Daily Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
January 7, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing
2:24 p.m. EST
MR KIRBY: Okay. I do have just a couple of things at the top additionally. And the Secretary alluded to this, but I wanted to flesh it out just a little bit more.
As he mentioned, he met today with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter as well as other leaders from the State Department and from the Defense Department here in the building to discuss coordination on all the lines of effort in the counter-ISIL campaign. This meeting today was one of a series of regular meetings between Secretary Kerry and Secretary Carter to discuss synchronization and mutually reinforcing efforts in the counter-ISIL campaign.
Today's meeting in particular focused on next steps following continued progress in Ramadi as well as efforts to cut ISIL supply lines between Mosul and Raqqa. They also discussed the strategy to enhance our counter-messaging efforts. We are working to support the Government of Iraq as they continue working to stabilize the city of Ramadi. Our efforts in Ramadi are as much diplomatic and humanitarian as they are military. As the city continues to be cleared of ISIL, stabilization and humanitarian needs will be increasingly pressing on everybody. We are working with the coalition to address those very urgent needs.
Also on Syria today, we welcome – I want to say – the UN statement, which you may have seen, on these hard-to-reach and besieged communities there. In Syria, 400,000 people live under siege, including nearly 42,000 in the town of Madaya, which we talked about yesterday. And as I said yesterday, starvation as a weapon of war is utterly and completely despicable, and we join the UN in calling for unimpeded humanitarian access to reach all of those in need.
And then in a program note, I think you may have seen our media note on this, but this evening, later on, we're going to make publicly available online another 2,900 pages of emails from former Secretary Clinton's email account. We're releasing them today to add to the volume of documents that were released last week. With today's production, we will meet the 82 percent mark for total number of pages of documents released, which was the goal set for last week. Including in today's release, we expect to release about 45 documents with upgrades, in other words upgraded classification. These are all at the confidential level, with the exception of one. In an effort to process and post as many documents as possible, what you'll see in today's release, the documents will not have fully completed data fields on the FOIA website, but it is searchable, as they have been before and as they were last week.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Right. Can I just begin with a point that the Secretary of State comes down to talk to us is great, but he's making an appeal to the Senate to essentially change its rules that – as they exist now in terms of holds and more – in the broad sense and specifically making the case that the urgent developments around the world demand that they act. And I think that it would have been appropriate for him to stay and take some questions to defend that position, because the people who have the holds, the lawmakers who have the holds in the Senate, have some pretty strong feelings about it.
So with that in mind, I'd like to ask about that. Among the complaints or concerns that are involved in these holds is the idea that the Iran nuclear deal was, in fact, not a breakthrough but rather a breakdown, in that it has hamstrung the Administration or prevented it from acting in response to bad behavior that is not covered by the deal – in other words, the ballistic missiles, for one. Why has the Administration not acted, if in fact the Secretary's correct when he says that you are taking on and going after Iran for its bad behavior?
MR KIRBY: Well, there is an awful lot there, Matt. Let me just – he's not asking the Senate to change rules. He's asking them to do --
QUESTION: Sounded like it to me.
MR KIRBY: No, he's not. He said more than once in his opening statement that he understands their role, appreciates their role. Nobody understands it more than he, himself. But he wants them to act on these nominations, many of them, as he pointed out, have already cleared committee. So he's not asking them to change their rules or to abrogate any of their authorities. It's about doing the right thing for the country here and moving forward on nominations that, again, already cleared committee.
QUESTION: Well, I'll go back to that, because --
MR KIRBY: That said, your question I know gets to this – the press reporting last week about possible sanctions related to the latest ballistic missile launch by Iran. What I can tell you is that process is still moving forward. I don't have an update for you. There are still some technical issues that are being worked out. But I – as we have in the past, I fully expect you'll see us in the future continue to hold Iran accountable for these other destabilizing activities. And nothing in the Iran deal precludes or prohibits our ability to do that – nothing. It was about one thing – shutting off their pathways to a bomb. And we said then, I'll say it again today, that we have other tools at our disposal, unilateral if necessary, to deal with destabilizing activity by Iran.
QUESTION: Right. But the criticism is that you, in trying to protect and preserve the Iran deal by not giving Iran any excuse to claim that it's being violated or it's being treated unfairly, that you are treating them with kid's gloves when it comes to other issues of concern like the missiles, like its support for terrorism --
MR KIRBY: Simply not true.
QUESTION: -- et cetera.
MR KIRBY: Simply not true. I've seen the press reporting on this. I've seen the comments by anonymous sources and by critics on the record. There are some technical issues that are still being worked about, but to say to --
QUESTION: All right. And the visa waiver --
MR KIRBY: Wait a minute. Let me finish.
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: To argue that because we're still working through these issues that we're somehow treating Iran specially or with kid gloves on this is absolutely false. It's not accurate.
QUESTION: All right. On the first thing, did he not – was he not making the point that if a nominee has enough votes to be confirmed, that there shouldn't be holds allowed by individual senators, or two senators should not be allowed to --
MR KIRBY: No. Look, no, he's not disputing the process of holds. But he --
QUESTION: Okay. Well, then maybe I – then I misunderstood what he was saying.
MR KIRBY: But what he is was – was he was making a case that there have been many of them now either not acted on or --
MR KIRBY: -- held for too long, and some of them for reasons that have nothing to do with the State Department --
MR KIRBY: -- or State Department policies, and you know this better than anybody.
QUESTION: Well – right, right. But – so he's not arguing that the senators shouldn't be allowed to have a hold; he's just saying that they should never use it?
MR KIRBY: No. Come on, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, I'm --
MR KIRBY: You heard him yourself. He, of course – look, he understands the process --
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: -- again, better than many. But to have holds that are not tied to specific State Department policies or decisions, and for one individual legislator to be able to hold up an entire process like that, for the length of time that these have gone on, that's not helpful to American foreign policy.
QUESTION: Can I – can I --
QUESTION: Well, I have one last one and it's just about the content of what – one line and what he said to us, and which you then subsequently tweeted, so you obviously fully back it. That was the line that you both said now, that North Korea nuclear --
MR KIRBY: He said.
QUESTION: He said --
MR KIRBY: I simply resaid.
QUESTION: -- but you resaid, all right – the North Korea nuclear test only underscores America's firm and continued commitment to Asian regional and global nonproliferation. I don't get that at all. It seems to me that the North Korea nuclear test only underscores North Korea's willingness to violate UN sanctions. I don't see how it underscores America's commitment, unless "underscores" is the wrong word.
MR KIRBY: Well, it underscores and illuminates for everybody the need for us to continue to work hard at this particular problem. I mean, it --
QUESTION: I suppose it does, but --
MR KIRBY: -- reinforces – I mean, we could argue about the use of the verb, okay? But --
QUESTION: Well, no, no, no. But I mean, doesn't it underscore the fact that North Korea is willing – in fact, eager to --
MR KIRBY: The test says – the test --
QUESTION: -- go against what you want them to do like the rest of the world --
MR KIRBY: -- the test under – the test certainly reinforces lots of things. It reinforces that --
MR KIRBY: -- the North is still making the wrong decisions and still proving willing to destabilize not just the peninsula but the region. It underscores the need for international leadership. We talked about China as well and their need for them to continue to use influence over the North. And it underscores the need for American leadership in the region and why the Asia Pacific rebalance has been and will continue to be so important.
There's been this threat out there that we somehow just woke up to this idea, this notion that the North was pursuing these capabilities and that now there's this idea that there's going to be a flurry of new activity. Well, for the last two or three years, we've been doing an awful lot to deal with the instability in Northeast Asia, specifically regarding the North. We've put additional missile defense capability in Guam; we added two destroyers to Japan – Aegis missile defense capable destroyers in Japan, as well as a radar system. And we have – the Navy's basically at 60 percent of their fleet in the Pacific region. Just from the military perspective, there's been lots of deterrent efforts put in place. And of course, there's been, as we talked about yesterday, a spate of sanctions since 2006. And now, the international community needs to come together again.
QUESTION: Right. But none of the things that you just said prevented or kept the North Koreans from --
MR KIRBY: Did it – no, did it --
MR KIRBY: Did it stop them from doing this test? No,
MR KIRBY: But it does reinforce and underscore the need for American leadership and continued deterrence efforts in the Asia Pacific region.
QUESTION: Can we go back to appointments, please?
QUESTION: Can we stick with North Korea, actually? The North Koreans, if yesterday's – if the test earlier this week is confirmed, will have tested three times on President Obama's watch. Does that not suggest to you that your approach toward them and the UN sanctions that you have imposed with your partners previously just hasn't worked?
MR KIRBY: Clearly, the regime hasn't been deterred from doing these tests. There's no question about that. I mean, I think the 6th of January shows that they still have the capability and the willingness to do that. As for the motivation, you'd have to talk to them. They have choices to make. They keep making these bad decisions. It doesn't mean that international pressure on the North is going to or should change in its character.
There's lots of different approaches that you can take to a problem like this. I think we all recognize that open conflict on the peninsula is not a place you want to go. So we're going to keep adding – we're going to keep increasing pressure. And I think also if you take a look at the sanctions regime in the past – we had a question yesterday about enforcement. I mean, we haven't seen any major problems in enforcement. But I think we'd all agree that in some cases, the sanctions could have been tougher. But there wasn't consensus and unanimity at the Security Council level for that. So now we have another opportunity. And maybe this recent test can give us an opportunity to kind of get a little bit of what we were asking, Arshad – is maybe now's the time to put in place a tougher sanctions regime with even stronger enforcement methods to try to increase the pressure and change his calculus. It is very hard to do.
QUESTION: Your emphasis has all been on international sanctions, UN Security Council sanctions. Why not impose, for example, U.S. secondary sanctions that would prevent other countries from trading with North Korea?
MR KIRBY: Well, I'm not going to rule that out. I'm not going to rule anything in or out. The United States has in many cases unilateral sanctions, and I'm not – certainly not going to rule anything in or out at this point.
QUESTION: Are you considering those now?
MR KIRBY: I think the – that you can safely assume that U.S. decision makers are considering a wide range of potential options here, and I won't speculate about what they would be.
QUESTION: And then last one for me on this. We are quoting a South Korean military official as saying that South Korea has asked the United States for – to deploy strategic weapons on the peninsula. It's not perfectly clear to me what is meant by that phrase, so I'm going to ask a specific question, which is: Is the U.S. Government giving any consideration to the restoration of tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea following this latest nuclear test?
MR KIRBY: I wouldn't be privy to know the answer to that question, Arshad. And even if I did, I don't know that that's the kind of thing that we would discuss. We have – I'm not – so I – let me start by saying I'm not aware of that request that you've cited by the South Koreans. If it's true, that would be something that would be brought up in military channels. Obviously, it would be discussed at the interagency. I'm not aware of any such discussions. I'm not aware of the request. I would just simply point out that we have nearly 30,000 U.S. troops stationed on the peninsula. We have a very robust presence there – a very ready, very capable presence. It's not just about being there; it's about being ready. And they are ready. And, of course, there are assets in the Asia Pacific region elsewhere that we could draw upon if needed.
But look, that's not – we always have to be ready for that. That's what deterrence is all about. But what we really want to do here – and the Secretary hit this when he was up here – is get increased international consensus and unanimity and strength behind additional measures to put more pressure on Kim Jong-un to start to make --
QUESTION: Can I --
MR KIRBY: -- the right decisions.
QUESTION: Can I pick up on that? I mean, I understand that's your – increase international measures, or – do you think that there's a pressure point that finally is going to get the North Koreans to say, "Yeah, these sanctions are" – I mean, they are sanctioned up to the hilt between the sanctions at the UN Security Council and U.S. bilateral sanctions and the kind of larger effects of that. I mean, you don't have a lot of room to go. So what happens when you've put all the sanctions that you can on North Korea and you still find that three generations of North Korean leaders have not done anything? And it doesn't seem like the sanctions are really making a big difference.
MR KIRBY: Well, they're making a difference. But I mean, they're certainly have an effect, but are they having an effect so far in changing the calculus or changing his decision making? I think if you look at the test on the 6th of January, you – I could understand why one would say, "Well, no." I mean, he still continues to conduct these tests, to continue to pursue this program. But let's see where it comes out, Elise. I mean, I think everybody is mindful of the threat that he poses – again, not just to the peninsula, but to the region. And that's why we asked for this emergency meeting yesterday at the UN, and that's why we continue to call on the UN, the Security Council in particular, to take this up and to come up with more robust, tougher measures.
QUESTION: But that would suggest that you think that there is, like, a pressure point, a particular level of sanctions or a certain amount of sanctions or a particular kind of sanctions that are actually going to stop North Korea from this behavior and will curb its nuclear ambitions.
MR KIRBY: It would be --
QUESTION: I mean --
MR KIRBY: It would be --
QUESTION: -- there – is there anything to – what is there to suggest that any particular amount or kind of sanctions is going to make a difference? I mean, a lot of people at this point are now suggesting that a new type of policy is needed because sanctions are clearly not working. I mean, it's certainly not going to do anything to the existing program that they already have, which is already a grave threat.
MR KIRBY: It'd be irresponsible not to take a look at the potential for additional sanctions that they could do.
QUESTION: Or additional policy options perhaps?
MR KIRBY: As you – as the UN said, additional measures are going to be considered, and sanctions are certainly one measure.
QUESTION: But --
MR KIRBY: I won't get ahead of decisions that haven't been made, but it would be irresponsible not to consider that as an option going forward.
QUESTION: But would it be equally irresponsible not to consider policy options other than sanctions, given the fact that sanctions have not worked?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, I won't rule anything in or out. But look, it's not as if we have turned a blind eye to this particular threat, which is why I said, over the last couple of years, even on the military front alone, there has been a much stronger emphasis on having in place options to deter, and if not deter, to defend as we need to. I mean, it's not --
QUESTION: But what about --
MR KIRBY: Sanctions are one option, all right? And it is an option that we want the UN to take another look at, and they said they would look at other measures. I don't want to predict right now what that might be or how that might come out, but we need to let this process continue. It would be irresponsible not to. And to your question, "Well how – what gives you an expectation that you're going to be able to find a breakthrough?" we have to try it. We have to – we have to give it an effort.
QUESTION: But it sounds like you're putting – I mean, I understand about military options to defend and to deter, but really, isn't your goal to dismantle – ultimately, to dismantle the program and have a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula? And I --
MR KIRBY: The goal is to make sure that they're – that North Korea doesn't have that capability and that it's verifiable and it's irreversible.
QUESTION: So I mean, it – let – can I --
MR KIRBY: But we want to do that, as we have said before, though the venue of the Six-Party Talks. And we have said that we are prepared to return to that forum, but the onus is on the North to prove that it's willing and able to do so, and they haven't done that.
QUESTION: I have one more on nominations.
QUESTION: Can we stay on North Korea? I've got one on North Korea.
QUESTION: Well, can I just ask one more on nominations, because we already got away from that topic?
MR KIRBY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: If you have so many important, key positions that have not been voted upon and you respect the right of the Congress, for their prerogatives, then why has this Administration and the President not used its prerogatives to issue some recess appointments?
MR KIRBY: Well, that's a question that you'd have to ask the President and his staff at the White House. That's not a prerogative here at the State Department.
QUESTION: But is the Secretary urging the President to use recess --
MR KIRBY: I won't get into private conversations and advice that the Secretary might be giving the President of the United States.
QUESTION: Can we go back to North Korea?
QUESTION: Can I ask two brief ones on Korea? One is about Arshad's – the question about the tactical nukes. It is – it remains the goal of the Administration that Korea should be a nuclear-free peninsula, right?
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: So why wouldn't you just categorically rule out the idea that you might introduce more nukes to a place that you say you want to be nuke-free?
MR KIRBY: I'm simply not going to talk about military options one way or the other. I'm not going to enter – I can't and I won't entertain the consideration --
QUESTION: But it seems to me if you goal and the whole world's goal, with the exception of the North --
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, Arshad said himself he wasn't sure what strategic –
QUESTION: Right. So they --
MR KIRBY: -- what they meant by "strategic."
MR KIRBY: And I'm not going to – if Arshad can't define what they mean by "strategic," I can't define what they mean by strategic.
QUESTION: Well, don't blame him. It's not his – not him – it's not him. Anyway --
MR KIRBY: I'm not going to get into a hypothetical debate --
QUESTION: All right, fair enough. Okay. Here's something that's not --
MR KIRBY: -- about what systems will or won't be introduced on the peninsula.
QUESTION: Here's something that's not a hypothetical. The South Koreans, in response to this test, are going to start – going to start broadcasting propaganda back over the DMZ, which in the past the North has said is the equivalent to an act of war. Do you think that the South Koreans – that this is a wise decision by the South Koreans to resume these broadcasts, or would you advise them not to?
MR KIRBY: Well, I won't talk about whatever private discussions we may be having with South Korean leaders. Suffice it to say, from the podium today, I'm not going to comment on any specific actions that the South might be taking in response to North – the North's most recent nuclear test. It is clear that North Korea's actions constitute yet another violation of its obligations and commitments under international law, including, as we talked about, several UN Security Council resolutions. And the onus remains on the North to refrain from reckless and provocative behavior. As I said at the outset of my answer, we remain in close communication with South Korean leaders on our response and the international response to North Korea's actions.
QUESTION: Does that mean that you do not regard the resumption of these broadcasts as being reckless and provocative?
MR KIRBY: I am not going to comment further on response actions that the South might take.
QUESTION: Well, I'm not – so they can do anything they want and you will not say a word about it?
MR KIRBY: I'm not going to comment further. I think I've answered the question.
QUESTION: Right. So they can do whatever they want and you won't – and you don't have anything to say about it.
MR KIRBY: I didn't put it that way, I didn't say it that way, and it would be wrong for you to walk away from this exchange to think that that's what I said. What I said was I'm not going to comment on any specific actions that they may be taking and I'm not going to talk about our private conversations with South Korean leaders.
QUESTION: All right. Why not? Why not comment on it?
MR KIRBY: I'm simply not going to do that.
QUESTION: Well, can you explain why it is?
MR KIRBY: The onus is not – the onus here is on the North, and I think we need to put that front and center, on the reckless and provocative behavior that the North has committed.
MR KIRBY: And that's where the focus needs to be on the international response, the international efforts --
QUESTION: You said it should be a unified international response.
MR KIRBY: -- the international efforts to respond to the North's actions.
QUESTION: But yesterday you said it should be a unified effort.
QUESTION: This is not intending to suggest that you're excusing the North Koreans' behavior or that you should excuse it. It's a question about something that in the past has led – has been a provocation. So you don't – you just --
MR KIRBY: As I said, we are in communication with the South Korean leaders. We're going to continue to be in communication with them about the appropriate responses to the North's actions, and that's where I'm going to leave it.
QUESTION: Well, wait. Can I just --
MR KIRBY: That's where I'm going to leave it.
QUESTION: One more on this though. But you said you're in communication with them. But in – what about coordination with them? I mean, shouldn't it be a kind of way forward that you, the South Koreans, and the Japan and the Japanese in particular, as this kind of trilateral group of allies, move forward together in lockstep?
MR KIRBY: Well, it is a security alliance.
QUESTION: Well, it doesn't sound like you're in lockstep with them.
MR KIRBY: And we take our commitments to that alliance very seriously. I'm simply saying we're in constant communication with South Korea's leaders about the appropriate responses moving forward. I'm not going to detail those conversations. The onus needs to be and should be put on the North --
QUESTION: But --
MR KIRBY: -- to stop the reckless and provocative behavior that they have proven so capable of.
QUESTION: They're not --
MR KIRBY: Lucas. Let me go to Lucas and then I'll come back.
QUESTION: Can you clarify something the Secretary said? He said when he spoke to his Chinese counterpart he said we, quote, "can't continue business as usual." Was he talking about North Korea's actions or was he also talking about Chinese actions in the South China Sea?
MR KIRBY: I won't – I don't want to parse any more than what he put it. I think what he was referring to, clearly, though was that this is a moment now that the international community needs to take very seriously and through the UN to approach the response to North Koreans –the North Korea's provocative behavior, again, in a unified way, a tough way, a clear way and that what we need is real strength at the Security Council level. As I said earlier, there's been resolutions in the past where the Security Council wasn't in complete agreement and maybe those sanctions could have been stronger. And it's not about finger pointing now or blaming. It's about seeing this for what it is, this test as it underscores the need for a stronger, firm, international response.
QUESTION: But is this an example of more redlines being ignored? You have North Korea's nuclear test. You also have China sending a commercial airliner to its artificial reef/island in the South China Sea. You mentioned earlier about Iran that you can't – technical issues are still being worked out, but a number of congressmen and a number of media outlets have reported this November test. That was over a month ago. Why can't the State Department confirm this Iran test? And are redlines being ignored?
MR KIRBY: I'm simply not going to be able to go into any more detail about what the potential response would be to Iran's continued ballistic missile program, other than to say that we're mindful of it, that we're going to continue – we have tools at our disposal unilaterally and multilaterally, and we're going to continue to explore those tools. And as I said, you've seen us respond in a sanctions – through a sanctions regime to their ballistic missile activity in the past, and I fully expect that you'll see us respond appropriately in the future.
QUESTION: Well, the Administration has pulled sanctions back. And just going back to why can't the State Department just acknowledge that Iran did conduct a test. Are you saying that these lawmakers are wrong, that news Iran conducted a test in --
MR KIRBY: This is talking about the ballistic missile test?
QUESTION: -- late November? Can you not – why can't you acknowledge that Iran conducted an illegal ballistic missile test?
MR KIRBY: I'm not going to get into intelligence matters here, Lucas. What I can tell you is we're mindful of their program. We're going to continue to hold them accountable for that program.
QUESTION: Are these lawmakers wrong that were talking about them?
MR KIRBY: And when – this notion that sanctions have been pulled back is not an accurate representation. There are --
QUESTION: It isn't?
MR KIRBY: There are response tools at our disposal. We will continue to use them. There are some technical issues that we are still working through. And when we are at a point where we can talk about that more openly, I will. We will.
QUESTION: In Lucas's defense, is it not the case – and I know we and multiple news organizations have reported and have actually seen the documents – that the Treasury Department notified certain members of Congress on December 30th that they intended to impose ballistic missile-related sanctions on Iran? Is that not a fact?
MR KIRBY: I would point you to the Treasury Department to speak to their communications with Congress.
QUESTION: Fine. But then is it not also a fact that the Treasury Department then later that same day – and lots of news organizations have reported this, and I believe obtained the documents – then emailed the lawmakers' offices to say, "No, we're not going to do this." I think it's fair to say something got pulled off if you notified the other – one of the two other branches of government you were going to do something, and then you notified them that no, we're not going to do it. So I think "pulled back" is not an unreasonable phrase. You've never explained what happened there.
MR KIRBY: I'd let the Treasury Department speak to that. I'm talking for the State Department and I'm telling you that we have in the past and we will in the future continue to hold Iran accountable for a ballistic missile program that we know they continue to pursue. And when we're at a stage, Arshad, where we can talk about exactly what that accountability is going to look like, we'll talk about it. We'll lay it out for you.
QUESTION: I look forward to that. But I – but pulled back, I think, is a perfectly reasonable phrase to describe what happened.
MR KIRBY: That's not --
QUESTION: Thank you, Arshad.
MR KIRBY: Yes, it's great to always be defended by Arshad. I'm sure that that's helpful. But what I'm telling you is that that may be an accurate telling based on sources you may be talking to in other departments. I'm telling you from the State Department's perspective we don't find that to be an accurate characterization of what happened.
QUESTION: But John, just to go back to the launch, seven lawmakers, seven Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter yesterday to the President saying that there were launches in October and November and want sanctions put back. Are you saying that these lawmakers are wrong to say that a ballistic missile was launched in November?
MR KIRBY: No, I'm not saying that at all. I'm just simply not going to talk about intelligence matters here from the podium.
QUESTION: I understand you don't want to speak about what the Treasury's communication with lawmakers might have been, but did the State Department tell the Treasury to pull these or to hold off on announcing these sanctions?
MR KIRBY: There are interagency discussions all the time about how we're going to hold Iran accountable for destabilizing activity. I'm not going to detail the specifics of those conversations.
QUESTION: That accusation has been made. Or maybe "accusation" is too strong a word. The claim has been made – and I've asked about it before – and I just want to give you the opportunity again, if it's not true, deny it, tell us that it's not true, and save --
MR KIRBY: As a general rule --
QUESTION: -- yourself some --
MR KIRBY: Save myself, yes.
QUESTION: No, not your – well, save the building some – the criticism that you're bending to Iranian will to try to – on ballistic missiles to try to save the nuclear deal.
MR KIRBY: I'm not going to detail the specifics of interagency discussions. As I said, we have tools at our disposal to hold Iran accountable. We will continue to use those tools as we have in the past. And when we're at a stage when we can talk about it, we'll talk about it. I mean, there are still some issues we're working through.
MR KIRBY: Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: He's on Korea.
MR KIRBY: Well, go ahead.
QUESTION: I'm going to ask about Iran.
MR KIRBY: All right. Let's go to you. Go ahead.
QUESTION: U.S. – you can put as many sanctions as possible on North Korea, but so long you don't close that corridor from China – and I'm saying it from my few years ago visit from Europe to North Korea – and so long that is not closed, they are getting everything that the rulers want from China. You can put as many sanctions. What are you doing to stop China feeding them, cutting across all these sanctions? And these sanctions are of no – they don't even – they laugh at the sanctions, North Koreans.
MR KIRBY: Well, China is a member of the Security Council. When there's as UN Security Council resolution, it's certainly everybody's expectation that every member of the council is going to abide by it and enforce it.
QUESTION: But --
MR KIRBY: And as I said, I'm not aware of any major enforcement issues over the last several years, although I'm sure there have been some ripples and things that maybe could have been done better, which is why, as I said, we look now, in the wake of this most recent test, this is an opportunity for the international community including China – and this gets to the Secretary's points about his conversation this morning with his counterpart – this is an opportunity now to ratchet up the pressure on the North.
And China has a role to play here. They're a regional leader. They're a global leader. And they have an influence, as you rightly point out in your question. They certainly have a relationship and an influence in Pyongyang that in many cases, in almost all cases, cannot be duplicated or replicated by any other nation on Earth. And we would look to them to use that influence and to exert that kind of leadership and that kind of pressure on Pyongyang to do the right thing. But we're going to have to see where it goes.
QUESTION: Okay. But is there any kind of monitoring that international other partners have on the trade that goes on between that corridor?
MR KIRBY: Well, all that kind of stuff is – that is the stuff that is considered, factored into a discussion about a sanctions regime and putting real weight under a Security Council resolution. I mean, that's, in many cases, what sanctions are, right? It's a restriction of trade. It's a restriction of resources. And again, I'm not going to get ahead of what the UN – the Security Council may or may not do here. Ambassador Power spoke yesterday to the possibility for tougher sanctions. It is a measure. It may not be the only measure that the international community explores, but we need to let this process work its way out.
QUESTION: I have another one on India. Should it now or later?
MR KIRBY: No, I mean, you're on a roll. Go ahead. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay. So the Indian and the intelligence agencies have identified the Masood as – of that he is the chief of Jaish-e-Mohammed as the prime mastermind of the Pathankot airbase attacks and also four of the handlers. So are you saying anything to Islamabad? Are you reaching out to Pakistan?
MR KIRBY: Of course, we're talking to Pakistan about this and --
QUESTION: Yes, you talked to them when the prime – Nawaz Sharif was here. And if you remember the joint statement, he promised that he's going to go back, and that was two months – two months these attacks take place. He promised that he's going to go back and take action against these terror groups. Has he taken action?
MR KIRBY: A couple of points. The Government of Pakistan itself has condemned this attack and made clear that they're committed to investigate it. So let's let them do that and let's see where the investigation goes. We obviously would like to see it investigated too, as completely and as thoroughly as possible, so that we can better understand what happened.
The Government of Pakistan has also said that they're not going to discriminate between terrorist groups as part of its counterterrorism operations. And this is a country that knows well the threat of terrorism. We've talked about this. Soldiers have been killed. Innocent Pakistani civilians have been killed by terrorists and continue to be. It is a regional challenge that requires real regional solutions, and we want Pakistan to be a part of those solutions.
QUESTION: So will you – so is it safe to say that from now on we should have a lineup or a queue list for, okay, Mumbai attack took place, we are asking them to investigate. Now this attack take, we are asking. So we will have it, but nothing is happening. In Mumbai attack, six Americans were killed, and as the President has said, anybody, anywhere kills an American, we are going to not leave them alone. And what's going on? Like what do you say to that?
MR KIRBY: Well, from the United States perspective, I don't think anybody can look at our CT, our counterterrorism record over the last decade or so and say we're not doing anything. I mean, there's been a lot of effort across the U.S. interagency to get at the terrorism threat, not just from a military or intelligence perspective.
And as for countries in the region – yeah, could they do more? Sure. Which is why we continue to encourage bilateral, multilateral efforts in the region to get at this particular threat. And look, the relationship with Pakistan's complicated, I get that. And we don't always agree on everything. And I can't speak for how long it might take them to complete an investigation or the degree to which they intend to be transparent about it after they've completed it. All I can tell you is – and as for the Mumbai attackers, we've said and we'll – I'll say it again today: We obviously want to see all the perpetrators brought to justice – brought to justice. We know that that can take a long time. It took an awful long time to bring Usama bin Ladin to justice, but we did. So it can be hard.
Now, on this attack on the airbase in the Punjab, the Pakistanis said they're going to investigate, so we look forward to seeing the results of that investigation when it's complete. But as for how long it's going to take and the scope of it, I think you need to be talking to folks in Islamabad about that.
QUESTION: Can I follow it up? Do you see Pakistan taking action? India had provided actionable information to Pakistan. Do you see in the last couple of days Pakistani Government taking actions against --
MR KIRBY: I can't speak to specific CT operations or results over the last 48 hours in Pakistan. You should talk to people in Islamabad about that. And I have no knowledge or information specifically about what India might have provided the Pakistanis. But if they did, if there's some information sharing going on, well, we would find that helpful and productive. But I can't speak to the results just two days after.
QUESTION: Bruce Riedel, who previously worked with NSC and now is with a think tank – he wrote an op-ed yesterday saying that ISI was involved behind this terrorist attack in Pathankot and also in Mazar-e-Sharif. What do you say about that?
MR KIRBY: I saw Mr. Riedel's piece. I'm not in a position to confirm the veracity of his conclusions. What I can tell you is that the Government of Pakistan itself condemned this attack. They said they're going to investigate it. They said they're not going to discriminate between terrorist groups when they conduct counterterrorism operations. They've been very open about that, and we look forward to seeing the results of their investigation. And we continue to not only encourage a sense of aggressiveness in CT operations by Pakistan and by other regional powers, but we have expressed and will continue to express our willingness to support those operations as required or as deemed fit by those nations.
QUESTION: Informations provided by Bruce Riedel are always taken seriously, but do you have – what is your independent assessment of who was behind this attack?
MR KIRBY: I don't have an independent assessment of who was behind this attack. We don't have an independent assessment. A, it just happened two days ago; B, it's being investigated by the Pakistanis. They've condemned it, we condemned it. Let's let their investigation move forward and we'll see where it goes.
QUESTION: I guess the question is: Do you have confidence in the Pakistanis to conduct an investigation? This is the same Pakistan, right, that condemned 9/11 and yet bin Ladin was found living right next door to a Pakistani military facility.
QUESTION: Academy. Still a facility. Right? I mean, they said they had no idea, whatever, but I mean, do you think that they're capable?
MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly look forward to and expect and want to see a thorough, complete, fair, and transparent investigative process. And we're going to have to let it work through.
QUESTION: But you have no timeline for this? You can wait --
MR KIRBY: It's not for --
QUESTION: -- as in the case of Mumbai terrorist attack, 26/11?
MR KIRBY: It's not for us to ascribe a timeline to somebody else's investigation. Obviously, in all investigations, you want it to be thorough and you want it to be complete. And clearly, we all like them to be done as quick as possible and transparently discussed when it's complete. But this is for the Government of Pakistan to sort out how long this investigation is going to take. It's more important to us, as it is in our own investigative issues here in the United States, that it be a good, solid, thoughtful, and comprehensive investigation, not that it be done by a certain timeline. We're very cognizant of that when we conduct investigations. We'd rather get it right than get it fast, and we'll certainly defer to Pakistani authorities to determine their own timelines and their own deadlines and the standards to which they want to hold themselves with respect to this investigation.
QUESTION: And one final one: Have you been in contact with the Pakistanis after this attack, and what level it is?
MR KIRBY: We have certainly been in touch with Pakistani authorities since the attack, but we're in touch with Pakistani authorities every day, as you might expect, at all different levels. I'm not going to detail the specifics of diplomatic discussions that we've had with Pakistani authorities.
QUESTION: Back on Iran really briefly. In his conversation with Foreign Minister Zarif this morning, did the Secretary again, as you say he always does, raise the case of the detained Americans?
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: Is there any reason to believe from – that there's going to be any movement on that at any time soon?
MR KIRBY: I don't have any specific developments to read out to you, Matt. It is a constant concern. I think the Secretary actually alluded to it in his opening statement today.
QUESTION: Right, but he didn't say that it had come up in the call, I don't think, specifically, right?
MR KIRBY: It always does. There's not a single conversation --
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: -- that he has where he doesn't raise this issue.
QUESTION: And --
QUESTION: Did he mention ballistic missile tests?
MR KIRBY: I don't have any more detailed readout than what the Secretary gave you himself, but he said to you himself that he raised this issue. He always does.
QUESTION: And then last one: Do you have any reason to believe that the Iranian claim that the Saudis or people operating with the Saudis over Yemen conducted an airstrike on the Iranian embassy there?
MR KIRBY: We've seen the reports of an airstrike. I've also seen reports that there was no real visible damage to the facility. We're not in a position right now to know for sure exactly what happened. But as we have said --
QUESTION: Was the (inaudible) damaged or not?
MR KIRBY: I've seen reports of the strike.
MR KIRBY: I've seen reports both in the press and elsewhere that there were – there was no visible damage. That doesn't mean there wasn't any. I'm just saying --
MR KIRBY: -- preliminary reports that there was no visible damage. But more critically, we want to make sure that the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran come down. We want to see that progress continue to be made towards other pressing issues in the region. And as the Secretary said to you himself, he got assurances from leaders in both countries that that progress would not be derailed by these tensions.
QUESTION: Right. Do you know if this alleged strike came up with Zarif?
MR KIRBY: I don't know.
QUESTION: And should it turn out to be a false claim, I mean, isn't that – will you call the Iranians out for crying wolf? I mean --
MR KIRBY: Well, let's see where it goes.
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: I mean, let's see where it goes rather than get ahead of hypotheticals.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Yemen.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about the JCPOA.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Can I just finish up on Yemen? Sorry. And in addition to the alleged strike on the Iranian embassy, Human Rights Watch today is saying that Saudi Arabia has fired cluster bombs into civilian areas in Yemen.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: They're U.S.-made cluster bombs and they say – Human Rights Watch says that there may be some U.S. liability in this, that you should conduct your own investigation, not just rely on a Saudi one to find out whether a war crime was committed.
MR KIRBY: We've seen the Human Rights Watch report. We're going through it now. I don't have additional comment on it. Obviously, the loss of any civilian life is tragic, and nobody talks more about our passion to not see innocent civilians killed, injured, or otherwise affected more than the United States.
As we have said many times, we continue to urge all sides in the conflict – including the Saudi-led coalition – to take proactive measures to minimize harm to civilians and to investigate all credible allegations of civilian harm. We've previously discussed reports of alleged use of cluster munitions with the coalition, underscoring that such weapons should not be used in locations where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians. We've also reinforced to members of the coalition the need to avoid, as I said, civilian casualties, and the importance of precise targeting. We continue to urge all sides to take the necessary steps to mitigate and avoid harm to civilians and comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law.
QUESTION: Do you have any precise comments on the Human Rights Watch claim that you're legally implicated in this if it turns out to be the case?
MR KIRBY: The – we – as I said earlier, we have encouraged the Saudi-led coalition to investigate for itself --
QUESTION: But they say you should conduct your own investigation.
MR KIRBY: -- to investigate for itself alleged harm to civilians or collateral damage. And we have urged the Saudi-led coalition to do that.
QUESTION: But we need an answer, though, to whether you're going to investigate –
MR KIRBY: I know of no such investigation by the United States into the potential use of this particular weapon by the Saudi-led coalition.
QUESTION: Can I ask about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. The Secretary was talking with certainty that it's going to be implemented between now and the end of the month. Do you have any doubt that it might actually not be implemented or it can come unraveled considering all this tension and reports that suggest that Saudi Arabia is basically deliberately have provoked this crisis to scuttle the deal? Do you have any – do you have any doubt? I mean, you said that both in the conversations with Zarif and with Jubeir, they committed themselves to the Syria process. But is Saudi Arabia committed also to the JCPO plan of action – to the implementation?
MR KIRBY: I would just – I can't – I don't think I can say it any better or clearer than the Secretary just did a few minutes ago --
MR KIRBY: -- that he has every expectation that we will get to implementation day, that it will be sooner rather than later, and as he certified to Congress and as we've said publicly, both we – the United States; I can only speak for us, I can't speak for any other nation involved here – we are marching towards meeting our commitments for implementation, and we have seen clear evidence that the Iranians are doing the same thing.
QUESTION: Okay. So all this – all the volatility of the crisis – current crisis notwithstanding, you're going ahead no matter what with implementing at least your part --
MR KIRBY: Absolutely.
QUESTION: -- with the – with your part?
MR KIRBY: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on the India part, the question --
MR KIRBY: On the what?
QUESTION: On the India question again one more time?
MR KIRBY: You want to try it another --
MR KIRBY: -- another way?
QUESTION: A different question, it's a different follow-up.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: You can just pre-answer by saying no.
MR KIRBY: No. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Next. I think Lucas had – I'm kidding. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So do you believe that the attack were carried out in Pathankot was – one of the objective was to derail the peace process between India and Pakistan?
MR KIRBY: I have no idea what the motivation for that attack would be. I guess I could've just said no. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Just to clarify something: When the Secretary spoke to his Chinese counterpart, did he mention the Chinese landing airliners on these contested islands? Did that come up in the conversation?
MR KIRBY: I think I read out a call that he made yesterday with his Vietnamese counterpart. What I – without getting into the details of these discussions, which I'm loath to do, I can tell you, broadly speaking, that tensions in the South China Sea was certainly a topic of discussion.
QUESTION: John --
MR KIRBY: I've really got to. I got – this is going to have to be the last one today.
QUESTION: In your opening statement, you mentioned and you welcomed the development in Syria as the regime agreed to allow humanitarian aid to some of the town under siege.
MR KIRBY: No, we see no movement by the regime to do that. I welcomed – what we welcomed was the UN statement --
QUESTION: Oh, yeah.
MR KIRBY: -- which expresses the need for the regime to allow that access, which we still continue to believe is absolutely vital.
QUESTION: On the Clinton emails --
MR KIRBY: Thanks.
QUESTION: -- why is it such a mess, the rollout? I mean, we had --
MR KIRBY: The rollout?
QUESTION: -- thousands – the rollout. It's such a mess. The release – there's thousands of emails coming out tonight. Is this transparency? The order's not correct.
MR KIRBY: Oh, I – Lucas, I would absolutely take issue with your characterization that it's a mess. There is a court-ordered schedule every month through the end of this month for us to release a certain percentage to get to the entirety of the 55,000 pages – hang on a second; now you're going to interrupt me, and I didn't even get a chance to answer – 55,000 pages of documents. And we're working our way methodically through that. Now, we've been pretty successful up until this month. We weren't able to – and a variety reasons, as we said very honestly; the holiday schedule didn't help much. We weren't able to get last week to the total, but in just a few short days we've been able now to catch up to the 82 percent that we're responsible for. We are meeting the court's – we didn't meet, technically, this deadline, but we have in the past, and we'll continue to do that – do the best we can moving forward.
QUESTION: Do you still firmly believe that retroactively classifying information is legit? Does the intelligence community actually sign off on that logic?
MR KIRBY: Well, I won't speak for the intelligence community. You can talk to them. But I mean, is it legitimate? Sure it's legitimate. It's not – I mean, I've been in government service now for more than 30 years, and it's not unusual that in further review of a document for whatever purpose – whether it's a FOIA release or an investigation, or just a review of policy – when you look at documents, do you change their classification over time? It can be done. It's absolutely --
QUESTION: Then why it took them, like, 40, 50 years after document – after events happen that documents come out from the government, from the archives, and they are declassified, they're not reclassified?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, over 40 or 50 years, that does happen. But we're talking about documents now that are fairly recent. And as I've said before, again, almost all of these upgrades are at the confidential level, which you know is the very lowest level, and it's mostly to comply with Freedom of Information Act – the law itself – to comply with provisions in the law, not because there's some sort of malicious or – intent to obscure information.
QUESTION: But your Inspector General is now saying that they didn't do it right, the State Department – you guys did not release these emails, you didn't look at --
MR KIRBY: We absolutely welcome the Inspector General's report. It was – Secretary Kerry asked for it, actually. And if – as you look at the report, you'll see that of the four major recommendations that they made, they consider them resolved because we are already working to implement those steps. We frankly agree with the findings of the IG. We're grateful for the good work that they did in putting that report together, and we're moving out smartly now to implement all those recommendations. We know – look, we know we can do better. That's why Secretary Kerry asked the IG to do this in the first place, is to continue to make processes better here.
Okay? Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:15 p.m.)
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