Daily Press Briefing - January 9, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:05 p.m. EST
MR KIRBY: Hey everybody.
QUESTION: Hello, Kirby.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR KIRBY: Good afternoon. All right, couple things to go through at the top if you’ll bear with me. Some – some logistics, that kind of thing. As you know, the Secretary is up north today. He went to Cambridge, Massachusetts and delivered a speech at MIT on climate change innovation and the global transition to a clean energy future. Following that, he was joined by the deputy secretary and participated in a roundtable discussion with members of MIT and policy experts on the future of work. And as I noted last week, that discussion was focused on how rapid advances in technological innovation can impact the future of jobs and transform economies. The roundtable was part of our Innovation Forum here at the State Department, which convenes senior policy makers and industry experts for discussions on issues at the intersection of foreign policy and innovation.
He also will be participating in some open press events tomorrow that I want to highlight for you in Washington and in Annapolis. First, the Secretary will lead off the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Passing the Baton 2017: America’s Role in the World event at 9:30 tomorrow morning, where he’ll be discussing our nation’s top foreign policy priorities that – under the Obama Administration and, of course, challenges that could lead into the next administration. Judy Woodruff from PBS’s NewsHour will be moderating his discussion in front of the audience. That’s an open press event.
Then later in the day, a little after noon, he will go to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he will deliver an address to midshipmen, faculty, and staff at the Naval Academy. He’ll be reflecting on his time in the Navy and what his Navy service – how that impacted his public service throughout his life as well as his views on foreign policy. And I suspect he’ll also talk about some of the challenges that the United States will continue to face in global leadership going forward.
And then finally, tomorrow night the Secretary will be joined by former Secretaries of State Albright, Colin Powell, and Hillary Clinton as they deliver all remarks – as they all deliver remarks at a reception celebrating the completion of the construction of the U.S. Diplomacy Center’s main pavilion. So if you go down on 21st Street, you’ve probably seen that structure is now done. And they’ll be sort of formally opening that or commemorating the end of the construction. The Diplomacy Center’s not open for business yet; there’s still quite a bit of work on exhibit design and construction that needs to be done. This is just marking the formal completion of the construction of the main pavilion. And that too will be an open press event. As I said, each former secretary, as well as the Secretary himself, will have a chance to say a few words.
On Portugal. The United States is saddened to hear of the death of former Portuguese president and prime minister Mario Soares, a lifelong champion of human rights, self-determination, and democracy. Soares endured years of imprisonment and exile, but throughout his lengthy career remained committed to fighting for the people of Portugal. Portugal and the United States share a close and longstanding relationship, and we extend our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of Mr. Soares as well as to the people of Portugal.
And then finally, on Mexico, because I know that all of you have been tracking this over the weekend and I just want to get a couple of comments out of the way at the top. As you know, the Secretary issued a statement yesterday on the arrest of a suspect in the heinous attack against our Foreign Service officer colleague in Guadalajara. Always and continually the safety and security of U.S. citizens and our own diplomatic staff overseas are among our highest priorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family, and we’re wishing him, obviously, a speedy recovery. Given that it’s an ongoing investigation and it’s now being taken up by the FBI, I do not have additional information on the motive, I cannot provide any more information about the victim due to privacy concerns. I’m simply not going to be able to give you much more information on this today. We continue to – obviously, to monitor as best we can the medical condition of our consular officer – I’m sorry, our Foreign Service officer colleague. And if and when there is more information that we can provide, we’ll do that. But right now it is an active, ongoing investigation by the FBI.
So with that, Matt.
QUESTION: Just before we get into substance, I want to ask just a logistical – did you say what time that event was tomorrow evening?
MR KIRBY: I don’t --
QUESTION: And if you didn’t, can you say what time --
MR KIRBY: 5:30 p.m.
QUESTION: Okay, and then --
MR KIRBY: I did say.
QUESTION: You did? Okay.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Sorry, I missed it. And then, do you know, were the other living former secretaries of state invited as well?
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: And they were unable to attend for some reason?
MR KIRBY: Yes. And I understand, it was scheduling concerns.
QUESTION: So Kissinger --
MR KIRBY: Yep.
QUESTION: -- Rice --
MR KIRBY: Every living --
QUESTION: -- they were all – what, Shultz --
MR KIRBY: -- former secretary of state was invited --
QUESTION: Okay. And --
MR KIRBY: -- and not everybody is able to make it.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. I’ve got a – unless someone has more on that – I’ve got a couple things on Iran, if I could.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: The first has to do with the passing away of the former Iranian President Rafsanjani. Over the weekend, there was a comment attributable on background to U.S. or a State Department official offering condolences for his passing. Do you – can you put that on the record for us?
MR KIRBY: Sure. I mean, former President Rafsanjani has been – or was, excuse me – a prominent figure throughout the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and we do extend our condolences to his family and to his loved ones.
QUESTION: So there have been some people who are highly critical of the Administration on Iran policy in general, but also on this specifically, taking issue or questioning, rather, the appropriateness of offering condolences to Mr. Rafsanjani given activities that Iran was involved in in terms of supporting terrorism back when he was in charge and also in his roles in the Iranian parliament. What do you have to say about that?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, I – no question, as I said, he was a prominent figure, and the history’s complicated. We’re not going to debate the history, and I don’t think it’s valuable for us to try to comment on the potential internal implications of his death, of the potential impact on Iran today. He was consequential in terms of the recent history of Iran and we send our condolences to the family and loved ones. And whatever there is to say about his complicated history, you’re still dealing with a family that’s dealing with grief and dealing with a loss, and so it’s not inappropriate for us to simply offer our thoughts to a family that’s grieving right now.
QUESTION: Okay, but – but, I mean, this is a guy who when he was in senior leadership positions repeatedly did and said things that this --
MR KIRBY: Absolutely.
QUESTION: -- that this government, whether this Administration or previous administrations --
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: -- have adamantly rejected – his position on Israel, for example – and condemned.
MR KIRBY: Sure. Sure. Sure. Absolutely.
QUESTION: And so you don’t see any – you --
MR KIRBY: But should we – so we should hold the family and loved ones accountable for things that he did in his past that we didn’t like? I mean, the man died; we offered condolences to the family. We went through this, I think, when Fidel Castro passed too. I mean, no question – another individual with a history of actions and decisions and policies and rhetoric that we didn’t approve of in many, many ways, but you still have a family that’s grieving. And again, I don’t think we should make more of this than needs to be made. We offered our condolences, thoughts, and prayers to the family, and we think that’s appropriate.
QUESTION: All right. Secondly, on this incident that happened on the Strait of Hormuz with the Navy – and I realize this is a Pentagon thing or a Navy thing altogether, but I’m just wondering – previous incidences involving the U.S. Navy and Iranian patrol boats has – have drawn some kind – some diplomatic intervention, as it – shall we say. And I’m just wondering if that has happened in this case.
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any specific intervention on the State Department’s behalf with respect to this recent incident.
QUESTION: Or plans to? Because, I mean, one of the side benefits of the Iran deal --
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: -- which has been talked about is this channel between --
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: -- Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif. That has not been or was not contemplated to be used in this case to tell the Iranians to knock it off?
MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t rule anything out right at this point. I’m not aware of any plans for the Secretary to intervene at this point, but I certainly would not rule anything out. I just know that there’s been no communication on a diplomatic front on this issue, and I think the Pentagon has obviously spoken to the incident itself.
QUESTION: Okay. And then lastly on Iran, you probably have seen a story that my colleague wrote out of Vienna about the P5+1 procurement committee approving the shipment of 116 metric tons of natural uranium --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- to Iran. People look at this and wonder exactly why it is that this kind of a shipment would be approved. Do you know what it’s for and why it was approved?
MR KIRBY: Well – so a couple of thoughts there, Matt. I think you know that I’m unable to speak about specific proposals that are subject to the procurement working group confidentiality, so I – there’s a limit here. However, and more generally, the JCPOA does permit Iran to import natural uranium, and such transactions were always anticipated throughout the process of working towards the deal. Natural uranium is an internationally traded commodity. It’s not usable in its natural form for building a nuclear weapon. Iran can use any natural uranium it acquires only within the other limitations of JCPOA, so the – all the limits of the JCPOA still are in place. So I think – and you know this – for example, they cannot have more than 300 kilograms of enriched material, and it cannot enrich that material to a level more than 3.67 percent. And again, natural uranium can – is not in its natural form usable. Any natural uranium that would be transferred to Iran would still remain subject to the enhanced verification and transparency measures of the JCPOA and under the terms of that arrangement for 25 years.
QUESTION: Yeah, but – okay, which is fine. So if it’s not usable, why would they want it?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, they’re allowed to bring in natural uranium. I would let – I can’t – sorry, there’s – I cannot confirm these reports. I think you know that. So – but there’s no prohibition on bringing in natural uranium. They are still – regardless of that, they are still held to all the limitations of the Iran deal. That doesn’t change. And we still have the most robust inspection regime in place.
Without confirming this procurement, I’d refer you to Iranian authorities for discussion of whatever desire they might have to bring in natural uranium. But if you’re going to have a civil nuclear power program, you can see that there might be a need for a product like that. But again, I can’t speak to it specifically.
QUESTION: Well, is it not correct, though, that after – or tell me, I mean, if they hold onto this, if they store it away for 25 years, can they then not take this 116 tons and then do whatever they want with it?
MR KIRBY: Well, the – first of all, I really hate – I hate hypotheticals --
QUESTION: Or whatever the quantity --
MR KIRBY: -- particularly the ones that go out two and a half decades from now, but --
QUESTION: Look, the – your whole point is that don’t worry, this is going to be subject to inspection and verification --
MR KIRBY: Which – which --
QUESTION: -- under the JCPOA, but those – that expires at some point.
MR KIRBY: There are – there are --
QUESTION: So after those limitations expire, is it not correct that they could do whatever they want with it?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate one way or another here about something that --
QUESTION: I don't know that --
MR KIRBY: -- may or may not happen 25 years from now, Matt. There’s a strong inspection regime in place --
MR KIRBY: -- to – and for well into the future to prevent Iran from --
QUESTION: For 25 years.
MR KIRBY: -- to prevent Iran from ever being able to achieve a nuclear weapon, and that’s on page – by the way, not 25 years. The deal says Iran will never achieve nuclear weapons capability, but let’s get beyond that. I’m not going to speculate about what might or might not happen 25 years from now.
QUESTION: Well --
MR KIRBY: I just don’t think that’s a useful exercise.
QUESTION: Well, it may not be a useful exercise for you, but I mean, if you’re looking at this from the perspective of other countries in the region – Gulf, Arab countries – I mean, 25 years isn’t that long, is it not?
MR KIRBY: Well, for you and me, it might --
QUESTION: It might be for us.
MR KIRBY: It might be for us.
QUESTION: But we’re talking about --
MR KIRBY: Look, I --
QUESTION: -- generations of --
MR KIRBY: Matt, I do understand where the question’s going. There’s no prohibition under the deal now for them to bring this material in in its natural form. It cannot be enriched – it cannot be used, I’m sorry, for a weapon. There is a very strong inspection regime in place for a very long time. And oh, by the way, in the deal, Iran said they would never achieve nuclear weapons capability. So I can’t – I don’t think either of us can predict what things are going to look like 20 years from now or 25 years from now or what the inspection regime continues to find and continues to be able to see 25 years from now. But we’re confident that the deal makes the region safer, makes our allies and partners safer, will prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability. And I think that’s probably the best place to leave it.
QUESTION: Kirby --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: The --
QUESTION: You’re going to ask on the same thing?
QUESTION: Yes, on the same thing, yeah. So they’re permitted to bring in natural uranium, as you say, but the Associated Press story that Matt referenced seemed to suggest that this particular batch was – has been permitted by some kind of decision. Now, without confirming that, as you say you can’t --
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: -- do they have to inform their partners in the JCPOA when they do bring in natural uranium?
MR KIRBY: I’m not – I’m going to have to take the question. I don’t know. As – and again, I want to be clear: I cannot confirm the press reporting on this and I’m not going to speak about the working group’s – anything that would violate the working group’s confidentiality. But as a matter of procedure, I’d have to ask. I don’t know. Okay?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: So I don’t know if you’ve commented on it over the weekend – I don’t think I saw anything – the Taiwanese president met the Republican lawmakers during a stopover on Sunday. Has there been any formal complaint by the Chinese on this? There was a report in a Chinese state tabloid that’s warning the next administration about it, but as of today, was there any kind of formal --
MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: -- complaint of it?
MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: And how do you see that visit? I mean, is it – those discussions, does it complicate anything in the last two weeks?
MR KIRBY: Well, so, a couple of things. First of all, nothing’s changed about the “one China” policy or the United States support for it. Number two, the president’s transit through the United States is based on a longstanding U.S. practice. It’s consistent with the unofficial nature of our relations with Taiwan. These are undertaken, of course – I think I talked about this Friday – out of consideration for the comfort of the traveler, safety, convenience, that kind of thing. But there’s no change to the “one China” policy.
Now, as for discussions that the president had, I would let those who were party to those discussions speak to them in terms of content. We had no role. We did not – we didn’t encourage, we did not establish, we did not organize those discussions. But again, this was unofficial transit for safety and comfort only, and again, nothing’s changed about the “one China” policy.
QUESTION: And nothing’s complicated your life?
MR KIRBY: Nothing has changed about the “one China” policy.
MR KIRBY: And again, I think the participants in those discussions should speak to what was discussed.
MR KIRBY: I’m always ready for questions about North Korea from you, Janne. I mean, but I’m – as you rightly pointed out Friday – (laughter) – I’m not informed, so I’ll do the best I can.
QUESTION: All right. She said you’re not an expert.
MR KIRBY: She’s – that’s right, she said I’m not an expert.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Okay. North Korea announced the second time – Kim Jong-un announced the second time this year that North Korea will soon launch the ICBM – intercontinental ballistic missile – anywhere, anytime. What – do you have any comment on this?
MR KIRBY: It would be exactly the same thing that we have said when they have made these sorts of provocative statements in the past. I mean, now is the time – and we’re well past time for Pyongyang to prove that they’re willing and able to return to the Six-Party Talk process and to stop their provocative moves, their destabilizing moves to develop – continue to develop ballistic missile capabilities as well as a nuclear program. And as we’ve said before, the – that the entire international community is aligned against them in terms of exerting more pressure. We’ll – we take his comments seriously. We have to. Regrettably, we have to. But I’m not going to get into our own estimate or assessment of where he might be with respect to progress on this most recent threat.
QUESTION: Is the United States ready to shut down North Korean ICBM this time?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate about future tactical developments one way or the other. I would just tell you, as I said last week, that in addition to the international pressure being applied through a very robust sanctions regime, and the fact that we’re not ruling out additional sanctions if required through the UN, that the United States maintains a significant deterrent capability militarily in the region. That’s all been part and parcel of the Asia Pacific rebalance. And we’re confident that we have the capabilities in the Asia Pacific region to protect our interests.
MR KIRBY: Well, Janne, you know better than probably anybody in this room that when I say “our interests,” I also mean the significant interests and commitments that we have on the peninsula itself through a rock-solid defense alliance with the Republic of Korea. That hasn’t changed. And we have – still have a very significant military presence there on the peninsula, all of which is designed to act as a deterrent. But also if – and nobody wants to see this come into open conflict – but of course to be ready should it. And our forces on the peninsula are in fact some of the most ready that we have anywhere in the world.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: I have a question about Asian missile technology. It’s not North Korea, though, so --
MR KIRBY: Go ahead.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does this have any concerns in terms of balance in the region or any existing agreements? Is this something that is an issue for the United States?
MR KIRBY: What I can say is we’ve seen reports of this missile launch – submarine-launched missile. We continue to urge all states with nuclear weapons to exercise restraint regarding nuclear and missile capability testing and use, and we encourage efforts to promote confidence building and stability with respect to those capabilities.
QUESTION: Can we go back east between South Korea and Japan? So I know you said last week that the comfort women statue that was erected in Busan, like – that the State Department didn’t have a direct comment on that. But last week, they – Japan pulled out the South Korean ambassador because it was erected.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: I was wondering if you have any response to that action.
MR KIRBY: We are aware of the – of reports that the ambassador was recalled. I think we would leave it to those two countries to speak to that decision. I mean, as you know, it’s not an uncommon practice with respect to moving diplomats in and out, and I think I’d let those two countries talk about that action. Okay?
QUESTION: On Syria, President Assad gave a new interview. He made some comments that at peace talks he put everything on the table, even discuss the possibility of elections being held in the country. Does any of this seem realistic or give you any sense of optimism?
MR KIRBY: I think you have to take his comments in the context of things he has said in the past and even not – in the not so distant past about taking – he also said he was going to take back his whole country and we’ve seen the manner in which he sees fit to do that. So I think it’d be difficult to take any stated commitment to him about elections very seriously. What needs to happen is what we’ve said all along needs to happen, and that’s a UN-led process whereby the opposition and the regime begin to have a discussion about what a political transition can look like in Syria, a transition that incorporates the voice of the Syrian people – all of them. And we continue to want to support that process and that process alone.
QUESTION: Russia. You probably know that the intelligence report, the one that was made public about Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. election through leaks, does not provide any evidence for the public to see. The report claims high degree of confidence. Do you think the public should have the same high degree of confidence without seeing the evidence?
MR KIRBY: I don’t think that we should be surprised that in an unclassified version of a highly classified assessment and report that we would be protecting sources and methods. And that all our intelligence communities came to the same basic conclusion over and over again, that they testified publicly to those conclusions last week and that they backed up that testimony in private briefings to some members of Congress, as well as to President Obama and President-elect Trump, I think should give people confidence in their assessments. But nobody – I don’t think anybody should be surprised that in an unclassified version, the intelligence communities protected sensitive information, particularly sourcing and methods; that it would it have been irresponsible for them to have provided – to reveal that sort of information. And we rely on them, as we should, to make that determination for themselves in terms of what information was appropriate to put out publicly.
QUESTION: Sir, it was with high degree of confidence that the intelligence community said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which led to a disastrous war based on that false assessment. Do you think the public does not deserve to see the evidence in the case of Russia?
MR KIRBY: I don’t think – I don’t think many people would doubt that – the responsibility of the intelligence community to protect sources and methods. I think most of the American people understand that, that they have a responsibility to protect that information for the future. And I don’t think that trying to compare what happened back in 2001 to this assessment is very relevant. The President, Secretary Kerry, as well as every other cabinet official that has spoken on this has spoken to the trust and confidence that they have in the assessment that was made by all 17 intelligence communities. All of them came to the same basic conclusion: That Russia interfered with the U.S. election.
QUESTION: But that’s about the agencies. What about the public? Should the evidence be relevant for the public to see, or should they just take the agency’s word for it?
MR KIRBY: There is a fundamental responsibility not to reveal sources and methods and we leave it to the intelligence community when they make unclassified information such as this to make that determination for themselves on what is appropriate to put out there. And I think you and everybody else can understand they have a responsibility to protect our nation’s secrets so that they can continue to protect us going forward.
Now, you heard the Secretary last week – very clear in his firm admiration for the men and women of the intelligence community in the United States, and the work that they do, and the manner in which they protect the American people day in and day out. And there are hundreds of ways they do that that never sees the light of day, that never gets a headline, and that’s just fine with them. So I think – well, I don’t think. The Secretary believes strongly that they handled this matter in the appropriate way in terms of how it was – how it was analyzed, how it was presented, and how it was briefed to those who needed to see a deeper level of the information. Okay?
QUESTION: Can I just ask you about – about one thing, not specifically about this. But why is it that you say that what happened in 2001 is not relevant to this? I mean, it seems to me that past performance is an indicator of --
MR KIRBY: Yeah, Matt. Look – I mean, look. Nobody is saying that there weren’t mistakes made in 2000, 2001. But that was, what, 15 years ago and a lot has changed in the Intelligence Community since then. We’ve learned a lot. We’ve become much more integrated. Back then, the intelligence communities, as you well know, were much more stove-piped. There wasn’t the level of cooperation that we – I mean, we have moved on. We have learned a lot from those mistakes.
I’m not suggesting that the Intelligence Community – that every bit of intelligence is always 100 percent. In fact, you know yourself that oftentimes – and they are appropriately very careful about that – which makes it all the more remarkable that in this case they were so uniform in their opinion and their high confidence in the role that Russia played.
QUESTION: But in terms of – you say you’re drawing a distinction between then and now because of --
MR KIRBY: I think it – I think it --
QUESTION: Because the intelligence agencies have gotten bigger and better?
MR KIRBY: I think to paint them with the same brush that was used in 2001 is highly unfair and actually wholly irrelevant and inaccurate to the kinds of gains that have been made in intelligence gathering and analysis since then. I mean, we’re talking 15 years.
QUESTION: Right. So --
MR KIRBY: I mean, should they --
QUESTION: Well, you were just talking about 25 years with Iran.
MR KIRBY: Should that be the benchmark for everything?
QUESTION: Well, I – I don’t know. I’m asking you why you think it’s not relevant, what happened then is not relevant now.
MR KIRBY: Because of what’s happened over the last 15 years.
QUESTION: So the improvements and --
MR KIRBY: Improvements in integration, coordination, analysis capability. I mean, we’ve moved on.
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: Okay?
QUESTION: I have another one about history. You said you didn’t want to debate history.
MR KIRBY: I don’t.
QUESTION: And I won’t ask you to. But I’m just curious, in light of that, on Iran --
MR KIRBY: Well, then why are you asking me?
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering, 11 days left in the --
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: -- in his time. Why?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Why now? And if he felt this strongly, why not do this early on?
MR KIRBY: Sure. No, it’s a fair question. Look, I think this issue of what is known as the Lavender Scare was in relatively recent weeks brought to our attention as a matter of concern by some members of Congress, mostly recently Senator Ben Cardin, who I think we talked about his correspondence directly with the Secretary just last week. And so the Secretary appreciated them expressing their concerns over those events in the ‘40s and ‘50s, took a look at the historical record and decided that it was appropriate to issue this apology, and so he did.
QUESTION: Okay. But it wasn’t until – but the reason for now is because members of Congress were seeking it?
MR KIRBY: It was – it was because several people brought it to his attention here in recent weeks, to include some members of Congress.
QUESTION: Okay. So he wasn’t – I don’t want to suggest that he didn’t – was clueless about it before, but I mean --
MR KIRBY: I think – look, look.
QUESTION: This wasn’t, like, high on his --
MR KIRBY: Well --
QUESTION: -- agenda? Because I mean, in the statement he talks about --
MR KIRBY: His record.
MR KIRBY: His record.
QUESTION: In the statement he talks about his – his record of support.
MR KIRBY: His record on these issues, LGBTI rights, is longstanding as a member of Congress as well as Secretary of State. He has done a lot to advance those causes.
QUESTION: John, now you’re being defensive. I’m not trying – I’m just trying to figure out if he – was this something in the back of his mind that got moved to the front because of what --
MR KIRBY: Yeah. I mean, he certainly --
QUESTION: -- what he – the people are bringing it to his attention now?
MR KIRBY: He certainly knew the basics of the history of the Lavender Scare.
QUESTION: Okay, okay.
MR KIRBY: I don’t think he considered himself an expert on it. It was brought to his attention in recent weeks, and he felt it was appropriate to issue the apology.
MR KIRBY: On Syria, a couple questions on Syria. One is that President Assad’s claim that he’s willing or he will take back the country, the whole country. So would – in a case of like that or Bashar Assad or any other forces tried to undo what you have done with the SDF or other forces that you’re partners in Syria, would you tolerate any actions against these forces to undo what you have done? Because it’s not just militarily you are helping them. Also there are some humanitarian assistance to these area --
MR KIRBY: I’m not really sure what you mean by “undo” what we’ve done.
QUESTION: Like retaking the area. I mean, just kicking out every force, like your partners, SDF, everyone from Manbij, for example, Kobani.
MR KIRBY: I don’t think it’d be useful for me to speculate or hypothesize about what might or might not happen. The support that the coalition provides to the Syrian Democratic Forces is designed for one goal and one goal only, and that is to defeat Daesh. That’s the effort. We have long said that what needs to happen with respect to the civil war in Syria is a political solution, and that’s what the Secretary has labored so hard for. He will stay focused on that for the next couple of weeks. But I’m not able to predict or speculate what might happen if Bashar al-Assad moves into those areas. What Bashar al-Assad really needs to do is stop bombing his own people, allow for humanitarian assistance to get in, and prove that he’s committed to participating in UN-led political talks in Geneva to end the war.
QUESTION: On the refugees program, I got some information from the State Department that in Fiscal Year 2016 you have got over 12,000 Syrian refugees to the United States, which was meeting the goal even more than what President Obama said, like, at least bringing 10,000. What is the status for this year? Are you trying to keep the same goal or – because you have allocated money for that program for this year too, so if you --
MR KIRBY: Well, the President said for Fiscal Year ’17 that we were going to shoot for a goal of 110,000 total refugees – not just from any one place. There has not been a goal set by the President for Fiscal Year ’17 with respect to refugees specifically from Syria.
QUESTION: So any – do you have any idea that how is the status after – like, since October is the fiscal year – the new fiscal year, so do you have --
MR KIRBY: I can – we can get that for you. I don’t have an exact number of what’s been brought in thus far in the fiscal year, but we can ask and see.
QUESTION: Okay. So can I switch to Iraq or --
MR KIRBY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. The – couple days ago of Turkish Prime Minister Yildirim visited Iraq and he met with Kurdish and Iraqi leaders in Baghdad and Erbil. One of the topics they talked about is the military and deployment – Turkish military deployment in Iraq and that issue. So if you would just comment on that – on the visit in general and on were you involved in any way, because you – previously you have asked both sides to de-escalate the tensions they had over the --
MR KIRBY: Yeah, we --
QUESTION: -- Turkish army --
MR KIRBY: I think I talked about this last week. I’m not going to – I don’t have a readout to offer to you. We weren’t party to these meetings. Certainly, as we’ve said over and over again, we respect the sovereign right of the government in Baghdad to meet and discuss and have dialogue with neighbors and partners in the region, including Turkey. We obviously look favorably on dialogue between Turkey and Iraq on a number of issues, but I’d leave it to leaders from both those countries to speak to what was discussed and what the outcomes were.
MR KIRBY: That’s not for us to speak to. But I said all that last week, so that’s – I’m not giving you anything different.
MR KIRBY: From where?
QUESTION: Kurdistan 24.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: Yeah, I came on behalf of Laurie. I will ask a question if you allow me about the same case of the Turkish minister while they were talking about the very important and sensitive case, which is PKK in Sinjar. And also, United States also been concerned about this case and ask the PKK to get out from Sinjar, but it looks like from the last information that the PKK are showing a kind of resist and rejecting for getting out. In case if they insisted of getting out from Sinjar, which is a part of threat for the area – and also the United States needs the area to get stable and for the sovereign of Iraq too – what will be the advice of the United States for Turkey and the Iraqi Government and the Kurds to react in this situation?
MR KIRBY: Well, I wouldn’t get ahead of diplomatic discussions that haven’t occurred and for all I know might not occur, okay, so I don’t want to speculate. That was a long windup in your question. Only thing I would say is that the PKK remains a foreign terrorist organization. We consider them a terrorist organization. We recognize that the threat that they pose in the region and specifically to Turkey, and we continue to support Turkey in their counterterrorism efforts. Okay?
I got time for --
QUESTION: I – I have a very brief logistical one, but someone else can go first.
MR KIRBY: Okay, you and then Matt, and then that will be it.
QUESTION: Yeah, on the same thing in Sinjar. I don’t know if you’re aware of the situation in Sinjar. There are PKK and there are some other forces which is also they are in conflict with the Kurdish forces, but they have, like, the support of Baghdad – the Yezidi forces there. I don’t know how you are involved, if you are aware of the conflicts or the tensions between the KRG and also these forces that are there in Sinjar, because that situation is very delicate and the residents – the IDPs, they are not returning to their places because of the having multiple forces in the area. If you just – I don’t know if you are aware of anything --
MR KIRBY: Is there a question there?
QUESTION: -- anything. Yeah.
MR KIRBY: I mean, I think I’d refer you to the – to DOD to speak to a specific situation on the ground. Obviously, we’re well aware --
MR KIRBY: We’re well aware of the tensions in and around Sinjar. We’re well aware of the PKK’s influence. I’ve already stated our view of the PKK and who they are and what they are, but for specifics about the situation on the ground, I think I’d point you to DOD as a much better source. Okay?
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: Sorry, I just wanted to – the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is in town. He’s going to be up on the Hill later this afternoon. I know the Secretary is not back yet, but he will be back tomorrow, obviously, although it seems like he has a busy day.
MR KIRBY: He’ll be back this evening, but there are no plans to --
QUESTION: But I just --
MR KIRBY: -- meet with the foreign minister.
QUESTION: Okay, but would anyone else? Do you know if Mr. Johnson – Foreign Secretary Johnson --
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any meetings --
MR KIRBY: -- that the foreign minister will be having here at the State Department.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:44 p.m.)
DPB # 4