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Daily Press Briefing

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 27, 2015

Index for Today's Briefing




1:38 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. Couple things at the top. First, I want to announce the Secretary's upcoming travel. Secretary Kerry will be in Cairo, Egypt on the 2nd of August to co-chair the U.S.-Egypt Strategic Dialogue with Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry. The bilateral dialogue reaffirms the United States' longstanding and enduring partnership with Egypt and will provide a forum to discuss a broad range of political, economic, security and cultural issues to address – issues of importance, I'm sorry, to each side, and to further our common values, goals, and interests.

On the 3rd of August, the Secretary will travel in Doha to meet with the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council. There he will engage with them on a wide range of security issues throughout the region, not to – of course, to include the Iran deal itself.

Next, the Secretary will travel to Singapore on the 4th of August to meet with senior government officials and leaders there to discuss bilateral and regional issues as Singapore marks 50 years of independence. The Secretary will also deliver a speech on the importance of U.S. trade and investment to prosperity in both the East Asia region and the United States.

He will then visit Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from the 4th to the 6th of August to attend the ASEAN regional forum. At the regional forum, the Secretary will participate in four multilateral meetings, including the Lower Mekong initiative, U.S.-ASEAN East Asia Summit, and the ASEAN Regional Foreign Ministers meeting.

From there to Hanoi from the 6th to the 8th of August, where the Secretary will meet with senior Vietnamese officials to discuss bilateral and regional issues, he'll also participate in an event marking the 20th anniversary of the establishment of U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations.

I also want to just make mention that today the Secretary will welcome 12 high school students from the Peshawar Army Public School in Pakistan. These young leaders are traveling to DC and New York State on a two-week international visitors leadership program on science, technology, engineering, and math. The Pakistani students are survivors of the December 2014 terrorist attack at the Peshawar Army Public School, and this program underscores our U.S.-Pakistan cooperation in educational exchanges.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Can we start with – not the trip, although – you have any questions – about the – what's going on right now with the Turks? And it seems like a really bizarre situation has unfolded over the course of the past week with them joining the air strikes against ISIS, but at the same time also bombing PKK positions. And there's been some pushback on the suggestion – I noticed that Brett McGurk tweeted about it – that these are related, and that the United States – he saying that there was no deal done with the Turks, in other words. A lot of people find that really hard to believe. So what exactly is going on here, and doesn't this just make an even bigger mess out of the situation then you had originally?

MR KIRBY: I think – so let's unpack. There's an awful lot there, so let's just unpack that. I don't think that I could say it any better than Ambassador McGurk did. We are grateful for Turkey's cooperation against ISIL to include now use of some of their bases for coalition aircraft to go against targets – ISIL targets, particularly in Syria. So we're grateful for that support. The – so separate and distinct from that, Turkey has continued to come under attack by PKK terrorists, and we recognize their right to defend themselves against those attacks. And it was in retaliation for recent attacks by the PKK that Turkey conducted these most recent strikes.

As for ISIL in Syria, we continue to discuss with Turkey ways at which we can go after this particular threat. Again, we value their cooperation thus far. They have a vested interest, obviously, because of its – it's their border. And while there's nothing new to announce with respect to what kind of cooperation may come in the future, we're going to continue to talk to them about that.

I understand the coincidence of all of this, but it is just that. The attacks against the PKK were in retaliations for attacks they, the Turks, endured, and what they're doing against ISIL in Syria I'll let them speak to. But obviously, we welcome all coalition members' efforts against ISIL, particularly in Syria.

QUESTION: All right, well, one: Are you suggesting then that the Turks – the attacks on the PKK are going to – are over now and that the Turks have retaliated enough for the attacks on them? And secondly, are you not concerned that these attacks, while they are directed against a group that you have designated a terrorist organization – the Turks certainly believe are a terrorist organization – and I'm talking about the PKK – are you not concerned that that is going to hinder or hurt the fight against ISIS/ISIL?

MR KIRBY: I understand the second one. Am I concerned that their attacks against the PKK will detract from the fight against ISIL? Is that --

QUESTION: Yeah. They're killing people that are killing ISIL.

MR KIRBY: The attacks against the PKK.



QUESTION: Right? I mean, am I wrong?

QUESTION: I mean, the PKK has been very effective against ISIL. They helped rescue Yezidis on Mount Sinjar. They've been fighting ISIS in Syria --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. No. I think I got it.

QUESTION: So there's two in there.

MR KIRBY: Is it over now?

QUESTION: Have you been assured – or have you been told by the Turks that they're – that this against the – the strikes against the PKK are limited duration and solely in retaliation for the attacks on them, and are going to stop?

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And secondly, I mean, how does this not make it a big – it's – how does this not hurt the fight against ISIS/ISIL?

MR KIRBY: Okay, so two questions. First of all, is it over now? I don't know. That's a question that you have to ask Turkish officials. They retaliated against the PKK for strikes that they received from PKK terrorists. We have long recognized the PKK as a foreign terrorist organization, and we recognize Turkey's ability – or, I'm sorry, Turkey's right – to defend itself against this group. So is it over now? I don't know. And that's really not a question that we can answer from this podium.

Two, does it hinder the fight against ISIL? What we're trying to focus on here is a coalition to go after ISIL, counter ISIL. I recognize that, in some cases, the PKK have fought against ISIL. But they are a foreign terrorist organization. We designated them that, as an FTO. And our fight against ISIL is not in cooperation with, coordination with, or communication with the PKK. Our fight against ISIL is with 62 other nations in this coalition who are helping us go after these guys, and in Syria specifically. And again, DOD is working a train and equip program to get a moderate opposition capable enough to go after ISIL inside Syria.

So the fight against ISIL will continue. We are grateful for the contributions of Turkey and other coalition members. And the pressure that we are going to put on them, regardless of what Turkey is doing against the PKK or will do in the future, that's not going to diminish.

QUESTION: Are you telling the Turks --

QUESTION: Well, wait, wait. I've got just one.

QUESTION: Are you telling the Turks not to go after PKK in Syria?

QUESTION: I have – hold on Ros, Ros. Ros, I have one more here. So you're saying that it doesn't trouble you at all that the Turks are going after people who have been very – perhaps the most effective on the ground against ISIS/ISIL? You don't have a problem with that --

MR KIRBY: First of all, I think I would –

QUESTION: -- and there's no coordination, but there – so you're more comfortable with working alongside Iran in Iraq than you are with the Kurds. And don't – is that correct?

MR KIRBY: Matt, we're not working alongside Iran in Iraq against ISIL. We've made it clear there is no coordination on the ground in Iraq with Iran. I would take issue with your characterization that the PKK has been the most effective force against ISIL in Iraq.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MR KIRBY: I don't know that we would share that. This is a foreign terrorist organization. They attacked Turkey. Turkey has a right to self-defense. We're recognizing that.

The fight against ISIL is broader than this, broader than one group's efforts against ISIL. It's much bigger, deeper, and broader than that, and that's where our focus is.


QUESTION: Is the U.S. telling Turkey not to go after the PKK if the PKK in Syria are going after ISIL, yes or no?

MR KIRBY: The PKK in Syria?

QUESTION: Correct.

MR KIRBY: Well, the PKK, as we observe them --

QUESTION: Right --

MR KIRBY: -- are in northern --


MR KIRBY: -- or operating in Iraq and inside Turkey to –

QUESTION: So you don't know that they --

MR KIRBY: -- conduct attacks.

QUESTION: So you don't know that they are fighting inside Syria, as well?

MR KIRBY: I have no specific information --

QUESTION: She's referring to (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: I know what she's referring to. I'm getting there. I have no information specifically about where the PKK may be inside Syria. In Syria, largely the counter-ISIL fighters are members of the YPG. Right?


MR KIRBY: And the attacks that they rendered were against PKK, not the YPG.

QUESTION: Okay. Could I follow up?

QUESTION: But does that mean that you're telling the Turks – because now we have this complication inside Syria. Who is shooting at whom at this point?

MR KIRBY: You're talking about this recent –

QUESTION: Yeah, right.

MR KIRBY: -- this recent claim of attack –


MR KIRBY: -- that the Turks –

QUESTION: That the Turks –

MR KIRBY: -- fired on YPG.


MR KIRBY: So let me – so the Turks have said they're going to investigate that. And they have reiterated and clarified that their purpose against ISIL – or their purpose inside Syria is against ISIL, not the YPG.


MR KIRBY: They've said that themselves.

QUESTION: Now, since we're inside Syria, and we're talking about groups who may or may not be favored or endorsed by the U.S., what about Jabhat Al-Nusrah, which the U.S. sanctioned back in 2013? Is the U.S. basically ignoring them as they continue fighting against ISIL inside Syria, or is the U.S. using this opportunity, since they're also a FTO, to go after them?

MR KIRBY: The fight inside Syria is largely almost completely against ISIL. Al-Nusra we consider an offshoot of al-Qaida, therefore a legitimate terrorist organization. And to the degree that – and I think we've been – it's been clear through the last several years, to the degree that we have information that leads us to be able to go after terrorists that are targeting our interests or the interests of our allies and partners, we're going to continue to do that. I'm not sitting here announcing strikes against al-Nusrah, but nothing protects al-Nusrah from the long arm of the United States of America, as did nothing protected the Khorasan Group and the strikes that we took against the Khorasan Group inside Syria. But to be clear, the fight inside Syria is largely about ISIL, and the Turks themselves have acknowledged that that will be their aim inside Syria too.

QUESTION: Now, I asked this on Friday: Is there a no-fly zone agreed upon by the Turks and the U.S. inside northern Syria, yes or no?


QUESTION: Why not?

QUESTION: Why is that?

MR KIRBY: Well, we've talked about this as well before. I mean --

QUESTION: But in light of current reports and current suggestions coming from Ankara that this has been agreed upon, I'd like to give you the opportunity to explain exactly from the U.S.'s position what is going on there.


QUESTION: Is there a no-fly zone or not?

MR KIRBY: No. I – no. It's the same answer you asked a few seconds ago. No, there's no imposition of a no-fly zone, and we're not considering one. But what is under consideration – and I talked about this to Matt's question – is deepening cooperation with our Turkish allies to counter ISIL in northwest Syria. We're going to continue to talk with them about how to do that.

I should also note – and I really don't like to get into military matters, but you're kind of dragging me there – there is no opposition in the air when coalition aircraft are flying in that part of Syria. The Assad regime is not challenging us. ISIL doesn't have airplanes. So in a sense, what's happening over northern Syria is only coalition aircraft flying, and it's not a no-fly zone and I'm not characterizing it that. But it's almost having the same effect as if there was one, because only coalition aircraft are occupying that airspace. They're not being challenged, they're not being shot at; there's no other aircraft up there other than coalition aircraft which are focused on going after ISIL.

QUESTION: One more: What about creating some sort of safe zone for Syrian refugees who had fled to Turkey? The Turks have been saying that they would like to see some of those refugees go back and that part of their discussions includes setting up some sort of perimeter where these refugees would be safe from attack. Is that under consideration? Would that require U.S. troops going in to help preserve the boundaries of such a safe zone?

MR KIRBY: I won't speak to the military aspect of this. We continue to talk to the Turks about how to better cooperate – I got you, I got you. Hang – sorry, just hang on a second. We continue to talk to the Turks about how to better cooperate along that border and against ISIL, and we'll continue to do that. I don't have any announcements today about what that's going to entail, but we are certainly cognizant of the fact that 2 million some odd refugees are in Turkey and the Turks are carrying a heavy load in trying to deal with that.

I can also tell you that, again, without trying to – I'm not signaling some decision on a safe zone, not at all, but to the degree any of those refugees return home – and obviously, we'd like to be able to see them return home too; that's really – that's the long-term answer here – we want to make sure that that's voluntary.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on the effectiveness of the Turkish participation in the fight against ISIL and so on. It seems that it has been scaled back tremendously today, because they are going after PKK positions and villages and so on inside Turkey. They are devoting a great deal of resources and assets to do that, and consequently they scaled back. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, this is – we've said that Turkey has a right to defend itself against terrorists and we recognize that – as do we, as does any country. And I'll let the Turks speak to how they're going to go after terrorists inside their borders. I'm loath to give battlefield assessments even of U.S. military. I'm certainly not going to do that for the Turks.

QUESTION: So you deny the allegation that Turkey basically used its part in fighting ISIS as a ploy just to go after the Kurds?

MR KIRBY: I'm not going to characterize Turkish motives. We don't observe a connection between what they did about going after PKK and what we're trying to do as a coalition against ISIL.

QUESTION: Then you remain the only one.

QUESTION: And finally, today there is --

MR KIRBY: Okay. I'm comfortable with that.

QUESTION: And finally, there are reports today that the Kurds – Kurdish fighters of all groups and so on – they have taken vast areas in the Aleppo area, taking it away from ISIL --


QUESTION: -- due to your part, the coalition bombardment and so on. Could you comment on that, or could you give us more information?

MR KIRBY: Could I comment on what?

QUESTION: That they have been able – the Kurdish forces have been able to liberate a lot of areas that were under --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, they've been very effective in --

QUESTION: That's in the Aleppo area. In the Aleppo area, with support from --

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, I'm not going to go through every spot on the map, okay? I really – I don't want to get into battlefield assessments. But yes, and I've said this before, that the counter-ISIL fighters in northern Syria have been effective. There's no question about it. I would also add, Said, that one of the reasons they've been effective is because of coalition air support, which will continue as they continue to press the fight against ISIL. It's not like they're doing this all on their own. There has been some coalition air support as well.

QUESTION: John, you said that Turkey's response to the – Turkey's bombardment of the PKK hideouts in northern Iraq --


QUESTION: -- are retaliatory, are in retaliation to what PKK had done. But now there are two questions. First, ISIS – the PKK attack killed only two Turkish officers, but you've seen two major ISIS attacks inside Syria. Why haven't we seen such a retaliation against ISIS from the Turks? Secondly, and the Turkey had --

MR KIRBY: Before you get to the second one let me just kill the first one.


MR KIRBY: You've got to talk to the Turks. I cannot speak for another nation --

QUESTION: Well, but because I'm saying --

MR KIRBY: -- or the decisions that they're making.

QUESTION: Do you agree with the Turkish position that it's in retaliation? One could ask why would you agree with that, with the Turkish assessment that it's in retaliation to PKK, while ISIS has been killing many more Turkish citizens and that Turkey has done pretty much nothing to --

MR KIRBY: I think I would – so I'm not going to characterize Turkish motives. They suffered an attack by the PKK; they retaliated. What comes next? That's for them to talk to. As for ISIL, one of the reasons why we continue to have discussions with the Turks is to explore ways that we can work together with them through the coalition to go after ISIL. This is a country that has a border they're concerned about, they've got 2 million refugees, they've allowed – they've agreed to host a train and equip site inside Turkey, and now they've allowed us to have access to some of their bases to conduct airstrikes and missions against ISIL inside Syria. It's not like they're not doing anything, and your question almost implies that they're just sitting on the sidelines, and that is not at all our assessment.

QUESTION: They have certainly poured more bombs over the past 24 hours on the PKK hideouts than on ISIS.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, every day is different in a war like this. I mean, there are some days where our pilots don't drop all their bombs either. I mean, every day is different and every member of the coalition contributes what they can, when they can, where they can. It's a coalition of the willing, we're not mandating it, and the Turks are cooperating and they're coordinating and they have agreed to do more. And we're just going to have to see where this goes in the future. As I said at the outset, we're going to continue to talk with them. We're going to continue to try to explore areas where that cooperation can improve. And we'll get there.

QUESTION: My last question, sorry. Wouldn't you be worried that the Turkish contribution, the military aspect of the contribution to the fight against ISIL might actually complicate the situation further instead of helping the fight against ISIS? Because the Kurdish people inside Syria, whom you see them different from the PKK, they are like practically an affiliate of the PKK, and they have said that they would not welcome a Turkish intrusion inside their areas. Wouldn't that really complicate the war? I mean, wouldn't – because the only – one of the very – one of the most effective ground partners you have in northern Syria are the Kurds. If they don't welcome Turkish contribution, wouldn't that --

MR KIRBY: Right, and that's – so that's one of the reasons why we're going to continue to talk to the Turks about how to move forward here so that the mission can be achieved and the complications are kept to a minimum. I think everybody understands, and we've talked about this before, that the – how complicated the situation is in Syria. We're not blind to that. That's why we're having these discussions and that's why we're going to continue to look for ways to improve the cooperation.

Margaret, you've been patient.

QUESTION: Thank you. Kirby, when you – you made clear: no-fly zone off the table, not being considered.

MR KIRBY: I said it's not being considered.

QUESTION: Right. But can you help me understand: When Turkish officials say that their understanding of what this ISIL-free zone would require would be air cover to protect refugees and the Free Syrian Army --


QUESTION: -- is that part of the conversation being entertained by the U.S.?

MR KIRBY: We are, again, looking for ways to talk to the Turks about how to get after the ISIL threat better in northern Syria. We're not using the phrase "ISIL-free zone." We're going after ISIL wherever they tend to go. Right now they seem to be gravitating along that border, gravitating to the west. So I think it's fair to say you can expect to see more coalition effort and energy placed against that area, because that's where ISIL is, and we want to hit them where they are.

What the military components of that look like I'm just not able to say right now. We're still in very early stages here of talking to the Turks about what that would look like and how it would play out. But as I said to Ros, I mean, the coalition aircraft are not being challenged in that area of Syria. We don't expect that that will change. And so right now, for right now, a no-fly zone is not under active consideration. But as we've always said, we're going to continue to talk to the Turks, we understand their concerns, and we know they share our concerns about where ISIL is operating there along that northern border with Turkey.

QUESTION: But when you say no-fly zone not being considered, that is not the same thing as saying any use of air cover is not being considered?

MR KIRBY: Well, there's already air power being used in northern Syria --

QUESTION: Against ISIL, right.

MR KIRBY: -- against ISIL. I think you can expect to see that --

QUESTION: But to protect the refugees and the Free Syrian Army, which is what the Turks want.

MR KIRBY: Well, I won't – now you're drawing me into specific tactical things that the Pentagon's better to speak to. On the moderate opposition, I think we've always said we know once they get into the fight, we – that we're going to have to support them in some way. What that support looks like and how it's actually produced are decisions for the Pentagon to speak to, and I don't know that even those decisions have been made.

But air power – again, I want to just stress air power over Syria in that area of Syria where we're fighting ISIL is not being challenged.

QUESTION: Right, but if the – as you say, if forces are brought in there, the Western-trained forces are brought in there and refugees come in there, there would be a change in circumstance and making clear to the Assad regime not to do that.

MR KIRBY: And we would have to make decisions then – it's a hypothetical, so if that all were to occur, I'm sure that particularly Pentagon leadership would have to make some decisions about what that does, how that changes the situation tactically, but I wouldn't be in a position right now to speak to that.

QUESTION: A couple more on Turkey?


QUESTION: Incirlik base. Will the coalition jets – manned or unmanned planes will be also helping PYD forces, the ones that take off from the Incirlik base? Is this --

MR KIRBY: You're talking about the YPG? These are the counter-ISIL fighters --


MR KIRBY: -- in northern Syria.


MR KIRBY: They have already benefited from coalition air support.


MR KIRBY: The fact that we now have access to bases in Turkey will allow for that support to be more timely and perhaps even more effective. So I would expect that that kind of air support will continue.

QUESTION: Great. Do you have any update on the numbers of the train and equip – are there new recruits there? Can you say?

MR KIRBY: I'd have to refer you to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, President Assad gave some talk and talk about the shortcomings of his army for the first time as recorded since the war. Do you have any comment on that, whether – some argued that --

MR KIRBY: No. I mean, I'm not going to – I saw those comments as well. I mean, it's not my place to speak to Mr. Assad's military woes. I mean, nothing's changed about our position. He's lost legitimacy to govern. He needs to go. What needs to happen is a political settlement inside Syria that produces a government that is responsive to and respectful of all Syrians. That's what we're after here. It's not going to be solved militarily, but I'm not going to make comments based on his characterization of his own military.

QUESTION: My final question: In light of the new reports that's showing that the Assad regime has been using chemical weapons still with the barrel bombs and other means and hundreds of them since the March within last few months, do you still find your agreement with the Assad chemical weapons are successful?

MR KIRBY: Well, yes, but what we know is that 100 percent of the declared stockpiles were removed and neutralized. So yes, that was an enormous success to get all that declared stockpile material out of Syria and to get it neutralized so that it could no longer be used against human beings.

We've also said and we recognize he continues to brutalize his own people, and including the potential use of chlorine gas against his own people. And when chlorine is used in that way, it's still a violation, even though it's an industrial agent. And so those concerns – while we're glad we got all those declared stockpiles out, we're certainly cognizant of the fact that he continues to find brutal ways to kill and maim his own people, and another reason why he's lost legitimacy to govern and needs to step down.

QUESTION: What discussions are underway between the U.S. and other countries about trying to get to that political assessment? Last week, the Secretary said that he would soon be meeting with Sergey Lavrov, ostensibly to talk about Iran, but I would imagine Syria might come up as well.

MR KIRBY: Sure. Well, look, these are discussions Secretary Kerry has routinely with his counterparts all over the region, and I would fully expect that when he meets with Foreign Minister Lavrov at the next opportunity here in a week, that Syria will certainly come up, as it does almost every time he talks to Mr. Lavrov.

QUESTION: Is there any new push, any new initiative to try to get to a post-Assad Syria?

MR KIRBY: I don't have like an announcement to make today, Ros. This is a – what's going on in Syria with respect to Mr. Assad and ISIL is a constant topic of conversation and discussion and consideration. And I mean, I don't have – again, I don't have a formula here for you. It's a very complicated situation, but it is one that occupies a lot of Secretary Kerry's time.

QUESTION: Well, may I?


QUESTION: I mean, we're not looking for some announcement, but I don't think most of us have seen a kind of concerted, new effort, given that Assad is facing some battlefield losses. His regime looks increasingly wobbly, and we have heard a recognition of this from you and some of your coalition partners. So you say that there's no formula and I understand that, but should Assad fall tomorrow it seems that there are absolutely no pieces in place for what would happen. And I think the question is: Are there new efforts being made to try and find some political solution for the inevitable day that he would fall?

MR KIRBY: I think the way I'd answer you, Elise --

QUESTION: Because it could become sooner rather than later.

MR KIRBY: Well, I can't speculate about the sooner versus later. What I could tell you is there's been continuous efforts here in the interagency in the U.S. Government as well throughout the interagency to try to get at the very complicated situation in Syria and to get at potentials for a negotiated political settlement that leads to a government that's more responsive to the Syrian people. So it's not about new. It's about continuous. And --

QUESTION: I understand continuous. But given the changes on the battlefield, you would think that there may be more of increased or enhanced efforts.

MR KIRBY: I think it's fair to say that – I think it's fair to say that --

QUESTION: Is there a new urgency about this?

MR KIRBY: I think it's fair to say that everybody shares the same sense of purpose about what's going on inside Syria, and the situation changes all the time there. To say that recent reporting that --

QUESTION: It's not just reporting. It's – you've said it yourself.

MR KIRBY: No, I mean, I – to say that recent developments would lead to something new I think would sort of under-sell the amount of energy and effort that's already being applied to this problem.

QUESTION: On the opposition, on getting the opposition ready for a transition --

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, again, we've very committed to this train and equip program for the opposition, but I'd let the Pentagon --

QUESTION: Not talking about the train and equip program. If Assad were to fall, there's zero political opposition ready to take over. I mean, there's been – when this first started five years ago, there was like a demonstrable, concerted program to work with the political opposition, and we barely hear about that anymore. So I know you're training and equipping and the numbers are very small, but if Assad were to fall, politically there's – there would be a complete vacuum.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I'm not going to make predictions about how soon, if, or when he falls. The work with, coordination with partners, to include leaders of the opposition, continues. And we're going to have – I mean, nobody's lost a focus on this.

QUESTION: Is it your assessment that Assad's fall is imminent?

MR KIRBY: I'm not prepared to make --

QUESTION: Is it your assessment that he is --

MR KIRBY: I'm not prepared to make that assessment.

QUESTION: That he's lost a lot of ground --

MR KIRBY: I'm not prepared to make that assessment.

QUESTION: Can I ask two really brief ones on this? One, does the United States – does the Administration still believe that the whole chemical weapons deal was a success? You said that 100 percent of this declared stockpiles were – are gone. But in fact, it's become clear that he didn't declare 100 percent of his stockpiles. So say he only declared 75 percent of his stockpiles and 100 percent of the 75 percent is gone, but he's still got 25 percent. I don't see how that's a success at all. I mean, I see that you got rid of some of it, but he's still using it.

So, one, is it still a success? Is that your position?


QUESTION: And then I – okay.

MR KIRBY: And there weren't weapons. It was chemical material. There's a big difference.

QUESTION: Well, I've seen reports that say – that suggest it's not just the chlorine that wasn't declared, as – and I know that --

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, if he's not declared it --


MR KIRBY: -- I mean, it's difficult to get into a percentage.

QUESTION: Yeah. But you basically trusted the guy to declare everything that he had, and he didn't and now he's using it, and you're saying it's a success?

MR KIRBY: A success to get 100 percent of the declared material out and get it neutralized --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Yes, that was successful. And Matt, come on, it's never been – it's never been done before on that kind of a scale.

QUESTION: All right, fine. But still, if he didn't declare --

MR KIRBY: Nobody is turning a blind eye to the fact that he still has potential capabilities in this regard.

QUESTION: Right. But if he didn't declare 100 percent, then I don't see how it's – saying that he – saying that 100 percent of what he declared is gone, it's not a 100 percent success.

Anyway, the second thing – and very briefly: If it is okay for the Turks to go after the PKK, why aren't – why doesn't the Administration also go after the PKK to help defend its NATO ally, Turkey?

MR KIRBY: Look, it's a foreign terrorist organization. We --

QUESTION: You go after foreign terrorist organizations. Al-Shabaab you go after. Why not – why isn't the U.S. --

MR KIRBY: I don't have a dossier on how and what, to what degree, or when or how we've gone after the PKK. It's an FTO. We recognize them as such.


MR KIRBY: And the United States reserves the right, as we do with all FTOs, to go after them where and when we can.

QUESTION: Okay. But could it be that the Administration believes that going after the PKK is actually harmful to the anti-ISIS/ISIL effort?

MR KIRBY: We've never defended the PKK in that regard.

QUESTION: I'm not saying you defended them.

MR KIRBY: No, but I mean – but the question sort of implies that we're sort of turning a blind eye to the PKK because they fight ISIL, and that's just not true --


MR KIRBY: -- any more than it's – go ahead.

QUESTION: I'm not saying you turn a blind eye to them, but I'm saying that you have – you haven't targeted them militarily.

MR KIRBY: I'm not going to – I don't have ready access to military targets. PKK is an FTO. We reserve the right to go after terrorists, as we do all over the world.


QUESTION: Yesterday President Barzani said three years of peace is better than one hour of fighting. He wants to help Turkey and the PKK get back to dialogue. We know that before, the USA agreed to the peace process with Turkey. Are you helping them in this process and are you helping Turkey too against, like, PKK?

MR KIRBY: Am I – are we helping who in this process?


MR KIRBY: Are we helping Turkey --

QUESTION: Peace process in Turkey, yeah.

MR KIRBY: We obviously want to – I mean, we would agree that peace is better than conflict. I don't have anything to share with respect to the degree that we're – what we're – we're helping Turkey in the peace process. Certainly, we want to see peace as well. And as for helping Turkey go after the PKK, I'll say it again: These strikes against the PKK were done by Turkish forces in retaliation for the attacks that they received.


QUESTION: Don't you call them – call upon the Turks to halt the airstrikes and start negotiation, or you just don't have --

MR KIRBY: I said it before. We recognize Turkey's right to defend itself against terrorists.

QUESTION: So you're okay with Turkey bombing PKK forever?

MR KIRBY: We recognize the right of Turkey to defend itself against terrorists.


QUESTION: Was there – during the negotiation to use the base, did this come up, this issue of attacking PKK? Is it the U.S. can use this base and then --

MR KIRBY: No. I mean, as I said --

QUESTION: -- we're not going to pose --

MR KIRBY: As I said to Matt, even though he thinks I'm the only person in the world that believes it, there's no connection between what they did against the PKK --

QUESTION: Well, no. I think there may be three or four, but they're all inside the Administration.

MR KIRBY: There's no connection between that and the discussions that we continue to have with Turkey about how to get – go after ISIL.

QUESTION: So it never – it was never raised?

MR KIRBY: I'm not going to get into the details of discussions that we have with the Turks. What I'm telling you is there's no connection between what they did against PKK and what we're going to try to do together against ISIL.


QUESTION: Follow-up on Turkey?

MR KIRBY: Sure. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. John, yesterday, to answer one of my questions, the Pentagon Press Office, they told me that the Turkey's counterattack on ISIL in Syria is not part of the coalitions. It's not under the command of the joint cooperation that the other --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I think tactically that's correct.

QUESTION: They do it independently.


QUESTION: Is that true?


QUESTION: Okay. Don't you think this is – number one question is: Don't you think this is going to backfire the entire efforts you have made to help the fighters on the ground to – because if they do it independently, who they are going to coordinate? As a matter of fact, the United States --

MR KIRBY: Well, these attack – these specific strikes were done in a extra-coalition manner. In other words, they weren't part of the coalition air campaign for that day. That doesn't mean that that might not change in the future. Again, I would let Turkey speak to the way in which they're going to contribute to coalition efforts.

QUESTION: One more on that. Are you – you mentioned that PKK is still in the U.S. – United States terrorism list. So are you willing, as Turkish Government is willing to do so, to extend the war on terrorism beyond ISIS and fighting PKK on the same side of ISIS, or you do different shade between the two groups?

MR KIRBY: I think we've talked about this before. So our concern, our larger concern for the coalition is against ISIL. The Turks have agreed to improve their cooperation as part of the coalition against ISIL, and talks will continue to see where that cooperation can even get better over time. PKK is an FTO. We talked about his before. Turks retaliated with strikes against the PKK for strikes that they suffered as a result of PKK violence.

PKK is a foreign terrorist organization. The Turks have a right to defend themselves against it. That was separate and distinct from the fight against ISIL, which the Turks have now agreed to even more cooperation on.


QUESTION: Is that why – is that why they're doing extra – operations outside of the coalition, because you don't want them – you don't want their military actions against the PKK to be seen as --


QUESTION: -- part of the coalition efforts?

MR KIRBY: No, Elise. And again, these are two separate things. I understand --

QUESTION: I understand. But did you ask them specifically to do their operations against ISIL outside of the coalition --


QUESTION: -- so that the other operations aren't seen as part of coalition?

MR KIRBY: No. There was no such request.


QUESTION: May I change topics?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. A change of topic would be great. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Can we go to another one of your favorite topics, the Palestinian-Israeli?

MR KIRBY: Oh, you're killing me. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But before that, could you comment on the reports that Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard is getting set to be released in November as – there is a mandatory parole or anything? You have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Our view is he needs to serve out his sentence. I would point you to the Justice Department for any further comment on that.

QUESTION: Right, but --

MR KIRBY: That's not my place.

QUESTION: But are you aware of these reports that --

MR KIRBY: I've seen media speculation about it, but again, you should talk to the Justice Department.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, last week you issued a strong statement – or the week before – against the demolition of Suwisa (ph) – or Susiya, I'm sorry, Susiya --


QUESTION: -- the village of Susiya.


QUESTION: Well, today, apparently in response to documents like 1881 document that prove ownership of Palestinians, the Israelis are holding back. Are you urging them to stop the demolition altogether?

MR KIRBY: I haven't seen those reports, Said. But as I said in my statement, I think our policy has been very clear and consistent on this, and it's not going to change. But I'm not able to speak to the specific report.

QUESTION: It seems that their ministry of justice came up with documents proving ownership of land by the Palestinians – or the Israelis --

MR KIRBY: I just – I can't --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: Said, you're going to have to let me take it for you. I just haven't seen that report.


MR KIRBY: But again, large – writ large, our position on settlements has not changed.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the resumption of negotiations between Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli negotiator Silvan Shalom in Amman?

MR KIRBY: I'm not, no.

QUESTION: Are you in any way sponsoring that?

MR KIRBY: I'm not aware of it, so I would be terrible – I couldn't speak for sponsorship of it. I'm not – I'm simply not aware of it.


QUESTION: This morning, 125 members of Congress released a letter urging the State Department to deny visas to spouses of foreign diplomats from countries that refuse to issue visas to same-sex spouses of U.S. Foreign Service personnel. Have you seen that letter? And if so, does State have a response to that?

MR KIRBY: I have not seen the letter, but if it is as you describe, I'm sure that we will respond in appropriate time in detail to members of Congress.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. be able to deny visas to those who would be qualified for those visas?

MR KIRBY: I just don't – let me look at the letter, Roz, and – I just don't know. I'm not an expert on visa applications and how they're administered.

QUESTION: Do you know if this is an issue that has come up at all without – quite apart from the letter?

MR KIRBY: I'm not aware of it coming up, Matt, no.

QUESTION: Can I move to Iran?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure. Would you --

QUESTION: Unless there's more on this.

MR KIRBY: Is there more on this, or are we going to a separate topic?

QUESTION: Separate.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Let me go to Matt here on Iran and then we'll come back to you guys.

QUESTION: I just want to clear up one thing, because there's information coming out about the documents that you guys sent up to the Hill about the nuclear deal, and particularly related to the PMD issue, which I know we've gone over and over and over and over many times, but I just want to make sure I understand. Is it the Administration's position that the Iranians can resolve or address the concerns that the IAEA has about the possible military dimensions of their nuclear program without actually making an admission that they did in fact have a military dimension? In other words, is it the Administration's position that, to use the phrase that was used over and over and over again, that Iran can come clean about the PMDs without actually coming clean about the PMDs?

MR KIRBY: Well, as we've said before, Matt, this Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is not about the past. It's about their nuclear program and what it's going to look like in the future, and about Iran taking the steps – proper steps to show that they are not undertaking current or future nuclear weapons work. So that's really important. It's a forward-looking document. However, the document also spells out a very clear process to get to implementation day, which includes Iran having to address specific items in its – and this is the title of the document – the roadmap for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran's nuclear program with the IAEA. If those items, past and present, are not addressed, we don't get to implementation day and there's no sanctions relief.

QUESTION: I understand that. But is it the position of the Administration that the IAEA can resolve its concerns without Iran actually coming clean about what it did in the past?

MR KIRBY: Well, what we want, and we've said before, is that the IAEA's concerns, past and present, have to be addressed. Now, how that is done is largely between the IAEA and Iran. As Secretary Kerry said, we know a lot about their past.


MR KIRBY: So it's not about a coming-clean statement, it's about them making sure that they've addressed past and present concerns with the IAEA to the satisfaction of the IAEA so that the PMD can be --

QUESTION: Right. But what I'm asking you is whether the Administration believes that the IAEA can resolve its concerns without Iran actually coming clean about what it did in the past?

MR KIRBY: I would point you to the IAEA about what they believe and what they need.

QUESTION: Well, I know, but – yeah, but look, there are disagreements between the Administration – there have been in the past – and the IAEA all the time. Iraq was a great example of that. I want to know if this Administration believes that the IAEA can do its work and resolve its concerns, address the questions it has about PMDs, without Iran actually coming clean about what it did in the past.

MR KIRBY: They have to – you're not going to like this answer because it's very much the same as what I've given you – that Iran has to --

QUESTION: But it's not an answer.

MR KIRBY: I know what you're asking me. Iran has to resolve issues of the past and the present with the IAEA to their satisfaction. That's what has to happen. What form that takes or who says what about it is – that's between Iran and the IAEA. We know from intelligence, we have a good sense of what their past nuclear weapons program looked like. What needs to happen as part of this plan, which isn't just a U.S. plan --

QUESTION: I understand.

MR KIRBY: -- is that Iran has to address those concerns satisfactorily with the IAEA.

QUESTION: But it is not a requirement for this Administration that Iran actually own up to what it did in the past?

MR KIRBY: As Secretary Kerry said, we know what they've done in the past.

QUESTION: So they don't need to --

MR KIRBY: They need to address the IAEA's concerns.

QUESTION: And they can do that without owning up to what they did?

MR KIRBY: They – that's what the IAEA needs to determine whether that's --

QUESTION: No, but forget about what the --

MR KIRBY: We know what they did.


MR KIRBY: This isn't about the past for us, it's about the future. But it is about the past for the IAEA. They have to satisfy the IAEA's requirements with respect to past military dimensions.

QUESTION: Okay. But the whole idea of addressing this and resolving it is a – it goes to the matter of trust and whether Iran can be trusted in the future. It – you all say and have said for some time that Iran was in noncompliance with resolution after resolution after resolution of the UN Security Council. And so one would think that if you were going to be able to trust them – and I realize this is not about trust; it's about verification. But if you're going to take the step that you're going to get to the point where you even have something to verify, that they would have to show what they did in the past. Because otherwise it's just – it's like – I don't know what it – it's like punishing a child or something, telling a kid that he can apologize or not apologize for past bad behavior --


QUESTION: -- without actually admitting that he did anything wrong.

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: So I don't understand why it is that you're saying now that the Iranians can address the whole issue of PMDs without admitting to what they had done or owning up to what they had done in the past.

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: And for it to be credible.

MR KIRBY: Again, we've said we don't need them to admit it. We know what they've done. I can't speak for the IAEA.


QUESTION: Very quickly, I wanted to ask a technical question on the status of the agreement now. What is going on now? I mean, after it was – the agreement was reached on the 14th, what is going on? Are there any kind of consultation on the phone between the P5+1 with Iran? What is going on in terms of pushing this thing forward on the diplomatic level? Or is it everything is on hold until Congress decides one way or the other?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, our Congress has 60 days to review that. That's the period that we're in right now, so there's not any implementation of the deal, at least not right now. We have to get through the 60 days. Where Secretary Kerry's been focused is on working with and he'll continue to work with members of Congress. He testified last week; he's got another hearing this week. And he'll continue to make himself available, as will Secretary Moniz, to members of Congress to address their concerns. And that's where we are right now. We're in this 60-day review period and the Secretary is very much focused on helping Congress as they work through that review.

QUESTION: So there is absolutely no, let's say, diplomatic activities related to the agreement ongoing now?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, he's in touch with his counterparts.


MR KIRBY: They're all in touch with each other.


MR KIRBY: But I mean, they too have taken the deal back to their host governments for consideration as well.


QUESTION: I was wondering if the Department could respond to criticisms from Senator Menendez about the TIP Report. He has said that it is a product of political manipulation and that he's going to use all the means at his disposal to reverse upgrades to Malaysia and Cuba. So first question, a response.

Second question --

MR KIRBY: I haven't seen the senator's comments. I would just point you to what Under Secretary Sewall said today. She got a question about the political motivations behind the reports, and I thought she was quite eloquent about the rigorous analysis that – excuse me – goes into the report and that we stand by it. And the report's online for everybody to see and to read, and we think it speaks for itself. But I haven't seen the senator's remarks.

QUESTION: Could I go back to Iran? This will be very quick. I just want to know if you guys have any response – everyone else has been asked about it, including the President today – but I wanted to know since it's this building that was primarily in charge – or most – took a lead in the negotiations with Iran, if you were aware of the Secretary having any reaction to his being compared to Pontius Pilate by Senator Cotton – and whether you have any response to former governor Huckabee's comments about what this deal might mean to Israel.

MR KIRBY: I think what I would – the way I'd answer that question, Matt, is to say – and look, the Secretary was in New York City Friday talking about this quite a bit with Jewish leaders, as a matter of fact. He is extraordinarily comfortable with the role he played in helping being about this deal. He is also extraordinarily comfortable with the deal itself and the details in it and the degree to which it will make not just the region safer, but Israel safer, as well as our own national security interests.

QUESTION: Is there a reason he's not going to Israel, since he's going to be right next door in Egypt on this trip?

MR KIRBY: It's just not part of the parameters for this trip. It's not – it wasn't a deliberate decision not to go. There's an awful lot to cover in eight days, as you can see. It's literally – it's an around-the-world trip. He has been in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu many, many times over the last several weeks in terms of discussing the deal and the parameters of it. So it's not as if we aren't in constant communication with Israeli counterparts about this.

QUESTION: Do you know --

MR KIRBY: Again, this is a pretty aggressive agenda for a one-week trip.

QUESTION: Do you know when the last time he was in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu or any other – or any other Israeli officials?

MR KIRBY: Let's see. The last call that I see to the prime minister took place on Thursday the 16th of July.

QUESTION: So over a week ago, yeah. Right?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, but that's not that long ago.

QUESTION: No, no, I know. I'm just – but that was the last one.

And then you said before – after his experience up on the Hill last week, would you say that the Secretary is looking forward to tomorrow's testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) Yes, I think he is. I think he is. He --


MR KIRBY: I said he was looking forward to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting, and he was. And he's looking forward to meeting with House Foreign Affairs Committee members tomorrow.

QUESTION: Is he personally angered or annoyed or insulted by terms like "fleeced," "bamboozled," and "naive," things like this that were --

MR KIRBY: No, look --

QUESTION: -- just thrown about without --

MR KIRBY: He's not insulted by that. He understands that there's --

QUESTION: He doesn't agree with it, though.

MR KIRBY: I know he doesn't agree with it, but that wasn't the question. The question was whether he was insulted by it. As I said to Matt's question, which was a really good question, he is extraordinarily comfortable with the role that he and the State Department have played in achieving this deal and just as extraordinarily comfortable with the deal itself. And he does look forward to continuing to have discussions with members of Congress about this. He recognizes that there are concerns on both sides of the aisle and he's going to continue to address those concerns.

I think what the Secretary would like to see is that the hyperbole come down and that people read the deal for the deal itself. If you take time and go through it and you read it and you attack it objectively and factually, its logic stands for itself, and I think that's where he really wants the discussion to go – into a fact-based, objective analysis of it.

But he's not shrinking from the debate or the discussion. He recognizes there's concerns. He simply disagrees with the criticisms of the deal, and as he pressed it last week, so too will he press his views this week.

QUESTION: But John, hyperbole aside, the – many of the people, although not all, of the critics of this deal have done a fact-based – perhaps you would argue not objective, but certainly fact – they've gone through it --


QUESTION: -- and found a lot to be critical of and found a lot to oppose. So your position is that these people are just plain wrong, right?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary's position is that many of the criticisms of the deal – the 24 days, the 10 to 15 year sunset, the $100 billion windfall of cash that Iran's going to somehow pump into nefarious activities – I mean, the Secretary's view is that those criticisms are not well-founded. He's expressed his answers to those last week and he'll do it again this week.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR KIRBY: We've got time for just – I've got – really, I've got to get going. I've got to get going.

Yeah, Elliot.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks.

MR KIRBY: You feeling better?

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you for your concern. I was just – I was wondering if you could respond to the new Russian doctrine that was released over the weekend, if you have any response to that.

MR KIRBY: We've seen it. I mean, obviously, every nation with a navy publishes these kinds of documents outlining the policies, the strategies that they are going to pursue. I would let the Russian Government speak for themselves about this doctrine. We have a national military – I'm sorry – a national military strategy of our own which has a maritime component of it. And look at – the oceans are big and vast. There's lots of challenges out there at sea. Ninety percent of all trade travels by sea. And there is no reason for the seas to be an area of conflict.

QUESTION: This doesn't concern you? In other words, that they're calling –

MR KIRBY: Does it concern us that they have a naval doctrine? No.

QUESTION: Or that they're calling for an expanded military presence in the Atlantic specifically.

MR KIRBY: The Atlantic is a big ocean. I mean, freedom of the seas doesn't just apply to whales and icebergs. And – (laughter) – it doesn't. But it's how you operate on the seas that matter, and it's the posture, it's the threats, it's the challenges. And the United States Navy, the United States military, is the most powerful in the world. And we look for – we look, as we continue to do with all nations, areas where we can cooperate better on the oceans. That's always welcome. But we'd have to pick apart this doctrine to – and I'm sure the Pentagon is doing that.



QUESTION: Thank you, sir. A couple of questions, South Asia. Mr. Tariq Fatemi, the special advisor to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, was in Washington, and he was addressing the Heritage Foundation, where he said that he was knocking the doors of the Administration and the U.S. Congress that they should intervene between India and Pakistan's conflict. Any comment from that?

MR KIRBY: No, I mean, I don't have anything more to add, other than what we've said before, Goyal, that we want to see the conflict and the tension reduced, that this was – these are issues that need to be worked out between Indian and Pakistan.

QUESTION: And second, he was also saying that, as far as press freedom in Pakistan is concerned, that journalists in Pakistan can trust the prime minister. But now, according to The Washington Post yesterday front page story, journalists are being killed in Pakistan, and also they are running – especially one Mir – his name is Mir, Hamid. He is running right – a very famous and well-known TV journalist in Pakistan, and he was attacked because he spoke against the military and ISI and his show is a capital show on his TV.

MR KIRBY: I think I would just say we've made our deep concerns about freedom of the press very clear and known all over the world and in all manner of places. And that includes – certainly includes Pakistan. We are very, very clear about the importance of a free press and reporters able to do their jobs unintimidated and not harassed.

Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:38 p.m.)


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