know if you’re chafed at that or would like to dispute the notion that U.S. has slipped to number two or further in the Russian (inaudible).
MR KIRBY: I saw allusion to those comments. I think the professionalism and the skill and the capabilities that are resident in the United States military are beyond debate and dispute. And America has every right to be proud of the men and women that are wearing the uniform and protecting their interests around the world and their ability to do it. And I think – I’m confident that my colleagues at the Defense Department would say the same thing.
QUESTION: You don’t think the Russian performance in Ukraine or in Syria raises them to preeminent military status?
MR KIRBY: I don’t think that – I don’t think in all of human history there has ever been a military as capable and as intelligent, as strong, as well-led, as well-resourced, as the United States military is today.
QUESTION: Can I ask one? Yeah, this is about the Trump Hotel and foreign diplomats that are booking receptions or staying there and such. And one ambassador in town, the Kuwaiti ambassador, who’s going to be having a reception there next month, said that they would – that the diplomatic community would like some guidelines from the State Department about how to handle this type of thing, because there are issues related to the emoluments – I’m going to say it wrong – emoluments clause.
QUESTION: Okay. Whatever. (Laughter.) The clause. The clause – (laughter) – that says that a sitting cabinet official can’t take money from – or a sitting government official can’t take money from foreign governments, so that the diplomatic community is kind of confused about the rules of the road in terms of whether it is any violation of any law or any protocol or anything to be booking at this hotel. And they said that they wish they would hear from the State Department in terms of some guidelines.
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that we have received any outreach or queries from the diplomatic community about those kinds of ethical concerns. Obviously, if there were questions of that regard and we were in a position to help provide context, I’m sure we would. I’m sure there’s other places too that they can go. And I’m sure the Ethics Office at the White House also would have expertise here to offer. I’m afraid I just – I don’t know much about this issue myself, but obviously, on this and on so many other issues, we stand ready to help the diplomatic corps here in Washington to the degree that we can. And if we can’t answer the question or it’s not appropriate to come from us, we certainly stand by to help direct them to the right people. But I just haven’t heard any of these concerns. I’m not aware that there’s been any of those concerns expressed to us.
QUESTION: Well, can you – actually, I think that there have. So can you take the --
MR KIRBY: I’m happy to ask to see if --
QUESTION: Can you ask? Yeah.
MR KIRBY: -- we have. I’m not aware of it.
QUESTION: I can’t believe that this – will all the embassies and stuff that have been – there’s been a real aggressive marketing campaign by the hotel, not using the president-elect’s position, but of course, there are – there is a connection and governments are asking a lot of questions. And I’d have to believe that out of all the embassies that are – have been looking at the hotel, that there have to have been some questions.
MR KIRBY: There might have been, Elise. I’m not saying that there’s not.
QUESTION: Yeah. If you could check.
MR KIRBY: I’m just saying I’m not aware of any, and we’ll check to see if there’s something there.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Many other cities around the world where the State Department operates have Trump hotels. Do you have any plans to avoid or to use them?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on that, Dave.
QUESTION: But when you’re traveling, do you take into account who owns the hotels you stay in?
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: When the Secretary’s traveling or when ambassadors in other towns are booking events, if it – a hotel happens to belong to the son of the president or to --
QUESTION: Happened in Myanmar.
QUESTION: Is that a factor in your calculations?
MR KIRBY: There’s a series of ethics regulations that govern where on official travel you can lodge for an evening and certain rates that we have to, in terms of nightly rates, that we have to abide by. There’s a whole set of rules and regulations that we follow wherever we travel. I’m not an expert on every item of that, but we can get somebody in the Office of Protocol that can help you out with some of that.
MR KIRBY: I just don’t have all those details.
QUESTION: You guys are really just joking.
QUESTION: I know. I’m kind of trying to establish – I’m trying to (inaudible) or trying to establish that your missions have these ethical rules. Presumably other countries have similar rules, and they’re here.
MR KIRBY: What you do is you – there are --
QUESTION: Should they apply their own rules when it comes to staying at a Trump --
MR KIRBY: There are rules that – the rules that – you’re traveling at government expense, so you have to stay within the bounds of what your per diem is. So there’s rules about where you can stay in terms of cost.
QUESTION: But the person who eventually gets the money when you pay is what I’m getting at, not the amount you spent.
MR KIRBY: There’s rules when you’re traveling with the Secretary. There’s rules about security and the security aspects of certain places of lodging that we have – that Diplomatic Security has to be able to abide by. So some of our choices are limited by that. Some of the choices are limited by the size of the footprint of the party traveling. So there’s a whole host of things that are considered. I’m not an expert on each and every one of those. But if you really want to know the details, we’ll get somebody to walk you through that.
QUESTION: John, very quick on the – the fact that the Kuwaitis canceled the Four Seasons and moved to the Trump hotel by an aggressive campaign by a private entity, is that blurring the lines between private enterprise and diplomacy in this case?
MR KIRBY: Said, I don’t know anything about this decision and this issue.
I’ll take one more. Sir, you can have the last one. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks. UN Special Envoy de Mistura confirmed – has confirmed today his intent to reconvene or just convene a next round of talks February the 8th. I wanted to know if there is any active discussion on the way of – about moving the talks from Geneva to Astana, as Kazakhstan has offered.
MR KIRBY: You have to talk to the special envoy. Typically, the last rounds of these talks have been done in Geneva, but we believe that this process should continue to be under UN auspices and that should be led by and --
QUESTION: No, I’m not speak --
MR KIRBY: -- no, no, let me finish – and should be led by Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy. And it is up to him to determine where and how and when they will occur, not to the United States; we’re not taking a position on that.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:01 p.m.)