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Daily Press Briefing

John Kirby
Assistant Secretary
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 14, 2015

Index for Today's Briefing




2:32 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Hey, everybody. I'm assuming everybody caught the game on Saturday, yes? No?

QUESTION: Personally, we don't watch --

MR KIRBY: Would you like a play-by-play? (Laughter.) I watched every down.

QUESTION: Ladies' field hockey, what were you watching?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yeah.

All right, just a note at the top: As you all know, the Secretary remains on travel today. In Paris this afternoon he met with Qatari Foreign Minister al-Attiyah and Jordanian Foreign Minister Judeh, and he attended the French-hosted meeting on Syria. The Secretary thanked Minister Judeh for the progress his country has made with respect to coordinating a process to identify extremist groups that cannot be part of the political process moving forward in Syria. That work is nearing its completion, and the Secretary looks forward to seeing those results inform and guide our efforts moving forward.

The Secretary is now traveling to Moscow, where he will meet with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov tomorrow. He will reiterate the progress made by Jordan as well as that achieved at the Riyadh conference in Saudi Arabia. He will underscore that the Riyadh conference was broadly representative with important consensus conclusions, to include, obviously, a commitment by opposition groups to go forward with negotiations.

The Secretary also looks forward to discussing with Russian leaders plans for the next ISSG meeting – International Syria Support Group – in New York on Friday. That meeting, which is still on track, will allow us to build on the momentum already achieved in Riyadh and help lay down with more specificity the next steps, including parameters for a ceasefire and opposition negotiations with the Assad regime. The Secretary is mindful that there is still more work to be done before a meaningful meeting in New York can be had, but he also believes that the momentum thus achieved is too vital for the future of Syria to let lapse, and so very much continues to help build a full and busy agenda for the ISSG.

While in Moscow, you can also expect the Secretary to stress the need for full implementation of the Minsk agreement in Ukraine, which is the best solution not only to de-escalating tensions but also to respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

With that, go to you, Brad.

QUESTION: Thanks. Leaving aside Ukraine, can you help us out with – there's been various statements by both the U.S. and Russia about this upcoming Moscow meeting. I think the latest was a Russian reference to preconditions for Friday's international Syria group meeting, and they claim that preconditions – these preconditions have been accepted by Secretary Kerry. Is that your understanding?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary's understanding is that – and he looks – first of all, he looks forward to going to Moscow and to meeting with both the – President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov again about this, about Syria. And he's going with the expectation that there are no preconditions to having this meeting or to having these discussions. He understands and he believes that Foreign Minister Lavrov certainly understands the importance of keeping the momentum going on the political process and the diplomatic track, and so, again, he looks forward to having these discussions. And as I read – as I read at the top, I mean, there's certainly plenty to talk about with respect to Syria.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. See, I think the two kind of big issues that the Russians and everyone else have zeroed in on are the negotiating team and the list of terrorist organizations. Are these supposed to be locked up before this meeting? Will they be locked – will that be finalized soon?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don't want to get ahead of processes here. Certainly the one being run by Jordan – again, we appreciate Jordan's leadership with respect to coordinating this process of identifying groups. As I understand it, that work continues; as I said at the outset, it's nearing its completion. The Secretary looks forward to seeing the results. And certainly, if it's – if that work is done by Friday, then that will obviously be a key part of the agenda on Friday in New York for the ISSG to take up and to talk about. I don't want to get ahead of Jordan and speak for them. They should speak for their progress so far. But we do understand that the work is nearing completion.

It is important nonetheless, though, Brad, to continue to move forward with the ISSG and to continue to build on this momentum. And that's why the Secretary still believes it's important to try to meet in New York on Friday.

QUESTION: And the negotiating team part? That's not for Jordan, right? That's the opposition --

MR KIRBY: That – well, that's the high negotiating committee that came out of the Riyadh conference. I don't know the status of their work in terms of building a negotiating team. It's not my understanding – my understanding is exactly the same as with the Jordanians' work, that the – that that work continues, and if they've got solutions that can be discussed by the ISSG on Friday, that's great; if not, we'll – I mean, there's certainly plenty of other things to talk about there.

QUESTION: And then just lastly, what do you make of all – or do you appreciate the rhetoric that's coming from Russia ahead of this meeting? It seems like you are going out of your way to try to work with them. You keep – we've heard from the Secretary multiple times about how constructive Russia has been, and then Russia's statement said that the United States has to stop its separation between good and bad terrorists. Do you see that as something that, one, you do; and two, this type of talk is helpful?

MR KIRBY: Well, first, I don't – I don't know how one can be a good terrorist. And obviously, we share the Russians' concerns that terrorist networks and terrorist groups should not be a part of the political process moving forward. Now, again, there's work being done by Jordan in terms of helping to identify a process for coordinating these negotiations. We want that work to continue.

I won't speak to Russian comments today. They can speak for themselves. What I can do is speak for Secretary Kerry, and I'll just stress again that he looks forward to his meetings in Moscow. He believes that these are important discussions to be had, that we have made important progress, that there's a sense of momentum, and he very much wants to see that momentum continue. And so again, we look forward to the meetings and we expect and hope that they'll be productive.

QUESTION: John, you said that the meetings are on track, the meeting on the 18th is on track.


QUESTION: Does that mean it's actually going to happen, or are you not yet able to say that?

MR KIRBY: I'm not able to say with complete certainty, Arshad. It's – again, it's our expectation. We're planning on it. The Secretary continues to move forward, but I'm not at liberty to say 100 percent that everything is locked down for it. So I think you can expect that the meeting will occur, but in terms of a formal announcement on the schedule for the Secretary, I just don't think we're quite at that stage right now.



QUESTION: The Russians criticized the representation of the opposition. They said it's not complete, and it seems there's disagreement with the Turks and the U.S. on parties that should be included in the delegation. Also, will you hold the New York meeting before Jordan complete the terrorist list and before agreement on the opposition representation?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, as I said to Brad, I mean, the Secretary believes that there is sufficient momentum built up that it is important to move forward on this meeting. And again, the Jordanians are coordinating a process here for the – identifying groups that can be part of the negotiation. It has been sort of simplified into this good list, bad list, terrorist list. That's not exactly the full scope of what they're doing. As I said, that work, as we understand it, is nearing its completion, and the Secretary looks forward to seeing it. And if it should be done by Friday, then obviously it'll be a part of the agenda going forward with the ISSG, clearly.

But as I also said earlier, the Secretary believes there's plenty of other items to discuss and lots of other business ongoing here with respect to Syria that it's still important to move forward with another meeting of the ISSG. I mean, to a degree, this is about keeping the momentum going and keeping the international community focused and keeping – and moving forward. As I said again in my opening statement, there's important discussions to be had about a ceasefire and how that process can move forward, as well as continuing to discuss what the political transition can look like going forward. As we talked about last week, there's still not unanimity in the international community about sort of what that transition will look like.

So there's lots of work to be done. Again, if it can be informed by the work of the Jordanians, then that's obviously a big plus. But I wouldn't say that it's a showstopper if it's not done. Does that answer?

QUESTION: Have you sent out invitations yet for the meeting?

MR KIRBY: I am not aware that invitations have been sent out. It's not done in quite a black-and-white process. That said, it is every – it is the ISSG's understanding that the same participants that were in Vienna last time would be participating this time. So I think everybody is working under that same assumption.

QUESTION: Okay. But the United States is going to be the host of this meeting? It is – it's happening in the U.S., correct?

MR KIRBY: It's happening in the U.S. And yes, it would be – we would be hosting it since it's in New York City. But it would --

QUESTION: Do you know – do you --


QUESTION: Why not at the UN?

MR KIRBY: Well, it – I don't know exactly where all the venues are, so – but it's – but it's here. It's in New York and --

QUESTION: Is this – and would this be the first time the United States has invited Iran to a U.S.-hosted negotiation in the United States --

MR KIRBY: I don't know, Brad. I mean – it --

QUESTION: -- since the revolution? I don't know.

MR KIRBY: I don't know. I mean it's obviously – the UN would serve as a venue here, but --

QUESTION: But the ISSG's not – it's not a UN event of the ISSG?

QUESTION: It's October when the venue is, right, whether it's the UN --

MR KIRBY: I don't have additional details right now. I understand the technicality. I don't have additional details right now on what this meeting would look like and where it's going to be held and --

QUESTION: Is it going to be one day?


QUESTION: Is it a one-day meeting?

MR KIRBY: And as for – but to your question, I mean, the – Staffan de Mistura will obviously be a participant as the UN has been a participant in the ISSG from the – from almost the very beginning. So there will certainly be UN auspices here. And the Geneva communique, which is a UN document, continues to be the guiding document moving forward. So there is certainly a UN leadership role here.

Yes, Justin.

QUESTION: I wondered – go to visas? So can you tell me what the process is within the State Department for reviewing social media accounts as part of a visa application process?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I think we've talked about this in the past that each visa application, regardless of whether it's under the K-1 program or not – each one is treated individually on a case-by-case basis. Not – point number two, it's not just the State Department that is responsible for doing this vetting. We do this in concert with the Department of Homeland Security. I think you know that.

If a consular officer, in doing the interview and working with – working their way through their part of it, feels like it would be valuable or necessary to look at social media or the social media presence of an individual, they can and do conduct those reviews. But it's not absolute in every case. Each one is taken individually. It is also a fact – and I'm not speaking about this specific case – but it is also a fact that many people disguise their identities on social media. It's also a fact that many of them have in place privacy settings that would prohibit a consular officer from being able to see much of anything in terms of content on their social media platform.

So it is certainly something that is factored into each case, but I – but again, it's not --

QUESTION: But you're not – okay.

MR KIRBY: It's not mandatory for each and every application.

QUESTION: But you're not suggesting that Tashfeen Malik's privacy settings and pseudonyms that she used may have precluded the State Department from gaining any valuable information about her social media --

MR KIRBY: That would get right to the specifics --

QUESTION: Yes, it would.

MR KIRBY: -- of the case that's under investigation, Justin.


MR KIRBY: And you know I'm not going to do that. I'm simply stating that it is a fact that some people disguise their identifies using pseudonym, and some of them also in addition or separately have privacy settings that are set at such a level that it would be difficult for a consular officer examining a social media presence to glean any useful information from it.

QUESTION: Given what we now know about what was on her Facebook account, is it fair to say that the State Department and DHS will be really rethinking their policy here about when it's appropriate to search social media backgrounds, whether it be a case-by-case thing or a each-case thing?

MR KIRBY: Well, let me put it this way. We've talked about the fact that the K-1 visa program in particular is under review. The President himself ordered that review. We are participating with DHS in that review. And I don't want to prejudge outcomes of it, but clearly, we're going to take a hard look at the entire process soup to nuts. And if there are things that we think need to be done better, then we'll recommend those changes. And as I said earlier, the Secretary has made it clear that he reserves the right to make changes as the review is ongoing. If we find things that are obvious that need to be changed right away, he wants to – he made it clear that we'll make those changes, and we'll do that.

I'm not going to get ahead of particular social media rules here.


MR KIRBY: But it's clearly going to – you can – you – I think it's safe to say that that is one factor that will be considered as we go forward with the review. But I don't want to get into specific investigative issues on the Malik case.

QUESTION: Okay. My last one here: There – obviously we know now that the DHS and the State Department has a policy which gives – affords them the right to do these background searches on social media. Was there a time in recent history, as has been reported, that they were prohibited from these types of searches for whatever reason?

MR KIRBY: I'm not aware of any prohibition in the past, as – I know you're looking at press reports with respect to that. As I've said, it is routine – again, I can only speak for the State Department, but it is routine for our consular officers to be able to examine social media presence when they feel it can round out and put a little bit more flesh on the bone of the information and the context that they're trying to gain about individuals who are applying for visas.

QUESTION: Why don't they do it systematically? I mean, given the prominence of social media in current discourse and given that corporations will look at somebody's Facebook page to the extent that they can and so on, why not do it systematically?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, the – so first of all, the process is under review. And that's a piece of this process that I think you can safely assume we'll be looking at going forward. So I don't want to rule out the fact that there may be changes coming down the pike here with respect to social media. Hitherto the practice has been that you want as complete a picture of this individual as possible, and so that's one element that you can maybe gain some context. But it is, as I said, a fact that many people put privacy settings in place that make that effort immaterial or irrelevant as well as not necessarily being completely forthright about their identity on social media.

So it has been practice in – to use as wide a scope as you can, case by case, individual, because each case is examined individually. But again, going forward, if we feel that there's a need for a more rigid application of a look at social media, well, we'll take a look and see what that is.

QUESTION: Do you think that you would have the staffing to look at everybody's social media?

MR KIRBY: It certainly would add to the manpower drain on the visa application process. That's just a mathematical fact. But I'd say two things: One, that's not why it's not done in every case now. It's not that we're crying that we don't have enough people to do it and it would be physically impossible. I mean, our consular officers are well trained and thorough professionals, and they'll certainly do the work that needs to be done. The second thing I would say is that it may not – it just simply may not be necessary to do in every case.

So I think we need to let the review work its way through and see what they come up with in terms of recommendations. But obviously this is a factor, and the Secretary spoke about this yesterday in some media interviews that he gave. Certainly it's something that we're going to take a hard look at.

QUESTION: One other one for me on this. Is it not the case that the vast majority of your consular officers are typically in their first or second tour?

MR KIRBY: I don't know. I'm not – I've been at the State Department for all of seven months. I – so I don't know about how our assignment policy is – what I can tell you is that regardless of their experience – I'm getting nods over here, that they are – they tend to be junior personnel – but they are well-trained and --


MR KIRBY: -- obviously very professional.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, I'm not questioning that. But as somebody who was once young, it seems to me there can be utility in having more experienced people do extremely complex work, and I wonder if the department is giving any thought to – without casting aspersion on the young FSOs that do this work, to having older, more serious, more senior or even more – trained in a more sophisticated manner, given that you may be dealing with people who are not just trying to come here to go to a hospital but – or whatever, or tourism, but may actually be looking to dissemble – adding more – older or more experienced people to the process to try to improve the screening that you do.

MR KIRBY: I'm not aware of any decision or consideration of that particular remedy, or even that it would be a sufficient remedy. But we are taking this review very seriously and I suspect, and I think the Secretary expects, that all factors are going to be considered and that he wants – that the review is going to be as open and as thorough and as complete as possible. And I suspect that they'll look at all factors involved in the processing of an application.

I would say that it's not – again, my limited experience here at the State Department, but my understanding is that it's not as if the consular officers are not supervised and well led and well managed. There's – first of all, they're well trained, but they have a chain of command above them that also reviews and considers their performance every day. So it's not as if they're not supervised in some satisfactory manner. But again, Arshad, it's a fair question and I think you can expect that the review will consider all those kinds of factors.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?


QUESTION: And it's not to counter the wanton ageism of my colleague, but – he's not listening.

MR KIRBY: I think he's just – he's just --

QUESTION: No, no. I heard the word "wanton."

MR KIRBY: I think he's just ignoring.

QUESTION: Just amid all this talk about social media, had you caught these messages by the lady in question – by the woman in question, would that have been grounds by itself to have prevented her from coming to the United States, or would that merely have offered you maybe an idea to further investigate her?

MR KIRBY: It's very difficult to get into hypotheticals, certainly after the fact. And as you know, this is under investigation, so I'm limited into what I can actually – I can say. But having said that and without speaking to this case in particular, I think it's safe to assume that if an – if we have an indication that an individual applying for an application maintains contact with terrorist organizations or expresses terrorist sympathies or desires, that that information would obviously have a derogatory effect on decisions that we might make, as you might expect. I mean, the safety and security of our citizenry is of the – of top priority. And nobody understands that better than our consular officers, who, as I said, are very well trained to look for – again, I don't want to be too specific, but to look for fraudulent tendencies by those who may be applying for visas. So I think, yes, in general – not speaking about this particular case – that would have a very derogatory effect on any decisions that we might make in terms of granting visas.

QUESTION: But the – but so the law gives you the ability to prevent somebody from entering, even if there's not membership in an organization, no clear material assistance, no past record of clear extremist activity, and no clearly stated intentions of – if you – if you --

MR KIRBY: Well, they're not U.S. citizens, so I mean, the --

QUESTION: If you "like," with the thumbs up on ISIS, does that mean you're out?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I don't want to get into specific hypotheticals, but they're – these are – we're talking about people who are not U.S. citizens, and so we have latitude in terms of the decisions that we're making about granting visas. And I can tell you, I mean, visas – visa applications are denied every single day from all over the world for various reasons.

QUESTION: John, is there a feeling generally here that you all missed something with Malik – Tashfeen – Tashfeen --

MR KIRBY: Is there a general feeling that we --

QUESTION: That you missed something, that you missed indicators that would have prevented her from coming in.

MR KIRBY: It's difficult to say until the investigation is complete, Justin. But clearly, something – well, I don't even – I just don't want to get ahead of an investigation that's not complete. Obviously, this was a tragic result. Nobody ever wants to see this happen, where somebody comes into the country from another country and then, whether they had previous terrorist tendencies before arriving or not, but then to come into this country through a process and through a system that allowed them legal entry and then to go and kill other Americans, nobody wants to see that happen. Nobody wants to see it happen again, I can tell you, which is why we're going to take this review so seriously and why we're cooperating very vigorously with the FBI as they investigate this. I just – obviously, things went wrong. It's difficult to say exactly what and how. But for an individual to be able to come into this country, one who the FBI has maintained had terrorist tendencies or affiliations or sympathies, at least, for a couple of years, and then to propagate an attack like that on our own soil – obviously, I think it's safe to say there's going to be lessons learned here. By whom and for whom, I just don't know right now. We're just going to have to let it play out.

QUESTION: I have more on this, actually. Yeah, why limit the review to K-1 visas? It seems like the same risks would be at hand in any type of – either immigrant or non-immigrant visas.

MR KIRBY: Well, the Secretary's already said he wants the Visa Waiver Program to be continually looked at, and he has made it clear that he wants the department to look at all the ways we process visas. So in essence we're doing that. We're looking at all the ways in which people come into this country through the use of visas. So that's happening. But the President himself specifically ordered a review of this program given the attacks in San Bernardino. So that's a more formal, discrete review ordered by the President of the United States that we're cooperating with. But I think the Secretary's already spoken about this, that he thinks it's wise to take a look at everything that we're doing, and to continually update and improve as we go along.

QUESTION: And then when you say that consular officers have the leeway to do these social media searches, and you say that it's not – it's on a case-by-case basis, can you say whether anyone in the interagency review process has a mandate to look at these social media profiles, whether – is it – if it's not done at State, is it done at a different agency?

MR KIRBY: I can't speak for other agencies; I don't know. But I think, again, it's safe to assume that in the wake of this tragic incident, that we're all going to be taking a hard look at social – the social media aspect of this. As I said at the outset, though, it is – that's one tool; it's one potential source of information, but an individual who has malintent can hide that intent on social media quite effectively if they so choose. So while it is certainly going to be something we look at, none of us should consider it the end-all be-all here of trying to make the process as safe and secure as possible. There's other things that we probably need to look at as well.

QUESTION: And then last one for me. Why is it that the K-1 application is a non-immigrant visa application given the fact that clearly someone who is applying as a fiance(e) would be applying to settle, potentially, in the U.S.?

MR KIRBY: This was a – I'm not an expert on the program. I'll try to get you some more context on the definitions there. But it is – it's – it was specifically set up to – for U.S. citizens that are applying, they want to marry a foreign national. So it's set up to provide that specific process to occur. It is in some ways a more rigorous screening process than the normal visa application process. Again, I'm not an expert on it, and we can get you some additional background here. But in some ways it is more rigorous – obviously not perfect, and so we need to strive for as much perfection here as we can. It's difficult, but we're committed to seeing what we have to do, what we need to do to make it stronger.


QUESTION: With regard to this visa thing, I wanted to know: What is the U.S. Government policy towards, like – because Muslims can have – in some parts of the world, they have multiple wives. So in this K-1 visa, how does the U.S. Government know if the U.S. citizen, the girl that she's marrying, if he's already not married back home or in some other countries? How do you guys figure that out?

MR KIRBY: Again, I'm not an expert on process. We can walk you through that. There are a series of background checks that are done for an applicant for this program on both the U.S. side or the U.S. citizen and for the foreign national. Both have to go through multi levels of vetting here whereby you try to establish two things: the – you want to preserve the security of the American people, so you want to make sure that the individual coming in is not a security threat, to the degree you can, and you want to establish the bona fides of the relationship, that it is, in fact, a legitimate engagement, if you will. And there's multiple levels; we can get somebody who's much better at this than me to walk you through how that's done, okay? But it is – but there are two sides to this. One is the security, the other is the relationship itself and the fact that it is a legitimate intended marriage-to-be.

QUESTION: So is the U.S. Government has contacted the Pakistani interior minister? Chaudhry Nisar had said that they are going to cooperate with the U.S. and FBI with regard to --

MR KIRBY: I'll let the Pakistanis speak for themselves. I know we – I know officials from the United States have discussed this issue on the Pakistanis, and my understanding is that they have expressed a willingness to cooperate and to be helpful. But I'll let them speak for themselves, okay?


QUESTION: So related to that, you mentioned the Visa Waiver Program, and you spoke to that last week. Since then, more than 20 European ambassadors sent an open letter published by The Hill today stating that such a change in the law – in the U.S. law would be counterproductive for European citizens. So do you know if the U.S. Government is already in contact with the European government, and can you imagine that there would be exceptions for European journalists, European doctors, European NGO workers who had been to Syria, to Iran, or to Iraq for legitimate reasons?

MR KIRBY: I'm aware of the correspondence. I don't have an update for you on any response that may have come from the Administration. Certainly aware of the concerns expressed by many European leaders about the program.

It is – so a couple of points here. One, we are going to work with Congress to continually review the Visa Waiver Program. And the Secretary has spoken to this very clearly, that he wants to continue to work with Congress and that if there needs to be changes in the program, he wants to work with them to make them, to have them make sense. Again, we want to take as fulsome a look as possible on the manner in which and the ways in which people can come into this country for temporary or for permanent purposes. I don't know of any specific changes that are afoot right now with respect to travel to certain parts of the world.

I would – but I would tell you, point number two, that the Visa Waiver Program – don't let the word "waiver" fool you. It's not a free pass. It's not as if an individual – a citizen of a nation that is inside the Visa Waiver Program – just has – is not screened at all before they decided to jump on an airplane. It's not true. There is a very significant vetting process that still occurs each and every time they want to travel, by the way. It's not a blanket approval once you've come to the United States. And certainly, where else an individual travels is a factor that is always – it's always part of a vetting process. So I don't have any updates for you on the specific concerns. We're certainly mindful of that.

And the last point I would make is that we have been in touch with and will continue to be in touch with European leaders about their concerns about the program. It's an important program. We recognize that. It helps facilitate business, travel, tourism, and, of course, as you pointed out, Nick, journalism as well. And so we recognize the criticality of it. We also recognize the criticality of making sure we get it right going forward, and we're going to work hard on that.

QUESTION: John, another visa question. The Wall Street Journal has just put out an alert saying that the United States is working on a plan to scrutinize social media in visa reviews. And in the text of their story, they say that the Department of Homeland Security is working on such a plan. I have myself never fully understood the different responsibilities between the State Department, which issues the visas and conducts the interviews, and DHS, which performs some kind of a review prior to the issuance of a visa. So, I guess, two questions: One, can you explain to me the difference between those roles? And two, given that the State Department already has the option to scrutinize social media, why DHS is just kind of cottoning onto this?

MR KIRBY: Well, I won't speak for DHS and decisions that they might be making. I think – I have not seen that report, but it's very much consistent with what I think I've been saying here, that we are also looking at the use of social media in the visa application process.

Again, with my vast experience here at the State Department, I'll do the best I can to try to summarize this, and I'll ask Elizabeth, who's been a consular officer, to jump if she thinks I get this wrong. And I mean that, you should. As I understand it, we are the overseas arm here. DHS is the homeland arm of the process of an individual who wants to come the United States for whatever legal reason – marriage, want to cover a story, whatever. So somebody applies for a visa over there, and our embassy or consuls will examine that application and make certain decisions about whether it's going to be permitted or not – approved or not. And again, that process can take any – a different, variant amount of time based on the individual. And again, it's all done by case – case by case.

The simple act of a consular officer saying, "Okay, it's approved; you can travel to the United States," doesn't actually mean that the individual is going to be able to complete that travel, because there's – DHS does help in this process. But where they really are important is at port of entry here in the United States. So when an individual – and all of us have traveled overseas. You go up to the customs desk and then they are the – they're the final point at which an individual is allowed to enter or not, and that's where DHS is most critical is at the port of entry and doing yet another validation of the permission, the – which is what a visa is. It's basically us saying you are permitted to travel, where they get that sort of final vote in validating that permission.

So it's got to be – and as I understand it, it's not a simple, clean handoff either. I mean, there's constant coordination and communication between State and DHS throughout the process of one's application. But ultimately DHS gets the final say when an individual gets to the United States.

Did I cover that well enough? Okay, thanks.

QUESTION: DHS must get involved before they simply show up on American shores?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, as I said, it's not a clean handoff. It's not like the State Department says okay, here's --


MR KIRBY: I mean we work with DHS throughout the application process and approval.

QUESTION: And are you saying that the DHS and the State Department may have different standards and policies as it applies to, for instance, scrubbing social media?

MR KIRBY: I don't – I don't know what DHS's policies are, so I can't speak for that.


MR KIRBY: But it is a factor in our process.


MR KIRBY: And in light of what happened in San Bernardino, I can assure you that we're going to continue to look at social media practices and platforms going forward. And we're going to do this – we're doing this review in concert with DHS, and I think it's safe to assume that as we conduct the review, when we learn things – if there's things that we can do better, we'll do it better as a team, not individually.

QUESTION: Right. I just wonder if people are pointing fingers right now saying, "No, you were supposed to check that; that was your deal." Whose deal is it?

MR KIRBY: I'm not aware of any finger pointing that's going on inside the interagency right now. What we want to do is cooperate with investigators, learn as much as we can about how this happened, and do whatever we can to try to prevent it from happening again. And I can tell you – again, I don't like speaking for another agency, but I think I'm on safe ground saying that Secretary Johnson shares Secretary Kerry's concern that we work in concert and as a team as we both cooperate with the investigation and conduct this review.



QUESTION: Miss World contest will be held this weekend, and in this Miss – Canada's Miss World will – is refused to enter the country and then she cannot participate the contest because she is a strong supporter for human rights and religious freedom in China. Do you have any response?

MR KIRBY: Who is – who – what's the name again?

QUESTION: Anastasia Lin.

QUESTION: Miss Canada.

MR KIRBY: Miss Canada?

QUESTION: She's – yeah, she's Canadian, but she was – yeah, she's Canadian.

MR KIRBY: She's Canadian and --

QUESTION: Who is --

MR KIRBY: -- she wants to go to China?

QUESTION: Right, to China.

MR KIRBY: I'm sorry, I --

QUESTION: She's --

QUESTION: She's the Canadian candidate to be Miss World.


QUESTION: And she wants to enter the China to participate this Miss World this weekend.

MR KIRBY: I see.

QUESTION: But because she criticized China's human rights and religious freedom, she was refused to entry, and I'm just wondering if you have any respond.

MR KIRBY: I'm sorry, I did not – I have no information about that. I was briefed from – quite a few things today but that wasn't one of them. (Laughter.) So I'm going to have to --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: The travel of many people were – was on mind today but not the travel of the potential future Miss World. So let me see if I can --

QUESTION: I sent an email to them --

MR KIRBY: Let me see if I can get you a --


QUESTION: John, staying on China, please.


QUESTION: Sorry. Would you have a comment on the trial of the Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang?

MR KIRBY: Yes. Actually, I am prepared for that one. (Laughter.) We remain concerned that Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent Chinese defense lawyer, is being tried under vague charges of inciting ethnic hatred and picking quarrels and provoking trouble. Lawyers and civil society leaders such as Miss Pu – Mr. Pu, I'm sorry – should not be subject to continuing repression but should be allowed to contribute to the building of a prosperous and stable China. We urge Chinese authorities to release Mr. Pu and call upon China to uphold fundamental civil rights and fair trial guarantees as enshrined in the PRC constitution and its international human rights commitments. We were also dismayed with the physical harassment of Chinese and international observers, including journalists and diplomatic personnel outside the courthouse where the trial was held.

QUESTION: Why didn't the ambassador go to the trial? There's been some questions about that.

MR KIRBY: I don't have any updates.

QUESTION: I think you sent a lower-ranking, dare I say junior diplomat, and not the ambassador.

MR KIRBY: I don't have any additional details on the ambassador's participation.



QUESTION: Yeah. I was wondering if State Department has any comment or concern regarding China's plan to build its military outpost on the East African nation of Djibouti, where also U.S. Navy operates.

MR KIRBY: It plans to build where?

QUESTION: Djibouti, in East African.

MR KIRBY: In Djibouti?


MR KIRBY: Oh. Well, look, these are issues for sovereign nations to work out. And I can't speak for the decisions that the Chinese or leaders in Djibouti might be making with respect to construction of a Chinese military base there. That – again, those are bilateral decisions. We have bases many places around the world, as do other militaries. If those kinds of activities can help lead to better stability and security in the region, well, then there's obviously some value to that. But where military activities by any nation contribute to escalating tensions or increasing tensions, well, then that's obviously something that we would certainly take a dim view of. But as far as I know, these are preliminary discussions and I think it's too soon to get out way too ahead of it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: John, can I ask you about the President's comments today on the Islamic State?


QUESTION: He spoke about the need for allies in the Middle East to do more, that he'd like to see them do more, but he didn't specify which countries he was talking about. I was wondering if you could tell us exactly who he's referring to, or if not, where Secretary Carter will be traveling.

MR KIRBY: I don't have any additional detail to offer than what the Commander-in-Chief did. And I certainly won't speak to Secretary Carter's travel. I can't do that. I do know that Secretary Carter, as the President said today, is beginning a trip to the region. In fact, he announced that himself when he testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier last week.

So what I would tell you is that from Secretary Kerry's view, there is still plenty of work to be done to degrade and destroy, defeat ISIL. Some of that work needs to be done along the military line of effort, and I suspect that Secretary Carter will be speaking about those lines of effort wherever he travels this week. Some of the work needs to be done along other lines of effort. And I think I talked about this last week, but our special envoy, Brett McGurk, is now – he's in Europe, but he was in the region just a few days ago, and talking to leaders about those very things, the different lines of effort and how we all need to keep pressing the fight against ISIL.

There's plenty more work for everybody to do – including, I would add, the United States. And this gets right at what the President announced a couple of weeks ago about intensified efforts, enablers in the form of Special Operation forces, additional strikes and intensification there. The French have stepped up their efforts, the Germans have stepped up their efforts. So there are nations that are adding and increasing, and we welcome – as you – I might note the vote in the United Kingdom, which allowed for airstrikes in Syria. So we welcome those efforts by individual nations to intensify and increase their efforts. And do we want to see more of it? Absolutely we do. But it also – as I've said many times, it's a coalition of the willing, and each nation – each participant has to be willing to do what it can, where it can, and how much it can. And we respect those are sovereign decisions, so I wouldn't get into a list of what one nation or another can do more of. We do want to see every member of the coalition intensify their efforts and intensify the pressure that collectively the coalition is putting on ISIL. How they do that and the resources they apply to that intensification, obviously those are sovereign decisions that we respect.

QUESTION: But there is a sense that this is – that this larger effort can't be successful unless there is significant – a significant ground force contribution from countries in the region, right?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think you've heard the Secretary speak to this himself. I would say – so two points here. One, we've always said that the only way that a defeat of ISIL can be sustained, so that they can stay defeated, is through the efforts of willing, capable partners on the ground. And we've always said that the best willing, capable partners on the ground are going to be indigenous forces. In Iraq, it's obviously the Iraqi Security Forces in concert with the Peshmerga up north. And in Syria, it's with capable fighters that we are supporting there, whether they're Arabs or Kurds or Turkoman. And so we've always said that it has to be – in order to sustain a defeat, you have to do it with partners on the ground that are indigenous. Because as you know, I mean, U.S. troops, if you were to deploy them, you – could you defeat ISIL quickly? Yeah, but you couldn't sustain that defeat, and that's what really has to happen. It's about keeping them beaten, and that's why it's important for local forces to have to do – to have to do that work.

The second thing – and the Secretary has talked about this – is that we'd – we certainly would welcome increased efforts and pressure applied by neighboring countries as well in terms of assisting those partners on the ground.

And then the third thing is we have to bear in mind, particularly in the case of Iraq, that – as we said last week, that it is important that whatever military efforts against ISIL are done in Iraq specifically have to be done with the approval of the Iraqi Government and Prime Minister Abadi, and in concert with his efforts because this is an Iraqi fight on the ground – in concert with his strategic plan, his campaign plan, and his objectives.

So our message is the same to any regional player, any neighbor of Iraq that wants to participate in fighting ISIL – that they do so in constant coordination and communication and with his approval.

QUESTION: Why, then, couldn't U.S. forces defeat and sustain the defeat of IS forces in Iraq or in Syria? The United States defeated armies in Germany and in Japan in World War II; occupied both countries; governed them initially. Why is it inconceivable to you that if the United States were to choose to devote much greater resources, that they couldn't do the same here?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don't think there's much appetite by the American people to devote those kinds of resources – one. Number two – and I'm getting into military matters that I really shouldn't – but the second thing I would say is that what we've learned after 14 years of counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan is that the best way, the most effective way to be able to sustain a defeat of terrorists in a country, or people that use terror as an act of war, is to do it with indigenous forces who have already intrinsically the trust and confidence of the local population, and the ability, first of all, to know the terrain, to know the culture, to know the language, to know the enemy better than we do, and to be able to sustain it over time. That's how this is done.

We've – again, we've seen both in Iraq and Afghanistan a prolonged U.S. presence isn't going to be able to have that sustained effect against terrorists inside a country. It really has to be done by, with, and through – and that's a common phrase that the Pentagon has used – by, with, and through local forces.

QUESTION: So here, if it is so vital that they be local, indigenous forces, why go off to ask Arab states to provide forces? I mean, it – first of all, it's not clear that they're willing to provide any ground troops, but even if they were, a Saudi soldier is not necessarily going to understand the dynamics in Syria nor are they necessarily going to have the trust and confidence of Syrians. So why are you pursuing ground forces from other Arab nations when – I mean, even though they may have a leg up because they speak Arabic, they're not indigenous and they don't necessarily have the trust or the confidence of anybody in another country.

MR KIRBY: Well, yeah, without getting ahead of decisions that these countries haven't made – and I wouldn't do that – they certainly know the region better. They certainly know the culture, they know the motivations, and it was by no accident that when we were talking about standing up a training and assist program for the moderate Syrian opposition that we were heavily engaging with partner nations in the region to help inform that process because they certainly knew the opposition better than we did – who was who, and who could be worked with and who couldn't be. And obviously, the program had challenges beyond which we couldn't have foreseen at the time, but they certainly know the – they certainly know the culture, the area, the topography. They know the parties. They know the challenges, because they live it every single day. And many of these countries are literally – it's not an academic exercise for them. They are literally on the front lines of this conflict. I mean, just look at Jordan and the over million refugees from Syria that they are still hosting and trying to take care of.

So there is a role here to be played. Again, what role that could be is really up for these nations. These are sovereign decisions, just like it was a sovereign decision by the United Kingdom to conduct airstrikes in Syria. These are sovereign decisions that only these nations can make. And – but that doesn't mean it's not still worth having the discussion with them or that – and that we should not respect the leadership role that they might be able to take going forward.

QUESTION: But if you're a Saudi soldier, I mean, the chances are you probably – even if you're from the countryside, maybe even if you're from Riyadh, you probably haven't spent much time with Alawis, with Christians, with Druze. It's not like this area where – outside of Syria and Lebanon is heavily populated by all of these different groups that are in Syria. So I think – so I wonder why they would know the culture. They might know the culture of hardline Sunnis in the opposition --

MR KIRBY: Which are in the majority – there's a Sunni majority in the region.


MR KIRBY: And most of the opposition groups are Sunni. So again, I don't want to --


MR KIRBY: -- parse this too specifically, but there is – they certainly have a depth of knowledge. And don't forget, who was it that convened the groups, the opposition groups in Riyadh just last week? It was the Saudis. Because they have an understanding, a deeper understanding of the opposition.

QUESTION: Right, but we're talking about the ground forces that would fulfil a potential ground – potential stabilization effort in Syria. And it's – I don't quite understand, besides that they're Arabic and Muslim, which accounts for some of the people in Syria, what makes them better equipped to understand the region, culture – the culture, the motivations, the terrain --

MR KIRBY: Because they --

QUESTION: -- the – I mean, a desert and the --

MR KIRBY: -- they've been living – you know that they've been living with this, the consequences of the --

QUESTION: You mean the Saudis?

MR KIRBY: Absolutely they have been. They have been – they certainly, as a regional power, have been living with the effects of the Syria civil war, of course. And they have knowledge --

QUESTION: The ground forces --

MR KIRBY: -- they have knowledge that we do not have, particularly about the opposition groups. Which is why it was so important that Saudi led that meeting in Riyadh.

I've got time for just a couple more. Yeah.

QUESTION: I have one on Shaker Aamer. He gave an interview to one of my colleagues at the BBC; he was a British resident who the U.S. held without charge for 14 years. He says that Americans routinely mistreated him and tortured him both at Bagram Air Base and Guantanamo. Do you have a response?

MR KIRBY: I haven't seen those comments. What I can tell you is that we don't torture. The United States does not torture. So I haven't seen his comments. I don't know what he's referring to. But I can tell you that we meet our obligations under international law for the humane treatment of detainees.

QUESTION: Can you state that backwards into time, that the United States has never tortured, not just in the present tense but in the past tense?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think it's been a long discussion, when you go back to waterboarding. But the United States military, the ones who are holding these detainees or have held these detainees, does not torture. I'm not a historian; I won't – and I don't think it's valuable to relive every incident in the past. I think it's a matter of public record that we haven't always lived up to that standard. But I can tell you that without knowing his particular claims over what particular timeframe, I can assure you, as I said, again, the United States military, who was holding these detainees, follows the law and does not torture.

QUESTION: On ISIL's oil (inaudible). Thank you. Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence with the U.S. Treasury Adam Szubin said part of ISIL's oil is being sold to the Syrian Government and some of it, he said, goes across the border into Turkey. Does the U.S. plan to take whatever information it has to the UN Security Council?

MR KIRBY: I know of no such plans. And as I think we've briefed from this podium before, we've seen no indication whatsoever that Turkey is involved in oil smuggling or relationships of that kind with ISIL.

QUESTION: You were talking about the leadership not being involved, as I understood. But as the U.S. – as I understand Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence with the U.S. Treasury Adam Szubin said that some of ISIL's oil does cross the border into Turkey. So you're saying you're not planning to inform the UN about this?

MR KIRBY: That some of the oil may cross into Turkey doesn't mean that Turkey's complicit in that.

QUESTION: I understand that. I understand that. No, the question was about the UN Security Council and whether the U.S. plans to do that, to take whatever information it has to the UN Security Council.

MR KIRBY: I know of no such plans.

QUESTION: In February, the UN – the U.S. signed on to a UN Security Council resolution that calls on member states to notify the UN about ISIL oil trade if they have such information. Do you know why the U.S. hasn't done that?

MR KIRBY: I'd have to check for you. I don't know that we haven't done that. Your question assumes that we haven't. I don't know that – I don't know that there hasn't been any information passed. But you're asking if we're going to take it up for some formal resolution at the United Nations, and I know of no such plans. But I'd have to take your question.

Next, yeah.

QUESTION: Also on Turkey. Do you have anything more on this shift to limited operations at the embassy? And is there any concern for U.S. citizens in Turkey related to this?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think our embassy has put out a security message about this. Clearly nothing's more concerning to us than the safety and security of Americans, particularly those overseas. We take that very seriously which is why they've issued another security message about these threats.

I can't get into the specific nature of the threats, but obviously they are meaningful enough to us that we made this decision to limit operations at the embassy. We're just going to have to take this day by day and see where it goes.

QUESTION: Is this separate –

MR KIRBY: But obviously – and there's great information on our website that travelers should consult, specifically those who want to travel to Turkey. It's all laid out there and we highly recommend that travelers sign up for the Smart Travel Enrollment Program because then we can have – you can have pushed to you and to your smart phone updated security information as it becomes available.

QUESTION: Is this separate from the warning that went out last week related to Istanbul?

MR KIRBY: Yes, it is. It's – I mean it's a separate issuance.

QUESTION: Is it a separate threat?

MR KIRBY: But I won't get into the specifics about what generated this one, but it is a different security message than the one that was issued on Istanbul. And again, I think it's just reflective of the fact that there remains a threat and that we want to make sure that all Americans have the same information we have just as quickly as we have it.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, you said that it remains a threat. Is the threat the same for those two warnings?

MR KIRBY: I don't want to get into specifics. I just mean that obviously there remains a threat in Turkey. I'm not saying that it's the same exact one that affected Istanbul, just that there remains a security concern, this one focused in Ankara. And we're going to work with local authorities as we continue to sort of unravel this and try to figure out more and learn more. But in the absence of additional information, our post did exactly what they should do which is put out this message and advise people to avoid the area and then again to take the steps to limit the activity of the post as necessary.

Obviously, we don't think that this is going to be a permanent condition, and I expect that the embassy will be back up to full operation at the appropriate time. But we're going to take this day by day and make sure that we don't go back to normal operations any sooner than we should.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Can I ask a quick – another question just on Russia tomorrow? Do you have – our Russian side has been telling us that there's a 10 o'clock meeting with Lavrov and then a 6 o'clock meeting with Putin.

MR KIRBY: We'll have additional updated information for you later. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:35 p.m.)

DPB # 207

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