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Daily Press Briefing

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 14, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing




2:07 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Hello.

QUESTION: I assume you're here only because you didn't win the lottery last night.

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) Yes, that is exactly right.

QUESTION: That goes for the rest of us.

MR KIRBY: I didn't even come close. I assume that's the same – yeah, could say the same for all of you.

I do have a quite a bit to start with, so I just ask your forbearance that there's quite a bit I want to get to at the top, and then obviously we'll get right at it. I think you've seen – or I hope you've seen – the statement that I put out about the terrorist attack in Jakarta. I just would like to reiterate here that the United States strongly condemns today's terrorist attack in Jakarta, and again, we extend our condolences to all those who were affected by it. We stand firmly with the Indonesian people against terrorism and extremist ideologies that fuel and give rise to this kind of violence. And as you may have seen, as Secretary Kerry said this morning in London, we join international condemnation of this attack. And as he also said, acts of terror are not going to intimidate nation-states; we're going to stand together, all of us united in our efforts to eliminate those who choose terror as a tactic. We're going to continue to, obviously, work with our Indonesian partners and others around the world to combat these shared threats.

In addition to the attacks in Indonesia, I do want to note that we also strongly condemn yesterday's terrorist bombings in Diyarbakir in Turkey and extend our condolences again to all those who were affected, killed, and wounded, as well as their family and friends. Turkey is a friend and a NATO ally, and we will continue to stand with the Turkish people as they continue to deal with very real terrorist threats on their soil.

You probably saw that the Defense Department announced today the transfer of 10 Yemeni nationals from Guantanamo to Oman. This transfer marks an important milestone: For the first time since 2002, the detainee population now at the facility at Guantanamo Bay is under 100. In fact, with this transfer, takes it down to 93. This is – reaching this milestone is in large part due to the sustained diplomatic engagement here at the State Department led by our Special Envoy Lee Wolosky and his team.

We're especially grateful to our friends and allies for their continued support of our efforts to close the detention facility. Since 2009, two dozen different countries, most recently Ghana and, of course, today Oman, have resettled 92 detainees who are not their nationals and who could not return to their home countries, and more than a dozen other countries who have received nationals – their nationals from Guantanamo. So we're going to continue to engage with friends and allies around the world as we work to close the detention facility. Their assistance is critical to achieving our shared goal of doing just that.

I do want to note also that today, following President Obama's phone call with Russian President Putin yesterday, the Secretary did speak today over the phone with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. They mostly talked about Syria and Ukraine. The Secretary and the foreign minister agreed that UN-led negotiations between the Syrian parties must move forward as scheduled on January 25th in Geneva and without preconditions. They also agreed that steps must be taken to foster a productive discussion between all the Syrian parties in advance of the meeting. The Secretary again expressed his concern – deep concern – over attacks on civilians by Russian regime military forces and encouraged Russia to use its influence with the regime to permit the unfettered access of organizations delivering vital humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, particularly in besieged and hard-to-reach places. I would note today, as I think you probably have seen, we are aware of another convoy reaching Madaya and a couple of other towns as well, so that's encouraging. But we've got to see it continue, and they did talk about that today.

On Ukraine, the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov both underscored the importance of full implementation of the Minsk agreement by all parties, and they agreed to continue this dialogue that they have had and to meet more specifically in Zurich on the 20th of this month.

On – I do want to also talk – speaking about meetings, a U.S. delegation led by Assistant Secretary of State of Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson was in Geneva, Switzerland yesterday to discuss with the UN and with members of the Permanent Five of the UN Security Council how we can facilitate implementation of UNSCR 2254 – this is the one that was signed right before the holidays, as you know, which codified the Vienna process at the UN. In both meetings, the U.S. delegation focused particularly on the need to gain sustained, unimpeded access for the delivery of humanitarian relief supplies. All areas under siege should have access to relief, as we talked about. And also as we talked about, we believe – and it was stressed in this meeting – that the ISSG members, all of them have an obligation to continue to press all parties to grant that access immediately. The U.S. delegation also pressed on the need for constructive talks to begin on the 25th of January between the Syrian parties on a genuine political transition in accordance with the Geneva communique.

I'm almost done. I know you probably have seen our media note, but I do want to reiterate it here from the podium that Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel later this week to Japan, to Burma, to South Korea, and to China to consult with U.S. allies in the region and our partners, to see firsthand progress in Burma's post-election democratic transition. He will conduct the Interim Strategic Security Dialogue with the Chinese Government and discuss a range of other regional and global issues. This is the deputy secretary's third visit to Northeast Asia in the last 11 months and his second trip to Burma. Again, we put more detail out in our media note, so I'll spare you those details right now.

Matt, over to you.

QUESTION: Oh. I thought you had more.

MR KIRBY: Well, just that one more.

QUESTION: Let's start with Iran. And before going into the implementation day guessing game, I want to talk about the sailors incident again and to ask you whether or not the U.S. Government writ large coming from the Pentagon has made a determination about whether these sailors were mistreated in any way, and if the – if it has made that determination, if – how you're – what you're going to do about it.

MR KIRBY: I don't know that such a determination has been made. I know that the Navy in particular is doing an inquiry on this, as they should, and we need to let that process go forward. I'm not aware that any final determinations about causation or about the ultimate manner of interaction with the IRGC or the Iranian navy has been made.

QUESTION: All right. Do you know if there's been any further contact between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif?

MR KIRBY: I don't have any additional communication to read out to you. I don't believe that there's been anything additional with respect to this incident.

QUESTION: Okay. And then to implementation day. What is going on here? The Iranians say that they have almost finished, that the calandria is out, that the core has been filled with concrete, and that the IAEA is looking at it right now to verify it. I mean, is it possible that this is going to happen tomorrow, or is that not – or is that now out of the question and we're looking at either the weekend or sometime next week?

MR KIRBY: I honestly can't tell you exactly when implementation day will occur. What I can tell you is that we believe it will occur and that it will occur very soon. And as soon as we have a better sense of what that is, when it is, we'll certainly tell you. But I don't have additional detail today.

QUESTION: Can you confirm – I mean, as you saw yesterday, the Secretary said that the calandria was out and he expected it to be filled with concrete in the coming hours. And you saw what Matt said about the Iranian comments. Has – from your knowledge, has the concrete been poured?

MR KIRBY: I know that they have taken those steps with respect to shutting it down, and that includes the pouring of concrete. So yes, we believe that concrete has been poured and applied. I don't know what the status of that process is. And what I can tell you definitively as you and I speak here today that we're not at implementation right now, but that everybody is working towards it. And again, to Matt's question, I believe that we will get there and that we'll get there very soon.

QUESTION: And when you say we're not at implementation day yet, is that because the Iranians have, to your knowledge, yet to take every step that they need to take that then needs to be verified, or have they done all their steps and --

MR KIRBY: Well, that's for the – that's for the IAEA to determine. What's – what kicks off implementation is their certification that Iran has met all its steps as required. And as you and I speak here right now, I can't say that they have. And neither is the IAEA saying that. I think we are very close. I would prefer not to get into any more detail than that. But I do think we're very close, and as soon as we know something definitively, we'll let you know. I suspect the first word will come from – as appropriately, come from the IAEA.

QUESTION: Can I ask about the U.S. Government getting ready? You're talking about the – what Iran has to do to get to implementation day, but the U.S. has some things to do too, and that is offer guidance to U.S. companies and businesses and – about which sanctions are being lifted and which ones are not and how the U.S. Government is preparing to move ahead with this. Is that done?

MR KIRBY: We are moving ahead to meet our – all our commitments as well. And without getting into great, specific detail, what I can tell you is that we will be ready as well on implementation day to fully implement our side and all our commitments. But I don't have more information right now.

QUESTION: Does there have to be a configuration of officials in one city to receive the IAEA report, or could they just announce it out of Vienna?

MR KIRBY: I think – well, that's a little bit cart before the horse right now. There's still some work that has to be done. I don't have additional detail right now with respect to the physical look of it and how it's going to be – when we get there, what it's going to look like. The key piece of it – in fact, the most critical piece of it – is the IAEA certifying that Iran has met all of its requirements, but there are --

QUESTION: But if they receive the report in Vienna, can they just (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: There are a number of documents that have to be signed and approved by all parties, and as far as I know, that is not – that process has not been completed. So we're just not there yet. I do think we're very close – excuse me – and when we can talk more about it, we certainly will.

QUESTION: But you're not prepared to say whether he's coming back tomorrow or anything like that?

MR KIRBY: I have nothing additional on the Secretary's schedule to announce or to speak to today.

QUESTION: If I could, I wanted to go to Iran, where Matt started with the Navy and the sailors, and ask you, Admiral, what these sailors should have done. We understand that they were picked up in Iranian territory, so they were already sort of where they won't – weren't supposed to be. Secretary Carter said as much today, that they know that they shouldn't have been there. So when approached by Iranian forces, guns drawn, what are these sailors trained to do? Are they supposed to allow themselves to be boarded or are they supposed to defend themselves before they allow that to happen?

MR KIRBY: Those kinds of decisions are made in the moment, and there's really only one individual that can explain the decisions that he made, and that – in this case, I believe it's the young officer who was in charge. And I know the Navy is talking to him, as well as the other sailors, and I'm not going to get ahead of any judgments that the Navy might make or try to get in the head of that young man.

Every tactical situation is different, and it would be foolhardy and inappropriate for me to try to second-guess or armchair quarterback what could have happened, should have happened, what he should have done. I just wouldn't – I wouldn't get into that level of detail. I have sailed those waters myself a long time ago, but even then, it was tense, specifically with Iran, and everybody's mindful of the tensions up there in the North Arabian Gulf. And you could see just from looking at the videos that the tension comes right through. But I would really not want to try to second-guess this. That's for the Navy and – to determine, and we need to let them do that.

QUESTION: Has anybody expressed any dismay directly to the Iranians about the video, which is largely seen at this point as propaganda? Secretary Carter said the U.S. would have never done anything like that had the roles been reversed.

MR KIRBY: I'm --

QUESTION: In producing that video with the sailors with their hands up, sort of --


QUESTION: -- a propaganda --

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, obviously, it's – the video on the face of it is – it's difficult to watch. I mean, there's no question about that. And nobody likes to see our sailors in that position. I can't speak for the motivations for why they did it, why they put it out there. If they did it for propaganda purposes, I certainly – we would certainly join in those that are expressing concerns about that. I mean, that's – that's less than helpful.

I do know it's not uncommon for them – just from past experience, it's not uncommon for them to document events and incidents like this. You might remember when the British sailors were captured a few years ago they did the same thing, so it's not uncommon. But to put it out there and use it as propaganda – obviously, we wouldn't condone that.

So what's most important here, though – and I don't want it to get lost, and I understand there's questions about what happened and who's accountable and what we think about their behavior. But we got our sailors back with – in less than 24 hours, and nobody got hurt and not a shot got fired and they're all safe. And we got our boats back too. And I don't want that to get lost in the discussion over this incident. The Navy's going to do an inquiry. They'll figure out, as they always do, what happened. And if something didn't happen that should have, if somebody made a mistake, I can guarantee you the Navy will do what they need to do to hold people accountable if it comes to that. And I'm not prejudging.

But let's not lose the bigger picture here, because the last time something like this happened, it took months to get those sailors freed from – the British sailors. Whether you agree with the Iran deal or not – and I know there's people that don't – whether you agree with Iran sitting at the table at the ISSG as we work through a political process in Syria or not, there's no denying that the dialogue that's been opened up with Iran. And the relationship that Secretary Kerry has been able to forge with Foreign Minister Zarif as a result of those issues helped open up a channel, direct channel, to get United States Navy sailors home in less – not home home but back to their unit in less than 24 hours. And I really, really think it's important for us to remember that.

QUESTION: I don't think anyone's lost sight of that or anyone is saying that that's fundamentally wrong. The question is that, as you noted, this has happened before and this is a pattern that the Iranians have shown. They've stormed embassies, including very recently, just on New Year's Eve.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: They took these British – the sailors. They fired these ballistic missiles. They fired missiles near U.S. ships in the Gulf – in the Strait of Hormuz.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And then this latest incident. So the issue is not whether or not there is this dialogue or this channel of communication has opened up and whether that that's potentially or good or played a very helpful role in securing these guys' release. The question is the pattern of behavior by the Israelis. And when you say that --

MR KIRBY: You mean the Iranians.

QUESTION: I mean – sorry. Sorry, the Iranians, yes.

MR KIRBY: If I had said that – (laughter).

QUESTION: Yes, if you had said that, there would have been – there would have been – (laughter).

MR KIRBY: Oh, boy, the flags have been flying.

QUESTION: There would have been hell to pay, yes. There might even be hell to pay for me for saying that. So, sorry, let me just make it clear. The question is --

MR KIRBY: I'm glad that I can help bail you out of trouble today.

QUESTION: Yes. Well, I try. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The question is the behavior of the Iranians and the pattern of behavior of the Iranians. So when you say that producing this video is less than helpful, I mean, or that it – to put it out there --

MR KIRBY: To be used for propaganda purposes --

QUESTION: Propaganda, right, right.

MR KIRBY: -- is certainly less than helpful.

QUESTION: We wouldn't condone that. But isn't it much more than that? Can't you say much – can't you go further? I mean, isn't this a – kind of a violation of the rules of engagement?

QUESTION: This is something I wanted to ask you about, which is under the Geneva Conventions I believe it is not permissible to video or produce for propaganda purposes or display prisoners of war. And I guess my question was: Do you regard the 10 – and I've got to assume you don't – the 10 sailors as having been prisoners of war to whom the Geneva Conventions are applicable, or not because you're not actually at war with Iran and therefore they didn't actually violate any international agreements by videoing them and displaying that?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, and look, the Geneva Convention applies for wartime. We're not at war with Iran, so it's a moot question. But I do want to challenge just a little bit --


MR KIRBY: I do want to challenge a little bit your preamble – you're really lengthy, eloquent preamble that --

QUESTION: Well, not so eloquent because I got the name of the country wrong.

MR KIRBY: Well, I was trying to save you again, Matt. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I'm not suggesting that – when I talked about we need to keep in mind that we got our sailors back so quickly, I'm not suggesting that people are criticizing that. What I am suggesting is that that element of this is being forgotten. It's being largely overlooked. And if we --

QUESTION: It's front page in The New York Times today and The Washington Post.

MR KIRBY: It's being overlooked by many, and I can but think and imagine that if they – here we were two or three days afterward, if they were still in custody, what kind of criticism and questions we'd be getting. So I just think it's an important element not to forget that we got them home safe and sound, 10 fingers, 10 toes, no shots fired, and we got our boats back too. Not insignificant. So I just wanted to make that point. I'm not suggesting that there aren't other valid questions being asked such as those you did over Iranian behavior. And what I would say to that, Matt, is – and I've said it a hundred times – we're not turning a blind eye to Iran and its provocative behavior. We're not forgetting that they fired rockets near an aircraft carrier not long ago, that they still are a state sponsor of terrorism. I mean, this isn't about some rapprochement with Iran. This is about getting sailors back.

QUESTION: Right. But when you say it's not insignificant, I mean, aren't you – you're praising the Iranians for doing what they should have done anyway regardless of whether there was this open channel of communication. I mean, a responsible state with a responsible navy and military force such as, say, the United States --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- if this had been – would Foreign Minister Zarif in the opposite situation – would foreign – do you see a situation where Foreign Minister Zarif would have had to urgently get on the phone with Secretary Kerry and say, "Oh my God, help. We – please get our – please release our sailors." I mean, I'm just not sure that that would ever happen.

So you're saying that this channel of communication has led to a point where you can call the Iranians to ask them, appeal to them to do what they should do even without that channel of communication, no?

MR KIRBY: Well, this is – but this is a – fair. But this is a regime that has had a history of not doing many things that it should do, right? I mean, this --

QUESTION: Exactly. Which is what a lot of people point out when they --

MR KIRBY: And we're not denying that. And this isn't about praise. The Secretary did not praise Iran. He thanked Iranian authorities for their ability to work a diplomatic release here. There's a difference between expressing gratitude for the cooperation to get our guys back and lauding and praising. There was no lauding or praising. And again, nobody, certainly not the Secretary, isn't – is unmindful of the continued tensions that exist between the United States and Iran.

QUESTION: Can I ask a more technical question?

QUESTION: You could argue that you guys are now in a position of maximal leverage, vis-a-vis Iran. You are, in your own words, very close to implementation day when, if the IAEA certifies it, you then remove a huge raft of sanctions on the Iranians. Do you think that you're going to have the same kind of cooperation from the Iranians if this happens after implementation day?

MR KIRBY: I couldn't possibly answer that. It's a hypothetical. What the Iranians --

QUESTION: Do you think implementation day had anything to do with their eagerness to give your sailors back when they haven't done it in the past because they're desperate to get access to billions of dollars in frozen assets?

MR KIRBY: I think – I won't – I can't speak for the Iranian Government and what ultimately was behind their motivation to acquiesce to our very urgent request. They did, and that's all that matters. They can speak to that. But I think it's beyond dispute that as a result of working through the Iran deal and now on Syria that we have a – that we had a dialogue and we're able to have a dialogue on issues sometimes of mutual concern. And there has been sort of a building of momentum of this ability to have a dialogue. But where it goes after implementation, I think that's on the Iranians. And it's up to them to determine how much they want to make use of this historic moment to become more responsible and productive members not only of the region but of the global community. That's on them. Were it to have that effect, not that that was the intention of the Iran deal – the intention was to cut off their pathways, right? But would it have that effect, I think that would be a positive outcome, and the Secretary has spoken to that.

QUESTION: My question is you keep praising the importance of the channel, and I understand that it is useful to have foreign-minister-to-foreign-minister contacts with a country with which you have been estranged for so many decades. But why do you ascribe causality to the fact that you have this channel, as opposed to, for example, the fact that you are about to hand them huge economic benefits in exchange for their nuclear actions?

MR KIRBY: I'm not quite sure I understand the question, but we're not handing them --

QUESTION: The question is: Why do you think – you keep talking about how important the channel is. But my question is: Well, gee, isn't it perfectly conceivable that what was really important here is the fact that they're about to --

MR KIRBY: Oh, I see. I see.

QUESTION: -- a whole bunch of economic benefits --


QUESTION: -- for actions you wanted them to take, and that maybe that that's why they did it?

MR KIRBY: Maybe that could have been – that could have been behind their motivation. I don't know. I don't know. Only they can speak to that. But I also think on a technical issue, if you don't mind, nobody is handing them some sort of windfall of cash. This is their money that comes in sanctions relief if and only if they meet all their requirements under the JCPOA, and that was – and again, the sanctions were in place to get them to do exactly that. So it's a technical point. It's not your question. But I do think it's important to state it because that narrative keeps coming back now as we get closer to implementation day. As for their motivation, again, I think they should speak to that. Here at the State Department, we're just glad that diplomacy worked in this case and that we were able to get our sailors back safe and sound.

QUESTION: John, speaking of diplomacy, the fact that the Secretary of State had to get involved in something that was technically a military-to-military issue – in the debrief that the sailors are undergoing, would there be any reason for anyone from the embassy in Kuwait, if that's where they are being debriefed, or anyone from the political-military bureau, to be involved in the debrief to find out exactly who was holding them and what kind of contact they had? Or is this something that the military can handle by itself?

MR KIRBY: I don't know who's involved in debriefing the sailors. Obviously, the Navy is clearly running this, as they should. Who else is in the room, I couldn't begin to tell you. It's not a State Department function.

QUESTION: Wouldn't it be important, though, given that the – that the people that were holding them belong to a state with which the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations?

MR KIRBY: I don't know. I don't know what the debriefing – that's a – really, that's a question for the Navy and the Defense Department. I don't know who's in the room. The State Department is not in charge of that process. I can't say definitively that – who's in or who's not in the room. What's more important is that the Navy gets the information they need to do the inquiry and to figure out what happened and how to keep it from happening again. That's the most important thing.

You talked about mil-to-mil. There is no mil-to-mil relationship with Iran. There are no – as you rightly pointed out, there is no diplomatic relations with Iran. All – the only channel that exists right now is between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif. So in terms of --

QUESTION: No, no. (Inaudible) contacts at the UN that didn't involve Secretary Kerry --

MR KIRBY: Well, direct – direct bilateral contacts and communications are through – primarily through the two foreign ministers. There's no official diplomatic relations and there is no mil-to-mil relationship with them.

So to your other question, is it – was it somehow askew that the State Department had to get involved in here, I mean, not at all – not at all. In fact, it was the most effective channel to use, and it worked.

QUESTION: And then in – and then --

QUESTION: So they've been working very closely in a very – well, not closely together, but very – in a very close geographical proximity to each other --

MR KIRBY: Who is?

QUESTION: The Americans and the Iranians in that region.

MR KIRBY: For a very long time.

QUESTION: For a very long time. Is there – should there be a mil-to-mil contact and relations where they can actually talk to each other directly to defuse these kind of situations?

MR KIRBY: You'd have to talk to the Defense Department about the military relationships. Typically, they mirror diplomatic relationships. It's not typically common for us to not have diplomatic relations and yet for the military to be able to have their own relations. That's just not the way it's done. But specifically with respect to the military relationship, you'd have to talk to the Defense Department.

What I can tell you – I mean, it's not a relationship, but obviously, we communicate with Iranian naval forces almost every day in the Gulf. We did when I was a young ensign out there in 1988 and I'm sure they're doing it still today, just over radio just to de-conflict and to make sure that intentions are known. Most of those interactions are professional and some are unprofessional, such as what we saw with the rocket attacks near – rocket attacks, that's not – I'm sorry, them firing rockets or – by – off of small boats near an aircraft carrier, and we called it like we saw it. We saw – we said – we stated our concerns about it. But it's not a – that's not a relationship thing. That's mariner-to-mariner communications.


QUESTION: Well, what's preventing these – the – I guess, I mean, you're saying that the military – military-to-military relationship follow a diplomatic relationship.

MR KIRBY: Typically, yeah.

QUESTION: What's preventing that from happening?

MR KIRBY: There's no diplomatic relations with Iran. There's – there are no diplomatic relations with Iran. But I won't speak to decisions that the Pentagon may or may not make. I'm not aware that they're anticipating or predicting or hoping for; that's up to them to speak to.

QUESTION: John, how will these footages, do you think, affect the U.S. image in the Middle East, especially in the eyes of its friends and enemies? The U.S. is fighting ISIS in the Middle East and supporting its allies.

MR KIRBY: So is the question that because we had sailors on their knees on boats with guns pointed at them, that somehow we need to be worried that there's an image of weakness? Is that the question?

QUESTION: Don't you think that it will affect the U.S. image?

MR KIRBY: Name another country in the world that has as many forces in the Middle East than the United States. None. Who has had naval presence there since the end of World War II? None.


MR KIRBY: The United States – I'm talking about another nation outside the region – and they don't have as big a military as the United States. We are – we have remained perennially there. We will. There's a robust military presence that's not going to go away. We are deeply engaged in the fight against ISIL and the coalition. Nobody can say that the United States isn't – not only not contributing – isn't – is not contributing to that effort, but also leading in the coalition and put that 65-member coalition together.

So yeah, I've heard – I've heard the snarking about this. I think it's really important, unless you've been on one of those boats and you've sailed in those waters and you've been faced with that danger, not to second guess what those sailors did in the moment that they did it. That's for the Navy to figure out, and they'll do that. As I said, nobody likes to see that video. We don't enjoy watching it here either and I'm sure the Navy's not enjoying watching it. But let them work through this and figure out what happened, and then we'll go from there.

Our focus here at the State Department is on reinforcing strong diplomacy in the region on a spate of so many issues, and there's a lot to tackle, and the Secretary is very focused on that. And we're glad that through diplomatic means, we were able to get this resolved as quickly and as safely as we did.


QUESTION: In one of your answers to Arshad on – this is a purely legal kind of question – you said --

MR KIRBY: Oh, then I'm sure I'm going to be a master at this.

QUESTION: Well, I'm just wondering if – you said that since we're not, quote/unquote, "at war with Iran," that the Geneva Conventions are moot, and is that --

MR KIRBY: The question is moot. I didn't say the conventions are moot.

QUESTION: No – well, that the question is moot --

MR KIRBY: Doesn't apply.

QUESTION: -- whether they apply. Okay. Has that determination actually been made as far as you know, that – have you – has there been a determination that --

MR KIRBY: I don't know that it – I don't know that it needs to be applied. I'm not a lawyer, but it's very clear, if you read the conventions, they are for wartime, and we're not at war with Iran. So as far as I know, the question is moot.

QUESTION: At least in the technical sense, but you have proxies fighting in numerous places.

MR KIRBY: We're not at war with Iran.

QUESTION: Fair enough. When the British sailors were taken – and you mentioned this incident several times – the former prime minister of your oldest – or not oldest, but your special relationship ally, Prime Minister Blair, said that the release of the video of them, which you also mentioned, was a violation of the Geneva Convention.

MR KIRBY: I can't speak for what Prime Minister Blair said back then. I can just tell you what our sense is.

QUESTION: Okay. So the Administration does not believe that the rules of the – the rules and the code of conduct laid out in the conventions is applicable in this case, but --

MR KIRBY: If – we're not at war with Iran, so it's hard to see how the Geneva Convention could apply to that. That --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: If we were or if it did apply, then we would certainly have – we would be able to apply the concerns about it under that means. But we're not at war with Iran.

QUESTION: Well, okay, fair enough. But I mean, don't you think that the broadcasting of this – of this video and these photographs, if not violating an international convention, is at least a breach of what should be kind of a professional military code of conduct that should have some kind of a consequence?

MR KIRBY: Well, I certainly would agree that it's unhelpful and we wouldn't consider it appropriate to do. It's not going to do anything to de-escalate tensions and its use for propaganda purposes is inappropriate. So I would – I think we can safely say that. Nobody wants to see that.

QUESTION: John, there's going to be elections in Iran and in the United States over the next 12 months. There won't be Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif after a while. At the moment, it's a one-to-one relationship.

QUESTION: How do you know that?

QUESTION: Has there been any thought given to – hmm?

QUESTION: How do you know that?


QUESTION: I don't know.

MR KIRBY: You – but --

QUESTION: All right, it's possible that there will not be. Has there been any thought given to --

MR KIRBY: Now I know why you didn't win the Powerball.

QUESTION: -- to institutionalize the relationship? Obviously I'm not asking to – if you can restore diplomatic relations, but what's the procedure to keep this kind of, as you've said, useful, in this case, contact open in the event that one or other of these men is no longer in the job in 12 months' time?

MR KIRBY: I can't possibly predict what the future is going to look like.

QUESTION: Well, exactly. So shouldn't there be an institutional structure or at least a post-it note with a mobile number on it – hand on this relationship, such as it is, to – institutionally between the foreign ministry of Iran and the Secretary?

MR KIRBY: Well, that gets to the whole – that gets to a whole issue of official institutionalized diplomatic relations, and we've – we have none and I'm not aware of any plan to restore --

QUESTION: But you've described the relationship as it exists now as useful in this case.

MR KIRBY: It certainly was.

QUESTION: That's a useful thing you have that you could lose.

MR KIRBY: I can't deny that that might be the case. But absent a U.S. Government decision to restore diplomatic relations, I don't know how else to answer that question. It has been a useful channel, in this particular case certainly very useful. Decisions about elections here and decisions about elections there are up to the people of those countries, and they get to make those decisions. And the impact that those decisions have on whatever relationship there is with Iran going forward is I think yet to be determined, and it would be foolhardy to try to – to try to predict that.

QUESTION: John, so --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Said.

QUESTION: -- could I – yeah. Very quickly, did you say that the Geneva Convention applies to this incident or it doesn't because there is no state of war? I'm trying to understand.

MR KIRBY: The Geneva Convention applies for a time of war --


MR KIRBY: -- between nations --


MR KIRBY: -- and we're not at war with Iran --


MR KIRBY: -- so it's difficult to see how the provisions of the Geneva Convention can be applied here or us citing them as violations of it when we're not at war with Iran. Now, if we were at war with Iran or you pick the country, then yes, I think you could look at what happened as a breach of the protocols in there. But they don't apply.

QUESTION: Okay. And very quickly, the incident itself, some people say that it reflects some sort of conflict or maybe between, let's say, the Revolutionary Guard on the one hand and then President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif on the other. Do you also have the same feeling that there is actually some sort of a conflict or power struggle between the Revolutionary Guard and the executive in this case, President Rouhani and --

MR KIRBY: I'm not an expert on internal Iranian politics. I mean, it's a simple fact that not all arms of the government agree with one another and not all of them act in unanimity or consensus and not all of them, as far as we know, keep each other informed of everything they're doing. That shouldn't come as a shock to anybody. We have our own struggles in the United States with that. But I – with respect to this particular incident, I have no knowledge of the internal communications over it in Tehran and how they dealt with it or prepared for or ultimately got to resolution.


MR KIRBY: What I do know is that Foreign Minister Zarif, he certainly worked on the diplomatic end of it.

QUESTION: Was Zarif aware of the incident when Secretary Kerry called him?

QUESTION: And finally, you know it's always the JCPOA --

MR KIRBY: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Was Zarif already aware of the incident, or did Kerry inform him that it happened?

MR KIRBY: I don't know. I don't know.

QUESTION: So the --

QUESTION: On the Iran deal itself, it is always stated that it is independent of everything else. Yet it was cited by the Secretary of State himself that because of the JCPOA, the agreement, there were lines of communications that basically helped to bring this incident to an end.

MR KIRBY: Sure. Yeah, there's no question about that.

QUESTION: So it is related to other issues, isn't it?

MR KIRBY: No. There's no question about it that it provided a channel now that we could take advantage of, but that was never the intent. I mean, there's ancillary benefits. Nobody's – I'm not arguing that. And as we've said before, if the Iran deal itself were to lead to a change in behavior and conduct by Iran to make them more productive, more responsible in the region, then that's a good thing, and we wouldn't walk away from that if that's the outcome. I don't think we're there yet. We certainly haven't seen a change in their behavior in the region at all. But if it happens and it happens because of the channel opened up or the cooperation that is represented in the Iran deal, that's a benefit not just to the Iranian people but to the region.

As for the – there's no question that the deal allowed for a channel of discussion and dialogue to exist between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif, but it would be wrong to conclude that we entered into the Iran deal with the intention of doing that, of having that. The whole purpose of entering into the deal was to do one thing and one thing only, and that is to cut off the pathways to a nuclear weapons program in Iran. And when we get to implementation day, which we will, we will have achieved that goal.

QUESTION: Let me just raise one more point.

QUESTION: So you have this issue with the Geneva Convention. If the Geneva Convention doesn't apply because we're not at war with Iran, then what – are there any international conventions that do apply in this situation (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I'm not an international law expert. I don't know. And I'm just – I would refer you to the Navy and the Defense Department for how – for what applies here. We don't have, like, a naval treaty or an incidents at sea agreement like we had with the Soviet navy many years ago that would sort of govern behavior in these instance – incidents. We don't have that with Iran, so I'm not aware of any other legal framework.

QUESTION: Going back to David's question about some sort of institution, the whole notion of a possible rapprochement with Tehran, Syria is a state sponsor of terror. And even though the U.S. and Syria don't have ambassadors in either country at the moment, they're still technically – they still have a technically open diplomatic relationship. How does the U.S. talk to Syria about issues even though you don't have ambassadors in the same place? And what – why couldn't whatever's being done to communicate with Damascus – why couldn't that be replicated with Syria – with Iran? Excuse me.

MR KIRBY: I don't know what the framework is, and it's not uncommon for us to have protecting powers that can represent our interests. And I just don't know what the framework is with respect to Iran. You got me on that one. All I know is that Secretary Kerry had a channel with Foreign Minister Zarif and he used it and it worked. I'm just not an expert on how that exists in every other nation that – with which we don't have diplomatic relations. As I understand it, it varies from country to country.


QUESTION: A quick follow-up on the phone call between Secretary Kerry and Lavrov. Do they meet – agree to meet next weekend in Zurich as reported by the Russian foreign ministry?

MR KIRBY: I reported it myself just when I started the press conference. Were you not here for the beginning?

QUESTION: I'm glad to clarify.

QUESTION: That was like an hour ago. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: It only feels like an hour ago.

QUESTION: No, no, no, no, no. It feels quite different from an hour.


QUESTION: Forty-three minutes --

MR KIRBY: As I said at the opening – I'll save you from having to go look at the transcript – they're going to meet on the 20th in Zurich.



QUESTION: Thank you. So a Kurdish Government delegation is in Washington, D.C. and they have reportedly met with officials here at this building. Can you tell us what officials did they meet? And is it true that they have sought financial assistance and debt from the United States?

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. I don't know that I have a readout on this for you. You're going to have to let me take that question. I don't have – I don't have any readouts to offer today on that.


QUESTION: Can you just find out, though, when you do that whether or not you're – even if a decision hasn't been made on helping them financially for – to overcome their deficit --


QUESTION: -- whether or not this is even being considered as an option, some kind of direct assistance to the Kurdish authority.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, let me take that question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: I'm sorry, I should have been prepared for that one and I wasn't.

QUESTION: Just one more question. There was an editorial today in the New York Times warning of the possible ramifications of this dispute – budget dispute between Baghdad and Erbil if they are allowed to drag on. I remember Brett McGurk was very active at some point in 2014 and '15 helping mediate the dispute. But we don't see that kind of mediation anymore from the United States, at least in public. Why is that?

MR KIRBY: We've been – I'm not sure I understand the question. I --

QUESTION: I mean, we don't – the problem is still there and we don't see a U.S. Government representative.

MR KIRBY: What problem? The government issue?

QUESTION: The dispute over budget and oil between KRG and Baghdad.

MR KIRBY: We're – we are in constant touch with Kurdish and Iraqi authorities about those issues. I mean, it – though we may not talk about it every day and you're not seeing press releases about it doesn't mean that we're not engaged and continue to engage with the leadership over there. And Brett McGurk obviously continues to be involved as appropriate. I don't have anything new to announce or to – additional context to provide you, but to surmise that we've somehow disengaged from it I think would be wholly inaccurate.

QUESTION: But can we say the fact that it's dragged on for about three years, that show the United States – it has not used its leverage on both parties that – to solve that issue?

MR KIRBY: These are internal political issues that those – that we want those leaders to resolve and to work through. We've said that time and time again. And I've answered this question from you before. It's not about using American leverage and influence and putting a thumb on it. It's about constant – encouraging constant engagement and dialogue, and for – and to help them get to solutions that they arrive at and that they agree to. And nothing's changed about our desire to see them – to do exactly that. And that you may not be hearing about it every day or we may not be talking about it every day doesn't mean that it's not happening.


QUESTION: North Korea?

MR KIRBY: Oh, Said, I already got you a bunch of times. Let me go to these guys.

QUESTION: I want to go to – on Iraq.

QUESTION: On North Korea --


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: On Iraq, there are --

MR KIRBY: Okay, we'll stay on Iraq.

QUESTION: No, very quickly, there are reports that the Shia militia al-Hashd al-Shabi is besieging Sunni villages and so on, and in some instances they are committing some horrific acts and so on. Are you aware that the Sunni villages in the Diyala area have been besieged by --

MR KIRBY: I haven't seen those specific reports. We've long made known our concerns, though, about the proper treatment of innocent civilians by all parties in Iraq. We've been very clear about that, working hard – it's one of the reasons why we're working so hard to support the Abadi government in their efforts to be inclusive and to help improve the competence and capability not just of – primarily the Iraqi Security Forces, but also the various militias that are out there. I think you guys got a briefing on this or talked to – had a chance to talk to Colonel Warren about some of those efforts. And so, I mean, we're very, very committed to that. I'm not aware of those particular reports. That's really more of a question for the Defense Department to speak to.


QUESTION: So ahead of Deputy Secretary Blinken's travel to Asia, and earlier this week, Japan – the Japanese foreign minister talked to Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia, and Russia seemed to be forthcoming in terms of support for sanctions against North Korea and working with the international community. Is there any concern that Beijing would not be as forthcoming with such support?

MR KIRBY: We – what I would say is we've been very consistent in our message to Beijing that we want them to continue to use their influence and exert their leadership in the region to hold the North accountable for their provocative behavior. We've also said that at least in light of this most recent test, we – nuclear test by the North – we continue to believe that the international community has got to be in unanimity about moving forward with tougher measures, to include tougher sanctions. And as Secretary Kerry said to you himself, that the past approach that China has employed hasn't been working, and that we're going to look for – to China to exert its influence and its leadership in a more positive way with respect to holding the North accountable.

I can't predict where that's going to go. Those discussions are ongoing, and we'll have to see where we end up. Okay?

QUESTION: You designated a ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan (inaudible) this morning.


QUESTION: Secretary Kerry and I guess others at the Pentagon have long raised concerns about ISIL affiliates. Why – is there anything you could say about the timing? Why now? I would presume they would've been on your – the announcement says they were formed in January, 2015. So I presume they had been on your radar for a while.

MR KIRBY: Certainly. We've been watching them for a while. The "why now" is we have conducted enough analysis to make this determination and to make it public. I wouldn't read anything into the timing with respect to current events there or here or even events here in Washington. This was a fairly standard, routine, deliberate process that we go through in terms of designating FTOs, and this was the time to announce this one, and so we did. There's nothing more behind it than that.

QUESTION: And you're sticking with ISIL-K. Do you not think there's enough acronyms in this war? ISIL-K, ISIS-K, Daesh-K --

MR KIRBY: It's nice and concise, isn't it? It's clear – ISIL-K.




QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Are we good? We got --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) more.

MR KIRBY: Oh. Yeah, there's more.


MR KIRBY: Okay, we'll go to these three, and then --

QUESTION: I have one.

MR KIRBY: No, I already got you, man.

QUESTION: Two – I have two. (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: You – you're killing me. Go ahead.

QUESTION: There are reports out that the CDC may issue a warning about people traveling to the Caribbean and Latin American countries because of the spreading of the Zika virus. Has there been any consideration in this department about a travel warning based on --

MR KIRBY: I don't have any travel warnings to speak to right now. I mean, obviously we're in close touch with the CDC on this. We're very mindful of this particular virus and the danger posed by it, but we're – what I can tell you is we're going to stay in close touch with the CDC. I won't get ahead of any announcements they may or may not make; that's for them to speak to. But we're in close touch with authorities there, and obviously, if we feel the need that we need to make such notifications here at the State Department, we'll do that. But I don't have any that I can speak to right now. But we are watching this very, very closely.



QUESTION: What are your expectations for the Taiwanese elections on Saturday? And there have been concerns that – of cross-strait relations being affected and thereby how would this affect U.S. policy.

MR KIRBY: Well, you know we don't get – we're not going to talk about the internal politics in a country. We would expect, like we expect other elections, that the Taiwanese people are able to express their views through the ballot box and that they're fair and transparent. But that's about all we would say about that. And --

QUESTION: Okay. And can I also follow up on --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: I know what you're going to say; you don't talk about the internal politics of other countries. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: I know you were going to get me on that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) regard Taiwan --

MR KIRBY: I could see your face when I said it.

QUESTION: Taiwan is not a country.

MR KIRBY: I could – as soon as I say something like that and he looks up from his scribbling, then I know I'm going to get it.

QUESTION: Taiwan is not a country.

QUESTION: Taiwan is a country?

MR KIRBY: No, no, and I didn't – yes, I said --

QUESTION: You said --

MR KIRBY: Nothing has changed about our "one-China" policy.


MR KIRBY: And that's the country I was talking about.


MR KIRBY: But these elections are for the Taiwanese people to speak to.

QUESTION: Right. But in other countries --

QUESTION: When you say that's the country you were talking about, do you mean you regard Taiwan as part of China?

MR KIRBY: One China. One China. One China.


MR KIRBY: There is no change to our policy.

QUESTION: Sorry, can I also ask about Assistant Secretary Blinken's travel? He is traveling to Northeast Asia. What do you expect out of these meetings?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think we put a lot of that in the media note that we put out. He's looking – and I said it at the top. We – he's going to discuss a wide range of bilateral regional issues, to include the tensions, obviously, that continue to exist in the region in the South China Sea and Northeast Asia with North Korea and their provocative actions. So – I mean, there's a lot to talk about out there, obviously, as there always is. And it's a reinforcement of our commitment to the region and our commitment to the Asia Pacific rebalance. As I said, this is – it's not unusual for him to travel out there, and I suspect you'll continue to see us engage very directly with leaders in the region.

QUESTION: And Secretary Kerry didn't mention Asia in his 2016 foreign policy goals. What does this mean for the rebalance?

MR KIRBY: That he didn't mention it?


MR KIRBY: It means nothing to the rebalance. The rebalance is still a vital part of our foreign policy agenda going into this year, as it has been in past years. And I wouldn't read anything into what is or is not on a list that the Secretary puts out. Are you talking about the top 10 list that he put out after the --

QUESTION: No, it's his remarks at the National Defense University.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, look – I mean, that --

QUESTION: He mentioned the TPP.

MR KIRBY: He mentioned – he did --

QUESTION: Well, outside of TPP.

MR KIRBY: He did mention the Asia Pacific in that --

QUESTION: Well, that's pretty Asia.

MR KIRBY: He did mention the Asia Pacific in that speech, and he did mention specifically the TPP. It was mentioned, and – but regardless of how many words were applied to it, absolutely doesn't change one bit our full and total commitment to the – to realizing the rebalance and to focusing on that region. And as I just said at the top, the deputy secretary himself is making yet another trip out to the region to reinforce that. And I suspect you'll see in the near future the Secretary himself travel to the region. And when we get to a point where we can talk with more specificity about that, we will.

Yeah, last one today.

QUESTION: Okay. On this PKK bomb attack in Diyarbakir, you said U.S. stands with Turkey against the terror. I think there are some (inaudible) that might contradict with this statement. For example, two weeks ago Syrian Kurdish group PYD leader Salih Muslim told al-Quds newspaper that hundreds of PKK militants fighting in YPG ranks against ISIS. Currently, U.S. special advisors are assisting YPG-led Syrian opposition forces. So basically, U.S. Special Forces seem assisting these PKK fighters, too. Are you aware that there are PKK fighters in YPG ranks?

MR KIRBY: I don't have the identification cards of everybody in the YPG. We – there are Kurdish fighters that are proving effective against ISIL. We're going to continue to support them as best we can. That's not new.

QUESTION: But these leaders say that PKK --

MR KIRBY: That's not new. And the PKK is a designated foreign terrorist organization. We've made clear about – we've made clear our concerns about this group. That's not new. So there's nothing new here, nothing at all.

QUESTION: But his leader confesses for the first time that there are PKK fighters in YPG ranks. The --

MR KIRBY: Who is confessing? I haven't seen that.

QUESTION: Salih Muslim, the PYD leader.

MR KIRBY: I haven't seen that. PKK is a foreign terrorist organization. We – nothing's changed about our position on that. And yes, there are Kurdish fighters who are proving effective against ISIL and nothing's changed about our commitment to helping them continue to press the fight against a group which I think all of us can agree is generally a bad thing for the region, certainly for the people of Iraq and for Syria.

Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Have a great day.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:04 p.m.)

DPB # 8

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