Daily Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
June 25, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing
DEPARTMENT/COUNTERING VIOLENT EXTREMISM
2:33 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. A few things at the top here, and then we'll get right at it.
I want to give you an update on the efforts by our Bureau of Consular Affairs on the visa hardware issue. I can report now that about 119 – actually not about, 119 posts, which represents more than three quarters of our posts, of our non-immigrant visa demand worldwide are now online and issuing visas. Posts overseas issued more than 85,000 visas on the 24th. Posts overseas have issued more than 204,000 non-immigrant visas since the 9th of June. And so for some context, if the systems had been operating normally, posts would have issued about 450,000 visas during the June 9th-23rd timeframe. So the bottom line is we are closing on the gap and the backlog on these visas, and we fully expect to have this – to have the backlog cleared in the next few days. We'll continue to bring additional posts online until connectivity with all the posts is restored.
On another note, we welcome the visit of the prime minister of Mongolia, his – His Excellency Chimed Saikhanbileg, who is visiting Washington, D.C. and New York this week. He met with Vice President Biden this morning and will meet with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman later today. He'll also meet with the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Danny Russel this afternoon. In fact, that meeting may be going on right now. We recognize Mongolia as it celebrates its 25th anniversary of democracy this year. Mongolia has served as a model for other countries going through a democratic transition.
To Nepal. The United States is pleased to announce a pledge that increases the total amount of U.S. emergency relief and early recovery assistance to $130 million to Nepal following the April 25th earthquake. This pledge is reflective of our enduring commitment to the people of Nepal as they continue their recovery process. It's only the beginning of our contribution and we'll continue to work with Nepal to support its long-term earthquake recovery needs in the future.
And then lastly, I just want to give you an update that Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall is leading the U.S. delegation to the Regional Conference on Countering Violent Extremism hosted by the Government of Kenya in Nairobi. This is the fourth in a series of regular Countering Violent Extremism summits following February's White House summit. Albania, Norway, and Australia hosted the first three regional summits, and Kazakhstan, Algeria, and Mauritania will host regional summits in the coming weeks. These summits provide an opportunity for governments, civil society, and the private sector to discuss collaborative, innovative efforts to address the spread of violent extremism. Topics on the agenda include identifying the drivers of violent extremism, the dynamics of radicalization and recruitment, and strengthening local preventative work. Governments and organizations will reconvene at a leaders summit on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York this September to announce concrete deliverables to support countering violent extremism initiatives in support of the White House summit action agenda.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: I was late and so I will – I'll forgo the first question to --
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: I do have a question to ask, but later.
MR KIRBY: Okay. Michael.
QUESTION: There seems to be a confused and concerning situation in Burundi, and I'm wondering if you can clarify it, and if you can't get us an answer by the end of the day – there have been reports that hundreds of students were chased by police. They were outside the U.S. embassy. They sought protection either in the embassy compound or in the parking lot outside the embassy, and more recently, that they may have been forced to leave the embassy and may be back in the clutches of the police. If you could explain what the current situation is in and around the American embassy there, and were any of these students denied protection or forced to leave the embassy compound?
MR KIRBY: Let me walk you through this. First of all, our embassy remains open and secure, and everybody in it is accounted for and safe. What happened here was that in a construction zone adjacent to our embassy compound, there were groups of youth who were gathering there for peaceful protests against their own government. When the police attempted to confront the protesters, some of them moved to the visitors parking lot outside our compound, moved peaceably. There was no force used. No shots were fired. No tear gas was used. There was minor, minor injuries in the movement. I think three or four people suffered minor injuries, but not as a result of police brutality of any kind. They simply, as they dispersed from the construction zone site, some of them – not all – migrated over to our visitors parking lot.
As I understand it, as we speak some of them may still remain there, although they were starting to move out as well – many on their own – but there was no violent action against the embassy. This wasn't directed at the United States. There was never any penetration of the actual embassy compound, and none of our State Department employees were under any physical threat whatsoever.
There's also been no effort to forcibly make them move from the visitors parking lot.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow. Did any of these students seek the protection of the embassy, seek to be allowed into the compound in order to get refuge of some kind, and were they denied?
MR KIRBY: As of the time I walked out here, Michael, I'm not aware of any reports that any of them asked for any protection from the United States.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Got you. Okay.
QUESTION: Staying with Burundi, is the U.S. Government playing any diplomatic role in easing tensions, given reports that one of the country's vice presidents has fled to Belgium?
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, we don't as a matter of course talk about the specifics of diplomatic conversations. Obviously, we're very interested in what's going on in Burundi, and we continue to engage the government there every day. I think we've made clear what our expectations are for the protection of peaceful protests and espousing government rule that is responsive to the people of Burundi.
QUESTION: Can we go to the Human Rights Report?
MR KIRBY: We can. I want to just give you a disclaimer at the outset. I'm not a – you had a pretty fulsome briefing from Mr. Malinowski --
QUESTION: We did.
MR KIRBY: -- and the report's online. And I'm not in a position to go through every single finding in the report.
QUESTION: Okay, that's fine. But let me ask you about particular countries like Bahrain. What is the United States doing in terms of trying to influence Bahrain to basically adhere to the standards that you are saying in your report?
MR KIRBY: Well, look again, without going into the findings of the Human Rights Report, which I simply won't --
MR KIRBY: -- and not qualified to do --
MR KIRBY: Bahrain is an important partner in the region. As you know, they host our Navy's Fifth Fleet there as a component of U.S. Central Command. They're a close partner in all manner of security issues in the Gulf region and even beyond. It's safe to say that we've certainly made plain in the past our concerns with respect to some of the way Bahrain has reacted to minority groups and protest activity inside the country. But again, this is not uncommon elsewhere. And again, it's a very, very strong relationship that we continue to value.
QUESTION: And my question really is political. It is within your realm because the United States carries a great deal of weight with countries like Bahrain and Egypt and others. Yet we have not seen any improvement since the end – the period that ended last December until today. I mean, could you share with us some of perhaps the improvement that Bahrain may have done between the end of the report last year and now?
MR KIRBY: Again, Said, I'm going to have to deflect that question to those that are monitoring the human rights issue in Bahrain a lot more closely than me. Again, a very important relationship, very important partner, and we continue to engage with them every day, every day.
QUESTION: On Iraq, specifically about this F-16 – Iraqi F-16 that crashed in Arizona, obviously part of the Iraqi pilot training program, have you reached out or has there been any contact with the Iraqi Government? Because there are rumors out there that the Iraqi pilot who died was actually someone named – and this is unconfirmed – Mohammed Hama, the son of a prominent Iraqi Air Force general, which is why I ask if there's been any contact with the Iraqis to confirm his identity.
MR KIRBY: Well, first, our thoughts and prayers go to the family. This is a tragic accident, obviously. I don't have any more detail about the identity of the pilot, and that's something that I would, as you might understand, refer you to the Iraqi Government to speak to.
QUESTION: Since the State Department has authority over the foreign military sales of these jets, do you know when and how many jets are expected to be delivered – the F-16s are expected to be delivered to Iraq?
MR KIRBY: There's – the whole program covered 36 jets, and as I understand it, they have taken possession of about a dozen of them. So there are still others in the program that still are in the delivery process.
QUESTION: Possession in the United States or possession --
MR KIRBY: Possession in the United States.
QUESTION: And putting on your old military cap there, were these brand new jets, or were these sort of repurposed, used jets?
MR KIRBY: I'd have to get back to you, Justin. I don't know exactly what serial number they all had and how fresh they came off the assembly line.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Several weeks ago, actually, it was mentioned that it was expected that the rest of these jets would be handed over to the Iraqis. Do you have a timeline on when that would happen?
MR KIRBY: I don't have a timeline for the remainder that they don't have. But obviously, it's an ongoing sales program. It's not being handed over to them. And I just don't have a schedule of exactly what the deliveries are going to look like.
QUESTION: It was just I know that the Iraqi authorities were quite keen to get them up and running in Iraq, because obviously, all of the fight against ISIL.
MR KIRBY: Sure, sure. Yeah. I mean, everybody shares a sense of urgency about helping Iraq deal with the threats that the country is facing inside their borders. These jets are a component of that ability for them to fight ISIL, but I just don't have any more detail on the schedule of deliveries.
QUESTION: John, these airplanes were supposed to be delivered some time back. What is the cause of delay? Is it lacking – a lacking training program? What is causing the delay in delivering these airplanes to Iraq?
MR KIRBY: Well, your question connotes that there is a delay. I mean, it's a 36-aircraft buy, and typically, on a purchase that size they're not all delivered all at once. As I said, they are in possession of about a dozen of them. There are others still in the delivery process. It's not a matter of delay. This is a sort of – it's not uncommon or atypical for – especially when you're buying something as big as fighter jets, for it to --
MR KIRBY: -- for there to be a time component here in terms of when they're delivered. So I wouldn't necessarily say there's been a delay. And again, they're taking possession here in the United States. We've talked about that before, and that's where the training is occurring.
QUESTION: To your knowledge, do the Iraqis – are the Iraqis able to get some Russian fighter jets, like Sukhois or old Sukhois or anything like this? Are they using now in their air force Russian-made fighter jets?
MR KIRBY: I am not an expert on the Iraqi order of battle and their air force. You're asking can they? Of course they can. It's a sovereign country. They can buy --
QUESTION: I understand they can --
MR KIRBY: But I don't know what – I mean, that's a great question for the Iraqis to speak to, the components and the elements of their air force. They expressed, obviously, a significant interest in the F-16, which is a very capable aircraft, obviously. And so we're working with them on the delivery of those aircraft and training their pilots on how to fly them. That's our focus, and the Iraqis can speak to the other things that they're buying for their own national defense.
QUESTION: Change topic?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Just one more thing just on that. So you say they are in possession – the Iraqis are in possession of those jets are in the United States, not in Iraq, right?
MR KIRBY: That's right.
QUESTION: So is there any concern that if you send them back to Iraq, there might be, like, like security concerns for those jets?
MR KIRBY: Well, the – I mean, one of the reasons why they're being manned and trained on here in the United States is because of initially there were security concerns about the location that they were going to be delivered to. The situation in Iraq remains very fluid, and whatever decisions are made about the physical location and deployment of the jets in Iraq is going to be for the Iraqi Government to make. Obviously, we'll consult with them as best we can, but our role here is to deliver on the purchase and to train the pilots. And that's what – and again, I don't want to speak for the military. The training program is a Defense Department program. But that's our responsibility. We're certainly going to consult and continue to consult with the Iraqi Government in terms of the eventual redeployment of those – or deployment of those aircraft in Iraq. But ultimately that's a decision that Prime Minister Abadi and his government needs to make. It's – yeah.
QUESTION: On Iran? There was a letter put out by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy signed by quite a few former Administration officials – several of whom worked in this building quite recently even – saying that they know much about the emerging agreement and that they don't think it will establish what it will do – what it set out to do essentially. What was the Secretary's response to that?
MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary's reaction was – when he looked at the letter – that he didn't find that there was a whole lot of daylight between our position and the nuclear talks and what's laid out in this letter. In fact, many of the positions – if you go and look at it – you'll see that many of them are very much aligned with the same sorts of things that we've been talking about in the context of these negotiations.
And as we said before, in any final deal, we're going to be holding ourselves and Iran to the understandings that we reached in Lausanne, which is at least as high a standard as what is proposed in this letter. Our focus, though – and again, two other things I'll just say – and I mentioned this the other day – there are other voices. We've – we talked about the legislative – preliminary legislative steps that were taken in Iran, and as I said at the time, there's going to be other voices in this process. There has been, there will continue to be, and so same here in the United States. And there's no reason to fear other voices in the processes – in the process itself, but what I would say to you is our focus is on what's going on in the negotiating room, right now, as we speak here today. And that's where our focus is going to stay.
QUESTION: Okay, but if you say that there's not a lot of daylight between this letter and positions in the negotiations then, is the point – so you don't accept the point that this will not reach – that this will not prevent Iran from reaching a nuclear agreement? Then you reject that flat out, the point that they're making?
MR KIRBY: We've long said – I didn't say we agreed with everything in the letter. I'm just saying, if you look at the point by point that they make in there, there's not a lot of daylight. I mean, they – the letter writers cite the same sorts of things that we're looking for – verification and that kind of thing – and access.
But first of all, there's no deal yet, right? So let's not get ahead of ourselves. But if there's going to be a deal, we've been very clear that it has to meet all the agreements at – that were laid out in Lausanne, and it has to meet our own national security needs, and it has to be able to prevent diplomatically, peacefully, Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Just big picture on the previous agreements, and forgive me if this has been toiled over a million times in this briefing room, but are the – as far as what's going on in the negotiations right now, are the Iranians backing out of the original parameters? Or are you in fact hammering out details – technical details, as the Secretary said was the mission between then and now? Or are you sort of back where you started going through some of the more basic agreements?
MR KIRBY: You're asking me to characterize discussions as they're ongoing --
QUESTION: That's exactly what I'm asking.
MR KIRBY: -- and – I know that – (laughter) – and I'm exactly committed to not doing that.
MR KIRBY: So I'm just not – I'm not going to go there, Justin. I mean, we've got a team on the ground right now. The Secretary will be joining them tomorrow. These are – this is a very important time in the negotiations, and the last thing that we want to do is characterize what's going on in that room right now.
QUESTION: So does that mean that what you – in response to this letter, you're saying that the Administration shares the concerns and the points that were made by the letter writers and that you will not accept anything that does not address those points. Is that correct?
MR KIRBY: What I – I don't want to – I want to be careful here, but the five or six points that it laid out are the same things you've heard us say we're interested in as well. There may be --
MR KIRBY: There may be differences in the details, but the same basic points that the letter writers laid out are the same things that we've been talking about for months now in terms of what we're driving at in a final deal.
QUESTION: Yeah, but – so you and the Secretary and whoever else in this building who has read this letter have chosen to ignore the top of it and just concentrate on the bottom and say, "Yes, we agree with it." Well, the top of it, if I can mention it, says that the authors are concerned that the – that from what they understand – and these are some pretty heavyweight people. It's not just fly-by-night people on the street. Well, from what they understand, they're concerned that the deal – if there is one – is not going to address the points that they make lower down. So you reject that categorically? You --
MR KIRBY: What --
QUESTION: None of the concerns expressed in this letter at the top of it, or near the top of it, are actually valid?
MR KIRBY: The way, I would put it this way, Matt, is that the – what we're striving for and continue to pursue and seek is a deal that does address all those concerns, which are the same concerns that we've been talking about. That's what we're driving toward. We're not there yet. And you heard the Secretary himself say he's hopeful, but he's careful on the optimism part. We're not there yet. But the deal we're driving toward would address all those concerns.
QUESTION: So --
MR KIRBY: And they are the same concerns that we have said repeatedly are on our minds as well. But do we take it face value that this refutation that the deal we're driving to would not? No, we don't agree with that point. We believe that if we get the right deal – and there isn't one yet – if we do, it will address those concerns.
QUESTION: Well, but you can't – yeah, I don't think you can categorically say that each and every one of the concerns that they laid out or each and every one of the issues that they laid out in their entirety will be addressed as part of a successful agreement. Right?
MR KIRBY: Well, I'm not going to give chapter and verse to the deal yet which doesn't exist.
MR KIRBY: I can just say that the concerns – the types of concerns that were outlined in the letter are very much on our minds as well.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Apropos the letter, it not only discusses the nuclear agreement per se, but it also outlines a number of measures which it suggests be taken to curb Iranian aggressive behavior in the region following the deal, to include expanding and accelerating the program to train the Syrian opposition, allowing your special forces to lead their bases to coordinate airstrikes in Iraq, and interdicting Iranian arms shipments. Are those points that the State Department also thinks merit consideration and, perhaps, action?
MR KIRBY: We're doing some of those things.
QUESTION: Because those go – well, no – but all of those things go beyond. Accelerating the training of the opposition, allowing special forces to call airstrikes – those are things that you're not doing.
MR KIRBY: Well, we're not doing – we're not using JTACs. That's right. And what we've also said, Michael, that – is that there is no need for that right now. We haven't said that; our military commanders have said that. And they've also said that if they get to a point where they think they need to make that recommendation, they'll do it and they'll have the freedom to do that. I'm not going to talk about military policy up here, but right now our own military commanders say there's not a need for U.S. JTACs on the ground in Iraq or in Syria.
On the train and equip program, we've been very frank and honest about (a) the need for it, and (b) that it's going to be – that it's difficult and that it is going a little slower than anticipated. Again, I don't want to speak for the Defense Department up here, but I think they've been very honest, in testimony and in public, talking about the challenges that they're having there. We all recognize that. But the letter writers themselves recognize the importance of the program. Now you can disagree about the difference in the pace at which it's going. We've been nothing but transparent about that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) at all that so many former Administration officials don't seem to have much confidence in the deal that he's been working so hard to – at least as they understand it – that he's been working so hard to --
MR KIRBY: I think I'd go back to what I said before. We recognize that there's going to be all kinds of voices out there. There have been throughout this process and there will continue to be. If we get a deal and he comes home from Vienna with one, there will continue to be lots of voices, pro and con. He understands that; he's not focused on that.
QUESTION: Even if those voices are --
MR KIRBY: He's not focused on – he's not – he recognizes and understands and respects the right of many people to have and express an opinion on the negotiations. His focus is on what's going on inside that room, and that's why he's leaving for Vienna tomorrow.
QUESTION: John, the letter also coincides with other efforts, concerted efforts, such as a full-page ad in The Washington Post, other efforts on Capitol Hill, to cast really a shadow on the veracity of how good this deal is. Do you expect that all this effort together can in any way pose a hurdle along the way of signing a deal with the Iranians?
MR KIRBY: You mean the efforts by groups --
QUESTION: Right, the effort – I mean, to say that this deal is not such a good deal, basically.
MR KIRBY: Welcome to America. I mean, this is democracy and people have a right to free speech and they have a right to voice concerns about any number of matters, particularly on foreign policy. That's one of the great things about this country, and I think the Secretary respects that. And again, his focus is less on the chatter that's out there, not that – not – and I don't mean that in a pejorative sense, but less on that and much more on what's going on inside the room.
Now why don't we see if we get a deal, and then if we get a deal, have – there'll be time and space for a whole other discussion and debate about the merits of it, but we're not there yet.
QUESTION: And along the same logic, today, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that there's still time for a good deal, suggesting that this is not a good deal. Do you agree with his assessment?
MR KIRBY: There's no deal right now --
QUESTION: No deal.
MR KIRBY: -- right? So I'm not going to characterize where we are in the negotiation process. I think Secretary Kerry made that very clear yesterday that he – while others may debate and discuss this in real time publicly, he's not going to do that, I'm certainly not going to do that. But to your phrase "good deal," we've always said that no deal's better than a bad deal. We're trying to get the right deal for our national security interests and the interests of security in the region, and that's what the focus is on.
QUESTION: On Syria?
QUESTION: Can I stay on Israel for a second?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: I just – are you aware of a case of a Palestinian American youth – a minor teenager, I believe – who was arrested yesterday or the day before by Israeli police in --
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I am aware of --
QUESTION: Do you know if that case has been resolved or if it – even if it hasn't – or if it has or it hasn't, if you've been given consular access?
MR KIRBY: I'm aware of the case, Matt. As in every other one, we are offering appropriate consular assistance. I don't have an update for you in terms of what assistance has yet been rendered, and I'm really not at liberty to go into more detail about it.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that he is still in custody?
MR KIRBY: I don't have an update on the individual.
QUESTION: Sorry, can someone check and also find out if this is – if this case has been raised with Israeli officials?
MR KIRBY: I will see what I can do, yeah.
QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?
QUESTION: Thanks, John. Just one question on Syria.
MR KIRBY: Wait. Let me go to him and then we'll come to you.
MR KIRBY: Is that okay? Go ahead.
QUESTION: So there are reports today that ISIS fighters had infiltrated into Kobani, and the Kurdish forces claim that some of them have come from Turkey, actually. Have you seen those reports? And what do you have to tell us about --
MR KIRBY: I think --
QUESTION: -- the situation in Kobani?
MR KIRBY: I think the Turkish foreign ministry has spoken to this and denied flatly that there was any passage or assistance from Turkey.
QUESTION: Obviously, as they do all the time.
MR KIRBY: Hmm?
QUESTION: They deny it obviously.
MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, I'm going to point you to what the Turkish foreign ministry said themselves, very publicly denying that there was any such movement.
QUESTION: Going back to Iran and the letter writers, so there were – the point-to-point concerns and – in which the writers have lamented a weakness of what is out there before the negotiation --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- before the Secretary goes into the negotiations. So do you admit that there are weaknesses so far in this – the points that they made in what is out there to be negotiated, what's remaining to be negotiated? And also, are you aware of any previous occasions where former top advisors have staged such an open revolt?
MR KIRBY: Okay. First of all, I think I've answered the concerns in the letter to the best I can. I've made clear that what – our focus is on getting the right deal here, that many of the concerns stipulated in the letter are concerns we've already for months and months been talking about as part of important elements of a final deal. So I think I've dealt with that.
And as for your question about revolt, again, this is the United States of America and people are allowed, encouraged, and should express their opinions. Certainly, the State Department takes no umbrage at these officials or anybody else making a public case for their concerns. I don't know that I would use your phrase "revolt." I think it was a clear expression of their concerns. And as I've already said, we've expressed many times that those are the same concerns we have, which is why we're working so hard to get the right deal. And again, this is an important time in that discussion.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Kobani? I know you don't like doing battlefield analysis from the podium, but I just wondered --
MR KIRBY: I used to.
QUESTION: I know you used to and now you're in a different, civilian role. But in – does it concern this building that after the hard-fought battle to win back Kobani, we see another attempt by ISIS to retake the town? What does that say to you about their ability to reform and gather new strength?
MR KIRBY: Well, certainly it concerns us. I mean, any move by ISIL to take or to retake territory is of concern. And we know that ground matters to this group. But I think we also need to have a little sense of perspective here. I mean, these reports of them attempting to retake Kobani are pretty fresh, pretty new. They are not in control of Kobani, and Kobani remains well defended. But is it a surprise that they would want to retake it? Not necessarily. I mean, I think that's an indication of what a blow it was to them in the first place to lose it, that they want to try to take it back. That – this is one of the hallmarks of this group, is having influence not just from an ideological perspective or a financial perspective, but a territorial perspective. So that they would try to seize it back is not a surprise, but yes, obviously a concern. And we're watching this very closely. I would point to you again – I'm not going to do battlefield assessments, but the Defense Department I think put out a release this morning talking about airstrikes, and there were some airstrikes in and around Kobani. So it's not like we're not paying attention to it either.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Just one more question on that. The Iraqi Kurdish leader, Barzani, has called on the international community to provide more help for Kobani. Because as you know also, like, you've said it before, that the U.S. help for the Kurdish rebels in Kobani are confined within the airstrikes. There is not much more help for them in terms of providing with ammunition to boost up their defense lines and things like that. Do you – what would be your response to that demand from the Iraqi Kurdish --
MR KIRBY: I haven't seen Mr. Barzani's call for additional support. And again, I want to be careful that I am not speaking to military matters. That said, our record of success and cooperation with respect to places like Kobani I think are well established. And there was tremendous assistance by the coalition in helping the defenders of Kobani take that town back from ISIL and sustain their presence there. Nobody's turning our back on it, and again, I would point you to what the Defense Department put out today in terms of strikes that they've taken there. But look, everybody's focused on this; everybody understands the importance of certain swaths of territory, and we're keenly focused on doing what we can to support efforts there on the ground as we can.
The other thing I think is important to state again is that this is going to take some time. And this is complicated, complex work, particularly there inside Syria. So while we certainly aren't losing a focus on it, we have to expect that this group is going to want to restore some of the luster of success that frankly they've lost. They're not ten feet tall. They're not invincible. That's been proven time and time again – not just in Syria, but in Iraq as well. That said, they still remain lethal and determined, and we're not going to lose focus on the long-term issue here.
The last thing I'll say on this, because now you got me on my run here, is that what really is going to matter is not military success, but good governance in Iraq and in Syria. And in Iraq, Prime Minister Abadi is making good, solid decisions. He's conducted outreach inside his country and outside his country, and we're going to support him in that process. In Syria, it's a much more complicated, difficult issue, obviously, with the Assad regime still in power.
QUESTION: Since you mentioned that one of the reasons for approaching these radicals or terrorist organizations is a good governance, since you don't have a – or you don't recognize Syrian government, what is the solution for the Kobani and other areas having a good governance? And secondly on the allegations by YPG forces and also between Turkey that they exchange allegations, who was responsible for infiltrating the terrorist groups – do you have any other mechanism to confirm what happened and how these terrorist organizations got into Kobani, since you don't have any diplomatic mission in Syria but you have it in Turkey?
MR KIRBY: Okay, there's a lot there. I mean, I don't want to rehash the entire situation in Syria. We've talked about this a lot. We understand it's complicated. Our approach has always been that the Assad regime has lost legitimacy to govern and needs to step down. Point two, that by his own brutal nature, of atrocities against his own people, and the lack of legitimacy he has to govern Syria, groups like ISIL have been able to grow, to prosper, to recruit, to sustain themselves inside Syria. That's why a key component of the coalition's strategy is to go after ISIL inside Syria. We need capable partners on the ground to do that; that's why we've got a train and equip program that admittedly is going a little slower than we'd like but is in train. It – nobody's painting this too rosy here, I don't think.
On Kobani, I simply – I would just point you to what the Turkish foreign ministry said about infiltration. I don't – they've denied that there was any complicity in that – and I would just again point you to that. I mean, we have no reason to not believe them in that regard. I would also tell you that – two things. I mean, one, Turkey has been and continues to be a very important partner in this effort; a NATO ally, of course, but they continue to provide support to the coalition and we're – and we continue to be grateful for that.
They have challenges of their own that they've talked about in terms of flow and refugees inside their country that they're trying to deal with. So I'd – I think it's a difficult problem to get around. Could this flow of foreign fighters be improved upon? Yes. President Obama said that himself. But not just by Turkey, but by almost all of the members of the coalition. I mean, the flow of foreign fighters, self-radicalization, all that remains a problem for the international community, not just Turkey.
QUESTION: But – sorry, just last one on that one. Since the YPG, I believe, is not part of the train and equip program of the Defense Department --
MR KIRBY: That's right.
QUESTION: -- so that – if they are not part of that, that they will be fragile for any attack in the future, since you just have the air support for them. So is there any other way that – to equip them or to train them?
MR KIRBY: Our focus is on the moderate Syrian opposition and working with them to get trained fighters to go and essentially do three things: to go back and defend their neighborhoods and their communities, to take the fight to ISIL, and eventually – hopefully – to contribute to some sort of political settlement inside Syria. That's the focus of that program is on the moderate opposition.
And as I've talked about from this podium before with respect to the YPG, that they did benefit from coalition airstrikes. That is – we can't just slough that off. That's not insignificant support. It helped. It absolutely helped in terms of Tal Abyad and in their success in being able to take back Tal Abyad, which was, again, not an insignificant accomplishment, but certainly made possible to a fare-thee-well by coalition airstrikes.
QUESTION: May I just follow up? Has there been any discussion with the Turks about including the YPG in the equip and train program --
MR KIRBY: I'm not aware of – I'm not aware of any discussion of that kind.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR KIRBY: Yes, sure.
QUESTION: Great. Yesterday, Secretary Kerry said at the close of the Strategic Dialogue that the U.S. and China had agreed on a need to work towards a code of conduct for cyber issues. I'm wondering if you could tell us a little more about that and whether in their conversations they agreed on some sort of mechanism on how to move that forward, if there's a where and a when. And – last little bit – given that the Chinese have suspended the working group on cyber issues, what structure will this negotiation take place with them?
MR KIRBY: I think – I don't know that I could go much beyond what Secretary Kerry said yesterday that, yes, it was this idea of pursuing norms of behavior, as the Secretary put it, a code of conduct, inside the cyber realm – was discussed. But it was discussed in the context of this is a – this is something we need to start having serious discussions about and something worth addressing and considering, and I don't think it got much beyond that.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
QUESTION: He did say that work will hopefully begin in earnest very, very quickly, which kind of did suggest that there was some kind of – something in the works.
MR KIRBY: He said hopefully it will begin in earnest quickly, that's right.
QUESTION: So that – there shouldn't be anything concrete that we (inaudible) deduce from that, but it's in the works?
MR KIRBY: Again, I think the Secretary characterized it exactly right, that it is something that we agreed needs to be addressed, and hopefully it can be addressed soon. I don't have anything more in terms of specifics.
QUESTION: Also, in one of the discussions on the oceans yesterday, the Secretary mentioned that hopefully the United States and China can start working on setting up a marine protection area in the Ross Sea in Antarctica. This is something that the United States has backed for a long time and has been keen to get going, but in the last meeting of the committee that they – of the oceans committee that they had in Hobart in Australia last year, China actually blocked this. So I wondered if there was any indication from the Chinese that they would now be prepared to support such a --
MR KIRBY: Well, I don't want to speak for the Chinese. I think the way I would couch it is not much different than the way the Secretary did: that these were good, productive discussions; that this is an area where we do believe there is room for better and more cooperation, and that seemed to be reciprocated. But I don't want to get ahead of any decisions that the Chinese haven't or will make.
QUESTION: So was a specific commitment from Beijing to --
MR KIRBY: I – again, I would – I'd refer you to Beijing to speak to what they're willing to contribute to that effort. It's important to us that we had that discussion and that there is obviously room for better cooperation there.
Yeah. I'll take just a couple more.
QUESTION: On Iraq – yeah. On Iraq, yesterday I asked about the arrest of a journalist by the Kurdish security forces. I don't know if you have anything for the report for me. And a second one is there is a kind of a crisis of the President Barzani's term. It will come to an end in August and there is a kind of a problem like how – what is going to happen. What is the position of United States Government? Would you prefer having an election despite the security challenges, or a status quo just to extend his term because of the security situation as they would claim that?
MR KIRBY: I don't think we're going to make statements from here about internal Iraqi politics.
QUESTION: But democracy is something that you – I mean, elections – you are – it's something that you are talking about always.
MR KIRBY: Writ large, generally, yes. We're in favor of government that is responsive and representative of the people that occupy a state, but I am not going to get into internal Iraqi politics and discussions from the podium.
QUESTION: What about the journalist arrest? Do you have that, any --
MR KIRBY: I don't have anything on that, no.
MR KIRBY: Okay, thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: One last question.
MR KIRBY: Oh, one more.
QUESTION: Reuters just reported that Secretary of State John Kerry has been speaking to Zarif on the phone and asking him about the past – and saying that the past does matter and that he wants answers about whether the atomic research was arms-related. Do you have anything on that?
MR KIRBY: What I would say is that the Secretary routinely communicates with his counterpart in Iran within the context of these talks, and that in – and that repeatedly and consistently we've made clear – and the Secretary made this clear himself – that any final agreement has got to provide the IAEA the access that they need to address all the concerns that we have regarding Iran's nuclear program, to include – to include possible military dimensions past and present.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:17 p.m.)
DPB # 111
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|