Daily Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
July 6, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing
2:05 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. I've got quite a bit of material here to start us off with, so let me start with the Iran talks in Vienna.
As you all know, Secretary Kerry remains in Vienna with the U.S. negotiating team as we work towards reaching a final deal to address the concerns over Iran's nuclear program. To that end, all of the P5+1 ministers met today along with the EU, and then all later met together with Iran. And all of the experts continue to meet alongside to close the gaps on the remaining technical details. The Secretary met with Foreign Minister Zarif throughout the weekend, including over four hours of meetings yesterday.
As the President said last week and as the Secretary repeated himself yesterday, we will only accept a deal that effectively closes off Iran's pathways to a nuclear weapon, and it will have to be a deal that can stand up to the scrutiny of not just our experts, but experts around the world. We're not there yet and there are some important issues still to be resolved. Again, as Secretary Kerry said yesterday, if we can resolve them this week, we'll have a deal. And if we can't, we won't have a deal.
And we'll be doing that work to resolve the remaining issues inside the negotiating room, privately and quietly, and not negotiating in public. So I'm not going to have much more to say on these ongoing negotiations, nor will I have any comments on the variety of things that have been reported in the press about the talks. As the Secretary noted, when the time is right, we'll have more to say.
A travel note, we – I know we put this out last week, but to remind you, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken departs today to Nigeria and Niger. While in Abuja, the Deputy Secretary will meet with President Buhari and senior government officials to discuss expending counterterrorism assistance, such as intelligence support and additional advisors to enhance Nigeria's efforts to combat Boko Haram. He will also discuss cooperation on our shared priorities ahead of President Buhari's visit to Washington on the 20th of July. He will also meet with civil society representatives and alumni of the President's Young African Leaders initiative.
The delegation traveling with him to Nigeria includes Bureau of African Affairs Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield, as well as senior officials from the Department of Treasury, the Department of Defense and USAID. The Deputy Secretary will then travel on to Niger on the 9th of July to meet with senior officials and civil society representatives. In particular, he will emphasize our critical security cooperation with Niger and the importance both our countries placed on countering violent extremism in the region.
And on that note, just a quick segue, you probably saw my statement last night about the attacks in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram. We have learned since I put that statement out that the death toll has risen now to about 200. So a very lethal, very deadly series of attacks, and once again, we condemn this violence in the strongest possible terms.
Couple of personnel announcements here. You probably saw the Secretary announced the appointment of Thomas Periello as the special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa. Mr. Periello, who recently served as special representative for the department's successful Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, has also served as advisor for the international court for Sierra Leone, as a consultant to the International Center for Transitional Justice in Kosovo, Darfur, and Afghanistan, and he was a member, of course, of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2008 until 2010. He worked closely with Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield on a portfolio that consists of the Great Lakes states of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.
His priorities will be to strive, in coordination with local officials and international partners, to spur progress toward lasting peace, stability, and development throughout the region, including the strengthening of democratic institutions and civil society, and the safe and voluntary return of refugees and the internally displaced. And Secretary Kerry is of grateful for Mr. Periello's continued service in this important role.
Couple more. Today in Bangkok, State Department representatives joined with the UN, the WHO, and the Thai Government and others to launch the first international society for drug prevention and treatment professionals. This society will promote professionalism of the workforce seeking to prevent and treat substance use disorders worldwide. Through this initiative, the latest research and news in this crucial field can be disseminated globally, and the training examination and credentialing process currently supported by the State Department will be used to fully professionalize this field.
And then lastly, the Department of State welcomes yesterday's decision by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee to inscribe the San Antonio missions in Texas – a series of four missions making up a U.S. national historical park, plus the Alamo – as a UNESCO world heritage site. The five San Antonio missions are the largest collection of Spanish colonial architecture in North America and embody nearly 300 years of history and culture. This prestigious designation is a global recognition of the site's outstanding universal value. The missions now become the 23rd U.S. site on the World Heritage List, which includes of course the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty.
With that, Lesley.
QUESTION: Thank you. I'm going to give Iran a try. I mean, I know that everybody from the Germans to the Iranians themselves have talked about important and significant issues that still remain. Has there been any progress that gives one hope that this could even be a deal this week, whether it's a good or a bad deal?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think I'd point you back to what Secretary Kerry said yesterday, Lesley. There has been progress made, there's no doubt about that, and work continues today. But there still remain disagreements and still differences over some particular factors that have precluded, thus far, reaching a deal. So the work continues in earnest. I mean, just today – not insignificant that you saw all the ministers meeting together. That's not insignificant at all. So everybody is still I think rowing on the oars here to try to get a deal done, but it's got to be the right deal. It's got to be a good deal. It's got to meet our national security interests and those of our partners, or there won't be one. And again, I think Secretary Kerry was extraordinarily pragmatic yesterday, the way he couched it.
QUESTION: But he also said that we're almost there. So basically, what could there be left to negotiate in one day that they could not negotiate over a period of 21 months?
MR KIRBY: Well, Said, I'm sure you can understand that I'm not going to get into the details of what's being negotiated, so I'm just – I'm not going to get into content. That would be completely inappropriate right now. But I think what you saw from him – and I think Minister Zarif said a very similar thing; "never been closer," I think, was the words he used – should tell you that there has – that being able to say that now builds upon two to three years' worth of work here. I mean, this was – a lot of effort by a lot of people over a long period of time has led us to these talks today, where we are in Vienna. But Secretary Kerry was also very candid about being able and willing to walk away if a deal can't be reached that, again, meets the agreements as laid out in April.
QUESTION: Could the sticking point be in – basically in the language or the draft of the final communique? Could that be the problem?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, I'm not going to get into content, Said. I think you can understand. As I – as we've all said, that there remains a lot of work done on both the political and the technical tracks, and there's not uniformity of opinion on some issues in both those tracks. And again, I won't get into what exactly the issues of disagreement are, but I think it's safe to say that both on the political and the technical side there's still work to be done to close gaps.
QUESTION: And you just – I mean, you basically have a few – I mean, or 24 hours to do this. Would it really – I mean, if one – if this goes beyond Tuesday's deadline, I mean, is – does this mean that there's any harm done to that? I mean, we know that you want to do it by the 9th, but also, with Congress out – and I think the bill goes back to 30 days after September – does it really matter if this really gets extended?
MR KIRBY: Well, let's talk a little bit about what the 7th is and what it isn't. It's not a deadline. It was an extension of basically seven days of the parameters of the JPOA – the agreements reached in there, the sanctions relief that was an elemental part of the JPOA. So we extended that for seven days – those parameters – so that it was a technical decision to extend that so that discussions could continue to be had and our diplomats could continue to work. So you're right, that extension for seven days ends tomorrow. I'm not going to hypothesize now about what happens tomorrow. We'll see where we are tomorrow and where that goes. But again, I think you can just look at what they're doing today – clearly a lot of effort, a lot of energy being applied to the talks today, and we'll see where we go.
The – again, I'll go back to what I said to Said: I mean just reminding that the Secretary was clear that we're either going to get a good deal, a deal that meets the parameters in April from Lausanne, that meets our national security requirements, that prevents Iran from all the pathways to nuclear weapons capability, or there won't be a deal.
QUESTION: John, when the Iranian diplomat said in Vienna that they are not committed to any deadline – so are you also not committed to any deadline? I mean, my question, I guess, is: At what stage you will say that's it and we're not going to reach a deal and we're going to walk out?
MR KIRBY: I just don't think we're in a position right now where we can answer that question. We obviously all were focused towards the end of June. We said that throughout May and June and how much the end of June was sort of driving us. Now we're beyond that. We had this technical extension for seven days. They're still very much at work. It's just – it's the 6th of July, so we'll see where we are tomorrow.
I think – and I think, again, Secretary Kerry was very clear about this. What's driving us is trying to get the right deal. That's what driving us. It's not that we're unmindful of the calendar. We're not unmindful of deadlines that had been set before. But what he's really focused on more than anything is getting or making sure that if we get a deal it's a good deal, it's the right deal.
QUESTION: Sure. But maybe the Iranians saying they don't have a deadline, and some reports are indicating that maybe we go beyond tomorrow towards the end of the week. So is that within the parameter of what a deadline could be that we can – you can drag it for a few more days?
MR KIRBY: I just – I think I'd really rather reserve judgment and comment on that until or unless we're at that point. I mean, right now it's the 6th. The technical extension goes to tomorrow. We're working on this very, very hard. It's six hours ahead of us here, and I can tell you they're still at work in Vienna. So I'm just not – we're just not at a point now where I can answer that.
QUESTION: Sure, fair enough. But one other issues that are being reported, which is that the Iranians wanted to lift the UN arms embargo. Was this an issue that's being discussed all the time in Vienna or just suddenly appeared and it became an obstacle?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, there's lots of people talking on lots of different sides. What we've always said is that the sanctions relief we're speaking about in connection with the deal that is being negotiated are those related to the nuclear program. That's – those are the sanctions that are under discussion in the negotiating room, and only those. Okay?
QUESTION: So tomorrow, if they want to keep talking, they will have a technical extension, another technical extension?
MR KIRBY: Well, I just – I don't know. I cannot answer that question for you. I mean, the JPOA has been effective thus far getting us this far in these talks. There's no doubt about that. But I'm not in a position today to speculate about whether or when there'll be another extension to the JPO going forward. Is it possible? Sure, but I can't tell you it's a certainty. I mean, again, I don't mean to keep harping on this, but the teams are working real hard right now, today, as you and I stand here. They're working on this and their focus is on trying to complete that work satisfactorily, not on whether there will necessarily be another extension.
QUESTION: John, you – I mean, you said yesterday – I mean, you just said now that the Secretary had been pragmatic in his remarks yesterday. But practically looking at the remarks coming from Vienna and diplomats from every side saying there is no agreement on any of this, and I mean, that the agreements – the disagreements are still quite vast, is it really realistic and pragmatic to think that you're going to have a deal by 6 a.m. tomorrow morning in Vienna time?
MR KIRBY: I mean, again, I think the Secretary was very clear-eyed about it, and that's where he remains today. I'm not going to speculate about what the chances are in the next 12 to 18 hours. As I said last week, I mean, a deal could be had quickly or a deal could be had in a few days, or we could reach no deal. And that remains the case today.
Are we still – any more on --
QUESTION: Still on Iran.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. When the Secretary said he's ready to walk away in case he couldn't get a good deal, did he mean he would walk away tomorrow, or it is open?
MR KIRBY: I don't think he, when he said that, had a date certain in his mind. He's more talking a qualitative decision there that if a deal cannot be reached, again, that meets all the parameters agreed to in April and accomplishes all the things I said just a few minutes ago, then he'll walk away. He's always had that attitude that he would be willing to walk away if we can't achieve a good deal. But I don't think he put, and he didn't mean to put – certainly he didn't indicate what time frame that would be.
QUESTION: So he's open for extension implicitly?
MR KIRBY: I think – I'm not going to speculate about what's going to happen tomorrow. What the Secretary's focused on is what's going on in the negotiating room today. Tomorrow we'll see where we are, and if we have to have another conversation about that, we will. I'm not going to speculate.
QUESTION: So when you say July 7th isn't a deadline, is it just a decision – what is – how would you characterize it?
MR KIRBY: It was a technical extension of the standing agreement under the JPOA that provided limited sanctions relief for Iran while negotiations were ongoing. So in order to keep the negotiations going past the 30th, they extended the JPOA for another week. And that was a prudent decision at the time, since back on the 30th or the 1st of July we didn't know where we were going to be in a few days. So it was a technical extension of those arrangements so that diplomats could continue to work in Vienna and get things done.
So tomorrow, that technical extension expires, and we'll see where we are tomorrow.
QUESTION: Has the President been in touch with the Secretary while he's been on the – while he's been on the ground? Have there been any phone calls between the two of them?
MR KIRBY: I know – I certainly know that the Secretary has talked to Susan Rice several times since being out there, and the Secretary, I mean, has stayed in touch with other national leaders. Obviously, Secretary Moniz is out there. I don't have any calls with the President to read out.
QUESTION: Can you talk about – offer some insight into how the talks have been structured? Are they in, like, breakout groups? Are they issue by issue? How – can you just offer us a little window into the talks?
MR KIRBY: There's – I'm not there. So I'm not – and we can certainly try to get you more context here. But there's several levels of meetings. You have technical experts who are meeting on various technical elements of the deal, and then you have the political leaders who meet. Sometimes they meet bilaterally. You've seen us; we've been very open about the meetings that the Secretary has been having. And then again today there – all the ministers met. So there's political meetings, there's technical meetings, and they happen at various levels and with various members attending. But I don't have – I don't have the framework every day of who's meeting in what room and when.
QUESTION: And then one last question. Has there been a side deal with Iran to lift sanctions on Bukhari Sayed Tahir, who was part of the AQ Khan network? And if so, at whose initiative?
MR KIRBY: I have not heard anything about that at all. And look, on side deals, let me just make it clear that what's going on in Vienna is about a nuclear deal, and that's all. Now, on the sidelines of those discussions we certainly do, every opportunity we can, bring up the case of the three Americans that are being detained in Iran, as well as the case of Mr. Levinson. But I'm not aware of any side deal that's being – in fact, I know there's no side deal being struck here as it relates to this – these nuclear negotiations. Does that make sense? So I don't have anything on this individual, but I want to disabuse you of the notion that there are other side deals on other issues being constructed or discussed in Vienna. The focus in Vienna is on the nuclear deal.
QUESTION: But if Treasury, I guess – not on the side, but if Treasury lifts sanctions relating to Iran, that's not part of the – you're just saying that's not --
MR KIRBY: The only sanctions that are in play are those related to Iran's nuclear program.
QUESTION: I just wanted very quickly to follow up. Has the Secretary spoken to the Israeli prime minister? Because he had some really harsh words about the deal yesterday.
MR KIRBY: I don't know if there's been a call recently. I should've brought my reading glasses up here. (Laughter.) This thing is not in the prescribed --
QUESTION: Do you want me to read it?
MR KIRBY: -- 26 font. No, I don't see a call recently with Prime Minister Netanyahu in this. No.
QUESTION: Just more on that. Today the prime minister, he called the negotiations not a breakthrough but a breakdown, and said it was better that there's no deal than this very bad deal. Does State have a reaction to those comments?
MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, there's no deal right now. And as I've said, Secretary Kerry's willing to walk away if the right deal cannot be had. And we've been very clear that – we've – and again, I'd point you to what Secretary Kerry said yesterday, which I thought was extremely pragmatic and clear-eyed. There – he wasn't talking in terms of breakthroughs at all. So to characterize breakthroughs or breakdowns I think would be inaccurate based on what we know of the scope and the pace and the character of the conversations that are going on right now in the negotiating room.
MR KIRBY: Greece. Are we good? Good? Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. You see the referendum results, it's no. So is the U.S. treating the Greek crisis and this referendum as a political crisis for the EU and the euro currency? Are – you are treating – is it purely a financial economic crisis for one of the countries?
MR KIRBY: Well, I'm not – I don't think it'd be appropriate for us to characterize that it is or what kind of crisis this may be. I mean, this is – the referendum – we respect the democratic process in Greece, right. That was something for the Greek people to voice their opinions on. And now that it's over – and you've seen this – Prime Minister Tsipras has indicated Greece's plan – place, I'm sorry, is in the Eurozone and in Europe. And he's expressed a desire to return to the negotiating table immediately. We look forward, as we have said from the beginning, to have all parties resuming their conversations toward a constructive outcome.
QUESTION: As it has been said from this podium or from the White House that President Obama has been in touch with the, for example, German chancellor and other leaders in the EU.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Have you been in touch with any of the representatives of these EU institutions or international financial institutions? Like, any readout, anything that is going on – like, what is the U.S. doing about this?
MR KIRBY: Well, Secretary Lew and senior Treasury officials as well as the White House continue to stay in close touch with a broad array of counterparts on the situation in Greece, including officials from Greece, the European Union, and the IMF. So of course, the State Department is a party to some of those discussions but this is predominantly being led by – appropriately led by Secretary Lew and the Treasury Department.
QUESTION: Does the – can I have a follow up on that?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. – and we've asked you before – what does the U.S. see as the geopolitical implications of this? Because it really is a big issue. I mean, Greece has played a major role not only in the Mediterranean but also in the Balkans and it stands in an interesting – its location is interesting in a region that is increasingly – you've got – I don't even have to go through it – through Russia and everything. Does the U.S. have some concerns about this, and what kind of diplomatic efforts can the U.S. take – notwithstanding commenting on what's going on in the economic prospect, but what other kinds of efforts can the U.S. take to ensure that this doesn't get out of control?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think, Lesley, I mean, first of all, you – I think you may have answered your own question. The focus right now is on the financial situation in Greece. And as I said, Secretary Lew is leading the U.S. Government response in terms of – not response, but coordination. And I won't speak for him or the Treasury Department. But yes, clearly we're monitoring this closely. We're all watching developments. And what Secretary Kerry wants to see is that a path forward is found – a constructive path forward is found that will permit Greece to follow on the reforms that it needs and to restore rate of growth and to achieve a level of debt sustainability. That's really where the focus is on now.
We're certainly mindful of Greece's place in Europe geopolitically, but – and nobody's ignoring that, but again, the focus right now is on making sure that all the parties in this discussion find a constructive way forward. That's really the best resolution to a more stable future for Greece and for Europe.
QUESTION: Well, the U.S. is basically – some critics have called it a helpless bystander because this is a European issue. But where it's not a European issue is in the IMF, in these institutions that can actually come stand forward – come forward and help Greece. What is the U.S. – what has the U.S. said to the IMF about helping Greece?
MR KIRBY: Well, I would refer you to the Treasury Department and Secretary Lew for any discussions of that nature, and I'm not – certainly not confirming that there have been specific discussions between the Treasury Department and the IMF. But it is – this is, again, predominantly led – being coordinated through Secretary Lew and the Treasury Department.
QUESTION: Just another quick follow-up on that. That if you go back in history, like when West Germany – we supported West Germany and brought it – after the World War and all that. And then over the years we have been – how are we supporting at this point Greece or the EU? It's – as she said, it's a internal issue, but still it has a big impact, because if it goes out and it goes and the Russia comes to it, it's – so how this – the State Department is looking at it from the diplomatic angle? What – is there anybody making any phone calls on a diplomatic level, any readout, anything you can have?
MR KIRBY: I don't have any readouts for you.
QUESTION: Okay, yeah.
MR KIRBY: As I said in my answer to you previously, certainly the State Department – State Department officials are a part of the discussions that are going on, but it is under Secretary Lew's coordination in that this is predominantly – we're watching it closely, but it is predominately an issue for Greece's creditors and Greece and the Greek Government to work out. And as I – again, I was clear – very clear about what we'd like to see, which is reforms, a rate of growth restored, and debt sustainability. And I don't – there's simply nothing that I could – would speculate with regard to any additional U.S. assistance.
MR KIRBY: Yemen, sure.
QUESTION: Yes. On Thursday, the United Nations declared Yemen a Level 3 humanitarian disaster area. I know that you issued a statement, I think, from the State Department Press Office at the time.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is there anything that the United States is doing in terms of leaning on its allies, the Saudis, to stop bombardment largely of civilian areas?
MR KIRBY: Well, we --
QUESTION: You don't think this --
MR KIRBY: We continue to urge all Yemeni parties to prioritize reaching an agreement to end the fighting and to enable humanitarian aid to reach Yemen's citizens. I mean, we're – we've been, I think, very steadfast about that. This is, as we've talked about before and we support, should be a UN-led process here. And we look forward to a resumption of discussions that can lead to a better outcome.
QUESTION: Do you support the call by Ismail Ould Cheikh, the United Nations envoy, to end the fighting at least till after the Ramadan end holiday? The --
MR KIRBY: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: Well, he called for a ceasefire to take place between now and the end of the holiday after Ramadan. So do you support that?
MR KIRBY: Well, we've long supported a humanitarian pause here. I mean, that's not – and you saw my statement Thursday reiterated that again. So first of all, we support his efforts, and I've been clear about that. And there's – nothing has changed about our desire to see a humanitarian pause here and for – an ability for humanitarian aid and assistance to reach those most in need.
QUESTION: John, what about Said's first question, which was: What are you doing to try to – I don't know – improve the accuracy or somehow dissuade the Saudis from hitting civilian areas? I mean, just today, there was a strike that killed dozens of civilians.
MR KIRBY: Well, look. We remain in close touch with the Saudi Government regarding a wide range of issues. With respect to Yemen, I'd refer you to them for discussion of their operational details. That's really for – that's really for the Saudi Government to speak to. And we take all accounts and reports of civilian casualties seriously, and again, have been very clear about our desire to see a humanitarian pause.
QUESTION: Is the United States still providing assistance to the Saudi-led campaign through ISR and other means of support?
MR KIRBY: I think that's something you should talk to my colleagues at the Pentagon about.
QUESTION: You guys have talked about it from this room before.
MR KIRBY: There's been a – there remains some assistance, but I'm not going to detail it from this podium. That's something for the Defense Department to speak to.
QUESTION: I mean, you – but you've said before from the podium – not you, but your predecessors have said that intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance support has been provided.
MR KIRBY: As I said, there's been some – there remains assistance being provided, but that's a military issue, and I am not going to speak to military matters.
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: On ISIS?
QUESTION: -- the same topic of Yemen?
MR KIRBY: Okay, and we'll come back to you.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Regarding this UN handling the issue of the fight or the issue of the Yemen, what U.S. is playing as a role beside urging UN and the sides to come to a political solution?
MR KIRBY: I mean, our diplomats are hard at work in – as they always are in trying to stress the desires we'd like to see, the same desires the UN would like to see. But this is a UN-led process. And while we had – certainly had visibility on the recent talks, I mean, this is a UN-led process.
QUESTION: But usually, do you notice, U.S. is having something to push forward. Do you have something to push forward? I mean, is a plan – there is a plan or an urgency to push a plan, or you think that it will take time to let the sides solve their issue?
MR KIRBY: We are supporting the UN process. That's the process through which we believe the best chance of sustainable success in Yemen will be achieved. And so we want to be supportive of those efforts, so I don't have – there isn't a separate U.S. plan being developed or laid on the table here. We've made our desires known. They are very much in keeping with what the UN would like to see, which is, again, a humanitarian pause, a restoration of the political process and talks to resolve the issue inside Yemen; a humanitarian pause (a) because we want to see the violence stop; (b) because we want to see humanitarian aid get to the people that need it.
QUESTION: John, Amnesty International says that the Saudi-led coalition displays a pattern of attacks destroying civilian homes and resulting in scores of civilian deaths and injuries. I assume you wouldn't agree with that characterization, but how would you describe the instances where so many civilians die in this campaign?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, we take all reports of civilian casualties seriously, and we remain in close contact with our Saudi counterparts. Again, I'll let you – I'll let them speak to their operational capabilities and performance. But what we really want to see here is no civilians get hurt and the people that are in need get the help that they need. And that can only be done on a sustainable level through political dialogue and a process that allows for a humanitarian pause to be enacted and to be sustained.
QUESTION: ISIS. Your colleagues at the White House said that I think the number of attacks against ISIS targets in Syria, in particular around Raqqa area, has intensified probably to the highest level. Yet the ISIS managed to regain the town of Ain Issa which is from the Turkish fighters yesterday, I think. So isn't this about – I mean, if militarily obviously they're gaining, isn't it about time that you change your strategy or look differently of how you deal with ISIS in Syria in particular?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, I want to be mindful and careful that I'm not getting into battlefield assessments here from the State Department. That would be inappropriate. But I would like to challenge --
QUESTION: I'm talking about the strategy.
MR KIRBY: What's that?
QUESTION: The strategy. I'm not talking about militarily.
MR KIRBY: No, no, I got that. So separate and distinct from battlefield assessments, which I don't have in-depth knowledge of and it would be – I'd be foolish to get into a discussion about what's going on on the ground on any given day there, I think two things I would say. One, the strategy that is being enacted is having success against ISIL. We've talked about this many times before. It remains a dangerous group. They remain --
QUESTION: Sorry. The strategy in Syria has had some success?
MR KIRBY: The strategy against ISIL writ large is making progress. It doesn't mean that it's achieved ultimate success. I think we all recognize that this remains a dangerous group who continues to want to terrorize people and to gain territory and ground and influence in Iraq and in Syria. But we've been – coalition aircraft, including U.S. aircraft, have been flying missions inside Iraq and in Syria now for quite some time. And the notion that ISIL just keeps gaining territory is just mathematically false. It's just not true. They've lost somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of the territory they had a year ago. It doesn't mean that inside that they're going to have tactical successes from time to time like we saw in Ramadi a little bit ago.
QUESTION: If you'll allow me, I was just going to talk about Syria, not Iraq. In Syria in particular, can you point out to the successes of where ISIS was defeated in Syria and they lost massive amount of land?
MR KIRBY: Kobani. Right? Tal Abyad. Right? And they continue to get hit in all kinds of other places. I think you might – again, I won't speak for the Defense Department, but I know that there's been airstrike activity near and around and in Raqqa, which is the self-proclaimed ISIL capital city. So there's been some success kinetically. And it's not just about towns. A large part of the effort has been in Syria to try to help get at their ability to sustain themselves, hitting their oil capacities and training camps, their ability to – their lines of communication across the border with Iraq. So there's been some success.
I want to be very clear though that I'm not looking at this through rose-colored glasses, and nobody else here is either. It remains a dangerous groups, remains a threat. There's a lot of energy being applied to this that's not military that doesn't grab the headlines but is still going on. So everybody is mindful of the work that remains to be done. And again, I think you've seen that the President will be going over to the Pentagon later today to speak to military commanders about the strategy, the execution of it. And I'll let them characterize it after the fact.
QUESTION: John, on the train and equip program, there are really conflicting reports. Some say that you guys have trained maybe in the hundreds, and some say in the thousands. Could you set us straight on this?
MR KIRBY: Which train and equip program are we talking about?
QUESTION: Training the moderate Syrian opposition.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Again, I – that is a DOD program, Said, and I really want to refer to the Pentagon to speak to that particular program. It would be wrong of me to do that.
QUESTION: And on a related issue, has there been any conversation between you and the Turks on the topics of a buffer zone or a safe haven or no-fly zone --
MR KIRBY: I don't have any --
QUESTION: -- since last week?
MR KIRBY: I don't have anything to add since last week, no.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Confronting ISIL, I-S-I-L, or Daesh, I'm staying away from DOD programs and the assessment of military ground and all these things. You were here before with the previous spokesperson of the State Department talking about the strategy and there were five tracks, I think. What about the rest of the tracks, not the military, whether it's relating? I'm trying to ask this question because there – it's related to the one year after the Mosul --
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: -- so it's IS-established --
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: -- or it's working or whatever, there's a (inaudible) considering it's defeating or they are saying that they are gaining more grounds.
MR KIRBY: Right. So we've talked --
QUESTION: I'm trying to say – the question is about the other four tracks, which was, like, flow of the money, flow of the people, and the weapons; beside that, the possibility of talking to them or their message to be reached to the others or not. Are they – they are recruiting more people? It seems so. I don't know. I mean, this department has to have a better idea than media to answer this question, right?
MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) Look, you're right; there are other lines of effort here aside from militarily putting pressure on them, and General Allen and Brett McGurk are obviously working this very hard here for the State Department.
But without going into a tick-tock on everything we've done, you – we have put pressure on their finances. That's why the military was hitting oil refineries and crude oil collection points less than a year ago. And so there is – and by squeezing them territorially, you're also helping put a lot of pressure on their ability to finance themselves. Because one of the ways – frankly, one of the biggest ways they earn money is extortion and theft, and they get that from literally robbing banks and extorting it out of leaders and individuals. And so the more pressure we put them on geographically, the less opportunity they have for that.
Doesn't mean that that is a solved problem; none of – we have not come to closure on any of these. You mentioned foreign fighters. That's another element and another line of effort. More than 30 nations now have put in place administrative or legal programs to try to limit the flow of foreign fighters. The United States obviously has been very much a leader in this regard and focusing on this. Doesn't mean that there – it's not still a threat, but there is work being done. On the communications side, which is another line of effort, you heard Secretary Kerry a few weeks ago say that that's one that we know we have a lot more work to do in terms of countering their propaganda and their agility inside social media.
So yeah, there's – I mean, I don't – I could go on and on, and I don't want to do that. There's a lot of work being applied on all the other lines of effort. They don't get the headlines because things aren't blowing up in those lines of effort, but it doesn't mean that the work isn't continuing.
QUESTION: John, just trying to follow up this, regarding the communication, for example, a lot of people at the – on the Hill, they are asking for blocking, for example, Twitter or Facebook accounts of these people. Are these – as a principle it's accepted, or is regarded as an option or not?
MR KIRBY: Well, I don't know who's saying that --
QUESTION: Some people. I mean, it's like --
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, lots of people have lots --
QUESTION: I'm not – I don't have the names in my mind now.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. No, I --
QUESTION: But they were one of the proposed ideas on – their comments of different thing.
MR KIRBY: Without getting into --
QUESTION: Who is doing what --
MR KIRBY: -- cyber tactics which may or may not be considered, I mean, we understand that they have an agility in social media, and we're trying to help get at that. And it's a coalition effort; it can't just be the United States doing this, and it's not. But I also think you need to keep – we need to keep their propaganda success – if you want to call it that – in some perspective. I mean, they – where they're being successful, and this gets to your question about recruiting, is in helping recruit and attract a certain segment of the Muslim population to join their effort. They certainly aren't having some widespread success in social media across the world. I mean, they're not – their footprint isn't that big and that pervasive out there. It's big enough to attract the people that they want to get in, or at least some of the people they want to get in.
So we need to keep it in perspective. Yes, they're nimble and they've proven to be more modern and more capable but certainly not invincible inside social media, and we're working at that problem very, very hard.
QUESTION: Two quick questions. One, any comments on the Indian Prime Minister Modi's visiting now in a number of eastern countries, including Russia, and they will – he will be meeting with the five BRIC nations that includes that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. And they will be – he will be inaugurating this new development bank and other issues among these nations. Is this – U.S. supports this group, particularly that they're working on number of – within their agenda, within their group, so this number of issues and all that may be affecting if U.S. is in touch with them or have been invited?
MR KIRBY: I'm aware of their attendance. We certainly know about that. But that's really – those are – that's a decision that the prime minister has to make for himself, and certainly we respect his decision and it's just not for us to have a comment on.
QUESTION: The reason I was asking – because before his visit to these countries, number of Indian high-level visits took place here in Washington, including the finance minister, foreign minister --
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: -- and also urban development minister and among others. Have they – I'm sure they must have met somebody here at the State and other – trade and commerce ministers, among others. Have they discussed about this – what's going on there?
MR KIRBY: This attendance. I don't know that that – the decision to attend this conference was a topic of discussion here, and even if it was, I'm sure it wasn't a substantive discussion, because these are decisions – these are national decisions that leaders have to make about whether they're going to attend these kinds of conferences. So I just – I couldn't tell you that it was specifically discussed.
QUESTION: And if I may, one more quickly, going back to – on Iran. Many people are asking – the memories of 1979 are still there. Can you – how much can you trust Iran? Because they had signed all the agreements – Vienna Convention, Geneva Convention, international conventions and all that – and still they broke the international laws by what – I don't have to go back there – U.S. diplomats and others. How much can you trust them today if they sign something tomorrow, whatever outcome will be there?
MR KIRBY: Well, Goyal, we've talked about this as well. I mean, this deal is not about trust. It's about verification. And I mean, if it was all about trust, there'd be no need to sit down and to hammer out a very complicated deal. So we're going into this – I think everybody, not just the United States – everybody's going into this with eyes wide open. And as we've talked about before, as agreed in April in Lausanne, there has to be – IAEA inspectors have to be given the access they need to do the proper verifications or there won't be a deal. It's not about trust.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Relating to negotiations with the Turks on this buffer zone issue, John – last week when Mark was asked this question, he said that there is no any ground truth about this Turkish unilateral military intervention in Syria. Is this still the case for you after one week negotiations with the Ankara government?
MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, you're taking Mark's word? Is that what we're – (laughter) – I'm kidding.
QUESTION: You're bad.
MR KIRBY: No, I mean, we – look, we talked about this a lot last week. Almost every day we talked about this. We are in constant discussions with Turkish leaders about the situation against ISIL and across the border, and certainly they've made their concerns well known. And these are discussions that continue with them, but I don't have – just like I didn't have last week, I don't have anything today with respect to announcing any change in coalition policy with respect to a buffer zone.
QUESTION: Yeah. You said that there is no need for a U.S. military and coalition perspective, but --
MR KIRBY: I said that the – from a military perspective, military leaders did not see a need for it at this time.
QUESTION: Yeah. But my question is: After these high-level contacts with the Ankara government on this issue over the last weekend, do you still – a possibility for a Turkish unilateral intervention in Syria?
MR KIRBY: You'd have to talk to the Turkish Government about that. And I have seen --
QUESTION: No, in terms of the ground troops that you are watching. I mean, also you are --
MR KIRBY: I have seen nothing that would indicate that, but you're asking me to speak for decisions that another sovereign government might or might not make, and I won't do that. I've seen nothing that would cause me to believe that that is impending, but again, you'd have to talk to Ankara.
QUESTION: Can you please share with us the levels of these contacts that you mentioned?
MR KIRBY: I think the levels have been a very high level. They've been at a working level, and they continue. I mean, Turkey is a --
QUESTION: The details will be very helpful. Yeah --
MR KIRBY: What's that?
QUESTION: What high level? For example, according to my sources, the Vice President Biden made a phone call with President Erdogan, but there wasn't any readout from White House – I mean on – it is when – it's very unusual thing. I don't know why, but --
MR KIRBY: I can't speak to that. I mean, that would – I don't have any knowledge of the Vice President's phone conversations. I'd refer you to the White House about that. But look, getting out of the day-to-day who called whom and what was said, we – Turkey is a NATO ally and an important partner in this particular fight. The have agreed to host a training and equip program inside Turkey. They are dealing with millions of refugees across that border. They have border concerns of their own in terms of the flow of foreign fighters. There's a lot for us to talk to Turkey about – a lot – with respect to the fight against ISIL, and we continue to have those discussions at all various levels. I don't know how many times our leaders have gone to Ankara, and they will continue to go to Ankara. And these are discussions that we will continue to have with them at all various levels, because this is a very dynamic, fluid, changing security environment.
QUESTION: And last one, John. So this kind of unilateral Turkish intervention – military intervention in Syria, would be a concern for U.S. Government?
MR KIRBY: I'm not going to comment on a hypothetical or a situation that hasn't happened. What we want and I think is important for everybody to remember is that the coalition is focused on the mission at hand, which is destroying – degrading and destroying ISIL and their capabilities. Turkey is a part of that coalition. Yes, there are other concerns that Turkey has, and we continue to talk to them about it. But the focus of the coalition is anti-ISIL, counter-ISIL, and that's what we're doing.
QUESTION: But the relationship between the U.S. Government and Kurdish forces seems – is a concern for the Turkish Government, because always there are some --
MR KIRBY: A good defense relationship with Turkey is a concern for us too. But --
QUESTION: No, there are some reports blaming U.S. to create some kind of corridor at the Turkish-Syrian border, and this is all the way coming from the government sources, it seems, that the Turkish Government has some concerns regarding this military partnership between U.S. and Kurdish forces on the ground. And you gave, for example, two cities as an example, as a success, in Syria – Kobani and Tal Abyad. Those are two Kurdish cities, and it was a success because of the military cooperation between U.S. and Kurds. So why all this difference between Ankara and Washington continues? How will you find a common ground to --
MR KIRBY: I think --
QUESTION: -- to pursue this fight against ISIL?
MR KIRBY: I think the difference is that you're getting from government sources, in our view, is being a little overplayed, if I might suggest. It doesn't – look, you can be the best of friends with another country and it doesn't mean that you're not going to have differences of opinion about something as complex as our campaign against a group like ISIL. Not everybody is going to agree on everything. And everybody in the coalition brings to the fight what they can for as long as they can. These are national decisions. That's why it's a coalition of the willing, not of the ordered.
And so we're going to – we're going to continue to discuss concerns that Turkey has. We understand those concerns. But this idea that there's these huge rifts, I think, quite frankly, is being overplayed. Do we agree on everything? No. But look at execution. Turkey has again agreed to host a train and equip site inside Turkey, and they are lifting enormous weight to try to take care of millions of refugees from Syria inside their border. They have a significant humanitarian assistance mission here that they're conducting, and they're doing it nobly and ably, and we thank them for that.
But are we going to agree on every little aspect of it? Probably not. That doesn't mean that – that doesn't mean that there's a problem, a huge strategic problem in the coalition necessarily that needs to be solved. It means that we're going to continue to work with them because they're an ally and a partner toward a common end.
QUESTION: Can I ask real quick --
MR KIRBY: Does that answer your question?
QUESTION: Yeah. But the two points that you gave an example for a cooperation --
MR KIRBY: No, I --
QUESTION: -- the train and equipment program and the refugees, this is again some – there are serious concerns from Ankara is on these issues. Train and equipment program is not working. There are only 50 people in Turkey, and Turkish Government is not happy with that. And the secondly, they are still blaming U.S. Government for not supporting Turkey for this refugee problem.
MR KIRBY: Who is blaming? Who?
QUESTION: I mean, the U.S. – the Turkish Government officials, if you look at the statements coming from Ankara.
MR KIRBY: Okay. I'm not going --
QUESTION: The examples that you give are not --
MR KIRBY: I'm not going to get into it tit-for-tat with anonymous government sources in Turkey. I'm just not going to do that. Look, an important ally and partner, and we're going to continue to work with them on a common goal here, which is countering ISIL. And those two things that you sort of – you said I just mentioned, they're not insignificant two things. Maybe the numbers of moderate opposition isn't what we'd like it to be. I think we've been pretty open and honest about that, that there remains challenges in trying to put into the field and into the training system – and then into the field – moderate opposition. I think we all recognize that that – that there's a lot of work left to do to get that program to where we want it to be. The Defense Department, I think, has been very honest about that.
But the efforts by Kurdish fighters against ISIL in Kobani and Tal Abyad was noteworthy. And it would be wrong for us not to note the success that they were able to have – with coalition air support, to be sure. But it was successful, and it did put pressure on ISIL. Particularly in Tal Abyad, it helped cut off a major line of communication for ISIL along that border. And again, we – coalition aircraft helped contribute to that success. That's what – back to the question here, and we've said this from the very get-go, that a lot of the effort inside Syria is about getting at this group's ability to sustain itself and to maintain its viability. It operates predominantly in Iraq; it sustains itself predominantly inside Syria. Now, there's obviously a little mix there, but that's kind of how you have to think about it. And we continue to apply pressure – the coalition continues to apply pressure inside Syria, and I would suspect that you're going to continue to see that.
QUESTION: John, could I ask you about your statement last week on the boycott? You issued a statement on the – telling the Israelis that you basically will not defend against the boycott of products from the settlement. Now, the day before, the President signed into law the trade bill which actually has a clause on that. How do you reconcile the practical aspect of your statement that you will not defend against the law?
MR KIRBY: Well, obviously, ignoring the law is not an option, okay. But the law – the language in the legislation notwithstanding, Said, nothing has changed about our policy that (a) we don't support boycotts against the state of Israel, and (b) that we don't recognize settlements beyond the 1967 line.
QUESTION: Then you will not do anything to sort of protect against the boycotting of products from the settlement by any group or university or company or anything like this?
MR KIRBY: Well, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. But nothing's changed about our policies with respect to settlements.
QUESTION: I'm trying to understand the practical aspect of this --
MR KIRBY: I know you are.
QUESTION: -- which came out very clear.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, no, I know. Look, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals about execution of the legislation. We don't support boycotts against the state of Israel. And again, our position on settlements hasn't changed.
I've got time for just a couple more.
QUESTION: Iraq. John, have you heard about the Iraqi pilot accidentally bombed one of the Baghdad neighborhood? I don't know if you heard of that, but my – this is not the question, but the question is about the F-16 jets, that there were communication between U.S. and Iraq that – to be shipped to Iraq in last month or this month maybe. But there are also the problem – maybe communication's not a problem between U.S. and Baghdad, to be positioned in Jordan, not in Iraq. Do you have anything on that?
MR KIRBY: No, I don't.
QUESTION: What about any update about Baghdad and Erbil deal? There are reports that --
MR KIRBY: Baghdad and Erbil what?
QUESTION: The deal, the oil deal. That it's not working. Do you have any updates that you have your people on the ground?
MR KIRBY: Other – look, I'm not – I won't – I don't have any comments specifically about the discussions inside the Iraqi Government about this. We've long made clear that what we'd like to see is an oil revenue sharing system that's good for all Iraqis. But I don't have anything beyond that to speak to specifically.
Okay. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:01 p.m.)
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