Daily Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
September 21, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing
2:06 p.m. EDT
QUESTION: Wait a second. Where did you just come from?
MR KIRBY: My office.
MR KIRBY: Would you like me to come from somewhere else?
QUESTION: Well, out of the floor, obviously.
MR KIRBY: Well, I can do that too.
QUESTION: I mean, what is this, a new trend you're starting?
QUESTION: You're breaking the fourth wall.
MR KIRBY: No. Nobody's ever --
QUESTION: You go to London and Berlin for the weekend, you come back, and you come in the back door.
MR KIRBY: Nobody has ever accused me of being trendy, Matt.
Just a couple of things at the top. I think you all heard Secretary Kerry yesterday announce that the United States is going to admit 85,000 refugees from around the world in Fiscal Year '16, and then a hundred thousand for Fiscal Year '17. In consultation with Congress, we're going to continue to explore ways to increase those figures. This is, obviously, as the Secretary said, a step in keeping with America's best tradition as a land of second chances and a beacon of hope.
In accordance with these same traditions, this step will be accompanied by continued financial contributions to the humanitarian effort, not only from our government, but from the American people. The need is enormous, but we are determined to answer the call while maintaining robust security, and it is a balance that we know we need to strike. Our priority has long been to provide assistance that helps people in the places to which they have fled, communities and neighboring countries that have so generously hosted those refugees.
As you also probably saw just a little bit ago, my colleague at the White House announced that the United States will provide nearly $419 million in additional lifesaving assistance for those affected by the war in Syria. That brings the total of our contributions to some $4.5 billion since the start of the crisis.
Obviously, the United States remains committed to assisting those affected by this conflict, and we strongly urge all governments, organizations, individuals concerned about the situation to support the lifesaving aid efforts of the UN and other partners.
Turning now to Indonesia, Secretary Kerry welcomed Indonesian Foreign Minister Marsudi to the State Department earlier today. In that session the Secretary announced President Jokowi's upcoming trip to Washington to meet with President Obama on the 26th of October. In their meeting, the Secretary and the foreign minister discussed regional and global issues such as climate change and the centrality of ASEAN. The Secretary also discussed bilateral trade and investment opportunities as well as ways that we can cooperate to support Indonesia's economic development and maritime goals. Our relations with Indonesia are strong and they're expanding. As the world's third largest democracy, Indonesia's example as a pluralistic democracy with a tradition of tolerance is hugely important, as are its leadership on regional global issues.
Turning to Nepal, the United States congratulates the people of Nepal on their steadfast commitment to democracy. The promulgation of the constitution is an important milestone in Nepal's democratic journey. The government must continue efforts to accommodate the views of all Nepalis and ensure that the constitution embraces measures consistent with globally accepted norms and principles, including gender equality, religious freedom, and the right to citizenship. We encourage all Nepalis to continue to engage in the democratic process through peaceful, nonviolent means. And we call on Nepali security forces to exercise restraint as people express those democratic rights. The United States stands ready to assist the people and the Government of Nepal as they continue along this democratic path and to rebuild from the April earthquake.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you. The two main areas of what I wanted to ask you about have already been asked at the White House and answered – well, kind of answered – but I'm going to give it a whirl anyway. Let's start with Iran.
MR KIRBY: With what?
QUESTION: Iran --
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: -- and the inspections of Parchin. And your colleague at the White House was asked whether the Administration is satisfied with the process that we saw unfold over the past couple of days. I just wanted to make sure that you're on board with his answer; he said yes.
MR KIRBY: Yes, we are.
QUESTION: You are. And you don't have any issue with fact that the inspectors were not allowed in, or that they were not there?
MR KIRBY: I would point you, Matt, to what the director general himself noted, which was that the verification activities at Parchin were conducted in the manner consistent with their standard safeguards practices. So the director general himself made it clear that he was comfortable with the verification process and that it was in keeping with the arrangement that they had made with Iran.
QUESTION: That's great, but you – so you don't have a problem with them not being physically present?
MR KIRBY: I'm not going to get into the details of the process itself. That resides inside this confidential arrangement between Iran and the IAEA, so I'm not going to confirm or deny whether inspectors were present here or there. What I am going to say is we're comfortable that the process was conducted in accordance with the normal procedures and the agreement that the IAEA had already made with Iran.
QUESTION: And so it remains your position that the confidential agreement and whatever it contains is sufficient to investigate? Okay.
MR KIRBY: Absolutely. And again, I'd point you to the fact that Director General Amano made it clear before and I think certainly made the implication today that there's no self-inspection by Iran in this process.
QUESTION: There – okay. The other thing, at the – that your colleague at the White House seemed to suggest was that the courtesy call that Director General Amano made to Parchin was somehow evidence that – or was evidence that the Iranian military facilities are open and available for IAEA access. Is that really – is that the position of the State Department?
MR KIRBY: Well, in a short answer: yes. I mean, it's not insignificant that the IAEA and the director general himself – I mean, I don't know that we would characterize it as a courtesy call –but the fact that he and his team had access to Parchin is not insignificant.
QUESTION: His team, meaning the one person that went with him.
MR KIRBY: Look, I don't – I'm not going to --
QUESTION: A brief – a brief visit to an empty room at Parchin, you think counts – qualifies as an inspection? That – was that the –
MR KIRBY: It's not insignificant that they had access to Parchin. The director general himself – and I'm not going to get into the details of his visit or what that – that's for the IAEA to speak to. But it's not insignificant that they got – that they were granted access to this.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that the director general of the IAEA conducts inspections? Or would that normally be done by --
MR KIRBY: I'm not an expert on their --
QUESTION: -- lower-level people?
MR KIRBY: I'm not an expert on their protocols. I don't think it's our expectation that he has to personally inspect everything.
QUESTION: Do you think he got down on his hands and knees and --
MR KIRBY: I'd point you to the director general to speak to his personal involvement. I don't know that that's our expectation, that he has to, as you said, get down on his hands and knees. But certainly he had access to Parchin, and that's not insignificant – the first time that that's been done. If we had this --
QUESTION: Well, do you recall how big a site Parchin is?
MR KIRBY: I don't. I'm not an expert on the site itself.
QUESTION: It's rather large.
QUESTION: It's pretty huge.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: So do you think that two people from the IAEA going into an empty room briefly --
MR KIRBY: Matt.
QUESTION: -- counts – I'm trying to find out whether you guys think or are trying to say that Amano's courtesy call, his very brief visit – he even said that it was very brief – counts as some kind of an inspection. That's all.
MR KIRBY: I would point you to what the IAEA has said about their --
QUESTION: Not even the IAEA said this was an inspection, but your colleague at the White House suggested that the fact that Director General Amano was able to briefly visit one room or one part of the site was evidence that the Iranians have opened up their military sites to IAEA access. And I just want to know if the State Department thinks that it's – thinks the same.
MR KIRBY: We believe it's significant that Iran granted access to this facility at Parchin for the first time in the history of this issue, both in his visit and the technical verification activities. What's more important is we look forward to Iran's fulling implementing its commitments under the roadmap. That's what matters here.
QUESTION: Would you be confident in this being the standard of inspection going forward?
MR KIRBY: It's not that that is – this is an issue between Iran and the IAEA, and as we said at the very outset, Brad, that having been briefed on the details of that confidential arrangement, the Secretary remains comfortable that it will allow for the IAEA to get the proper access it needs and the ability, through various techniques, of effectively monitoring.
QUESTION: But you don't think there needs to be – you're not saying that whatever the confidential arrangements are of future inspections going forward, that they will have necessarily more access than this?
MR KIRBY: That is between the IAEA and Iran to work out. What matters to us, we're not going to micromanage the inspection activities of the IAEA. It's an independent, international agency that can speak for itself about what it will or will not do. And as you know, many of those arrangements are confidential and they won't speak to them. What matters to us, having been briefed on the protocols, is that we remain comfortable, should this – should Iran continue to meet its commitments in keeping with that arrangement, we believe they will get the access and will get the information they need.
But look, this is the first visit, so – at least to Parchin anyway. So we have a ways to go here. As I said, there's a roadmap that has to be implemented, and we expect Iran to meet its commitments.
QUESTION: Wait, are you saying that – are you saying this is the first visit? You're expecting there will be more?
MR KIRBY: I don't know. I'm saying it is a fact that it's first visit. I'm not making prognostications about the future.
QUESTION: My last one and I'll defer to anyone else that wants to ask. Are you – do you know if members of Congress in their confidential briefings with Administration officials, which would have included people from this building, including the Secretary, were told that IAEA inspectors would have direct access and be able to take their own samples at Parchin?
MR KIRBY: I do not know what specifics of the confidential arrangement were briefed to members of Congress.
MR KIRBY: What we've said all along is that – and the director general himself had said – that reports that Iran would be self-inspecting were not accurate, and that he himself was comfortable in the protocols laid out in the arrangement.
QUESTION: That's not my question. Were they --
MR KIRBY: Well, your question is do I know what Congress were briefed.
QUESTION: Do you know – several members of Congress came out and said that they had been told by the Administration that there would be inspections by IAEA personnel. Do you know if they were told that by the Administration or is that outside --
MR KIRBY: I'm not going to comment on specific communications about a confidential arrangement with members of Congress. What I will go back to say, though, is having been briefed on this arrangement, the Secretary remains comfortable that if Iran meets its side of it, that the IAEA will get the access and the information it needs to properly verify compliance.
QUESTION: Can I change subject?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Could I just follow very quickly on this issue? Are you aware of similar inspections that were conducted by the IAEA on other countries, other facilities other than Iran?
MR KIRBY: No, I'm not. I'm not. I would point you to the IAEA to speak to --
QUESTION: I mean, what would their normal teams be – one, two, four, ten?
MR KIRBY: Said, I don't know. I'm not an expert on their protocols.
QUESTION: John, do you have any comment on the Russians sending drone aircraft on surveillance missions in Syria?
MR KIRBY: I've seen those reports, Lesley. I'm not in a position to independently verify them. I mean, that's for the Russian military to speak to, as we've said. What we – what does remain the same is that we continue to see military activities by Russia in Syria, and as the Secretary said over the weekend, the intent of which is not – still not completely clear. What he has also said is if Russia looks to play a constructive role against ISIL, that's one thing, but if what they're doing is, in fact, propping up the Assad regime, then that's an entirely different issue altogether, because it is the Assad regime that has been a magnet for extremists inside Syria. But again, I'd have the Russians speak for themselves.
QUESTION: And then on the Israelis and Russians coordinating, it also looks like it's about making sure that they don't – that they avoid accidentally trading fire. Do you have any comment on that deal, and does it complicate your efforts with what you're doing with the Russians?
MR KIRBY: With the Israelis and the Russians?
MR KIRBY: No, I think I'd let both those countries speak for that. But separate and distinct from that, that's – the idea of de-confliction is certainly one that matters to us. That's why the President was supportive of a level of military-to-military communication for de-confliction purposes. You heard the Secretary speak to that over the weekend, but I won't speak for the Israeli Government and to what degree they've had like communications with Russia on this.
QUESTION: Is the Israeli-Russian de-confliction mechanism a bilateral thing, or is it a kind of triangle now?
MR KIRBY: I would point you to the Israeli Government to speak to --
QUESTION: No, but – and the U.S. is now involved in de-confliction talks with Russia --
MR KIRBY: I would not characterize this as trilateral de-confliction talks.
QUESTION: Have you seen, John, the Russians actually flying sorties and the airstrike missions with these now 28 aircraft that they have in country?
MR KIRBY: I'm not going to speak to Russian military operations, Justin. You should talk to the folks in Moscow about what they're doing.
QUESTION: So – well, okay. Do you think, then, that there are enough legitimate and easily discernible IS targets for the Russians to strike with all these aircrafts that they have with the reasonable expectation that they could avoid massive civilian casualties, as the Assad regime has been known to conduct themselves? I mean, do you think that there are enough targets that warrant all these aircraft?
MR KIRBY: That there remain ISIL targets in Syria I think is a given. That's why we continue the coalition – the coalition, the international coalition that exists, more than 60 nations – not all of them, obviously, flying strikes, but certainly there exist military targets inside Syria. I'm not going to speculate or hypothesize about what, if any, targets the Russians may decide to go after. You should talk to them about that. The fact that they are building up or have additional military capabilities in Syria continues to give us concern, and that's why we're in favor of some level of military-to-military communication for the purpose of de-confliction. But what they're doing and what they intend to do, you should ask them.
QUESTION: But – my last one on this. Do you have the confidence that – a lot of the U.S. and coalition missions are coming back having not opened any of the bomb bay doors. They're not dropping bombs. Do you have confidence that the Russians will use and execute the same amount of restraint?
MR KIRBY: Your question implies that that's exactly what they're going to do, that they're going to just start flying anti-ISIL missions, and I can't say that with certainty. I don't know. As I said, if there's a constructive role that they want to play against ISIL, well, that's a conversation we can have. And that's why a mil-to-mil de-confliction communication link would be valuable. But I can't get ahead of what they might do operationally. I won't even get ahead of what we're going to do operationally.
QUESTION: Well, can I try – I mean, without talking specifically about operations, it seems as if the way they're setting themselves up is not really in ISIL areas, but rather to protect Assad against the Free Syrian Army and al-Nusrah and those type of things. I mean, to what extent are they there to kind of make sure that he stays in place? They say on one hand that they're there to – they're with you on talking about a political transition, but their actions on the ground say that they're making every effort to make sure that he stays in power.
MR KIRBY: There are significant questions that we still have about their intent, Elise, which is, again, why we think some level of communication at a military level is appropriate. As I said, if this is about ISIL and there's a constructive role that they want to play, then as the Secretary said over the weekend, we're willing to have that conversation. But if it's because they're trying to prop up Assad – and that's certainly a possibility here – that's a whole different matter.
QUESTION: Well, shouldn't – okay, so if you --
QUESTION: If you want to --
QUESTION: Let me – can I – so if you're talking to them about – I know you're talking about de-conflicting on the military side in terms of – like, when you say de-conflict, it means that you're not kind of flying sorties at the same time or at the same – but don't you think kind of there should be more larger, higher-level political discussions about what their actual intentions are? Because even though Secretary Kerry said the other day that he got a straight answer, he then went on to kind of suggest that he didn't trust the answer. So – and you keep saying that you don't really know what their intentions are.
So without talking about specific military targets, don't you think there should be a higher-level discussion between Secretary Kerry and Lavrov, or even with President Putin to talk about really what Russia's objection – intentions are for their presence in Syria?
MR KIRBY: The Secretary has spoken to Lavrov three times now on just this issue, and I fully --
QUESTION: It doesn't sound as if you have any more clue about what their larger intentions are.
MR KIRBY: We – I think that there will be additional conversations between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov about this. Our concerns are – remain in place about what they're doing and the possibilities that what they're doing is in fact potentially propping up Assad or continuing to prop up Assad. I mean, we know they've supported the Assad regime for many years now. So I suspect there will continue to be a focus by Secretary Kerry on this and continued conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov about it. Again, it's – as he said himself last week, they have stated what they're doing.
QUESTION: But then Secretary Kerry went on to say that --
MR KIRBY: He also he doesn't take it at face --
QUESTION: -- he kind of doesn't believe them.
MR KIRBY: -- doesn't take it at face value, and that's why we're going to continue to have these discussions, and why the Secretary was in favor of some sort of military communication as well.
QUESTION: But, I mean, military communication is just about kind of specific military operations. But what they're doing on the ground and the presence that they're building there, it seems as if they're making plans for a permanent – if not long-term – military base in Syria, which would suggest that President Assad is not going anywhere anytime soon.
MR KIRBY: Well, two parts to that. One, they have had a long-term military presence there in Syria.
QUESTION: Well, an expanded, more permanent one.
MR KIRBY: You're talking about expanded, and the purposes – we are seeing additional capabilities come in, which continues to give us concern about the ultimate goals here --
QUESTION: But the types of – right.
MR KIRBY: -- as well as the type of capabilities, you're right. They invite the types of capabilities – and I'm not going to get into a blow-by-blow of that from the podium – but the types of capabilities that we see continue to flow in certainly add question to the intent about – to the degree to which this is about ISIL and extremists or the degree to which that it's about continuing to prop up the Assad regime. So we continue to have serious concerns and questions about this, and again, I think you're going to continue to see those kinds of conversations continue.
QUESTION: Just one more: Do you have – know anything or are you in touch with the Russians on the attack or the shelling of their embassy today?
MR KIRBY: No, I don't have anything on that. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: So John, just one more on Syria.
QUESTION: So can I just follow up on that?
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: You just mentioned something. On the priority, on the latter priority, which is more – a more formidable enemy or someone that you want to sort of get rid of right away, ISIL or Assad? Which is – where should the target or the center of gravity should be?
MR KIRBY: The – from a military perspective, Said, our focus is on --
QUESTION: I mean from military and political.
MR KIRBY: Okay, well, let me work through this. From a military perspective, our focus is on ISIL. That's what the coalition that we are leading is designed and built to do, is to go after ISIL, to degrade and destroy them and their capabilities in Iraq and in Syria. And the military line of effort is only one, as you know and we've talked about that, against ISIL.
Now, one of the things we've always said is what the real way to sustain – to sustain a defeat of this ideology in a group like this is good governance. So we've also been trying to continue to pursue a political solution inside – to the larger conflict inside Syria – this gets at the Assad regime – a transition, a political transition in there to a government, as the Secretary said last week, that is responsive to the desperate needs of the Syrian people. If – we believe that a political transition towards a government like that could also be helpful in – obviously in the ultimate defeat of ISIL because it would lead to good governance and take away the breathing space that a group like ISIL has been allowed to have inside Syria because of Assad's brutality.
So militarily speaking, the United States and our coalition partners are aimed solely at ISIL. That hasn't changed. And the continued activity that you're going to see on the ground and in the air with partners that we have on the ground will continue against ISIL. Likewise, at the same time, it's just as important – and again, the Secretary talked about this over the weekend – it's just as important that we continue to engage countries like Russia, countries like Saudi Arabia, and others of our partners in the region to work towards a political transition in Syria to a responsive government.
QUESTION: I just want a quick follow-up on this. Now, your position all along has been that you want to maintain a semblance of state in Syria – maintaining the armed forces if possible, the security forces, the state institutions and so on. Is it conceivable to go into any kind of political transition without having regime elements being part and involved in this process?
MR KIRBY: Well, as the Secretary talked about again over the weekend, is that the guts of what this transition looks like is still something we need to work out. And I just – I couldn't answer that question right now. What we ultimately, though – what we want, and I'm not prophesizing anything about specific institutions inside Syria, but obviously, what we want is a Syria that's whole and pluralistic and secure and stable. And how you get there from where we are now, after what this guy's done to his own country, that's a tougher question. That's a tougher question to answer and the Secretary looks forward to continuing to work on that. And I think you're going to see him very engaged on this particular issue going forward into the UN General Assembly.
QUESTION: Have you seen any evidence of Russia changing its plans or cutting back on some of its either deliveries or planned operations as a result of the talks thus far?
MR KIRBY: I'm not privy to talk about intelligence matters, Brad. What I would just tell you is we, as I said to Elise's question, we continue to see capabilities flow in. We continue to see activity of a military context there, and again, I think it just makes the questions we've raised all the more serious now days later.
QUESTION: But since – given that you haven't – or maybe if – you're not pointing to anything you've seen in terms of them changing behavior as a result of the discussions, why do you put so much stock in these conversations that you're having outside of not crossing planes? Why does it matter that you're going to continue having these discussions if they're not asking for your permission and they don't by law or by any semblance of reason require your permission? Why are these conversations – why do they matter?
MR KIRBY: Again, the Secretary addressed this. It's important to try to gain as much understanding and clarity as possible and he believes the way to do that is through dialogue and conversation. I mean, the flipside of the argument is if you just turn a blind eye and ignore it and don't engage and don't confront diplomatically when you need to, then that is just --
QUESTION: Well, the flipside could also be actively trying to combat this or make it harder for them to do these things.
MR KIRBY: Well, there's --
QUESTION: There are many flipsides possible.
MR KIRBY: There's a lot of – there's a lot of things we still don't fully understand, and the Secretary wants to have a better understanding. And I think that's the approach he's been taking with Foreign Minister Lavrov.
QUESTION: Could the U.S. --
MR KIRBY: And I wouldn't – and the other thing is, let me just – I want to challenge one thing: "Why are you putting so much stock in it?" I wouldn't characterize it as putting so much stock in it. It is a way forward. It is how the Secretary wants to gain better clarity, which I think is the right approach and commendable.
QUESTION: So --
MR KIRBY: But it doesn't – hang on a second. But it doesn't mean that that's the end-all of it. So I mean, you have to take this step by step and as it comes, and that's what the Secretary's approach is. He's got a – he's very – very pragmatic approach to this. And as he said himself, he's not taking anything at face value.
QUESTION: All right. Is there a policy option that would involve the United States actively trying to disrupt this buildup, actively trying to prevent it, either by putting assets or by somehow mobilizing partners, countries to prevent this buildup of forces?
MR KIRBY: I won't get ahead of decisions that haven't been made. I can just tell you that the Secretary as well as the interagency remains laser focused on this issue and will continue to pursue options appropriately, but I won't get ahead.
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: John, have you --
QUESTION: So listen – may I? Sorry, Michel.
QUESTION: No problem.
QUESTION: So when you talk about – we've been talking about this political transition, and I know it's always been your position that Assad didn't need to go on day one but he needs to go ultimately and that would be part of the transition, but it does seem in kind of recent weeks or something that you're emphasizing the "not go on day one" part, and that does seem to be what Russia wants to see, as you do, a more kind of planned transition. When you say that he doesn't need to go on day one, I mean, how long do you foresee a political transition in which he'd be phased out?
MR KIRBY: I think the, again, the details of what the transition would look like is impossible to discern at this point, Elise. I mean, it is precisely that kind of question that the Secretary wants to answer. And that's why he's engaged diplomatically with Saudi Arabia and with Russia and with other partners in the region. It was a – obviously a key topic of conversation over the weekend with his British and German counterparts. I can't answer that – we can't answer that question right now.
QUESTION: So it does seem – it does seem as if the way that this is playing out, the kind of planned transition and the way the Russians are setting themselves up on the ground there, is more in terms of years than, like, in terms of months. I mean, it doesn't seem like Assad is being – it sounds like it's – when you talk transition, you're talking generational.
MR KIRBY: Again, I wouldn't speculate right now about how long this is going to take. I think the Secretary is keenly aware that it would – it's going to be a complicated process, that there's a lot of detail that still needs to be worked out, but the ultimate goal isn't going to change. And nobody's under the impression here at the State Department that a political transition in Syria, given the conditions on the ground, given Assad's brutality, is going to be an easy or quick fix – easy or quick solution. It is ultimately the solution; it's just how you get there. We just don't know. And I think everybody understands how hard this is going to be. But that doesn't make it a goal not worth striving for.
QUESTION: And why the U.S. has changed its position towards Assad? First, you were saying that he should go and he's not legal anymore. Now you're saying that he will part of the transition and he won't be leaving in day one or month one.
MR KIRBY: I think – again, the Secretary addressed this over the weekend. I haven't changed our position. Assad still – Assad doesn't have the legitimacy to run his country. We still want to see a transition to a government that's responsive to the Syrian people and away from Assad. Nothing's changed about that. And the Secretary's been consistent that how this transition – what it looks like, how long it takes, and what role the regime or other partners have in it – all things that we need to discuss and to determine. There's been no change in position.
QUESTION: I have two more on Syria, too. Have you started the conversation with Russia on military-military --
MR KIRBY: I'd point you to my colleagues at the Pentagon. I believe that they acknowledged a call between Secretary Carter and the minister of defense last week. But beyond that, I'd point you to my colleagues.
QUESTION: And one more, please. Former Ambassador Ryan Crocker has said today that the image of the U.S. cooperating with one of Assad's biggest backers – meaning Russia – would be the best recruiting tool to the jihadist – or that jihadists could imagine. Do you have any reaction to that?
MR KIRBY: I didn't see Ambassador Crocker's comments. I would just tell you that our relationship with Russia exists on many levels. Russia was very cooperative in achieving the Iran deal. There are issues where we agree and issues where we can work together, and obviously, there are issues of concern and disagreement, not to mention what's going on in Ukraine, which the Secretary hasn't clearly lost focus on.
So it's a complicated relationship. There are areas where we can cooperate; areas where, obviously, we have to express our differences.
QUESTION: Can I ask a question on --
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Samir.
QUESTION: Yes. The Secretary said that Assad departure will – should come as a result of the negotiations. Is this position came as a result from the talks with the Russians, or did the Secretary believe in this position from before?
MR KIRBY: He's – no, it's not something that resulted from recent discussions with Lavrov. What he said was we're prepared to negotiate. The question is, are – is Assad, and are the Russians, and are the Iranians? And those are, again, discussions that haven't been had yet.
QUESTION: So always he thought that Assad – Assad's departure should come as a result of negotiations?
MR KIRBY: There's been no change in the Secretary's position in terms of a transition away from Assad and how that has to happen. It has to happen – it's got to be a political transition, right? Political solution. You're not going to get at a political transition or solution without talk, without conversation, without dialogue, without negotiation.
QUESTION: Well, when he came here in February, 2013, I think it was his first kind of talk, was about changing Assad's calculus by supporting a more active and stronger opposition against him. And that's different from working with the Russians and the Iranians on some sort of transition strategy. Do you see --
MR KIRBY: Not necessarily.
QUESTION: Not necessarily?
MR KIRBY: No, Brad. It can be inclusive. It can be inclusive of also working to strengthen and bolster the opposition. I've said many times, and certainly since Doha, that one of the things that Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States have already discussed is: How do you continue to work with the opposition? How do you bolster them in their position? How do you help unify them? All of that's a part of this discussion. I mean – don't – but --
QUESTION: Right, but --
QUESTION: Two and a half years later, the opposition's a lot weaker than it was even when he first came in. So that --
QUESTION: And it was about changing his calculus – it was about changing the battlefield situation on the ground so then in turn that would change his calculus, that he had to go. So now you have the Russians – are changing his calculus; they are changing the battlefield situation, because they're expanding their military presence on the ground. So that does change his calculus, just in the opposite direction.
MR KIRBY: Well, the worry, the concern, the reason why we want to continue to have these conversations is because of the potential for this activity to be designed more about propping up Assad than about going after extremists.
But back to your point that you – we want to change his calculus is still true. There's many ways to do that, and nobody's lost sight of the need to continue to work with and for a moderate opposition that could work towards helping bring about this political transition. So just that – just the fact that we're talking with the Russians and the Saudis about this doesn't mean that we've given up any desire to continue to work with and for a moderate opposition.
QUESTION: Just with respect – on Syria?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. First of all, is still the level of communication and your relationship with the opposition is the same, or it's changed? Syrian opposition, I mean.
MR KIRBY: We continue to engage the Syrian opposition on many levels. One of the challenges is that it's not a homogenous organization and not all of them have the same exact goals.
QUESTION: Are there – are they – are – they are part of this process that you are taking place – is taking place --
MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, coming out of Doha, one of the things that the Secretary wanted to see was a way to move forward in such a way that the opposition could be a part of this process.
QUESTION: And the last one. You are mentioning Russia and Saudi Arabia are part of this process. Do you see any – foresee any role for Iran or Turkey to play in this process?
MR KIRBY: Both the President and the Secretary have talked about the fact that at some point, Iran would have to be a part of this. And I – we're just not there yet, but I think he's acknowledged – he acknowledged it again over the weekend, that Iran would have to be a part of the process. And if there's room for that and – then he's willing to work towards that and consider it.
Turkey obviously is an important partner in this effort, and I won't speculate about every country that may or may not be part of this. There are probably – there are many other countries in the region that obviously have a voice and a concern, and Turkey is certainly prime among them. But exactly how it would flesh out in the discussion phases and who'd be at what table at what point I couldn't say right now. But obviously, we continue to talk to the Turkish Government about their concerns inside Syria and with Assad, and we take those concerns seriously.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: With the increase expected over the next couple of fiscal years, presumably we'll see a significant increase in Syrians coming to the U.S. Will the increase also be reflected among other nations, especially with Iraqis, for example, or Afghans who have also been making their way into Europe?
MR KIRBY: I don't think we have a firm answer on that right now. Overall, the topline number will go up in '16 and then up again in '17. How it's apportioned out – as you know, we do this by region, not necessarily by country, with the exception, obviously, that President Obama said at least 10,000 next year from Syria. Typically, though, it's done by region, and it's also done by need. So it's difficult right now here in September of '15 to tell you exactly how many from any one country will come in under the higher-level numbers next year. We are going to, as we try to, prioritize those who are most in need, coming from those areas where obviously the persecution and the violence and the deprivation are the worst. But I couldn't begin to tell you right now exactly how many from each country or even each region right now.
QUESTION: How would you rank those needs? What would come first, what would come second? ISIS versus – you don't know?
MR KIRBY: Again, it's hard for me to predict that now. You're asking me to predict what are the highest needs going to be next year and the year after that. Obviously, our focus right now – clearly – is on refugees that are coming out of the conflict in Syria, and Iraq too. Many of these European refugees are from Iraq as well; most from Syria. So that's clearly the focus right now, which is why the President said at least 10,000 from Syria next year. And we're going to – and that's at least. That's not a – that's a floor, not a ceiling. It very well likely could go higher than that. That's our focus right now and that's why the Secretary met with refugees from Syria when he was in Berlin yesterday: to get a sense of their perspective.
So clearly, we're very much focused on this particular refugee crisis now. Another reason why my colleague at the White House announced another – more than $400 million to the contributions we've already made to that – to refugees, humanitarian issues in that particular crisis.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: John, under what condition will you accept aspiration of the Syrian Kurds for the self-autonomous regions – within Syria, not a separation?
MR KIRBY: We – I just said it a little bit ago, that what – we believe in a whole Syria whose sovereignty is continually maintained and established, and there's been no change in that position.
QUESTION: But that's also part of the Syria. The aspiration is not to separate from Syria. The aspiration is just to have the self-governance within Syria's border.
MR KIRBY: Our position on the – our position on sovereignty of Syria has not changed and will not change.
QUESTION: So that's part of the governors – on – one more on Syria. Have you seen the reports on the PYD's accusation of the Syrian man refugee who was – that he was being tripped by this Hungarian camerawoman and Osama Abdul Mohsen that he has ties with – he had – he previously had ties with the al-Nusrah Front. So the guy, he's now in Spain. He was received by Real Madrid team. So PYD, they had some proofs and they accused him of being part of – a member of al-Nusrah Front.
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: You haven't seen any report of that.
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: Just your colleagues at the Pentagon said that the Syrian Kurds are now part of the train and equip program. Is this something new? And what has made you upgrade your assistance to the Kurds?
MR KIRBY: I'd point you to my colleagues at the Pentagon to speak to their train and equip program. That's for them to speak to, not for me.
QUESTION: Isn't that a State Department question, that you've upgraded – it seems that you've upgraded your support for the Syrian Kurds.
MR KIRBY: We – again, I'm not going to speak for a Pentagon program and decisions that they've made in terms of assistance. You know very well that we have continued to supply support primarily through airstrikes on some fighters inside Syria against ISIL – and they're not all Kurds, by the way. Those who have proven effective partners on the ground and are taking the fight to ISIL, when and where we can we have supported with airstrikes. But as for the train and equip program, that is a DOD equity and I'm going to point you to them.
QUESTION: John, back to the refugee question real quick. I'm wondering if there's any – and based on what the Secretary announced the other day, is there any plans to increase the number of LGBT refugees that are allowed to resettle in the United States?
MR KIRBY: I'm not aware of anything specific like that. I mean, as you know, these are – it's done by region --
MR KIRBY: And obviously, our – as you know, our stance on the persecution of people who are or who are alleged to be LGBT hasn't changed. We obviously continue to support all human rights in that regard. But I'm not – but there's no – it's not broken down by that. It's broken down by region and by need and it changes from year to year. Obviously, the focus right now is Iraq and Syria. I don't know what it's going to look like next year or the year after that.
QUESTION: Let me make sure on this point. The refugees, they're not broken down – just to follow what you said – according to religion or sect or minorities or – there are no quotas, in other words, on how many refugees from each community can apply.
MR KIRBY: It's by region, Said, and by need. And we try to --
QUESTION: I'm talking about Syrian refugees.
MR KIRBY: I understand.
MR KIRBY: We try to be flexible, obviously, based on what's going on on the ground anywhere around the world. But no, we don't break it out by religion or gender. It's about who needs the help the most and coming from what situation.
And that's – that will continue.
QUESTION: John, really – on that.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: You said the Secretary is very focused on this and there's just a need to support the opposition. Were there any Syrian opposition figures in the group that he met yesterday from Syria, or were these just --
MR KIRBY: No, no.
QUESTION: Do you know off the top of your head even roughly when the last time the Secretary either met with or spoke with someone who is – would be considered a leader of the moderate Syrian opposition?
MR KIRBY: I'll have to get back to you, Matt.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: United Nations today has said that the YPG in Syria had looted and destroyed some certain areas in the country. Do you have anything about their reports, findings, or as the USA, are you worried about YPG's activities in that region?
MR KIRBY: I don't have anything specific on what you're pointing to here. But obviously, we take seriously any concerns, be it humanitarian rights or just wanton destruction of facilities, infrastructure that's not in keeping with the overall effort against ISIL. I just haven't seen this, so I really can't comment specifically on it.
QUESTION: Have you conveyed – have you conveyed your concern or inconvenience specifically to the YPG?
MR KIRBY: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: Have you conveyed your concerns or inconvenience to the YPG about that?
MR KIRBY: Again, I haven't seen this report, so I'm not aware that anything specific has been conveyed. How – that's on this. That said, we have – we make our concerns widely and clearly known privately and publicly about how we expect people to behave themselves when it comes to human rights and the prosecution of efforts against ISIL.
MR KIRBY: Yes. Yes, you've had your hand up. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Topic of – about Futenma relocation issues.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Today the Okinawa Governor Onaga has made a speech at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva today. That speech is – was the opportunity for governor to (inaudible) to the crisis in Okinawa where local human rights is – have been violated by the presence of the U.S. military base and oppressive treatment by the U.S. Government and the Japanese Government. And then also the governor asked the international community to support Okinawa as it try to correct it and observe situation in which Japan and U.S. leader has trying to force through a new military base despite intense public oppositions. How do – does the U.S. Government think about the Onaga speech in the UN?
MR KIRBY: I didn't see the governor's speech, but I can tell you that we continue to express our sincere gratitude to Okinawa for its vital contributions to the U.S.-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of peace and stability in Asia. Our troop presence in Okinawa is fundamental to those treaty commitments to the defense of Japan. We continue to embrace a commitment to maintain good relations with local communities on Okinawa and we continue to be cognizant of the impact of our military presence.
I would say, look, as a former military officer myself, I mean, the military takes its local obligations seriously everywhere it is no matter where – overseas or here domestically. We know that our presence is inside some other community and we take our obligations to the community very seriously, and that is no less true there on Okinawa.
Recent measures to lessen our impact on Okinawa include the relocation of KC-130s from Futenma to Iwakuni and the return of the West Futenma Housing Area. The U.S. and Japanese governments remain committed to the realignment of U.S. forces on Okinawa, including by upgrading the existing base at Camp Schwab with the Futenma Replacement Facility. The United States and Japan agree as well that the FRF, the Futenma Replacement Facility, is the only solution that addresses operational, political, financial, and strategic concerns, and avoids the continued use of the Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma.
QUESTION: But still --
MR KIRBY: I have time for just a couple more.
MR KIRBY: What? I'm sorry? Go ahead. China? Go ahead.
QUESTION: There have been reports that the U.S. is discussing a agreement with China on cyber space. Can you confirm this?
MR KIRBY: You're talking about in terms of the – President Xi's visit? I won't get ahead of the agenda of the visit, but obviously, as I said before, I can assure you that cyber security will be among the topics discussed, as it always is with China. There are lots of things that we need to continue to try to improve in terms of our cooperation in the cyber realm.
MR KIRBY: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: I have a couple of questions on the YPG issue. As you know, the Turkish Government is considering the YPG as a terrorist organization, but right now the U.S. Government ramp up the support for the YPG. How do you manage this cooperation with ISIL – with the anti – in terms of the anti-ISIL coalition with Turkey while there is a fundamental difference between the two?
MR KIRBY: Tolga, we've talked about this a lot. We don't consider the YPG a terrorist organization, and they have proven successful against ISIL inside Syria. And as I said, we're going to continue to work with counter-ISIL fighters who are and can be successful against this group, and they're not all Kurds. They are not all Kurds. We understand that the Turkish Government has concerns about the YPG. We continue to talk to them and engage them. We continue to be appreciative of the support that Turkey is making to the coalition and to direct kinetic activity against ISIL.
That's what a coalition of the willing is all about. You come together for a common goal; you don't have to agree on every issue; and you bring to the fight what you can, where you can, and when you can. And that's how we're managing this very important struggle.
I'll take the last one; it's Pam. Sorry, Brad. I'll --
QUESTION: Is the U.S. considering a shift in its position regarding Cuba at the United Nations? In particular, what will be the U.S. response to a resolution of condemnation against the U.S. trade embargo? And then I have quick second question also.
MR KIRBY: As we do with all resolutions, Pam, we're going to carefully review the proposed resolution once it has been tabled. It would be inappropriate for me to prejudge this resolution before it's been tabled.
QUESTION: But --
MR KIRBY: Go ahead. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Do you --
MR KIRBY: I mean, I had more, but that's fine. We'll --
QUESTION: Finish, please. Please, sorry.
MR KIRBY: Are you sure?
QUESTION: As you were.
QUESTION: Yeah. No, I'm sorry.
MR KIRBY: As you were – very military term. The Government of Cuba has annually presented a resolution in the UN General Assembly condemning the embargo against Cuba. Last December, President Obama announced that the United States would begin to normalize our relationship, launch negotiations that led to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, and called for Congress to take steps to lift the embargo on Cuba. And as the President has said, American engagement is the best way to advance our interests and support for a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Cuba.
QUESTION: Well, but given the fact that you just said that, and given the fact that the President said publicly that he thinks the embargo should be lifted, why is it a no-brainer to – that he's going to actively try to overturn the embargo – why is it a no-brainer to support a resolution that calls for an end to the embargo and criticizes the embargo?
MR KIRBY: I think you mean why isn't it a no-brainer, and I'm just not going to prejudge --
QUESTION: Why isn't it a no-brainer? Did I say why is it?
MR KIRBY: No, it's fine. I was correcting your English.
QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Look, I'm not – which is highly --
QUESTION: Without spell and grammar check, I'm nobody. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: -- which is highly – again, I think it would – it's inappropriate for me to prejudge this resolution before it's --
QUESTION: But I mean, just the premise of it is what you've been saying at this podium and the President has said for months.
MR KIRBY: I'm not going to prejudge a resolution that hasn't – before it's been tabled. Obviously, we want to restore and normalize – we've restored; we want to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, and the President and Secretary Kerry have been very open and honest about the fact that they want to see the embargo lifted. And in fact, you saw just last week – I think Friday – where more restrictions were lifted by the Administration. But I'm not going to get ahead of this resolution before it's been tabled.
QUESTION: Can I --
MR KIRBY: Listen, I've got to go.
QUESTION: Can I just ask: Does the – is the Administration concerned at all, or is it – would it be comfortable with taking a position at the UN that is directly contradictory to U.S. law that's sitting on the books right now?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, Matt, I'm not going to get ahead of a resolution that's been --
QUESTION: Not – just --
MR KIRBY: -- tabled.
QUESTION: No, no, the part – not – if any – would – take it away from the Cuba embargo. The Administration, does it think that – is it concerned at all about either not opposing or supporting resolutions at the UN that are critical of U.S. policy?
MR KIRBY: Say it again.
QUESTION: Is the Administration – does the Administration have any qualms about voting either in favor of or abstaining at the UN from a resolution that would be critical or that is critical of U.S. law?
MR KIRBY: I don't think we've ever been bashful about – obviously, we have to obey the law. But that's why you have hearings every year to talk about what you want legislated versus what members of Congress want legislated, and there's frequently disagreements over what should be or should not be legislated. Now, I'm not going to get ahead of this resolution that hasn't been tabled, but we've been very clear and the Secretary has been very clear about wanting to lift the embargo, which is law, and we recognize that, and you can't disobey the law. But it doesn't mean that you can't take a position that you want the law changed, and --
QUESTION: At the UN?
MR KIRBY: Well, I'm not going to – again, I'm not going to get into the specifics of how that position may be taken, but the Secretary has been very clear that he would like to see the embargo lifted.
Guys, I've got to go. Thanks, I've got to go.
QUESTION: I want to take up the hostages. You don't have anything to say about the two Americans who were released from Yemen and what role the U.S. may have played in that?
MR KIRBY: You saw the Secretary's statement. We're grateful for the Government of Oman, who helped in this release, as well as our interagency partners, our embassy teams in Oman and in Yemen. We're glad to see that these two individuals are on their way home and will be reunited with their families.
QUESTION: And you haven't named the two individuals? You're not confirming their names, is that correct?
MR KIRBY: I'm not in a position to do that.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:59 p.m.)
DPB # 160
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|