UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Daily Press Briefing

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 16, 2015

Index for Today's Briefing




3:50 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Okay, I do have just one thing at the top, and then we can get right at it.

Today we congratulate the Ukrainian parliament for approving the first vote on draft constitutional amendments on decentralization of powers for local and regional governments, as well as passing legislation necessary for the next IMF disbursement. We applaud Ukraine as it continues to take steps like this to implement its Minsk commitments and make crucial reforms. We call again upon Russian and its separatist proxies to live up to their obligations.

With that, yeah. Goyal.

QUESTION: Thank you. Two questions. One, as far as this Iranian nuclear deal is concerned, from the very beginning when this started, Israel was worried about that what – in the past, Iranian president said that Israel will be wiped off the world map. Are they going to turn back this and – this as far as this renouncing Israeli – Israel's existence?

MR KIRBY: Are they – is who going to turn back what?

QUESTION: If they are going to denounce terrorism and also what they said in the past that Israel will be wipe --

MR KIRBY: Will Iran? Well, I think you'd have to – I mean, that's a question for Iran's leaders. I think we made very clear that we're not going to turn a blind eye to Iran's other destabilizing activities in the region, to include the state sponsorship of terrorists and terrorist networks. Nothing's going to change about our commitment to continuing to press against those kinds of activities through a broad range of methods, whether it's our unilateral sanctions, UN sanctions which will stay in effect, or U.S. military presence in the region.

QUESTION: And second, as far as India-U.S. relations are concerned, so much has happened last week, including Vice President was speaking at the Willard Hotel at the 10th anniversary of U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, and also U.S.-India relations. He laid out all the future of U.S.-India relations. If Secretary had been following this and – as far as these developments in Washington? And also Indian companies have now invested in the U.S. $15 billion in creating close to 100,000 jobs here.

And second, there is a – the talks between two prime ministers in Russia, between Prime Ministers Modi and Nawaz Sharif, failed because now there's a tension on the border. And a drone made in China was shot inside Pakistan, and Pakistan is blaming India, but India is saying that to create tension and blame India was shot by themselves. What's --

MR KIRBY: Well, certainly the Secretary has obviously been following all the issues and events regarding India and Pakistan and their security relationship. And as I think he said himself just a couple of weeks ago, we want to see the tensions reduced, we want to see the two countries bilaterally work their way through this. The violence, such as we've seen press reports today, certainly do not contribute to security along that border and in that region. So yes, the Secretary's been following this very closely.


QUESTION: Different topic?

MR KIRBY: Sure. Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to reports that Israel may demolish part of a village called Susiya in the West Bank for expanding settlements?

MR KIRBY: I do. We're closely following developments in the village of Susiya in the West Bank, and we strongly urge the Israeli authorities to refrain from carrying out any demolitions in the village. Demolition of this Palestinian village or of parts of it, and evictions of Palestinians from their homes would be harmful and provocative. Such actions have an impact beyond those individuals and families who are evicted. We are concerned that the demolition of this village may worsen the atmosphere for a peaceful resolution and would set a damaging standard for displacement and land confiscation, particularly given settlement-related activity in the area. We urge Israeli authorities to work with the residents of the village to finalize a plan for the village that addresses the residents' humanitarian needs.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. In the back there?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: Can I ask on Iran?


QUESTION: Can I ask on --


QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.


QUESTION: About the inspection of military site. Foreign Minister Zarif told a number of foreign media organizations right after the announcement of the deal that Iran is not going to accept inspections at military sites. How are you – and what do you think about this statement? Do you think it's based on the understanding – your understanding of the deal, that Iran can say no to inspections to military sites? And if still the IAEA wants to visit those sites, how are you going to persuade them to accept the inspections using --

MR KIRBY: Well, I would point you to the deal itself and all the documents. It's all laid out in there very, very clearly. The IAEA will have under this deal the opportunity and the access they need to visit sites as they deem appropriate, to include military sites if need be. That's part of this deal, and it's right there in black and white. So I mean, it's pretty clear. And we've said it all along that they're going to have the access where necessary and when necessary.

Yeah, Nicole.

QUESTION: A new subject?


QUESTION: Azerbaijani officials have told their hospitals to prepare for war and have started intense military exercises. I don't know if you've seen these reports. I'm just wondering if they have reached out to the U.S. for any kind of support or if this agency has any comment on what's going on there.

MR KIRBY: No. We're just briefly aware of press reports to that effect, Nicole. But I don't have anything for you to confirm. I'm certainly not aware of any requests for assistance or help. But we're watching the situation closely.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Said.

QUESTION: Yes, very quickly on Syria. Yesterday, the President basically gave a nod to participation or future participation of Iran and Russia, obviously, in resolving the Syrian issue. Is this deal likely to lead to sort of more types of engagement? Is this something that came up today between Secretary of State Kerry and his guest?

MR KIRBY: Well, yes and no. The issue of Syria and what's going on in Syria --


MR KIRBY: -- absolutely came up in the discussion with the Saudi foreign minister today, as you might expect that it would. It's also something that Secretary Kerry has spoken many, many times with Foreign Minister Lavrov about it, including talking to him about it while they were in Vienna. But as we've said before, Said, this deal was – and I think Under Secretary Sherman said it very clearly – this deal was about stemming, stopping Iran's ability to pursue nuclear weapons capability, and only that. And it wasn't tied to or viewed with larger regional implications. That said – and we've said this all along – should the deal itself at some point lead to a change in behavior in Iran, that – more constructive behavior in the region – well, that's a good thing. But that wasn't the purpose for the negotiation. It wasn't the outcome of the deal specifically desired. The outcome was stopping them from getting a nuclear weapon. But yes, Syria routinely comes up. It's something Secretary Kerry is very concerned about and he did talk about it with his counterpart today.

QUESTION: I understand. But I basically want to go to, let's say, the Geneva conference – Geneva II – which failed – or not – or some say because Iran was not involved in the process, the regime stuck to its guns and the opposition did the same thing. If Iran is brought into the international community, the fold of the international community, wouldn't – would it be expected or would it be encouraged or invited to play a role in resolving the Syria bloodshed?

MR KIRBY: It's a bit of a hypothetical at this point, Said. I mean, this deal wasn't designed to solve all the problems that the international community has with Iran, and it doesn't signal their automatic return to the international community writ large in terms of security issues throughout the region. So it's a hypothetical that I would be ill prepared to answer at this point. We all recognize Syria is a complicated issue that requires a multilateral approach and one that can only be solved politically. We've said that all along. Iran's support to the Assad regime certainly is – continues to be unhelpful in that regard, as we've said, frankly, Russia's continued support for the Assad regime. But this is a tough issue that we're going to continue to work through with the international community.



QUESTION: Can you give us an update on when – if there is one – the Secretary might be going to Havana to open the U.S. embassy, as well as who is going to be representing the U.S. at the embassy opening here next week?

MR KIRBY: I don't have any additional details for you today, certainly with respect to the Secretary's travel schedule. I don't have any announcements on that. He obviously will go to formally open our embassy at some point in the near future.

We all know that on Monday the diplomatic relations between our two countries is officially restored, and I'll let the Cuban Government speak to their plans in terms of opening their embassy. I don't have a specific list of attendees for the Monday ceremony here, but I can tell you that Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson is planning to attend. She may not be the only one. I don't have a full readout of the delegation, but she's currently planning to attend.

QUESTION: So you don't know if Secretary Kerry is going to be attending on that day?

MR KIRBY: I can tell you that Assistant Secretary Jacobson is planning to attend, and if the delegation changes, I'll – we'll get you more information. I just don't have any more than that right now.


QUESTION: Can you give us a further readout of the conversation with Netanyahu that Wendy Sherman referenced?

MR KIRBY: No, I'm – I don't have much more detail on it.

QUESTION: It was a long conversation, I believe she said.

MR KIRBY: It was a substantive conversation, and I – again, without getting into too much detail, I think you can understand that the prime minister expressed his concerns, many of the same concerns that he has expressed publicly. He expressed them to Secretary Kerry and Secretary Kerry walked the prime minister through the reasons why we believe this is the right deal, it's a good deal – not just for our national security interests, but the national security interests of the Israeli people and the Government of Israel, as well as our allies and partners in the region.

QUESTION: And is there any travel planned to the region?

MR KIRBY: Yes. The Secretary is planning to go to Doha in early August to speak to GCC ministers. We'll have more details about that trip. It's likely that that trip will include other stops; I just don't have additional details on the trip to read out.

QUESTION: What about Egypt?

MR KIRBY: Again, I'll have more details on the trip later on, but they did talk about – today with the Saudi foreign minister they did talk about the trip, going to Doha early August to meet with the GCC ministers.


QUESTION: Were you in the room when the Secretary and Wendy were briefing?

MR KIRBY: I was not, no.

QUESTION: Okay. Did you get any readout from them or anyone else about the tenor of the --

MR KIRBY: The tone and tenor? No, I --

QUESTION: Yeah. Like, were there lots of questions? Could you take that?

MR KIRBY: I'll take it and get back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: No, I did not go to the briefing.

QUESTION: In the future, could we have a picture or a photo op of something that important?

MR KIRBY: We'll see what we can do. I think there was photography of it. I'll see what we can do about that. (Laughter.) Yeah, I'm sure there --

QUESTION: Selfies were taken.

MR KIRBY: I'm sure we – if we have imagery – and I think we do, Andrea – we'll make sure we make that public.

QUESTION: We would love to have press coverage of some of these major events in the building.

MR KIRBY: This one – I understand that. This one was closed press, as they typically tend to be. And I guess it was widely attended, more than previous ones, but this one was closed press.

QUESTION: Recently, Ambassador Sung Kim, the special representative for the North Korean policy, visited Seoul and Japan, whatever, China. Does the U.S. have any plan to resumption of Six-Party Talks?

MR KIRBY: We have always said – I don't have any plans, specifically agenda items or schedule, to announce today. So the short answer to your question is no, but we've always said, as Under Secretary Sherman said to you just a few minutes ago, that resumption of the Six-Party Talks is important and we still favor that. The onus is on North Korea. They have yet to show any desire to return to that forum to discuss the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) what six years we still are – we don't have any resumptions. We don't have any (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: As I said, the onus is on North Korea to change the dynamic.

QUESTION: Within this year, you don't have – you think this year?

MR KIRBY: I have no – I have no resumption of talks to announce today or speak to today.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.


QUESTION: Are you aware of the report by the third-party panel on saying that the landfill authorization for the Futenma relocation facility had legal flaws? Do you have a comment on that?

MR KIRBY: It had what?

QUESTION: Legal flaws.

MR KIRBY: Legal flaws.


MR KIRBY: Here's what I'll say about that. Our understanding is that the construction of the addition to Camp Schwab is proceeding in accordance with Japanese law and procedures, including those associated with the landfill permit which was approved by the Okinawa prefectural government. And for any more details, I would refer you to the Government of Japan.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) that this would be a setback and that the governor would rescind the authorization?

MR KIRBY: What I would say is that both the U.S. and Japanese governments remain committed to continuing to implement the existing arrangements on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan just as soon as possible.

QUESTION: To follow on this quickly --

MR KIRBY: You're going to ask me about Japan? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR KIRBY: Holy cow, mark this day down.

QUESTION: U.S., India, and Japan triangle of relations. (Laughter).)

MR KIRBY: Had to get India in there, didn't you? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Triangle – there is a triangle of relations now.

MR KIRBY: Now, if we can throw Alexander the Great into this – (laughter).

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead. I'll do my best.

QUESTION: Any comment for the first time in 60 years that now Japanese parliament is considering a defense bill or security bill and there's – there are demonstrations in Japan, throughout Japan against it? And that means --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Well, look, I talked about this yesterday. I mean, this is a democracy. And in a democracy people are allowed to express their views, whether they're favorable or not favorable against a lot of government actions. We aren't going to comment on draft legislation in the Japanese Government. That would be completely inappropriate.

What I said yesterday I'll say again today: Japan is an important ally in the region and a long friend, and we are always interested in looking for ways to improve our partnership and cooperation, particularly on the defense side of things, as we did with working through these new guidelines. But I'm not – we are not going to take a position on draft legislation.

QUESTION: Just quickly follow – why they are doing this – Japanese Government is saying that because now things have changed in the last 50 or 60 years in the region because of Chinese – the tension between – in the region because of China, China's security threat, and that's why they had to consider this now that Japan had to stand up on their own to – for their own security.

MR KIRBY: Well, I would refer you to Tokyo to speak to the legislation that the Japanese Government is considering. I think that's the most appropriate place.




QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any – can you confirm reports that government forces have – or the Houthis were pushed from the southern city of Aden by government loyal forces or forces that --

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you, Said, is that we understand that certain Government of Yemen cabinet ministers are planning to return to Aden following anti-Houthi fighter efforts to take back some portions of the city. I can't confirm specifics about which parts of the city remain contested, but our understanding is that fighting continues. And I would refer you to the Yemeni Government for further details on their cabinet travel and the situation on the ground.

I've got time for maybe a couple more. Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: In couple of weeks, it will be the fourth anniversary of President Obama's call for Bashar Assad to step down. I was wondering – the companion talking point to it at the time was, "His days are numbered." I don't think it's been asked in a few months, and I was wondering: Is that talking point still operational? Do you still feel his days are numbered? And if you are still calling for his immediate stepping aside, who do you see as filling the immediate leadership after him?

MR KIRBY: I don't know that I'd characterize our policy about Assad as a talking point. But the short answer to your question is, yes, we still believe Assad has lost legitimacy to govern. One of the reasons why a group like ISIL has been able to fester and grow and sustain itself inside Syria is because of the ungoverned spaces that now exist and the instability that exists inside Syria because of Bashar al-Assad. So nothing's changed about our policy that he's lost legitimacy and he needs to go.

What we've also said is that what has to happen here is a negotiated political resolution to this crisis. It's not going to be solved militarily, certainly not by U.S. military forces. It needs to be a negotiated political settlement that brings his – that brings an end to his leadership in Syria and creates instead a government that is responsive to the needs of all Syrians.

Okay? Thanks, everybody. Thanks for coming.

(The briefing was concluded at 4:09 p.m.)

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list