Daily Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
November 6, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing
MIDDLE EAST PEACE
2:29 p.m. EST
MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Friday to you. I know I'm a little bit late, and I apologize for that today.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) happy hour.
MR KIRBY: I did not know that we needed to get you out before the street lights came on, so we'll try to move through this briskly so that you can meet your curfew. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I'm not sure I would call it curfew, but that's all right.
MR KIRBY: I don't think that I would call it either. I was trying to be polite for the viewing public. I don't have any opening statements today. So we'll just go ahead and get right to your questions.
QUESTION: Can I start with Keystone? And this is not really about the merits of the case, the argument, the application either way, but about the process, about the transparency of the process. Earlier this week, you will recall that you spoke about the letter of response that was written to TransCanada.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: This was on Wednesday. You said, "We have communicated our decision to continue our review, and we have communicated that to TransCanada in writing today." And then after a long back and forth, we got – you got – with me about how it looked, how it appeared that TransCanada got word that the recommendation was going to be or that the determination was going to be no, they tried to pause it to prevent that from happening, and you guys went ahead because you were determined to say no anyway. And you replied to me, "I won't get ahead of decisions or determinations that haven't yet been made. It's clearly premature to get ahead of any determination. The process is not over yet. It continues." Okay, that was all on Wednesday, which was November 4th.
At the bottom of the 32 pages of the National Interest Determination that is signed by Secretary Kerry, it's dated November 3rd, 2015, a full day before you said that the review was continuing and you said that you had told TransCanada that the review was not over, that it was still continuing. And I'm not accusing – I don't want to make it seem as if I'm accusing you of anything, but you or anyone within the Administration would have said the same thing at the same time because you're all speaking from the same talking points. Can you explain why this determination by Secretary is signed Tuesday, November 3rd, and on November 4th the Administration was telling TransCanada that the review was not finished and telling the American public, through us, that the review was also not finished?
MR KIRBY: Because it wasn't, Matt. I mean, there – also on, I think, Tuesday of this week, the Record of Determination was sent out to interagency partners for their review, and that's a required part of the process. Something like eight agencies had to take a look at this to make sure that – in fact, I can get it for you here – to make sure that they had a chance to provide their input before we could reach the final decision. And so on Tuesday of this week, that process just began. And those agencies include DOD, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security, and the EPA. So there was still review work going on by the U.S. Government right up until this morning.
QUESTION: All right. It seems a bit disingenuous to me when the Secretary has signed something on November 3rd that says that he – "I, hereby, determine that issuance of the permit would not serve the national interest," and you claim that the review is still going on suggesting --
MR KIRBY: It was.
QUESTION: Well --
MR KIRBY: It was going on.
QUESTION: And you're – so you're saying that on – that it was on Tuesday that this was sent around –
MR KIRBY: There was a review process ongoing. Yes, sir. Now, did the State Department complete its part of it by then? Yes. But the review process was ongoing.
QUESTION: Was the letter to TransCanada – it was addressed to Secretary Kerry, meaning the State Department, okay. And I – I don't know. I just – it goes to a certain – I think it goes to or I suspect it goes to the fact that you guys didn't want to say the review – the Secretary's review was over when it was over, and I don't know why that is.
MR KIRBY: The Secretary clearly had, by that date, made his determination, but it's not finished. It's not final. The review process isn't over – review process isn't over until these other agencies had a chance to review it and, if they had had any objections, to voice those objections and then to raise the level of discussion, which could have happened, could have very well occurred. It didn't. So the review process was ongoing when we talked about this.
QUESTION: So you're saying that the Secretary gave them three days to read his determination?
MR KIRBY: No, sir, that's not what I'm saying at all. The process is that you have 15 days. But all these eight agencies were able to come back with their views and opinions in pretty quick order. They did that on their own and did that in such a way that the President was able to announce his support for the Secretary's determination today.
QUESTION: All right. You don't see anything at all disingenuous about the idea of insisting and even telling TransCanada that it wasn't over when, in fact, the Secretary had actually signed off on the determination?
MR KIRBY: Because it's not over until the interagency review process is complete.
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: Okay. Turkey. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. I thought somebody else was going. It has been about one week since the Turkey election conducted. Do you see after a week of reports and all that the elections were held fair, free, and transparent manner?
MR KIRBY: Well, as I – we've already spoken about the results of the elections, and I believe there's international monitoring organizations that are still looking into this. We understand that OSCE is going to issue a comprehensive final report on the election in coming weeks, and I'll note for you that OSCE released a statement of preliminary findings highlighting that the elections offered voters a variety of choices but that restrictions on media freedom remain a serious concern. So I'm not in a position now, neither is the State Department, to further that until we get a look at what OSCE has to say in the coming weeks. And when that happens, then we'll have that discussion.
QUESTION: There are many respectable Turkey experts in this city and around the world think that the – since the elections crackdowns on the press, free press increasing, even some of the private businesses or groups, as of yet today and through the week have been raided. Do you think these elections, as many fear, may be taken by the government today's – Turkey's government as green light to diverge from democratic life going forward?
MR KIRBY: Let me make sure I understand your question. That the results of the election somehow --
QUESTION: Which is giving a majority to this government and can basically do pretty much anything, this would give permission to government to further crackdowns on the press freedom and the opposition.
MR KIRBY: No, I would say we certainly hope not. I mean, we've been very clear about what we look to other governments to do in terms of press freedom and judicial process. And from this very podium I've spoken at length about what our expectations are for Turkish authorities with respect to that. We continue to be concerned about what appears to be a troubling pattern of targeting media outlets and other organizations that are critical of the government. That's not in keeping with democratic principles, certainly not in keeping with Turkey's own democratic principles. So the short answer is absolutely not. We wouldn't expect that from any government, nor would we want to see that in this case.
QUESTION: Another question on Turkey?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: I got one more. So you have been stating these concerns and statements for a long time, indeed you have been doing that. At the same time, whatever the government, Turkish Government, has been doing so far, cracking down on the, again, free press, arresting and detaining journalists, even the wife's journalist that you mentioned here a couple months ago is still in jail, in Turkish jails. So the question many people are asking whether your concerns and statements mean anything, or do you take any kind of policy difference when you are conducting your relations with Turkey?
MR KIRBY: Do we do what? Differences?
QUESTION: Do you make any kind of policy changes when it comes to relations with Turkey because of these human rights issues?
MR KIRBY: When it comes to our strident support for human rights and freedom of the press and proper judicial processes, no. And you've been in many of these briefings and you know very well that we speak to these things equally across the board. In whatever country in the world I'm asked about when we're talking about media freedoms, our policies have not and will not change with respect to basic human rights. And we're very candid and we're very open about that right here from the podium in a very public setting as well as in private discussions that we have diplomatically around the world. We always raise these concerns, and we always will raise these concerns.
Look, Turkey is an ally and a partner. Turkey is contributing in this coalition against ISIL. They've – they're hosting a couple of million refugees from Syria inside their borders. They've got a serious terrorist threat that they're dealing with. There's a lot going on. Turkey's a – but as I said, Turkey's an ally and a partner, and we want to see Turkey succeed. It's in our interest as well as in the interest of the Turkish people, and we want to see Turkey live up to its own democratic principles.
And so does it trouble us when we see some of these reports? Absolutely it does. And do we express that privately and publicly? Absolutely we do, and we will continue because we want to see Turkey succeed. We want to see the Turkish people succeed and to – and for the whole country to be able to not just espouse, but to live up to these democratic values.
QUESTION: Do you see any kind of sign that Turkey is going to or has changed any kind of its policies regarding its free press and its approach to the – approach to the opposition within Turkey after you have been expressing privately and publicly your concerns to them?
MR KIRBY: Well, obviously we're still seeing incidents that are of concern to us. I would – you'd have to talk to Turkish authorities about what policies they're espousing, continuing to espouse, or will espouse in the future. That's for them to talk to. But as I've said here many, many times too, we don't just judge another nation's intent by their words but by their actions, and these recent actions certainly give us pause for concern – cause for concern. And again, we're going to continue to raise that.
QUESTION: Another question, separate question. USA Today reported last weekend that Imam Fethullah Gulen's movement had secretly funded as many as 200 trips to Turkey for members of Congress and staff since 2008. According to House Office of Congressional Ethics, Istanbul-based Gulen-linked organization BAKIAD had secretly funded at least one of those trips. What is the State Department's assessment regarding these allegations?
MR KIRBY: I'll have to take your question there, sir. I've not seen any of those reports and I have nothing – no information on that.
QUESTION: Could you take the question?
MR KIRBY: I just said I would, yeah.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Keystone for a second?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Its process. When did the agencies provide their assessment of the determination that the Secretary had made on Tuesday?
MR KIRBY: It – over the course of about two days, all their input came in. I don't have a tick-tock on each of the eight and when they came in, but I can tell you that it happened in relatively short order. It's my understanding that in – and I don't know how many, but in some cases, some leaders of certain agencies had already made up their minds, and so it was a relatively easy thing for them. But I don't have the tick-tock on who came in when, but it was basically between Tuesday and Thursday all the inputs came in, and that allowed for – again, for today's announcement.
QUESTION: And did any of them object to the determination?
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: And I should understand this after all these years, but I don't: What is the role of the President in the determination? Has he delegated authority to the Secretary to make it, or is it statutorily that it is the Secretary's determination? And therefore, is it conceivable that the Secretary could have decided one way and the President might disagree, but tough, it's the Secretary's prerogative?
MR KIRBY: Well, let me read this to you. This is specifically – it's a fair question and I know it's been a matter of a little bit of confusion. Executive Order 13337 delegates the permitting authority for pipelines, like Keystone XL, to the Secretary of State. After carefully reviewing the State Department's analysis of TransCanada's application, Secretary Kerry determined that permitting the pipeline does not serve the national interest of the United States. The Secretary informed the President of that determination today, of that decision today, and the President obviously has expressed his support.
So it is the Secretary's determination that obviously he is obligated to share with the President of the United States, and today the President voiced his support for it.
QUESTION: When you had said that some of the agency heads had already made up their minds, you meant – you mean before the Secretary even sent them his determination?
MR KIRBY: No, I mean that they had – that they – that it was not a difficult decision for them to reach.
QUESTION: Right, so before they had gotten --
MR KIRBY: Well, all I know is that in certain cases, that this was --
QUESTION: So in fact, the review process was pretty much over?
MR KIRBY: No.
MR KIRBY: No, it wasn't.
QUESTION: Let me just – I don't want to split hairs, but you – and I don't want to parse your words, and again, they're not just your words; they would have been the words of anyone who was up there. "When it's over and when he's made his determination, then we can talk about that." That was a day after the Secretary had signed this thing.
MR KIRBY: Matt, I think I've covered it. The review process wasn't over until all the agencies had come in. They came in yesterday. That allowed for the announcement today.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any announcement regarding Vienna II, where and when?
MR KIRBY: I do not.
QUESTION: Nothing on this?
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: Go ahead, Justin.
QUESTION: No, no, I was going to go somewhere completely different, so I want you to --
QUESTION: Okay. I'm done with this. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I was going to go to a story that's out today in a subject we haven't been on in a while, which is Hillary Clinton's emails.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: And there's a story out in Politico today that talks about two of the more controversial emails which were never fully described other than the intelligence community assessed that they were top secret in nature. These are – this came before this FBI investigation. These were two of the higher-profile emails. Now apparently according to this Politico report, the DNI is saying they no longer conclude that those emails were top secret. And this is, of course, what the State Department had been arguing all along, and been part of that disagreement.
So I'm just wondering if you have any reaction – a) can you confirm that this is, in fact, their assessment and that the emails have now been deemed, for the record, as something other than top secret?
MR KIRBY: No, I've seen this same story you're talking about, Justin, and I'm not in a position to confirm the veracity of this anonymous official who – and a quote in there. So – and as far as I know, we've received no final decisions by the intelligence community with respect to these two emails. What hasn't changed is our view – and I've said this before – that we don't believe that they should be classified at that level, and that – and we've, again, made our case pretty strongly about both of them. But as far as we know here at the State Department, there's been no final decision made by the intel community on that.
QUESTION: Which is why – that's why I don't get it, because you – it was a big disagreement. So if you don't mind taking the question for me --
MR KIRBY: Take what question?
QUESTION: What is the final determination about these two emails?
MR KIRBY: You'd have to consult the intelligence community about that. We've already made our assessment of those emails. And we've determined that they aren't and don't need to be and shouldn't be.
QUESTION: Who makes – who is the final arbiter of this classification?
MR KIRBY: Well, as we've talked about before, many of these emails have other agency equities involved.
MR KIRBY: Including these two. And so that's why – and that's why some of the emails --
QUESTION: But the State Department – yeah, but the State --
MR KIRBY: -- take longer to get out, to make public than others because there's an interagency review process.
QUESTION: Right, but the State Department --
MR KIRBY: These – the classification on these two has been disputed. We've made our assessment and made it known publicly, as well as to the intelligence community. The IG had a different view, and so wanted it looked at by the intelligence community. And obviously, we support that process. As far as we know, that process is ongoing.
QUESTION: All right. So these emails are being – are going to be reviewed for public release by the State Department, and ultimately you'll – the State Department, in coordination with the agencies, will have to make the determination, the classification on where they stand, so that you can redact them properly. I'm just curious where that'll – where that'll lie with these two emails. You'll have to do that; you'll have to make that determination, which is why I'm asking you. So --
MR KIRBY: Let's see – let us see what the intelligence community comes back with. And then we can move forward.
QUESTION: Hey, can I follow up on that? There's just – the question is – it interests me, and I think it's been raised before, and I don't think we've had an answer as to who is the final arbiter?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, we've talked about this issue quite a bit. And the short answer is it depends. There are – it depends on the level of classification and the level of sensitivity of the information as well as the insularity of some of the information. Sometimes an organization itself can make classification determinations. But there are other times when information crosscuts the boundaries between agencies. And then you need more of a consensus view. I don't know that in every case, or in any case, quite frankly, there's one institution that gets to make the final call. Typically in matters of dispute it's something that's sort of discussed between the agencies for a consensus view. It's not cut and dry like that.
Oftentimes, though, in normal – with normal information, an agency, if the information doesn't involve the equities of others, an agency can make this determination.
QUESTION: And one last thing on this. There is something called the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, which provides the public and users of the classification system with a forum for further review of classification decisions. Are they the ultimate arbiter in a case where there's a dispute, or can you check that? I get – I totally get that there may be different circumstances given the nature of the information and so on, and therefore in some cases, it might be an agency itself that can make the determination and in others, there are other equities that need to be considered. But it would be interesting to know if there is kind of a "buck stops here" place and if that's it.
MR KIRBY: I'd have to check, yeah, Arshad.
QUESTION: Would you check?
MR KIRBY: I don't have the history on this particular group and what role, if any, they would play in this particular – these particular cases on these two emails. I just don't know.
QUESTION: Could you check? I mean, it's just --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: It'd be useful to understand where the buck ultimately stops on these kinds of matters, and if there is --
MR KIRBY: Well, we'll see if we can get you an answer on the role of that mechanism.
MR KIRBY: I don't know that we'll know at this point whether that mechanism will need to be used in terms of these other two emails, because as far as we know, they're still being reviewed by the intel community, so there may be no need to raise it to that level. And even if there is a continued dispute over it, I don't know that it would have to go to this arbitration vehicle that you found there. So we'll get you some context on it.
QUESTION: Great, thanks.
QUESTION: Can you check on (inaudible)?
QUESTION: And in this particular case, the two emails that may have been top secret, if Politico is right and the DNI no longer thinks that, is that – the dispute over for those two, for example?
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, hypothetically – and I hate to get into hypotheticals – but if – we've long maintained that they don't need to be --
QUESTION: You've long said that they're not secret.
MR KIRBY: -- and if the intel community were to come back and see it our way, then yeah, I think that would end it, sure. But I don't know that that's where things are and I don't want to get ahead of that process.
QUESTION: Do you think it would end the FBI review of this issue of email or is that totally separate, as you understand it?
MR KIRBY: I won't speak for the FBI.
QUESTION: You sure?
MR KIRBY: I'm pretty sure I'm not going to speak for the FBI, yeah.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I'm very sure I'm not going to do that.
MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. Go ahead, Nick.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria for a minute?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Is it true that Syria and the logistics for the upcoming conference were the topics of another conversation between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov today?
MR KIRBY: Can I – are you asking about the phone call today?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, they did – they did speak today briefly, and it was as the discussion was yesterday – I think it was yesterday – was largely logistical in purpose, to continue to discuss what the next round of meetings will look like.
QUESTION: On Syria too, Turkish – Turkish foreign minister had threatened yesterday that Turkey will launch an attack on ISIL in Syria in the upcoming – in the next few days. Are you aware of this and are you coordinating with the Turkish authorities such --
MR KIRBY: No, I'm not aware of it. And are we coordinating with Turkish authorities on attacks against ISIL?
QUESTION: ISIL, yeah.
MR KIRBY: I don't – I don't have anything for you on that. I don't want to talk about military operations at all, if I can avoid it, and I'm certainly not going to talk about the potential future military operations of another nation's military. So I just don't have anything.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, you may have been asked about this, but still no decision on when and where the next meeting will be on Syria?
MR KIRBY: I think that – I think that – again, one of the reasons why Secretary Kerry has had now a couple of conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov this week is to sort of get at some of the logistical details for another meeting. There will be one – as the Secretary said in Vienna last week, that it would be in the next two weeks. So obviously, I think you can expect that there'll be another multilateral meeting very soon. But exactly when, where, on – and who's going to be at the table, I think they're all still working through those details. But yes, there will be another multilateral meeting in the very near future.
QUESTION: On Nepal?
QUESTION: Very near future?
MR KIRBY: Huh? Very near future, very near future.
QUESTION: And will the opposition participate in the --
MR KIRBY: I don't have any more details in terms of participation.
QUESTION: On Nepal itself, what do you make out of – what's your assessment about the situation in Nepal, especially the human rights situation? On Nepal.
MR KIRBY: On Nepal?
MR KIRBY: I don't have anything new to say on Nepal. I mean, we've talked about --
QUESTION: Not this week.
MR KIRBY: What's that?
QUESTION: Not this week. Earlier, we had spoken, but there has been fresh violence in Nepal. Has the State Department taken up the issues with the Nepalese Government about the violence in Nepal?
MR KIRBY: We have – as I said before, we've continued to urge Nepal's leaders to reach an accommodation that builds the broadest possible support for the constitution. We continue to engage them and will do so.
QUESTION: At what level is the engagement --
MR KIRBY: I don't have the details of who's calling whom or who's in what meeting, but, I mean, we obviously are engaged directly with Nepal's leaders and we'll continue to do that.
QUESTION: And there's another country in South Asia, Maldives – day before yesterday you issued – it's quite a strong statement on the imposition of emergency in the Maldives. That hasn't been lifted, there's more people who have been arrested. What do you have to say about the situation there?
MR KIRBY: I would just say what I said in a statement earlier, that we are deeply concerned with recent events there in the Maldives, including the announcement of a state of emergency that curtails the vital civil liberties, human rights, and fundamental freedoms. We're concerned by reports of continued politically motivated arrests and call on the Government of Maldives to afford all its citizens due process. We again urge the government there to take steps to restore confidence in its democracy and judicial independence.
QUESTION: But they haven't done – taken any of these steps.
MR KIRBY: Is that a question?
QUESTION: Yeah, so what do you have to say? They haven't --
MR KIRBY: I would simply restate what we said before. I mean, we've made our position very, very – I know you wanted the next question. You don't – it's okay. You don't need to jump up out of the chair there.
The – we've – we continue to make our case and will continue to do so.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: I mean, I think where we've been on this issue has been very, very clear and very consistently so. That's not going to change.
QUESTION: And one quickly on Pakistan issue itself, what we discussed this week – you said you were in talks in Pakistani Government on the media ban on covering --
MR KIRBY: We continue those discussions.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: The U.S. embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia has already expressed deep concern about the latest developments around the biggest independent television station, Rustavi 2, where the local court dismissed current management and placed new managers. Also, this morning Freedom House said that this decision undermines democracy in Georgia, so I was wondering if you could give me your reaction on that, please.
MR KIRBY: The United States is deeply concerned about the Rustavi 2 case and its implications for media freedom, political pluralism, and judicial independence in Georgia. Attempts to change the management of the station in advance of the appeal process will have profound political implications. In a democratic society, critical opinion should be encouraged, not silence. As we have said many times throughout this case, freedom of media, political pluralism, and independence of the judiciary are essential foundations of any democracy and remain critical to Georgia's successful Euro-Atlantic integration.
QUESTION: Secretary – I'm sorry.
MR KIRBY: We emphasized this during the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission plenary session on Monday, and our embassy in Tbilisi has delivered this message both privately and publicly. And I would refer you to Ambassador Kelly's statement as well as our joint statement with the European Union delegation that was issued earlier.
QUESTION: Yeah, let me just follow up. Secretary Blinken said couple of days ago that freedom of the media and independent judiciary remains critical to Georgia's successful Euro-Atlantic integration. Does it mean that recent developments can undermine visa liberalization or general integration process?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think I would leave it where the deputy secretary left it and where I just left it myself. I mean, I don't want to hypothesize about potential outcomes here. We've made clear what we want to see happen here, and obviously, we continue to emphasize the positive outcomes we want to see with Georgia's leaders. But I'm not going to speculate about if they don't – or if it doesn't happen, what that's going to mean going forward. I think we want to focus on getting the situation better now.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: John, was the Secretary aware before yesterday late afternoon or early evening that the White House has decided that the window has closed on the chances for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement during the President's – rest of the President's term?
MR KIRBY: So what I'd say, Matt, is there was nothing new in that statement from the White House briefing. It simply repeated an assessment President Obama gave last spring, and the prime minister of Israel made clear his position that the circumstances were not right for achieving a two-state solution.
We have also made clear that we continue to believe that a two-state solution is absolutely vital not only for peace between Israelis and Palestinians but for the long-term security of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state. We continue to believe that the status quo is not sustainable and that current trends on the ground are imperiling the viability of the two-state solution. That's why we will continue to engage the parties – with the parties to encourage both of them to demonstrate with their policies and actions, not just their words, their commitment to a two-state solution. And if they demonstrate that they are serious about moving forward towards a two-state solution, we will do whatever we can to help them achieve that objective. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has repeatedly said that he does not want a one-state solution and a bi-national state. So the real question is: What concrete steps and policies are they prepared to take to avoid that outcome?
QUESTION: All right. Well, before I get into asking you about your response, does that mean that the Secretary is still going to try to get them into peace talks?
MR KIRBY: Well, the Secretary --
QUESTION: For the next – what is it – 14 months?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think – I think --
QUESTION: Over the course of the rest of the time that he is Secretary of State, is he going to continue to try to bring the two sides together?
MR KIRBY: He will continue to discuss with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas as well as regional leaders over the – as he has over the past several weeks --
MR KIRBY: -- this issue of the importance, the vitality of a two-state solution. I mean, there's – nothing's changed about our belief --
QUESTION: So he hasn't --
MR KIRBY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I'm just – the comments from the White House – people at the White – the NSC seem to imply that there is no point in trying to get them back together to – into negotiations because there's not enough time. Is that the Secretary's view, or are you saying that that's the wrong impression of what the White House said?
MR KIRBY: I think the White House official, if I could, put it well that the main thing the President would want to hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu is that without peace talks, without peace talks how does he want to move forward to prevent a one-state solution, stabilize the situation on the ground, and to signal that he's committed to the two-state solution. Nothing's changed about our commitment to a two-state solution and our belief, our policy – our belief that that's the right path forward here.
But there's nothing new in the statements that were made last night about the difficulty of getting there given the makeup – as the President said himself – given the makeup of the Netanyahu government and given the challenges that President Abbas has before him. Again, the President was – has been consistently, I think, very honest about, given those challenges, the difficulty that there is in getting to a two-state solution by the end of next year.
QUESTION: I understand that. What I'm getting at is has – is the Secretary going to stop his efforts to get the two sides back into a negotiation? Is that effectively over or is he going to continue it?
MR KIRBY: The Secretary has every intention of continuing --
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: -- to discuss this, the importance of the two-state solution, with leaders in the region and to continue to pursue that as an end.
QUESTION: Through negotiations?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, right now our focus is on getting the violence to stop and restoring calm.
QUESTION: I get that.
MR KIRBY: But if you're –
QUESTION: What I'm trying – I understand what you're saying, but it's not exactly what I'm asking. What I'm asking is: Is the Secretary still intending to push the idea of negotiations to get – to the end of a two-state solution?
MR KIRBY: We continue to assess all the possibilities and remain in touch with key stakeholders to find a way forward that advances the interests we and others share in a negotiated two-state solution.
QUESTION: Okay, negotiated. So negotiations, you think, are still --
MR KIRBY: I think that will be –
QUESTION: -- are still possible. Well, all right. The other thing you said is there was nothing new in what the White House said. Well, the White House doesn't think that. I mean, I'm looking at this one report in The Jerusalem Post that says, "Not since the Clinton Administration, Malley said" – referring to Rob Malley at the NSC – "has the White House made the assessment that time has run out in a president's term to pursue negotiations."
Well, first of all, that's factually incorrect if it's what he said, because I can remember very well the Bush Administration deciding in November that – of its last year that there wasn't enough time and that the Annapolis process was dead. But they – this, if this is accurate, the White House seems to think that this is new. You're saying it's not?
MR KIRBY: I'm looking at something the President said on May 15th.
QUESTION: Yeah, but this is – I'm talking about something that the NSC --
MR KIRBY: Well, I --
QUESTION: The people at the NSC said yesterday not in the spring.
MR KIRBY: I stand by what I said that there's nothing new in these comments about the difficulty of achieving of a two-state solution by the end of next year. And again, I'd point you – the President himself, May 15th – and this is his words not mine – "And what I think at this point, realistically we can do is try to rebuild trust, not through a big overarching deal, which I don't think is probably possible in the next year given the makeup of the Netanyahu government, given the challenges I think that exist for President Abbas. But if we can start building some trust around, for example, relieving the humanitarian suffering inside of Gaza and helping the ordinary people in Gaza to recover from the devastation that happened last year." And then he goes on, "If we" – "Then I continue to believe that the logic of a two-state solution will reassert itself." That's May 15th and that's the President.
QUESTION: On Lebanon, what's the purpose or what's behind the idea of sending a retired former U.S. ambassador as a charge d'affaires to Lebanon to replace Ambassador David Hale?
MR KIRBY: What's the logic?
QUESTION: What's the point? Why? You sent a retired former U.S. ambassador instead of sending a – one ambassador from the State Department or in duty to Lebanon.
MR KIRBY: Well, normally I don't make it a habit to talk about personnel decisions here, but what I'll just tell you broadly is that the Secretary looks for details and assigns the best talent for every job in the State Department. And I'll just leave it at that.
QUESTION: But he's retired now. He was retired.
MR KIRBY: I'm retired. I'm retired too. He hired me.
QUESTION: Plane crash in Egypt. Has – do you know, has the U.S. shared any information, especially related to the satellite imagery or data, with Egyptian authorities, investigators, or Russia?
MR KIRBY: I don't have any information about the investigative process. And even if I did, it would be inappropriate to share.
QUESTION: Do you know, are we cooperating with investigators?
MR KIRBY: I know that we have offered assistance. I'm not aware of any acceptance of it, but this would be the wrong podium to ask for that.
QUESTION: The Homeland Security said today it was working with international partners to evaluate the cause. Do you know who they've reached out to, which international partners?
MR KIRBY: I do not. I don't. You'd have to talk to them.
QUESTION: On China. Can you confirm the phone conversation between Secretary Kerry and Chinese foreign minister?
MR KIRBY: No, I don't have a readout of that phone call.
QUESTION: Do you --
QUESTION: Did it take place?
QUESTION: What is – what is your response to Chinese assertion that patrol by U.S. warship close to islands China controls harmed the mutual trust between China and U.S. and it caused regional tensions?
MR KIRBY: I'll get to your question in a minute. To Arshad, yes, it did yesterday, but I don't have a read out of it.
Your question is about the USS Lassen and --
QUESTION: Yes. So China says that Lassen's controlling – Lassen's close to islands China controls harmed mutual trust between U.S. and China. It also caused regional tensions. That's what the Chinese --
MR KIRBY: Well, I haven't seen those comments, but let's just put that aside for a minute and I'll assume that that is the view of people there. As I've said before, freedom of navigation operations by the United States Navy are not aimed at any one nation. International waters are international waters. And the Navy not only has a right to be there, but every other navy does too. That's what being international waters means.
And we also have a fundamental principal obligation – our Navy – to defend that freedom of navigation, not just for the United States but for everybody else who needs to use the high seas for transit. And 90 percent of the trade in this country alone comes by sea, so it's a pretty big obligation that our Navy has. And that's what that was all about, and it was completely in accordance with international law, and it was done safely and professionally.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yep.
QUESTION: Another one on China. Do you have any comments about President Ma and President Xi's meeting tomorrow?
MR KIRBY: President who?
QUESTION: Taiwan President Ma and Chinese President Xi.
MR KIRBY: No, I think I would let – that's for them to speak to. That's for them to speak to.
QUESTION: Wait, I've got one more. Yesterday I asked you about Bahrain.
MR KIRBY: Yes, you did.
QUESTION: And the UN – what is it – committee on arbitrary detention --
MR KIRBY: Arbitrary detention.
QUESTION: Arbitrary detention, which I'm sure you feel like you've been arbitrarily detained up here today.
MR KIRBY: No, no, no I enjoy every minute of it, Matt.
QUESTION: Sheikh – the Sheikh Salman case. Did you get – were you able to get an answer on it?
MR KIRBY: Yes. We've seen the decision by the UN working group. As we noted in our June 16th statement about the case of Sheikh Ali Salman, we are deeply concerned by his June conviction and sentencing. As we have consistently said, opposition parties that peacefully voice criticism of the government play a vital role in inclusive, pluralistic states and societies. We believe that no one anywhere should be prosecuted or imprisoned for engaging in peaceful expression or assembly. Any charges brought against Ali Salman that were – I'm sorry. Any charges against Ali Salman that were brought on that basis should be dropped. We also strongly urge the Government of Bahrain to abide by its commitment to the protection of freedom of expression.
Okay, thanks, everybody. Have a great weekend.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:11 p.m.)
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