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Military

Daily Press Briefing

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 17, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing

SYRIA/DEPARTMENT
TURKEY
ERITREA/ETHIOPIA
UKRAINE/RUSSIA

 

TRANSCRIPT:

2:33 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: I – not even going to attempt an opening statement today, just going to get right to it.

QUESTION: Can we start on the internal memo that I'm sure you and everyone else in the building is now aware of? Firstly, what can you confirm from the various news reports about its content, its subject, et cetera?

MR KIRBY: I can confirm that we have this dissent channel message. I can confirm that the principal topic of the dissent channel message is Syria. But I don't think it'll surprise you that I'm really not able to get into any more detail as to the content or the arguments that were put forth in it.

QUESTION: Did it surprise you that so many people have signed on to a document that – without getting into its details --

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- a document that dissents from what has been the Administration's policy toward ending the war for now five years?

MR KIRBY: It is unusual for a dissent channel message to have as many signatories as this one. It's unusual.

QUESTION: And what does that tell you about the current policy, which we've spent so much time on this week, this month, this year, this Administration, if so many people inside the building – people directly dealing with it – are so unhappy?

MR KIRBY: I think it tells us several things. I think it tells us that we have a unique process in place here through which employees at the State Department can offer candid and unvarnished views, all the way to the top, as they desire. I think it tells us clearly that Syria matters a lot to the people who work here at the State Department, as it should, and I think it says to me that we need to keep on working just as hard as we can for better outcomes, as the Secretary and so many others are doing.

No one's content with the status quo, and we talked about this several days this week. Too many people are dying either through starvation or being bombed, too many weeks have passed without getting a political process moving forward, and there's been too many violations of the cessation of hostilities. And frankly, far too few people are getting the food, water, medicine they need, and too many people are deciding to take a very treacherous, dangerous trek outside the country to survive.

So as I said earlier this week, we're going to continue to explore options. Obviously, our focus remains on the three big muscle movers in front of us: getting the political track – getting the political talks back on track, getting the cessation of hostilities to truly be accepted and enforced and adopted nationwide, and getting more people more of the aid that they need. But we are – it would be imprudent for us not to explore other options that may be available to us, and we've talked very openly about the fact that we're doing that.

So back to this message. We welcome alternative views. We welcome input. We welcome dissenting opinion. Before this week, I had never heard of a dissent channel. And the more I learned about it, the more in admiration I became of it. It's a pretty unique tool that you don't see in government, this thing that's been in place since, what, 1971, that allows people that work here at the State Department to proffer their views – even if, if not especially if, those views differ from stated policy. So it's a pretty unique tool and vehicle. The Secretary very much respects the tool itself. And as I think you may have heard him say earlier, he's – he looks forward to getting back and to taking a look at this.

QUESTION: I have just one more and then I'll yield. How effective can you be in pushing your current policy when it is clear that so many people directly involved in this policy don't believe in it?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I'm not going to speak to the content of this message. We have – we have always said that we have to work hard at getting to better outcomes in Syria. And we're going – we have and we're going to continue to explore our options within the policy that we're pursuing as well as options that may at this time fall outside the current policy. We have to do that. But as the President has said and as the Secretary has said, as we look at other options, none of them are great options. The best option forward for Syria is a political process that leads to a transition to a government away from Bashar al-Assad, a political solution. And we still believe that a political solution is the best solution for the people of Syria and for the region.

Pam.

QUESTION: Can I ask a – some follow-ups on this? What – one, to your knowledge, has there been in any change in the Obama Administration's policy toward Syria not to attack Syrian Government forces or targets?

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: Do you expect any change in the policy as a result of this dissent?

MR KIRBY: I'm not going to speculate one way or the other.

QUESTION: Has there ever been, to your knowledge – you said it was unusual for 51 people to sign a dissensional message. Is that the most that have ever signed a dissensional message?

MR KIRBY: I don't know.

QUESTION: Is there a way you could take that one?

MR KIRBY: I'll promise you this: I'll take the question, but I cannot promise you that we can provide that answer. This procedure, this vehicle has been in place since Secretary of State Dean Rusk [1] was in office in 1971. I don't know that there is a continuous record of every single dissent message that has been sent forward since that time. So I don't know that we'd be able to answer that question, but we'll go ahead and take it. Typically, these are sent forward by single individuals or very small numbers. That's my understanding.

QUESTION: And just – can we be clear about when it actually began? Because Rusk, I think, was gone by '69 when the Nixon Administration came in. So I don't think he was Secretary of State in 1971, but I could certainly be mistaken.

MR KIRBY: I think it was 1971 and --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- my reading of the history said that Rusk had something to do with it. But I'm not going to quibble with you --

QUESTION: No, no.

MR KIRBY: -- over the history of the program.

QUESTION: I just want to get it right. And then on – the most famous example that I'm aware of of a dissent – of a dissenting cable – although it's not clear to me that it was in the dissent channel, is the so-called "Blood telegram" of 1971 which argued – which is from the U.S. Consulate in Dhaka, and it argued that the U.S. Government should have done more to prevent the then-unified Pakistani Government from preventing massacres and what they said was genocide against Bengalis in east Pakistan, which, as we all know, became Bangladesh. It didn't actually change the policy, but that was signed by 20 people. And so I'm interested in understanding if it's possible to get an answer if this really is far and away the most that have actually signed something, so if you could try --

MR KIRBY: Again, we'll take a look, Arshad, but I'm not going to promise you that we're going to have that kind of information.

QUESTION: John?

QUESTION: Why – a couple more for me. Why – do you have any sense of the – I mean, obviously they disagree with the policy, but do you have any sense of the motivations of the people who signed it? And the reason I ask is that normally one dissents with a policy when it's at an inflection or a decision point, and I don't sense that we're at an inflection point in the last

seven, eight months of an administration. Do you understand why – have any understanding as to why now?

MR KIRBY: I don't.

QUESTION: And has the Secretary yet seen it?

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: And he said, I think in Copenhagen, that he planned to or he expected to meet with some of the authors. Do you have any idea when that may happen?

MR KIRBY: I don't believe that's what he said. I said he – I believe he said he was looking forward to reading it and to probably or potentially meeting with some people back here. I don't believe that he said that he had an intention to meet with the authors.

QUESTION: Okay, I misunderstood then.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And any idea when that'll happen?

MR KIRBY: I don't, I don't have any updates on his schedule.

QUESTION: John, you make a good case for the respect you have for this as an alternative source of opinions. If the authors of the dissent, though, were confident that the dissent channel was the right place to put this, why did they also leak it to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times?

MR KIRBY: I have no idea how this message made a way – made its way into the public domain. I have no idea how that happened.

Said.

QUESTION: Could I just ask you on the diplomatic part of it – I mean, they say 50 diplomats. Are they diplomats the way we would understand diplomats to be, or are they just mid-level employees? I mean, what is the difference here in your definition? I want to understand.

MR KIRBY: Look, I'm not going to speak to the identities, obviously, of the authors or describe or characterize their employment here at the State Department. I think if you were to ask Secretary Kerry, he would tell you that all of us here at the State Department are diplomats in our own right, but I'm not going to get into characterizing each individual, what their job is, and characterizing that in terms of diplomacy.

QUESTION: And they are all sort of responsible for the Syria desk, or do they --

MR KIRBY: I'm not going to talk --

QUESTION: -- do they cover --

MR KIRBY: I'm not going to provide any additional information about the authors of this message.

QUESTION: And let me just ask you to pontificate, if you would, I mean, on the issue of striking Syria or striking Assad. To what end, in your view? I mean, what would be – what is the desired outcome for such a --

MR KIRBY: I'm not going to talk to the content of the message that was sent forward. And as I said, separate and distinct from that, we continue to be focused on the core elements of our policy in Syria, which is to try to get the political discussions back on track, try to get a cessation of hostilities nationwide enforced, and get humanitarian assistance to so many desperate people in need. We continue to believe that a political solution is the best solution for the people of Syria.

QUESTION: And finally, is it just coincidental that this came out a day after the statement made by Secretary Kerry on the patience – his patience running out?

MR KIRBY: I know of no connection.

Yeah.

QUESTION: John --

QUESTION: How is the State Department viewing the fact that this document was leaked to the press? Is it – are you guys okay with that or is there some kind of investigation pending into that?

MR KIRBY: I know of no investigation as to how it ended up in the public domain, and we don't know how it ended up in the public domain. What I can tell you is the authors of this particular dissent channel message sent it forward through the dissent channel, and so we're treating it accordingly, as we would any other dissent channel message.

Pam.

QUESTION: John, how does the State Department deal with the ramifications of this memo being in the public arena from a foreign policy standpoint, especially in terms of relations with allies that are also engaged in Syria? There's some initial reaction from the Russian foreign ministry, the deputy foreign minister reacting to the portion that showed support for strikes against the Assad regime, saying in his view this would be absolute madness. Considering these are rank-and-file people who work day to day on implementing the U.S. policy, and this shows some dissatisfaction at that level, how do you go forward and deal with allies with this out there?

MR KIRBY: Again, I'm not speaking to the content. I'm certainly not going to speak to the authors and how many --

QUESTION: Right (inaudible) speak --

MR KIRBY: -- there are or who they are – I know where you – I know, just give me a second. That it's in the public domain is beyond dispute now and people can react to it as they wish. What I can tell you is the Secretary continues to be focused on making sure that we get food, water, and medicine to the people that need it, get a cessation of hostilities that can be enforced nationwide, and that we get the political process back on track. That's where his head is. That's where his focus is. That's where it's going to remain.

Now, as I said I don't know how many times earlier this week, we continue to explore other options. It would be irresponsible for us not to. But I'm not going to get ahead of that discussion in any way whatsoever.

QUESTION: Is there concern that the memo may undermine U.S. credibility in Syria with allies?

MR KIRBY: We – you have to remember, Pam, that this isn't just about the United States. It's about the International Syria Support Group and the United Nations, all of whom – all the members of whom have signed up to the same approach that I just outlined for you as our policy. It isn't just this idea about a political solution and a cessation of hostilities and humanitarian assistance.

All of that is embodied in a UN Security Council resolution, and what, three or four communiques that were signed on not just by us, but by every other member of the ISSG. So this isn't just about – and I get where the question's coming from – it's not just about U.S. credibility on any one of those things, it's – the international community is focused on all of that together.

QUESTION: Oh, I have a --

MR KIRBY: Yeah?

QUESTION: I'm going to do two.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: On the signatories themselves, how widespread are these kind of sentiments within the State Department?

MR KIRBY: I couldn't speak to that.

QUESTION: Okay. And are you concerned that John Kerry's efforts for a peaceful political resolution of the conflict in Syria could be undermined by a new administration that would favor these kind of things?

MR KIRBY: Wouldn't speculate one way or the other. The American people have decisions to make this fall. They'll do that. There'll be a new president one way or the other, and it's up to the new commander-in-chief to determine how he or she is going to approach the conflict in Syria. What I can tell you is that as long as this Administration is in office, and as long as Secretary Kerry is Secretary of State, he's going to remain focused on trying to get a peaceful resolution through political means to the conflict in Syria.

QUESTION: When will you make this document public?

MR KIRBY: There's no plans to make it public.

QUESTION: Will there be an official State Department response to the dissenters?

MR KIRBY: There typically is. According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, there is a process by which dissent messages are replied to, and we will be preparing the appropriate reply.

QUESTION: Will that be made public?

MR KIRBY: There's no intent to make that public.

QUESTION: And --

QUESTION: John, could I --

MR KIRBY: Said?

QUESTION: -- follow up very quickly? I mean, you said since 1971 – that was the Vietnam War, a big catalyst for dissent. There are many issues that happened in between. The mechanism to do this, what are – somebody draft a petition, and they go around collecting signatures, is that what happens?

MR KIRBY: I have – I do not know the specific process by which this message was prepared. As I said, typically, in general they're drafted by a single individual or sometimes small groups, but there's no rule that says that there has to be a limit on the number of authors. And how the author or authors of a dissent message go about crafting and then delivering their views is up to them. I have – I wouldn't have – I would have no idea how – what the physical process of preparing something like that would be.

QUESTION: A couple more on this?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: As you know, the Foreign Affairs Manual says that there shall not be retaliation or reprisal against people who avail themselves of the dissent channel to register their disagreement with policy. It's one thing to sort of act against someone soon after this has happened. It's another thing if use of the dissent channel is used in subsequent administrations or years or decades to prevent people, for example, from rising.

And I want to know what the Secretary thinks about whether the mere use of the dissent channel should ever be used to prevent someone from getting a promotion or getting another sensitive job or moving up in the hierarchy or becoming an ambassador.

MR KIRBY: I think it's safe to say that Secretary Kerry would absolutely find abhorrent any intent or desire by anyone in this Department from holding against someone, for purposes of promotion or advancement, their right to use the dissent channel. I mean, that's absolutely abhorrent. It's not only against the Foreign Affairs Manual, it's against all standards of ethics, conduct, and integrity, and he would never abide by something like that.

QUESTION: Thank you for that answer. I asked the question because I've talked to two people in the building today already who talked about the fear that this could happen because Archer Blood never made ambassador and was, in fact, systematically prevented from moving up, as I understand it, and because Fred Hof, who is well known in this building and well known in the Syria – in the U.S.-Syria policy community, also talks about – in a public statement about how these people have risked their careers by doing this. So to the extent that there are anxieties out there that this is going to hurt these people and their careers, your view is the Secretary would not tolerate that?

MR KIRBY: Not one bit.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: I can assure you that no one has risked anything by submitting a dissent message with respect to Syria or any other policy that the State Department pursues. That is the purpose for the dissent channel.

QUESTION: Okay, a couple of other very quick ones. Is it your understanding – it's my understanding that what was leaked was a draft, not the actual memo, and that it was leaked before it had gone through the classification process. Is it your view that leaking something while it's a draft and before it's been classified is a violation of the letter of State Department rules even if it isn't a violation of the – even if it is of the spirit?

MR KIRBY: I couldn't possibly speak to, again, the process by which this got into the public domain. We keep talking about leaks here. I don't know that that's what happened. We do not know and nor are we particularly interested in how the contents of this dissent channel message made its way into the public domain. What we are interested in doing is preserving the sanctity, the integrity of the dissent channel process through which this was submitted. And it was classified by the authors, I might add, and so we're going to respect that, too. And just as critically – back to Brad's question – we're going to respect the process by preparing the appropriate response as we should.

QUESTION: And then just two quick ones. When did you – when did the Department receive the dissent channel? Was it yesterday as some of the published reports --

MR KIRBY: To the best of my knowledge, we received it yesterday.

QUESTION: Okay, and then a last one. You've made the argument today and many, many days in the past that the Administration believes that a political solution is the best solution, is the only solution.

MR KIRBY: Indeed.

QUESTION: There are people who argue that the ability to achieve a political solution is enhanced when there is the credible threat of the use of force. Does the department believe that there has not been, particularly since the decision not to carry through with airstrikes in 2013 over the Assad government's use of chemical weapons – that there has not been a credible threat of the use of military force against the Assad government and that the absence of such a credible threat has made it harder to negotiate, force through, achieve a political solution?

MR KIRBY: We believe that the best way to achieve a lasting, sustainable peace in Syria is through the political process – a political solution. And for anybody seeking leverage through consequences, look no more than the continued devastation inside the country. It should be, although it doesn't appear to be – to the Assad regime, anyway – readily apparent that you don't need any more reason to try to find a political, peaceful way forward here. I mean, when you look at the millions of people who have left the country and those that are starving, the ones that have been gassed and barrel bombed, the expansion of groups like Daesh and al-Nusrah in Syria, you don't – just look – taking 10 steps back from this issue and just looking at it in general, it's hard for any reasonable person to try to make the case that you need more leverage than the current status quo.

QUESTION: The question goes more to – less the – less what is the horror of the status quo. The question goes more to whether your diplomacy to achieve a political solution would be more effective if the Assad Government, which clearly is unmoved by the current status quo, felt in any way threatened by the possible use of military force. That's really the question.

MR KIRBY: Again, without speculating as to other potential options here – none of which, as the President has said, are great options – it's puzzling to see. It's certainly discouraging to see that the Russians have – are not – for some reason have chosen not to use the influence, the considerable influence that we know that they have over the Assad regime to get them to make the right decisions for their own people and to move this process forward. We're going to continue to make that case; we're going to continue to press that even as we continue to look at other, less desirable options that might be available to us, and that's really as far as I can take that question.

QUESTION: Last one on the Russians: I know you're aware of the reports of what President Putin has said in St. Petersburg, and he has this comment about saying he endorses or approves of U.S. proposals to add members of the opposition to the current government, to the active government in Damascus. Is there any U.S. proposal for opposition members to join the Assad government or a government in which Assad remains in power?

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any idea what he's talking about?

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: The Secretary hasn't broached any such possibility in his many conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR KIRBY: No means no.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Wouldn't the violent toppling of the Syrian Government directly benefit ISIS?

MR KIRBY: The toppling of the Assad government benefit ISIS?

QUESTION: That would be directly to the benefit of ISIS.

MR KIRBY: Look, I – I'm not going to speculate about what would or what wouldn't benefit Daesh. I mean, to some degree – and the Secretary has talked about this – there is a symbiosis between the Assad regime and Daesh, and he's said that many, many times. It is through Assad's brutality that Daesh has been able to fester and grow into some – into ungoverned spaces. And one of the things that we've talked about routinely, although we haven't said it – we haven't talked about it recently, is we understand that while the future of Syria cannot include Bashar al-Assad, as we work through the – as we work through this political process to a transitional governing body, we recognize that some institutions of government – for instance, the security forces – in some form or fashion has got to stay intact so that there isn't a complete collapse of an appropriate governing infrastructure inside the country as we work through this very difficult transitional process.

QUESTION: If the Syrian Government were to just immediately fall, what would happen to Syrian Christians? What would happen to Syrian Alawites?

MR KIRBY: It's – look, I'm not going to engage in hypotheticals about a situation that we're actually obviously trying to avoid. It isn't about the fall of the regime. We are trying to get to a transitional process of governance that preserves even some of the existing infrastructure going forward, but that at the end of that process gets us to a government that is put in place by the Syrian people with their voices being heard and that doesn't include Bashar al-Assad.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the statement made by President Putin to – actually warning the United States not to target Assad that was made today?

MR KIRBY: I haven't seen that particular comment.

QUESTION: How would you react to such a warning?

MR KIRBY: There isn't any U.S. efforts to target Bashar al-Assad, Said. That's not part of the calculus. I've been standing up here now for 15, 20 minutes saying that we're trying to work through a political process – a transitional process – that is Syrian-led. That's the goal. That's still the policy; that's still what we're pursuing.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Could I just – yeah, clarify one thing about the dissent channel memo? The Foreign Affairs Manual does, as I understand it, call for disciplinary action against people who share dissent channel messages with unauthorized personnel, but are you saying that there will be no attempt made to find out who leaked this memo and discipline that person?

MR KIRBY: We're not – we – I can't speak to and we're not focused on how it made its way into the public domain. It came to us yesterday through the dissent channel process. We are going to protect the sanctity of that process, and our focus is on – the moment it came through the dissent channel process, it became a dissent channel message, and it's from that time on that we're focused in terms of protecting the sanctity of the process and the content of the material of the message.

Okay?

QUESTION: Turkey?

MR KIRBY: Turkey.

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: John (inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: I never thought that I'd be glad to get to Turkey. (Laughter.)

Oh no, you're dragging me.

Go ahead, Carol.

QUESTION: John, I don't understand. The Secretary calls this an important memo that was sent, but everything you're saying here today is very similar to what has been said for months. Is there any chance that this memo will lead to a modification in U.S. policy?

MR KIRBY: As I said, Carol, no one is content with the status quo about – of what's going on in Syria. And even as we continue to pursue what you guys have commonly referred to as plan A – right? Political process, cessation of hostilities, humanitarian – a political solution – even as we continue to pursue that, we are – as we must, because it would be irresponsible if we didn't look at other options. None of those other options are better than the one we're pursuing. But that doesn't mean we're not going to look at them and the potential for them. And the Secretary's contributing to that process as a cabinet official. And as is his responsibility as the

Secretary of State, he continues to examine those other options and he will provide his advice and counsel to the President appropriately.

So we're obviously interested in looking at other views and other alternatives. And in that vein – again, without getting to the content of this message – we welcome those views being proffered by employees here at the State Department regardless of their number, regardless of where these individuals are serving. This is the purpose for the dissent channel. It's a valuable tool and the Secretary greatly respects it. And so he wasn't wrong to call it important. When you have your own employees using this very special channel to provide their views all the way to the top, that's a special thing and he wants to respect that completely. He looks forward to, when he gets back, to working his way through the message. And where that takes us, if it takes us anywhere, I don't know, and it wouldn't be proper for me to speculate one way or the other.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Carol?

MR KIRBY: On Carol?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: You just said no one is content --

MR KIRBY: Your question on Turkey is, like, so getting lost now. (Laughter.) Look, I'm just like – (laughter) – it's going to be an unsatisfying briefing, my friend.

QUESTION: As you stated, you said that no one is content with the way things are now in Syria and that other options are being considered. But is there a reluctance within the heart of the Administration to launch a dramatically different policy in Syria so late in the Obama Administration's term? Is that one of the hesitancy – you'd launch something and it, in essence, could not be carried out until the next president took over?

MR KIRBY: If you're asking if the Secretary, by dint of the calendar, is simply not going to remain hidebound and not willing to try new approaches or to propose new approaches to the President to consider, the answer is absolutely not. You know the Secretary as well as anybody, Pam. You know how engaged he is and how energetic he is on Syria, how seriously he takes the situation there and the amount of time and energy that he has personally invested in diplomatic efforts to try to get to better outcomes in Syria – and I can assure you that for every day he remains Secretary of State, he will remain focused and fixed on trying to get that political solution in Syria so that life can be better for the millions of Syrians that are still there and hopefully the ones that will eventually one day want to go home. And he is going to remain open as he has remained open to different ideas, different approaches, new alternatives – and frankly, Pam, not even new ideas that just come from the United States Government or here at the State Department.

But he remains in close touch with all the other foreign ministers of the nations in the ISSG and at the UN, and continues to solicit views from them as well. This is the Secretary of State who, above all things, remains open minded. And I think you can be secure in the knowledge that that will remain so for as long as he's in office.

No, I promised this guy we'd go to Turkey.

QUESTION: Iran.

MR KIRBY: Nope, see? Yeah, you shouldn't have told me what it was about. (Laughter.) We're going to go to Turkey first and then I'll get back to you.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, John. Just today, the governor of Istanbul declared that he has banned LGBT individuals from holding a pride march which has been held over a decade in Istanbul peacefully at the heart of Istanbul and is just coming after apparently Orlando attack. Do you have a comment? What do you think of this?

MR KIRBY: I don't know that I've – look, let me put it this way: We've seen the reports that the governor of Istanbul will not allow the pride parade. We strongly support, as I think you know, the rights of LGBTI individuals to assemble peacefully and to exercise their freedom of expression, and we would certainly like to see that be able to happen in Istanbul.

QUESTION: Okay. This is basically another part of the human rights erosion that happening in Turkey. It has been happening for a while. How worried you are about the direction of the democracy in Turkey?

MR KIRBY: We've talked about this before. Obviously, we're troubled when we see Turkish leaders make decisions that are not in keeping with their – the democratic principles that are enshrined in their own constitution. Turkey is a friend and an ally. We want to see Turkey succeed. We believe that one of the best ways for Turkey and the Turkish people to succeed is to live up to those democratic principles, and we – yes, it concerns us when we see decisions like this and trends towards closing down freedom of expression, as we've seen in Turkey of late. It's deeply concerning.

Nike.

QUESTION: Eritrea. Okay.

QUESTION: So the Government of Eritrea is accusing the Government of United States of instigating a heavy fight over the weekend along its border with Ethiopia. And my question for you is: Is there any truth to this accusation?

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: And then --

MR KIRBY: Well, it was an easy question.

QUESTION: Okay. And then what --

MR KIRBY: No, there's no truth to it. Look, we – the United States, including our missions in both capitals and our mission to the UN in New York, continue to engage with both Ethiopia and Eritrea to urge restraint and to prevent escalation. Last week's United Nations commission of inquiry report on Eritrea recommended UN member states and international organizations insist on the implementation of the 2002 decision by the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission on the delimitation of the border. We call on Eritrea and Ethiopia to respect commitments that they made on this border dispute.

QUESTION: Is there other diplomatic-front efforts that you can tell us about to maintain – to address Eritrea's concerns?

MR KIRBY: I think we're – look, we're in touch with officials on both sides, as you would expect that we would be, and certainly in consultation with the UN on this.

QUESTION: Secretary's travel very quickly?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Can you confirm if he's going to --

MR KIRBY: I'll go to you.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry about that.

MR KIRBY: It's okay. No, it's all right.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask, is he going to Qatar, the Secretary?

MR KIRBY: I have nothing new to announce on the Secretary's travel today.

QUESTION: Because some news outlets are saying that he's going to go and meet with (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: I have nothing new to announce on the Secretary's travel.

Yes, sir, go ahead. You've been very patient.

QUESTION: Thank you. According to AP, Associated Press, there is a heavy fighting between the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan Peshmerga forces and the Islamic Republic of Iran's military crop in the Kurdish city of Oshnavieh (inaudible) in Iran. I would like to know whether you have any information on this and if you – what can you tell us in this regard?

MR KIRBY: No, and therefore no. I don't have any information on this.

Sir.

QUESTION: Ukraine.

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: I have two questions on Ukraine. The first one is regarding Crimea. As we know, the EU agreed on Friday to extend for one year its sanctions against Russia over the annexation of Crimea. Could you comment? What does it mean for the efforts to restore borders of Ukraine and post-War Europe?

MR KIRBY: We welcome the European Union's decision today to roll over sanctions that were enacted in response to Russia's attempted annexation of Crimea. Our own sanctions related to Crimea will remain in place as long as Russia's occupation continues. And we are heartened to see that our friends and allies in the EU, excuse me, have decided to extend their own sanctions for another year. Our view is well known. Crimea is and will always remain a part of Ukraine. We cannot allow the borders of Europe to be redrawn at the barrel of a gun. We condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea.

QUESTION: And the second question, about Secretary Kerry's plans to visit Ukraine. The office of Ukrainian president said today that there is a probability that U.S. Secretary of State to visit Ukraine in the near future, as he promised during the nuclear summit in D.C. Could you confirm these plans?

MR KIRBY: Nope, I have nothing on the Secretary's schedule to announce today. But if and when we do, we'll certainly let you know.

QUESTION: Are you working on this?

MR KIRBY: I have nothing – (laughter) – I have nothing on the Secretary's travel schedule to speak to you today.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: All right, guys. Have a great weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:13 p.m.)

________

[1] William P. Rogers



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