Daily Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
February 29, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
MIDDLE EAST PEACE
SOUTH KOREA/NORTH KOREA
2:42 p.m. EST
MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. I have quite a --
QUESTION: Welcome back.
MR KIRBY: Thank you. I have quite a bit here at the top, so I'm going to ask you to bear with me as I get through it. Actually, it doesn't matter to me if you like it or not; I'm going to get through it, and we're just going to go from there.
Today, as you may know, the Secretary hosted the Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs from Pakistan Sartaj Aziz and the Pakistani delegation for the sixth U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue. The delegations discussed a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues focused on the six regularly occurring working groups within the Strategic Dialogue framework, and that would be: Strategic Stability, Security, Nonproliferation as one; number two would be Education, Science, and Technology; three is the Defense Consultation Group; four is the Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism effort; and then Economic and Finance; and then lastly, the Energy Working Groups. They were a good set of discussions, and as always we look forward to looking at ways to continue to improve our bilateral relationship with Pakistan.
On to the bombings in Iraq, the United States condemns the bombings yesterday claimed by Daesh of a market in Sadr City, Baghdad, which killed over 70 people and wounded – right now looks like more than a hundred. We also condemn Daesh's attack on security personnel in the Baghdad neighborhood of Abu Ghraib. Frankly, we see this kind of – these kinds of attacks as an act or acts of desperation by Daesh, targeting Baghdad as they are to sow fear after it's been largely forced out of Ramadi. They're doing this not to show strength, but because they are trying to show some ability to do some kind of damage as they continue to get pushed out of other places – like I said, Ramadi. Security in Baghdad remains a top priority, and the prime minister and his government have expressed their strong commitment to providing security to all Iraqis and to reforms to heal the divides in Iraqi society, and we support Prime Minister Abadi in his efforts to do just that.
I also want to note the bravery of the Iraqi security forces who responded to this weekend's attacks. Of course, we extend our deepest condolences to all the families and all those affected by this senseless violence, and we reaffirm our commitment to support the Iraqi people and the Government of Iraq as they work to defeat Daesh.
On to another issue, the American Innovation Roadshow. Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State Ambassador David Thorne is going to lead a business delegation to Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines starting this week, March 2nd to the 11th, as part of the State Department's American Innovation Roadshow. This roadshow is one of the first activities under the U.S.-ASEAN Connect that – and the first in a series of roadshows to the Asia – to Asia over the next 12 to 18 months. It will also help pave the way for the seventh Global Entrepreneurship Summit that the United States is going to host in Silicon Valley this summer. The roadshow has essentially three objectives: to highlight American approaches to entrepreneurship; to engage with Asian entrepreneurs to strengthen their ties to America's innovation and entrepreneurship communities; and to encourage local and national governments to develop regulatory environments that foster innovation and entrepreneurship.
And now lastly I'd like to wrap it up with the – talking about the release of emails from former Secretary Clinton's collection. Today at approximately 6 o'clock tonight p.m., the State Department will make publicly available online approximately 3,800 additional pages from former Secretary Clinton's email account. Today's production will be our 14th and final production of former Secretary Clinton's email set. There are no upgrades to Top Secret in tonight's production.
One update about the release today: We're going to be posting online the second document of the two emails the Inspector General for the Intelligence Community identified last summer as containing Top Secret information. The State Department has been actively engaged in a discussion with the Intelligence Community about this document since last year. Based on subsequent review, the Intelligence Community revised its earlier assessment and asked the State Department to upgrade a limited amount of information in this document to the Secret level, not the Top Secret level; that is, the original assessment was not correct and the document does not contain Top Secret information. At the request of the Intelligence Community, a limited amount of information in this document has been provisionally upgraded to Secret. The Department is honoring this request provisionally pending further consideration.
As we have noted before, the information available to diplomats and the judgments they form do not necessarily need to be classified just because there are parallel intelligence sources. The department also applied B5 redactions for deliberative material in this document. The document is dated July – July 3rd, 2009, and the topic area is North Korea. The document was not marked classified at the time it was sent, and I'm not going to speak further to the content of it.
QUESTION: Was that going to be among the emails that are released today, this portion of the North Korea email?
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: It's not clear to me.
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Are there going to be any emails --
MR KIRBY: Can I get – let me get through this.
QUESTION: Oh, I thought you were finished.
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: Okay. Sorry.
MR KIRBY: No, I said I've got quite a bit more so, hang on just a second. Actually, it's not too much more – a couple pages more.
Separately, we can confirm that one additional email between former Secretary Clinton and President Obama is being withheld in full from the State Department's FOIA production today. As a reminder, as part of our January 29th release, we denied in full 18 emails comprising eight distinct email chains between then-Secretary Clinton and the President.
This one additional email which is being withheld in full today is a reply to an email chain that was already denied in full last month. Therefore, we have now denied in full 19 total emails comprising eight distinct email chains. So it's no more – it's all part of one of the other chains between the former secretary and President Obama.
To be clear, the emails between then-Secretary Clinton and President Obama have not been determined to be classified. They are entirely separate and distinct from the emails in previous releases that were upgraded to Top Secret, Secret, or Confidential.
I'm not done yet. I've got one more page. Just hang with me.
QUESTION: Does it have a total of numbers of redactions for less than Top Secret?
MR KIRBY: I don't know if I have those numbers. I don't have them right here. I'll have to look and see.
QUESTION: Maybe you could send someone to go get them right now because it's going to be one of the questions.
MR KIRBY: Well, I can easily just say no and we can get the answer to you later.
QUESTION: Right. You could be non-responsive to this.
MR KIRBY: No, come on. I don't think of it as non-responsive. I think of it as careful.
So switching to an entirely separate topic, I can confirm that at the request of a law enforcement agency, one one-page document is being denied in full from our FOIA production this evening. This document is unclassified – unclassified. In response to a FOIA request, it is not unusual to deny or withhold a document in full. The document will be denied in full, meaning it will not be produced online on our FOIA website. Beyond that, I can't speak to the contents of it, as the decision has been made to deny it in full. But as you guys well know, that is not uncommon when dealing with Freedom of Information Act requests.
Okay, now we can go to --
QUESTION: Before we spend time on the emails, I'm wondering --
QUESTION: No, it's fine. She needs to leave early. She has a specific non-email, non-other --
MR KIRBY: I'm at your service.
QUESTION: Well, I'm sure we have plenty of email questions, but if we could just start with a case of an American citizen – two American citizens, actually – who had a court hearing today in the UAE. I'm talking about Kamal and Mohamed Eldarat.
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: I was wondering – there have been some reports that there was not an American diplomat in attendance of this case, and I'm wondering if that's true. And if so, why not?
MR KIRBY: Let me start by saying we take our obligations to assist U.S. citizens seriously overseas. We remain actively engaged in seeking consular access on all cases in which U.S. citizens are arrested or detained overseas. U.S. citizens Kamal and Mohamed Eldarat were detained by UAE authorities on the 26th and 28th of August of 2014, respectively.
We understand that on January 18th, 2016, the UAE supreme court formally charged Kamal and Mohamed with three counts of cooperating with and providing material support to terrorist organizations. Embassy personnel – U.S. embassy personnel – attended the January 18th, February 15th, and February 29th hearings, and plan to attend all subsequent hearings. We understand that the next trial is on March 21st.
The embassy continues to request that UAE authorities provide continued consular access to the Eldarats, access to legal representation, and appropriately address their medical conditions. We regularly raise the issue of consular access and medical care with senior UAE officials both in Abu Dhabi and here in Washington. Embassy officials were repeatedly denied access to the Eldarats. The embassy was only granted regular consular access beginning in October of 2015.
QUESTION: Just to make clear – I'm sorry, when you went through those dates, was that including today, February 29th?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I said February 29th.
QUESTION: So there was an embassy official --
MR KIRBY: Yes, but I felt it was important to provide all that context.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the UN committee on arbitrary detentions has made a judgment or some kind of paper in this case and has raised a lot of concerns about their arrest and treatment in detention. Do you have any – have you reviewed that?
MR KIRBY: I haven't seen the UN – you said it's a UN finding, a report?
QUESTION: It's a UN committee on arbitrary detentions has raised a lot of concerns about their treatment --
MR KIRBY: Well, I would tell you that we've raised this case with UAE officials on multiple occasions and continue to call for a fair trial. Now, as a matter of policy, as you know, Elise, we don't comment on our internal conversations with foreign governments on consular or other matters. But as I said, we have continually raised the issue with officials there and have had a presence at each of these hearings.
QUESTION: So back to the emails. Can you give us, then, what the total – after this release tonight, how many pages or emails have you – will you have released? Is it the 55,000 that we've been – you've been talking about so much?
MR KIRBY: So 55,000 pages was the rough number used colloquially to describe the collection, but if you look at our filings, you'll see that a more precise number has evolved over time which is closer to between 52- and 53,000 pages. This will be the final tranche in that entire collection.
QUESTION: You don't have – do you – you don't have an exact number?
MR KIRBY: I do not right now. I do not.
QUESTION: Okay. And then out of those 52- to 53,000, how many have had redactions for any reason – classification reason, and how many – is it just the 22 that have been redacted or denied because they are Top Secret?
MR KIRBY: There's been no – yeah, there's been no additional TS.
QUESTION: So it's just 22? And this change that you talked about in this one document today means that – doesn't affect that 22 number. Is that right?
MR KIRBY: I don't think so, Matt. Let me get back to you, because as I said, it's now being upgraded to the Secret level.
MR KIRBY: So let me check and see if that takes us from 22 to 21. I don't know. And I don't have a summary of the numbers of all the redactions.
QUESTION: You don't. Is it --
MR KIRBY: I'll have to --
QUESTION: -- possible to get one?
MR KIRBY: I will get you one.
QUESTION: They do seem to have been a number given for most but not all, I don't think, of the releases.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yeah. No, no, that's fair. And we'll take that and get that back to you. That's a fair question. I just went through my notes here; I do not have a summary of a total of all the redactions and at what level.
QUESTION: Sure. So just to be clear, beyond this document that's being denied in full today, which is a request by law enforcement, nothing else is being withheld, just that one single document and then the communications between Mrs. Clinton and the President?
MR KIRBY: Correct.
MR KIRBY: Denied in full.
QUESTION: In full, yes.
MR KIRBY: Now, as you know, as you look through the next tranche you'll see that certain information is certainly being redacted.
QUESTION: Of course, right.
MR KIRBY: But in denied in full, we're only talking about those two.
QUESTION: I do have a separate question about the clearances, if I could just ask that while I'm – while you're with me.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Why did Cheryl Mills maintain her Top Secret clearance here at the State Department despite the ongoing investigations as well as a State Department review?
MR KIRBY: I appreciate the question. I think you can understand it's been our policy that we don't publicly confirm individual security clearances here at the State Department. So I'm not going to get into ascertaining one way or another what the status of her or anybody else's clearance is.
QUESTION: Right. But the letters are public now. The letter came from your assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs as well as her lawyer. She maintained a Top Secret clearance until this day. Is that standard practice here at the State Department, to maintain a TS clearance despite ongoing investigations?
MR KIRBY: So, again, I'm not going to publicly comment about individual security clearances. We are actively engaged with – I think you were talking to – about correspondence with Senator Grassley. We also don't publicly release or comment on congressional correspondence as a matter of policy and not going to start here. But --
QUESTION: I understand, but the letters are public now, so it's not in dispute.
MR KIRBY: Hang on. Determinations about an individual's access to classified information are made on a case-by-case basis.
QUESTION: Okay. So you're saying in the case of someone who sent what is now deemed to be classified information to an outside group, the Clinton Foundation, as well as to an unsecured private server, that they've been allowed to keep their Top Secret clearance?
MR KIRBY: I'm not going to --
QUESTION: Is that standard here?
MR KIRBY: I'm not going to publicly talk about, confirm, or deny individual security clearances.
QUESTION: Okay. Final – final question on that: Was the State Department instructed by the FBI not to touch these clearances of Mills, Clinton, or others?
MR KIRBY: As you know, Catherine, this issue is under several reviews and investigations. I won't speak for other agencies that may be involved in reviews and investigations. Clearly, we are going to cooperate to the degree that we need to with all the reviews and investigations, but I won't comment about interagency communication regarding that.
QUESTION: Well, I'm going to come at it one last time, because I'm not asking you to comment on the FBI investigation.
MR KIRBY: Yes, you are.
QUESTION: No, I'm asking you if the FBI has instructed the State Department not to touch the clearances of Mills, Clinton, and others.
MR KIRBY: I'm not going to speak to the details of reviews and investigations that are ongoing, and I'm certainly not going to speak for any other agency which may be involved in that.
QUESTION: Would you --
MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is, if you just let me finish --
MR KIRBY: The Secretary has been committed throughout this entire process to make these disclosures as efficiently and effectively as possible.
He has also been committed to making sure that we here at the State Department are taking a hard look at how we do our own records management. That's why he hired Janice Jacobs as a transparency coordinator. And we're also trying to boost up the Freedom of Information Act office, which is under an immense workload right now and was never equipped for that.
Thirdly, he's been very clear and very direct with the leaders here at the State Department that while reviews and investigations are going – are ongoing, two things: One, we're not going to get ahead of those investigations and say or do anything that would prejudice the work that investigators are doing; and two, we're going to cooperate as fully and as effectively as we can with the investigators who are doing that work.
And I think you can understand why I wouldn't here from this podium --
MR KIRBY: -- speak about communication that may or may not be going on between us and any other agency involved.
QUESTION: Just a final piece on that. I mean, you yourself are a military officer who has held or continues to hold a clearance. Is this not a double standard? Because people have had their clearances suspended for so much less pending the outcome of an investigation.
MR KIRBY: Your question presupposes an outcome already that I am not going to confirm or deny one way or the other.
QUESTION: But are you – are you comfortable with this?
MR KIRBY: As I said – as I said, clearance determinations are made on a case-by-case basis. They are also upheld or not upheld on a case-by-case basis. And I'm simply not going to comment further than that.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
QUESTION: No. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Nice try, Said.
QUESTION: Does anyone else want to – does anyone else want a go on emails? No?
Do you know – well, or I'd say on this --
MR KIRBY: Are you?
QUESTION: Well, I just have one question about the Cheryl Mills question. How – when did Ms. Mills cease to be an employee of the State Department?
MR KIRBY: I do not have her exit date, Matt.
QUESTION: It was not when Secretary Clinton left, correct?
MR KIRBY: I don't know for sure.
QUESTION: She remained --
MR KIRBY: I don't know. You're going to have to let me get back to you. I'm --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) if you want the letter.
QUESTION: It's right there.
MR KIRBY: I'm not --
QUESTION: That says what?
QUESTION: It says that she – that she was having administrative – her clearance was going to be administratively terminated because her employment had finished, but then Mrs. Clinton asked that it be extended so she could do research. But now we know the research was to go through the emails and determine what was government business and what should be deleted.
QUESTION: My question is not related to that.
MR KIRBY: Do I even need to be here? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: My question is related to her work – the work that she did after the Secretary left, the work that she continued to do on Haiti and was still an employee of this building and --
MR KIRBY: As I understand --
QUESTION: My question is: When did that end?
MR KIRBY: I don't know. As I understand it, she did stay on the State – at the State Department for a while and that Haiti was amongst the issues in her portfolio. I do not have the details on that. I'll have to take that question and get back to you. I don't know exactly when she left the State Department, but it was not, as I understand it, at the same time that former Secretary Clinton left.
QUESTION: But roughly? I mean, did she stay on for a year, two years --
MR KIRBY: I don't know, Matt.
MR KIRBY: She's not a current employee at the State Department.
QUESTION: Okay. It ended her --
MR KIRBY: So she has left. I do not know exactly when that was. I'll have to find out for you. I'm just not sure.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MR KIRBY: I don't know, can we? Are we allowed to?
MR KIRBY: All right.
QUESTION: And thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thanks, everybody. I have a quick question. On Friday, the Israeli army killed an American teenager, a 17-year-old, Muhammad Shaalan. They say that he was carrying a knife. But did you – are you discussing with the Israelis, are you conducting your own investigation and so on? Do you have any comment on that?
MR KIRBY: Hang on a second here. Thought I had it here. I am aware of the incident. And what I can tell you is that we are in contact with Israeli authorities about it. But I don't have a lot more detail than that right now.
QUESTION: So you will not just take the Israeli narrative; you will conduct your own investigation as to the circumstances of this shooting?
MR KIRBY: I didn't say that. What I – I found it now.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MR KIRBY: We can confirm that U.S. citizen Mahmoud Muhammad Shaalan was killed in the West Bank. We of course stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. We have requested, as I said, further information from Israeli authorities regarding the circumstances of this incident. And I don't have anything more to add right now.
QUESTION: So the Israelis have not responded to you?
MR KIRBY: I would refer you to the Israelis.
QUESTION: No. I mean – he's a U.S. citizen.
MR KIRBY: What I've said is we have requested additional information.
QUESTION: Right. Okay, so --
MR KIRBY: I'm not aware of – I'm not aware that we have received any of that additional information.
QUESTION: Okay. So what would be the next step? I mean, you request, you wait for them to respond, or you will press them to provide you as expeditiously as possible?
MR KIRBY: We routinely talk to Israeli authorities about these kinds of matters and --
QUESTION: I mean, I'm talking to you. He's a – he's an American boy. He's a U.S. citizen. Why would I ask the Israelis?
MR KIRBY: Said, we've asked the Israelis for more information, and it's our expectation that we'll get that. I don't have a timeline for you. But we certainly are tracking this and watching it closely. And we will continue to stay in touch with Israeli authorities about it. Okay?
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Korea?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. Deputy Secretary Blinken has mentioned that THAAD system is not diplomatically concerning issue.
MR KIRBY: He – I'm sorry, he said what?
QUESTION: Not diplomatically concerning issue – THAAD missile issue is not diplomatically concerning issue.
QUESTION: Not diplomatically concerning. I can just hear better right here.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, because my neck is awfully bad --
MR KIRBY: That's okay.
QUESTION: -- because I catch cold.
MR KIRBY: It's all right.
QUESTION: Please forgive me.
MR KIRBY: I hope you feel better.
MR KIRBY: He said that the THAAD is not a diplomatic concerning issue?
QUESTION: Yes. So what is your view of his --
MR KIRBY: You want me to have a different view than the deputy secretary of state?
QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.) Maybe you have your own views.
MR KIRBY: No, I don't, actually. (Laughter.) They don't pay me to give my --
QUESTION: On anything? (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: They don't pay me for my own views.
MR KIRBY: I'm – I don't recall seeing that exact quote. What I – let me just tell you where we are on this, and that is that we are in consultations with South Korea leaders about the possibility of the deployment of that system, which is a purely defensive system – high-altitude air defense. It's right there in the acronym. No decisions have been made one way or the other, but the consultations are ongoing. And as the Secretary said himself, I think last week, should the North – should Pyongyang not continue to conduct the provocative activities that they have, there wouldn't be a need to have consultations about a THAAD system. Regrettably, they have chosen a different course and continue to provoke and to increase instability there on the peninsula, and so these consultations are ongoing. Okay?
QUESTION: Can I ask another about North Korea? Today American student Otto Frederick Warmbier allegedly confessed in public to what North Korea calls "hostile acts." He was very emotionally distraught when he was saying this. Some people believe he was coerced. Could you talk a little bit about this?
MR KIRBY: So I'm going to walk you through, again, some points on this. Because I'm – I think it's important to be precise here. We've seen the press conference involving Mr. Warmbier. There is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety, again, of U.S. citizens abroad. In cases where U.S. citizens are reported detained in North Korea, we work closely with the Swedish embassy, which provide – serves as the United States protecting power in North Korea. As a general practice, North Korea arrests and imprisons people for actions that would not give rise to arrest, let alone imprisonment, in the United States. And there's little doubt that North Korea uses detention as a tool for propaganda purposes. Due to privacy considerations, I'm not going to have any more additional information.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you make a suggestion that whatever he did should not have rose to the level of his arrest. I mean, allegedly he's – was accused of trying to steal a banner or public property from the walls of his hotel.
MR KIRBY: I can't get into the --
QUESTION: That would actually be cause for --
MR KIRBY: I won't get into the specifics. Again, there's privacy considerations we have to respect here. But it is --
QUESTION: I mean, his family came out with a statement kind of about the --
MR KIRBY: I know. I understand that. But there are still privacy considerations that I have to respect. But as I said in my answer to you, separate and distinct from this case, it's not uncommon for the North to do this kind of thing, to detain and in some cases imprison people for trumped-up charges or false charges that would absolutely not result in a --
QUESTION: Are you suggesting, though, that these charges are false?
MR KIRBY: I'm just saying it's a fact that they've done this in the past. I can't speak with any greater detail on this one.
QUESTION: Well, but you can't say that they've done it in the past and not – and you're suggesting that they did it this time in the future, but then you're saying that you can't say, so --
MR KIRBY: I'm not suggesting. I'm simply stating two facts. One fact is it's not uncommon for them to imprison people, to detain them, on false or trumped-up charges for things that --
QUESTION: But oh yeah, I'm not suggesting that in this case?
MR KIRBY: I'm also saying it is a fact that I can't talk about this in any greater detail because of privacy considerations. Two separate facts, not suggesting anything.
QUESTION: Have the --
MR KIRBY: Just being factual.
QUESTION: Have the Swedes had access to him?
MR KIRBY: I don't know.
QUESTION: Would you have any reason to be concerned about his treatment in captivity?
MR KIRBY: In Pyongyang?
MR KIRBY: Absolutely.
QUESTION: In jail.
MR KIRBY: Absolutely, we would.
MR KIRBY: I think we – again, without getting into the details here on this case, certainly we would.
QUESTION: Well --
QUESTION: But you don't have – you don't have any specific – what I'm trying to get at is: Have the Swedes gone in, talked to this guy, come back out, and reported back to you and said that there is some specific reason, health, whatever reason, to be concerned about --
MR KIRBY: I don't have information on anything the Swiss – I'm sorry, the Swedish might have done. And even if I did, it would fall under the kinds of material that I couldn't talk about because of privacy considerations.
QUESTION: Well, but you could say, in fact – and I know that Consular Affairs will say no – but you can, in fact, say if the Swedes have been able to get in and actually --
MR KIRBY: I don't have that information.
QUESTION: One more on North Korea?
MR KIRBY: Yep.
QUESTION: Yeah. On UN vote for UN sanctions against North Korea, do you know current status of this, what the UN did or if Russia is disagreed these sanctions but is still going forward?
MR KIRBY: As far as I know, deliberations are still going on about a new resolution. I don't know the status of those deliberations, and I certainly wouldn't speak for internal conversations that are ongoing on a resolution that hasn't been adopted yet.
So just taking 10 steps back, we still continue to believe that it's important for the international community to react in a robust fashion to the most recent provocations by the North, that it's important that the international community stay unified on a more robust set of measures, and that's what we're hoping is the outcome here. But what exactly it's going to look like and the positions taken by different members of the council, I wouldn't get into right now.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: Can I follow on Janne's question?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, we'll stay on North Korea for just a couple more, okay?
QUESTION: Right, one more. Given the fact that the draft of the UN Security Council resolution on DPRK is – I mean, the U.S. and China reached agreement, and given the (inaudible) report that there was a delay in consultation for THAAD, was there any quid pro quo --
MR KIRBY: A delay in consultations on what?
QUESTION: Well, there was reports or given a delay of deployment of THAAD. Was there any quid pro quo between U.S. and China last week, like China agreed to move forward with the draft, language on the draft for tougher sanction --
MR KIRBY: The short answer to your question is no. I mean, just no. First of all, you're talking about a deployment of THAAD. There's been no deployment of THAAD. There's been no decision to deploy THAAD. There has in the wake of the most recent provocations by the North been the – an agreement to begin consultations with South Korea about the potential efficacy of such a deployment, but no decisions have been made one way or another. So there's – so physically, just in a tangible sense, there could be no quid pro quo. And there was none in principle or even thought either.
Again, I'm not going to get ahead of a resolution that hasn't been adopted yet. But it's been clear – the Secretary talked about this last week when Foreign Minister Wang Yi was here, and he and Foreign Minister Wang Yi talked about it in Beijing two or three weeks before that that there was agreement – general agreement between the United States and China that a more robust set of measures needed to be adopted on a multilateral basis, the UN Security Council resolution being the appropriate vehicle for that, to hold the North to account for their increased and continued provocations and violations of international obligations. And that's not just me saying that. The foreign minister said that not once but twice, and so we'll look forward to the deliberations as they go on and to the final language. But China has maintained a position of agreeing with the international community that more needed to be done.
QUESTION: Was there any delay in the consultation between the U.S. and South Korea or any – interruption of the consultation on THAAD?
MR KIRBY: There's absolutely no connection – I'll say it again – between our conversations with China about more robust measures, and there's agreement that – between the United States and China that there needs to be, and our consultations with South Korea on the potential efficacy of a THAAD system on the peninsula. That process was begun as a result of what Pyongyang did in December and in January. Okay?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: What is – first of all, what is your initial assessment of the first weekend of a cessation of hostilities? And then secondly, on Sunday there were reports of some skirmishes, some involving Russia. When does a skirmish become a full-scale breach of the ceasefire, and what is the mechanism that's in place for dealing with breaches?
MR KIRBY: Okay. So early on, the onset of the cessation of hostilities in Syria did bring a welcome reduction in violence, particularly in the south and around Damascus. There have been reports of violations, however, and we take all such reports extremely seriously.
With respect to reports of new airstrikes in areas where opposition groups taking part in the cessation of hostilities may be active, we are seeking further information, including directly from Russia and the multilateral task force established in Geneva. The agreement negotiated between the co-chairs and approved by all members of the ISSG states clearly that any party taking part in the cessation of hostilities must not be attacked by any side. We continue to call on all parties to observe this agreement in its totalities, and violations, if confirmed, should cease.
QUESTION: So how does the mechanism deal with violations? How are people, or countries in this case, held accountable for their behavior?
MR KIRBY: The first line of monitoring compliance is the parties themselves. They will report violations or potential violations to the ISSG's task force either through one of the co-chairs or the UN. Networks and focal points are being set up now among all these actors to be able to exchange the information quickly and then to decide how to respond to it.
So the short answer is while this is very early on, there's been no decisions made one or way or another about specific violations or how to respond. All that's part of the process that's been established. So especially in these early days, these focal points are going to need to be in constant touch by email, phone, video teleconference, working face-to-face out of capitals, and in the region. They're also going to be in touch with the UN Office of the Special Envoy based in Geneva, as I said earlier, and with a small in-country presence in Syria, which will serve as the secretariat of the task force and a conduit and a hub of information for everybody.
QUESTION: Now, let me ask you something on the plan B. There was much – an issue that was much talked about, which is a plan B for Syria. In fact, it was mentioned by the Secretary of State himself. What does that involve? Does that involve breaking up the country? Does it involve holding it in a – some sort of a federal entity much like Iraq? How do you see – how do you envision this plan B in the event that things break down again?
MR KIRBY: There's been no final decisions with respect to a quote/unquote "plan B." There are ongoing interagency discussions about what proper alternatives and options might be pursued should this political process not succeed. Obviously, we want it to succeed.
MR KIRBY: And the early reports over the weekend of the cessation of hostilities are encouraging, no question about that. And I think you heard UN Special Envoy de Mistura talk about the resumption of the political talks early in March. I think the day he put out there was March 7th as a target. So that's good. That's what we want to see. We want to see plan A succeed. Okay? But the – it would be irresponsible and certainly not prudent if the interagency here in the United States wasn't also thinking about appropriate alternatives, and I wouldn't – I won't get ahead of any decisions that haven't been made yet certainly.
I'm sorry, you had another – there was another part of your question, though.
QUESTION: But the Secretary mentioned plan B in two separate hearings on two separate days so – leaving the impression that there's something more concrete than just interagency discussions. Did he intend to do that?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. The – I mean, he talked about the fact that the interagency is having active discussions about alternatives and options, the so-called plan B, but no final decisions have been made about that. But there was another aspect to your question I'm forgetting.
QUESTION: It was actually that one. The Secretary himself mentioned some – is it some sort of a confederacy? Is that the plan?
MR KIRBY: Oh, yeah, yeah. I'm sorry, that's right. You asked about the partition.
MR KIRBY: I do want to get back to that point.
MR KIRBY: What he said was that's a fear; that's not a plan B.
MR KIRBY: The fear --
QUESTION: The fear that --
MR KIRBY: -- would be that if we don't – the international community doesn't continue to push for this political process through Vienna, that that could be, might be the result. But it's a fear; it's not a plan B. And it says right there in the Geneva and the two Vienna communiques that what we want here is a unified, whole, nonsectarian Syria. That's still the goal – a whole, unified Syria that the Syrian people can call home and can return back to and that can be led by a government that they have had a voice in creating and that is responsible and responsive to their needs.
QUESTION: Does that include --
QUESTION: Now, are you saying --
QUESTION: -- maintaining the infrastructure of the Syrian Government given the U.S.'s goal of having someone replace Bashar al-Assad down the road?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, the Secretary's talked about this numerous times. I mean, clearly as you work through the political process here, we want to preserve the appropriate amount of infrastructure and institutions – governing institutions so that you don't end up with chaos and a complete fall of some sort of governance. Now how you do that, again, we're not there yet, and there's a lot of discussion that's going to have to go on. But even the Secretary has alluded to the fact that some measure of the Syrian security forces are going to have to be preserved. We've seen what it's like in the past when that's not done and what that does to a country. So there's a lot of work that has to be done on that. The short answer to your question is yes, some infrastructure and institutions are going to have to be preserved in some form going forward.
QUESTION: John --
QUESTION: Now, stepping back just to the next week or so, what is the U.S. doing to try to make certain that the members of the Syrian opposition actually show up and meet with de Mistura and whoever is representing the current Syrian Government on the 7th?
MR KIRBY: Well, we're in constant touch with Dr. Hijab and other leading members of the opposition. We're in constant touch with Staffan de Mistura and getting updates from him and what his plans are. So just as in the past, we're going to continue to urge and encourage as best we can all parties to show up to make these talks as productive as possible. But look, we – there's a lot of time between now and the 7th of March and I think --
QUESTION: Not really. A week.
MR KIRBY: I think it's important – we had a significant weekend, and I think it shouldn't be lost on anybody that for the first time – and I understand that there's reports of violations and we take – as I said, we take those very seriously. I'm not trying to diminish that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) allude that that would happen.
MR KIRBY: We – everybody said this was going to be hard. And that there were going to be issues that we're going to need to address, and we're taking them seriously, as I said. I don't want to underestimate that by what I'm about to say is – and that is that for the first time now in the four years that the Syrian people – I guess more like five now – that they've been suffering, there actually was a decrease in organized violence against them, and that's not insignificant. So we had an important weekend here. Obviously, we want to continue to see it move forward and we – obviously, the goal would be to have no reports of violence except that is visited upon ISIL or al-Nusrah. But there's a lot of work to be done. And so over the course of the next week to 10 days, we're going to stay in constant touch with the special envoy, his team, as well as the opposition group, to try to get those political talks started again, and hopefully have some sort of practical result.
QUESTION: John, you --
QUESTION: One more from me. Did – John, has the Secretary talked with Foreign Minister Lavrov in the past 72 hours?
MR KIRBY: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
QUESTION: Less than that.
QUESTION: Why didn't we hear about it from here?
MR KIRBY: I don't read out – we don't read out every single phone call he has with the foreign minister.
QUESTION: With Foreign Minister Lavrov, really? Well, the Russian foreign ministry sure seems to be --
MR KIRBY: Well, I can't speak for --
QUESTION: -- hot to trot on this issue.
MR KIRBY: I can't speak for them. He spoke to him last yesterday. But --
QUESTION: And Saturday.
MR KIRBY: And Saturday.
QUESTION: Did they --
QUESTION: Did they speak on Friday?
QUESTION: Was it just about the COH?
MR KIRBY: The last call was Wednesday before that.
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: But look, I mean, he talks to him all the time. And I'm – I haven't and I'm not going to start making it a practice to read out every single phone call that he has with Foreign Minister Lavrov.
QUESTION: Could I just --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- follow up very quickly on the issue of the ceasefire. You said that it's holding in Damascus and in the south around Damascus and so on. First, where is it not holding? Is it – like, near Aleppo, and would --
MR KIRBY: We have seen most of the claims of violations --
MR KIRBY: -- and airstrikes – most of them in the north.
QUESTION: Okay. And my second question: Do you have enough data to say that the Syrian Government and the Russians and the Russian allies are – they're maintaining or – they're maintaining some sort of good faith in this agreement, or are they breaking it at will, or – according to your own --
MR KIRBY: I think it's --
QUESTION: -- strategic --
MR KIRBY: I'm really glad for the question, because I want to make it clear that I'm not going to get into a daily readout and discussion of each and every airstrike and each and every claim. We said from the beginning that this was going to be hard. And I think everybody understood that there were going to be – I think we expected that there would be, since the beginning of it, reports of it being violated. And so we've seen that, as I said, particularly in the north. We want these claims to be evaluated and to be reviewed and to – so we can all better understand it. We obviously call on all parties that have signed up for this to observe it. So while it is welcome news that the cessation of hostilities did get started and we did see a reduction in violence – unquestionably there's been a reduction in violence, and I mean organized, military violence, right – the – that doesn't diminish our concern over the reports of violations. So we're going to watch this very, very closely, and we're going to stay in touch with all parties going forward. Because what you really want here is zero. Unless it's against Nusrah and ISIL, you want zero. And so these reports which are being evaluated would certainly suggest that the number's not zero right now, so we're going to have to stay at this.
QUESTION: Do you have a specific number on the violations?
MR KIRBY: I don't. And I'm not going to today or any other day get into a numeric judgment here on violations of the cessation.
QUESTION: If I could ask another question --
MR KIRBY: Who are you?
QUESTION: Idrees with Reuters.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: Arshad's out, so somebody had to --
MR KIRBY: Okay. Well, welcome aboard.
QUESTION: So earlier today, an aide to the Saudi defense minister said that two weeks ago in Brussels the defense ministers discussed a potential Saudi incursion by the U.S.-led coalition. Are you aware of these talks?
MR KIRBY: I'm – I would refer you to my colleagues at the Pentagon for discussions that might have happened between defense ministers in Brussels. What I can tell you is what we've said before: the Saudis have talked about the potential of an introduction of some sort of ground force element in Syria to fight Daesh. And we said then and we continue to believe that that sort of contribution against Daesh in Syria would be welcome. But there's a lot that needs to be discussed in terms of how – what they would do, what their makeup would be, how they would need to be supported by the coalition going forward. So there's a lot of homework that needs to be done.
QUESTION: Could that be considered plan B? I mean, sort of --
MR KIRBY: You're mixing here. When we talk about the so-called plan B, we're talking about alternatives to the political process, which is plan A, for getting a new government in Syria. What the Saudi suggestion was, proposal was, was some sort of ground force element to go after Daesh. That is a completely separate issue. There are 66 nations – which includes Saudi Arabia, and now Afghanistan – that are contributing to the counter-Daesh coalition. There has been and there will remain, as we have long said, a military line of effort in that fight. And the Saudi proposal was in keeping with that effort against Daesh. It is not designed to contribute or to participate in or to lead to some sort of resolution to the civil war in Syria. The Saudis have been at the table with us as part of the ISSG from the very, very beginning, and they have been very helpful and a leader in this effort, and they hosted the conference of the opposition back in December in Riyadh. And – so they are very – and on the record in every communique saying that they're very supportive of a political solution to the civil war in Syria.
QUESTION: John, please. In general, you are sounding positive about the cessation of hostilities. Can you give us an update about humanitarian aid, or is there --
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- something going on, it's stopped?
MR KIRBY: So two things. First of all, I appreciate the question. I said that the reduction in violence that we saw over the weekend is welcome. But I want to underscore – and I'll say it again – we continue to see concerning reports of what would be, if proven true, violations of the cessation of hostilities. And I don't want to leave this room and have anybody take away any kind of other view than that we are concerned about those and we take them seriously and we want them looked into.
QUESTION: Cautiously optimistic, you'd say?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. So I just want to make sure that you properly understand where we are with respect to this cessation of hostilities. But your question on humanitarian access is very important. There was another convoy that, as I understand it as I walked out here, was either preparing to or was already underway – a ground convoy of trucks, which would – I think we said 114 previously. This would bring us up to I think 170, 180 trucks of material now getting to people in need. So there's more – even as we speak today, more effort to get food, medicine, and supplies to people that are in need on the ground.
QUESTION: Yes, just to complete this, March of 7 meeting or expected meeting, who you – do you see are going to be part of foreseeing it, be part of this meeting?
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, first thing is I'd ask you to talk to Staffan de Mistura. These are his talks, he's running this – the special envoy. But it would be in general our understanding that this would be the same – would be the same groups, the same representation as was before last month, and then we saw those talks obviously not succeed and truncated. And so it would be, as I understand it, it would be the same representation. But again, I would refer you to Mr. de Mistura for more detail, and I think he'll know more as we get to closer to the 7th of March.
QUESTION: The Syrian opposition has been talking about a two-week ceasefire, and when they agreed on this cessation of hostilities, they said that they will – they agree on it for two weeks. Do you have any idea or did they discuss this issue with you before they agreed on the agreement?
MR KIRBY: I'm not aware of any specific discussion about two weeks. I mean – and I've seen the reports about that. But obviously, what we want is for a cessation of hostilities to be permanent so that people can stop dying and being barrel bombed and being gassed. And so our view is that it would be good if the cessation of hostilities is uniformly enforced and then – and permanently enforced so that without the violence on the ground you can continue to move the political process forward.
QUESTION: John, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov said a federal model is possible for Syria. And just now you also said there is a chance for federal countries – Syria can be a federal country.
MR KIRBY: I did not say that.
QUESTION: There's the chance, you said, even if you don't want it.
MR KIRBY: No, no, no. I did not say that. Go look at the transcript. I said that our fear would be if we can't move the process forward, as the Secretary said, that is our fear that something like that could happen to Syria. It is not the – it's not plan B, it's not the goal, it's not what we want. Nobody is looking at a federalization of Syria. Go back and look at the communiques. They've been very clear. Go back and look at the Secretary's testimony last week. Nothing has changed about our goal of a whole, unified, nonsectarian Syria, period. That's what we want, and I want to make that crystal clear here.
QUESTION: I was wondering also --
QUESTION: Except it wouldn't be a fear if it wasn't a chance, right?
MR KIRBY: Again, the Secretary said --
QUESTION: I understand that, but --
MR KIRBY: -- if things fell apart and if it – that is an outcome that we all are afraid of.
QUESTION: But by saying that it's a fear --
MR KIRBY: But I'm not saying it's – I'm not --
QUESTION: -- he's saying it's a chance.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I got that. But I'm not – look, nobody's looking at that as a hypothetical opportunity here or a possibility. That's not what we're after.
QUESTION: And this topic comes with the Russian officials when you talk about Syria that federal --
MR KIRBY: I'd – go look at the communiques and you'll see that Russia signed up to all of them, and all of them say whole, unified, nonsectarian. So the Russian position in paper has been that they want a whole, unified Syria.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Are we good on Syria? Okay.
MR KIRBY: Iran.
QUESTION: They had an election, you might have noticed. What do you make of it? Was this as resounding, sweeping victory by reformists and moderates, or was it more of the same?
MR KIRBY: We're going to reserve judgment right now. The results of the elections are still being tallied as we understand it. We understand also that the official results are going to be released tomorrow. So we've seen preliminary reporting of some of the results. It appears as if there's going to a number of run-off races, but I think we're going to reserve judgment and further comment right now.
QUESTION: And the conduct of it? Do you think that it was --
MR KIRBY: I think we're just going to reserve judgment and further comment right now.
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: So wait a second. Because on Friday your colleague Mark had expressed some hope that it could be a representation of the will of the Iranian people. Do you still think that --
MR KIRBY: Well, there certainly appears to be, from the reports, a good turnout, and it does look like a lot of Iranians participated in it. But I think we're just going to reserve our judgment and comment at this time while things are still being tallied and evaluated.
I've got to go. I've got one more.
QUESTION: Really, really quick. Now, if 158 members that are moderates and reformists and so on out of 290, that would be a good thing. And that would be, in a way, like a resounding accreditation to the Iran process.
MR KIRBY: I can appreciate your effort to ask the question a different way, but we're going to reserve comment right now. Thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:34 p.m.)
DPB # 32
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