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Military

Daily Press Briefing

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 6, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing

NORTH KOREA/REGION
MIDDLE EAST/REGION
HAITI
NORTH KOREA/REGION
ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
INDIA/RUSSIA
IRAN/SAUDI ARABIA/IRAQ/REGION
SYRIA/REGION
VIETNAM/REGION
HAITI

 

TRANSCRIPT:

.2:18 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Hey, everybody. Sorry I'm a little late.

QUESTION: With authority.

MR KIRBY: Well, it's just I'm a little off balance right now. So, all right, a few things at the top.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) just now.

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) I take that as a compliment.

QUESTION: Of course. It was meant that way.

MR KIRBY: I'm assuming that or at least I'm hoping that many of you saw the Secretary's statement which we just put out a little bit ago, but I am going to reiterate some of the top lines here at the outset. The U.S. Government judges North Korea to have conducted a nuclear test yesterday. We're still evaluating the North's claims about this test, but our initial analysis is not consistent with North Korea's claim that this was a hydrogen bomb. In any event, we strongly condemn this violation of UN Security Council resolutions, and again call on North Korea to abide by its international obligations and commitments. We have consistently made clear that we will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state.

Since last night, we've been in constant contact with our allies and partners in the region. Secretary Kerry spoke today over the phone with the foreign minister of the Republic of Korea, Foreign Minister Yun. The Secretary reiterated to the foreign minister our steadfast commitment to the security of the Republic of Korea, and the peninsula, and emphasized the importance of a unified international response to the North's provocative actions. He cited the need for continued, close bilateral coordination with the United States, and of course trilateral coordination with Japan. The Secretary is scheduled to speak with his Japanese counterpart this evening, and a call to his Chinese counterpart is in the process of being scheduled. And I think you may have also seen the Department of Defense read out a phone call that the Secretary of Defense Ash Carter had with his South Korean counterpart as well. Deputy Secretary Blinken will be heading out to the region next week and will discuss this development and other issues with our partners in the region.

This morning, as you know, the UN Security Council met in an emergency session requested by the United States and Japan, regarding the North's claimed test. The international community must impose real consequences for the regime's destabilizing actions and respond with enhanced pressure. The Security Council has a key role to play in holding North Korea accountable by imposing a tough, comprehensive, and credible package of new sanctions, and by ensuring rigorous enforcement of the resolutions it has already adopted. And I might note that there's been some four, I believe, resolutions since 2006 to deal with this particular issue.

Today's – excuse me. Today's Security Council meeting marks the first important step in that process. We're going to continue to protect and defend our allies in the region, our interests in the region, including, of course, the Republic of Korea and Japan, and we will respond appropriately to any and all North Korean provocations.

On the tensions in the Middle East, the Secretary continues to engage with a variety of leaders both in the region and elsewhere to urge calm and to keep the focus on resolving the pressing crises in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and elsewhere. Over the past day or so, he has spoken with the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, and will continue these conversations and others as needed. Again, at this time we are focused on continuing to work collaboratively to find solutions to the crises in the region, and we believe that direct engagement and conversations remain important to that end. We certainly don't expect all of this to be resolved overnight, but what we do expect is that responsible leaders in the region will stay focused, as we are, on engaging and continuing to participate in a constructive way to resolve the various challenges in the region.

Finally, on Haiti. You may have seen our Media Note, but I do want to make note that Ambassador Tom Shannon is traveling to Haiti today. He is accompanied by Haiti Special Coordinator and Deputy Assistant Secretary Kenneth Merten. The visit takes place in the context of ongoing efforts in Haiti to complete the electoral process. The elections will allow a new government and parliament to address the other challenges Haiti faces in achieving economic growth and sustainable development. The ambassador will discuss the importance of Haiti as a longstanding partner of the United States and will reaffirm the broad-based nature of the bilateral relationship and U.S. support for Haiti's social, economic, and political development.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: I've got a very – a couple very brief ones on North Korea, and then I'll defer to someone else. One, was the Blinken trip scheduled before yesterday?

MR KIRBY: Yes. This trip --

QUESTION: So he was going out there anyway?

MR KIRBY: This trip was previously planned, yes. But obviously in light of recent events, he will be discussing that.

QUESTION: All right. Two, is the – you said the China call was being scheduled. Do you know, like, is it hopefully today or --

MR KIRBY: I don't know. I know that both sides are trying to work out convenient times. With the time zone difference, it can be difficult. I just don't have any more detail for you.

QUESTION: All right. You said that the preliminary assessment – and the White House said this as well – is not consistent with a hydrogen bomb test that North Korea claims it carried out. What is it consistent with?

MR KIRBY: Well, we know it was a nuclear test. I would say our analysis is ongoing. I don't have additional detail right now, but we are – the U.S. Government position is that it was a nuclear test. We're still working our way through the metrics here, so I'm really not at liberty to offer more definitive analysis than that.

QUESTION: Okay. But I mean --

MR KIRBY: But we – nothing we've seen so far – and I'd say, as I said in my opening statements, initial analysis – the analysis is still going on. Nothing we've seen so far backs up the claim --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- that this was a hydrogen bomb.

QUESTION: But when you say – I realize you can't get into detail because it's all preliminary, but, I mean, would you say that it's consistent with previous tests that they've carried out which they have not claimed to have been a hydrogen bomb?

MR KIRBY: I don't think we're ready to say that –

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: -- so specifically, Matt.

QUESTION: And then the last one is – and every time this happens, the line comes out from people in this Administration and other governments as well, is that we will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state, and yet, it is. You also say this about other things too. You say you will never accept Crimea as a part of Russia. And yet, it is. Isn't it time to recognize these things for what they are and not live in this illusion or fantasy where you pretend that things that are, are not?

MR KIRBY: The short answer is no.

QUESTION: No?

MR KIRBY: But I would challenge --

QUESTION: It's preferable to live in a fantasy world?

MR KIRBY: I would challenge this idea that it's a fantasy world. Just because – let me put it this way. At this level of foreign policy, you have to make choices. And you don't have to accept everything --

QUESTION: You have to accept reality, though.

MR KIRBY: -- even at face value. No, you – we are not going to accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state, and we're not going to recognize that. We are, however, going to deal with their efforts --

QUESTION: The fact that they are a nuclear-armed state.

MR KIRBY: -- their efforts at developing that program.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you understand my confusion? I know this – I think it's illogical to say that you're not going to recognize them as a nuclear-armed state when, in fact, they are and you are operating in a way --

MR KIRBY: We are certain --

QUESTION: -- to make them not a nuclear-armed state --

MR KIRBY: There's a difference between --

QUESTION: -- something that you say you don't recognize.

MR KIRBY: There is a difference between dealing with what we know they're developing and what we know they're doing, and officially accepting or recognizing it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: There's a big difference there and you understand that better than most, Matt, about the difference there.

QUESTION: Well, I just think it – well, go ahead.

QUESTION: John, can I also follow up on this one? The White House said it was not surprised by this attack – I mean by this test. What signs have there been over the last months or weeks that the U.S. was not surprised at it, or was it the scale of it that might have taken you aback?

MR KIRBY: Well, that gets into intelligence issues. And I think you can understand, particularly in the case of North Korea, why we're going to be reticent to talk about intelligence matters and capabilities.

QUESTION: So you were expecting this?

MR KIRBY: I won't go any further than what my colleagues at the White House have gone in terms of --

QUESTION: And then I have --

MR KIRBY: -- level of knowledge. But look, it is – without getting into the specifics of this test and what we knew, when we knew it, to Matt's point, however sharply made, that this is not – this kind of activity is not new for the regime nor is their pursuit of this kind of capability. It's something that we watch as best we can and monitor as best we can.

Now, look, it's also imperfect because this is an incredibly opaque regime about which we don't have perfect knowledge. And intelligence is never a perfect science to begin with. It's particularly challenging in a place like or with a regime like that of Kim Jong-un and his father. So it's not perfect. But again, I just – I won't go into – it wouldn't be prudent for me to go into the specifics.

QUESTION: I guess the thing – it raises question was that the U.S. had some – made some flights over North Korea last night to see how big this was, to see the scale of this thing. So that kind of tells that this might have taken you by surprise as far as the scale of it, even though the UN's saying this is not as big as previous ones.

MR KIRBY: I don't want to talk about specific military matters and that. But aside from that, that you may want to derive more information so that you can improve your analysis of an event doesn't mean that you were taken aback by the event itself or surprised by the event. It's part of the analysis process. And I'm not confirming in any way by that statement overflights of any kind. That's not for me to do from this podium. I'm just saying that it is not uncommon for us in situations like this – and as you know, in the past we've done exactly the same thing – to try to derive as much of the metrics as you can and do as much of the analysis as you can so you can have a better understanding of it. That's – that doesn't – that in and of itself says nothing about whether you had advance notice or how much or – how much detail.

QUESTION: So can I just have a follow-up, just – and then you can – on sanctions, the U.S. has never sanctioned North Korea's leadership as far as I can see from my research. But how far would you think that sanctions should go now given the latest test?

MR KIRBY: That's part of the discussions that need to occur at the UN. That's why we asked for the meeting with Japan today and that's why the Secretary is going to stay engaged with his counterparts on this. I mean, those are exactly the kinds of questions I think you can expect that world leaders are asking themselves. I don't want to get ahead of decisions that haven't been made.

QUESTION: Well, what does the U.S. --

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: How far does the U.S. believe this should go and how far would you think – are you pushing for other countries to take a --

MR KIRBY: I won't get into specifics. We are still working our way through what the appropriate response would be, and I wouldn't want to telegraph that now before those kinds of decisions are made. Clearly, this is going to be an international decision. This isn't just a – not just about one nation here. The UN has tools at its disposal – as I've said, some four UNSCR resolutions before, since 2006. And we – as I said in my opening statement, we want to see the international community united in an appropriate response here, but exactly what that's going to look like, I don't think anybody knows right now.

To your second point about what we're doing, as I said again in my opening statement, in his calls to counterparts – and I suspect he will continue to make this point in other calls that he has about this – he'll be – the Secretary will be making that exact point, that the international community does need to be united in a response to this, and that it does need to be robust to deal with this most recent test.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that? So you're saying that's true, that the U.S. has never sanctioned North Korean leaders? Is that right?

MR KIRBY: No, I didn't say that. I've not seen the data to --

QUESTION: Lesley said and then you were like, "Yeah."

MR KIRBY: No, I was trying to answer --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- what was the actual question, which was about what we're going to do. I don't have the history of --

QUESTION: So they had --

MR KIRBY: -- of U.S. sanctions. Justin, I'll have to --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: I'll have to get back to you on that. I don't have the – I don't have the list.

QUESTION: And then what we were getting at about whether or not you knew something about this ahead of time, Josh Earnest said the timing wasn't surprising. What we're trying to understand is, did you know that they were gearing up for a test, or are you just generally not surprised that they're testing nuclear weapons?

MR KIRBY: Again, I want to be careful here that I don't get into specific intelligence matters. But you know very well that this is – that this activity by them is something that we monitor as best we can. It's not perfect, but we do the best we can because they do have a history here of these sorts of tests – not just underground, but in a missile form as well. (Coughs.) Excuse me. And it's something that we do the best we can to try to – to try to flesh out our knowledge and our ability to get ahead of it.

Sometimes, as you well know, particularly in some of the missile tests that they do, they actually issue a warning. So you have some advance that something's coming. So it's – in some instances, it's a lot more difficult to discern what they're going to do than it is in others. But I don't want to get into the specifics of our intelligence capabilities or what we were able to glean here. So I don't think I could go in any more detail.

QUESTION: Can you point to anything you might have done that would indicate you knew something was happening, like reaching out to allies or prepositioning of assets in the region?

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: Not – because what we're seeing is nothing like that to indicate that you would know --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, right.

QUESTION: -- you would have known that this was coming.

MR KIRBY: I'm just really not at liberty to get into intelligence matters.

QUESTION: John, so the North Korea did not notify the United States before their --

MR KIRBY: No, they did not.

QUESTION: -- bomb test? Okay.

MR KIRBY: They did not.

QUESTION: So if sanctions did not work, will military options in the table?

MR KIRBY: I think – look, I don't – it's – I'm not going to hypothesize or speculate here about what options the international community will or will not choose to take. We called the meeting, we asked with the Japanese for the meeting at the UN because we believe that's the right forum here to address this, as it has in the past. We're going to continue to press that case with the international community through the UN for additional sanctions. We do – as you know very well, we have an alliance commitment with the Republic of Korea that we take very, very seriously. Obviously, nobody wants to see it come to that. But we have a robust military presence there on the peninsula that is, as they say, they're ready tonight if they need to be.

QUESTION: Can --

MR KIRBY: But – but – and I'm not speculating one way or another here – the focus here is going to be with the international community through the UN to explore additional options for sanctions.

QUESTION: Can you tell, what is the difference, the sanctions between existing one and new sanctions?

MR KIRBY: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: What is the difference between existing one and the – one sanction or --

MR KIRBY: Between --

QUESTION: Between new sanction and existing sanctions?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, again, I don't want to get ahead of decisions that the UN hasn't made. I mean, you could issue new sanctions, you can strengthen older ones, you can add to older ones. There's lots of options here. I don't want to get ahead of the decision-making process. But again, we believe that – that's why we asked for the meeting this morning. We believe that that's the right forum to have this discussion. And we obviously do want to see the international community hold the North accountable for this most recent test.

QUESTION: You brought up sanction. As you know, in 2012, UN Security Council resolution clearly mentioned that if the North Korea conduct additional test, international community take significant step, another step, which means that putting additional sanctions. And also President Obama also signed a executive order in the last January, right.

So my question is: What exactly – what exact sanction would the United States consider? And do you think it's – this additional sanction is effective to stop the development of a nuclear weapon?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, I'm not going to get ahead of decisions that haven't been made yet. So I can't possibly hypothesize right now what additional sanctions would look like. This is something that the UN needs to take up. It's something that we obviously want the UN to take up. I won't get ahead of decisions that haven't been made yet.

QUESTION: Do you think China would agree?

MR KIRBY: You'd have to ask the Chinese. And again, this – all this depends on what comes out of the Security Council. And it's simply impossible for me to know or to speculate right now what that might look like.

QUESTION: But actually, there is critics – we could – international community could not stop the development of the – nuclear development in the DPRK even if international community put sanction each – in each time in the last three test. So what do you think about the effectiveness of the sanction?

MR KIRBY: There's no question that, broadly speaking, the sanctions have had an effect – obviously, because you're talking about an economy that is near in tatters and a population that is starving. I can't begin to fathom – nor would I try – to understand the logic between trying to – spending resources to pursue this kind of a capability when your own people aren't even able to eat. But that's a calculus that the North has apparently made and continues to make. We have said all along that the onus is on them. If they want to return to the table through the Six-Party Talks, the onus is on them to show that they're willing to do that. And they have not shown a willingness to do that yet. But the international community is still willing to go down that road that obviously they aren't.

Yeah, I understand the argument that here there's been four UN Security Council resolutions here since 2006 --

QUESTION: Exactly, yes.

MR KIRBY: -- and they're still pursuing this. I get that. That doesn't mean the sanctions aren't hurting. It doesn't mean that they aren't having an effect. And it doesn't mean that just because they continue to pursue this program, that we shouldn't continue to pursue the potential for additional sanctions – maybe tougher, maybe more specific. I don't know. But I think it's appropriate for us to want to have the UN take this up and to examine those possibilities as a potential path forward here. And we need to let that process go. I understand the angst over this test. I mean, we're obviously deeply concerned about it too. But it's – as rash as that action was, it's just that much more important that the international community pursue the path forward in a measured, deliberate manner that isn't rash and isn't overreactive. Does that make sense?

QUESTION: John --

QUESTION: But --

QUESTION: Can I follow up on --

QUESTION: So you pointed to – you said sanctions have had an effect, obvious, and you pointed at two things. You said the economy is in tatters and the people are starving. Is starving the North Korean people an aim --

MR KIRBY: Of course not.

QUESTION: -- of the sanctions? Because if it is, it doesn't seem to be having an effect on the guy who makes the decisions. He doesn't seem like he's starving at all. In fact, he looks like he eats quite well. And so if it is an aim of the sanctions --

MR KIRBY: It's not – it's certainly not an aim.

QUESTION: -- to change the leadership, it doesn't seem – to change the behavior of leadership, it seems that it's having an effect on the people of North Korea and not the leadership.

MR KIRBY: Well, he has decisions he can make with the resources he has. Okay, so yes, the sanctions have had an effect on his economy. And I – and yes, a healthy economy tends to be better for a population. But this is not a leader, nor was his father, who, one, has been willing to expend what resources he has at his disposal on the right things, which is taking care of his population. He intends actually to spend them on these kinds of capabilities. These are decisions he's making. And again, I think it's important to remember that we've got to pursue a path forward here that's measured and deliberate, and that the consideration of additional sanctions is a healthy first step in that process.

QUESTION: John, are you --

QUESTION: Aside from sanctions, is there going to be or is there already a look at trying to reexamine the strategy about North Korea? It seems like – I mean, so far you've been saying the onus is on North Korea, the ball is in their court, and their response has been another nuclear test.

MR KIRBY: Is the question that we need to reexamine the whole way we look at North Korea?

QUESTION: Right. I mean, the critic – the criticism is that so far that the strategy seems to be one of just waiting it out – strategic patience. And is there in the long term, at least, aside from additional sanctions, going to be a more robust sort of policy or eventual engagement?

MR KIRBY: I'm not aware of any policy review here with respect to the problem of North Korea. What I am aware of and what we do want to see is a strong international response to this latest provocation and unanimity in the international community about raising the stakes further on the regime for what they continue to do.

Yeah.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: So the question – sorry. So some reports have been that under the current existing sanctions regime, even in the worst case scenario North Korea would be able to double their nuclear arsenal in 2020. And so even with additional sanctions, there is that possibility and that you would just be driving them to --

MR KIRBY: How can you know that if you don't know what additional sanctions are in place or what they would sanction? I don't know how anybody could possibly know that. So why don't we let the process work its way out and let the international community come together and discuss this and to figure out the best way forward. Again, the international community has choices to make, important decisions to make, and they will.

And Kim Jong-un has important decisions to make and choices. So far, he hasn't made the right ones, and I think everybody in the international community would prefer that he reverse course and start to act on behalf of his people. But I don't at all take back what I said about the onus being on him and his decisions.

Yeah.

QUESTION: John, are you --

QUESTION: Setting aside for a second the enforcement --

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. I'll get to you.

QUESTION: -- the enforcement of – or the imposing of new sanctions, what's the State Department's level of satisfaction with the degree to which existing sanctions are being enforced on North Korea through the international community?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I don't know of any issues that we have in terms of enforcement with them. So I'm not aware that there's any enforcement problems here, if that --

QUESTION: Well, there's been some criticism in the past that there's various ways that North Korea has skirted sanctions by going – by importing problematic materials without being properly cracked down on.

MR KIRBY: Sure. Well, I mean, I don't think it's any surprise that they would try to get around the sanctions. But if you're asking do we think that the international community remains united around them and their enforcement, I think we do, of course. But it's not uncommon for a nation, a leader, a regime that's being sanctioned to look for ways around that.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. I guess what I'm asking is whether it might be worth – given the criticism that a lot of people have raised here of the questionable effectiveness of just piling on more and more sanctions, whether it might not be more efficacious to look at enforcing or look at tightening enforcement of what you already have.

MR KIRBY: Efficacious, that is a great word. I'm going to write that one down. Look, I think it's just – I get the germ of the question, and it's not dissimilar from other ones we've had here today. We need to let the international community take this up, the UN Security Council to take this up and make decisions. I'm not predicting additional sanctions. I'm not predicting what they – whether they'll happen or what they will be. I know – but we do want the UN to consider that as an option. And --

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Then – go ahead.

MR KIRBY: And we want a very strong, unified international response to this latest provocation, but let's not put the cart before the horse here. This just happened last night and we're in consultation with our allies and partners. We're in consultation with the UN. And we need to – as rash as that was, we need not to be rash now. And there needs to be a thoughtful approach here to the way forward, to find a way to continue to ratchet up the pressure on them in the hopes of changing the behavior. I understand – we all understand – how hard that is. We all understand that thus far not much has been able to impact this particular young man's decision-making process. But that doesn't mean you don't keep trying and it doesn't mean that you don't look at the tools at your disposal, not just unilaterally but multilaterally, and that's what we want to do.

QUESTION: Are you – last one on this: Are you hopeful, given that China responded to this incident with such a swift condemnation, that you'll see a bit more of an aggressive stance from them in pressuring the North Koreans?

MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly welcomed – we certainly welcomed their response. I think that it was encouraging, and obviously would look to and hope for China's leadership going forward with respect to holding the North accountable. And China has a key role to play here because they have influence, or they have – I mean, in some ways they have unique influence. Again, you could argue about how effective it is with this particular leader, but as a regional leader and a regional power, we would look and hope for China's continued influence in a positive way.

QUESTION: Let me follow up one more. Probably, it seems like we are discussing the same way in over the last five to ten years. So my – let me ask a simple question: Does the United States consider this North Korean nuclear issue is a national security matter? The reason why I ask this one is the temperature is quite different between east coast in United States and Asia. And also, as he mentioned earlier, there is a study, for example, from Johns Hopkins University SAIS. They have three scenario: low-end scenario, North Korea would develop at least 20 – mean they double nuclear weapon by 2020. That's a scenario even if the North Korea would not conduct a nuclear test. And if it's in a high-level or high-end scenario, they would possess a hundred nuclear weapon. So it seems like quite serious, but I don't know why, but we are discussing the same way. So just a simple question: Does the United States consider this issue is a national security matter for the United States?

MR KIRBY: Do we consider the North's continued pursuit of a nuclear weapon capability a national security matter? Absolutely, we do. No question about it.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Yes. John, are you exploring any unilateral sanction from the United States? Because --

MR KIRBY: I'm not in a position right now to --

QUESTION: -- you keep saying it's international.

MR KIRBY: I'm not in a position right now to exclude or rule anything in or out. As I said, we're taking this up with the international community. We believe the UN Security Council is the right forum for that. But I'm not going to get ahead of decisions that the U.S. Government itself hasn't made yet.

QUESTION: So it's not inconceivable that maybe a Treasury sanction can come up?

MR KIRBY: I'm not going to speculate one way or another about decisions that haven't been made yet. We're obviously taking this very seriously, and you can – I can assure you that the entire national security team is discussing what might be the best and most appropriate path forward. But we do want, in general, as I've said, we want the international community to also unify and be resolved to treat this appropriately.

QUESTION: I don't --

QUESTION: Well, how can you not --

QUESTION: -- no, hold on a second. I don't understand how you can say that you're not going to predict or call for sanctions while at the same time you said in your opening that the world must impose real consequences and respond with enhanced pressure. What does "impose real consequences and respond with enhanced pressure" mean?

MR KIRBY: It could very well – it could very well include sanctions. I'm just trying to say, Matt, that I'm not in a position now, less than 24 hours after this test, to tell you definitively that yes, there will be sanctions, and here's what they're going to look like, and here's what's going to be sanctioned –

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- or who's going to be sanctioned and for how much.

QUESTION: Yeah, but John --

MR KIRBY: But I think clearly sanctions are a tool – they – it's a tool that the UN's used in the past. I think it's safe to assume that it's a tool that will be considered here with response to this test. I just don't want from the State Department's podium to be so definitive about exactly what the next steps are going to be and what it's going to look like.

QUESTION: The U.S. wouldn't --

QUESTION: Why? Because if you are and you don't get them you risk being --

MR KIRBY: I risk tough questions from you in the front row --

QUESTION: But the U.S. would support tougher --

MR KIRBY: -- reading back my transcripts to me.

QUESTION: But the U.S. would support tougher sanctions?

MR KIRBY: I think what – as I said at the outset, what the U.S. would support are tough additional international measures to hold the North accountable for this test.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: No, can – just one more on this one. The other issue of this is – are the discussions between the Secretary and counterparts including – include this longstanding issue of providing a longer-range missile based in South Korea? So, bulking up on a defense mechanism that would protect the peninsula and other countries.

MR KIRBY: I don't have anything on that today.

QUESTION: You don't have the --

MR KIRBY: I don't have anything to say with respect to that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

QUESTION: Just one more on North Korea.

MR KIRBY: Who are you with?

QUESTION: I work for The Guardian.

MR KIRBY: The Guardian?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: All right.

QUESTION: My name's David Smith.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Can I ask, at least one senator today --

MR KIRBY: You can ask whatever you want.

QUESTION: Thank you. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: This is America. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: At least one senator today has linked the situation to Iran and said what we're seeing here now is a warning about what might happen in Iran. For example, the Clinton Administration lifted sanctions on North Korea, lots of money poured in; they've spent that money on building nuclear weapons. Do you accept that argument? Do you see a relationship between these two issues?

MR KIRBY: No. I think it's – they're entirely – and we've talked about this before – they're entirely two different issues altogether. And – I mean, we could go through chapter and verse the differences here, but no, we don't foresee that as an issue. We consider the Iran deal as a completely separate issue handled in a completely different manner than were the – than was the Agreed Framework with North Korea.

Said.

QUESTION: Is that – you handled that in a completely different manner and it was successful. Why not handle --

MR KIRBY: What was successful?

QUESTION: Well, the Iran – you achieved an Iran nuclear deal because you handled it in a completely different manner. Why not have direct talks with North Korea?

MR KIRBY: Look --

QUESTION: Well, they achieved a deal in '94 as well.

MR KIRBY: There's a forum here that, as I said, the West is willing to get back to – the Six-Party Talks. The onus is on the North. The difference here is that the North has shown absolutely no interest in returning to that forum, and that's the international agreed framework for having a discussion with the North over this capability. And they – you should be asking that question to them.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: They have shown no interest in doing that. It was different with Iran; Iran had an interest, showed an interest. The sanctions had had an effect, brought them to the table. They had an interest in coming to the table to talk through this deal, and they did. And oh, by the way, just to remind, we're not at implementation day yet. So the Iran deal is not implemented yet, so there's still work to be done there to make that, quote-unquote, "a success."

QUESTION: John, one more just quick question. Usually North Korea notified to United States and China before two, three days their nuclear test. Why this time they – you don't have anything, any information from North Korea for --

MR KIRBY: No. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So you're not --

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) big trouble in channels or you have information, intelligence?

MR KIRBY: I think you need to ask Kim Jong-un why he decided that he wasn't going to issue some sort of advance warning here. I couldn't begin to answer that question, Janne. I don't know.

QUESTION: Referring us to Kim Jong-un and the North Korean Government for answers to questions is – it's --

MR KIRBY: Listen, I --

QUESTION: It's a bit disingenuous, I think.

MR KIRBY: I have to do what I have to do. It doesn't mean that it's going to work for you. But I mean – but I simply cannot answer that question. I do not know what – this is a very opaque regime. And this is a leader who obviously is and has proven to be unpredictable. It is impossible for me to be able to know what's in his head and the calculus that he makes before he makes these kinds of decisions.

QUESTION: I mean, this test is intended to provoke the United States, like (inaudible) simulated, something like that?

MR KIRBY: I don't know why he did this. I mean, we – I don't know. You're asking me do I – do we agree that it was intended to provoke us? Yeah, pick up the phone and give him a call and ask him. I'd love to know what he tells you. But look, it's obviously a provocation, and it does nothing at all to help us get to what we want to see, which is a stable peninsula. Just like the international community has choices to make, he has choices to make. He keeps choosing the wrong things.

QUESTION: Because I --

MR KIRBY: This is not the act, not the decision of a leader who is putting his people and his own country's safety and security as his first priority.

QUESTION: But – because I concerned about the threat in – security threat in United States, if this kind of happen again, what you going to do? Like they sneaky in nuclear test again and again, something like --

MR KIRBY: What are we going to do?

QUESTION: Do. How are you going to response this for future?

MR KIRBY: Well, we've been talking about that for the last 30 minutes.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: I mean, we're working with our international partners in the region and around the world and through the UN to hold him accountable and his regime accountable for this recent test. But I can't get ahead of decisions that haven't been made, Janne. I just – I wouldn't do that.

QUESTION: But Kim Jong-un doesn't want – he doesn't like – he just don't care about sanctions. How many sanctions you did – 2006, 2009, 2013, right now 2016. It's fool's test – you always – UN have sanctions, but he doesn't care. To me, you have a big problem.

MR KIRBY: Well, 2006, 2009, and two in 2013.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: Look, again, I don't want to get ahead of decisions that haven't been made. Sanctions are certainly on the table. I would fully expect that the Security Council will consider those. I don't know what it's going to look like, I don't know what the final vote would be, and I wouldn't get ahead of that. But the Secretary's message in his conversations with his counterparts thus far and the ones that I know he's going to have here today and in the next day or so – it's going to be the same, that the international community needs to unify here and hold that regime accountable for this latest test and for their continued provocations.

There's lots of ways that can – forms that can take. Sanctions are one form of that. I just won't – I can't speculate about whether that's going to be the venue and what – and what it's going to look like. But I can assure you that everybody here at the State Department, particularly Secretary Kerry, takes this test very, very seriously. And we're going to continue to work through international bodies, through our allies and partners, to do what we can to make sure that the response is appropriate and an appropriately strong response. But beyond that, what it's going to look like and how it's going to be implemented, I just couldn't say.

QUESTION: John, how would you describe the response from this Administration to this? I think what Janne is alluding to, as well as was Matt, is where's the outrage?

MR KIRBY: Where's the outrage?

QUESTION: Yeah. Where is the condemning it so firmly that --

MR KIRBY: We did. We --

QUESTION: What Matt was saying earlier, this is – could just happen again.

MR KIRBY: I'd point you to what – I mean, even in the Secretary's statement he talked about – used the word "condemned" in these – we have condemned this latest test. We have condemned this latest test and we've used that word. Now, I could throw a bunch of adjectives in front of that if that helps, but that's – we've been very clear about our condemnation of this particular test. We've been very clear in the past about our condemnation of this regime's continued provocative behavior in the form of nuclear tests, in the form of missile tests, in the form of maritime acts of violence. We have been very clear about – and very strong about our concerns of the North's actions. And so your question, "Where's the outrage" – I mean, we're obviously --

QUESTION: Well, no. I mean, I'm just asking – how would you describe your response? If it was not a surprise --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)

QUESTION: If it was not a surprise --

MR KIRBY: The – I'll go back to what I said before. As rash as this act was, and as rash as his behavior and erratic as it is, augurs all the more for our response to be measured, deliberate, tough, clear, concise, and international – multilateral – in scope. I mean, the – screaming and yelling about it isn't going to solve it. What's going to solve it is strong – a strong, united, international response. And what that's going to be I just couldn't possible predict.

I used to – I was an altar boy when I was a kid, and I used to help this particular priest with his sermon. In the Catholic faith you call it a homily, right? And he wasn't a great writer, but – so he – when he – I remember this one that he wrote, this homily that he wrote where he thought his argument was weak. So in the margin, he actually wrote, "argument weak; shout here." And I just don't think that shouting and screaming and pounding the fist is going to be – is the right approach, or what's – what the right approach here is a strong, tough, unified, international response. And we'll get there.

QUESTION: Or what about actually striking their nuclear facilities? Do you want to talk about the strategic or conventional risks that come along with a U.S. bombing campaign --

MR KIRBY: I'm not going to --

QUESTION: -- over their nuclear facilities?

MR KIRBY: I think – look, Justin, I think everybody's cognizant of the dangers of an escalation into the military realm here. Everybody understands that. We have security commitments on the peninsula; we're prepared to meet those commitments, obviously, through an alliance with South Korea. Our commitment to that alliance is unshakable, and everybody in South Korea ought to know that. But what we want to do is work through the international community on an appropriate response here that can hopefully affect the behavior of this particular leader. It is an – it is behavior that is tough to predict. It's – obviously has proven behavior that is tough to modify. But that doesn't mean you – that doesn't mean you immediately go to the trigger. And I think everybody is cognizant of the real threats there.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we --

MR KIRBY: I've gotten you a bunch of times.

QUESTION: Can we move on, please? Can we move on?

QUESTION: But I had a follow-up on --

MR KIRBY: Can we get off North Korea?

QUESTION: Yeah. Can we please --

QUESTION: I had a follow-up on a previous question.

MR KIRBY: This is the last North Korea one?

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: I have another question.

MR KIRBY: You have one too? All right. We'll go to you, then you – and then Said, you've been very patient.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Me?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead. This is your shot.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR KIRBY: You wait any longer, I'm going to miss you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: You had referenced the willingness to go back to the Six-Party Talks. But what about – is direct bilateral talks between North Korea and the U.S.? Is that completely off the table?

MR KIRBY: We believe – and I've said before – that the proper forum here is the Six-Party Talks.

QUESTION: So completely off the table?

MR KIRBY: We believe the proper forum is the Six-Party Talks.

Yeah.

QUESTION: He asked my question, but another question.

MR KIRBY: Okay, good.

QUESTION: About the visit by Deputy Secretary Blinken to the region. Is his agenda include resuming Six-Party Talks?

MR KIRBY: You mean is he going to resume – is he going there for the purpose of resuming them?

QUESTION: When he visit --

MR KIRBY: Look, I – as I said to Matt, this is a trip that has been scheduled for some time. The agenda is still being worked out in terms of exactly where he's going to go and who he's going to meet with. Obviously, the trip now will be done in the context of this test, and I fully expect that at, if not all, certainly most of his stops and most of his meetings, there'll be discussions about the appropriate international response to this test. But I wouldn't speculate right now exactly what those discussions are going to look like and what exactly he's going to say or he's going to come home with.

Nothing's changed about our view on the Six-Party Talks. It's the appropriate venue. We join the West in being willing to resume those talks, but the onus is on the North to prove that they are willing and able to do it, and they have not shown a willingness to resume that.

QUESTION: Right, right. Of course it's (inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: And last night's test is another indication of that unwillingness.

QUESTION: So you think that it's a bit too early for the other five parties to discuss --

MR KIRBY: If you're asking me is he going over there next week to try to get that process started, I don't believe that that's a part of – a reason for going, or it's going to be a deliverable for the deputy secretary. Again, this trip was planned for a while. There's an awful lot of other issues in the region that are important to talk about too. Clearly, this is going to be one of them. But I think the discussions are largely – with respect to the North, the discussions that the deputy secretary will be having will be largely about what's the appropriate international response here to this most recent test, and then moving forward from there.

Said.

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Moving on, could I ask a couple questions on the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, but you're going to have to give me time to find it in the book because I've been all on Korea so far.

QUESTION: Sure, sure. Yes, I understand.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: You're so rarely asked about it, it must be hard to find.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. So should I ask?

MR KIRBY: I just can't – there's no retort for that one. (Laughter.) Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. A couple questions. Yesterday there was a report in The Washington Post about the excessive use of force by the Israeli army, including confrontations with the Palestinian youth. They cite 48 incidents – at least 48 deaths that were done with a shot to the head, which really suggests --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- like summary execution. I wonder if you have a comment on that, if you saw the report.

MR KIRBY: I did see the Post story, and this is something you and I have talked about quite a bit.

QUESTION: Right, yeah.

MR KIRBY: I would just say, as I've said before, we've made this clear: We remain deeply concerned about the situation, the violence, and we continue to urge restraint from all sides and encourage affirmative steps by all sides to restore calm and to (inaudible) further escalation of the violence. It's critical that all parties take every possible measure to protect civilians and to guard against the unnecessary loss of life.

QUESTION: Yeah, but on the Palestinian side, this seems to be – these are lawless young people that go out and confront the Israelis without apparently any kind of organized – something behind them. But the Israelis, on the other hand, are the authority in this occupied land. Do you call on the Israelis to refrain from using such excessive use of force? Because the report makes it very clear that the Israelis are actually increasing the lethality of their attacks.

MR KIRBY: I understand. I would just go back to what I said before. We call on all parties to take every possible measure to protect innocent life and to ratchet down the violence, restore calm, to protect civilians. All sides, all parties need to do that, and I just can't get into this one any further. I'd refer you to Israeli authorities for more discussion about that particular report.

Our position hasn't changed and it's not going to change.

QUESTION: Now, on – there's also – during the meeting, the cabinet meeting on Sunday, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, apparently told his ministers to prepare for the possible or imminent collapse of the Palestinian Authority. I wonder if you have a comment on that in light of what Abbas said today, that the Authority is not about to collapse, that this is basically an Israeli scheme to collapse it. And I wonder if you're doing anything to shore it up and maintain its vitality.

MR KIRBY: We're aware of the comments. As we've said before, we strongly believe that it's in both the Israeli and Palestinian interests for the PA to remain intact. And I would note that Prime Minister Netanyahu himself made clear that he does not want to see the collapse of the PA, which is – that's where we are. We believe it's important that it stays intact.

QUESTION: But is it your assessment maybe he's got the right assessment, that the PA is about to collapse?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think you should --

QUESTION: Do you have the same kind of speculation on this issue?

MR KIRBY: We believe it's important for it to stay intact. I'm not going to speculate one way or the other about the veracity of his views. We've seen those comments. I'd point you to the prime minister to speak to the basis for those comments. Our view is that it's important for both sides that it stay intact, and that's what we want to see.

QUESTION: John?

QUESTION: Somewhat related to this, are you aware of this video from a woman in Michigan who claims some kind of State Department affiliation when she talks in Arabic about whether it is halal or haram to stab Jews? Do you know about this? Can you – there's a – this video that's circulated out there. She claims to have been a representative to – for MEPI during a --

MR KIRBY: What is MEPI?

QUESTION: Middle East Partnership Initiative.

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: It was a previous program.

MR KIRBY: Should I have known that?

QUESTION: Huh?

MR KIRBY: Should I have known that?

QUESTION: Before your time.

MR KIRBY: Okay. All right.

QUESTION: It's okay. Anyway, I'll tell your people about it later. Thanks.

MR KIRBY: We'll take a look at it.

QUESTION: Michel, on Israel?

QUESTION: On Iran – on Israel?

QUESTION: Yeah. Just – Ron Kampeas from JTA. Ayelet Shaked --

MR KIRBY: Thank you for introducing yourself, unlike our British colleague. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, I'm Canadian, so – (laughter.)

QUESTION: Uber-polite.

QUESTION: Ayelet Shaked, the justice minister, in explaining the passage of the recent law limiting the activities or putting restrictions on NGOs in Israel, likened it to FARA, the Foreign Agents Registration Act. What do you think of that?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, two different things altogether. So first, I'd refer you to the Justice Department for questions on the Foreign Agents Registration Act. But our understanding is that the proposed Israeli legislation has important differences from the FARA legislation itself. They're different.

QUESTION: What kind of differences?

QUESTION: You mean they're worse or better?

MR KIRBY: No, it's just different, and I don't have the – I thought I had it.

QUESTION: So have you had a comment on the NGO law – on this law?

MR KIRBY: Hmm?

QUESTION: Have you had a comment one way or another on this law? I'm sorry --

MR KIRBY: We have concerns about the draft legislation --

QUESTION: Gotcha.

MR KIRBY: -- approved by the Knesset's ministerial committee on Sunday. The legislation would require NGOs who receive a majority of their funding from foreign governments to be labeled as such. We understand that it now must go to the full Knesset. We note that the bill must go through several more steps before it becomes law. As we've said, a free and functioning civil society is an essential element of a healthy democracy. Governments must protect free expression and peaceful dissent, and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on --

MR KIRBY: We have raised the issue with the Israeli Government, but we don't make public the details of those conversations.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Ron's question, are you concerned that this law, legislation, is basically intended to sort of – to shut any kind of criticism or any groups like Breaking the Silence or other groups that report – B'Tselem, for instance, that reports on abuses and so on? And what will that do to groups such as these, in your view?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I would – I don't think I would go into any more detail than what I did before. We've expressed concerns with Israeli authorities about this law, and I think I'd leave it at that for right now.

Yeah.

QUESTION: John?

QUESTION: Wait a minute. How does the U.S. view that last week, Russia and New Delhi decided to build 12 atomic plants and nuclear component reactors? What is the U.S. Government view on that?

MR KIRBY: You'll have to let me take the question. I don't – I can't speak to that particular report, so you're going to have to let me get back to you on that.

Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah. On Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iraq has offered to mediate between the two countries. And the Iraqi foreign minister is in – was in Tehran today. Is Iraq able to play a mediation role, do you think? And are you coordinating with the Iraqi Government in this regard?

MR KIRBY: We're not coordinating with the Iraqi Government on any mediation efforts. I would let the Iraqi Government speak to their intentions in that regard. I've seen those reports. I can't confirm whether Iraq intends to play that role and whether that role would be acceptable to both sides. I don't know.

What I would tell you is what I said yesterday: The U.S. believes – and I said this in my opening statement – that these important issues and differences should be worked out bilaterally between the parties, between the nations. That's what we want to see. We want to see the diplomatic engagement continue rather than to be severed, because we believe that kind of dialogue can help foster some real solutions here, and that, as I said before, the U.S. is – has no intention on our own of taking a mediation role.

That said, as I pointed out, the Secretary remains in touch with various regional leaders and will continue to do that because we want to help facilitate the kind of discussion on a bilateral level that we believe needs to occur.

QUESTION: John, I have one question on Syria. Syrian activists are saying today that 40,000 people living in the Syrian town of Madaya, near Damascus, are under siege since seven month and dying from starvation. Are you aware of these reports? And --

MR KIRBY: We are. We are, and it's just devastating. I think some of you may have seen there are some images out there about how this regime is using starvation as a tool, a tactic of war. It's pretty heart-rending, and frankly, it's despicable. So we're aware of it. It's yet more proof not just of the brutality of this regime and their lack of legitimacy – Assad's lack of legitimacy – but yet more proof of why it's so important for the Vienna process to move forward; for us not to get – to let the current tensions in the Middle East derail that process, to get to a political solution, a peaceful political solution in Syria that could get to a government that will be responsive to the desperate needs of the Syrian people rather than one that simply compounds those desperate needs through overt acts like barrel bombing or starving their own citizens.

QUESTION: But till then, what are you able to do to help these people?

MR KIRBY: We have to keep working hard to get this political transition in place, as well as working hard through the coalition to degrade and destroy ISIL. In this particular case, we're talking about the regime. I understand that. All that gives us – all that we're seeing gives us a renewed sense of urgency to move this process forward, and it's just all the more proof that it's vital that that Vienna process not be derailed by the current tensions in the region.

QUESTION: Are you doing anything to relieve this --

QUESTION: So John, in the discussions that the Secretary's had with these – the range of counterparts, is there any indication that the Vienna process has not been pushed back or affected by these tensions?

MR KIRBY: We haven't seen any indication that the process will be affected by the recent tensions. I think the Saudis have even said that they believe it's important for it to move forward. The UN Special Envoy de Mistura was in Riyadh this week. He said publicly that he thinks it's really important for the momentum to continue. So we haven't seen any indication that there's going to be an impact. Obviously, it's our expectation that there won't be and that's what we want to see going forward.

QUESTION: Syria?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: The AP writes it has obtained an internal timeline prepared for U.S. officials which reportedly sets Assad's departure from power sometime in March of 2017. Is that the projection from the U.S.?

MR KIRBY: No, it's not. I'm aware of the AP story. I'm aware of the document upon which it was based. It was a preliminary pre-decisional document, a working-level, staff-level document that sort of laid out a potential way forward for the political process, but it's just that – it's preliminary, pre-decisional. Those kinds of papers, those – that kind of work is done here at the State Department all the time. You'd expect it would be.

What hasn't changed is the essential key milestones or mileposts in the process that the ISSG has agreed to, which is six months after the beginning of negotiations with the Assad regime – which we fully, we hope and expect, will be beginning at the end of this month. So six months after that begins, that you get to a process then of starting to draft a constitution and then that roughly is expected – again, targeted to take about a year – and then six months after that, to get to elections.

So a lot of it depends on the math – when things start and how they go. And all these are targets. I mean, nobody can today predict with perfect certainty and specificity what month of what year all these things are going to happen. What we can say is that our hope and expectation is that that entire 18-month process will start this month, at the end of this month.

QUESTION: What is --

QUESTION: Just to clarify, what is – excuse me.

QUESTION: So you just confirmed it?

QUESTION: Maybe he's going to stick around.

MR KIRBY: No --

QUESTION: Eighteen months into --

QUESTION: Are your arms a little tired? The strawmen you put up to knock down were great. Of course this is a pre-decisional document because --

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- you're not the ones who are making the decisions. This is – the document is accurate, right? I mean, it's not a forgery.

MR KIRBY: I'm not disputing the validity of the document, but --

QUESTION: Does it say – does it say that – does it --

MR KIRBY: -- it is a working-level, staff-level document.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. Was it --

MR KIRBY: But to say with certainty --

QUESTION: Hold on, and I don't think the report said anything with certainty. It just said that this is a U.S. view of it. Was the document prepared by someone who doesn't have a clue about what the UN-backed process is and --

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: -- doesn't have a clue – it was prepared by someone who knows what's going on, at least I would hope, because it was prepared as a guide for how things could progress in --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- in the UN-backed process.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, exactly.

QUESTION: Does it not call for – does it not --

MR KIRBY: But that is not necessarily the impression that the story leaves the reader, which is that --

QUESTION: No.

MR KIRBY: -- the Obama Administration believes that there's no – March '17 is it. And you --

QUESTION: No, it doesn't.

QUESTION: It's a projection.

QUESTION: In fact, the story doesn't say that. It says it foresees --

MR KIRBY: -- but you just articulated it much better, that it is --

QUESTION: The way I articulated it is exactly the way the story reads.

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: And if people take exception --

MR KIRBY: Well, we'll go back and we can see it.

QUESTION: Sure, okay.

QUESTION: So March 2017 is the best-case scenario for the – is that the projection here?

MR KIRBY: It's not a projection. It's a possible outcome here. It is a working-level staff document that was meant to sort of put on paper some preliminary thoughts about what – in space and time, what that process could look like. But I don't think – so yes, did the paper estimate that March of 17 could be the time for elections? Yes, it did. But that doesn't mean --

QUESTION: No, not the time for elections.

QUESTION: No, August, actually.

MR KIRBY: It doesn't mean that – I'm sorry. It doesn't mean that that's what's going to happen.

QUESTION: Would you like Assad to step down right now?

MR KIRBY: What we would like is for – look, we've long said that Assad needs to go. And we've long said that he's lost legitimacy to govern.

QUESTION: You have long said Assad must go, but now the call seems to be "Assad must go sometime later, not right now." Why not now?

MR KIRBY: For more than a year and a half now, Secretary Kerry has said that the exact timing of his departure – and I can go find you the quotes from 18 months ago – the exact timing of his departure isn't something that we're fixated on at a particular point in time. That he needs to go doesn't mean that he's going to go on day one, week one, month one. It doesn't – we don't know that yet.

QUESTION: Year one.

MR KIRBY: It doesn't – we don't know that yet. That's why it's important to get through this political transition, to get through this process, to let the Vienna process work its way forward. We know there's differences of opinion in the international community about how long he should stay, that he should stay or not, and what role he'll play in any kind of transition. I can't – I don't know the answer to what that's going to look like right now.

QUESTION: Is that --

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that the United States supports getting – keeping the international community at the table to discuss those exact issues.

QUESTION: Is that just a matter of differences of opinion? Are you concerned that if he went right now, there would be a power vacuum that could help ISIL and other extremists?

MR KIRBY: I think what we want to see is a transition that allows for the preservation of the key institutions of government so that there isn't a collapse. The Secretary's talked about that, that as we work through the – a transition, one of the things that we want to make sure is that key functions of the government can continue – obviously, under solid, responsive, responsible leadership, but that the – some institutions need to be preserved so that there isn't a collapse.

I think, certainly, we share concerns by others in the international community that you don't want a vacuum. You don't want such a precipitous fall that – we've learned a hard lesson in our own history recently about this. You don't want such a precipitous fall that you cannot provide basic functions of government for the Syrian people. The whole goal here is to get at a government that's responsible to them.

So I can't tell you what that's going to look like or what that should look like. But that's why it's important for the Vienna process to go. And that's why we have been – our position throughout this process here over the summer and into the fall is to continue to get all the players at the table, knowing they all have differences of opinion, to kind of hash that out.

QUESTION: To understand you clearly on what you just said, John, very quickly. You'd like Assad to go, but that – you don't – you'd like to see also the government and the institutions stay in place. Correct?

MR KIRBY: We want a government in Syria that is responsible and responsive – responsible for and responsive to the needs of the Syrian people. We want a government in Syria that Syrians have had a hand in making and in preserving. We want to see Syria whole, unified, nonsectarian, and free of terrorism, obviously. And lastly, we continue to believe Assad can't be part of the future of Syria.

QUESTION: I understand.

MR KIRBY: That he has to go.

QUESTION: Right, but --

MR KIRBY: Now, there's a lot that – that's a lot to want, right. And getting there, if you're going to do it credibly in a way that can be sustained means that it can't just be any one nation's view. It has to be – you have to have a consensus. You have to make compromises to get there, because there's a lot of players, a lot of people with influence, and not all of them feel the same way – not just about Assad, but about democracy in Syria or about the institutions of government.

QUESTION: But the army being the backbone of the state so far, since the creation of Syria --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- you would like to see that continue on --

MR KIRBY: We --

QUESTION: -- but you don't want to see the collapse of --

MR KIRBY: We believe that there obviously needs to be – core to preserving government functions and safety and security of the Syrian people, that you're going to need security forces, clearly. The army is the biggest security force in Syria, so you've heard the Secretary talk about the fact that a complete, utter disbanding of the army is probably not the smartest thing to do. How do you preserve, though, an army, a security force in Syria that behaves appropriately towards the safety and security of their people and has the country's best interests at heart? I mean, that's what you got to get at. And so how's it going to be led? How's it going to be resourced? How's it going to be trained? All that stuff is stuff that needs to be worked out. There's an awful lot of work to do.

I got time for just one more on this.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I just ask you --

QUESTION: Quick question. Can we --

QUESTION: -- are you aware of any revisions that have been made to the timeline that's outlined in that document?

MR KIRBY: I'm not. But again, Matt, this was a --

QUESTION: Thank you. No, thanks. That's all.

MR KIRBY: This was a – this was not a analysis.

QUESTION: You can call it whatever you want.

MR KIRBY: It wasn't a projection. It was a staff-level working document.

QUESTION: In fact, it – in fact, it was a projection, whether you want to call it staff-level, working, whatever.

MR KIRBY: It does not represent official U.S. policy.

QUESTION: No, it reflects what you – what is a --

MR KIRBY: It reflects what --

QUESTION: -- logical progression of how the UN process will go in --

MR KIRBY: By a --

QUESTION: -- by an – by this Administration.

MR KIRBY: By a staffer here at the State Department at a staff level.

QUESTION: Who knows something about what's going on, right?

MR KIRBY: Well, we generally --

QUESTION: You wouldn't assign this to someone --

MR KIRBY: We generally assign papers here at the State Department to people that know something about them.

QUESTION: Right. Okay.

MR KIRBY: So I can tell you I did not write this one. Yeah.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Clearly.

QUESTION: Right. Do you have any update or readout of Secretary Kerry's phone call with the Vietnamese foreign minister on China's test flights on the Fiery Cross Reef?

MR KIRBY: Yes, hang on a second. I can tell you that last night, the Secretary spoke with the – Vietnam's foreign minister and Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh. They discussed China's test flight landings of civilian aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea. Both sides expressed concerns about potential militarization of outposts in the Spratlys and agreed that these activities continue to raise regional tensions. They decided to explore how best to improve Vietnam's maritime domain awareness and security capabilities.

The Secretary also urged the Government of Vietnam to release human rights activist Nguyen Van Dai and raised concern about reports of treatment of other human rights and labor rights activists.

Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: There's still a Haiti question (inaudible) the top.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Very quick. Sorry. Quick question on Haiti. The –

MR KIRBY: You're – everybody's leaving you, man.

QUESTION: I know, I know, but I care about Haiti. I went there long ago.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The United States obviously has been encouraging the elections to go ahead on timetable. There's a perception in Haiti, however, by the opposition that the first round of elections were – was tainted by rigging, and they've been attempting to get that investigated before moving on to the next stage. So there have been criticisms that America's support for the timetable of the electoral process has de facto become partisan in that the ruling party, Mr. Martelly's party, want them to go ahead on time. And the opposition are concerned that there may be hangovers of fraud from the first rounds. I'm sure you would deny you're partisan but --

MR KIRBY: Well, what I'd say is the Independent Electoral Evaluation Commission report recommended steps that could improve the transparency and fairness of the third round and enhance public confidence. As we move forward, we hope that these recommendations, as well as other recommendations made by electoral observer missions, can be taken into consideration to improve the process. We reaffirm our commitment to working with the Provisional Electoral Council and Haiti's international partners in support of a fair, credible, and secure election process that will reflect the will of the Haitian people. And I would just note again, as I said at the top, that that's one of the reasons why Ambassador Shannon went down there to have these kinds of discussions and to make those exact points to leaders in Haiti.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:30 p.m.)



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