Daily Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
December 8, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing
MIDDLE EAST PEACE
2:08 p.m. EST
MR KIRBY: Just a short programming note at the top. We welcome the coming together in Riyadh today of a broad and representative gathering of the Syrian opposition to work towards a consensus on their positions in preparation for political negotiations under UN auspices, as called for in the November 14th statement of the International Syria Support Group, the ISSG.
This conference can be an important step in creating momentum for negotiations, again, under UN auspices, of a political transition in accordance with the Geneva communique of 2012. And as the Secretary said today following his meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, we're also planning for the ISSG to meet again on the 18th of December in New York. While our efforts and next steps will be informed, in part, by the outcome of this week's conference of opposition groups, the Secretary and the Secretary-General have both expressed the need for UN negotiations to be able to begin and for a ceasefire to be able to take effect as soon as possible.
So we're grateful for this – the meeting that the Saudis have convened and led. We're going to be watching the outcomes, obviously, very, very closely. And as the Secretary indicated today, that will greatly inform the process moving forward towards a meeting later on in New York, hopefully by the end of next week.
QUESTION: Just on the Riyadh meeting. Has the principles – have the principles that they're working on, have they been agreed to yet?
MR KIRBY: I don't have a readout, Brad. I don't know.
QUESTION: Okay. And do you know if that's going to be a paper – a document at the end of it? There was a question yesterday about that.
MR KIRBY: I do not know.
QUESTION: Has there been any agreement among the opposition themselves, who among them should represent them in talks?
MR KIRBY: You mean in the political negotiations going forward --
MR KIRBY: -- early next year.
QUESTION: Right, correct.
MR KIRBY: I don't know that they've gotten to that level, Brad.
MR KIRBY: I mean, the meeting just started today, so I haven't – we haven't got – received a readout of these early discussions.
MR KIRBY: I just think it's too soon to tell.
QUESTION: And I have just one last one. You've spoken about how you want this to be as inclusive as possible.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: Do you have any understanding of how many women are represented at this meeting --
MR KIRBY: I don't have --
QUESTION: -- and how many other kind of groups, like, I don't know, Christians, Druze, homosexuals might be represented at this meeting in Saudi?
MR KIRBY: I don't have a list of all the participants, Brad. I'd point you to the Saudis. As we said yesterday, they're really the right place to go for details about the conference. Again, this was convened by them. They did the setup, and I'd let them speak to that. As I said, the Secretary wanted it to be as inclusive as possible. He's comfortable that they took that to heart and did invite a broad range of opposition groups and entities. But again, I'd let the Saudis speak to that.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: John, you're not announcing the 18th, right? You're just saying you continue to plan for the 18th?
MR KIRBY: That's correct.
MR KIRBY: And the Secretary said as much today.
QUESTION: Yeah, I saw that.
MR KIRBY: And that his expectation is that we'll meet in – on the 18th in New York City. But he also caveated it by saying that we need to see how things go here in Riyadh, and to see whether we can, in fact, put it down as a definite. But yes, that's what we're planning on.
QUESTION: Can I take us in a slightly different direction?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Has the State Department received any protests from other nations with large Muslim majority or even minority populations, about presidential candidate Trump's remarks yesterday, his suggestion that all Muslims should be banned from entering the United States?
MR KIRBY: I'm not aware of any protests that have been lodged by groups with the State Department, no.
QUESTION: Are you – but you are not aware of any protests. But are you concerned that one of your closest allies like Saudi Arabia or Jordan may complain about what Mr. Trump said?
MR KIRBY: Well, I'd let the Saudis speak for themselves in terms of whether they have a view on Mr. Trump's comments. Again, I'm not aware of any protests that have been lodged by any of our allies or partners, Muslim or otherwise, to the State Department. The Secretary addressed in a question today his view over the comments, and he talked about the fact that equal treatment and nondiscrimination is a core value not only of our admissions policies and our foreign policies, but of our – of American values. And he said himself that he found comments to the contrary, comments such as those made, to be counterproductive. Others have also spoken out about this, but I'd let – obviously, let other nations take whatever public stance they choose to do it.
It is important – two things; one, that we don't get involved in campaign rhetoric and to stay aloof from that, number one; number two, that the crucial work of moving forward here to a political transition in Syria goes ahead unimpeded. And that's what the Secretary's real focus is on. We have – there are in this 65-nation coalition fighting ISIL right now many Muslim countries that are making important contributions. And there were Muslim nations – in fact, the Arab League itself – at the table the last round in Vienna. And we fully expect that that participation will continue going forward in the Vienna process towards a diplomatic political solution to the civil war in Syria, which the Secretary has made clear is absolutely vital moving forward. This is, to go back to my Navy days, a perfect case of all hands on deck. Everybody has to participate, everybody has to contribute, and it's our hope and our expectation that that level of energy and sense of urgency will continue, comments such as that notwithstanding.
QUESTION: John --
QUESTION: Are you – just – are you talking about this one?
QUESTION: Yeah, just on the campaign rhetoric.
QUESTION: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: I know you say you don't want to comment on it; but unfortunately, some campaign rhetoric does reverberate globally, and this – these comments in particular – shocked a lot of people. Do you feel that his comments could actually foment terror and put Americans at risk, and would you denounce them?
MR KIRBY: So two parts there. I think I'd, again, point you back. The Secretary was very clear about his views on the comments. Nondiscrimination and equal treatment are a pillar of not just American values but of U.S. immigration and admissions policies. The Department of State remains totally committed to treating all religions with respect and without discrimination. And as the Secretary said himself, as he travels around the world, it's clear that friends and adversaries alike listen and watch our discourse here in the United States. And he believed, he felt, he said that comments such as those are not constructive. So I think the Secretary himself has been on the record and clear about his views here with respect to those comments.
QUESTION: But that's what you really think, that they're not constructive? You wouldn't go beyond that? I mean, some might see that as kind of a weak response.
MR KIRBY: I'm going to leave it where the Secretary left it. I think it was very clear in terms of distancing himself and this department from those views.
Now, on your other question about whether it could or would or might incite further violence, again, I'm not going to get up here and parse the comments by people running for office. But what we have said repeatedly, separate and distinct from this, is that a group like ISIL – and we saw this with al-Qaida years ago – they certainly feed on fear. And when we're afraid and when we act out of fear or contempt, that emboldens their narrative and their message, this idea of this grievance against the West.
There's no excuse – none – for violence. Let me make that very clear. Terrorism has no justification or rationale. But we have seen in the past when terrorist groups try to use these – those kinds of divisive comments and rhetoric to fuel their own self-delusional narrative about why they are, what they – why they are, what they are, and who they are, and what they – what the ideology that they try to propagate.
So I can't predict the degree to which those comments will or will not incite recruitment and further activity by ISIL. But clearly, as the Secretary said, it's counterproductive and it's not helpful.
QUESTION: Do you believe the United States still offers an attractive resettlement environment for Syrian refugees?
MR KIRBY: Yes, I do.
QUESTION: Despite all of the rhetoric and despite people even gaining popularity, in some cases, in a presidential campaign --
MR KIRBY: Well, again --
QUESTION: -- on the back of comments that you yourself said are not constructive?
MR KIRBY: I'm not a political expert, so I can't and wouldn't begin to try to ascribe how or why individuals gain or lose in the polls. And again, that's not our concern here. But to your point --
QUESTION: But you – yeah.
MR KIRBY: But yeah, Brad, to your larger point, yes, the United States remains a healthy, vibrant place for refugees to resettle, and well it should. I mean, it's a hallmark of our country's tradition and history and who we are.
And the second point I'd make is, by and large – and we've said this before – resettlement is not the answer. What we also are in the United States, and who we are, is about helping refugees resettle back home. And so the real answer here and the energy that's being applied here, at the State Department, is towards getting a political transition in Syria, so that the Syrian people can go back home to their homes, their neighborhoods, their communities, and they can have a government that they can trust in and that will be responsive to their needs rather than barrel bombing them. So that's the real answer. And America stands for both those things: helping them get back home, trying to resolve the civil war in Syria peacefully and through politics; as well as, when needed and when called upon by the UN, to safely resettle Syrian refugees here. And we're going to continue to do that. The President was exceedingly clear about the goals he wanted to achieve next year in terms of Syrian resettlement, and we are very much going to work to achieve those goals.
QUESTION: John, apart from the question of whether other countries have complained to the U.S. Government about a certain candidate's comments, does the rhetoric from this candidate and from other candidates undermine the U.S.'s ability to promote inclusive governments in other places? Does it undercut this Administration's efforts to promote multiculturalism, to promote respect for all faiths, to – for respect for all political viewpoints when you have this kind of rhetoric here in the United States? If so, why? If not, why?
MR KIRBY: Sounds like one of my final exam questions from the history department at USF.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Look, I would say this: We certainly hope not. We certainly hope that that's not the case. Because one of the great foundations of our country is inclusivity. And look, as a country, we've come a long way. We didn't get it right at the beginning either, and democracy is something we're still working on, and we're not bashful about saying that. And so when we go out around the world, as the Secretary alluded to today, and we talk about democratic institutions and the power of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, that's all important. And inclusivity, and frankly, the diversity of voice and diversity of opinion is important to us. And our political process fosters lots of diverse views; that's what it's about. But certainly, we would hope that those are the values that people continue to see when they see America in the world and that that continues to be the case going forward.
We have a robust political process in this country. I'm not going to speak to it. It's not my place here at the State Department. But as the Secretary said, we're mindful that people around the world pay attention to discourse in this country and that comments such as those that we've been talking about today are not constructive to the perceptions of the discourse - the inclusivity, that we believe the United States represents.
QUESTION: Same topic, but for another country, France. What's your take on the very strong victory of the far right at local elections on Sunday in France? And are you concerned about the rise of Islamophobia or anti-Semitism in this country?
MR KIRBY: Well, we try very hard to avoid speaking to domestic politics, not only in this country but in other countries as well. And so I won't – we're not going to be in a position to pass judgment one way or another. These were local elections, as I understand, and that – representative of the voice of the French people in that part of France. And that's for them to speak to and for them to represent their views at the ballot box.
France is a vital ally, an important partner in the coalition against ISIL. They have stepped up their efforts in the wake of the attacks in Paris. We welcome that intensification and their increased participation. And we're going to continue to look for ways to work with France moving forward to go after ISIL. But I won't – I'm not in a position now, nor would I be, to pass judgment or make a statement about French domestic politics.
QUESTION: This department's criticized, in its Human Rights Report for example, levels of Islamophobia or certain laws in France that the U.S. perceives to be directed toward Muslims. So I don't see why you wouldn't have concerns if a party that's espousing that type of stuff is gaining when it's clear from the election.
MR KIRBY: In general, Brad, we obviously, as I said at the beginning, non-discrimination and equal treatment are a pillar not just of our values but of our policies and that we continue to remain committed to treating all religions, all faiths with respect and without discrimination. That's a cornerstone, again, not just of the State Department but of the United States of America. So obviously – and we're not bashful about mentioning our concerns with respect to that, as I've done many times from this podium.
So what I'm saying is I'm not – I can't – I'm not in a position, nor would it be appropriate for me to say that these local elections in France represent some sort of rising Islamophobia in France. That's – I'm not prepared to say that and it wouldn't be appropriate for me to make that kind of judgment. These were local elections in France, and the people there who cast those votes should speak for themselves about why they cast their votes that way. That's what a democracy's all about. But obviously, yes, this election notwithstanding, just as we're concerned about the potential persecution or discrimination against a particular religious faith here in America, we certainly share and have shared very publicly and very vocally from this podium similar concerns - like concerns - in other countries.
QUESTION: Have you seen any evidence, John, that terrorists or anyone with ties, individuals with ties to terrorism, have tried to infiltrate the U.S. refugee system? And the reason I ask this is because yesterday, before Trump came out with his comments, the chairman of the Homeland Security Department claimed that the NCTC had, quote, "identified individuals with ties to terrorist groups in Syria attempting to gain entry to the U.S. through the refugee program." So he said it. Is he right?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think you know, Justin, that I'm not going to talk about intelligence matters from this podium. What I can point you back to is when we were first starting to talk about the refugee crisis – and I mean way back when, not in light of the Paris attacks, well before that – when we talked about the refugee crisis in Europe and the Syrian and Iraqi refugees that were flowing through Europe at the time, and we were being criticized because we weren't bringing enough in and doing enough, and there wasn't enough alacrity being spent, enough energy on this, I said then, and I've said since the Paris attacks that there's a balance that has to be struck here between the need to be an open, welcoming society – which we are and we should continue to be – and preserving the security and safety of the American people.
MR KIRBY: And if something – wait a second; I'm --
QUESTION: Getting there.
MR KIRBY: -- I'm getting there. You've just got to get me – I warmed up here.
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: The – there is a very significant, serious vetting process that's done, particularly for Syrian refugees. We've talked about this a lot.
MR KIRBY: We take it very seriously. And the idea, the notion that members of ISIL could potentially use the refugee resettlement program to insert themselves in and to conduct attacks is not a new idea.
MR KIRBY: It's not something that we haven't been thinking about.
QUESTION: And I think people just want to know if you got a few hits off this vetting system. Like, has it worked?
MR KIRBY: I wouldn't talk about --
QUESTION: Did you catch anybody in the net?
MR KIRBY: I would not talk about intelligence matters.
QUESTION: Okay. Well – all right, my last question. The President said the other night that he specifically wanted the State Department and the DHS to look at the K-1 visa fiance(e) program.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: What could possibly – what more could be done that's not already being done?
MR KIRBY: Well, it's hard to say when the review just started. I addressed this yesterday as well. The – yes I did. You weren't here.
QUESTION: I was watching. But okay.
MR KIRBY: That's right. The President ordered a review of that particular program. We are going to participate in that review with our interagency colleagues, particularly those in DHS. We take this very, very seriously. Nothing is more important to Secretary Kerry than the safety and security of the American people and making sure that if there are improvements and changes we need to make in this or any other program in which people are entering this country on a permanent or semi-permanent basis, if there's anything that we need to do to improve that, we're going to do that. So I won't get ahead of a review that just started, but I can tell you that there's no intention to wait until the review is done; if we uncover changes or things we need to do a little bit better, the Secretary's been clear that we need to go ahead and make changes even while the review's ongoing.
But as it just started, Justin, I don't have anything to report out to you in terms of changes. It's a very rigorous process by which a fiance(e) can come into the country. There's – there is – there's vetting to be done, fingerprinting, interviews with – face-to-face interviews with consular officers. I mean, there's a – and there's a good lash-up between us and DHS on this. That doesn't mean, though, that there may not be room for improvement. And as the investigation into the San Bernardino shootings continues, it's possible that we may learn things out of that as the FBI works through their investigation that we could maybe do differently. We're not afraid to change or to improve upon ourself if we think there's a need for it.
QUESTION: And just a follow-up to that.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: A follow-up on --
QUESTION: Yeah, just a quick one. John, is there any tips you can give people who do have a fiance(e) overseas on how you can tell if perhaps your fiance(e) is a terrorist?
MR KIRBY: I don't know, Lucas. I --
QUESTION: Like one of these electronics.
QUESTION: If you see something, say something.
QUESTION: Should maybe be thinking twice.
MR KIRBY: Look, I couldn't begin to know how to answer that. I don't think there's a litmus test for that. What I can tell you is that we take our responsibilities very, very seriously when it comes to consular affairs, and we work very closely with law enforcement and DHS in particular on those programs which allow people to enter this country on a semi-permanent or permanent basis. That includes this K-1 visa program for fiance(e)s. It's a very serious obligation, and I can assure you that all our consular officers all over the world know how important it is to get it right.
As I said to Justin, though, we're going to do this review. The Secretary is fully in support of conducting this review and wants it to be done as aggressively and openly and transparently as possible in coordination with DHS. And as we work our way through it, if we learn things that we need to do better, we're going to do those things.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the Syrian opposition meeting in Riyadh? How do you view that the Kurds groups have held their own conference in Hasakah in Syria because they were not invited to Riyadh, and some of these groups are supported by the U.S.?
MR KIRBY: Well, I don't have anything to say about the separate meeting that they held. I think you should talk to Kurdish officials about the meetings that they're holding. As I said, we're grateful that Saudi Arabia has convened this meeting and conducted it. It's ongoing right now. As I said yesterday, we're going to have to see what the outcome is and what the impact of those outcomes may be moving forward on the Vienna process. And the Secretary talked about that again this morning.
We've long said that in order to defeat ISIL and sustain a defeat of ISIL, you got to have willing, capable partners on the ground. And you're right; in the fight against ISIL, we have partnered with counter-ISIL forces there in Syria, to include some Kurdish forces who have proven very effective against ISIL, particularly up there in the north. That support will continue. There is also a parallel process here, a political-diplomatic process that we need to get at that is mutually reinforcing to the military effort against ISIL; and that's getting a government in Syria that is responsive to the needs of the Syrian people and that can help ensure that groups like ISIL aren't allowed to fester and grow on Syrian territory.
QUESTION: John, how would this opposition be inclusive if these groups are not attending Riyadh's meeting?
MR KIRBY: Well, as I said to Brad, I'm going to let the Saudis speak for who was invited to this meeting and who wasn't and why. This is a Saudi-led effort. We asked them to be as inclusive as possible, and the Secretary believes that there was an honest effort made to do that.
As I also said yesterday, we need to appreciate the fact that this is a first step in this process post-Vienna - the first step in this particular effort to try to unify the opposition groups around a common set of principles, negotiating principles that they can take to the table eventually and negotiate, or hopefully, negotiate a political transition with the Assad regime. It's a critical first step. It's just started today. Let's let it run its course and see where we're at after it's over.
QUESTION: Don't you see the irony a little of trusting the Saudis on inclusivity? I mean, this is a country where women have no political voice; they can't drive, I think, in many places. It's not really the place that sets a model for inclusivity in political participation. And you're saying, well, we trust them, they'll take care of that.
MR KIRBY: Well, look, a couple of thoughts there. Let's not conflate Saudi domestic policies, whatever they may be, with the Saudis' ability to convene a group of the opposition in Syria. And as I said, we believe that this was an important first step, that there was an honest effort to be as inclusive as possible in this critical first step, and we need to let the conference go and see where we're at at the end of it. I just think drawing a line between who can drive and who cannot drive in Riyadh and having a major conference of opposition groups trying to get at a common set of negotiating principles so that we can end the civil war in Syria is a bit of a leap.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on that point?
QUESTION: John --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- I was going to ask about the meeting on the 18th. Do you know who's going to participate, like who's been invited and what's the primary focus?
MR KIRBY: I don't have a list of participants now. I think you can expect that in general it would be in line with the last meeting in Vienna in terms of the scope and level of participation, but as I said, the Secretary announced this morning that the 18th is the day – the target date. We need to see how things go in Riyadh, and then when I have more information to give you – to announce in terms of participation and agenda, I'll be able to do that. But I'm just not at that stage right now.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on Brad's point on Saudi Arabia? Now, you're saying you don't want to conflate their efforts for inclusivity with what happens in Saudi Arabia; that's fine. What about your common fight against ISIS? Where are they participating? Are they sending airplanes and the bombing of ISIS positions? Do they have troops on the ground? I mean, do they give logistics? What are they doing in the fight against ISIS in Syria?
MR KIRBY: They are a member of the coalition, Said. I am not going to speak to military matters here. I'd refer you to my colleagues at the Defense Department for Saudi's military participation. I just don't have that information handy.
QUESTION: But correct me if I'm wrong – now, my understanding – or reports that we read that the United Arab Emirates, even Jordan, stopped participating since the killing of the Jordanian pilot and Saudi Arabia has not been participating. So are we wrong or are – these reports are wrong that say there is virtually no participation by these governments, by the Government of the United Arab Emirates, by the Government of Jordan, by the Government of Saudi Arabia, in the fight against ISIS?
MR KIRBY: Well, two things. One, I'm not going to speak to military participation by nations. It's a coalition of the willing, which means every nation needs to be willing and able to do what it can do, and each nation should speak to that. I won't – I just don't have that information, and even if I did, I don't know that it would be appropriate for me to sort of detail what every nation is doing. They can speak for themselves. They are members – all of those nations are members of the coalition and have at times conducted kinetic strikes against ISIL. Now, what they're doing today or yesterday or last week, I just don't have that. Each nation has to bring to this fight what it can.
And that will change over time, as our participation has changed over time. It's intensified over time. Other nations have different concerns, whether it's domestic or even regional concerns, that affect their ability to participate in various ways. Those are sovereign decisions that they have to make. They are all vital members of the coalition, though, and they're all important partners in the region.
That's against ISIL. Brad's question was about the political process, and Saudi is playing – the Saudi – I'm sorry, Saudi Arabia is playing an important role – leadership role – in this political transition process, and that is, right now in convening this group of opposition groups to get them together against – around some common negotiating principles. And I think that's what we should be focused on now, is the outcome of these next couple of days in Riyadh and seeing where we end up on that. And I think it's entirely possible that there will continue to be work that needs to be done on this issue of unification of the opposition groups and on the negotiating principles, but let's see where they get after a couple of days.
QUESTION: I just have a follow-up on that: So both Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov have spoken about the need for there to be more definition of these groups before the meeting on the 18th and 19th. Can you add a little clarification as to what it is that they're hoping to have done before this meeting could take place?
MR KIRBY: Well, so there's two processes going on, Abigail. There's – the Saudis have convened this meeting of opposition groups. That is not intended to be sort of the list, if you will. It's a first step post-Vienna to get at a set of unifying principles around which the opposition can coalesce and therefore have meaningful negotiations, political discussions with the Assad regime, hopefully early next year, okay? The Jordanians have taken the lead on trying to parse out who is a terrorist group, and therefore cannot be part of this political process, and who isn't, and so who can be worked with on the political framework going forward and who can't. That work is still ongoing. And I don't have anything to read out for you in that regard.
I think both Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry have both said in their own ways that it is important going into the next meeting, which we hope will be on the 18th of December in New York – it's important to be able to be informed by the Saudi process. Oh, actually, both of them, but in particular they were talking about the Saudi meeting in Riyadh in terms of the opposition groups and unifying principles.
So we need to kind of see how this goes over the next couple of days, and then re-assess when it's over in terms of going forward on the 18th and what that looks like.
QUESTION: So there's no specific outcome they're looking for to happen before they would be able to convene this next meeting? They're just looking to --
MR KIRBY: It's difficult to say until we get through the next couple of days. I think if the next couple of days really produce strong, solid progress towards some unifying principles, well, that's a good sign and would augur well for moving forward on the 18th. But again, it's just too soon to tell. We need to let this process play out.
QUESTION: A quick thing. Abbie – Abigail referred to – or Abbie referred to the 18th and the 19th, which is what the Russians were quoted as having said yesterday. To your understanding, is the meeting, if it happens, going to take place on those two days, or just on the 18th?
MR KIRBY: Well, I would just point you to what the Secretary said this morning in his – after his meeting with the UN Secretary-General. He referred to the 18th as the target date. I just don't have more details on that, whether it will spill over into a second day. I just don't – I don't know that right now. Right now we're shooting for the 18th in New York.
QUESTION: But Russia has said today that it's premature to hold this meeting in New York on the 18th.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I saw those comments by my counterpart at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Look, I think – I can't speak for Foreign Minister Lavrov, obviously, but I can speak for Secretary Kerry. And his view is, as he said today, we're going to shoot for the 18th. But that itself will be informed by – must be informed by what happens here over the next couple of days in Riyadh. And so we're still – our expectation is still to move forward, planning for the 18th in New York. But we're going to have to take a look at how we do by the end of this week and how things come out in Riyadh before we nail anything and set it in stone.
QUESTION: A couple of questions on Turkey. First, there had been a message over the weekend to U.S. citizens in Istanbul to avoid the neighborhood around the consulate. Now it's being announced that there won't be any consular services at the consulate in Istanbul tomorrow, Wednesday. Do you have more information about that?
MR KIRBY: All I can tell you is – and we posted a message online – that due to a security threat, the U.S. consulate general in Istanbul issued a security message informing U.S. citizens that the consulate will only offer limited services tomorrow, December 9th. The embassy in Ankara, the consulate in Adana, and the consular agency in Izmir will operate normally. And we strongly encourage, I might add, U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad to enroll their travel plans on travel.state.gov using the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and to read the country-specific information on our website. I don't have any additional information about the nature of the security threat, but this is prudent planning. This is what you do when you have a threat and you want to make sure people know about it.
QUESTION: Does the message from this past weekend still hold that U.S. citizens should generally avoid the neighborhood around the consulate in Istanbul?
MR KIRBY: I think – I don't know – I mean, I think we're going off of this security message. This supersedes anything that went before. Obviously, we want people to be mindful of the threat around the consulate in Istanbul. And clearly, it's in the security message that people should take pains to avoid that area.
QUESTION: But the tweet I saw that was put out by this @TravelGov, which I think is a State Department official tweet, said that consular services would be canceled for December the 9th in Istanbul, not that there would be limited services. Do you know which it is? Will there be no services at all, or will it – there be limited services?
MR KIRBY: I think what – routine services will be canceled, but not all consular activity will be canceled. So routine things like visa applications and interviews and that kind of thing will be canceled, things that are non-emergency. But things that have to be done, consular activity that needs to be done will still be done. So that's why I said "limited" in my statement.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
MR KIRBY: All right. India.
QUESTION: Two questions here, sir. Thank you. For some time, terror activities have been going on in the Indian state of Kashmir, and at the same time, two NSAs, India and Pakistan, they met in Bangkok and --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- resolving many issues. And also at the same time, Foreign Minister of India Sushma Swaraj will be meeting in Islamabad high-level officials, including foreign minister and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. If U.S. is playing any role or – because what India is still saying, including Sushma Swaraj, foreign minister, that talks and terror cannot go together.
MR KIRBY: Well, I would just say that we welcome reports of the meeting between Indian and Pakistani officials. We support any and all positive steps India and Pakistan can take to reduce the tensions, to engage in dialogue, forge closer relations. The normalization of relations between those two countries is vital not only to them but to the region, so we once again encourage this kind of dialogue. And as I've said before, I mean, these are issues that are best worked out between the two of them by the two of them.
QUESTION: Is there – also, defense minister of India will be here tomorrow in Washington at the Pentagon meeting Secretary Carter and many other Defense officials.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is there any meeting here at the State Department with Secretary Kerry or what --
MR KIRBY: The Secretary is in Paris for the COP21 climate conference, so he will have no – there's no meetings here for him tomorrow. Again, he's overseas. I'm not aware of any meetings here at the State Department with the Indian defense minister. I'll take the question. We'll check and see if he may be coming over here to meet with other officials. I just don't know.
QUESTION: Can we stay in Russia?
QUESTION: And finally, is anything U.S. doing what India have been talking and telling at from the highest level, from Prime Minister Modi to President Obama and Secretary Kerry, that as far as some of the wanted terrorists in Pakistan by India and by the U.S. – because now since, as I said, last time that Pakistan has banned the press not to show the movements of those terrorists? What I'm asking you is is there any talks going on that – to bring them back or to – because that's a core issue between the two countries, actually, as far as a peace resolution is concerned in the region.
MR KIRBY: Well, the short answer is no. I mean, we're not running any or convening any talks between India and Pakistan with respect to counterterrorism. We strongly and still believe that the best solution is for the two countries to work out these issues together. These are common threats they both face, so I'm not aware of any effort by the United States to lead or convene some sort of effort.
That said – and we've talked about this before – we view the terrorist threat in that part of the world to be one shared by everybody, and including the United States, which is why we've worked so hard in Afghanistan, which is why we still work so hard on a relationship with Pakistan, because we know that the spying between Afghanistan and Pakistan still remains a safe haven and a real source of sustenance for various terrorist groups, and it's something we're going to continue to work at bilaterally, multilaterally in the region.
But specifically between India and Pakistan, we continue to believe that this is – these are issues which, frankly, should encourage both sides to continue to want to work closer and stronger together bilaterally to solve it, because it is a common threat to both of them.
QUESTION: Staying in the region, Deputy Secretary Blinken was – I believe he arrived in Pakistan today.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: Was there a discussion about San Bernardino with Pakistani authorities? And if so, how cooperative have they been? Or has there been any new knowledge that has been learned about Tashfeen Malik?
MR KIRBY: I don't have any readout of his – you're right, he's in Pakistan for this Heart of Asia process today in Islamabad, and we're grateful that Pakistan's hosting this summit, very important. As I said, it's an opportunity for the U.S. and all participating countries to discuss our shared commitment to a stable, peaceful, prosperous Afghanistan. I don't have a readout of any specifics with respect to the San Bernardino attacks or any cooperation by Pakistan in this regard. I'd refer you to the Justice Department for that because that really falls under the investigative process and not necessarily the mandate of the State Department.
QUESTION: Can I ask one more question about that?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Yesterday – actually, I --
MR KIRBY: Did you forget?
QUESTION: In Somalia – or yesterday, it was announced that in Somalia on November 6th, a gentleman turned himself over to the authorities that had possible connections to San Bernardino, or there are reports that he had connections. Are you aware of any connections that Abdullahi – apologies --
QUESTION: -- Miski, yes. Had with the --
QUESTION: Thank you. The San Bernardino case?
MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, also known as Miski, surrendered to the federal government of Somalia on November 6th, 2015. Miski is a legal permanent resident of the United States and is in the custody of the Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency in Mogadishu. The U.S. mission to Somalia is discussing this case with the Somali federal government. The United States does not have an extradition agreement with Somalia. And I'm afraid I don't have any more details on this particular case at this time.
QUESTION: On Israel?
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, do you want him to be – to come back to the United States, though?
MR KIRBY: I don't have anything more to offer than what I've just given you.
QUESTION: I want to change topics.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Asia, just to finish that up?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: In Thailand, some rather hardline royalists have filed a case against U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies, alleging he violated the lese majeste laws there. Are you aware of this? And has anyone – him or anyone – been contacted by Thai police?
MR KIRBY: I don't. You're going to have to let me take that one, Brad.
QUESTION: And then another one on Myanmar. OFAC issued a general license yesterday on ports operated by blacklisted entities. Was this done after consultations with Aung San Suu Kyi?
MR KIRBY: Let me just check. I don't know that I have one on that. A general license – okay. If you don't mind, this is rather lengthy, but --
QUESTION: Why don't you read it out and --
MR KIRBY: Let me give this to you, because this is a fairly --
QUESTION: -- or do you want to give it --
MR KIRBY: -- well, no, it's a fair question. I've got an answer, but --
QUESTION: Okay. Go ahead.
MR KIRBY: -- it's fairly lengthy. If you just bear with me.
MR KIRBY: Calibrated sanctions remain in place, including a ban on investment with the military, a ban on all transactions with specially designated nationals, aside from those which are incidental to exports to and from Burma or otherwise authorized, and an import ban to the United States on Burmese-origin rubies, jade, and jewelry that contains them.
In response to reports of unintended interference with Burmese trade due to sanctions concerns with a key Rangoon port, the Treasury Department issued General License 20. General License 20 is a technical fix to support exports to and from Burma while at the same time maintaining the integrity of U.S. sanctions on the specially designated nationals. It's aimed at solving a discrete set of problems connected to use of critical SDN-owned or controlled infrastructure in relation to exports to or from Burma. This is not a reward for the recent election and does not represent a change in U.S.-Burma sanctions policy.
I have additional information which I can give you offline, but mostly I'd refer you to the Treasury Department on this for more detail.
QUESTION: Okay. And regarding whether it was coordinated or consulted with --
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I'd refer you to the Department of the Treasury.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. Thank you.
QUESTION: On Iran?
QUESTION: I have question on Iraq.
MR KIRBY: On Iraq.
QUESTION: Yeah, Iraq. Sinjar's mayor said that after the town is liberated from ISIL, PKK, which is also recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S., is settled into government buildings and they are not willing to leave. I was wondering if you are aware of the situation and who is operating in Sinjar and what is the role of the PKK.
MR KIRBY: I don't have information on that specifically. I'd refer you to the Defense Department for additional details on that. I don't know know, separate and distinct from that, whether they're squatting in government buildings or not. I don't have information on that. But we continue to regard the PKK as a terrorist organization. That has not changed.
QUESTION: John, on this, on Turkey-Iraq. Turkish foreign minister has said today that Turkey won't send more troops to Iraq, but at the same time, they won't withdraw the troops that they have in Iraq. Do you have anything on this?
MR KIRBY: Well, I've seen those reports, Michel. Again, as I said yesterday, this is an issue for Turkey and Iraq to continue to work out. We're encouraged by the fact that their defense ministers have spoken. We want to see that dialogue continue. This is an issue that both of them, we believe, need to continue to discuss, work out.
QUESTION: And how do you view that Russia called the UN Security Council to discuss this issue?
MR KIRBY: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: That Russia has called the UN Security Council to discuss the Turkish --
MR KIRBY: We continue to believe that the best path forward here is for Turkey and Iraq to work this out bilaterally and to have discussions. And they have, and we're encouraged by that. And as I said yesterday, we believe that this can and should be – and there should be no reason why it couldn't be – resolved peacefully through dialogue and discussion. As I also said, we want – it's important and I want to restate this as a sound principle, because it's a principle that needs to be continually hit home. Iraq's a sovereign country; and we want all efforts against ISIL inside Iraq to be done with the cooperation, in consultation with the Iraqi Government and with their full permission. That's an important fundamental principle here to respect the sovereignty of Iraq and that won't change going forward. But we believe that this is best resolved between Turkey and Iraq.
QUESTION: Do you mean that you don't support discussing this issue and the --
MR KIRBY: No, what I said was, rather than tell you what we don't support, let me tell you what we do support, and that is that we support Turkey and Iraq continuing to have a dialogue and working their way through this.
QUESTION: Then --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can I ask a quick question on the Palestinian-Israeli --
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: -- conflict, very quick?
QUESTION: A follow-up on Turkey?
MR KIRBY: Okay. Wait, wait, wait. Where do you want to go?
QUESTION: All right. I can wait. That's okay.
MR KIRBY: Oh, no. No, no, no.
MR KIRBY: Armenia now – hang on a second. We'll go to Arshad, then Said. Said, come on, I'll get to you.
QUESTION: I'm not complaining.
MR KIRBY: Yes you are. You were about to complain. (Laughter.) The look on your face was very, very mean. We're going --
QUESTION: Haiti. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: We'll get to you. Let me go to Arshad, then we'll go to you. And we'll work our way around. And we'll get to Armenia, I promise. I'm not going to forget you.
QUESTION: The Secretary in Paris talked about the logic behind his travel to Moscow. And he, at one point, explained the reasoning for such a trip. And then he talked about it in the conditional, saying "would" and "potential trip." Is he going to Moscow, or is that not yet a certainty?
MR KIRBY: Not yet a certainty.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MR KIRBY: I don't think I could do it any better --
MR KIRBY: -- really state it any better than the Secretary did.
Said. See, look, that was quick. Arshad did you a big favor there.
QUESTION: It shows on my face. That's why I'm not a good poker player. Anyway, I wanted to ask you very quickly on the topic that we discussed before, which is the excessive use of force by the Israeli army, Israeli law enforcement authorities --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- in their confrontation with the Palestinian youth. Now, thus far, there have been like 120 Palestinians, but mainly teens. Now, drawing on the lesson from London just the other day, when a knife-wielding terrorist was basically subdued by a taser, wouldn't it be more prudent for the Israelis to use such methods in subduing these kids instead of turning them into martyrs and basically just accelerating and fanning the flames and so on? Wouldn't it be better to use methods like this to sort of neutralize these would-be knife-wielding --
MR KIRBY: I think what – so two points here. One, as you know, I'm not going to get into characterizing every incident or every word that's uttered.
QUESTION: Right, right.
MR KIRBY: We've been very clear that we want incitement to stop and for the violence to stop. To your question, what needs to happen is the violence needs to stop.
QUESTION: Right, right, right.
MR KIRBY: The killing of innocent people needs to stop. And there's a role here for both sides. The Secretary spoke very eloquently to that on Saturday at the Saban Forum. And that's really what needs to happen here. I'm not – I'm just not going to make it a practice to get into --
MR KIRBY: -- debating or discussing each and every tactic used by security forces on this. What I can tell you is we just want – we want the violence to stop so that people can start to move forward, meaningfully move forward towards trying to get to a two-state solution.
QUESTION: I understand that the violence needs to stop, but I guess my question to you is you would prefer if you saw a situation where less lethal force was used to achieve the same results, basically, would you?
MR KIRBY: Again, I'm not going to get into a debate about individual acts or individual decisions made on this. We've said – long said Israel has a right to defend itself. It has – the Israeli Government has a serious responsibility – just as the one we were talking about here earlier about the United States – a serious responsibility to look after the safety and security of the Israeli people. And that's a responsibility we know they take seriously. I'm not going to get into parsing every way in which they go about ensuring that security. What we want to see, and we need everybody to take 10 steps back, breathe deeply, and try to look at what we need to see long term, and that's affirmative steps and actions, including rhetoric by both sides, to move forward to get us closer to a two-state solution. That's what really needs to happen here. And that means the violence has to stop and the killing of innocent people has to stop.
QUESTION: Does the State Department have a reaction to the latest Iran testing of a ballistic missile?
MR KIRBY: What I can tell you, Lucas, is we've seen those reports. Not in a position to confirm them. And I don't have any other further comment on that, on the report itself.
QUESTION: Is there any concern from the State Department that Iran is continuing in this pattern of testing ballistic missiles, which go against UN Security Council resolutions?
MR KIRBY: Well, what I'd say is we're conducting a serious review of this reported incident. I don't – again, I don't have any further details on it. I don't want to get ahead of the work of the people that are looking at this. But if the reports are confirmed and if there is a violation of any relevant UN Security Council resolution, then we're going to take the appropriate actions, as we've proven that we're capable of doing in the past.
QUESTION: Now, this is very similar rhetoric from this podium that was said back in October about the last launch. There's concern that Iran is not getting the message. Why would Iran stop conducting these kind of launches if --
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I think for years Iran has serially ignored UN Security Council resolutions. That's a fact. And we've long said that the Iran deal, the JCPOA, is not predicated on any change in Iranian behavior other than the specific changes that we – would have to be made as a result to its nuclear program. So we've been very clear that we're mindful of what Iran – the destabilizing activities that they continue to be not only capable of but obviously willing to participate in. And nobody's turning a blind eye to that. And we still have and will still have at our disposal unilateral measures to deal with that going forward. So your question is, "Well, what does that say about Iran?" Nobody's – again, nobody's turned a blind eye to what Iran is capable of doing in the region.
QUESTION: Is this what Secretary Kerry had in mind when the JCPOA deal was signed on July 14th?
MR KIRBY: Is what that he had in mind?
QUESTION: That Iran would carry out ballistic missile tests.
MR KIRBY: What the Secretary had in mind when he worked on the Iran deal was that Iran would be cut off from being able to develop a nuclear weapon. That and that alone was the focus of the deal and is now the focus of the JCPOA, which we obviously want to see get implemented. It wasn't tied to anything else. And the Secretary said at the time and he has said since in congressional testimony and publicly that we never expected Iran would change – automatically change its behavior as a result of this deal. And should they get to implementation, and we believe eventually they will, that's still not going to – we don't believe is going to have some sort of dramatic effect on their geopolitical calculus and the things that they're capable and obviously willing to do in the region that are destabilizing, which is why we're going to continue to monitor them, and it's why we have a robust military presence in the region, and it's why we still have and will remain capable of having unilateral sanctions of our own to deal with the kinds of destabilizing things that Iran's capable of, to include a ballistic missile program.
Now, that itself – ballistic missile tests – are not a violation of the JCPOA. They may, in fact, be a violation of existing Security Council resolutions and may in fact be violations of Security Council resolutions that will go into effect post implementation. So there's lots of ways for the international community to try to check this behavior, as well as the United States unilaterally, and we're going to continue to focus on that.
QUESTION: But this launch just happened in October and Iran clearly hasn't been checked. And this is a delivery vehicle presumably for a nuclear warhead. So while it might not violate the nuclear deal --
MR KIRBY: What? I'm waiting for the rest of your question.
QUESTION: Well, while it might not violate the nuclear deal, isn't there some concern in this building that Iran is headed down a path that you don't want to see them go to?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, on – I've seen the – we've seen the reports of this reported incident. I can't – I don't have any more details for you on this. We're doing a serious review of it, and if it's confirmed, then we've got – as we have in the past, we have tools at our disposal to deal with it through the UN, and we're not going to be bashful about doing that.
So, separate and distinct from that, your question is – I think your question is, "Doesn't this just prove that nothing's going to change about Iran?" We certainly want to see the destabilizing activities that Iran is capable of stop. And as the Secretary said himself, if, as a result of the Iran deal, Iran decides as a result of getting sanctions relief that it wants to throw the rudder over, as we say in the Navy, and move in a different direction and become a more productive member of not just the regional community but the international community, well, that's all for the good and we're willing to have that conversation. But we never counted on that as a result of going through the Iran deal. That was never a part of the calculus. It was about cutting off their path to a nuclear bomb. If it changes, that's one thing, but nobody's counting on that happening, which is why we are going to maintain and have at our disposal multilateral and unilateral opportunities and options to deal with that.
QUESTION: Can we do one --
QUESTION: John, a follow-up, a follow-up. Hold on, hold on.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) said about the program, but do you mean November? There was one in October --
QUESTION: There was one in October. Now there's another report that another test took place in November.
MR KIRBY: I don't have anything to confirm this report.
QUESTION: I'm a little confused about – you said you're going to look into this report, or you're going to conduct a serious review. The Fox report cited American officials. So why would you review – you're going to review a story citing American officials? I mean, if American Government knows about it, it knows about it; you wouldn't need to review anything. If you're saying his story is bunk, that's another issue. So what is there to review if – I mean, it's not like they came up with this themselves.
MR KIRBY: Did you come up with it yourself, Lucas? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: (Laughter) Well, you would know that. Shouldn't you – shouldn't the U.S. Government know what the U.S. Government knows? Why would it need to review what the U.S. Government knows?
MR KIRBY: You're asking me to confirm, again, anonymous sources here in a story. I'm not going to do that. We've seen reports, press reports, about this potential incident. And we're going to take it seriously, as have in the past, and we're going to do a serious review of it. And then when we're done with that, then we'll see where we need to go. If it's confirmed, we've got opportunities and options at our disposal.
QUESTION: You said --
MR KIRBY: We're taking the report of it very seriously.
QUESTION: Okay. I mean, it shouldn't take multiple days to find out – for the U.S. Government to find out what the U.S. Government knows, correct?
MR KIRBY: Separate and distinct from that, from this incident, I mean, I – you've been covering the government for a long time. I think you can know that it can sometimes take a while.
QUESTION: Well, I hold you to the highest levels of competency.
QUESTION: It took them a while to find the WMD in Iraq.
MR KIRBY: All I'm saying is – I don't want to make light of this – we're taking it seriously. We're going to do a review. If it's confirmed, then we'll take appropriate action.
QUESTION: Just one more. You said that the Secretary was focused solely on the nuclear element in July. But at the same time, you struck a deal with Iran regarding the ballistic missile development ban that would extend for eight years. That was done in Vienna as well. So why isn't that just as important to uphold, given that it was done in the same environment with the same players and the same milieu as the nuclear aspects?
MR KIRBY: Well, we dealt with this issue many, many times in the wake of the deal. It's relevant to implementation because it's relevant to the potential for the delivery of that, of nuclear weapons. The purpose of the JCPOA was to cut their pathways off to even having a weapon in general, and that was an important component as well, wrapped up into the whole – the idea of a weaponization program.
But as I've said before, ballistic missile tests are not, in and of themselves, a violation of the JCPOA. They may, in fact, be violations of existing UN Security Council resolutions.
QUESTION: Well, in October, I think you guys said quite clearly it was a failure of Iran to live up to its international obligations. But now, two months later, I don't think you've taken any action beyond a report. Is that right? Or have you taken action?
MR KIRBY: So first, entities involved in launches like the one conducted on the 10th of October have already been designated under existing sanctions, which we're going to continue to fully enforce going forward. These entities are not going to be let off the hook for their involvement in Iran's ballistic missile program.
In addition, on the 21st of October, we condemned the violation and submitted a joint report with France, Germany, and the UK to the UN Security Council Iran Sanctions Committee. We called on the committee, with the support of the independent UN panel of experts, to review this matter quickly and recommend appropriate action.
On the 24th of November, together with the UK and France, we also proposed that the committee push Iran for a formal explanation. And we're going to continue to work with our partners in order to demonstrate a meaningful response to this.
We're also going to continue to press the Security Council to respond effectively to any future violations of UN Security Council resolutions. Full and robust enforcement of all relevant UN measures is and will remain critical.
As for any other response that we may take on our own to the October 10th missile launch, what I can tell you is we're collecting relevant information and weighing appropriate responses.
QUESTION: Just a last follow-up. And I realize we've talked about this a lot, but you said on November 24th you pushed Iran for a full explanation. That comes three days after Iran's second launch of a ballistic missile. Are you afraid that Iran is not getting the message when you're asking them to account for things, but then they keep doing it?
MR KIRBY: I think it's been crystal clear what the message from the international community is with respect to ballistic missile testing and the violation of UN Security Council resolutions. As for this reported incident, again, I don't have anything more to say, other than we're conducting a serious review of it.
QUESTION: Is Iran disallowed from owning or having or testing any kind of ballistic missile?
MR KIRBY: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: Is Iran prohibited by the international community from owning, testing, trying ballistic missiles?
MR KIRBY: There are Security Council resolutions against ballistic missile programs.
QUESTION: For a certain period of time or forever? Or how --
MR KIRBY: I'm not an expert on each resolution, Said. I mean, I'm sure that information is obtainable.
You've been very patient. You want to talk about Armenia, right?
QUESTION: Two quick question; one on Armenia and one on Venezuela. Do you have anything on the results of the referendum of Armenians on constitution change? And then, do you have any concern regarding the allegation that there are a lot of irregularity regarding the referendum?
MR KIRBY: In Armenia?
MR KIRBY: We commend the people and Government of Armenia on the peaceful conduct of all parties during the December 6th constitutional referendum which took place after a spirited public debate. We are concerned by allegations of electoral irregularities reported by nonpartisan observers and various Armenian political parties. We urge Armenian authorities to investigate fully all credible reports – all credible reports, excuse me, of irregularities to ensure the integrity of the referendum's outcome. These issues, which are similar to those identified by OSCE election monitors, following previous elections, must be addressed in the new electoral code to ensure that future elections are viewed by the Armenian people as credible, legitimate, and a true reflection of their will.
QUESTION: And then another one on Venezuela: With the victory of the opposition coalition, are you hopeful of the treatment – improvement of treatment or the release of political prisoners?
MR KIRBY: What we've said – I think we've been very clear that dialogue among all the parties in Venezuela is important to address the social and economic challenges facing the Venezuelan people. The international community, including the United States, has expressed its desire to support that democratic effort. And these institutional and political conversations will be difficult when criminalization of legitimate political dissent exists. Therefore, we call on the government to release all those imprisoned for their political beliefs and activities.
QUESTION: Given that the opposition says it's going to introduce legislation to offer amnesty to the 80 or so political prisoners in Venezuela, do you trust – "you" meaning the U.S. Government – do you trust the Maduro government to actually abide by any law that the opposition may be able to pass?
MR KIRBY: I would just say it's important, as we said, that all parties in Venezuela participate, and that starts with the release of individuals imprisoned for their political beliefs and activities. And we'd be willing to play any constructive supporting role that the various parties would find helpful.
QUESTION: Do you think that Maduro will go along?
MR KIRBY: I think we've made our position very clear and what we're willing to do in terms of seeing that come about, and I don't want to get ahead of events right now. We've been very clear about what we want to see happen in Venezuela for the Venezuelan people, and I'd leave it at that.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:13 p.m.)
DPB # 203
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