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Daily Press Briefing

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 7, 2015

Index for Today's Briefing




2:08 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: As you saw this morning, in order to allow for additional time to negotiate we're going to take the necessary technical steps we need for the measures of the Joint Plan of Action to remain in place through July 10th. Secretary Kerry will remain in Vienna to continue discussions with our P5+1 partners, High Representative Mogherini, and Foreign Minister Zarif. We're taking these negotiations hour by hour, day by day, and we made substantial progress, I think, in many areas. But the work is highly technical and very, very important for everybody concerned. So again, I think this was a practical step that needed to be taken, and it was taken, and Secretary Kerry and the team remain out there doing this very, very important negotiating. And as usual, I'm going to leave the negotiating details in the negotiating room, and not get into them here.

I also want to add a note here on the anniversary of – the 10th anniversary of the attacks in London. I want to stress that our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the British people on this anniversary of those two devastating bombings of two trains and a bus in London, as you all remember from 10 years ago. It killed 52 people and injured many more. The United Kingdom is, as you all also know, one of our strongest, most steadfast partners in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism and a partner in the promotion of our shared values of democracy and tolerance. So on this sad anniversary, we want to underscore our joint resolve to safeguard security and freedom for all but also to extend our best wishes to the British people and to all the families of those who fell victim on that terrible day.

And then lastly, because I forgot to do it yesterday so I'm not going to forget to do it today here from the podium, I want to welcome Liz Trudeau. She's coming to us from the U.S. mission at NATO in Brussels. She will be replacing Jeff Rathke, who, as you all know, was the director of our Press Office. Liz started yesterday; we're glad to have you. Delighted that you were willing to take this on. You may come to regret that decision here pretty soon, but we're really – we're glad to have you here, so thanks very much and welcome.

With that, Lesley.

QUESTION: We don't know what you're talking about. (Laughter.) She's going to have a wonderful time. John, let me start with the Iran talks.


QUESTION: Given that some of the ministers are going home today, coming back on Thursday, the question then remains: Is it possible that there could be another extension? So I'm going to – I know that you said that out of practical – that you're focused more on a deal than on the clock – on the – that might have been Marie who said that, but given that that – is it possible that this can really be done?

MR KIRBY: The short answer to your question is yes. And I think we – the team wouldn't be staying out there and Secretary Kerry wouldn't have remained in Vienna and so dedicated to this if he didn't think it was possible. So yes, I think it's possible. I'm not in a position where I'm prepared to, nor would I, predict that it will get done by a certain date or even, Lesley, that it will get done at all. Again, the Secretary was very clear it's got to be the right deal or there'll be no deal, and he's willing to walk away from Vienna empty handed in that regard if he has to.

QUESTION: So even though the ministers are going home and coming back, I gather that the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif continue to talk?

MR KIRBY: Yes, they do. Now I don't have details about Foreign Minister Zarif's schedule, so I can't say right now whether he's going to come or go, but yes, they continue to talk and our team out there has been keeping, I think, everybody informed of those meetings and how they're occurring. But Secretary Kerry is remaining in Vienna.

QUESTION: But I mean, that begs the question: Is the – I guess it goes back to whether a deal is possible this week. I mean, we understand that you kind of went past the deadline because you want to keep the momentum, but is there enough momentum to really close this or is just the effort to not give up keeping you there?

MR KIRBY: I don't think it's either, Elise. I don't – and I wouldn't – again, I wouldn't want to – I don't want to predict what will happen or what won't happen. But I think that everybody realized that, first of all, this isn't a new deadline. It's an extension of the JPOA parameters so that negotiators can stay at work. And there's no specific reason for why the 10th was chosen other than that's when the ministers together decided that it was – that that was a good date to put out there. So I wouldn't read into this extension that we're definitely closer to something or that we're so far apart that we just – we had to have more work.

QUESTION: But what it – I mean, it needs to be one of those, right? I mean, look, I know you say that this isn't a deadline, but Thursday was the deadline in effect of the congressional deadline. You've kind of acknowledged that you're going to work past that. I'm not saying Friday is a new deadline or --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: That's just the date that you extended. I think semantics – it's a new self-imposed – it's an --

MR KIRBY: It's an extension to a certain date of those requirements.

QUESTION: That's – most people would call that, for shorthand and ease of the reader, a deadline. But anyway, I think the question is: Is there enough momentum that enough time this week – is it because there's so much progress and so much momentum that you just need a little bit of time, or are you just not there yet and you're going to keep working until you do?

MR KIRBY: It's that there is still a lot of work to be done and the teams are there in place largely – and I know the ministers come and go – but the teams are there in place in Vienna, and so I think everybody thought it was the prudent thing to do to stay at the job, to stay at work. And so that's what this is really about is allowing those JPOA parameters to stay in effect, the sanctions relief to stay in effect a little longer, so that everybody can stay at the table. And that's what this is.

But I wouldn't – I think, again, Secretary Kerry over the weekend was very clear: There is still a lot of work to be done. There are still differences that need to be hammered out. So I'm not prepared to say – and actually I wouldn't say it anyway here today that we – that we believe that because we now have established the 10th as an extension, a date to which we are extending the JPOA, that we now feel like there's some absolute momentum pushing us towards a deal.

QUESTION: Well, it's --

MR KIRBY: There's been a lot of work done and a lot of effort. There still is a lot of work to do.

QUESTION: Okay, so I mean with the – as Lesley said, with the ministers leaving and coming back Thursday, I mean, the likelihood of a deal on Friday is also pretty unlikely. So I think the question is: Do you keep going while you see progress or is there a trigger? Have you given yourself a date – you want to call it a deadline, call it whatever you want – that says: You know what? We've done as much as we can do in this round and – or you know what? No more amount of time is going to make a difference. I mean, how long is he prepared to stay out there? Are you prepared to say right now he's going to stay out there as long as it takes?

MR KIRBY: No, I'm not prepared to do anything in terms of speaking to his schedule out there. We're taking this, as I said at the outset, hour by hour, day by day. So I cannot answer your question, and I think for me to try to do it would be foolhardy. We're working at – every day it's a new day out there and they're focusing on what's in the negotiating room that day. So I can't tell you what's going to happen at the end of today. I can't tell you what's going to happen tomorrow.

What I can tell you is that the team remains out there; Secretary Kerry is dedicated to this, and we're just going to keep hammering away at it. And if by – at some point they decide that there's no deal in sight and no deal possible, then the Secretary will make whatever decisions he has to make at that point and we'll go from there, but it's just too soon to say.

QUESTION: Have you closed the – have you closed some of the issues that were out there to negotiate on? I mean, have some of them just been, fine, we've agreed, and let's move on to the next lot?

MR KIRBY: Again, without getting into the details in the negotiating room, Lesley, I think that, yes, progress has been made on some issues. There remains work to be done and differences to resolve on others. And I'm not going to detail what those are. But --

QUESTION: Well, I thought it was like a Rubik's Cube; that nothing's agreed to until everything's agreed?

MR KIRBY: Exactly. So while progress has been made on some things, there remain differences on others. And until everything's agreed on, nothing is really agreed on. But yes, there's been some progress made on some of the issues, of course. Yeah.

That doesn't mean that all that stuff is locked up in a suitcase and it's done and everybody forgets about it, because until there's a final deal there is no deal.

QUESTION: But John, I don't understand why nobody just says that, look, this is just – you need to give us time to negotiate this. Why does this self-imposed deadlines keep coming up? I mean --

QUESTION: Self-imposed extensions.

MR KIRBY: Thank you, Elise. No, that's good.

QUESTION: I know that. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Let me just give you the talking points here, Elise. (Laughter.) Because you're using those – this as well as I am.

Look, the --

QUESTION: I'm rolling my eyes though when I say that. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: You roll your eyes a lot at things you say. (Laughter.) These aren't – you use the phrase "self-imposed deadlines." I think what I would describe them as is self-imposed efforts to keep the negotiators in the room and allow them to keep doing their work. And it's an extension of the – it's not an – it's not a deadline that has to be – you have to have an agreement by the 10th now. What it is is it's we're extending the parameters of the JPOA and the temporary sanctions relief that Iran has right now another few days so that everybody can continue the work so that the work remains under – on top of a valid foundation. That's really what this is.

And I don't know what it's going to look like on the 10th. I don't know what it's going to look like tomorrow. We're taking it day by day.

QUESTION: But is it possible you could be there next week then?

MR KIRBY: I don't want to speculate. It would be inappropriate and definitely imprudent for me to speculate about what the next week is going to bring.

QUESTION: I mean, I think you said from this podium in the last several weeks that deadlines were good, quote, "forcing functions." So without a good forcing function, like, the Iranians or you guys can just – can just keep this going indefinitely until one side gets what they want. So at what point do you say this round – it's not going to happen at this round?

MR KIRBY: I don't know the answer to that question. I understand the desire to pin down sort of a date certain at which we're going to do like a light switch no go or go, and I just – we just aren't there yet. And I couldn't possibly set that out there for you.

QUESTION: So what's the forcing function now?

MR KIRBY: The forcing function is that now we have another extension of the JPOA parameters so that negotiators can stay in the room and stay at the table, and that's what they're going to do. I mean, everybody – we're getting fixated on days on a calendar, and I understand that I got up here and I said we're all still focused on the 30th of June, and that's true. The 30th of June represented the – what we had hoped would be the end of this round. Obviously, the round now has gone a little longer. We're in extra innings, if you will, for a baseball analogy. And – but it's still the same round. It's still the same --

QUESTION: I didn't say it wasn't.

MR KIRBY: It's still the same game. And so that's what we're focused on. And again, there's been so much work done that I think everybody believes and everybody remains committed to that work, and so it just makes good sense while you have everybody there and there is progress being made that you want to stay at it. And I think that's what's going on here. And anybody that tries to predict exactly when it's going to end and what the resolution's going to be I think would just be foolhardy at this point.

QUESTION: Is there any calls you can – has the Secretary spoken to the President or --

MR KIRBY: I don't have any calls with the President to read out. No, Lesley, I don't. But he does stay in touch with the national security team, obviously.


QUESTION: How much of a concern, if at all, if this July 9th congressional deadline, whatever you want to call it, the D word, whatever? How much of it – is that actually something that was weighing on the negotiators, or is it just something that, like, well, the review period doubles and we just have to deal with that, or we're just going to keep going for a deal?

MR KIRBY: I think the President and Secretary Kerry are both being very clear that we're going to get a good deal that stands up to scrutiny or we're not going to get a good deal. So we expect that if we're able to reach a deal, it's going to be able to stand up to congressional scrutiny regardless of the length of the time of that review. And that's really been the mindset going into this.

As I said weeks ago, we were all focused on trying to get this done by the end of June. Everybody said that. And so here they are. They're still at it in Vienna going on almost two weeks now. But it's not just the Congress that matters in terms of scrutiny either. The deal is also going to have to stand up to the scrutiny of our partners and allies around the world and the larger international community. So what they're focused on is the quality of the deal and not necessarily on the length of time that Congress or anybody else is going to scrutinize it. Okay?

You had another one?


MR KIRBY: Okay. You sure?

QUESTION: I could go on, but why bother?



QUESTION: Thank you. Just on the President's statement yesterday at the Pentagon, he mentioned a number of battlefield victories in both Iraq and Syria. He actually pointed namely to seven areas. And what I noticed was that six out of those seven areas were in the northern regions of Iraq and Syria, where basically the Kurds are in control. Can you say the Kurds are your only effective partner on the ground?

MR KIRBY: What I can say is – and I'm not going to get into military analysis – is that when you have capable, effective partners on the ground against ISIL – indigenous partners on the ground – you can be much more effective against that group. We've seen that in parts of Iraq where – whether it's Peshmerga up in the north or Iraqi Security Forces down in the south, when they are effective, they can have an immense impact on ISIL. And we have seen that in areas in northern Syria with counter-ISIL fighters there. And again, the President detailed some of that and I talked to some of that yesterday as well. They have been effective in certain places and at certain times.

QUESTION: And, like, the only example really he gave that was outside the Kurdistan regions was Tikrit, which was achieved with the help of Iranian-backed Shia forces. So can't you --

MR KIRBY: No, that's not true. He talked about --

QUESTION: What else?

MR KIRBY: -- Mosul Dam, he talked about --

QUESTION: Mosul Dam was with the Kurdish forces. It was --

MR KIRBY: He talked about – there's been other – the Baiji refinery. I mean, there's been other areas in Iraq. I know where you're trying to go with this, and what I'm trying to tell you is that you need good partners on the ground. In Iraq, we're building and we're working towards helping advise and assist the Iraqi Security Forces so that they can become more capable. And in some ways and in some places and at some times in this fight, they have been very capable.

In the north in Iraq, of course, there's been some assistance provided to the Peshmerga, as they have taken the fight to ISIL in northern Iraq. And yes, we have provided some coalition air support to counter-ISIL fighters in the north in Syria. And we're still trying to get a program stood up to train and equip a moderate Syrian opposition. Now it's going slow. We talked about this yesterday. I think we all recognize there's a lot of work to be done. But the whole focus of that effort is to help create additional competent, effective, capable security forces inside Syria that can go after ISIL – could protect their neighborhoods, their communities, and go after ISIL.

QUESTION: Well, one more question. It's not – I'm not going to talk – to ask you about the battlefield things, even though --


QUESTION: -- I quote Secretary Carter – he said yesterday – I paraphrase him – he said that the Kurdish forces in Syria, the refugee are, quote-un-quote, "capable," and he says they – also they are effective. So – and he also went on to say that that's why we are going – we continue to provide them with tactical support. So I would like to understand this from – because the State Department apparently has to give greenlight for weapons to be transferred to other forces or countries. Do you expect more support for those forces because of the most recent comments made by Secretary Carter?

MR KIRBY: I'm not going to get ahead of decisions that haven't been made. The support – and we've talked about this before – the support largely has been in the form of coalition airstrikes in support of their operations in northern Syria. And those combined efforts have been successful at pushing ISIL out and back.

QUESTION: Thank you.



QUESTION: Can I have one?

MR KIRBY: More on Syria?



QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday, you talked about the train and equip program, which is one of the major areas that Turkey have a role as part of the coalition.

MR KIRBY: As who?

QUESTION: In Turkey, that --


QUESTION: Yeah, because it's conducted – I think it's in Turkey that's – the process of vetting and also the training going on there. What is – beside hosting the place, what is the other role that Turkey has in this program? Are they going to provide financial support or other resources for that?

MR KIRBY: You have to talk to Ankara about this. I will not – despite the many efforts here, I'm not going to speak for the Turkish Government. But they have agreed to host a train and equip site in Turkey, and again, as we've been very open and candid about it, that program has a lot of work to do to reach the kind of results that everybody wants to see it reach. We're grateful for the support that Turkey is providing in terms of a site to conduct that training. I don't know and I don't have the – an accurate assessment here today – I'd refer you to the Defense Department – about how many are being trained at that site or how that's going. I just don't know. But again, we're grateful for that support.

QUESTION: Okay. I remember I think last week or the week before, I asked you about that the YPG is not part of the train and equip program – in that specific program. Is there any problem why they are not part of that? Is it Turkey's veto on that, or why they are not part of that?

MR KIRBY: I'd refer you to the Defense Department. They're the ones --

QUESTION: But that's what you said to me, that you – I said it's not – they are not part of that, and you said --

MR KIRBY: They aren't. As far as I know it, they're still not. But you're going to need to talk to the Defense Department about who is being vetted and recruited for that opposition force.

QUESTION: But to your knowledge, is it still the only support that you give to the Kurdish forces in the north of Syria is the airstrike? That's the only thing that so far they have gotten --

MR KIRBY: As I said, the degree to which there is coordination and assistance provided to those fighters in the north has been largely through the coordination of airstrikes and air support.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?


QUESTION: On Cuba, Samantha Power tweeted earlier this morning or late last night about a Cuban activist that was beaten on his way to mass, and she said that dozens more were detained in a massive crackdown on civil society. Do you have anything on that?

MR KIRBY: We have seen reports of the beating and detention of a political activist by the name of Antonio Rodiles and detention of almost a hundred peaceful activists by Cuban authorities Sunday afternoon, and members of our interests section down there have confirmed these troubling reports.

We will continue to criticize violations of human rights and advocate for the rights to peaceful assembly, association, and freedom of expression and religion, and we'll continue to voice our support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba. And I think you may have seen comments made by Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson as well on Twitter, I think yesterday, that the U.S. was – is always going to speak out about violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms.

QUESTION: Does it concern you that now that kind of plans for normalizing – this is like – comes right on the heels of the announcement of the restarting of – of renewing diplomatic ties.


QUESTION: Does it concern you that so close to that announcement and your plans to open your embassy and the Cuban embassy here that this is going on?

MR KIRBY: Certainly, it's concerning to us. I mean, there's no question. Again, we're always going to be very vocal and very candid about human rights concerns where we see them, wherever that is. But it's not going to change the policy about the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba. In fact, it reinforces the need to move forward with re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, because opening that embassy, we believe, will advance our human rights agenda by opening up channels of official engagement through the re-establishment of those relations.

QUESTION: Have you actually taken this up with the Cubans since Sunday, other than expressing concern about it?

MR KIRBY: I don't have any specific conversations to read out. As you know, we don't usually talk about diplomatic conversations that we're having. But I think we've certainly made our concerns very well known about these particular incidents over the weekend. There's absolutely no doubt where the United States stands on it.

QUESTION: And these people were on their way to mass, a Sunday mass?

MR KIRBY: I don't have the circumstances, Lesley, about exactly how and why they were detained. I don't know.


QUESTION: Thank you, John. Recently, President Obama made a decision to extending one more years for the sanctions against North Korea. Does the United States have any additional sanctions toward North Korea except existing sanctions?

MR KIRBY: I'm not aware of any new sanctions. I'm not prepared to talk to any new sanctions here today.

QUESTION: You don't know about President extended one more years of sanctions against North Korea?

MR KIRBY: Extension.


MR KIRBY: But that doesn't mean new. I have nothing to announce today with respect to new sanctions.


MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I have two questions on China. Philippines sent their South China Sea case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and the hearing has started. The question is: Isn't seeking this kind of legal action against – this kind of legal action against what the U.S. call to use diplomatic means and dialogue to solve the problem?

MR KIRBY: I missed the first part of your question.

QUESTION: The first part is Philippines sent their South China Sea case to the UN tribunal to seek further arbitration.

MR KIRBY: The Philippines are seeking – yeah. Well, I would let the Philippine Government speak to the actions they're taking. Our position has not changed. We're not taking a position on these claims. We do take a position on the use of force or undue pressure to exert these claims, or to change the status quo in that regard. And we want all parties to work towards resolving these claims, issues, in a peaceful, diplomatic, legal way. I'll let the Government of the Philippines speak to their actions. I wouldn't do that.

QUESTION: So their seeking a legal effort to solve this problem is also what you support?

MR KIRBY: Well, nothing's changed about what our policy's been – don't take a position on the claims, do take a position on how they're resolved, and we want them done diplomatically and peacefully. And I'll leave it at that.


QUESTION: And another one. Can I go, then you?


QUESTION: Okay. After the S&ED, you showed the outcomes of the strategic track. And one outcome is that the U.S. and China are going to continue to cooperate on anti-corruption initiatives. Could you explain what specific actions you will take to strengthen the cooperation?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I don't have specific actions to read out to you today. I mean, this was a topic of discussion during the S&ED. I think we both recognize the – a sense of purpose here with respect to corruption. This is not something that, I mean, is new to the discussion between us and the Chinese. And I think we're – as came out of the S&ED, we're looking for ways to continue to have a constructive dialogue on anti-corruption measures.

We don't see eye-to-eye with China on every issue, and sometimes even in this realm. But that doesn't mean that dialogue can't lead to greater resolution. So, again, I don't have any specific items to read out to you today. The S&ED just completed a couple of weeks ago. But we're certainly – it's in our interest to move forward to work with China on these kinds of issues. Okay?

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

QUESTION: Could I stay on that just a little more? Just to put a – try to put a finer point on what you were saying, does the United States have any preference as to whether the disputes in the South China Sea are resolved through bilateral or plurilateral diplomacy directly, or via an international tribunal?

MR KIRBY: We – we're not – we haven't, and we're not going to start dictating the vehicles through which diplomatic, legal resolution can occur. And that's for the governments involved to determine.

QUESTION: So is it fair to say that you just want – you want to see the disputes resolved peacefully --

MR KIRBY: And diplomatically.

QUESTION: -- and diplomatically; it doesn't really matter what the vehicle of that is?

MR KIRBY: As long as the vehicle was obviously, I mean, suitable to both parties, resolves the issues amicably, and is legal. But we're not going to proscribe to individual nations how they should go about working with China towards resolution.

QUESTION: Okay. But when you say "suitable to both parties," one party has made it clear that the current means of arbitration is not suitable at all. So it's --

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I'm not going to – I understand. I'm not going to parse this, okay? Nothing's – we don't take a position on these claims; we do take a position on how they're resolved, and we want them done legally, peacefully, and diplomatically.


QUESTION: John, can we change the subject to Vietnam? The head of the Communist Party is here. Vice President Biden had a lunch with him. Do you know if the – if he raised the issue of the arms embargo, that they (inaudible) fully lifted, during discussions yet?

MR KIRBY: I'd refer you to the Vice President's office for a readout. I don't have a readout of the private discussion that was had.

QUESTION: So there --

MR KIRBY: I was at the lunch prior to coming down here – one of the reasons I was a little bit late. In the opening comments, both leaders talked about the importance of moving the relationship forward. We've come a long way in 20 years, and I think there's – it's in both our interests to continue to improve this relationship and move it forward. But I didn't get any specific readout on that.

QUESTION: So you did not – he didn't have any discussions with officials at the State Department?



MR KIRBY: No. There was no – no. I mean, there were State Department officials present for the meetings --


MR KIRBY: -- but I mean, the meeting was with the Vice President before the lunch. And again, I'd point you to the White House to give a readout of that.

Okay? This was easy. Forty minutes. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:38 p.m.)

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