Daily Press Briefing - January 17, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:14 p.m. EST
MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody.
MR KIRBY: A couple things at the top, and then we’ll get right at it.
We want to extend, on behalf of the State Department of the United States, our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed and injured in a plane crash – I’m sorry – Sunday outside Bishkek. We, of course, stand with the people of the Kyrgyz Republic as they observe a national day of mourning, and we offer our support to the government as they recover from this tragedy.
On the Green Climate Fund – and you’ll see a statement from me after the briefing as well – but today, the United States is announcing that it has made an additional $500 million grant to the Green Climate Fund. This grant follows last year’s initial grant of 500 million as part of the $3 billion pledge to the GCF made by President Obama in 2014. The GCF, the global climate – I’m sorry – the Green Climate Fund is a critical tool that helps catalyze billions of dollars in public and private investment in countries dealing not only with the challenges of climate change but the immense economic opportunities that are embedded in the transition to a lower-carbon economy. The United States is pleased to have played a leading role in the establishment of the GCF, and we are also pleased to be making this significant grant.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, that’s a bit of a surprise. I was going to start with something else, but since the incoming administration, which will take office in three days, is adamantly opposed to the Green Climate Fund and thinks that it’s a waste of money, why on – and you guys say you’re committed to a smooth transition, why would you do this $500 million now?
MR KIRBY: Well, it’s – first of all, it’s a continuation of --
QUESTION: In the last --
MR KIRBY: -- an initial 500 grant of a $3 billion pledge.
QUESTION: Yeah. Right.
MR KIRBY: Okay. So it – this is a continuation of this Administration’s --
QUESTION: I understand.
MR KIRBY: -- policy support and financial support to climate change initiatives.
QUESTION: When was the – the initial payment was made on, what, January 17th last year? Is it that? Is that why it’s coming today?
MR KIRBY: I’ll have to get to you the exact date of --
QUESTION: It just seems a bit surprising to offer up or to give out a pretty significant amount of money that people on the Hill, as well as people in the incoming administration, have said they’re not going to --
MR KIRBY: There’s plenty of support on the Hill as well for climate change initiatives and this fund in particular. I’m not saying that everybody in Congress obviously supports --
QUESTION: Well, there’s been some pretty strenuous objections from Republicans, and they now control Congress.
MR KIRBY: And there’s also been some strident support from the other side of the aisle, Matt.
QUESTION: Yes, but now – they’re in the minority now, and --
MR KIRBY: But this Administration has committed to this fund, in fact helped stand it up, establish it. And it is entirely in keeping with the work that we’ve been doing across the interagency to try to look for ways to stem the effects of climate change. And this fund helps other economies, other countries, develop their own initiatives and help them deal with this.
QUESTION: Right. I understand that. And your reaction to my question is that you think that I am taking this personally. I’m not. I’m just wondering --
MR KIRBY: No. (Laughter.) I don’t think you’re taking it personally.
QUESTION: -- how it is – I’m not – but the fact of the matter is, is that this Administration is leaving office on Friday and this is a program that the incoming administration has raised serious questions about, if not outright opposition to.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: And it doesn’t seem to be fitting, in the spirit of a smooth transition, to put – make this kind of an outlay three – two and a half days, three days before --
MR KIRBY: Well, it’s not being – it’s not being – it’s not being done to try to provoke a reaction from the incoming administration or to try to dictate to them, one way or the other, how they are going to deal with climate issues.
MR KIRBY: But I mean, to take your argument to the extreme – and I’m not taking it personally, but to take it to the extreme that would me that we – for the entire time that this Administration is in office we simply don’t start – we don’t continue to execute and implement our own policy agenda items, and this is one of them. I mean just like we continue to --
QUESTION: Well, right. But --
MR KIRBY: Just like we continue to meet our commitments under the Iran deal.
QUESTION: Right. But this is really kind of the question of timing. I mean, there’s – was there something preventing you from doing this in, say, November or December? Why wait until January 17th?
MR KIRBY: Well, I – there was no concerted effort here to wait until two or three days to do this. It is a continuation.
QUESTION: Okay. Because --
MR KIRBY: This is an investment that had been long planned. I don’t --
MR KIRBY: I don’t believe there was any nefarious desire or intent to do it just two days before.
QUESTION: Okay. Well --
QUESTION: John, was this permitted under the – was this legitimate in any way under the continuing resolution for the last budget? Was there any – wasn’t there some attempt to try to prohibit continued spending on this? Or am I wrong?
MR KIRBY: No, actually. Congress provided $4.3 billion in funding for the Economic Support Fund, that account in Fiscal Year 2016, which is used to fund environmental programs and many other foreign assistance programs and is a primary account through which the Administration requested this particular funding. So while over one-half of the account is earmarked for specific programs or activities, the remainder is available for other programs to carry out the ESF authority in the Foreign Assistance Act.
So for the Global – for the Green Climate Fund – I keep saying – want to say – I keep wanting to say global. For the Green Climate Fund, the Administration is using a portion of the Fiscal Year 2016 ESF account, not earmarked by Congress and is consistent with past president for – past precedent for providing funds to support this particular fund.
QUESTION: So last year, it came from the same pot of money?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, it’s from the – it’s from the Fiscal Year 2016 appropriation. Yeah.
QUESTION: Past precedent.
MR KIRBY: What did I say?
MR KIRBY: Precedent.
QUESTION: You’re not the only one who --
MR KIRBY: Thank you for the enunciation assistance.
QUESTION: You’re not the only one who’s made that – and just last thing.
MR KIRBY: That was not a Freudian slip.
QUESTION: So is this money – is this – this money is out the door? It can’t be taken back, should the next administration decide it does not like this program?
MR KIRBY: Well, that’s certainly a decision that the incoming administration could – they can discuss it. I can tell you though that the funds have been obligated and expended to the trust fund, the GCF trust fund.
QUESTION: So it’s gone?
MR KIRBY: And now they are controlled by the GCF board --
MR KIRBY: -- which includes the United States, to decide how to use them effectively.
QUESTION: Well, okay. Do you know – does the board – could the U.S. representative to this board say, all right, no, you can’t have this money anymore?
MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, the United States is represented on the board and therefore has a voice on the board. I can’t speak to what board discussions or what administration discussions might occur after the 20th. Certainly, this is something they can discuss. But the money has been provided to the board now for use.
QUESTION: And did you pay it at the same time last year?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know, Carol.
MR KIRBY: I’ll have to get back to you on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Said.
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?
MR KIRBY: Wait.
QUESTION: No. Well, that was just this one issue. I want to – kind of about Syria but also just about transition in general, has there been a decision made on who will be the acting or interim secretary, should the president-elect’s nominee not be confirmed by Friday?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that --
QUESTION: Or Friday afternoon?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that there’s been that decision made. That’s a question really better put to the Trump transition team.
QUESTION: Okay. And then along that line and having to do with Syria, has there been a decision made on participation in the Kazakhstan conference on the 23rd?
MR KIRBY: Again, that’s a decision that should be posed to the Trump transition team. I’m not aware that they have made a decision --
QUESTION: Okay. But so the – on neither of those there has – or there – yes or no? Has there been any contact between the current Administration and the transition team on either of those issues?
MR KIRBY: I’m not – well, as you know, I try not to talk about our communications with the transition team. I’m not aware of any specific discussions or where those discussions have fallen out.
MR KIRBY: Obviously, the – I’m given to understand – excuse me – that the transition team is certainly mindful of succession responsibilities come the 20th, should the nominee not be confirmed. But I’m not aware that they’ve made any final decisions with respect to that, and that’s really for them to speak to.
MR KIRBY: On the conference, again, I’m not aware that there’s been any specific communication with the incoming team about this. But as you know, the conference begins next week, and so therefore it would be entirely up to them to decide whether to participate and at what level.
QUESTION: Right. Now, you – has this Administration been in any contact with the Russians or the Turks about whether – the Russians say that they have invited the new – the incoming administration to participate. The Iranians, on the other hand, have said basically over my dead body; they don’t want any U.S. participation in this. Has there been an invitation that you’re aware of, through this building, to the occupants of the offices in this building post-January 20th?
MR KIRBY: What I – I think the Secretary spoke to this over the weekend. We are certainly aware of reports of an invitation to the incoming team. And again, that makes perfect sense, given the calendar and when this conference starts. I’m not aware of any specific communication to or with us now with respect to attendance at the conference. But this is a decision that has to be made by the incoming administration.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Have you encouraged the next administration to participate should they --
MR KIRBY: Well, the Secretary --
QUESTION: -- issue an invitation, like he said --
MR KIRBY: The Secretary said so publicly over the weekend that he would absolutely encourage them to participate in the discussion. But again, it’s their decision to make.
QUESTION: I want to ask you about what --
QUESTION: Could I --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: They’re saying that this was made possible because many of the fighters fled Mosul and they were actually basically – they go in essence that you did not attack them on – en route or anything like this. Do you have any comment on that? And could you update us on what the status is as far as the Deir al-Zour assault is?
MR KIRBY: Well, no. Actually, Said, I can’t give you an update on the status of Deir al-Zour or what’s going on on the ground. I simply – we don’t have great visibility in terms of tactical operations one way or another. Certainly mindful that ISIL has a presence there, mindful of reports that the regime, backed by their supporters, is trying to deal with that. But I would refer you to the regime and to their Russian backers to speak to specifically what’s going on on the ground there.
QUESTION: But you reject the notion that you looked the other way and basically allowed them? You reject that notion, that you looked at these fighters flowing from Mosul to Syria, you looked the other way, the coalition fighters or airplanes did not attack them?
MR KIRBY: I think any suggestion that – any suggestion that the coalition has not taken seriously opportunities to continue to pound Daesh from the air and to continue to support effective fighters on the ground who are going after Daesh is – obviously flies in the face of facts. The fact is that Deir al-Zour has been in an ISIL-dominated area of Syria for quite some time. It’s not new that they’re there. And we’ve had this discussion about Mosul in the past. And yes, we knew that ISIL fighters would leave Mosul as the campaign started. Not at all surprised that some of them would run away. And the coalition has – and you’ve seen the reports out of the Pentagon – has taken advantage of opportunities when they can to hit these guys. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get every single one, and I can’t say definitively that none of them fled to Deir al-Zour. But to say that that hasn’t been part of previously ISIL-dominated areas in Syria, again, is just not – it doesn’t comport with facts.
QUESTION: And my last one on this one. Foreign Minister Lavrov said that you – that the United States tried to utilize the emergence and the attacks by Daesh as a way – as a useful tool, maybe, to bring down the regime in Syria. Do you have any comment on that? Can you respond to that?
MR KIRBY: There’s --
QUESTION: You probably saw the --
MR KIRBY: Yeah, no, I saw his comments. We have talked about this before.
QUESTION: But this is also new today.
MR KIRBY: What we want to see in terms of the civil war in Syria is a political solution, and that’s why the Secretary worked so hard in his tenure to try to get a transition in place, a ceasefire that can be meaningful, humanitarian aid, and political talks resume, so that we can have a political solution actually discussed and realized.
The fight against Daesh – there is a military component against that, against Daesh. And that is the purpose of it, to go after Daesh. We’ve long said in terms of the civil war, there’s not going to be a military solution; it’s got to be political. But the activities that the coalition conducts in Syria is against Daesh and Daesh alone. And any suggestion that we have in any way used that effort to try to spur some outcome, a separate outcome in the civil war, again, just doesn’t jive with the facts on the ground.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- at one point dropping $10,000 into a car. And it denied that there had ever been any harassment of U.S. diplomats, said it found no evidence of that.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, look, I --
QUESTION: Can you respond to that, please?
MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is – I mean, I’ve seen the foreign minister’s comments, and I think he can speak to allegations all he wants. I’m not going to – I’ve got nothing more for you on that. The only thing I would say, and is what we’ve said so many times before, that over the last year or plus we have seen an increase in the harassment of our diplomats. You saw the very dramatic video yourself of one of our employees literally being assaulted as he was trying to enter the embassy grounds.
And it is because of that increase in harassment, one of the reasons why, the President just in the last couple of weeks sanctioned some additional entities and individuals in Russia and declared persona non grata on some 35 Russian diplomats, and shut down two facilities which we know where we – which we know were – had intel – some intelligence purposes to them. So we’ve laid pretty clear, and it’s been – at least in – you’ve – in terms of the incident I just talked about, you can see for yourself the harassment that our diplomats have faced. But I’ll let Foreign Minister Lavrov speak to the specifics of whatever allegations he wants to make. But again, I think we’ve been very clear about where we are.
QUESTION: Is that a denial that you attempted to turn diplomats into --
MR KIRBY: I’m – I’m going to leave it – I’m going to leave it where I did.
QUESTION: John? Another version or stories also involve $10,000 while the other – the version is involve the medicine and apology from Secretary Kerry. Was there any apology from Secretary Kerry in regard to that?
MR KIRBY: Look, again, you can talk to Foreign Minister Lavrov about his views and what he said. I’ve made clear. The harassment that our diplomats have been facing for more than a year has been obvious; you’ve seen it for yourself. The President took action a couple of weeks ago; and again, I’ll leave it there.
QUESTION: So there’s absolutely no apology from Secretary Kerry on this?
MR KIRBY: I think I’ve answered the question.
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: Iran has appointed a new ambassador to Iraq and the Kurds seem to like him better than the previous ambassador for various reasons. Do you share that view about the new ambassador or have a different view or any view on him?
MR KIRBY: We actually don’t have a view on this. These are decisions that sovereign nations make and they should speak for them.
QUESTION: Well, what if they appointed a terrorist to be ambassador? Would you have any problem?
MR KIRBY: Again, this is an issue for these two nations to speak to. We’re not going to take a position on every ambassador by every nation to some third-party nation.
MR KIRBY: The alleged shooter, yeah.
QUESTION: The alleged shooter in the New Year’s attack on the Istanbul night club. Turkey’s deputy prime minister said that it appears that that attack was quote, “not just a terrorist organization’s action, but there was also an intelligence organization involved.” Do you know anything about that? Have any more --
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional information on the investigation into this attack. We condemned it very, very, very clearly when it occurred. And our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to all of those that were affected by it. But this is a Turkish investigation; Turkish authorities need to speak to what they’re learning at whatever pace they’re comfortable doing.
QUESTION: John, there are reports suggesting that the Syrian Kurdish group PYD will open an office here in Washington for its representative. I was wondering if you’re aware of this or if this topic came up in official meeting – the diplomatic --
MR KIRBY: Not aware of it. Haven’t heard anything about it, no.
QUESTION: Okay. But if they open, there is no restriction on that, right? I mean --
MR KIRBY: I haven’t heard anything about it. I just don’t have any information for you guys on that, I just don’t. Never heard it.
QUESTION: The Balkans. Can you confirm that U.S. imposed sanctions on Mr. Milorad Dodik, who is president of smaller entity in Bosnia Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, the embassy – its embassy in Belgrade said something about that, but not too openly. And I would like to know, can you confirm that please?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, let me --
QUESTION: And why?
MR KIRBY: Give me one second. Okay, Elizabeth, where is it? I’m going to take the question for you, okay? I’ll have to get back to you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: I think I addressed this back in October, Catherine. There was some reports out there that Secretary Kerry had asked – specifically asked Ecuadorian officials to, quote/unquote, “shut down” his – Mr. Assange’s access to the internet, and we were – and we denied that, obviously, very clearly. It wasn’t – just the allegations weren’t true. So then we – Secretary Kerry and the State Department – did not take any overt action in terms of shutting down his access to the internet.
That said, we have been nothing but clear since WikiLeaks started several years ago, in many diplomatic channels, on many levels, and over the years in many instances about our concerns about the harm that continues to come from the information that is – that WikiLeaks obtains and WikiLeaks then publishes to – certainly to our national security interests. So this is an ongoing issue for us, and we are certainly engaged and continue to be engaged diplomatically on it.
QUESTION: I just want to decode that a little bit.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: So is that senior State Department leadership speaking through backchannels to their counterparts in Britain, Ecuador, other countries?
MR KIRBY: Well, without getting into the details of diplomatic discussions, I think you can safely assume that on many levels here at the State Department – and I would venture to say across the interagency – there are constant, ongoing discussions about – and it’s not just WikiLeaks, but since we’re on WikiLeaks, certainly about the harm that continues to come from the information that this organization gets and then publishes.
QUESTION: Just one more follow-up.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you think that’s been effective? Because for 10 years and to this day, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange continue to release information that the U.S. characterizes as harmful to national security.
MR KIRBY: Who I think – I think we would all admit that we’d like to be able to find better solutions here. And it’s not that we aren’t frustrated by the ability of this organization to continue to leak harmful information, information that hurts not only our national security interests, but in some cases, the national security interests of our allies, friends, and partners. And it is damaging, and I think it is not just an American problem; it’s an international problem. And we continue to have discussions, as I said, with our allies, friends, and partners about how to deal with this. But obviously, the group’s ability to obtain information and to publish it persists, and that’s a problem, and we have worked on it.
QUESTION: I just have one more follow-up there. Has – do you think the most significant damage has been to the relationship between the United States and other countries, in terms of other nations losing trust that the information is safe?
MR KIRBY: Well, I would let, I think, other countries speak to that themselves. I can’t characterize how each and every other nation may have been affected or may have reacted to leaks of information. And I think you can certainly look, in recent years, to the way Germany reacted, for instance, in one case. And they’re really better postured --
MR KIRBY: -- to speak for their own. Certainly, there have been instances when these leaks have caused tensions. There’s no doubt about that. But I think, as we get ready now to transition to a new administration, that we’re comfortable that whatever tensions had been caused have been worked through, and we’re going to – and we continue to have strong bilateral relationships with many of these nations, and we expect that that will continue.
QUESTION: Just one final if I could: With hindsight, do you think more pressure could have been brought to bear by the United States?
MR KIRBY: I think this is a global – this is an international problem, Catherine. It’s not – it isn’t just about the United States. And we continue to take this very, very seriously. We continue to have meaningful conversations with international partners. But obviously, you can’t control each and every individual or actor, whether it’s a state actor or a non-state actor, from providing information to Mr. Assange, who then he determines to publish.
It is damaging. It’s harmful. And we’d all like it to stop. And we’ve worked hard with our partners to do the best we can. And some of that stems from trying to have better cyber security methods in place. It’s a dangerous dynamic realm, and it’s not perfect. So I think, obviously, we’d be the first to admit that we’re not happy to continue to see leaks of harmful information being provided to him – information of a harmful nature being provided to him, which he then publishes. And I think we would all agree that, certainly, more should be and should continue to be done. Okay?
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Yeah. Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can we go to West Africa? First, Gambia or the Gambia – the outgoing president has declared state of emergency. I’d like to have your reaction to that. And he’s accusing of foreign interference. To your knowledge, which countries is he talking about?
MR KIRBY: He’s – I’m sorry. Say that last part again.
QUESTION: The outgoing president is accusing of foreign interference. To your knowledge, is --
MR KIRBY: Foreign --
MR KIRBY: Oh, interference.
MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, he’s – President Jammeh is losing opportunities to respect the will of the Gambian people and to peacefully hand over power to the president-elect, which is supposed to happen on Thursday. Doing so would allow him to leave office with his head held high and to protect the Gambian people from potential chaos. Failure to do so will put his legacy – and, more importantly, the Gambia – in peril, and we have been clear about this.
I don’t know what interference he’s referring to, but we obviously want to see the Gambia succeed and we want to see the president-elect properly installed and to have in place a government which is responsible for and responsive to the needs of the Gambian people.
MR KIRBY: All I saw was press reports on that. I would refer you to Nigeria for more information. I don’t have anything on that. All I saw was a headline here before I came out today.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on that?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any information about what support the U.S. is still providing the Nigerian Government as far as going after Boko Haram? I know in the past that there had been logistical, equipment, training.
MR KIRBY: We do continue to provide some counterterrorism assistance, but Abbie, let me have the bureau get back to you with details on what that looks like. I don’t – I just don’t have that handy.
QUESTION: John, the Government of Belarus has arrested Israeli-Russian blogger Alexander Lapshin based on request from Azerbaijan because the Government of Azerbaijan accuses this blogger for visiting Nagorno-Karabakh and also for some public statements that were not favorable for the Azerbaijani Government – particularly, as they phrased it, because there were public calls against the state by Lapshin. Now the Government of Azerbaijan also demands the extradition of Lapshin.
Israeli Government resisted this. Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov again resisted extradition today in his public statement. And the Committee to Protect Journalists from New York also called for unconditional release of the blogger. I was wondering if the Department of State follows the situation with arrest of the blogger.
MR KIRBY: First, I’d say this is really something for the relevant countries to speak to, especially when you’re talking about extradition requests. That’s really for them to speak to. Obviously, press freedom is important to us, and we talk about it all the time. I don’t have any specific information with respect to this case, but I’d refer you to the relevant countries to speak to that.
QUESTION: But you are concerned with the issue of free journalist movement --
MR KIRBY: We are always concerned with the issue of press freedom. That is something that we speak to almost every day, sadly. We have to speak to it every day. So certainly, our concern over the freedom of journalists to do their jobs remains very robust, but I don’t have any specific information on this case. And as for – you’re talking about foreign extradition requests. I don’t have – I just don’t have any knowledge of it, and that’s really not something that would be appropriate for the State Department to speak to anyway.
QUESTION: Very quickly on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. But first of all, could you inform us of any kind of other content of the conversation between the Secretary of State and the prime minister of Israel in terms of maybe whether the Secretary of State requested that the Israeli Government refrain from excessive, let’s say, activities that may hinder the peace process as he laid it out in his vision, which is to accelerate settlements, maybe enforce more checkpoints, and so on?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional detail from the conversation that the Secretary had with Prime Minister Netanyahu. However, he did speak in broad terms to it when we were in Paris, and he made clear that the conversation was largely to provide some basic information about the conference as --
QUESTION: About the conference itself.
MR KIRBY: Huh?
QUESTION: Yeah, about the conference.
MR KIRBY: About how the conference was proceeding, and also to assure the prime minister that, as we have so many times in the past, that we were going to work to make sure the communique was properly balanced. And we felt that it was.
QUESTION: And are you disappointed that the British Government seems to have lobbied against the adoption of the communique by the European Union?
MR KIRBY: That’s something for the – that’s for the UK to speak to, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. I have just a couple more. The reason is because today, despite the objection of the attorney general of Israel, the Israeli Knesset passed a law allowing for the West Bank Military Court verdict to be admissible in Israel. Some think that this is really a prelude to annexation. Do you have any comment on that?
MR KIRBY: Actually, I do not. We’re – we don’t have a comment on this.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
MR KIRBY: How is that the same country?
QUESTION: What? I have two questions about Bahrain.
MR KIRBY: Oh, about the same country. Oh, okay.
QUESTION: Bahrain and Bahrain. Those are the two countries.
MR KIRBY: All right, I thought you were talking about Israel.
QUESTION: No, no, no, no.
MR KIRBY: And that’s why I was confused how a question on Bahrain – how that has to do with Israel, but now I understand.
QUESTION: Right. One is: Do you have any reaction to the execution of three prisoners that happened, I believe, either yesterday or the day before?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, we – we’ve seen the Bahraini Government’s announcement that it executed three people. Violent attacks against the police, such as the one that took the lives of the three officers in this case originally are reprehensible, of course, and deserve condemnation. We’ve also seen allegations that the individuals facing execution were victims of torture, and that the evidence used against them in court was extracted, in part, through coerced confessions.
So we’re concerned that these executions occurred at a time of elevated tensions in Bahrain. We continue to call on all parties to show restraint and to contribute to a climate that is conducive for dialogue and reconciliation. And again, we call on the Government of Bahrain to return urgently to the path of reconciliation, and to work collectively to address the aspirations of all Bahrainis. This, we believe, is the best way to marginalize those who support violence and bring greater security and stability to the region.
QUESTION: So your concern is that they would – that the executions took place at a moment of tension?
MR KIRBY: We’re concerned that we’re – as I said, we’re --
QUESTION: But you don’t have a problem with the reports of the – of the forced confessions of --
MR KIRBY: No, I think we have expressed our concerns about these executions and the way in – and way – and the information in which we have about the way these individuals were detained and were coerced into confessions.
MR KIRBY: And we have raised those concerns repeatedly with the Bahraini Government.
QUESTION: Right, but it sounded like – maybe I did not hear it correctly, but it sounded as though your main concern was that the execution – not that the executions took place, but that they took place at a time when there was heightened tensions.
MR KIRBY: We are concerned that they took place. We’re certainly also concerned about the context in which they took place.
QUESTION: All right, okay. And then the other one is the closure of the opposition newspaper.
MR KIRBY: Opposition newspaper. You’re talking about Al-Wasat Online?
QUESTION: Mm-hmm, the online version, yeah.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. We are concerned by the decision of the Government of Bahrain to suspend the online version of the independent newspaper, Al-Wasat, as we’ve consistently maintained – and I just talked about this a minute ago – a free press that is allowed to peacefully voice criticisms of the government plays a vital role in inclusive pluralistic governments and societies.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Said.
QUESTION: A quick one on Yemen? Sorry, very quickly. The UN yesterday said that 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since the start of the war, that half the population has no food security, aid is not getting in nor medicine, and so on. Do you have any comment on that? Is the Secretary doing anything?
MR KIRBY: I can’t confirm the UN report of casualties. Clearly, the issue of civilian casualties, the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Yemen has long been a concern. That’s why the Secretary has spent so much time --
MR KIRBY: -- and effort on this issue as well. I can’t confirm those numbers, but obviously, what we – nothing changes about what we want to see there, which is a peaceful resolution to this conflict so that Yemenis don’t have to fear the potential for attacks on them or their infrastructure, and we can get humanitarian aid to so many Yemenis who are still in need.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:49 p.m.)